Would you allow anyone, take away something or someone precious, gifted to you?
I know it’s an odd start, but be rest assured, you will know why I asked this question.
This happened a few years ago, while serving in the corporate world. Like every other Mumbaikar, I used to commute to work, via the lifeline of Mumbai (trains) - Malad to Churchgate. My morning journey daily involved, praying and then listening to music, but for some reason on a particular day I couldn’t pray the rosary. So I decided to pray during my return journey, in the evening.
Longer the working hours, emptier the trains get, from the starting point (Churchgate) and I always got the window seat on my return journey. But this particular evening was different and an unforgettable one!
As soon as I was seated, while taking the rosary out of my bag, a woman walks in. Impeccably dressed, in her mid-forties (smiling right at me), she takes the seat next to mine. It is rude to ignore a smile, so I mirrored it. And the journey commenced….
The journey from Churchgate to Malad in the evening is a long one (60 mins). I closed my eyes to begin the rosary, suddenly this woman (sitting next to me) whispered in my ear “Are you a Catholic?” to which I replied “YES” and that too with a binaca smile! She was so ready for a conversation but I wasn’t!!! She tickled me with that first question, and it compelled me to ask “Are you a Catholic too?” The woman responded, “Oh No Never!!! I am glad not to be a Catholic! That church - Never! I am a proud believer”.
Ever saw a balloon deflate? Well, that was my state! That binaca smile disappeared into thin air, but the crowd was getting thicker, with each station passing by. Saddened by what she said, I chose not to prod any further, and went back to praying. So I closed my eyes, and silently began to pray the Apostle Creed.
As I began praying, the woman again whispers in my ear, “Your Church will be destroyed!”, that moment I recalled what happened in 1899, when Pope Leo XIII had finished celebrating mass in his private Vatican chapel: he suddenly stopped at the foot of the altar as if in a trance. He then rushed to his office and composed a prayer to St. Michael, with instructions to be said at all masses everywhere. When asked what had happened, he explained that. As he was about to leave the foot of the altar, he suddenly heard voices – one kind and gentle the other guttural and harsh. They seemed to come from near the tabernacle. As he listened he heard the following conversation: the guttural voice, the voice of Satan in his pride boasted to Our Lord: “I can destroy your Church.”. Similar words were thrown in my ears.
Her words shook me, I was so mad at her that I wanted to punch her nose, but I didn’t. We all have a side to us – the peaceful, and the angry. The angry side kept telling me, wish I had a sword, I would slit her from nose to navel…but the peaceful side kept me calm and helped me endure gracefully, all that came my way.
So like a cool cucumber, I smiled and asked, “Why do you say that?” The woman began shooting verses from the Bible, one after the other, like a firing bullet non-stop towards me. I was so impressed at the fact that she knew the Bible in and out– verbatim! I felt so ashamed that being a Catholic, my Bible during those years, laid under a heap of dust. I felt like running for a cover, as this woman so confidently took my case with ease, verse after verse - making it even worse for me. On seeing my silence, she spoke the first-rate believer words “Come join my church, you will enjoy the worship and the benefits”. Felt like a pyramid scheme being offered, she brings me in and then I do the same and it goes on…
Confident verses on verses from her Bible, and she thought I was ready to join her church. I wondered whether she even understood the verses she kept speaking about.
Nevertheless, holding on to my nerves, I replied, “I will surely come to your church, but first do visit my Church, the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic church! which ALONE and ALONE possesses the ‘Body of Christ’ - The church was destroyed, but it was built in 3 days, and it stands tall to this very day and forever more!”
Now unwilling to give up, the woman annoyed me further - politely though. She looked at the rosary and said “Why do you pray to Mary? She is no God! She is only a lady who gave birth to Jesus and that is all. Why give her so much importance, we don’t need Mary, what is the BIG deal?”
For a change I did not get angry but replied in a calm manner “What is so scary about Mary?” “Oh we do not worship Mary, we venerate her! I am sure people like you definitely do not need her, but you see Abba Father in heaven needed her, and that is why he sent Angel Gabriel with the message for her, and her ‘YES’ changed it all. Imagine if Abba father needed her, how much more we need her then”. On listening to my reply, she became quiet unwilling to refute.
But being stubborn enough, she went on to quote “there is only one prayer – ‘the Our father’ rest everything is nonsense and created”. Now with a smile and zero temper, I questioned “how do you people pray?”. She replied “Well it’s simple, we pray the Our Father, we quote verses from the Bible and then we add our own prayers too”. I said “Wow that is so cool, you see we do something similar - we say the ‘Our Father’ and we too quote verses from the Bible given to us by Angel Gabriel and Saint Elizabeth (the Hail Mary) and then we add our own prayer (Holy Mary), and that is how we pray”
At that moment, the woman realized it was getting difficult to brainwash me, so she looked at my rosary and in a very unpleasant manner asked, “what is this ornament that you using”. I got pretty annoyed by this statement, but holding on to my sharp but polite side, I replied “Well if you do not know what this ornament is, you do not qualify to discuss any further, Not a word about my Blessed Mother!!! Please take your shop elsewhere”.
The woman finally gave up saying “peace be with you”, and got up to leave, as her station approached.
Taking a deep sigh of relief, I closed my eyes finally to pray the rosary. Suddenly, a lady sitting opposite, taps me, she sat literally jaw dropped, and this is what she had to say “I watched the entire conversation and admire your faith, she tried to rumble and tumble you, but you were untouched, unshaken. I am a Catholic too from IC Colony, and I almost got converted, but your peaceful defense held me up”.
I told the lady “That is exactly what the rosary does to you when you pray… the peaceful side gets the better of you, and you can see much more clearly, for Mary shows the way…” And before I got off the train I gave her my rosary and said “You need Mary more than I do, and only Mary can lead us to Jesus her loving son”
This experience deepened my faith, as I more often listened to the living heartbeat (The Bible).
One does not become a Catholic, because of Baptism, or Holy Communion or Confirmation, as these are sacraments to strengthen our faith and include us. Neither do we become Catholics by convenience. But we become a Catholic, by learning about our faith, by being firm in our faith, by practicing our faith and most importantly, standing for our faith.
The woman/believer tried her best to brainwash me. When we are weak in faith, it is very easy for anyone to shake us, brake us and take us away to some worship shop, opened for convenience. What happened to me, was a test of my faith – are you ready for your test?
As a couple, we therefore urge you to learn more about your faith and why you should be a proud Roman Catholic. Because Judas betrayed, doesn’t mean that you betray and go astray leaving the church. If there is one Judas to break you, there are 12 Apostles and many saints to hold you up.
Even Martin Luther made a pertinent observation in the sixteenth chapter of his commentary on St. John “We are obliged to yield many things to the papists (Catholics) - that they possess the word of God which we received from them, otherwise we should have known nothing at all about it”.
Mary was gifted to us at the foot of the cross, don’t let anyone take her away from you.
Oh Sweet and dearest Mother we pray,
May all return to the Church, who have gone astray!
Mother of Mercy, Hail our life our sweetness and our Hope…