Is the Catholic Church in crisis and in decline? That’s what I was hearing from some of the international secular media that had descended on Rome to cover the election of Pope Francis, as I did late-night TV interviews with St. Peter’s Basilica in the background.
There are many reasons — even in the face of the crowds overflowing St. Peter’s Square in anticipation of the white smoke announcing the election of a new pope, and the thousands who streamed in for his first Sunday Angelus message and Mass of installation — that frame might be believable. The most damning one is that Catholics all too often simply don’t show the world that the name “Christian” means something radical that causes them to order their lives anew. As Christians celebrate the holiest days of the year during Holy Week and Easter, they are called to renewal, to the real encounter with Christ that Pope Benedict XVI and now Francis have spoken about with urgency.
College football fans may have caught a spiritual pep talk from coach Lou Holtz during some of the bowl games earlier this year. Tom Peterson, a former advertising executive, is president of Catholics Come Home, the project that got the ad on air. Peterson feels called to use his talents to welcome Catholics back to the Church and to invite everyone to better understand and experience just what it is Catholics believe.
Peterson is author of a new book called Catholics Come Home: God’s Extraordinary Plan for Your Life. He spoke with me about his book and the project.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: What does it mean to welcome people home?
TOM PETERSON: As baptized Christians, we are adopted into God’s family. Through busy schedules and distractions in life, so many people drift away from God, church, and their faith family. Catholics Come Home creates and airs inviting and inspirational “evangomercials” to welcome people home to God, the sacraments, Mass, and their parish family.
LOPEZ: Who are you to be doing the inviting?
PETERSON: All Christians are called by our baptism to spread the Good News of Jesus to the world. As Catholics, we have as our main mission in the Church is to evangelize the world. In Pope John Paul II’s papal exhortation, Christifideles Laici, the lay faithful are urged to take part in the New Evangelization, using new methods and new enthusiasm. And it’s working. Our commercials have aired in over 35 dioceses and in three national campaigns, reaching over 200 million viewers and helping about a half million souls come home to the Catholic Church, the Church that Jesus Himself started 2,000 years ago.
LOPEZ: How could the Catholic Church ever be considered home? Home is where we feel safe and comfortable. The Catholic Church is an imposer of rules, isn’t it? Why would we be comfortable there unless we want to be treated as children?
PETERSON: Jesus gave us a Church. Jesus gave us the sacraments, including the Eucharist (Jesus’ own body, blood, soul, and divinity John 6:53), as well as the sacrament of reconciliation to forgive our sins. Jesus gave the keys and authority to Peter (Matthew 16:18), who is the rock upon whom Jesus built His Church. The Church helps guide our souls to heaven. As Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, most people don’t hate what the Church teaches, they hate what they think the Church teaches. Once we truly know and understand our Catholic faith, we love our faith. We then realize that God and the Church didn’t give us commandments to burden us but to set us free from the burden of sin. Living in God’s will empowers us, whereas sin enslaves us. Our loving Father in Heaven and his Church know that faith in Jesus Christ and adherence to His commandments will truly make us happy and fulfilled in life. As the subtitle of my new book says, God has an extraordinary plan for each of our lives. We just need to invite people to open that gift of grace from God.
LOPEZ: Who are you to share “proven ways to enter into a deeper relationship with God and His Church”?
PETERSON: As you read in the book, I was lost, but now have come to understand how God has truly blessed my life and my family by allowing me to return to the full practice of faith. I’ve also witnessed for over 15 years the power of the Holy Spirit to bless the lives of hundreds of thousands of souls — some are people who have come into my life (as told in various stories in the book), some are people who have responded to our TV spots. All of the ways I share in the book to enter into a deeper relationship with God and the Church are not concocted by me but are tried and true paths found in the lives of the saints who have gone before us, in Holy Scripture, and in 2,000 years of wise and holy tradition.