09 October 2009

Intrigued by the Supernatural

The renowned German born theoretical physicist Albert Einstein explained his religious beliefs, as told to the eminent American Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein: “I believe in Spinoza’s God, Who reveals Himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God Who concerns Himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.” Baruch de Spinoza was a seventeenth century Dutch philosopher who, although very familiar with Hebrew biblical texts, believed that God was simply a product of philosophy, not a concrete reality, and thus incapable of interpersonal relationships with mankind.

It might be a bit strong to say that Albert Einstein was a full-blown atheist, but fairer to say that he was an agnostic. He was more comfortable with the notion that man is independent and self-governing; instead of the possibility of consequences – punishments, rewards, being held accountable to man’s Creator.

But the Spirit moves as He wills and is perhaps responsible for the unlikely meeting which took place between Albert Einstein and a New York Catholic priest named Father Charles McTague. Oddly enough, what Albert Einstein was interested in learning more about, was the Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation and the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. The popular scientist wanted to grasp how the change of substance in something could occur without any change in appearance or accidents. The Church teaches that Jesus is substantially present -- Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist without any change in the accidents of bread and wine. When their meeting had concluded, apparently Father McTague had shared enough to keep Einstein interested because he asked the good Father to send him any German-language books on the subject. Father McTague happily complied.

What occurs at Mass at the words of Consecration no human being can fully explain. There aren’t any instruction manuals that offer a movement-by-movement description of how and exactly when the bread and wine substantially change. I remember when my daughter was training for her First Eucharist. Her and other children along with their parents were gathered in the church worship space of our parish. And after Father had said all he intended to say, he asked: “Are there any questions?” My daughter raised her hand and asked: “How does Jesus get into the bread and wine?” Father replied: “Abby, I have no idea, but I would give my life for the belief that it does happen.”

It’s intriguing how many people have read their way into the Catholic Church. Many converts to the faith have testified that by reading early Church documents and the writings of the Fathers, what they found in those writings are the teachings of the Catholic Church. This is especially true of the topic of the Holy Eucharist. But the Holy Spirit does all the work. Knowledge is a very good thing, but it cannot stack up to the gift of faith. No one nor any written words can give one faith – the Holy Spirit is necessary.

We don’t know what the Holy Spirit’s intentions were with Albert Einstein. But our gift of faith might suggest that the very scientific mind of Albert Einstein was interiorly entertaining thoughts of supernatural – miraculous possibilities. Perhaps his credo that God had no concerns for humanity wasn’t etched in stone. What triggered the Holy Spirit’s movement in the life of Albert Einstein? Perhaps someone or more than one person prayed for him. Of course, we can’t know the answers with any certainty but what we can do as a people of faith is never give up on anyone. If Monica had given up, perhaps the Church and the world would never have known Saint Augustine of Hippo.