I've always been Catholic but rarely any good at it. Acknowledging the faith - giving intellectual assent - comes easy to me but believing in it, that is, actually living it, has often eluded me.
I've probably spent more time arguing that it's OK to ask the saints to pray for us than actually doing so.
This changed in October 2007. I had booked a holiday in Venice in Italy - I was meant to go with someone else but due to circumstances I ended up going alone. This was one of the most difficult periods of my life.
The beauty of the City captivated me - it gave me a sense of deep lonliness and yet deep joy. I was in the Piazza San Marco, all alone on my birthday and looked ahead to the Basilica of Saint Mark.
I looked up and felt called to ask Saint Mark to pray for me. I then had a sense of peace and an awareness of what he had suffered to bring the Gospel to others. This gave me courage.
Later during that trip, visiting the beautiful church named Santa Maria della Salute, I looked up before entering and asked our Mother to pray for me and to give me health.
When I walked inside, I prayed asking each of the saints to pray with and for me. Inside I found a painting which I guessed was Saint Mark - I also recognised Saint Sebastian and asked him to pray for me.
My experience of the Communion of saints at one of the toughest times in my life gave me a great sense of not being alone but part of something bigger than myself. It was an insight into how amazing it is to be Catholic - part of something truly universal - the Church Militant that exists on earth, the Church Suffering in purgatory - those being cleansed for eternity and the Church Triumphant - those saints in heaven itself.
*St Damian is actually my patron saint's patron saint but I'll take as many prayers as I can get.