“I just think,” says Fr Doug Grandon, “it’s the greatest time right now that we’ve seen in generations to evangelise.” And he has a story to back up what he says: on Easter Sunday, during the recent restrictions, Fr Doug helped his neighbour Caroline return to the Church. (She has given permisison for her story to be told.)
Fr Doug is a married Catholic priest with six children. Not having grown up with faith, he became an Evangelical Protestant at 14 after a friend challenged him to read the Bible, and answered his questions every week. Later in life, he became Anglican and was ordained an Episcopal priest before he, his wife, and four youngest children all converted to Catholicism in 2003.
Five years later Doug was ordained a Catholic priest, for which he is grateful to St John Paul II for opening the Catholic priesthood to married converts, and to Pope Benedict XVI for giving his bishop permission to ordain him. “It’s been a great life,” he says. “We’ve never looked back, never had second thoughts.”
Today Fr Doug is a national chaplain for the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. He lives in “a beautiful neighbourhood” in Denver, Colorado. To minister to his community during the coronavirus, he offered to meet people at a suitable distance at their porch to pray with them and hear Confessions.
On one of these rounds he struck up a conversation with a woman walking her dog. After a pleasant exchange about her pet, Caroline asked if he was a Catholic priest. She opened up to him about once being Catholic, how she hadn’t practised in 15 years, and how she now wanted to receive Communion again. Fr Doug told her that all she had to do, if she had been baptised and confirmed a Catholic, was to make a sincere Confession. She said she would think about it, and took Fr Doug’s card.
About 10 days later, she called and they arranged to meet at her porch on Easter Sunday. She made, Fr Doug says, a “beautiful Confession” and received Communion for the first time in over a decade.
When asked why so many Catholics leave the faith they were raised in, Fr Doug emphasises the need for energetic evangelisation and catechesis. He quoted Nicky Gumbel, the Evangelical leader and pioneer of Alpha, who said that Christianity would be “boring, untrue, and irrelevant” without a personal encounter with the living Christ. “Until you understand that, the Catholic faith seems like a weighty kind of legalism,” Fr Doug says.
Evangelisation, he believes, is “really not a mystery. It starts with just a few people getting it, understanding the Gospel, being filled with the Holy Spirit, loving their church, loving the liturgy, loving the Mass, and then building out from there little by little.”
Ever since he was 14 he has known he had an obligation to extend friendship and share the faith with others, as his friend did for him, but he was “sometimes terrible at it”. When Fr Doug first tried to evangelise, he says, “I didn’t really often know what to say. I would say things with fear and trembling. But, over the years, it became more natural to me and I built confidence as I saw that with some people the Gospel resonated.”
Fr Doug is quite confident the coronavirus had a significant effect on Caroline coming back to the faith – as it has had, he believes, on many people. With optimism, he suggested that the coronavirus was helping people to rethink their priorities and become much more open to hope in Jesus Christ and a life hereafter as they contemplate their own mortality.
There are lots of things we can do if we are “creative” and “very prayerful”, Fr Doug says. He recommends people reach out to neighbours with something as simple as movie recommendations, and see if it can open a door to a deeper conversation. A metaphorical door, that is – at least until the lockdown ends.
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