Holy through ordinary life

This week the Faith Column will look into the lives of four members of Opus Dei. Nick Thomas tells h

My parents were Anglicans and my earliest memory of praying to God was saying my prayers before going to bed. I remember going to church on Sundays but my two brothers and I were not keen to say the least. Eventually because we were too much to handle we boys stopped going to church altogether and after a while I slipped out of the practice of saying the prayers my mother taught me. My only contact with religion was through the schools I attended. In the school assemblies we would sing hymns and there was usually some talk on an aspect of Christian life. The one I clearly remember was about a Catholic priest who went to live on an island where lepers had been abandoned. He looked after them and eventually caught leprosy himself and died.

When I reached the age of eighteen I was an agnostic. I went to university in London to study Physics at Imperial College. My eldest brother had just finished his History degree at King’s and in his final year he had stayed at Netherhall House, a residence for students. My brother had liked Netherhall and said it was a good place to study. The residence, run by members of Opus Dei, was open to anyone of any faith or none and was more like a family home. After dinner people would have coffee together and there would be a get-together where people would talk about anything and everything.

I found the transition from school to university difficult. The level was very demanding and by the time of my exams I had become quite depressed. One of the chaps living there, a member of Opus Dei, who was a teacher and came from my hometown in the north of England, suggested I should pray about it. He even took me into the chapel of the residence and showed me how to do it. At the time it didn’t appear to have any effect and I didn’t keep it up. But I got through my exams and left Netherhall for the summer vacation. I began to pray and to read about Jesus Christ’s life and his teaching. When I went back to Netherhall to do a PhD in Medical Physics in King’s College Hospital I gradually began to practise my Anglican faith again, helped by the members of Opus Dei at Netherhall and the talks on Christian doctrine given there.

The greatest influence on me at this time was the Mass, which was said every morning in the chapel of the residence. I was overwhelmed by the Catholic teaching of the priest saying the words of the consecration just as Christ said at his Last Supper. “This is my body (…) this is my blood.” The bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus Christ. So, when we eat the bread or drink the wine we are eating or drinking the body and blood of Jesus, true God and true man. In the world around me I could see all the efforts and sacrifices people were making to acquire money or material things and yet here in the Mass was this infinitely greater thing: God, my creator and creator of all these material things. And since for Catholics the Mass is also the sacrifice of Calvary, I came to understand that we can offer to God, along with Our Lord’s sacrifice, ourselves and all that we do.

I became a Catholic. The teaching of Opus Dei is that people can become holy through their ordinary lives, so I expect the example of the members of Opus Dei living out their Christian lives also had an effect on me. A year later I joined Opus Dei as a numerary (celibate member). However, since Opus Dei is a family, numeraries still live together as a family.

The founder of Opus Dei, Saint Josemaría Escrivá, used to say that members owed 99% of their vocation to their parents. Mine were a marvellous example to me and my brothers. They had continued to practise their faith (despite our apathy), and they were supportive of me when I decided to become a Catholic. It was a very happy occasion for all of us when they also joined the Catholic Church a few years later.

After my PhD I went into research at King’s College Hospital in Medical Ultrasound and later moved to Guy’s Hospital to work as a clinical scientist in Vascular Ultrasound which involves using ultrasound to diagnose problems with blood flow in the arteries and veins.

I try to go to Mass every day. During Mass I offer to God all that I am going to do that day, the patients I am going to scan, the students I am going to teach, the reports and my research. And I pray for my family, relatives and friends. Whatever may happen that day (good or bad) I offer to Our Lord. The Mass also helps me remember that I am always in the presence of God. This way I try to do my work well for Him. And, whenever there are difficulties, I ask for his help.