I grew up in a dysfunctional family, educated at Catholic schools with all the relevant sacraments administered at the appropriate times. The school and church were sanctuaries from the dysfunctional family unit.
At fifteen I was working as an apprentice carpenter and living with an older sister. I was a hard-working young man with no adult guidance and drifted away from my religion as young people do.
Alcohol was freely available in my childhood and as a young teenager I was engaging in peer group sessions, and even tried some soft drugs, but I got hooked on alcohol, and lived life working hard and living just as hard.
When I finished my apprenticeship, I went out into ‘the big wide world’, working in other states in single men’s camps on large projects, and generally played up. I travelled overseas in 1981 for twelve months and had a continuous party, then lived in Perth.
I decided to buy a house so I came back to Melbourne, and that’s when things went wrong. I was working hard and stood on some toes and had a breakdown at the New Year of 1987 at the age of 30. I went into Royal Park Hospital a number of times, lost my house, decided to buy another and lost that one too. I was on a circle of not coping with life at all.
Seventeen years went by as I tried to get better by trying a number of ways but with no success. I gradually went back to the religion I was baptised into. I did not appreciate the liturgy as much then as I do now.
So I read as much as I could on the saving grace of the Eucharist and Reconciliation. Slowly but surely my faith helped me to become more stable. During the Masses which I attended daily if possible I deposited all my troubles and tribulations into the chalice with a few private sayings, and when I received communion I’d say ‘Lord Jesus, I love you.’ I repeated this during the day whenever I felt the need. The whole Mass means so much for me from the beginning to the gospels, homily, Eucharistic prayer, communion and final prayer. This presence of Christ in my life has had a profound internal and external effect that over time has made me a more loving, giving, patient and compassionate person.
In the sanctuary of St Francis Church, Melbourne, there is a large painting of the crucifixion on the north wall. It shows a woman at the foot of the cross holding up a cloth, and I look at it and say, ‘I’m just a rag being cleansed by the blood of Christ. The presence of Christ is in my heart.’
After Mass I feel bright and contented as a small child would. God has worked his miracles in my soul and brought about the illuminating effect his presence has had in my life, even though I was homeless and sleeping in Fitzroy Gardens. I used to go to Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral, then have a free breakfast at St Peter’s across the road at 7.30.
They say God allows our trials and misfortunes to come about so it will bring us closer to Christ’s saving grace and our true place in this world and the next. Even though I’ve had over twenty admissions into hospitals, I believe I’ve turned the corner and am on the right road. I don’t have much in the way of material things but I don’t need much. What has been provided by God to get me to where I am now is a blessing.
I have a saying that goes like this: what do you do when you find the needle in a haystack? You thread a camel through the eye of the needle and put it back in the haystack, and then teach others how to do it.