Memoirs Help Give "A Reason for Hope"

Here is my December column that appears in this weekend’s print The Catholic Post.  I invite your feedback here, or on Facebook or Twitter.

Pop quiz:  why are you Catholic?

Could you tell your story in a way that makes your friend want to be Catholic, or your children glad that they are Catholic?

It’s harder than it appears at first thought, isn’t it?

And yet as St. Peter tells us, we should “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.”  Personal stories, more than statistics or arguments, are one of the best ways to transmit faith, whether ourselves or those closest to us.

You might be strong in your Catholic faith, or looking for a booster shot for a faith grown anemic.  Or you might be looking for a gift for someone wavering in his or her faith.  Consider one of the compelling and enjoyable newer memoirs, where others share what gives them hope.

 Here are two very different choices among recent offerings:

*My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir by Colleen Carroll Campbell recounts Campbell’s spiritual journey from nominal Catholic college student through young adulthood as she struggles with faith, work, dating, a parent’s decline, and infertility.

What keeps her moving closer to, instead of away from, her Catholic faith, are a series of women saints whose lives point the way for her to experience life fully–and fully Catholic.

Many know Campbell as a gifted author–she wrote the 2002 book The New Faithful: Why Young Adults are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy.  I enjoyed that book, and found it well-done, but My Sisters the Saints is far richer and more compelling, because it is Campbell’s own story, shared honesty and sensitively.

I confess that I shed a few cathartic tears at Campbell’s own story, since I’ve been through similar struggles.  Her account of losing a parent over time, in particular, is handled with grace and candor.  Campbell writes warmly and well, and her book should be widely read.

*A very, very different memoir, but equally compelling, is Chris Haw’s From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart: Rekindling My Love for Catholicism.

I have much more in common with Campbell, as I’m a cradle Catholic who never left the Church.  Chris Haw, while raised Catholic through young childhood, began his faith life as an “non-denominational” Christian, basically anti-Catholic, at the mega-church Willow Creek in the Chicago area.  But Haw’s book is hard to put down.

Learning of worship and faith life in mega-churches is interesting.  And yet, it is Haw’s journey from evangelical and anti-liturgical/anti-denominational zealot to–of all things–a faithful, liturgical Catholic that makes this book fascinating.

For a non-theologian like me, some of the middle chapters of From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart are a little too theology-rich (or theology-laden, depending on your tolerance for straight theology).  I wish there had been a bit extra “personal story” in those middle chapters. The story of how Haw and his young family live their faith radically in a poverty-stricken area of Camden, New Jersey, is remarkable, and I wish there were more about how they live it out, day to day.

Still, I read each chapter with interest and attention.  Haw’s voice challenges one to “think different” about the meaning of Catholicism.  His perspective is radically unique, like a kind of Dorothy Day for the millennial generation (and even those of us just  a bit older than that).  Most of us are not called to live or worship the way Haw does, but reading about it prompts questions and challenges about how we do live out our Catholic faith.