Friday, January 1, 2010

A Decade of Decades

Although this isn’t technically a new decade until 2011, we can still pretend, and so I found myself musing on where I was ten years ago, before the apocalyptic Y2K bug was about to bite us all.

On December 31, 1999 my actress and I were at a swank New Year’s Eve party at the Missouri Governor’s Mansion, performing an inter-active murder mystery for Governor Carnahan and his guests. This was a costume party, and the governor came dressed as Charles Lindbergh– which became sad and ironic not long after when he and his son were killed in the crash of a small plane they were piloting while campaigning for the U.S. Senate.

I think of where I was intellectually and spiritually then. At the time I was struggling with the Episcopalian denomination, and a church that had let us down. After my conversion from atheism, my wife and I for a while attended Lutheran Church Missouri Synod services, until I realized that their fundamentalism and literalist interpretation of Scripture was something I could not endure. We then flipped to the opposite extreme, and started attending an Episcopalian church not far from our home. Although their services and music were beautiful, these folks bragged at having “no doctrine”, and when they paraded their official “no doctrine”, the Episcopalian position on abortion, I was astonished. “We believe that life begins at conception AND we support a woman’s right to choose an abortion,” they boasted, passing around a mimeographed sheet of this statement, which came from some Episcopalian conference somewhere. How can a woman have a right to abort if life indeed begins at conception? How can both things be true? They can’t, but this is the vaunted Anglican “via media”, the middle way, slicing the baby in half, compromising between truth and error, violating the law of non-contradiction.

My compromise, my via media, was simply to stop going to church anywhere for a while – Lutheran, Episcopalian, or what have you. To her credit, my wife Karen would not stand for this, and she kept pestering me to find a church we could stick with. To my credit, I suggested the Catholic Church, which did not make Karen happy. “I will become Anything But Catholic,” she insisted.

Well, to make a long story short, we took private instruction and were received into the Catholic Church July 30, 2000 and after a dreadful R.C.I.A program, confirmed at the Easter Vigil of 2001.

But this was really just the beginning.

For a long time I struggled with Catholic teaching and lived the cafeteria mentality. And while I can point to an utter lack of good role modeling in the cafeteria Catholics around me, my conscience was troubled, and I knew this was no excuse. You see, the Holy Spirit had taken great pains to bring me from my self-indulgent and self-sufficient atheism into the Catholic Church. It was the last thing that anyone would ever have expected in my life. And yet here I was living just like the suburban Catholics around me, which is to say, living like a secular modernist who had never even heard of Jesus.

I do not have room here to describe my intellectual journey once inside the Church, a journey that eventually brought me to a point where my Confirmation became interiorized. I am not saying I am the perfect Catholic, but I am saying that by 2003 or so I was making every effort to live like one – with all the attendant sacrifices, failures, and frustrations. For a long while I was Catholic only nominally, and my spiritual journey did not begin in earnest when I abandoned atheism; it did not begin in earnest when I forsook Lutheran fundamentalism; it did not begin in earnest when I renounced Episcopalian liberalism; it did not even begin in earnest when I was received and Confirmed into the One True Church.

It began in earnest a few months after I began to pray the Rosary.

The family was on a trip to Duluth, Minnesota in the spring of 2002. I had been continuing to read Chesterton, Belloc, the Catechism, and other things in my ongoing wrestling match with Catholic Faith and Morals. We stopped at a beautiful church somewhere in Wisconsin, and I picked up a pamphlet on the Rosary and how Our Lady of Fatima had asked us to pray it daily. “What could it hurt?” I thought, and so I gave it a shot, ever day, with the booklet in hand, until I had memorized the prayers and could pray them without reading them. I would try to say, reflecting on each mystery, “What are the lessons this mystery teaches me? What’s going on here and how can I apply it to my life?”

And though I noticed no change in me, from that lowly point everything changed. I eventually stopped fighting the Church, and found myself giving my life and talents in the dramatic arts to the Lord. And all that I have done since then by God’s grace – all of the sins I’ve overcome, all of my creative work with the Theater of the Word, EWTN, the Chesterton Society and so forth, all of the blessings in our marriage and family life – all that can be traced back to Our Lady of Victories and her Rosary. These simple prayers were the key to this past decade. Or you might say these simple decades were the key to this past decade.

May Mary, the Mother of God, whose feast we celebrate on New Year’s Day, bless you all. And may her Holy Rosary continue to bring us Victories.


Mark P. Shea said...

One of the grace of my life has been the chance to meet, get to know, and work with you, Kevin! Thanks for being a vessel of grace! Here's hoping we get to do more in the coming years!

Nancy C. Brown said...

What a beautiful and moving story, and how blessed you are to have such a wonderful rosary story. Wow. I'm really touched. Thanks for sharing this.

Mrs. O'Riordan said...

Bless you for sharing this. I'm a revert and had become a Baptist and I may now say that only for the fact that I came back "home" my two youngest sons would neither have been conceived nor born!!! The teachings of the Catholic Church are from God. Jesus founded only one Church. Thank God for the faithful priest who challenged me on my (erroneous)beliefs. Blessings - Rene

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I loved this. The rosary brought me back too- although I had not officially ever left:

Paul said...

I just watched "Old Thunder" on EWTN so took a look at your, this site. For 18 months my family was filling plastic displays in the back of our Church and occasionally one or two others with a Marian pamphlet "How To Pray The Rosary". After a few thousand (they go like...bulletins), I decided maybe they weren't really being used and would stop. Thank you for your article - I will resume putting them out there! An always practicing cradle Catholic (juvenile understanding), that's the same way I learned to say the Rosary when I was in my mid-twenties! ("dreadful RCIA", funny - like my catechism). Thank you!!!(Mary).

H. Hobbit said...

The picture at the end of this post is so beautiful.......can I have permission to download it to my computer and use it?

I have just discovered this blog via, and I have spend a wonderful few hours browsing through it! I look forward to your future posts-- even if I can't download the picture ;) THANK you for your ministry!

Kevin O'Brien said...

H. Hobbit, yes you may. I took that picture. It is of a stained glass window by Emil Frei Company, at the back of a church in Old Monroe, Missouri. We also sell framed prints of it.

H. Hobbit said...

Thank you, Kevin! Can you send me or post a link so that I can order a copy of the picture? It's a beautiful piece of art!

Kevin O'Brien said...

H. Hobbit, we're trying to work out an ecommerce solution, since people want to purchase a number of our items - pictures, videos, audio books, etc. I'll get you the info next week! You can always email me - info @

H. Hobbit said...

You mentioned that there would be a way to possibly purchase this wonderful picture of Mary? I can't find a link on the website-- or am I missing something?