Skip to comments.Journey Home - May 21 - Neil Babcox (former Presbyterian) - A minister encounters Mary
Posted on 05/21/2007 12:59:30 PM PDT by NYer
In October, Rev. Neil Babcox, pastor of Disston Memorial Presbyterian Church in the Tacony section of Philadelphia had to perform one of the most difficult tasks of his life. Of all of the congregations he’d led this was the flock that touched him most; he didn’t want to hurt them. He had to tell them he was resigning his pulpit because he was becoming a Catholic.
“It was hard for them to absorb, but they were loving and accepting, and so was the denomination,” he recalls.
Long before telling the congregation, Babcox shared his feeling with his wife, Emilie, his college sweetheart whom he married in 1972. She, too, was supportive — with misgivings — as were their three grown children, Erin, Christopher and Timothy. Emilie remains a committed Presbyterian, with no intentions of becoming Catholic, and there were practical concerns for both of them. She has a successful career; being a minister was his livelihood and a way of life. What would happen to his pension? What would he do for a living? Where would they live? If Neil and Emilie had trepidations, they are quite understandable.
In any case, Babcox, 54, ruefully quotes Cardinal John Henry Newman, perhaps the most famous convert to Catholicism from Protestantism in all of history; “Middle age is a bad time to convert.”
That doesn’t mean Babcox has second thoughts. It’s been a long journey but one, in conscience, he had to make.
For him, life began with a spiritually blank slate.
Born in Illinois and baptized generic Protestant, his was a family which really had no religion. It was strange in a way — his father was a coroner, and on his mother’s side the family was in the mortuary business. Surrounded by death, yet there was no religious context.
He went off to Southern Illinois University in 1970 and it was here he began dating Emilie, whom he knew from high school. They were both drawn into a lively Christian movement on the campus. “It was a time when I was searching and seeking, and this was when I decided to give my life to Christ,” Babcox said.
It was Christianity in a nondenominational way, but nevertheless enthusiastic. He and his friends formed their own little independent church, even partaking in street evangelization He became active for a time in the Charismatic movement.
Babcox took his degree in philosophy and religious studies, and continued on for graduate studies at Princeton Theological Seminary. Eventually, he obtained his doctorate in ministry from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.
Seeking a more structured form of Protestantism, he was formally ordained to ministry in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in 1986. This was followed by a series of pastorships, in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and, most recently, at Disston Memorial, where he served for three years.
But for almost this entire period, Babcox was experiencing a growing awareness of, and affinity to, Catholicism.
The reasons were many. Even in his pre-Presbyterian days he was a strong supporter of the pro-life movement, in agreement with the encyclical Humanae Vitae and an admirer of John Paul II, especially because of his stand on life issues.
He became drawn to the great Catholic mystics and writers. Francis de Sales, Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross represented the spiritual riches and treasures found in Catholicism.
Through his readings he fell in love with the Liturgy of the Hours and made this a daily ritual. Beginning 15 years ago, he began making annual retreats to the Trappist Monastery of Genesee, New York.
It was during his first visit at the late evening Compline service — which was to his ears the most beautiful lullaby imaginable — that the seed of his conversion was planted. As Compline ended, the lights of the chapel were extinguished, save for one highlighting the icon of the Blessed Virgin. All sang the beautiful Salve Regina.
“I was touched by the Virgin Mary. Most Protestant converts say Catholic devotion to Mary was their greatest hurdle. For me, it wouldn’t have happened without Mary,” Babcox said.
His personal road to Rome was still quite long and there were many steps along the way.
He discovered the rosary and began to recite it. By custom, a silent Hail Mary became his last words at night. “That was rather strange for a Presbyterian minister,” Babcox admits.
He was drawn into the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius under the direction of a Sister of St. Joseph.
He read Catholic apologetics, including the writings of the great converts — Chesterton, Merton, Newman, and after accepting a pulpit in Philadelphia he began to drop in at the Eucharistic Adoration chapels at St. Dominic and St. Katherine of Siena churches, again an unusual custom for someone who never experienced Eucharist.
“It became clear to me the spiritual life cannot be separated from the sacraments and the Eucharist,” Babcox said. Along the way, he also began to visit the Carmelite Monastery on Old York Road where he was encouraged by Mother Pia. “The Carmelites are the Green Berets of prayer,” he said.
Up on Roosevelt Boulevard he frequented the Pauline Books and Media Center, a resource for his spiritual reading. On an early visit he confided to Pauline Sister Cynthia Guza that he was devoted to Mary, but wasn’t Catholic.
“That is a great gift,” she told him.
Babcox seemed to be touched by this, he hadn’t though of himself as gifted in this way. He became a fast friend of Sister Cynthia and the other Daughters of St. Paul who staff the bookstore.
“It was rewarding to see a person on his way to God — at that point he didn’t know how it would work out,” Sister Cynthia said. “We try to be respectful of the person, to help them, but it’s up to God. We don’t know where they are on their spiritual journey. In his case I knew [conversion] was coming it was a matter of time.”
It wasn’t long after this that Babcox come in contact with Father Shaun Mahoney, Newman Club director at Temple University who serves as a liaison between the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and ministers who are considering entry into the Catholic Church.
“He was extremely enthusiastic with an intense theological interest, but yet with a profound humility,” Father Mahoney said. “It struck me how openly he embraced the practice of the faith he had found.”
Father Mahoney became another companion during Babcox’s long journey, as he was torn between his real desire for the Catholic faith, and knowing his embrace of it would alter his life in so many complex ways.
Babcox made his ultimate decision, he would be Catholic, on All Saints Day, 2005.
He confided his intention to his family, to all of those who assisted him on the journey and to Cardinal Justin Rigali. He also confided his intention to a sympathetic member of his Presbyterian congregation who eased one of his greatest worries — future employment. Through him he was put in touch with a priest in New Jersey, who arranged a meeting with Bishop Joseph Galante, of Camden. Bishop Galante agreed to give Babcox, who is living in Westmont, N.J. with his wife, a position in lay ministry as associate director of the Newman Club at the Richard Stockton College near Atlantic City.
On Nov. 1, again All Saints Day, before a small gathering of family and friends at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, Neil Babcox was formally received into the Catholic Church. Also present in a show of support were Presbyterian and Episcopalian clergy friends and members of the Tacony Ministerium — Father John Farry of St. Leo Parish, Rev. Kay Braun of St. Petri-Hope Lutheran Church, Rev. William Stone of St. Stephen’s United Church of Christ and Rev. Arthur Johnson of Tacony Baptist Church.
Baptism was unnecessary, but Father Mahoney administered the sacrament of confirmation and for the first time, Neil Babcox, now formally a Catholic layman, received holy Communion. Sister Cynthia was his sponsor at confirmation, a first for her in 35 years in the convent.
At confirmation Neil Babcox became Neil Patrick Mary Babcox. Taking the Confirmation name of Mary is unusual for a male in America, but it was very fitting.
Previously, at a Temple Newman program Neil Babcox summed up his devotion to the Holy Virgin through the words of St. Elizabeth, “Who am I that the mother of the Lord should come to me?”
First you get down on your knees, fiddle with your rosaries,
Bow your head with great respect, and genuflect, genuflect, genuflect!
Do whatever steps you want if you have cleared them with the Pontiff.
Everybody say his own Kyrie eleison,
Doin’ the Vatican Rag.
Get in line in that processional, step into that small confessional.
There the guy who’s got religion’ll tell you if your sin’s original.
If it is, try playin’ it safer, drink the wine and chew the wafer,
Two, four, six, eight, time to transubstantiate!
So get down upon your knees, fiddle with your rosaries,
Bow your head with great respect, and genuflect, genuflect, genuflect!
Make a cross on your abdomen, when in Rome do like a Roman;
Ave Maria, gee, it’s good to see ya!
Gettin’ ecstatic an’ sorta dramatic an’ doin’ the Vatican Rag!
**I was touched by the Virgin Mary. Most Protestant converts say Catholic devotion to Mary was their greatest hurdle. For me, it wouldnt have happened without Mary, Babcox said.**
This brings tears to my eyes. Maybe because I have attended the Liturgy of the Hours with a large group of priests and seminarians chanting it. Absolutely beautiful. I can only imagine how all the light going out except for the one spotlighting the icon of the Blessed Mother touched him.
Your satire is not appreciated. This is a real story about a real faith conversion. If it doesn’t fit you, please don’t come to the thread.
Thank you, Salvation. I thot it was inappropriate too.
"So Jesus said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.' After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him. Jesus said to the twelve, 'Will you also go away?'"
Most Protestants believe that the bread and wine offered by the Catholic priest in the Holy Mass are only symbols of Christ's body and blood. They do not believe that Christians have to actually eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ to have eternal life. They do not believe that Christ's flesh is actual food, and His blood actual drink. Why, then, does Jesus repeatedly say in these verses that we must eat His flesh and drink His blood or we have no life in us? Why does Christ say that His flesh is food indeed, and His blood is drink indeed, if His flesh and blood really aren't food and drink indeed? This teaching of Jesus on the Eucharist is the most profound in all of Scripture, and these verses are very problematic to the Protestant contention that the bread and wine of the Mass are just symbols.
When John 6 is prayerfully read, we see how Jesus gradually teaches the faithful about the life-giving bread from heaven that He will give to the world (through the multiplication of the loaves, the reference to the raining manna given to the Israelites, and finally to the bread that Jesus will give which is His flesh). When the Jews question Jesus about how he could possibly give them His flesh to eat, Jesus becomes more literal in His explanation. As we learned in the link on The Eucharist, Jesus says several times that we must eat (in Greek, "phago") His flesh to gain eternal life (which literally means "to chew").
When the Jews further question the strangeness of His teaching, Jesus uses an even more literal verb (in Greek, "trogo") to describe how we must eat His flesh to have eternal life (which literally means "to gnaw or crunch"). The word trogo is only used two other times in the New Testament (Matt. 24:38; John 13:18) and it is always used literally (physically eating). Protestants are unable to provide a single example of where "trogo" is ever used in a symbolic sense. To drive His point home, Jesus says that His flesh is real food indeed, and His blood is real drink indeed (Jesus says nothing about the bread being a symbol of His body and blood).
What is perhaps most compelling about the foregoing passages is what happens at the end of Jesus' discourse. We know that the Jews understood Jesus as speaking literally. This is demonstrated by their question, "How can this man give us His flesh to eat?" They could not conceive of why consuming Jesus' flesh was life-giving and how they could possibly do such a thing. We also know that Jesus responds to their question by being even more literal about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. But we learn at the end of Jesus' discourse that many of His followers, because of the difficulty of His teaching, decided to no longer follow Him - and Jesus let them go. Then He turned to His apostles and asked them, "Will you also go away?"
Would Jesus, the Incarnate Word of God who became man to save humanity, allow his followers to leave Him if they misunderstood His teaching? Of course not, especially when the teaching regarded how they were to obtain eternal life which was at the heart of Jesus' mission. Jesus always explained the meaning of His teachings to His disciples. Mark 4:34. Jesus did not say, "Hey, guys, come back here, you got it all wrong." He didn't do this because they did not have it all wrong. They understood correctly - we must eat Jesus' flesh and drink His blood, or we have no life within us. The Protestant who contends that the Catholic offering of bread and wine in the Mass is just a symbol (and does not miraculously become the body and blood of Christ through the actions of the priest acting "in persona Christi") must address John 6:53-58, 66-67 - why Jesus used the words He did, and why Jesus allowed His followers to leave Him if they understood Him correctly (which is the only time in Scripture where Christ allows His disciples to leave Him based upon a doctrinal teaching).
When we meditate upon this mystery with an open mind and heart, we come to believe and know that the Eucharist is the way the Father gives us His Son in the eternal covenant of love by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Eucharist is an extension of the Incarnation. If we can believe in the Incarnation (that God become a little baby), than believing that God makes Himself substantially present under the appearance of bread and wine is easy. The Church has thus taught for 2,000 years that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian faith - the consummation of the sacrificed Paschal lamb, by which we are restored to God and share in His divine life. Thus, Saint Paul says, "our Paschal lamb has been sacrificed; therefore, let us celebrate the feast." 1 Corinthians 5:7-8.
You're too ignorant of both Catholicism and Scripture to reach such an easily refutable conclusion.
87 member, shrinking church (down from 160 10 years ago). Liberal PCUSA, of course.
Jesus & Mary - Two Hearts beating as one!
Two more videos available of Neal Babcox on AirMaria.com! Here's one thumbnail:
Video - Neil Babcox: Protestant Pastor becomes Catholic
FI News #12 - Protestant Pastor Neil Babcox converts to Catholicism because of the Blessed Virgin Mary. >>> Play
After being a Protestant Pastor for over 30 years, first in a nondenominational church and then in three Presbyterian churches, Neil Babcox makes the journey home to the Catholic Faith on the Solemnity of All Saints, November 1, 2006. While most Protestant converts find Catholic devotion to Our Lady an extremely difficult obstacle to becoming Catholic, for Neil it was just the opposite: Her irresistible tenderness drew him into the fullness of Christ's Church. Neil spent his first Easter with the Franciscans of the Immaculate and shared his story with AirMaria.com in two episodes. Watch Neil in this first episode as he shares how the Immaculate brought him home; and be sure to tune in to EWTN, Marcus Grodi's The Journey Home on May 21st at 8pm where Neil will share more of his story.
EWTN, Marcus Grodi, The Journey Home--upcoming guest Neil Babcox:
And your point is...?
Where are you getting this erroneous information — or are you just being sarcastic?
MuttTheHoople, in the future, when posting lyrics be sure to include a source and link, if available.
Here is the conversion story of Neil Babcox, already posted to the forum in May.
Why would I be interested?
Thanks for the ping!
Because of this post to which you were pinged ...
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