A review of the book, No Turning Back: A Witness to Mercy by Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC.
Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you (1 Peter 5:6).
“That guy’s a priest?”
This is what my awe-struck father whispered to me as we listened to Father Donald Calloway, MIC share his conversion story at a men’s conference in Portland, Oregon.
“Yes, Pop, he is,” I answered.
“He’s worse than me!” my father retorted.
I laughed … hard!
Let me explain.
My father would not have won any “Father of the Year” awards while my siblings and I were growing-up. My dad was not a religious man but a pagan who never went to church. He had three loves in his life: alcohol, cigarettes, and women. You can imagine what life was like in our house.
I remember the day my relationship with my father went from bad to non-existent. When I informed him of my decision to join the Benedictines, he was not only disappointed—he was angry. What he said went something like this: “You’re going to do what!?” He then reminded me: “You are the first person in the family to go to college. I spent all that money sending you to one of the best universities in the country. You studied economics and business, and instead of making something of yourself, you are going to waste your life in that monastery living with a bunch of men? What’s wrong with you? What I am supposed to tell my friends?” I won’t repeat what I said to him, but on that day he became like Lazarus in the tomb: he was dead to me.
Eighteen years later, Jesus reminded me that he raised Lazarus from the dead.
After not having a meaningful relationship for most of my life with the man who destroyed our family, I met with my father after he claimed to “find Jesus.” During our time together, I did not hear words of sorrow and repentance for his many sins and transgressions, words I so longed to hear from him. Instead, this talented and gifted musician who was lost and now found, who only now—after seventy-four years—came to faith in Jesus, showed me the meaning of fatherhood by his example when he sang this song:
“O Lord, sweet Jesus, have mercy on me. My eyes were wide open, yet I failed to see. Dear Lord, I beg you have mercy; please, have mercy on me. I am so sorry. Lord, forgive me. Please show me the way. I can’t go on living this life without you. Sweet Jesus, please tell me what to do. Lord, I’m depending on you. I want to live a life that’s honest and true. I will let nothing stand in my way. Sweet Jesus, please hear my prayer. O Lord, teach me how to pray, I beg you, because at times I know not what to say but when I think of Calvary I know my Jesus loves me. Dear Lord, I beg you have mercy.”
As my eyes filled with tears, I asked my father, “What happened to you? How is this possible?” What he said next left me in stunned silence and awe: “The Blessed Mother and Divine Mercy.”
You’re probably wondering, “What does this have to do with No Turning Back?” In a word: everything! The true story that I related about my father pales in comparison to the absolutely incredible—almost unbelievable—conversion story of Father Donald Calloway, a boy on the road to an early grave who has become, in my opinion, one of the greatest priests of our time.
The first ten chapters of No Turning Back are a jaw-dropping, heart-pounding thrill ride filled with tales of sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll. The second half of the book is a beautiful, Spirit-inspired testimony to both the awesome power of God’s grace and mercy, and to the efficacious mediation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Its an amazing dichotomy but that’s what makes No Turning Back so compelling: we all know someone who we think is a “lost cause,” someone who has no faith, no morals, no conscience; who could care less about their life or anyone else’s; who has zero sense of dignity and self-worth and who, quite frankly, would be better off in jail … or worse. We have given-up on them because they have given-up on themselves. This was the young Donald Calloway. He writes:
“[…] I was living exactly the life I wanted to lead. I believed that the hallucinogens were enriching my life, allowing me to experience a whole different dimension of thinking […] There were times that I did so much LSD that everyone looked like and moved like a turtle. In those days, I was so stoned out of my mind that I don’t even know how I sustained life” (page 117).
And after discovering the richness, beauty, and truth of the Catholic faith through the Blessed Mother and Divine Mercy, he writes,
“Mixed with my prayers was a sense of gratitude and humility. I know where I was when Mary found me and brought me to the feet of her Son, Jesus. I even said to Our Lady on one occasion: ‘Mother, you have called me to this [the Catholic faith] and I know that it is because of you that I know the real Jesus. And I am totally willing to lay down my life and be a victim with him because I should be dead. I don’t deserve to live, yet I know the fullness of truth has been revealed to me’” (page 186).
This book is an absolute must read for every teen who is enticed by the lure of the culture, especially teens in crisis: for teens who are addicted to drugs, alcohol, and sex; for teens who are gang involved or incarcerated, and for all those who love them and dedicate their lives to making a difference.
This book should be required reading for everyone who believes there is no God or that the Catholic faith is a bunch of superstitious nonsense, or who think there is an absolute disconnect between faith in God and the lived experience. No Turning Back reminds us that God is real and that, if we have the courage to seek the Truth with an open mind and heart (cf. John 14:6), we will be swept away by a tidal wave of divine love and into the ocean of the Father’s inexhaustible mercy where we will the ride the wave of life in safety and without fear, for “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).
I fully endorse and highly recommend Father Calloway’s book, No Turning Back: A Witness to Mercy! I am indebted to Father Calloway for his humility in sharing his story of God’s incredible power, love and mercy—a story that has significantly affected my own father’s life and the life of our family.
But the story doesn’t end with his ordination to the priesthood. The last chapter of the book is entitled, “Ongoing Conversion.” Father Calloway, a holy priest who has written a stellar and moving autobiography, and who travels the world speaking about the Catholic faith, is not arrogant enough to think that he has “made it.” On the contrary, he asks his readers to pray for him (“I want to be holy, but it’s a spiritual battle,” page 262). Father Calloway knows all too well that he (and all of us) must
“Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you” (1 Peter 5:8-10).
There is a powerful lesson here. The virtue of hope flows from a dynamic relationship with the Living God in humble obedience to the voice of the Holy Spirit, for “the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:27-28). “Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present … even if it is arduous” (Spe Salvi, 1).
This reality transformed Father Calloway’s life and can transform our lives as well, for nothing is impossible with God.
©2011 Aurem Cordis and Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers