Book Review: How God Hauled Me Kicking and Screaming into the Catholic Church
By: Kevin Lowry
I think I have mentioned in prior reviews that I enjoy stories of conversion and when I see a book that has a foreword written by Scott Hahn how could I resist. A more important side note is that my wife read this book first and recommended it to me (she has a gift for suggesting good reads) and true to form she was correct. I completed this leisurely read over about a 6-7month period, which is because I have a habit of reading a few books at a time, and for me that time frame worked well as the author made the story line easy to follow and enjoyable. Truthfully, I am confident this book could be read over the course of about 1-2 weeks.
The beginning of this story started off with a hearty laugh from me, because Kevin’s dad (a Presbyterian minister at the time) took Kevin to check out Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio as a possible choice for college. If I could pause this review right here for dramatic effect I would, but yes you read that last sentence correctly! A protestant minister took his son to investigate a Catholic university and that move seems to be on par with other conversion stories I have read where a person sets out to dive into church history in order to prove the errors of the Catholic Church and the opposite occurs and they become Catholic.
Now don’t think that the visit to Franciscan University is the end of the story where Kevin’s conversion is immediate, spontaneous, and struggle free (remember the title of this book); however, his arrival in Steubenville is simply the start of at least a ten-year journey to joining the Catholic Church. I really enjoyed Kevin’s writing style as he made this book easy to follow and fun to read. He doesn’t pull any punches and is open to sharing the not so glamorous parts of his life (a lesson in humility for all of us except David Niles). Truthfully, I appreciated his candor and found his story to be inspiring. On the official Catholic Man Show technical read scale I would rate this book at a 3 out of 10*** and highly recommend this book for people that are considering converting to Catholicism.
Kevin has organized his literary work into two main parts. The first part is a total of seven chapters and covers his personal journey to college, back home, back to college, meeting his spouse, marriage, starting his career, receiving a rosary from Scott Hahn (insert wow emoji here), and finally his and his wife’s journey into the church. I have purposefully not put a lot of detail of his story in here yet as it is definitely worth reading for yourself. The second part of this book spans eight chapters and highlights stumbling blocks that Kevin faced along his voyage to the Catholic Church and as he puts it he was able to “turn stumbling blocks into stepping-stones” or put another way, “how all those weird things about Catholicism turn out to make sense and actually bring you closer to God.”
As mentioned earlier, the author identified 8 stumbling blocks during his conversion and those eight hurdles were:
- The Eucharist
- The Mystical Body of Christ
- Faith vs. Works
- The Church’s Imperfections
One of the most beautiful parts of this section of the book (part 2) is that Kevin really shines here in making sense out of some fairly complicated issues. He is able to help the reader navigate through these topics with logical and easy to follow anecdotes such that at the end of each chapter you are left thinking good point, wish I could have said it that way! So now, let’s dig a little deeper into these topics in the hopes that anyone struggling with one of these issues might find clarity.
With regard to the Eucharist Kevin is able to reconcile the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist through trust. I will let the author explain, “I don’t imagine you can “think” your way to a real acceptance of the Eucharist, but you can “trust” your way to an acceptance and even understanding of the Eucharist.” He states, “It is our job to permit ourselves to accept the idea that when the priest says the Eucharistic Prayer, something that transcends time itself is occurring; Christ’s sacrifice on Mount Calvary is not being reproduced in any way at all, but it is being made mysteriously present.”
We all love talking about confession, right? Kevin starts this topic relating a story from his youth when he was praying for forgiveness and waiting for a sign from God that he was forgiven. He identifies his struggle with forgiveness during his time as a protestant as follows, “I was never quite sure that God heard my pleas for pardon, never certain that He had granted them, never clear about my standing before Him.” Contrast that story with Kevin’s description after his first confession which is as follows: “I left the confessional in kind of a daze, I kept hearing over and over, pardon and peace and I absolve you. I felt as if those words were true. I actually felt absolved. I felt as if I had received pardon.” What a gift we have in the sacrament of reconciliation.
Before reading this book and re-reading chapter 10, I was not sure what the statement the Mystical Body of Christ meant. The author explains that when he and his wife were protestant, they often found themselves “church shopping”. Basically, they were looking for “a bible-based church but became exasperated when the churches offered radically different views of Christianity-all based on different biblical interpretations.” Upon joining the Catholic Church, Kevin discovered as stated in the Catechism: “As Lord, Christ is also head of the Church, which is his body (Eph 1:22). Taken up to heaven and glorified after he had thus fully accomplished his mission, Christ dwells on earth in his church. The redemption is the source of the authority that Christ, by virtue of the Holy Spirit, exercises over the Church. The kingdom of God [is] already present in mystery, on earth, the seed and the beginning of the kingdom.” (Lumen Gentium 3;5; cf. Eph 4:11-13) (CCC 669). As the author explains once he understood the Mystical Body of Christ he no longer felt alone in his journey with God, but rather “I am no longer alone and trembling before God…I know I don’t have to rely on my own power any longer.”
I think almost every conversion story I have read or listened to mentions difficulty with Mary and Kevin’s pre-Catholic background viewed Mary as “the humble woman of Nazareth who, in her obedience and faith, made possible the incarnation of Jesus.” Kevin is not incorrect at all with this statement on Mary, but of course there is much more to Mary’s life and obedience. As he so eloquently puts it, “Mary was the chosen vessel through whom hope and life were brought into a world mired in despair and death. She alone could have the courage to say yes to God because she alone was not estranged from God by sin of any kind.” Going just a bit further, the author hits the nail on the head stating, “We want her (Mary) to be the mother who will always pray for us, who in a sense perfects our prayers, the one whose prayers become a channel of God’s grace to us.”
The author spends a whole chapter devoted to the faith vs. works argument, but as a natural progression Kevin lays this issue to rest toward the end of the chapter. He states, “My faith must overflow into works of charity-of love. If there is no such overflow, if faith remains a hermetically sealed relationship between God and me, then something is very wrong.” So really there is no conflict or competition between faith and works, rather there is a relationship between the two that allows a person to grow closer to Christ.
Kevin’s chapter on authority begins with a clever tale titled “Martin’s Awful Nightmare” which is a fictional tale about Martin Luther and discusses his idea of sola scriptura. I thought it was a creative way to discuss this topic which has created so much division between Catholics and Protestants. As the author explains, sola scriptura is the idea that “scripture alone is the entire source of doctrine, but oddly enough this idea is found nowhere in the Bible.” Kevin explains that sola scriptura has led to the all too familiar premise that we can all interpret the meaning of scripture for ourselves without need of any teaching authority-enter the many Protestant divisions we see today.
So why do we need a teaching authority? The answer from the author follows: “What the Christian world needs is a living authority, one that does not lie inert on a page but can explain itself, that can clarify things when clarity is needed.” Does this line of authority mean we should not read the scriptures, of course not, but we need to be seekers of the truth, and that truth is not our personal, relative truth, but the one established by God. Kevin explains this point by stating: “If God wanted His church to continue beyond the deaths of the original disciples, wouldn’t he have created a structure for it to do so and a voice of authority that could deal with problems as they arouse-a structure and a voice that would remain consistent over the centuries and not be swayed by changing fashions?”
As we are all too painfully aware the Catholic Church has been in the headlines quite a lot over the past few years due to the priest sex abuse scandal. Kevin acknowledges that “In some circles, the Church is now perceived as a fatally flawed institution or even utterly corrupt.” So, he underscores that we are in the process of “slow healing” which will likely take many years from which to recover, but he also offers some explanation as well. The first point Kevin makes is that, “We are all at war with our own powerful yearnings and impulses-and that war lasts a lifetime.” Secondly, he states, “The Church is not identical with her institutions and her personnel. She infinitely transcends all that we are able to see of her because she is ultimately the Mystical Body of Christ. She is not the priest in your local parish or even your bishop, and certainly not the church buildings or schools.” Rather the Church is, “defined by the Lordship of Jesus Christ, whose mercy we all need.”
Do you ever have those days or times in your life where you feel you are your biggest hurdle to overcome? For me that answer is definitely yes. In his final chapter Kevin takes this idea a step further by asking the question, “Why aren’t people flocking to the Church?” He relies on his business skills by stating the Church has a “branding problem”, but bigger than that the Church seems to have a lot of “lethargy”. Kevin asks us to imagine a potential convert coming to his or her first Mass only to notice the following: “people not even glancing at their hymnal or trying to sing when the organ is playing; people approaching the altar to receive the body of Christ in exactly the same way they approach a fast-food counter; or in place of warmth or welcome a new attendee is treated with indifference.” I know I can identify with this attitude (not something I am proud of by the way) or lack of zeal and as a convert myself, I should know better. Luckily Kevin provides an answer to this complacency. Are you ready? Can you wager a guess? Here it is, “We turn to Christ who is revealed to us in the Church’s sacramental life. We allow Him to feed us, to nourish us, to support us. We allow Him to knock us out of our doldrums.”
Overall, I appreciate that Kevin wrote a story that is solid in content, easy to understand, and interesting. I would have no reservations about giving this book to any person who is considering joining the Catholic Church or who is already Catholic. I think we can all find a piece of ourselves in this work, and for me, that is what makes it so effective.
By: Kent Keithly, Husband and Father
***Regarding The Catholic Man Show technical read scale: A 3 out of 10 is a leisurely read that could be read in a couple of weeks, an 8 out of 10 is a more technical read which requires more time and often requires looking up definitions of words to clearly understand the author, and finally a 10/10 is an extremely technical read that requires a significant amount of time to complete the book, as well as, extra time to look up further explanations of the topic, definitions, and likely requires that some pages be read more than once to grasp the content.