What has been the most challenging part of being Catholic so far?
Three practices or beliefs: the rosary, confession and the separation from my Christian friends from other traditions when it comes to the Eucharist.
The rosary is new for me, and while I deeply respect the beauty of this form of prayer, I struggle a bit with the mechanics of coordinating the meditation on the Gospel passages, the prayers and my fingers on the beads. I should persist because I’d like to be able to pray the rosary without worrying about coordinating heart, spirit, mind, mouth, and fingers — but it’s a challenge.
Regarding confession, I deeply appreciate this sacrament, and love the fact that it’s also known as the sacrament of reconciliation. I recognize how essential it is and I don’t have any difficulty at all knowing that I need to confess my sins. The difficulty comes with the slightly awkward, embarrassing experience of sitting in front of a priest and telling him the shameful things one has thought, said or done. But as one priest told me, it’s a bit like going to the dentist — no one looks forward to it, but once we’ve done it we feel so much better, and we know that even if it’s painful it is absolutely necessary. Initially, my first few experiences of confession were more awkward because it was new to me, but now I really value it deeply.
Third, is the separation when it comes to the Eucharist. I’ve had Christian friends of other traditions come to Mass with me and I’ve had the painful responsibility to remind them in advance that they are welcome to come but cannot receive Holy Communion. Similarly, in my work I speak a lot in Anglican and other Protestant churches, or I visit other churches with friends, and I always feel sad that I’m unable to receive Holy Communion alongside them. I understand why, but I hope and pray that Christians from different traditions will one day be reunited in the one true Church.
You never planned to write a book about becoming Catholic, so how did it happen?
The evening I was received into the Church in Burma, Cardinal Bo said to me over dinner afterward that he thought I should write a book about it. Then, independently, Lord David Alton, my sponsor, said the same. Initially, I was resistant to the idea — I didn’t want to write about myself — but back in Britain I met with my parish priest and told him about the suggestion, and to my surprise he said he had the same idea. Then two other Catholic friends also said the same. So I thought okay, I have an archbishop (he wasn’t yet Cardinal at the time), a member of the House of Lords, my parish priest, and two other friends whose judgment I respect; I should at least think and pray about this seriously. George Weigel encouraged me too and suggested the title.
I spent a few months praying about it and preparing a concept note, and then I was introduced to my publishers, Gracewing, and they accepted the idea and gave me a contract to do it.