If you’re looking for an improbable heroine for the Catholic faith, you couldn’t find anyone more improbable than Leah Libresco.
Leah grew up Long Island, USA. Her family had no real religion to speak of. And it wasn’t until she went to Yale that for the first time she actually got to know Christians. It was when Leah – an avowed atheist — started to date a young man who was Catholic. But she made a pact with him: she would go to Mass with him if he would go to ballroom dance class with her. She read books he recommended by C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton, and she began debating anyone and everyone about religion.
She started a blog called Unequally Yoked, taking its name from a line in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.”
Her relationship with the Catholic man didn’t last. But her curiosity about his faith did.
In time, her blog became spectacularly popular; Leah questioned Christianity day after day with mathematical precision and enthusiastically engaging readers in philosophical debates about morality, logic and ethics.
So what happened in six years ago back in 2012 made headlines and left a lot of people simply stunned.
On her blog, Leah Libresco announced that she had begun taking RCIA classes at a parish in Washington, DC.
One of the world’s most widely read young atheists was converting to Catholicism.
In the days after her announcement, she was interviewed by CNN and religion writers. The blog post announcing her conversion logged over 150,000 hits. Atheists couldn’t quite believe it. Catholics were overjoyed.
Leah Libresco joins some illustrious company of former atheists – including C.S. Lewis, Edith Stein, and the late Cardinal Avery Dulles. But beyond that, there is this remarkable idea: she is a woman who stands in happy defiance of the expectations of the world. Young Yale-educated feminist atheist intellectuals aren’t supposed to become Catholic.
But Leah did just that. Her journey has not been easy. She still has a lot of questions and misgivings. But this Sunday she will be sitting in a Catholic church and encountering, along with all of us, this simple and unwavering declaration from the gospel:
Do not be afraid; only have faith.
In this Sunday’s Gospel from Mark we have two miracle stories which are interwoven together. It begins with Jairus’ request to Jesus to heal his daughter, moves to Jesus healing the woman with a haemorrhage and ending with Jesus arriving at the house of Jairus. In both stories Jairus and the woman have faith. They believe Jesus can heal. In fact Jairus is challenged twice. In the beginning he believes that Jesus can heal his very sick daughter. He subsequently finds out she has died. Will he also believe that Jesus can raise his daughter to life? Jesus tells him: Do not be afraid; only have faith.
Like Leah Libresco they both had barriers to overcome. Jairus was one of the leaders of the local synagogue. Up until this point in Mark’s Gospel synagogue leaders had been hostile to Jesus. Jairus could have also done this. However he chose to surrender to Jesus by falling at this feet and making an act of faith. The woman with the haemorrhage could have felt a great sense of her own unworthiness: I am unclean, I am dirty and unworthy. And yet she refuses to feel frightened by the crowd around her also falls at his feet and makes an act of faith. “If I can even touch his clothes…I shall be well again.” Leah said one of the things that has helped her come to faith is simply accepting a God who came to help.
This gospel calls out to all of us who struggle, who question, who search, who doubt. It cautions us to surrender all of that and just trust. We are challenged to “let go and let God.“ Let go of scepticism. Let go of cynicism and all the “yeah, buts” that get in the way. Let God do His work.