Matthew Arnold is a Southern California-based Catholic apologist celebrating his 20th anniversary of entering the Church and the 10th anniversary of founding his apologetics organization, Pro Multis Media. He frequently travels the world making presentations on a wide range of topics related to the Faith, as well as offering related educational products for children and adults.
When he launched his apostolate a decade ago, Arnold placed it under the patronage of Our Lady of Good Success, a 1594 apparition of the Blessed Mother to Mother Mariana de Jesus Torres in Quito, Ecuador, approved by the local bishop in 1611. Arnold has become so devoted to sharing the message of Our Lady of Good Success, he’s willing to make the presentation for free (only charging for travel and lodging expenses) wherever he’s invited.
He first visited Quito to make a documentary film about the apparition as he launched his apostolate a decade ago; he will return on the 10th anniversary of this visit to lead a pilgrimage Jan. 23-Feb. 4, 2017.
He recently spoke to Our Sunday Visitor about his conversion and devotion to Our Lady of Good Success.
Our Sunday Visitor: You grew up in Southern California. Talk about your religious formation in the home.
Matthew Arnold: I like to say we were “generically” Christian. We had Christmas trees and Easter eggs, and we had grace before meals and prayers before bedtime. But like millions of other families, mine fell away from going to church. The only Bible reading I heard was Linus reading the Christmas story during the “Charlie Brown Christmas” special.
OSV: What were your thoughts about Christianity as a teen and young adult?
Arnold: I had an occasional brush with Christianity. One young English teacher knew I played guitar and asked me to come to an after-school club to play guitar and talk. I showed up with my guitar, but it turned out to be a fundamentalist Bible study. It left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I thought the only way they could get you to come was to trick you.
I had a high school friend who had been into drinking and drugs but became “born again” and really turned his life around. He told me that Jesus was God because the Bible said so.
I asked him why I should believe the Bible, and he pointed out to me the chapter in Timothy that says all Scripture is inspired by God. So, I should believe the Bible is the word of God because the Bible says it is. It was an unconvincing argument, and I wrote Christianity off.
OSV: You had a career as a musician and magician in Hollywood, and you even did warm-up acts before the taping of popular television shows like “Friends.”
Arnold: Yes. For 10 years I led a hedonistic lifestyle, playing guitar in nightclubs five or six nights a week. Magic had been my hobby, so I switched media; I became a professional magician. But my job was still to entertain.
OSV: You got involved in the New Age?
Arnold: I was what they called a lone practitioner, mostly reading astrology magazines looking for belief systems to improve my life. In Hollywood, many people get involved with the New Age with materialistic goals. They want to have their name and face on the big screen. Most are frustrated, as there are far more people in Hollywood who have that dream than realize it. So, if one belief system doesn’t work out, they move on to the next one.
In reality, I think we all have a God-shaped hole inside us that we’re looking to fill.
OSV: You got involved in channeling, which is communication with spirits.
Arnold: Yes, it became a huge part of my life.
A musician friend of mine was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident and used self-hypnosis to manage the pain. A woman he knew wanted to quit smoking, so she asked him to hypnotize her. It was while she was under hypnosis that the spirits began to speak through her. The spirits told my friend to invite me to be part of that group.
Meanwhile, I was dating my future wife, Betty, who was Catholic and wanted no part in channeling. In fact, the spirits told my friend to break up Betty and I. The one time when Betty was with them and they started channeling, she began to silently pray to Mary, and the spirits got ugly for the first time and cursed the Blessed Mother. That was the breaking point for me, so I left the group.
OSV: What led you to become Catholic?
Arnold: I married Betty, but I did not yet convert. But I did meet a priest who seemed quite sincere in his belief. I agreed to take an RCIA class when I found out he was the one teaching it.
For those interested in the specifics of my conversion, I’m currently writing “Confessions of a Traditional Catholic,” a book which will be released through Ignatius Press, which shares some of the details of my conversion. But the bottom line is that I discovered that the Catholic Church has an answer for every objection someone like me could make, and that it all makes sense. It has the only comprehensive and noncontradictory worldview which I’ve ever encountered.
OSV: There are many Marian apparitions that are more well known than Our Lady of Good Success. Why do you have an interest in this one?
Arnold: I love the Blessed Mother. I believe it was through her intercession I was converted.
I said the Rosary even before I was sure I believed. But, early on after my conversion, I steered clear of Marian apparitions.
However, in 1999, someone sent me information on Mother Mariana. It really resonated with me. Even though the apparition had occurred 400 years before, she had many interesting things to say about the Church of our day, such as a crisis of faith and morals in the Church and in the world.
There has been a crisis, which really accelerated in the mid-20th century. We’ve witnessed the coming of the sexual revolution and a societal upheaval that has been unprecedented.
There has been a decline in every measurable statistic relating to the health of the Catholic Church, such as in Mass attendance, numbers of baptisms and Catholic marriages or vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
The Blessed Mother also warned that the Sacrament of Matrimony would be attacked and that iniquitous laws would be passed to make it easy for people to live in sin. These and many other prophecies she made have come true. However, Our Lady of Good Success offers a message of hope, as she says that when all seems lost, there will be a great restoration in the Church.
Ten years ago when I visited Quito, I was praying before a statue of Our Lady of Good Success, and while I don’t claim to have heard any voices, I got the impression that Our Lady wanted me to share her message and to do it free of charge. I’ve since traveled internationally sharing the message. I’ve talked in church basements with a few dozen people, and at conferences with 2,500.
The talk seems to resonate with people, particularly because its message is not one that the world is coming to an end but one of hope. Things may get worse before they get better, but they will turn around.
It is my great privilege to be called to this apostolate and share the message of Our Lady. I’m indebted to her for my faith and her continued protection, and I’m pleased to do this for her.
Jim Graves writes from California.