Good Friends Never Let You Down

Not to imply that we occasionally can’t be disappointed in our friendships (or be disappointing to our friends), but that in the best of friendships, we always find a way to work things out.  Through those friendships we are led to new insights and a deeper understanding of our lives and of ourselves.   In one of the Maine Tales posts, I wrote of our return to our faith and the Church thirty eight years ago.  Here is that post: Maine Tales IV – The Road Not Taken and an excerpt from it, when we met our good friend, Father Joe McKenna:

We looked up Catholic Churches in the Yellow Pages (an anachronism now).  Mount Vernon was at the center of a fifty mile circle roughly encompassing Augusta, Waterville and Farmington.  Rita worked part time as an RN in Augusta, but Farmington for some reason attracted us.  I called St. Joseph’s Church in Farmington; a friendly voice picked up with a lively, “St. Joe’s!”  Father Joe McKenna answered his own phone calls and was nearly perfect for hurting children of the sixties — an admixture of intellectual, poet, faith filled priest and wonderfully warm and funny human being with holes in the elbows of his sweaters. We entered the little, wood framed church on a side street, far smaller than the Baptist, Episcopalian and Congregationalist stone and brick edifices on Main Street.  It was Pentecost Sunday, no happenstance, and Father Joe was alive with the Spirit.

Father Joe has been what he calls semi-retired now for quite a few years and lives in Portland.  He remains active with nursing home work and a prison ministry, but we keep a valued, long distance friendship with emails and too infrequent visits.  As I have occasionally done with others, I’ll take advantage of Father Joe’s writing to share with permission a recent correspondence.  If there are seeming non sequiturs, the errors are mine.

Father Joe, now eighty three, clearly has lost nothing off the fastball and enjoys very much new knowledge.  The email exchange was initiated when Father Joe responded to the post a couple of weeks ago.  Even with editing for brevity, it is still quite lengthy, and I hope you find worth your time and attention.

Father Joe: Hi Jack and Rita.  Very, very interesting.  At last I know the reason why mitochondria passes only though the mother.  Simple enough when you know why.  Merry Christmas to you and yours and many OF them!

Jack: Really enjoyed “Time To Start Thinking” and thank you again. His observations and analysis do get me thinking as we all need to be.  His solutions, when he proposes them are a little too Keynesian and pessimistic for me, but well worth consideration.  A book I would recommend to anyone.  Glad we could clear up mitochondria once and for all.
Love from RI, j&r   

 (Note:  Father Joe had sent me a book he had read, Time to Start Thinking: America in the Age of Descent, by Edward Luce, long time economics writer for the Financial Times of London.  I would recommend it to all who have interest.)

Father Joe: What I found about the book is that it is a series of interviews about what each person thinks is going on.  Then you can draw your own conclusions.  It must be fantastic to have descendants!

Jack:  Terrifying actually.  What have we wrought, and what are we handing on to those descendants?

Father Joe: Oh come on.  It’s Christmas… when we concentrate on the virtue of hope! A lovely virtue.  I discovered it in the seminary sitting next to Mike McManus..… Anyway because he was McManus and I was McKenna sometimes we sat together.  He was filled with hope and happiness and gradually he worked on me to get rid of some of my negativity.  He recommended a book “God Speaks” by Charles Peguy.  I will send you a copy from Amazon.  It changed my life.  Have a merry one!

Jack:  You are right, of course.  And not just for the Christmas season… When I get all cataclysmically dreary and cosmically anxious, I must refocus on gratitude for the many, many blessings in my life and stop whining.  And you, dear friend, are one of the blessings.  I’ve read some of Charles Peguy’s poetry, but can’t remember if I’ve seen that one.

Several exchanges ensued about Peguy’s and Luce’s books, then this.

Father Joe:  Do any of your kids have troubles with science and God?

Jack:  (Note:  Name and identifying pronouns left as ***) I think ***** has the most trouble with faith and science…  If something cannot be demonstrated, touched with any of the five senses or proven with the scientific method, it is discounted.  Completely eludes *****.  Certainly intelligent and realizes that acknowledging God and especially Jesus requires a response…, so *** holds *** ground…  That atheism is every bit as much a leap of faith (and with vast gaps that require invincible credulity) as belief and trust in God, *****does not yet see.  But we are working on it.

Anyway, the prayers of our first pastor would be greatly appreciated for*** faith and the faith of all my children.

Father Joe:  It always comes down to three:  Belief in the Eucharist, belief that Jesus is God, belief in a creator.
(1)  The Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ.  Rome accepts the Orthodox Eucharist.  This is not one of the problems that keep us apart.  A Catholic may receive Communion in an Orthodox Church if no Catholic church is available… and, as you know well, we were together for 1000 years.  The Orthodox belief in the Eucharist is interesting:  “The Eucharist is the center of worship in the Orthodox Church. We do not explain scientifically how the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ.  Orthodox Christians believe that during the Eucharist believers partake mystically of Christ’s body and blood and through it receive his life and strength.”  This is acceptable if one has a problem using Aristotle to explain the Eucharist.
(2)  Jesus is God.  Perhaps a new book might be helpful here: Jay Perini: “Jesus, the Human Face of God.”
(3) There is a Creator.  If I can find an essay I wrote for the Portland Press Herald, I’ll send it on.
Happy New Year!

Jack: I’d love to read your article, and it’s easy to get too far in the weeds with the Aristotelian substance and incidentals explanation, so that’s helpful…  I’ve tried to explain to ***** that it’s Fides first, then Ratio. I’m with Pascal on this; faith is first of the heart, imagination and will.  Not irrational by any means, but the mind and the intellect support faith, and understanding follows the decision.

We come first to faith through love, like the love of a small parish priest for his flock leads them to Love.  I guess that is what is most disappointing – that the love from the parents was insufficient to overcome skepticism and incredulity (regarding faith).

I’ll let Father Joe McKenna’s piece end the post. He needs no help from me.

Okay so how DID we get here?

I watch a lot of science programs… on PBS and the History Channel. I have a pretty good science grounding… for an amateur. I’ve been keeping up with the latest in Quantum Physics and Astronomy and the Origins of the Universe. I heard Stephen Hawking say on TV lately that you don’t need a creator to explain where the universe came from… particles just appear and disappear at random. I watched Brian Greene’s “The Fabric of the Universe.” He is a spokesperson for that scientific community who are investigating this very interesting topic.

Let me set up the problem that Greene’s community is involved with.

Here I am sitting at my computer typing this essay. Back 12 billion years ago there was nothing but quarks. So how did I get here from those quarks and why am I smart enough to write this essay?

If I do not accept a creator then the only solution is that I got here by chance; yes, the same chance/luck that is involved when you are sitting at a slot machine. (Well, not exactly because they are fixed to favor the house.) But explaining how I got here by chance requires a lot of lucky outcomes. Here are just a few: By lucky chance stars were formed; by lucky chance our sun was formed to be just the right size; cosmic dust was attracted by our sun and formed planets and by lucky chance one of them…the planet earth… was just the right distance from the sun to have the right temperature and just the right weight to keep its atmosphere from spinning off, etc., etc., etc. All these strokes of luck are now called the “Goldilocks effect”: everything had to be “just right” for life to even start.

What are the chances that each of these fortuitous circumstances would happen (and there are many thousands)? And they must occur at a given moment in the progress of the universe, because if they don’t happen at the proper instant as the universe progresses they do not have a second chance. You can’t go back and try again.

Just like you have to pull the lever on the slot machine quite a number of times…and fail… to finally get the lucky prize, so there has to be multiple universes in which the chances for all these events can play out… and fail… to finally get a universe (ours) and a planet (ours) where life can evolve and I can sit here at this computer. The task that Greene et al have set for themselves is to put into mathematical formulae all the variables that go into all these chances happening, ultimately resulting in me sitting here. It takes more than one blackboard on which to write them all out.

They use the mathematics of Statistics. (Yes, what you learned as seniors in high school.) That’s what all those equations are that fill their blackboards. This is what Steve Green means when he keeps saying “mathematics says that you have to have billions of this or billions of that”… and of course he is right… you would have to have billions of universes if everything depended on chance. And because he is a philosophical Determinist (no free will… everything is “determined”) he goes one further: he maintains that in some of these universes there could be another person just like you.

Do you have to accept this elaborate hypothesis? (Don’t forget, it’s only an hypothesis… not even a theory…unproven.) Will you be considered a science denier if you don’t? Will professors look at you with a condescending smile?

They probably will. We’re supposed to be intimidated by all those equations on those blackboards. Because we’re not cosmologists in the halls of science it can be considered “rubey” (do they still use this word?) to disagree with these very learned researchers.

But hey, you know what? They put their pants on one leg at a time just like the rest of us. Yes, they have doctorate degrees. I know lots of people who have doctorates. I knew a Doctor of Literature one time who believed that the world was made 6000 years ago! My physician has a doctorate. And you know what he tells me? That I have to manage my own health. He is there to give me yearly physicals and to refer me to specialists if the need arises but I have to manage my own health.

I keep up with science. I keep up with Biblical Studies that investigates the meanings of the opening chapters of Genesis. I listen to physical and astronomical scientists explaining their hypotheses… I look at their evidence with an open “scientific” mind. But I manage my own world view.

Some of these scientists, you know, are not even following the scientific method. Scientific method says you start “with an open mind” and proceed to gather evidence no matter where it leads you. And if you find there are two possible conclusions, you follow the principle of Ockham’s Razor and accept the one with the least complications. But if you start with the premise that there is no creator and then proceed to weave theories that back that up… complicated theories… multiple universe theories… is that science?

And as for Steve Hawking: yes particles can come in and out of existence seemingly by themselves. But to conclude from this that the universe came into existence by itself is more than a stretch… it’s not good science.

My advice to the Brian Greenes et al is to put away your blackboards for a while and come out into the real world. Take a walk in a park or by the seashore. Many a genius has come up with an important inspiration walking along the seashore. All these universes you are positing… wouldn’t it be a lot more “economical” and logical scientifically to search for a creative force… of some sort… somewhere?



Filed under Maine Tales, Personal and family life

2 responses to “Good Friends Never Let You Down

  1. Rita

    This is so lovely Fr. Joe. You are an indelible part of our past and just the right priest for us at that time in our lives, warmly welcoming, filled with the Spirit and those holes in your sweater were perfect! I love Jack’s description that you were “just what was needed for hurting children of the sixties”.
    Growing up in the 50s and early 60s we learned a lot about sacred space, in the beauty and special worship of a Latin Mass, a vital thing to learn, but were sorely lacking in Bible studies. I know we were exposed to Old Testament and New Testament readings every Sunday, but, if I remember correctly, Acts was said in Latin… I remember how excited I was when you used to give talks about the New Testament, especially when you explained Acts. Do you remember those talks given after our prayer meetings in the basement of the building across the street from the church?

    This past month or so I was filled with thinking about a quote I’d heard “Where order is, there is a mind.” How lovely… I Googled the quote and found a wonderful article that was written in 2005. It didn’t attribute the quote to anyone in particular except to say it was a Greek sage. I ached to have the name of the person who pondered such a wonderful thought. I contacted our friend Matthew who teaches Philosophy at PC and asked him if he knew which Greek sage came up with this wonderful idea? He told me that Aristotle was known to praise the Greek sage Anaxagoras (silent x) for thinking about the causation of the universe. So, thank you Anaxagoras!

    We have found another lovely priest in our advancing years… His name is Fr. James Ruggeri. He is just the right priest for aging and still sometimes hurting “children of the sixties.” God does so love us and if we continue to be open to that love, we continue to reap its special blessings.


  2. At this point in our lives , it is important to connect with a learned Holy (man) Priest. Cheryl and I are also blessed with that necessity being met in our walk of faith. There is one resource I would like to recommend in deciphering the existence of a Creator . at Illustra are a number of DVDs worth mentioning . one called “the Case For A Creator” and another weve seen which will also be given to our Children called, The Priveliged Planet.. with Lee Strobel . Both worth looking into God Bless We’ll Keep You and Yours in Our Prayers if you promise to do the Same for us.


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