PROTESTANT PASTORS ON THE ROAD TO ROME
Protestant Pastors on the Road to Rome
By Elizabeth Altham, 1996
Rosalind Moss had devoted herself to ministry in Evangelical churches for eighteen years. When word got out last year that she was about to enter the Catholic Church, a woman whom she’d “brought to Christ,” as they both would put it, wrote to say she had asked God to take her own life if only He would bring Moss back to the truth. That woman will herself be received into the Catholic Church this coming Easter.
An extraordinary story, indeed; but its theme is recurring all around the country. In the past ten years at least fifty Protestant pastors, mostly evangelicals, have resigned their posts and found their ways to Rome. Every one has endured conflict of mind and heart; every one has sacrificed comfort and security. Many were predisposed by upbringing and training to fear and despise the Catholic Church; the rest simply thought it was the most erroneous of sects.
Because one of the hardest parts of the journey is the loneliness, some of the former pastors have formed a fellowship called The Network to help each other on the road. Of its 150 members, about one hundred are still on their ways in; and the list is growing.
Bill Bales grew up in a progressive Presbyterian church in Bethesda, Md. “I guess I had a sort of dormant faith in Christ,” he recalls. “I didn’t have regular devotions or Bible study, or a regular prayer life. It was very haphazard.”
Bales pursued a pre-medical course at American University, and played soccer. He incurred a lung injury, which led to major surgery.
“I began to contemplate things like death. I was exposed to Christians who had a strong faith. I began to pray along the lines of, ‘If there is a God, reveal Yourself.’ If there was something there, I’d be happy to believe in it. I began to read the Bible, and some of it made sense to me.”
He got involved in a more evangelical-style Presbyterian church, and was impressed by many of its members. “Christ was real. You could have a relationship with Him. It wasn’t just a bunch of religious gobbledygook.”
Bales put aside his plans for medical school. After graduating, he worked for two years in a youth ministry at a Presbyterian church, then as youth pastor at a nondenominational church. “But I needed to go to seminary if I was going to pursue ministry any further. I wanted more training-and also some time to think about ideas and issues. There were so many that kept cropping up.”
Bales attended Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a serious minded, interdenominational establishment in South Hamilton, Mass. It was a wonderful time for him.
“They revered Scripture. Some of the professors I gravitated toward interpreted the Old Testament in ways more like the Church Fathers than a lot of people do out there in evangelicalism. Not that we did a lot of study in the Fathers, themselves; it was more a training ground for pastors than a graduate school.”
Upon graduating in 1985, he accepted the post of associate pastor at Gainesville Presbyterian Church in Virginia. Bales was very happy there at first.
“But around the spring of 1988, some of the questions that I had never really dealt with, or had dealt with superficially, began to surface. The most crucial was the issue of the canon of the Scriptures. Who had the authority to define what would be in the canon? It is a foundational question. I became more and more uncomfortable with the Calvinistic view I’d always held; the other views that were out there were filled with holes.
“It wasn’t so much that I was attracted to Catholicism, although the thought that there might be an actual answer to some of these things was intriguing; and since Scott Hahn, my friend from seminary, had converted it had been in the back of my mind as a possible answer. What got me going, really, was that I felt I had to be completely honest about the weaknesses of my position on the canon.”
One unsatisfactory possibility was a more liberal Protestantism. “If God hadn’t left an authority on Earth, somebody with the authority to decide these things, then it seemed to me that anything went. I couldn’t get around that snag.”
But if Catholicism was a possibility, Bales had a lot of reading to do, a lot of issues to confront. He found Newman’s Development of Christian Doctrine, Karl Adam’s The Spirit of Catholicism and some of Louis Bouyer’s books especially helpful.
“I became more and more convinced from history, that Catholic doctrines had been held anciently, maybe in a less developed form, but held way back. And I became convinced from the Scriptures, at most places where there was an issue, like the supremacy of Peter-where there were these discussions I thought the Catholic Church had the better argument, although I wouldn’t decide my church affiliation based on any one passage. And then I thought through the reasonableness of the way the Catholic Church had grown and what God had done: it seemed much more reasonable to do it this way.”
By the end of 1989 Bales was very uncomfortable about his leadership and his preaching. He resigned early in 1990.
“I was trying to make a low-profile exit from the presbytery, but the Presbyterians had had other defections — Scott Hahn, for instance, and Gerry Matatics. There were a few people who did not want to let me slide out.”
Bales believes he could have avoided formal excommunication by transferring first to an Episcopal church; but by then he was fairly certain that the Catholic Church was his destination and he was unwilling to deny it. So the excommunication proceedings began.
“I met three or four times with small committees. The first time they may have been trying to talk me out of it. They tried to understand, and they gathered information for the juridical process. There was never any meanness. A third of the presbytery voted not to excommunicate; it wasn’t unanimous.”
What are the consequences of Presbyterian excommunication?
“There’s a general interpretation,” Bales explains, “that this person needs to repent, that he’s in some sort of sin. How you treat the person is determined parish by parish. This particular parish toed the line pretty tightly. It was kind of a shunning thing. Just leaving was hard. It was like I had died to all those people.”
His voice is very soft. “I guess shunning would be too strong a word. But the leadership is not interested at all in having any of the congregation stay friends with me… It was a close-knit community. There were a lot of deep friendships, a lot of good people.”
Bill Bales was received into the Catholic Church on the Feast of the Guardian Angels, in 1990.
II. Dead Duck
Marcus Grodi grew up in a somewhat liberal Lutheran church near Toledo, Ohio. He was active in the youth group, catechized and confirmed. “I knew many things,” he says, “but they hadn’t gotten into my heart.” The church summer camps were “like being prepared to be involved with SDS, rather than spiritual.”
Grodi’s high school acquaintance included students from many denominations, but no Catholics—”other than across an athletic field. My view of Catholicism was not extremely negative, but we had lots of mythological understandings of the Catholic church on the other side of town. We figured it was full of superstition, and people being almost enslaved to the priests and nuns.”
He began to wonder, though, about the differences among the Protestant denominations.
Grodi studied engineering at Case Western Reserve. “I went three years without entering a church door,” he recalls. “I was involved in fraternity life and all that brings with it. Then in the summer before my senior year I had a deep renewal of my faith through the testimony of a friend — really a 180-degree turn in my life.”
Grodi went back to his Lutheran church and found that the words of the liturgy made sense for the first time. “But as I looked down the pew I saw high school students, like myself when I was that age, reciting the things without meaning. I decided that traditional liturgicalism was dead, that it produced nominal, almost mindless Christians. I figured God wanted to hear something different, not the same thing every Sunday.”
Upon graduating, Grodi began his first engineering job — and a youth ministry. He chose Congregationalism. “Every Congregational church is autonomous and can decide what it wants to do. It can write its own creed. It’s amazing what some Congregational churches really believe.”
In 1978, after four years of engineering and part-time ministry, Grodi entered Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He gained much from his years there.
“I don’t bash my evangelical background. It brought me back to Jesus Christ. It put in my heart a sincere desire to give my life totally to Him; and I do believe that it was because of that conviction that I’m now a Catholic. Even Gordon-Conwell, with its commitment to Scripture, to the truth — because it’s interdenominational it avoids the denominational slants of the Baptist Church, or the Methodist or Presbyterian Church — I think that trajectory is what ended up bringing a lot of us into the Catholic Church.”
Grodi went out to his first church with enthusiasm and conviction. It was a Congregational church in Florida. “I hadn’t been there six months when I realized there was something wrong with Congregationalism. I couldn’t put my finger on it.”
He entered the Presbyterian Church as a pastor, but the doubts continued. “How could I be sure that our Presbyterian slant was the best slant, compared to my Methodist brothers, my Assembly of God, Church of Christ and Episcopalian brothers — even to the Catholics? How could I know that my interpretation of Scripture had any connection whatever with what Jesus really said?
“I wanted to be faithful. I knew I would one day stand before Jesus Christ, my Lord, and be accountable for the souls of the people I led. I knew I had to make sure that what I was teaching was true, and that what I was doing was true.”
Grodi couldn’t turn for help to the leadership of the Presbyterian Church. “I had almost universally rejected their perspectives. Most of them were very liberal. They were pro-choice. Nine out of ten things that came across my desk from the head office ended up in the wastebasket.”
“There were no rules; I was re-inventing the wheel. It didn’t make sense that Jesus would have planted a church and then left everything up for grabs.”
Grodi considered trying a more conservative denomination, but what he calls the “poll-taking” aspect of denominationalism still bothered him. He resigned his pastorale and returned to Case Western Reserve, intending to earn a Ph.D. in molecular biology and then to combine his science and religion backgrounds into bioethics. “I figured I’d end up being a genetics professor or an ethicist somewhere.”
He wasn’t far into his doctoral work when one morning a newspaper advertisement caught his eye. “Catholic theologian Scott Hahn to speak at local parish.”
“Catholic” theologian Scott Hahn? “We hadn’t seen each other for eight years. So I went to hear him speak, and listened to his tape, and read Karl Keating’s book, Catholicism and Fundamentalism. By the end of that, just those three things, I was a dead duck.”
Grodi began to read the early Church Fathers, and Church history. He knew he could not remain a Protestant. “My problem was that I couldn’t be a Catholic. There were too many weird things. When you’ve been a Protestant for forty years, face it: the Infant of Prague is really strange. And I had grown up with those prejudices. The Catholic Church and the Mafia were the same thing. Catholics drank and smoked.
“But I knew that if I could trust the authority of the Magisterium centered on the See of Peter, then everything else would fall into place. It was Newman’s Development of Christian Doctrine that convinced me of that. And then I was a Catholic.”
Marcus Grodi was received into the Catholic Church in 1993.
III. Cosmic Man
Steve Wood‘s road to Gordon Conwell Seminary was quite different from Bill Bales’ and Marcus Grodi’s. He was raised by good, decent Presbyterian parents, but “not a whole lot stuck,” he says. “I gave them a whole case of Excedrin headaches. I was ungrateful, rebellious and stubborn.” After a couple of very wild years in the very wildest fraternity at the University of Florida, he dropped out and joined the Navy.
He began to search for an alternative to hedonism. When his ship was in port in Virginia Beach, he spent his free time at the Edgar Cayce Institute, learning Eastern mysticism and meditation. His shipmates called him “Cosmic Man.” But a guru friend insisted that he explore his own religion before moving on to higher forms of consciousness.
“There’s nothing to Christianity!” Wood protested. But his friend insisted, so Wood went to buy a Bible.
“They sold Bibles at the Cayce Institute — all kinds of Bibles. My theology was rather weak, so I didn’t know the difference between the ones with ‘secret lost gospels’ and the ones without them. Not having a really high ability to discern, I stood and did my Ohms, my mantes, in front of the shelf of Bibles for a while. By God’s grace I got a regular one.”
Wood expected to find the Bible dry and dusty. He was astonished to find it compelling. Soon he was thoroughly persuaded both of Christ’s divine nature and mission and of his own sinfulness. He underwent a deep, classical evangelical conversion.
Wood was attracted to the Calvary Chapel in California, a vibrant, Scripture-intensive nondenominational church that was drawing many young searchers. He learned to despise the baptism he had received as an infant, believing that infant baptism was an unfortunate vestige of Roman Catholicism. He studied Hebrew and Greek at an Assembly of God college and worked in a Calvary Chapel youth ministry.
Then he returned to Florida, hoping to ignite among young people there the lively faith he had experienced in California. In 1978 he was ordained by an interdenominational charismatic church. He re-baptized many Catholics and Protestants. During his ministry there he met and married his wife, Karen. Soon after, he applied to Gordon-Conwell.
He / was surprised to learn there that many leading Protestant theologians approved of infant baptism. The Woods were expecting their first child, which l lent urgency to the question.
“I was about to become the father of a child who was going to live forever, and I wanted to be sure to do the right thing. I came to believe in infant baptism—a very costly conclusion. Not only did it connect me more closely to more of Scripture, it connected me to Church history.”
Wood became pastor of a new Protestant church in Venice, Fla., where he would serve for nearly ten years. He continued to study, and to ask himself what Christ wanted His church to be. He led his congregation into affiliation with the Presbyterian Church in America, and read more and more in the early Fathers. “As a youth minister, I had had great treasure hunts. Well, here were the four clues if you wanted to find the Church. One, holy, catholic and apostolic: the Nicene Creed, 325 A.D., by which we profess our faith. The Protestant Reformers had changed the identifying marks of the Church; and once you change the marks, you’ll never find the Church. It’s like having the wrong clues to a treasure hunt.
“The Church is one. But a diagram of just the Presbyterian Church over the past two hundred years looks like a schematic drawing for a computer chip.”
Wood puzzled over and over Christ’s priestly prayer at the Last Supper — His prayer for unity in the Church. He was persuaded that Christ intended not merely a spiritual unity of believers, but a visible unity — one so obvious that nonbelievers would see it, as He said, and believe.
He still has his notes from a sermon he preached on that text in 1986. He told his congregation that he did not know how it could be that Christ’s prayer had gone unanswered.
“The Catholic Church was still unthinkable as even a factor in the equation. You know how it sometimes takes the truth being embodied in a person for the unthinkable to become thinkable?
“Well, I heard through the grapevine that Scott Hahn was already a lost cause. But I thought it my Christian duty to call Gerry Matatics and talk him out of the Church.”
He tried. He studied further in the early Fathers. He talked often with his wife. The question of church government got worse, not better.
“The Apostles laid hands on these men and put them in office!”
Wood had been troubled for years by the Protestant position on the marriage bond. Now he was coming to the conclusion that Christ intended it to be indissoluble. Discouraged by many fruitless years of pro-life activism, he began to see that only the sanctity of marriage could provide a secure foundation for the sanctity of life.
He prepared a sermon on Hosea, the Old Testament prophet whose wife had gone off to be a prostitute.
“God commanded Hosea to bring his wife back to his home. And He used her adultery to show the apostasy of His people. How was I going to present Christ’s norm, which happened to be the Catholic Church’s norm, in this Protestant setting? Worse, after I actually gave the sermon, I realized I could not administer communion to people who were divorced and remarried.”
He apologized to the congregation, pronounced a benediction, and went to his study. The elders followed him in and accepted his resignation.
A few weeks later Wood went to serve a sixty-day jail sentence, the consequence of a Rescue at an abortion clinic. In jail he read intensively, and prayed for God’s direction to the true Church. He was hoping for an idea. He received a visit instead, from the Bishop of Venice.
Steve and Karen Wood were received into the Catholic Church in July 1990.
IV. Altar Call
Ken Smith‘s father was a superintendent for a major construction firm, so the family followed him from job to job throughout the Southeast. They attended church rarely.
In 1973, when Smith was in ninth grade, a friend invited him to a Baptist church.
“At that service I really felt under — what we say in the Baptist world — the conviction of the Holy Spirit. I went back for the evening service. At a Baptist service there is an invitation, from the old revival setting of the frontier.”
Like an altar call?
“Yes. They don’t have an altar, but they have an altar call. So I responded. From that time I was on the evangelical fast track.”
A woman who was a youth worker in the church told Smith she felt that he was going to do something special for the Lord — that he had a gift for preaching.
“Being a young, impressionable boy I took that to heart. From then on, that was my career goal.”
Smith graduated from Samford University in 1980, married, and was ordained at a Baptist church in Magnolia, Arkansas. (“Baptists do things differently from just about anybody else. Everybody else ordains after seminary.”) He went on to earn a master’s degree in divinity at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and served as pastor of two churches.
But the more he studied Scripture and Church history, the less satisfied Smith was with Baptist ecclesiology.
“The denominationalism of Baptists and Methodists and Presbyterians is rampant and they’re all very comfortable with it. There is no sense of Christianity as a continuing, living tradition that Christ Himself preserved from the time of the Apostles. And that’s where the sola scriptura [Scripture alone] emphasis in Protestantism, especially in evangelicalism, comes in. As long as you’re able to read the Bible, then you’re plugged into Christ. Churches and things like that are nice to have, and it’s nice to be around people who sort of agree with you; but it’s not essential. What’s essential is that you can read, and that you read the Bible.”
It was a different question, however, that compelled Smith to take a serious look at the Catholic Church. He happened to see an episode of “L.A. Law,” which featured a divorce suit in which contraception was an issue. A Catholic priest was called as an expert witness, and explained the Church’s teaching in the matter.
“Of all places to find a compelling witness to Christian truth!” he remarks now a bit ruefully. He began to read Catholic books, and soon sought out a priest and began instructions. By the fall of 1991 he knew he would have to resign his pastorale and move his family to a place where he could find another job. He prayed the Rosary daily, asking particularly for help in knowing when he should “go public.” By way of response, a house became available near the Catholic school where his wife was teaching.
On Epiphany Sunday Smith closed his sermon and the congregation sang “Just As I Am.” Then he told them that he was resigning.
“We are all looking for truth,” he said. “It is the nature of Christianity to seek truth. Jesus Christ said He was the truth, and anyone who seeks will find. Because of that, this Easter I will unite with the Roman Catholic Church, as I have come to definite answers about the truth.”
V. Missionaries to Catholics
Many converts first begin to question their Protestant beliefs when they contemplate the many interpretations that Scripture alone has yielded among men of good will. Marty and Kristine Franklin may have found the best place in the world to notice that variety: a missionary community in Guatemala City.
Kristine Franklin was raised a “Bible Christian” fundamentalist in Tacoma, Wash. Her husband’s family was nominally Episcopalian; and he was “born again” through the high school group called Young Life.
“Our group had a serious commitment to world evangelization,” Kristine Franklin explains. “We learned as children that that was the highest calling you could achieve: a foreign missionary. My elder brother and my elder sister served as missionaries, my brother in Spain, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Mexico, rescuing Catholics from the clutches of Rome. My sister and her husband were in New Guinea.” When Kristine and Marty Franklin were married, they began to plan for mission work, too.
“We spent eight years preparing to be missionaries. We also had to be accepted by a mission board; and then we spent two and a half years raising funds to go overseas.”
The Franklins went first to Costa Rica for a year of training; then they were sent to Guatemala.
There are many Protestant missionaries in Guatemala, so many just in Guatemala City that there is a K-12 school there for the missionaries’ children. Marty Franklin began to teach at that school.
Are all those missionaries mostly working among people who aren’t Christians at all, or among Catholics?
“Among Catholics,” says Kristine Franklin, “and with great success, because the Catholics are not well catechized and — and this is just my opinion — because American missionaries coming down are offering a piece of Americana.”
“While we were in Guatemala several things became really obvious to me. One was that with all of my education, I really knew nothing about Catholicism. I knew only what I’d been told and that it was a false religion.
In a Bible study group Kristine Franklin met her first serious Roman Catholic.
“I look back and see that that was one of those signposts along the way. This was a very devout woman, probably about my age; she was not a missionary. It was very clear from her speech and her life that she was a very committed believer of Jesus Christ — as a Catholic. It was amazing to me, after she left, to hear the other women talk about trying to evangelize her, because it was so obvious to me that she didn’t need evangelizing.
“Another thing was that my husband was teaching American and Canadian children, kids from about 40 different denominations. So not only did we get a glimpse of American Protestantism in Latin America; we also were bombarded by the reality of Protestantism, which is that it’s a whole lot of groups and everybody has a slightly different message.
“Among the people who work in rural areas, there are tacit understandings between mission groups—almost the Pentecostals on one side of the mountain and the Methodists on the other side: If you don’t tell my people that they need to speak in tongues to have the Holy Spirit, then I won’t tell yours that they need to baptize their infants.”
Besides the wide variation in doctrine and practice among the missionaries, which they found troubling in itself, the Franklins were concerned about illiteracy and near-illiteracy among some of the clergy.
“They get saved and they have a first-grade education and now they’re ready to be pastors. There were self-proclaimed ministers of the Gospel who had no training; maybe they had a partial copy of the Scriptures. This really brought up a lot of questions. You can’t just put the Bible into someone’s language. You also have to teach them an entire new world view. And you have to teach them an interpretive system.
“And then the question is, Whose?”
But even that was not the hardest question.
“It was really stark to me that I came from an education-saturated paradigm, and was living in a country with 60 percent illiteracy. I began to ask myself questions like, ‘Well. what did Christianity depend on when nobody could read’ If my responsibility as a Christian is to know my Bible inside and out and to understand theology and to study it every day and to come to theological conclusions basically on my own — I mean, Protestantism is based on private interpretation — how did those people do that?’
“What do these people do who are Christians and can’t read? And they never will. What did God ever have in mind for them? And then you think, actually it’s only been a couple of centuries since a lot of people could read and in most of the world there are a lot of people that don’t read. What is the Gospel for them? Who’s going to be responsible for telling them the truth?”
The Franklins began discussing these questions, and others. If the good news from the perspective of their mission was that Guatemala was Protestantizing fast, the history of Western Europe suggested that all might not be well longer term.
“The European countries that went Protestant after the Reformation are now basically God-free nations. When the Reformation came through people were Protestantized for a certain number of generations; then almost as a natural consequence there was a godless society.
“Just in my own thinking now, it seems that it’s because when you introduce private interpretation of Scripture, what you’re really introducing to people is the whole notion of the subjective nature of truth. Catholicism and our Christian faith are based on objective truth.
“And people can stop believing in moral absolutes. In the middle-class Guatemalan church that we attended there were quite a number of divorced and remarried people. One of these couples we became friends with and we asked them, ‘So how did you get born again? How did you end up Protestants?'”
The man’s wife had left him and he couldn’t get an annulment.
“You can kind of see the extension of that,” suggests Kristine Franklin, “what that becomes society-wise. It started seeming to me that Protestantism in Guatemala was very much connected with North American-ness. It seemed very much like an import, just like McDonald’s hamburgers and Reeboks.”
The church the Franklins attended was about ten miles from their home. One Sunday they were driving back with their two children. They passed the Catholic Church which stood two blocks from their house.
“My little daughter, who was about four, said, ‘Mom why don’t we go to the Catholic Church?’ And I realized I didn’t have an answer. I couldn’t say, ‘Because they don’t teach the truth,’ because I didn’t know that. I did know it seemed really bizarre to be driving across town to church. It made me realize that as Protestants we choose our churches according to our own personal doctrine. That makes us the final authority about what’s true and what’s right. That really struck me: my interpretation of Scripture is the bottom line for truth. I choose my truth. I choose my Christian truth….
“So we started reading a lot of Church history. We started attending an Episcopal church down there. We were nowhere near Catholicism, but my husband missed the liturgy. I had never been to a liturgical church service at all.”
What did she think when she first saw one?
“I cried. It was so right that we kneel for Communion. There was a rightness about it even though it was very strange. Although I wasn’t theologically there, there was a rightness about the children being brought into the community through Baptism. I was raised in an Anabaptist-type tradition, so I had never seen that. There was a rightness to the emphasis on the liturgy and the Eucharist as opposed to the sermon.
“In my heart — not intellectually at all — there was a fullness — there was something there that I had never experienced before. I’m not the kind of person who goes around looking for experiences, but it was very profound and very moving. And my husband had a definite feeling of coming home.
“But we were very uncomfortable. It doesn’t take long in the Episcopal Church. We were very uncomfortable with the theology, which was almost nothing. We resigned our mission and came back to the U.S. We didn’t know where we were going to end up. We did know we couldn’t be evangelical Protestants any more.”
They had left behind a large, active church. They could not return to it when they came back to the States.
“It was difficult, because we have friends here. We never showed our faces back at that church. We didn’t know where we were headed, but we knew where we were not headed. And so we went into the Episcopal Church again. That’s a good oasis. From that safe haven of tolerance we began to seriously study Catholic doctrine. It didn’t take long once we were able to work through the authority issue — Scripture versus the Church. Actually that wasn’t hard to work through. Some of the other doctrines were sort of troublesome. But because we had already lived cross-culturally we had learned to look at things from outside of our culture. When you’re able to do that you can see Catholicism a little bit more for what it is….
“For us the biggest issue was, What is truth and how do we know? And what do we base our beliefs on? How do we decide? When we laid out the evidence for the Catholic Church as opposed to the evidence for Protestantism, the Catholic Church just won hands down, logically, historically, philosophically, scripturally. Everything was all there.”
Marty and Kristine Franklin were received into the Catholic Church last April.
VI. Surprised by Hahn
Sometimes when conversion has turned someone’s life upside down he can laugh at himself a little — not disparaging what was good in his earlier life, or making light of what was distressing on the road, but taking himself not very seriously because he takes God very seriously, indeed. The topsy-turvy element provides wholesome, rueful comedy. Gerald Matatics is a first-rate story-teller along these lines.
Nobody could look like a less likely candidate for Protestant or Catholic apologetics than Matatics at fourteen. His father was in the Air Force, so he grew up all over the country in what he calls “a completely secularized upbringing.”
“Although my parents were married in an Episcopal service, it was only to please my father’s mother, who was not very observant, herself. She did give them a Bible. I remember seeing it buried in a closet, under a heap of dust. My parents never cracked the covers of it. We never prayed before meals, never went to church. The name of Jesus Christ was not even mentioned except in profanity, even at Easter or Christmas.”
Now and then a well-meaning neighbor would bring young Gerald to church, but the visits made no lasting impression.
“I turned on the TV one night when I was fourteen to watch ‘Get Smart’ or ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ or something equally highbrow; and my program of choice was being preempted by a Billy Graham crusade. And for some reason I sat and watched this thing. This was completely uncharacteristic for me.
“At the end of the telecast, when he was asking people to get up out of their seats in the crusade stadium, and they streamed forward to register a decision for Christ, I wanted to do that and of course I wasn’t there. I said, ‘Well, gee, how do I make this decision also?’ And he answered that. He looked into the camera and said: ‘Those of you who are watching at home by television, you can make the same decision they’re making here tonight. Write to me, Billy Graham—’ and he gave the address. So I sent away for the stuff.”
Matatics is an excellent mimic; he perfectly reproduces Graham’s suavity and gravity. On the day the materials arrived, he went to help his mother with the grocery shopping, pushing the cart with one hand and holding Graham’s booklet with the other.
“I was totally engrossed and enthralled. And when I got to the last page, it had a prayer. It said, ‘Pray this prayer and you’ll become a Christian.’ So I looked around and waited until the aisle was clear and I prayed that prayer.
“I didn’t have any bells go off; no angels burst out of the frozen foods; but on my way home that day I found I’d acquired a full-blown appetite for the Bible. I thought, ‘Wow! I’ve been bereft of the Bible for fourteen years; I’ve really got to make up for lost time.’
“So on the way home I had my mom stop at a book store. I ran in and bought my first Bible, a King James, I think. But then I poked around in my parents’ closet and dug out the Bible they were given at their wedding; it was the Revised Standard Version. And I wondered what other different translations there were out there.
So in the weeks to come I horrified my parents by spending all my paper route money and coming home at least twice a week with yet another translation of the Bible tucked under my arm. I discovered there were dozens. I would buy these big four-column and eight-column parallel Bibles to compare the nuances by having them side by side. I wanted to capture every possible shade of meaning.
“Soon I thought, ‘Nuts on all this second-hand English rendering.’ I started to teach myself Hebrew and Greek by correspondence courses.”
Matatics had long intended to become a lawyer. He would have his younger brothers invent stories, and then he would tear them apart, Perry Mason-like. But now he wanted to use his talent for reasoning and argument for Christ. He wanted to be a preacher. He was on scholarship at Philips Exeter Academy, a premier feeder school to the Ivy League; and he wanted to go from there to Moody Bible Institute. He was settling down as a fundamentalist Baptist.
“My parents, who had been very comfortable with the idea of Our Son the Lawyer, were not as comfortable with the idea of Our Son the Roving Tent Evangelist; they said Moody Bible Institute was just a glorified high school. ‘At least promise us you’ll go to college, and then go to seminary after that if you want and get a real degree.'”
Matatics had been offered a scholarship by Harvard, but he horrified his classmates by choosing the University of New Hampshire.
“A fundamentalist is an evangelical with a far stronger antipathy to secular culture, to higher education in general. He’s a bit more in retreat from the world, a bit more militant about the faith. And I was definitely a self-styled fundamentalist. I thought, ‘Harvard! Oh, no. That’s where all those evolution-spouting liberals hang out.’ It would have been a hankering after the world’s credentials.”
Furthermore, Matatics was eager to get on into seminary, and Harvard required a minimum of three years. The University of New Hampshire had no such requirement. He took a double load, self-designing a major in New Testament and patristic Greek. He was coached by the chairman of the classics department, who was Orthodox.
“He was delighted that someone showed so much interest in Greek. From my perspective at that time, I would have thought, ‘Orthodox, Roman Catholic, they’re all going to Hell.’ I probably would not have even considered him a bona fide Christian. He would have been too caught up in dead works and formalistic ritual.”
But under that man Matatics read Homer, other classical Greek authors and the New Testament. By the time he went off to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary he had a very good grounding in Greek.
Gordon-Conwell was profoundly formative. Matatics discovered John Calvin: the deep organ voice of the sovereignty of God and the sinfulness of man.
“Calvin denied free will; he exaggerated our depravity; but still, the average American Catholic today is a Pelagian. He thinks that we are basically good, and it’s no sweat to be a good Catholic. Every heresy is a truth that’s run amuck; in these caricatures of Catholic truth, the Calvinist heresy or the Lutheran heresy, there was some truth that the average American Catholic has perhaps not grasped.”
Matatics affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America. The PCA stood for the inerrancy of Scriptures and opposed the ordination of women and the World Council of Churches. When Matatics graduated from Gordon-Conwell he would be ordained in the PCA; first, however, he had a firestorm to launch.
Matatics was concerned that some of Gordon-Conwell’s teachers were flirting with the idea that the Bible might not be inerrant in its historical or scientific statements. He started a little campus journal called “The Handwriting on the Wall,” calling upon the seminary president, faculty and students to repent of this incipient liberalism.
“My roommate and I co-published it and had it made up down at Kinko’s Copies; and we put it in everyone’s mailbox. There were two issues before the school killed it. I’ll never forget the day the first one came out. I was standing outside my adviser’s office; and one of the professors, who was particularly stung by my lead article, ‘Selling Truth for Thirty Pieces of Silver,’ began screaming at me. “After a while my roommate and I weren’t even going to classes or meals. We were hiding out in our room and eating peanut butter on celery stalks. We were getting hostile calls all the time.”
One night Matatics answered the phone.
Strange voice: “I’d like to speak to Gerry Matatics.”
Matatics (cagily): “Who’s calling?”
Voice: “Well, I’d like to talk to him about this publication.”
Matatics: “Well, he’s not too interested in talking to people about it any more because there’s so much screaming going on about it. What did you think of it?”
Voice (cagily): “Well, what do you think of it?”
Matatics (coyly): “Well, what do you think of it?” (Pause.)
Voice (gathering nerve): “Didn’t you think it was pretty much on the money?”
Matatics: “Yeah, I think it was.”
Voice: “Actually, I thought it was great!”
Matatics: “Well, I stand by it. I’m Gerry Matatics.”
Voice: “My name is Scott Hahn. I really admire you for having spoken out this way.”
They met for lunch the next day, and in the months to come spent a lot of time together. Both were strongly anti-Catholic.
“The stalwart champions of Protestant orthodoxy,” Matatics explains, “Luther, Calvin and so on, all taught that the Pope was the Antichrist; that the Catholic Church was not a branch of the Christian Church but the great Whore of Babylon; that Catholics did not believe the Christian faith but a clever counterfeit of it, a Satanic substitute that would send them straight to Hell for all eternity for trusting in Baptism and their own works, thinking they couldn’t be justified by faith alone and adding Tradition to Scripture.”
Matatics was very upset that Gordon-Conwell belonged to a consortium of seminary students and faculty in the greater Boston area that included Catholics. This was an act of betrayal of the first order, he said. “We should be anathematizing those people as we had four hundred years before, not making common cause with them.”
“I hope that you will maintain this anti-Catholic edge throughout your ministry,” said Hahn.
“Don’t worry. I have no intention of compromising on this one iota.”
Matatics and Hahn were both ordained in the PCA, and went out to serve as pastors while pursuing their Ph.D.s. They kept in touch by phone.
“We would talk about the books we had been reading and the ideas we were having. We would have these marathon phone conversations for two and three hours, much to our delight but to the horror of our wives, who would see the phone bills every month. So out of deference to them we would wait until 11:00 when the rates went down, and we would talk then until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning.
“So the phone rang late one night and it was Scott. He said, ‘Gerry, I want you to listen to something.’ And he began to read from a book that he said had given him more insight into the whole doctrine of salvation than anything he’d ever read before. And it sounded quite different from what I had heard, but it was quoting the Bible copiously and it was very cogent and very compelling. It made sense.”
Matatics: “Scott, this is a very interesting book. I can’t quite figure out where the guy’s coming from, but he’s certainly presenting some new information that I’ve not assimilated in any of my Lutheran and Calvinist and Baptist books. Who is this author?”
Hahn: “You’ve never heard of this guy.”
Matatics: “Well, try me. I’m not completely unread.”
Hahn: “No. You’ve never heard of him. His name is Louis Bouyer.”
Matatics: “You’re right. I’ve never heard of him.”
Hahn: (sigh of relief)
Matatics: “Well, what is he? A Calvinist like us, right?”
Hahn: “Well, not exactly.”
Matatics: “Well, then he’s a Lutheran.”
Hahn: “Well, he used to be a Lutheran.”
Matatics: “Look, I’ve loosened up, living in the real world. So if this guy’s a Baptist, that’s OK.”
Hahn: “No, he’s not a Baptist, either.”
Matatics: “What is he?”
Hahn (choking sound): “He’s a-a Catholic.”
Matatics: “Would you repeat that?”
Hahn: “He’s a Catholic.”
Matatics (utter disbelief): “Did you say he was a Catholic?”
Hahn: “Yeah, he’s a Catholic, and, Gerry, I’ve been reading lots of Catholic books throughout the last several months and as a matter of fact, Gerry, they have some pretty good things to say and as a matter of fact, Gerry, sometimes I think they’re—better than Protestant books at least on some issues and as a matter of fact, Gerry, oh, Gerry, I think I’m going to become a Catholic.”
Matatics was horrified.
“My hair stood on end. Here was this guy who I thought was going to be the great champion of Reformed thought in the 20th century. Here he was defecting to the enemy.
“This was a loss that we could not afford to suffer. I said, ‘Scott, please, send me the list of these books. You’ve got to run the gantlet of every objection I can throw up. You’re going to regret this the rest of your life, not to mention all eternity. Send me the list of books and I’ll tear them to pieces.'”
The list arrived. Matatics’ wife was fully on board for the project.
“Oh, great! Save Scott!” she exclaimed.
He found some of the books at the St. Jude Shop in Philadelphia, “Which was a good thing because I was the most impossible case that ever walked through its door.”
For the rest he went to the library at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
“While this twinkly-eyed Mother-Angelica-look-alike nun was giving me a library card and stamping my books I thought, ‘I’ve got to witness to this poor lost soul. She’s probably never seen a real Christian in her life.’ So I said, ‘Look, uh, Sister, I don’t mean any offense, but I’m not reading these books because I think there’s a scrap of Scriptural truth in them. I’m reading them for one reason only: to save my best friend from becoming a Catholic.’
“And she said, ‘That’s nice, dear.’ And she went on stamping my books. ‘What’s your friend’s name?’ I didn’t want to give his whole name because I didn’t want him put on some Papist mailing list and getting junk mail from the Vatican.
“So I just said, ‘His name is Scott.’ She said, ‘I’ll pray for Scott and I’ll pray for you.”‘
Matatics believes she must have prayed, indeed. “I had the most horrible spiritual nausea as I read those books. Here I thought I was going to be crowing with delight as I pounced upon their logical fallacies, their Bible misquoting. On the contrary, I was discovering the richest and most fascinating treatment of Scripture that I had ever read. I got a queasy feeling that it was making an awful lot of sense. I was beginning to see that Protestantism had some real logical flaws to it.”
Matatics began to ask the questions Bill Bales would ask a few years later about the establishment of the New Testament canon. As a Protestant, he relied upon post-Apostolic decisions about what would be Scripture and what would not.
“But if the Church was competent to discern what came from the Apostles and what didn’t, then I had no right to restrict its competence to simply evaluating the apostolicity of written documents; the Church would also know whether certain ways of praying or certain liturgies or certain ways of celebrating the Sacraments were truly Apostolic or not. There’s nothing in the Bible that says the Church will be guided only when it comes to fixing the canon of Scripture. St. Paul says the Church is the pillar and foundation of the truth, in 1 Timothy 3:15. Our Lord says in Matthew 18:18 that we should heed the Church. All of the statements about the authority of the Church were not restricted to the Church’s Bible-collecting.
“I thought, ‘Hey! If the Church knew what it was doing, then everything else that the Church was teaching at that time, what the early Church Fathers are unanimous on, that’s got to be all Apostolic, too.’ And clearly — I was reading the Apostolic Fathers at this time—and clearly therefore if they say we should be praying for the dead, I had to listen to that. If they say we should be honoring Mary in a special way, and infant baptism is necessary, then I had to accept the whole package deal. I couldn’t accept their Bible but reject their whole way of worship. I saw that the authority of the Church and the authority of Scripture were Siamese twins and that what God had joined together I could not separate. In fact, if I attacked the authority of the Church, the infallibility of the Church, then I was biting the hand that fed me.”
Matatics resigned his pastorale and went to work more intensively on his doctorate, supporting his family by teaching French at a fundamentalist high school and Greek at Westminster Seminary. He hoped with further study to resolve the questions that had been troubling him. But the crisis deepened.
His drive between the two schools took him past St. Joseph’s University.
One day, on impulse, he turned in, parked, and asked directions to the theology department. St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. A.D. 107) was much on his mind, with his unambiguous assertions of the Apostolic Succession and the Real Presence.
Matatics walked past the protesting secretary and into the chairman’s office. For twenty minutes he described his past year’s reading in the early Fathers — and his terrible dilemma. Finally the chairman interrupted him.
“Mr. Matatics,” he said, “you have a problem. I also have a problem. Several of my teachers are on leave and I have been sitting here praying that someone would turn up who could teach a patristics course this term.”
Matatics accepted the position for the fall term of 1985. For a short while the joke on the campus was that Matatics was more Catholic than the Catholics.
Gerald Matatics was received into the Catholic Church at Easter, 1986.
VII. Deepest Conversion on Record
Gregory Lockwood also grew up atheist. He was predisposed against the Catholic Church by his father, who was a leader in the Masons. His own early bent for history compounded the prejudice.
“As I was growing up the Catholics were the mackerel-snappers. My particular approach was the awful things the Church had done down through history: Pope Octavian, Julius II, people like that.”
There was one early influence in Lockwood’s life that suggested the possibility of a different point of view. In a high school class on world affairs, the students staged a mock U.N.
“I was the delegate from the People’s Republic of China. I put forth a proposal that we institute a worldwide eugenics program. Guess what? Thirty-three out of the 35 kids in that class agreed — nice, suburban kids from average families. I sold it to them. But a hand went up at the back of the room: my girlfriend.
“‘Don’t you guys think it’s wrong to kill people to get the kind of world you want?’
“We all thought that was funnier than hell. She had standards. She had principles. And she didn’t even know it. It was just like breathing for her.”
Lockwood occasionally attended church with her.
“I would laugh at the priests wearing sandals and rose-colored glasses. They were a pretty sorry lot. They didn’t change my attitude.”
Did his girlfriend ever try to explain?
“My girlfriend, who became my wife, never tried to explain anything. I used to throw rocks at her when she was in eighth grade, coming out of Our Lady of the Rosary School….
“Karen never had to prove anything. She didn’t apologize for those people; she just did what she did: Catholicism as her personal fabric and culture. I didn’t understand that. I thought it was dumb. But there was something about her and her standards that was really winsome.”
Lockwood’s parents went to the Virgin Islands in January of his senior year; he took the opportunity to enlist in the Navy.
“I was carried away by the ocean. Midwestern kids always want to get to sea. My dad was mad because he had been Army Air Corps in World War II. He didn’t want a squid for a son, but he put up with it.”
Lockwood had been in the service only six months when he married. He was about to begin training for the nuclear submarine service.
“Karen had to talk her cousin the Monsignor into doing it because, as he remarked, ‘This seems like an awfully pagan young man you’ve chosen.’
“He was absolutely right. I think she, and growing up, changed me. We don’t want to leave the Holy Spirit out of it, either. I had an authentic born-again Christian experience in the middle of the North Atlantic, about four hundred feet down: maybe the deepest conversion on record.”
Lockwood served as an engineer and laboratory technician on two fast-attack submarines out of Norfolk, Flying Fish and Finback. “They were very important in my formation. The Navy taught me how to get out of bed in the morning — all kinds of personal discipline that we suburbanite spoiled brats didn’t learn during high school.”
After his conversion experience, Lockwood began to attend the Protestant meetings on board Finback. He retains great respect for his shipmates.
“I’ve been in two doctoral programs and the people I’ve gone to school with couldn’t hold a candle to the people I worked with in the service, as far as predatory intelligence and reasoning ability were concerned. You didn’t want to be weak with these people: they’d eat you alive. They needed to depend on you and if they couldn’t you were gone.”
Finback’s captain was a fundamentalist, and very influential with Lockwood, as were some friends in the crew. One had a father, a brother and an uncle who were all Baptist ministers.
“Back in those days fast attack boats were always gone on what they called training operations. It was ‘Hunt for Red October’ stuff. We spent lots of time near Murmansk, and off of Norway — places where Soviet boomers hung around. We could stay gone forever.
“Well, I called Karen from Scotland on the way home and said, ‘Go out and find a church.’ She about fell off her chair. She said, ‘Not Catholic, huh?’ And I said, ‘No, no, I can’t handle that.”‘
They spent six minutes in a fundamentalist church in Virginia Beach. The absence of historical continuity repelled Lockwood. He thought he would find Lutheran or Presbyterian Protestantism more congenial — more rooted in the history he knew. A friend suggested the Lutheran Church/Missouri Synod, which turned out well.
“I liked the music. They paid the organist more than the associate pastor, which I thought was wonderful. They had great respect for the Scriptures. I hear criticism sometimes of Missouri Synod Lutherans as fundamentalist Bible-thumpers, but that’s just not the way it is. They have a great interpretive tradition of their own, although they would die before they would call it that.”
Lockwood reviewed his talents for civilian life: physics, radiological controls. And he decided to become a pastor. He completed his bachelor’s degree at Concordia College Ann Arbor in two years, and then went off to Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, where he caused a bit of controversy with a doctoral thesis on the theological anthropology of the Greek Fathers of the first two centuries.
The theological what?
“To the Eastern Christian of the first several centuries, mortality is the great human problem, not sin. Over there they believe that human beings sin because we’re mortal. Over here we believe we’re dead because we sin…. Needless to say, it was really exciting at a Lutheran seminary to write something like that.”
Lockwood also aroused some antagonism with a series of homilies he composed on John 6, the Bread of Life discourse.
“I was a little bit strange. I thought that John 6 was Eucharistic, especially the last fifteen verses; and of course Luther had said it wasn’t…
“The man who graded the homilies said that Luther didn’t believe this was Eucharistic and so it wasn’t and so I was wrong. And I said, ‘Well, you’re being very Traditional about this,’ and he got all huffy. I wasn’t above using an upper-case T if it would upset people the right way.” Neither was he entirely confident of the Lutheran position on the papacy; he found he rather liked John Paul II; but he subscribed to the required documents about the Pope being the Antichrist.
Lockwood went out to a parish, as associate pastor of a large congregation. He preached strong pro-life sermons and in consequence some members of the congregation became involved in the Rescue movement. He was also doing graduate work at St. Louis University, and considers himself blessed to have studied with Fr. Richard Foley.
“He was a fine Church historian. The last thing Fr. Foley wanted me to do was become Catholic. He wanted me to be a good Church historian. But all these things were working on me.”
One day Lockwood was leading a Bible study group and the question of the papacy arose.
“I came to the conclusion that I could not say that this Polish man was the Antichrist. So one of the study group members called the Missouri Synod district president. He called me on the phone and said, ‘Greg, just don’t say that stuff out loud, OK?”‘
Lockwood contemplated the question of authority and Tradition in the light of his knowledge of patristics.
“I was more and more dissatisfied with a church that had cut its own legs off. It had no connection with 1500 years of Western Church history. I was in authority to no one because the people under whose authority I served didn’t have any stature in the Apostolic Succession, or the passing-on of the tradition of the Western Church.”
In Lutheran ecclesiology, a pastor is his own bishop. As a practical matter this does not always work out the way things do for a Catholic bishop — as Lockwood discovered when he preached a pro-life homily one day.
“Three people wanted to cut my salary at the next voters’ assembly. I was dabbling in social doctrine instead of the Gospel.”
The head pastor backed Lockwood on that one, but he was becoming concerned about his associate on another score. Lockwood had acquired Catholic friends. After a Rescue, he went to visit the Lutherans who were in jail. He became acquainted with Joan Andrews, the Catholic Rescue leader, and with the priest who brought her Holy Communion.
By 1985 Lockwood was seriously concerned, himself.
“I had this thought always in the back of my mind: ‘These people are paying you to be a Lutheran pastor. You are not a Lutheran pastor.’ I came to the conclusion that the Papacy was not only not the Antichrist, but was a salutary institution, historically and theologically. Its unifying character, its ability to speak with one voice, was indispensable in a church that was starting to sound like the Tower of Babel. I came to grips with the fact that I was an outlaw, not in touch with the traditional, historical Church structure of the West.”
So Lockwood went to visit a friend, Fr. Irvin Knoll, who was the Catholic chaplain at a local hospital. Father Knoll was also a classmate of the Chancellor of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
“I walked into his office and I told him my problems, and he said, ‘Sit right there.’ He called the Chancery and said, ‘Hey, hear about this Lutheran guy in Tulsa that became a Catholic priest? He’s married and got four kids? Well, would you like another one?”‘
Father Gregory Lockwood was brought into the Archdiocese of St. Louis by the machinery of the Episcopal Provision. His rescript, signed by Cardinal Ratzinger, was approved by Pope John Paul II on Reformation Day.
VIII. Twice a Convert
When Rosalind and David Moss were growing up, even the public schools in Brooklyn offered Hebrew. Their family’s Judaism was middle-ground Conservative.
“We followed the traditions,” Rosalind Moss recalls. “We didn’t keep strict Kosher, but we never mixed meat and milk. We lit the Shabbos candles; we went to school on High Holy Days. We had a strong sense of identity.”
She went into advertising, marketing and publishing, and was very successful. Her brother also went into business — and he married a non-Jew. David had become an atheist. His wife was one, also. When they began to have children, they began “to search for a foundation for them,” Moss remembers, “to give them answers even if the kids changed their direction when they got older. David went to study every religion in the world, searching for the truth in life, which I thought was insane.” David would end up a Catholic, entering the Church in 1979 and later founding the Association of Hebrew Catholics.
Rosalind’s own path would lead to California, where in 1987, with the help of Jewish converts to evangelical Christianity, she became a Christian herself, and a passionate one. She left the business world and went to work for halfway houses, an orphanage for four years; for twelve years she served as chaplain of a women’s jail. “I joined every outreach in my church,” she says. “If there was a ladder tall enough to get to the moon, I would have been on it with a megaphone to tell the world. I lived to tell people of Christ.”
She went to Talbot Theological Seminary, and graduated with high honors. “I loved it. I devoured it.
“Now, my first Bible study as a brand-new Christian was taught by an ex-Catholic. I learned right off as a brand-new Christian that the Catholic Church was a cult, mixing truth with error and leading millions astray into a false system, a works—righteousness system. It destroys grace and the finished work of Christ. I had no problem believing that. I trusted that God had brought me to Himself, that He had put me into a church that loved and honored Him and His word.
“For eighteen years I did anything I could to save people from the Catholic Church and bring them into a true relationship with God. I’ve seen whole families come out of the Catholic Church.”
Moss graduated seminary in 1990 and went on staff full time as Director of Women’s Ministries for an evangelical church, the pastor of which is an ex-Catholic. First she came back to New York to visit her brother, by then a Catholic.
“At that point I did not have any confidence that David was a Christian. How could he go so astray? I figured he had a hang-up from our Jewish background with the aesthetics and the ritual. Why would you exchange the reality of Christ for ritual? So we had spent hours through the years in very long discussions.
“That summer, before I went on staff with the church, he said, ‘Roz, what about Jesus’ statement in his priestly prayer, John 17, that we would be one? Don’t evangelicals want unity, to honor God?’
“I saw red. Of course we want unity. Of course we want to honor God, but not at the expense of truth.”
Her brother gave her a copy of This Rock magazine, which she brought back with her to California.
“I gained my first measure of respect ever for any Catholic. Even though they were wrong, at least they cared that someone know what they believed. I went through the magazine and there was a full-page advertisement for tapes of this Presbyterian minister, Scott Hahn, who had become a Catholic. Well, I didn’t care what he called himself. He couldn’t have been a Christian. He couldn’t have known Christ and then entered the Catholic Church.
“But Presbyterianism was close to me theologically; I’d studied Calvin’s Institutes. So I ordered the tape series out of curiosity. I was packing up to go to my new job, ironing in my kitchen and listening to the tapes. And at the end of the tapes Hahn summed up Church history and then said that for the person who would look into the Church’s claims would come ‘holy shock and glorious amazement’ to find out that they were true.
“It was the same impact as I had known eighteen years before when those Jewish Christians gave me John 1:29, the Lamb of God, and I knew that it had happened. I was paralyzed with the thought that there could be any truth to the Catholic Church. I couldn’t believe I was thinking it.
“The following week I started on staff at the new church. I was training people, teaching, ‘discipling.’ I couldn’t believe that I now needed to look into the Catholic Church. The church I was in, a conservative Friends’ church, did not believe in Baptism and Communion at all. To go on staff with them I needed to read their full statement of faith. I read the conversion story of George Fox. Luther had discarded everything but Baptism and Communion; the evangelical Protestant churches of today are more of Zwingli’s memorial view; Fox did away with the only two ordinances that were left. I read that book and I thought to myself, ‘His heart was pure. He wanted God to be loved in spirit and in truth; and although there was nothing wrong with Baptism and Communion, he knew it was possible that worship could be transferred from God to the elements that point to Him — that faith could be placed in the ritual rather than in God. He did away with ritual so that God alone would be worshipped.’
“I was in line with the heart of George Fox; and yet I believed the Scriptures taught that Baptism and Communion were commands. And I thought that Fox, out of zeal for God’s honor, did away with what I believed God intended. And I wondered whether Luther did the same. In his zeal, did he do away with what God gave?
“Well, here I was starting out full time in a church whose pastor had come out of the Catholic Church. What a mess! I couldn’t tell anybody.”
Moss worked at her new job sixty hours or more each week. She stole time from sleep to read Catholic books; she subscribed to This Rock.
“Was Satan leading me astray? Why wouldn’t he take a useful vessel, if I was being useful at all, and destroy it?
“But I kept in mind that I wanted God above all things, and to seek Him only. At the end of two years I had read enough, and was absolutely compelled to know if it was true. Before God I could do nothing else with my life until I knew. I could no longer stand before the women of my church and teach them that Baptism simply gets you wet, if it in fact was intended by God as an effectual means of His grace. I left in the summer of 1992. I couldn’t tell them why. I told them I needed a study sabbatical.
“I came to New York to isolate myself for what I hoped would be a year. It turned out to be two and a half years of heart-wrenching, agonizing search. Everything I read of orthodox Catholic teaching drew me to the Catholic Church. Everything I saw made me want to run a million miles from it. Every time I came upon something that really rang true and made sense for me, it hit upon a dozen other things of evangelical theology that would have to connect to it. And on a personal level, apart from any doctrinal issue, I’d been a shepherd in that one church — not to mention jail and other things — to over five hundred women. I’d carried them with me. I had a responsibility to them. The thought of what it might do, not to the faith of people who’d think I was never saved to begin with, but to people who were delicate new sheep — the thought of shattering anyone’s faith!”
She took a job as a waitress in an Italian restaurant, which would pay the rent but make no intellectual or emotional demands.
“By November of ’94 I knew that if I stood before God I would have to choose the Catholic Church. But I didn’t believe it. How do you believe that the Eucharist is Christ?
“But when you decide that if you stood before God you’d live one way, and yet you don’t take that step, it’s the most painful way to live — because we do live before Him. I was in a miserable state. I continued to read. I prayed. I begged God. I began spending time in front of the Eucharist, in case it was Him. Jesus, are You there? Can You hear me? I even began praying to Mary, asking God to forgive me that I would do that.”
Finally, a friend suggested that she talk to Msgr. James O’Connor. He had taught theology for years at Dunwoodie, and had recently taken a parish in Millbrook, NY.
“Well, I wasn’t interested in talking. If you’re afraid you’re being deceived you don’t go to the Devil’s camp and say, ‘Excuse me, are you true?’ How do you go to someone that you don’t trust?
“So I went to visit his parish on January 8, 1995. I sat in the back pew, which is the only place I ever sat in a Catholic church, and I observed the people, thinking, ‘Does anybody know Christ here?’
“But Msgr. O’Connor gave the Gospel message and then he said to the congregation, ‘We need to tell the whole world.’ I’d never in my life heard any Catholic say that.
“I went a couple of times. I went to a class he taught a couple of times. I got a book he’d written and read through some of it, just to get his mindset. And finally in March I called him to see if I could meet with him. “In two meetings he helped me immeasurably to put the pieces together. I had a question that I had asked everybody for almost two years, every Catholic I met along the way. Nobody gave me the answer he did.
“If Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient, then how was it that we added to it? Because to offer ourselves with Christ is to say that His sacrifice is not sufficient. And everyone I had asked said we didn’t add to it because they wanted me to understand that the Catholic Church believed that Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient. But Msgr. O’Connor said to me, ‘Yes, we add to the sacrifice of Christ; and yes, His sacrifice was sufficient. No, He doesn’t need us; but He receives us. We legitimately add.’
“I thought, ‘Aha! The truth is out at last. This is heresy. You believe that we add to the sacrifice of Christ and now it’s out in the open. I “knew” I couldn’t trust the Catholic Church.’
“And in the next moment what he had said penetrated my mind, or my heart, and became the most beautiful thought I’d ever heard. I thought immediately of a mother baking a cake, and her little child in the kitchen with her. The mother has everything there sufficient for the cake; but here comes the daughter and says, ‘Mommy, I want to help.’ So the mother receives the daughter because that love receives. She lets the daughter put the eggs in. Is the mother sufficient? Yes. Does she need the daughter? No. Does she allow the daughter to add? Yes. The daughter’s addition is not needed, but it’s received and it’s a true addition. And I thought, ‘That’s love.’
“The human mind, and certainly the Protestant mind, could never conceive of it. Two weeks later, driving home from Mass, I realized for the first time, ‘I don’t think I want to be outside of this too much longer.'”
Rosalind Moss was received into the Catholic Church at Easter 1995.
Finding Their Places
Lockwood did not stop being outspoken when he stopped being Lutheran. “I sometimes think the Chancery thinks it created a monster,” he chuckles. During a recent pastors’ protest at an abortion mill, Fr. Lockwood recognized the Canon of the Episcopal cathedral.
“He and his wife were working as clinic escorts, helping women to get into the building. Before I joined the door-block I went up to him and said, ‘Look, Christianity precludes this kind of nonsense, Michael.’
“And he said, ‘Look, I’m not afraid of the Gospel.’
“And I said, ‘You wouldn’t know the Gospel if it walked up to you and smacked you with a board.’ And at that point a policeman had to separate us.”
In general, though, he has settled into a rewarding schedule as a parish administrator, diocesan TV manager and part-time teacher at the St. Louis seminary.
Most married pastors who convert face serious challenges afterwards. Their talents, training and experience may suggest that they consider the Catholic priesthood, but if they do they must also consider that few Catholic parishes are accustomed to giving at a level that will support a large family. Teaching and other lay apostolates have turned out to be the solution for some, but there is no ready-made situation for most of these men to walk into. Those who no longer have an opportunity to preach miss it deeply.
Ken Smith is working in management information systems for Electronic Data Systems. He is looking forward to a transfer to Monroe, La., and to becoming active in a Catholic parish there. “I do miss preaching. Yes, I do. But soon I will be close to a Catholic church for the first time in my life. Not having to drive thirty minutes to get to Confession will be such a treat!” Smith is an oblate of St. Benedict, affiliated with the monastery at Subiaco, AR.
Rosalind Moss wants to find an apostolate to which she can dedicate herself; she has not yet decided what kind. “I have always had a heart for the missions,” she says. “I’m still getting used to being Catholic, though.”
By way of contrast to the drama of his Presbyterian excommunication, Bill Bales has found a Catholic niche that puts much of his talent and experience to good use, as youth director in a large parish. He is also working towards his Ph.D. — “It just takes a while,” he laughs, “with six kids and a full-time job.” Eventually he would like to teach at a place like Christendom College, “a place where the Faith is strong. I want the freedom to be orthodox.”
For the first three years after his conversion, Gerald Matatics taught theology and Scripture at Christendom College; then he did apologetics for Catholic Answers, speaking at forums, debates and parish seminars all around the country. He wanted to travel less for his family’s sake, so he began his own apologetics apostolate, Biblical Foundations, hoping in time to do more books and tapes and fewer speaking engagements. He settled his family and his business in Front Royal, Va., in order to be near Christendom.
“We wanted to be able to attend the most reverent Mass. At that point we had not gone to any traditional Masses, and the most reverent Novus Ordo Mass we knew of was here at Christendom.”
But then Matatics attended his first traditional Mass, under the papal indult which permits such Masses. He fell in love with it with characteristic enthusiasm, which worried some conservative Catholics who prefer the new Mass. For a while, when he was on the road, he would even attend Mass at a Society of St. Pius X chapel. And he spoke with SSPX members, wanting to find out what they were doing and why.
“It has caught me a lot of flak,” he reports. “I’ve been tarred with it. Some people have said I’m SSPX, which I’m not. I don’t go to their Masses any more, because I have figured out that they are wrong. But it’s put a black mark on my apostolate. I’ve been under a cloud of suspicion for the past year.”
Matatics has had many speaking engagements — his bread and butter — cancelled because of the rumors that he is schismatic or sedevacantist, but he shows no anger.
“Look, the new Mass is valid; John Paul II is the Pope. I’m not a Feeneyite, either. I don’t deny Baptism of blood or Baptism of desire. But some people are still convinced I’ve gone off the deep end.”
Undeterred, he is launching a newsletter, Regnum; and the speaking engagements have begun to pick up again, so perhaps the storm is passing.
The wives of all of the married men in this article have entered the Catholic Church, but for several the journey was a serious challenge to their commitments to their marriages. Lisanne Bales and Emily Smith had the hardest time. They were very much pastors’ wives, well educated in and deeply committed to their evangelical faith.
“My wife was very negative throughout most of my journey,” Bill Bales recalls, “horrified at the thought, in fact.
“But all along she had been exposed to the ideas. By the time I resigned my pastorale she was open to things. By the time I came into the Church she was pretty convinced, but it took another six months for her to be sure. She came in at Easter of 1991.”
Emily Smith’s journey took longer. She began to be reconciled, although not persuaded, when their five-year-old son asked for Baptism. “That fit,” Ken Smith explains, “with her Baptist understanding of things.”
She began to attend RCIA classes. For her, as for so many others, it was the Catholic unity of doctrine that turned the tide. She was received into the Church two years after her husband.
Steve Wood had no idea what he was going to do once he entered the Church. He wanted to do something with his conviction that the sanctity of marriage was the only reliable foundation for the sanctity of life; but he also had a large family to support. He asked a priest he knew for advice.
“The priest said, ‘Well, we have this convent that’s going to be empty as of next week. You and your family could live there.’
“I didn’t really want to move to this community, so I said no thank you.
He almost threw me in his car, and drove me over to the convent. It was a nice three-bedroom home. We lived there for the first four years of being in the Church. We later found out the name of the convent: Mary Queen of the Woods.”
With the housing problem solved, Wood was able to launch the Family Life Center, which produces tapes and distributes books that explain and encourage the Catholic understanding of the family; and St. Joseph’s Covenant Keepers, a newsletter for men loaded with insight and practical advice for Catholic husbands and fathers.
Marcus Grodi is working on another part of the answer. He serves as Executive Director of Christian Outreach at Steubenville College, and teaches one course each semester; but he has also founded The Network, an organization of Protestant pastors who have come into the Church, or are on their ways in.
“When I came in, it was a very lonely process,” Grodi explains. “You can’t talk to any of your old friends about this. They will not understand. Catholic laity don’t understand the journey. And it’s amazing how many priests said to me, ‘After Vatican II you don’t have to convert any more.’ It was sad.
“At the end of the journey, feeling like I was the only one in the world doing this, I encountered others — the Gordon-Conwell buddies and others. So I started this fellowship of pastors who had converted, or were on the journey.”
The Network has grown to 150 members, about a third already received into the Church. It produces a newsletter and helps to organize occasional retreats. It can also help priests deal with incoming converts.
The Secret of the Seminary
An occasional Protestant pastor has converted to the Catholic Church since the Reformation, but there are 150 of them in Marcus Grodi’s Network—fifty or more already received into the Church—and the list is growing. Why? Why now?
“Without sounding super-spiritual,” says Steve Wood, “I think it’s a sovereign move of God. I think I can tell you why it happened at my seminary. Our seminary was bought by Pew of Sun Oil, a very wealthy evangelical, and Billy Graham.
“Now, when I walked into the diocese down here, the Bishop appointed a priest to work with my family on our way in. The first time I went to see him, I went by myself. In case I had to get out fast I didn’t want my wife and children to slow me down. I walked in very nervously to see this wonderful priest, Fr. Schevers. He asked, ‘Where did you do your theological studies?’
“I said, ‘Oh, it’s a place you’d never have heard of, Gordon-Conwell.’ He looked at me and smiled.
“‘I taught there,’ he said. You see, it had been a Carmelite boys’ school with the purpose of producing vocations for the Church. They were praying and praying, but there weren’t vocations coming and in great agony they put the property up for sale. To add double insult to injury, here came Billy Graham and bought the campus.
“Now, I was not the warm ecumenical type when I was at seminary, and Scott Hahn was going around there telling people the Pope was the Antichrist. The Catholic Church was not a latent desire for us. I’m convinced that for us it was the prayers of those Carmelites.”
This article was taken from the Spring 1996 issue of “Sursum Corda!” Published quarterly and mailed in December, March, June and September by the Foundation for Catholic Reform. Send all subscription requests to “Sursum Corda!”, Subscription Dept., 1331 Red Cedar Circle, Ft. Collins, CO 80524. RATES: $26.95 per year.