“… these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:31
In these words, John the Apostle explained how his written Gospel was in line with the great final commission Jesus had given His apostles. When Jesus commanded them to “go forth and make disciples…”, He had included instructions on baptizing and teaching, but as far as we know He never told them to write. Yet as the Church spread to the farthest reaches of the Mediterranean Sea, the missionary Apostles recognized the supportive and evangelistic necessity of the written word. Saint Paul’s preferred method of passing along the faith was face-to-face, but more often than not—sometimes through no fault of his own, i.e., prison!—he had to augment his teaching with letters, and it was to emphasize the equal authority of his written instructions that he wrote to the Thessalonian Christians, “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thess 2:15). And I am quite certain that everyone reading this recognizes a great debt of gratitude to the written word, whether it is read or heard.
Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman claimed in his introduction to his Essay on the Development of Doctrine that “to become deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.” I know that most converts can confirm the truth of this in relation to their own conversions, but for this to happen in the twenty-first century, our non-Catholic friends and family must read as well as listen to the fullness of truth found only in the Catholic Church.
But what if our non-Catholic friends refuse to read books that present a balanced, un-revisionist version of history or the Catholic faith? I must admit that even though my wife, Marilyn, and I have in no way hid the reasons for our conversions, none of our extended family (other than my mother, and my father on the day he died) has “ceased to be Protestant.” Even friends who faithfully watch the Journey Home program do not seem to be getting one skosh closer to the Church.
For years I have proposed that the three top reasons most Protestants are not Catholics (besides pride) are (1) ignorance: they don’t have the right data about the Catholic faith, (2) prejudice: the data they have is inaccurate, and (3) “bad Catholics”: either the Catholics they know are poor models of the Catholic faith, or the faithful Catholics they know don’t fit their definition of what it means to be a Christian. Reinforcing these three reasons is the fact that few non-Catholics read books about the Catholic Church written by faithful Catholics. I’m sure most of you will concur with this. Up until I began my journey toward the Church at age 38, the only Catholic book I had read about the Catholic faith was On Being Christian by Hans Kung (a renegade “Catholic” theologian). Not a great start!
Ever since our conversion, Marilyn and I have given dozens of great Catholic non-fiction and biographies to family and friends, who, with seemingly good intentions, promised to read them. But instead these books usually end up gathering dust on shelves with only the first dozen or so pages cracked—and usually, as a result, our relationships end up slightly strained.
So how can we reach our friends and family? And how many of you face this same seemingly insurmountable barrier?
I believe conversion begins when a breach occurs in the self-constructed walls of our psyche. Like the ancient cities that built tall, thick walls to protect their inhabitants from attack, each person surrounds himself with defense mechanisms that insulate us from invasion. But when a breach occurs—either through a crisis, or tragedy, or an awakening of some kind—often the person, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, becomes vulnerable and open to conversion.
So what can we use to help the Holy Spirit break through the thick walls of ignorance and prejudice?
Well, most of my family and friends, Protestant or pagan, read novels. In fact, I never knew my father to be without a novel, whether it was Clancy or King, Cussler or Grisham, Roberts or Michener. He was always off somewhere in a story, and these stories influenced his thinking. Historical novels by Kenneth Roberts, for example, shaped his views about the American Revolution, while novels by John Le Carre taught him about the world of espionage. And novels have likewise had a powerful influence on my own thinking; books like To Kill A Mockingbird, The Robe, Cry the Beloved Country, The Count of Monte Cristo, or The Stand.
So why not utilize this genre to share our faith with family and friends? This, of course, is not a new idea. There are racks of Christian novels at any large bookstore or library, but few of these are by contemporary Catholic authors—at least with the goal of accomplishing what the Apostle John had in mind. There used to be novels with this goal, written by the likes of Newman and Benson, but today few publishers—Catholic, Protestant, or secular—are interested in taking the risk (which is why the Coming Home Network International felt the need to have a publishing outreach, CHResources. Actually over the past twenty years, there has been an increase in good Catholic fiction with this goal in mind, praise be to God!)
I must begin by admitting, though, that I really didn’t want to write. I’ve had many dreams in my life (some pretty wild—just ask my wife!), but up until about ten years ago, writing a novel wasn’t one of them. Negative experiences in high school and college English classes, reinforced by over ten years of science-engineering education and experience, built a nearly insurmountable writer’s block. But recognizing how integral novels have been in my own spiritual conversion and journey—and that a novel was probably the only way I could reach someone like my father—I eventually mustered enough foolhardy determination to scale that wall.
It took over three years of writing, rewriting, critiquing, dialogue, rewriting, researching, and then rewriting, but, with great excitement and relief, in 2002 we released my first novel, entitled How Firm a Foundation. Our hope was that life-long Catholics and converts would enjoy the story enough to then give the book away to non-Catholic friends and family. The book centers on the lives of three people—Stephen LaPointe (a Congregational minister), his wife, Sara, and a member of their congregation named Walter—and the story focuses on what happens in their lives as Stephen struggles with whether the Bible is a sufficient “firm foundation” for his preaching, his faith, and his life. The book was not intended to be a didactic book of apologetics, but rather an intimate picture into the psychological and relational issues that arise in the process of conversion.
By God’s merciful grace, we have received many testimonials to how this book has helped open the hearts and minds of non-Catholics to the beauty of the Church. But over the years, we’ve also received many queries, “What ever happened to Stephen and Sara?” So, again after “over three years of writing, rewriting, critiquing, dialogue, rewriting, researching, and then rewriting,” we have just released Pillar and Bulwark, the sequel. It picks up a year after How Firm a Foundation left off, telling the continuing story of Stephen and Sara, and also how their journeys of faith affected their friends and family, particularly a friend named Scott, and a potential nemesis named Raeph.
As I’m sure you are aware, one of the reasons few non-Catholics read Catholic books is because the books appear too Catholic. Therefore, CHResources has taken every precaution to use “stealth” in our cover design and advertising—it’s hard to know these are “Catholic friendly” books until you are well into the stories.
It is our hope that both the newly edited edition of How Firm a Foundation and its sequel, Pillar and Bulwark, will be more than an enjoyable read but a encouragement to your faith—and that you will want to give them away to non-Catholic family members and friends. We want these two novels to serve as two additional arrows in our quiver of outreach to friends and family for Jesus Christ and His Church.
Sincerely In Christ,
Marcus C. Grodi
President, the Coming Home Network International