Cap: Roy Schoeman: “All I wanted to do was know who this God was, and know what religion to follow, and know how to worship him properly.”
FORMER conservative Jew Roy Schoeman didn’t anticipate being a follower of Christ, let alone a Catholic.
The author of Salvation is from the Jews and Honey from the Rock gave a public talk in Brisbane on October 7, sharing about his conversion.
The son of observant European Jews who fled to the United States to escape the Holocaust, Roy said his “whole world was Jewish”.
From Year 1 to university, Roy attended a couple of two-hour Jewish religious classes per week, alongside secular schooling.
In the summer between high school and university, he lived in Israel as the disciple of a Hasidic Rabbi
“The Jews with the wide-brim hats and long wavy hair,” he said.
In Israel, he toyed with the idea of entering the Jewish equivalent of religious life instead of entering university.
Returning to the US, he entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study a degree in Science and Technology.
There, under the influence of a “pseudo-scientific world view” he lost his Jewish faith.
After MIT, he attended the Harvard Business School, doing “well enough to join the faculty as professor of marketing at 29”.
Roy said this was the beginning of his conversion story.
“When I came to teaching at Harvard, I was already more successful in a secular career than ever, but still had no meaning and purpose to life,” he said.
“There was nothing more to look forward to that I could imagine would give my life more meaning, so I fell into the darkest despair of my life.”
It was then, almost thirty years ago, that Roy received “the most spectacular grace” of his life.
“It was in that kind of existential despair that I was walking in nature, early one morning, just lost in my thoughts,” he said.
“Walking along and from one moment to the next, the veil between earth and heaven disappear and I found myself in the presence of God, very knowingly in the presence of God, seeing my life as though I had died, and I was looking back over my life in the presence of God.
“I saw and felt everything was in Heaven, as though it was actual death.”
Roy saw the two greatest regrets of his life, and saw confirmation of eternity.
“I saw that it was all true, that we live forever, that every action has a moral content that is observed and recorded for all eternity, and if we take advantage of that opportunity, we will very literally be rewarded for all eternity,” he said.
Roy said the “mystical experience” prompted him to know this God, who, seemed different to the God of the Old Testament, the God of Judaism.
“All I wanted to do was know who this God was, and know what religion to follow, and know how to worship him properly,” he said.
He requested to know the name of this God.
“I don’t mind if you’re Apollo, and I have to become a Roman pagan. I don’t mind if you’re Krishna, and I have to become a Hindu. I don’t mind if you’re Buddha, and I have to become a Buddhist. As long as you’re not Christ, and I have to become a Christian,” he said.
Roy said the experience put his life into perspective, realising how “stupid and foolish” it was to pursue goods and wealth that wouldn’t last 100 years after his death.
Wanting to know more about mystical experiences, he went in search of a mystic, which he said was “not a prudent thing to do at a university in the ’80s”.
The mystic offered Roy bundles of “unhealthy” New Age material, which “pointed me on all kinds of wrong paths”.
When meeting with this mystic, he saw a book that detailed the Marian miracle at Fatima, and questioned its validity.
“I pointed to the page and said, ‘is this really true, and has anyone else ever heard of it?’” he said.
He left the mystic filled with “furious indignation” for having gone through 23 years of schooling without being told about modern-day miracles.
“I felt like my life would have been different if I knew miracles still happened,” he said.
One year after his first mystical experience, continually praying to know the name of the God in his mystical experience, Roy had a “dream” of the Blessed Virgin Mary, although he said he felt “entirely awake”.
“I went to sleep, and thought I was woken by a hand on my shoulder, and I was led to a room and left alone with the most beautiful woman I could ever imagine,” he said.
He knew “without being told” it was the Blessed Virgin Mary, despite not having any knowledge of the Trinity, Marian doctrine, or anything from the New Testament.
“When I found herself in my presence, all I wanted to do was throw myself on her knees and honour her somehow, appropriately,” he said.
“The first thought that crossed my mind was, ‘Oh my goodness, I wish I at least knew the Hail Mary’.”
After the second mystical experience, Roy knew it had been Christ in the first, and “wanted to be as fully Christian as possible”.
“I didn’t know the difference between Protestants and Catholics, but I knew who the Blessed Virgin Mary was and I was hopelessly in love with her,” he said.
“There wasn’t much I could do, so I opened a local phone book and went to local Church.”
But he said the pastor of that particular church spoke about the Blessed Virgin “without the respect that I knew was due her”.
“I said to myself, ‘This is no place for me’,” he said.
Longing for the Blessed Virgin’s continual presence, Roy spent hours at Marian shrines, which introduced him to the holy Mass.
“Whenever I was around a Mass was going on, and I was filled with a desire to receive Communion, even though I didn’t know what it was,” he said.
“I’m very grateful now that I didn’t just illegitimately kind of steal Communion, but I had this tremendous hunger to receive Communion.”
Roy said it was Our Lady who brought him to the Catholic Church.
The journey towards Catholicism was filled with much struggle, desolation and continual questioning.
“In some ways, the hardest period of my life was in between those mystical experiences, and receiving my vocation from those, knowing what I was supposed to do,” he said.
“I’d wake up literally every morning with the day in front of me, I’m supposed to be doing something with my life, I have a special vocation or something to do, and having no idea what it was then beating myself over the head about having blown it.”
Over the years, the 61-year-old finally found his vocation – firstly, to urge Catholics to pray for the conversion of the Jews, and secondly, to marriage.
“I still identify myself as a Jew,” he said.
“The Catholic Church is nothing but the continuation of Judaism after the coming of the Messiah.
“It’s all one story, all one system, all one plan divided into two phases.”
Knowing the Catholic Church was a continuation of Judaism means it was not necessary to be familiar with Judaism, Roy said.
“Everything different about Judaism after the Crucifixion isn’t bringing you closer to understanding the truth, actually, because they took a wrong turn.
“So you’re just learning about a wrong turn.
“It’s so exciting when somebody is totally out of touch with Christ and gets won over by Him.
“It’s very gratifying of course, when I find out somebody who entered the Church, that my work was instrumental to and that happens a fair amount.
“I’ve been asked to be the godfather of a couple who entered into the Church, so that’s always very confirming.”
Roy is a professor at Holy Apostles Seminary and Ave Maria University, and has his own radio program on Radio Maria.
He has been married for three years, and lives with his wife in Naples, Florida.