What drove 40 Days for Life founder David Bereit to enter the Catholic Church
July 9, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – His journey into the Church was all but unknown outside his immediate family until he announced it on Facebook on Easter Sunday, and the news took many by surprise. David Bereit, best known for his founding of the hugely popular pro-life group 40 Days for Life, spoke with LifeSiteNews about his journey to embracing the faith.
Bereit entered the Church at Easter this year at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia. His wife and family are the bedrock that made his conversion possible, he said, but it ultimately came down to his having faith and trusting God.
Margaret, his wife of 26 years, was his sponsor, their son Patrick, 15, was an altar server for the Mass, and daughter Claire, 20, was present along with his Margaret’s mother and others for the remarkable occasion.
Bereit’s decision came after years of prayer, discernment and “a whole lot of wrestling with God.”
Her faith radiated from her
Bereit had met Margaret, a cradle Catholic deeply convicted in her faith, back then in college at Texas A&M. Bereit, raised in the Presbyterian Church USA, and whose father is a former Presbyterian pastor, has attended Mass with Margaret weekly since their second date nearly three decades ago.
Margaret’s faith was and is so much a part of who she is, said Bereit, recalling that it “Radiated from her.”
Both deeply committed Christians, they didn’t consider their varying faith backgrounds an impassable hurdle, Bereit said, though he thought at first that he’d bring Margaret around to understanding the truth.
Then they got serious, prompting a mind shift for him of trying to understand the Catholic faith for the sake of his relationship with her.
“I all of a sudden realized that if I truly care about this woman, and her faith is so incredibly important to her, I need to seek to understand it,” he recalled, “what animates her faith, what drives her passion for it, instead of seeking to find faults with it.”
Their priest for marriage preparation counseled them to celebrate their similarities and respect their differences, which became their motto going into marriage. The Bereits discovered they shared far more in common than they had differences, and where they had differences, they simply needed to be respectful and both made a significant effort throughout the early years to do so.
They were married in August 1992.
But even with years and years of going to Mass, Bereit, admittedly methodical in his thinking, said he had to “unpack” the areas of difference for him to understand.
Over time, thinking through some of those things began to bring clarity on the Church’s teaching on some things, while other issues remained a challenge.
God’s plan for marriage
“One of the earliest areas where I started to see the Church’s profound wisdom was the teaching on contraception,” Bereit said.
Natural Family Planning (NFP) was sadly glossed over during their marriage preparation, he said, leaving them feeling it wasn’t important. So like many, they contracepted, without full realization of the implications and consequences.
Later when they wanted kids, they stopped using contraception, thinking, also like many, that they were in control, Bereit recalled, only to learn they had significant fertility problems.
Then they heard a full presentation of the beauty and gift of Catholic teaching on sexuality and NFP for the first time, he said, while themselves speaking at a marriage prep workshop.
“We were enthralled,” Bereit told LifeSiteNews, “not from the facet of how does this help us prevent pregnancy, but how does it help us to achieve pregnancy because we’d been for several years unsuccessful.”
Margaret had surgery at the Institute, which enabled them to have their two children. Because of his background in pharmaceutical sales Bereit was captivated by the science, and this helped him to see the beauty of the Church’s teaching on the openness to life.
All in God’s time
Margaret had to commit to raise the kids Catholic, and Bereit was equally willing to instill his faith as well. He wrestled with the requirement of raising the kids Catholic around the same time they struggled with infertility, and said God’s timing allowed for them to be on the same page in time for the kids’ arrival.
“God has such a great sense of Divine timing on things,” he said.
The two things complemented each other, he said, he grew in love and understanding of scripture - tradition, sacraments liturgy, and “It really came together in a beautiful way that only God could have orchestrated.”
Bereit continued to work on other sticking points he found with the faith, such as apostolic succession, the Real Presence in the Eucharist and honoring the Blessed Mother, and while he’d largely worked through the obstacles, he didn’t consider himself ready to enter the Church.
There are no accidents in God’s plan
But last September 8, the Feast of the Nativity of Blessed Mother, Bereit found himself on the phone with Brian Westbrook, who runs the 40 days for Life campaigns in St. Louis while he was driving from Texas to Virginia. Bereit was asking Westbrook advice on various things.
Bereit said Westbrook asked him, “Why are you asking me, when you can simply go to the Lord and ask him? Why don’t you go to Adoration?”
“And I thought, “Good point,” said Bereit. “Brian said he was just in Adoration and shared the blessing it had been.”
Westbrook told him, “Interestingly, during that hour I felt that I was supposed to ask you why you’re not yet Catholic.”
Bereit told Westbrook it was funny he’d ask that, telling Westbrook he’d been asked that a lot of over the years, and that he was still discerning, though much closer to the Catholic Church than where he’d came from. Bereit shared that he knew his parish was starting RCIA the following week and it had been in the back of his mind.
“Well have you ever thought of asking the Lord in Adoration?” Westbrook questioned him.
Bereit told him that he had not, to which Westbrook queried, “Why don’t you do that?”
Okay, he told Westbrook, being his methodical self, when he got back home, he would schedule a time, go to Adoration and ask that exact question.
“Brian laughed,” Bereit said, himself chuckling. “You’re driving across the country, you’re going to pass by probably 100 parishes that have Adoration going on, why don’t you stop by one of those?”
“Look up MassTimes.org,” Westbrook told him. “Find a church that has Adoration going on, pull over and stop.”
So Bereit pulled over, realizing he was going to go through Charlottesville, VA, where his daughter was a student.
He called Claire and asked if she was going to be around, but she was headed off on a retreat. He asked Claire whether her parish was having Adoration when he’d be passing through. The parish was having Adoration, and Claire told him how to get there.
After driving the rest of the way to Charlottesville, Bereit found the chapel and entered.
“There were two other people in the chapel, and it was just them, me, and here’s Our Lord present in the Eucharist,” he explained. “And I got down on my knees and I just said, “Jesus, this is on you, I don’t know what to do. We have RCIA starting this next week at our parish.”
“And I simply asked the question,” he continued, “What do you want me to do?”
“I got a wave of peace that came over me that I’ve never felt that profoundly before,” said Bereit. “And that peace was surrounding the simple word, “Begin.”
“And I just was stunned, and I spent the rest of the hour just kind of soaking that in,” said Bereit. “And I could not shake from myself the word, “Begin,” and I had this great sense of peace.”
So he left the Adoration chapel, went home, got Margaret, sat her down, told her not to get her hopes up, and he didn’t know where this was going to end.
Bereit explained what had happened to Margaret, and she of course got excited, calling their son and daughter to tell them, but requesting they keep it private for the time being.
“I said, I’m trying to be open to the Lord,” recalled Bereit, “but I don’t know where this is going to lead.”
The following Monday he went to the first RCIA class alone, still at peace, and then asked Margaret to be his sponsor, bringing her to tears.
The RCIA process at his parish in the Arlington diocese enabled him to come to terms with some things he’d been trying to work through over the years.
“It was my chance to ask questions, have discussions, at our table, with Margaret and with the four parish priests leading the program,” said Bereit, and at this point, he was still working through the process.
I’m the one
“In my mind, it was like I was still wrestling with God,” he said. “I was like, I don’t want to be the one standing in the way, but I’m finally realizing I am the one.”
“I’m probably at this point 97-98% of the way there in terms of completely believing and having conviction about … the Church is right, this is the Church established by Jesus Christ, and the Church is right on all of these theological issues, and I’m really starting to work through that,” continued Bereit, “but that last few percent, I just kept getting hung up on.”
“And I finally had to realize that, really, what was standing between me and that last couple of percent, it was me, I was the obstacle,” he said. “It wasn’t the theological points.”
That’s where faith comes in
“And I also finally realized - at some point I’m going to have to have an element of faith,” Bereit told LifeSiteNews. “I can’t intellectually process every single thing, I’ll never be able to. Some things about God we’re never going to be able to understand.”
Throughout RCIA, Margaret was asking when they could tell people, and he would reply that he was still on a journey, still trying to figure it out. They finally told her mother.
Down to the wire
With the arrival of Holy Week and Bereit supposed to come into the Church on Holy Saturday, it got to be Holy Thursday, and Bereit said he was still not certain.
“So it finally hit me,” said Bereit, “is this part of my journey began in Adoration. Why not go back to the Lord again in the Holy Eucharist and ask Him what He wants me to do at this point?”
He told Margaret while getting ready for Holy Thursday Mass they needed to take separate cars so he could stay after for Adoration.
At Mass that night they handed out liturgy booklets, which covered the whole of Triduum, and thus they already had his name listed as coming into the Church two days later on Holy Saturday. This added to the tension.
“I get down on my knees and finally again I go before Our Lord,” Bereit recounted for LifeSiteNews, “and I’m like, “Jesus, you’ve led me this far, you told me to begin, what do you want me to do now?””
“I was hoping for something along the lines of, “Cross the finish line,” or some kind of flashing light … something.”
“But I got almost the same kind of peace I’d had at that Adoration chapel in Charlottesville months earlier,” he said. “And this time the peace was around the word, “Continue.”
“And for an hour, hour-and-a-half that I was there on my knees before Our Lord,” Bereit stated. “I just felt convicted to continue. And it finally dawned on me - coming into the Church is not the end of the journey, it’s just the beginning of the next chapter of the journey.”
From there he went home to Margaret, who was waiting with the question, “So … what are we doing?”
He’d been the carrying profession of faith he was supposed to make publicly aloud at Easter vigil.
“And thought if I cannot say this with absolute conviction, I should not be entering into the Church,” he recalled. “But after the adoration experience, I looked at it and thought, “I do believe this, I am 100 percent convicted.”
Bereit told Margaret he was ready; it was time.
A gift for the family
Holy Communion had been the one point of disunity for the family, the time each week when Bereit would have to realize they were not completely together as a family.
On Palm Sunday, as Margaret and the kids had gotten up for Communion, it suddenly dawned on him; “Oh my gosh, if I come into the Church next weekend, and I was still wrestling with that - this will be our very last time at a Sunday Mass that we will be divided at Communion time,” said Bereit. “And I just started to bawl, tears streaming down my face.”
“And then the first time as a family to be able to receive the Eucharist together, that was the culmination of it,” he added.
It means a lot to Claire and Patrick for their father to come into the Catholic Church, said Bereit.
His children love their faith, he said, and they they want that for others, “And who would they want that more for than their own family members?”
“So to see that now having come to full fruition, it’s beautiful,” he said. “Just that experience of our family finally coming together around this, that was one of the greatest joys of the Easter vigil for me.”
The decision to become Catholic isn’t always readily accepted by some.
When the time came the thought of telling his father gave Bereit pause for a moment, but he said his father, the former Presbyterian minister, very graciously told him, “Serve Our Lord well in your new home.”