In this post I share five of my most favorite stories about people brought into the Faith by the most unexpected means. In each case I have given only the most abbreviated accounts; no doubt there were more steps, more people, more moments of grace involved, but I think I have presented the crux of each story accurately.
The Wrong Priest
A agnostic young man with a sordid history and nothing but ridicule for the Catholic Church takes a dare from a friend to go into a Catholic confessional. He stops randomly at a parish in Detroit and goes into the confessional with the intention of mocking the priest and wasting his time. Little does the man know he has walked into the confessional of Fr. Eduard Perrone of Assumption Grotto, the most bad-ass priest in the Archdiocese of Detroit and definitely the wrong priest to casually pick on! The priest asks, "What do you have to confess?" The man arrogantly says, "Nothing." Father says, "We'll see about that." He takes out an examination of conscience pamphlet and starts reading through it, asking the man whether he'd committed each sin. By the end of the list the man is broken and realizes his sinfulness. He make a sincere repentance and is received into full communion with the Church not long after. He later becomes a catechist in his own parish.
Converted by Beauty
A man and his fiance are driving through the country. They are secularists, both fallen-away Catholics. They will be getting married later that year are are on the look out for a church - any church - that "looks pretty" so they can be wed somewhere scenic. They see a small little Catholic Church off the main road and pull off to check it out. It is a beautiful neo-gothic era building. It somehow survived the wrekcovation of the 1970s and still has its 19th century high altar and art. The pastor happens to be in the church. They tell him they want to get married there "because the church is so pretty." He opens up into a catechesis on what the Church is, why the art is so beautiful, what is all represents. By the end of the meeting, the two have signed up for RCIA. They return to the practice of the Faith and are married in the Church later that year.
Just One Traditional Latin Mass
A young man who was quite a ways through medical school was invited to Mass by a priest who regularly says the Traditional Latin Mass. He was uncertain about Catholicism in general, let alone the Traditional Latin Mass. The priest implored him. "Just one Latin Mass," he told the medical student. The young man assented and attended the one Traditional Mass. He was blown away. A year later he was in the seminary. He has now been a priest for over ten years. Just one Traditional Latin Mass. The priest who related this story, Fr. Kevin Lutz in Columbus (the most bad-ass priest in Ohio), stated that he had personally led over ten men into the priesthood in a similar manner.
For Love of France
A young man from Flint, MI - rated "the most dangerous city in America" - had a powerful conversion to non-denominational, Protestant Christianity. He never felt completely at home in any church, however, and tried to fill the void by getting involved in a lot of ministries, mission trips, etc. Eventually he wound up on a "mission trip" to...France. But whenever he had spare time, he would sneak away and sit in the various little parish churches that are scattered throughout France, many dating to the Baroque era or older. He fell in love with French culture, taught himself French and, realizing that the most essential thing about French culture was Catholicism, began exploring the Church. He was received into full communion this past fall on the Feast of Christ the King and is currently discerning whether or not he may have a vocation.
An ardent atheist who had made a very determined rejection of God and His Church had a Catholic wife. She attended Mass alone for many years and prayed patiently for her husband. Eventually the husband consented to come to Mass with his wife, where he was struck by the beautiful singing of one of the cantors. The beauty of the singing melted his resistance, and he became convinced of the reality of God. His heart now softened by God's grace, his intellectual opposition withered away. Not long after he entered RCIA and was received into the Catholic Church the following Easter. The cantor served as his sponsor.
The interesting thing is that in none of the above cases was the person converted by hearing a bunch of arguments. It was other things: beauty, liturgy, a sense of their own sinfulness, the glory of Catholic culture. To be sure, after their hearts were converted, argumentation and intellectual reasoning helped edify them in their faith, but in none of the five cases did rational argumentation precipitate their conversion. This is certainly not to say that nobody is ever "argued" into the faith; many people are. The point is that the manner is which God chooses to bring an individual into the Church is as varied as people themselves.
These stories should give us confidence in the power of God's grace; He calls whom He wills. It is His Church and He can bring in anybody through any means He chooses. When we see something like this unfolding before our eyes, as I did in a story I narrated recently, our job is to support them with prayer and, when necessary, by answering their questions. But we do not make converts, at least not in the strict sense. The Holy Spirit, "who convicts the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment" (John 16:8), it is He who makes converts by turning hearts of stone to hearts of flesh (cf. Ezk. 36:26). Faith is a gift.
What about you? What sorts of unexpected conversions have you been blessed to witness? Leave your stories in the combox.