Gerard Crozier’s religious experience was so unexpected and life-altering that three years on, he’s still processing the strange events which happened to him
My big hidden secret in life is that I’m a closeted Catholic. I attend mass regularly, receive communion, go to confession, and pray – how many millennials do that?
This will come as a pretty huge shock to my friends and peers, it’s something I keep completely private and hidden. Why? Because I’m a coward mostly. There’s been a big shift in Western culture over the last few decades, an anti-Christian shift, which has left many closeted Christians, afraid to speak out.
I have always struggled to align my actions and everyday persona with my religious beliefs until something strange happened to me a few years ago.
I was brought up Roman Catholic in the 1990s. I went to church every Sunday and as a family, we regularly said the rosary. I outlasted a lot of my friends in the regular ritual of going to Sunday mass, although I don’t really know why.
At university the usual sex, drugs, and booze situations arose along with the testosterone-fuelled bravado. This, matched with the secular and atheistic culture and overall uncool attitude towards religion from fellow students clawed at my faith. It inevitably broke down and I began leading a quite hedonistic lifestyle, however, under the cover of darkness, I’d still go to mass. My actions and words were at complete contradiction to my supposed ‘Christian faith’, however, I continued to rock up on Sunday and holy days.
I went through peaks and troughs of faith - periods of profound belief, attending mass secretly three times a week, and praying almost daily, folowed by severe bouts of atheism and occasionally nihilism.
This cognitive dissonance and confusion came to a head one night in 2018, a week before Christmas. It had been a difficult year for me physically and mentally, I was working away from home, and my relationship with my fiancee was crumbling. The job which I moved away from home for had not worked out the way I had envisaged, I was drinking heavily and the chronic illness which I live with was causing me severe distress and, to top it off, I was in a lot of debt. I felt like I had enough.
After 20 years of battling with the atheistic culture in which I lived and this ancient belief system that I held so dear but that was so at odds with the trajectory of the western world - I decided I wanted rid of it.
I was packing to go home for Christmas and in the background I was listening to a Christian debate an atheist on YouTube. As time went on the debate finished and as YouTube does, if you don’t click on another video on the platform it will auto-select a ‘related video’ for you based on what you’ve previously been watching. This had happened three or four times as I packed before it landed on a short video of a Christian apologist answering questions on doubt and the silence of God. My ears perked up.
“If you’re struggling and losing faith, ask sincerely from your heart – ‘Jesus reveal yourself to me’ ” said the apologist.
This over-simplistic answer struck me - it was a bit too simple, but I was desperate. So I dropped to my knees and knelt by my bedside.
I prayed like I’d never prayed before, and asked Jesus Christ, if he was there, really and truly there, to reveal himself to me. I knelt in silence for a moment. Tears ran down my face. The silence continued. Nothing followed.
I quickly got up and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I wiped away the tears from my cheek and felt embarrassed of my own credulity.
I spent the next half an hour packing my bags and looking forward to getting on my train home. I carried my case down the three flights of stairs and plugged my headphones in. My focus had moved completely, I was listening to a podcast and thinking about getting out of the city for a few days and trying to work through my problems.
I opened the wooden door to leave my flat building onto the high street and I was immediately struck by the size and brightness of the moon. It was low and lit up the whole street, it looked huge. I couldn’t take my eyes off it - Is it normally like this? I thought to myself as I dragged my suitcase down the street.
I prayed like I’d never prayed before
As I crossed the road and pulled the suitcase up over the curb, I looked back up to the moon and suddenly there it was. Off to the left of the moon’s rays, appeared a face. A sallow coloured, bearded man, with long hair - it was the face of Christ. I stopped dead in my tracks, terror washed over me, my heart was racing, I was blinking profusely, I wanted to rub my eyes, but I was too scared to move.
Thoughts began to catapult through my mind, I was in a panicked state. It’s the clouds a rational voice in my head was saying It’s just the clouds - but there were no clouds, I knew there weren’t any clouds. I began to walk forward, time seemed to slow right down, my eyes were fixated on the sky. I was trying to force myself to look away. It was a struggle, I was drawn to it in an unexplainable way, it was like a magnet. I pulled my eyes down to the road, expecting others to have noticed, but there were streams of people coming towards me and they were none the wiser, no one was even noticing my manic state.
My eyes darted back up to the face, I was in a state of awe and terror. I walked slowly forward down the street; eyes locked on the sky. I went to speak but I physically couldn’t. My mind spoke; What do I do? I asked.
“Keep going” was the response.
Where that response came from, I do not know. I don’t have the vocabulary to explain it. The answer came from my core, it was as if my being was speaking. As soon as I felt that response, the terror instantly lifted, I started to walk quicker, eyes still transfixed on the sky, a smile beamed across my face, I must’ve looked insane, my head was literally in the clouds.
I was filled with elation, a euphoric feeling that I’d never felt before
As I approached the next crossing to get to the station, the face disappeared moving with the wind. I was filled with elation, a euphoric feeling that I’d never felt before - I felt pure happiness for the first time in a long while. As I walked into the station I was confronted with a band of children playing Christmas carols, I was compelled to empty my pockets of any money I had on me and give it over. I wasn’t myself for a few minutes, I was in a foreign state. I walked down the stairs and got the train, and slowly began to come to terms with what had happened, the prayer, the face, the feeling - but for the first time in a while I knew what to do, “keep going”.
Now, in April 2021, I am still processing what I experienced that night, but the message I attained kept me going through my darkest hours and led me forward and round a corner. I’m now happily married to the same woman with whom I was having relationship troubles, my chronic illness has significantly improved, I’m out of all serious debt, I’m back home nearer family and friends, and I’m also back to church.
I still don’t fully understand what happened that day, and I know many will be sceptical of the events that unfolded, and I’m fine with that. I don’t get it either. I know if I were reading this pre-2018 I’d think it was crazy.
But what I do now know is that we don’t know everything. We don’t know our own value, and things aren’t as clear as they may seem. Keep doing the right thing, and most importantly, keep going, you don’t know what’s around the corner.