"A lay Catholic perspective"

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The Gift of Life

by Joanne Neustaedter


I BECAME A member of A People Of Peace Community in 1978. I was not looking for a Christian experience; I was looking for an escape from the psych ward. I had no place to live and a friend told me about this particular community. The community was taking in alcoholics, drug addicts, and the emotionally disturbed — anyone God led them to. A person from the community came to interview me at the hospital. Asked if I knew God, I asked, "Does he work here?" I actually had been brought up Christian, in the Lutheran faith, but I was angry with God and had decided I didn't believe in him.

I joined a Christian household discovering that not only was it a place to live, it was also the start of a new way of life. When introduced to my first prayer meeting, I curled up in a corner and listened. I had never heard the word "charismatic" before. Yet, as I listened, everyone began singing in tongues. To me it sounded like angels singing. This was the beginning of my conversion. A retired Catholic priest who had been befriended by the community came once a week to the house and gave me instructions in the Catholic faith. Eight months later I received First Communion and the sacrament of Confirmation. I received special dispensation to be confirmed in a house because I was much too anxious and withdrawn to be confirmed in a church.

Although I experienced unconditional love, this included "tough love." I threw temper tantrums when I was either very anxious or things didn't go my way, and I would scream at the top of my lungs. Although it took many years to be healed of this, I was consistently corrected which helped to overcome this behaviour.

I was very fearful and convinced that if anyone knew my thoughts they would condemn me as a terrible person. Due to his patience and perseverance, I eventually began to trust Mark and started pouring out my innermost thoughts and feelings. Daring to share my heart proved worthwhile. Everyone in the community showed me acceptance and love, and I came to realize that my thoughts and feelings were similar to those experienced by everyone else. During this time, community members also explained to me that the sacrament of Reconciliation healed resentments, judgments of people, and other sins that I had harboured for many years. Before joining A People Of Peace Community I had been a "revolving door" patient on the psych ward, but through Jesus' healing power I have now been out of the hospital for 20 years. Surrounded by love I was able to find the confidence to return to work. After a year in a restaurant, I returned to nursing, a career which I had lost due to years of intense psychiatric problems.

I learned acceptance of suffering in my life. Before joining A People Of Peace Community, I could not handle any suffering, but would fall apart or become severely depressed. I learned that through suffering we can be united to the cross of Christ. I know now the value of suffering which leads to faith, patience and perseverance that can be used to help others come to Christ.

Five years ago I took a private vow of chastity before my community and my parish pastor and am now a Catholic lay celibate. In September 1997 I purchased a house and became the head of a Christian household for single women.

I treasure my life and would not want to live in any other way. I expect many challenges but they will bring growth, a strengthening of faith, and the chance to serve my brothers and sisters in Christ.