SULLIVAN’S ISLAND – Local parishioners were offered a glimpse into the dramatic conversion of Catholic writer Mark Shea at a weekend seminar at Stella Maris Nov. 14 -15.
Shea, a Seattle native, is the author of several books, including “This is My Body” and “Making Senses Out of Scripture: Reading the Bible as the First Christians Did.” He is a contributor to many Catholic publications nationwide, and also serves as the senior contributing editor for Catholicexchange.com, which offers Catholic scripture studies that can be downloaded for free.
For Shea, conversion to the Catholic faith didn’t come easily.
“I was a pagan in the best sense,” he said. “G.K. Chesterton said that ‘paganism is an attempt to reach God through the imagination,’ and that statement captures where I was.”
It was during his college years at the University of Washington that Shea became a believer.
“A friend of mine gave me a copy of ‘Mere Christianity’ by C.S. Lewis,” he said. “I instantly saw Lewis as a soul mate as he expressed the human longings which this earth cannot satisfy.”
It was a longing that Shea had been aware of his entire life, but didn’t know how to satisfy. He accepted Christ privately in 1979 and attempted to make it on his own without the encouragement of other believers.
“I began to realize that I wasn’t too good at this Christian thing, so I made a public profession of faith,” he said. “I attached myself to a group of non-denominational charismatics from my college dorm.”
Shea remained a part of this group for many years, and it wasn’t until he read Thomas Howard’s “Evangelical Is Not Enough” and Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy” that he felt a move in the direction of Catholicism.
“It was as if a light came on inside my head, and it all made perfect sense to me for the first time,” he said.
He was received into the church Dec. 20, 1987, in “fulfillment of what God wanted for (his) life.”
For Shea, finding his life’s calling as a writer and speaker “just sort of happened, by God of course, but it just happened.”
“I wrote a letter to a good friend of mine who didn’t believe in the divine presence in the Eucharist explaining why I did,” he said. “Eventually, the letter became the first draft of my first book ‘This is my Body.’ ”
It took five years but his book was finally published, launching his career as a writer.
“I write only about the Catholic faith because it’s the only thing interesting to me,” he said.
Shea said that speaking is another aspect of his life’s work that brings great joy.
“To speak to new or potential converts is enjoyable, especially when I can see that same light of understanding come on for them that came on for me,” he said.
He advises new converts to take it slow and not be afraid to share their faith.”
He also encourages them to face Protestant criticism with confidence knowing that “none of (the criticisms) really hold water.”
Not only is Shea able to encourage new and cradle Catholics, but his speaking has taken him to many places around the world.
“I was in New Zealand recently,” he said. “I have been all over Canada and the U.S. and would love to do a lot more of this.”
Shea gives seminars on college campuses and in churches. The topic that he presented during his visit to Stella Maris was a discussion of his book “Making Senses of Scripture.” In the daylong session he offered a “flyover of the Catholic understanding of Revelation, natural Revelation, and the Old and New Testaments.”
“The New Testament is hidden in the Old, and the Old is fully revealed in the New,” he explained.
The four senses of scripture that he covered are the literal, allegorical, moral, and anagogical.
At present Shea is working on his fourth book covering the topic of the “Blessed Virgin.”
According to his Web site, one of the talks he gives on, “Behold Your Mother: An Evangelical Discovers the Blessed Virgin Mary,” Shea states “few things are more ooky for a nice Evangelical than Catholic devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.” He describes his story of how he came to see that Catholic Marian theology was” thoroughly biblical, refreshingly sane, and deeply satisfying to the soul.”
“Our faith is so liberating and interesting,” he said. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Shea, his wife Janet and their four sons live in Seattle.
For more information on Mark Shea visit www.mark-shea.com.