A scary encounter with the New Age and an unknown Marian apparition led apologist to use his talents for the Church
GARDEN GROVE, Calif. — Four hundred years ago, in 1611, the Bishop of Quito, Ecuador, approved an apparition of the Blessed Mother in his diocese known as “Our Lady of Good Success.” The visionary was Mother Mariana de Jesus Torres, who saw Mary at her Conceptionist Royal Convent in Quito in 1594. The Blessed Mother made prophecies about events that would happen in the Church in both Quito and worldwide, many of which are understood to have already come true. She predicted great upheaval in the Church that would occur in the late 19th and 20th centuries, but assured Mother Mariana that, in the end, there would be a restoration (hence the title “good success” or buen suceso, best understood as happy ending or good outcome).
One of the nation’s most talented Catholic apologists, Matthew Arnold of Garden Grove, Calif., placed his apostolate Pro Multis Media under the patronage of Our Lady of Good Success in 2007, and he has made the promotion of this title of Our Lady a hallmark of his efforts.
“What appeals to me about Quito is that it is a message of hope and also tells the story of our time,” he explained.
Arnold, a former agnostic and dabbler in the New Age Movement, supports himself, wife Betty and six home-schooled children through his apologetics work, but is so devoted to Our Lady of Good Success that he offers to deliver his presentation without honorarium to groups all over the country.
Arnold, 51, was born and raised in Glendora, Calif., just east of Pasadena. His father was a business executive, and he had two siblings. The family was nominally Christian.
“About the most Bible reading I heard was by Linus on the Charlie Brown Christmas special,” he said.
After graduating high school, he worked as a musician, playing bass in a Top-40s band. He developed an interest in performing magic tricks and graduated from the Chavez School of Magic. He worked as a magician in Hollywood, performing at restaurants, children’s shows and private parties. He combined his talents as a musician, magician and comedian to do warm-up acts before live audiences gathered to watch the filming of television sitcoms.
Some fundamentalist friends had turned him off to Christianity, but, he recalled, “I still had a ‘God-shaped’ hole inside of me that I tried to fill up with the rock ‘n’ roll party lifestyle.”
Having no religious formation, he became involved in the New Age movement, including astrology and tarot cards. Through a friend, he was introduced to channeling, which would ultimately lead him out of New Age.
A young woman he knew claimed to be channeling (serving as the voice for) a group of spirits who said they wanted to speak to Arnold. He agreed, and the spirits mostly offered advice on his career. They were usually reassuring, but at times the channeler could be verbally abusive. She could also be difficult to wake up from her trance.
To this day, Arnold is uncertain whether the experience was legitimate or an elaborate hoax. He reflected, “The whole thing was rather bizarre, but I had no formation or standard by which to judge. So I was ready to believe it.”
Arnold experienced some physical manifestations that suggested its authenticity. For example, one time he was knocked off his feet by an unknown force. Another time, he was sleeping and awoke to experience the feeling that someone was sitting on his chest. He was alone, but he thought he saw a face looking at him. He said the Lord’s Prayer, turned on all the lights in the house and waited for morning. He also found a Bible and began reading it.
His New Age friend called him the next day and informed him that the spirits had sent him an invitation the previous evening to return to their channeling group. He responded, “Tell them I got the message, and No, I don’t want to come back.”
Arnold married his wife Betty in the Catholic Church. A voracious reader, he came to accept the Church’s teachings and become Catholic. He credits the prayers of his wife and the intercession of the Blessed Mother for his conversion, as well as the instruction of a passionate associate pastor at his parish, Father Ben Fama.
In 1996, during the Easter vigil, Matthew entered the Church. He was still working in Hollywood, making good money and enjoying a successful career. However, fired up with the zeal of a convert, he decided, because of widespread immorality in Hollywood, he had to quit.
On his final night, he was doing the warm-up show for a taping of the hit sitcom Friends. The episode featured guest star Tom Selleck and actress Courteney Cox, as boyfriend-girlfriend, in bed together. His job was to get the studio audience revved up for the taping, but, he recalled, “I was being a cheerleader for mortal sin.”
He quit — and never looked back.
He began working in Catholic apologetics for Southern California-based St. Joseph Communications. He used his media talents to create and produce Catholic audiotapes and DVDs and soon was hosting Catholic radio and television programs. St. Joseph Communications’ president, Terry Barber, remarked, “Matt has grown into a polished apologist. He explains the faith well.”
In 2006, Arnold started Pro Multis Media. Recent projects have included producing an abridged audio version of Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard’s spiritual classic The Soul of the Apostolate for Lighthouse Catholic Media and recording the official audio version of the second volume of Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth for Ignatius Press. He is also a sought-after Catholic speaker. To better understand the human psyche and be a more effective apologist, he earned a certificate in Christian counseling.
Our Lady of Good Success
Not long after his conversion, Arnold developed a special interest in Our Lady of Good Success. Mother Mariana, the seer, was born in Spain in 1563. At age 13, she traveled with a group of religious sisters to Ecuador to found the first convent in Quito. She had a number of mystical experiences afterward, including her visit by Our Lady of Good Success in 1594.
The Blessed Mother made a number of dire prophecies for our time, including widespread corruption in the Church, a crisis among the clergy and the unavailability of the sacraments. “What struck me was that the Blessed Mother said the problems in the Church would reach a critical point after the mid-point of the 20th century,” Arnold observed. “It was then that we had the upheaval of the 1960s — the sexual revolution, immoral fashions, vocations crisis, decline of marriage and so forth.”
The Blessed Mother also promised that when all would seem lost, a happy restoration would occur. She requested a statue be made in her image, which can still be seen by visitors to Quito today.
Mother Mariana died in 1635. Her tomb was opened in 1906, and her body and habit were found to be whole and incorrupt. In 1986, a cause for beatification of Mother Mariana was launched. In 1991, the archbishop of Quito petitioned Rome for and received a canonical coronation of Our Lady of Good Success as “Queen of Quito.”
As part of his apostolate, Arnold has traveled to Quito, interviewed the modern-day Conceptionist nuns and has created a DVD on the apparition. He hopes to create a follow-up DVD later this year. He also speaks to numerous groups at conferences, parishes and even homes.
Carol Younger, professor of catechetics at the University of Sacramento, arranged for him to make a presentation to Catholic leaders in her home and parish. Although she had been to many Marian apparition sites, she had never heard of Quito. She remarked, “Quito contains a hopeful message of restoration, and Matthew presents it in a hopeful way. It gives me a new perspective when I watch the news. I know that whatever goes wrong, a good ending is coming.”
Arnold believes that there are many possible signs of a restoration in the making, such as the many Catholics who have embraced apologetics, eager to learn about the faith. Within the Church hierarchy, he’s especially impressed with the accomplishments of Pope Benedict XVI.
Arnold looks forward to continuing his presentations on Our Lady of Good Success. He concluded, “Word-of-mouth. That’s the way a devotion spreads.”
Register correspondent Jim Graves writes from Newport Beach, California.