33rd Sunday of the Year – Starring Pascal and Lewis

“The learned will shine as brightly as the vault of heaven, and those who have instructed many in virtue, as bright as stars for all eternity.”

In the calendar of Saints, the Church presents us with a yearly “programme of study” into the great and the good of Christian history.

But it’s good to remember, too, the anniversaries of those who are not on the official list, but still made a great contribution to learning and virtue.  Two such anniversaries fall this week.

On the 22nd, shared with John F Kennedy, we commemorate the anniversary of C. S. Lewis.  Jack Lewis, an Irish Protestant, became famous during the Second World War for his radio talks on basic Christian doctrine.  After the war, he produced a series of “children’s” books which, in an accessible way, introduced many to the truths of Christianity.  Though he never showed any Romeward leanings, his work (even his fiction) is quoted by major Catholic theologians, including the current Pope.

The 23rd is a good day to remember the French polymath Blaise Pascal.  Pascal, who made contributions to physics (which is why pressure is measured in pascals) and maths (Pascal’s Triangle is a staple of A level probability), was an accomplished Catholic philosopher of the 17th century.  Challenging the thinking of Descartes, that he could see would lead ultimately to the loss of faith in God, he was famous for keeping a notebook of his “Pensées” (thoughts).

On the night of the 23rd November 1654, he wrote in his diary, “Fire.  The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Not the God of the philosphers or the wise…”

Pascal clearly had had some sort of powerful encounter with God, that reminded him that faith must descend from the head to the heart, if it is to be expressed in our lives.  He wrote elsewhere, “One drop of love is worth an ocean of understanding.”

As these two men shine out like stars at this dark time of the year, let us ask God that our lives, our learning, might lead others to wisdom and virtue.

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