|The following are some excerpts from my book entitled: The Threshold of Eternity ~ A
|The Threshold of Eternity ~ A Spiritual Journey,
By Bruce L. Williamson
|MY LIFE, GIVEN AS AN ACTS RETREAT TALK 2016
Growing up in my family was a terrible experience. But I must tell you about it in order to
show God working in my life. I will share a small portion of my spiritual journey with you.
My mother was a direct descendent of Sir Sandford Fleming, of Canadian fame. He mapped
the Canadian Pacific train route across Canada ~ from Halifax to Vancouver. He was the
main engineer for its construction. He compiled a prayer book for the workers who were far
from church and family. He created the World Standard Time Zone System and he designed
the first Canadian stamp. For these and many other accomplishments he was knighted by
My father was a commanding officer in the First Hussars ~ a Canadian Tank Core. He
served in France during the Normandy invasion, at the age of 24. His mother was a very
spiritual woman who converted her huge house, into a residence for mentally handicapped
adults. She and her half-sister (a nurse) cared for them there. When she died we moved into
her house and this is where I grew up. We were unacceptable to our classy neighbors,
however, because Dad was loud and vulgar; Mom was always drunk. Actually, for both of
them, a good party meant fall-down drunk. The house was in shambles. I became a loner
because I was ashamed of my family and I was afraid to bring anyone home.
Dad was an angry atheist rebelling against his mother’s very spiritual nature. At three he had
the flu, and his parents warned him to stay out of his little sister’s room. He went in, she
caught pneumonia and died. He struggled with that guilt his whole life, and fought against
everything his mother stood for, especially her faith. He was proud to tell me his friends
called him “The Rebel”.
He and my mother were professed atheists. He tried to keep God out of our lives. As early as
3 years old I remember him storming out of my bedroom in a huff when I wanted to say the
bedtime prayers, grandma had taught me. As a little boy, the farmer next door buried a snake
in his garden. He asked me to pray with him, and then he dug again to show the snake went
to heaven (I was too small to notice he dug in a different hole). When I told Dad this
wonderful story, he was furious. He dragged me over and made the man dig up the snake
and apologize. At school I had to drag my desk to the back of the room during religion class. I
was not allowed to go to any movie or summer camp that may have talked of God.
When I was a small child my grandmother had taught me prayers. As a result, I had an
attraction to churches. Whenever I saw a church steeple, I asked my father, “Can we could
go to that church ~ please?” My father eventually found a church for us, which turned out to
be a bunch of atheists: The Unitarian Congregation. This became a big problem for my
My mother was just not available. I felt abandoned from the earliest years. At 3 years old I
was sexually abused by a neighborhood girl in our tool shed, while Mom was supposed to be
watching over me. And, at the same age, I was hit by a car when left to cross the busy street
on my own. Mom had many affairs through the years. One was with the minister of our new
church. They used to go out of town together. When Mom would not go away with him
permanently, he committed suicide. This was a huge tragedy for my whole family.
After this, my parents went on vacation to try to mend some of their problems. As a ten-year-
old I waited anxiously for Mom to return, but she never did ~ not as the woman I knew and
loved. When they pulled in the driveway, she jumped out of the car screaming. From now on
she was always drunk, often passed out, half-naked on the floor. I think my father never let
her forget her mistakes. This was my big crisis, the moment I realized I was alone and
My father tried to motivate us ~ in sports for example ~ by taunting and shaming us. But
nothing was ever good enough. No matter how well we did he would curse and yell, “That
was no good.” He beat me up emotionally by yelling, criticizing, and insulting me, but also by
physical abuse. One week before high school, as a punishment for not taking out the
garbage, he hacked off my hair ~ down to the bare scalp in some spots. Even the local
barber could not fix it, so I started high school looking and feeling like a freak. A couple of
years later he caught me taking some friends up to my garage apartment, in anger he
punched me in the face knocking out my two front lower teeth. But it was the criticism and
taunting that were the most painful. He was always critical, and I was always trying to earn
By the time I reached high school, I had become an atheist like my father. No one ever
proved the non-existence of God to me by an argument. Who knows why it seemed easier to
not believe in God. Perhaps the hell we were in did not admit God, or the idea of God, just
because it was hell. Perhaps it was a result of our moral state, like hiding behind the tree in
the Garden of Eden, because we were naked and afraid. “Where are you?” asked God. And
Adam responded, “I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” Gen 3:10 None of
the sparks of my grandmother’s faith remained alive in me. They had been extinguished over
the years, one by one. I tested my imagination with the thought of God possibly existing. Of
course, my finite imagination failed to picture infinity and so I concluded ~ no God. When I
met a girl who was “willing,” I looked up toward the heavens and declared, “No one can stop
At school there were failures that left me behind. As a result of these and the embarrassing
situation at home, I did not know how to fit into the student body. I was still a loner ~ full of
shame. I did try to get in with the guys who stood smoking on the street corner. They
boasted of drinking and sexual conquests. I thought I had to do these things in order to be
accepted into their tribe. My father encouraged this kind of behavior: “When I was your age, I
had downed the pants of half the girls in town ~ you should be out there having fun.”
Actually, I tried just about everything. But nothing made the pain go away. I was the kid that
parents warned their children to stay away from.
Eventually, I quit school because I was failing badly and had no support anywhere. During
my year out, I had a car accident in which a friend of mine was killed. We went off a bridge. I
was charged with a vague traffic violation, but the case was thrown out for lack of evidence
of any wrong doing. Two weeks later I was driving a delivery van. I hit some water and the
truck hydroplaned. It spun around and around on the ice, and went up on the embankment.
When the van finally came to a stop I jumped out. The fear that I felt was beyond the
“natural”. It felt demonic, and I cried out, “Someone is trying to kill me.” This is the first time I
was ever aware of anything supernatural.
I returned to school. I wanted to be an artist and a good person, although I did not know what
that meant, or how to accomplish it. I improved academically. But I was still trying to fend off
the horror of home, and still struggling to survive one day at a time. I fell on my knees and
cried toward heaven, “There must be a better life.”
Around Christmas one year a teacher spoke to me about God. I left in anger saying I could
not tolerate fairy tales. But six months later, while at home studying for final exams at the
desk in my room, I reached the end of my road. I had no direction, no purpose, and no
reason for living. I was working hard and trying to be a good person, but I didn’t know why. “I
have worked hard all night yet caught nothing.” (Lk 5:5) I sank into despair. I could not go on.
I describe this moment by saying I may have committed suicide. The idea did not cross my
mind, but it describes the anguish and hopelessness I suffered.
It was then I said my first real prayer. I was leaning back on the rear two legs of my chair and
looking up to heaven; my hands were covering my face and tearing eyes. I cried, “God, some
people say you exist. If you do exist, please help me to believe. My mind is too small, and
you are too great, too far beyond my reach. Help me, for I can’t do this on my own. I don’t
know how.” Then in my turmoil I slammed my hands on the desk and, with a pen one hand
fell upon, I began a scribble of frustration. But the sense of anxiety began to lift, as I became
aware of a strange yet real sensation. It felt as if someone was actually holding my hand and
guiding the pen on the paper. With surprise I looked down and saw my hand completing the
last thorn of the crown on the head of an unmistakable portrait of Christ.
In the background stood a crucifix, head bowed, face with beard, hair hanging down. The
arm outstretched on the cross had a nail in the hand. I was ignorant about the life of Christ,
but I knew immediately who it was in the picture.
I had wanted change, but I did not know where to look, and I certainly did not know this kind
of help even existed. “Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the
Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121 To my amazement God had been looking for me. I
was snatched from the darkness. I was born to a whole new life. I was filled with an
indescribable joy, such that I had never before experienced. I was loved without condition.
This was my “stand up and go; your faith has saved you.” moment. (Lk 17:19)
The Christian dimension of this may seem logical to many, but at that time I prayed to God in
general terms, and He revealed Himself to me as God in Christian terms. It is equally
significant that he reached me through who I was: by means of my God given artistic talent.
There have been many hills and valleys since then ~ right up to today. There have been
struggles and sins, but all was now ~ a journey of faith.
God in his goodness confirmed my new faith by his providence and even miracles. I will tell
I tried to share my conversion story with friends, but many expressed some skepticism. Some
argued, “You thought about it and it happened.” Others claimed, “You took drugs,” or, “You
are an artist and just made it.” Even my father, maintaining it could be “any Jewish man,”
never asked where the drawing came from.
Now confident that God was listening, I prayed over and over for about a year, “God I know
how this happened and I believe, but what do I tell others? Can you give me a sign,
something that is outside of my mind?”
The following summer I traveled to Toronto Island with my new girlfriend, a girlfriend of hers,
and a friend of mine. We brought a picnic lunch for an afternoon out. I was lying on the
beach with my eyes closed, while they were out swimming. They came back to the beach,
stood around me, and with their hands sprinkled me with the water. Just as I opened my
eyes and looked up at them, one of the girls shrieked, “I lost my ring.” We asked her where.
“I don’t know,” she replied. “I didn’t feel it fall off. It could be in the change room, in the sand,
or in the water. I don’t know.”
I stood up and started walking down the beach. “Where are you going ~ you silly fool?” I
began saying to myself. “You aren’t going to find it. Go back. Go lie down. You don’t know
where it is.” I walked about fifty feet down the beach, then out into the water until chest deep.
I bent down and, with my face under the water, opened my eyes. On the sandy bottom, I saw
one small stone. I reached past the stone, stuck my hand into the sand - almost up to my
wrist - and closed my index finger and thumb on the ring. I stood up, held the ring high, and
yelled, “I found it.”
Back on the beach my friends were all jumping up and down with excitement, asking how I
did it. To me, their voices seemed far off in the distance, for I was caught up in the thought
that my prayer had been answered. No one could accuse me of making it happen by
autosuggestion, because my mind had been completely opposed to my action.
Now that I was a believer, I wanted to do God’s will, but I did not know how. So I went back
to talk to that teacher who had spoken to me about God. He became my mentor. I became
Anglican, since that was his denomination. Through high school and art school in New York I
practiced that. I even tried out at the Anglican Franciscan Friars in New York for a summer.
But my mentor had introduced me to many Catholic Spiritual classics and the rosary. It was
probably just a matter of time before I became Catholic. My Anglican church in NY had daily
Mass and confession, two things that became important to me. Returning to Canada, I could
not find these things in the local churches. So I became Catholic. So did my mentor/teacher.
My teacher/mentor was helpful, but he pushed me hard toward the seminary. He was
convinced it was God’s will for me. I did not want that. But I wanted to do God’s will and was
afraid of falling back into my previous hell. I was insecure and afraid to take responsibility for
my own life. I was new to Christian life and did not know what I should do. So following his
advice (or giving into his pressure) I headed to a seminary in Rome, 1 ½ years after entering
the Catholic Church
Just before I left, my father made one last attempt to stop me from entering the seminary, by
saying my testicles would shrivel up like grapes through lack of sex. “I guess some people
prefer raisins,” I replied somewhat embarrassed of the topic. He also said the worst thing he
could imagine happening was if I became a Roman Catholic Jesuit priest. I wondered what
he would think if he knew I was going to be a priest of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary. My last
prayer at my desk at work that day was: “God I do not want this, but if it is your will I will try.”
Rome was an incredible place for study. There was a church on every corner. Studying
philosophy and theology was inspiring. I worked with Mother Teresa and her group in Rome,
translating, organizing the helpers for her men’s shelter, and for 3 years serving as her MC
for the final profession of her sisters. All she had to do was enter the room to raise the level
of consciousness of what is true and holy. Following her down a hall one day I just kept
saying over and over, “I want to be a saint, I want to be a saint.” Seeing her was like seeing
God dwelling in a person. One day I led her out the wrong door of the seminary, and we
were crushed by pilgrims. With my arm around her to protect her I said. “I’m sorry mother.”
She responded ~ “All for Jesus.” She always wore a smile.
I, and other seminarians, served Pope JP II Masses. His eyes were deep pools of peace. He
made anyone he spoke to feel like they were the most important person in the world. He
would prepare for Mass deep in prayer. Greeting us one day before Mass he turned back,
pointed his finger at me, and said, “You are not Italian.” I did not have the presence of mind
to say, “Neither are you.” I served as his deacon at Mass at the high altar of St Peter’s
Basilica at the Vatican. Certainly, this was a most glorious moment for me, the once atheist
child. I wished my grandmother could have seen me. And I was finally ordained by him in St
Peter’s in 1982. My ordination card read “What shall I give to the Lord for all his goodness to
me. I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord…” PS 115
Both my parents died in the last few months leading up to my ordination. When my father
died I flew home. When I arrived, my family was still trying to make the arrangements for my
atheist father’s memorial service. No available funeral home or hall could be found. And all
who could have done the service were either out of town, or Mom did not have their names
or contact information. I did not want to interfere. But when my aunt asked if I had any ideas,
I said that my parish has a hall under the rectory they sometimes rent out. I assured them it
had nothing to do with the Catholic faith. My aunt then asked if my pastor could do a service.
I said I would ask. And so it happened, ironically, that a Catholic priest celebrated my atheist
father’s funeral, with the whole church choir singing “Amazing Grace.” Somehow all seemed
to feel peace and joy. I wondered if this was a sign that, in his last painful moments of a heart
attack, as he clawed holes in the gravel driveway where he had fallen, he might have
thought of “something beyond” and turn to God.
I have had a long and wonderful journey through the faith communities of the Catholic
church. I should be a saint by now ~ but change comes slowly. In the community life of the
seminary I had found safety. I was protected from the social life I feared, and far removed
from occasions of sin. Most importantly it protected me from falling back into the hell of my
previous family life. But something was wrong all those years. I was afraid to go forward, yet
afraid to leave. I tried to tell spiritual directors, but did not know what to say. I tried the line, “I
think of marriage.” The advice they told me was always, “Pray harder, work harder ~ all will
turn out fine.”
I even asked Mother Teresa. Yet afraid, and not knowing what to say, I stammered, “I think I
need a second conversion.” With a hand gesture of dismissal at that idea she said, “Ah! One
is enough.” So I never really expressed my secret thoughts and feelings to others. I was too
frightened and insecure to say what I had said to God in the beginning, “I don’t want this.”
As a priest, I served in Rome, Sardinia, Montreal, and Alton Ill. Ministry was rewarding. I was
a good priest and did very well. In good faith I gave myself whole-heartedly to the priesthood.
But I could not escape the interior division. Within the first 3 years of priesthood I told
someone I was being split in two and felt like I was dying of a mortal disease. I was sick all
through seminary and into the priesthood. I suffered frequent fainting spells. Once I was
given medicine for grand-mal seizures and once mistakenly diagnosed with lupus. Instead it
was all stress related. I started asking for a sabbatical to try to understand what was wrong.
But, instead, they kept giving me bigger responsibilities. Eventually I crashed, and was finally
granted my sabbatical.
It was on sabbatical that I realized I had gone forth only to please others, even when doing
so was against my own heart and will ~ and even my health. I realized I was still in the “I don’
t want this but I will try” phase. The priesthood was basically a positive experience and
ministry was rewarding… Yet, after all these years I never internalized the vocation and
made it my own. I prayed about it a lot, but found nothing to indicate I should try again. So in
light of the truth, as I now understood it, and shedding many tears, I left the ministry. For the
first time in my life I took responsibility for my own life and faith journey. I was afraid of the
future and did not know what to do, yet upon leaving my health returned.
There were some things I did not know (or understand) until years later. Through all those
years I was still as frightened of people and groups, as I had been back in high school. I was
afraid to let anyone in ~ for fear I would get hurt. Everyone needs community to grow, learn,
and survive. We are stronger together. We all do better with a workout partner. This is as
true spiritually as it is physically. This is why Christ gave us the church community. “You are
Peter and on this rock I will build my Church…” Mt 16:18 We are the body of Christ
supporting each other with our individual gifts. 1 Cor 12 And we cannot have communion
with God without community: For “whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they
have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen”. (1 John 4:20) I needed it like
everyone else, but I had an impediment. I did not know how to cross the threshold into
community. I was still a frightened child who did not know how to have relationships, and I
did not know how to get support, or my needs met by the community. I was still a loner, and
tried to do it all on my own. Without knowing it I found the role of the priesthood ~ collar and
all ~ a safe hiding place. If I had been able to relate better and integrate myself better into
those communities, my needs might have been met during those times, and things might
have turned out differently.
Ten years after I left, December 15, 2006, I married Carmen. The first 3 – 4 years felt like the
worst of my life. I had never lived so close to anyone. I did not have the skills necessary for
marriage. Years earlier she had adopted a boy who was now 14. The problems of a blended
family became an ugly situation for all of us. Also, within 60 days of our marriage we found
out Carmen had breast cancer, so we had that to deal with that on top of everything else.
The difficulties I encountered reawakened my childhood memories and emotions. I crashed
again, shut down completely. Within 2 years, I thought divorce was inevitable.
But we survived with the help of the communities of St Clare and ACTS. We started coming
to St Clare about 2 years after we were married. We started making friends, and eventually
felt right at home. I did my first ACTS retreat two years ago. One of the men at daily Mass
invited me. He did not have to twist my arm, because I had not done a retreat for a while, and
knew I needed one. It was time. Carmen did hers last year. These retreats strengthened our
bond to the parish community and to other parishioners, especially to our ACTS brothers and
sisters. Carmen and I finally did our honeymoon ~ on our 8th anniversary. We just celebrated
our fourteenth anniversary this past December.
My new family situation had challenged me to come out of my defensive shell. I could no
longer hide. I was not as self-sufficient as I thought ~ I needed others after all. They were not
the adversaries I made them out to be, but the essence of my life. And at St Clare, much to
my surprise, I was surrounded by loving people. This became much clearer the week after
my ACTS retreat. When I entered church, I could hardly make it to my pew. I was mauled
with hugs from my new brothers. The guys I had seen at a distance were now friends,
support, and inspiring examples of faith, family, and church. The men sharing their stories on
retreat had reminded me we all have struggles and we all make mistakes. But God is there to
help us ~ and so are our brothers and sisters in Christ. These faith communities helped me
to understand I did not have to continue my journey alone. This may not be the most
dramatic moment of my life, but it began a new openness to community support for me. This
was my new family, my new community, my new “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you”
moment. (Lk 17:19)
The above is composed of exerts from a longer rendition. The Threshold of Eternity – A Spiritual Journey, by
Bruce L. Williamson. All contents are copyrighted. Copies of any part are strictly prohibited by the author.
Bruce does accept speaking engagements.
Web: www.WilliamsonArt.com, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Cell: 713-927-8517