Sunday, September 20, 2009

Spread the Word

I wish I could remember the exact date. It was sometime in the mid-1990’s. Our pastor had mailed a flier to every address in the community inviting them to hear a former Baptist tell of his conversion to Catholicism. I remember wondering what our pastor was getting himself into. Surely this was going to backfire. Either this guy is still a Baptist who has hoodwinked our priest into thinking he was going to speak for the Church and will instead try to set us Catholics straight, or the many Baptists in the area will turn out and hang this guy out to roast.

I was a somewhat lukewarm Catholic at the time. I went to Mass every week, but I thought the Pope didn’t really understand what it was like to live in the world today. Protestants had challenged me about my Catholic Faith, and I really had no answers. Church teaching seemed pretty antiquated to me and I couldn’t understand why a Baptist would want to become Catholic. So, I decided I had to attend the event to see what was going to happen.

That night, I met a young Catholic convert named Tim Staples and my life would never be quite the same again. In the span of about two hours, he lit a fire in me that still burns to this day. Tim told his conversion story, how he was a bold anti-catholic evangelical in the Marine Corp who took pride in pulling ignorant Catholics out the Church until he was challenged by another Catholic Marine who actually knew his faith. In his talk, he discussed many of the same challenges that had been thrown at me by a co-worker. He taught me that all of these challenges have reasonable answers. He taught me that we Catholics can be confident that we are in the one true Church established by Jesus Christ. I learned to appreciate the Magesterial teaching authority of the Pope in union with the Bishops.

Such profound change occurred for me that evening. I became so excited by the Catholic Faith that I now try to share my excitement whenever the opportunity arises. When people ask me to tell my story, I always go back to that evening when I met Tim Staples, and I also give credit to our priest at that time, Father Mark Mazza, who had the courage and foresight to bring Tim to our little parish. But my most sincere appreciation and respect goes to a man named Matt Dula. Who is Matt Dula? He was the Catholic Marine who had the courage to stand up to a very cocky anti-Catholic and ultimately figured in his conversion. Had he not done so, perhaps Tim would still be pulling people out of the Church. As it turned out, Tim became a fervent Catholic apologist responsible for countless conversions.

You see it is not enough to learn the faith. We must also be ready to share and defend it. Someone undoubtedly had an impact on Matt Dula’s religious education enabling him to go toe to toe with Tim Staples. I doubt that Matt Dula had any inkling that his defense of the Faith would later affect so many souls, including my own. One small spark can start a raging wildfire. I hope and pray that I may be one to fan the flames.