As we approach the end of the year, the election is behind us while a horrendous economic crisis still looms ahead—especially for our children and grandchildren! I’m writing this article primarily to fellow former clergy who are Catholic converts or still somewhere along the journey, but also to you who support and pray for our work, for hearing this helps you understand why your support and prayers are necessary.
Over the nineteen years of our work, responding to the needs of more than 2100 non-Catholic clergy from over 100 different traditions, it has become clear that the majority of non-Catholic clergy converts do not find the door open for them to pursue Catholic priesthood.
Some few do have this Call, but other than those former Anglicans called to the Anglican Ordinariate, the Church is trying to limit the number of married priests, regardless of religious background, to two per diocese. This decisively closes this door to the married priesthood for most clergy converts—especially when one realizes that there are over 550,000 non-Catholic ministers in America! If we prayerfully hope these non-Catholic leaders find their way home to the Church, we have to recognize that God must be providing alternate ways for them to use their gifts!
Some few may also have a call to the diaconate, but again there are restrictions on numbers and funding. Plus, the diaconate must not be viewed as a “second place” alternative to the priesthood, but rather a unique specific call unto itself—again not automatically the right choice for a majority of clergy converts.
The majority of clergy converts, consequently, like myself, must recognize that their specific and unique calling is to the lay state. They must seek ways to support their families through non-Church employment, and yet never give up their “call to ministry.” The Church has said much about the authentic and supernatural call of the laity to their unique apostolate of evangelization, and this has especially been emphasized in the documents of the Second Vatican Council, the writings of Blessed John Paul II, and most recently in the Synod of Bishops gathered to study the New Evangelization.
Using Our Gifts for His Glory
But how then, given the above, can we better prepare inquiring non-Catholic clergy to continue using their gifts and training after they “come home” to the Catholic Church? I believe there are no greater instructions than those given by Saint Paul to his two convert assistants, Saints Timothy and Titus.
Specifically to Saint Timothy, Saint Paul wrote: “Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophetic utterance when the council of elders laid their hands upon you” (1 Tim 4:14), and “Hence I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim 1:6-7). Most clergy converts remember and cherish the moment of their ordination, but, now as Catholics and no longer non-Catholic ministers, they sometimes wonder what, if anything, that “laying on of hands” meant? Those who ordained us may not have had any sacramental apostolic authority to do so, yet the vows of our own hearts to serve Him were authentic and real.
We in the Coming Home Network International believe, in union with the many bishops who have encouraged our work, that this vow of service, and the response of the Holy Spirit, continues as our call to serve Him faithfully now as Catholic lay men and women. This, in fact, may have been why God originally called us, why He gave us seminary training and pastoral experience: so that, now that we are “home,” we have unique gifts to share and use for His glory!
The entirety of Saint Paul’s Letters to Titus and Timothy are worthy of this study, but here are a few pertinent texts and reflections:
But as for you, teach what befits sound doctrine. (Titus 1:2)
A big struggle for new converts is that they are chomping at the bit to get quickly into service, not merely because they need a source of income, but because they still have the desire to serve. Yet, it is crucial to recognize how blind we might be to the theological baggage we bring with us and how long it takes to become fully Catholic: it involves far more than learning and memorizing facts; it’s a lifestyle aiming at holiness that often means a complete overhaul of all that we are from the ground up. And if we plan to teach, even small group Bible studies, which we may have been doing for years, we patiently need to learn “what befits sounds doctrine.”
Show yourself in all respects a model of good deeds, and in your teaching show integrity, gravity, and sound speech that cannot be censured, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say of us. (Titus 2:7-8)
Again this reminds converts how much we need to imitate and practice good, faithful Catholic models of devotion and piety so that we ourselves can become faithful models and teachers, especially to our children who may not have been “cradle Catholics.”
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for any honest work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all men. (Titus 3:1-2)
Admittedly, many converts report that “the Church they find” at the local parish, the diocesan office, or the church nationwide may not line up with what they read on paper or with what they expected. However, as the old saying goes, “If ya’ think the church is bad, it just got worse when you and I become members!” Seriously, though, it is important that converts understand and respect the authority of the apostolic, God-ordained Magisterium of the Church. It’s always easy to point out flaws, but especially today it’s important that we model obedient trust in the leaders God has placed over us.
Be Steeped in Prayer
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. (1 Tim 2:1-2)
Before a convert becomes a teacher, he needs to understand, from experience and under the tutelage of a good faithful spiritual guide, authentic Catholic prayer and devotions. New converts can often be inundated and bewildered by the sincere yet poorly formed advice of many well-meaning Catholics. It is important, therefore, that all new Catholics listen to the teaching of the Church, especially in the Catechism, on how one is to authentically grow closer to God through prayer—and especially the value of sacrificial redemptive prayer.
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, through the pretensions of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and enjoin abstinence from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. (1 Tim 4:1-3)
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it. Avoid such people. (2 Tim 3:1-5)
We are indeed living in difficult times, with all the signs that this is the End! But is it? There are many opinions out there: many we brought with us, and many we encountered as we met Catholics with dire apocalyptic views of the future—many of which they learned from non-Catholic sources! For these reasons, it is important that we listen to the Church, before we unwittingly fan the flames of unwarranted apocalyptic fear. We are called by Jesus to always be ready, in holiness, to stand before Him without embarrassment at His coming.
Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Tim 4:16)
Patiently making sure that how we live and what we teach are faithful is eternally important both for ourselves as well as for our audience.
Blessed are the Poor…
There is great gain in godliness with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs. (1 Tim 6:6-10)
One of the most important and often difficult things for converts to accept and adapt to is the Catholic understanding of “poverty of spirit.” Many non-Catholic traditions, famous for the “Protestant work ethic” and the “health and wealth gospel,” have equated success with faithfulness. But even apart from this, many of us had risen to influential levels of leadership as well as success, which upon conversion may need to be re-examined. In many non-Catholic traditions, the Sermon on the Mount, and particularly the Beatitudes, are relegated to the old dispensation and therefore not relevant to life in Jesus after the Cross. For Catholics, however, the Sermon on the Mount is the most important of Jesus’s instructions, and the Beatitudes the “new Law” in how to live, by grace through faith, in obedience to Him.
But as for you, man of God, shun all this; aim at righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (1 Tim 6:11-12)
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Tim 2:15)
So shun youthful passions and aim at righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with stupid, senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. (2 Tim 2:22-23)
As Jesus summarized in His Sermon, we are called to be “perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). Our aim should not be to gain recognition, or influence, or power, or to make sure our life continues “to make sense” out of our past. Rather our lives are to aim forward toward and in imitation of Him, as Saint Paul wrote elsewhere (Phil 3:7-17).
Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus; guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. (2 Tim 1:13-14)
To “guard the truth” is one of the primary calls that God has given to the Church, and if we hope to be faithful teachers in the Church, whether as laity, deacons, or priests, we need to accept a portion of this responsibility, especially in a world where too many poorly formed Catholic leaders are misrepresenting the Faith by their teaching and lives.
Sharing in His Suffering
Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. (2 Tim 2:3)
Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:12-17)
We learn as Catholics that, contrary to the manner in which many of us interpreted Scripture, suffering is a necessary part of being a child of God (Rom 8:17) and God’s way of “training” us “in righteousness.”
I charge you … preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. (2 Tim 4:1-4)
It is important to understand that the Church rightfully controls and guards the preaching of the Word, delegating this to bishops, priests, and deacons, and it only takes a quick skim of Church history to understand why! However, as laymen, we too have an important responsibility for the proclamation of the Word, but we must submit ourselves and our teaching to the authority of the Church.
Faithful to His Call
This charge I commit to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophetic utterances which pointed to you, that inspired by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith, among them Hymenae’us and Alexander, whom I have delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. (1 Tim 1:18-20)
As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Tim 4:5)
With the urgent call from the Church for the New Evangelization, we need to accept the powerful and important calling we each have received from our baptisms, which far outweighs any “ordination” we may have received outside the Church, to “do the work of an evangelist.” This is specifically and ultimately how we fulfill our ministries.
Imagine having your name in Scripture, for all time, as an example of someone who rejected conscience and made a shipwreck of your faith! Lord help us, and may we pray for each other that we may “always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, [and therefore] fulfill your ministry.”