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Apr 14, 2023 2143 Holly Rodriguez
Encounter

When an Atheist Heard God’s Voice

Freelance artist Holly Rodriguez had been an atheist all her life and never thought about God or considered joining a religion or even going to church, but one day…

It was December of 2016, I had woken up one winter morning wanting nothing more than my usual cup of coffee. I had been an atheist all of my life. I had never thought about God and certainly never considered joining a religion or going to church. However on that day, for no reason at all, I felt a sudden desire to go to church. There was nothing unusual going on in my life to bring about this sudden change of heart. I had been living a fairly normal, quiet life as a freelance artist in a small seaside town in Kent, England.

I searched for the closest church that was open that day and found a Roman Catholic church within walking distance. That was a surprise.Although I had passed that area many times, I had never noticed a church there before. It’s amazing how blind we are to the presence of God, and how near He is to us, when we walk the path of life with a closed heart.

Ringing Back

I phoned the church and a kind lady answered the phone.She introduced herself as the parish secretary and I asked her some questions which she was happy to answer. She told me the church was Catholic and that she would let the priest know I had phoned and we said our goodbyes. I was shy and didn’t know what to expect. I’ve always been one of those people who likes to know everything about a situation before making a decision. I didn’t know what a Catholic Church was, and had never met a priest before. I decided to take the day off work and learn about the Catholic faith, so did a lot of reading on Wikipedia for a few hours.

Then my phone rang.On the other line was a kind voice—a priest who introduced himself as Father Mark. He was very friendly and enthusiastic which came as a shock to me. I had never in my life met someone so eager to meet me and welcome me. We scheduled a time for me to visit the church the next day. When I had arrived, Father Mark was there in his cassock to greet me. It was the first time I’d seen a priest in person and I remember being really fascinated by his cassock. I guess I’d never thought about what a priest looks like. I had only seen the Pope briefly on the television news occasionally, but never anything beyond that.

Father Mark sat with me and we talked for a couple of hours, then he invited me to join the “RCIA” classes. He also suggested that it was a good idea to start going to Mass right away, so I did. I can recall the first Mass I ever went to. It was Gaudete Sunday and I sat in the very front pew, absolutely clueless to the etiquette. Everyone around me was standing and then sitting and then standing again and sometimes kneeling, and reciting the creed and other prayers. I was new and found this a bit intimidating, but also fascinating and intriguing. I followed what everyone else was doing to the best of my ability. The priest was wearing a beautiful rose vestment that looked very ornate and delicate. He chanted at the altar and I watched and listened closely as incense filled the chapel. It was a very beautiful English Mass, and from then on I knew I’d come back.

Straight to the Heart

I liked it so much that I kept going back every weekend and even started attending daily Mass. My love for Jesus grew at every encounter. During my first Christmas Eve Mass, the priest tenderly carried the Christ Child statue, wrapped in his ivory satin cope the way that priests hold a monstrance.As he processed around the chapel with the Infant Christ to the crib, accompanied by the chanting of prayers, I was moved to tears. I thought that was so lovely. Never in my life had I seen anything like it before.

As I prepared to be received into the Catholic Church, I spent a lot of time reading at home, especially from the catechism given to me by the priests of the parish. A week before my baptism that I was told I’d need to choose a Saint for my confirmation. There were thousands of Saints however, and didn’t know how I’d choose from them all. I knew nothing about them except for Saint Philomena because the priest did a homily on her one Sunday morning. By divine providence I came across a fascinating book, “Interior Castles” while I was volunteering in the parish café. It was written by a Spanish Saint I’d never even heard of before—the Carmelite nun, Saint Teresa of Avila. Since my family is of Spanish heritage, I chose her as my patron although I didn’t know much else about her.

Finally, during the Easter vigil Mass on April 15th 2017, I was baptized and confirmed into the Catholic Church. I was so excited that I could now receive the Blessed Sacrament at the altar rail, instead of a blessing that I was up bright and early on Easter Sunday to sing with the choir at the main Mass. Soon after, I joined the Legion of Mary and began praying the Rosary, making Rosaries and doing mission work around the town to bring the lapsed Catholics back to Mass and pray the Rosary with people at home.

Saint Teresa remained a guiding influence in my life, teaching me to love Jesus more and more, but I had no idea who the Carmelites were until I joined our parish on a day pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Simon Stock at Aylesford Priory, a historic home of the Carmelite friars.

A Radical Change

Years later, I would stumble upon another Spaniard, Saint Josemaria Escriva who also had a great love for Saint Teresa of Avila and the Carmelites. He was the founder of Opus Dei, a prelature within the Catholic Church, which I joined as a co-operator, with a mission to pray for the members and priests. I felt God calling me to a deeper commitment, but didn’t know if that was with Opus Dei, or in religious life as a nun.A priest friend told me that I had to make up my mind and choose which path to take, that I couldn’t stay suspended in uncertainty forever. He was right, so I began to pray and fast, listening to God’s call. My life had gone through a lot of changes in a short period of time and I suffered a dark night of the soul.

My Cross felt very heavy, but I knew that if I kept persevering in my faith, all would be well. I had to let go of the need for total control, allow God to lead the way and stop fighting against His will.I had been too caught up in my own ego and desires to really listen to Him. When that epiphany came, I decided to let go and live each day as it came to me, as a gift from God and to let Him lead the way. I adopted the philosophy that God places us where we are in life because that is where He needs us at that specific time. I made myself an instrument to His divine will. When I abandoned myself to Him, God showed me that everything had happened that way because He was calling me from the very start.

Lead Kindly Light

I kept receiving gifts from the Saints which were leading me to Carmel. One day, I was entranced by a bright pink rose growing out of the cement. Later I discovered that it was the birthday of Saint Thèrése of Lisieux who said that she would send people roses as a sign from Heaven. That same day, I was in a secular incense shop when I came across a box of pretty rose scented incense sticks with an image of St Thèrése of Lisieux on the box. These little signs helped plant seeds of vocation and seeds of faith.

As I write this, I am about to celebrate my 6th anniversary as a Catholic and preparing to enter the sacred garden of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Accepting this vocation to be a cloistered nun, if God wills it to be so, I spend my life praying for the Church, for the world, and for priests. It has been a long journey, and I have met so many wonderful people along the way.

Saint Thèrése of Lisieux referred to Carmel as her desert where Our Lord spent forty days in contemplation and prayer, but for me it is the garden of Gethsemane where Our Lord sat among the olive trees in agony. I join Him in His agony with unbridled love, and walk with Him on the Via Dolorosa. Together we suffer for souls and offer the world our love.

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Holly Rodriguez

Holly Rodriguez is an artist and author of “Loving Christ through St. Josemaria Escriva and “The Sentinel of the Soul.” Currently she is in California, preparing to join the Carmelites as a cloistered nun. Her life story exemplifies that God doesn’t need anybody to reach out to you. He simply knocked at the door of her heart and she welcomed Him.

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