There are moments in our lives that mark a true watershed. James Joyce called these turning points 'epiphany'. The Catholic Herald asked some of the country's foremost Catholics to share with us the turning points in their lives from the realisation of spiritual hunger to a marriage proposal, from the birth of a child to a journey.
DR JAMES LE FANU JOHN RYAN Medical Writer Cartoonist and GP
AS PART OF the anatomy course at medical school in Cambridge in the late 1960s, we had to spend a month studying human embryology. At the time it seemed a rather dessiccated subject in which we had to learn by rote how, when and in what order the various organs and limbs developed.
Ten years later, for some long forgotten reason, I retrieved my embryology text book from the back of the book shelf. My epiphanous moment came in the first chapter.
A subject that, as a callow medical student, had appeared dull and uninteresting now seemed electrifyingly mystical.
How did this sheet of primitive cells know how to arrange itself in the right place?
How did the genes know how CO switch on one specialised function as opposed to another?
It seemed quite clear to me that no scientific theory or speculative philosophy could ever explain this process. It was utterly beyond human comprehension. It was the hand of God.
DESMOND ALBROW Journalist and former editor, of the Catholic Herald Two SENTENCES SPOKEN by Winston Churchill on the wireless when I was a schoolboy in 1940 struck both fear and resolution into me. They were the battle of France is over. The battle of Britain is about to begin." The soft life was over. The enemy was truly at our gates.
LORD REES MOGG Times columnist and Statesman I AM NOT SURE that my psychological progress has been of the kind you describe. I look back on it more as a gradual progression than as a marked moment of epiphany. If I were conscious of of such a thing I would be happy to share it with Catholic Herald readers.
I DON'T KNOW that I have ever had quite such an experience. The nearest I can get would have been the occasional moments of wonder and gratitude which I felt when the dawn came during the jungle war in Burma. No matter how grim and exhausting the day or night before had been the daily miracle of the rising dawn gave one fresh hope and energy, even if it heralded a new attack and possible death
JOANNA BOGLE Writer and broadcaster
MY MOMENT OF epiphany was when my husband proposed to me. It wasn't altogther unexpected but it was a very difficult moment for me as he was due to leave for Germany with the army. I had a career at home as a journalist and a seat on the local borough council which I really didn't want to give up. It was a difficult decision that I gave to God to solve for me.
BRENDAN WALSH Director, Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge
I LIE ON my back, warm and sticky in the sun. the bright blue dome over my pram is punctured by chuckling, gawping, cooing faces. It is the first moment of insight into the nature of the universe, and my privileged place in it, I remember or imagine I remember.
I am greasy, clumsy, incontinent. I belch and beam. Faces break into smiles, hands reach out to possess me. I am small, but I see the way things are. Applause, love adoration. They are easy, to be expected. They come unearned, unstinting. We need only blink and grunt and inexpertly insert a finger in our nose.
It was a simple but powerful insight. It was intellectually compelling, richly emotionally satisfying. And, as things were to turn out, wrong.
IAN LLNDEN General Secretary, Catholic Institute for International Relations
IT WAS 25 YEARS ago in midtown Manhattan. I was an immigrant, wife and two children off the boat from Cork. We were hundreds, all nationalities marching against the war in Vietnam, down the great caverns between the skyscrapers.
The Mexican next to me had his son on his shoulders. I had our daughter.
We marched together with an extraordinary joy and purpose and deum qui laenficat juventutem meum. Four days later, I saw the scene again frozen and captured on photographs taken by the FBI. My boss pushed them across my desk, threatening me obliquely and in the nicest possible way with deportation. The God of Justice had left a calling card. A beginner's lesson. The world never quite seemed the same again.
PETER STANFORD Journalist
I TOOK A GROUP of disabled people to meet the Pope in 1989. I was fairly confident that, as pleasant as it would be, this experience would not have a massive effect on me. Yet meeting him in person made me aware of an extraordinary aura about the man. I had not been prepared for such a surprise.
He struck me at the time as the embodiment of moral good and he had a profound effect on me.
FR JOIN MILLS OP IT HAPPENED LN 1965, in an admittedly very religious place Solesmes, the great, French Benedictine monastery but at that time I had nothing to do with the Church and little time for Christianity. I had gone there, privately, out of curiosity. I was working in journalism in London at the time.
During dinner in the refectory, an old monk with a face rather like a gargoyle offered water to another old monk; he did it ever so gently and the other old monk smiled back at him, oh so gently. It was a tiny incident, very ordinary but it revealed to me a whole way of looking at things relevant to "my" world.
I guess I have to say that it changed my life, for it triggered off the process which has landed me up here, in a Dominican priory, a priest trying to answer an almost impossible question.
SR LAVINIA BYRNE IBVM THERE WAS A FREE day during a spirituality consultation I had to go to outside San Francisco. Nothing led me to believe that this would be a day of disclosure or revelation. Yet it turned out to be just that!
A Christian Brother, recently appointed Aids coordinator in a large east coast diocese, he wanted to visit various centres where people with HIV and Aids were being cared for in the community and invited me to come along.
We went to a counselling centre and a drop-in basement. Organised by a young Lutheran pastor, this gave a sanctuary to people with nowhere else to go.
I left with the young man's words ringing in my ears: "The time is so short; there is no point at all in telling anything but the truth."
When I got back home this simple message became quite luminous to me and an epiphany moment of great clarity and simplicity.
ANGELA PERKINS Director of National Board of Catholic Women IN JULY A friend sent me four small booklets of the letters of St Clare to St Agnes. They were a delightful surprise. After some time two thoughts disturbed me.
The first was the strangeness of receiving a "spiritual" gift. How often do we treat friends to a gift which recognises their spiritual need?
The second was a feeling of "window shopping" into Clare's intimate experience of God desirable, but out of my league. One phrase brought Clare to life, made her real and gave us common ground. "He will bring us to his wine cellar"... now that was an offer that deserved serious consideration!!
I wanted to find that God. I wanted her experience of God. To begin my journey, I booked a retreat, the first since the compulsory silences of school days.
There were no flashes from heaven and God was not wait
ing at the gate to embrace a prodigal daughter, but I discovered I was not alone in my search.
In a book open on a table I read "But one comes against the sudden, supreme difficulty of wanting God with all one's soul and not finding Him... It is important to adopt the attitude of waiting, of just being present at prayer even though the effort seems unrewarding."
The book? Searching for God by Cardinal Hume. I am in good company!! The God of surprises had caught me in the morning post.
FR MICHAEL SEED Ecumenical Adviser to Cardinal Hume
ONE VERY HOT experience and one absolutely freezing one.
Being in Assisi a year ago in the very cold winter, walking the streets concious that these were the same streets that St Francis would have walked was a certainly very special experience.
And in the beautiful summer of 1985, physically walking the same streets as Our Lord in Jerusalem it made me shiver, being silent, trying to keep only that single thought in my mind. For me who struggles to be a Christian and a Franciscan, they are very profound memories.
LEANDA DE LISLE Journalist I HAVE LONG SD•ICE discovered that explanation is not the same as enlightenment. I fumble my way through life as if I were in a pea soup fog. a little blind faith helps me on my way but I long for a bright star.
Like millions of other people the most dramatic turning point in my life was the birth of my first child. The nearest I have been to God was staring into his little face. It was pure and beautiful despite being crumpled up like a soggy cauliflower.
LYNETTE BURROWS Journalist and novelist
THE MOST EPIPHANIC experience of my life was the birth, at home, of my second child. The midwife told me rightaway that he was Down's Syndrome and, as she laid him into my arms,-she said consolingly, "never mind, dear, if his vacant eyes get you down, you can always put him in a home!
Her clumsiness gave me an immensely positive feeling of having at last, something worthwhile to do.
If that was the world, then my efforts were going into the family to make something different.
FR ANTFONY CONLON, Parish Priest, St Joseph's, London
IT WAS JUST before Christmas that I went to Confession.
Westminster Cathedral seemed the best place. A long time away from the sacrament, my nervousness was compounded by typical teenage awkwardness.
To my amazement, the priest was very kind and a thing that amazed me at the time he made me laugh. That priest enabled me to appreciate my absurdly mechanical approach to this wonderful sacrament.
This chance encounter changed my life. Through it I became involved in the worship and pastoral life of the cathedral and some ten years later was ordained as a priest there.
I believe that it was divine providence which made possible that original moment of grace and I am still grateful to the priest whose sympathetic character was instrumental in making it effective.
Compiled by Simon Marks