Life After 'The Rock'

After six years as host of EWTN's “Life on the Rock,” Jeff Cavins will air his last show at the end of October.

He plans to focus on writing, speaking and a two-hour drive-time daily radio show sponsored by Starboard Network.

“I've been commuting for three years and my family needs me,” he said. After the break he said he would look at the possibility of a new family-oriented show on EWTN.

Cavins spent 12 years as an evangelical pastor before returning to the Catholic faith of his childhood. He authored My Life on the Rock and the recently published Amazing Grace for Those Who Suffer.

He spoke with Register features correspondent Tim Drake from his home in Minnesota.

Tell me a little about your childhood.

I grew up in a western suburb of Minneapolis in an average American Catholic home. My dad was vice president of Honeywell and my mom was a homemaker.

We went to Mass every week and both of my parents were dedicated to the family. I had two younger sisters. I was very much involved in school sports and competed in stand-up comedy at the state level.

As a young adult you walked away from the Catholic Church. Why?

As a teen-ager, I first started to realize that there was more to life than partying, sports and motorcycles. I committed my life to Christ at 18, but then at age 22 I confronted the bishop in Valley City, N.D., and walked away from the Catholic Church.

I walked away because I was frustrated with the Catholic Church when I set Catholics and Assemblies of God people side by side. The Assemblies of God people were reading their Bibles, worshipping God visibly, talking with one another and visiting hospitals.

Catholics, by comparison, never read their Bibles, didn't talk to one another and seemed to have a very private faith. When I compared the two, I felt like I wanted my faith to be really alive. I also walked away because I was angry with my parents for their reaction to the relationship I had found with the Lord five years earlier.

How would you describe your years as an evangelical pastor?

As a pastor of two churches, seven years in Minneapolis and five years in Dayton, Ohio, we were trying to understand the Hebraic roots of Christianity so we could custom-build a church that we thought resembled that. They were wonderful, profitable years. We developed very strong friendships and a lot of fruit came from that time. There were a lot of people who came to the Lord, we did a lot of counseling, especially marriage counseling, and helped many people through times of crisis.

What brought you back to the Church?

The deeper I studied the Church Fathers — the first 400 years — the more things started looking Catholic. We were studying the basic ideas of Judaism and assuming that the early Church adopted those ideas when in fact the early Church was different from that which I had studied. The Mass became very important to me, as did certain topics. The Eucharist became very important. Did Jesus give us his body and blood as a symbol? Papal authority became important. Suddenly it seemed as if there was no more authority, and I felt that was inconsistent with God throughout the entire Bible.

The sacraments, the concept of the word of God being both Scripture and Tradition, and what I would call the rhythm of the liturgical year — I began to study all of these things. As a church that called ourselves a New Testament church, we looked nothing like the New Testament. We took a few scriptures and modeled ourselves after that. We were a church without a creed. In fact, at about the time I left, we were meeting to rewrite a creed.

You tell your story in My Life on the Rock. What has been the reaction to that book?

The attraction of the book is that my journey away from and back into the Church reflects what so many have gone through, so they read it and identify with it. Many tell me it could easily have been their own story. The beauty of it is it presents theology in the midst of the story. Therefore, those who might not normally read have told me they have read this book and could not put it down. I've also heard from many who have purchased it — sometimes buying as many as 20 copies at a time — that giving it to their relatives brought them back into the Church.

Your most recent book is quite different. It focuses on suffering. Tell me about it.

Amazing Grace for Those Who Suffer attempts to explain the meaning of suffering and does two things: First, it answers the question, “Why did God have to suffer? Why not just die?” and second, it attempts to explain how, given the answer to the first question, our suffering now has meaning.

The answer is that our being joined to Christ has changed our entire life. We see now that all things work together for the good. This amazing grace that is experienced in the midst of suffering is illustrated in these 10 amazing stories of people just like you and me, who in many cases were broadsided by tremendous suffering. What makes the stories unique is the transformation that took place in their lives.

Was there a particular story that touched you the most?

Yes, the Clarey family whose 11-year-old daughter was murdered on her paper route. The father wrote the chapter, and I found myself just weeping as I sat reading it on the plane. It explains everything — how their daughter was missing and how they responded. I was inspired by their response to the tragedy, the grace of God in their suffering. That story, and the one by Joan Ulicny, a woman who suffered a near-fatal head-on collision with an 18-wheeler, had a big impact on me personally. In fact, I'm dedicating the book to all families of missing children. Their pain is not something I can comprehend.

Explain to me the value of suffering from a Catholic viewpoint versus an evangelical one. How do they differ?

As an evangelical, in general, we saw the work of Christ as really completely separate from us. Jesus came and he redeemed us and we were, in a way, spectators standing on the side. Once Jesus was done with the cross and resurrection, our position is just receiving the benefits of the cross.

As a Catholic, we certainly receive the benefits of the cross in the work of redemption. As Catholics we see ourselves as so joined with him that we participate with him in his redemptive work. In fact, he has given us the privilege of loving as he loves. That is done through suffering.

When Jesus suffered and died for us he didn't eliminate suffering, which is a presumption that many evangelicals have. They assume that if he suffered, we don't have to. Scriptures say that if he suffered, we will too. He didn't do away with suffering on earth, but he changed the meaning of it, which ultimately points to a day when there will be no more suffering.

The key is understanding our identity in Christ. We follow in his footsteps. Because Jesus trusted in the Father and poured himself out, we can trust in the Father and pour ourselves out in love. The answer to the question, “Can we trust in God?” is “Yes, in the resurrection.”

You have had your own experience with suffering, too, haven't you?

Yes, I first got interested in the subject of suffering when I started experiencing pain in my neck and arm two and half years ago. I discovered that I had a crushed disc that needed emergency surgery. I knew the term “Offer it up,” but I didn't know what was under the hood. I couldn't explain why. In the midst of my pain, I first understood what it means to be joined to Christ in participating in the redemption of the world.

Colossians 1:24 suddenly made sense. Paul understood that he had a part to play — a particle of the infinite redemption — and he rejoiced in it. In my pain I realized I have a role to play. Do I throw it away or do I offer it up in union with Christ? No one can add anything to the work of Christ, but he allows us to participate in it. We are not adding anything to what he did, but there we discover the love of God and the heart of God. The Holy Father has said that when people cannot find meaning in their suffering they fall into despair, but when they can attach meaning to their suffering, they can go through anything.

The book seems timely in light of the anniversary of Sept. 11.

Sept. 11, even for those not personally affected by the tragedy, represents the suddenness of tragedy. No one expected it, but suddenly it was there. The question is, how are you going to deal with it? The question is not if you are going to suffer, but when, and how are you going to respond? Well or poorly? If we are prepared to answer that question, then when a Sept. 11 happens, as Christians we can better respond with compassion to others who are suffering.

For more information on Amazing Grace for Those Who Suffer contact:

Ascension Press

W5180 Jefferson Street

Necedah, WI 54646

(800) 376-0520