Skip to comments.Catholic Converts - Marcus Grodi
Posted on 02/18/2007 3:02:35 PM PST by NYer
Lent is the season of conversion of heart. At Easter, new catechumens are welcomed into the Catholic Church. Throughout Lent this year, I will be posting the conversion stories of some well known individuals and their journey home to Rome.
Marcus Grodi - Marcus Grodi (1958?- ): apologist, president of The Coming Home Network, and host of EWTN's "Journey Home" program; originally a Presbyterian pastor.
I am a former Protestant minister. Like so many others who have trodden the path that leads to Rome by way of that country known as Protestantism, I never imagined I would one day convert to Catholicism.
By temperament and training I’m more of a pastor than a scholar, so the story of my conversion to the Catholic Church may lack the technical details in which theologians traffic and in which some readers delight. But I hope I will accurately explain why I did what I did, and why I believe with all my heart that all Protestants should do likewise.
I won’t dwell on the details of my early years, except to say that I was raised by two loving parents in a nominally Protestant home, and I went through most of the experiences that make up the childhood and adolescence of the typical American baby-boomer. I was taught to love Jesus and go to church on Sunday. I also managed to blunder into most of the dumb mistakes that other kids in my generation made. But after a season of teenage rebellion, when I was twenty years old, I experienced a radical re-conversion to Jesus Christ. I turned away from the lures of the world and became serious about prayer and Bible study.
As a young adult, I made a recommitment to Christ, accepting him as my Lord and Savior, praying that he would help me fulfill the mission in life he had chosen for me.
The more I sought through prayer and study to follow Jesus and confirm my life to his will, the more I felt an aching sense of longing to devote my life entirely to serving him. Gradually, the way dawn’s first faint rays peek over a dark horizon, the conviction that the Lord was calling me to be a minister began to grow.
That conviction grew steadily stronger while I was in college and then afterwards during my job as an engineer. Eventually I couldn’t ignore the call. I was convinced the Lord wanted me to become a minister, so I quit my job and enrolled in Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in suburban Boston. I acquired a master of divinity degree and was shortly thereafter ordained to the Protestant ministry.
My six-year-old son, Jon-Marc, recently memorized the Cub Scouts’ oath, which goes in part: “I promise to do my best, to do my duty to God and my country.” This earnest boyhood vow rather neatly sums up my own reasons for giving up a career in engineering in order to serve the Lord with complete abandon in full-time ministry. I took my new pastoral duties seriously, and I wanted to perform them correctly and faithfully, so that at the end of my life, when I stood face-to-face before God, I could hear him speak those all-important words: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” As I settled down into the rather pleasant life of a Protestant minister, I felt happy and at peace with myself and God ? I finally felt that I had arrived.
I had not arrived.
I soon found myself faced with a host of confusing theological and administrative questions. There were exegetical dilemmas over how to correctly interpret difficult biblical passages and also liturgical decisions that could easily divide a congregation. My seminary studies had not adequately prepared me to deal with this morass of options.
I just wanted to be a good pastor, but I couldn’t find consistent answers to my questions from my fellow minister friends, nor from the “how to” books on my shelf, nor from the leaders of my Presbyterian denomination. It seemed that every pastor was expected to make up his own mind on these issues.
This “reinvent the wheel as often as you need to” mentality that is at the heart of Protestantism’s pastoral ethos was deeply disturbing to me. “Why should I have to reinvent the wheel?” I asked myself in annoyance. “What about the Christian ministers down through the centuries who faced the same issues? What did they do?” Protestantism’s emancipation from Rome’s “manmade” laws and dogmas and customs that had “shackled” Christians for centuries (that, of course, was how we were taught in seminary to view the “triumph” of the Reformation over Romanism) began to look a lot more like anarchy than genuine freedom.
I didn’t receive the answers I needed, even though I prayed constantly for guidance. I felt I had exhausted my resources and didn’t know where to turn. Ironically, this frustrating sense of being out of answers was providential. It set me up to be open to answers offered by the Roman Catholic Church. I’m sure that if I had felt that I had all the answers I wouldn’t have been able or willing to investigate things at a deeper level.
A breach in my defense
In the ancient world, cities were built on hilltops and ringed with stout walls that protected the inhabitants against invaders. When an invading army laid siege to a city, as when Nebuchadnezzer’s army surrounded Jerusalem in 2 Kings 25:1-7, the inhabitants were safe as long as their food and water held out and for as long as their walls could withstand the onslaught of the catapult’s missile and the sapper’s pick. But if the wall was breached, the city was lost.
My willingness to consider the claims of the Catholic Church began as a result of a breach in the wall of the Reformed Protestant theology that encircled my soul. For nearly forty years I labored to construct that wall, stone-by-stone, to protect my Protestant convictions.
The stones were formed from my personal experiences, seminary education, relationships, and my successes and failures in the ministry. The mortar that cemented the stones in place was my Protestant faith and philosophy. My wall was high and thick and, I thought, impregnable against anything that might intrude.
But as the mortar crumbled and the stones began to shift and slide, at first imperceptibly, but later on with an alarming rapidity, I became worried. I tried hard to discern the reason for my growing lack of confidence in the doctrines of Protestantism.
I wasn’t sure what I was seeking to replace my Calvinist beliefs, but I knew my theology was not invincible. I read more books and consulted with theologians in an effort to patch the wall, but I made no headway.
I reflected often on Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not unto your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths.” This exhortation both haunted and consoled me as I grappled with the doctrinal confusion and procedural chaos within Protestantism.
The Reformers had championed the notion of private interpretation of the Bible by the individual, a position I began to feel increasingly uncomfortable with, in light of Proverbs 3:5-6.
Bible-believing Protestants claim they do follow the teaching in this passage by seeking the Lord’s guidance. The problem is that there are thousands of different paths of doctrine down which Protestants feel the Lord is directing them to travel. And these doctrines vary widely according to denomination.
I struggled with the questions, “How do I know what God’s will is for my life and for the people in my congregation? How can I be sure that what I’m preaching is correct? How do I know what truth is?” In light of the doctrinal mayhem that exists within Protestantism?each denomination staking out for itself doctrine based on the interpretations of the man who founded it?-he standard Protestant boast, “I believe only in what the Bible says,” began to ring hollow. I professed to look to the Bible alone to determine truth, but the Reformed doctrines I inherited from John Calvin, John Knox and the Puritans clashed in many respects with those held by my Lutheran, Baptist, and Anglican friends.
In the Gospel Jesus explained what it means to be a true disciple (cf. Matt. 19:16-23). It’s more than reading the Bible, or having your name in a church membership roster, or regularly attending Sunday services, or even praying a simple prayer of conversion to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. These things, good though they are, by themselves don’t make one a true disciple of Jesus. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ means making a radical commitment to love and obey the Lord in every word, action, and attitude, and to strive to radiate his love to others. The true disciple, Jesus said, is willing to give up everything, even his own life, if necessary, to follow the Lord.
I was deeply convinced of this fact, and as I tried to put it into practice in my own life (not always with much success) I also did my best to convince my congregation that this call to discipleship is not an option?it’s something all Christians are called to strive for. The irony was that my Protestant theology made me impotent to call them to radical discipleship, and it made them impotent to hear and heed the call.
One might ask, “If all it takes to be saved is to ‘confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead’ (Rom. 10:9), then why must I change? Oh, sure, I should change my sinful ways. I should strive to please God. But if I don’t, what does it really matter? My salvation is assured.”
There’s a story about a newspaper reporter in New York City who wanted to write an article on what people consider the most amazing invention of the twentieth century. He hit the streets, interviewing people at random, and received a variety of answers: the airplane, the telephone, the automobile, computers, nuclear energy, space travel, and antibiotic medicine. The answers went on along these lines until one fellow gave an unlikely answer:
“It’s obvious. The most amazing invention was the thermos.”
“The thermos?” queried the reporter, eyebrows raised.
“Of course. It keeps hot things hot and cold things cold.”
The newspaperman blinked. “So what?”
“How does it know?”
This anecdote had meaning for me. Since it was my duty and desire to teach the truth of Jesus Christ to my congregation, my growing concern was, “How do I know what is truth and what isn’t?”
Every Sunday I would stand in my pulpit and interpret Scripture for my flock, knowing that within a fifteen mile radius of my church there were dozens of other Protestant pastors?all of whom believed that the Bible alone is the sole authority for doctrine and practice?but each was teaching something different from what I was teaching. “Is my interpretation of Scripture the right one or not?” I’d wonder. “Maybe one of those other pastors is right, and I’m misleading these people who trust me.”
There was also the knowledge?no, the gut-twisting certitude?that one day I would die and stand before the Lord Jesus Christ, the Eternal Judge, and I would be required to answer not just for my own actions but also for how I led the people he had given me to pastor. “Am I preaching truth or error?” I asked the Lord repeatedly. “I think I’m right, but how can I know for sure?”
This dilemma haunted me.
I started questioning every aspect of my ministry and Reformed theology, from insignificant issues to important ones. I look back now with a certain embarrassed humor at how I fretted during those trying days of uncertainty. At one point I even wrangled with doubts over whether or not to wear a clerical collar. Since there is no mandatory clerical dress code for Presbyterian ministers some wear collars, some wear business suits, some robes, and others a combination of all. One minister friend kept a clerical collar in the glove compartment of his car, just in case donning it might bring some advantage to him, “Like getting out of a speeding ticket!” He once confided with a conspiratorial grin. I decided not to wear a clerical collar. At Sunday services I wore a plain black choir robe over my business suit.
When it came to the form and content of Sunday liturgy every church had its own views on how things should be done, and each pastor was free to do pretty much whatever he wanted within reason.
Without mandated denominational guidelines to steer me, I did what all the other pastors were doing: I improvised. Hymns, sermons, Scripture selections, congregational participation, and the administration of baptism, marriage, and the Lord’s Supper were all fair game for experimentation. I shudder at the memory of one particular Sunday when, in an effort to make the youth service more interesting and “relevant,” I spoke the Lord’s words of consecration, “This is my Body, this is my Blood, do this in memory of me,” over a pitcher of soda pop and a bowel of potato chips.
Theological questions vexed me the most. I remember standing beside the hospital bed of a man who was near death after suffering a heart attack. His distraught wife asked me, “Is my husband going to heaven?” All I could do was mouth some sort of pious but vague “we-must-trust-in-the-Lord” reassurance about her husband’s salvation. She may have been comforted but I was tormented by her tearful plea. After all, as a Reformed pastor I believed John Calvin’s doctrines of predestination and perseverance of the saints. This man had given his life to Christ, he had been regenerated, and was confident that he was one of God’s elect. But was he?
I was deeply unsettled by the knowledge that no matter how earnestly he may have thought he was predestined for heaven (it’s interesting that all who preach the doctrine of predestination firmly believe they themselves are one of the elect), and no matter how sincerely those around him believed he was, he may not have gone to heaven.
And what if he had secretly “backslidden” into serious sin and been living in a state of rebellion against God at the moment his heart attack caught him by surprise? Reformed theology told me that if that were the case, then the poor fellow had simply been deluded by a false security, thinking he was regenerated and predestined for heaven when in fact he had been unregenerated all along and on his way to hell. Calvin taught that the Lord’s elect will?must?persevere in grace and election. If a person dies in a state of rebellion against God he proves he never was one of the elect. “What kind of absolute assurance was that?” I wondered.
I found it harder to give clear, confident answers to the “will my husband go to heaven?” kinds of questions my parishioners asked. Every Protestant pastor I knew had a different set of criteria that he listed as “necessary” for salvation. As a Calvinist I believed that if one publicly accepts Jesus as his Lord and Savior, one is saved by grace through faith. But even as I consoled others with these fine-sounding words, I was troubled by the worldly and sometimes grossly sinful lifestyles these now-deceased members of my congregation had lived. After just a few years of ministry I began to doubt whether I should continue.
The Apostles received the gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; and Jesus Christ was sent from God. Christ, therefore, is from God, and the Apostles are from Christ. Both of these orderly arrangements, then, are by God’s will. Receiving their instructions and being full of confidence on the account of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and confirmed in faith by the Word of God, they went forth in the complete assurance of the Holy Spirit, preaching the Good News that the kingdom of God is coming. Through countryside and city they preached; and they appointed their earliest converts, testing them by the Spirit, to be the bishops and deacons of future believers. Nor was this a novelty: for bishops and deacons had been written about a long time earlier. Indeed, Scripture somewhere says: “I will set up their bishops in righteousness and their deacons in faith (Clement of Rome, Epistle to the Corinthians 42:1-5 [ca. A.D. 80]).
Another patristic quote that helped breach the wall of my Protestant presuppositions was this one from Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons:
When, therefore, we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek among others the truth which is easily obtained from the Church. For the apostles, like a rich man in a bank, deposited with her most copiously everything that pertains to the truth; and everyone whosoever wishes draws from her the drink of life. For she is the entrance to life, while all the rest are thieves and robbers. That is why it is surely necessary to avoid them, while cherishing with the utmost diligence the things pertaining to the Church, and to lay hold of the tradition of truth. What then? If there should be a dispute over some kind of question, ought we not have recourse to the most ancient churches in which the apostles were familiar, and draw from them what is clear and certain in regard to that question? What if the apostles had not in fact left writings for us? Would it not be necessary to follow the order of tradition, which was handed down to those to whom they entrusted the Churches? (Against Heresies 3,4,1 [ca. A.D. 180]).
I studied the causes for the Reformation. The Roman Catholic Church of that day was desperately in need of renewal but Martin Luther and the other Reformers chose the wrong, the unbiblical, method for dealing with the problems they saw in the Church. The correct route was and still is just what my Presbyterian friend had told me: Don’t leave the Church; don’t break the unity of faith. Work for genuine reform based on God’s plan, not man’s, achieving it through prayer, penance, and good example.
I could no longer remain Protestant. To do so meant I must deny Christ’s promise to guide and protect his Church and to send the Holy Spirit to lead it into all truth (cf. Matt. 16:18-19, 18:18, 28:20; John 14:16, 25, 16:13). But I couldn’t bear the thought of becoming a Catholic. I’d been taught for so long to despise “Romanism” that, even though intellectually I had discovered Catholicism to be true, I had a hard time shaking my emotional prejudice against the Church.
One key difficulty was the psychological adjustment to the complexity of Catholic theology. By contrast Protestantism is simple: admit you’re a sinner, repent of your sins, accept Jesus as your personal Savior, trust in him to forgive you, and you’re saved.
I continued studying Scripture and Catholic books and spent many hours debating with Protestant friends and colleagues over difficult issues like Mary, praying to the saints, indulgences, purgatory, priestly celibacy, and the Eucharist. Eventually I realized that the single most important issue was authority. All of this wrangling over how to interpret Scripture gets one nowhere if there is no way to know with infallible certitude that one’s interpretation is the right one. The teaching authority of the Church in the magisterium centered around the seat of Peter. If I could accept this doctrine, I knew I could trust the Church on everything else.
I read Fr. Stanley Jaki’s The Keys to the Kingdom and Upon This Rock, and the Documents of Vatican II and earlier councils, especially Trent. I carefully studied Scripture and the writings of Calvin, Luther, and the other Reformers to test the Catholic argument. Time after time I found the Protestant arguments against the primacy of Peter simply weren’t biblical or historical. It became clear that the Catholic position was the biblical one.
The Holy Spirit delivered a literal coup de grace to my remaining anti-Catholic biases when I read John Henry Cardinal Newman’s landmark book, An Essay on the Development of the Christian Doctrine. In fact, my objections evaporated when I read 12 pages in the middle of the book in which Newman explains the gradual development of papal authority. “It is less difficulty that the papal supremacy was not formally acknowledged in the second century, then that there was no formal acknowledgment on the part of the Church of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity till the fourth. No doctrine is defined till violated.”
My study of Catholic claims took about a year and a half. During this period, Marilyn and I studied together, sharing together as a couple the fears, hopes, and challenges that accompanied us along the path to Rome. We attended Mass together weekly, making the drive to a parish far enough away from our home town (my former Presbyterian Church was less then a mile from our home) to avoid the controversy and confusion that would undoubtedly arise if my former parishioners knew that I was investigating Rome.
We gradually began to feel comfortable doing all the things Catholics did at Mass (except receiving Communion, of course). Doctrinally, emotionally, and spiritually, we felt ready to formally enter the Church, but there remained one barrier for us to surmount.
Before Marilyn and I met and had fallen in love, she had been divorced after a brief marriage. Since we were Protestants when we met and married, this posed no problem, as far as we and our denomination were concerned. It wasn’t until we felt we were ready to enter the Catholic Church that we were informed that we couldn’t do so unless Marilyn could receive an annulment of her first marriage. At first, we felt like God was playing a joke on us! Then we moved from shock to anger. It seemed so unfair and ridiculously hypocritical: we could have committed almost any other sin, no matter how heinous, and with one confession been adequately cleansed for Church admission, yet because of this one mistake our entry into the Catholic Church had been stopped dead in the water.
But then we remembered what had brought us to this point in our spiritual pilgrimage: we were to trust God with all our hearts and lean not on our own understanding. We were to acknowledge him and trust that he would direct our paths. It became evident to us that this was a final test of perseverance sent by God.
So Marilyn began the difficult annulment investigation process, and we waited. We continued attending Mass, remaining seated in the pew, our hearts aching while those around us went forward to receive the Lord in the Holy Eucharist and we could not. It was by not being able to receive the Eucharist that we learned to appreciate the awesome privilege that Jesus bestows on his beloved of receiving him Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Blessed Sacrament. The Lord’s promise in Scripture became real to us during those Masses: “The Lord chastises the son whom he loves” (Heb. 12:6).
After a nine-month wait, we learned that Marilyn’s annulment had been granted. Without further delay our marriage was blessed, and we were received with great excitement and celebration into the Catholic Church. It felt so incredibly good to finally be home where we belonged. I wept quiet tears of joy and gratitude that first Mass when I was able to walk forward with the rest of my Catholic brothers and sisters and receive Jesus in Holy Communion.
I asked the Lord many times in prayer, “What is truth?” He answered me in Scripture by saying, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” I rejoice that now as a Catholic I can not only know the Truth but receive him in the Eucharist.
Apologia pro a final few words sua
I think that it is important that I mention one more of John Henry Cardinal Newman’s insights that made a crucial difference in the process of my conversion to the Catholic Church. He wrote: “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.” This one line summarizes a key reason why I abandoned Protestantism, bypassed the Orthodox Church, and became a Catholic.
Newman was right. The more I read Church history and Scripture the less I could comfortably remain Protestant. I saw that it was the Catholic Church that was established by Jesus Christ, and all the other claimants to the title “true church” had to step aside. It was the Bible and Church history that made a Catholic out of me, against my will (at least at first) and to my immense surprise. I also learned that the flip side of Newman’s adage is equally true: To cease to be deep in history is to become a Protestant.
That’s why we Catholics must know why we believe what the Church teaches as well as the history behind these truths of our salvation. We must prepare ourselves and our children to “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks for a reason for your hope” (1 Peter 3:15). By boldly living and proclaiming our faith many will hear Christ speaking through us and will be brought to a knowledge of the truth in all its fullness in the Catholic Church. God bless you!
Having fun with dyslexics this Mardi Gras
Wonderful post! (Besides nobody really like paragraphs anyhow!)
NOW I'm mad.
I went to the link and it had a list of notable converts, and was I there? No I was not.
I have GOT to get me a new agent. I'm well known! Why, people as far as five or six miles from here have heard of me! What does a guy have to do around here? Sheesh!
I have half a mind (don't laugh) to start my OWN denomination, or go be hermit or something. Dawg the Irascible! Has a nice ring to it ....
Oh yeah, the article was good too. I'm really happy to be sponsoring somebody through an RCIA program this Lent.
great post and great TV show Mondays 8 pm on EWTN for any who care to watch him and a convert guest
Had I been at work, I would have copied and pasted the original text to MS Word, done a search and replace on the (br) and fixed it all up. Instead, I'm at home on a 9 y/o iMac with dial up. I opted to 'let it go' in favor of the content rather than its presentation. It is a wonderful story and glad you appreciated it.
Bless you! It's an awesome responsibility. Care to share some of your catechumen's story with us?
It is my most favorite program! Unfortunately, I have missed several of these programs over the last few weeks. It seems my parish likes to schedule meetings on Monday evenings at 7pm :-). Tomorrow night, at 7pm, we will gather in Church for Ash Monday. That makes 3 weeks in a row that I have missed The Journey Home. Oh well. Gives me something to look forward to this summer during the reruns.
LOL! I think all our Freeper converts should be on that list!
Newman is wonderful and I think he has answered questions for many sincere seekers. Good article!
What exactly is a Catholic caucus? Aren't all these postings on this public board? Just curious as I'm RC.
There are 40 days in Lent. ;-)
Thank you so much for posting this article, NYer.
It precludes non-Catholics from using the thread to bash us. Non-catholics are welcome to post but must respect the Religion Moderator's guidelines.
There are plenty more to follow.
I never had to suffer through one of those, praise God. I'd probably have a felonious assault conviction in my record. But I'd heard of them. Bp. Lee of Virginia told me he had a priest do that (Fritos and Coke) and he gave him a serious chain-yanking. That was in our conversations approaching my renouncing my orders.
Care to share some of your catechumen's story with us?
No. I'm still sulking because I wasn't on the famous converts list. (sniff) Oh well, Okay. But I"m still mad! I mean hurt, yeah, that's it, hurt.
She was brought up Baptist. Was Episcopalian but here in VA thats sort of variable. I met her because I was the lay chaplain in the Sheriff's Office, her husband was a deputy and she heard I was RC, so she asked if she could buy me coffee. A gallon or so later she allowed as to how when she went to the Church I attend she "knew" our Lord was in the Tabernacle.
So I just said,"If you know that, what else is there to talk about? I must be where my Beloved is. How about you?"
So a few months later she began attending regularly.
The REAL exciting miracle is in her family. Dad is totally nonreligious -- but he came to Midnight Mass with her. Her daughter came to pone Mass and her Son to another and they've all said they want to be there on Ash Wednesday. Her son isn't even baptized! I'm not much of a fisherman, but I think there's more than one on this line here.
This is one of the most exciting things I've ever witnessed.
Gads! He's a very humble and brave man to even admit that he did this...