Wednesday Last Week Year I (Bl. Miguel Pro)

“I could have been a contender” says Sylvester Stallone in the film “Rocky”. And most of us know what he means.Did you spot the ‘deliberate’ mistake? D’oh! I really meant Marlon Brando in ‘On the Waterfront’

One of our team, trained long ago as a zoologist, was reading the TV guide this afternoon and sighing wistfully at the thought of a new David Attenborough extravaganza about creepy crawlies—“That could have been me”, he muttered. I don’t think he meant the insects…

For my own part I remember as a teenager watching Jacob Bronowski’s “Ascent of Man” and thinking “that’s who I want to be”. Well I’m not. And the regret’s real—but so is the relief: I didn’t get to be a second Bronowski—I got to be me.
For most of us, life doesn’t turn out how our younger selves imagine it should. We lack the talent. We dodge the luck. We open door A and not B.

And then there’s disaster. I remember meeting a priest just back from a ten-year reunion with the students he’d been chaplain to at university. He was sad and shaken. “How come I didn’t prepare them for divorce, and unemployment, and disease?” That’s what he wanted to know.

And sometimes we get to follow our bliss and still it leads us places we neither imagine nor instinctively desire. I wonder how long into his ministry it was before Jesus realized his future held no grand reforms and no grandchildren for his knee?
Miguel Pro was exiled from his native Mexico and only returned because his doctors thought the air of home would cure his stomach problems. In a way it did. He got to be a martyr, someone else than he expected. His martyrdom is a strange thing because we have photographs of it. The regime wanted his death recorded as a warning. So we see him brought before the firing squad. We see him praying. And we see him arms outstretched crying “Viva Christo Rey!”—Long Live Christ the King. He found an eloquence and a wisdom that even the bullets couldn’t contradict.

The thing that moves me though is that—as Luke says today—he met a tragedy and took it as an opportunity. An opportunity not just to bear witness but to be a witness. He didn’t get to be the person his younger self imagined but he was surprised by something better.

Apparently he was something of a joker. Once, when the house was raided where he was saying mass, he managed to slip out in time, only to come back disguised as a police officer to berate the constables for not having caught him yet. I like that style!

The gospel says, “your endurance will win you your lives” but that seems far too serious. There’s something here about taking the opportunities life presents and living them … eloquently. And letting our lives surprise us and continue to surprise us—because we are unfinished as yet, the canvas not dry, the witness we bear still not fully born.

10 replies on “Wednesday Last Week Year I (Bl. Miguel Pro)”

  1. P.S. I used to get teased a lot on July 4th, being a Brit and all, but I just told my tormentors that it was a holiday in the UK too–British Thanksgiving Day…

  2. Science over art? I was a science nut at the time but I think what struck me so much about Bronowski was his delight in humanity and his concern to be a man of both science and art.

    There’s one show in the series that did that so well. The subject was the birth of quantum theory but Bronowski set the whole thing against the backdrop of Nazism and talked about Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle being a principle of tolerance. He finishes the programme in Auschwitz quoting Oliver Cromwell: ‘I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think you may be mistaken’.

    It’s such a pity that the series isn’t available on video or DVD.The series is available from the BBC, Amazon, and all sorts of other places–the last time I looked I drew a blank but apparently it was reissued in April this year. Now to butter up my community and convince them it’s an essential buy.

  3. Everything I know about science, I learned from watching science fiction movies … does Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle exemplify kind of the same thought as Schrodinger’s Cat?

    Anyway, it sounds like Bronowski, in The Ascent of Man, was doing the same thing you now do … he took obscure theory and made it something that could touch anyone’s heart.

  4. I wish I had his insight and eloquence!

    The Uncertainty Principle is a little different to the paradox of Schrödinger’s poor cat but both are to do with measurement. In the Schrödinger formulation of quantum mechanics the state of a physical system is fully described by its wave function which evolves deterministically with time. The trouble is that the wave function doesn’t relate straightforwardly to the kind of measurements we can make. In fact, the square of the wave function gives the probability that a particular measurement will turn out a particular way.

    The Cat Paradox just sets up a macroscopic system with a wave function that yields a 50/50 chance of the cat being alive or dead. We might say that it has to be one or the other but the strangeness of the quantum world says otherwise.

    The Uncertainty Principle focuses on another aspect of quantum measurement. Imagine you have a particle happily moving along. The motion of the particle is governed by its wave function and the wave function gives you the probability of certain measurements coming out certain ways. You can perform experiments to find out where the particle is and how fast it is moving–all the information is there in the wave function–but it turns out you can only pin down the particle so much and beyond a certain tolerance in your measuring the more accurately you fix its position the rougher the answer you get for its velocity. It’s often presented as one measurement disturbing the system a little and disrupting the other but the principle is, I think, deeper than that.

    How much deeper is still an open question.

  5. Einstein said “I cannot believe that God would choose to play dice with the universe.” Bohr said, “Einstein, don’t tell God what to do.” 🙂

    This is interesting … would the uncertainty priciple impact stuff like providence, predestination, free will?

  6. Undoubtedly!

    There aren’t many ‘mainstream’ theologians who make cosmology central to their work but the field of science and religion studies is thriving. There’s a good summary of the field at The Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (CTNS) in Berkeley has been working with the Vatican Observatory on the subject of divine action in particular and has a chapter by chapter summary of their publications.

    Frankly, it makes my brain ache in a very satisfactory way! What do you think the impact is?

  7. Well, considering that I don’t really understand any of this …

    the impact that is suggested to me is that, if the behavior of the universe is random /unpredictable, then predestination/determinism is wrong. On the other hand, randomness doesn’t equal free will either, exactly.

    Sometimes people say there is no free will because God is all-knowing – one way out of this is to say God exists outside of time and that, though he knows what we think of as the future, he doesn’t cause it. Quantim mechanics says (I think?) that time is illusory, and Sartre believed that people were able to go “back in time” in their thoughts when they reflected on their acts, thus escaping determinism … so, maybe free will does exist, isn’t random (because it’sself-determined).

    And God is planless, just making stuff up, making us up, as he goes along? Is that providence?

    ….ouch, my head hurts and I don’t think I made any sense.

Comments are closed.