What do I know about conversion? Twenty years ago I walked into the Jesuit dining room at Georgetown University and accosted a startled priest, Fr. Dave Wessels, with the announcement that I wanted to talk about Catholicism. I'd been involved in the madness of the Cold War for some time, and it was as if I had been propelled through the doorway by the two hind legs of a mule. The explanation for why it happened in this manner is way over my head, maybe literally.
Therefore, it was a pleasure recently to pick up a book about the process of conversion by two people who can write about it rationally, clearly and knowledgably: Fr. C. John McCloskey, III, and Russell Shaw. Shaw is a personal friend. Fr. C. John, as he's known, is someone I've waved hello to at the Catholic Information Center in Washington, DC, but never spoken to at length. He's an illustrious converter of the well-known, and of people famous only to their friends and families. The fame part doesn't matter. Anyone who has been able to say: "Joe, meet my friend God" has done himself and Joe more good than fame can ever bring.
The book is called Good News, Bad News: Evangelization, Conversion and the Crisis of Faith (Ignatius, 2007).
"What does a specialist in evangelization and convert making do?" asks Fr. McCloskey in the introduction. Good News, Bad News gives practical answers and real-world examples of how people move from worlds of despair and emptiness to the one world of hope, faith and charity. That's because Fr. C. John really is a specialist in lifting up, and he's drawn on the autobiographical experiences of people who have risen from the bad places in their lives to the ultimate good place. He knows them personally.
Evangelists and apologists like Fr. McCloskey and Russell Shaw can draw from deep understanding and extensive contacts to give examples of how questions can be answered and how tactful friendship can draw non-Catholics to the Holy Faith. The compelling reason for doing so, they point out, is that all followers of the Lord, lay or clerical, are missionaries and servants in the salvation of souls, including their own.
The book contains some shrewd observations and comments on where the Church is these days. It pulls no punches there. It also draws attention to an astute proposal for getting the American male out of his often depressing spiritual, and literal, isolation. I've never seen this suggestion anywhere else.
Sometimes it takes the kick of a mule to bring someone into the Church. Fr. McCloskey and Russell Shaw explain the other ways.
Good News, Bad News: Evangelization, Conversion and the Crisis of Faith is a handbook for missionaries, lay and clerical, and it should be on the shelf of every Catholic.