Jimmy was born in Texas, grew up nominally Protestant, but at age 20 experienced a profound conversion to Christ. Planning on becoming a Protestant pastor or seminary professor, he started an intensive study of the Bible. But the more he immersed himself in Scripture the more he found to support the Catholic faith. Eventually, he entered the Catholic Church. His conversion story, “A Triumph and a Tragedy,” is published in Surprised by Truth. Besides being an author, Jimmy is the Senior Apologist at Catholic Answers, a contributing editor to Catholic Answers Magazine, and a weekly guest on “Catholic Answers Live.”
Though others have commented on the passing of Fr. Ray Ryland, beloved priest and father, I would like to add a few remarks of my own.
I knew Fr. Ryland, he was very kind to me, and for a time he served as my confessor.
Just the Facts
For those who may not be aware of who Fr. Ryland was, here are some of the basic facts:
Oklahoma native Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D., was an Episcopal clergyman from 1950–1963. In 1963 he was received with his wife, Ruth, and their five children into the Catholic Church. Twenty years later, he was ordained to the priesthood of the Catholic Church, with a dispensation from the rule of celibacy under the Pastoral Provision.
Fr. Ryland served as a naval officer in WWII, as professor of theology at the University of San Diego from 1969–1991, and as adjunct professor of theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville from 1991–1994 and 1998–2000. He has been chaplain and board member of Catholics United for the Faith and the Coming Home Network International for over a decade [SOURCE].
He also worked at Catholic Answers, and it was in this period that I got to know him.
He recently passed, in his mid 90s, due to injuries he suffered falling down a flight of stairs when on his way to Eucharistic adoration.
So much is lost when a man dies, and I’d like to preserve a couple of memories of this wonderful man.
Everyone Is Distinctive
Fr. Ryland had a wonderful, self-deprecating sense of humor, and he once pointed out to me something very small and that I’d never noticed: The tips of his thumbs were unusually large and round.
I looked, and they were. Distinctively so!
He then told me a story about how, once, he and his wife, Ruth, were having dinner in a restaurant, and this particular restaurant had a photographer who went around to the tables taking commemorative pictures of the diners.
While they were eating, the woman whose job it was to develop the photos in the back came rushing out to greet Ray and Ruth.
It turns out she was an old, high school acquaintance of Fr. Ryland’s, and although she hadn’t seen him in years, she recognized him in the photograph—by his thumbs.
Everyone Should Be Charitable
Although apologists commonly stress the need to be charitable in defending the faith, we don’t always meet this goal.
Some years ago, when I was first starting out as an apologist, I wrote an article for a Catholic magazine where I spectacularly failed to do so.
The whole piece was basically snark, though and through, and it didn’t communicate anything apologetically useful to the reader.
Fr. Ryland was one of the readers, and he later discussed it with me.
Interestingly, he did not acknowledge that I was the author and seemed fuzzy about some of the particulars of the piece.
Whether he actually did not remember that I was the author or whether this was his gentle way of not putting me on the spot, he was very clear about one thing: This was the kind of piece an apologist should not write, and it was fundamentally unworthy.
I knew he was right. I was mortified. And I resolved never to write such a piece again.
Fr. Ryland thus played a role in my own development as an apologist.
He taught me an important lesson about charity, and I remember it vividly to this day.
All That Rises May Diverge
The themes of these two memories of Fr. Ryland—personal distinctiveness and the universal call to charity—combined for me in a third memory, which is not of a specific event but of an overall impression.
As St. Paul tells us, in 1 Corinthians 12-14, we are all called to charity—the love of God and of neighbor for God’s sake—but we are not all meant to be the same. God’s glory is displayed in the diversity of gifts he has given us.
Christians are not meant to be carbon copies of each other, and holiness does not just look like one thing.
We sometimes read about how the saints had very different temperaments—St. Augustine and St. Jerome, for example, or St. Basil of Caesarea and St. Gregory Nazianz.
Fr. Ryland provided this kind of demonstration for me, for at the time there were two priests who regularly said Mass at Catholic Answers. One was Fr. Ryland and the other was Fr. Earl LaRivere.
The two men were both unmistakably holy. I was—and am—convinced that they were both living saints, and that we had living saints walking the halls of Catholic Answers.
But they were also very, very different. You could tell it by the way they celebrated Mass.
Fr. Earl’s Masses were reverent, solemn, and contemplative.
Fr. Ray’s Masses were equally reverent, but they were joyful and exuberant.
This revealed to me not just that there are different, equally legitimate and lawful ways of celebrating Mass. It revealed that there are different, equally legitimate and lawful ways that holiness itself can manifest.
Sanctity does not mean just one thing. It takes different forms in different people, and thus displays different aspects of the sanctity and glory of God.
Please remember Fr. Ryland and his family in your prayers.