Caritas et Veritas’s own Dr. Biff Rocha recently appeared on EWTN show, “The Journey Home,” hosted by Marcus Grodi. Biff shared the moving story of his return to the Catholic Church, and his journey of faith.
I want to begin with a personal anecdote that is not directly related to Fatima. In the academic year of 1996-1997 a junior at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio was running for student president, thinking that he would be able to have the most impact for good on campus by exercising that position his senior year. As a prominent member of the student senate he played a prominent and very public (both on national radio and outside of the U.S.) role in a number of significant changes that took place on campus. Notwithstanding his valiant efforts, he lost the presidential race. Unsure what to do, he turned to an older friend and mentor, and decided to become an R.A. in a dorm and lead a Bible study for freshmen in the dorm. This incoming senior would-be R.A. and Bible study leader, was a student leader in a very large para-church (primarily evangelical Protestant Christian) organization on campus, which, at least for the following two years (if I’m not mistaken), represented the largest para-church organization on any college campus in the world at that time, boasting about 1,000 members at their weekly meeting. His mentor, who happened to be Roman Catholic, was a staff member with that organization (at one point full-time, but by this point, part-time on a volunteer basis). That summer they decided to fast and pray for the future Bible study which together they would co-lead. They studied Scripture and church history together that summer, and they prayed and fasted that the future study would bear fruit for the kingdom of God.
The Most Rev. Robert Carlson, now Archbishop of St. Louis, answered this question at a talk he gave at Central Michigan University in January of 2009. His answer: “because of the Eucharist.”
Jesus is made present to us in the liturgy in many ways: through His word proclaimed; through His priests in His Sacraments; through two or three fellow believers gathered together; and most profoundly through the Sacrifice of His Body and Blood made present in the Holy Eucharist. Yet, the Eucharistic presence surpasses the others. Pope Paul VI said it this way: “This presence is called ‘real’ – by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be ‘real’ too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.” (CCC 1374; Mysterium Fidei 39)
Rediscovering the Eucharist
Midway through my freshman year of college I experienced a profound conversion where I came to know Jesus as so personally present to me as to be next to me or ‘in me.’ I never knew such closeness to God before. I came to know Christ so deeply while pursuing God in the Scriptures and asking Him to help me to believe in His Son (as I later discovered, He was pursuing me).
Dr. Gary Anderson is Professor of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible at the University of Notre Dame and is quickly becoming one of the world’s leading scholars of Second Temple Judaism, the Dead Sea Scrolls and especially of biblical interpretation among early Jews and early Christians. He is also a Protestant convert to Catholicism. He earned a B.A. from Albion College, an M.Div. from Duke University, and a Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament from Harvard University’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.
Dr. Anderson was raised Protestant and in fact entered Duke University as a Protestant seminarian. He writes some brief autobiographical insights in his important book The Genesis of Perfection: Adam and Eve in Jewish and Christian Imagination. He tells how important studying church history at Duke University under such giants as Dr. David Steinmetz helped point him in the direction of the Catholic Church. He eventually entered the Roman Catholic Church and became one of the leading Catholic scholars of early biblical interpretation.
Every year at the Rite of Election in my diocese, the Bishop stands up and does an informal poll with those seeking to become Catholic at Easter. He asks them how many of them decided to become Catholic through reading Catholic literature or hearing or seeing Catholic radio and television? Some hands raise. He then asks them how many of them become Catholic because of someone they know? Every hand goes up!
In my journey to the Catholic Church, I did much research and read books and listened to tapes–all because of one person–Biff Rocha. While, my journey did not actually begin with Biff, he was there at a time when the questions came to a head and having been there himself was able to direct, guide, and point me to the resources and things I needed.
Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, I always considered myself Catholic. For my family being Catholic consisted in being baptized and attending Mass on Christmas and Easter, but most of all, we were Catholic because we were Italian. I took the typical Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) classes and was confirmed. In high school, nearly all of my friends were Catholic, but again this had more to do with the fact that they were Italian, Czech, German, Polish, etc, than anything else. Few of the people at Mass could explain Church doctrine, and fewer still knew the reasons why we believed as we did.