Describe your "best" religious experience

What was the “best” (However you want to define that: it could be most emotional, most memorable, most beautiful…) religious experience you ever had?

I’ve had a few…

Going to Lourdes when I was 12 and being dunked in the spring water was amazing. The candlelight procession and liturgy was amazing.

Standing at the top of a peak in the Rockies, showed me the grandeur of God.

In Cathedrals/basilicas like Rheims, York Minster I can be overwhelmed by the architecture.

Celebrating the Transitus (the passing of St. Francis) while in formation with the Franciscans was extremely moving and spiritual.

Getting married (the actual wedding ceremony) and the birth of my children have to be the top though.

Ash Wednesday, 2011. I went to mass, and during mass, I prayed for Saint Anthony to intercede on my behalf for a lost piece of paperwork I required to get my passport. I needed it to travel abroad for work.
I had searched high and low for this paperwork, in my car (where I had last seen it). I virtually tore that car apart. So, hopeful but not optimistically, I prayed.
After returning to work, I sat down and started typing away on my computer about some boring piece of whatever. Then I had an “urge” to get up and go to my car. So I did. I opened the back door, and reached under the passenger seat and there it was! I sat there, speechless, for several minutes. I tell this story to whomever will listen! More often than not, however, I have others tell me stories of how Saint Anthony interceded on their behalf. Some skeptics will come up with some grandiose tales of things such as “Oh, you saw it before, your subconscious just blah blah and your psyche this and that”. Balderdash! They can choose to not believe, where I can simply open my eyes and know a postereri that which I already knew a priori.
As an aside, I recently RE-lost that very same piece of paperwork. I prayed again, and there it was. But then I promptly re-lost it! Once more, I prayed, this time, utterly pessimistic. But, as I recounted to a good friend, I could just imagine Saint Anthony smiling and laughing with me. “Oh, David: you’ll never learn. Here, I’ll go talk to the Father for you…AGAIN”. And shaking his head and smiling as he walks to the Father, he just emits a sense of…humour.
Yes, I came home today and some lovely soul found it and put it in the post and mailed it to me.
So, Saint Anthony, THANK YOU for your patience and for interceding on my behalf.

My latest one has to be a confession I made a couple of months ago, it was such a relief to get everything out that I was flying high for weeks after and still I am feeling pretty darn good.

When I was 14 and rolled a grain truck as my dad followed behind. I remember the door frame on the cab falling onto my chest and the long grass around me in the ditch just prior to blacking out. I awoke 20 ft. away in the fetal position. When I ran out of the ditch to my dad who was on a tractor, he had said it was the best thing he ever had seen with me coming out of that ditch. Getting back to the farm I took my shirt off and I had a red mark across my chest that matched the imprint the door frame would of made.

I don’t want to tell them all, because someday I may want to write a book…

But I will share two.

The first was when I returned to The Church after about 20 years slacking. I had called and talked to a nun at the local parish, and then made went down and talked to her for a bit. She suggested I make an appointment for Confession with one of the priests, and in the meantime, why don’t I “walk over to the church and say hello since it has been such a long time.” So I went over to the church and looked around a little and then just sat there for a while hoping for some big sign. Nothing was happening, so I left. I got in my car and started it and the radio was playing “Take a Leap of Faith” at that instant.

I had my sign.

A couple years after that I answered the call (the begging, really) to chaperone an all-night lock-in for the teen group. I outlasted every one of the teenagers, made it all night without nodding off. Based on that, and a shortage of men, I was asked to chaperone the Confirmation Retreat. I really had no duties; they just needed a certain amount of adults to comply with guidelines. Saturday night was a penance service. The priest in charge did some mumbo-jumbo talk, then an examination of conscience, and then told the teenagers there were three priests available. They could go to Confession then leave, or hang out and meditate for an hour and then leave. Even though I had no leadership role, I was determined that none of them was going to leave without Confession! (As I found out later, one of the mothers who was there felt the same way!) One of the girls came up to me and asked if she could leave now. She didn’t like confession. She had the trembling lip and quavering voice and everything. I told her she could go tell this certain priest that she didn’t like confession so she wasn’t going to do it, and then leave. This girl was big - close to 6’ tall. The priest in question was ordained about six months, about 5’ tall, looked like he was 12 years old. Not intimidating at all. So she went out. A little while later she came back in all full of happy tears and ran over to tell me, “I did it!” That’s when I understood what people mean when they say “instrument of God.”

Probably the most sustained, intense experience was during the epiclesis of Holy Thursday mass, 2011. I was listening carefully to the eucharistic prayer and the Holy Spirit was descending on me, heavily, fully, powerfully. I felt like my head and shoulders were too small to contain all that was being forced into me. Tearfully, I praised God and thanked Him for unbounded blessings, all the while repeating–and literally meaning–“Oh, my God. Oh, my God.” How lucky we are to be called to His supper.

While reading about DW’s experience with St. Anthony, I was reminded of 1984. My parents were coming to visit in Seattle and I told them I would try to get them a house-sitting job so they could stay longer. Like a typical student, I was procrasinating furiously and posted zero ads, even up to the last week before they came.

The day before Easter, a pretty Saturday afternoon, I was working out in the back yard of the house I rented with 3 other people. If you know me, you would know it was a miracle I was doing yard work. The neighbor behind us introduced himself to me and we got to talking since he, too, was Christian. He learned I was far from home and invited me over for Easter Brunch.

Leaving the house to walk around the corner, I remember how angry I was with my procrastination, scolding myself for not posting ads. Then I realized, NOT ONCE had I prayed. It stopped me dead in my tracks on my front sidewalk. I said, “Lord, I am so sorry. I do not receive because I do not ask. And I apologize because I KNOW if I had just asked, you would have given it to me.” At that moment, a millstone was lifted from around my neck. “Thank you, Lord. Next time, I will be faithful and ask.”

When we were eating brunch, my neighbor asked if anyone had experienced any Easter miracles. I said ‘yes’ and explained how God had relieved my anger and anxiety and that Mom & Dad would get here and stay in a hotel for a week and it would be fine. His accountant (also a guest) was sitting to my left and asked when Mom & Dad were coming in. “Friday”, I said. She asked if they were allergic to cats. I said no, they have a cat. She said, well great! My husband and I are leaving the country for 3 weeks and we have a pregnant cat. We can’t board her anywhere and have no relatives close by. Could they stay at our place and care for the litter when she has them? I must have looked like I’d been whacked with a daffy stick.

Well Mom & Dad stayed in the 3rd floor penthouse of an apartment building on Queen Anne hill overlooking Elliot Bay in Seattle, brought in the litter, had a great visit and invited all my housemates over for a big dinner before they left town. I still shake my head at how cool He can be when the Father decides to teach us a lesson in faithfulness.

Mark Nutter

Dear Ones,

I was awaiting necessary surgery to remove a cancerous tumour. Whenever I woke up during the night feeling anxious, I would pray that God would give me the strength to move forward without fear. With eyes closed, I began to see some kind of an image, but it never stayed there long enough for me to see the picture. I was seeing what one sees when they close their eyes after looking at a bright light. I began to pray, asking God to allow the image to stay long enough for me to see it clearly. A few nights later, the image appeared just long enough for me to make out the face of Jesus. I cannot describe the joy and peace that flooded within me when I recognized Jesus. I was so sad when it went away. I wished that I had the ability to draw, so I could capture his face on paper. I wanted something to hold onto.

I attended a lenton mission at our parish a few days prior to my surgery. During one of our first breaks, the visiting priest asked me how I was coping with cancer. I was surprised that he knew about it but I was not upset.

After a brief conversation, he asked me if I felt comfortable praying for healing. He explained that he had witnessed many miracles. I agreed and we decided to tell the rest of the group and ask them to pray for me also.

I awoke during that night and experienced another clear, brief image of Jesus. Once again I prayed for the ability to capture the face on paper. I knew I couldn’t draw his face on my own, but I believed He would help me. I could also sense that God was asking me a very important question. Do you want to be healed? Of course I answered yes. But, I somehow also understood, that by receiving immediate healing, I would not experience all the love and affection from those who cared for me. With that I made the decision to go ahead and have the surgery, the chemotherapy and the radiation that had been recommended by my doctors. To this very day, I am certain the decision was mine.

The next day was the day before my surgery and the last day of our mission. I arrived early so I could share my experience with the priest. Later, as I said “I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the words and I shall be healed”, I experienced a strong tingling sensation, that began at the crown of my head, and travelled down to my feet. It felt like the sensation disappeared into the floor where I was standing.

A small group of us stayed behind to take a few pictures. I noticed a man who had attended the mission sitting behind the pew where my belongings were. I didn’t know his name but I had seen him at mass a few times. I asked him if he would take the picture of our group. He agreed, took the picture, quietly walked back and sat in the pew behind my belongings. I admit, I began to feel a bit nervous about his presence. That feeling continued when he didn’t acknowledge me as I returned to the pew, turned around and began to put on my coat. Just then, I felt a gentle tap on my left shoulder. I turned to acknowledge the gesture and saw that he was holding out a card of some sort. I took it from him and immediatly recognized the picture of Jesus that I had been seeing during my nightly prayers. I fell to my knees and cried like I had never cried before.

Others rushed to see what had happened to me, but the priest gently asked them to leave me alone. I kept saying, “Its my picture, its my picture”. After some time I composed myself and turned to speak with the man who had given me the picture of the Shroud of Jesus. But he was gone. It was several weeks before I saw him again. He said that he had to leave to go to work so he couldn’t stay that day. He was grateful to finally understand what had happened to me. I asked him what prompted him to give me the picture. He said he really didn’t know why, just that he was certain he should wait and give it to me that day. He also said he was grateful that God had chosen him for such an important task.

Blessings - Chochy

Rapid deterioration in my mental and physical health during my undergraduate degree meant I became desperate and sought help. I approached two welfare tutors: a Presbyterian woman who is terrified of Catholicism (guardian angel) and an Anglican priest (good shepherd) who was scared to talk to me about religion and spirituality, for fear of inadvertently contradicting Catholic doctrine. It may seem an odd choice for an ill Catholic but God does indeed work in mysterious ways. Together we undertook an incredible spiritual journey that involved much contemplation and religious (self-) discovery. To truly love, serve and look after someone: that is an act of contemplation itself.

The more I interacted with my guardian angel, the more apparent it became to me that she had been given many difficult crosses to bear. She was directing some medieval mystery plays about the birth of Christ; the next term, she would do Passion plays from the same play cycle. I took on small acting roles in the first set of plays and ran around helping her out, in the hope that she would learn to like me. (I failed to realise she already did.) She in turn became increasingly motherly and caring towards me. It developed over time into unthinking, instinctive agape: in other words, it was a complacent, loving gaze.

The act of watching these stories come alive in rehearsals was extraordinary and I began to comprehend bits of the Bible better. I realised why we say “Hail Mary, full of grace” and the joy and power of the Magnificat. Outside the play rehearsals, my understanding of Mary’s fear and strength was heightened through a gradual awakening to the love of my guardian angel. I saw how God approached her and asked her whether she would accept an adult psychotic as a daughter, as it was His will… and that being a gracious, obedient person, she had accepted; this in spite of the risks to her wellbeing (evil voices ordered me to kill her at one point) and reputation. Whilst praying to Mary in Lourdes and asking Her what had passed between us, She showed me that She had petitioned God to give me extra support for what came ahead, through His gracious gift of a human/angelic representation of my Divine Mother. In plays about the pain of childlessness and women receiving children in miraculous contexts, God gave the two of us to one another.

Watching the horrifically-graphic crucifixion scenes from Jesus of Nazareth as a small child had left me with terrible Catholic guilt about real-life human representations of the Crucified Christ (I’m fine with crucifixes). I knew that the upcoming Passion plays could trigger something. I was torn between fear of a “live crucifixion” and a desire to look after and help my guardian angel. I looked to God for guidance and asked for a sign, to tell me the right thing to do. In time I became overwhelmed by a strong conviction that I should help; I later felt God asking me to look after the guardian angel for Him, until further notice. So I chose to be involved and do the plays.

I had expected the Catholic guilt to rear its ugly head but I was not prepared for how awful the experience was. I became increasingly agoraphobic, suicidal, scared of people and during the week of the play performances, unable to really eat or sleep. There weren’t many rehearsals were something psychotic didn’t happen to me and it was a frightening time for me, the guardian angel and the good shepherd. We closed ranks to look after each other. I refused to be involved in the crucifixion scene and warned the guardian angel that I would have to blast my iTunes into my ears, as I wouldn’t be able to cope with the noise of the hammering nails.

Despite my pain, I was moved by a force bigger than and beyond myself to be able to achieve all this. In the end I was the one actually in charge of the hammering of the nails! The only people who agreed with me doing these plays were the guardian angel and good shepherd: everyone else thought I was too ill. For the first time in my life, I genuinely didn’t care what anyone else thought and dropped everything to be by my guardian angel’s side and create a loving and safe space in which to unfold her spiritual insights through the plays. I followed her around and did everything she asked; I did not leave her in dark times; I partially relieved her of this huge burden she had, and looked after my mother figure. I thought little of it and was shocked and confused when the good shepherd told me it was a selfless act. On thinking of it, I realised that this was what true Christian charity is perhaps all about.

Afterwards, I realised that the real Gospel story had not been what was acted out on the stage, but instead all that had happened behind the scenes. I had sacrificed a lot and left my friends to follow someone I saw God in, like the disciples leaving their boats to follow Christ. On Good Friday 2010, I was blessed with the understanding that God never asks mankind to crucify itself for Him and so it’s OK that I would be too afraid to. In the Passion story, humans are asked to serve one another; do things in memory of Him; watch one hour; carry the Cross and look after the mother figure. I realised I had done all that and that through being so ill and so vulnerable, God opened up an opportunity for me to get to know Him better, away from the distractions of uni work; this no doubt would have prevented me from partaking this incredible journey, had I not been so ill. This newfound joy and love in contemplation and the understanding that to contemplate is to love, has changed my life forever and no doubt for the better.

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