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Q&A: Confessions of a Catholic revert

We all know a few Catholic converts, but Catholic reverts, those who have left the faith and come back, are fewer and far between.

Dr. Francis Beckwith has quite the tale of reversion. You can hear it for yourself when he speaks at the next edition of Archbishop’s Lecture Series Feb. 7. Beckwith is on faculty at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, but has been serving at University of Colorado Boulder for the 2016-2017 academic year as the visiting professor of conservative thought. He has authored various academic papers and books dealing with the relationship between faith, reason and politics, including his most recent, Taking Rites Seriously: Law, Politics and the Reasonableness of Faith.

Combining witty humor with a robust intellect, Beckwith is definitely worth making plans to come and hear talk.

Denver Catholic: What is your background, academic or otherwise?

Dr. Francis Beckwith: I was born in 1960 in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in Las Vegas, Nevada, where my parents moved in 1967. I’m the eldest of their four children.

I went to Catholic schools from first to 12th grade, graduating from Bishop Gorman High School in 1978. At Gorman, I was a member of the 1978 AAA Nevada State Championship basketball team.

In 1983, I graduated from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas with a B.A. in philosophy. From there I earned degrees from Simon Greenleaf University (M.A. in religion), Fordham University (M.A., PhD. In philosophy), and the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis (M.J.S.).

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My wife, Frankie, and I have been married for nearly 30 years. Since 2003, we’ve lived in Central Texas, where I serve on the faculty of Baylor University in Waco.

DC: It seems like you have a pretty fascinating “reversion” story. Why did you go back to Catholicism after being an Evangelical?

FB: I grew up Catholic, but drifted away from the Church when I was a teenager. Looking back, it’s obvious to me now that I was always constitutionally and dispositionally Catholic. What I mean is that the way in which I thought about the relationship between faith and reason was distinctly Catholic, even though I identified as an Evangelical and considered myself an ex-Catholic.

Over the years, especially as I began to read the encyclicals of St. Pope John Paul II and other Catholic thinkers, I found myself slowly gravitating back to the Church. However, certain issues were holding me back: apostolic succession, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, penance, and the doctrine of justification. When I took the time to carefully examine the Church’s views on these matters, and how deeply they were found in Christian history, I was convinced that the Church, though it may not be right on these issues, was not obviously wrong. But once I conceded that point, it was downhill from there. It was only a matter of time before I began to see that the Church was in fact right about these matters. But not only that, I also found myself drawn to the Church’s sacramental life and its importance in my spiritual development. As an Evangelical, I could not understand what to do about post-baptismal sin. The Catholic Church had an answer: the sacrament of reconciliation. This profoundly changed the way I thought about the Christian life and the role that repentance and God’s grace play in helping us to become conformed to the image of Christ each and every day.

April 28, 2017, will mark 10 years since I went to confession and “officially” returned to the Church. Fortunately, for me, my wife was way ahead of me on this. When I told her at the end of March 2007 that I wanted to revert, she said, “It’s about time.” She was received into the Church in August 2007. Because she had never been Catholic, she had to go to RCIA, whereas I only had to go to confession. (This is why my return was in April and her reception was in August). She still thinks it was unfair.

DC: How can Christians better defend the faith in a world that seems to be constantly rejecting it?

FB: In today’s day and age, the best way to defend the faith is to live it with integrity while preparing oneself to reply to the sorts of questions that one hears among friends, family, and co-workers. Remember, although St. Peter instructs us to “always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you,” he also tells us to “do it with gentleness and reverence.” (I Peter 3: 15,16). In other words, without holiness, defending the faith becomes a mere intellectual exercise. The Early Church converted the known world, not only because it offered an intellectually compelling account of God and human existence, but also because it practiced its faith in a way that was deeply attractive to its pagan neighbors.

DC: What kinds of challenges (if any) have you faced serving as a visiting professor of conservative thought at CU Boulder, a college known for its liberalism?

FB: So far, it’s been really wonderful. I’ve been treated very well by my CU colleagues as well as the administration. The students have been terrific as well. I taught two classes in the Fall, “Philosophy and Religion” and “Thomas Aquinas.” I team-taught the Aquinas course with the renowned Aquinas scholar, Robert Pasnau, a CU philosophy professor. I was honored when Bob invited me to do this soon after I was offered the position at CU. As someone who considers himself a Thomist, though not necessarily a scholar of Aquinas, I jumped at the opportunity to work with one of the best in the field.

In the Spring, I will again be teaching “Philosophy and Religion” as well as a course on religion and constitutional law in the political science department.

The time has gone by too quickly. My wife and I really like Boulder, and have met so many wonderful people here, including the priests and staff members at the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Student Center. We can easily imagine ourselves staying here.

Archbishop’s Lecture Series

Tuesday, Feb. 7, 7 p.m.
1300 S. Steele St., Denver, CO
RSVP at archden.org/lecture

Aaron Lambert
Aaron Lambert
Aaron is the former Managing Editor for the Denver Catholic.

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