The recent scandals in the Church might discourage us, but there’s good news - the coming of many evangelical Protestants into the Catholic Church point to the true gems that are the essential elements of Christ's Church.
For the last thirty years or so, there has been a steady stream of prominent evangelicals who, like homing pigeons - come home to the Church. Thankfully, they bring to her a fresh transfusion of much-needed grace.
While society might recognize faults with the Church, and many of its rank and file members still sadly drift away, there is still something very attractive - a pearl of great price or a treasure in a field - that keeps drawing those who serve God and who sincerely seek the truth.
This is all certainly part of the new evangelization that Pope St. John Paul II has spoken of.
Mercedarian friars from around the world ham it up in Italy for the 800th anniversary of the Order.
New Catholic Leaders
The flow of evangelical leaders to the Church of Rome over recent years include Scott Hahn, the reformed Presbyterian minister who is now a professor and writer; Marcus Grodi, another Presbyterian minister and now head of The Coming Home Network; Steve Wood, evangelical pastor who founded Family Life Center International; Kenneth Howell, a former professor at Reformed Theological Seminary and now a Catholic leader and professor; John Michael Talbot, former rock star who is now a Catholic singer and songwriter; and Patrick Madrid, an author, apologist, and host of several EWTN television series.
What attracts these people?
Like a light on a hill, our Catholic faith reaches others in ways that we do not know. The prophet Isaiah said,
I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. – Isaiah 49:5-6
It makes sense that the fullness of faith that we have will be sought out by those who have the essentials of Christianity, but less than a full plate.
What is an Evangelical?
One expert, Scot McKnight, professor in Religious Studies at North Park University in Chicago, sheds light on this in his scholarly paper, “From Wheaton to Rome: Why Evangelicals Became Roman Catholic.” McKnight defines an “evangelical” to mean,
Christians who believe a personal decision for Christ is necessary for salvation and have made one themselves, and who also adhere to the classical theological tenets that emerged from the Reformation under Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli. (pg. 453)
And yet these devout Christians, who have brought so many of their own flock to belief in Christ our Savior, still look for something else.
The above definition of evangelical also applies in many ways to what is called Christian fundamentalism in today’s Western world. Fundamentalism is an older movement out of which evangelicalism was, in many ways formed.
Ven. Fulton Sheen’s Take
The Ven. Fulton Sheen addressed the limits of fundamentalism when he said:
Fundamentalism assumes that the Bible is fundamental. ... Pentecost was not the descent of books on the heads of the Apostles but the descent of tongues. From that day on it was to be a tongue and a voice, and not a book, that would be fundamental in religion.
And thus, evangelicals who convert are looking for more than just the Bible - they seek truths that go way deeper than what they have been taught.
Four Key Gems in the Church
McKnight, quoted earlier, noted in an article that evangelicals are looking for one of four types of transcendence. In the article quoted above, McKnight, who is not a Catholic, states that in their quest for the true Church and faith, these converts want to transcend the human limits of:
1. Knowledge to find certainty;
2. Temporality to find connection to the entire history of the Church;
3. Division among churches to find unity and universality in the faith and Church;
4. Interpretive diversity to find an interpretive authority.
He says, “These four desires—certainty, history, unity, and authority—are the four manifestations of the ERC’s [evangelical to Roman Catholic] crisis of transcendence.”
Three of our Mercedarian friars
Why do our members leave the Church, and why do great scandals arise? Have we “abandoned the love you had at first” as Rev. 2:4 says?
In many ways, our Church has been a “sleeping giant,” in the words of the late theologian Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.:
Pope Paul VI spoke and wrote extensively on evangelization. In his historic document, Evangelii Nuntiandi, he declared, “Evangelization means to bring the Good News into all the straits of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new, ‘Now I am making the whole of creation new’ (Revelation 21:5). But there is no new humanity if there are not first of all new persons renewed by baptism, and by lives lived according to the Gospel”(18).
On these terms, evangelization includes three distinctive elements: antecedent conversion to Christ and His Church; affecting not only the individual person but the whole culture; and as a result changing this culture and its institutions to make them Christian and Catholic.
We can agree that the evangelicals certainly bring to us the first of these elements: personal conversion to Christ. The turning away from sin and embracing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is a wake-up call for many in our culture caught up with a secular mentality.
Journey from Other Religious Paths
One convert is that of our own priests, Fr. Daniel Bowen. Growing up in a Jehovah’s witness family, Fr. Daniel was introduced to an intense belief in God through the example and training of his mother. As he tells the story on EWTN's The Journey Home with Marcus Grodi, as a youth he eventually rejected that faith and pursued worldly dreams, that early seed of faith was reawakened and clarified through involvement with the Assemblies of God, which is a vibrant faith-filled community that emphasizes personal conversion to Christ.
Fr. Daniel was drawn to the Church by way of a girlfriend, and later other friends. In our article, “From Jehovah's Witness to Mercedarian Priest,” Father traces the path of God’s providence to his calling as a Catholic priest within the Mercedarian Order.
Fr. Daniel is just one of many leaders in our Church who have received God’s grace through channels outside the visible limits of the Church, and who bring their own enthusiasm and gifts to the Church for its service.
A Challenge to Young Men
Men, where is your spiritual path taking you? Is God calling you to religious life as a friar in the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy?
Check out the vocations page of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, or take our “Is God Calling You?” quiz.