Share this story

 | By Liz Hansen

'He Didn't Back Down'

How John’s Gospel brought Matt Clark to the holy Eucharist

A self-described "stubborn Protestant," Matt Clark wasn't expecting to ever come around to Catholic teaching about the Eucharist, much less join his wife in the Church.

Both Michigan natives, Matt and his wife, Dana, met as students at Hillsdale College. Matt, raised with sporadic church attendance in the Methodist tradition, had stopped going to any church by the time he was in college and appreciated Dana’s non-judgmental stance.

“She loved me where I was,” said Matt. There was no pressure on her end for Matt to challenge his reservations about Catholicism, including its doctrines on Mary, purgatory and, especially the Eucharist.

“Given my mind-set then, that was a good thing,” he acknowledged.

Still, he began attending Mass in Hillsdale with Dana, even while keeping his distance from deeper engagement with Catholic theology. It was a dynamic that continued after they got married, with him going to Mass unless she was sick or otherwise couldn’t attend, in which case he’d go to their local Baptist church. He also agreed to raising their children Catholic, even though they began asking each Sunday which church they’d be attending.

“There were questions, but I didn’t want to put any energy into looking into it,” Matt explained. To him, Communion was maybe a monthly event, a remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice.

“It was always referred to as a memorial meal — always something to partake in and remember Jesus by, but that’s all it ever was,” he said. “I had a really hard time understanding how it could be his true flesh and blood.”

Six years into marriage and three children later, though, Matt and Dana were at a couples’ day retreat at St. Patrick’s in Brighton. The speaker was Dr. Ray Guarendi, and at one point the Catholic psychologist and author set aside his planned topic. Instead, he decided to speak on something else: What Catholics believe, and why.

“The majority of it was around the Eucharist,” Matt remembered, and Dr. Guarendi’s openness to the compatibility of faith and reason stirred something in him. A barrier came down.

Matt told Dana he would start RCIA classes that year — he still wasn’t sure he’d end up converting, but he would finally give a good faith effort to learning what the Church had to say.

“I’m going to bring all my questions,” he remembered thinking.

The turning point was studying John 6.

“I start to read where (Jesus) says that he’s the bread of life and his flesh is true food and his blood is true drink,” Matt said.

“Back when I was Protestant, we always talked about taking a literal interpretation of the Bible, especially around creation. And I read it and thought, Hmm. That’s very interesting. That was never taken literally. Maybe he explains a little more.”

“So I kept reading,” he continued. “I think what really hit home was the reaction of the disciples. The fact that there were so many people who said this was so hard and started rejecting that teaching — and he didn’t back down.”

He was incredulous. How could he have missed this in all his years as a Protestant?

“I’m sure I’ve read this before, but I don’t remember it standing out and hitting me right in the face,” Matt said. “So I went to the class the next week, and I remember telling (the deacon), ‘This just opened up everything to me.’ That was the moment where I was like, this has to be true. ... I’m going to be confirmed. I have to be Catholic.”

He was confirmed and received his first Communion in 2017 at the Easter Vigil. Looking at his three young children watching him — his fourth had been born just six days before — Matt was overwhelmed with joy.

“To look up and see my kids and see their eyes staring at me — I became filled with all kinds of emotions and started crying,” Matt remembered. “(I remember) thinking, ‘I’m just so ready to receive you, Jesus. I can’t believe I’ve missed out this long.’”

Matt and Dana, along with their six children, are parishioners at St. Joseph Shrine in Brooklyn. Six years after that Easter Vigil, the impact of that wonder still makes its mark on their family. They’ve chosen Catholic school for their children, losing no time in introducing them to the gift Matt’s found.

“I wanted them to have that experience (of learning about the faith), but early on,” he said. “I didn’t want them to miss out on any of that.”Matt recently had a reminder of that “missing out” when their baby, Easton, was hospitalized for a couple weeks, and Matt went three weeks without receiving Communion. Coming back to Mass, he said, “was so satisfying. I could tell my body and soul needed him, like (a) hungry feeling.”

The man who stubbornly held out against the Eucharist was now keenly aware of the times he has to forgo it.

“I’m so happy and at peace with the journey that led me here,” he said.