November 2011: the feast of Christ the King. I had made the decision that I wanted to be a Christian just a few months ago, inspired by people in a non-denominational church. A Catholic friend thought I was missing out and insisted I join him for Mass. Just this one time. Just once. Nervously I walk into the chapel. I ask the Holy Spirit to make sure I won’t be bored, to make sure I will be able to pay attention. Everyone sits down. So do I. Then I notice they are not actually sitting down, but kneeling. Awkwardly I join in, trying to make it look as though sitting down first is just my way of kneeling. “This is my Body.” Two months of lectures in Catholic theology prove to be helpful. The priests lifts up the host and I know that this moment is special. I believe that it is special. I did not expect that I would believe it – it just happened.
April 2012. I know I no longer want to stand back and watch. I feel like I am missing out. My Catholic friends speak about confession sometimes and they seem to appreciate it so much. They speak about the Eucharist, the rosary, the breviary, the saints. They even speak about chastity. I am impressed by their honesty and devotion. I want that. I joined the Student Cross pilgrimage, walking from London to Walsingham during Holy Week. We carry a large cross and there is something comforting about the wood pressing gently onto my shoulder. It is a constant reminder of God’s grace, of God’s intervention to reconcile us to Himself. Reconciliation… “How long has it been since your last confession?” I giggle. I have got some explaining to do. Baptised, first Holy Communion, confirmed – never been to confession. I suppose people who were once forced to go wanted to give us more freedom. But I want real freedom – the freedom that Christ offers. I want that joy of the sacrament, knowing that God forgives me even if I am hardly aware of my sins. “I absolve you…”
December 2015. I have been enjoying life at Castlerigg for the past few months. Every day I get to experience that joy again. The joy of just being Catholic. It is such a blessing to be able to share that with others. It is a great blessing, also, to have endless silly and crazy moments with the team. And even more so, to be able to thank God every day for being part of a community in which people are not afraid to support one another, whether it be on the worst or the best day, reflecting the love that motivates them – God’s love.
Anke, 23, Castlerigg Manor - Keswick