The following quote from a Protestant minister on the "journey home" to the Catholic Church best describes the reason the Coming Home Network International exists:
"I am a Protestant minister with a family of five. However, after many years of searching, study, prayer, and at times painful disagreement, my wife and I now know that I must resign from my pastorate so that our family can come home to the Catholic Church. We are not scared. We have been completely broken down and now have nothing to do but trust Him. We are certain of His call to become Catholics. We just need support" (Journeys Home, Queenship Publishing Co, 1997, p. 153).
This lay apostolate was started, not because there were not already Catholic lay evangelistic apostolates reaching out to non-Catholics, helping them "hear," understand, and hopefully accept the truths of the Catholic Church. On the contrary, there are many such groups.
However, the need for an organisation, a fellowship, a support group, a "network" grew out of the personal experiences of Protestant clergy - like myself - and our families converting to the Catholic Church. In a sense, the Coming Home Network is there to help pick up the pieces after the evangelistic apostolates have successfully done their work.
There is great joy and peace both along the way and at the end of the conversion trail. The excitement that comes from discovering the amazingly Catholic witness of the early Church Fathers, or the truth of what the Catholic Church really teaches versus what we may have believed it taught, is invigorating.
For me, I had come to doubt whether I even had the right to remain a Protestant pastor. I no longer could justify why my Presbyterian interpretation of Scripture and truth was any more accurate than any of the other sometimes slightly - but too often drastically different - denominational interpretations being broadcast from hundreds of pulpits around me. Our adult classes were always full of people converting from other denominations to my Evangelical Presbyterian Church. I was constantly trying to explain why our Presbyterian view of Baptism or Salvation or the Lord's Supper or the End Times was different from their previous Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Church of Christ, or Catholic beliefs. I would show them the scriptural basis for our interpretation, but often they would show me the scriptural basis for their previous views.
At first, I concluded that this is the way Presbyterians believe because we believe our interpretation is the most accurate. But in time I had to recognise that we believed this way because it was our Presbyterian heritage, our tradition. But whatever happened to Scripture alone? What is this "tradition" through which we interpret Scripture? And by what authority did I claim that our Presbyterian tradition was more accurate and eternally trustworthy than any other Christian tradition? And my people trusted me, that I had done my homework and that my conclusions could be trusted. My conclusion was that I had no right to stand before them as their pastor.
But then through the witness of other Protestant clergy, who had discovered the truth of the Catholic Church, I discovered that there is a Tradition, a teaching authority, that one can trust; one that was established by Christ himself in his hand-picked apostles and guided by the Holy Spirit: the Catholic Church.
But maybe the biggest thing that opened my heart to the truth of the Catholic faith was not all the apologetic arguments, but the realisation that the Catholic Church, with all of her saints and sinners, was exactly what Christ had promised. The majority of complaints against the Catholic Church over the centuries have been aimed at the decisions and actions of bad popes, or immoral clergy, or ignorant laity, or corrupt Catholic nobility, and the correct answer to this is "But, of course! The Church is made up of wheat and tares, from the bottom to the top, sinners in need of grace! This is no reason to leave and form a new church, for any church made up of human beings is made up of sinners."
A true conversion to the Catholic faith from any other starting point carries with it complications, primarily because this conversion must be rooted in and thereby an extension of one's conversion and surrender to Christ. lf becoming a Catholic does not involve this, I do not believe it is a true conversion. It might be a change of convenience or even possibly for some sort of personal gain or aggrandisement.
One can be truly converted only when one recognises or painfully discovers that to be fully a follower of Jesus Christ - and thereby have the full potential of growing in union with him - one must also be in union with the Church he established in and through his apostles.
A conversion by definition must involve leaving behind and rejecting part of what a person once held very dear. Some things can be joyfully brought along, others can be cautiously tolerated, but yet there are ideas, practices, and sometimes even relationships which must be severed. It of course never means that we cease to love those we may need to leave behind, or who choose to turn their backs on us.
In fact, we are called all the more to shower our now confused or indignant friends and family with the all- forgiving, all-accepting love of Christ. However, we must not let the emotional trajectories of our loving glances turn our attention away from the fullness of truth before us, found only in union with the Catholic Church.
Even as I make this statement, there is a voice within me from my Protestant past that reacts to this claim: "Outside the Catholic Church there is no salvation." Even as I now know what the Church truly means by this statement - that all who are saved by Baptism and faith in Christ are therefore saved through the Catholic Church - yet I know how hard it is for those who do not understand to accept it, and to accept our decision to "go ... sell ... give away ... and follow" Jesus Christ into the Catholic Church. Many see our conversions in terms of an acceptance of the fullness, but only as a rejection of where we have left them.
Once I was scheduled to appear on an ecumenical panel to discuss how Evangelicals and Catholics can work together in the political sphere. But two weeks before the conference, I was informed that I was being removed from the panel because, in the mind of the Evangelical conference co-ordinator, my presence as a convert to the Catholic Church was by definition a contradiction to what the panel was trying to propose. Even if I did not say a word, he felt I would be shouting loud and clear that my answer to co-operation was "surrender to Rome."
Every conversion involves these kinds of misunderstandings and rejections, but this is particularly true for clerical and academic converts. Their movement toward and then into the Catholic Church can bring on difficult personal and family conflicts and crises. In the forefront, of course, is the loss of vocation. How will the married clergyman support his family now that he must resign from his pulpit and lay aside his ordination? And what of his "ordination" itself? What does it mean now that he is Catholic?
The same crisis can occur for a Protestant academic who converts, especially if he has been teaching in a Protestant seminary or university. What are the chances of his finding employment in a similar Catholic institution? Will his credentials be accepted without suspicion? And what will he do in the meantime to support his family? Many suggest that these highly trained converts pursue employment in diocesan or parish positions, such as director of evangelisation or Christian education, and in many cases this has been possible. However, just as the Apostle Paul warned Timothy in his first letter not to elevate a convert into leadership too quickly, these new converts today must take time after their conversions to learn what it means to be a Catholic layman before they take on the responsibility of teaching other Catholic laymen.
All of this and more is encompassed in the work of the Coming Home Network International. We cannot get people jobs, but we can tell them of opportunities as we hear of them. We cannot make inroads for them into the structures of their local diocese or parish, but we can stand beside them as they make their own efforts to do so. We cannot be their spiritual directors as they work through all their questions, but we can help them find answers as they seek counsel in their own vicinity.
One morning, as I was reflecting on our work over the last five years, I read the liturgical readings for that day, and was greatly confirmed in the reason for our apostolate: "The twelve summoned the body of the disciples and said, 'It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.' And what they said pleased the whole multitude ... These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands upon them. And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith" (Acts 6:2-7).
Did you ever notice in this passage that after Luke describes the apostles' delegation of ministerial tasks to newly ordained lay leaders, or "deacons," he mentions that "a great many priests" are converting to the faith? Could it be that many Jewish priests were interested in, even convinced by the claims of this new movement within Judaism, but were holding back because they were not sure what they would do if they "converted" or how it would affect their lives?
For these trained and ordained Jewish clergy, acceptance of the claims of this new sect would mean the loss of their pastoral careers. Since a Jewish priest was generally married, conversion would also mean the loss of his means of supporting wife and children, because he had no guarantee he could continue in a paid leadership capacity once he converted. Conversion would mean complete rejection by family and friends, leading possibly to severe persecution. This, therefore, is not just a modern phenomenon. Conversion always requires great sacrifice.
Later, after the Pharisee Saul converted, "the Jews plotted to kill him" (Acts 9:23), who was once their champion persecutor of this growing sect. In Saul's case, it is also interesting to note that when "he attempted to join the disciples ... they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple" (Acts 9:26). He needed an advocate, Barnabas, who was already accepted by the disciples, to stand by and for him before this first Magisterium.
This is the charism of the Coming Home Network International, with St Barnabas as one of our patron saints: to stand beside and for Protestant clergy and laity, and their families, who are responding to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to accept great change and sacrifice, to leave the comfortable and familiar, to come home to the Catholic faith.
May we be "sons of encouragement" to these men, women, and their families, as Barnabas was to Saul. St Barnabas, pray for us!
Marcus Grodi is Director of the Coming Home Network International and editor of 'Journeys Home' (Queenship Publishing, 1997). His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org