"My Children Are All Defecting"
James McCarthy

Returning home from work one evening, Dave Sheridan had no idea that his life was about to be changed forever. His wife, Barbara, greeted him as usual with a smile and a kiss. Then came the first hint that something was up.

"Dave," Barbara began, "Kathleen wants to talk with you—alone."

Dave detected a nervous strain in Barbara’s voice. Such a formal request from nine year old Kathleen, oldest of their three children, was also unusual. Realizing that the matter must be important, Dave asked Kathleen to join him in his den, offering her a seat in front of his desk.

"What do you want to talk about, Kathleen?" Dave asked.

"Daddy," she began, "I’m going to heaven."

Kathleen made the announcement so abruptly and with such confidence that Dave could only chuckle in amusement. He had never heard anyone claim such a thing. At the time he was the vice-chairman of the parish council, head of a Catholic study group, and a trainer, who prepared laity to serve as Eucharistic ministers and lectors. Dave also had helped formulate the baptism and First Communion preparation programs for the parish. Still not feeling like he was doing enough, he began attending daily Mass. Yet despite all his learning, service, and participation in the sacraments, Dave didn’t know if he was going to heaven.

She’s just a kid, Dave thought to himself. What does she know? I’ll get to the bottom of this.

"How do you know you’re going to heaven, Kathleen?"

"Today I asked Jesus Christ to save me," Kathleen answered without hesitation.

"That’s wonderful, dear," Dave replied, not really knowing what she was talking about. I bet this is something they told her at that club the kids are attending, he concluded.

It was the end of summer and Barbara had run out of things for Kathleen and their other two small children to do. Finding an advertisement for a children’s vacation Bible club, she had asked Dave if the kids could go. He hesitated when he learned that a Baptist church was sponsoring it. But figuring that no harm could be done and that it would be a way to keep the kids busy, he consented. Now two weeks later, he was wondering if he had made a mistake. Ah, she’s just a child, he told himself.

A few days later, Barbara and the children attended the closing ceremony for the Vacation Bible School. There she met Bill Maupin, pastor of the sponsoring church. Bill asked Barbara if Kathleen had told her about her decision to trust Christ. When Barbara said that she had, Bill asked if he could visit her and her husband sometime to discuss Kathleen’s decision. Barbara agreed and they set up an appointment.

Dave was furious when he learned about the planned visit. "Absolutely not!" he told Barbara. Curious about what the pastor wanted to tell them, however, she kept putting off canceling the visit, hoping Dave would change his mind.

As the day of the visit approached, Dave found himself reconsidering. What am I afraid of? I’m a well-educated Catholic and certainly know more about religion than any Baptist pastor.

"Tell Bill to come on over," Dave finally told Barbara. "I’ll be happy to talk to him."

When Bill arrived, Dave and Barbara welcomed him warmly, and the Sheridans prepared for what they thought would be a rousing discussion about religion. But Bill spoke only about the Lord and what He meant to him. The Sheridans had been around religious people all their lives. They had never, however, heard anyone talk about Jesus as Bill did. After he had left, Dave commented to Barbara, "He talks as he if knows Jesus. He talks as if Jesus is still alive." Dave’s image of Jesus was that of a dead man draped across the arms of Mary, as in Michelangelo’s Pieta.

Bill began visiting the Sheridan home weekly to help Kathleen complete a workbook titled What Jesus Wants You To Do. Through those visits, a friendship developed between Bill and the Sheridan family, and after a time he invited Dave and Barbara to visit the church he pastored, Brecksville Chapel. Dave, however, turned him down. He wasn’t interested, and besides, it was football season. Since Dave and his family were going to Saturday evening Mass to keep Sundays free for football, however, Dave told Barbara that if she and the kids wanted to visit Bill’s church, it was fine with him.

The next Sunday Barbara and her children visited Brecksville Chapel. They returned home excited about what they had found. The worship was simple and sincere; the Bible teaching understandable and practical. Barbara and the kids attended each of the next four weeks, each time returning home more enthusiastic than the time before.

When Dave finally decided that it was time to see for himself what was so special about this new church, his initial reaction was shock. Brecksville Chapel wasn’t a church at all. It was nothing more than a room at the back of the Clippity Clop Saddle Shop on Route 82! Dave was accustomed to stained glass sanctuaries and Gothic cathedrals. He couldn’t imagine anyone worshiping in a saddle shop!

Regardless, even Dave could see that there was something special about the people there. The men especially impressed him. They prayed aloud in their own words and seemed to know the Bible almost as well as Bill. Dave also found the service interesting and informative.

Even though Dave liked Brecksville Chapel, as the weeks went by he felt increasingly uncomfortable with the direction that his family was heading. His fears were confirmed during one of Bill’s visits to the Sheridan home a short time later. Colleen, the Sheridan’s middle child, announced, "Daddy, I’d like to receive Jesus Christ as my personal Savior!"

Colleen was preparing to receive her First Holy Communion. Dave knew, however, that Colleen wasn’t referring to receiving Christ at Mass. She was talking like a Baptist!

"She’s only seven years old," Dave apologized to Bill. "I don’t think she knows what she’s asking."

Bill, however, took Colleen’s request seriously. He asked her several questions and then carefully reviewed with Colleen the way of salvation. Though her parents couldn’t completely follow Bill’s explanation themselves, it was clear to them from Colleen’s answers that she knew exactly what Bill was talking about. Finally, Bill asked Dave and Barbara if they had any objections to Colleen praying to receive Jesus Christ as her personal Savior. How could they say no?

Colleen and Bill got down on their knees, Dave and Barbara following them. Then Colleen told God that she was a sinner and wanted Jesus to save her.

What’s happening? Dave thought to himself as his daughter prayed. I’ve raised these children to be good Catholics. Now they’re all defecting!

What should have been a reason for rejoicing, could only see as a cause of concern for Dave Sheridan. As long as his wife and children continued to go to Mass with him on Saturdays, it was fine—though maybe a bit worrisome—for his family on Sundays to visit the Baptist church, to pray with Bill and his congregation, and even to learn from him about the Bible. Since the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic Church has taught that all Christians are part of the family of God. Theology aside, however, for Dave there were only two kinds of Christians: Catholics and non-Catholics. And now with two of his children talking about God and salvation more like Baptists than Catholics, Dave felt that the Sheridan family had edged dangerously close to the line that divides.

As soon as little Colleen had finished asking Christ to save her, Bill Maupin, the Baptist pastor, turned to Dave and Barbara and asked, "How about Mom and Dad?"

"We need time to think," Dave told Bill. "All this is pretty new to us. We need time and more information—a lot more information."

Bill suggested that they start reading the Bible. "What I say about salvation doesn’t really matter," he explained. "What does the Bible say? That’s the important question."

The next day Barbara purchased Bibles for Dave and herself. That evening, when Dave came home from work, he took one of the Bibles into his den and started looking for the Gospel of John, the place where Bill had told them to start. Barbara took her Bible upstairs to the master bedroom, and also began reading John.

When Dave finally found John’s Gospel, his eyes fell on a promise of the Lord Jesus.

If you abide in my word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.—John 8:31-32

Dave silently offered a prayer to God. That’s what I want, Lord. I want to know the truth.

Dave turned to the beginning of John’s Gospel and read until he came to one of the best-loved verses in the Bible.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.—John 3:16

The profound simplicity of the verse grabbed Dave. He stopped, picked up his Bible, and went upstairs to show Barbara. To his astonishment, when he entered the room she too had stopped at John 3:16.

"Do you realize that if this verse is true," Dave said to Barbara, "it contradicts everything we know and believe as Catholics?"

The weeks that followed were filled with the excitement of making a great discovery. What they were reading seemed so different, so wonderfully different. As Catholics they were accustomed to the idea that they had to earn their way into heaven. Now they were coming to see from John’s gospel, Galatians, and Romans that salvation is the free gift of God. On the cross Jesus took their place, suffering for their sins. What they needed to do was put their faith in Him to save them.

Finally one evening, Dave and Barbara got down on their knees on either side of their bed. Speaking to God in prayer, they each placed their trust in Christ. They renounced dependence upon the Catholic Church, the sacraments, and their own good works to get them into heaven. The next day they took their children out of the Catholic school and informed the parish priest of their decision to leave the Church.

Adapted from Conversations with Catholics by James G. McCarthy (Harvest House Publishers: Eugene, 1997)

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