Wednesday, January 12, 2005

A nun teaches me about faith.

Sister Helen Prejean, as you may know, is the author of Dead Man Walking, and was played by Susan Sarandon in the movie of the same name. I heard her interviewed on NPR yesterday, and thought, “Hmm…I’ll have to read her new book.” When I heard she was speaking at the Free Library of Philadelphia that very evening, I decided to go hear her speak. I’m glad I did.

Like me, she’s ardently against the death penalty, but unlike me, she has lots of first-hand experience with the way the death penalty is meted out and how it works. However, that’s not what so impressed me about her. During the hour she spoke, I was transfixed by her eloquence, her warmth, and her tart Louisiana wit. She’s a Catholic nun, but the words she spoke rang true in this atheist’s heart. You can read a PBS interview with her, if you like.

I have lots of Catholic friends, some of whom are quite devout, but until last night I never really understood why they believed as they do. When I left the library I thought, “So this is why people are Catholic!” What I heard from Sister Prejean was not the tired old vote-against-gay-marriage-and-ban-abortion nonsense you get from this or that bishop, but a real, substantive message of hope and community redemption. I also thought, “Why is this woman speaking at a library on a Tuesday night, and not from her seat on the floor of the Senate?”

Anyway, the evening was a real eye-opener for me on the power of true faith. Truth be told, if there were more Sister Prejeans and fewer Cardinal O’Connors, both the Catholic Church and the world would be better served. I’m tempted to say that she makes me want to convert, but I’m still not on board with the God thing, and I understand that’s kind of an impediment to being Catholic.


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