Converts Come to the Church Like St. Paul
Answers to: ‘What Helped Your Conversion?’
June 29 is the feast day of one of the Church’s most famous converts — St. Paul — who went from being the Christians’ greatest foe to a pillar of the nascent Church.
Every Catholic has a family member or friend who is far from the Church, and it is often difficult to know what the right thing is to say or do to lead them in the right direction.
As the Church celebrates St. Paul’s feast day (also the feast of St. Peter, the first pope), the Register asked notable converts, "What was most helpful to you on your road to conversion?"
Many have been aided in their entry or return to the Catholic Church through the efforts of Tom Peterson, a former advertising executive who founded Catholics Come Home (CatholicsComeHome.org). Headquartered in Atlanta, the organization produces inspirational television commercials that reach out to those not practicing the faith. Peterson also operates a pro-life website, VirtueMedia.org, and a website in support of priests, EncouragePriests.org.
Although not technically a convert, Peterson went from being a nominal Catholic to a zealous one. As he recalled, "I’d be there physically at Mass, but I didn’t follow the teachings of the Church."
What called him to conversion, he said, were "people who spoke a common language with me and treated me with love and compassion."
When an opportunity arises to talk about your faith, "keep it simple," he urged.
He also believes in connecting on a personal level with a potential convert: "When people showed they cared about me, listening to my questions and needs, they drew me in. I wanted to be more like them, and ultimately more like Christ."
Peterson also suggests inviting potential converts on a retreat, as a retreat played a significant role in his conversion. "Offer to go with them, as having a mentor and guide can help a great deal."
Deacon Joe Calvert of the Archdiocese of Louisville, Ky., once dabbled in Eastern religions and was an ardent anti-Catholic.
Being an avid reader and a "truth seeker," however, Deacon Calvert studied Catholic teaching, including the new Catechism of the Catholic Church when it came out in 1992.
"I was looking to poke holes in the logic, but I couldn’t find any," he said. "I did not rejoice as I finished the Catechism. If this book were true, then I would have to admit that I had been wrong about many things."
He entered the Catholic Church in 1995 and was ordained a deacon in 2008.
In conjunction with his studies, what was helpful to Deacon Calvert on his journey to the Church was the example some Catholics provided him.
However, a hindrance to his entry into the Church was the widespread ignorance among other Catholics he knew about the basics of the faith: "I’d ask them questions, but so few knew why they believed what they did."
When evangelizing others, he recommends patience: "When you evangelize, remember you’re working on God’s time, not yours. We don’t know what’s going on inside someone; often, when they’re most obstinate, they’re just about ready to convert. Pray, trust in God, and put it into the hands of the Blessed Mother."
Matthew Arnold heads the Catholic apostolate Pro Multis Media (MatthewArnold.org) and is host of the Radio Maria program Shield of Faith (RadioMaria.us/shieldoffaith). A dedicated evangelist today, he was once agnostic and interested in the New Age.
He attributes his conversion to the prayers of others, particularly his Catholic wife, Betty, but he also points to some other positive influences. He attended a Catholic Engaged Encounter so that he could marry in the Catholic Church, for example, "which, although I grumbled about it at the time, it demonstrated to me that the Church saw marriage as something serious."
He agreed to raise their children Catholic, although he had no intention of converting himself. He took RCIA classes, however, and was impressed by the witness of a priest who taught them, Father Benjamin Fama, who would make "provocative" assertions, such as about Church teaching on apostolic succession, and then say, "Don’t complain to me if you don’t like it. I’m just the messenger."
Arnold reflected on "Jesus giving the keys to Peter" and recalls going to dinner one night and "having this mental image of a long line of popes, from Peter to [at the time] Pope John Paul II." That helped him come to understand and accept the teaching.
His advice for evangelizing potential converts is what he terms "the three Bs": 1) Be bold; 2) Be brief, realizing you can’t explain the whole Catholic faith in a few minutes; and 3) Be biblical when speaking with non-Catholic Christians, as they’ll be impressed with Catholics who know their faith and Scripture.
In all circumstances, reflect a fourth "B": Be Catholic all the time.
"Make the Sign of the Cross and say grace before meals, for example, whether you’re at home or at McDonald’s," he said. "As a non-Catholic, when I met Catholics who really lived their faith, it was very compelling."
Richard Lane is a former Lutheran who entered the Catholic Church in 2003. Today, he operates a full-time Catholic apostolate, Qorban Ministries (Qorban.net).
For Lane, it was a caring attitude among Catholics he met that first attracted him to the Church. As a non-Catholic, he attended Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Oakland, Calif., and recalled it as "one of the most loving and welcoming parishes I have ever been in."
He later accepted the invitation of a fellow Catholic to come into full communion with the Catholic Church.
Lane is excited that his apostolate has been an effective tool in leading many to a "deeper relationship with Christ."
He encourages his fellow Catholics to learn their faith and then "approach people in love and without fear. Do not approach them with an accusatory tone; approach in love and respect. Go and make disciples, and preach the Gospel boldly!"
Dave Armstrong is a Catholic author and apologist who once worked as a Protestant campus missionary. He was received into the Catholic Church in 1991. He is the author of numerous books and operates a website, Biblical Evidence for Catholicism (BiblicalCatholic.com).
Armstrong first took notice of the Catholic Church regarding the issue of artificial contraception. He was "shocked" to learn that no Christian group had accepted its use before 1930. "I immediately grasped the absurdity of a scenario where the entire Christian Church had been completely wrong all those centuries, and, all of a sudden, we get this revelation in 1930 — in our supposedly ‘enlightened’ and ‘progressive’ age — that contraception is okay."
He also took notice that the Catholic Church was the only Christian denomination that did not reverse its teaching.
Discovering Cardinal John Henry Newman’s "Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine," he recalled, "did me in."
Unfortunately, he knew only one Catholic at the time, which is "striking and sad."
The "Catholic apologetic revival and strong presence on the Internet" have improved things for potential converts today, he added.
Regarding evangelizing others, he suggested, "Be gentle; don’t push. Wait for the other person to bring things up. Be a witness by your life and demeanor. Look for common ground, as St. Paul did on Mars Hill in Athens."
Above all, he said, "The Holy Spirit is what converts souls, not us. We simply remove roadblocks."
Jim Graves writes from
Newport Beach, California.