By Fr. George Welzbacher
June 6, 2010
Most fittingly as we celebrate today the Feast of Corpus Christi, offering our humble thanks to Christ for this, His greatest gift to us on earth, the Holy Eucharist, the heart of the Church, we welcome our Archdiocesan Chief Shepherd, Archbishop John C. Nienstedt, as he graciously visits our parish to preside as Chief Celebrant at the eleven o'clock Mass. The Archbishop is the pastor in chief of every Catholic parish in the 12 counties that constitute the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Here at St. John's I am simply his deputy. At the altar, in the pulpit, in the confessional and indeed in every official capacity I act as his representative. We rejoice at his presence among us, and we pray that God will grant him good health and a superabundance of blessings for many years to come!
* * * * *At a time when the secularist and secularizing media have chosen the Church to be their target of preference-witness the cover of the latest issue of Time (a.k.a. Slime) magazine, presenting Pope Benedict's aged figure hung with the logo: Being Pope Means Never Having to Say 'I'm Sorry', and all this despite his very moving and repeated meetings with the victims of clerical abuse, as, for example, on his apostolic visit to America in 2008- it's encouraging to take note of some remarkable conversions to the Catholic faith in the recent and not too distant past. I thought you would find the following article inspiring. It was written by Mary Eberstadt and it appeared in that remarkable magazine The Weekly Standard for May 17, 2010.
* * * * *The Convert Conundrum
By Mary Eberstadt
The Weekly Standard of May 17, 2010
We interrupt the latest bilious rants about religion with a respectful bulletin. Mid-April marked the passing of British philosopher Anthony Flew, perhaps the most famous atheist-turned-theist [believer in God] of recent times. It's a moment that seems especially worth reflecting on these days, as the West's media-intoxicated celebrity atheists lunge once again for the wheel of public debate. A scourge of believers for much of his life, Flew penned numerous works attacking theism [belief in God] over the years, including one of the most famous atheist tracts of the 20th century.("Theology and Falsification"). Yet over 50 years later, via the straightforwardly entitled book There Is A God, he announced to the world that he'd changed his mind and become a deist, albeit one who still rejected the specifically Christian conception of God. Research on DNA, Flew submitted, "has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that INTELLIGENCE must have been involved."
Retaliation was swift--one might even say Darwinian. The same enforcers now dangling handcuffs at Pope Benedict leapt to deride Flew for his newfound belief, insinuating odiously here and there that the philosopher had simply lost his mind. Beneath the grandstanding, though, these former atheist allies also betrayed a distinct uneasiness about l'affaire Flew-and understandably so. For quirky though that late nod to deism may have appeared, Flew's story is nevertheless emblematic of a tradition far deeper and more interesting than today's increasingly hysterical baiting of believers.
That is the long, rich, and multi-dimensional history of individual conversion to some form of belief-and not only by those "poor, uneducated, and easy to command, " as a Washington Post reporter once described rank and file believers. In addition to the impoverished illiterates-among whom conversion stories abound-there is what might be called the convert elite: the long parade of educated and worldly men and women, beginning back with one called Saul and continuing on to the 21" century, who have deliberately, often seemingly inexplicably, signed on to wearing the Christian label
It's a history all the more remarkable given the liabilities that such a turnaround often guarantees. In many of the "best" places, after all, the surest route to laughingstock status is declaring oneself a believer. And yet the parade into Christianity continues, including high-profile conversions and a slew of recent books offering testimonials (Chosen, A Century of Catholic Converts, Women in Search of Truth, and Joseph Pearce's Literary Converts among them). Why? For some, the answer appears to be personal epiphany-though not all experience it quite so dramatically as Paul. Whittaker Chambers, for example-one of the more notorious converts of his own day-reported that it was in studying the ear of his infant daughter that "the finger of God was first laid upon my forehead." Sir Alec Guinness, one of many in the venerable tradition of English converts to Rome, had one of the more unusual wake-up calls; it came to him as he was playing Father Brown, the detective in the G. K. Chesterton series.
Other converts apparently find faith another way-via a search for intellectual communion with some of the great minds of history. The 2009 collection Chosen, which presents the personal stories of 23 Catholic converts, offers several examples. Some, like anthropologist Stephen Mosher, cite the powerful effect of reading Thomas Aquinas (followed up, in Mosher's case, by witnessing a forced abortion in China). Convert Austin Ruse, now a prominent Catholic activist, reports that his own search began as a rebellion against the easy disdain of his professors toward "the thing that has occupied the greatest minds of all time"-- only to find his own search for that same thing ending in Rome.
And still others opt for faith precisely because of the teachings that today's atheists along with many secular people find risible. Malcolm Muggeridge, for example, who toyed with the idea of converting for much of his life, cited finally "the Catholic Church's firm stand against contraception and abortion." Other converts, shocking though it might seem in these secular times, evidently agree. In recent weeks came another prominent convert: Hadley Arkes, professor of jurisprudence at Amherst and a leading figure in the pro-life movement, who cited his conviction of the Church as a "truth-telling institution."
The question of why so many thinking people cross the convert Rubicon even now-is just one of the many imponderables raised by even a brief consideration of religious conversion stories. It also reminds us that there is more in heaven and earth than is dreamed of in the philosophy of our celebrity Christian-bashers-as the departed Antony Flew, however belatedly and with whatever qualifications, would roundly have agreed.
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