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Archive for the ‘12 Converts’ Category

Becoming a Catholic

In 12 Converts on 2015/04/10 at 12:00 AM

by Father John McCloskey

As the Catechism reminds us, winning converts to our Faith should be a constant concern for all Catholics: “The true apostle is on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers…or to the faithful” (#905). How should we go about it? People are brought to the Church one by one. God pours out his saving grace in many ways, but He normally requires, and we could even say desires, the willing collaboration of his sons and daughters in this joyful task. Winning converts is your task and there is no more endlessly satisfying and challenging work than that of saving souls. The famous Catholic philosopher (and convert) Dietrich von Hildebrand said that we should look upon all people we encounter as Catholics in re (in fact) or in spe (potentially). I agree.

Admit it. Don’t you from time to time think about sharing with your neighbor, your friend, your family member, your colleague the joy that it is in your heart in enjoying the fullness of our Faith in the Catholic Church? No apologies here (except in the “Pro Vita Sua ” sense), thank you. Perhaps already some of you have had the wonderful experience of being the godparent or sponsor of a friend whom, by God’s grace, you have guided into the Church. You know then the joy that fills the heart in being God’s instrument. The only comparable joys are marriage, becoming a parent, and performing in “persona Christi” the sacraments of the Church as a priest!

This delight in a friend’s baptism or reception into full communion with the Church is always a cause for holy celebration, but it is a particular joy in the present circumstances of our culture and in the present ecclesial moment as we await the third millennium of the Christian era. We see ourselves surrounded in our “culture of death” by so many persons bereft of any real meaning in their lives. Has there ever been in the Christian era a more joyless, aimless, lonely society than our own, a society that is truly “Clueless,” a society that has appeared to have gained the whole world but forgotten the existence of its own soul? On the other hand, has there ever been a Roman Pontiff at the head of our Church who has so incessantly and hopefully proclaimed the Gospel in all its fullness throughout the world, addressing the fallen yet redeemed world’s hopes and anxieties so completely?

The constant growth through the first three centuries of the infant Church up to the Edict of Milan in the early fourth century took place through the witness and personal influence of thousands of Christians and their families. With the passage of more centuries, Christian ideals lived out in the world by persons and families gradually transformed the West into a form of a Christian culture which we know as the Middle Ages. In our own time, following the gradual dissolution of that particular culture through, in part, such historical events as the Reformation, the Enlightenment and the titanic struggles of ideas and ideologies of the last two centuries (Darwinism, Marxism, Freudianism, and so on), we are called to do the same. The partial success of these various heresies and ideologies on the world stage has been due in part to the fact that a large portion of the Catholic laity have been “missing in action” in the apostolic sense through the last several centuries, ignorantly content to let the clergy and religious do the “heavy lifting.”

This article aims to give some insights, largely based upon my own experience, into how we can more effectively spread the gift of faith through example and friendship, or what Cardinal Newman referred to as the “apostolate of personal influence.” As we rapidly draw to our crossing the “threshold of hope” into the third millennium, it is the historical moment to throw off our timidity, our fear, and let our light shine out not only from under the basket but upon the shining hill. Why do you think it is that at the end of this century our Faith, so abused, attacked and vituperated, has drawn to it well known Jewish atheists, Protestant ministers by the dozens, prominent politicians, etc.? Why did the Holy Father in his last pastoral visit to the U.S. in October 1995 virtually conquer the heart of New York, the capital of secularism? Why is it that in the media today when the word “Church” is used, it is always understood to mean the Catholic Church and not pan-Protestantism? Certainly not because membership in the Church is the road to riches, affluence, fame, good health, and a care-free future! It attracts those seeking eternal verities that promise eternal life, “life everlasting.”

If now is “the age of the laity,” as is incessantly proclaimed, its success will be measured not by the ever-increasing participation of the laity in ecclesiastical “ministries” but rather by the growth and spiritual health of the Church as manifested in an increase both in numbers and in the intensity of laymen’s prayer, sacramental participation and apostolic fervor. This, in turn, will lead inevitably to a gradual transformation of culture into one that reflects faithfully Christ’s teaching as mediated through the Church. As the Pope said in his address to the American Bishops in Los Angeles in l987, “Primarily through her laity, the Church is in a position to exercise great influence upon American culture. But how is American culture evolving today? Is the evolution being influenced by the Gospel? Does it clearly reflect Christian inspiration? Your music, your poetry and art, your drama, your painting and sculpture, the literature that you are producing–are all those things which reflect the soul of a nation being influenced by the spirit of Christ for the perfection of humanity?” To be able to answer in the affirmative may take decades but the effort will start with our own personal conversion which will result in the conversion of others.

The prophetic message of the Council and the present pontificate have led to this thinking about the laity… The Holy Father believes that, as we enter the third millennium, we are crossing the “threshold of hope” into “a new springtime for the Church.” If this is to happen, it will depend ultimately on the apostolate of millions of persons and families. He said in his letter on missionary activity: “The witness of a Christian life is the first and irreplaceable form of mission. Christ, whose mission we continue, is the ‘witness’ par excellence and the model of all Christian witness. The first form of witness is the very life of the missionary, of the Christian family, and of the ecclesial community.”

We may refer to this sharing of our faith as evangelization, giving witness, etc. I prefer the word used most often by the Conciliar fathers in this regard, apostolate: The second Vatican Council tells us: “The individual apostolate, flowing generously from its source in a truly Christian life, is the origin and condition of the whole lay apostolate, even of the organized type, it admits of no substitutes (my emphasis). Regardless of status, all lay persons (including those who have no opportunity or possibility for collaboration in associations) are called to this type of apostolate and obliged to engage in it.”

In a later encyclical on the laity by John Paul II, the point could not be made clearer: “The entire mission of the Church, then, is concentrated and manifested in evangelization… In fact, the ‘good news’ is directed to stirring a person to a conversion of heart and life and a clinging to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; to disposing a person to receive Baptism and the Eucharist and to strengthen a person in the prospect and realization of new life according to the Spirit.” In short, the buck stops with each one of us to evangelize those who surround us. No excuses. “Every disciple is personally called by name; no disciple can withhold making a response: ‘Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel’ (I Cor 9:16).”

Perhaps we should firmly establish our right, as well as our duty to bring our friends to Christ’s Church. First, it is His Church, with the successor of St. Peter as the Vicar of Christ. As the Holy Father points out in the encyclicalOn Commitment to Ecumenism, “the one Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church. The Decree of Ecumenism emphasizes the presence in her of the fullness (plenitudo) of the means of salvation. Full unity will come about when all share in the fullness of the means of salvation entrusted by Christ to his Church… The Catholic Church is conscious that she has preserved the ministry of the Successor of the Apostle Peter, the Bishop of Rome, whom God established as her ‘perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity.'”

If we can put it more succinctly, all who are saved are saved through the Church even if they are not aware of it on earth. Everyone in heaven is a member of the Church. Belloc had it right, I think: “One thing in the world is different from all other. It has a personality and a force. It is recognized and (when recognized) most violently loved or hated. It is the Catholic Church. Within that household the human spirit has roof and hearth. Outside it, it is the night.”

Second, there is a mistaken notion that is fairly widespread in our society that the second Vatican Council was about the role of the lay Catholic in the Church. It was not. It was about the role of the lay Catholic in the world. This role can be summed up in the search for holiness that is our baptismal right and duty and consequently in assuming the right and privilege of extending the kingdom of God here on earth through witnessing to our faith through the Christian example of our family and friendships.

A few words of caution. We are not speaking of proselytism (in the pejorative sense). That is to say our sharing, witnessing, speaking, giving, forming, educating and so on has absolutely nothing to do with coercion, or, perish the thought, lack of respect for the “freedom of the children of God,” particularly in that which refers to our “separated brethren” Christians. Quite the contrary. I am in total agreement with the landmark ecumenical statement from Evangelicals and Catholics Together in l994, written by Charles Colson and Richard John Neuhaus and co-signed by many other prominent churchmen of both Catholicism and the Evangelical faiths, which says: “It is understandable that Christians who bear witness to the Gospel try to persuade others that their communities and traditions are more fully in accord with the Gospel.” We realize that only God’s grace can effect a conversion and that pressure, other than our prayer, sacrifice, good example, and friendship, would not only in the long-term certainly be counter productive but would also not respect “the dignity of the human person” so central to the teachings of the 2nd Vatican Council and of John Paul II.

“Christian witness must always be made in a spirit of love and humility. It must not deny but must readily accord to everyone the full freedom to discern and decide what is God’s will for his life. Witness that is in service to the truth is in service to such freedom. Any form of coercion, physical, psychological, legal, or economic corrupts Christian witness and is to be unqualifiedly rejected….” No, we are interested only in our personal total “gift of self” which is never more complete than when we act as God’s collaborators in communicating the gift of divine life, God’s grace. Cardinal Newman, the proto-convert of the last two centuries, made it clear that “to believe is to love” and that grace of the fullness of faith is only given to those who are freely seeking it.

But now on to more practical matters. How do we “make” converts? First of all, we don’t, God does. Having made that abundantly clear, what is our first step in approaching someone to consider becoming a Catholic? Naturally the desire will flow out of our prayer life. To paraphrase the epitaph written on the tomb of the famous London architect Christopher Wren, If you seek converts, circumspice (look around you). We come into contact with dozens if not hundreds of people in the course of our daily lives each month. They range from dearest family members and intimate friends to the butcher, baker, and candlestick maker. We look at them and ask ourselves “could this person be open to our Faith?” If the answer is yes, on to the next step. It is said that the most effective way to raise money for a good cause is to simply ask for it. The same may be applied to our situation. The question “Have you ever thought of becoming a Catholic?” addressed to many people over the course of our life will certainly produce not only converts but also interesting and thought provoking conversations and new personal relationships. You may have to practice this line in front of a mirror a few times just as you did before asking out your first date. You generally will be surprised at how flattered, if somewhat surprised, people are at the question. Naturally it has to be emphasized that we are not approaching perfect strangers. Indeed, if we are not in the process of developing a deep and lasting friendship with the potential new member of the Church, then our question lacks authenticity and will be rightfully judged as impertinent and insincere. The great majority will say that you are the first person who has ever asked them that question, and more than a few will say they have been waiting for someone to ask them that question all their lives! A few will react negatively, but after all, not all “have eyes to see or ears to hear.” We “shake the dust off our feet” and go on. We are not looking for success. It is the “love of Christ that compels us.” We may also be surprised to see after the passage of time, even many years, people coming back to us looking for answers because we had the courage to offer them at an earlier time our Faith.

We are challenging people to consider making the most significant decision they will ever make in their lives, infinitely more important than the choice of school, profession, or spouse; one that will affect every fiber of their being for the rest of their lives, and have serious consequences in the hereafter. It is essential that you get to know them well, particularly their religious background, if any, so, as is said in the vernacular, you “know where they are coming from.” Of use in this regard would be a thorough reading ofSeparated Brethren (Our Sunday Visitor), a survey of Protestant, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, and other denominations in the U.S. by William J. Whalen. By engaging in conversation on this point you will be inviting your friend, and committing yourself, to go deep below the surface of everyday trivialities into the heart of the matter. Why are we here? What is truth? Is there a right and wrong? Is there a God? An afterlife? Is Jesus Christ God? Did he found a Church during his lifetime? If so, which one? Do we need to belong to it to be saved? Of course, you need to be not only willing to discuss and answer these queries but prepared.

“Be ready always with an answer to everyone who asks a reason for the hope that is in you” (I Peter, 3:15). To be an evangelist in today’s world means to be an apologist. This is the work of a lifetime, but that does not excuse us from evangelizing while we learn on the job. Remember, no matter how little we know, our friends knows less. And what is more important, we know where to go for the answers. A lot of our catechetical work with our potential convert friends will be, happily, simply to refer them to the best sources. Obviously we should have a good grasp of the New Testament and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, our fundamental texts. However we should also slowly but surely read and study the great English and American apologists: Newman, Lewis, Chesterton, Benson, and Knox and the more modern masters, Sheed and Kreeft. Many of their works are in print. It is also useful to be familiar with the magisterial teachings of the Pope for the most current teachings on matters of faith and morals.

Reviewing our own preparation leads directly to the question of recommending reading for friends who express an interest in our faith. An increasing number of people simply don’t understand the basic vocabulary of what it means to believe. An excellent brief volume is Belief and Faith by the famous German philosopher Josef Pieper. He draws heavily on Cardinal Newman’s much more complex Grammar of Assent. Many people today need a book to awaken their interest in Christianity or a volume that helps to make Christianity “reasonable” and understandable. Several books come immediately to mind. Both Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man of G. K. Chesterton will stimulate the reader. I am thinking also of a basic primer,A Map of Life (Ignatius) by Frank Sheed, and the famous Mere Christianityof C.S. Lewis. Most fundamental, of course, is the New Testament. An excellent version with ascetical commentary is The Navarre Bible (Scepter Publishers). And we might recommend a good Life of Christ (try Goodier, Sheen, Riccioti, Guardini). Your friends simply must come to know the life of Jesus Christ if they are going to be able to join His Church. Second is a good Catholic catechism so that they may come to know the Church and her teachings. There are many excellent ones in print, by Frs. Trese, Hardon, Lawler, Noll, and the list goes on. Just choose one that you are comfortable with and one that reflects the sound teaching of the Church updated for the Second Vatican Council and the authoritative recent Catechism.

I would recommend that you whet their appetite for conversion by giving them a book or two on stories of conversions: Spiritual Journeys (Pauline Publications) or Surprised by Truth (Basilica Press) come immediately to mind. Our friends will be intrigued to read about the contemporary conversion stories of so many people drawn to the faith from such varied backgrounds and are sure to find at least part of their story in one of these histories. Don’t forget, either, the classic spiritual autobiographies of St. Augustine, John Henry Cardinal Newman, Thomas Merton and Malcolm Muggeridge and the more recent one of Dr. Bernard Nathanson. They have changed millions of hearts and minds.

You should also familiarize your friends with the richness of the history of the Church. They clearly will see the continuity of the Faith through the apostolic succession and read the dramatic story of evangelization through the centuries with its ups and downs. I would recommend Msgr. Philip Hughes’s Popular History of the Church for a short synopsis of Church History, and the first three volumes of the magisterial History of Christendom by Warren Carroll (Christendom College Press). The latter volumes read like novels, are painstakingly researched, and reveal the Church in all its heights and depths, in its saints and sinners.

An important part of our work of introducing our friends to the Faith will be exposing them to the beauty of the Catholic liturgy and to the art, literature, and music of Catholic inspiration. Accompanying them to the Holy Mass and other liturgical events, such as the celebration of solemn Benediction, a baptism, a wedding, the Easter Vigil, an episcopal consecration, or the ordination of new priests, or a Rosary-filled pilgrimage to a Shrine of the Virgin, will bring them to a deep appreciation of the incarnate aspect of our Faith and its sacramental nature. To listen to Gregorian Chant, today so strangely popular, or the great classical compositions centered on the Mass, the Psalms, or various events in the life of Christ and our Lady will also draw them closer to the heart of the Church. Listen with them to the great works of Mozart, Beethoven, Bruckner, and to the more contemporary Gorecki and Messiaen for starters. Surely such beauty in music could only be inspired by the Truth.

Introduce them to the great Catholic authors, starting with Dante and continuing on down the centuries to Manzoni and Sienkiewicz in the last century to the Undsets, Waughs, O’Connors, Bernanos’, Mauriacs, and Endos of our own day. They will thus understand that the truth really does make us free and no one so free as the artist who has the standard of a faith-filled metaphysic that gives him full rein of expression in capturing the divine in the human.

Let’s be realistic. Not all of your friends, by any means, are going to be receptive to this heavy “intellectual” approach. You may have to be much more selective in what you recommend to your friends: pamphlets rather than books, Catholic hymns rather than symphonies, a more contemporary (although sound) version of the New Testament rather than the Douay-Rheims, the stained glass in your parish church rather than Chartres. Listen to their needs, their questions and try to satisfy them. A time of prayer spent with them or a visit to poor or elderly people may be much more influential in the process of their movement towards the Church than any possible reading you might give them.

Oh yes, let’s not forget the parish and the priest. After all, our friend wil most probably spend the rest of life normally worshipping in a parish setting. If our friend has not been baptized, the Church normally asks that the budding catechumen be enrolled in the R.C.I.A. program (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) in his local parish which will take him through a month by month program of initiation in the Church that culminates normally in Baptism during the Easter Vigil (hopefully with you there as his godparent!) If he has been baptized, he will make his first confession and then receive the Sacrament of Confirmation and first Holy Communion within a Mass on Easter or at another time. It is useful and proper to establish a team approach in dealing with your friends. Find a prayerful, zealous (they really are synonomous) priest with whom you can work and triangulate, which is to say both of you working together can offer your insights and wisdom, your prayer and sacrifice to your friend, The priest may be able, perhaps, to enter better into some areas that you cannot on account of his sacramental power. He will also be able to advise you as to the best way and moment for your friend to be incorporated in the Church, taking careful notice of personal circumstances.

What happens if over a reasonable amount of time your friend doesn’t react, he just doesn’t “get it?” He claims he doesn’t see it. His difficulties with Christ and the teachings of the Church still result in doubt. His family, parents, spouse present what appear to be insuperable obstacles. Do you throw him overboard in order to sail off for other prizes? You wouldn’t think of it! The answer is prayer, persistence, and patience. The violence of your prayer (remember Who is in charge of this operation) will eventually bear him away. Your persistence and constancy in your true friendship will eventually win him over by showing that your love is unconditional. Remember you may be the one person in his life who is interested only in his salvation. No ulterior motives of any sort. By patience we show our realization that conversion takes place at God’s pace, not a minute sooner or later. The conversion may not happen until he is is on his death bed, and you may witness it from heaven.

Good, thanks be to God, he finally made it; he is in! What now? Naturally it is on to the next person, or perhaps you are already dealing with several people at the same time. However, don’t forget your new-born Catholic friend. He is just a very young child, taking his first tottering steps into a bright new world that will have its storms and shadows. He will be surrounded by some who regard Catholicism and his conversion to it in Chesterton’s words as “a nuisance and a new and a dangerous thing.” He needs nurturing, your encouragement, your friendship, your support. Blessed Josemaria Escriva says, “Sanctification is the work of a lifetime” and as your friend’s godfather, sponsor, or guide, you have to be with him every step of the way. Perhaps you will introduce him to other institutions and spiritualities of the Church that can further his spiritual progress. He will be eternally grateful to you and you in your turn will echo the words of a famous French convert and poet, Paul Claudel, who said, “Tell him his only duty is to be joyful.”

Reprinted with permission from Catholic City.  First appeared in Catholic World Report.

The Power of Example: Lynn Efird’s Faith Journey

In 12 Converts on 2014/12/26 at 12:00 AM

Until Easter 2010, I was a Methodist. My parents were two of the twelve people who started Providence United Methodist Church here in Charlotte and I grew up there – always going to Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and later I was active in the Methodist Youth Fellowship. My husband, George, joined Providence when we were married and we raised both of our sons in the church. Through the years, we were very involved in PUMC and I was fortunate to participate in many of the ministries and committees. I was very happy there, and PUMC was a significant part of my life for nearly 30 years. We moved to Lake Norman in 1998 and, although it was hard to leave PUMC, we joined Davidson United Methodist Church and soon I became very involved there as well.

For several reasons, in 2005, George and I decided to move back to Charlotte and again it was hard to leave “my church”. Of course, Providence Methodist was the first place I visited, but after so many years of being away, it seemed different. I didn’t feel a connection and began visiting other churches. Nothing seemed to feel “right” and I visited church after church for a long time. After a while, I ran out of places to try – never even considered visiting a Catholic church. Growing up in Charlotte, I really wasn’t exposed to Catholicism other than the few times when the youth group at PUMC would share in projects with the kids at St. Gabriel’s across the street. As my faith has always been so important to me, I felt lost without a church home, and after months of feeling nothing in a church here, I stopped going. I didn’t even go on Easter as I felt I had nowhere to go. That was very difficult and, although I continued reading the Bible, etc., there was a spiritual emptiness.

My next-door neighbor, a cradle Catholic, and I had become close friends. She often shared her faith and her spirituality with me in a very special and personal way. Feeling particularly depressed on a Friday late in March of 2008, my friend asked me to have lunch, which I did. She listened as I said over and over, “I wish I had what you do”. We had talked a long time, and it was beginning to get late. As we were leaving, she asked me to “go somewhere with her”. I agreed not knowing exactly where we were going when she said she was taking me to Adoration. I had no idea what Adoration was. We were in separate cars and on the way to St. Matthew at 3:00 on a Friday afternoon (!), and as she was driving, she called friends asking them to pray for me at that moment. My friend led me into the church and she immediately knelt, and told me later that she said, “I brought her here. Now she’s Yours.” As I write this, the incredible emotions come back – the feeling I had when I first saw the Blessed Sacrament. I once read, “When life is more than you can stand, kneel.” Life itself was not more than I could stand, but the fact that I had no church home and no spiritual family, came close. I knelt. Tears came, I truly knew Jesus was there, in that room, and I felt He was there just for me. We stayed almost 2 hours.

Throughout the years at the Methodist church, especially at retreats and mission projects in Appalachia, etc., I had “mountain top experiences” – those warm and fuzzy times when you feel especially close to God, times when you know you are exactly where you should be, and times when you really know He’s there. I will always be grateful to Him for giving me those opportunities to serve, and to love Him at both Methodist Churches.

On that Friday afternoon, I asked my friend if she would take me to Mass, and again, I had no idea what that was either. She and her husband took me to daily mass for several weeks. People were incredibly welcoming, helpful and supportive and I will always remember being invited to join Catholic Scripture Study that summer. When I said I could not because I was a Methodist, our facilitator, said it didn’t matter. Come anyway.

I am now in my third year of CSS and it has meant so much, both in my faith journey as well as in enjoying beautiful friendships. Those people who prayed for me that Friday afternoon have become some of the most special people in my life.

Soon, I asked to visit on Sunday and my husband came also. We both signed up for RCIA right away. We saw too many blessings along the way during those months to list here, but I know in my heart that God led both of us in different ways to His Church.

This has been an incredible and life-changing journey for both of us. Last year, we renewed our vows for our 40th anniversary in the Chapel with Monsignor along with close friends and our family. Our marriage has changed and our lives have changed.

It feels strange to say I am a Catholic after so many active years in the Methodist church, but it feels right. I know it’s right.

Tony Snow

In 12 Converts on 2014/07/18 at 12:00 AM

by Fr. Roger Landry

Eight years ago, during my last year of studies in Rome, I received an email from a friend with whom I used to work in Washington, DC.

“Hi, Father Roger,” Peter wrote, “I just wanted to let you know that I met Tony Snow at a banquet this evening. He asked me if I knew anyone that might be a good resource/teacher to help him become more solidly based in Catholicism. I told him that without question, you would be my first choice. He asked for your contact information and I gave him your email. It seems to me that with your background and his, you two could have a great friendship.”

Since I had been out of the country for five years, I had no idea who Tony Snow was, but thanks to the Internet I soon found out. I was impressed that he wanted to know more about the Catholic faith. I was moved that his desire was so strong that it would lead him to bring it up at a Beltway dinner party with a committed Catholic whom he had just met.

As God would have it, before he sent me an email, he ended up walking into the Catholic Information Center in DC, where he befriended a great “resource/teacher,” Fr. C. John McCloskey, who over the years has quietly helped to guide many non-Catholics into the Church and many Catholics into a deeper relationship with Christ. There, at the CIC, Tony would purchase hundreds of dollars books at a time and proceed to devour them. He would read St. Thomas Aquinas, Joseph Pieper, books on philosophy, theology, apologetics and more. He had a voracious hunger to grow in faith.

Tony had converted to Catholicism two decades earlier, while at Davidson College in North Carolina, and practiced the faith with the zeal with which many converts are accustomed. A conflict came up in the mid-80s, though, when he fell in love with a devout evangelical woman, Jill Walker. Tony wanted a Catholic wedding; Jill an evangelical one. This is a conflict that many young people, and their families, face. In Tony’s case, the bride won: the wedding took place in Jill’s Church and for the sake of marital and familial unity, Tony also continued to worship with Jill at her church. Despite his not attending the Catholic Church each Sunday, Tony still considered himself a Catholic, loved the Catholic faith and tried, in his particular circumstances, to grow in deeper knowledge of it.

After his first bout with cancer in 2005, Tony began to address the conflict with greater urgency. His mother had died of colon cancer as a young woman and Tony knew that, even though his cancer had gone into remission, it could always return. While putting in grueling hours as President Bush’s press secretary, he also began working with a priest in the Diocese of Arlington to get his marriage regularized so that he could return to the practice of the Catholic faith. After the validation of his marriage, for the last fifteen months of his life, he attended Mass with joy each Sunday.

For me, Tony is a sign of hope for all those Catholics who struggle to align the love of family members with the love of God and of the Church he founded. He persevered. He never thought that the solution was in loving God less or loving his family less, but in loving both more, praying that God would provide a solution. God did. And throughout it all, although by an unconventional route, Tony was becoming “more solidly based in Catholicism.”

That deep foundation showed itself in an unforgettable way by the manner in which he embraced and praised God in his sufferings. About a year ago, in an article entitled “Cancer’s Unexpected Blessings” for Christianity Todaymagazine, he showed all Christians how to respond with faith to the vocation to suffering when God gives it. In his sufferings, he was not a spokesman for the president, but a prophet of the King of Kings.

“Blessings arrive in unexpected packages, in my case, cancer,” he wrote. “Those of us with potentially fatal diseases — and there are millions in America today — find ourselves in the odd position of coping with our mortality while trying to fathom God’s will.” After admitting that it would be presumptuous to pretend to comprehend fully the mystery of suffering, he then describes four important principles.

First, “We shouldn’t spend too much time trying to answer the ‘why’ questions: Why me? Why must people suffer? Why can’t someone else get sick? We can’t answer such things…. I don’t know why I have cancer, and I don’t much care. It is what it is, a plain and indisputable fact. … Our maladies define a central feature of our existence: We are fallen. We are imperfect. Our bodies give out. But despite this — or because of it — God offers the possibility of salvation and grace…

“Second, we need to get past the anxiety. …Remember that we were born not into death, but into life, and that the journey continues after we have finished our days on this earth. … Those who have been stricken enjoy the special privilege of being able to fight with their might and faith to live fully, richly, exuberantly — no matter how their days may be numbered.

“Third, we can open our eyes and hearts. … We want lives of simple, predictable ease, smooth, even trails as far as the eye can see, but God likes to go off-road. He provokes us with twists and turns. He places us in predicaments that seem to defy our endurance and comprehension — and yet don’t. By His love and grace, we persevere. The challenges that make our hearts leap and stomachs churn invariably strengthen our faith and grant measures of wisdom and joy we would not experience otherwise.…

“Finally, we can let love change everything. When Jesus was faced with the prospect of crucifixion, he grieved not for himself, but for us. … From the Cross, he took on the cumulative burden of human sin and weakness, and begged for forgiveness on our behalf. We get repeated chances to learn that life is not about us, that we acquire purpose and satisfaction by sharing in God’s love for others. Sickness gets us part way there. It reminds us of our limitations and dependence. But it also gives us a chance to serve the healthy.…

“Even though God doesn’t promise us tomorrow, he does promise us eternity, filled with life and love we cannot comprehend, and that one can in the throes of sickness point the rest of us toward timeless truths that will help us weather future storms. Through such trials, God bids us to choose: Do we believe, or do we not? Will we be bold enough to love, daring enough to serve, humble enough to submit, and strong enough to acknowledge our limitations? Can we surrender our concern in things that don’t matter so that we might devote our remaining days to things that do?”

Tony chose to believe, to love, to submit, to serve, and to put out into the deep all the way until his death on July 12th. He became an eloquent herald and witness that nothing, neither suffering, death or anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God (Rom 8:38-39). He went off-road with Christ and followed his footsteps all the way home to the Father’s house.

Taken from The Anchor, August 8, 2008.

Reprinted with permission….©CatholiCity Service http://www.catholicity.com

Edith Stein

In 12 Converts on 2014/06/13 at 12:00 AM

Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross [Edith Stein] (1891-1942), Carmelite, martyr, co-patron of Europe
Poem: « Heilige Nacht » (trans.©Suzanne Batzdorff)”So that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life”

My Lord, God,
You have led me by a long, dark path,
Rocky and hard.
Often my strength threatened to fail me.
I almost lost all hope of seeing the light.
But when my heart grew numb with deepest grief,
A clear star rose for me.
Steadfast it guided me- I followed,
At first reluctant, but more confidently later.

At last I stood at Church’s gate.
It opened. I sought admission.
From your priest’s mouth Your blessing greets me.
Within me stars are strung like pearls.
Red blossom stars show me the path to You.
They wait for you at Holy Night.
But your goodness
Allows them to illuminate my path to You.
They lead me on.
The secret which I had to keep in hiding
Deep in my heart,
Now I can shout it out:
I believe-I profess!
The priest accompanies me to the altar:
I bend my face-
Holy water flows over my head.

Lord, is it possible that someone who is past
Midlife can be reborn (Jn 3,4)?
You said so, and for me it was fulfilled,
A long life’s burden of guilt and suffering
Fell away from me.
Erect I receive the white cloak,
Which they place round my shoulders,
Radiant image of purity!
In my hand I hold a candle.
Its flame makes known
That deep within me glows your holy life.

My heart has become your manger,
Awaiting you,
But not for long!
Maria, your mother and also mine
Has given me her name.
At midnight she will place her newborn child
Into my heart.

Ah, no one’s heart can fathom,
What you’ve in store for those who love you (1Cor 2,9).
Now you are mine, and I won’t let you go.
Wherever my life’s road may lead,
You are with me.
Nothing can ever part me from your love (Rm 8,39).

Conversion by Fr. Timothy Reid

In 12 Converts on 2014/02/21 at 12:00 AM

• During my college years I struggled a great deal with where to go to church. While I was raised in a very wonderful, little Methodist church, I experienced some difficulty finding a church at college where I felt comfortable intellectually.

• The advice I received from well-meaning friends was that I should check out various churches, get a feel for what they believed as a community, and then choose the church that came closest to my own personal beliefs about Jesus and our Christian faith.

• While most of my friends were comfortable with this approach, I wasn’t. The question that constantly dogged me was: “Which form of Christianity is fully right and true?”

• I knew there could be only one truth. I knew that in areas of disagreement amongst the various forms of Christianity, one church had to be right and the others in error. And it was this theological questioning that eventually led me to the Catholic Church.

• And now, 20 years later, I am so grateful to our Lord, Who so very mercifully led me to the one true Church that He founded Himself during His time on earth.

• Especially now, as we continue to witness the moral degradation of our society, I am so grateful to know that I need only to turn to the teachings of our Catholic faith for truth.

• There’s lots of confusion in the world today about what is right and wrong. Disparate voices, often acting with political motives rather than a genuine search for truth, propound various moral or amoral philosophies as to what is sinful and what is not.

• This has led to conflicting beliefs on several very serious moral issues like abortion, contraception, same-sex unions, and euthanasia.

• Of course as Catholics we know these actions to be sinful, but others believe these things to be rights that must be protected to safeguard personal liberties. More shockingly, there are those who believe actions like abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex unions are actually good.

• While our country continues to debate these topics in political arenas, we must understand something important: despite all the values of a pluralistic society, our pluralism must not engender moral relativism.

• We must recognize that there is only one Truth, and we will only find unity as a country in the Truth.

• And the fullness of truth can only be found in the Church that Jesus Christ Himself founded and to which He entrusted the fullness of His revelation: the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.

• This is not a proud statement. In fact, it’s a statement of humility. It’s simply the humble recognition of what our Lord has done by founding the Catholic Church and entrusting her with the fullness of revelation.

• When it comes to these serious moral questions in our society, we need to seek truth so that we can recognize the sin in our life, repent of it, and find forgiveness and healing. The beautiful thing about truth is that it is both rational and beautiful.

• And so when we study the moral teachings of the Catholic Church and begin to understand why the Church teaches as She does, we begin to see that her teachings are beautiful and make sense.

• Rather than trying to limit man’s freedom by her teachings, the Church’s teachings shine the light of Christ upon our intellects so that we can be free in truest sense rather than enslaved to our passions.

• Both our first reading and Gospel today speak of the people who walked in darkness who have seen a great light. The light, of course, is Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Light of the World, the Light shining in the darkness that the darkness has not overcome.

• And while the people who walked in darkness is literally a reference to the Gentiles living in the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali, in a spiritual sense it refers to all of us, for all of us are born in the darkness of sin.

• Whether we know it or not, sin is a tremendous burden, and our sins affect us in a very real way – even those sins we believe to be insignificant. Sin casts a pall over the eyes of our soul, darkening our spiritual vision and distorting our understanding of the truth. So we must avoid sin at all cost.

• The more serious our sins are, the more darkened and distorted our spiritual vision becomes, making it all the harder for us to know the Truth and act in accord with it.

• Indeed, sin doesn’t just darken and distort the way we see the Truth, but it enslaves us, taking away our freedom to do what is right and good.

• The more we commit a particular sin over and over, the harder it become to say no to that same sin in the future, and the easier it becomes to rationalize the sin to ourselves.

• In the worst cases, we can begin to believe that our sinful actions are not sinful at all – and that’s when satan’s got us.

• Sin damages the charity in our hearts, making it harder for us to love God as we should, or to love our fellow man as we should. If our sin is mortal, it doesn’t just damage our relationship with God, it cuts it off altogether, jeopardizing our eternal salvation.

• And it’s for all of these reasons that Jesus Christ came into the world. Jesus came to save us from our sins, not just to forgive them. And this is a very critical distinction that we must bear in mind, especially if we’re battling a habitual sin in our lives.

• We all know that when Jesus died on Calvary, He died in order to redeem us, to make the forgiveness of our sins possible. We know that our sins are forgiven every time we receive Holy Communion worthily and every time we make a good confession.

• But through the grace of the sacraments, Jesus does more than just forgive sins. There is grace in the sacraments that strengthens us to say no to temptations when they arise. There is grace in the sacraments that impel us as well to acts of virtue.

• The sacraments communicate God’s divine life to us. They give us a foretaste of Heaven. When we receive the sacraments worthily, we have an encounter with Jesus by which we are strengthened in holiness.

• Therefore, if we hope to be those people who have seen a great light, then we must humbly submit ourselves to Holy Mother Church in all things, for She is the Body of Christ.

• While in her humanity she is, at times, a frail and imperfect instrument, the Catholic Church is, nonetheless, the visible manifestation of Christ’s light to the world, and it is a true blessing to be numbered among her children.

• For within her bosom we find not only the fullness of Truth, enabling us to recognize sin for what it is, but we also find forgiveness for our sins, as well as the remedy that will heal us of all the harmful effects of our sins.

• My dear brothers and sisters, our blessed Lord has no greater desire than to see each and us in Heaven. He desires that all of us be saved. That is His explicit will.

• And the grace of salvation is open to all of us, no matter who we are or how numerous or terrible our sins have been. There is no limit on His mercy if we are truly contrite.

• And His mercy is most perfectly given to us through the sacraments of His one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church.

• Just as the apostles were moved to drop everything in order to follow Christ, let us rid ourselves of every burden of sin through the grace of the sacraments, so that we, too, may shine with the light of Christ and become fishers of men.

Copyright 2011 by Reverend Timothy S. Reid

Reverend Reid is pastor of St. Ann’s Catholic  Church in Charlotte, NC

New Catholics; Former Muslims

In 12 Converts on 2013/08/30 at 12:00 AM

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Pope Benedict baptizing former Muslim.  Six million adult Muslims from all over the world are converting yearly to Christianity; mainly to Catholicism.

Islamist (Cairo / Abuja) violence is rapidly increasing in Africa. Muslim terrorist groups increasingly operate in countries which were until recently calm and stable. Islamist wildfire spreads. The sociologist Massimo Introvigne, the 2011 representative of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) against persecution and discrimination of Christians, sees a targeted strategy behind the phenomenon of Islamic violence . “The Islamists are convinced that the decisive battle about whether the world is Muslim or Christian will take place in Africa.” Even more importantly, according to Introvigne, “Islam is going to lose this battle. So it responds with bombs. ”

It was the Libyan Islamic scholar and director of a training center for imams and preachers of the Koran, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Qataani, who, already a few years ago, in an interview with the Arab-Muslim television station Al-Jazeera, raised the alarm. He did it with a highly explosive statement, very little noticed in the West: “In Africa alone, every hour, 667 Muslims convert to Christianity, 16,000 every day, six million a year.” Introvigne confirmed the figures, which are now the same as in 2006, when Al-Qataani raised the alarm. African Christianity has a great inner strength. The contact of Muslims to Christianity leads millions of Muslims to be baptized. One could say that they “fly” to leave Islam. Despite the associated dangers to life and limb.

The move to conversion from Islam to Christianity is taking place not only in Africa. The baptism of the former Egyptian Muslim Magdi Allam by Pope Benedict XVI. at the Easter Vigil in 2008 was the most spectacular and most visible element of this movement.  Allam shows how many Muslim converts in addition adopt a typical Christian name. He opted for Cristiano. This refers to the personal name Christian. In his case, however, for Allam there is a broader sense that will say: Magdi “the Christian”–no longer the Muslim–“Allam”.

Empirical studies are not available. Careful observers, as the sociologist Introvigne can have an idea about the numbers, based on various criteria of largely unnoticed and ongoing phenomena. According to the British Times about 15 percent of Muslim immigrants to Europe have abandoned Islam and become Christians. In the UK the number is now estimated at 200,000. In France, every year about 15,000 Muslims become Christians, some 10,000 of them Catholics, the rest Protestants of various denominations, especially of independent churches.

In Africa, as reported by Sheikh Al-Qataani to Al-Jazeera, “Islam has always been the main religion. There were times when 30 African languages were written in Arabic script. “Today’s size relationship between Islam and Christianity make clear how much Islam has declined in recent years. Al-Qataani made a comparison directly between Islam and the Catholic Church, “without counting the members of other Christian denominations”. To increase the Christians by the millions of Muslims who convert to Christianity, said Sheikh Al-Qataani: “These are huge numbers.”

Introvigne confirms the conversion movement against the initially expressed assumption of Al Qataani who could have intentionally over-estimated the numbers to arouse the Islamic world. “The global growth of Islam is almost exclusively from the high birth rate in Muslim countries where thanks to Western medicine, infant mortality has been substantially reduced,” said Introvigne. Outside the Islamic States of Islam there is a decrease. The growth of the Christians results, in contrast, mainly from adult baptisms. The evangelical Wolfgang Simpson wrote: “Over the past two decades, more Muslims came to Christ than in all previous centuries.”

Father Joseph Hergets evangelization of Muslims

Priests like the Austrian Lazarist Father Josef Herget, the founder of the Institute of St. Justin in Mariazell are among the silent but active missionaries who lead the Muslims from Islam to Christ. They live dangerously. Father Herget wrote back in 1975, when the issue of Islam in the West was being given little weight, his master’s thesis on the topic:Christian preaching in the Islamic world . Another, the Egyptian Coptic priest Zakaria Botros was named “enemy number one of Islam” by Islamic scholars of the Arab-Islamic newspaper Al-Insan al-Jadid.  Botros television broadcasts via satellite from the U.S., in which he deals with the problematic parts of the Koran (Jihad, status of women, stonings, etc.) from a Christian perspective, may lead to secret mass conversions among Muslims. His mastery of the Arabic language and his knowledge of Islamic sources allow him to directly contact an Arab-Muslim audience in the Middle East.

The conversions were suspended, as many viewers of Botros transmitter Alfady after initial outrage was clear that the ulema are not able to convincingly answer to the broadcasts Botros. Botros and Hergets deal with Islam in a different way from the usual Western criticism that focuses on political and social issues and often betrays a condescending racist undertone. This form of criticism is also a caused by the fact that many in the West ignore the Christians of the Middle East and North Africa. Such criticism is seen as prejudiced, external interference, to the vast majority of Muslims. They usually respond downright irritated in the ranks of the Islamists, militias and terrorist groups because too many politically charged issues come into play, in which the West is not perceived as the morally superior side, but mutated into the enemy. Botros and Herget, to stay with the two representatives of the evangelization of Muslims, on the other hand, bring salvation. This is the crucial difference which opens the hearts of many Muslims, and at the same time offers a way out of a spiral of violence with harsh confrontations.

Raymond Ibrahim wrote in the National Review : “Many Western critics do not understand that it is necessary to defuse the radical Islamism and in its place suggest something Theo centric and spiritually satisfying, not secularism, democracy, consumerism, materialism, or feminism. The ‘truths’ of a religion can be challenged only by the truth of another religion. Father Zakaria Botros fights fire with fire “.

People seem to no longer tolerate the direct or indirect violence. Roman Silantjew, secretary of the Interreligious Council of Russia, said that in the successor states of the former Soviet Union, two million Muslims have converted to Christianity. One of the main reasons for this is the desire for peace, which they find in Christianity.

In Algeria, there were approximately 80,000 Muslims who were baptized, which prompted the country’s government to enact laws against Christian proselytism. In these years, Moroccan media continued to report the baptism of tens of thousands of citizens. People see war and crisis zones in Islam and they decide for Christ, as the representative of an evangelical community in Sudan said.

In Malaysia, according to the Mufti of Perak, 250,000 Muslims have submitted officially to the authorities the application for change a of religion to Christianity. Such a change is only allowed for members of ethnic minorities. On the number of Malays who were baptized in secret, there is no information.

Protestant and Pentecostal communities move quite differently, sometimes very irresponsibly, to the chagrin of the indigenous Christian churches in Islamic countries who are victims of Islamist reprisals. The Catholic Church is more reserved. The Egyptian Jesuit Samir Khalil Samir, a leading expert in the Islamic world and the Pope’s adviser, reported that the Catholic clergy “sometimes even discourages conversions in Islamic states for fear or misunderstanding, ecumenism’. It is otherwise is in European countries. Khalil admits that the situation is not easy. Independent Church communities “come and go, but the Church was 2000 years ago, it is today and it will be tomorrow. “Independent Church groups, because of their small structures being barely palpable, or because they are not officially registered in most countries, are not as vulnerable to attack. The situation is quite different for the Catholic Church and the Eastern Churches. They are officially registered. The authorities know all the Christian places and know what families belong to the church. They are vulnerable to attack because of its visibility and not only in a particular country, but also in other countries.

The indigenous churches were accustomed coexistence with Muslims for centuries and in a certain form. A form tolerating conversion to Islam, but not vice versa to Christianity. Time and the Islamic sword have made these Christians resign themselves to defend their own area and not to reach out. It is a form of self-defense, which has been firmly entrenched in the mentality of the Eastern Christians, and could only be overcome slowly. Overcoming that worries Christians very much, given the often life-threatening situations.

Missionaries from the outside, however, often lack the necessary familiarity with the cultural sensitivities, which could lead to dangerous confusion among the Muslim population. Between these extremes, it was necessary to find ways of evangelization. Working in this area there are several Catholic initiatives, such as those of the Austrian Father Josef Herget and his Catechetical Instructions.

This article written by Giuseppe Nardi originally appeared in Katholisches

 

David Gray’s Faith Journey

In 12 Converts on 2013/08/23 at 12:00 AM

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In my articles ‘Losing and Finding it All’ and ‘The Day I Heard the Lord’s Voice; The Day I Knew Jesus Is Real’I talked about how I moved from being an Agnostic to a Christian. I wish I could say that I went to prison and found Christ, but that would not be the truth – It was Jesus who found me in very bad condition and gave me a new opportunity at life.

After Jesus spoke to me as I was in the process of trying to commit suicide and said, “I love you. I am here,” everything was different. I could no longer deny that Jesus was real and that He was interested in having a personal relationship with me, but some of those issues that troubled me about Christianity for all those years still lingered in my heart.

Ever since I was teenager, I could never understand how those Christians could be in so many different denominations, and each of them teaching so many radically different things that were at odds with what the other denominations were teaching, and, yet, all insisting that they each believed in the same God.

I kept asking myself how could they all believe in the same God and simultaneously accept that their God was confusing them with opposing and competing truths? As far as I was concerned, that was not a God worth believing in.

Moreover, I was not very knowledgeable about the New Testament, but one thing I knew for sure was that the YHWH of Old Testament always kept His people together and for His children there was nothing more important than the Shema, “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God is one LORD” (Deuteronomy 6:4).

I knew that in the Davidic Kingdom there was only one God, one Temple, and one priesthood. Therefore, as an Agnostic, I concluded that either these Christians were not of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as they claimed, or there was no God.

There in October of 2004 it was good enough for me to finally know that God is real, and He truly does have a Son named Jesus Christ who loves me more than I love myself; so the restlessness and questions in my heart about those Christian denominations would wait until a later time. I was on my way to prison – my new life, and I had to figure out how I was going to adjust to that.

On August 31st, 2005 I was Baptized in prison in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. I suppose that I could have been classed as Protestant at that time and until my conversion to Catholicism, because that (Protestantism) was the brand of theology that I subscribed to at least; even without knowing what I was ‘protesting’ against exactly or knowing anything about the Catholic Church, except what I heard, such as they worship Mary and the Pope. Yet, the Baptism itself was huge step for me in the right direction, because, for me, it meant commitment; it meant that I was ready to take my walk with Christ Jesus seriously. In the light of Christ having deigned to speak to me personally to save me from myself, I felt that I owed that commitment to God. He gave me my life back, so I felt that I owed Him mine.

It was shortly after my Baptism that all the old restlessness and those questions arose in my heart again. By that time I had become more familiar with the New Testament and it had become absolutely clear to me that I had to belong to a Church, because that was the ‘gift’ that Jesus gave us through his Apostles, He prayed that we would be one (Cf. John 17), Paul admonished us to be of one faith, one Lord, on Baptism, and one God (Cf. Ephesians 4:5-6), and the writer of Hebrews commands us not to forsake the assembly (Cf. 10:23).

I was just starting year two of a five to nine year sentence, so I felt that I had plenty of time to make up my mind which Church I would join, but for awhile I assumed that I would join the African Methodist Episcopal Church because that was the one my Grandmother Minnie always took me to.

CONFUSION SET IN

In January of 2006, still restless over this issue of competing Protestant denominations, two questions arose in my heart that changed my life for good. It is true; the fruit of our life is only as good as the questions that we ask ourselves. That is, if I don’t ask myself good questions, then the result is that my answers in regards to life’s difficulties are no good either. In other words, it is only through the process of asking and answering questions that we discover who we are in relation to God and neighbor.

The questions I asked myself that day were, “Well, what happened to the Church that Jesus started through his Apostles? What happened to the Churches in the Bible?” What basic and fundamental questions were these? I thought I was silly for not asking them a long time ago. And, simultaneously, I was worried that I would not be able to find their answers, or that the answers that I would find would be some church that was so small and reclusive that I would not be able to join. Yet, I knew that my heart would be restless until I went on this journey to find the true Church of Jesus.

THE SEARCH BEGINS

My journey began with a challenge to God. First, I thanked Him for saving my life and added that if that experience was real and if the Bible is true and you told the truth when you said that gates of Hell would not prevail against your Church (Cf. Matthew 16:18) and you do not want your people to be divided and fighting each other, then the Church that you started through your Apostles should still be here today.

I told Him that I believe that you are that powerful and that loving that you would not leave your people guessing for the truth or dividing in competing factions, but if you could not do that little thing then you are not worth my believing in. Finally, I told him that I needed Him to help me answer this question and that I would go wherever He led me.

My search for the Church of Christ began with Scripture. More precisely, it began with the premise of ‘truth’ and that would remain as the underlying foundation of my search. There are two things that Scriptures says are always true: the first is Christ Jesus, who calls Himself ‘The Truth’. “I am the way, the truth, and the life . . .” (John 14:6); the second is the CHURCH, – “But if I should be delayed, you should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the Church of the living God, the Pillar and Foundation of Truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).

Because I started with the foundation of the Old Covenant, it allowed me to understand Jesus’ words “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17) under the context that everything that was in the Old Covenant is now in the New Covenant, but in its fulfilled sense. That is why I immediately dismissed the Protestant notion of some ‘invisible’ unity, because the Old Covenant offered a clearly visible unity amongst the people, priesthood, Temple, and God.

I understood that all Christians are one in ‘Spirit’, but, clearly, Scripture is not talking about an invisible unity. Jesus prayed that we would be one so that the world will believe and know that the Father sent the Son. He did not pray that we would be thirty- three thousand different denominations. Moreover, the unity that Jesus prayed for is a right now unity; meaning that it was something was instantly present, as opposed to something that Protestants believe will come at the end.

Because Jesus prayed that we would be one, so that the world will believe and know that the Father sent the Son, it follows that if we are not one, then the world has every reason not to believe and every reason not to know that the Father sent the Son. I am an example of the failure of Christians not living up to Jesus’ prayer. The disunity of Christians harmed me as a youth. Because they were not one – I rejected them. I had not known about the Catholic Church.

It troubled me greatly back in January of 2006, after I started the process to find the Church of the Apostles, when I immediately had to dismiss every Protestant church on the grounds that not a single one of them is older than five hundred years. That meant that none them could be the actual Church that the Apostles started.

On top of that, each of them was started by some man: the Lutherans by Martin Luther; the Presbyterians by John Calvin; the Anglicans/Episcopalians by King Henry VIII, the Baptist by John Smyth; the Methodist by John Wesley, and etc. In addition, the motives of these men starting these Churches seemed to be scurrilous and suspect – clearly not of God. I began to be scared of what I was about to find.page3image26256 page3image26416 page3image26576

Soon thereafter, I saw that the Catholic Church was actually Christian, and I understood that because it was the Church that the Protestants were protesting against meant that it was older than them. Still today, most Protestants today have no clue what they are protesting against. Yet, at this point in my research, I figured that I would eventually discover that the Catholic Church was started some time in the middle ages (like I had always heard from Protestants). Having heard so many strange things about Catholics and what they believe, I had no reason to believe that it was the Church that Jesus Christ started through His Apostles.

THE PAPER TRAIL

Whenever I research, I never go straight to a biased source. My initial research here was done through good encyclopedias and non-religious books. What I discovered from a number of sources is that by the late first century, the same Churches that we read about in the Bible had begun to call themselves catholic.

That was an odd discovery for me, but I didn’t immediately connect it with the Catholic Church, because ‘in context’ all they were expressing is what the word ‘catholic’ means in Greek (that is, one, whole, united, complete). In addition, I was just like everyone else in this country – I had a built in prejudice against Catholics and the last thing that I wanted to be was a Catholic, more especially a Black Catholic.

Next, I came across some documents from the first and second century – they were letters to and from the Bishop of Rome. He was not being called the ‘Pope’ yet (‘pope’ only means ‘father’ in Italian), but the new questions that I was being forced to answer myself was: ‘Why were these Churches far outside of Rome writing to the Bishop of Rome to resolve their disputes at a time when the Apostle John was still alive?’ ‘Why was the Bishop of Rome writing to Churches far outside of Rome, like Corinth, and telling them what to do?’ ‘Who did the Bishop of Rome think he was?

Ok, the answers to these questions were problematic, but I kept prayerfully going. I was starting to tell God that He had to straighten me out, because I was far off track in my research. The Church that He started could not be the Catholic Church.

Next, I backed up a little bit and started studying the teachings of the Catholic Church, because if I could prove that what they teach is not what the Bible actually teaches then I could dismiss this weird religion and find the error in my research, and get back to finding the true Church of the Apostles. I actually was starting to think that Jesus is a liar and a false God that can’t even provide the means to keep His people homogeneous. So I went back to the library and checked out several books on Catholic theology and history.

The first books that I dug into were the history books written by Catholics, and they made me feel pretty stupid! Why had I not asked myself basic questions like: ‘When was the Bible put together?’ ‘Who made up our foundation doctrines like the Trinity?’page4image27040 page4image27200 page4image27360 page4image27520

‘Who set the dates for Christmas and Easter?’ I found that not only did the founders of the Church, that eventually began calling itself Catholic, write the books of the New Testament, but it was also the Catholic Church who preserved these writings and canonized (listed the books) of the Bible in 382 A.D.

It was the Catholic Church who formulated the doctrine of the Trinity and who set the dates of Easter and Christmas. In a way, we are all Catholics because we accept so many of the Church’s teachings. I found that Protestants cannot truly say that they reject the teachings of the Catholic Church, because out of the side of their mouth they must confess that those same teachings form the foundation of their faith.

There are some teachings that are very peculiar to the Catholic Church, like Purgatory, intercessory prayer with the saints (in Heaven), belief that the communion bread and wine is the Real Flesh, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, and the high honor they pay the Virgin Mary. I deduced that if I could prove that some of the main people of the first three centuries of the Church rejected fundamental and key Catholic teachings then I could rightfully dismiss the Catholic Church.

In other words, because the Catholic Church holds that what She believes now that She has always believed, then if I could prove that orthodox Christians from the first and second centuries believed something other than what the Catholic Church teaches then I could get back on track to find the true Church of Christ.

I was troubled again by what I discovered. Not only was it clearly evident that what the Catholic Church believes today what has She has always believed, but that the saints and martyrs of the first three centuries were clearly members of that Church. The real shocker was the finding out that everything that the Catholic Church believes is Scriptural. But why wouldn’t it be?

If this is the Church that gave us the Bible, then why wouldn’t She agree with everything in the Bible? I was starting to realize that the problem was not what the Catholic Churches understandings of Scripture. On the contrary, the problem was my understanding of Scripture. Who was I to interpret a book different than its own author has been interpreting it for two thousand years?

Like most people, I had heard some things about the Emperor Constantine creating the Roman Catholic Church and formulating doctrine. I already knew that this old wives tale (demonic lie) had some problems because I had already proven to myself that the Catholic Church evolved out of the first Churches of the Apostles, but what was up with the Council of Nicaea and all those early councils?

MORE QUESTIONS

By March of 2006 I had done a lot of research. God has blessed me with signs that I was on the right path. Yet, a part of me still did not want to be Catholic, but I could not deny where the Spirit  was leading me. I had to admit to myself that this was not my idea to be Catholic, and it felt good that I was not following my own will. It also felt good that I might be able to trust God. If I did not have to figure out the Bible on my own, but, rather, trust the theology of the Church who has been working on explaining Her own book for two thousand years, then that would take a lot of weight off of my back. My next task was to go in undercover and investigate. I had to figure out what the Catholic Church and that Mass thing was about.

The first Mass that I attended changed my life forever. It was everything that I ever dreamed of in a Church. Don’t get me wrong – there is a Catholic Church in every country in the world and they all celebrate the Mass slightly different. Even in this country where some Catholic Churches that are predominately Black, Hispanic, or Charismatic, they get down with music, dancing, and tongues and you name it, but the first Mass that I attended was perfect for me.

Besides the ritual and drama, what I love about the Mass the most is that it is all about Jesus! It is never about some man or his preaching. There are three to four Scriptures read at every Mass and all Catholics in every part of the world hear the same Scriptures every day, because Mass is not just on Sunday – it is everyday. ‘They Broke Bread Daily’ the Scripture says and Catholics do just that.

Again, the focus of the Mass is not on some man preaching, but, rather, on Jesus. Not on the music, but on Jesus. Not on people praising God, but on Jesus. Yes there is good preaching, music, and praise, but that is not why Catholics go to Mass. They go to the Sacrifice of the Mass to see Jesus. He is there physically and spiritually in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. It is incredible!

I cannot see myself going through life without the Real Manna that came down from Heaven. God is so good and compassionate to come to us in such a little and humble way.

First He came to us as a little infant and now He continues to come to us in a little morsel of bread and sip of wine – that, through the ordained priest, He actually turns into His real Flesh and Blood. I know it sounds crazy, but it is what Jesus and the Apostles taught, Scripture teaches, and what we Christians have always believed for fifteen hundred years until some men came along said it actually wasn”t.

Satan won when Christians became divided over the Body of Christ. I feel so sad for people who do not receive the real Flesh and Blood of Jesus. God has never been more intimate with us than He is at the Mass when we take Him into our mouths just as John 6 says we must do to have eternal life. I found that there is only one reason why all Christians are not Catholic and it is the same reason why all Catholics leave the Catholic Church; that is, they believe something different about the Holy Eucharist than what the Catholic Church actually teaches that it is. For, if they truly believed that the Eucharist is the actual Body and Blood of Jesus Christ then they would refuse to go even a day without receiving it.

I had lots of other issues with the Catholic Church, such as: confession to a priest, the Virgin Mary, praying with dead people (saints), and you name it, but I always came back to some basic facts: (1) That I asked for this; (2) The issue was usually my pride, not Catholic teaching; (3) What the Church teaches is what they have been teaching for two thousand years; therefore, who was I, who had only been around for three something years, to declare that I know the whole truth; (4) The Catholic Church has been consistently counter-cultural and strong on all of Her moral and social teachings (e.g. pro-life, human rights, natural marriage, and etc.), while the Protestant church has been blowing in the wind on everything; (5) The alternative is belonging to some Church that was not started by the Apostles and has only been here for five hundred or less years; and (6) The fact that the Catholic Church has been tested for two thousand years and has withstood the adversity is a sign of grace from God. Therefore, I resolved those issues in two ways; first, by researching what the Church teaches and why; and second, by trusting God not to lead me wrong.

It feels good to be able to tell God on the day of judgment that I only believed what the Church that He started taught and nothing else. That is to say, that if I was wrong about anything it was His fault – not mine! I don’t know what is going to happen to those people who meet God and tell Him that they believed what they wanted to believe or what Martin Luther or John Calvin (not Apostles) taught.

Ultimately, I found myself in a position that I couldn’t find a way out of. I had found what I went looking for. It is true – the Catholic Church was not what I expect to find when I began my journey, but it turned out to be everything that I always wanted. The Church of the Apostles is still with us. The Catholic Church is the Church that Jesus started through His Apostles. Still feeling a bit reluctant, the next question I asked myself was the question that concluded my research: -Why would I belong to any other Church, but the Church that was started by the God who saved my life?

On August 8th, 2006 I was Confirmed and received into the Catholic Church, taking St. Joseph as my patron Saint. It was funny; St. Joseph was there as a kid, as I use to ride my bike past St. Joseph Hospital in Warren, Ohio, and there he was again at my hour of conversion in St. Joseph Parish. I suppose he has always been there watching me move along.

God has been so merciful and gracious with me and has never led me wrong. I am so happy that He brought me to His Church kicking and screaming all along the way, because I appreciate the struggle and the journey. Even today, as I knell down at Mass, I have to shake my head with a grin that I am actually a Roman Catholic and the happiest I have ever been in my life.

Appeared on Steve Ray’s blog: http://www.catholic-convert.com

Dr. Bernard Nathanson

In 12 Converts on 2013/07/19 at 12:00 AM

by Father John McCloskey

In 1973, the infamous Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade legalized the crime that would take the lives of over 50 million innocent unborn humans, who were made in the image and likeness of God. As a result of this unspeakable decision and its aftermath, the United States of America has plunged into a moral chasm that no longer respects the dignity of the human person from conception until a natural death. In my opinion, this will inevitably destroy our country, unless America returns to its Christian roots in recognizing the natural law written in our hearts as children of God.

However, there is always hope.

Part of the hope is the story and witness of Dr. Bernard Nathanson, whom I came to know well during our many years of friendship. Nathanson was the co-founder in 1969 of the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL, later renamed the National Abortion Rights Action League), and former director of New York City’s Center for Reproductive and Sexual Health, then the largest abortion clinic in the world. In the late 1970′s he turned against abortion to become a prominent pro-life advocate.

I played a small part in bringing him into the Catholic Church where he found peace and happiness. Nathanson served as a prophet for life, as he engaged in a heroic worldwide effort through tireless travel to deliver pro-life speeches in foreign countries. He continued his work through his writings and video productions until his death in 2011.

When the heinous decision of the Supreme Court is overturned and the Holy Innocents are saved again from the atheistic American Herods, Dr. Nathanson’ conversion to life and to the Catholic faith will be seen as a very important part of the possible resurgence of respect for life at all stages.

After his conversion, Dr. Nathanson became a target for the cultural anti-life forces in America, the subject of ridicule and satire in comic strips, news commentary, and for television comedians because he had the audacity to change his mind regarding the objective reality of abortion. Since then, along with a distinguished obstetric medical practice and teaching in a university, he gave hundreds of lectures throughout the world in defense of the unborn.

Upon the verge of retirement he wrote his autobiography, which contains searing personal revelations about how a man could possibly become an abortionist, yet also a powerful witness to the possibilities of divine grace as he draws near to the final step of Baptism and incorporation into Christ’s Church.

Later this year, Regnery Press will be republishing an updated edition of Nathanson’s powerful autobiography, The Hand of God with a new forward by yours truly. Keep an eye out for it. It can change minds and hearts.

Now read below for a taste of its contents so as to understand the horrors that Dr. Nathanson had to overcome, including his family background and his complicity in the death of over 75,000 children. Indeed, in some ways we can see in him another St. Paul:

A warning to the reader: this is not an easy or pleasant book to read because it tells the truth about evil acts that are truly repugnant. What is remarkable and praiseworthy is that the doctor does not make excuses for his behavior. The reader certainly has many reasons at least to understand without condoning his behavior after reading about his childhood and adolescence in a familial setting that can truly be described as loveless. Nathanson recounts in painful detail his bringing up in New York by a family that appears to have been seriously dysfunctional for at least a couple of generations without the slightest semblance of religious faith or familial loyalty or affection.

The first chapter is entitled “The Monster,” referring to his father, and spells out very clearly the young Nathanson’s relationships with his Jewish Canadian physician father and his family. “We would take long walks together, he and I, and he would fill my ears with poisonous remarks and revanchist resolutions concerning my mother and her family and. I remained his weapon, his dummy, until I was almost seventeen years old, when l-as-he rebelled and told him I would no longer function as his robotic surrogate assassin.” About his sister, “her mental health destroyed, her physical health intact but–to her befuddled mind–suspect, her children rebellious, fallen in with bad company and truant, my sister killed herself one sunny August morning with an overdose of a powerful sedative.” Regarding himself, “And l? I have three failed marriages and have fathered a son who is sullen, suspicious but brilliant in computer science.”

In one of the final chapters of the book, entitled “To the Thanatoriums” he prophesies about what Pope Paul VI presaged so clearly in his Encyclical Humanae vitae, that once the respect for human life at its inception is lost the way will lead inevitably to euthanasia. “Drawing largely from my experience with a similar brand of pagan excess I predict that entrepreneurs will set up multiple small, discreet infirmaries for those who wish, have been talked into, coerced into, or medically deceived into death…. But that will only be the first phase. As the thanatoria flourish and expand into chains and franchised operations, the accountants will eventually assume command, slashing expenses and overheads as competition grows. The final streamlined, efficient, and economically flawless version of the thanatorium will resemble nothing so much as the assembly line factories that abortion clinics have become and–farther on down the slope–the ovens of Auschwitz.”

However, he ends the book on a note of hope in Christ’s mercy, forgiveness, and offer of salvation. As is often the case in a story of conversion, it is the prayers and personal example of so many of his pro-life friends and coworkers that over time melt down the resistance of a hardened atheistic sinner so that he can see that there might be room in God’s heart even for the likes of him.

Speaking of the witness of pro-lifers at a demonstration at an abortion clinic: “They prayed, they supported, and encouraged each other, they sang hymns of joy, and they constantly reminded each other of the absolute prohibition against violence. They prayed for the unborn babies, for the confused and pregnant women, and for the doctors and nurses in the clinic. They even prayed for the police and media who were covering the event. And I wondered: how can these people give of themselves for a constituency that is (and always will be) mute, invisible, and unable to thank them?”

Witnessing these pro-life demonstrators who were willing to go to jail and suffer bankruptcy for their belief made such a powerful impression on Nathanson that “for the first time in my entire adult life, I began seriously to entertain the notion of God, a God who problematically had led me through the proverbial circles of hell, only to show me the way to redemption and mercy through His Grace.”

As we can see, if with God’s grace, Dr. Bernard Nathanson could overcome such obstacles, well, then so can the other citizens of our country. With the sorrowful anniversary ofRoe v. Wade around the corner, we need the witness of prophets like Nathanson to inspire us to continue our work for a culture of life. We can never underestimate the power of the example of our prayer and love.

Author’s Note: Part of the article above is adapted from a review I wrote for the Vatican Newspaper, Le Osservatore Romano in 1996.

First appeared at The Truth and Charity Forum on January 14, 2013.

Evangelization

In 12 Converts on 2013/02/22 at 12:00 AM

Pope Benedict XVI

Homily of the inaugural Mass of his  pontificate, 24/04/05 (trans. © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Peter’s call to be a shepherd (Jn 21,15-17)…  comes after the account of a miraculous catch of fish: after a night in which the disciples had let down their nets without success, they see the Risen Lord on the shore. He tells them to let down their nets once more, and the nets become so full that they can hardly pull them in; 153 large fish: «and although there were so many, the net was not torn».

This account, coming at the end of Jesus’s earthly journey with his disciples, corresponds to an account found at the beginning (Lk 5,1-11): there too, the disciples had caught nothing the entire night; there too, Jesus had invited Simon once more to put out into the deep. And Simon, who was not yet called Peter, gave the wonderful reply: «Master, at your word I will let down the nets.» And then came the conferral of his mission: «Do not be afraid. Henceforth you will be catching men».

Today too the Church and the successors of the Apostles are told to put out into the deep sea of history and to let down the nets, so as to win men and women over to the Gospel – to God, to Christ, to true life. The Fathers made a very significant commentary on this singular task. This is what they say: for a fish, created for water, it is fatal to be taken out of the sea, to be removed from its vital element to serve as human food. But in the mission of a fisher of men, the reverse is true. We are living in alienation, in the salt waters of suffering and death; in a sea of darkness without light. The net of the Gospel pulls us out of the waters of death and brings us into the splendour of God’s light, into true life. It is really true: as we follow Christ in this mission to be fishers of men, we must bring men and women out of the sea that is salted with so many forms of alienation and onto the land of life, into the light of God. It is really so: the purpose of our lives is to reveal God to men.