Dr. Scott Hahn has told the story of his conversion to Catholicism countless times, but he is always happy to do it again.
“I never get tired of sharing this story of my journey of faith because even though it’s been more than 30 years it still feels like yesterday,” Hahn said. Nowadays, “I’m not asked to share that story as much as answer questions from people who are experiencing that journey now and have questions, and it’s something I find always exciting.”
Hahn, who holds the Fr. Michael Scanlan Chair of Biblical Theology and the New Evangelization at the Franciscan University of Steubenville (Ohio), is the author or editor of more than 40 books and remains a popular lecturer and speaker on scripture, theology, and the Catholic faith. Rome Sweet Home, the book he and his wife, Kimberly, wrote about their conversion experiences, has sold millions of copies in more than 30 languages since it was first published in 1993.
The Hahns were Presbyterian students at an evangelical seminary near Boston in the early 1980s when they became convinced that contraception was morally wrong — a position Protestant churches had abandoned in the 1930s. That led Scott on an academic journey in which he came to question the foundational tenets of the Reformation, sola fide (“faith alone”) and sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”), and to embrace the Catholic concept of covenant.
Later, while pastor of a Presbyterian congregation and a seminary teacher, he continued to be drawn increasingly to the truths of the Catholic faith. He presented his theological and biblical arguments to fellow Protestant scholars, hoping they would dissuade him. Some offered unsatisfactory answers. Some wound up converting to Catholicism ahead of him.
It was a gradual, inexorable journey. “I felt like I was knocked off my horse in slow motion over a three-year period,” Hahn said. “By the time I hit the ground I was scared, I was startled, but I was also very excited.”
The process was difficult also for Kimberly, whose father and uncle were Presbyterian ministers. It strained their marriage after Scott, with Kimberly’s consent, entered the Church in 1986. But Kimberly herself would convert four years later and join him as another powerful apologist for the CAtholic faith. Their marriage grew stronger than ever: They have now been wed 38 years and have six children and 15 grandchildren.
Fear: A Bad Investment
Hahn will be a keynoter at the 2018 Legatus Summit to be held January 25-27 in Orlando, Fla. The conference theme, “Be Not Afraid,” is a biblical admonition that was a signature phrase for St. John Paul II.
“I’ve heard recently that that phrase ‘be not afraid’ occurs 365 times in Sacred Scripture, which seems so fitting because you’ve got one for every day of the year,” Hahn noted. “Every single day, when you wake up, you have a new set of challenges that could easily cause you to give in to fear.”
God sends challenges our way, but He always gives us the grace we need to overcome them by living out our faith, he said. “A perfect love casts out all fear,” he added. “So we’ve got to really allow our love to grow and become perfected so that we trust more than we fear.”
Business leaders are not immune to such fear, Hahn said. Everyone has work-related concerns, whether it’s fear of losing to a competitor, losing in investments, or losing a job.
“Fear charges a great deal of interest but pays no dividends,” he said. If we view things from an eternal perspective, however, recognizing God as our Father and heaven as our lasting home, it can help us keep “kind of a loose grip” on earthly things that we are responsible for as stewards.
It also means keeping professional goals in perspective. “If you lose the world but gain your soul, you have gained everything,” said Hahn. “But if you gain the world but lose your soul, then everything is a failure, even all of your apparent successes.”
Evangelizing Through Friendship
Part of our baptismal commitment is to care for other souls through evangelization – a word that can strike fear in our hearts if we don’t know how to go about it or confuse it with soapbox preaching.
Protestants see evangelization as leading others to a personal relationship with Christ. That’s certainly very important, Hahn said, but it’s only the beginning, like a man and woman on a first date. The real purpose of evangelization from a Catholic perspective is to bring people into a covenant relationship, such as develops and continually deepens over time in a marriage commitment.
The “new evangelization” described by recent popes involves reaching those who are baptized but have strayed from the faith, Hahn said. We meet these fallen-away Catholics everywhere, in our workplace and neighborhood — which presents opportunities to evangelize.
“For us as Catholics, the principal form of evangelization is not preaching on the job during the coffee break, but establishing friendship, pursuing excellence in our work, reaching out to coworkers,” he explained. “It’s sharing the joy that we have from knowing our Lord and Our Lady, and the fact that we are in the family of God.”
Such friendships can stimulate conversations about faith that lead coworkers on the path back to the Church, he said. “They’re just looking for answers, looking for a friend who could help them find their way.”
Catholics commonly fear we aren’t capable of answering objections to the Catholic faith or citing Scripture verses to support her teachings. While it’s good to pursue those answers, “to share with others the joy that we have found is more effective than whatever counter-arguments or ‘proof texts’ we can memorize and deploy,” Hahn said. “In that way, evangelization becomes perfectly natural.”
Reclaiming Marriage as Covenant
At the Legatus Summit, Hahn will speak on “The First Society: The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony and The Social Order.” The First Society is also the title of his new book due for a January release by Emmaus Road.
Matrimony, he emphasized, is not a contract, nor is it a human institution. It is a covenant, and it was designed by God at the beginning of creation. Christ elevated marriage to a sacrament, which gives us grace in order to transform us.
“A sacrament is what God does to make up for what we lack, to give us all we need to be faithful to what he calls us to be,” he said. “Being a sacrament doesn’t make matrimony easy, [but] the sacramentality of marriage is what makes lifelong fidelity possible.”
Restoring this understanding of marriage as a covenant, Hahn said, is “an essential part of the new evangelization,” particularly in a time when the institution of marriage is being sullied by rampant divorce, infidelity, contraception and same-sex relationships.
The answer, he said, lies in “reclaiming the sacramentality of marriage,” and entrusting to God “the task of rebuilding us, our lives, our marriages, our families and our society.”
Societal change “will be the net effect of enough Catholics allowing God to really transform us,” said Hahn. “I think that once He awakens the sleeping giant of faithful American Catholics and makes us more truly faithful, then the side effect will be a transformed society.”
GERALD KORSON is a Legatus Magazine staff writer
Why not Father Scott Hahn?
A 1980 pastoral provision established by Pope John Paul II makes it possible for married former Episcopal and Anglican priests who convert to Catholicism to seek ordination as Catholic priests. For married clergy of other Christian denominations who “swim the Tiber,” there is a separate potential pathway by which a diocesan bishop may petition Rome on the minister’s behalf for a dispensation from the celibacy requirement. In either instance, additional theological formation and certain limitations apply.
Today there are some 120 married priests serving in the Roman Catholic Church who once were clergy in the Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, or Presbyterian communions. Occasionally people ask why Dr. Scott Hahn, the popular Catholic apologist and theologian who was once a Presbyterian minister, is not among them.
“It was something I did consider, and I talked it over with Kimberly when she came into the Church as well,” Hahn said. He also has had conversations in more recent years with various bishops and priests. To date, however, “I have not felt such a calling.”
Hahn explained that for the past 27 years he has been a supernumerary of Opus Dei, a personal prelature of the Catholic Church that provides spiritual formation to lay men and women to help them seek personal holiness and do apostolic work in the midst of ordinary life.
“The thing I enjoy most about being a Catholic is my life as a lay person,” he said. “I have the sacrament of Baptism, Confirmation, and Marriage, and these give to me a really clear sense of apostolate. I don’t have to be numbered among the clergy to do apostolic work.”
He noted how some colleagues who have become married Catholic priests “describe their lives as sort of committing bigamy, where you have one wife and family but your congregation is like another wife and bigger family.” It’s a kind of “tug of war” that he felt even in his own days as a Presbyterian clergyman.
While Hahn looks back on his years of clerical ministry with gratitude, he sees “the gift of celibacy and the celibate priesthood as an even greater gift.”
So does his family, apparently: two of his sons are presently in the seminary preparing for the priesthood.