SOME BOOKS MAKE you want to sit down with the author on a sunny afternoon for a nice cup of tea. You would be excited to talk about how the book resonated with your own journey. For me, From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart: Rekindling My Love for Catholicism, by Chris Haw, is such a book.
Haw, a young, passionate, and deeply self-reflective theologian, shares his spiritual memoir. Part one recounts Haw's faith journey from a childhood as a lukewarm Catholic to teenage years at the evangelical megachurch Willow Creek, to college—including brief but powerful months in Belize, as well as days of protest against the Iraq war—and eventually to his present life in the apocalyptic landscape of Camden, N.J., where he returned to the Catholic Church.
Part two presents Haw's theological reflections on a variety of questions he has raised along his journey. He also focuses on common objections against the Catholic Church, such as the nature of the Mass as a sacrifice, the church's reliance on human tradition over the Bible, its hierarchical system, alleged ritualism, embellished architecture and ornaments, devastating scandals—including child molestation—and so on. Haw explores such challenging issues thoughtfully and courageously, while humbly accepting that he still struggles with them. Despite it all, Haw longs to see beauty and hope furthered through the Catholic Church.
I am a Catholic convert. I was raised in a Methodist family and trained in Protestant seminaries. By the time I decided to convert to Catholicism, I was starting my first year in the doctoral program of theological studies at Emory University. Feminist theology played a central role in both my theological education and spiritual formation, and it continues to today.
Shocked and confused by my decision, many of my colleagues asked, "Why do you want to submit yourself to an archaic, patriarchal, misogynistic institution that never fails to perpetuate scandals and controversies?" Although I fully understood my colleagues' concerns, I saw in Catholicism, as Haw did, things that were too precious and too valuable to be ignored or abandoned. To name a few: the sacraments, which palpably enflesh our desire toward the divine; the mystical tradition, particularly of women mystics, which compellingly connects feminist theology to the voices of women in the past; and Catholic social teaching, which tirelessly strives to build a just and holy society. Those things continue to brilliantly shine out of the tainted, broken, and flawed human institution of the church.
Haw's contemplation on his return journey to Catholicism rekindled my fondness for its beauty, but also reminded me of our responsibility—how intensely we Catholics need to work in order for the beautiful elements to remain alive, and how urgently, therefore, we ought to challenge the current state of the church hierarchy, which seems to have lost its capacity to engage intellectual conversation with critical voices within and outside of the church. As Haw explains, Catholics live in an age of irony because, as expressed by G.K. Chesterton, "There is no enduring way forward except with a sort of 'fanatical pessimism and fanatical optimism' combined."
I was a bit surprised that Haw makes little or no mention of some of the burning issues that Catholics struggle with today, including the growing need for the ordination of women, the Vatican's investigation and reprimand of U.S. nuns, its denouncement of some theologians' books, and its stance on sexuality and same-sex marriage. Just as this book is "about the journey not the destination," I trust that Haw's theological reflection is an invitation, not a conclusion. I look forward to reading Haw's next books and learning further from the contemplative action and active contemplation in his ongoing faith journey.
Min-Ah Cho is an assistant professor of theology at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minn.