By Emilie Ng
CONVERTING to Catholicism was never a task on speaker and producer Matthew Arnold’s bucket list.
Mr Arnold was invited to speak at the inaugural Vallicella Dinner fundraising event for the Brisbane Oratory and gave a talk at Annerley-Ekibin parish on May 26.
“The idea that I can fly literally halfway around the world and meet people and address them like brothers and sisters, and really mean it – for someone who’s spent most of their life outside the Church, that’s very powerful,” he said.
In 1996, Mr Arnold was received into the Church in his parish in Garden Grove, California, with what he called a “sacramental grand slam” inspired by only six weeks in his parish’s Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) program.
But his first intention was not to convert at RCIA but “to find out what you people believe”.
Growing up “nominally Christian”, Mr Arnold “wrote Christianity off” after an Evangelical friend’s failed attempt to persuade him to accept Jesus “because it’s in the Bible”.
He pursued a 10-year music career, and in the process got involved in New Age practices, which he said was “a great way to justify your hedonism and still feel spiritual”.
He met his wife Betty, a Catholic, while touring with his rock band, and the couple married in the Catholic Church in 1991.
“But I had no intention of converting,” Mr Arnold said.
“But the priest said, ‘Promise me you’ll take RCIA when the children come and have questions’.”
Before his first-born son was three years old, he asked why the only people who didn’t go to Communion were himself and his dad.
“My wife said, ‘Well, to go to Communion you have to really understand that the host is Jesus,’ and my two-year-old son said, ‘If that’s Jesus, where’s his hair?’
“(Betty) said, ‘Go ask your father’ so then I was between a rock and a hard place,” he said.
A week later he began RCIA at the parish, which started with 15 minutes praying the Rosary, at the request of the priest so “hearts would be opened to the truth”.
“Don’t do that if you don’t expect results,” Mr Arnold said.
Within six weeks, he said the “intellectual lynchpin” was learning the Church’s teaching on the apostolic succession.
“I remember getting this mental image of John Paul II standing in this long column of popes that reached all the way back to St Peter, and I realised the Catholic Church is Christ-based, and the Bible is Church-based,” he said.
“My logic gene kicked in.”
After his conversion to Catholicism, Mr Arnold received a job working on the set of Friends as a warm-up magician.
“They paid me a lot to do nonsense,” he said.
“As the warm-up guy, I was the cheerleader, keeping people excited and happy.
“I realised at one point I was a cheerleader for mortal sin, because that program was nothing but people sleeping together and doing other things.”
Leaving the secular entertainment industry, Mr Arnold met Catholic apologist Tim Staples, and began producing his radio shows.
Through his connection with Mr Staples, Mr Arnold began volunteering and eventually worked for St Joseph Communications, the largest international Catholic audio and video production and distribution company in the United States.
Mr Arnold said Catholic media professionals “need to look for ways to segue into the mainstream”.
“Catholicism is really responsible for Western culture, and I think really it’s not about creating a Catholic culture, it’s about retaking the culture for the Church.
“People need to look to their regular avenues and bring their Catholicism with it and not compromise it.”