I was born into a strict Italian Catholic family.
I guess you could say that as a child my faith was relatively solid. I attended Mass with my family, was taught to pray and never failed at my nightly Our Father and Hail Mary.
However, somewhere along the way my faith waned and, as I grew, I strayed from its practice.
I became a rebellious teenager and developed a fascination with things that were not from God. Attending Mass became a laughable notion and, of course, prayer became redundant except, of course, when I had a selfish need.
I was definitely lost to my faith and even recall, shamefully, that when asked what religion I was I would reply: “I was raised Catholic but I don’t really believe in what Catholicism teaches.”
I had, in fact, created my own version of God and he was one that turned a blind eye to my sinfulness, one that did not require that I be accountable to any kind of higher moral standards or commandments.
Without realising it I had abandoned Catholicism altogether and become, in many ways, agnostic. I continued this way well into my 20s, only attending church at Easter and Christmas to appease my family.
It was not until after I married and had my first child that the question of my faith came to the forefront in my mind.
Becoming a mother was the catalyst for re-examining my conscience and beliefs as I wondered what kind of values I wanted passed on to my son. I watched curiously as my aunts, grandmother and mother held him and prayed. I began to realise that he truly was a blessing in my life not bestowed on me by the ‘universe’ but by God.
One evening before his second birthday I had a dream that would change everything. I dreamt I was sitting on my bed when a knock came at my door. I answered and there, before me, stood an image of Jesus.
The image had piercing eyes that looked straight into my soul and I woke immediately, frightened and shocked as I had never before dreamt of Jesus.
I told my husband about the dream and then forgot about it. A few weeks later on Good Friday I attended Mass at St Brigid’s, Marrickville, as I did every year.
This night was different. I experienced what could be called a ‘push of grace’ and I received the sacrament of reconciliation for the first time in 14 years.
I was in the confessional a long time and the kindness and spiritual counsel shown to me by the priest is something I will never forget.
Upon finishing my confession I began to feel a great burden was lifted and I started to cry. I didn’t know exactly why but I felt healing in those tears and it seemed a floodgate was opened.
Once I regained my composure I found my family and we proceeded to leave. At the last minute I stopped to pick up some bulletins to read over at home, having decided to attend Mass more regularly.
Going home I said nothing of what I had experienced in the confessional. Arriving home I proceeded to place one of the notices on my fridge.
The sight changed my life forever. The notice had an image of Our Lord exactly the same as my dream. I froze, staring at this beautiful picture, unable to articulate any words. It was an advertisement for an upcoming healing Mass and I knew I had to go.
I didn’t know much about Catholicism at that time. I was still an infant in my faith. I knew I wasn’t sick but God knew my healing was not from the physical but the spiritual.
I attended my first healing Mass in May 2002. I experienced so much healing; I’ve had so many more dreams of our Lord and felt his presence in my life in such a real way.
God ignited such strong love in my heart and I realise that faith is a gift. It’s not something that can be acquired by trying with all your might, but if we look for Him He certainly allows himself to be found.
I am not a saint and my faith is imperfect, I’m still learning to walk, so to speak, but I cherish my faith and I am so grateful that Jesus fulfilled his promise to search for the lost sheep.
It’s true that Catholicism is not necessary for salvation; God can reach us wherever we are and his power is not limited by religion, but I believe it is through Catholicism, with all its beautiful sacraments and devotions that we can gain the most from heaven.
Filomena Mihas, 38, is a parishioner at St Brigid’s, Marrickville.