Saturday, October 12, 2013


Recently I’ve been reading a wonderful chatty book that I’d seen some of our science students carrying around entitled The Disappearing Spoon and other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements, published in 2010. I heartily recommend it to anyone who like me is curious about science despite having had only a very basic introduction to physics or chemistry in school.

I especially enjoyed reading about the experiments people did bombarding nuclei with neutrons and then watching the startling results. The introduction of these tiniest of particles into an atom could unleash unimaginable power, millions of electron volts. Literally incredible amounts of energy were released in these reactions.

In the midst of my reading this book I heard at mass the gospel passage in Luke 17:5 that says If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to [this] mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. 

It struck me that the Lord was telling me that if I were to let myself be touched by faith the size of even the tiniest particle, an incredible amount of energy could be released as a result.  Mulberry trees and mountains could be chucked into the ocean and all manner of wonders would be unleashed in the world.

Then I started to see myself as one of those elements that is extremely stable, but in a bad sense; God is constantly bombarding me with graces but I don’t react, or do so only very sluggishly and imperceptibly.

There’s a crucial difference,you see, between an element on the periodic table being bombarded with neutrons, and a person being showered with grace. While an atom of cobalt just sits there and gets pounded with particles and then has to react according to the laws of physics, I have a free will, so when God’s gifts are being showered on me I can decide to respond or not.

This is the difference between responding and reacting. God didn’t create me to react to grace; but gave me a free will so that I could choose to freely respond as a person to the invitation of grace. His grace invites me to an intimate personal relationship of love and trust, of vulnerability and open-endedness.That's much more exciting than being part of a predictable chemical reaction, wouldn't you say?

But I’m still intrigued and frightened by the comparison with those chemical elements as they get hit with an extra neutron. If only I were to allow God’s grace to really touch me and transform me in the way God intends, the explosion would be heard for miles around.

It might even start a chain reaction among my brother monks, the kids in my classroom and the parishioners at mass on Sunday.
The fallout would be marvelous. It would be exactly what Jesus was referring to when he told his disciples “The Kingdom of God is among you.”

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