Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of August 23, 1999
From prankster to preacher
Convert tells conference of his journey to 'grandeur' of Catholic faith
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
Lac Ste. Anne
Do not try this at home.
This should only be done once in a lifetime by Catholic converts named Steve Ray.
Dropping a bucket of water from a balcony onto a class of students. Sticking chewing gum into the school vending machine in hopes that it would end up in the bottom of someone's cup when they went to buy a drink from the machine. Lighting a firecracker in class and throwing it out the window. Heating oranges in the microwave for 10 minutes. Hosing your fellow classmates with a fire extinguisher.
"You see this was entertaining," said Ray of his high school years. "But don't do these things; they're not good."
Ray, a speaker at the Family Life Conference Aug. 13-15 at Lac Ste. Anne, was baptized into the Catholic Church in 1994. His journey to "the true faith" steered left and right into all sorts of misadventures and misdeeds.
"I always thought Christianity was for sissies and the youth group I was a part of at the time pretty much proved it," said Ray, who lives with his family in Ann Arbour, Mich.
During his wayward years, Ray befriended a Christian and discovered that Christianity was just as much fun as breaking the rules.
"I met this guy who was about 20 years old and he was a karate expert and he played basketball. He was a cool guy and the thing that made him tick was that he was a Christian.
"And he would take his Bible out and preach out on the streets and go into the high schools. I started to make friends with (him) and I started to love Jesus again."
Ray's road from prankster to preacher took him from the boredom he experienced as a Baptist to the "beauty and grandeur" of the Catholic faith.
"I love my evangelical background," Ray said. "It taught me to love Jesus, it taught me to love this Book. My evangelical past taught me to believe there was such a thing as right and wrong, and sin and heaven and hell.
"When I was a Protestant I loved Jesus with all my heart. I would have died for the Lord Jesus. But when I became a Catholic, I feel now I am a fulfilled Christian because I have found the fullness of the faith."
Raised by staunch Baptist parents, Ray was convinced that Catholics were up to no good and that they took their orders from "some old guy in Rome."
The Baptist Church eventually bored him and he became a rebel child in his teen years. That changed when he befriended a Christian. He started preaching to students and members of motorcycle gangs at a local hang-out called "Beer Hill."
He loved God as a Christian, but didn't love him as a Catholic until five years ago when he and his wife attended their first Catholic Mass. In his search to better understand God in his Baptist faith, Ray discovered a whole new dimension.
"There is only one good reason to become a Christian," he said. "My conclusion for the one good reason to become a Christian is because it's true.
"Not because I want to miss hell and go to heaven. Not because I want to make my mom and dad happy. Not because it gives me something to live my life for, but because it's true. If it's not true then for heaven's sake don't waste your time with it.
"This faith is true."
Convert stories such as Ray's are instrumental at the annual family life conference. Now in its fourth year, it has grown from 100 or so families scurrying about to talks and prayer sessions to more than 350 families.
"We try to have a convert every year," organizer Bob LeBlanc said. "Sometimes, for those of us who were raised (Catholic), we forget about our faith."
New Catholics or converts bring a refreshing perspective to the faith, a new energy, especially to those who have become so comfortable in their faith they almost forget it altogether.
"(Convert stories) renew that faith," LeBlanc said.
The conference was started four years ago by Catholic Family Ministries based in St. Albert, as a means of bringing together families.
"We have ministries for youths, for adults and for children," LeBlanc said. "They're all very good and we need them. But we also needed something for the entire family."
There were events and activities for the entire family from babies to grandmas. Young toddlers, wobbling to and fro, had sandboxes and toys to satisfy their curiosity. Older children had infusions of the Word of God throughout games and arts activities. Youth had music and dancing. And adults had quiet time to pray or listen to talks without the constant worry of the whereabouts of their children.
Speakers included local evangelist John Connelly, Father Sylvain Casavant and Archbishop Thomas Collins who spoke passionately to the youth about their Church family.
"The Church is not the pope or the bishop or someone out there," Collins said. "It's all of us. It's you.
"That's a family that we have, the whole Church. Every time we commit a sin, even if no one knows it, we're really letting down our family, the whole community of faith."
He urged the youth to be physical and verbal members of their Church families. He urged them to read the Scriptures faithfully and to listen to what God says, rather than taking on the attitude of "Listen Lord, you're servant is speaking."
As parents listened to speakers and traded stories on the ups and downs of raising their children, the youth were being challenged. First by Collins, to embrace their faith because "a faith that is sad, not glad, is bad."
Casavant challenged them to heed their calling whatever it may be.
"I chose to be a priest simply because God had chosen me to be a priest," he said. "I accepted a vocation that had been created for me from the moment I was conceived in my mother's womb.
"And that's what God asks of all of us. God calls every single one of you to a vocation. He calls every one of you into a life rooted in his life and his will."
Ray challenged them to be Catholics by their own will.
"When you're a kid you do it not because you thought about it but because your parents told you to," Ray said. " I want to challenge you to be Catholics and Christians not because you were raised that way, but because you're smart kids and you've got good brains and you're going to do it because you want to do it and it's true."
Jenna Mackey, 14, isn't quite ready to commit herself to daily Scripture reading, but she is learning that being Catholic is more than just kneeling in the pews with rosary in hand.
"I kind of like it here," Mackey said. "I didn't want to go because it was going to be like a Church thing.
"There's lots to do here. There's games and talks, so I never got bored."
As for what she learned about her faith?
"That being Catholic can be pretty fun too," she smiled.
The conference was a haven for families raising their children in a secular world, which increasingly questions traditional family values. It was also a place far from the commonly accepted vision of a 2.5-children household.
Paul O'Leary defied that average with his brood of seven, with number eight about five months away.
The conference was the O'Leary family's chance to visit the shrine, which they had only heard stories about previously.
"This is a good way to better understand our faith," O'Leary said of the conference. "My wife is a convert. She might get more out of this than I do."
As for his children, O'Leary hopes the conference gives them an understanding for the need to "live a life with Christ and to take the narrow road."
Janice Oley, came with her sister's family.
She is the mother of a one-year-old, who no longers sees big families as a strain on one's social or financial lifestyle.
"I see these women here with four and five kids and they look happy and healthy," Oley said. "It does convince you to think about having more kids. I think I'm more open to that now.
"My husband stayed home with (the baby) because we thought it wouldn't be an enjoyable weekend if we took the baby along. We thought there would be too much distraction. It's kind of silly not to come as a family to a family conference isn't it? Next year, for sure, we come as a family."