PALM BEACH GARDENS | For many Catholics, according to Steve Ray, defending their faith is a frightening proposition. The author, speaker and documentary producer said it is “because they’re afraid they’re going to get asked a question they don’t know how to answer. The solution to that is to say, ‘Oh, that’s a good question. Give me a week and I’ll look it up and get back with you.’ There’s no shame in that.”
Ray is a 69-year-old ex-evangelical Protestant who lives in Michigan, converted to the Catholic Church and is one of the foremost experts on the Bible. He was the featured speaker at the Oct. 19, 2023, dinner meeting in Palm Beach Gardens of the Jupiter-Palm Beach chapter of Legatus, an organization for Catholic business executives and their spouses. His topic was “Defending the Eucharist,” which tied in well with the current National Eucharistic Revival going on in the United States.
As a Baptist, he said, there was nothing called the Eucharist, although every three months or so their minister would lead a ceremony in which their congregation would recall the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Saltine crackers and grape juice would be distributed and consumed to symbolize the body and blood of the Lord. Even with a reverent prayer thanking Jesus for what he had done, there was never a sense of sacredness toward the crackers and juice, Ray said.
“When I was coming to the point of conversion to the Catholic Church, this issue of the Eucharist was a big deal because for us it had always just been grape juice and crackers, and for you guys it was the real body and blood of Christ,” he said. “Something happened at the hands of the priest. It changed the substance. It became the body and blood of Christ.”
Prior to his presentation, Ray told the Florida Catholic about his conversion almost 30 years ago, which included his wife, Janet. After extensive prayer and study of Scripture and the early Fathers of the Church, they were received into the Catholic Church. The Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist was a big part of the Catholic faith that made sense in light of what they had learned, he said.
“All Christians in the early church believed it was the body and blood of Christ, without question. There was never any discussion for the first 1,500 years until groups came along called the Protestants,” Ray said. The center of worship in the early church was the Eucharist, not preaching.
He told the Legatus members that, when Jesus said to the apostles at the Last Supper how he “longed for this night,” it was “because this is the culmination of what he came to do. The Eucharist, the meal that we partake of, is the same sacrifice as that which was on the cross. They are united as one. When you partake of one, you’re partaking of the other.”
Ray’s conversion to Catholicism caused a rift in his relationship with his parents. To heal that wound, he began writing a letter to them, which became a book, “Crossing the Tiber: Evangelical Protestants Discover the Historical Church.”
“That book was never going to be a book. It was going to be a love letter to my parents, which is why it resonates with people,” he said.
Ray has now written several other books about the apostles Peter and John, the papacy, the Catholic faith and the Book of Genesis. In 2000, he had an idea for a 10-part documentary series on the history of salvation from a Catholic perspective. To produce the fun videos, Ray went to Israel, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, the Palestinian Territories, Egypt and Italy, portraying a character called Jerusalem Jones, who does wild things like fall into the mud, climb trees and pour oil on his head, all while wearing his trademark hat.
“If I come here tonight without my hat, there will be five or 10 people who will say, ‘You’re not Steve Ray. Go get your hat and come back.’ Now I just wear it everywhere,” Ray said.
For the past 17 years, he has led about 10 pilgrimages a year — seven to Israel and three to other places, like Lourdes and Fatima, Mexico, Ireland, Italy and Vatican City. After more than 200 trips to the Holy Land, accompanied by his wife, Ray hopes to scale back to seven or eight in 2025.
Speaking with him, his obvious pride and joy are his four children and 20 grandchildren. Raising faith-filled kids was a high priority, Ray said. “Jesus Christ was always the center of our lives. Everything else was secondary,” he said. “If somebody asked me, ‘What do you do?’ They meant what is your career. I’d say, ‘I’m a disciple of Jesus Christ.’ And they said, ‘Well, I mean what do you do?’ And I’ll say, ‘That’s what I do. That’s what I am. Oh, do you mean how do I make money? That’s a different question.’”
Returning to the issue of Catholics who find it difficult to evangelize, Ray used a sports metaphor involving one of pro football’s hottest teams, the Miami Dolphins.
“Do you have to teach these people, if they’re Dolphin fans, how to talk about the Dolphins or to brag about them or discuss them with people no matter where they are? Of course not, because they love the Dolphins,” he said. “But Jesus Christ is so much more important. If you could talk about the Dolphins, why can’t you talk about the Lord? This is important to you.”
As stated on the Legatus website, member benefits include: spiritual and professional support at chapter and national meetings, retreats, webinars, pilgrimages and special gatherings, and fellowship among other Catholics with like-minded values. Members are encouraged to commit to attending Mass and praying the rosary every day and receiving the sacrament of reconciliation monthly.
Other member benefits include concierge health care through Healthnetwork, university and college discounts, a monthly subscription to the Legatus magazine, and personal access to a private platform where members’ children and grandchildren can connect with mentors, internships and other opportunities.