Chances are you’d be furious if a car came crashing through your house because the driver forgot to set the emergency brake. For Tom Peterson – founder of the evangelization ministry “Catholics Come Home” and author of a new book with the same title – that wasn’t just a hypothetical situation, but a lived experience.
Some friends were staying at his family’s summer home in Flagstaff, Arizona, when he received a call that a car had crashed through the front of the house. A high school girl, who had parked her car on a hill, neglected to set the parking brake. Thankfully, no one was hurt. When Tom arrived at the accident scene the following day, the tearful high school student and her mother were waiting for him, and were sincerely apologetic.
Instead of losing his temper (which is how he would have reacted had the incident happened two weeks prior), Tom forgave the girl. She was shocked by his merciful attitude, so he told her that he’d recently been on a Catholic Men’s Retreat where he had a life-changing experience of Jesus’ love and mercy that taught him not to be too attached to material possessions.
Up until that point, Tom had only been a nominal Catholic. He explained to me on Christopher Closeup, “You saw me at Mass every Sunday, but I was absent emotionally and spiritually.” Making more money and giving his wife and kids the best of everything, materially speaking, were his priorities.
Then, said Tom, “Through God’s grace, a couple of my buddies from church invited me on a Catholic men’s retreat. In front of the Eucharist during adoration, I had a profound reversion experience…I knew that [God] had an exciting plan for my life. It was like a light switch going on…and I suddenly got it – that there’s more to life than me and my selfish ways.”
Tom decided to use his business, marketing and communications experience to live out his new mission. First, he created a pro-life ministry called VirtueMedia.org, which produced an ad called “You Have Options.” It invited pregnant girls to call a phone number if they needed support to have their babies. When that ad ran on MTV and BET one month, over 22,000 girls called seeking help.
Then, Tom started CatholicsComeHome.org, which created ads inviting lapsed Catholics back to the Church. Through online views and commercial time on major TV networks, the group has been responsible for thousands of reverts and converts. In order to spread that message even wider, Tom has now shared his personal story and insights in the book “Catholics Come Home: God’s Extraordinary Plan for Your Life.”
That personal approach is important to Tom. He said, “In my speeches, I’ll often lead with a statement like, ‘Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.’ That love is what’s going to open hearts. We’re not going to be able to share the faith if we don’t share our personal experiences with people in ways that are relevant – not bragging or talking about ourselves, but in ways that are helping the other person accomplish what they’re looking for in life – [to heal] the void, the hurts, the wounds in their life.”
One of Tom’s favorite saints who was best able to love in this way is Therese of Lisieux. Why does he connect with her? “Her little way is so simple: do all things for the glory of God. It doesn’t have to be a big thing; it can be a small thing. I love the story of where she was inspired to pray for Franzini, a convicted felon who was going to be executed. She knew in her heart that she had to pray for his salvation. And just before his head was lopped off in the guillotine, Franzini reaches for the crucifix and says, ‘The cross! The cross’ – and he kisses the crucifix. Then he was executed. St. Therese, through her intercession, helped to rescue that soul, and Christ calls us to do the same thing. She teaches us those easy, simple ways to help love people to heaven – and I love her for that.”
Ultimately, Tom’s approach to evangelization is simple and fearless: “Christ says to boldly go with love, and that light will illuminate the world. The Christophers know that very well. Your charism is to talk about being that light of the world – and that’s what we need to do. We need to say, ‘Lord, please use me today to lead someone closer to Christ.’ When we’re in the sacramental graces of Christ and we pray that prayer, He is going to open doors.”
To listen to my full interview with Tom Peterson, click the podcast link:
Christopher Closeup podcast – Guest: Tom Peterson