Last year, Ulf Ekman, the pastor of the Word of Life megachurch in Uppsala, Sweden, and a leading Scandinavian evangelical Christian, shocked his fellow believers with the news that he was resigning his post and would join the Catholic Church with his wife.
“For us, truth was the very thing that mattered,” Ulf Ekman explained in an August 2014 article in the Catholic Herald, a British newspaper. “We have always believed in the word of God and that there is an absolute truth, revealed by God. Now, more and more, we had come to see that there is a concrete, historic Church founded by Christ and a treasure, a deposit of both objective and living faith.”
“This attracted and drew us into the Catholic Church. If we believed that the fullness of truth is embedded in and upheld by the Catholic Church, then we did not have any choice but to fully unite with this Church,” wrote Ekman.
He acknowledged that the news, and his resulting resignation as Word of Life’s pastor, had stirred great dismay and many questions in the evangelical-Protestant community.
Some were “ready to accept that God could call us to the Catholic Church, but they could not accept the doctrines of the Church. One preacher expressed it this way: ‘Okay, you became a Catholic, but for sure you don’t believe what they believe, do you?’
“They spoke as if I really had a choice or could be selective in my choosing. When I answered that I do believe all that the Catholic Church believes and teaches, it seemed very odd to many of my Protestant friends. It was hard for them to understand that to be Catholic actually means to believe as a Catholic.”
Ekman’s tone seems matter of fact, but his trajectory, from a beloved and influential evangelical pastor to a quiet new beginning at his first Catholic parish — where he and his wife have found sustenance in the grace of the sacraments, was no small feat. He sacrificed a great deal as he and his wife left their old life behind. His story moves us to ponder how far we are willing to go to answer God’s call. Here, Pope St. John Paul II’s oft-quoted exhortation comes to mind: “Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep, and let down your nets for a catch.”
The Easter season is a time to rejoice in the fulfillment of God’s promise to his people, and our spirits are buoyed by the stories of men and women like Ekman, who remind us why we need confession and why we receive the body and blood of Our Lord in the holy sacrifice of the Mass.
The readings of the Easter season declare that Jesus commissioned the apostles “to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness, that everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”
What does the Father ask in return?
He invites us to make the Resurrection the foundation of our earthly lives and the reason for our hope. He invites us to receive and share his loving mercy in a continuous pilgrimage of conversion, nourished by prayer, the grace of the sacraments and holy Scripture.
“In every human situation, marked by frailty, sin and death, the Good News is no mere matter of words, but a testimony to unconditional and faithful love: It is about leaving ourselves behind and encountering others, being close to those crushed by life’s troubles, sharing with the needy, standing at the side of the sick, elderly and the outcast,” Pope Francis told the faithful in his 2014 Easter message and blessing. He echoed Christ’s exhortation to the men who would become his disciples: “Come and see!” Then he added, “Love is more powerful; love gives life; love makes hope blossom.”
Christ’s message of mercy, hope and conversion changed the history of the world. And while Catholics answer Pope Francis’ call to go to the “fringes” of society and tend to the poor and alienated, we should ask whether the Easter message is fully lived and proclaimed in our own homes, churches and schools.
As Ekman’s story shows us, true conversion demands a special courage rooted in an unshakable faith in the Word. Complacency is upended as the faithful pilgrim embarks on a path that leads into the wilderness, far from the patterns of life that bring him or her comfort. This journey of transformation is deeply personal, but it also defines the mission and purpose of Catholic institutions that must constantly strive to be configured in Christ and to draw students, faculty and families into this great work.
This Lenten season, the simmering conflict in San Francisco Catholic high schools that pitted the local Catholic teachers’ union, backed by many parents and students, against Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone should serve as a wake-up call for every Catholic.
The archbishop has sought to insert additional language in the 2015-2016 contracts that calls for teachers to embrace the religious mission of the schools and to avoid public statements or actions that oppose Catholic teaching on sexual ethics or the Eucharist, among other issues.
The teachers’ union and its allies counter that the archbishop’s demand is unreasonable. And some want the schools to give priority to the “inclusive” values for which San Francisco is famous.
This conflict has not been resolved. For now, however, it should encourage us as we confront the desperate need for the protection and the renewal of our Catholic schools.
Indeed, this local conflict underscores the high stakes of our own conversion in Christ. Like Ulf Ekman, are we prepared to risk everything to be conformed by the Word?
“Brothers and sisters: If, then, you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, your life, appears, then you, too, will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11).