By Jonathan Lynch
Chances are, when you read the title to this post, either you ran screaming in the opposite direction, or you were drawn like a magnet. There are math people, and then there are the rest of us who got more than enough math all the way back in second grade. Before I even started school, I remember my big brother trying to show me all the cool math stuff he’d just learned. Like, how to add 1+4. I couldn’t have been less impressed. All the same, he did write out a sheet for me with all the single digit addition problems he could think of so I wouldn’t have to work as hard when mom got me started on school. And all through middle school and high school, he would try to explain to me some really strange concepts and formulas that I wasn’t interested in. I put up with it, and in return, had the best math tutor I could have asked for sitting at the next desk over, when I actually needed it.
Now, despite the fact that I am not a math person, I am going to try, like Saint Paul, to be all things to all men. This post is dedicated to the strange breed of Math lovers.
We’re going to start with a really simple equation: God > Man. Or perhaps more precisely, God/Man = ∞/1
This is an easy one to forget, but it’s pretty basic, so we’ll keep it short. God is God, and you are not. This is one of those first premises which, if you get it wrong, will throw off all the rest of your calculations. If we treat ourselves as if we were the center of the universe, or as if we were the one to whom all good things were due, our lives will suck. Takeaway? Trust God to do the God stuff like running the universe, and you take care of the you stuff.
Now we’re going to dive into some percentages. This one has to do with all the different religions. I would contend that every religion has some degree of truth in it, as displayed in the graph below. All religions acknowledge the fact that there is something greater than man to which it is proper to give our service. Even the human-sacrificing Aztecs recognized that. Honestly though, that’s a pretty low bar. And that’s only a very small snatch of truth, which leaves a massive gap for falsehood and evil to fill. Then we move on to Pagan religions where the gods are at least jolly and benevolent, like some of the Roman deities. Next we see Islam, where there is one almighty God instead of a whole herd of little minigodlets running around and getting in eachother’s way. Then Judaism, where God is good, is One, and loves us like a Father. Then we come to the many varying shades of Protestantism, which covers a lot of percentile ground, depending on what flavor we’re talking about. Next we have Orthodoxy, which is very, very close to the entirety of the truth. So close, in fact, that only a few doctrinal sticking points ( and some very real historical wounds and cultural difficulties) separate them from Catholicism. Then we have the Catholic Church, which holds the 100% fullness of Divinely revealed truth.
So why does it matter how much truth you believe in, if you can just be a good person anyways? Good question. I know lots of “good people” who are generally fair and honest, treat you well, and don’t go out of their way to knock down little old grandmothers with their bicycles. They may have some (or lots) of the Cardinal virtues, which can be practiced and honed even by those without the Divine Life in their souls. Think of the Fortitude of King Leonidas, or the discipline and Temperance of the early Roman Republic. But without Sanctifying Grace and the indwelling of the Holy Trinity in their souls, they have no Faith, Hope, or Charity. Being good and alright on a natural level doesn’t begin to give you supernatural life: the beginning of our life in heaven all the way down here on earth. And if you want to live forever in heaven with God Who Is Truth, why the heck would you spend your time on earth obeying him just 67% of the time, or believing only 93% of what He told you?
This next one is probably going to bother you a bit, because math people like logical answers. But here goes: 1+1+1=1. Is your skin crawling yet? Good. In case you haven’t guessed, this is the math for the Holy Trinity. There are three persons in one God. There are not three Gods. There is not one God with three attributes or three manifestations. There are three distinct persons with one divine nature. If this is giving you a headache, you’re not alone. Once, St. Augustine was trying to write a book on the Trinity, and could just not wrap his head around the mystery described above. As he went walking out on the seashore to cool his boiling brain, he saw a little boy dig a hole in the sand, then run back and forth from the hole to the water’s edge with a seashell, trying to fill the hole with water, which of course just drained away. When St. Augustine reached the kid he said, “don’t you realize you’ll never fill the hole?” The boy looked at him and said, “this is what you’re doing by trying to understand the Trinity.” In short, this is something that we cannot comprehend, but it is not against reason. For example, a fish that has never left his pool could never comprehend a glacier or a volcano, but that would not mean that either of those things are unreasonable or impossible. Take away? If you think you understand it, you really don’t, and if you go as far as you can with reason, and let faith carry you the rest of the way, you’re running with the best.
Finally, we’re going to get into a little bit of coordinate planes, with the consideration of actual values. We’ll say that the Y-axis is the measurement of worth in God’s eyes, and the horizontal X-axis is the measurement of worth in the eyes of men. In essence, people judge actions based largely on the magnitude of what was achieved. For instance, on the positive side, winning an olympic gold medal is greater than getting a participation prize at the county fair. And on the negative side, sending Jews and Catholic priests to concentration camps is worse than punching your little sister in the eye because she called you a mean name. To be clear, mass murder is a worse thing than petty violence to a near relative. And winning gold at the Olympics is more of an achievement than getting a green ribbon in any home town contest.
God, on the other hand, without disregarding that aspect of things, has the vision to see what no one else can see. God also perceives our intentions, and with how much selfless love we perform our actions. This is why little St. Therese of Liseaux could become a great saint while locked away in a tiny French Convent, just as much as St. Francis Xavier could become a great saint by sailing to the farthest corners of the world and converting tens of thousands of people.
If you look at the coordinate plane, you will see seven different labeled points, which illustrate what I mean. At the origin, with a value of zero on both axes, you have sleeping/coma. This one should be pretty self-explanatory; this stuff is about as neutral as it gets. In the fourth quadrant, you have things that impress people, but not God. The point shown here resembles the act of winning a racecar championship simply for the sake of self-glorification and personal pride. But if you go straight up into the first quadrant, you see the same action, with the sole difference being that you were racing so that you could donate whatever prize you won to the Little Sisters of the Poor over in India. And right in the middle, with zero on the Y-axis, is simply winning the race for fun, because you enjoy racing. There is really nothing wrong with doing this. God is just fine with letting us have a little fun and enjoy ourselves.
Now, down in the third quadrant is the act of poisoning your rich uncle with arsenic because you are his heir and you are impatient for your inheritance. If this one needs explanation, we have serious problems.
Up into the second quadrant, we have something that people regard as negative, but God sees differently. You might think at first that this section would be empty, but here we have the Early Christians refusing to sacrifice to the Roman Emperors, and modern Christians standing up for the Right to Life and the Sanctity of Marriage.
Then if we look at the last entry up in the first quadrant again, secretly doing your brother’s chores because he’s sick in bed, we see that it has a near zero value on the X-axis, but it’s through the roof on the Y-axis. This is because, as I said earlier, whether our actions are big or small, huge or tiny, God sees our heart and how much we love him and our fellow man. Whether you do small things with great love, or great things with great love, it is the great love that God is looking at.
Whatever your hobby or interest is, if you can use it to gain a greater knowledge or understanding of God, count it as a blessing. That is what I have hoped to accomplish for all those math-lovers who were interested enough to read to the end. Til next time, may Christ and his Peace dwell with you all!
All for Thee, Sweet Jesus,
Through the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
For the Glory of God
And the salvation of souls!
P.S. The image for this post is actually from one of my High school math notebooks, which for some reason I still have. It took me a while to find a page with a score I wasn’t too ashamed of, and without excessive doodles, or random writing in middle-earth Elvish…..