I listened to Marcus Grodi of EWTN's The Journey Home program at a nearby parish today. When he entered the sanctuary, walking a few paces behind the pastor, Fr. Ian, I was quite overcome with joy. I thought to myself, "Wow, that's really him, in the flesh." I was downright giddy. The first thing that struck me is how tall Grodi is, nearly as tall as the towering Fr. Trammell.
The titles of the three scheduled talks over the course of the day were "Why Be Catholic? A Conversion Story," "How to Stay Catholic," and "Keeping Your Family Catholic." Grodi delivered on the first title but not so much on the second two. I think that the parish tried to tie him into their current Pastoral Year of Marriage and the Family program but Grodi talked about what he wanted to talk about. And why not?
First, he told his conversion story to Christ and to the Catholic Church. He was converted to Christ by a concerned friend who challenged him to read the Bible. He picked up St. John's Gospel and swiftly read to chapter 15 before he even realized how deep into it he'd gotten. He recalled a couple of moments from his youth and young adult years when Protestantism wasn't adding up but no one else seemed to be bothered, so he continued to "go with the flow."
But when he read in the paper that Catholic theologian Scott Hahn was speaking, he attended to see whether the rumors about his old seminary friend were true. He half suspected that Hahn had faked a conversion in order to gain entry into Catholic churches by stealth. This is how these people think, I'm afraid. But it was on the up and up, so he listened to Hahn's conversion story on tape and was a goner after 15 minutes or so.
After a break, he spoke about our progress in the faith. He used punctuation marks as a framework. Our initial response might be "Jesus?" - meaning that we aren't familiar - followed by "Jesus," - meaning he's one of many things in our life. Then "Jesus." meaning we're more committed. And "Jesus:" - meaning that we're learning more. And finally, "Jesus!" - meaning he's everything to us. It was an innovative framework.
The local Catholic radio was on site broadcasting live during lunch. I so wanted to be interviewed. I even practiced what I'd say on air on the drive over this morning. But I never even found where they were! While we ate our boxed lunches, Marcus and Fr. Ian were interviewed. Then we said the rosary in the church while the clergy and Marcus went out to lunch with the retired bishop.
When they all came back, Marcus gave his third and final address. He was quite nervous at first with the bishop in the audience but he quickly remembered a time when Billy Graham visited his seminary and he gave the chapel sermon without being fully prepared. Compared to Billy Graham, retired Bishop Smith ain't much, I reckon. He could have just imagined the bishop in his underwear or some other public speaking trick without namedropping.
So Grodi got his groove back and preached on the Beatitudes. He said he never preached on the Beatitudes as a Calvinist minister because the theology of the Beatitudes didn't make any sense1. He called the Beatitudes the "stair steps to Heaven," saying that the virtues are progressive and build on each other. He pointed us to an outline of his talk.
I'd heard this before, that the Beatitudes are progressive and that one first descends into poverty, mourning and meekness until one is empty and hungry for God. Then the ascent begins. But one lady in the audience was overcome and, with the bishop and all the parish's priests in attendance, she explained that she's never heard such wonderful preaching on the Beatitudes before! I thought to myself, "She's gotta get out more." It's a Protestant commonplace. But I just wonder how the clergy took her comments. I'm sure they were tugging at their Roman collars a bit.
He graciously signed the book that I bought.
1 I've heard a Calvinist contrast "imperative" and "indicative" in regards to the Beatitudes. Marcus also rejects the Lutheran interpretative prism of Law & Gospel. And the idea that the purpose of the Law is to uncover our sinfulness, to prime us for the Gospel.