The Conversion of Scott and Kimberly: Heart and Intellect Together

One of Chesterton’s most Chestertonian obiter dicta is his remark that “If something is worth doing… it is worth doing badly.” Scott and Kimberly Hahn conclude the preface to the account of their pilgrimage into the Catholic Church with a self-effacing demurral that draws on this maxim.

Not so. Or rather, inappropriate. The Hahn’s story is worth telling, and they have told it well. Thousands of Catholics, and Protestants too, for that matter, are aware of this extraordinary young couple and the account of how first Scott, and then Kimberly, made their way home to Rome, so to speak. They have given us the narrative in taped form. Now we have the account in book form — Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism (Ignatius, 1993).

One of the most engaging features of the narrative is the “antiphonal” technique the Hahns have used in telling it. That is, we hear first Scott, then Kimberly, then Scott, then Kimberly, all the way through. This is a felicitous device for two reasons: first, it underscores for us the sense — and very important it is — that their marriage was very much at stake from beginning to end; and second, we hear the man’s voice, then the woman’s voice, throughout. Neither Scott nor Kimberly, I think, would at all wish to make a “political” point out of this (let’s safeguard equality by guaranteeing equal time for the woman): the technique springs from an infinitely deeper and richer awareness, of the great mystery of man and woman, and of how God Himself has told His story in terms not altogether unlike this.

The woman who said, “Be it done unto me according to Thy word” plays a crucial role in redemption, and hence in the Hahns’ narrative. And we might even go so far as to fancy that there is a third aspect to the antiphonality here: anyone familiar with the Psalms, and with the ancient liturgy of the Church to which the Hahns came, will know that antiphonality is very much of the essence. Deep calling unto deep. The host of heaven crying back and forth the Divine praises to each other. Heaven and earth echoing and reverberating with joy, back and forth. I do not think that it is carrying things too far to suggest that the narrative here participates in this joyous plenitude. The story itself moves, perilously and painfully at times, to its denouement, when we hear Scott and Kimberly calling to each other, “The Lord be with you!” — “And also with you!” But this point was not reached easily, or in a day.

Scott was a high school convert to Christian belief, and very early on developed a special devotion (as the papists whom he so much opposed might put it) to Martin Luther and John Calvin. To say that he was a zealot for the Reformed faith would be to put the matter too blandly. If he did not breathe out threatenings and slaughter like Saul of Tarsus, he certainly held forth, in college and seminary, for Protestantism, and for all that it taught concerning the notion of God’s covenant relationship with His people.

Kimberly, for her part, came from an earnestly Christian household, where she was taught the Scripture, like young Timothy, from her earliest childhood. She was a great “witness” in high school, carrying her Bible and battling it out in behalf of the Faith with colleagues and teachers alike.

Our hero and heroine met at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, and, after a courtship not without theological skirmishing, married and moved to Gordon Conwell Seminary in Massachusetts.

The Discomforts of Greater Graces

A blip appeared on the Protestant screen when first Kimberly, then Scott, ran into the topic of birth control. It seemed, alas, that all the great Reformers had taught an essentially Catholic position. Things got much worse presently when Scott found what looked suspiciously like a discontinuity between St. Paul’s theology and that of the Reformers. The good apostle had never taught sola fide (that we are saved by faith alone). Since this had been (and is) a cardinal principle of Protestantism’s critique of Catholic theology, a certain ominousness flickered around this discovery.

A pastorate in Virginia did not help matters. The notion of liturgy, and then of sacrament, alas, cropped up. Then, like a divine mallet banging away at Scott’s fervent Protestantism, came the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel (“unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood….”), and the patently unsatisfactory nature of Protestantism’s demurral here; and then, inexorably, sola Scriptura (the Bible alone — one of the Reformation’s main battle cries), which, ironically, did not seem to be claimed for itself by this Bible. Scott and Kimberly were never given the luxury of operating in a theological vacuum, however. Children were arriving by this time, and bread had to be put on the table. Back to a job at Grove City College; correspondence with Gerry Matatics, a friend from Gordon Conwell days who seemed also to be slipping onto the Roman skids; the acquiring of thousands of volumes from the theological library of a priest who had died (a great mistake: to borrow C.S. Lewis’s observation about a young atheist, a young Protestant can’t be too careful about his reading); the Rosary (if anything, an even worse mistake, tactically); the Virgin: Scott was clearly under siege.

Where was Kimberly in all of this? The narrative grows dark: “…by Scott’s continuing to change and my refusing to change, we were both starting not to trust one another. The foundation of trust in our marriage was being shaken tremendously. After one particularly agonizing day, I said to Scott, ‘I would never consider suicide, but I have begged God today to give me an illness that would kill me so that I can die and have all the questions laid to rest. Then you could find a nice little Catholic girl and get on with life.'”

It was at the Easter Vigil in 1986, after the Hahns had moved to Milwaukee for doctoral studies at Marquette University, that Scott finally was received into the ancient Church. Kimberly’s narrative here draws on words like “devastated,” “betrayal,” and “like a dagger in my heart.” (She was not thinking of an exalted analogy here, but there had been another woman also pierced because of the fidelity of One close to her. Kimberly would be the first to point out that the analogy breaks down in so far as Mary’s pain did not stem from her unwillingness to accept God’s will, whereas Kimberly’s did, at least in part. Nevertheless, a reader can scarcely keep from smiling wryly at the way she was almost being “set up” — for great consolations.)

The Brokenness Which Heals

To have to live in a mixed marriage was anything but easy. A woman offered help by reminding them that they could know, by experience, “the apostolate of the broken Body of Christ.” After a move to Joliet, Illinois, where Scott had been offered a job teaching at the College of St. Francis, Scott was asked to give a talk for Catholic Answers; this speech became the famous “The Tape,” which now has been heard by thousands of people.

A book review should never “tell all,” quite. Of the Hahns’ move to the Franciscan University of Steubenville, and of Kimberly’s finally being received into the Church, let us say, “Read about it.” The interplay of family life (including the loss of two babies through miscarriage) and the huge truths that were being unfurled, one after the other (transubstantiation; the role of Mary in redemption and in the life of the Christian believer; Purgatory), and exciting events (a visit, for Scott, with the Holy Father) — it is a record redolent of God’s bounty and covenant love.

Whether any of us will live to see anything like a “movement” of return to the fold on the part of believers separated from the ancient Church is by no means certain right now. But testimonies, like this from Scott and Kimberly Hahn, will greatly encourage those who are en route, and will also help to illuminate things for others who cannot see their way to joining any such pilgrimage, but whose spirits are open at least to hearing what God appears to be doing in this connection in our own time.

By

Thomas Howard is the author of Evangelical is not Enough and C.S. Lewis, Man of Letters: A Reading of His Fiction.

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