Tag Archives: conversion

My Vocation Story: Father Jason Smith, LC

If not for a hockey game, I wouldn’t be a Legionary of Christ priest today. As a good Minnesotan, I naturally considered hockey as divinely inspired, a sign of God’s love for us. But it’s what happened after the game that took me by surprise and lead me to know my priestly vocation.

During my first year at college, I often went to the rink at the University of Minnesota with my friends. After one such event —ending in a double overtime victory for the Golden Gophers, and a long celebration— I returned home in the wee hours of the morning, too tired to get out of bed until Sunday afternoon.

Stumbling upstairs for something to eat, I found my Dad sitting at the kitchen table, reading the paper. Opening the fridge, I heard from over my shoulder: “Jason, did you go to Mass this morning?” I swallowed hard. I hadn’t. Quickly I tried to think up the perfect excuse. None came. Trying to hide behind the refrigerator door, I quipped “No, I didn’t go”. Without looking up Dad replied solemnly, “Go tomorrow then.”

It was my first Monday morning Mass ever. I was struck by how quiet the Church was, and how empty. I sat about halfway up and waited. Little by little people began to filter in. Then an attractive girl sat down a few pews behind me. How is it I find a girl like this now and not last Saturday evening? It must be God’s providence! I decided the sign of peace was the perfect time to introduce myself. When the moment came I turned around and, to my surprise, she passed me a note. I put it in my pocket pretending it happened all the time.
When I got home I opened the note. It read something like this: “It’s good to see someone young attending daily Mass. You must really love your faith! I want to let you know about a group of young people who pray and study scripture Wednesday evenings. If you would like to come, here is my number.” I decided I could find time in my packed schedule to go. That’s when it occurred to me I hadn’t seriously looked into my Catholic faith since Confirmation. What would I say? What would I pray? Where was my Rosary? I found it stuffed in the bottom dresser drawer along with a pamphlet of prayers.

As to what I would say, I went to my Dad’s study and checked out his library. It had books on music, history, politics —but the largest section was religion. I found one book called True Devotion to Mary. It seemed like a good place to start since it was short. The book changed my life. It explained how St. Louis de Montfort, a priest who tirelessly preached the Gospel and underwent extraordinary trials, spread devotion to Mary throughout France. It was my first encounter with the life of a saint. I marveled how someone could dedicate himself entirely to Christ, even to the point of heroism. It inspired me to truly seek God and sincerely live my faith.

A few months later I went on a retreat with the youth group. It was the first time the priesthood entered my mind. During the consecration, as I gazed at the elevated host, I thought to myself —in words that were my own, but which carried a remarkable resonance I will never forget: If there is one thing I should do, it’s that. It was the defining moment of my life and it came entirely by surprise. I knew I had to look into the priesthood, but I didn’t know how or where. To make a long story short, the same girl who gave me the note in church then gave me a brochure on the Legionaries of Christ. It had testimonies of the young men who entered the year before. I read it and was convinced. I called and asked for an application. A Legionary came to visit. I went to candidacy. I joined. My younger brother followed the next year.

Since then 25 years have passed by like a whirlwind. There is much more I could write, but the essential is simple: Christ crossed my path, called, and by His grace —definitely not my own strength— I found the courage to drop everything and follow him. I have never looked back. Our Lord’s presence and the needs of the Church have captivated my attention ever since.


Originally posted by Catholic Convert. Reprinted with permission of Fr. Jason Smith LC.

Falling Away and Coming Home

There has been no shortage of critiques levied at the Catholic Church in recent decades. Plenty to attack, after all.

I grew up with neighbors who discovered the local Calvary Chapel and became “born again.” They had always sneered at my Catholic faith, but this “rebirth” brought with it an eagerness to challenge this ignorant little kid about why we were cannibals and engaged in “idol-worship” — i.e. Mary, the Saints — you know the drill.

Later, as the Church was rocked by scandal, Catholic-bashing reached new heights in the media; I mean, what else could they do with such low-hanging fruit?

I kept wondering, won’t the Church have to dial back its rules just to survive all this? Won’t it need to ease up a bit if it’s going to emerge from these trials intact? Maybe relax the rules a little regarding pre-marital and extra-marital sex, divorce and annulments? Abortion, even? To convey how far at sea I was, I really believed it would . . . and part of me thought it should.

How absolutely adrift I was.

Like many of those raised Catholic, I had indeed drifted. But unlike many, my falling away had nothing to do with the sex abuse scandals that would soon impact the Church. Instead, I rationalized my passivity and absence by pointing at the failings of priests and what I interpreted as the Church’s preoccupation with wealth. My distaste fixated on priests who seemed to have missed the lessons on humility — who appeared to make the mass about themselves, who aggrandized themselves by selling cassettes of their every homily and smiled like unctuous salesmen — in short, who seemed more show than substance.

Suffice it to say, if you want a reason to stop attending Catholic mass, you tend to find it. I had watched several older siblings pull this off already, citing “phony” priests, “Puritanism,” and the ever-popular critique, “hypocrisy.” Oh yeah, I found plenty of that, too. It wasn’t until years later that I realized I could find hypocrisy everywhere — in every human institution or organization, and because I am human, in myself too — though that was the last realization in the chain. It always seems to be.

When we’re young, we want so much for the world to be the idyllic place we thought it was, and we hold fiercely to that ideal. As a result, we also hold our elders — parents, teachers, older siblings, adults around us or in the larger world — to an impossibly high standard of righteousness. And if they happen to be representatives of a religion, an even higher standard of perfection. As we move into our teenage years, we begin to sense the inevitable disillusionment, and we hone our critical blade to a razor’s edge. But why?

It starts with the fact that teenagers feel everything more acutely, including hurt. We see weakness, sin or foible, and it hurts us beyond repair. It shatters our illusions — our world — the one we previously thought was perfect. Disillusionment causes hurt, and as teenagers, our natural defense mechanism to ward off that hurt is to allow religious folks no room for flaws and failings — and we shield ourselves with scorn. It’s a loss like any death, and even at that age we experience the entire cycle — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — but acceptance usually just becomes cynicism. And later, apathy.

The critical step for me was not merely a religious maturation, but an evolving understanding of myself — my motivations and attitudes — and an understanding of our universal human nature. More simply, I got more honest with myself about why I was doing what I was doing, and what I wasn’t doing. Eventually, this led to exploring a number of other faith congregations because I wasn’t yet ready to absolve Catholicism. It wasn’t until I felt something lacking in every other faith, which I would come to realize as the sacraments, that I knew I had to find my way back.

In time, I understood what I was doing and why — that I had been applying an impossible standard of righteousness to a human institution. Which isn’t to say I was letting off the hook sexual abusers or those who had allowed them to thrive. That was a different matter to me, outside of my experience, although it may have added to my detachment. But through what I can only assume was Grace, I grew to separate the human failings from the actual tenets and doctrines of the Faith.

As a result, I stopped blaming the Catholic Faith for the behaviors and attitudes of its representatives. Mostly, I realized that failings like hypocrisy are part of the universal human experience, failings we can’t avoid no matter how hard we try. I realized how easy it is to find flaws in representatives of any institution, organization, political or religious group — and therefore how easy it is to attribute those faults to the whole.

Partly what helped me was my experience as a public high school English teacher: I could hold up many teachers as arguments against public education, completely ignoring the system and its attributes distinct from its human elements. Same goes for law enforcement, the medical establishment, environmental groups, and even civil rights causes. Anywhere you have humans involved, you have flawed institutions. That’s just part of this messy existence we have — at least within any social group. Perhaps this is what drives certain individuals completely off the grid and away from all society. And even then, do they escape their human failings? I doubt it.

When we get past the charges of hypocrisy, most critiques express that the Catholic Church demands too much, and that these demands put it out of touch with people today: premarital and extramarital sex, birth control, practicing the sacraments regularly, and so on. The tenets are simply too hard to follow, we complain.

And to some extent, I empathized with these frustrations. Like many people, I looked at the Church’s doctrines and thought they were too rigid, too unrealistic and impractical in today’s world, harboring the belief that some day there would become an “American Catholic Church” — one that is more forgiving or tolerant — of sexual laxity, of sacramental laziness and so on. I began to see priests who seemed more liberal in their interpretation of doctrine, who seemed less offended by divorce and pre-marital sex. I thought it almost inevitable that they would rise up; I pictured scores of priests standing up to the Vatican and saying, “We go this way instead!” Clearly, I had a ways yet to go toward wisdom and maturity.

But then something happened. Over the years, as society continued toward greater laxity and moral relativism — more accepting of gay marriage, LBGTQ openness in general across the board, more accepting of divorce and abortion — the Church, under the leadership of the Pope, stood tall and unyielding in its stance against these trends. And I thought — wow — this just might be the only moral constant in the world. I had to respect that . . . and I also had to wonder why.

But to pursue that question, I flipped it on its head, asking, why not? Is there a chance that what we might be confused about what we actually want? — which led to other questions: What would it mean if this actually happened? Would we really wish our faith to be any less than what the Church has proscribed? Would we really want a Church that changes with society’s whims and vacillating moral standards? Would we want the Pope to come out and say, “Young people will not remain celibate, and so we are revising our moral teaching to say that it’s o.k. to live together, to have sex with multiple partners before marrying”? Would we then want to go about the practice of our faith the next day with this new understanding of what morality means? Really? I sort of doubt it.

No, in this way we are like children: we want clear boundaries and standards to strive toward, even if we know they are nearly impossible to meet. We want to know someone or something cares about our striving to become the very best and purest versions of ourselves — even if we aren’t strong enough to fully achieve that version. We want to know someone believes we have the potential, at least.

We don’t really want a Pope, a Church and a God who say to us, “It’s o.k. that you are weak and needy – I understand that you are less than capable of spiritual greatness; don’t worry — you have no hope of being moral, so don’t beat yourself up over it. We’ll be waiting here for you no matter how mediocre and flaccid your efforts are to be decent.” And perhaps that is the essence of Free Will as taught by the Catholic Church — that our God and our Church believe in our potential for spiritual perfection and respect our ability to strive toward it.

In short, I stopped criticizing the Faith when I realized the Church was setting a standard we should aspire to. And following quickly on the heels of this understanding was the realization that this is precisely what a church should do; it’s just that most do not.

As teachers and parents, my wife and I have unfortunately seen that few parents lay down expectations for civil behavior and then hold their children accountable for those standards. Likewise, few religions parent their faithful with expectations and accountability. Instead, they temper their message and go with the flow, gauging the mood of their congregation and keeping an eye toward membership. They seem to focus entirely on the compassion and love, without the expectation to become a better, more Christ-like version of ourselves.

So then, is the Catholic Church expecting us to meet these exceedingly high standards? Well, it’s a bit like parenting, isn’t it? The standards are set, knowing there will be failings, but also that forgiveness will be granted with compassion and love so that we might rise and try again . . . and again.

There’s an honesty in that, and that’s what brought me home.

Remain in Me

Before meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul was “breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord,” and yet today we remember him as a great evangelizer and prolific New Testament writer. What happened? Nothing less than an inbreaking of divine grace.

For the powers of humanity, there are a great many situations that are beyond hope: souls that have been irrevocably corrupted, systems that are beyond repair. But for God, no one is beyond hope. No matter how hardened a person, God can break through any barriers to offer them mercy and an opportunity for transformation. He stopped Paul right in his murderous path, turned him away from Damascus and out into all the world a changed man. He channeled Paul’s zeal toward its natural, rightly ordered purpose: building up the Kingdom of God. In the same way, our own human purpose can only be understood through an encounter with the divine.

Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood remains in me and I in him (John 6:56).
Jesus has given Himself to us in the Eucharist as an opportunity for encounter with Him, that we too might be transformed by His grace. He instituted this sacrament so that we might share a radical intimacy with Him. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati understood this deeply—he received Communion daily, meeting Jesus every morning and carrying Him throughout the rest of the day. This is the key to his sanctity: not Pier Giorgio’s own goodness, but his openness to divine grace, to deep intimacy with and vulnerability before God.

“I urge you with all the strength of my soul to approach the Eucharist Table as often as possible. Feed on this Bread of the Angels from which you will draw the strength to fight inner struggles.”
—Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

Conversione_di_san_Paolo_September_2015-1aThe great things that Paul achieved after his conversion stemmed from this intense closeness with God and awareness of God’s perfect love. This is what opened Paul’s heart to allow God to work through him rather than imposing his own will. When the scales fell from his eyes and he saw his life with sudden clarity, he fell to his knees in humility before God. Throughout the rest of his life, as he wrote and preached and converted a great many souls, he was ever aware that it was all due to God working in him: It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me (Galatians 2:20). Paul knew all too well the cold, cruel man he would be without God, and thus he was able to recognize that any good fruits that flowed from his work were not due to his own power or talent or goodness, but from Jesus Christ working through him.

1. Domenico Morelli, Conversion of Saint Paul / PD-US
2. Caravaggio, The Conversion of Saint Paul / PD-US

Originally posted at Frassati Reflections.

Michael’s Conversion: Finding God Through Darkness

By guest writer Michael Goo.

As a typical Singaporean Chinese, I was raised with a mixture of Buddhism and Taoism. I came to know and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ when I was very young and studying in the Canossian School for the Hearing Impaired. After graduation, I enrolled into Montfort Secondary School’s Express stream (for good students). This was where I experienced my own “fall” due to my ego. Back then, I was arrogant and immature. Then, when everything around me went wrong, I found myself in a state of depression and despair.

Suddenly, I became aware of an unknown presence which kept nudging me. Perhaps it is due to my deafness that I have become very sensitive in the areas of spirituality and visual art. I dreamt I saw a man who looked like the Lord Jesus whom I had seen in paintings. In my dream, I found myself in darkness and saw an old woman who fell into a bottomless pit. Everyone around me began to panic. Then, a man appeared and calmed the crowd. He entered into the pit and pulled the old woman out. She began to praise God in ecstasy. The same man commanded the crowd to follow Him. Then He turned to me and pointed to a certain dark area, as if hinting at something. Upon awaking, I decided to drop everything and go straight to the nearest church.

Through supernatural impulses, I was attracted to the Eucharistic celebration and the Holy Rosary. It was my awareness of God’s very real presence in the Blessed Sacrament which drew me to His Church. Friends invited me to various Protestant communities, but I only found true, abiding peace in the Holy Mass.

When I was younger, I twice undertook the Rite of Christian Initiation for Youths, but to no avail because of secular pursuits and my parents’ objections. When I finally reached the age of 21 where there was no obligation of obedience to my parents, I went for my third attempt, in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults.

Despite its specialty in educating the deaf, my junior Catholic school prohibited all students from using sign language, training us to speak in order to integrate us with the wider community. In God’s Mercy, He compelled me to learn sign language and sent me two dear friends to help as my interpreters during my one-year RCIA journey. My deafness had made it difficult for me to keep up with the classes, even with my lip-reading ability. Over time, I came to love God more and more because the better I came to know Him, the more ardently I loved Him. I also began to love Mother Mary.

Prior to my baptism, I had a dream in which I received a warning letter with foul language. It warned me not to go to the Catholic Church or study the Catechism. I knew it was from the devil; I laughed it off and chose to go ahead with my Baptism and Confirmation, understanding it as a clear sign of my salvation. The nightmare deepened my desire for eternal communion with God.

I was surprised at my own conversion because I have no Christian relatives save for a few Protestant cousins. My parents disapproved of my conversion to Catholicism, and only my mother witnessed my baptism and confirmation. My friends were also surprised.

The clergy and laity played very important roles in my conversion, displaying the love of Christ and the joy of their dedication to God. I was blessed to find the Singapore Catholic Deaf Community, as well as charismatic youth groups and the Extraordinary Form Community of Singapore.

God blessed me with the grace to become one with Him through Sacrament of Initiation during the Easter Vigil Mass in 2011. I thank God for showing me the way even though I waited six years for baptism due to my difficulties.

[Sources: (1), (2)]


Michael Gabriel Raphael Goo is a Singaporean Christian artist currently abiding in the Philippines. His artwork can be seen on the altars of the chapel of St. Joseph’s Institution (International), and St. Joseph’s Church (Bukit Timah) in Singapore.




Confessions of an Ex-Drug Addict

By guest writer T.E.W., with Jean Elizabeth Seah.

I have been all things unholy. If God can work through me, He can work through anyone.
– attributed to St. Francis of Assisi

My life thus far might seem a waste, even something loathsome, to many people, but now I know it has been redeemed, and is in the process of being redeemed. God willing, I shall yet honor Christ, though I have been all things unholy.

I was raised by a hard-working father and a loving, vivacious mother in a quiet outer suburb of Queensland, on four acres of lush property. From the tender age of three, I joined dance classes  which were the highlight of my days, starting with jazz and then progressing to tap-dancing with my mother. All my life, I have found it difficult to remain committed to anything – save dance.

Unfortunately, this love of dancing contributed to my ostracization in school. The other boys were typical jocks, who enjoyed sport and play-fighting. I never understood them, and they labelled me a “gay” for being a dancer.

Being bullied through school, and never finding a true friend, I suffered from low self-esteem and found it difficult to concentrate in class. Things became worse when my family was forced to move to an inner suburb in my teens, where I was abused by a family friend, and introduced to drugs by someone who lived next to the dance school.

No one in my family knew what damage hard drugs could do, and I accepted them, hungry for what appeared to be friendship from the person who proffered them. As Professor Peter Cohen, Director of the Center for Drug Research in Amsterdam, has concluded from sociological research, drugs are a replacement for human connection.

“…human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction. If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find — the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe… we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.”

– Johann Hari, “The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think”, The Huffington Post, 20 January 2015

Thus, at the age of 19, I began my relationship with speed, and later moved on to ice. My reliance on methamphetamines started off innocuously, producing highs which enabled me to create exquisite drawings, expressing my inner self which had been rejected by my schoolmates. Then I craved more and more of the drugs, and they swallowed up my life.

My parents went through hell. Sometimes I went without drugs for six months, so I labored under the illusion that I was in control – but no, I had long ceded control to the drugs. Once, after having been awake for about four days injecting ice, I drove home (only God knows how I got home without running off the road)  and made a bowl of Weet-Bix before crashing on the couch. The next thing I knew, I was standing, in motion and having checked the time began to panic because I was supposed to meet a friend. I drove to her place, and after some frantic phone calls I managed to get in contact with her. She too had been on drugs, and we both couldn’t remember what we had been doing for a whole two-hour period. I ran my hand through my hair and found Weet-Bix mashed against it. I wonder what the living room looks like, I thought.

When I returned home, my mother was terrified. She had watched me standing in the living room contorting my hands and uttering garbled words for approximately two hours before dashing out of the house. Her little boy had turned into a monster.

Life progressed from bad to worse. An acquaintance taught me how to break into homes, stealing any copper we could find in order to finance our drug habits. I had failed high school, and had no aim in life, save the next hit which could release me from this misery, for awhile.

Then my mother had cancer.

I had been brought up in the [Australian] Uniting Church, but never understood any of its teachings. Over time, I became an arrogant, agnostic atheist, but not so arrogant as to reject any evidence of a higher power if it was presented to me. I immersed myself in the goth subculture.

After three years of caring for my mother at home while my father continued working to support us, the certainty grew on me that the end of her life was near. My birthday is on the Feast of St. Monica (as I now know), and I had the strong feeling that my mother was going to die exactly a month later.

The last week of my mother’s life was spent in palliative care in the QE2 Hospital in Brisbane. I was about to step into the shower when Dad called to say that Mum had passed away. I received the news with dead calmness, and returned to the bathroom. It was only when the water hit my body that I felt my heart break, and let out a primal scream of loss.

This was the beginning of a series of events and signs which led me to conclude that a higher power must exist. For the first few months, I refused to even acknowledge this supreme power as God, instead resorting to New Age terms like “the universe” and “source energy.”

I began visiting various churches and reading the Bible about three and a half years later, after spending the intervening time dabbling in tarot, crystals and chakra meditations, an attempt to understand God from a mathematical and scientific perspective. I could never find a home in any of those churches. The Pentecostal services left me with an emotional high which would quickly subside.

Then, last year, after staying clean for awhile, I visited an old acquaintance and fell headlong into the trap of drug addiction again.

Yet, this was what eventually led me to the Catholic Church, for I resolved to amend my life, and checked myself into a facility which happened to be right beside a lovely old church near the Brisbane River.

Still, I would not have stepped into a Catholic church, if my room-mate had not said, “There’s free food next door!” The church has a coffee ministry for the homeless twice a week. Through their corporal work of mercy, they performed the greatest spiritual mercy for me – leading me home to my heavenly Father, away from my sinful past.

At first, as an obstinate Protestant, I shied away from addressing the priests as “Father.” But soon, I began to see how the Catholics truly lived the Gospel, and in my first Mass, kneeling before the Holy Eucharist, I finally found the peace of Christ, the peace which the world cannot give.

Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. Saint John’s Gospel describes that event in these words: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should … have eternal life” (3:16).
— Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est

I was received into the Catholic Church this past Easter Vigil, and am just beginning to grasp its glorious spiritual treasures. Further, God has blessed me with a loving new spiritual family, in the parish, in Verbum Dei, and in granting me what I thought impossible – a human being who loves me in spite of my past, and who wants to share a life with me, though grave uncertainty lies ahead. Our only certainty is God, after all. What amazing grace, which saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now, I see.

If I were to meet the slave-traders who kidnapped me and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands, for if that did not happen, I would not be a Christian and religious today.
– St. Josephine Bakhita

Originally published at Aleteia.

The Great Lie: Relativism and False Freedom Left Me Depressed

The saddest I have ever been was when I was living on the beach in Destin, Fl. I had the beach as my front yard with the Gulf of Mexico beyond that and nothing between my view of the water but the white sand. On top of that, I had money, drugs, alcohol, parties, and total freedom to do what I wanted when I wanted. Basically, everything the world said was needed for true happiness and fulfillment. Only, even in my tolerant and self-declared open-minded mindset, what we are told we need for peace and happiness, I was utterly depressed.

I could get out of bed in the morning, so maybe it was not as bad as some have it, but my life, for me, was at the lowest I have ever been. I was seeking the thing I grew up believing would make me happy: pleasure, enjoyment, the rockstar lifestyle I modeled after the icons I watched on MTV and in movies as a young suburban teenager.

My philosophy was the new classic, “People should be able to do what they want, as long as they don’t hurt others”. My slogan: “Do what feels right.” And that I did; even putting my desire for what feels right before others. I was utterly selfish. My comfortability and drive to feed my senses was the compass I used to navigate through each day and, without any inner or outer constraints, I did whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.

However, the compass and false freedom I had did not lead me to the happiness and fulfillment that was promised. The more I chose to serve myself, the more depressed I became. The more depressed I became, the more I served myself. A vicious cycle of actual vices and, unlike what some might declare, I was unable to break it. I was a slave to it. In my false freedom, I was the least free out of many of my classmates at the college I attended, who still lived at home with their parents. It was the opposite of what I perceived when I was younger.

Things picked up a little bit when I found Jesus during a long drive to a new apartment in Fort Walton. I realized that everything I tried in my search of happiness was leaving me more empty, but I never gave Jesus a true chance. (Now that I type this, I think this might not exactly be true, I did have moments of faith in childhood and my early teens, but never a deep, more mature faith in Him).

So I determined to give Jesus a firmer try and felt something that night that was big enough to lead me back through the doors of a Catholic Church and attend Mass on Sunday. I believed in Jesus and things were looking up. However, my understanding was still flawed as I thought that I could continue to do whatever I liked as long as I loved Jesus. My misunderstanding of Jesus and what love is would lead me down a path that was strikingly similar to the one that I thought I left behind.

I still had the same false notion of freedom. I thought that I was free of the rules placed on me by others. I thought that without these rules, I could finally be happy. I thought that I knew Jesus and that He would not set any rules for me other than to be happy.

Looking back, I see the error in the ideology that I followed. If only I knew the teaching of St. John Paul II. If only I were present when he said, “While it is true that we ourselves decide what paths we will take, our decisions will lead us to true joy and fulfilment only if they are in accordance with God’s will” (PASTORAL VISIT IN NEW ZEALAND, 1986). If only I understood that true freedom is the ability to choose the good and that external constraints placed upon us in order to lead us to the good and defend us from evil are necessary to protect us from internal restraints that will enslave us.

I would slowly come to understand this through experience (a.k.a. the hard way) after continuing down the road of selfish pleasure seeking. After a bad Spring Semester, I finally agreed to attend a Catholic College where I still had another bad Spring Semester, after a slightly better Fall semester, but slowly began to understand that God had more in mind for humans than just intellectual acceptance of Him.

I took a Theology class in which I learned that the Catholic Church was not like what many people say it is. Furthermore, through praying the Rosary everyday, attending daily Mass, having deep Philosophical and Theological conversations with others, and reading the words of the Saints, I learned that God wanted me to love Him and show my love for Him through obedience. Moreover, obedience to God was not merely a power grab by Him, but the path for true happiness. Directions on how to live as a human, found in the Bible and sacred Tradition.

It was in following these directions that I finally found what I had always longed for. Jesus. Not just the idea of Him, but a personal relationship, a true friendship full of memories that I can look back on. My days were filled with miracles, my life was being put back together before my eyes.

Through the help of the Holy Spirit, I eventually quit my deadly vicious cycle on April 24, 2007 and I have gone without drinking and drugging ever since. Each day since then has been better than the one before it. I realize the truth now that through placing upon myself the external restrictions, I am able to be loosed of the internal shackles of addiction, bitterness, and misery.

I thought I had everything on the beach, but in reality I had nothing. It was in giving up what I thought was everything, that I truly gained it all. I still go back to Destin and the beach for vacation, but I will never got back to a life without knowing Jesus. Nothing could be worse than a life without Jesus. I know from experience. Praise Him.


By guest writer Benny Seah.

Public life began for me in a neighborhood public school. Two years on, my father transferred me to his former school at the behest of an aunt; she chided him for not having enrolled me in St. Joseph’s Junior School (SJJS) which offered a better education. On the third year, I found myself in Class Primary 3A of SJJS, a Catholic school. That took me right through St. Joseph’s Institution, SJI, the high school, to complete my formal education.

Seed planted

I was highly motivated in SJJS and enjoyed schooling. Unbeknownst to me, the seed of my Catholic faith was planted in me. I took very well to the catechism lessons in which I learned about angels, and at the front of the school was a statue of St. Michael the Archangel standing victorious over Satan that I could relate to. Most compelling of all, my teacher would send me to the school canteen to buy bars of chocolate for the boys who did well in our tests, including those on the catechism. I was driven by material desires, nothing spiritual.

In the next year, a laSallian Brother took my class. He was very kind and fatherly. As I was quite timid, he helped me with my art lessons making plaster of Paris clay models. Robed in a white cassock, he made an exemplary impression on me. One night I had the most beautiful dream of my life. I dreamt I saw Jesus Christ robed whiter than white, standing at the entrance to my home speaking with my mother, telling her gently that He had come to take me from her. My family practiced ancestral worship and Catholicism had no place in the family.

Lost in worldly pursuits

My teenage years in SJI were spent chasing after things of the world, trying to be part of the in-crowd. School routines included saying morning prayers at assembly and the Angelus in class at noon. Us students were herded to Mass in the church next door on major feast days. I enjoyed the hymns but did not quite comprehend the Mass. However, the image of the crucifix mounted on the wall of each and every classroom stayed with me. The sight of the laSallian Brothers, more than half a dozen in every corner of the school as teachers dedicated in service, was most inspiring.

The worldly things and glories turned out to be illusions as I grew into adulthood. I met my girlfriend Cecilia, now my wife, in my second undergraduate year and we decided to attend the Saturday Novenas to Our Lady Of Perpetual Succor. After a few Novenas I decided to take up the Catholic faith. Thus, I was found and our Lady was leading me to her Son.

A kind, young and newly-ordained priest, Father Augustine Tay, taught me catechism. One day he invited me to follow him on his pastoral visit to residents in nursing homes for the aged. Before setting forth he said that I would be seeing heaven and hell. We arrived first at a home where residents had to pay to stay. The home was horrendous, reeking in smells of urine and feces; residents were clamoring loudly for attention but there were hardly any attendants in sight. That was hell.

Next, we came to the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged. Father celebrated Mass and I could see the residents dressed cleanly and neatly bringing themselves to the Mass. It was a striking to see their self-dignity expressed by their conduct. Most of them wore a smile and were freshly powdered; they did what they could by themselves. I found heaven, or rather heaven found me. The residents did not need to pay to live in the home because they had no money being destitute, the poorest of the poor. The sisters who ran the home gave their services for free, it being their vocation to serve.

Our patient Father

I was baptized on Christmas Eve 1975. The seed planted in me when I was 9 years old in 1961 had taken 14 years to germinate. God is our patient Father in heaven who has found me and does not discard me even when I have ignored Him for the things of the world. Through the years He has been feeding me in body, mind and soul, and guided me through the ups and downs of life — in short He prunes me.

God also drew my mother to Himself, and she was baptized in 2003 before passing away in 2011.

Now, in the autumn of my life at 64 He is faithfully with me at all times, thankfully, and hopefully for eternity. I am still growing, as St. Paul has written — “though this outer human nature of ours may be falling into decay, at the same time our inner human nature is renewed day by day” — 2 Corinthians 4:16.


Benny Seah retired from a hectic working life in 2005 to live a new life of trust in Divine providence and care. He is ever mindful that everyone is unique and that no one should compare oneself with another. Among the countless blessings he believes that his afflictions of nose cancer in 1989 and stroke in 1998 and recovery from them were gifts from God. In God and with God he has found Life. He is a child of God.

A Journey Home

By guest writer Louis Felix Figueroa.

My body was strung out on the couch and pain filled every part of me. This was the changing point of my life. I had thoroughly been a product of modern society, relativistic, an adherent to indifferentism, a modernist in many respects. Many until this point had regarded me as a very understanding guy, compassionate, knowledgeable of the world. In reality, I knew nothing. I was arrogant, filled with pride, and though I had love it was incomplete. I had to be completely humbled to realize my true identity and see the greatness of God who created me.

As a child, I learned like most Catholics through Sunday school. I had been baptized at birth, received First Communion, but I wasn’t instructed much beyond that. I can remember having a deep love for God, but I wasn’t taken to Church very often and I was exposed to the occult. My parents practised Santería, a practise as a child that I abhorred, but this would be my entrance into the world of the occult and my confusion about religion. As I grew up, my parents left Santería; however, my father avoided church like the plague and my mother, fearful of saints from her exposure to Santería, rejected Catholicism for what would seem like ages. I still had a love for God and would walk into the neighborhood Church on weekdays on my way home from school and pray, but I never attended Mass on Sunday. I never went to confession; in fact, I began to know less and less of my professed religion.

At the age of 13, I left home and attended school in a town in Connecticut. It was a big change from my hometown of Bronx, New York. I still felt some connection with God and prayed quite often, but wandered further and further from Him, as I had no real foundation. I took what I had learned in school and constantly applied it to my life. I was fortunate enough to have a host family with whom I stayed with on occasion and they would include me in their church-going activities. It was marvelously wonderful to be exposed to the Bible, but I had no clear or definitive understanding of it. I became ambiguous about homosexuality, premarital sex, masturbation, and many other sensitive topics. I also saw God as a method to obtain things and no longer my close friend whom I had known in my childhood. Times were becoming darker.

As I went through my high school years, I became more deeply involved in the occult, though there was always a voice trying to keep me away. I remember, looking back now, something telling me that this was all wrong. I was stubborn to say the least. I wasn’t a malevolent fellow and wished no one any evil, as best as I could remember I was just horribly confused. I practiced tarot cards, and I guess you could say that there were things which were around which gave me answers to the questions I wanted answered. That is putting it simply.

I eventually joined the United States armed forces. The branch is not important. It was here that I became more familiar with aspects of Wicca and Satanism. There were actually servicemen and women who practiced both, and no, I was not a Satanist. However, I had become vastly interested in Wicca. At the same time, I was becoming an excellent soldier. I excelled in many aspect of war fighting and leading. Slowly, but surely, I began to develop a sort of hubris about me. I felt there was a power that controlled something, but I became further from it. Years had passed and I began to look at myself and I didn’t like what I had become. I was kind at times, but I could flip a coin and become utterly ruthless. What I found more disturbing was that I longed to cause damage. I had less and less peace in my life and a voice could be heard very faintly. This voice told me to turn to God, but I was too powerful or so I thought.

My life began to slowly unravel and I sought respite. I didn’t trust Christianity, yet! I began to read works by the Dalai Lama and about different aspects of Buddhism, but something deep down told me that I wasn’t supposed to give up Christ. I know it doesn’t quite make sense, but this was how things were happening. I began to hang out with Protestant friends and attended services with them, but I wasn’t convinced or moved. I felt like it was more acting than anything. They were kind to have shared their faith with me, but it would have impressed me more if they had been living it. I had some Catholic friends whom I associated with and they brought me to Mass. As I went to the Mass, I was distressed. I said to myself: “I am Catholic? I know nothing of my religion!” Still, I hadn’t been motivated enough to do anything solid, except read the Bible on occasion.

It was toward the end of my military service that I said to myself, I have to change. I have to find God. I have to go back to the Catholic Church. The voice in me was yelling now; it was no longer a whisper. Yet, I was still obstinate. I came home from service and was contemplating entering Special Forces and in the midst of this I was struck ill. In my illness, my mind was made clear. It was like an intimate conversation with God. I knew then that I could not return to what had help make me what I was, but had to become something new. I started to read and read and read. Every book that read was inexplicably linked to the next without my intention and before I knew it, I was reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Code of Canon Law. I was digesting the Bible and swallowing books on the saints and I just could not stop. I was like starving child eating a long overdue meal. Then the moment of truth came, the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Over 18 years of sins upon my chest to offer to my Lord with sincere contrition. It wasn’t too long after this that I considered the priesthood, but one step had to be completed first. I was finally confirmed at the age of 24. However, I did not become a priest. I found my vocation was to be a husband, but this was not a decision that was taken lightly; rather I fought with myself for almost 3 years. Nevertheless, I now strive to serve in any way that I can.

I can honestly say that my life finally has light in it. The world makes sense and my place is understood, as is the infinite mercy of my Lord. Many who knew me as a soldier and know me now would say that they don’t know me. I am not the same person.  I was still the guy they had known who would listen to the multitude of their problems for hours on end, but my approach toward helping them resolve their problems had changed. I looked deeper than the superficial considerations that I had previously focused upon. I now understood that there was more to the world, and what I had once held to be true held partial to no validity. They could see that I loved, but my love extends further now. They don’t understand my view of the world and why I reject so much of what modern society holds true now. My only reason is that Divine Truth demands it, and once you see it you can never go back to darkness.

I went down to the lowest parts of the mountains: the bars of the earth have shut me up for ever: and Thou wilt bring up my life from corruption, O Lord, my God. When my soul was in distress within me, I remembered the Lord: that my prayer may come to Thee, unto the holy temple. They that in vain observe vanities, forsake their own mercy. But I with the voice of praise will sacrifice to Thee: I will pay whatsoever I have vowed for my salvation to the Lord.
(Jonah 2:7-10)

I live each day now and I am grateful. There is much more to my life than what I have shared, but sometimes we must endure that ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ and it is through the humbling of ourselves that we truly begin that conversation with God. My ignorance, my arrogance, me… I kept myself from God. I thank God for all I have been through, much of which I will probably never pen, but I am most grateful for God humbling Himself so much as to talk to me. It has been partly through this that I have begun to ponder how great His love really is.

Deo Gratias.


Louis Figueroa is a father and a husband. He sees everything in life as pointing to something greater than himself. He is a cancer survivor, and suffers from a rare neurological illness, but sees that all things are opportunities to live our faith.

Novenas: The Mathematical Harmonies of Prayer

And which of you, if he ask his father bread, will he give him a stone? or a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he reach him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father from heaven give the good Spirit to them that ask Him?
—Luke 11:11-13

Then Jesus told them a parable about the need to pray continually and never lose heart…
“And will not God bring about justice for His chosen ones, who cry out to Him day and night? Will He keep putting them off?”
Luke 18:1, 7

Doing a novena can be viewed as calculative, treating prayer like a magic formula where, if we just say the right words for a set number of days, our wishes will come true.

Many non-Catholics come to the extremely popular shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Succor in the Redemptorist parish of St. Alphonsus in Singapore (colloquially known as Novena Church), because they hear that their prayers will be answered there. The devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Succor has become so renowned that even the entire suburb (and the train station, as well as nearby shopping centres and housing estates) has been named Novena. [So, to most Singaporeans, “Novena” is just a place name; many do not know that it refers to a nine-day prayer.]

However, God works in mysterious ways, and though our rationalistic modern minds may recoil from what appears like superstitious tripe, God deigns to bestow His graces through the beautiful tradition of novenas – even to non-Catholics.Our Lady of Perpetual Succour

The Prayer of a Mother

A long time ago, a gentleman added me on Facebook, and told me the story of how his Taoist mother had prayed and prayed to her Taoist gods for a son, especially with her nagging mother-in-law on her back. In desperation, she went to Novena Church, where the novena is prayed ten times every Saturday. [It is so crowded that the shrine was recently rebuilt in order to accommodate the throngs, and traffic police are deployed every week at the front of the church.]

To her joy and relief, a son was conceived, but she told no-one about visiting the church, afraid that her Taoist gods would be angry.

Years later, this son (married with a little daughter) felt a strong urge to visit Novena Church and ask for baptism. During the RCIA process, everyone else said they were there because of a significant other or a friend. They looked askance at him when he said he was simply there because he felt that his life would not be complete if he did not become a Catholic.

After he was baptised into the faith, his mother finally told him the secret of his conception.

Besides the novena for the dead, we find in the earlier part of the Middle Ages the novena of preparation, but at first only before Christmas and only in Spain and France. This had its origin in the nine months Our Lord was in His Blessed Mother’s womb from the Incarnation to the Nativity.
—“Novena”, New Advent

Dependence on our Heavenly Father

Novenas, like other forms of prayer, are an opening for God’s grace to work in our lives. They are an acknowledgement that we are not entirely self-sufficient; they are a persistent begging for Divine Providence.

God, who created all things in mathematical harmony (as beautifully evinced by the Fibonacci Sequence), entered into our postlapsarian chaos to restore peace and order in the hearts of men. He is intimately interested in our lives, for He loves us and is ever-ready to help us order our lives towards Him, so that we may have the fullness of life (John 10:10).

The discipline of praying a novena, or praying the rosary, or even praying the Mass with its set prayers (and the mathematical acoustics of music), is not to be undertaken superstitiously. A superstitious attitude is one that thinks it’s us doing the work. The attitude of faith is that we are nothing without God – everything we have is from Him, including our very being.

The religious emphasis of the film is not how to use the Force, but how to conform oneself to something that is beyond use. We do not hear the iconic line, “Use the force,” in Rogue One. We hear a reverent one: “Trust the force.” The difference between use and trust sums up the difference between magic and religion. Magic wishes to use supernatural powers for material ends. Religion wishes to subordinate material ends to a good and wise supernatural power. Rogue One elevates the disciple over the magician and the saint over the technician.
—Marc Barnes, “Rogue One and the Return of Reverence”, First Things

Just as we obediently follow the doctor’s instructions to take a course of medication over a set period of time, allowing it to restore or maintain our bodily health, so do we engage in the spiritual discipline of committing to a novena to discern God’s will in our lives, allowing Him to tend to all our needs, and conforming our lives according to His perfect plan.

My favorite novena is the Pentecost Novena to the Holy Spirit, based on the nine days which the apostles and Our Lady spent praying in the cenacle between the Ascension of Christ and the Descent of the Holy Spirit (Acts Of Apostles 1:13-14). Which is yours?

My father, had the prophet told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child and he was clean.
—2 Kings 5:13-14

God has led us into solitude to speak to our heart. Let our heart then be a living altar from which there constantly ascends before God pure prayer, with which all our acts should be imbued.
—Carthusian Order (Statutes, 4.11)

Being in Relationship with God

Holy Mass at the Carmel in Mayerling.

An Anglican friend told me that she does not bother to cultivate deep friendships with non-Christians—although she certainly treats them civilly and shares the Gospel with them when they are curious—because she knows she won’t see them in Heaven, unlike her Christian friends like me, with whom she anticipates eternal friendship.

This is a logical conclusion of the illogical and unscriptural premise “once saved, always saved.”

Conversion is not a once-off experience. Conversion is falling in love and staying in love. Like any relationship, our relationship with God may be sparked by a defining moment, an encounter that transforms reality as we know it. However, like any relationship, we have to work at it. St. Paul says, “Wherefore, my dearly beloved, with fear and trembling work out your salvation” (Philippians 2:12).

Catholics say, “We have been saved, we are being saved, and we shall be saved.” Salvation was brought about by the perfect sacrifice of Christ on the cross, but God respects our free will in each and every moment of our lives. He wants us to cooperate with Him in the work of restoring ourselves and our fallen world according to His divine plan, but He will not force us to stay in His grace. That is true love, to be able to shower untold gifts on someone—precious gifts which bring him into relationship with oneself, especially the ultimate gift of self—but to allow that person the freedom to reject these gifts and yourself. Love does not force a return of love; it cannot be forced, but must be a willing response.

People stay in marriage when they choose day after day to remain faithful to their vows and their spouse. People stay friends when they keep in contact, forgive trespasses, and help each other grow. People stay Christian when they choose to remain faithful to their baptismal vows and their identity as children of God. Redemption is a lifelong commitment to live in the grace of God. Satan, who gave up the gift of communion with God, strives ever to wrest this priceless gift from our hands; we must practice constant vigilance and maintain a firm hope in God, avoiding both the sins of despair and presumption.

All the way to heaven is heaven, because Jesus said, I am the way.
—St Catherine of Siena

Image: Fr. Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., Holy Mass at the Carmel in Mayerling, Austria. (via Outward Signs)

Spiritual Lessons with Elisabeth Leseur

I first encountered Servant of God Elisabeth Leseur about five years ago when I was towards the beginning stages of my spiritual dry spell. The Magnificat had included a reflection of hers that reads:

“Those who seem to be spiritually dead are not always those least accessible to the divine Word; when wood is dead, it needs only a spark to set it afire.”

These words spoke very loudly to me, like a loud voice in a once silent room. At the time, I felt like that dead wood, searching for that spark, and reading her words set me on a journey of discovering a new saintly friend.

Elisabeth and Felix Leseur

Elisabeth Leseur was born in 1866 in Paris to a wealthy French Catholic family. She had hepatitis as a child, and it recurred throughout her life. In 1887, she met Dr. Felix Leseur, also from an affluent, Catholic family, and they were married in 1889. However, shortly before they were married, she discovered that her husband-to-be was no longer a practicing Catholic. Felix was an outspoken atheist, and he would bring these anti-religious attacks against Elisabeth. Prompted by her husband’s confrontations, she probed deeper into her own faith, and she experienced a profound religious conversion at the age of 32.  At that moment, she saw that her biggest task in life was to pray for her husband’s conversion while remaining patient with his criticism of her faith. She took all of this in stride throughout her marriage, bearing her cross silently, only to share her sufferings with her diary and with those she had a spiritual correspondence through letters. She wrote in her diary:

“We pray, suffer, and labor unaware of the consequence of our action and prayers. God makes them serve his plan; gradually, they take effect, winning one soul, then another.”

This was not the end of her inner suffering, though.  Elisabeth experienced profound spiritual darkness at times during her marriage and felt deep loneliness from being isolated for her faith in her marriage and feeling apart from God. When she did write about her struggles in her diary, her entries are filled with longing for God, to feel his spark again. Despite the darkness she felt, she often saw the good that God would bring out of her suffering, and the peace she felt in discovering God each time anew:

“It is surprising to see how much spiritual progress we make in times of aridity, when no conscious joy of any kind unites our souls with God. It is then indeed God himself whom we love, and not his consolations; and whatever we do then, requiring constant effort and appeals for grace, is indeed duty in all its starkness. Then, when the dusty road is over and the way becomes easier, we are astonished to see how far we have come; sometimes we arrive at a gentle resting place, in peace, near the heart of God.”

In addition to her interior suffering, Elisabeth suffered from many physical afflictions. She and her husband also bore the cross of infertility, never to have children. In 1907, she became so ill that she was forced to live a highly sedentary life, directing her affairs from a chaise lounge in her home. Despite these sufferings, she didn’t let this stop her. She was quite intelligent and wrote on political and women’s issues for the time.  She also had a great love for the poor and was active in a lot of charity work, although this greatly deteriorated as her health declined. In 1911, she received radiation for a malignant tumor, and while she initially recovered, she passed away from cancer in 1914.

But her story doesn’t end there. After her death, her husband found a note by her addressed to himself that prophesied about his conversion and him becoming a priest. She said:

“I shall die before you.
And when I am dead,
you will be converted;
and when you are converted,
you will become a religious.
You will be Father Leseur.”

In order to prove his wife wrong, Felix went to Lourdes to expose it as fake, but instead he experienced his own religious conversion. He read and re-read her diary, and was finally made aware of the holy woman with whom he had spent so many years. He wrote of his conversion:

“And so from her Journal I perceived clearly the inner meaning of Elisabeth’s existence, so grand in its humility. I came to appreciate the splendor of the faith of which I had seen such wonderful effects. The eyes of my soul were opened. I turned toward God, who called to me. I confessed my faults to a priest and was reconciled to the Church.”

And her prophesy did come true. In 1919, Felix became a Dominican novice and was ordained a priest in 1923. For the next 27 years, he spent much of his priestly vocation speaking about his wife’s spiritual writings, and he constantly looked to her for guidance, writing: “Elisabeth had led me to the truth, and even today, in my inmost being, I continue to feel her guiding my steps to a more perfect union with God.”  He shared her holiness with the world by publishing her diary, and he was an instrumental part in opening the cause for her canonization in 1934.

There is so much to admire about Elisabeth, and I pray that she is canonized someday. She is a role model and provides us with many spiritual lessons, just from her life and death. She was a laywoman, and she shows especially those of us who do not have a call to the religious life how to live a holy life through our lay vocations (although her spiritual guidance is also incredibly appropriate for priests and religious). She was faithful to her marriage, despite the attacks she endured (and despite how it sounds, she and Felix loved each other very much). She teaches us how to bear with those who persecute us, especially those who we love, by being patient with them and praying for their conversion all while living an interior spiritual life. And with her holiness, she struggled in her faith as so many of us do, and while she experienced profound spiritual darkness, she never gave up on God. She saw the good He worked in her life through her suffering, and she offered up her sufferings for others, even to the point of offering her own death.

“It is not pride, is it, to call myself your friend, one you have called, your chosen friend? I see the traces of your love everywhere, the divine call everywhere, my vocation everywhere. You made use of trials, suffering, and illness to make me completely yours and to make me holy, first drawing me to you solely by your action within me. You have done everything. Now complete your work; make me holy according to your will; use me for others, for my beloved ones, for all your interests; use me for your greater glory, and let all be done in silence and in an intimate encounter between us alone. From the depths of my being and my misery I say, ‘Lord, what will you have me do? Speak, your servant listens; I am the handmaid of the Lord; I come, Father, ready to do your will’ (Luke 1:38).”

Evangelization and Hope

Why are we so bad at evangelizing the culture? I’ve seen this question pop up time and again, mostly in the context of asking why Catholics in particular are so bad at evangelizing, indeed at sharing the Faith at all. I’ve also seen a number of diagnoses, including (though not limited to):

  • We are often in a posture of simple defense in the face of encroaching secularism or even simple Protestant proselytism.
  • The sex-abuse scandal/crises is still too open a wound, we are still recovering from this and it hampers our ability to share the good news of our faith.
  • We have a different approach to sharing our faith than many Protestant denominations, communions, or sects. They are more direct and open in their approach, and thus more visible.
  • There are more “cultural Catholics” than “cultural Protestants,” meaning that on average there are more devout or even fervent Protestants than Catholics per capita. Devout and fervent Catholics do just as much to share their faith as their counterparts among Protestants, but they are also fewer and farther between.
  • The fullness of the Catholic Faith is richer and deeper than what many Protestants are sharing, but that also makes it more complex and thus harder to share.

Now, these are obviously the condensed versions of each respective diagnosis. Some of them are true in the main, others in the margins, yet they all look to some extent like excuses. For example, the fact that there are so many “cultural Catholics” only speaks to the fact that even people who already profess to be Catholic need to be evangelized to and then catechized in the Faith. Or consider the question of complexity[1]—many Protestant sects are anything but simple. Imagine trying to explain Anglicanism as a serious communion [2]! Or consider Mormonism: complicated as their theology may seem, they have little trouble going door-to-door sharing it, a number of slammed doors notwithstanding.

It occurs to me that there is one thing which is absolutely critical to evangelism, and yet which is often overlooked by these discussions. This is that evangelism should spring from the virtues of faith, hope, and charity, each of which is a necessary but not a sufficient cause of evangelization. Faith and hope should be obvious as “causes,” namely that we ought not invite others to share something which we lack (faith), nor would we be motivated to invited others to share in something which we have if we do care for them in some way (love).

BaltimoreCatechismBut hope? What has hope to do with evangelizing? The Baltimore Catechism tells us that “Hope is a Divine virtue by which we firmly trust that God will give us eternal life and the means to obtain it” (BC3.10.466). Thus, hope is the lynchpin for evangelization—if we do not have the hope for eternal life, then there is less urgency in passing on the Faith. If what one believes, how one lives, and whether one worships does not have the least effect on one’s eternal destiny, then faith is reduced to mere fact and charity is concerned only with the passing comforts of this life.

There are two big sins which we can commit against hope—both of which are ways in which we blaspheme the Holy Spirit (cf Matthew 12:31-32 and Mark 3:29). They are, or at least appear to be superficially, opposing sins: despair, and presumption [3].

These two things can work in our own lives, and make us reject God. Presumption does this by convincing us that God is too great to be troubled by our sins; despair works to convince us that our sins are too great to be troubled by God. The consequence then is that we reject God’s grace and forgiveness—on one hand, because it seems too little to avail us, and on the other because we are too great to need the availing.

But neither of these sins are strictly internal in their nature. It is just as easy, and perhaps in some cases easier, for us the presume or despair on the behalf of another as for ourselves. Indeed, it is perhaps the easiest thing of all to couple the two, one for me and one for you. If I despair of my own sins, it is easier for me to become presumptuous concerning another person; or if I am presumptuous of my own salvation, it becomes all-to-easy to despair of anybody else’s. Perhaps this is what our Lord meant when he said,

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1-5).

Thus are there two separate ways in which we might fail to evangelize.

Jonah and the Whale
Sometimes we seem to go out of our way to avoid evangelism. Image source.

The first springs from despair, namely our attempts are half-hearted at best and non-existent at worst. I may share some snippet of my faith to a curious man who questions, then withdraw at the first hint of opposition. Perhaps I am more persistent, but give up trying (and give up really praying), becoming closed off, when I find that my acquaintance is no closer to sharing in my faith then when I first began trying to share it with him. I have despaired of his cause, forgetting that our Lord said “But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:22).

We may be frustrated, but we should not become angry without cause, wrathful, against each other: this is the first part of this passage. Nor should we lose our temper in the heat of discussion, heaping abuses (raca! In some translations) on those wit whom we disagree: this is the second part of this passage. But above all, we should not give up on a person, despair of his conversion: this is what is meant by the third part of the passage. The word “fool!” has in this context a connotation of being stubborn and stupid beyond the reach of God—a hopeless case, in other words.

The second reason we might fail to evangelize stems from the seemingly opposite sin, that is, presumption. Certainly, we might presume that a person has no need our our efforts, that salvation is his whatever may be his lifestyle choices and personal beliefs. Surely, God is merciful, and surely there is such a thing as invincible ignorance—but it is presumptive at best to assume that all men are saved regardless, and that therefore we are blameless if we refuse the task of evangelizing.

WhatIfIToldYou--SinnersPrayerThere is, however, a second and more insidious form of presumption which may be at work, which I have indeed seen at work among many Protestant sects, but alas also among some Catholic circles. This is what I would call “brand name salvation,” which goes hand-in-hand with mere proselytism. Among Protestants, it often takes the form of convincing a person to join this particular sect or denomination, or to say this particular prayer [4] and to “accept Jesus into your heart” at this particular moment, from which time “you have been saved.” Among Catholics, it often means convincing a person to become a Catholic, and then to make use of the sacraments at least on occasion.

buddy-JesusIn both [5] the Catholic and the Protestant case of presumptive proselytism, proselytism has taken the pace of evangelism. The point has become less about proclaiming the Gospel (“good news” = evangelium) and inviting a person to enter the fullness of the Faith and the joy of a deeper relationship with Christ and His Church, and more about simply getting people to switch their brand-name religious affiliation.

Proselytizing can aide in evangelizing, but all too often it is not but a cheap substitute. We assume that a person who is in the pews each week is therefore “fully evangelized,” and then are surprised when after years or decades they have suddenly left. And, on the other hand, we assume that because another person never seems to come to church with us, or never comes round to accept the fullness of the Faith, that he has not in any way been evangelized.

In both cases, it is because we have too little hope.


[1] Complex need no mean complicated, nor does simple need to be simplistic.

[2] As Auberon Waugh has observed, “In England we have a curious institution called the Church of England. Its strength has always lain in the fact that on any moral or political issue it can produce such a wide divergence of opinion that nobody – from the Pope to Mao Tse-tung – can say with any confidence that he is not an Anglican. Its weaknesses are that nobody pays much attention to it, and very few people attend its functions. ”

[3] The Church has taught us that there are six ways in which we can blaspheme the Holy Spirit: despair, presumption, envy of another’s spiritual good, impugning a known truth, obstinacy in sin, and final impenitence. The third and fourth of these also work against evangelization, and seem to me to be opposed mostly to faith; the last two are perhaps more rightly opposed to charity.

[4] That is, “The Sinner’s Prayer,” in its various forms—if if you will, the Protestant’s sacrament-free act of contrition.

[5] Ditto for Eastern Orthodox, Non-Chalcedonian Christians, Coptic Christians, Non-Ephesian Christians, etc…