Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Book Review - "Something Greater Is Here" by Kenneth J. Howell

Dr. Kenneth Howell's conversion story, Something Greater Is Here, is an absolute page-turner. (It arrived in the mail yesterday afternoon and, once I started reading, I couldn't go to bed before reaching the conclusion.)

You are undoubtedly familiar with Dr. Howell from his work with the Coming Home Network and Catholic Answers, as well as the courageous stand he took for academic freedom as an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois. Here, however, Dr. Howell recounts the many graces that readied him to serve God in this capacity. In a tightly-written narrative that feeds the mind and heart, Dr. Howell carefully leads readers through the penetrating series of questions - and their unexpected answers - that moved him to resign his position as a Presbyterian minister and seminary professor to seek the fullness of Christian life and faith (the "something greater") in Christ's Catholic Church.

Conversion stories typically focus upon a few key issues - e.g., Scripture and Tradition, the Papacy, the Eucharist. What stands out about Dr. Howell's story is the vast range of issues it allows him to explore with readers: the necessity of faith and reason; the Catholic Church's appreciation of scientific method; the absence of a biblical hermeneutic within the texts of Scripture (and subsequent need for Tradition); the sacrificial reality of the Eucharist and Christ's substantial presence therein; apostolic succession and the ordained priesthood; the ongoing nature of justification; the papacy; and redemptive suffering.

Hans Urs Von Balthasar said that theology is best done on one's knees, best done in prayer. It is an apt description of Dr. Howell's journey. He is a man of true spiritual depth, a quality arrived at through decades of sharing Christ's prayer in Gethsemane. I was completely unaware that his wife's conversion to Catholicism came years after his own; that they cared for their oldest child through a protracted illness; or that in 1995, while teaching a course at Indiana University, Dr. Howell was shot (and the shooter never apprehended). I consider the peace that permeates Dr. Howell's writing a proof of the power of Christ, crucified and risen; it should instill hope in each of us.

In times like ours, when relativism is the creed of the majority, and persecution seems perched on the horizon, Dr. Kenneth Howell reminds us that Something Greater Is Here - Christ in the midst of His Church - and that the powers of hell cannot prevail against them.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Doubting Thomas & Me

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle. I've always felt a kinship with Thomas because of his incredulity at the news of Christ's Resurrection, and I went through my own period of intense doubt regarding Christ's claims. I shared my conversion at greater length in the God Who is Love and at the Why I'm Catholic site, but with today's feast, I have to share at least a snippet. (Hard to comprehend that the moment described below happened 29 years ago.)

...A few days later I passed by the kitchen and spied my dad sitting at the table working on a project. I decided to put him on the hot-seat one more time, "Dad, tell me again why you believe in Jesus." He didn't tell me to have faith, and he didn't reach for the Bible; instead he looked into my eyes and said, "Shane, Jesus loves you so much that He weeps for you. He wants you, but you won't come to Him." And then... 
I saw Him. 
In my mind's eye I saw Jesus sitting, His head pressed into His hands and His shoulders convulsing as He wept for me. 

It happened in an instant, a "flash" in my mind's eye. It wasn't the kind of evidence I had been searching for – objective, verifiable, free from emotion(1) – and yet it was personally undeniable. Over twenty years have passed since that day, and I'm still feeling the reverberations. I didn't know quite how to explain it to others until I came across this description years later from Caryll Houselander, a Catholic mystic: 
What do I mean by saying that I "saw"? Frankly, in the ordinary way I did not see anything at all; at least I did not see...with my eyes. I saw...with my mind...in a way that is unforgettable, though in fact it was something suddenly known, rather than seen. But it was known not as one knows something through learning about it, but simply by seeing it..."alive" and "unforgettable."(2) 
And what did I know in that moment? I knew that Jesus of Nazareth was alive, bodily and spiritually alive, and that He loved me with everything in Him. I knew that He was God the Father's outstretched hand to me, the Truth I had been seeking. I burst into tears right there at the kitchen table – tears of remorse for doubting, tears of gratitude for what I'd been shown. I can't tell you how my dad reacted to my tears or anything else he said to me that afternoon. I know that I really talked to Jesus though - for the first time in a long time. 

In the years since, I've come to feel a kinship with the "doubting" Apostle, Thomas. Appearing to him after the resurrection, Jesus said: "[Thomas] put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:27-28). In the end, I've realized that it wasn't so much me seeking Jesus, as it was His seeking me. I will eternally thank Him for allowing me my "crisis of faith" because it brought me to my senses, woke me to the reality of being loved by the Living God. How about you, are you awake yet? 
(1) In time, I encountered fantastic, objective reasons to believe in God's existence. I refer you to The God Who is Love: Explaining Christianity From Its Center, Appendix I. Reasons for giving Jesus' claims a fair hearing are explored in Appendix II. 
(2) Found in Patricia Treece's Apparitions of Modern Saints (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Publications, 2001), p.35.

If you are more of an audio-visual person, here is a video of my testimony, (I'd advance to 2 minutes.) And wow - look at that awesomely weird expression on my face!