Ten years ago, the thought of addressing people at a eucharistic convention in Auckland wasn’t on TVNZ reporter Tim Wilson’s radar.
“But God has plans for us that we can’t know,” Mr Wilson told his audience on July 14.
Energetic and engaging, even at 9am on a wintry Sunday morning at Sacred Heart College in east Auckland, he described his journey into full communion with the Catholic Church.
Raised in the Christian faith, with his adoptive father being a Presbyterian minister, Mr Wilson said he had had faith in his teens.
“But I went to university. And university is just the most corrosive thing for a Christian faith. I had been a good boy, and I probably wanted to be a naughty boy, too. So it wasn’t a faith that was that strong, it was an emotional faith. And it just got torn apart.”
He became an atheist, but found this “so exhausting”, because “you have got to fight against God”. A time of being agnostic followed and he just “wandered about in the landscape”.
A series of chance events — in which he later saw the hand of God — led to him becoming a TVNZ news correspondent in New York and he was “living the dream”.
“So I had this great job and I had just written a novel . . . it was getting published, and I had always wanted to write a novel, and all my dreams were coming true.
“So why did I feel so meagre? Why did I feel like I was this, sort of, parody of myself? You know I was this rough, tough journalist, yeah, so cynical. Everyone is just out for themselves, man. You know, I felt so small on the
inside, and yet I had this big life. There was this big gap between who I felt I was and what I was.”
When travelling back to his residence late at night in Spanish Harlem after delivering news reports from Times Square, Mr Wilson would pass by St Cecilia’s church.
“Something appealed to me about that church,” he said, recalling that he had seen homeless people sheltering in its doorway. Then there was a “friend of mine [who] was Catholic and she sort of seemed a bit different”.
“Catholics seemed to be different. [But] I wasn’t to be a Catholic. I was just going to go to a vigil Mass. I was never going to be a Catholic. What, one of those crazy Catholics? They’re weird. They talk to the Blessed Virgin. I’m a Presbyterian, we can’t do that!”
But he took the plunge and went to a vigil Mass at St Cecilia’s. And that experience changed his life.
“I found I liked the liturgy. You know, you get up and you kneel down and you know, your body is moving a bit and you say things. . . the priest — wonderful guy — a Tanzanian missionary . . . his accent was so thick — I
couldn’t understand half the homily. As an ex-Presbyterian, it’s like, you just go for the homily, right? Because you have just got to hear some stuff. And then everyone lined up and got the precious Body and Blood. It was just, I started to feel something . . . . You know in Ezekiel, when he is talking about the bones in the valley, and it is like, the bones come to life. I felt something coming to life in me.”
“And then, at the end [of the Mass], they said OK, so who has got wedding anniversaries, who has got a birthday, who is here for the first time? And what I did was, I was like a naughty kid in class.”
He showed his Auckland audience how he put his hand up tentatively.
“And they all turned around and they clapped me. You can tell I am a bit of a performer. I thought, Oh, my goodness, I got clapped at Mass. So then I had a problem — because it was good and I didn’t expect it to be good.”
His journey after that wasn’t a road to Damascus, he said. It was closer to the story of the road to Emmaus.
“You are just walking along and you suddenly realise that Jesus is walking with you. And it was great. So I started going back to Mass. I went next week and then the next week. I had to go back. And I started realising that some of the things I was doing in my life didn’t really help with going to Mass. So I had to get rid of those. I used to be a champion swearer — but the Lord took it away.”
During his testimony, he spoke about how surprised his family and some friends were about his move.
“I don’t want to bag Presbyterians, because my parents are lovely people . . . but the Lord touches your heart and you know what you have to do.”
“Because I was coming into the Church,” he added, “I had to do a penance — that penance was called RCIA.”
The audience laughed gently at this. “But it was wonderful,” Mr Wilson said. “Coming into the Church was this fantastic journey.” He was received into full communion with the Catholic Church before he returned to New Zealand.
Back in this country, he had expected to live a single life — but again God surprised him.
“I had just resigned myself — you know at a family event, there is like this red-nosed old bachelor who smells of vodka and sways a bit. That was going to be me. But then I met my wife at Mass (at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Auckland) . . . . Now we have three . . . little boys — aged 4, 3, and 1.
“My life is so different, and my life feels so abundant now.” He finished his talk by encouraging his audience to continue to “walk with the Lord”.
“It is just amazing — it has changed my life . . . . ”