Well, I’ve tried before, but watching _The Journey Home_ tonight, I was inspired to try again. Here’s an email I sent to Marcus Grodi, asking to be a guest on his EWTN program. I also sent variants of the same email to _Life on the Rock_, and a few non-EWTN Catholic broadcasters.
I have written to you and EWTN previously about trying to be a guest on The Journey Home. I realize you rarely interview cradle Catholics, but the story of my life’s journey is important to share, and I may not have that much time left to share it. People talk about having a “bucket list” of things to do before one dies. Since I’ve always lived with an awareness of my own mortality, pretty much everything on my “bucket list” that’s in my own power has been accomplished. However, one major achievement would be to be interviewed on an EWTN program. I have a genetic disorder called Marfan syndrome, and this past New Year’s, I suffered an aortic dissection from my aortic arch down to my iliac arteries. It did not tear all the way through, but it tore all the way down. Going into that event, I already had an aneurysm in my descending aorta, four leaking heart valves (including an artificial “St. Jude” valve), two brain aneurysms and a “tortuous” carotid artery. When people ask “how are you doing,” one of my replies is, “Well, if I get any worse, I’ll be dead, and if I get any better, that will be a miracle.”
I had the privilege of meeting you and Mother Angelica briefly when my wife and I came to EWTN for our honeymoon back in 2000. We both got pictures with you, and I’ve included a link to the one you took with me in it, in case you might remember. We have also both had on-air e-mail questions on _Journey Home_. My wife sent in a question during Rob Evans’ appearance years ago, asking him to put on his “Donut Man” hat and glasses, and when Tom Howard was on with his wife in Fall 2007, I e-mailed in a question about the redemptive value of suffering, and he said, “That young man is more qualified to answer that question than I am,” or something to that effect.
When I suffered my aortic dissection in January, I received a great deal of positive words of encouragement and feedback about the impact I’ve made on people’s lives, including an e-mail from Dawn Eden. Here is a link to a blog post I wrote, reflecting on those comments. In 2000, during our engagement, my wife and I had the privilege of meeting Fr. Jacques Daley, OSB, through a mutual friend who was also a priest from St. Vincent’s Archabbey. Fr. Jacques said, “John, I love your enthusiasm! You’re electric!” In 1998, I presented at the Seattle C. S. Lewis Institute. Mark Shea was the chair of my panel, and I also met Peter Kreeft and Tom Howard there. Tom and I became friends and corresponded weekly for several years. My talk—about faith as a virtue in the writings of C. S. Lewis, St. Therese and Thomas Aquinas, and published on the Discovery Institute’s website–also incorporates examples from my life experience at the time. In addition to what I’ve already mentioned, and my blog and Facebook, fragments of my life story have been shared through the book We Met Online (Anthony Buono’s collection of Ave Maria Singles “success stories”), American Life League’s Celebrate Life magazine (Nov-Dec 2005 issue), Johnette Benkovic’s Canticle magazine, and Inside Catholic, among others. Tom Howard long ago gave me permission to “name drop,” and Deal Hudson called me a few years ago in response to a blog post (which ultimately resulted in the article I just linked) after I impressed him with a blog post, asking where I’ve been hiding all these years, and Brian Saint-Paul said the IC staff read my blog regularly.
Because of my health, I don’t have a lot of stamina, and most of my energy goes to caring for my children and teaching college part time online. I have an MA in English from Valdosta State University, where I wrote my MA thesis on C. S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces. My lack of worldly success to date is not for lack of effort, and I have made several attempts at getting interviewed on EWTN in the hopes that that might bring some attention to my small apostolate through my blog (The Lewis Crusade) and Facebook, as well as to promote my daily prayer audiobook, Hide Me In Your Wounds. I self published my CD in 2009 from Amazon, and it has had modest sales averaging to about $30 a month. I have received tremendous feedback about it. Veteran Nuns have told me it has changed their prayer lives. With the exception of a few comments about some of the technical flaws since it is entirely self-published, I have received nothing but positive feedback from both friend and stranger. A friend uses my CD in her CCD classes, and even some of the “flaws” have provided some positive feedback. My daughter recorded some of the simpler prayers, including the responses to the Litany of Saints, and she occasionally yawns or sighs during her responses to the Litany—which people have told me always makes a point of meditation for them.
I have had several “brushes” with death in my life, especially at 1 AM on 1/1/11, when I felt the worst pain of my life, even after my nightly blood pressure and pain medication, and I was certain I was dying and prayed for God to keep me alive long enough to see a priest. I have also experienced many miracles—not the “get a saint canonized” kind, but my entire life is testimony to Divine Providence and the power of prayer. I often tell people, “I’m  with a life expectancy of 20.” When I was diagnosed in 1980, the average life expectancy for a male with Marfan syndrome (basically, no lifestyle changes or medication or surgery, diagnosed posthumously) was early 20’s. Here is a bulleted list of my journey:
1. Somewhere around age 5, I was an atheist, for two reasons. First, I figured I’d seen Santa and the Easter Bunny at the mall, but I’d never seen God. Second, I didn’t understand when people said God was in church, but God was everywhere, but God was in Heaven. I went to Mass one Sunday with my aunt and protested that I didn’t want to be there because I didn’t believe in God. She pointed to the tabernacle and said God was in there, and I thought, “that’s absurd! God can’t possibly fit in there!”
2. Around age 7, I had picked up some pseudo-Oriental mystical beliefs from TV and thought that if I committed suicide, I could be reincarnated into a body that wasn’t disabled. A human interest story about me in the newspaper began with the story of how I locked myself in my room on my seventh birthday, crying and saying, “I didn’t break any mirrors—why did I get seven years of bad luck?”
3. First Communion Class explained to me what my aunt tried to explain. For First Communion, I received the Miniature Lives of the Saints series by Fr. Daniel Lord (whom Dawn Eden quoted in her e-mail to me), and two variant First Mass Books. I began reading all of them over and over, and for a while I was one of those kids who would “play mass,” till my parents told me it was wrong to pretend to be a priest.
4. My parents frequently had priests over to our home for dinner. Thankfully, the ones they were closest to were all very conservative, orthodox and/or spiritual. Those who were more worldly or liberal influenced me for the better as well by showing me that a) priests are men like the rest of us and b) there are some serious errors afloat in the Church.
5. In Fifth Grade, I read The Chronicles of Narnia, and was profoundly moved by the endings of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Last Battle. I usually refer to the night I finished The Last Battle as my great conversion experience.
6. In 1988, we moved to South Carolina, and my dad and I spent a year at an evangelical private school where he taught. I learned about Evangelical readings of Scripture for the first time and thankfully took what was good out of it while not being influenced against the Church. Indeed, I was known around school as the “Catholic kid” and people would come to me with their questions on Catholicism.
7. A priest friend from PA gave my parents a stack of copies of a then unknown Catholic newsletter called Catholic Answers by some guy named Karl Keating. I read those voraciously from ages 12-13.
8. In the summer before high school, I read all the C. S. Lewis books I could find at the public high school. When my parents put me in Catholic high school (I started at 13), I checked out every book in the library’s religion and theology section, from Gilson to John Paul II to the Code of Canon Law. I hoped to get a doctorate in theology someday, though God has had other plans thus far.
9. I graduated high school in 1993 at age 16, majoring in philosophy at the University of South Carolina. I had open heart surgery in 1996, between my Junior and Senior years, yet still graduated on time and two years ahead of my age.
10. On the night before my surgery, I watched EWTN (we didn’t get it where we lived). It was Fr. Jacques on Mother Angelica Live, talking about St. Therese (to whom I always had a devotion) and how she debated whether it was better to die young and go straight to Heaven or spend a long life on earth doing God’s work. When I survived my surgery, I dedicated my life to St. Therese. The surgeon who did my surgery had just moved to Augusta, GA, about a year before. He was an expert on Marfan syndrome who’d studied at Johns Hopkins, and my mother found out about him because of a speech he gave in Columbia, SC. It was, in secular terms, “totally by chance,” and we sent him my records (I was going through a tough time, and my echoes had been “normal”). We saw him in May, and we found out that my aorta had grown a half a centimeter in six months. He said I needed surgery. When he did the surgery, he said my aorta was within days of bursting, and I’d have died if I didn’t have the surgery already scheduled. A year after my surgery, he moved across the country.—one miracle.
11. In the coming year, I delved into Thomistic philosophy and Carmelite spirituality, while writing an honors senior thesis on C. S. Lewis as a systematic philosopher, and that resulted in the aforementioned paper.
12. When I delivered my paper at the C. S. Lewis Institute, it was a huge hit. The entire room, including my co-panelists, were lining up to meet me afterwards. Tom Howard and I hit it off instantly when we met at the speakers’ dinner, and he introduced me to Peter Kreeft the next day as a “rising star.” During the breaks and social times of the conference, when I wasn’t with Tom Howard, the director of the conference was taking me to meet his donors.
13. Around that time, I found out I had leaks in my artificial valve, and I might need surgery. Every six months for two years, my echo report was a little worse. In May 1999, for a variety of reasons, I felt most of my life’s goals had been achieved, and I believed that God was either preparing me for a new chapter or I was going to die. On May 24, 1999, I had my check-up, fully prepared for the worst. Instead, my cardiologist came in the room, with his jaw practically on the floor, saying, “They healed! The leaks are totally covered with scar tissue. This doesn’t happen.”—two miracles.
14. I met Mary in December 1999. We were engaged on the day we met in person, and married 6 months and two weeks later. I finished full time graduate studies towards my Master’s in English, but I got stalled on my thesis because my committee didn’t like my original idea. In summer 2001, we moved back to northern Virginia, where she grew up, in the hope that, with my experience to date, and my personal life experience, I might get a full time job with American Life League, Human Life International, Crisis or some other Catholic or pro-life organization up there. Nothing materialized. When our eldest was born in 2001, I opted to be a stay at home dad.
15. I finished my MA in 2003, got a job at Seton Home Study school, and my career took off. With the exception of a few periods of unemployment (either caused by health setbacks or by losing jobs due to excessive absences), I have been working for various colleges and other educational institutions since then. I’ve only ever held one part time job which I had to give up when my new aneurysm began developing in my descending aorta.
16. Mary and I moved back to South Carolina in 2007, where we joined a fantastic group of homeschoolers. I had begun formation as a member of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites back in Georgia in 1999, but my formation stagnated shortly after I made temporary promises in December 2001 (long story). In January 2009, I finally joined the local community in Columbia, SC, who are one of the most amazing “Church groups” of any sort I’d ever met. I made my temporary promises for the second time in December 2010, and my aorta dissected 2 weeks later.
17. I already shared how, on the night of my dissection, I prayed very hard just to live long enough to see a priest, but obviously God had more in store than that. Many miracles occurred around the time of my dissection, and many medical professionals I have spoken to since I’ve gotten out of the hospital have said that it’s a total miracle that I’m not only alive but doing as much as I’ve managed to do, even though I’m still doing a lot less than I would have before.
My life is totally in God’s hands, including whether I get a favorable answer to this e-mail. Like I said, I have contacted EWTN many times over the years, both by e-mail and “snail mail,” hoping to get interviewed, and I have not received any responses, though Our Lord often preached on the value of persistence (Luke 11). I may not have much time left, and I want to take every opportunity to have my story heard before I die. If God does plan on keeping me around here a while, I need a “big break” to have a career in spite of my severe disability. Your last few guests have been relatively young, and I started watching the March 21 program when I felt a deep inspiration to write you this message.
Thank you for taking the time to read my rather long story, and I hope to hear back from you soon.
Sincerely in Christ,
John C. Hathaway, OCDS
Please pray my e-mail receives a favorable response.