French mathematician, physicist, and philosopher Blaise Pascal was born in 1623. He is credited with being one of the first inventors of the mathematical calculator. His name, Pascal, is given to the computer language that was instrumental in the coding of the original Apple Macintosh computers. Similarly, Pascal’s law refers to an important principle of hydrostatics, and Pascal’s Wager refers to his argument for the existence of God. Following an intense religious experience in 1654, Pascal began to write philosophical and theological works. One of his most well-known works is Pensées (Thoughts). Here are some of his thoughts:

1. “The immortality of the soul is a matter of such importance…that it is impossible for us to take a single step with sense and judgment unless it is determined by our conception of our final end.”
2. “Our primary interest and our first duty must be to inform ourselves about the subject on which the whole of our conduct depends.”
3. “We…think we can regulate things that are not in our power for a future which we are by no means sure of reaching.”
4. “Happiness is neither outside us nor inside us; it is in God, and outside and inside us when we get close to God.”
5. “The God of Christians is a God who makes the soul feel that He is its only good, that its whole peace lies in Him, that it will only find joy in loving Him.”
6. “[Man] has so little idea of what God is that he does not know what he himself is.”
7. “[There] are people who know the path you would like to follow, and who have been cured of an ill of which you wish to be cured. Follow the method by which they began: it is by behaving as though they did believe….”

Do you agree with his thinking? Are his thoughts true? What is the “final end” of all human beings? What is our destiny? What is the “subject” he speaks of, “the subject on which the whole of our human conduct depends?” I think there is truth in his thoughts, and much to ponder about in his thinking.
Br. James


Yesterday, on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis inaugurated the Year of Mercy. Today I ask myself, what does this mean for me? What does mercy mean in my life?

A few months ago I moved to the State of Washington and had to register an 18-year-old car. The registration process included a mandatory smog test of the vehicle. Not surprisingly, the car failed the first test. After expensive repairs, it failed the second test, and at this point I was starting to feel that the whole process would be futile, until the smog-test station official said, “no problem, just go over to that office with your repair receipt, and the manager will give you a waiver.” I could not believe it; I thought to myself: a waiver, while the car still emits smog above the legal limit? As I drove away with my waiver, with confidence the car could now be registered, it felt like mercy; it felt good.

Though mercy felt good to receive, how often I have been slow to give mercy to others, especially to those whose mannerisms rub me the wrong way. This reluctance reminds me that Our Lord said, “The measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Lk 6:38). Such stinginess with mercy, then, would result in a small measure of mercy for me—a person who is in great need of abundant mercy!

For me, the Pope’s inauguration of a Year of Mercy means mercy should be foremost in my mind this coming year. For one year I should resolve to study mercy, to read what Scripture and the great spiritual writers have to say about mercy, to learn all I can about this virtue, and to put it into practice.

One year from now will be December 7th, the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a day that would live in infamy, in the words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. What a fitting day to test how much I have forgiven, for forgiveness is a first cousin of mercy.

Surely there will be articles written, conferences given, and retreats held throughout this coming year—all for the purpose of helping us to be more merciful. Surely, the Lord will give me many opportunities to practice the skill, art and virtue of mercy; may He also grant me the fortitude to pass these tests, and mercy when I fail!

Br. James


As a teenager, when I first began to seriously think about Catholic doctrine, I asked my religious education teachers a lot of questions; oftentimes the answer I got was “it’s a mystery”. I found this to be frustrating and annoying. It seemed to me that my question either exceeded the knowledge of the teacher or there was no answer to my question. In either case, it seemed like I came up against a brick wall, a dead end to my search for something to really believe in.

I now understand the word “mystery” differently in regards to the mysteries of our faith. With the help of Frank Sheed’s modern classic Theology and Sanity I learned that a mystery is not something we can know nothing about; rather, it is something that the mind cannot wholly know. In other words, there is a lot we can know about the truths of our faith which we label “mystery;” it’s just that we cannot know everything because our minds are finite and the truths are infinite: the truth of the Holy Trinity for instance.

Instead of thinking of “mystery” as a dead end or a dry well, Sheed suggests that a mystery is an invitation to the mind: “For it means that there is an inexhaustible well of Truth from which the mind may drink and drink again in the certainty that the well will never run dry, that there will always be water for the mind’s thirst.”

Mystery, Sheed argues, is two truths we cannot easily reconcile. We cannot grasp how God can be Three if He is infinitely One; or, we cannot readily comprehend how Christ can be wholly human and wholly God at the same time.

Sheed points out that this apparent conflict between two truths, which on the surface, appears irreconcilable is something we live with every day. “All life is a tension of apparent opposites,” he says. For instance, “our freedom is made perfect by obedience; thus a man is free to live if he obeys the laws of nutrition.” Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24). Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it. (Lk 17:33).

Although we have great difficulty mentally reconciling these apparent opposites, we experience them. For example, a saying attributed to St. Ignatius Loyola, “pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on you,” captures the lived experience of apparent opposites.

“Thus, a mystery is not to be thought of as simply darkness: it is a tiny circle of light surrounded by darkness. It is for us to use our own powers and God’s grace that the circle of light may grow. It means praying for more knowledge, and using the knowledge one gains to enrich one’s prayer.”

Bro. James

What is a syllogism?

A syllogism is an argument, a chain of reasoning, first articulated by Aristotle, the father of logic. It consists of three propositions or premises. The first proposition is the major premise (MP); the second the minor (mp), and the third is the conclusion (C). If the argument is constructed properly and the premises are true, then the conclusion is conclusive, not just probable.

The reliability of the conclusion derives from the syllogism’s middle term. The middle term links the major and minor premises together. For example: All men are mortal (MP), Socrates is a man (mp), therefore, Socrates is mortal (C). The middle term is men and man respectively. Since Socrates is a man, he is in the category of men, all of which are mortal, so the conclusion necessarily follows from the truth of the major and minor premises.

The syllogism plays an important role in morality; it leads us to knowledge of the correct choice of action, the morally good thought, word, or deed we ought to take in our everyday lives to reach our eternal destiny: the Beatific Vision. Our conscience is a judgement of reason; it is a syllogism working to show us the good and avoid evil. It functions like this: the major premise is the general, universal moral law; the minor premise is more specific and pertains to a concrete situation calling for a choice; the conclusion is the morally correct choice. For example, we may be tempted to shoplift a candy bar, but our conscience tells us, in the following manner, that this is wrong: I must do good and avoid evil (MP), stealing is forbidden by the seventh commandment (mp); therefore, I must not shoplift the candy bar. (C)

Our conscience functions by “applying a general principle to a particular case by an automatic syllogism.” The syllogism reflects the wonderful reasoning program God has implanted in us to lead us to Him.

Weekly Reflection: Attitude

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The first-line of the well-known Serenity Prayer begs the question: what can I change? We can change our thinking, our attitude, and our behavior (“TAB”).

What is meant by “attitude”? The Oxford Pocket Dictionary provides this simple definition of attitude: “posture of body: settled behavior as showing opinion; way of mind.” More than a few times my father said to me, “watch your attitude, son!” Imagine the posture of a spoiled child who refuses to do what he is told; see all the body language and hear the whiny tone of voice saying “I don’t wanna go to Church. I wanna play baseball with my friends.”

Imagine my surprise when years later I had the chance to sit in the pilot’s seat of an airplane and hear my father, who learned how to fly B-17 bombers during WWII, say “watch your attitude, son.” This time his admonition had an analogous meaning: he meant that I should fly the plane level with the horizon. One of the airplane instruments indicates the plane’s “attitude”. The instrument is like a compass with a horizontal line across it and it has a little image of an airplane. The image indicates the position of the wings with respect to the horizon. The idea is to keep the wings of the airplane in line, level with, the horizon line. When one wing tips down below the horizon the other tips up, then the body of the plane tips, or rotates, the same way, at the same angle. If the angle becomes too steep the plane could go into a spiral, control would be lost, and a crash imminent. On this day, I learned what my father was trying to teach me when he used to say “watch your attitude, son!”

Just as we have to “watch our attitude” to avoid a plane crash, we have to watch our attitude towards others to avoid a clash, to avoid harm to ourselves and to others. We need to retain control to fly right, and in this journey of life on earth we need to maintain the proper attitude toward people, places, and things. If our attitude is wrong, then we are in danger. On the other hand, when our behavior shows a poor opinion of someone, then can read this behavior; they can discern our poor attitude towards them, and in the words of an unknown sage: what goes around comes around. We will get a bad attitude directed right back at us. When our way of thinking is pessimistic, sarcastic, or critical—to name just a few of the many negative views of life we might adopt for ourselves—then we will begin a death spiral.

On the other hand, we can change our attitude and fly right. When our attitude is right the view is great; it’s serene!

— Br. James Lindsay