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June 6, 1998     Arkansas Catholic
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June 6, 1998

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Page 10 June 6, 1998 ARKANSASt, gCATHOLIc bad Blaise Pascal isn't around to a featured speaker at an upcom- ing science conference. The Science and Spiritual Quest con- ference at the University of California at Berkeley will bring together 27 eminent scientists from around the world to dis- cuss their faith in God and explain how their faith affects their work. Pascal was a math genius of another century --- a man in whom strong faith in God existed comfortably with scientific in- quiry. A new book came out about him around the same time I heard about the conference. The book, "Blaise Pascal, Reasons of the Heart," written by Marvin IL O'Connell, is a pretty comprehensive biography of the Catholic scientist. I became intrigued by Pascal years ago when I read his thoughts on Chris- tianity compiled into a book called "Pensees." Born in France in 1623, he was a groundbreaking mathematician, physicist and inventor. An encyclopedia calls him one of the greatest and most compre- hensive geniuses the world has ever known. In the new book, O'Connell says young Blaise was schooled at home by his fa- ther, Etienne Pascal, a familiar figure in Paris' intellec- tual circles -- and no slouch at mathematics himself. O'Connell quotes Blaise's older sister who wrot that their father locked away all the books about math because he wanted Blaise to learn the dassical languages first. The older Pascal was afraid if his son was introduced to math too early, he would become so entranced by it he would ne- glect his other studies! But by the time Blaise was 12, he had figured out on his own that the sum of the angles of a triangle is equal to two right angles. His father came into the room unexpectedly where Blaise was working secretly on geometry. The young boy did not even know the right words, so he made up his own. A circle was a rond; a line was a barre. When Etienne Pascal realized his son, only 19, had arrived by his own unaided efforts at Euclid's conclusion, he had to rush out of the room so Blaise wouldn't see how overcome with emotion he was. After that, he no longer kept his son away from math instruction, and Blaise eventually became a world-renowned sci- entist. I guess his mind full of math inspired ] Pascal to write what literary critics call his the experience sewn into the lining-0f wager. The new book mentions it. Pascal s jacket after he died Every time Fran Presley[ Thinking logically, like the mathemati- Pascal had put on his jacket, the piece Of cian he was, he reasoned that it makes paper had rested over his heart. more sense to believe God exists and to live one's life accordingly than it does to believe the opposite. "A gambler, where there is an equal chance of gain or loss, would place a bet if the possible gain was twice the possible loss," Pascal wrote. "But here (choosing to believe in Christianity) the possible gain is infinite, and the possible loss nothing." On the other hand, one runs the risk of losing all if God exists and the choice was made not to believe in Him. "I should be much more afraid of be- ing mistaken and then finding out that Christianity is true than in being mistaken in believing it to be true," Pascal wrote. Sounds like a rather cold, calculating approach to faith ---but hang on. It gets better. In Blaise's early years his faith was like that of his father's and his friends'. O'ConneU says, "... religion was a respect- able appendage to their existence rather than its warp and woof." But then Pascal experienced a direct encounter with God. O'Connell calls it his night of fire. A servant found a written account of On the faded paper the servant found, Pascal had scribbled: "... From about half" past 10 in the evening until about half" past 12 ---FIRE. God of Abraham, of Isaac, GOd of Jacob, not of the phi- losophers and intellectuals. Certitude, feeling, joy, peace. The God of jesus Christ... Joy, joy, joy. Tears of joy..." i Pascal s night of fire' happened 011 I Nov. 23, 1654. Although he did not abe" don his mathematical exqdeavors after that, the focus of his life changed. No longer was faith on the periphery of hi! t life. No longer was church just a social event. The latest book about him quotes from his "Pensees" which, he wrote afte! his encounter with God: ... he ig a G0d who fdls the soul and heart of those wh.t he possesses ... who unites himself them in the depths of their soul; who fills it with humility, joy, confidence, and love; who makes them incapable of having any other end but him." Yes, Pascal would have made a mighty interesting speaker at the Berkeley co ffer" ence. Fran Presley writes from Texarkana. Each June when commencement cer- emonies take place throughout the country, the challenging summons of meaningful service is directed toward young graduates. But, in truth, every minute is a commencement, and we are all graduating into the future. And no one reminds the world of this any better then do our elder citizens. At 82, Samuel Greene of New Jersey was living on the side of a mountain in Guate- mala, helping Indian communities. He took up that career after "retiring" at age 68. At 88, David Cunniugham, a retired jani- tor, became well known throughout Co- At 89, Stella Turner of Adanta, Ga., was busy with her own ceramics business. She switched to ce- ramics at 88 after a career as a prac- tical nurse that began at 60. At 72, Dr. Eu- gene Balthazar of Aurora, Ill., was CRM)/. running a free Fr. ThomasJ. clinic that he McSweeney I believe the world is yours -- if you are ents, drives, abilities, feelings and uneX" willing to extend yourself to others. People pressed desires that just might be emerg" are making a difference at every age and ing in our lives right now. station in life. A happy bus driver in Hart- You are ready to graduate if you taI e ford, Colin. turned his suburban express your own life and your own hurna trip into a happy hour of sing-alongs and seriously and learn to be at ease socializing. A veterinarian gave his services yourself; if you look around and see to poor children with pets. A college stu- man needs that others did not notice 0 dent stemmed the decline in the osprey did not fill; if you try to fill those needs' population on Long Island Sound by pro- When you share what you know and wlaat tecting their eggs from pesticides. A 12- you are with others, you never deple year-old girl convinced a city council in your resources, your self. On the coo California that children needed a in trary, you grow. In doing good, you how parks are run. become great. Maybe others will knOW' We celebrate graduations because of maybe not But you will know lumbus, Ohio, for his work with young started with his past accomplishments. But more than The successful Rraduate is the one I says: "I am onlyone, but I am one." people, savings, that, they really are commencements -- At 84, a nursing home patient in Pueblo, At 87, psychiatrist and author Dr. Olga new beginnings, a fresh start. The future can't do everything, but I can do Colo., got out of his wheelchair mad be- Knopf described what it is like, to gradu- is a blank page that each of us must write thing. What I ,can do, by the grace 0* [ came a full-time gardener, providing fel- ate to new tasks at any age: If you go for ourselves. No one else can do it for God, I will do.' i low patients with a variety of vegetables, forward positively, the world is yours, us. We need to pay attention to the tal- Happy Graduation Day! C~ Two urgent issues for the Catholic Church need to be addressed ' As the start of the third millennium No matterwhat ~~ this and to allow our concern to move us Today, any program that wishes t~e ./-]kapproaches, I am becoming increas- approaches we more forcefully into action, successful in recruiting candidates to tl ingly concerned about two Church issues devise to substitute I We need to run, not walk, to the draw- priesthood must recruit heavily fro tl that need to be addressed more fully: the for priests, no ing board. We need to bring our most ex- cultures. We can no longer primarily ~,~e '~ shortage of priests and our growing matter how many ] perienced leaders in the area of priesthood cruit, as we have done, from the wla multiculturalism, priests we import, ] together. We need to design national and population. , ,M h If we respond well to the shortage of no matter whether ] local programs, blitz the media and make To accomplish this, everyone invo * priests, I believe we may well take care of .... history shows that I the shortage of priests our top priority, in recrniting priesdy vocations must.v,, h the second concern, multiculturalism, m Cathohosm sur- I If we don't start to see large mcreases required to learn as much as poSS , ..... "n ~dr the process, vwed m the past ] m vocauons to the priesthood, our cur- about the cultural groups present ._,,s I'm sure we can agree that the parish is with few priests, [ rent priests and bishops will wear thin and society. Otherwise, how can our vocaUV the best-organized system for maintaining many Catholics I become less effective in serving the Church. personnel hope to convince anyoe td the health of Catholicism. Among its many will lose the ben- 'UM/IN This could also create vacuums which these cultural groups to become; e benefits, the pans" h provides us with a place efits of daily Mass. Fr. Eu ene Hemnck" are .never. good in any or .ganization.. Once Most important in this would be s."]t," _| to worship, teaches us how, through the and the Eucharist rr. r.ugene emncx a cnucal part of an orgamzauon no longer message sent to all our cultural grotiPtlte r liturgy, to be a true Christian community if present trends continue, functions at full capacity, it can become would say, *'You are the future ot. t and is at the heart of our spirituality. And while the Church's hierarchy and like a ship without a rudder. Catholic Church and of its center,t More important, the parish is the fore- many Catholics are aware of this, I be- As much as the Church must be a is the Eucharist. You are importat | most means we have for preserving the lieve the problem still has not become cooperative effort between clergy andmaking the Eucharist possible._t;~[ t Eucharist. But in order to accomplish this, reality m the minds of most. If it were, we laity, the buck has to stop somewhere Such a message faces un to the re ". | , 7ra ,eed tlm e Idb omWa e tf md ototo e:h te oa dedrrtoP UPe shtl SpsU m; ptha s, daldeWaesl sYS stoPanPedrg . ho ifwe ':u tC= t r wPeri [ ! P "- " . Church's best organmauonal / tem, the respond to .... nmauonal procedure that repeatedly has see fewer priests, and daily Mass wtll [ parith, weake It it time to be deeply concerned about proven tamceuful, jeopardized. '