Henri and Tianah Taylor are both 22 years old and grew up in Nowra. They were married in December 2018. They grew up regarding people who believed in God as deluded, zealous and alien. Yet, on 21 April 2019, at the Easter Vigil at St Francis Xavier Cathedral in Wollongong, they were baptised and joyfully embraced becoming Catholic.
Jude Hennessy recently sat down with the both of them to gain some insights into what they describe as their unlikely journey and very happy arrival as members of the Catholic Church.
Tell me a little bit about yourselves.
Tianah: We went to high school together and started dating after Year 12. After beginning tertiary studies, we lived together and started to face some of the grim realities of modern life—relationships included. We were taking our lead based on the societal norms and popular culture and we had no understanding of God, the Bible or the Church in helping us to live a good, happy and fulfilling life.
Henri: The blueprint for our lives and relationship was predicated on examples set by our peer circles and society. We both had a growing uneasiness and dissatisfaction, not with each other, but with the mindset and values we were surrounded by—which for both of us, in one way or another, lacked meaning and consistency and certainly weren’t making anyone we knew truly happy.
Tianah: Henri and I are very different in many ways, and so we commenced this search for deeper meaning and consistency for living in different ways, but we continued to discuss what was going on in our minds and eventually in our hearts.
How did you make the jump from non-belief to belief?
Tianah: Our realisations took place at approximately the same time. We had been doing a lot of reading and listening to podcasts from various sources, and the Catholic Church started to stand out as being credible and consistent. We now know that most people choose to come to the Church through one of three avenues: truth, beauty or goodness. For me, I was attracted by the Church’s quality of goodness. I came to see that goodness must have a source in God, and there are great expressions of this goodness in the codes for living presented by Jesus in the Gospels. I was especially attracted to the person of Mary. For Henri, the journey was initially a more intellectual one.
Henri: I’ve been interested in philosophy for some time, particularly Aristotle’s three main disciplines: metaphysics, epistemology and ethics (the study of what is real, what is true and what is good.) At first, enlightenment philosophers like Rousseau and Kant seemed to hold to thinking that gave answers to these questions for me, but in the end, they seemed baseless and missing a foundation.
Like Tianah’s realisation of a need of a source of “good”, I came to accept, logically, the need for divinity in order to determine truth. It was in the reading of thinkers like St Thomas Aquinas, St Augustine of Hippo and St Paul that I came to embrace Jesus as the truth—the Word who was made Flesh and dwelt among us. Because of their writings, I came to increasingly see the Catholic Church as having the robust thinking and teaching to explain and enrich the relationship between the intellect and mystery. The fact is, there are limits to what we can know. We are given enough knowledge to enable us to embrace the need for mystery, for faith, as well as reason.
So, goodness and truth got you to a point of acceptance and desiring to explore becoming a Catholic. What got you across the line?
Henri: We came to mix with some impressive people at the Catholic Society at the University of Wollongong—young people who were smart, contemporary and faithful. They were so welcoming and genuinely interested in having conversations that moved us along. I came to the understanding of the need to not just think, but to pray. I had to learn and I am still learning how to do this, but it was clear that God wants to be in a relationship with us, one that includes a felt reality, an encounter with the Spirit, intellectually, but also in our hearts. My openness to that started when I was invited to do menALIVE last year in the diocese and I have been growing in my understanding of prayer and experience of God ever since. Now, after becoming a Catholic and receiving the sacraments, I get the fuller experience of that, particularly by receiving Jesus in the Eucharist.
Tianah: Without even knowing it, our relationship and moral system was slowly falling into alignment with Christian values. It was around about this time that I became pregnant.
We began talking about a future together: marriage, children and family life. I was starting to dip my feet into the water of basic Catholic Church teaching too. The Catholic Church’s teachings on femininity, the Holy Family and motherhood—especially through the veneration of Mary—expressed a deep richness that I wanted for us and any future children we would have. I started praying the rosary. I love it! It is an amazing way to meditate. All of this spurred my conversion and my embracing of the faith. It was so countercultural, so different to everything I had experienced, and yet it was obviously beautiful and it sat so peacefully with me.
A clincher for us was last January when we were encouraged to attend a matrimony conference in Tasmania. We both came to see the richness of the Catholic Church and were exposed to things that blew our minds. We were outsiders; recently civilly married; not-yet Catholic; with a baby due in five months. Despite all this, we were made to feel so welcome and that was amazing. We learnt so much and experienced so much. We were enriched by learning about the Holy Family as a model and by the Theology of the Body—an understanding of the Church’s teachings on life and fertility. We experienced various forms of prayer, from middle-of-the-road Catholic prayer and liturgy, to more charismatic, and then quite traditional forms of worship and prayer. We spoke to awesome married couples and incredible priests and nuns and had our perceptions of what the Church was broken-down and rebuilt. It was after this point we knew we definitely “wanted-in” and started RCIA to become Catholic.
What was it like to be received into the Church?
Henri: To be honest, I was really excited and it was our first experience of a real Easter, so everything is a bit of a blur. There was a holiness in the liturgy. It touched me deeply. I encountered a new sonship in God—definitely! Our friend, Emma, also from Wollongong University, joined RCIA late and had been journeying with us. She was baptised by Bishop Brian just last weekend—she just couldn’t wait till next Easter. I think I was more excited for her and I was certainly able to take more in.
Tianah: I loved it. It was such a beautiful experience. We had journeyed with the parish through RCIA and they were so excited with, and for us, and the other candidates. I felt an overwhelming joy of being received. There was a sense of togetherness and I felt really assured about who I am through trusting in God and Mary.
What does being a disciple of Jesus and a new member of the Church mean to you?
Henri: I guess our social circles have morphed a little as part of this journey, but at the same time, we retain close friendships with old friends. I am being careful not to come on too strong, but I really want to share the joy and confidence that comes with knowing who you are in God’s eyes with my old friends. That’s tricky, but really important, because the call to evangelise isn’t an optional extra for Catholics, and I want them to experience and know what I now know. It’s tough, because in many ways, young people are almost vaccinated against Christianity and Catholicism. They’ve been given just enough sometimes to make them immune to it, but not enough to capture them. They don’t know what they don’t know and the result is that they can be really closed. So, you need to be wise—don’t preach, just share your own story when the time is right.
Tianah: As far as being a growing disciple goes, the Church is so big and rich. We know that this is the beginning of our faith journey and we will always have more to learn. We know we are vulnerable as new Catholics. We love going to Mass and do not want to fall into the trap of going to Mass every Sunday simply ticking a box without our lives being transformed for service of God. I get a sense that is a very real trap that is out there. We will not be able to do this alone and we hope the Church community is able to provide us with the deep relationships with other couples and friends with whom we can have the sort of conversations and prayer that remind us of the beauty, the truth and the goodness that led us both here in the first place.
Two weeks after being initiated into the Church, Tianah and Henri welcomed their baby boy, August, into the world. Soon after, August was baptised—an added celebration of their new life in Christ in the Church and with each other as a family growing in holiness.
Jude Hennessy is the director of the Office of Renewal and Evangelisation for the Diocese of Wollongong.
This article was originally published in the Winter 2019 (Issue No. 67) edition of the Journey Magazine.