OCEAN SPRINGS – Steve Ray, a convert and bestselling author who has been featured on EWTN and Fox News, delivered talks on the Eucharist and St. Paul during an August 9 appearance at St. Elizabeth Seton Parish.
Approximately 200 people from throughout the diocese, as well as some visitors from the Archdiocese of New Orleans, attended Ray’s talks, which were sponsored by St. Elizabeth Seton Parish’s scripture study group.
“I met Steve last November. We went on a Catholic Scripture Study Pilgrimage to the Holy Land together and just his enthusiasm, energy and love for the Church really touched my heart,” said St. Elizabeth Seton parishioner Amy Meadows. “I didn’t know who he was at first, but he was just awesome.”
When she returned from her cruise, Meadows showed her Catholic Scripture Study group one of Ray’s DVDS’s and encouraged them to have Ray come to their parish.
“I said, if we could get him here, this would be great to refresh us, rejuvenate us and to get us back on track with the Catholic Church and the way we should be.”
The group agreed and, after getting the blessing of their pastor, Father Bernard Farrell, set the wheels in motion to have Ray come to the parish.
“To have him here is just awesome,” said Meadows. “I never thought we’d be able to do something like this. To bring him here and to see the reaction of everybody and how excited and enthused they are about their Catholic faith – I can’t put it into words.”
Ray is a convert to the Catholic Church and the author of three best-selling Ignatius Press books (Crossing the Tiber, Upon this Rock, and St. John’s Gospel). He speaks at conferences around the world and is a regular guest on Catholic Answers Live, The Journey Home and has appeared on many other radio and TV programs, including Fox News. He is writer, producer and host of the 10-part video/DVD series “The Footprints of God: the Story of Salvation from Abraham to Augustine” filmed entirely on location in the Holy Land and surrounding countries. Steve and his wife Janet and are certified guides to the Holy Land and lead pilgrimages throughout the Middle East and Rome.
Ray, a native of Michigan, converted to Catholicism in 1994.
“I was born and raised Baptist – anti-Catholic – and loved God, loved to study the Bible and loved being an evangelist. I started my own business. We taught our kids at home and I was Bible teacher,” he said.
Ray called his 1994 conversion “a total revelation.”
“I say to people in groups like this many times, ‘I’ve come a very long way to talk to you today and I don’t mean just from being Michigan. I mean all the way from being a Baptist.”
What was it about the Catholic Church that first attracted Ray?
“Absolutely nothing, I didn’t see anything good in the Catholic Church nor Catholics,” said Ray.
“My journey to the Catholic Church began by seeing the problems within Protestantism. My wife said, ‘I can’t sit and listen to someone preach and call it worship. Something is missing.’ For me, it was an issue of authority. Who speaks for God? We have a Bible. The Holy Spirit supposedly is interpreting it for us, but we have 33,000 plus denominations. The Holy Spirit must be very confused. What I had to realize is God didn’t intend for it to be this way. Something was wrong with the evangelical model we were following.”
Another concern of Ray’s was morality.
“Who speaks for God today on morals? Up until the 1930s, everybody in all Christian traditions believed that contraception, abortion and a lot of these sexual issues were wrong. Then, all of a sudden, it became okay. Only the Catholic Church stood strong for what has historically been moral. So, our journey began by seeing the problems within Protestantism and only then did the door crack open and the Catholic Church became an option.”
On the road
Since his conversion, Ray has shared his conversion story and explored Church teachings with thousands of people throughout this country and abroad.
For his second talk at St. Elizabeth Seton Parish, Ray focused on the life of St. Paul, which is fitting because Pope Benedict XVI has declared this year, The Year of St. Paul.
“I think it’s great because it’s the 2000th anniversary of his birth, but I think it’s wonderful that the Pope
declared 2008 the Year of St. Paul because today there are no heroes. People are famous for being well known – movie stars, drug addicts, sports figures – and they’re not heroic. Most of them are just in it for themselves. They don’t have the heroic characters and virtues that we want our kids to look up to,” he said.
“St. Paul, on the other hand, was not famous. He was not pretty. He was rough around the edges, but he was truly a hero who had something to live and die for and I think our kids today want to be heroic. They want something worth dying for. They want to do something that’s worthwhile, but they don’t have the models and examples, so I’m glad that St. Paul has kind of been put up on a pedestal this year and I hope it’s presented well so the kids can understand who he truly was.”
Ray’s visit to St. Elizabeth Seton Parish was the first time he’d set foot in Mississippi.
He’s on the road almost every week.
“My wife usually goes with me, but we travel so much now that there are times when I’m only away for a night and she’ll stay home with the kids and grandkids,” he said.
While life on the road can be tough, Ray enjoys sharing his story and Church teachings with others.
“I love doing this because I thought when I became a Catholic that we would just continue life as normal, but after writing a letter to my dad, which became a book, Crossing the Tiber, people asked me to come tell my story and it became like a roller coaster,” he said. “What I get out of it is to see the joy and the excitement and the rededication of the people that are listening. I thought that I would be speaking with protestants telling them this, but what I found is I’m evangelizing, but I’m evangelizing Catholics who have sat in the pews for maybe decades and not realized how wonderful it is. They’ve just been born into it and never seen the enthusiasm and the excitement of it. I like finding those who have left the Catholic Church, sometimes because they didn’t understand certain things, and seeing them come back full of joy. My pleasure here is to see the excitement and the enthusiasm and to hear a year later that Bible studies have sprung up or evangelization has sprung up because of my visit.”
For example, Ray suggested to a group in Nevada that they start an apologetics club.
“I found out later they started an apologetics club and they brought 300 people into the Catholic Church in a couple of years,” Ray said.
“Another guy there who had left the Catholic decided, during my talk, to come back and he is in now charge of the RCIA program at that church. Those are the fruits I like to see.”
While it’s too early to tell what fruits may grow out of Ray’s visit to St. Elizabeth Seton’s Parish, it was abundantly clear that those who came to hear his talks were genuinely excited by what he had to say.
Neva Lewis, a parishioner of St. James Parish in Gulfport, said Ray has a knack for conveying materials in a dynamic and easy to understand approach.
“I was explaining to someone from our parish that I had started bible study two or three years ago because I’ve accepted all the teachings of the Church, but I’ve never been able to explain the teachings of the Church to others, particularly non-Catholics. So I want to learn to do this,” said Lewis.
“Jimmy Collins, from our parish, told me to buy (Ray’s conversion story, Crossing the Tiber). I bought the book. I read the book. It explains everything about the Catholic Church from a biblical standpoint. He documents everything he says in the book. I love the book and, when I heard he was going to be here, I was so looking forward to coming here.”
Lewis is glad she did.
“It has been wonderful,” said Lewis, who was fortunate enough to attend a non-publicized talk on Friday during which Ray shared his conversion story. “The material is so deep, but he presents it in a way that is so light. We had had Scott Hahn, who is so wonderful, at St. James, but my husband attended last night’s talk and said he enjoyed Steve Ray more than he did Scott Hahn.”
For more information, including information on an upcoming pilgrimage to some of the places St. Paul visited and an insightful blog, visit Ray’s website: www.catholicconvert.com