By Anthony Barich
Being a headline panelist at a Perth Writer’s Festival event at the University of WA taught local Catholic author Bridget Curran lessons on how to be a Christian and how to discern God’s gifts.
Miss Curran, 28, last year had a book published called The Miracles of Mary: Everyday Encounters of Beauty and Grace, a comprehensive account of sites where Our Lady has appeared.
It was rated the second highest selling religious book in Australia behind Roy Williams’ God, Actually, which was a response to atheist books from the likes of Richard Dawkins.
She was one of four recently-published authors of books on religious topics who spoke on March 2 about their own books and faith experiences then answered questions from the floor of over 200 people in the UWA Festival Tent.
In a panel consisting of one woman who said she has no belief as such, though raised a Catholic, a former Missionary of Charity Sister who The West Australian has reported no longer believes in God, two Christians and a Catholic nun publicly critical of Church teachings, Miss Curran found herself humbled yet edified by God revealing her strengths in an unusual setting.
Loreto academic Sr Veronica Brady, who has spoken out against the Catholic Church’s stance on abortion, contraception and homosexuality, chaired the session.
The panelists included Tracy Ryan, a “non-believing” Catholic who wrote Sweet, a fiction novel about three women who become involved with an overly paternalistic and controlling Reverend; and Colette Livermore, the author of Hope Endures, which tells of her difficult 11 years with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity.
The other panelist was Mr Williams, a litigator formerly deeply skeptical of religion, who found God through intellectual rigor.
Miss Curran was confident after the previous day’s session where she discussed the research into her book, which involved her first being skeptical about Mary but got to know her through her research.
“People are being drawn to Mary out of genuine interest, which is how it should be,” she said.
“Sometimes the Holy Spirit wants you to be humble… but you can’t sell yourself short.”
But the second session was “humbling”, as the two women on the panel dominated discussion and received the biggest applause when suggesting that the Catholic Church was repressive of women, that people don’t need God in their lives to make good decisions, that notions of God as male only served the purposes of men in the Church and that religion is dangerous as it has been used to justify evil.
Amidst discussion about the very nature of God, how people come to belief, proof of God, rules in religion and human nature itself, Miss Curran – in stressing the need for discernment and rational thinking in all aspects of life, especially one’s faith – said she sometimes felt she wasn’t heard.
Having prayed before and after the session, she was scared and excited going in, as “I knew where the panelists were coming from (in their beliefs), so I felt a responsibility to present my own views clearly and without judgement or criticism.”
Working in the secular industry, Miss Curran says she deals with such skepticism daily, but on a smaller scale.
She was not prepared to deal with a whole room full of skeptics, especially when it was podcast on the internet and broadcast on ABC Radio.
“I was praying that the Holy Spirit would inspire me,” she said.
“Sometimes the Holy Spirit wants you to be humble. You need that jolt every now and then.
“The whole thing taught me that you can’t sell yourself short. All you can do is pray, put your trust in God and do the best you can.
“It was a positive experience, just difficult,” she said, adding that it’s not unlike living as a Christian in the world.