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11 xmedjug

My journey of Faith, hope and clarity

Deacon Alan brown reveals how a visit to Medjugorje led him to the Virgin Mary and a life in service to Mother Church.

In this second decade of the 21st century, when we set out on a journey, many of us have a sat-nav to guide us to our destination.

“Turn right, follow the road for three miles. Turn left at the next junction and in 300 yards take the second exit at the round-about. In 300 yards you will have arrived at your destination.”

When I started on my spiritual journey 15 years ago there was no divine sat-nav. But I had a voice. Our Blessed Mother guided me to her Son.

My journey started on holiday. My wife Maureen and our two children were going on pilgrimage to Medjugorje, a town in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Since 1981 the town near the Croatian border has been a destination for millions of pilgrims following apparitions of the Virgin Mary to six local children.

 

Strengthening Faith

I knew only that Maureen and the children had been the year before and came back changed. Their Faith seemed stronger and more alive.

At that time I wasn’t Catholic, nor Christian. My family were going on pilgrimage but I wasn’t. We agreed they would do the holy stuff and I would have a relaxing week, meeting up in-between the hard work of being a pilgrim.

Little did I know that I would soon encounter the gentle guidance of Our Blessed Mother and that I would become a pilgrim.

From the very first morning I sensed something special about the place. There was a real sense of calm, of peace, of clarity and clearness.

 

‘How did a holidaymaker turn pilgrim?’

The following day I met Fr Dominic Towey, Maureen’s parish priest, for the first time. He introduced himself and told me that if I needed to speak just to give him a shout. I wondered why would I need to speak to a priest?

So, how did a holidaymaker turn pilgrim?

I met Philip, one of the guides, when he did an introductory talk. I was convinced he was talking about me, thinking someone had briefed him. Feeling very moved, I found myself crying.

On the July 2, we were invited to be present at an apparition with Mirijana Dragićević, one of the original six who witnessed the first. There was a lot of excitement about joining Mirijana’s apparition and I had a notion it would be good to go along to see what it was all about. We arrived at Cenacolo, an inspirational centre on the edge of Medjugorje, early in the morning.

 

Apparition

The large marquee was already full. I stood outside, occasionally looking in. All eyes seemed to be on three women sitting in front of a statue of Our Lady. At one point I noticed a lady, who I later found out was Mirijana, seemingly change. Her face, which had been stern and deep in concentration, became alive as though someone had turned on a switch. Mirijana’s smile seemed to match the newly risen sun for warmth, her eyes wide with a look of love.

After a matter of minutes the apparition ended.

The crowds dispersed and we headed off for breakfast. I was sitting with one of Maureen’s cousins discussing what I had seen, after a while she simply asked me if I believed in what I had witnessed?

Yes, was my answer. This created some internal turmoil. Words like ‘visionary,’ ‘mother of God,’ ‘existence of God,’ swirled around my brain. A brain that had experienced more than 40 years of denial.

 

Turning to God

Later that day I went into Church to pray and my prayer was: “Lord I open my heart to you. Let your Will be done.”

The rest of the week was a whirlwind, trying to make sense of what was happening while feeling this overwhelming love.

On the last day, after spending time on my own at the Blue Cross on Medjugorje’s Apparition Hill, I decided to seek out Fr Towey and take up his offer to chat. I shared the change I had felt, my belief that God would guide me. I talked to him about Baptism and how I could join the Church. He was a good listener and even better spiritual guide.

 

Journey to Faith

I had arrived in Medjugorje a non-believer and left with my heart converted to God, although the head took a while longer.

My conversion in Medjugorje didn’t come with trumpet blasts from angels. Quite simply, Our Blessed Mother gently led a pilgrim to the reality of her Son.

Once home I signed up for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults in Blantyre and in 2005 I was Baptised and received into the Church. Soon after I became involved in the life of the Church at St John the Baptist, Uddingston, and got on with my life as a husband and a father. RCIA had given me a great thirst for more knowledge about the truths of our Faith and the more I read the more convinced I became of those truths.

From then on I would pray and ask the Lord what he was calling me to in service of his Church.

 

The Diaconate

A number of years later I first got the sense that I may be called to service as a deacon.

Again, it was Fr Towey who first asked if I had thought of being a deacon. I was sure the Lord had a different plan for me. But I did think about it, I prayed and a year later signed up for the initial year of discernment to really begin to test if this was what God was calling me to.

It hasn’t always been an easy journey, balancing work, family and studies over seven years; but God was with me. When Bishop Joseph Toal ordained me as a Deacon on Saturday, September 14, it was an exceptionally emotional, warm and beautiful ceremony.

Sitting in the front row was Maureen with our children Paul and Emma, my daughter-in-law Jen and son-in-law Frankie. My young grandchildren Jacob and Adam were on their best behaviour. Behind them a sea of faces: friends, family, parishioners from St Bride’s Bothwell and Our Lady of Lourdes, East Kilbride joined the hundreds from St John the Baptist.

 

Friends and family

There were a number of people who were not of our Faith but were united in friendship and I was so encouraged to hear them talk about the love they had felt at the service.

As I reflected on a remarkable day I thought of the many who have helped me on this journey of Faith, particularly Fr Towey, Bishop Toal, Mgr Tom Millar and Fr Jim Grant.

My prayer is that I can indeed serve God’s people with great love and humility as a deacon. In truth, my journey as a deacon has just begun.

 

— Interview by Jim Cassidy

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