Certainly as a child at school, the idea of God and the idea of the Queen related to rather remote figures. They seemed to be always around, and there were pictures of them everywhere, but they had very little to do with me and my life. But I had no doubt about the existence of both.
When in my teens I joined the Air Training Corps and became an Air Cadet, I had to swear allegiance to the Queen by calling on God to be my witness. This made me wonder more about the implications of my allegiance to God let alone to the Queen.
I look back on my youth as a time that I spent discovering my latent talents. It was a time of discovering the world as a place of adventure, wonder and amazement. Now I see that it was a time of providence. In spite of my hectic lifestyle I made the time to read and to study the things that I wanted to know about. I was fascinated with science, I dabbled in the fads of the day. It was the age of ‘Flower Power’, Yoga, the occult. But being a cautious person I always read the warning label! This meant that while I did not get into any trouble, I didn’t get overly involved in anything either. But one thing did happen, I found my interest in religion awakened. As I started to learn more I took more risks and was soon led into discussions about religion and the nature of God.
The Air Training Corps promoted me to Warrant Officer. Among other things such as driving a taxi at night, I was doing well in my day job working in a garage. For several months at a time I had been left in sole charge, while the boss went on a long holidays. At one stage The commanding officer of my A.T.C. squadron asked me to take on a new responsibility that I thought was somewhat strange.
He read to me from the Military Code and the second or third law said something like: Every officer must ensure that all personnel must have access to and encouragement in the practice of their faith and so cause them to praise God. He wanted me to take on that task since he said he had noticed my interest in religion. I asked him what about our chaplain? I was told that he had been transferred and he didn’t know if we were going to be able to get another for some time.
I got together a group of the cadets from different ethnic and religious backgrounds. We started a discussion group centred on the subject of what their own religion was about. We discussed what were the main teachings and practices of each of the faiths represented. There were about a dozen cadets, some from Hindu, Muslim and Jewish backgrounds, and several Christian churches were represented, including Christian Scientist, Baptist, Methodist, C.of.E and Catholic. We decided to meet for half an hour after the usual Tuesday night parade and training sessions.
It was the first time that I had been able to talk about God and religion with others in such a non-threatening way, and after a couple of weeks I found that no one else was embarrassed any more about sharing what they believed either.
The crunch came one evening when a Muslim cadet asked me Just what do you believe in? I was stuck. I didn’t know what to say except that I was not a member of any church, but that I believed in the Trinity of God, The Father God, the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Not three gods but one indivisible entity which has revealed to us aspects of himself in the shape of the man Jesus and in the power of the Spirit. I went on to say that I believe that through Jesus we can come to God, as one can to a Loving Father. But as for religion, I had no links with anything organised. They they asked me to explain What is it to practise as a Christian? I said that I didn’t know what it meant other than trying to be like Jesus. The other Christian cadets in the group could not explain any better and some were not sure what the question was. So I resolved to find out.
As it happened my girlfriend was a Catholic and I accompanied her to church the following Sunday. After Mass I met the parish priest at the door and asked him the same questions that the cadets had asked me. Recovering his initial shock he invited me to come and find out. I did, every monday evening I spent several hours with him talking about every conceivable subject under the sun. Every Tuesday I would pass on what I had learned to the cadets at our meeting.
The events of those meetings led me in turn to become a catholic.
I have suggested that my youth was provident, and I thank God for that, and I am certain of it, since I lived in an environment that provided me with so much opportunity and so many encounters with people of all races and creeds, that rather than confuse, fed my curiosity and hunger to learn, especially that which I had never been taught in school.
I was in my early twenties when I was baptised and received into the Catholic Church. That was a journey that had taken years of study, questioning, prayer and meditation. My life had taken a direction that would lead me into more adventures and mysteries than I could ever have imagined.
With my baptism I had pledged my allegiance to God, and part of that promise was to come to know this God personally. I was determined that this re-birth would lead me to experience and understand this God ever more perfectly. I wanted to do this to the extent that I would be able to share my knowledge and experience of this God with others.
Well the long and short of it is that twelve years later I was ordained as a priest of the Society of St. Columban. I became a missionary destined to work among the people of Pakistan — Christians, Muslims and Hindus.
It was while I worked in Pakistan that it became clear that much of my work with the people was an encounter with God. This encounter came through sharing with people who were also searching for meaning to their lives. It was in this sharing and searching that I felt to be closest to understanding a question many Pakistani people asked me Who is this God you worship?