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April 5, 2006

Convert--or Die!

by Thomas A. Droleskey

Today is the Feast of Saint Vincent Ferrer, a Dominican priest who lived between 1350 and 1419.

Saint Vincent Ferrer was one of the most powerful preachers in the history of the Church. He had a great zeal for souls, going to extraordinary lengths to seek the conversion of all men to the Catholic Church, outside of which there is no salvation. While he exhibited zeal throughout the course of his priesthood, the last twenty years of his life saw him preach throughout Western Europe to bring in infidels to the One Sheepfold of Christ that is the Catholic Church, and to seek the return to the practice of the Faith of Catholics who hearts had been hardened by years of unrepentant sin.

Saint Vincent Ferrer would not be popular with the ecumaniacs within the Church today, starting with His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, who has written that Mosaic Covenant was not superceded by the New and Eternal Covenant that Our Lord instituted at the Last Supper and then ratified by the shedding of every single drop of His Most Precious Blood on the wood of the Holy Cross on Good Friday. Oh, no, Saint Vincent Ferrer would have none of that, shall we say in a spirit of restraint, erroneous thinking. He converted over 25,000 Jews to the Catholic Faith, most of them in Spain. He told the Jews straight out that they had to convert or that they would die, that is, the eternal death of the soul caused by their being in a state of Original Sin. Just as the Apostles urgently sought the conversion of all men in the known world to the true Faith as soon as they left the Upper Room in Jerusalem following the descent of the Holy Ghost upon them in tongues of flame on Pentecost Sunday, Saint Vincent Ferrer sought most urgently the conversion of souls in his own day. Thousands of Mohammedans were converted by his fearless preaching, motivated by a supreme love for God and the Deposit of Faith He entrusted solely to the Catholic Church and motivated by a supreme love for the eternal welfare of the souls for whom Our Lord had given up His life to the Father in Spirit and in Truth on Golgotha.

People need to be challenged to convert. The actual process of conversion may take a long time. The devil wants to tamp down the initial ardor or curiosity of a possible convert. He wants to mute the tongues of Catholics who know that they must try to seek the conversion of family members and friends but who are waiting for the "right time," as they see it, to do so. Saint Vincent Ferrer knew that the seed must be planted first. He was blessed with thousands upon thousands of instant conversions to the Faith--and with many thousands of people who sought him out in the hospital of Divine Mercy that is the Sacred Tribunal of Penance. Saint Vincent was thus unstinting in his fiery preaching to reach the heart of the unbeliever and the hardened heart of the fallen-away Catholic. The fruits borne as a result of holy, fearless imitation of the Apostles themselves speaks volumes about the necessity of proclaiming the necessity of everyone to convert to the Faith.

To be sure, different approaches are used at different times by different people. One approach is used in a pulpit by a professor or in the front of a classroom by a professor. Another approach, perhaps softer and gentler but nevertheless direct, is used in one-on-one contact over the course of time. Many students sought me out over the course of my thirty years of teaching, interested that a professor had actually said in a college classroom that there is a true religion and that everyone had to belong to that religion in order to be nourished by the sacraments and to die a happy, holy, sacramentally-provided-for death. The approach used in such one-on-one contact during office hours varied according to the needs and the backgrounds of each inquirer. Each, though, came with an clear understanding about the nature of the sessions: their conversion to the Faith.

Some  students were more ready to listen than others. Some kept asking the same questions repeatedly. Every effort was made to answer those questions before they were sent to a priest for old-fashioned convert-instruction classes. Some persevered to the point of conversion, others did not, at least not to my knowledge. The sought out advice not because of any gift that I, a terrible sinner, had been given. They sought out advice because Catholic truth had resonated in their souls, which were made by God to know, to love, and to serve Him through the Catholic Church. That's really all it takes, you see. A simple proclamation of Catholic truth to start the process of planting seeds for the conversion of souls.

Saint Vincent Ferrer, on the other hand, had the extraordinary gift from God of reaching deep into the souls of his hearers to prompt them to respond with urgency to God's graces for the conversion to the Catholic Church--or for the return of those who had fallen away. He was able to do this because his own soul had been forged in the crucible of suffering, having to resist onslaughts of the devil and to endure calumnies uttered against his good name. He prepared himself for his work by the exquisite manner in which he offered the Mass of Tradition, the time he spent before the Blessed Sacrament in prayer, his deep and tender devotion to the Mother of God, and the life of austere penances which he imposed upon himself. He was not only responsible for the conversion of thousands upon thousands of souls. Saint Vincent Ferrer performed numerous miracles, including gathering the remains of a young boy who had been chopped to death by an angry mother to bring him back to life whole and unharmed!

Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B. wrote the following about Saint Vincent Ferrer in The Liturgical Year:

To-day, again, it is Catholic Spain that offers one of her sons to the Church, that she may present him to the Christian world as a model and a patron. Vincent Ferrer, or, as he was called, the angel of the judgment, comes to us proclaiming the near approach of the Judge of the living and the dead. During his lifetime, he traversed almost every country of Europe, preaching this terrible truth ["Convert, or die!"--editor's note]; and the people of those times went from his sermons striking their breasts, crying out to God to have mercy upon them--in a word, converted. In these our days, the thought of that awful day, when Jesus Christ will appear in the clouds of heaven to judge mankind, has not the same effect upon Christians. They believe in the last judgment, because it is an article of faith; but, we repeat, the thought produces little impression. After long years of a sinful life, a special grace touches the heart, and we witness a conversion; there are thousands thus converted, but the majority of them continue to lead an easy, comfortable life, seldom thinking on hell, and still less the judgment wherewith God is to bring time to an end.

It was not thus in the Christian ages; neither is it so now with those whose conversion is solid. Love is stronger in them than fear; and yet the fear of God's judgment is every living within them, and gives stability to the new life they have begun. Those Christians, who have heavy debts towards divine justice, because of their past lives, and who, notwithstanding, make the time of Lent a season for evincing their cowardice and tepidity, surely such Christians as these must very rarely ask themselves what will become of them on that day, when the sign of the Son of Man shall appear in the heavens, and when Jesus, not as Saviour, but as Judge, shall separate the goats from the sheep. One would suppose that they would have received a revelation from God, that, on the day of judgment, all will be well with them. Let us be more prudent; let us stand on our guard against the illusions of a proud, self-satisfied indifference; let us secure to ourselves, by sincere repentance, the well-founded hope, that on the terrible day, which has made the very saints tremble, we shall hear these words of the divine Judge addressed to us: 'Come, ye blessed of My Father, possess the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world!' Vincent Ferrer leaves the peaceful cell of his monastery, that he may go and rouse men to the great truth they had forgotten--the day of God's inexorable justice; we have not heard his preachings, but, have we not the Gospel? Have we not the Church, who, at the commencement, of this season of penance, preached to us the terrible truth, which St. Vincent took as the subject of his instructions? Let us, therefore, prepare ourselves to appear before Him, who will demand of us a strict account of those graces which He so profusely poured out upon us, and which were purchased by His Blood. Happy they that spend their Lents well, for they may hope for a favourable judgment!

From the life of Saint Vincent Ferrer in the Breviary, found in The Liturgical Year:

He exposed the perfidy of the Jews, and refuted the false doctrines of the Saracens, but with so much earnestness and success, that he brought a great number of infidels to the faith of Christ, and converted many thousand Christians from sin to repentance, and from vice to virtue. God had chosen him to teach the way of salvation to all nations, and tribes, and tongues; as also to warn men of the coming of the last and dread day of judgment, He so preached, that he struck terror into the minds of all his hearers, and turned them from earthly affections to the love of God.

In other words, men need to be exhorted, challenged, to convert. The Apostles spoke, they challenged, they exhorted. The Saints spoke, they challenged, they exhorted. There is no conversion without the preaching of the Word orally and without a word of warning. The Spiritual Works of Mercy exhort us to instruct the ignorant and to admonish the sinner. These works are not optional. They are mandatory. We do not know when we--or those we seek to convert--will die. That's why the Apostles risked their lives to proclaim the truths of the Faith. They knew that there might not be a tomorrow for the souls to whom they were sent. Do we? Oh, how we excuse ourselves so lightly, sometimes by committing the cardinal Protestant sin of Presumption, believing that "everything will work out in the end for our relatives and friends even if they don't convert before they die," of  the responsibility of adhering firmly to the Catholic tradition of speaking and exhorting, doing so in love, to be sure, but making sure that it is done clearly and without equivocation.

Pope Leo XIII put it this way in Sapientiae Christianae, January 10, 1890:

The chief elements of this duty consist in professing openly and unflinchingly the Catholic doctrine, and in propagating it to the utmost of our power. For, as is often said, with the greatest truth, there is nothing so hurtful to Christian wisdom as that it should not be known, since it possesses, when loyally received, inherent power to drive away error. So soon as Catholic truth is apprehended by a simple and unprejudiced soul, reason yields assent. Now, faith, as a virtue, is a great boon of divine grace and goodness; nevertheless, the objects themselves to which faith is to be applied are scarcely known in any other way than through the hearing. "How shall they believe Him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? Faith then cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ."

Since, then, faith is necessary for salvation, it follows that the word of Christ must be preached. The office, indeed, of preaching, that is, of teaching, lies by divine right in the province of the pastors, namely, of the bishops whom "the Holy Spirit has placed to rule the Church of God." It belongs, above all, to the Roman Pontiff, vicar of Jesus Christ, established as head of the universal Church, teacher of all that pertains to morals and faith.

No one, however, must entertain the notion that private individuals are prevented from taking some active part in this duty of teaching, especially those on whom God has bestowed gifts of mind with the strong wish of rendering themselves useful. These, so often as circumstances demand, may take upon themselves, not, indeed, the office of the pastor, but the task of communicating to others what they have themselves received, becoming, as it were, living echoes of their masters in the faith. Such co-operation on the part of the laity has seemed to the Fathers of the Vatican Council so opportune and fruitful of good that they thought well to invite it. "All faithful Christians, but those chiefly who are in a prominent position, or engaged in teaching, we entreat, by the compassion of Jesus Christ, and enjoin by the authority of the same God and Savior, that they bring aid to ward off and eliminate these errors from holy Church, and contribute their zealous help in spreading abroad the light of undefiled faith.'' Let each one, therefore, bear in mind that he both can and should, so far as may be, preach the Catholic faith by the authority of his example, and by open and constant profession of the obligations it imposes. In respect, consequently, to the duties that bind us to God and the Church, it should be borne earnestly in mind that in propagating Christian truth and warding off errors the zeal of the laity should, as far as possible, be brought actively into play.

The process of conversion starts with ourselves. We must be converted on a daily basis away from our sins. We must strive after holiness more and more with every beat of our hearts, consecrated as they must be to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. However, we do not want until we have reached the Illuminative Stage or the Way of Perfection in the interior life until we seek the conversion of our fellow sinners. God has arranged it that sinners must be about the business of seeking the conversion of their fellow sinners. He means to manifest the power of His ineffable graces in our own souls despite our own sins and shortcomings. Who are we to doubt His power to use us to be an instrument in seeking, formally and without apology, the conversion of others?

One thing that would help a Protestant to at least consider the truths of the Faith is the following Apostolic Letter written specifically to Protestants by Pope Pius IX, Iam Vos Omnes, issued on September 13, 1868:

Surely you all are aware that We, who have been raised up, though without any merit, to this Chair of Peter, and therefore to the head of the supreme government and care of the entire Catholic Church of Jesus Christ Our Lord, have thought it opportune to call to Us the Venerable Brothers of the Episcopate of all the world, and to reunite them, in the coming year, in an Ecumenical Council; for preparation, with the same Venerable Brothers, calling you to share Our pastoral solicitude, those provisions which will prove more suitable and more incisive to dissipate the darkness of many pestilent errors which, wherever, with added damage of the soul, every day are more affirmed and triumph, and to always give more consistency and to diffuse in the Christian people, entrusted to Our vigilance, the kingdom of the true faith, of justice and of authentic peace of God.

Reposing full confidence in the most tightly bound and most amiable pact of union which in a marvelous way binds to Us and to this Seat the same Venerable Brothers, what testimony the unequivocable tests of fidelity, of love and of obedience towards Us and towards this Our Seat, [they] have never omitted to offer in the course of all Our Supreme Pontificate, we nourish the hope that, as it has happened in ages past through other General Councils, so also in the present age, this Ecumenical Council of Ours will produce, with the help of divine grace, copious and most joyous fruits for the greater glory of God and for the eternal salvation of men.

Sustained therefore by this hope, solicitous and urged by the charity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who offered His life for the salvation of all the race of men, it is not possible for us to pass by the occasion of the future Council without turning Our paternal and Apostolic word again to all those who, even if they acknowledge Jesus Christ the Redeemer and boast of the name of Christian, do not profess the totality of the true faith of Christ and are not in the communion of the Catholic Church. This being the case, we propose with all zeal and Charity to admonish, exhort, and beseech them for this reason to seriously consider and reflect whether the way in which they continue is that which is indicated by that same Christ the Lord: which is the way that leads to eternal life.

Nobody will certainly be able to doubt or deny that this Jesus Christ, to the end that the fruits of His Redemption might be applied to all the race of men, has built here on earth, upon Peter, the only Church, which is one, holy, catholic and apostolic; and that He has conferred upon her the power necessary to preserve whole and inviolate the deposit of faith; to transmit this same faith to all peoples, tribes, and nations; to call [elect] to unity in this Mystical Body, through baptism, all men, for the purpose of preserving in them, and perfecting, that new life of grace, without which no one can merit and obtain eternal life; wherefore this Church, which constitutes the Mystical Body, will persist and prosper in her own stable and indefectible nature until the end of the ages, and offer to all Her sons the means of salvation.

Whoever thus gives proper attention and reflection to the situation which surrounds the various religious societies, divided amongst themselves and separated from the Catholic Church - which, without interruption, from the time of Christ the Lord and of His Apostles, by means of her legitimate sacred Shepherds, has always exercised, and exercises still, the divine power conferred upon Her by the Lord - it will be easy to convince [them] that in none of these societies, and not even in all of them taken together, can in some way be seen the one and Catholic Church which Christ the Lord built, constituted, and willed to exist. Neither will it ever be able to be said that they are members and part of that Church as long as they remain visibly separated from Catholic unity. It follows that such societies, lacking that living authority established by God, which instructs men in the things of the faith and in the discipline of the customs, directing and governing them in all that concerns eternal salvation, they continuously mutate in their doctrines without that mobility and the instability they find one end. Everyone therefore can easily comprehend and fully reckon that this is absolutely in contrast with the Church instituted by Christ the Lord, in which the truth must always remain constant and never subject to change whatsoever, deposited as if it were into a warehouse, entrusted to be guarded perfectly whole. To this purpose, it has received the promise of the perpetual presence and the aid of the Holy Spirit. No one then ignores that from these dissentions [disagreements] in doctrines and opinions derive social divisions, which find their origin in these innumerable communions and which are always and increasingly diffused with grave damage[s] to the Christian and civil society.

Therefore, whoever recognizes that religion is the foundation of human society must be moved to confess what great violence has been wrought in civil society by the discrepancy of principles and the division of religious societies which fight amongst themselves, and with what force the refusal of the authority willed by God for governing the convictions of the intellect of men through the direction of the actions of men, as much in private life as in social life, has provoked, promoted and fed the lamentable of the things and of the times which agitate and plague [afflict] in this way nearly all peoples.

It is for this reason that so many who do not share “the communion and the truth of the Catholic Church” must make use of the occasion of the Council, by the means of the Catholic Church, which received in Her bosom their ancestors, proposes [further] demonstration of profound unity and of firm vital force; hear the requirements [demands] of her heart, they must engage themselves to leave this state that does not guarantee for them the security of salvation. She does not hesitate to raise to the Lord of mercy most fervent prayers to tear down of the walls of division, to dissipate the haze of errors, and lead them back within holy Mother Church, where their Ancestors found salutary pastures of life; where, in an exclusive way, is conserved and transmitted whole the doctrine of Jesus Christ and wherein is dispensed the mysteries of heavenly grace.

It is therefore by force of the right of Our supreme Apostolic ministry, entrusted to us by the same Christ the Lord, which, having to carry out with [supreme] participation all the duties of the good Shepherd and to follow and embrace with paternal love all the men of the world, we send this Letter of Ours to all the Christians from whom We are separated, with which we exhort them warmly and beseech them with insistence to hasten to return to the one fold of Christ; we desire in fact from the depths of the heart their salvation in Christ Jesus, and we fear having to render an account one day to Him, Our Judge, if, through some possibility, we have not pointed out and prepared the way for them to attain eternal salvation. In all Our prayers and supplications, with thankfulness, day and night we never omit to ask for them, with humble insistence, from the eternal Shepherd of souls the abundance of goods and heavenly graces. And since, if also, we fulfill in the earth the office of vicar, with all our heart we await with open arms the return of the wayward sons to the Catholic Church, in order to receive them with infinite fondness into the house of the Heavenly Father and to enrich them with its inexhaustible treasures. By our greatest wish for the return to the truth and the communion with the Catholic Church, upon which depends not only the salvation of all of them, but above all also of the whole Christian society: the entire world in fact cannot enjoy true peace if it is not of one fold and one shepherd.

Given at Rome, from St. Peter, on the 13th of September, 1868; in the 23rd year of Our Pontificate.

We are given a chance to change the lives of everyone we meet. We are called to do apostolic work at all times. No one is placed in our lives by accident. We should be about the business of handing out Miraculous Medals to shopkeepers and waiters and waitresses and people we might meet in a doctor's office. We should be about the business of handing out Green Scapulars. We must think eternally and act locally! There will be another day like today. The people we met today may not be there tomorrow. Each day gives us an opportunity to help the souls we meet on that day. We had better not waste it.

Some will protest by saying that speaking directly might "close the door." Did the Apostles think that way? Why should we? God's graces to soften hearts by the use of the same approach taken by the Apostles are more powerful than the cleverness we think we have in devising plans to avoid discussing directly the necessity of another person converting to the true Faith.

We must pray constantly for the conversion of all non-Catholic relatives and friends. We have Masses said for them. We remember them in our Rosaries. We remember them during the Memento for the Living in the Canon of the Mass. Yes, we pray, pray, pray.

Action is also necessary, however. Saint John Bosco bribed stagecoach drivers to get them to confession. He gave candy to children. Saint Dominic Savio, who gave up his young, pure soul to God as a volunteer at Saint John Bosco's oratory, entreated some of the rougher boys at the oratory to go with him to confession after he had played games with them, understanding that even games were meant to be played with an eye on Heaven. Thus, for example, a lobster dinner for some fallen-away Catholic relatives or friends after they get their souls in good order in the confessional might not be a bad idea. You do not know what tomorrow will bring. Too many souls persist until the end in blindness. It really is, "Convert, or die!" We don't want God to say to us when we die, "Where are your family members? Where are you friends? Why did not you speak of the Catholic Faith to them?" Only the devil wants us to be silent about the Holy Name of the Divine Redeemer and the Catholic Faith. Why should we do his bidding?

Unfortunately, many Catholics today are influenced, whether or not they realize it, by the erroneous novelty of ecumenism, follow the example of the Holy Father and his cardinals and bishops in not seeking the conversion of anyone at any time, indeed, in being obedient, as they see it, to the Pope's plea that Catholics NOT engage in proseytism with Jews or Protestants. Thus we see how the rotten influence of the erroneous theology of Universal Salvation promoted by the Pope Benedict XVI's mentor, the late Father Hans Urs von Balthasar, reaches into the lives of ordinary Catholics, convincing them that there is no need to seek the conversion of anyone, believing, wrongly, that all men will be saved.

Saint Vincent Ferrer's life work for souls provides us with the supreme Catholic example par excellence of how we must be about the business of saving souls from death. Passiontide is a good time to start, wouldn't you say? Trusting in Our Lady's graces, what are we waiting for? Indeed, Our Lady has come repeteadly since her apparition in Guadalupe in 1531 to seek the conversion of all men to the Catholic Faith. Who are we to say that her pleas for conversion should go ignored in our "sophisticated" era of conciliarism?

Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.

Saint Joseph, pray for us.

Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us.

Saint Vincent Ferrer, pray for us.

Saint John the Baptist, pray for us.

Saint Michael the Archangel, pray for us.

Saint Gabriel, the Archangel, pray for us.

Saint Raphael the Archangel, pray for us.

Saint Andrew, pray for us.

Saint John the Evangelist, pray for us.

Saint James the Greater, pray for us.

Saint James the Lesser, pray for us.

Saint Jude, pray for us.

Saint Simon, pray for us.

Saint Philip, pray for us.

Saint Bartholomew, pray for us.

Saint Matthias, pray for us.

Saint Thomas the Apostle, pray for us.

Saint Matthew, pray for us.

Saint Mark, pray for us.

Saint Luke, pray for us.

Saint Barnabas, pray for us.

Saints Titus and Timothy, pray for us.

Saints Fabian and Sebastian, pray for us.

Saint Eustacius and Companions, pray for us.

Saints Cosmas and Damian, pray for us.

Saints Gervase and Protase, pray for us.

Saints Perpetua and Felicity, pray for us.

Pope Saint Clement I, pray for us.

Saint Lucy, pray for us.

Saint Agnes, pray for us.

Saint Agatha, pray for us.

Saint Lawrence the Deacon, pray for us.

Saint Stephen the Deacon, pray for us.

Saint Jerome, pray for us.

Pope Saint Damasus, pray for us.

Pope Saint Melchiades, pray for us.

Saint Benedict, pray for us.

Saint Scholastica, pray for us.

Saint John Damascene, pray for us.

Saint John Chrysostom, pray for us.

Saint John Capistran, pray for us.

Saint Meinrad, pray for us.

Saint Boniface, pray for us.

Saint Augustine of Hippo, pray for us.

Saint Augustine of Canterbury, pray for us.

Saint Patrick, pray for us.

Saint Denis and Companions, pray for us.

Saint Louis IX, King of France, pray for us.

Saint Francis of Assisi, pray for us.

Saint Clare of Assisi, pray for us.

Saint Francis de Sales, pray for us.

Saint Alphonsus Liguori, pray for us.

Saint Thomas Aquinas, pray for us.

Saint Dominic, pray for us.

Saint Albert the Great, pray for us.

Saint John Bosco, pray for us.

Saint John Marie Vianney, pray for us.

Saint Rita, pray for us.

Saint Philomena, pray for us.

Saint Maria Goretti, pray for us.

Saint Joan of Arc, pray for us.

Pope Saint Gregory the Great, pray for us.

Pope Saint Pius V, pray for us.

Pope Saint Pius X, pray for us.

Saint John Neumann, pray for us.

Saint Nicholas of Flue, pray for us.

Saint Nicholas of Myra, pray for us.

Saint Peter Damien, pray for us.

Saint Padre Pio, pray for us.

Saint Maximilian Mary Kolbe, pray for us.

Saint Catherine Laboure, pray for us.

Saint Bridget of Sweden, pray for us.

Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, pray for us.

Saint Teresa of Avila, pray for us.

Saint Catherine of Siena, pray for us.

Saint Therese Lisieux, pray for us.

Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, pray for us.

Blessed Pauline Jaricot, pray for us.

Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, pray for us.

Blessed Junipero Serra, pray for us.

Blessed Miguel Augustin Pro, pray for us.

Blessed Francisco, pray for us.

Blessed Jacinta, pray for us.

Sister Lucia, pray for us.



































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