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A Golden Age for Teaching the Faith?

Drake McCalister, Coordinator of Catechetical Practicum at Franciscan University of Steubenville, came into the Catholic Faith because of what he heard on Catholic Radio. Now this father of five is to be ordained a priest. He talks with us about what really works in catechesis and apologetics.


Cy Kellett: Was there a golden age of catechesis we can get back to? That’s next on Catholic Answers Focus.

Cy Kellett: Hello, and welcome again to Catholic Answers Focus. I am Cy Kellett, your host, and today we ask a very practical question, though it comes with a wild story attached. The story we’ll get to shortly, but the question is a simple one. What kind of apologetics in catechesis are needed now?

Cy Kellett: Our guest, Deacon Drake McCalister is well positioned to provide us with some helpful answers. He devoted his life to serving Christ as a pastor in the Foursquare Church, but in August of 2004 he resigned as pastor, and then December of that year he and his family were received into the Catholic Church. All of this followed his encounters with the works of the early church fathers, and these encounters began when he stumbled upon a Catholic radio station.

Cy Kellett: Deacon McCalister now serves as the coordinator of Catechetical Practicum for the office of Catechesis at Franciscan University of Steubenville, and though a husband and father of three, expects soon to be ordained as a Catholic priest. Deacon Drake McCalister, thanks for being with us.

D. McCalister: Thank you for having me, happy to be here, and just one minor correction, lest I hear from the other two: father of five.

Cy Kellett: Oh, okay. I just counted the good ones. I apologize for that.

D. McCalister: Father of five, all girls. Blessed am I, among women.

Cy Kellett: Yes, you are, aren’t you? Well, I say it comes attached with a wild story, so perhaps we should do a bit of the story before we get into the practical question.

D. McCalister: Sure.

Cy Kellett: I mean, apologetics and catechesis certainly have been central to your life and journey, so I feel comfortable coming to you with that practical question. But you stumbled upon a Catholic radio station, and now you’re about to be a Catholic priest. In 25 seconds or less, how’d that happen?

D. McCalister: Yes. So yeah, it is a very unique journey in some ways. In other ways, very familiar to other pastor converts. But like many others, I was not looking at all into the Catholic Church, was not curious about the Catholic Church.

D. McCalister: As you already noted, I stumbled up on the radio, the Catholic radio station. I was scanning the dial, looking for stuff to listen to in Seattle, and that first encounter with the Catholic radio, which was in fact Catholic Answers. I didn’t really know it at the time. This was 1999 and hadn’t really been going on that long.

D. McCalister: What captivated me, and this is truly the beginning of a journey of what allowed me to come back, and eventually enter the Catholic Church. What captivated me was the disposition of those on that radio show, namely, I disagreed with all the doctrine in the course of that hour, but they were charitable, Evangelistic, Christ-centered, knew their Bible, and they were Catholic, which I never … I’d encountered all those four characteristics, but not in the Catholic package.

D. McCalister: So I literally tune back in just to see, were they the only two excited Catholics on the planet, or if there was more of these folks? To my surprise, there was quite a few more. That began a long process of discovering. I say, “discovering the Catholic Church,” because I was not raised anti-Catholic, nor was I raised particularly informed about Catholicism, other than the normal reformation presuppositions that we’re just better off not to be Catholic.

Cy Kellett: Yeah.

D. McCalister: It was in that process of, as you already noted, discovering the church fathers. I would say out of all of the pieces, the church fathers, I readily admit, are my Achilles heel. If people who want to fault me for falling in love with the fathers. I stand guilty in that.

D. McCalister: As I really began to look, “Where do the beliefs in my denomination appear in history?” Like the denomination I was in believed in symbolic baptisms, symbolic communion. So, I had never really asked, “Where does symbolic baptism come from?” until I traced it back to Ulrich Zwingli, the radical symbolist of the Reformation, and was at odds with Calvin and Luther, and who would literally, pull a rabbit out of a hat. I guess I shouldn’t say “literally”. It’s figurative.

D. McCalister: He literally makes it up on the spot, but he says directly that, “Everybody who’s ever taught before me on this topic has been wrong, all the fathers and doctors of the church. I will now tell you the truth.” Discovering those things, that the foundation of some of my core theological beliefs appear very late in history, in contrast with the church fathers, some of the disciples of the apostles, and you see the living out of the faith handed on from Christ, to the apostles, to the successors.

D. McCalister: For me, it became an absolute, kind of a treasure hunt, digging into these source materials, and skeptical Catholics presuming, “Well, I’m sure they’re reading quotes out of context here and there, so I’m going to go read it in context,” only to get there and find that the full context makes the Catholic case even stronger. That led for about four years of the journey.

D. McCalister: One unique part that I can’t leave out of the story, I was speaking in a high school summer camp in Idaho, and while I was at that camp, this is about a year before we resigned, still having no clue I’d be Catholic. I’m at this camp, and the guy who’s running this camp kind of runs in charismatic prophetic circles, and he said, “Hey Drake, I think I may have something for you this week.”

D. McCalister: So we sat in his office. He prayed, and he said he had a vision in his mind of me and my wife and kids standing on a seashore, and out on the ocean there’s a huge ship called the Queen Mary. I wasn’t Catholicized enough yet to even think of the Blessed Mother. I’m thinking of the large ship in California.

Cy Kellett: Right.

D. McCalister: I’m from California, and he gets done. He looks straight at me and says, “Drake, maybe you’re supposed to have something to do with the Catholic Church.” I said, “Excuse me?” So I told him everything I’d been learning, zero inclination to be Catholic. I went home from that camp really refocused on my efforts to really dig into Catholicism even deeper, more accelerated, with the presupposition that I was going to bring people out of the Catholic Church into my denomination was what I was thinking.

D. McCalister: So, I find it somewhat ironic, humorous, I don’t know what the word is, that I get a Marian vision from a Protestant Pentecostal. That really begins the home stretch of my final, real inquiry, with greater depth and intensity.

D. McCalister: I actually came back to that camp a year later, spoke again, and I hadn’t seen this guy for the whole year before. I’d never met him until that previous year. I didn’t know him at all. Soon as he saw me, he walked right in my room. First words out of his mouth were, “How’s the Queen Mary?”

Cy Kellett: Wow.

D. McCalister: By this point, I know I’m going to become Catholic, but I’m here still speaking at the denominational camp. I tell him, “Talk to me later.” So I met with him later in the week and said, “Listen, I’m still looking for any reason not to do this, because internally I know this is true, but I do not want to become Catholic.” He just looked at me and said, “I don’t have what you’re looking for. You need to follow the Lord. I’ve known some good Catholics in the charismatic movement.” That was one of the few final steps along the way.

D. McCalister: So there’s many other twists and turns, but I can’t underscore enough the charitable witness, and attractive witness of those first Catholics I heard on the radio. That is why I came back to listen to the radio again, and then, have since, found countless fantastic, Jesus-loving, engaged people in the Catholic Church.

Cy Kellett: Well, I wonder though, listening to your story, if … Now, firmly ensconced here in the Catholic Church, do you have any sense that those church fathers who convinced you that the faith of the apostles, the faith handed on by the apostles was, in fact, the Catholic faith–it wasn’t a non-denominational Christianity, it wasn’t symbolic, in Zwingli’s kind of vision of things, but it was Catholic–do you have a sense now that we Catholics are maybe missing the boat in not sharing the fathers very much?

D. McCalister: Yes. On one sense, absolutely, and with my students at the university, and any time I am doing catechist training, I try and give them accessible resources to the fathers. Which, the other side of that is it’s rather daunting if you’re not a pastor-minded academic or something.

D. McCalister: I mean, it’s great. “Let’s cover 700 years of history, and a lot of cultural differences.” It’s really daunting for the average person. While there have been continuing great resources, Mike Aquilina and many others, it’s still rather daunting for the average person to understand, “What or how do I use these without feeling like you’re just proof texting?” Like, “Look, here’s a verse.” You know?

Cy Kellett: Yes.

D. McCalister: “Here’s a thing from Iraneus that says ‘Eucharist’ and says ‘blood’. Ha, there you go,” because that’s not the goal, is just to kind of prove points.

Cy Kellett: Right.

D. McCalister: But absolutely, the faithful need to be well equipped with articulating, I would say, some of the fundamentals from the early church fathers, in particular the Eucharist, which is so powerful and often a point of a serious distinction, but many others.

D. McCalister: So yes, we need to be more equipped. To that end, I would say we need to be equipped on that, but also average Catholics, probably before they begin to that, they actually need to learn the basic Gospel first and be able to really articulate the saving work of Jesus Christ.

Cy Kellett: What are you talking about? Learn the Gospel? Are you crazy? I didn’t know we were having a crazy man on today. Okay, fair enough. So, now you work with catechists. You work with people who are preparing to be catechists.

D. McCalister: Yes.

Cy Kellett: Okay, so you come into the Catholic Church in 2004. There had, prior to your coming in to the Catholic Church, which I’m sure you are now familiar with, there had been kind of a crisis of catechesis starting probably in the 1960s maybe, before that, I don’t know. But certainly, profoundly afflicting the church in the 70s and 80s a crisis, kind of a formlessness in catechesis, what might be one way to say it. What do you make of that, and where are we now?

D. McCalister: Yes, a couple of things. One, it’s hard for people to really wrap their minds around, I’ll say just modern people today, 20s, 30s, 40s, anyone in that range and the younger, to really wrap their minds around how revolutionary the Second Vatican Council was.

D. McCalister: While not a doctrinal break, it was a real revolution in methodology. When you read the Council documents, it was specifically a revolution of methodology ordered towards understanding our Christian faith more fully and a greater participation in it. I mean, it was an evangelistic Council through and through. That was its primary mission in all that it was doing, so the reforms of the liturgy of things.

D. McCalister: But, it was such an earth-shattering transition, with not a lot of real–you know, when you talk to the priests that were there, things change, but–not a lot of explanations on how to go about these changes. Therefore, yeah, there was a lot of experimentation in catechesis.

D. McCalister: It’s my opinion that many of those that were doing catechesis poorly were not necessarily trying to hurt the faith, but they’re trying to figure out what this new method is and reacting against memorization of the Baltimore Catechism. So, “Let’s go experience. Let’s go feeling,” which is not bad. Feelings are a part of us. Experience is a part of us, but it’s more than that.

D. McCalister: So, there’s a lot of experimentation, some with maybe a bit more nefarious motives as far as their level of orthodoxy. But thanks be to God, the faith is the faith. Those that read the Council documents come away with a very clear picture of their intent. Pope John Paul II and through Pope Benedict, really laying that foundation.

D. McCalister: In particular, Pope John Paul II, because his work in catechesis in particular, the document in English Catechesis in Our Time, in Latin Catechesi Tradendae, is an absolute landmark document and something that every Catechist should know, should read. Very few do, and it’s, on catechesis, it’s cited by the Catechism the most. In it, he sets the course for what we should be doing.

D. McCalister: And for any average converted person that has had a conversion to Jesus Christ, they’ll read Catechesi Tradendae and be like, “Well of course we should be doing this,” but he’s writing it for all of those that don’t quite yet understand what we should be doing in catechesis, in particular, leading people to conversion to Jesus Christ, but beyond just that initial conversion, the full depth of the faith in all of us is beauty. Not just stopping at the charisma, but making sure we have that in going deeper.

D. McCalister: So we are in, I think, a golden time for a renewal of catechesis. There is, I think, a lot of great years in front of us as the Church begins to, I think, really stand strong on her catechetical renewal.

Cy Kellett: It strikes me that I, this image that you’re presenting of the catechetical process of, “First, you got to meet Jesus. You’ve got to be converted to Jesus, and then you are taken into the full depth of what you’re called to as a Catholic person.” Prior to the Second Vatican Council, one of the problems was that that encounter, that meeting was de-emphasized, or not fully brought forth. But then after the Council, that was all that was done.

D. McCalister: Yes. Well, so yes. To the first, absolutely. So, we’ve been doing some adults faith formation, New Evangelization, running the Christ led program this last year. I have a couple people in my small group who are into their late 70s. So they remember before and after, and they will just say, “Nobody ever talked to us about relationship with God.”

Cy Kellett: Yeah.

D. McCalister: “They gave the Commandments, ‘Do these things. Don’t do the things, you go to Hell. Do the things, you go to Heaven.'” So, it is very true that there was a, functionally within the Church–not so much in her doctrine, but function, practically–there was a lack of understanding of, “What is this interior personal conversion?” Again, so that’s why the Council refers to the universe call to holiness. “Listen, this is for everybody.”

D. McCalister: But then after the fact, I would say they didn’t so much focus on relationship with Christ, because I think what they focused on more was experience, and it stopped short of that relationship. Like, I grew up in a Pentecostal denomination. We could be justly accused of maybe being light on theology. Heavy on the Holy Spirit and the gifts, but our zeal in conversion to Christ was significant and deep. It was largely experiential, but it was rooted in a solid understanding of Christ.

D. McCalister: That’s what was lacking often after the counsel. They went for relationship. They went for experience, this idea of shared Christian practice, you know, “You share your story, I’ll share mine, and we’re mutually edified by the sharing. Don’t we feel better now? Let’s move on.” Any sharing outside of the anchored in the truth in Christ becomes deficient.

D. McCalister: So that’s, on the large part, what was missing after the counsel, why and why there was such a loss of, crisis of faith. Priests, religious, the faithful, exodus from the churches, the rise of the Nones, “N-O-N-E-S,” and all of those today. It’s, I think, only within the last couple of decades that we’ve really begun to have that conversation about the relationship, and within Catholic circles, to not be accused of being Protestant if you talk about relationship and Jesus in the same sentence.

Cy Kellett: So you are actually, to your mind, we’re looking at the potential for a genuine golden age where a catechesis rooted in Jesus, real encounter with Jesus, but also full of the depth and the grandeur of the faith and the Church that he gave us, this is something that can be on our horizon, or may be on our horizon?

D. McCalister: Yes, and I’ll say it’s going to be in pockets. It’s going to be in places where people get it. There’s some fantastic bishops that have an Evangelistic outlook. There’s fantastic pastors, universities, and others that, it just mystifies me as to what they’re doing.

D. McCalister: What is new today, and is distinctly different, you’re going back to the Synod on the New Evangelization appears back. The conversation is what has officially changed. The public conversation in the Church open and clear, “Catholics must have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” and programs abound that are bringing this to the surface.

D. McCalister: So that is what is distinctly new, but you didn’t have that in the first, really 20, 30 years following the Council. You have this now in the last 20 years because of many different resources and contributors to that end.

Cy Kellett: Whenever these kind of historical movements happen, the primary pitfall always seems to be our human tendency to go to extremes. I guess what I’m trying to ask you is as a person who practically does this all the time, and for whom it practically had such a tremendous effect in your own life, what are the extremes we gotta avoid now? I mean, where’s the path that’s the narrow way now?

D. McCalister: Yes. We’ll work at being charitable and not saying things that will get me or you in trouble.

Cy Kellett: All right.

D. McCalister: But, oh my goodness. The extremes, I mean, it’s the cultural milieu we are in right now of, from political to social, just the pendulum just seems to wack back and forth, and there’s very little moderation and middle ground. Which again, the reason I’m Catholic today is because I listened to balanced, reasonable, charitable voices that were clear about the truth, but gave me the space to come on the journey. It wasn’t all or nothing.

D. McCalister: So, growing up Pentecostal, we were kind of on one end of this pendulum. “It’s got to be this.” Coming into the Catholic Church, seeing the Church is still here today because of her balance, that she’s not as monolithic as people think. There is great room for the cloisters all the way to the charismatics and everything in-between.

D. McCalister: What we see on campus sometimes at Franciscan, the young in their zeal look at different things as, “Oh, that’s the ideal. That must be what it is.” “Oh look, there was better catechesis before the Second Vatican Council,” that’s the perception, “therefore, what we need is Latin Mass and traditional everything. That’s the answer because it was better then.”

D. McCalister: Well no, that’s a pendulum swing. You know? The charismatics, it’s got to be all experience and relationship, and focused based the Gospel notes. It’s got to be more than that.

D. McCalister: The key is to stay close to the Church and do what she’s asking. I guess as I look at it, when I talk to people from different streams and backgrounds, the focus should be, “Is what we are doing drawing the marginalized Catholics into relationship with Christ? Is it drawing those that are not Christians into relationship with Christ? Those that are the faithful in the Church, are we deepening their relationship with Christ?”

D. McCalister: If whatever our particular focus, or maybe style of ministry or approach is doing those things, I say, “Thanks be to God.” You got a traditional church with an Extraordinary Form Mass that is Evangelizing people. I say, “Thanks be to God. Let’s do it.” You’ve got a more outreach oriented guitars in the Mass kind of thing, and you are outreaching and reaching people. I say, “Thanks be to God,” and I think that has been the approach of the Church over the years.

D. McCalister: We need to be on mission, and when we’re not elevating our approach over the mission, that’s when we’re doing the best. When we elevate a particular approach as the only way, that’s where I think we begin to fall out of the bounds of the heart and intent of the Church and her practice over the years. You’ve got your Thomas Aquinas, and you’ve got your Saint Francis. Both very different, both essential in our Catholic faith.

Cy Kellett: It requires a humility though. What you’re saying is subsuming our own agendas really. The mission is what matters, not my particular way of getting things done.

D. McCalister: Yes. Yes. Easy to say, harder to do. I’ll give one example just from myself, and not so much to say that I did it right, but I can feel it.

D. McCalister: When I came into the Catholic Church, I had a long life of ministry, you know, 36 years of very active, faithful, fruitful ministry. But I came into the Church, and I intentionally, knowing of my deep Protestant roots, I kind of set aside everything that was most familiar to me. I just kind of put it on the shelf for a bit to really soak and focus on the things that I was less familiar with, so contemplation, meditation, the Rosary, silence.

D. McCalister: I was good noise in ministry, and the band, and praise and worship, and all the stuff, and was there for quite a long period of time. Then slowly, but surely, would look back that tool set and say, “Okay Lord, what is incompatible with my Catholic faith?” Let’s leave it there.

D. McCalister: But, “What is compatible with it? Okay, let’s take that back off the shelf. Now I want to incorporate that,” and I was very mindful that I wanted to Catholicize my Protestantism, not Protestantize my Catholicism. That, I think, is perspective, because I run into people that love the Church, but their answer is rigid, return to something to in the past, as if that’s going to fix things.

D. McCalister: Well, we want to have the heart of the Church and not promote the agenda, for agenda’s sake, and I don’t think people do that out of ill will. They have a desire to see the Church be effective, but sometimes more zeal than discretion.

Cy Kellett: Deacon Drake McCalister is our guest. He serves as the coordinator of Catechetical Practicum for the Office of Catechetics at Franciscan University of Steubenville, and he is soon to be ordained a priest of the Catholic Church. So next time we talk to him, we’ll be calling him Father McCalister.

Cy Kellett: You can find out … You can kind of follow the Deacon’s journey to the priesthood at the website ThatTheyMayBeOne.org. Just find your way over to ThatTheyMayBeOne.org, and you can learn all about it.

Cy Kellett: Deacon McCalister, it’s just a wonderful story. I mean of course, I kind of like that Catholic Answers was involved in it. I have a little bit of a-

D. McCalister: Absolutely.

Cy Kellett: But, you know, it’s motivating too. Back in 1999, that was probably Jerry, was hosting.

D. McCalister: Yep.

Cy Kellett: You know, you never know who’s listening, and don’t have a bad day. Try to be charitable today.

D. McCalister: Absolutely true.

Cy Kellett: So thanks, thanks again, and maybe we can do it again sometime. It was a great pleasure to talk with you.

D. McCalister: Absolutely, my pleasure as well.

Cy Kellett: And thank you to everybody who joins us here on Catholic Answers Focus. We’d love it if you’d share it with others. A couple ways that you can do that, one, if you would like us and leave a comment wherever you get your podcasts. That would be very, very helpful. That’s the primary way that we grow.

Cy Kellett: Also, share with other people that they can join Radio Club and get a notice each week when Catholic Answers Focus is out on Wednesday. Just go over to CatholicAnswersLive.com, put in your email address, and you’re a member of Radio Club. We don’t ask you for anything else, but we do love to send you free stuff. CatholicAnswersLive.com.

Cy Kellett: Thank you so much for joining us. We’ll see you next time on Catholic Answers Focus.

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