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Fast-Tracked to Catholicism

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While spending summers in Eastern Europe during his college days, Rand Langhorst first became impressed with a religion and its adherents he had easily mocked.

The religion was Catholicism. Its adherents in Eastern Europe were living under Communism.

"It really, really struck me when I was there, watching Catholics really practicing their faith," he says. "I knew what it meant. I knew they could lose their jobs, be put in prison, they could lose their lives. It was a real eye-opener for me."

Still, to be impressed with a people is one thing. To be converted to a belief system is another. Or maybe it isn't. Aren't there plenty of examples in which God fast-tracks unbelievers through exposing them to people who bear powerful witness to the faith?

Father Rand would agree. Yes, Rand Langhorst is now Fr. Rand, a priest in the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska.

He Meets His Match
Raised a Protestant, Fr. Rand followed the path of many who came before him — he became a college student who stopped practicing religion. "But I didn't lose my faith in God," he hastens to add. "I retained an interest in Scripture."

A Czech-German studies major, he spent summers in Eastern Europe in order to be exposed to the languages and cultures. Plus, he had roots there. Following that first summer where he saw believers disobeying the iron hand of an atheist regime, he returned to his college courses in the United States. Even if stirred by courageous Eastern European Catholics, he still believed Catholics were misguided. But he soon met his match.

In his Czech language classes he was befriended by a young Catholic woman with whom he could engage in spirited repartee.

"I loved to spout off," he says. "I found it easy to put Catholics on the block and try to convince them why they should leave the Church."

He based his aversion to Catholic doctrine on the usual suspects: devotion to Mary and belief in the Real Presence in the Eucharist and ignorance.

"Not that she knew all of the answers — we laugh about it now — but she was a tenacious little pit bull," Fr. Rand says with a laugh.

"You know," she said to him one day, "you've never even been inside a Catholic church. How can you make all of these claims?"

And she was right; he had never even stepped foot into a Catholic church.

Through her tenacity, she managed to pique his curiosity. Perhaps it'd be more accurate to say he intently turned to Scripture with an eye on gaining more ammo to reinforce his anti-Catholic beliefs. But the opposite happened. The more he delved into Scripture the harder it became to dispute her claims.

"I realized I bought into a lot of the prejudices, bigotry and pat answers I'd been given with regard to Catholicism," Fr. Rand said. "I would spout this stuff without ever researching the facts myself, and as I started to do that, things started to turn around."

Devotion to Mary remained an obstacle. But the more he studied the Gospels, the more he believed in the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and Mary's role in salvation history.

His doubts about Christ's Real Presence in the Eucharist soon dissolved as well.

"I was invited to Adoration with the Sister Servants of the Holy Spirit of Perpetual Adoration (affectionately known as the "Pink Sisters" due to their rose colored habits) at a cloistered community in Lincoln," he recalls. "That really made an impression on me. I thought, 'Wow, these ladies sure have something going on here.' I was just transfixed by the Monstrance and our Lord. I still remember it clear as a bell."

"God's grace was really working strong in my life then," he says, adding, "As I started to meet more Catholics my age, and we'd have discussions, it just all made sense."

He finally decided, "I'm going to do this — I'm going to enter the Church. My parents weren't thrilled. But I was older and wasn't going to be stopped," Fr. Rand says. "I lost a good share of friends, friendships on the Protestant side. They weren't going to come with me, so I had to make that decision, and I knew God would get me through."

Fast-Track, Indeed
Very soon after, he was asked to enter the seminary. He entered within a year.

"The Lord was working in my life," Fr. Rand says. "He just sets it all up, and I just go. By the time seminary was over, I was the last one left from my class to be ordained in our diocese for that year, 1992. Then, off I went."

Until four years into his priesthood, he knew nothing of the Divine Mercy message and devotion revealed to St. Faustina in the 1930s. But then parishioners bore witness to him of the powerful conversions and reconversions experienced through the Divine Mercy. They requested permission to practice forms of the devotion that Christ gave to the world through St. Faustina, including celebrating Divine Mercy Sunday, solemnly venerating the image of Divine Mercy and praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. When Fr. Rand first laid eyes on the image of Divine Mercy, he loved it. When he first read and prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy he loved that, too. After an initial false start, he read the Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska. "I ate it up," he says. "I loved it."

He was eventually transferred to a new parish where the Divine Mercy message and devotion was deeply rooted. He felt at home. In Divine Mercy was a message that could unite all Christians, regardless of denomination. It reminded him of his Lutheran upbringing, the exhortation of the German Lutheran minister Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) who spoke of "cheap grace," defined as "faith without action" and "Christianity without a change of heart."

The message of Divine Mercy serves as the authentic response to cheap grace because it demands — it inspires — action. That action includes turning away from sin, trusting God no matter what happens, receiving His mercy, and sharing His mercy with others.

'So Freely Given to Us'
Father Rand now serves in a diocese that embraces Divine Mercy. That is to say, parishioners are action-oriented, engaged in many deeds of mercy.

While their deeds of mercy help meet their community's social needs, "they also meet our need to give of ourselves through responsible stewardship," says Fr. Rand. "God's mercy is not to be guarded within, but selflessly given as it is so freely given to us."

The deeds of mercy include providing food and clothing for the needy; supporting parents through "diaper drives" and collecting baby items; praying for pro-life causes; assisting with Habitat for Humanity; offering Masses for the Poor Souls; helping the St. Vincent de Paul Society and their mission; giving out Divine Mercy materials as well as other catechetical materials; visiting the sick and elderly; and participating in various prayer chains.

Christmastime, the deeds ramp up. Parishioners collect gifts for children, nursing home residents, and the poor; provide money for Catholic Social Services or other needs; prepare and distribute food baskets; and write letters and send care packages to troops overseas.

"Our parishioners are encouraged through the works of mercy to unite with Christ in offering themselves in love and sacrifice for the good of all people and the Church," says Fr. Rand. "The graces and blessings of God given to them in response not only are helping to form them in holiness, but are an effective outreach of His message of mercy and love to all people."

By the way, so many years later, Fr. Rand's parents are proud of their priest son.

"God's grace has really worked in their lives as well," Fr. Rand said. "This is what God does."

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