A woman full of life, cheerful, bright, warm-hearted. Katharina is a new face at the Johannes Paul II Center in Vienna. She is here to be touched and to grow, to draw closer to Jesus. It has been a long journey. This is that story.
About culture, celebrating life without worries & a lack of depth
Although Katharina grew up Catholic, for a long time she did not see faith as part of her life . Through her roots she was able to experience a culture in which a lot of hospitality and joy determined everyday life, which shaped her very much.
“I have always been able to experience this change between Austria and Hungary. I grew up in Hungary, so it’s also a big emotional anchor for me. There is a lot about community, there is a lot of celebration and the family is very important. Christianity is more traditional there. God exists, but the question of who Jesus is or what is going on in the church is not one that was particularly present. Come to think of it, for many years my husband and I, even when we were in church, had never really had deep conversations about faith. We have never really met authentic people in the faith. Often more like people who do ‚what should be done‘.“
Authentic people in the faith, however, had previously been particularly important to Katharina.
“I had a very good religion teacher in the fourth grade at high school. From back then I still knew the feeling of being really supported and embedded in the faith. I can still remember it extremely well – but then came puberty and the change of religion teachers … and with it the continuous decline. Then not only does the relationship with God become more difficult, but one begins to doubt the whole thing and to no longer see the positive things about the church – all the good things that it does, but only the scandals and things that one does not understand. “
About authenticity & hearts that want to be touched
“I can remember that much of my faith in the past, including when I was at school, was very tainted with guilt and shame and I was then in this dichotomy. A lot of things were simply not prepared well for us, nor could we understand them. Today I experience that my children often think they are being told stories from the Old Testament, but do not understand what is meant. These then turn into comical stories to which it is impossible to make reference to. It was like this for me: I lost my religion teacher and suddenly no more hearts were touched. I often have the feeling that access is blocked by something like this … actually I want to get in touch with God … and for that reason I need meaningful applications for everyday life – and not just incoherent stories. I experience that very positively in the John Paul II. Center, for example – the homilies are true to everyday life and touch me in a completely different way.”
The beginning of a long search
Katharina describes how it happened that she saw herself completely turn away from the Church for several years. Her children gave her the impetus to start searching for God again. Then began a period of ups and downs for her, with crises, questions and searching, as well as a process in which she often took „two steps forward and three steps back“. During this time there would have been many small encounters that constantly ran through their story.
„It all started when my little daughter’s rabbit died. She was 3 or 4 years old at the time, was mourning a lot and I knew that I couldn’t help her and that she had to go through this process. Then her first questions about death arose and I knew that it was about time to deal with it, because I wanted to provide my children with authentic answers.
Up until then we actually lived ‚quite well‘ without God because we were lucky that many great people around us kept us on the right course. That probably got us through the spiritual hole.
But that means that I didn’t open up first of all because I felt an inner wish, but because I had the wish for my children to be able to have a good framework. The whole process then started very slowly. We gave God another chance and tried different communities – and quickly experienced setbacks. We were hardly touched and just confused by everyone kneeling and standing up and thinking: please, what kind of cult is this? In this process we finally met a priest who gave us positive experiences again. He was happy, charismatic, had a beautiful voice, preached true to life and grabbed us and the children with his words. We then had our children baptized, although we were not yet believers ourselves, and cried ceasesly at the baptism. We noticed how much the priest contributes to the process, especially when you have not been involved for long – without wanting to give him responsibility for everything now. But we know that without this priest we would be somewhere else.”
About death & a „dragging“ God
On the one hand Katharina was moved by encounters, on the other hand by experiences. She found that there was something that drew her to God—so much so that she couldn’t help but explore it.
“There came a time when loss made me confront death even more deeply. In a year and a half of grieving, weird things happened – they weren’t scary, but I often thought I was crazy and I’m grateful that others can also testify to what was going on. I’m really not an esoteric , but in this grieving process I often had the feeling that a door to another world had been opened – another world, but I wasn’t ready for it. Maybe God really used an experience like this to take away my skepticism and stop rationalizing everything away. I would never have believed it if I had been told something like that. But that was a key sequence, because all of that just didn’t let me rest. I started looking into near-death experiences, which led me to the conclusion: there is something after death, I now believe in that. For us, these events and feelings were evidence of a spiritual world that matters. The next key sequence began when we were almost part of a church where I got to know really authentic people who lived their faith from the heart and I could also enter into a spiritual exchange with them. At that time I also listened to some opinions and perspectives from my friends from other faith communities – I wanted to know what they think about death and what their belief processes are. I approached this chapter very openly and had at least made the decision beforehand: I want to let God into my life. And through this accompaniment it was possible for me to believe in a God – even if I had called it the universe or elemental power for a while. Then came the third and most difficult phase for me, which I sometimes struggle with to this day.”
About frustration and anger, the center of John Paul II and God’s overwhelming presence
“To this day there are things I still don’t understand, but I want to move forward in my life of faith. In this third part of my life I wanted to get closer to God and Jesus and I sat in anger at every Mass because I had the feeling that he was not there. But I had such a strong desire for God and there were always moments when I was allowed to experience him like lightning or felt him very strongly in nature. Or I had a few moments where I just knew: That wasn’t mine idea. He made himself visible at this point so many times – especially when I scolded him and he actually showed me solutions moments later.
At that time, however, I also began to rub shoulders with my community because I had the feeling that I didn’t or didn’t want to fit into such a good, eloquent, pious field as it seemed to me. Then someone invited me some to come to the John Paul II Center… and I just cried through the first five times. In general, I can say: since I’ve been in the JP2 Center, I’ve had the feeling that I’ve arrived. This strong ‚pull‘ from God just seemed to reach to the Center to begin the fourth stage of my path – the stage of engagement. That cord that pulled me for years is just gone now.
At these first masses in the center, it was always something else that got to me: once the music touched me, then someone said something. Anyway, I was touched all the time. Interestingly, I cried all the time, which is totally uncharacteristic of me. I always cry when I’m in God’s presence because it’s so overwhelming. But the difficult thing was that, despite my strong emotions, I always had the urge to leave the fair because I just couldn’t accept some things as they were. I had the feeling that I was sitting here in a mass, I didn’t believe in Jesus, but I wanted to come to God and Jesus – but he didn’t come to me. I’ve stormed out so many times looking for a fight. At the same time as this wanting to get to know Jesus but somehow not being able to get to know Jesus, I then had different encounters with people in this whole third phase, which made it difficult for me not to be deterred from coming closer – where I had the feeling that I was being pressed into a mold that I don’t yet fit into. But despite everything, I noticed: God wants me, I want him – and here in the John Paul II. Center it became even more concrete.
I used to always perceive masses as extremely sober. Like just talking about something on a meta level. But the closer I want to get to the whole thing, the more I understand the meaning behind it and recognize the beauty. I used to always ask myself why there is this kneeling and standing up and now I understand: we should actually be kneeling all the time! If that’s really the Son of God up there, then no one should even squeak for a second, kneel for two seconds! That’s why I now have such an incredibly great respect for the Eucharist: If it really is the Son of God, I don’t want to receive him unworthily – then I don’t want to receive him when I still have doubts.“
About ShutUp!“ It´s Christmas!“ & the first real encounter with Jesus
„So here I am. I wonder what I’m doing. I was so frustrated: I’m sitting here mass, but I still can’t quite believe it and I already have a guilty conscience. Actually, I’ve already seen ‚The Chosen‚ and actually I want to believe in Jesus, but it still doesn’t really work… and then came ‚ShutUp! It’s Christmas‚:
Father George had preached and this anger rose up in me again, why I can’t believe, although I really want to. So I went to Father Georg to talk to him. The party really got going in the ShutUp! room (Note of the editor: this was a bar we had cleaned out for adoration and confessions and the possibility to speak with a priest) – it was such an incredible encounter that I find it difficult to talk about it because I have the impression that all words would trivialize it and not be able to grasp what I experienced there. It was my first real encounter with Jesus. At that point I was totally upset at first and cried because I had such a strong feeling of being pulled by God – so intense, but I couldn’t believe some things. I was then asked if I would be willing to invite God and Jesus into that room. As someone brand new to the faith, I was super confused – I didn’t even know what to imagine. I thought to myself, if a resurrection is possible… then what else can be possible? What awaits me there?
Father Georg led this meeting beautifully with words and prayers. First he invited the Holy Spirit and then me to connect my heart to God. When I am ready, I should ask God questions about what He can do for me today. God really answered and spoke in words. And then the next step: I asked God to lead me to Jesus. Then in my head I was almost like in a glass room in the universe, God was to my left and I couldn’t see him. I could ask him any questions and lay anything I wanted at his feet. Then I even said openly that I don’t dare to meet Jesus because: What if he really is the Son of God? … Then I’m not worthy to meet him if I can’t believe in him. Next, Jesus was in that room, in my head in front of me, and I actually remember just awkwardly saying hello to Jesus. Jesus then responded with „Hello Katharina“. Then I was invited to ask Jesus what he could do for me, to which he answered. I was led to Jesus to understand that even though I don’t believe in him, he is not angry with me. I felt the same way. Jesus was so neutral towards me. Like an old friend who doesn’t want anything from you. So neutral that I could open up to him. I had no feeling of „Where have you been?“, „Why don’t you believe in me?“ or „Nice to have you here“. It was a totally neutral feeling that you don’t know, because usually everyone always wants something. Then I was invited to ask him what he should do for me. Then Jesus answered again. We then concluded with a prayer that God would allow this healing of the wounds that caused me to turn away. We then prayed again for confirmation that this experience should pour into my heart like gold and support me to remain in this trust and this love.
In retrospect, I often wondered whether all of this really happened that way. Was it all just psychological? I was speechless two hours after this encounter because it was so overwhelming. I was in a high-like state, but still clear in mind and emotion. That was really overwhelming … and from that point on another door to Jesus opened. So really, such big steps have been taken at very long intervals – and it all took me all of a sudden to the Center, so that today it is the status quo: I can open up in the Mass, get involved, even get into it, if Worship Music is sung and where this worship of God takes place, I can now also praise him. Now I can devote myself completely to it. I’m, I think, 50 percent with Jesus – well, nobody can take that experience away from me. Something happened and now the journey continues. Those, along with that ‚pulling of God‘, were definitely the two key spiritual moments for me.
I found what I was looking for here in the John Paul II. Center. I could go to mass every Sunday now – so far removed from the old ‚Okay, once a year or not at all‘. That’s an extreme jump compared to last year. Now I can and want to deal with it even more, even if sometimes still a little defiantly. The decision to get to know Jesus was made a long time ago, all I have to do now is walk this path.”
Katharina’s testimony is overwhelming and we can’t help but be infinitely grateful and touched. God is great and it’s amazing how he wants to use our little Center and everyone in this church to transform lives. We can remember that we can help build God’s kingdom if we give him more space in our midst. We are grateful that he brought Katharina to us and are excited to see what else the Lord has planned for her – and we support her and her family in our prayers.