Friday, March 30, 2012

The Miraculous Medal

The Miraculous Medal, also known as the Medal of the Immaculate Conception, is a medal originated by Saint Catherine Labouré following a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Many Catholic Christians around the world (and some non-Catholics) wear the Miraculous Medal, which if worn with faith and devotion will bring them special graces through the intercession of Mary at the hour of death.

It is often worn together with the Brown Scapular. Such items of devotion are not charms and should not be construed as being either "magical" or superstitious (two conditions which are contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church) but serve as constant physical reminders of devotion.

The devotion commonly known as that of the Miraculous Medal owes its origin to Zoe Labore, a member of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, known in religion as Sister Catherine [Note: She was subsequently canonized], to whom the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared three separate times in the year 1830, at the mother-house of the community at Paris.

The first of these apparitions occurred 18 July, the second 27 November, and the third a short time later. On the second occasion, Sister Catherine records that the Blessed Virgin appeared as if standing on a globe, and bearing a globe in her hands. As if from rings set with precious stones dazzling rays of light were emitted from her fingers. These, she said, were symbols of the graces which would be bestowed on all who asked for them. Sister Catherine adds that around the figure appeared an oval frame bearing in golden letters the words "O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee"; on the back appeared the letter M, surmounted by a cross, with a crossbar beneath it, and under all the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, the former surrounded by a crown of thorns, and the latter pierced by a sword.

At the second and third of these visions a command was given to have a medal struck after the model revealed, and a promise of great graces was made to those who wear it when blessed. After careful investigation, M. Aladel, the spiritual director of Sister Catherine, obtained the approval of Mgr. de Quelen, Archbishop of Paris, and on 30 June, 1832, the first medals were struck and with their distribution the devotion spread rapidly.

One of the most remarkable facts recorded in connection with the Miraculous Medal is the conversion of a Jew, Alphonse Ratisbonne of Strasburg, who had resisted the appeals of a friend to enter the Church. M. Ratisbonne consented, somewhat reluctantly, to wear the medal, and being in Rome, he entered, by chance, the church of Sant' Andrea delle Fratte and beheld in a vision the Blessed Virgin exactly as she is represented on the medal; his conversion speedily followed. This fact has received ecclesiastical sanction, and is recorded in the office of the feast of the Miraculous Medal. In 1847, M. Etienne, superior-general of the Congregation of the Mission, obtained from Pope Pius IX the privilege of establishing in the schools of the Sisters of Charity a confraternity under the title of the Immaculate Conception, with all the indulgences attached to a similar society established for its students at Rome by the Society of Jesus. This confraternity adopted the Miraculous Medal as its badge, and the members, known as the Children of Mary, wear it attached to a blue ribbon.

On 23 July, 1894, Pope Leo XIII, after a careful examination of all the facts by the Sacred Congregation of Rites, instituted a feast, with a special Office and Mass, of the Manifestation of the Immaculate Virgin under the title of the Miraculous Medal, to be celebrated yearly on 27 November by the Priests of the Congregation of the Mission, under the rite of a double of the second class.

For ordinaries and religious communities who may ask the privilege of celebrating the festival, its rank is to be that of a double major feast. A further decree, dated 7 September, 1894, permits any priest to say the Mass proper to the feast in any chapel attached to a house of the Sisters of Charity.

Promises of Mary for those who wear the medal

"All who wear it will receive great graces; they should wear it around the neck. Graces will abound for persons who wear it with confidence." Mary said to Saint Catherine Laboure.

Source: The Catholic Company

Meaning inscribed on the medal

The Front

Mary is standing upon a globe, crushing the head of a serpent beneath her foot. She stands upon the globe, as the Queen of Heaven and Earth. Her feet crush the serpent to proclaim Satan and all his followers are helpless before her (Gn 3:15). The year of 1830 on the Miraculous Medal is the year the Blessed Mother gave the design of the Miraculous Medal to Saint Catherine Labouré. The reference to Mary conceived without sin supports the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary—not to be confused with the virgin birth of Jesus, and referring to Mary's sinlessness, “full of grace” and “blessed among women” (Luke 1:28)—that was proclaimed 24 years later in 1854.

The Back

The twelve stars can refer to the Apostles, who represent the entire Church as it surrounds Mary. They also recall the vision of Saint John, writer of the Book of Revelation (12:1), in which “a great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of 12 stars.” The cross can symbolize Christ and our redemption, with the bar under the cross a sign of the earth. The “M” stands for Mary, and the interleaving of her initial and the cross shows Mary’s close involvement with Jesus and our world. In this, we see Mary’s part in our salvation and her role as mother of the Church. The two hearts represent the love of Jesus and Mary for us. (See also Lk 2:35).

Pope John Paul II used a slight variation of the reverse image as his coat of arms, the Marian Cross, a plain cross with an M underneath the right-hand bar (which signified the Blessed Virgin at the foot of the Cross when Jesus was being crucified).

The Miraculous Medal is now one of the most commonly worn sacramentals in the Catholic Church.

St. Catherine Labouré's body remains incorrupt to this day and can be seen at her convent at Rue du Bac, Paris.


Novena of the Miraculous Medal

O Immaculate Virgin Mary,
Mother of Our Lord Jesus and our Mother,
penetrated with the most lively confidence in your all-powerful and never-failing intercession, manifested so often through the Miraculous Medal,
we your loving and trustful children implore you to obtain for us the graces and favors we ask during this novena,
if they be beneficial to our immortal souls,
and the souls for whom we pray.
(Here form your petition)

You know, O Mary, how often our souls have been the sanctuaries of your Son who hates iniquity.
Obtain for us then a deep hatred of sin and that purity of heart which will attach us to God alone so that our every thought, word and deed may tend to His greater glory.
Obtain for us also a spirit of prayer and self-denial that we may recover by penance what we have lost by sin and at length attain to that blessed abode where you are the Queen of angels and of men.

Source: EWTN


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Former Atheist Promises Encounter With God Through Saints' Relics

Father Carlos Martins never expected to be a priest, or to be touring North America to promote devotion to the saints through their sacred relics. For much of his life, he did not believe in God.

“I was raised in a very nominally Catholic family. We didn't go to church,” the 37-year-old priest told CNA on March 27. “The Catholic school that we went to was 'Catholic' in name only.”

“By the time I became an adult, aside from being a 'practical atheist,' I became an intellectual one as well. I thought it was impossible for God to exist, given the state of the world.”

During his university years, some “very committed Catholics” made him question his atheism – leading to a profound encounter with Christ in Eucharistic adoration.

Sixteen years and one priestly ordination later, Fr. Martins helps others encounter God, through another traditional Catholic practice: the exposition and veneration of sacred relics.

He leads the Treasures of the Church ministry, which brings thousands of relics by request to locations in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Its collection includes relics of St. Maria Goretti, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Faustina Kowalska.

Fr. Martins spoke with CNA during his March 25-April 1 tour of Colorado. After a 60-minute presentation explaining the veneration of relics, attendees can spend time in prayer with a selection that includes a large piece of Christ's cross, and fabric from the Virgin Mary's veil.

As his presentation makes clear, the experience is unlike anything that most attendees have experienced before.

“I do not have a 'traveling museum,'” he explained. “What I have, is a ministry of evangelization and healing.”

Fr. Martins refers to the period of veneration, following his introduction to the practice, as the “walk with the saints.” During this time, he promises that those with an open heart will experience God – and the supernatural reality known as the “communion of the saints” – in a new and profound way.

“People aren't just going around and viewing the multitude of relics that are there,” he explained. “They're encountering these heroes of the faith, wanting to connect with them.”

“I guarantee them that there is going to be one saint, that is present at the exhibition, that will communicate with them in a personal way … Their job is to go find 'their saint.'”

“Ever since my own conversion from atheism,” he recalled, “my interaction with the saints was always very personal. I could intuit very specific saints extending an offer of friendship to me, with an uncanny deepness and regularity.”

“That is going to happen, when you encounter the relics,” the priest said. “I guarantee people that's going to happen.”

While some non-Catholics may find the veneration of relics unusual or even strange, it is solidly rooted in scripture and the constant tradition of the Church. Saints and their relics are not worshiped, but honored in a manner that acknowledges God's work in their lives.

Through his work with Treasures of the Church, Fr. Martin has seen God's work continue through the relics of the saints – sometimes in surprising ways.

“People come to a relic exposition for all kinds of different reasons,” he noted.

While some are there because of their devotion to saints, others may attend for different reasons: historical interest, an interest in “antiques,” or curiosity about a practice with which they are unfamiliar.

“They can't believe that there is a 'medieval circus act,' running around with human bones, in this day and age,” Fr. Martin joked.

In the presentation that precedes the “walk with the saints,” the priest makes a promise to all of these attendees.

“I make a public guarantee that they will encounter the living God in that exposition.”

“In the years I've been doing this, the hundreds of thousands of people that have come – I have never had anybody make a 'warranty claim,'” he said.

Instead he has heard testimonies of healing, accomplished by God's grace, through the intercession of the saints.

“I've had thousands of healing stories communicated to me: cancers gone, heart conditions, osteoporosis, you name it.”

But the “most dramatic effect” Fr. Martin sees, following the exposition of relics, is a healing within the human soul.

It is this kind of healing that the priest finds “most exciting” in his ministry. Through their encounter with the saints, those living on earth are called to remove the obstacles to receiving eternal life.

“You can go to heaven with cancer in your limb. You can go to heaven with a bad heart (condition),” Fr. Martins noted.

“But you can't go to heaven with a heart that has shut God out. You can't go to heaven with unforgiveness in your heart. You can't go to heaven by refusing to participate in the sacraments and live your Catholic identity. You just can't. ”

“If I've managed to help God penetrate the human heart, that invigorates and exhilarates me,” he said.

Source: Catholic News Agency

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Dr. A. David Anders' Testimony

A Protestant Historian Discovers the Catholic Church

I grew up an Evangelical Protestant in Birmingham, Alabama. My parents were loving and devoted, sincere in their faith, and deeply involved in our church. They instilled in me a respect for the Bible as the Word of God, and a desire for a living faith in Christ. Missionaries frequented our home and brought their enthusiasm for their work. Bookshelves in our house were filled with theology and apologetics.

From an early age, I absorbed the notion that the highest possible calling was to teach the Christian faith. I suppose it is no surprise that I became a Church historian, but becoming a Catholic was the last thing I expected.

My family’s church was nominally Presbyterian, but denominational differences meant very little to us. I frequently heard that disagreements over baptism, the Lord’s Supper, or church government were unimportant as long as one believed the Gospel. By this we meant that one should be “born again,” that salvation is by faith alone, and that the Bible is the sole authority for Christian faith. Our church supported the ministries of many different Protestant denominations, but the one group we certainly opposed was the Catholic Church.

The myth of a Protestant “recovery” of the Gospel was strong in our church. I learned very early to idolize the Protestant Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin, because they supposedly had rescued Christianity from the darkness of medieval Catholicism. Catholics were those who trusted in “good works” to get them to heaven, who yielded to tradition instead of Scripture, and who worshipped Mary and the saints instead of God. Their obsession with the sacraments also created an enormous impediment to true faith and a personal relationship with Jesus. There was no doubt. Catholics were not real Christians.

Our church was characterized by a kind of confident intellectualism. Presbyterians tend to be quite theologically minded, and seminary professors, apologists, scientists, and philosophers were frequent speakers at our conferences. It was this intellectual atmosphere that had attracted my father to the church, and his bookshelves were lined with the works of the Reformer John Calvin, and the Puritan Jonathan Edwards, as well as more recent authors like B.B. Warfield, A.A. Hodge, C.S. Lewis, and Francis Schaeffer. As a part of this academic culture, we took it for granted that honest inquiry would lead anyone to our version of Christian faith.

All of these influences left definite impressions on me as a child. I came to see Christianity as somewhat akin to Newtonian physics. The Christian faith consisted in certain eminently reasonable and immutable laws, and you were guaranteed eternal life provided you constructed your life according to these principles. I also thought this was the message clearly spelled out in the official textbook of Christian theology: the Bible. Only mindless trust in human tradition or depraved indifference could possibly explain anyone’s failure to grasp these simple truths.

There was one strange irony in this highly religious and theological atmosphere. We stressed that it was faith and not works that saves. We also confessed the classic Protestant belief that all people are “totally depraved,” meaning that even their best moral efforts are intrinsically hateful to God and can merit nothing. By the time I reached high school, I put these pieces together and concluded that religious practice and moral striving were more or less irrelevant to my life. It was not that I lost my faith. On the contrary, I absorbed it thoroughly. I had accepted Christ as my Savior and been “born again.” I believed that the Bible was the word of God. I also believed none of my religious or moral works had any value. So I quit practicing them.

Fortunately, my indifference lasted only a few years, and I had a genuine reconversion to the faith in college. I found that my need for God was deeper than simple “fire insurance.” I also met a beautiful girl with whom I started going to Protestant services. Jill had grown up nominally Catholic, but failed to keep up the practice of her faith after confirmation. Together, we found ourselves growing deeper in our Protestant faith, and after a few months we both became disillusioned with the worldly atmosphere of our New Orleans University. We concluded that the Midwestern and Evangelical Wheaton College would provide a more spiritual environment, and we both transferred in the middle of our sophomore year (January 1991).

Wheaton College is a beacon for sincere Evangelical Christians of various backgrounds. Protestants from many different denominations are represented, united in their commitment to Christ and the Bible. My childhood had taught me that theology, apologetics, and evangelism were the highest calling of a Christian, and I found them all in plentiful supply at Wheaton. It was there that I first thought of committing my life to the study of theology. It was also at Wheaton that Jill and I became engaged.

After graduating, Jill and I were married and eventually found our way to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago. My goal was to get a seminary education, and then eventually to complete a Ph.D. I wanted to become one of those theology professors who had been so admired in the church of my youth.

I threw myself into seminary with abandon. I loved my courses in theology, Scripture, and Church history, and I thrived on the faith, confidence, and sense of mission that pervaded the school. I also embraced its anti-Catholic atmosphere. I was there in 1994 when the document “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” was first published and the faculty was almost uniformly hostile to it. They saw any compromise with Catholics as a betrayal of the Reformation. Catholics were simply not brothers in the Lord. They were apostates.

I accepted the anti-Catholic attitudes of my seminary professors, so when it came time to move on in my studies, I decided to focus on a historical study of the Reformation. I thought there could be no better preparation for assaulting the Catholic Church and winning converts than to thoroughly understand the minds of the great leaders of our faith — Martin Luther and John Calvin. I also wanted to understand the whole history of Christianity so I could place the Reformation in context. I wanted to be able to show how the medieval church had left the true faith and how the Reformers had recovered it. To this end, I began Ph.D. studies in historical theology at the University of Iowa. I never imagined that Reformation Church history would move me to the Catholic Church.

Before I began my studies in Iowa, Jill and I witnessed the birth of our first child, a son. His brother was born less than two years later, and a sister was arrived before we left Iowa (we now have five children). My wife was very busy caring for these children, while I committed myself almost entirely to my studies. I see today that I spent too much time in the library and not enough time with my wife, my infant sons, and my daughter. I think that I justified this neglect by relying on my sense of mission. I had a high calling — to witness to the faith through theological study — and an intellectual view of the Christian faith and my Christian duty. For evangelical Christians, what one believes is more important than how one lives. I was learning how to defend and promote those beliefs. What could be more important?

I began my Ph.D. studies in September of 1995. I took courses in early, medieval, and Reformation Church history. I read the Church Fathers, the scholastic theologians, and the Protestant Reformers. At each stage, I tried to relate later theologians to earlier ones, and all of them to the Scriptures. I had a goal of justifying the Reformation and this meant, above all, investigating the doctrine of “justification by faith alone.” For Protestants, this is the most important doctrine to be “recovered” by the Reformation.

The Reformers had insisted that they were following the ancient church in teaching “faith alone” and for proof they pointed to the writings of the Church Father Augustine of Hippo (354–430). My seminary professors also pointed to Augustine as the original wellspring of Protestant theology. The reason for this was Augustine’s keen interest in the doctrines of original sin, grace, and justification. He was the first of the Fathers to attempt a systematic explication of these Pauline themes. He also drew a sharp contrast between “works” and “faith” (see his On the Spirit and the Letter, 412 A.D.). Ironically, it was my investigation of this doctrine and of St. Augustine that began my journey to the Catholic Church.

My first difficulty arose when I began to grasp what Augustine really taught about salvation. Briefly put, Augustine rejected “faith alone.” It is true that he had a high regard for faith and grace, but he saw these mainly as the source of our good works. Augustine taught that we literally “merit” eternal life when our lives are transformed by grace. This is quite different from the Protestant point of view.

The implications of my discovery were profound. I knew enough from my college and seminary days to understand that Augustine was teaching nothing less than the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification. I decided to move on to earlier Church Fathers in my search for the “pure faith” of Christian antiquity. Unfortunately, the earlier Church Fathers were even less help than Augustine.

Augustine had come from Latin-speaking North Africa. Others hailed from Asia Minor, Palestine, Syria, Rome, Gaul, and Egypt. They represented different cultures, spoke different languages, and were associated with different apostles. I thought it possible that some of them might have misunderstood the Gospel, but it seemed unlikely that they would all be mistaken. The true faith had to be represented somewhere in the ancient world. The only problem was that I could not find it. No matter where I looked, on whatever continent, in whatever century, the Fathers agreed: salvation comes through the transformation of the moral life and not by faith alone. They also taught that this transformation begins and is nourished in the sacraments, and not through some individual conversion experience.

At this stage of my journey I was eager to remain a Protestant. My whole life, marriage, family, and career were bound up in Protestantism. My discoveries in Church history were an enormous threat to that identity, so I turned to biblical studies looking for comfort and help. I thought that if I could be absolutely confident in the Reformers’ appeal to Scripture, then I essentially could dismiss 1500 years of Christian history. I avoided Catholic scholarship, or books that I thought were intended to undermine my faith, and focused instead on what I thought were the most objective, historical, and also Protestant works of Biblical scholarship. I was looking for rock-solid proof that the Reformers were right in their understanding of Paul. What I did not know was that the best in twentieth century Protestant scholarship had already rejected Luther’s reading of the Bible.

Luther had based his entire rejection of the Church on the words of Paul, “A person is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3: 28). Luther assumed that this contrast between “faith” and “works” meant that there was no role for morality in the process of salvation (according to the traditional Protestant view, moral behavior is a response to salvation, but not a contributing factor). I had learned that the earliest Church Fathers rejected that view. I now found a whole array of Protestant scholars also willing to testify that this is not what Paul meant.

The second-century Church Fathers believed that Paul had rejected the relevance of only the Jewish law for salvation (“works of the law” = Mosaic Law). They saw faith as the entrance to the life of the Church, the sacraments, and the Spirit. Faith admits us to the means of grace, but is not itself a sufficient ground for salvation. What I saw in the most recent and highly regarded Protestant scholars was the same point of view. From the last third of the twentieth century, scholars like E.P. Sanders, Krister Stendhal, James Dunn, and N.T. Wright have argued that traditional Protestantism profoundly misread Paul. According to Stendhal and others, justification by faith is primarily about Jew and Gentile relations, not about the role of morality as a condition of eternal life. Together, their work has been referred to as “The New Perspective on Paul.”

My discovery of this “New Perspective” was a watershed in my understanding of Scripture. I saw, to begin with, that the “New Perspective” was the “Old Perspective” of the earliest Church Fathers. I began testing it against my own reading of Paul and found that it made sense. It also resolved the long-standing tension that I had always felt between Paul and the rest of the Bible. Even Luther had had difficulty in reconciling his reading of Paul with the Sermon on the Mount, the Epistle of St. James, and the Old Testament. Once I tried on the “New Perspective” this difficulty vanished. Reluctantly, I had to accept that the Reformers were wrong about justification.

These discoveries in my academic work were paralleled to some extent by discoveries in my personal life. Protestant theology strongly distinguishes belief from behavior, and I began to see how this had affected me. From childhood, I had always identified theology, apologetics, and evangelism as the highest calling in Christian life, while the virtues were supposed to be mere fruits of right belief. Unfortunately, I found that the fruits were not only lacking in my life, but that my theology had actually contributed to my vices. It had made me censorious, proud, and argumentative. I also realized that it had done the same thing to my heroes.

The more I learned about the Protestant Reformers the less I liked them personally. I recognized that my own founder, John Calvin, was a self-important, arrogant man who was brutal to his enemies, never accepted personal responsibility, and condemned anyone who disagreed with him. He called himself a prophet and ascribed divine authority to his own teaching. This contrasted rather starkly with what I was learning about Catholic theologians. Many of them were saints, meaning they had lived lives of heroic charity and self-denial. Even the greatest of them — men like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas — also recognized that they had no personal authority to define the dogma of the Church.

Outwardly, I remained staunchly anti-Catholic. I continued to attack the Church and to defend the Reformation, but inwardly I was in psychological and spiritual agony. I found that my theology and my life’s work were founded on a lie, and that my own ethical, moral, and spiritual life were deeply lacking. I was rapidly losing my motivation to disprove Catholicism, and instead I wanted simply to learn the truth. The Protestant Reformers had justified their revolt by an appeal to “Scripture alone.” My studies in the doctrine of justification had shown me Scripture was not as clear a guide as the Reformers alleged. What if their whole appeal to Scripture was misguided? Why, after all, did I treat Scripture as the final authority?

When I posed this question to myself, I recognized that I had no good answer. The real reason I appealed to Scripture alone was that this is what I had been taught. As I studied the issue, I discovered that no Protestant has ever given a satisfactory answer to this question. The Reformers did not really defend the doctrine of “Scripture alone.” They merely asserted it. Even worse, I learned that modern Protestant theologians who have tried to defend “Scripture alone” do so by an appeal to tradition. This struck me as illogical. Eventually, I realized that “Scripture alone” is not even in Scripture. The doctrine is self-refuting. I also saw that the earliest Christians knew no more of “Scripture alone,” than they had known of “faith alone.” On the issues of how-we-are-saved and how-we-define-the-faith, the earliest Christian found their center in The Church. The Church was both the authority on Christian doctrine as well as the instrument of salvation.

The Church was the issue I kept coming back to. Evangelicals tend to view the Church as simply an association of like-minded believers. Even the Reformers, Luther and Calvin, had a much stronger view of the Church than this, but the ancient Christians had the most sublime doctrine of all. I used to see their emphasis on Church as unbiblical, contrary to “faith alone,” but I began to realize that it was my evangelical tradition that was unbiblical.

Scripture teaches that the Church is the Body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12). Evangelicals tend to dismiss this as mere metaphor, but the ancient Christians thought of it as literally, albeit mystically, true. St. Gregory of Nyssa could say, “He who beholds the Church really beholds Christ.”1 As I thought about this, I realized that it spoke to a profound truth about the biblical meaning of salvation. St. Paul teaches that the baptized have been united to Christ in His death, so that they might also be united to Him in resurrection (Romans 6:3-6). This union literally makes the Christian a participant in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). St. Athanasius could even say, “For He was made man that we might be made God” (De incarnatione, 54.3). The ancient doctrine of the Church now made sense to me because I saw that salvation itself is nothing other than union with Christ and a continual growth into His nature. The Church is no mere association of like-minded people. It is a supernatural reality because it shares in the life and ministry of Christ.

This realization also made sense of the Church’s sacramental doctrine. When the Church baptizes, absolves sins, or, above all, offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, it is really Christ who baptizes, absolves, and offers His own Body and Blood. The sacraments do not detract from Christ. They make Him present.

The Scriptures are quite plain on the sacraments. It you take them at face value, you must conclude that baptism is the “bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5 NAB). Jesus meant it when he said “My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (John 6:55 NAB). He was not lying when he promised “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them” (John 20:23 NAB). This is exactly how the ancient Christians understood the sacraments. I could no longer accuse the ancient Christians of being unbiblical. On what grounds could I reject them at all?

The ancient Christian doctrine of the Church also made sense of the veneration of saints and martyrs. I learned that the Catholic doctrine on the saints is just a development of this biblical doctrine of the body of Christ. Catholics do not worship the saints. They venerate Christ in His members. By invoking their intercession, Catholics merely confess that Christ is present and at work in His Church in Heaven. Protestants often object that the Catholic veneration of saints somehow detracts from the ministry of Christ. I understood now that the reverse is actually true. It is the Protestants who limit the reach of Christ’s saving work by denying its implications for the doctrine of the Church.

My studies showed this theology fleshed out in the devotion of the ancient Church. As I continued my investigation of Augustine, I learned that this “Protestant hero” thoroughly embraced the veneration of saints. The Augustine scholar Peter Brown (born 1935) also taught me that the saints were not incidental to ancient Christianity. He argued that you could not separate ancient Christianity from devotion to the saints, and he placed Augustine squarely in this tradition. Brown showed that this was no mere Pagan importation into Christianity, but rather tied intimately to the Christian notion of salvation (See his The Cult of Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity).

Once I understood the Catholic position on salvation, the Church, and the saints, the Marian dogmas also seemed to fall into place. If the heart of the Christian faith is God’s union with our human nature, the Mother of that human nature has an incredibly important and unique role in all of history. This is why the Fathers of the Church always celebrated Mary as the second Eve. Her “yes” to God at the annunciation undid the “no” of Eve in the garden. If it is appropriate to venerate the saints and martyrs of the Church, how much more is it appropriate to give honor and veneration to her who made possible our redemption?

By the time I finished my Ph.D., I had completely revised my understanding of the Catholic Church. I saw that her sacramental doctrine, her view of salvation, her veneration of Mary and the saints, and her claims to authority were all grounded in Scripture, in the oldest traditions, and in the plain teaching of Christ and the apostles. I also realized that Protestantism was a confused mass of inconsistencies and tortured logic. Not only was Protestant doctrine untrue, but it bred contention, and could not even remain unchanged. The more I studied, the more I realized that my evangelical heritage had moved far not only from ancient Christianity, but even from the teaching of her own Protestant founders.

Modern American Evangelicals teach that Christian life begins when you “invite Jesus into your heart.” Personal conversion (what they call “being born again”) is seen as the essence and the beginning of Christian identity. I knew from my reading of the Fathers that this was not the teaching of the early Church. I learned studying the Reformers that it was not even the teaching of the earliest Protestants. Calvin and Luther had both unambiguously identified baptism as the beginning of the Christian life. I looked in vain in their works for any exhortation to be “born again.” I also learned that they did not dismiss the Eucharist as unimportant, as I had. While they rejected Catholic theology on the sacraments, both continued to insist that Christ is really present in the Eucharist. Calvin even taught in 1541 that a proper understanding of this Eucharist is “necessary for salvation.” He knew nothing of the individualistic, born-again Christianity I had grown up with.

I finished my degree in December 2002. The last few years of my studies were actually quite dark. More and more, it seemed to me that my plans were coming unhinged, my future obscure. My confidence was badly shaken and I actually doubted whether or not I could believe anything. Catholicism had started to seem like the most sensible interpretation of the Christian faith, but the loss of my childhood faith was shattering. I prayed for guidance. In the end, I believe it was grace that saved me. I had a wife and four children, and God finally showed me that I needed more than books in my life. Quite honestly, I also needed more than “faith alone.” I needed real help to live my life and to do battle with my sins. I found this in the sacraments of the Church. Instead of “Scripture alone,” I needed real guidance from a teacher with authority. I found this in the Magisterium of the Church. I found that I needed the whole company of saints in heaven — not just their books on earth. In sum, I found that the Catholic Church was ideally formed to meet my real spiritual needs. In addition to truth, I found Jesus in His Church, through His Mother, in the whole company of His saints. I entered the Catholic Church on November 16, 2003. My wife also had her own reversion to the depths of the Church and today my family is happily and enthusiastically Catholic. I am grateful to my parents for pointing me to Christ and the Scriptures. I am grateful to St. Augustine for pointing me to the Church.

Dr. David Anders was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. He began college at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, where he met his wife, but they both completed their degrees at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. Dr. Anders earned a B.A. from Wheaton (1992), an M.A. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (1995), and a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa (2002), where he studied Reformation history and historical theology. Dr. Anders taught history and religion in Iowa and Alabama. He currently reside in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife and five home-schooled children (ages 1-14) where he have worked for 7 years in investments. Dr. Anders entered the Catholic Church on November 16, 2003 and is currently a member of the EWTN choir. Dr. Anders was a guest recently on the Journey Home program. Copies of this show can be purchased from EWTN by calling 800-854-6316, item number JH 359.
Dr. Anders’ Website

Source: The Coming Home Network

Watch his video testimony here:


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Kevin Lowry's Testimony

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Dr. Sherman Kuek's Testimony

Dr. Sharman Kuek with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams

Prominent Malaysian Christian Protestant minister and theologian joins the Catholic Church.

Dr. Sherman Kuek is a Chinese Malaysian born in a town called Muar, a district within the state of Johor at the southern tip of Peninsular Malaysia. He is an ordained Christian minister in communion with the Bishop of Rome. He was ordained as a Permanent Deacon of the Diocese of Melaka-Johor, Malaysia, on 16 June 2010. He is also a professed member of the Ordo Franciscanus Saecularis, an 800 year-old Franciscan Order approved and recognised by the Holy See and which consists of laity and diocesan clergy.

Dr. Sherman Kuek grew up as a strict Protestant Christian, studied in an ecumenical-oriented seminary, and served as a minister and theologian in the Evangelical Protestant circle. His faith journey eventually took him to the conviction that the fullness of the Christian faith was to be found in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Upon being received into full communion with the Catholic Church, he served as Pastoral Associate at a local Catholic parish for almost two years. As a Permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Melaka-Johor now, he serves the Bishop as Director of the Diocesan Pastoral Institute.

Below is an interview with Dr. Sherman Kuek on his conversion to Catholicism:

Part 1

Most people know that I've recently been received into the Catholic Church.

I was most recently interviewed by a Catholic journalist on my reception into the Catholic Church together with several other concerns. I will post up my answers to the interview in a series of several short posts.

1. What attracted you to the Catholic Church? What may have prompted you to make this move?

In the course of my scholarly labours as a theological student and researcher, I gradually developed a conviction (especially through my study of the Church Fathers) that the Catholic Church is the Church most fully and rightly ordered through time. When I was sent to the Vatican for a meeting in January 2005, three months prior to the passing on of the Holy Father John Paul II, that conviction was further impressed and ratified in my conscience.

Of course, another aspect of the Catholic Church that attracted me was the liturgy as the source and summit of the Christian life. I had prior to that been increasingly journeying towards a more liturgical and sacramental understanding of Christian spirituality.

At some point, I found it extremely painful and difficult to remain a Protestant whilst still trying to be “catholic” (without having to be Catholic). It is hard to be sacramental in an environment that does not promote the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, as the source and summit of the Christian journey.

Of course, subsequently, the issue of the validity of the Holy Orders of other forms of ecclesial Christianity (and by extension, the sacraments) also became a disturbing struggle for me.

2. How have the responses been from people who know you?

My friends and acquaintances have exhibited various types of responses and in varying degrees. Those who have never been open to the Catholic Christians as fellow brethren consequently held that I had lost my Christian faith (I had apostatised). After all, to certain segments of Protestantism, the Catholic Church is the “Harlot of Babylon”.

Those who were open to the Catholic Church as being Christian held that I had “changed my denomination”, so it was no big deal to them. But when I refrained from participating in the Holy Communion whilst being in their company, that invoked some response too.

Of course, in the self-understanding of the Catholic Church, we are no denomination! With humility but unwavering conviction, we hold ourselves to be the Church most rightly and fully ordered through time, this being a fact we hardly need to defend because it just is.

Part 2

2. Why the Catholic Church? Wouldn't Orthodoxy have been a possible alternative?

Undoubtedly, the Orthodox Church is a possible alternative to my Protestant faith rather than the Catholic Church. I do not deny that this was one of the alternatives that presented itself before me, given that I do have a fascination with Eastern theology.

However, I had three reasons for choosing to become Catholic:

i) my thorough belief in the doctrine of original sin as taught by St Augustine, which is absent in Eastern theology;

ii) my thorough belief in the primacy of the Petrine ministry exercised by the Catholic Church; and

iii) my deep agreement with the catholicity / universality of the Catholic Church as opposed to the ethnic-specific configuration of the Orthodox Churches with which I could not identify.

3. There are so many denominational churches today in Malaysia (and more are forming). Would you comment on this growing trend to “form a new church”? While we strive towards ecumenical closeness, there is a lot more ground to cover with this mushrooming.

The Protestant communities consist of some 40,000 denominations worldwide and continue to grow in that direction. One major development in these Reformation-based communities in the recent decades is the swift emergence of independent congregations which do not place themselves under the leadership of any denominational structure. They often see the historical denominations as a thing of the past, whereas the Holy Spirit is developing a “new wineskin” now in the form of independent ecclesial communities.

It is true that the growth of these newer forms of Christian communities poses a greater challenge to the ecumenical priority of the Catholic Church. But to begin with, the current ethos of Protestantism itself already makes the ecumenical priority difficult enough.

To cite a case in point, the Catholic Church reached a consensus in 1999 with the Lutheran World Federation on the doctrine of Justification by Faith. To be sure, this consensus represented an agreement on the part of the Catholic Church. But how binding was it upon all the Lutheran denominations around the globe? There was not an embrace of that consensus in unison as far as concerns the Lutheran denominations, let alone on the part of other denominations which are offshoots of Lutheran Protestantism.

What I am saying is, this is not a new problem; it is an intensification of an old problem.

Part 3

4. Does this intensifying difficulty in the ecumenical efforts of the Church worry you?

What is more worrying to me is how a number of Catholics are taking on certain characteristics of these new forms of Protestant communities, wanting to mimic the way they worship and the way they regulate their ecclesial life. It is starkly a problem of deficient understanding pertaining to their own Catholic identity.

The liturgical life of the church is the nucleus of our Christian life, and we must be unmistakably clear about that. Nothing should erode the central feature of the liturgy and the Eucharist as the source and summit of our life and mission as a people of God. It is when we have forgotten this gift of God to us that we begin to seek other seemingly fascinating replacements to bring “excitement” and “meaning” back into our ecclesial life all in the name of relevance. It is deeply saddening and a grave cause for concern.

One important requisite of our ecumenical effort is that of standing firm in our Catholic identity. Any attempt to erode our Catholic identity for the sake of unity would merely lead to a false union. An authentic union is possible only when there is a true agreement of our code, creed, and cult. One thing we must never pander to is upholding unity at the expense of truth.

Further to that, I believe that true ecumenism finds its richness only when various partners enter into a conversation being able to freely embody their unique identities without having to suppress or erode them, and still being able to call one another “friends”.

The Rev. PD Dr Sherman Kuek, ofs, is a Permanent Deacon of the Catholic Church, a Secular Franciscan and a theologian. He is incardinated in the Diocese of Melaka-Johor where he serves as Director of the Diocesan Pastoral Institute. At a wider level, he is a guest speaker and lecturer in various academic and ecclesial contexts. His Doctor of Theology degree, majoring in Theology and Social Theory, was conferred by Trinity Theological College (Singapore).

BScHons Management (Bradford, UK)
MDiv; DTh (TTC, Singapore)

Source: Sherman On The Mount

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

How Do You Know If Thoughts Are From The Devil Or Just From Your Own Mind ?

Below is a question to Dan Burke. Dan Burke is the Founder of Catholic Spiritual Direction, the most widely read blog on the topic of authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan is also the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN’s National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, an author and speaker who regularly provides webinars and travels to speak about his conversion and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality.


Q: Dear Dan, my thought life is sometimes out of control. When I get angry or disturbed it seems like these feelings press a “replay” button on the scenes of my struggle to the point where I want to scream to make it stop. Sometimes I lose lots of sleep. The tapes in my head replay what I should have said or could have said - what will I do in response etc.

I guess my main question is how do I know the source of these thoughts and then how do I battle them or manage them effectively if it is even possible or important to know?

A: Dear Friend, the great thing about this question is that you realize that you are being influenced or burdened in a way that is not in keeping with what God desires of you. As you probably well know, the unmanaged musings of an injured soul can easily lead us away from the peace that Christ has for us and into further sin or destructive behavior. Your self-awareness is a very important first step in the right direction.

Let’s start with the first part of your question, knowing the source of our thoughts. It is both possible, and important, to learn the discernment skills necessary to understand if our thoughts come from our self, the devil, or God. Your mention of an automatic ‘replay button’, and the struggle and unrest that come with it are good indicators that these thoughts are not from God. That leaves us two final options, the self, or the devil.

Thoughts Rooted in our Own Minds

On a natural level, our memories are trained by years of repeated behavior. There are automatic negative thoughts that some of us experience when, for instance, we make a mistake. “Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!” We can go on forever beating ourselves up to no good end. This is not of God. (St. Therese of Lisieux has a lot of good advice in regard to being kind to ourselves.) We need to retrain our memory so that we break the tapes. A good way to do this is by simply adopting any short prayer that we commit to repeat every time these thoughts surface. This prayer can be as simple as “Lord Jesus I trust in you” or a hail Mary.

Discernment About Thoughts from God and the Enemy

Although the devil cannot read our thoughts, he watches us carefully for our entire lives and he knows just how we will react to certain things. As well, he will supply all the rationalization and arguments we need in those “shoulda, coulda, woulda ”conversations , and even when our thoughts start out on a positive note, he will seek to lead us off track and right back to the old familiar patterns. In The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, (Rules four and five for the second week.), he tells us in to watch the scope of our thoughts from beginning to end. They must be good in the beginning, middle, and end, to be of the good spirit (from God). If they fail to be good in any part, then we have likely been influenced by something that is not of God.

Learning to tell the difference between thoughts that come from our self or from the devil takes a lot of practice and discernment, and is best done with the help of a spiritual director. But a good starting point is to begin by learning what is of God, and what is not of God. When thoughts are from God they are gentle and peaceful. If He chastises, He does so in a way that does not condemn but seeks to restore. A good example of this is when we see with complete honestly, and often humor (“Oh man! I knew better than to do that!”), that we’ve done something wrong, and we simply do what’s necessary to make it right and not dwell on it.

Some people are always thinking. Yet God makes them this way, and He provides all the grace needed to keep some sort of order in our thought processes. It will often happen that while musing on an issue like giving advice to a friend, we will suddenly understand that a particular thought is the perfect solution to a dilemma of our own. You can be sure that the Holy Spirit is behind these redemptive insights.

Knowing one’s ‘root sin’ is also helpful in determining some of the reasons why our thoughts drift in certain patterns. Once we do understand them, then we can work on changing them. It’s also good to remember to look for the fruit of our thoughts. Are they productive or did I just waste a bunch of time? If we are wasting time, it is not likely that the source is good.

These are just a few tips. You might find a book on Saint Ignatius Discernment of Spirits to be helpful. The best one I am aware of is by Fr. Timothy Gallagher. You can learn more about that book here.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Listening To God

“I just can't hear God; I know He speaks to some people, but He just doesn't speak to me!”

If that's your situation, there are several possible reasons for it. First, to hear His voice and be sensitive to His promptings you need to have a relationship with the Lord, which means spending quality time with Him on a regular basis. It could be that you have neglected your fellowship with Him.

Second, you may be walking in doubt and unbelief. Jesus said plainly, “'My sheep hear My voice'” (John 10:27, NKJV). If you are a born-again child of God, you can hear God-and should expect to. Begin to confess and believe Scriptures such as this one about being led by the Lord.

Third, you may already hear from God but be unable to recognize His voice because you are listening for the wrong thing. Often people expect God to speak to them forcefully, but His leadings are usually very subtle. They rise up in your heart as holy suggestions. When you sense those “suggestions,” you might even wonder, Was that me, Lord, or was that You?

That's because God doesn't normally inject thoughts directly into your mind from the outside. Instead, He enlightens your spirit, and your spirit translates the impression into a thought. So when you receive it, it sounds like you.

Holy Spirit impressions will hardly ever overwhelm you. Most often they come in the form of an inward witness, a quiet inner prompting or a knowing-you just suddenly know something you didn't know before.

Romans 8:16 gives us an example of how that inner witness works. There the apostle Paul says, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit, that we are children of God.”

If I were to ask if you know you are one of God's children, no doubt you would answer with a quick, “Yes!” But what would you say if I asked how you know that? You might answer, “I just know!”

What you would actually be trying to convey is that the Holy Spirit within you bears witness, or gives assurance to your own spirit, and lets you know that you indeed belong to God.

The inward witness, or promptings of the Spirit, work much the same way in the other affairs of life. You might be going about your day just doing your normal activities and suddenly you'll think, I need to call Aunt Sally.

You may dismiss the thought at first because you're busy doing other things, but then it recurs. I need to call Aunt Sally, you'll think again.

Then you may notice that even though calling Aunt Sally wasn't on your agenda for today, it just seems like a good thing to do right now. So you pick up the phone and dial her number. Very likely, you will find out that Aunt Sally was in need, and your call came at just the right time.

If you learn to live each day listening to your heart for that inner witness, constantly expecting to be prompted by the Spirit of God, you'll find yourself doing things like that quite often. Sometimes you won't even realize you are hearing from heaven. You'll just think you had a good idea, but later you will see that you were responding to the Holy Spirit.

I know of one man, for example, who was working in San Francisco many years ago when they had a major earthquake there. He was sitting in his office just a few hours before the quake when suddenly he had the thought that he should leave work early so he could avoid the evening traffic that would be heavy because of the World Series ballgame being played nearby.

Though it appeared to be a purely natural thought at the time, it seemed good to him. In other words, his heart bore witness with it. So he left early to walk to his car and drive home. Just a few hours later, at the time he normally would have been driving home, the very freeway he would have been on collapsed in the earthquake.

Staying in vital communion with God can save your life-so expect to hear from heaven, and you will.

Source: Charisma

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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Kevin Lowry's Testimony

Sometimes I think the greatest thing that ever happened to me spiritually was getting kicked out of Franciscan University of Steubenville.

That was the opening line of my conversion story Son of a Preacher Man in Patrick Madrid’s classic book, Surprised by Truth 2. The story was written several years ago, so what follows will reiterate the early years and bring the story up to date. More great things have happened to me spiritually since then – although none of them appeared to be blessings at the time!

A Preacher’s kid from Canada

I grew up in a small town near Toronto, Canada, the son of a Presbyterian minister. My parents are wonderful people – and in my opinion, they’re living saints. While studying theology at a Baptist seminary in the 1960’s, my dad heard so much anti-Catholic rhetoric that he decided to take a Knights of Columbus correspondence course to hear the other side of the story. Partly as a result of that course, he ended up leaving the Baptists to enroll in a Presbyterian seminary. This was one of his first steps toward an appreciation of Catholicism.

After my dad graduated from seminary, my parents became missionaries in Nigeria. Malaria forced them to return to Canada prematurely, but their experience in Nigeria changed their lives forever. The Catholic missionaries they were exposed to had a powerful, yet practical faith. When civil war broke out, the Catholic religious stayed while others fled the country. Their fearlessness in doing Christ’s work had a profound impact on my parents.

The experience in Nigeria had another formative effect on my dad in particular. After witnessing a disorganized approach to trade in Nigeria (just buying a stamp could take 45 minutes), he wondered whether the Lord was calling him to further education in business. After hitting the 99.9th percentile on the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) and then topping his MBA class at the University of Western Ontario, he was the recipient of a full scholarship to the Ph.D. program at M.I.T. Despite humble beginnings, he earned his doctorate there in International Business. From that point forward, the unusual fusion of faith and business would characterize his career – and eventually be passed along to me!

Denominational daze

After a stint in academia, my dad accepted a position as the full-time minister of a Presbyterian church. In addition to attending this church, I was exposed to countless Protestant denominations: United Church, Pentecostal, Baptist, Methodist, Evangelical, Quaker – you name it. As I grew in my faith, I discovered that the one common belief within Protestantism was that Christ died on the cross to wash away our sins. Pretty much everything else was negotiable.

Occasionally, I would encounter the Catholic Church. Of course, I didn’t understand much about Catholicism, and it seemed very complicated and foreign. Like many of my Protestant friends, I thought that no single denomination had a monopoly on truth, and that Catholicism was simply another denomination. I sincerely believed it was okay that no church had the whole truth, and that we would all be enlightened and unified when the general resurrection occurred.

I knew a lot of people who also held this point of view. They would shop for the denomination that was right for them, the one that best suited them theologically and in the way it worshipped.

You can see the problem. Rather than seeking Christian truth – especially if it meant they had to abandon their personal beliefs – many were content simply to find the group of people who taught doctrines with which they were comfortable. They wanted to worship with others whose perception of God and His demands on them were similar to their own.

I say this not out of any antagonism toward Protestants. These people were my friends, and they were sincere. But they had fallen into subjectivism: they were searching for a Church that held their beliefs instead of seeking a Church whose beliefs they ought to hold. That’s backward. Our call is not to conform the Christian faith to ourselves, but to conform ourselves to the Faith. After all, who needs to change: we or God?

I enter Franciscan University – twice!

In spite of my denominational confusion, I had an idyllic childhood, watching my parents live out their vocations to love and serve the Lord in full-time ministry. Since I had started school early as a child and later skipped a grade, I graduated from high school when I was sixteen. Full of exuberance and self-confidence, I believed I was ready for college.

At that time, my dad read a now-defunct Catholic magazine called New Covenant (published, significantly, by Our Sunday Visitor). The magazine ran an article about Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. After reading about this unique school, my dad thought the dynamic Christian environment might help me through my rebellious years.

At sixteen, I enrolled in the university. Although I was there to study psychology, I double-majored in beer and billiards. Three semesters later, my enthusiastic dedication to these pursuits got me academically dismissed – kicked out of the university. I returned to Canada humiliated.

The Lord soon provided me with a job at Sony of Canada, where I matured, improved my work ethic, and discovered that I enjoyed the world of business. After four years with Sony, I wanted to be on track to the top of the company. That required a degree, so I returned to school – this time to study business.

By the grace of God, Franciscan University allowed me to re-enter.

A closet Catholic!?!

The second time around at Franciscan, I worked hard. However, I finally had to take the Catholic theology courses I had avoided during my first three semesters. So I would call up my father, and say “Hey, you wouldn’t believe what I heard in class today. What do you think about this?” My dad, with characteristic patience and wisdom, would explain the Catholic and Protestant perspectives, and then explain why the Catholic viewpoint makes a lot of sense. Over time, this approach led me to accept as reasonable many Catholic teachings; they weren’t as bizarre or unfounded as I had once believed.

One topic had a significant impact on me. In my ethics course, we studied the Catholic teaching on birth control. As a Presbyterian, of course, I saw nothing wrong with artificial contraception. However, as I considered the Catholic teaching on it, I came to see that anti-contraception arguments were simple and compelling, and I began to understand why the “modern miracle” of contraception has such sinister effects on society.

Artificial birth control breaks the natural connection between marital love and the conception of children. Contraception makes it easier for extramarital relationships to happen and even thrive. Contraceptive sex is self-indulgent – hardly an authentic expression of love and total self-donation to another person. This realization led me to see that artificial contraception enables women to be demeaned, even unwittingly, by being treated by men as mere objects, used selfishly for gratification, and so I eventually rejected the conventional Protestant acceptance of contraception.

The issue of contraception raised a bigger doctrinal question for me. Until recently (the 1930s), all the older Protestant Churches taught that birth control was wrong. Nineteen hundred years after Christ’s life on earth, did Protestants wake up to the truth that contraception was fine, or had they caved in to societal pressure? The Catholic Church had consistency in the development of doctrine over its two thousand year history. I wondered why, if God doesn’t change, Presbyterian teaching could – and how could it change by a simple majority vote?

During my final semester, as my mind reeled from my steadily forming doubts about my Christian identity, my father changed hats and came to Franciscan to teach as a visiting professor of business. I had thought my dad would reaffirm me in my crumbling Presbyterian faith and help me sort out the theological questions that beset me. He didn’t.

I soon realized that my dad was a closet Catholic.

The toughest way to be Christian

His own appreciation and understanding of the Catholic Faith was growing as I struggled with theology in the classroom. During this time, I also fell in love with a beautiful American girl named Kathi. She too had a Protestant background, and we were similarly bewildered at the Catholic teaching in our classes. It was like learning a new language or culture. Nonetheless, we married in her small hometown’s Wesleyan church and subsequently moved to Cleveland, where I took a position in an accounting firm. My parents moved back to Canada for the sake of my sisters.

In Cleveland, Kathi and I struggled to find the right denomination for us. We were spiritual nomads, shopping for a place to call home. We tried a Full Gospel church, wildly open to the Spirit but without sufficient doctrinal grounding. We visited a Catholic church, but the people seemed cold and distant, and it was so large that it was rather frightening. We then tried a Christian and Missionary Alliance church, which I liked, since it had Presbyterian roots and was relatively mainstream. The people were friendly, too, so we stayed there for our first year in Cleveland.

Yet I continued to struggle internally with many theological questions, looking as I was for a “biblically based” church. Why were there so many different denominations, all claiming to be grounded in Scripture and with teachings opposed to one another?

In college, I had majored in accounting because a friend had told me that it’s the toughest of the business majors, and I wanted to take up that challenge. But then occurred to me that Catholicism is the toughest of the Christian religions. As a Protestant, I could shop around until I found a church with people whose beliefs mirrored my own. As a Catholic, even if I didn’t live up to that ideal, the ideal was still held out as the goal. But it seemed easier for me to change churches than to change myself.

Rome beckons

Around this time, my dad had an opportunity to visit the Vatican for a week. He had created a computerized Bible study program called the Findit Bible. The software had been selling well in Europe, and my father’s distributor had arranged for him to have an audience with Pope John Paul II to present him with an Olivetti computer loaded with several of my father’s Bibles. His meeting with the pope and his new friendship with Archbishop (later Cardinal) John Foley led him to write an article on Christian unity for thePresbyterian Record, the magazine of The Presbyterian Church in Canada. On the cover of that issue was a full-page photo of my dad shaking hands with the pope.

When the issue came out, all hell broke loose. For almost twenty years, my father had been the clerk of the General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC) – an extremely visible role. Responses to the article poured in, many praising his efforts towards church unity. Others bordered on being hate mail. One letter was simple, yet beautifully compelling: “Why doesn’t Dr. Lowry just become Catholic?”

After the ruckus had died down, my dad and I made a trip back to Steubenville together. As we drove there, we listened to a tape by Scott Hahn, who was coming to teach at the university the following year. We were enthralled by the moving and dramatic story told by this articulate, former Presbyterian minister who became Catholic after struggling with so many of the same issues that troubled us. I was surprised to learn that the birth control issue was also his starting point for serious investigation into the Catholic Faith. It was an inspiring testimony, and the Holy Spirit used it to give me a clear sense of direction for the first time in years.

“I want to become Catholic”

At the end of the tape, my father turned to me and said, “You know, I can’t argue with anything this guy is saying.” I went home after the trip and announced to Kathi, “I want to become Catholic.” Just like that. She was shocked.

As we spoke, all my reasons and feelings came pouring out. I wanted to love and serve the Lord in all that I did, and I finally felt I had found my way home. The Catholic Church offered a depth and beauty unparalleled in the Protestant world. So many of the questions I had grappled with were deftly resolved by Catholic teaching. How could so many denominations be based on the Bible, yet have such vastly different interpretations? How could the prerequisites for salvation be viewed so differently by so many people? How could matters of faith and morals be decided simply by majority vote? The teachings of the Catholic Church were intellectually compelling, her doctrine was scripturally sound, and I was finally convinced that one Church actually did have the whole truth: the Catholic Church.

Although Kathi was hesitant at first, she agreed to go through RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) with me. She knew she was under no obligation to convert, and I think she attended in an effort to save me from what she perceived as a dead Church.

Praying the Rosary brings spiritual conversion

Still searching for answers, I called Scott Hahn. We agreed to meet at Mass at Franciscan University the following weekend. After Mass, as we talked about searching for the “right denomination,” Scott’s face lit up. He reached into his suit pocket, fished out a beautiful Irish rosary, and handed it to me. “I wondered why I put this in my pocket this morning,” he chortled.

Sheepishly, I stammered something about not having the slightest idea what to do with his gift. Before I knew it, Scott was writing out a list of books I should read! It struck me at the time that it was rather like a physician writing a prescription. Well, the medicine worked! I read those books and prayed the rosary regularly as Kathi and I went through RCIA.

Back at the Catholic church we had originally found so huge and uncaring, we began to meet deeply spiritual people who loved the Lord. We continued to study and grow in our faith, even as we had our second son and, only a few months later, discovered we were expecting another child. We stayed in touch with the Hahns, and Scott’s wife, Kimberly, gave tremendous encouragement to Kathi in both spiritual and practical matters. Kathi’s apprehensions were evaporating rapidly and she began to share my enthusiasm for the Faith.

I continued praying the rosary. I prayed for things that seemed nearly impossible, but to my shock and amazement, I often received them. My interior life changed rapidly, too. Although my intellectual conversion had taken many years, the rosary brought about my spiritual conversion in a matter of weeks.

I desired the sacraments, having a particular hunger for the Eucharist. I remember going to Mass during the RCIA process and having to leave before Communion, dragging along Kathi and our infant children. I longed to have a place at the eucharistic table.

Kathi and I receive the sacraments

At Easter in 1992, Kathi and I were received into the Catholic Church. My parents attended and looked on with what I can only now describe as envy. The night was vivifying: I was baptized, and we both received the sacraments of Confirmation and First Communion. Kathi and I were thrilled to discover our marriage was now a sacrament.

This first step in a lifelong journey of faith was a true celebration of God’s love. In becoming Christian when I was young, I felt that I had chosen God. In becoming Catholic, I felt that God had chosen me.

I still tell my Protestant friends that my becoming Catholic isn’t an abandonment of my Christian faith; it’s the fulfillment of it. As Catholics, we’re given the spiritual tools to live a sacramental life.

As a Presbyterian, I didn’t even understand what the word “sacrament” meant (outward signs of inward grace, instituted by Christ for our sanctification) nor what they were (the seven sacraments are Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance or Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Marriage). Yet as a Catholic, I recognize the sacraments as the primary, practical means by which we seek to draw closer to God.

In particular, frequent reception of the Eucharist has been of enormous value. It provides spiritual strength for the journey, a way of tapping into the Divine Life and opening my soul wide for transformation. Reconciliation is not only a means for obtaining forgiveness of sin, it’s also truly a sacrament of healing – both spiritual and emotional. Marriage, that great preparation for the mission of building up the Church, is often an underestimated sacrament. Despite the challenges that are part of every marriage, it is a means of tremendous grace.

My parents also become Catholics

My parents continued to move in the direction of the Church. My dad in particular wanted to convert, but believed that since his commitment to my mom preceded this desire, that he should wait for her. They decided to go through an RCIA program together.

Since Dad’s role in the PCC was so highly visible, he also wanted to avoid scandal and hurt among people he cared for. He continued to preach in a Presbyterian church on Sundays, although on one of my visits to Canada, I discovered a little secret: he was also attending daily Mass (without receiving the Eucharist) Monday through Saturday!

In the fall of 1992, my parents returned to Steubenville. The following February, they came into full communion with the Catholic Church. I was deeply moved when I was able to serve as my dad’s sponsor in a beautiful ceremony led by Fr. Michael Scanlan, president of the university. My dad later accepted a permanent teaching position in the business department at Franciscan.

My parents were utterly thrilled to enter the Church, and several months later, my dad was also able to bring his departure from the PCC to an unexpectedly positive conclusion. The General Assembly invited him back to provide a farewell address, and to thank him for his many years of dedicated service. Although he got a couple smiling comments about “being in a Catholic way,” the event was suffused with a spirit of mutual respect and gratitude. He counts it as a blessed ending to that chapter of his journey.

Practical consequences

In the time since we became Catholic in 1992, Kathi and I have been blessed beyond description, and have experienced abundant joys – and challenges. For example, one of the practical consequences of our desire to submit our fertility to God was His blessing, in the form of more children. We now have eight. The birth of our seventh child in particular provided us with some hard-won lessons.

When Kathi was about five months pregnant, she began to experience problems and went to visit her obstetrician, Dr. Michael Parker. As a physician who had made the courageous decision to become “NFP (natural family planning) only” in his practice, we trusted Dr. Parker implicitly. Yet when he called me at the office, I knew something was up.

It turned out that Kathi had excess amniotic fluid building up around the baby, and what followed was a mind-numbing, rapid succession of complicated medical tests and procedures. The diagnosis turned out to be a frightening congenital condition – polysplenia syndrome. The survival rate past adolescence, we learned, was only 10%.

We spent the next couple months in mourning for our baby boy who hadn’t even been born yet. We didn’t know if he would survive his birth, but assuming he did, a surgery was needed right away to correct some internal, structural anomalies. During the time leading up to his birth, we prayed fervently, and Kathi regularly sent out email updates to family and friends. Her emails frequently found their way to prayer chains; in particular, our close family friend Fr. Ray Ryland (former Episcopalian minister and chaplain of the Coming Home Network International) led the prayer efforts.

Through what we believe was the prayer of hundreds, if not thousands of people, our son David survived his birth and I had the profound honor of baptizing him prior to his surgery. Subsequent testing determined that he did not have congenital heart disease, the cause for such a high mortality rate, so despite some ongoing challenges, his prognosis is good.

David’s birth had some unexpected graces attached. Through the process, Kathi determined that we would not stop at child number seven. “I’m not going out like this!” she would say. Our beautiful youngest daughter Hannah is evidence of Kathi’s courageous openness to life, despite the hardship of her pregnancy with David.

Surprisingly, our family was also brought closer together through David. As we all came to recognize the fragility of his life, it had the effect of helping us to grow in appreciation for one another.

Faith at work

The experience also caused us to reevaluate our priorities from a family perspective. My work in a CPA firm had demanded long hours for many years. After much prayer and emotional discussions, we decided it was time to make a change. The day I informed my good friend and mentor at the firm, he handed me the number of a recruiter. “Give this guy a call,” he said.

Within 24 hours, I had an interview that turned into a role with a dynamic company as Vice President of Finance. 5 minutes into the interview, I was convinced that I wanted to work for them – as soon as I heard that the local executive team had recently been discussing how to tithe their bonuses. What an amazing gift! However, there were hardships there too, as we were buying companies and growing rapidly. Within my first year at the company, some disputes among the shareholders arose, and the company was put up for sale.

I had hoped my work life was stabilizing, but instead it went into overdrive. The process of selling the company took much longer than anyone had anticipated, and it once again demanded tremendous sacrifice. Then finally, we were sold – to a good company that unfortunately already had a fully staffed finance department. I was put on the list to be terminated.

Through what again I can only describe as the grace of God, after several months helping out with the transition to new ownership, I was given another opportunity. One of the founders of the original company asked if I would consider a new challenge. In the end, I was promoted to Senior Vice President in an operations role, and eventually had responsibility over the Ohio operations of the company. What a tremendous blessing.

Since that time, I have been given many more opportunities, including becoming a member of Legatus’ Columbus chapter, and a director on the Board of Our Sunday Visitor, the Catholic publisher whose magazine had initially brought me to Franciscan University!

In addition, Our Sunday Visitor just published my first book, a labor of love entitled Faith at Work: Finding Purpose Beyond the Paycheck. The book encourages everyone with a job to continue down the path of conversion by fully integrating faith and work. I’m convinced this helps people to become happier, better team players, and better able to handle workplace relationships and challenges.

On top of all this, the Lord provided another opportunity – to leave the corporate world and serve full-time as chief operating officer of the Coming Home Network International. It’s a privilege serving the organization, Marcus, and the staff.

Although life continues to provide many difficulties, I have been blessed beyond description. I am deeply thankful for the many challenges God has provided – as with getting kicked out of Franciscan University many years ago, they have all turned into spiritual blessings!

More than anything, I am grateful for the many people who have enriched my life, especially my family, and my relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church, the rich and mysterious Faith to which He brought me home.

Kevin Lowry is an enthusiastic Catholic, husband, father, and serves as Chief Operating Officer of the Coming Home Network International. His first book, Faith at Work: Finding Purpose Beyond the Paycheck was just released by Our Sunday Visitor. Kevin’s website and blog can be found at Kevin will be a guest on The Journey Home program April 2, 2012.

Source: The Coming Home Network International

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