Monday, December 29, 2014

My Mother-in-Law Carol's Conversion Story, Part One

I have wanted to write of my mother-in-law’s conversion for over a year now, but I knew that her story would not be complete until she went to the Father. Finally, it’s time. Carol, I hope and pray that I get it right and do justice to your life and beliefs. You deserve nothing less.

Carol Sue Goldstein Miller at age 20, already a wife and the mother of my husband.
A real beauty.

For the first 25 years that I knew Carol, we were polite but not close (that’s another story), and we did not speak of religion. She was adopted as an infant, raised Jewish and became an agnostic as an adult. She was secular. If she did have any spirituality, it was found in the crystals she owned, or the New Agey angels she liked, or perhaps even the mystical nature of the vampires, phantoms, ghosts, and ghouls that delighted her. I never knew for sure if she believed in God, as it was just not a topic to be discussed in the superficial, if loving, relationship that we had with her. Dean had converted from Jewish agnosticism to Catholicism in 1997 at the age of 31; Carol was not thrilled at the time, but she accepted it as she saw its effect on her son, and as she watched our family grow.

Carol’s life was a difficult one from the beginning. She had an abusive childhood, and as a pregnant teen she entered into a troubled marriage. She had two sons, my husband being the elder, and found herself divorced in her mid-forties, after 28 years of marriage. Life continued to be a struggle for her, and until her death at 67, she was often overlooked or condescended to, as if she were a silly little girl. To my shame, I was one of the guilty ones. I was so smugly sure that I knew what she was about.

Carol lived in Atlanta and we in Phoenix, so we saw her probably twice a year. She would stay with us when she visited, and while Dean and I sort of “tolerated” her idiosyncrasies and (what we considered) her childish ways, she and the kids had a great time, and she loved them dearly. One thing I notice only in retrospect is how bright was her smile, and how delightful, frequent, and genuine her laugh.

Carol found joy in the little things, and now I see that she was very childlike (not childish!) in her joy of things like her cat, her collection of bunny figurines, her shell collection, and her gleeful love of Halloween and Christmas. She enjoyed big, sparkly jewelry and would often change the color of her eyes with colored contact lenses. She loved wigs and make-up and colorful clothes, and she gave the most lovely gifts when finances allowed.

In 2010, Carol, a lifelong smoker, was diagnosed with lung cancer. Frankly, it was something we expected to happen, but it was still hard to process. Dean was terribly upset. My husband cries only rarely, but that day on the phone, when he told me the news, he couldn’t stop crying. I was surprised when, between sobs, he was very specific: “I want her to be baptized!” Looking back, it’s an absolute miracle how God answered his tearful prayer.

Honestly, we thought she was the last person in the world who would find true faith in God, much less that she would actually be baptized before she left this earth. In our minds, it was simply not possible, and that is why Dean was weeping. In an attempt to console Dean, I suggested we send Carol some holy or religious things, anything that might resonate with her as she faced a difficult diagnosis and her own mortality. We actually bought a copy of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life to give her, since she didn’t seem to have or identify with any real purpose (it’s not a Catholic book, and we wouldn't normally recommend it, but we thought it was light enough to introduce some ideas). We discussed sending vintage holy cards since she liked pretty images, specifically a guardian angel card, since she was drawn to angels and all things "otherworldly". And we thought of sending an image of the Blessed Mother, since Carol hadn't had a loving earthly mother.

Ultimately, though, we sent nothing.

After trying and suspending chemo and radiation treatments that she could not tolerate, Carol became more and more frail, visually aging decades in just a couple of years. Strangely and happily, the tumors seemed to stop growing at one point (I believe God gave her the time she needed for what was to come), although she still suffered from COPD and other ailments that kept sucking the life out of her body. However, although she looked like a different woman, her spirits and good humor remained the same! I still did not fully grasp the stuff of which this woman was made.

Carol came to visit us for Thanksgiving in 2012, and one evening she and I found ourselves alone as I cleaned up the kitchen. We usually talked about superficial things, but this time we went deeper and I was glad. Lovingly, she told me that Dean and I had done a good job raising the children. In return, I told her something that I never really had believed all these years (in fact, I had believed the opposite): “You were a good mother, too, Carol.” And when I spoke those words, I was being sincere. She responded with a chuckle, “No, I was not a good mom.” I countered with the truth: “Carol, you raised two amazing men, family men, who love their wives and their children and are good citizens and human beings. You were a good mom. You taught them right from wrong, and when Dean was little and stole from the neighbors, you made him suffer the consequences, and he learned. Many parents won't do that today.”

We went on to talk about how kids are raised these days, how parents are afraid to parent, and the problems with pervasive disrespect. It was an interesting conversation, two moms in solidarity, which transitioned into a discussion of the broader culture. As with religion, we had always avoided talking about the culture and politics; Carol was politically on the left, and had "progressive" ideas about the social issues. There was very little that we agreed on. But in our newfound solidarity, we talked about the permissiveness of the culture, and I felt bold enough to discuss with her the ugly things that even small children and young teens are taught by the likes of Planned Parenthood, much of which shocked her -- like the "embrace your inner slut" video. She looked at me, horrified, and said, “I’m a liberal, but I don’t believe in that!” I told her I understood, and that most Americans are unaware of what goes on here politically, legally, and in our schools and universities, and that they would be shocked if they knew.

The entire discussion was interesting, edifying, and pleasant, and I felt like Carol and I had bonded as never before. I felt good at this step towards a better friendship and a deeper mutual understanding, and I was satisfied, feeling that this talk could tide us over for a lifetime. Now that that was done, it was time to move along, to relax and enjoy the rest of the night with mindless activities.

I was not expecting what happened next. It was a like a bomb: The question that changed everything.

To be continued....

Read Part Two here.

Monday, December 15, 2014


That is what one dear friend said about a book that a few of us in my little Phoenix Bubble have been reading. Another way I've heard it described (multiple times, before and after I got my grubby hands on it) is "life-changing".

I finished it recently. Yes, I, Leila Miller, finished a book! And I cannot stop thinking about it and applying it, again and again.

It is life-changing and mind-blowing.

And it's short!

Into Your Hands, Father: Abandoning Ourselves to the God Who Loves Us, by Fr. Wilfrid Stinissen

Do yourself a favor: Read this book. Get out your pen, highlighter, whatever, and start notating the parts that jump out at you. It will pretty much put life and suffering into a context you can understand and actually do something with. If the truths that lie within these pages are taken in and digested, anxiety would cease. We could rest easy, whatever our lot. Yes, I mean that.

When my local girlfriends started recommending it to me a few months back, I didn't even remember that I had a copy already on my bookshelf from several years ago when another friend had told me that it was life-changing, and I had bought it on her recommendation. I must not have been ready for it at the time, because I read through some pages, it didn't wow me, and I put it back on my shelf to collect dust.

But when I had a second copy put in my hands recently, I was ready. God had made me ready in the years since, and I am eternally grateful, because it all makes perfect sense now.

In the past days, I have loaned one of my copies to a friend and mailed the other copy to someone who was spiritually moved by the excerpts I kept posting on Facebook. I recently ordered a third copy so that I'll have one on hand to give away when someone crosses my path who needs it (and that would be everybody).

Did I mention, dear harried, tired, overwhelmed-with-life readers, that it's short?

And for those thinking ahead to Lenten reading, you're welcome. :)

Monday, December 8, 2014

Little Teaching: The Immaculate Conception

The beautiful thing about the Catholic Church is that we are very much a family. We have our Father in Heaven, our Brother Jesus, and all of our brothers and sisters in the Communion of Saints. And no family is complete without the presence and love of a Mother.

Mary, the Mother of Christ Jesus, is our Mother, too. She is your Mother.

Today, we celebrate one of the most beautiful Marian Feast days, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (which is also a holy day of obligation, by the way, so get yourself to mass!).

Many people are confused about the Immaculate Conception, believing that it refers to the the conception of Jesus in Mary's womb (it does not; that is the Annunciation, or the Incarnation), or that it refers to the Virgin Birth (it does not; that is the Nativity, or Christmas).

The Immaculate Conception refers to and celebrates the conception of Mary in her own mother's womb. She was conceived in the usual way, by her two married parents, St. Anne and St. Joachim, so that was not the extraordinary part. What is extraordinary is the fact that from the moment of Mary's conception, she was without the stain of Original Sin. She was immaculate, and she stayed that way her whole life. 

On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX infallibly defined this ancient Christian teaching in this way:

"We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful."

Some Catholics fully embrace this doctrine of Mary's sinlessness, yet still misunderstand why Mary was conceived without sin. Some people (even some priests) erroneously believe that Mary had to be sinless in order to carry a sinless Jesus in her own womb, so as not to pass along Original Sin to her Divine Son through her flesh. They believe that the Immaculate Conception was necessary

But that is not true. Because if it were necessary for a woman to be without sin in order to bear a child without sin, then St. Anne would have had to be sinless to bear a sinless Mary, and the same would have to be true for St. Anne's mother, and on and on all the way back through the generations. Clearly, that is not the case. 

Rather than "necessary", the words of the Church are that it was "wholly fitting" that God would preserve the Blessed Mother from any taint or impurity. She is the Holy Vessel who would house the Word Incarnate in her own body. Just as the Old Testament Ark of the Covenant was made of the purest gold to house the Word of God, the Ark of the New Covenant (Mary) would be made of purest flesh to house the Word of God made Flesh (Jesus). She was, literally, the Holy of Holies. 

And so it is fitting that we honor Mary, the Immaculate Conception, on this beautiful feast day dedicated to her singular privilege as the Fairest Daughter of the Father. Praise God Who gave us, literally, the perfect Mother. 

The Immaculate Conception, by Tiepolo

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Rest in peace, Carol

My husband's mother, Carol, died yesterday morning, on the Feast of St. Nicholas, four days before her 68th birthday. She died peacefully, after having received the Last Rites of the Church. She was a new Catholic, baptized and received into the Catholic Church less than a year and a half ago. 

She spent one Christmas on earth as a Christian, and will spend this Christmas with the King of Kings. As a daughter of Israel and a daughter of the Church, she is doubly blessed. 

The story of her conversion is as beautiful as it was unexpected, and I want to take some time to gather my thoughts and tell her story well. 

In the meantime, please pray for the repose of the soul of this beautiful woman, and pray for the comfort of the family she leaves behind, especially her two sons who will miss her dearly. 

Carol Sue Goldstein Miller
December 10, 1946 - December 6, 2014

May the Angels lead you into paradise; 
may the martyrs greet you at your arrival 
and lead you into the holy city, Jerusalem. 

Eternal rest grant unto Carol, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon her. 
May her soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Fr. Jean Buridan and the Birth of Modern Science

You all know that I am not the go-to person on the intersection of science and theology, but Dr. Stacy Trasancos is.

Her work is illuminating and important in an amnesiac culture that accuses the Catholic Church of being anti-science. When I saw Stacy's recent post on "Fr. Jean Burdian and the Birth of Modern Science", I asked her permission to reproduce it here. She kindly agreed, and added the following information and offers for Bubble readers:

1.  I [Stacy] will send a free copy of my book, Science Was Born of Christianity: The Teaching of Fr. Stanley L. Jaki,  to anyone who is an educator. Email me. 

2.  The Kindle book is on sale for $2.99 until the end of the month. 

3.  If you buy the hard copy, I will give you a free copy of the ebook. Email me to let me know.

4.  If you are interested in scheduling a speaking engagement where I explain the book's main points, email me. I have limited availability.

5.  The proceeds go to a single mother in need, a U.S. military veteran, always have, always will. Whatever sells by December 20, I will forward to her in time for Christmas.

My email:

Thank you, Stacy! Now, to the meat...

Fr. Jean Buridan and the Birth of Modern Science

The reaction to Pierre Duhem’s 1913 volume Le système du monde: histoire des doctrines cosmologiques de Platon à Copernic (The System of World: A History of Cosmological Doctrines from Plato to Copernicus) was both strong and spectacular. His work provided undeniable evidence that in the Middle Ages faith in the predictability of nature was rooted in the theology of God as the Creator of Heaven and Earth. It was not just a single belief, but a climate of shared belief nurtured by an educational system comprised of universities, cathedral schools, and monasteries that consistently taught Christian theology. Circumnavigate the conclusion however one may, the theological beliefs that united the consistent learning centers teaching those beliefs did not exist in any of the ancient cultures nor did the Scientific Revolution occur in them. The people in ancient cultures had the skills to produce a viable science of physical laws and systems of laws, but they held some form of a pantheistic or animistic worldview. The worldview instilled by the Old Testament cultures was founded on the theology of a personal and merciful God who created a universe of order and routine.

In early Christianity, from the first millennium and into the second, and even now, this worldview was maintained. It was maintained when the Greek works were introduced and translated to the Christian West in the Middle Ages. It was the Christian scholars who dared to reject certain long-held ideas from the ancient Greeks because those ideas contradicted the tenets of Divine Revelation. The significance of the difference in the Christian worldview and the pantheistic worldview is critical to the birth of modern science. Fr. Stanley L. Jaki named the “classical and most influential case” that represents the birth of modern science from Christianity, and this is the case of Fr. Jean Buridan (1300–1358), the French priest who developed the concept of the impetus which led to the modern concept of inertia and paved the way for Isaac Newton’s first law of motion.

Jean Buridan’s Impetus Theory

In his work Quaestiones super quattuor libris de Cælo et Mundo, Buridan showed that a radical departure from Aristotelian cosmology and physics was absolutely necessary for explaining the movement of bodies. Buridan not only departed from untenable ideas, he affirmed his faith in the Creator and derived from those “articles of faith” what could only be known by revelation and not by scientific demonstration. Buridan stated that “in many an instance one should not believe Aristotle who made many propositions contrary to the Catholic faith because he wanted to state nothing except what could be derived from considerations based on what is seen and experienced.” (Quaestiones, p. 152) Stated more concisely—and this should be considered carefully—it was faith, not observation, experimentation, or investigation that gave the first breaths to modern science. Buridan’s theory of impetus is found in Book VIII, Question 12 of Super octo libros physicorum Aristotelis subtilissimae quaestiones. He was thinking about what moves a projectile after it leaves the hand of the projector. It is first necessary to understand what Aristotle asserted, which was the accepted explanation in Buridan’s day, so first a brief review.

Aristotle’s Theory of Motion

Aristotelian theory of motion held that terrestrial bodies had a natural motion towards the center of the universe, which meant, at that time, the center of earth. Motion in any other direction was “violent” motion because it contradicted natural motion and thus, required a mover to move it. Bodies were thought to naturally desire rest, so whenever something moved in any other way than naturally, there had to be a mover in contact with it. If the mover ceased to move it, the body fell straight to the earth and became suddenly at rest.

Aristotle also argued that if the resistance of a medium through which an object passed remained constant, the body would move at a constant speed if the force exerted by the mover were also constant. [This is false. A constant force results in a proportionally constant acceleration (F=ma) according to Newton’s second law.] Aristotle also held that if the resistance of the medium varied, the speed the object moved under constant force varied proportionally, and if the movement took place in a vacuum, bodies would move instantaneously with infinite speed. This is one of the reasons why Aristotle thought a complete void was impossible.

Aristotle’s system included an explanation in Book VII and VIII of Physics, and Book III of De cælo that objects move farther when thrown due to a concept he coined as antiperistasis, which means a surrounding (peri) resistance (anti) caused by an action that induces an unchanging equilibrium (stasis). This concept applied to projectiles (thrown objects). Once the mover (the hand, for instance) throws the object and the object is no longer in contact with the mover, the air that resists the object (anti) is divided by the object and surrounds it (peri). By doing so, the air fills in the vacuum in the wake thereby impelling it along (stasis). When bodies fall to the ground, Aristotle attributed this natural motion to the soul of the object (animism) searching for what is best for it. Thus a ball thrown on earth will be impelled by antiperistasis, but will also be acted upon by the ball’s nature which searches for the ground, thus projectile motion.

 According to Aristotle, the mass of an object is directly proportional to the nature of the object’s desire for its natural place. Therefore, Aristotle thought that two otherwise identical objects would fall to the ground with proportionally different speeds if one was twice the mass of the other, the heavier one falling twice as fast as the lighter one. The heavier mass’s larger nature held a larger desire to be on the ground, a conclusion that defies plain common sense and observation. It is easily observed that two balls of different mass fall at the same rate of acceleration, but this was not noticed or not admitted by the ancient Greeks or by the Muslims who followed Aristotle. Note, he was not referring to two dissimilar objects such as a feather and a ball which would fall at rates also affected by surface area and air resistance. Aristotle was referring to objects identical except for mass, i.e. two balls of the same size but different masses.

 According to Aristotle, there were two kinds of bodies: terrestrial (natural) and celestial (divine). The terrestrial bodies moved toward their desired place of rest. The celestial bodies were the bodies from the Moon upward, and they moved in a circle in a sort of divine substance called the ether. This explained why the heavenly realm moved in continuous circles. They were in a perpetual contact with the Prime Mover itself, which is the basis of the doctrine of eternal cycles (the Great Year) of an eternal cosmos emanating from the Prime Mover. Thus, motion was explained in the heaven and on earth by the object dividing the substance (air or water on earth, the ether in the heavens) and the substance in turn filling in behind the object to push it along. On earth, objects also fell to the ground in search of their rest unless a mover kept them in their motion. In the heavens, bodies were in their most desired place as long as they were in contact with the Prime Mover.

Reconciling with the Christian Creed

Buridan, along with the other Christian scholars reconciling Aristotelian texts with the Creed, rejected the doctrine of the Great Year and eternal cycles of the universe. Because he viewed the universe as the creation of a rational Creator and thus viewed the universe as having an absolute beginning in time, Buridan, in thinking scientifically, necessarily had to ponder the cause of motion for heavenly bodies, which in turn meant he had to ponder the cause of motion for terrestrial bodies, and he did so in the same atmosphere in which the Condemnations of 1277 were made. So, in Book VIII, Question 12 of the above mentioned work, Buridan appealed to common experience and judged Aristotle’s position to be unsatisfactorily solved. (The question can be found here at Professor Gyula Klim’s site.) Buridan gave the example of a child’s toy, the top. When a top spins, it spins in place so there is no vacuum left behind and thus no antiperistatic effect to impel the top to keep spinning.

As a second example, he described the “smith’s wheel” and how it also moves in a circular motion but does not leave a vacuum. As a third example, he pointed out that if an arrow were sharp at both ends, it would still move in the same way as it would move if the back end were blunt. If the motion were caused by the impulsion of the air moving in behind the arrow as it pierced the air, the arrow with a sharp posterior should not fly as far, but this is not observed. As a fourth example, he described the scenario of a ship moving through water. If the ship is going against the flow and the rowing is stopped, the ship continues on for a while and does not stop immediately. A sailor on deck, however, does not feel the air behind him pushing (impelling) him. He instead feels only the air in front of him resisting him. And if the man were standing at the back of the ship, the strong force from the air rushing in behind the ship and pushing it along ought to knock the man violently into the cargo.

Experience shows in all of these scenarios that antiperistasis is false. Buridan then argued that if, fundamentally, motion is maintained by continuous contact with a mover, then there is no explanation for how the top or the smith’s wheel can continue to move after the hand is removed, for even if a cloth surrounds the top or the wheel on all sides blocking any movement of air, it still spins after the hand is removed. Further, he argued, common experience shows that when a person pushes his hand through the air, he does not feel the air behind his hand pushing it along whether he has a stone in it or not. Buridan concluded that since, in those cases, there is no air to impel motion, no hand to sustain it, no rowing to move it, there must be another explanation. This is how he arrived at his impetus theory (see paragraph 6):
Thus we can and ought to say that in the stone or other projectile there is impressed something which is the motive force (virtus motiva) of that projectile. And this is evidently better than falling back on the statement that the air continues to move that projectile. For the air appears rather to resist. Therefore, it seems to me that it ought to be said that the motor in moving a moving body impresses (imprimit) in it a certain impetus or a certain motive force (vis motiva) of the moving body, [which impetus acts] in the direction toward which the mover was moving the moving body, either up or down, or laterally, or circularly. And by the amount the motor moves that moving body more swiftly, by the same amount it will impress in it a stronger impetus.
The impetus continues to move a stone after the hand throws it, and the impetus is continually decreased by the resisting air and by the gravity of the stone. He also related impetus to mass:
Hence by the amount more there is of matter, by that amount can the body receive more of thatimpetus and more intensely (intensius). Now in a dense and heavy body, other things being equal, there is more of prime matter than in a rare and light one. Hence a dense and heavy body receives more of that impetus and more intensely, just as iron can receive more calidity than wood or water of the same quantity. Moreover, a feather receives such an impetus so weakly (remisse) that such an impetus is immediately destroyed by the resisting air. And so also if light wood and heavy iron of the same volume and of the same shape are moved equally fast by a projector, the iron will be moved farther because there is impressed in it a more intense impetus, which is not so quickly corrupted as the lesser impetuswould be corrupted. This also is the reason why it is more difficult to bring to rest a large smith’s mill which is moving swiftly than a small one, evidently because in the large one, other things being equal, there is more impetus.
Tying this reasoning to common experience, Buridan also explained that this is why one who wishes to jump a longer distance takes a few steps back to run faster and drive himself farther, and why the jumper does not feel the air propelling him but rather the air in front of him resisting him against the force of his jump.

Guided by Faith

Finally, Buridan turned this path of reasoning toward the heavens and noted that the Bible does not claim that God had to keep his hand on the celestial bodies to maintain their motion. Buridan suggested that the motion of celestial bodies could be answered another way.
God, when He created the world, moved each of the celestial bodies as He pleased, and in moving them He impressed in them impetuses which moved them without His having to move them any more except by the method of general influence whereby He concurs as a co-agent in all things which take place; “for thus on the seventh day He rested from all work which He had executed by committing to others the actions and the passions in turn.” And these impetuses which He impressed in the celestial bodies were not decreased nor corrupted afterwards, because there was no inclination of the celestial bodies for other movements. Nor was there resistance which would be corruptive or repressive of that impetus.
In other words, Buridan introduced the concepts that would lead to Newton’s first law of motion, that a body at rest would stay at rest and a body in motion would stay in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by another force. The pantheistic worldview never would have led to such an idea because it was fundamentally and institutionally opposed to it. Buridan’s insight derived from his faith in the Christian Creed, Divine Revelation applied to reason and observation, which led to exact science as a self-sustaining enterprise of physical laws and systems of laws. “I might seek from the theological masters what they might teach me in these matters as to how these things take place.”

 Following the Condemnations of 1277 by Tempier against a set of tenets upheld by Aristotle and his followers, a large movement appeared that liberated Christian thought from the ancient Greek thought and produced modern science. Duhem is considered to have identified the 1277 articles as the most significant event in the birth of modern science, while Jaki highlighted the spark ignited by Buridan a generation later. For Jaki, however, it is not a certain man, event, or date that marks the birth of science though; it is a breakthrough in a naturalistic worldview that rejected the pantheistic doctrine of eternal cycles and approached the investigation of nature guided by the light of Christian faith in a merciful, faithful God who created the world out of nothing with an absolute beginning and end in time, that is ordered, predictable, and stable, but also not a god itself.

This breakthrough, just described, was based not on observation or experiment but on divine revelation and faith, and it is thus the birth of modern science, a fundamental departure from the worldviews in which modern science was stillborn.

Sources and Recommended Reading

  • Stanley Jaki, Science and Creation: From Eternal Cycles to an Oscillating Universe. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1986, see pp. 230-231.
  • Stanley Jaki, A Late Awakening and Other Essays. Port Huron, MI: Real View Books, 2004.
  • Herbert Butterfield, The Origins of Modern Science (New York: The Free Press, A Division of Simon & Schuster Inc., 1957).
  • Marshall Clagett, The Science of Mechanics in the Middle Ages (Madison,WI, The University of Wisconsin Press, 1959).
  • Pierre Duhem, Essays in the History and Philosophy of Science, Translated and Edited by Roger Ariew and Peter Barker (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 1996).
Adapted from my book, Science Was Born of Christianity: The Teaching of Fr. Stanley L. Jaki. Available on Amazon.