Monday, December 28, 2009

Fighting about Unity

I see from the comments to my last post that I've struck a nerve or two, so let me try to be more clear about this.

What is communion? Forget religion for a moment, and ask what the word means in the secular sense. It means an intimate union, a complete coming together, something like marriage or close friendship. As an actor I've felt a communion among the audience when a show goes really well and the audience is united in their experience of it. It's "being on the same page", it's "intimacy", it's being united fully.

Now the Lutherans believe in salvation by Faith alone, in the necessity of scripture alone, and believe they are not subject to the authority of the magisterium or the chair of Peter. I reject these teachings of theirs, and so therefore I am de facto not in communion with the Lutherans. If I accept communion at a Lutheran service, I am lying in commiting that act; by receiving, I am saying I am in total union with these people, but I am really not. This is like fornication. If I sleep with a woman I'm not married to, I am, by the action of my body, claiming to be in total union with her; which, if we are unmarried, I am not. It may be more than a one night stand, but if it ain't life-long marriage, it ain't a total commitment.

This is the issue on its most basic natural level. On the supernatural level, Christ is offering Himself to us. If we accept Him fully by our assent to His teachings and by our actions (i.e., in matters of faith and morals), we are in full communion with the Catholic Church, which is the body of Jesus Christ. If we accept Him only partially, we are heretics (if we deliberately reject part of His teaching) or grave sinners (if we deliberately don't live up to his teaching).

Excommunication (being excluded by fact or by proclamation) from receiving the Eucharist is, metaphorically, being in hell. It is, as Gina said in her comment to the previous post, something we choose ourselves. But people don't like hearing about excommunication any more than they like hearing about hell. And they hate it when people point out to them that they're not, by their own choice, worthy to receive.

Having said all this, I am not saying Lutherans are not Christians or are going to hell or are beyond salvation. On the contrary, there are many who follow Christ more ardently in their separated denominations than fully communicating Catholics do. And indeed the Lutherans almost always have better hymns than the suburban parishes do, and frequently have better homilies. All of this is a given.

But Christ is a fact, and being outside of full communion with Him and the Church He established is a fact. If the Lutherans think their church is that Church, then they would agree with me.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas, Communion, "Seinfeld" and "The Office"

So this past Christmas the family get togethers were particularly trying. You know what I mean.

On Christmas Eve, the one branch of the family studiously avoided talking to me about anything at all that I do. This is the nominally Catholic branch, the pro-abortion Catholic branch, the pro-perversion Catholic branch. They are very successful, and some of them quite famous, for their secular achievements. They are affluent and comfortable, but touchy and irritable at the same time. You might call them the Kennedy branch.

They spent Christmas Eve bragging about their decadence in many ways, and my tolerance was taxed after the third glass of wine, so we up and left. Usually I don’t mind the “Kennedies” on Christmas, as some of them are likable people, and they let one or two members of their branch lead the way on their liberal stridency, while the rest just tag along. But when we started hearing detailed descriptions of the self-indulgent artistic endeavors of the latest Kennedy concubine, my Christmas cheer sounded a retreat. I was so angry that I refrained from receiving communion at Midnight Mass, as I did not feel properly disposed.

Christmas night was spent with yet another extended family branch, one of whose dinner guests was a practicing Lutheran, and at dinner a quasi-theological discussion erupted. My son Colin mouthed to me, “Don’t say a word”, but when someone asked about the Catholic position on the eligibility for reception of communion, I was obligated to speak. I tried to point out that reception indicates unity with the Catholic Church, both intellectually and morally – both in belief and in practice; thus, holding a heterodox position, which is dissent-in-belief, disqualifies one from reception of the Body and Blood, as does mortal sin, which is dissent-in-practice. The young cousin to the right of me told me frankly that he didn’t know that; and in fact he didn’t know anything about his Catholic faith, despite twelve years of Catholic schooling. I should say BECAUSE OF twelve years of Catholic schooling.

Our Lutheran friend, one of our separated brethren, who was separated in the sense of sitting across the table from me, became very indignant. “I’ll receive communion when and where I want!” she insisted. “I’ll receive in a Catholic church or in a Lutheran! Receiving communion is between God and me!” I could have asked if everything is between God and her, or if there are some lines that God has drawn that apply to everyone and not just to each individual. I could have asked if religion is entirely a subjective thing, or if it refers to any objective supernatural fact. I could have asked what she would say if her husband committed adultery – would that simply be between God and him or would other people – say, perhaps, herself – be somehow involved? But I had only had one glass of wine (by then) and not three, so I held my peace and thereby preserved a possible invitation for next year’s Christmas dinner.

But I began to wonder. Why do the “Kennedies” avoid talking to me about Theater of the Word? Why do certain Protestants become indignant about the line the Catholic Church draws on eligibility for reception?

In the first case, I clearly make the Kennedies uncomfortable. But why? If they’re so adamant about their personalized version of the Faith, why am I a bother, a contradiction to them? Last year the Kennedy matriarch told us that she was furious that our archbishop had announced that a vote for a pro-abortion politician was an action that required sacramental repentance before receiving the Body and Blood. “I was going to march up to receive communion with my Obama button on!” she said. But she did not.

She did not!

Why not, one wonders. According to her rules, it would not have been an infraction. Was it the possibility of being denied communion (a very unlikely scenario) that caused her to refrain? Or something else?

And why do certain Protestants become indignant about our communion? If laxity is the rule when it comes to reception, why not just receive and ignore the rules? Why get mad when the rules are read to you? If the Eucharist has a meaning, then it has a definition and limitations that need to be recognized, limitations that exist as a fact. But if it has no meaning, or if its meaning is subjective (which is the same as having no meaning), then there are in fact no limits, so why get worked up about imaginary ones?

You see, I can understand the liberal position, wrong though it is; it’s the inconsistency that interests me. If they’re right, they have no reason to get upset or angry at the signs of contradiction that the Church and her members present them with. If they’re right, then we’re simply wrong, and so why not just smile and go about their business? Why the fear of bringing up my apostolate? Why the anger over commuion? If religion is entirely subjective, why get angry at the sentiments of another subjectivist?

For that matter, why do atheists get so churned up about God? Why did I, when I was an atheist? Why crusade for No-God, as the character in Flannery O’Connor’s “Wise Blood” does?

The answers to all these questions can be found in California, Oregon, and Washington state. There they’ve passed on to the next level. There subjectivism is such that no one cares about anything beyond himself. No one cares. That’s the liberal solution, and that’s the consistent one.

In the 1990s, the television show that best summed up the decade was “Seinfeld”, a show in which the selfish small-minded motives of the characters appeared ridiculous and funny; but the characters, selfish as they were, were in some sense still friends and still cared about each other, albeit imperfectly. Throughout there was an implied reference point of sanity and virtue that they all fell short of, and that was the source of the humor.

In this decade, the TV show that best reflects our culture is “The Office”, a show in which people’s relationships are defined entirely by a business agreement, a show in which the boss is desperately seeking approval or friendship and is shown to be a buffoon thereby, a show in which the small-minded selfishness - indeed the isolationism - of the characters is seen as normative and the attendant despair of heart and subjectivism of morality seen as a matter of course. There is no longer a healthy reference point with which to contrast the behavior of the characters. They’re all subjectivists.

The message of “The Office” is our intercourse as people is an intercourse of commerce or an intercourse of fornication, and either way it’s just an anodyne for the loneliness of having nothing beyond ourselves or even between ourselves to strive for.

Which is to say, the world of “The Office” is a world in which there is no communion.

But here in the Mid-West we’ve not quite come that far. Here we still argue about what communion means. And that is a good sign. In fact, it’s a sign of hope.

May your Christmas season abound, as our family dinners did, with signs of hope – in whatever annoying form such signs take.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What I Learned in England

This past week I was in England with actors and crew from my company and from Corpus Christi Watershed, as we filmed a short movie on the conversion of the Venerable John Henry Newman. We were graciously granted access to Newman’s retreat house at Littlemore, near Oxford, administered by the delightful Sisters of the Work.

A few brief observations.


The English people are so kind and genteel that it’s difficult for an American to know how to talk to them. One conversation (along with inner dialogue) went like this:

KEVIN: We’ve certainly enjoyed our visit to Oxford.

ENGLISHMAN: Yes, how lovely. (smiling a benevolent smile that could be either an indication that Kevin should say more or a patient patronizing of his harsh accent and garish ways)

KEVIN: And being in the footsteps of Newman is such an honor. As was eating at the Eagle and the Child, where C. S. Lewis and Tolkien met regularly.

ENGLISHMAN: Indeed. (the smile becomes more wry)

(an awkward pause follows)

KEVIN: (thinks) Is he waiting for me to say more, or is he hoping I should shut up? (speaks) We also enjoyed the Pantomime at the local theater.

ENGLISHMAN: (a supercilious look of benign contempt) Really?

Thus even conversing in a common tongue can be difficult.


We bought a cell phone to make international calls and of course had problems with it. The young people who were manning the cell phone store were not far removed from the kind of American teens who work at Subway restaurant chains. On the third visit to the store, with my phone still not working, I had to enter into Assertive Complaining Customer mode, and I was convinced not only that I’d get the kind of run around we always get in American cell phone stores, but also that I had been had and that the problems with my phone were the result of some sort of scam these punks were in on.

Much to my surprise, the young clerks showed a great deal of courtesy and patience and even managed to fix the problem in a courteous and professional manner. This is not America, I thought. Nor is it Subway, though the food at the pubs is not quite as good as what you can get at Subway.


Oxford seemed very much like the England I got to know a bit on two visits twenty years ago. I was impressed with the large crowds on foot, many of whom were apparently students in their twenties, with all of the young ladies very pert and attractive. It was the antithesis of a visit to Wal-Mart. No fat, slovenly folks in sweat shirts.

The English have a different facial structure than most Americans. Carl Jung once thought that the American Indian population influenced the European-American stock in some mystical ways, as he saw traces of the red man in our white American faces. His mysticism is suspect, but his observation is accurate.

We saw no traces of the Islamic invasion, except in London, especially at Heathrow Airport (of all places) where most of the counter workers are in Muslim regalia. And there was the ominous sight of an Islamic crescent setting behind Buckingham Palace, which I snapped a photo of.

But the true end of things is the appalling and ridiculous conclusion the Anglican church has come to. The world may end in fire, or the world may end in ice, but the Anglican church is ending in apathy, absurdity and self-parody. I won’t go into details of how I was hit on by a very drunk and flagrantly homosexual defrocked Anglican priest (the only way you can be defrocked as an Anglican priest is not for sodomy or alcoholism, but for criticizing the Anglican bishops, something this poor soul bravely did), but I can tell you the feel in their churches (formerly our churches) is just like the feel in most of the Episcopalian churches in the U.S. - cold, with a kind of stolid refinement of manners, a lingering melancholy, and an overwhelming complacency.


And yet the Oratorian Church in Oxford is packed to the seams at every Mass, confessions are offered almost non-stop throughout the day, with long lines of penitents, and even the ugly modern church named after Blessed Dominic Barberi in Littlemore is apparently staffed by serious orthodox priests. Meanwhile, the church in Ireland is undergoing a much needed purgation and there are indications abounding of the survival, indeed the rebirth, of the Catholic Church in Ireland and the U.K. after a horrible time of trial and failure of resolve. The official Catholic publications in England and Ireland are quite heterodox and show almost no sign of this whatsoever, except for the very telling letters to the editor, which are orthodox and clearly indicative of the grass roots movement that the publishers of these same papers must despise.

One of these letters in defense of the teachings of the true Church was written by one of the world’s foremost experts of Cardinal Newman, Fr. Ian Ker, whom I had the great privilege to meet one night after filming. He is a man of tremendous humor and faith and shows that neither totalitarian kings and queens nor bad bishops can destroy God’s great gift to us, the Catholic Church and its holy priesthood.


In conclusion, it was made more and more evident to me in a number of ways, both spiritual and secular, that John Henry Cardinal Newman’s upcoming beatification is a key event in the reign of Pope Benedict XVI and of turning the tide against the liberal infiltration of the Church and of the hijacking of Vatican II. Newman’s momentous conversion at Littlemore near Oxford 164 years ago was the most important conversion of post-Reformation times, a victory for Reason, an earthquake that many of us have forgotten, but that the enemy and his forces still hear, the beginning of the Catholic Literary Revival and true Reform in the Church, and the opening of a door that led to the astonishing lay apologetic movement we see around us today and that even the Theater of the Word is a part of. Many forces both in the world and beyond it will be trying to derail this beatification. Pray for it and pray for the support of Venerable Newman, Blessed Dominic Barberi, and St. Philip Neri.

I end by quoting a line from the wonderful Christmas Pantomime “Jack and the Beanstalk” that we saw in Oxford,

Fee Fi Fo Fum
I smell the blood of an Englishman

Although now, I might add, that blood, as it begins to rediscover the true Body and Blood of Christ, is beginning to stir.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Our series airs on EWTN at the following times:

1:00 pm Eastern / Noon Central / 11:00 am Mountain / 10:00 am Pacific

4:00 pm Eastern / 3:00 pm Central / 2:00 pm Mountain / 1:00 pm Pacific

The Wednesday episode is repeated each Saturday.

We've already been approved for Season Two, which will premiere in the fall of 2011!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

More on our New Shows


"It's got action, adventure, loyalty, betrayal, unimaginable holiness - and the Devil, too!"

The Mother Theresa of the 19th Century, Blessed Jeanne Jugan (who will be canonized in October) not only founded the Little Sisters of the Poor, but endured unimaginable hardship and exile along the way.

Our story begins like the book of Job - Satan challenging God in Heaven, and ends with his full scale assault on the elderly in our day, under the guise of "euthenasia" or the "right to die". In between, the humility and holiness of this incredible lady shines through.

For more information, call us at 1-888-840-WORD, or come see the show at the Little Sisters of the Poor home near you. Our touring begins in August.

St. Paul's Journey Home

To commemorate the closing of the Year of St. Paul, Marcus Grodi ineterviews the Apostle Paul on his dramatic conversion. Kevin O'Brien plays the part of Paul.

The Journey Home airs on EWTN at the following times

Monday, June 29 at 8:00 pm Eastern / 7:00 pm Central
Tuesday, June 30 at 1:00 am Eastern / Midnight Central
Tuesday, June 30 at 10:00 am Eastern / 9:00 am Central
Wednesday, July 1 at 1:00 pm Eastern / Noon Central
Saturday, July 4 at 11:00 pm Eastern / 10:00 pm Central

Be sure to watch! for more info.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Adventures of St. Paul

... from an article in an upcoming issue of The St. Austin Review


I have always been fascinated with St. Paul. And so toward the end of 2007 I began to write what I hoped would become a one-man show that I could tour the country performing, under the aegis of my business The Theater of the Word Incorporated. Before settling down to the hard task of creating such a show, I searched around for other one-man Paul scripts that might be out there, in the hopes that I could save some time and simply produce one that already existed. I read the sample first page of a one-man Paul script that a hopeful writer sent me, but could tell right away that his Paul was simply a nice guy who meant well but found himself unjustly persecuted. His Paul was to the real Paul as Marty Haugen’s liturgical music is to Gregorian chant. This is not the Paul I hoped to bring to our prospective audiences.

And so I realized I had to create my own script – though it ended up being a four-person show, not a one-man. I covered the gamut of Paul’s life and writings, with the tag line “The Journey of St. Paul – stoning, shipwrecks, miracles and more!” We then were blessed with Pope Benedict proclaiming this past year as The Year of St. Paul, and so we found ourselves literally travelling coast to coast, as eager parishes of all stripes – liberal, conservative, and in-between, booked us.

Looking back over this past Year of St. Paul, and reflecting on our experiences in bringing his life and writings to thousands of people across the country, a few things stand out about this most famous of literary converts.

First, Paul’s forthrightness astonished and encouraged people. “Am I trying to please men?” Paul says at one point. “If I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of Christ.” (see Gal 1:10) We showed Paul standing up to all adversity and boldly preaching the Gospel “in season and out of season” (2 Tim 4:2) I had more than one priest say to me after a performance, “If only our bishops could be like Paul!”

Also ...


... ah, but if you want to read more, you'll have to see an upcoming issue of the St. Austin Review - an excellent magazine published on both sides of the Atlantic, dedicated to the revival of Catholic culture.

In the meantime, follow our adventures and Kevin O'Brien's posts at The St. Austin Review Ink Desk

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

New Shows from Theater of the Word!

To celebrate The Year of the Priest, we present Faith of Our Father - The Story of a Priest.

This humorous and touching tale tells the story of Fr. Mike, a young priest recently appointed pastor at the suburban parish "St. Somewhere".

Thrust into the midst of parish politics, fundraising fiascoes, and the day to day challenge of caring for souls, Fr. Mike's faith begins to falter ... until a visit by his patron, St. John Vianney, shows him the true way of love and sacrifice.

A funny, profound, and heartwarming story dedicated to those who dedicate themselves to us - our priests.

Call 1-888-840-WORD or visit for more information or to arrange a booking.

We will also present Little Saint of the Poor.

Written and produced to commemorate the canonization of Jeanne Jugan, foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor, this show presents the story of her life and her struggles. We journey with Jeanne as she gives up her own bed to a poor and dying woman, as she, by the grace of God, founds an order dedicated to serving the elderly and infirm; and as she is denied all honor and recognition of this remarkable feat by an unscrupulous man who forces Jeanne into a kind of exile in her own final years. This story is inspiring, as Jeanne's love for God shines through in her care for the aged and in the midst of her troubles. The play also delves into life issues that are currently in contention - euthanasia, dying, and dignity - and shows how these issues are fully transformed by the love of God and the love of the poorest among us.
Call 1-888-840-WORD or visit for more information or to arrange a booking.

Father Brown, Detective

Kevin O'Brien is really a dowdy absent-minded crime-solving priest from England. When he plays Father Brown, that is.

Father Brown was created by writer G. K. Chesterton in 1910. In his day, Father Brown and his mystery stories were as popular as Sherlock Holmes. The Father Brown mystery stories, brilliant works of detective fiction, are classics of the genre.

Both Chesterton and Father Brown are experiencing a healthy revival, a century after the crime-solving cleric's creation. O'Brien has been involved in this revival in some very exciting ways.

First, Kevin was interviewed by John J. Miller on "Between the Covers", National Review's podcast, an interview in which he talks about his dramatic rendition of The Innocence of Father Brown, an audio book collection of mysteries, published by Ignatius Press. Kevin also gives insights into Chesterton's writing and some of the things that make Father Brown so much fun to read. Click to listen.

Next, Kevin will talk about Father Brown on Doug Keck's Bookmark on EWTN June 7th and repeated various times throughout that week. Check for more information.

And finally, an episode of Kevin O'Brien's upcoming EWTN series The Theater of the Word Incorporated will be a made-for-TV film, "The Honor of Israel Gow", a mystery in which Father Brown solves a murder at a spooky Scottish castle. This episode will have its world premiere at the Chesterton Conference in Seattle, Washington on August 7. Kevin will give a presentation immediately preceding the screening on "Chesterton and Drama". For more information visit .

Thursday, March 19, 2009

"Fighting the Good Fight" or "Battling for the Bard"

(Filming The Quest for Shakespeare - Season Two at EWTN. Left to right: Christina Rios, Tom Lehmann, John Wolbers, Tom Leith, Frank C. Turner, Kevin O'Brien, Jonathan Elkins, Maria Romine. Seated: Joseph Pearce, host of the series)

It was the young actor who approached me. I’ll call him Bill. We had a break in rehearsal and Bill broke it to me as gently as he could. He knows I’m a curmudgeonly old cuss, hopelessly out of date, infected with this Catholic thing. “You know,” he said. “You know, it is generally accepted that Bassanio and Lorenzo in Merchant of Venice are gay lovers.”

“What!” I exploded, for I am indeed naïve. Curmudgeonly but naïve. “There is no evidence for that in the text whatsoever!”

Bill smiled that condescending smile that the young who know everything use with their elders, who are so foolish – even their elders who are directing them on stage. “It’s certainly implied,” he said. And he looked on me with a smug kind of pity.

“In no way is it implied!” I retorted. “The love that Bassanio and Antonio have for one another is a love of friendship. Male friendship was once acknowledged as the remarkable thing that it is – a great grace. This is friendship – not lust! And certainly not perverse lust! It’s only the moderns who have done this; this is a reflection on the putrid state of our souls, and has nothing to do with Shakespeare or this play!”

“Well,” he said with a barely audible sigh. “I have never seen a production of this play that interpreted their relationship in any other way.”

“You’re kidding.”

“I’m not. And also, this thing you’re doing with Portia – making her deliver her speeches as anything but frustration against her father and this position he’s put her in. You know, every production I’ve seen also has Portia cheat.”

“She cheats?” I asked.

“She cheats,” he answered. “She gives a nod to Bassanio to let him know which of the caskets to choose so she can marry him.”

“But that’s a contrived stage direction – an arbitrary interpolation that is at odds with everything that Portia stands for, and indeed at odds with the entire message of this play!” I said, fulminating.

“Yes,” Bill, the young actor, continued. “Yes, that’s how it’s always done. Either that, or it’s Bassanio disguising himself as the other two suitors, Morocco and Aragon, which is just his way of working the system.”

“Of cheating,” I observed. Well, I could not believe this. What kind of perverse producers and degenerate directors was this young man hanging around with? He can not seriously have seen a number of productions of Merchant of Venice, all of which destroy the play by deliberately misreading it – right?

I asked this of Joseph Pearce, “Right?”

“Kevin,” he said, “I hate to break this to you, but your actor was not exaggerating. This is exactly what the post-modernists have done with all of Shakespeare. They have made him into a reflection of their own shallow selves. All of these things and many other things even worse than these have been done to Merchant of Venice, and to every play in the canon – all in the name of staging and interpreting the writer these people claim to be William Shakespeare. Such twisted productions of his plays are now the norm.”

It was then that I began to get a sense of how this battle of Joseph’s that I had volunteered to join, this battle to free Shakespeare from the absurdity, perversion, and vacuity of the post-modernists, was indeed a part of the larger battle, the great battle against the forces of darkness that the Church has been fighting from the beginning. For Shakespeare is a kind of touchstone for us. He is universally acknowledged to be the greatest writer in the history of the English language, and so who he was and what he wrote stand as a reference point for all of our culture.

Therefore when a culture grows sick and spiteful, it makes of this icon a sick and spiteful thing. People can thus easily ignore the great patrimony that Shakespeare brings to us; in fact they can pervert and twist the man and his works so that they become merely an affirmation of the suicidal narcissism that fuels everything we do.

So Joseph Pearce’s attempts to save Shakespeare are part of “fighting the good fight” even in the narrow world of literary criticism. But of course Joseph is doing much more than saving the plays from bad scholarship, from oblivion – or from something worse than oblivion, from the hideous aping and the shameful self-parodies that they are being turned into on stage. He is, in proposing for us the Catholic Shakespeare, part of a band of scholars who are forcing us to examine not only Shakespeare in his true light, but also forcing us to confront the importance of what he says, what the profound truth and beauty of his plays convey, which is a vision of humanity in the context of heaven and hell, woven from the fabric of a culture that rose from the body of Christ.

... for the conclusion of this article, see an upcoming issue of The St. Austin Review

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Theater of the Word's 2009 Season of Touring Shows

THE GREAT ADVENTURE - Quests, Obstacles, Virtues, and Vices - What will keep our young heroes from living the Great Adventure of the Faith? And what will they need for help? This interactive epic, starring the kids of your parish or church, will answer the question! The choices they make determine the very plot of the show - and the obstacles they encounter along the way.

Your kids on stage with our professional actors- Faith, Formation and Fun!

THE JOURNEY OF ST. PAUL - Journey with Paul from his early hatred and persecution of the Church through his miraculous conversion and through his years of fighting for the Faith as he battles shipwrecks, imprisonments, stonings and privations - all for the sake of the salvation of souls. This thrilling show will make you feel as if you've met the man himself - the most zealous, outspoken, and courageous of the apostles. It's an encounter you won't want to miss!

KING DAVID - This one-man show presents the most dramatic stories of the Old Testament. King David is hunted and hounded by King Saul, and in his persecutions he serves to prepare the Jews for the coming of Our Lord. It's all here - Samuel the Prophet, Goliath, Bathsheba, Jonathin and Absalom, and the most moving of David's psalms. The Bible will come to life before your eyes with these incredible stories - starring Kevin O'Brien, and featured on EWTN.

THE LITTLE SAINT OF THE POOR: Written and produced to commemorate the canonization of Jeanne Jugan, foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor, this show presents the story of her life and her struggles. We journey with Jeanne as she gives up her own bed to a poor and dying woman, as she, by the grace of God, founds an order dedicated to serving the elderly and infirm; and as she is denied all honor and recognition of this remarkable feat by an unscrupulous man who forces Jeanne into a kind of exile in her own final years. This story is inspiring, as Jeanne's love for God shines through in her care for the aged and in the midst of her troubles. The play also delves into life issues that are currently in contention - euthanasia, dying, and dignity - and shows how these issues are fully transformed by the love of God and the love of the poorest among us.

A MORNING STAR CHRISTMAS - Two delightful one-act shows make up this celebration of the Nativity. An inspiring evening for the whole family!

MYSTERY FUNDRAISERS - This interactive comedy mystery is a hilarious who-dunnit. The murderer could be anyone in the room – even the person sitting beside you! This is a fun and family-friendly show that is both a legitimate mystery and also a satire of modern secular life – with a subtle message of hope.

OLD THUNDER - AN EVENING WITH HILAIRE BELLOC - Need a little jolt to wake up from the muddle of mushy belief? Invite Catholic historian and poet Hilarie Belloc. Belloc, who lived from 1870 - 1953 is presented by actor Kevin O'Brien who provides a stirring evening which includes Belloc's prophetic take on "The Great Heresies" and on the waste land of modern thought. Was Belloc a prophet? Before the 1940's he predicted the Welfare State, the increasing cruelty of our culture, and even the resurgence of Islam.Father Joseph Fessio called "An Evening with Hilaire Belloc" "fantastic and unforgettable." Dale Ahlquist, host of EWTN's series "The Apostle of Common Sense" says, "Everyone in America needs to see this show."

THE PASSION OF OUR LORD - Beginning with the triumphal entry into Jerusalem and ending with the Ascension into Heaven, this powerful show sweeps the audience up into an unforgettable experience of the events of Holy Week. "The Passion of Our Lord" is a powerful encounter with Jesus and his disciples, capturing the most profound events of their lives - and ours.

THE QUEST FOR SHAKESPEARE - Join Joseph Pearce, noted biographer from England, who will talk on his new controversial book "The Quest for Shakespeare" in which he makes the case that Shakespeare was a secret Catholic at a time when to be one put his very life in danger. Joseph's presentation is punctuated by our actors performing several scenes from Shakespeare's plays that illustrate the Bard's Catholic worldview.

SARAH'S SECRET - This show is the most powerful pro-life drama you’ll ever see. We can’t tell you much about it – without spoiling the ending, but it’s guaranteed to make everyone in the audience realize the horror and pain of abortion – and the need for God’s mercy and grace.

SOCRATES MEETS JESUS - In this dramatic adaptation of the classic by Peter Kreeft, Socrates comes back to life and goes to college - in modern times!

What happens when a real philosopher meets the pretend philosophers who pose as students and teachers? What would happen if the greatest of ancient minds started learning about Jesus? What would happen if modern hip atheists are confronted by the fact that reason leads to faith?

This play will answer all these questions - and many more questions along the way. Bring your high school and college kids - the ones who think they have all the answers. They may be in for a surprising awakening when Socrates meets Jesus!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

My Conversion Story

My Conversion Story by Kevin O'Brien

Here it is, by request ...


Though I was raised in a nominally Lutheran tradition, and though I went to Lutheran grade school and later to a non-observant Catholic Montessori school, my parents were not particularly religious, and at a young age I was soon to become particularly not-religious.

Nine-year-old Atheist

At the age of nine, I saw Madeline Murray O’Hair on TV. She was a strident and public atheist who was typically over-the-top and in-your-face in denying God’s existence. And though her TV appearances were early Jerry Springer-type fiascos, with O’Hair being as inflammatory as possible, goading the audience into boos and cat calls, somehow she made perfect sense to me. “This Christianity is clearly all a fraud!” I remember thinking. “It’s being shoved down our throats for the purposes of controlling us!” The fact that elements of our faith were to be found in earlier pagan myths clinched the deal for me. I decided that Christianity was a myth, a product of wishful thinking at best and political control at worst. And being of a rebellious and freethinking nature, I spent most of my teen years mocking belief and believers.

The Next Stage

However as I approached my twenties, I began to find empirical evidence for a spiritual realm. I was, early on, called to be involved in acting. Much later, I would realize that this was a call – a vocation – that I could not deny. As St. Paul says, “Woe unto me if I do not preach the Gospel,” so I must say, “Woe unto me if I do not appear on stage”. In other words, it is not a career choice or a lifestyle choice for me. There are easier ways of making money, but I was constitutionally unable to do anything else. My love for theater – my near compulsion to do it – was an objective fact with which I had to struggle. There is a mystery to our individual characters, and my entire career is a story of me grappling with a fact, denying it, avoiding it, fudging it, and finally accepting it and all the turmoil that comes with it.

But this was not the evidence that began to convince me of spiritual reality. What moved me was this – throughout my childhood and adolescence, I had never had anything that challenged me; I found I was adept at many things on a superficial level and could skim through life using my wit, my charm, my intelligence – life was a game and one never needed to be fully engaged in it to play it. But in 1978 I began working with a man who was to prove to be a theatrical mentor to me, Jiman H. Duncan, who as a director demanded total commitment to stage work and a kind of raw honesty in acting. And suddenly I discovered that I couldn’t fake my way though something. Good acting, it seemed, demanded one’s entire self – it was a physical, emotional, intellectual exercise, and even that wasn’t enough! You could be in top physical condition, have your lines memorized so that you didn’t have to think about what to say next, have your emotional understanding of your character prepared and ready to go … and yet, if something didn’t “happen” on stage, if a moment didn’t strike you or your acting partners, if you weren’t inspired, then nothing terribly interesting would pass between you, and your scene – your whole play – could lie there rather lifeless and routine, completely “uninspired”.

This was the evidence of something “other”, something beyond me, something greater than me, whose intervention on stage could only be prepared for, but could not be forced. In fact, this inspiration was the result of a kind of sacrifice – this style of acting demanded that lots of valuable work be done up front and then abandoned in the moment of battle. Athletes probably understand this, and so do musicians, writers, and many others. Your training is meant to make you a vessel for something that takes you beyond yourself. Giving up complete control over your performance at the very moment of performance is a kind of losing yourself to find something greater than yourself. It is this 99 percent perspiration that makes the one percent inspiration possible. But that one percent did not fit into my worldview! The hard work may be from within, but that “inspiration” was from without. I had begun to have not only evidence, but regular experience with this “spirit” that inspired, this acting spirit or creative spirit, or what George Bernard Shaw called the “Life Force”.

Almost-Thinking about Almost-God

That’s the closest title I could find for what I had discovered. It was a “Life Force” or an “élan vitale”; it was that element that came from – where? I started reading lots of modern spiritual writers, most of whom were from the school of C. G. Jung. And I spent my years as a young man devoutly but vaguely spiritual. I did not see the irony that while I was congratulating myself for being so original in my thinking and so peculiar in my search for what to believe in, in fact I believed nothing new or original at all. I believed what almost everyone around us believes – that there is something beyond the nuts and bolts of our existence, but whatever this something is, it certainly doesn’t want anything from us – just a kind of benign good will should do. It may make its presence tangibly felt on stage, or in falling in love, or in any moment when you lose yourself, and it may be that force that drives all life, that desire, that motive that pushes us.

It may be such a motivating spirit … but a motive requires a destination, does it not? A desire implies something to satisfy that desire. I had refuted materialism by coming up with a World Spirit that had what I called “intentionality”, that is to say a definite intention for nothing-that-was-definite. And as intellectually vapid as that position was, I had settled there along with millions of New Pagans who hadn’t even thought it out that far.

Opportunity Only Knocks-Upside-the-Head Once

Then, when I was in my early thirties, God came around and knocked me upside the head … literally. I was physically assaulted by my employer at the time. He was a man who had a few “anger issues”, and he broke my nose and would have killed me had he gotten the chance. I suddenly lost my job and found myself a victim of a terrible injustice, with a wife and two kids to support and dozens of bruises to heal. I had some time to mull this over, to reflect upon what had put me in this position (I had, in my own words, “sold my soul” to work for this man), and to do some more reading. The first book I picked up in this emotional foxhole was God in the Dock, an anthology of Christian apologetic essays by C. S. Lewis.

Here was a find! This man could write. Not only that, he was the kind of writer I never knew existed – a Christian who could defend his faith rationally. I had always thought that faith in Christ demanded a sacrifice of reason, and yet this man used his powers of reason and his tremendous skills as a writer to make a very cogent case for something I had long thought was outmoded and ridiculous. I began to read everything by C. S. Lewis that I could get my hands on.

And I began to notice that a certain name kept coming up in Lewis’ writings, G. K. Chesterton, the man whose book The Everlasting Man converted Lewis himself. I checked out a book by Chesterton from our local library. It was called What’s Wrong with the World, and it was delightful! I read the whole thing and said to myself, “This Chesterton character is in some ways a better writer than Lewis, and he’s just as relevant as Lewis is. This book must have been written in Lewis’ day and yet everything in it seems to address the problems and issues of now. Not bad for a book written in what must have been the mid-1950’s.” And then I turned to the title page to see that What’s Wrong with the World was not written in Lewis’ heyday at all. It was written in 1910! “1910,” I thought, “What is this Chesterton – a prophet?”

As Lewis himself said, an atheist can’t be too careful about what he reads. And neither can a Vague Spiritualist. I read Lewis and Chesterton for most of 1997, and by the fall of that year, something was troubling me, stirring me, something that was moving beyond “intentionality”. How can the World Spirit want something unless it wants something in particular? How can any spirit want anything definite unless that spirit is also what we could call a person? Can all of this Trinitarian stuff be true? This Christianity – once explained – is certainly beautiful. Is it also True? If it’s not True, it can’t be called Beautiful. And if it is True, can I afford simply to admire its Beauty?

The Conversion

I recall pondering these things on a warm night walking in a cemetery near our house. The sun was just setting, and only silhouettes could be seen against the reddening sky. The first stars were just beginning to be seen. I was living a life at the time where I could justify anything. I was doing some rather false and awful things, and I knew that though they were dishonest, I felt I needed to do them to survive. “But if I take this Christian religion off the shelf,” I said to myself, “if it becomes more than just something I enjoy reading about … I’m going to have to change. I’m going to have to live out these words that I admire – to live out the Word, Himself. And what has my job always been as an actor? To live out words, to act out belief. But how much of my life will I have to give up – how many of these sins must I turn away from?” Thus I struggled, and thus I came very close to prayer.

Suddenly above my head there passed the shadow of a large flying creature – too big to be a normal bird. I froze in my tracks and watched this gigantic silhouette light upon … of all things … the cross atop the steeple of the cemetery chapel! A moment’s observation showed me what this creature was – an owl! I stood there watching the silhouette of this owl atop the silhouette of the cross with the dying glow of the setting sun behind them both and a bright evening star beginning to glow above the horizon. What does this mean? I asked myself. The owl – the symbol of wisdom – crowns the cross of Christ! Then, for the first time since my childhood, I prayed.

The Consolation

The next day I took some steps to turn away from my most obvious sins, though I knew it would cost me money, and we were having trouble making ends meet. That very day, before I even had a chance to worry about how as an honest Christian I was to provide for my family, before I had a chance to wonder how I was to get people to pay me without my somehow lying to them or fooling them, the telephone rang. A theater in Kansas I had contacted months prior, and which had turned me down at the time, but had kept my number on file, now called to say that they wanted to have me start producing shows there – and this act of Divine Providence coming the very morning I began to repent clinched my conversion.

I told my wife Karen what had happened and we began to go to church with the kids. We went to the nearest church to our house, a Lutheran Church Missouri Synod spot and we even enrolled in their “journey of faith” confirmation preparation program.

Journeys of Faith

One of the great blessings the Lord has given me has been the opportunity to experience a flavor from all ends of the spectrum of religious belief and unbelief. Not only did I journey from atheism through paganism to the Church, but within the Church we went from the right to the left, and finally settled in the middle.

After completing our several month confirmation course, Karen said she wanted to be confirmed in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, but I said I had some misgivings and suggested we talk to the pastor at that church about them. “I get the impression you’re fundamentalists,” I said to him. “Not at all!” he replied. “Don’t you believe in the literal interpretation of Scripture?” I asked. “Certainly,” he answered. “Unless a story is labeled as a parable, it’s literally true.”

“What about six days of creation?” I inquired. “That means six 24-hour days of creation,” he replied. “What about the evidence of the fossil record that disputes such a literal reading?” I pursued. “The fossil record was put there by Satan to deceive us,” he replied, and the case was closed.

From One Extreme to the Other

We then moved on to an Episcopalian church up the road, perhaps three miles away from the Missouri Synod, but light years away in belief. Or non-belief. The Episcopalians, it seemed, took nothing literally – not even the divinity or resurrection of Christ. We had gone from the frying pan to the fire.

I recall during a “journey of faith” confirmation class at the Episcopal church how one parishioner there was talking about how she had knitted or crocheted some sort of gift for her friends when they got married, something that said “Betty and John”, or whatever their names were. She said, “Betty divorced John and then came to me and said, ‘I’m going to marry my Lesbian lover, Judy. Will you take your gift and pull out John’s name and sew in Judy’s?’ And I was surprised that I found myself uncomfortable about this!”

I asked the only logical question, “If she had come to you and said, ‘I’ve divorced John and am marrying Ed. Will you pull out John’s name and sew in Ed’s?’ would you have felt uncomfortable?”

“Not at all,” she smiled, and our rector smiled with her. This is insane, I thought.

Later that same session, our rector handed out the “official Episcopal position on abortion”, which stated – “While the Episcopal Church acknowledges that life begins at conception, we also acknowledge a woman’s right to choose.” What nonsense! This is apparently the famed “via media”, the middle way between right and wrong, which middle way is patently absurd, I told myself.

Again later that same class session, a young Episcopal seminarian was bragging about how the Ten Commandments were of no current effect because they were “historically conditioned”, and how, “Paul’s epistles should be given no more authority than any letters I may write to a bunch of churches.” “First of all,” I said to him, “You could never write that well if you can’t think any better than this. And secondly, you could never hold either position on Shakespeare’s writings in a beginner’s English class on literary criticism. You may be able to get away with this at Eden Theological Seminary, but they’d boot you out of English 101 at the junior college if you tried to pull this on your first semester term paper.”

The class then devolved into a free-for-all (not unlike the Episcopal church itself) and I knew our time with the Episcopal community was at an end. To be fair, the rank and file in the pews that we met while Episcopalian were earnest, kind people who were doing their best to worship God. The leaders who ran the confirmation classes and apparently the entire church in America were convinced that their own esoteric version of quasi-Christianity was the true faith and that it somehow had to be sold to these poor saps who still believed in the more traditional version. The leaders were, in Chesterton’s words, “the supremely guilty section”.

Now What?

So we then took a few months off from church going, praying, and all the rest. To my wife’s credit, she would not stand for this. “What are we going to do?” she kept nagging me, and I was afraid to tell her what I more and more suspected. I was even willing to keep going to the Episcopal community, but on the condition that we never give them money and fund their anti-christian beliefs. This was not the kind of compromise my wife would accept. “What are we going to do?” she kept asking.

“I think we need to become Catholic,” I finally said.

“I will become Anything But Catholic!” she insisted.

Why? “Because they hate and torment homosexuals,” she responded.

By this time I had been reading Hilaire Belloc, Chesterton’s friend, and I had even gone so far as to have bought a Catechism of the Catholic Church. I opened the Catechism to the section on homosexuality, which states that homosexual acts are disordered (a fact that was common sense before the recent attempts at mind-control on this issue) and also that homosexuals should not be unjustly discriminated against. “Does this sound like hate and torment?” I asked Karen. She admitted that it did not, but still …

But still, thanks to the shepherding of my good friend and fellow Chestertonian, Mark Milburn, we were led to Father John Jay Hughes, a Catholic priest and former Anglican priest, and an Evelyn Waugh fan to boot, who gave us “private instruction”, quelling Karen’s doubts and confirming my desires. We both were received into the Catholic Church on July 30, 2000, which I later learned was 78 years to the day after G. K. Chesterton was received.

The Thing

This has been, as Maurice Baring said, “the only action in my life that I am quite sure I never regretted.” We have had our share of difficulties once we were in the Church, but as Cardinal Newman said, “ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt”.

As a convert, I often find my zeal to be greater than those around me, and this is hard, for sometimes it’s easy to be judgmental about other’s faith and complacent about your own. It’s also clear, however, that the Catholic Church is being undermined from within. Bad architecture and insipid music and subversive homilies are the tip of the iceberg. The feminist infiltration of parish elementary schools is even more serious. And yet the Church keeps dying and coming to life again, as Chesterton pointed out.

And so do we. The thing about The Thing, as Chesterton called it, about seriously seeking conversion to the True Faith, is that Our Lord continues to challenge us. Conversion is a continual death to the old Adam and a rebirth to the new. My conversion story did not end with our reception into the Church (in fact, it really only began there). Our Lord was not content with a momentary mood, for Jesus – and the prayers of Our Lady - continues to free us from sins and bring us closer to Him and his precious body and blood. “Lord, I am Your servant, the son of Your handmaid. You have loosed my bonds.” And may we all pray for a continued conversion to Christ.

And may we continue the task of Incarnation, of bringing Love into this fallen world through sacrifice – through acts of faith, hope, and charity – both onstage and off.