Singing my way to the Sacraments [Index]

In the run-up to my reception into the Catholic Church, I tried to talk a little about the process of conversion and the Christian faith in the language I’m most fluent in: the lyrics of Broadway musicals.

  1. “Reach out your hand, and see what it gets you” – The song is from Stephen Sondheim’s Anyone Can Whistle, and the Gospel reading is from one of the Scrutiny masses in Lent.  I’m contrasting Bartimaeus, the man born blind, with Nurse Fay Apple from the show.  Both make themselves vulnerable and receive new vision, that’s impossible to give up, but hard to accept.

    “But what I found most affecting was the moments right before Bartimaeus opened his eyes. Walking forward in anticipation and encountering someone who’s already enough to overload the senses you’ve got, before you can ask for any others to be dazzled by.”

  2. “In a world of wondering, suddenly you know” – When a classmate sang “How Glory Goes” from Floyd Collins, I was still an atheist, but it was the first time I found prayer affecting or had any glimpse of what the point of talking to an omniscient God might me.

    “God was giving Floyd the words he needed to be able to reach out at all.  And instead of the sadness I would have expected the actor to convey, his God seemed to feel something more like delight.  The actor’s God wasn’t primarily occupied with Floyd’s predicament, he was wholly consumed with Floyd.  The actor’s eyes crinkled up with amusement at the metaphors that came to Floyd.  There was a profound sense of intimacy and recognition.  It pleased God to hear Floyd’s prayer and to pray with him, because the prayer was so utterly Floyd, and Floyd would remain Floyd in this moment and after his death.  His leg was crushed, but his self was alive and shining.”

  3. “No one can be what he wants me to be” – In Man of La Mancha, Don Quixote is a holy fool, and his prophetic demands put an impossible strain on Aldonza, since he calls her to be more than she is, but doesn’t have the strength to redeem her.

    Christ calls us Dulcinea already, and rebukes us for clinging to ‘Aldonza’ in our fear.   We’ve already been offered the power to be what we ought to be, but, moment by moment, we decline to exercise it or acknowledge it.  We couldn’t possibly be so beautiful or so strong.  Better to stay small on the sidelines than acknowledge every moment we’ve spent shirking til this point.  The first ‘Amen’ is an acknowledgement that we hadn’t said it until now.

Into the Weeds (and the Woods) [Radio Readings]
2015 Ideological Turing Test [Index Post]
The Story of Shmuel and Tailoring Support [Guest Post]
The Last 5 Years is totally our next Symposium topic
About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011 and lives in Washington DC. She works as a news writer for FiveThirtyEight by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • Arizona Mike

    Regarding “How Glory Goes” from Floyd Collins, today I coincidentally ran across this MP3 of a country song from 1960 that retold the tragedy, “The Tale of Floyd Collins” by Arkansas singer Ronnie Hawkins, as well as the song “The Death of Floyd Hawkins,” which was released as a 78 LP and was one of the first national country bestsellers, shortly after Collins’ death in 1925.

    The WMFU website mentions that the death of Collins also served as the inspiration for Billy Wilder’s 1951 film “Ace in the Hole,” with Kirk Douglas as a manipulative reporter.

  • Fr. Christopher M. Zelonis

    I am most familiar with the third one, and therefore can vouch for its relevance. Might I suggest “Watch What Happens” from “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” (Michel Legrand)? “Let someone start believing in you, let him hold out his hand, let him touch you and watch what happens…” I have long appreciated the sensus plenior of showtunes.

  • Pete

    Interesting that you speak of stage performances in context
    of your faith.

    Looks like you are putting on a show here by using this
    blog as a “stage”. Once your audience begins to disappear,
    so will your faith.

    What would the Little Flower think of your performance

    • Emily

      Another famous Catholic once said “All the world’s a stage.”
      God calls us in many ways. And interestingly, St. Therese was part of theatricals in the convent.

    • deiseach

      What would the Little Flower think? She would heartily approve, seeing as how she liked to dress up and act herself (Thérèse as Joan of Arc) and appreciated extravagance (excerpt from her autobiographical “Story of a Soul”, all caps original):
      “To be Your Spouse, to be a Carmelite, and by my union with You to be the Mother of souls, should not this suffice me? And yet it is not so. No doubt, these three privileges sum up my true vocation: Carmelite, Spouse, Mother, and yet I feel within me other vocations. I feel the vocation of THE WARRIOR, THE PRIEST, THE APOSTLE, THE DOCTOR, THE MARTYR.

      …Then, in the excess of my delirious joy, I cried out:
      O Jesus, my Love, my vocation, at last I have found it … my vocation is Love! Yes, I have found my place in the Church and it is You, O my God, who have given me this place; in the heart of the Church, my Mother, I SHALL BE LOVE.”

      Any girl who, at the age of fifteen when faced with the refusal of all church authorities to permit her to enter the convent of Carmel at Lisieux before she was twenty-one, then planned to appeal directly to the pope and took advantage of a pilgrimage to Rome to throw herself on her knees before the Pope in a general audience and, in her own words, “Resting my hands on his knees, I made a final effort, saying, ‘Oh, Holy Father, if you say yes, everybody will agree!’ He gazed at me speaking these words and stressing each syllable: ‘Go – go – you will enter if God wills it” ” and then had to be dragged away weeping by the Swiss Guard – she is not going to object to some drama in the context of the Faith.

      (It constantly amuses me that people seem to regard the Little Flower as being as fluffy and cutesy as her nickname suggests. Tough as old army boots, more like.)

      • deiseach

        Argh, link fail in above. Let’s try that again:

        Thérèse as Joan here and here, in the play she wrote herself.

        • leahlibresco


          • deiseach

            I spent last year dodging Carmelites as my spiritual direction (it’s complicated). I can tell you this – once the Little Flower gets you in her sights, you are toast, so you might as well give up gracefully.


          • Sylvie D. Rousseau

            Hi, Leah, our new little sister!
            Hi, Deiseach, who invited me here in the first place!
            How well inspired of you to link to these photographs of St. Therese as Joan of Arc.
            Please allow for a bit of quibbling from someone who read all what St. Therese wrote in French.
            ‘Tough as old army boots” is a very appropriate expression, and the nickname Little Flower, derived from the introductory parable in Story of a Soul, is appropriate now that she is in Heaven, but she did not used it herself and we do not use it in French. We do call her Little Therese, as she did during her life to put an emphasis on the humility necessary to follow her way of total love and confidence in Jesus. But she made no secret in her writings that she wanted to be a great saint and that God bestowed grace lavishly on her for that purpose. Jesus would himself make her a saint in a special way that would be possible to all people. She had only to let him and he would furnish her the weapons and give her “victory upon victory in a giant’s run”, from teary over scrupulous girl to saintly guide to novice sisters in less than six years.

      • Iota

        Today you win my Internet. :) Well, technically Therese wins it, but you win for pointing that out. :) And part of me thinks she probably won’t mind sharing.

      • Pete

        I mention the “Little Flower” because she took that name as a sign of
        commitment to humility. Bloggers are looking for an audience and
        perhaps some measure of fame. It’s an addictive cycle and will be
        hard to let go of.

        Blogging goes against the requisites for sainthood. If I were Leah I
        would stop blogging and concentrate on the precepts of the Church,
        especially Confession and Mass, and not say a word about it (other
        than the priests at my parish and select friends). It’s one thing to blog
        about costumes and such, but another to blog about deeply personal
        issues; those things become woven into the “blogger/ audience
        relationship”, and prideful ego will be fed well.

        Everyone here knows what happens then.

        • Brandon Watson

          Nothing goes against the requisites for sainthood but failing to seek the grace of God. There have been lots of people making arguments like you’re making here in history: Marrying goes against the requisites for sainthood, soldiering goes against the requisites for sainthood, being a politician goes against the requisites for sainthood, wealthiness goes against the requisites for sainthood, and yet somehow they all end up refuted by the calendar of saints.

          Vague presuppositions are not a prudent basis for giving spiritual advice to other people, much less attacking them for pride. I find it utterly ironic that you say, “If I were Leah I
          would stop blogging and concentrate on the precepts of the Church,
          especially Confession and Mass, and not say a word about it (other
          than the priests at my parish and select friends).” But commenting is not really different from blogging; you’re just sub-blogging on someone else’s blog. And if your really think one should “concentrate on the precepts of the Church,
          especially Confession and Mass, and not say a word about it”, well, you don’t have to be Leah to take your own advice and stop talking about it in public.

          • Emily

            I’m with Brandon. By your logic, Pete, Augustine shouldn’t have written Confessions (a propos here), St. Therese shouldn’t have written Story of a Soul, Paul shouldn’t have written his letters! I can think of quite a few saints who wrote a lot about “deeply personal issues.”

          • Pete

            Yeah I am hypocrite.

            I am apostate so I could care less about “sanctity”.

            I just want to point out the traps I fell into….it’s
            called the “Screwtape Gambit”…;)

          • Brandon Watson

            Well, if that’s the case, another thing to call it is “By your own admission not knowing what you’re talking about and yet insisting on attacking people on the basis of it, anyway”. It goes well beyond “pointing out traps”; you’ve repeatedly insinuated all sorts of bad things about her motives on the basis of minimal evidence and a vague prejudice about blogging.

        • Mane

          Imagine if all the Saints, and even the Little Flower, wouldn’t have written about their experiences…there’s so much to say about your post. When someone has Christ in their heart they cannot help but talk about it. I don’t think it’s our role to be judging others, only God knows the reason in their heart. If God gives somebody the gift of writing, they should use it, because God gave us talents to use them so we can multiply them and that they may bear fruit. If more people are going to get closer to Christ because of what she writes, so be it. I think Leah should keep doing it and give us her perspective about it, as Scott Hahn did, as St Augustine did, and many more saints who left us a legacy in their teaching (which they wrote). I always love reading blogs and writings of all my catholic brothers and sisters because the Holy Spirit talk through them too. Let’s pray for Leah, so that she may keep putting out into deep water. Welcome home Leah and keep sharing with us all your experiences. A lot of people will get closer to faith through your story! You are a servant of God and your mission is to spread the Word through the whole world!

          • Pete

            Isn’t there enough written about Catholic life through the
            Bible and the Catechism(s)?

            Perhaps Augustine should have kept quiet as well….
            same for “Saint” Paul.

            Interesting how the supposed words of Jesus are
            drowned out by so many voices…Isn’t the message
            simply enough? Why the need for so much verbal

            Must there be yet another superstar blogger layering on
            the paint?

            Audience fuels pride.

          • Brandon Watson

            The obvious general response to this is “Pete’s vague, incoherent, insinuating perhapses, completely undefended by any rational argument and given absolutely no foundation, are neither definitive nor useful to anyone.” You’ve yet to do a single thing to prove that this is actually a case of “another superstar blogger layering on the pain”; trite little maxims like “Audience fuels pride” contribute absolutely nothing to the discussion, nor do they do any actual work in supporting anything you say, since they just hang in mid-air with their connection to the topic completely undefined and unsupported; and your opening question is incoherent, since catechisms by their nature are dependent on, and point to, other writings. The obvious Catholic answer to “Isn’t there enough written about Catholic life through the Bible and the Catechism(s)?” is “No,” which is at the same time the only logically coherent answer given what catechisms actually are and say, so what you think you can gain by pretending that this sort of thing passes for a rhetorical question with a Yes answer, in this context, is something of a mystery.

        • Arizona Mike

          The Blessed Pope John Paul II’s Guide to Effective Blogging, and his challenge to use the medium for the New Evangelization:

          [quote]The Internet causes billions of images to appear on millions of computer monitors around the planet. From this galaxy of sight and sound will the face of Christ emerge and the voice of Christ be heard? For it is only when his face is seen and his voice heard that the world will know the glad tidings of our redemption. This is the purpose of evangelization. And this is what will make the Internet a genuinely human space, for if there is no room for Christ, there is no room for man. Therefore, on this World Communications Day, I dare to summon the whole Church bravely to cross this new threshold, to put out into the deep of the Net, so that now as in the past the great engagement of the Gospel and culture may show to the world “the glory of God on the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). May the Lord bless all those who work for this aim. [/quote]

    • Arizona Mike

      The Blessed John Paul II was a playwright and stage actor, I bet he appreciates the theatrical references.

      • Val

        Even those referencing plays and musicals written by practicing homosexuals?

        • Iota

          Val (jest, I’ve read your other comments in the last few days…)

          Why not?

          • Iota

            Typo: should be “yes, I’ve” – crappy auto-correct from Polish. :)

    • Christopher Lake


      It’s curious to me, this ability that you seem to think you have to see within Leah’s internal thought processes and to discern her driving motivation(s) behind her conversion. How have you gained such insight?

      • Pete

        I just know what ego and pride do to people…or how those
        things are generated by certain activity.

        Ego and pride are good for us apostates, we bathe in it like
        pigs in slop…but for Christians and some other adherents
        of religious systems, ego and pride are “deadly”.

        Yeah I am a troll dressed up in silk and lace…you called
        me out everyone…I should know better.

        Basically I was just pointing out the reasons why Leah
        will become apostate…it is just a matter of time.

        • Randy

          We all fight ego and pride. We all do it in private. Just like we bathe in private. Being a public person does not always make people apostate. The list of counterexamples is huge. So why do you predict this about Leah?

        • Val

          I don’t think that apostasy is likely. Rather, given her love of the word and alienation from the flesh, I think it is more likely that at some point in the future we will be reading the collected essays of Mother Libresco.

          • Pete

            Well as long as Isaac Troki’s discrediting of the idea that Jesus
            is Messiah is still available, there is hope that apostate’s will


            Once a person sees that the Jesus was not the Messiah, then
            the rest of the Gospels just seem like a set of stories without
            the ability to offer “salvation”.

            I think “God” could have done a much better job of offering
            a revelation which is clear, simple, and most of all,
            indisputable…I would rather search for a truly “great”
            deity, then the poor excuse that the Church promotes.

  • Emily

    Another song that’s relevant: actually, it’s two: the Act I Valjean soliloquy “what have I done?” and the act II soliloquy “Javert’s suicide”. Same words (I am reaching, but I fall…) but two different choices. God extends to all of us a choice, and we can either be saved (Valjean) or damned (Javert).
    (I think one can tie Les Miz into anything).

    • leahlibresco

      Oh, believe me, that one is getting blogged come Christmas.

      • dave

        Have you watched Charlie Brown’s Christmas since you converted? I’ll bet it will mean a lot more this time.

      • Emily

        12 days of Les Miz blogging? That’s a blog party I’ll join. :)

      • Rachel K

        Unequally Yoked meets Les Miz?! Merry Christmas to me!

        • Joe

          I’m looking forward to the Les Miz posts as well. When I saw that a movie was coming out I ran to the book store to get the book. My heart sank when I saw that it was 1200 pages!! Ouch!! Not sure Ill finish in time for the show.

          • Emily

            It’s more than 1200 totally unabridged…but read it, it’s good. But get a GOOD copy–as in, one whose textface you can live with for 1200 pages. Reading it in a bad edition can lead to not reading it. :)

          • deiseach

            Joe, now you know why there is such a term as “the three-decker Victorian novel” :-)

            For publishers in the early days of mass market editions, forcing your galley slaves encouraging your writers to produce lots and lots and lots of prose meant you could divide up a novel into three volumes; when you had Volume I sitting on the bookstore shelves, it would (if it sold in enough numbers) pay for the cost of printing the next volume in the series and, naturally, ensure that people would buy volumes II and III to see how the story turned out.

            The multi-volume fantasy novel of the 20th century maintained/maintains the good old tradition ;-)

          • Emily

            The editor for Les Miz actually asked Hugo to write LESS–this wasn’t serialized like Dickens was in England–but Hugo resisted. Fun little tidbit I learned from my new edition.

  • Ben from Cali

    I heard your interview on the Catholics Come Home network. What an inspirational journey, thank you. It helped me substantially, as I am a cradle Catholic who nonetheless has endured substantial internal conflicts over belief and doubt. In the end, I feel that atheism is no foundation for a society or a life, as there is no moral imperatives or expectations, no firm foundations for living, in that system.

    God bless you! Have you ever visited a Byzantine Catholic parish?

    • Jennifer

      “In the end, I feel that atheism is no foundation for a society or a life, as there is no moral imperatives or expectations, no firm foundations for living, in that system.” That’s an interesting conclusion you’ve come to there, Ben. If that is truly the case, I wonder why the least religious nations on earth are usually the happiest, fairest (in terms of social equality) and most peaceful and prosperous nations in the world…?

      I’m an atheist, and I have plenty of morals and firm foundations for living. Perhaps you didn’t look hard enough? Each to their own, though, of course. ;)

  • Fabio L Leite

    Hi Leah!

    My path to conversion has some points in common to yours. First being raised in an environment filled with arguments against Christianity (in my secular schools and in spiritualist circles) that portrayed Christians as a superstitious bunch and then being surprised by the existence of intelligence in Christianity (also with Chesterton, Lewis, Aquinas but with Lee Strobel’s panoramic view of evidence for Christianity in “The Case for Christ”).

    The second step is the one I am more curious about. You said you found Roman Catholicism to be the most consistent form of Christianity. In my own studies on historical and sociological data, I found the Orthodox Church to be the clear continuity from the Apostolic Community from which even the Roman see broke away. What led you to choose Roman Catholicism?

  • josane manente melhem

    Ao saber de sua conversão ao catolicismo senti vontade de indicar-lhe a leitura, se é que voce já não leu,do livro “Mero Cristianismo” de C S Lewis. que apesar de anglicano dá um belo aprofundamento sobre a fé católica e se tiver oportunidade procure conhecer o Movimento de Cursilhos de Cristandade. Shalom!