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The Light of Faith – How I was Converted by two College Classmates I Never Knew

February 14, 2017 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach

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The Light of Faith – How I was Converted by Two College Classmates I Never Knew

 

Seeds of the Word (Week 7 of 11)

In “New” atheist and secularist circles today, faith is regularly ridiculed. It is presented as a pre-scientific mumbo jumbo, Bronze Age credulity, the surrender of the intellect, unwarranted submission to authority, etc. Time and time again, the late Christopher Hitchens, echoing Immanuel Kant, called on people to be intellectually responsible, to think for themselves, to dare to know. This coming of age would be impossible, he insisted, without the abandonment of religious faith. — Seeds of the Word  (“Why Faith is Indeed a Light”, Paragraph 1)

25 years ago, I majored in English and Political Science – two areas of study where the enlightened were encouraged to drop their faith at the front door in order to allow for a “free” and “realistic” exchange of ideas. At the time my faith was virtually nonexistent, so I had no problem tossing it aside and diving right into the discussion. I was thrilled to be engaged in such great intellectual stimulation!

An avid reader who traversed the campus library in search of Kant, Voltaire, and Lock, I honestly believed that I was too smart to have faith. I acknowledged in my heart that it was a nice “crutch”, but that it was meant for those who were, maybe a little slower on the uptake. For those who were perhaps not as learned as I.

Unlike some students, I didn’t turn my back on my childhood faith. Truth be told, as a child, my access to religion consisted of a church service maybe once or twice a year at Christmas or Easter, so I didn’t have much to go on. Whether because their interfaith marriage (Catholic and Methodist) left them torn, or because of a lack of commitment on both their parts, my parents pretty much dropped their respective beliefs at the door of the little chapel where they were wed, and my siblings and I were raised with very little reference to God.

Not surprisingly, I sought knowledge with a vengeance, but spent very little, if any, time considering the notion of faith. I remember asking a friend, “What if, a hundred years from now, people smile as they share stories about our God, just as we smile when we read Greek Mythology?” ‘Weren’t they cute to think up all those crazy stories?’ they’ll say. ‘They sure are entertaining!‘” What little time I spent thinking about the Gospel left me confused. The idea that God came down from heaven to die on a cross and save man from his sins? Ridiculous.

But then came a light.

While sitting in a Political Science class my junior year in college, I listened to an atheist political philosophy professor go on and on about how Christianity was invented as a means of suppressing the poor. In a tirade that was part History, part Philosophy lesson, he assured us that the “powers that be” in the political world took specific steps to control the masses. He added that The Beatitudes were a great way to fool the downtrodden into thinking they had much to look forward to after death, if only they would suffer their lot quietly now. Blessed are the poor, for they shall be comforted; blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth… “This,” he declared, “was an ingenious concept – because the ‘powers that be’ knew the dead would not come back to prove them wrong.”

I have to admit that his lecture made a lot of sense to me. I was sold. Right there in Political Philosophy 301, I became an atheist.

For about two minutes.

I will never forget what happened when our professor paused for questions.

Two students who sat in the middle of the classroom raised their hands in tandem and took turns politely contradicting the professor’s claims. To this day, I don’t know whether those two students knew each other. To be honest, I don’t even remember what they said. Neither do I recall how the professor responded. All I remember was that these two students were polite, confident and beyond reproach. They knew what they believed. They also knew that the instructor was wrong.

I, on the other hand, had no clue. I had been ready to sign away any possibility of an all-powerful Creator Being based on a few words from a college professor. When he spoke, his words made sense. But now, to hear these students respond – they made great sense too. I remember thinking, I have no idea who’s right; but I do wish that I had as much confidence in the truth – whatever it is – as these two classmates. Frankly, they were more certain about the truth than the professor. I know this because when they confronted him, he was unsure how to respond. It was almost as if he had his basic talking points, but, like a straw man, they fell apart immediately upon close examination.

I never met those two students. I don’t know their names. But I have to wonder how many straw-man arguments from college professors or others have led college students astray over the years? On the other hand, how many classes are blessed with students who will stand up for the Truth?

Imagine had those students remained silent. What if they had known the truth, but had lacked the courage to share? To raise questions?

Bishop Barron says,

In the absence of faith in the one God, a person necessarily drifts from idol to idol, that is to say, from one fleeting value to another. One of the Pope’s most brilliant observations is that idolatry, therefore, is always a type of polytheism, a chase after a multiplicity of gods, none of which can satisfy: “Idolatry does not offer a journey but rather a plethora of paths leading nowhere and forming a vast labyrinth.” – p. 125

This was me. Not fleeting from value to value, but from belief to belief. Searching for truth here, there and yonder, accepting what sounded good, I was never really satisfied. I amassed knowledge for the sake of knowledge, believing that somehow a greater intellect would serve me well.

On the other hand,

By accepting God’s overture, the faith-filled person finds the supreme value, which unifies and gives direction to the whole of his life; he basks in the light, which illumines every aspect of his existence. – p. 125

Those two students will never realize what they brought to the darkness that day. Their faith led me to ask questions in a way that I had never thought to ask. Their light shone. And to this day, I bask in it. They led me to seek The Truth, rather than merely seeking knowledge. Because of them, I no longer just wanted to know; I wanted to KNOW. Their faith provided a candle – a light that truly was a beacon of hope in a world of darkness. A world that – but for the brilliance of their light – I might never have realized was dim.

Who knows how many other unsuspecting students were enlightened that day?

In Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith), Pope Francis tells us

Faith is passed on, we might say, by contact, from one person to another, just as one candle is lighted from another. Christians, in their poverty, plant a seed so rich that it becomes a great tree, capable of filling the world with its fruit.

Thank you, God, for placing those students in my path. May I, too, pass the candle of faith on to others who – like my former self – may unknowingly live in the shadows of material “enlightenment”.

 

Reading Assignment:

Why it Matters that our Democracy Trusts in God – Why Anti-Catholic Prejudice Ought to Bother Everyone

Discussion Questions:

1. Whether a convert to the faith or a cradle Catholic, do you have a conversion story to share? Who shared their light with you?

2. Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!

 

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For More Information on the Book Club:  http://spiritualdirection.com/csd-book-club

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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the SpiritualDirection.com book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at pelicansbreast.com

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  • Mike

    Though regrettable, it is certainly understandable how you can no longer reconstruct what the two students had to say.

    Perhaps we could turn this around and ask what we would say today, faced with the same barrage. (We can be confident that the professor’s same arguments are still being peddled as cutting-edge enlightenment.)

    One thing that occurs to me is that an elite class requires minions. The elite cannot allure the pure of heart into becoming minions. The elite cannot buy the poor in spirit in order to recruit minions. The elite cannot appeal to the arrogance of the meek in order to recruit minions. The minions must be malleable and cannot be strong practitioners of the Beatitudes. Practitioners of the Beatitudes may number among downtreadable masses, but you cannot build a truly exploitative power structure without corruptible minions.

    • Vicki

      Mike, My husband and I were just talking about this today – on the flip side. We were talking about the notion that it has become the norm to proclaim that all religions are the same – that there is no universal truth. It occurred to us that the only way to share the truth is to live it. When truth is witnessed, it is undeniable – and so attractive! Not only would we be un-corruptible, but transformation in our culture would take place in the other direction – from the ground up! God bless!

  • Miguel Daly

    Thank you for this excellent piece. Faith is a gift, and while I never lost it, I didn’t always live it. I remember a college class- psychology of the individual- during the late 1970s where the Professor promoted feminism, gay rights, abortion, pre marital sex, as the “new morality”. A young married Baptist couple asked if they could present an alternative Biblical view of sexuality and psychology. The professor agreed- and they did an outstanding job- marriage was the union of two immortal souls. It had a supernatural. Dimension. I admired their courage for standing up for Truth! It was nearly 40 years ago and I still remember their Faith-based lecture.

    • Vicki

      Wow – would that every professor would allow the same! That is beautiful!

  • m

    Amazing story! I was not this great example of faith to you, but I had a philosophy class and refuted the professor when he made his assertions about Christianity I KNEW were wrong. There was an evangelical boy in the class as well that also supported Christianity, but we didn’t become friends or anything because I was…well..CATHOLIC you know. But I always hoped that the two of us asking questions the professor could not or would not answer had an effect on the others in the class that never spoke up. BTW, I got a C in the class, which surprised me. I actually called my parents and set them up for the big F I thought I was getting.

    • Vicki

      God bless you for your courage!! Who knows how many people your words affected?! I speak for every one of them when I say – THANK YOU!!!! There is not substitution for a witness to the Truth – and on college campuses, those witnesses are desperately needed!

  • Michelle

    Beautiful story of evangalazation! I’m going to share this with my grandson who is being Confirmed this Spring and heading to college in the Fall.

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