What happens when a Protestant Pastor finds a great treasure in the Catholic Church?
Becoming a Catholic was not easy for me. Like many converts, I had my share of misconceptions, and obstacles. My biggest obstacle was that my faith/ church perspective was also my career. At 20, I entered into full-time ministry as a Youth Pastor. Throughout my 22 year career in ministry, I have performed many roles—Senior Pastor, Teaching Pastor, Worship Leader, Missions Coordinator etc.
My faith was my life, and the idea of leaving it all behind to become a Catholic was something that I wrestled with. I never would have thought it could happen. I had no Catholics in my family. Growing up as the son of a United Methodist pastor, my only exposure to the Catholic faith was from people who hated the Catholic faith. When I met my wife, I asked her if she went to church. She replied, “I’m a Catholic but I don’t go to church”, so I took her to my church and she loved it! We were married in the United Methodist church where I worked; and never looked back. Until…
Like many others who ultimately convert, my first experience with a Catholic who actually practiced his faith proved to be life changing. His name is Devin Schadt. He was a graphic designer. I hired him to create a logo for our youth ministry which led to some interesting conversations about faith, church and eventually his Catholic faith. My first impression of him was that he loved Jesus and had a vibrant faith. This seemed very strange to me, because as I sat in his dining room, I was intrigued by the icons, paintings and other “Catholic looking” stuff he had in his house. Who does that? I had to press him on this. I had never heard a Catholic talk about Jesus in the way Devin did. I had assumed that he just hadn’t read the Bible enough to see that his Catholic faith contradicted the Scriptures. I was licking my chops at the idea of sharing some verses with him and explaining the Gospel. I was certain that after a few minutes of this, he would be ready to become a “real” Christian, pray the sinner’s prayer, and become a Protestant like me. I asked him, “Devin, when were you saved?” I wanted to see how a Catholic would answer this question. I did not expect much. I was so wrong.
Not only did Devin have an answer to that question, but he had his own questions for me. Questions that I was not at all prepared for. For example, “Keith, where did your Bible come from?” “Why are there so many Protestant denominations?” “How do we know who is accurately teaching the truth of Christianity when there are so many differences between Protestant denominations?” And so many more!
I had never heard any of these ideas before, but although I was intrigued, I couldn’t wrap my mind around the possibility that the Catholic Church could be the one true Church founded by Christ. Even the idea that there was one true Church founded by Christ was a new idea to me. I had always believed that what mattered was a person’s faith and belief in the scriptures, not any connection to an institution. Devin was helping me to see that the Bible itself shows that Jesus not only founded a Church, but that it still existed today through the authority of the apostles as they had handed down the faith. However, this was not something I could easily accept.
Devin and I would go on to have many conversations over the years. We would take a pilgrimage to Rome and Medjugorje together. We would argue passionately. During this time, my ministry and my family were growing. I loved my role in my church. God was moving and things were great. Although there were many things Devin had showed me that challenged my Protestant thinking, I was still too afraid to seriously entertain the idea of converting. However, there was one night in particular where God called me out.
I was at a church camp and one of my friends was leading the youth in a communion service. It was nothing new to me, but as he worked his way through the service and held up the bread and juice and said “this represents Jesus”, I knew that this was not what Jesus said, and I also knew this was not what the Christian Church believed for 1500 years.
It was as if God was calling to me “Come home and I’ll show you more…” I broke down and left the room. I called Devin and confessed to him that I was feeling called to become a Catholic. I was terrified that he would rub it in my face that he was right (only because that is what I would have done), but he did not. He simply said he was there to help.
I wish that this was the part of my story where I converted, but it is not. I was too afraid. I bailed because I could not wrap my mind around how this could work. What would I do for a job? What would my family think? How could I explain this? All of these questions overpowered the leading I felt and I put this whole Catholic thing behind me for many years. It’s one of the biggest regrets of my life.
More than 10 years later, eventually God’s call home would become something I could no longer ignore. I had been the “Pastor to Youth and Mission” at a United Methodist Church for a couple years when a good friend of mine named Greg invited my wife and me to attend a screening of “Apparition Hill”. This movie was a documentary that followed seven strangers on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje. I had not thought about that trip in quite a while, but when Greg called I thought I’d better go, since he was the one who originally took me on that trip all those years ago. The movie brought so many things back into my mind and had me in tears a few times. This film was clearly used by our Blessed Mother to reach out to me.
I had been in a bit of a storm in my church. Although my local church was great, our denomination was a mess. It had become clear to me that without an authoritative voice to not only interpret Scripture, but even history, chaos and schism were inevitable. For the United Methodists, the cultural issues of the day surrounding Marriage and Scripture were unraveling what was once a strong denomination. I found myself at odds with many people who wanted the church to change with the times. It did not seem to bother them that the scriptures clearly defined things like marriage and human sexuality. “That’s just one interpretation”. “The church has had it wrong all these years and we will fix it”. “God doesn’t hate. He/she loves everybody so you can’t judge anyone”. These were just some of statements I wrestled against all the while knowing that I really did not have a leg to stand on without some kind of external God-given authority to tell me otherwise. During one of my conversations with a very liberal pastor friend, she said to me, “Keith if you believe all that Church authority stuff, why aren’t you a Catholic?” Great question!
I had begun to reopen that idea. It seemed that the more I thought about everything Devin and I had argued about, the more it made perfect sense. I was in a different place. I had learned that not listening to God is the worst thing you can do. I still had objections. I still had issues, but I had begun to feel a new sense of calling and a new presence in my life. It took me a while to put my finger on it, but it all became clear to me as I was preparing to preach a sermon on the Annunciation. (It was Advent—so we could talk about Mary.) As I worked on this message in my office, I became overcome with emotion. The more I thought about Mary, the more I became aware of not only how amazing she was, but how connected to the Holy Spirit she continues to be. I felt her presence. When I preached that sermon, I could feel the Holy Spirit moving. I talked about how Mary was the “New Eve” and the “New Ark of the Covenant.” I talked about how amazing she must have been for the angel, Gabriel to greet her “Hail, full of grace”. The people were so intrigued by this.
One man came forward afterwards in tears, saying he had never heard anything like that before. There is so much more I could say about this, but the bottom line is: My doctrinal objections were solved not by arguments, but by The Blessed Mother capturing my heart. However, I still had the issue of what my life would look like if I converted. My dad had told me once, “Keith you can’t just quit your job and become Catholic, there needs to be a way”. He meant that I needed to know how I would feed my family. What would I do for a job? What about my ministry?
The answers to those questions would not be revealed to me for some time, but one night as I prayed before a crucifix, I said to Jesus, “Lord, I am ready to become Catholic, but I need you to make a way.” With as much clarity as I have ever had from God, Jesus spoke to me from the crucifix. “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. You don’t need Me to make a way, you just need ME”. I knew what this meant. I had just received my blessing during the Mass (because I could not receive the Eucharist). Jesus was showing me that He was not only truly present in the Eucharist, but also that my primary need was not for God to make things easy or fully revealed, but rather to take a step of faith like I had never taken before. He was showing me that what I truly needed was not control, or assurance. What I needed was Him.
I was realizing that even if I lost everything I have in this world, but gained Jesus, I had won! I had to get to the place where I did not need it all to work out perfectly in order to convert. I had to be willing to sacrifice it all for Jesus. Once I was able to take that step, it all became clear. There was no looking back. Jesus said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44) After all these years, I was finally ready to buy the field. I am so happy I did. Since becoming a Catholic, things have not been easy. I have lost friends, money, security, stability and more. But what I have gained has been more valuable than I could ever have asked for. The blessings I have received are incomparable with what I sacrificed. God has been true to his word. I know that no matter what happens in this life, I will never leave the Church.
When you follow the call of God, it does not mean life will become easy, but it does become more meaningful. I am so grateful for the grace he has given to me, and I can only dream, about where this journey will take me from here.
Keith Nester is the Executive Director of Down to Earth Ministries where he speaks to audience about faith, theology and his journey to Catholicism. Keith and his wife Estelle have 3 adult children and live in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Keith has shared his testimony through the Shalom World program “Mary My Mother”. To watch the episode visit: shalomworld.org/shows/mary-mymother
As a part of my son’s 3rd grade curriculum, he was to learn about the life cycle of a butterfly. So, I did a bit of research so we could talk about it together. Even though I knew the four stages of a butterfly’s life cycle, I had never probed into it deeply. As I searched for videos and pictures about the different stages of this tiny, beautiful creature, I became fascinated by the 3rd stage of its growth when it’s in a pupa or chrysalis undergoing metamorphosis. The caterpillar has to remain in the pupa for few days to be transformed into an adult butterfly. If you open the chrysalis in the middle of the process, you would only find a sticky liquid substance, instead of a caterpillar having a cosy nap inside the shell until it gets its wings. In fact, during this stage, the caterpillar’s old body dies while a new body begins to form. The caterpillar has to fall apart completely. Only after it has completely liquefied, does it start to become the beautiful being it was designed to be. Another amazing thing I discovered is that the word Chrysalis is derived from the Greek for “golden” because of the golden threads surrounding the green chrysalis. You have probably heard some spiritual analogies about the chrysalis stage and how the tough times of our lives are actually those which transform us. However, when we actually find ourselves in crisis we often devalue the suffering, assuming that this isn’t meant for believers in Christ. We keep on asking God to remove the uncomfortable and ugly shell of hardships and grief from our lives. We want Him to change our circumstances, but He wants us to be changed in the process of it. Because, the deeper work within our souls takes place in the chrysalis. Our faith is strengthened by being inside the chrysalis. The most essential life lessons are learnt in the chrysalis. Our relationship with our Master Creator is deepened as we metamorphose in the chrysalis while the parts of our character that are not essential are stripped away. Just as the caterpillar is transformed into a beautiful butterfly in the darkness, solitude and repose of the chrysalis, such a time can reveal and prepare us for the purpose of our being. I don’t know which metamorphosis stage you are in at present. If you have got your wings, praise God but if you find yourself stuck in the chrysalis, the place where you feel nothing is happening, where you see the darkness of your pain and hardships, where you feel like you are falling apart each day and where everything feels so stuck, dead and inactive, I want to encourage you to trust the process, surrender to it, embrace it and wait until the process works its best, transforming you into everything you are meant to be, giving you the glorious wings of your purpose and reflecting the majesty of your Heavenly Father. No matter how your chrysalis feels, remember it will always be covered with golden threads of strength, assurance, love and grace from your Master Designer. He will be watching you throughout the process. Trust Him to protect and reconstruct you as you pupate in your chrysalis. Then your metamorphosis will astound you.
Here’s a scale to test your courage… Before entering a monastery hidden in the high desert of California, I lived at 5th and Main street in downtown Los Angeles, the border of Skid Row. Rampant homelessness is one of LA’s not so amiable qualities. Individuals down on their luck come from far and wide, often by means of a free one-way Greyhound ticket, to wander streets where winters are less hostile, begging for a means to rise above their circumstances. It is impossible to traverse a couple blocks of downtown without being reminded of the hopelessness that marks these individuals’ daily lives. The sheer magnitude of L.A.’s homelessness often leaves the more fortunate feeling as if nothing they would do could ever make the problem go away, so they resort to a strategy of avoiding eye contact, rendering invisible a population of 41,290, and counting. Man on a Mission One day I was having lunch with a friend at Grand Central Market. During our meal he unexpectedly handed me the key to a room in the luxurious Bonaventure Hotel, telling me it was mine to enjoy for the next couple of weeks! The Bonaventure, with its revolving sky restaurant, was the biggest hotel in LA, and only a ten minute walk from my studio apartment. I had no need for a fancy hotel room, but I knew 41,290 individuals who did. My only dilemma was how I should go about selecting the single person who would receive shelter? I felt like the gospel servant who was commissioned by his master to “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame” (Luke 14:21). It was midnight when I got off work. Emerging from the metro station I began my “hunt,” asking God to select the person He wished to bless. Peering down alleyways, I glided through the city on my skateboard, trying not to appear like a man on a mission. I headed for the L.A. Cafe, confident I would find someone in need there. Sure enough I spotted a man sitting on the storefront sidewalk. He was old and thin, showing boney shoulders through a stained white T-shirt. I sat down a few feet away. “Hello,” I greeted him. “Hi,” he returned. “Sir, are you looking for a place to sleep tonight?” I asked. “What?” he said. “Are you looking for a place to sleep?” I repeated. Suddenly he became irritated. “Are you trying to make fun of me?” he said, “I’m fine. Leave me alone!” Surprised and feeling sorry for offending him, I apologized and rolled off dismayed. This mission would be more difficult than I expected. After all, it was after midnight, and I was a total stranger offering what seemed too good to be true. But the odds were in my favor, I thought. My offer might get turned down, just like the servant in the parable of the great banquet, but sooner or later someone would be bound to take me up on it. The only question was how long would it take? It was already late, and I was tired after a long shift at work. Maybe I should try again tomorrow, I thought. Unknown Realms Skating and praying, I continued to make my way through the urban jungle, eyeing various candidates. Sitting on a nearby corner, I spotted the silhouette of a man alone in a wheelchair. He appeared to be half asleep and half awake, as many do who are accustomed to sleeping on the streets. Hesitant to disturb him, I approached cautiously until he looked up at me with tired eyes. “Excuse me sir,” I said, “I have access to a room with a bed, and I know you don’t know me, but if you trust me I can take you there.” Without raising an eyebrow, he shrugged his shoulders and nodded his head. “Great. What’s your name?” I asked. “James,” he replied. I asked James to hold my skateboard as I pushed him in his wheelchair and together we made our way to the Bonaventure. His head became increasingly alert as our surroundings gentrified. While pushing him along through the darkness, I couldn’t help but notice what appeared to be sand covering his backside. Then I realized the sand was moving. It wasn’t sand at all, but thousands of tiny insects. Entering the five star hotel lobby, James and I were met with expressions of shock from every onlooker. Avoiding eye contact, we passed the posh fountain, boarded a glass elevator, and arrived at the room. James asked if he could take a bath. I helped him inside. Once clean, James slid himself comfortably between white sheets and fell immediately to sleep. That night James taught me an important lesson: God’s invitations often come unexpectedly, demanding a measure of faith that usually makes us uncomfortable. Sometimes we must find ourselves in situations with nothing to lose before we are ready to accept His invitation to us. And more often, it is in bringing blessings to others that we are truly blessed.
The irresistible goodness of Christmas lasts more than just a day, if you put your mind to it... The magic of Christmas has never failed to enrapture me no matter the circumstances in the lead up to the season. Some years, the awe and wonder kick in later rather than sooner, but once the Christmas spirit conquers me, there is no turning back. The joy we experience from receiving God’s gift of His only Son sets the tone of this wonderful season. Being good almost becomes second nature for this brief but lovely time. While Santa’s list might be an obvious reason for the little ones, I’ve wondered what it is that makes us grown-ups feel this way and how might we bring to the rest of the year this inclination to goodness that we experience during the magical Christmas season. A Stark Reminder Last year my husband and I undertook a trip to regional Victoria. We visited a berry farm and while picking organic produce to take home, I had a chat with the owner. It was a pleasant cool day for summer, and we discussed how it had been the opposite a year before, with raging bushfires and drought conditions severely affecting crops and lives. As a volunteer firefighter, she had suffered the loss of a couple of her close friends while fighting those fires. Saddened to hear this, I was moved even more when the farmer said she was “prepared to fight when called” should the bushfires strike again. As we left the farm, she picked up her little one and they waved us goodbye. The farm was undoubtedly the most memorable part of the trip and the resolute determination we witnessed was a stark reminder of how we all need to be willing to do good when it is required of us—no matter what the time of year. Stepping Stones Once we are past the Christmas joy of December and well into the new year, it might take a bit more effort for us to act on inclinations to do good. I usually find that busyness can abruptly take the steering wheel with no comfortable stop in sight. As various professional and personal priorities take over, I wonder if I can be as attentive to the Lord’s prompts as I had been while wrapping gifts and singing carols. Our Lord, however, never slows down His pace—drawing our attention to a struggling local business, reminding us to call someone who is lonely, encouraging us to forgive, and inspiring us to give. My husband calls these God’s ways of helping us draw nearer to Him. I think of them as little stepping stones to God that we are blessed to receive. Even if we manage to look past the busyness, there are often other deterrents that discourage us from responding to God’s prompts. For instance, when we see a call for aid, we might rationalize that our contribution wouldn’t make much of a difference or might not be well-received by the person in need. Or an inclination to make amends with someone who offended us might be deterred by a new trivial offense. Fight the Good Fight Despite the possible deterrents, those little tugs at our heartstrings never stop. Why? Because Jesus has overcome the darkness within and around us. His love and light are blazing bright, forever creating sparks of goodness. Acting on these prompts is up to us if we want to draw closer to His goodness. As our Lady of Fatima reminded us, our future is in God and we are active and responsible partners in creating that future. If we remember that all the good that has ever happened to us, including our talents and blessings, are from the Lord, then we can respond willingly to even the slightest inclination to goodness that comes to mind. It is even more imperative today that we fight through the darkness, praying to our Lady for help to stay focused and strong to fight the good fight when called. It doesn’t take much to light up someone’s life, to bring Christmas hope and joy to them when they need it most, no matter whether it's Christmastime… or any other time of year. “Glory to God who shows His power in us and can do much more than we could ask or imagine; glory to Him in the Church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20
I was 65 years old and I was looking into changing my life insurance policy. Of course, they required some lab tests. I thought, “Okay, I’ll go through the motions.” Up until then, every lab test I had ever taken, had been normal, including chest x-rays, EKG’s and colonoscopies, all normal. My blood pressure was 126/72 and my BMI was 26. I exercised four times per week and ate a fairly healthy diet. I felt good and was totally asymptomatic. All my lab results came back normal…except my PSA, it was 11 ng/ml (normal is less than 4.5ng/ml). Three years earlier it had been normal. Bummer! So, I went to see my PCP. During the rectal exam, he found my prostate enlarged and indurated. “I suspect cancer, I’m going to refer you to a urologist,” he said. Bummer, again. Eleven out of eleven prostate biopsies were positive for cancer. My Gleason score was 4+5 which meant that it was a highgrade cancer and could grow and spread more quickly. So, I underwent a radical prostatectomy, radiation therapy and hormone therapy with Lupron. Ooh those hot flushes! Ladies believe me when I say, I know what you’re going through. Bummer once again. So why only “bummer” and not “I don’t believe it, it can’t be, I’m going to die. God is punishing me”? Well, let me tell why. Before my mother’s kidney failure required at-home peritoneal dialysis, my parents traveled quite a bit, especially to Mexico. When daily dialysis brought travel to a halt, they spent more time working on puzzles, reading and studying their Bible. This brought them much closer to God. So, when her doctors told her there was nothing more they could do for her, she was okay with that. She told me, “I’m tired, I’m ready to be with my Father. I am at peace with family and friends, with myself, but most importantly, I am at peace with God.” A few days later, she died peacefully with a smile on her face. “I am at peace with God”. That’s what I wanted. I no longer wanted to be just a Sunday-Mass Catholic. It was then that I started on the path that has led me closer to God: reading and studying the Bible in both English and Spanish, praying, saying the Rosary, giving thanks for my blessings, and volunteering as a Catechism teacher. Soon, I hope to finish my internship as a volunteer hospital chaplain and I am about to complete my spiritual guidance course. So, yes, having prostate cancer is a bummer, but that is all it is, because I am at peace with God.
Want to be in the loop?
Get the latest updates from Tidings!