How Writing a Spiritual Autobiography Unveiled My Path Home

‘Not in this life, it is true, but only in eternity will God be all in all, yet even now he dwells, whole and undivided, in his temple the Church.’ —Pope St. Leo the Great

A small mountain chapel of the Catholic parish of St. Gallus stands near the town of Morschach, Switzerland.
A small mountain chapel of the Catholic parish of St. Gallus stands near the town of Morschach, Switzerland. (photo: onurcepheli / Shutterstock)

For many years my spiritual director in Toronto, Father Cris, a priest of Opus Dei and a genuinely wonderful man, pushed me to write my spiritual autobiography. And for as many years I made excuses not to.

I couldn’t see the point. We had spoken about all aspects of my spiritual life and my life before becoming a Catholic. We also spoke about the intense suffering I was going through due to a bad spine and liver cancer and how to deal with it through prayer and trust in God.

So, I was not sure what he would learn and I couldn’t figure out what would be revealed to me in recounting my own story.

Then Father Cris moved from Toronto to Madrid and I forgot all about the request. But I received an email from him about a month ago in which he wrote how much he loved his new home and about getting used to speaking and thinking in Spanish. He also mentioned some travels to some holy sites including the church built on St. Teresa of Ávila’s birthplace.

“A great strong woman who also knew about suffering,” he wrote, remembering that I loved St. Teresa.

At the end of one of the emails, he added: “Did you ever write your spiritual story?”

I decided it was time to start. For one, I had time on my hands because a series of illnesses was keeping me close to home. Also, to honor the great friend he was to me, I thought it fitting to do what he asked. If he wanted me to write it, there must be a good reason.

There was a parallel here between his request and my decision to discard all my doubts and enter the Church 15 years ago.

Before my reception, I was still wrestling with some of the Church’s teachings. I was going around in circles and not moving forward. I decided to stop hesitating and resolved to accept Catholic teachings with a full heart with the confidence that faith would bring understanding. I would learn to think with the Church — to bow down to two millennia of brilliant and holy men and women.

In a similar way, I decided to bow down to my old spiritual director’s request, trusting him as I’ve trusted few people before.

I’ve been working on it for several weeks. Even though it’s not quite finished I’ve already learned something about myself and my journey to the faith.

While writing, I recalled the times years ago when I would go into a Catholic church to just sit for a while. There was no particular reason. I would spend a few minutes enjoying the silence. For reasons I couldn’t think of at the time, I felt a tremendous peace.

I loved watching the old people kneeling in their pews reciting the Rosary. I loved the stained glass and the statues, particularly of Mary. I liked the smell of incense but believe it or not, I didn’t know the origin of the heavenly aroma.

Once you feel at home in a place it’s hard to ignore it. Intellectually I was having my battles with some Catholic teachings but the physical response I felt sitting in a pew could not be denied.

What my autobiography taught me was that becoming a Catholic is assent to dogma and doctrine, but also, maybe even more importantly, the attraction to something visceral: a deep conviction that I had arrived at home.

It dawned on me finally that the peace I was feeling was the presence of God inside his Church. I didn’t know at the time that Christ was in the Holy Eucharist held in the tabernacle but I felt him, nevertheless. It showed me that Christ works in all people, whether they believe or not.

The other night I was reading from the Liturgy of the Hours. In it was a sermon from Pope St. Leo the Great. He wrote: “Not in this life, it is true, but only in eternity will God be all in all, yet even now he dwells, whole and undivided, in his temple the Church.”

I think many of our experiences of God are realized only in retrospect. We’re blessed when we become aware of where God has been in our lives. Writing my spiritual autobiography I’m seeing how all the pieces fit. Thanks to Father Cris for seeing what I could not see.

Pope Francis (R) embraces new Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich after he appointed him during an Ordinary Public Consistory for the creation of new cardinals on October 5, 2019 at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.

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