Confessions of a Mega Church Pastor

I haven’t read a conversion story in a while, and this reminds me how much I like reading them. Even though we came from different backgrounds, the story feels familiar—Allen Hunt experienced that sense of “coming home” to the Church, much like I had, and this book explains how.

“As a Protestant, I had no idea what I was protesting.”

It takes a journey through a metaphorical house, describing what he found in the Church through its different rooms. I suppose it’s similar to Interior Castle in that sense, but more a basic introduction to the faith than growing deeper in it. Each room has its own theme: the dining room represents the Eucharist; the family cemetery is a reminder of the saints. “This house will take care of you,” he says, a reference to both his family home and the Church itself.

Though Dr. Hunt left the church he’d been pastoring—and the denomination all together—he remains respectful to his Protestant roots. He’ll gently call out when its teachings are wrong, but also offer the Catholic truth beside it. He often stresses the unity of the Church, that we’re to be “one holy, catholic, and apostolic church.”

“When your churches divide and split and find new ways to disagree on a daily basis, you become accustomed to a model based on group pride, epitomized by conflict, and then followed by division… You can always just find other Christians who believe like you do and begin your own congregation.”

I wish it had delved more into this division and his experience as a pastor. He doesn’t talk much about what it was like to leave, which I’d hoped for when picking it up. How does a mega-church pastor leave everything behind and become Catholic?

There are “real life helps” at the end, things you can do yourself to strengthen your own faith. This is where I learned about Dali’s Sacrament of the Last Supper (which I may prefer to Da Vinci’s now), and was inspired to read the Catechism cover-to-cover (one day!). They vary from small things you can do at home to pilgrimages overseas, but all things that can inspire a deeper connection to God—especially for a new Catholic.

Story of a Soul

When we read of the saints, it’s easy to forget they were real people. They seem to have it all together and always in-tune to God’s voice and desires. Logically I know that’s not true, but they sound really good on paper. At first, St. Thérèse is no exception. She speaks of her strong connection to God from the age of three, even knowing for sure as a child that she would be a Carmelite. But underneath that devotion, there are hints of her humanity. She wasn’t perfect, and in her autobiography we witness her gradual spiritual growth. It shows that St. Thérèse was, in fact, real.

This is part autobiography, part spiritual guide. A common theme is her great suffering, from the innocent trials of childhood to her later illness leading to an early death. She loved deeply, both Jesus and humanity. She often prayed for the souls of the unsaved, and cared greatly for the clergy. She desired to take on the suffering of others so that they may be saved. In that, she lived as Jesus himself did. She became a guide to her fellow Sisters, and always had a word of spiritual wisdom for the novices (sometimes harsh, but always truthful).

My vocation is love!… I am but a weak and helpless child, yet it is my very weakness that makes me dare to offer myself, O Jesus, as victim to Thy Love.

She speaks often of her littleness and weakness, but there is another depth to that—of being unworthy, of feeling separated from God though she writes these lofty words. “I sing only of what I wish to believe,” she says. Though she frequently offers herself to Jesus there are times that she doesn’t feel that way. She writes the words so that she may feel it. That’s a sentiment all too familiar. St. Thérèse was young and often naive, but she didn’t need worldly wisdom and praise. She understood her vocation to be wholehearted love for Jesus—a simple devotion, but with great responsibility.

This edition includes an epilogue by the Prioress after St. Thérèse’s death, which sheds more light on the end of her earthly life. Maybe that’s what makes this all real to me—it includes a timeline of her life, and many details about her last weeks. There are excerpts from her letters to novices, and a section of written prayers later found tucked in her Bible. Against my self-imposed rules, I’ve dog-eared several pages of this book for later reference: I’ll need her guidance on charity, love, and prayer again.

Scripture teaches us to approach God as a child, not in a childish way but in wonder and admiration. We’re to love with that simple innocence. This is the way of the “Little Flower.” We often complicate things, especially as we get older. We become bitter by what we’ve learned of a hardened world. But Jesus isn’t bitter. Jesus is that pure and simple Love, and that’s how we’re to live, too. That’s how St. Thérèse lived.

Without love, even the most brilliant deeds count for nothing. These gifts, which Our Lord lavished upon me, far from doing me any harm, drew me toward him.

Jesus: A Pilgrimage

This is one of those books mentioned during RCIA (nearly two years ago!) that I never felt quite ready to tackle: an entire book on Jesus, as told through the Holy Land lens. I was both excited and intimidated by the prospect, but I finally decided Lent was an appropriate time to explore it.

This is part Bible study, part travel journal. I much appreciate the way each chapter is laid out, beginning with traveling to a destination and then discussing its relevance in Jesus’s life. Though the pilgrims did not travel in chronological order, as originally planned, the book tries its best to. We journey from Bethlehem to Galilee to Jerusalem; we delve into details surrounding both Jesus’s humanity and divinity. Every so often a personal anecdote is included, like an overenthusiastic cab driver or nearly dying of heat stroke in the literal Valley of the Shadow of Death.

I really enjoyed the chapters on Jesus’s humanity, which take up much of the early chapters. After all, during this time he was a simple carpenter, not yet ministering. Though we don’t know a lot about his early life, it’s easy to picture it with archeological evidence. Nazareth was a small, poor village, and the young Jesus likely knew everyone in his then-vocation. I’d never considered how much his preaching had been inspired by this experience, and how there are so many metaphors relating to construction and farming. That was his life.

The chapters on his actual ministry were regrettably not as interesting, but do offer some insight not commonly known. Fr. Martin has studied Greek, so he often discusses the original translation and intent. In traveling the land, he comes upon many locations (especially around Galilee) where Jesus would have been, and their descriptions are so vivid that you can nearly feel the salty air off the sea. I was often reminded of a phrase repeated during my own Israel excursion, when confronted with an area that Jesus may have been: “If not here, then near.”

Sometimes the book tries to do too much, and it’s clear than its original intent was a much larger tome. Between travel journal, Biblical study, and personal reflection, there’s a lot of information to take in. I do wish there’d been more talk of the pilgrimage itself, rather than retelling Gospel stories. It tries to cover this ground for non-Christians who may be reading, but I also feel it would be difficult to grasp for someone who doesn’t already know something of Jesus’s life.

One the whole, it’s a great read for Lent. The chapters on the Crucifixion and Resurrection hit it home, especially after exploring Jesus’s life and humanity. And it shows me how much I still need to see in Israel. Fr. Martin spent a lot of time in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, whereas I regrettably did not. But I’ll return one day, and take some travel tips from his notes.