Years ago, when I was a Director of Religious Education, I had a certain young man come into my RCIA program who had a pretty amazing journey to the Catholic Faith. He was raised with no religion whatsoever, in what I would call as redneck or white trash sort of upbringing. When he was 18, he got a girl knocked up. He wanted to continue dating her, but her father, an evangelical Christian of the Benny Hinn/Kenneth Copeland sort, refused unless the young man turned his life around. So the dad took him to a Promise Keepers rally and the young man had a genuine and powerful conversion to Christ.
Well, he turned his life around and became a committed evangelical Christian. He married the girl he knocked up and went on to have several more children with her. He studied the Scriptures, read spiritual books, and went to Protestant evangelical churches that had reputations for being dynamic.
But he was restless in his spirituality, because he was a structured sort of fellow and evangelical Christianity provided him with little structure to guide his spiritual development.
Anyhow, he ended up exploring Messianic-Judaism, which is essentially a kind of Christianity that still retains aspects of the Mosaic Law. He adopted dietary customs, proscribed fast days, ritual prayers, wearing the tzitzit tassles, attended a Messianic Christian church, and put the mezuzah on his house. His evangelical Christian friends (rightly) chided him for Judaizing and suggested his faith was weak or incomplete. I, who knew him casually, took another approach, suggesting the similarities between the ritual aspects of Judaism and the practices of Catholics. He was very excited to learn that there was another branch of Christianity that provided this sort of structure, and eventually I was able to demonstrate that Catholicism was the fulfillment of all the symbols and ceremonies of the Old Law. Once he realized this, he desired to enter the Church and enrolled in my RCIA program.
The next nine months were amazing. The guy was a sponge. He devoured Catholic books and articles, attended Extraordinary Form Masses with me, spent hours with me before and after classes talking about how eye-opening his conversion to the Faith had been. He cried during and after his First Confession. We prayed together. We developed a wonderful friendship.
On Easter Vigil, he came into the Church alone; his wife refused to attend the service because she was in such opposition to his entry into the Church. But I rejoiced. He could not be daunted. He entered the Church of Christ with joy. Here was one who would glorify Christ by doing great things for God's kingdom.
Some years later, another man came to me seeking entry into the Church. He was an older fellow who had spent most of his life in a Lutheran assembly, but I got the impression this was solely because his extended family attended there. He did not seem to have any real spiritual or religious inclination one way or another; he wanted to get into the Church because his girl friend was Catholic and he wanted to marry her soon. So we let him through the program. He was a decent fellow; he came to all the classes (although he never asked any questions); he did not really ask for anything and did whatever we asked, although he demonstrated no particular spiritual or theological interest at all. He always left immediately after classes; I can't say I ever had a real spiritual conversation with him one on one. I had serious concerns about his commitment to the faith and whether or not he would still be practicing after his wedding. He just seemed like he was going through the motions. He lacked any of the zeal or knowledge of the other fellow.
Well, after making his first confession - what seemed to be a real uncomfortable chore to him - he was received into the Church at the Easter Vigil as well.
Many years have passed. Guess who is still practicing the Faith?
The first fellow, the zealous young man who had gone through agnosticism, evangelical Protestantism. and Messianic Christianity to get to Catholicism, very quickly abandoned the practice of the faith. Not long after being received into the Church, he began an affair with a friend of the family. He carried it on for some time before it eventually became public. All his friends were scandalized. His wife divorced him and took the kids. He began smoking pot and shacked up with his mistress. He never returned to the practice of the Faith. I saw him some years later and he tried to express some stumbling, insincere resolutions about "getting to Mass this Christmas" or something, but one could see that the spark of faith had long since died, extinguished by a string of adulteries and kept out by constant drug use.
What about the second man, the one whom I had little hope for? Yes, you guessed it. He has kept the Faith. I see him at Mass every single Sunday. I can't say he ever developed a spiritual disposition or an interest in anything theological, but year after year of Mass attendance and reception of the sacraments ennobled him with a certain humble joy. He is always smiling. He volunteers regularly for the Fish Fry, the festivals, the cemetery clean up - I see him at the Stations of the Cross during Lent and other public devotions. He regularly serves as an usher. His Mass observance is regular and his disposition always cheerful. I would have never suspected he would still be around, but he is. And the work of grace is evident.
What is the lesson of this? The Spirit blows where He wills. Nobody can predict how anyone will turn out. God's providence makes a mockery of the wisdom of men.