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A Meeting with Maria
March 23, 2020
Street evangelist, Clarence Burkholder, is manning his SPSE table one day at a university in Georgia when a young woman of Mexican heritage approaches. “Free Rosaries!” Clarence offers cheerfully. “What church do you go to?”
The woman, Maria, responds, “I go to the Holy Gospel Temple. I am not Catholic.”
“I am Mexican,” she adds and Protestant, too.
Her parents, once Catholic like many in their predominantly Catholic homeland, converted to Protestantism when Maria was young. Baptized in the church, she vaguely recalls being taken to Mass as an infant, but has rarely stepped into a Catholic church since, save for a wedding. Now she says she is strong in her Protestant faith.
Clarence observes, “I was once Protestant, but I converted the opposite way … I will tell you what I think” of your parents departure from the Catholic Church. “I think they didn’t known their Catholic faith well like a lot of Catholics. Usually what happens is they have a positive experience with God in a Protestant setting and then they move toward that direction.”
Clarence relates his own story of conversion, once a Mennonite and later a mega-Church Protestant when he was about Maria’s age. But, he says he embraced Catholicism out of the sheer love shown him by his Catholic wife during a life-changing Marriage Encounter retreat - a kind of love he says he never knew existed before.
“You know God is love and we all want to be loved,” Clarence explained to Maria. It was the kind of love found only through Christ and the fullness of the church that Jesus personally founded, the Catholic Church. “My life changed, so I decided to become Catholic.”
Asked more about her Protestant faith, Maria acknowledges she is Pentecostal.
Clarence responded, “I am Pentecostal as well. Catholics are Pentecostal. We don’t change our worship, though. Our worship is retained from Judaism, Christ, and how the early church understood and taught us. It is awesome. Our worship as we know it today developed before we got the Canon of the Bible books.
He notes that his own Catholic Church he attends has a small Pentecostal group, as many others do. “I have been involved with this in the past.” But, he notes the Catholic church is also universal. Clarence adds, “You can be Catholic and have all the expressions of faith in small groups within the Catholic Church: Charismatic groups, Bible studies, prayer groups, adult education” and so on.
Maria is listening intently as he explains: “The Church shepherds all of us” and has been doing so for roughly 2,000-years since its founding by Jesus Christ. “ Our top-down church structure was founded on the apostles given by Christ. Protestants are the opposite of what Christ set up. They are bottom-up: I with MY Bible reading, MY prayer life, and MY pastor’s teaching. I then self-conclude what to adopt in MY life.”
By this time in the conversation, Maria is all ears. Clarence goes on to explain Catholic positions on Baptism, right interpretation of the Bible and other issues and how those positions diverge significantly from the Protestant approach.
Clarence asks her as their long encounter is drawing to a close, “What do you think?” Marie replies: “Like in general, I think I am strong in my faith." Clarence said, “That’s OK. I am not trying to convert you today. Marie said: “I do like to understand different points of views.”
This isn’t a day of dramatic conversion. But, a seed has been planted, perhaps many, and for the evangelist, that is enough for one day in the streets. God will take care of the rest, and in His time.
Says Clarence in conclusion: “When I first met Maria, she felt that her church was ideal and that Catholicism obviously was not. Maria was rather timid and somewhat uninformed in Christian beliefs, but she came to be interested in the things of faith that also contradicted her traditional beliefs. We ended on a positive note. I think she learned a lot from this encounter.”