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December 11, 2013
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Amazing Numbers
by Friar Jim Van Vurst, O.F.M.


How complex are our lives? If you really think about that question, the answer is beyond our wildest imagination.

For example, consider Abraham of the Old Testament: the father of the Israelites. His descendants were Isaac, Jacob, and Judah. Scripture scholars estimate that about 42 generations later, Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary.

A generation is estimated to be 20 to 25 years. With people living longer today, it is closer to 25. Centuries ago, however, it was closer to 20. So, for the sake of example, let’s use 20 years to estimate a generation since we are going to look far back into our own family histories.

Family Tree

Let’s imagine that, starting from the year 2000, each of us has two parents, four grandparents, and eight great-grandparents. That goes back three generations. If we go back four generations, we have 16 ancestors (that’s about 80 years in our family history). Going back eight generations (160 years), we have 256 ancestors. And at 12 generations (240 years), we find there are 4,096 ancestors.

Here is another startling truth: if there is any change in the history of either side of our families, no matter how little or far we go back, you and I would not exist. Think of it this way: let’s say, in the 16th century, Bruno was traveling in Europe in his wagon. He had reached a point in his life where he wanted to find a woman to marry. Suddenly, he comes to a fork in the road. He can turn right and marry Maria or turn left and marry Bertha. Every bit of Bruno’s ancestry hinges on which direction he takes.

We are here because of our unique history. And change, no matter how remote, alters everything. If our parents had not come together, we would not be.

God's Providence

This brings up a powerful truth of faith. Sometimes people want to tell God how God should run the world. We say, “If only God would do this or that.” And we think we know the consequences of whatever God will do. We look at the immediate result and say, “Yes, that is what I want.” Of course, we can’t possibly imagine the consequences of our wish if it was granted. If God showed that even the good things we want had consequences down the road, we might end up saying, “Sorry, God. I was wrong. Don’t grant me my wish.”

This is part of the reason we as Christians believe in the providence of God. It means that we walk in faith and trust in God’s care. Our own individual lives are complicated enough. We can be grateful that God is looking over the world and loving every person—including each and every one of us.

Friar Jack's Inbox
Readers respond to Friar Jack Wintz's November E-spiration, Musing: A Spirit of Gratitude

Friar Jeremy: Thank you for your insights on gratitude. I see on Facebook how some people say what they’re grateful for on a daily basis, putting it into a gratitude plan. I'm glad to see more emphasis on being grateful, and I was glad to see your E-spiration. It is a good way for readers to meet you! Mary Ann

Dear Mary Ann: Thank you, Mary Ann. It’s also good to meet you! And thank you for the idea of a monthly gratitude plan. I guess we need to do both, but I like reviewing the blessings of the month and not only my faults. Friar Jeremy

Friar Jeremy: Thanks so much for this lovely article. Sometimes life has its challenges, but I have noticed that when I start counting and thanking God for my blessings, my issues suddenly become so minute compared to what other people are going through. This article has awakened in me the importance of being grateful because then I realize that God is standing right there beside me. May God bless you! Maria from Uganda

Dear Maria: Your perspective of awareness of what others are going through and God standing beside you is very helpful. It is good to hear from Uganda! Friar Jeremy

Friar Jeremy: Thank you for your insightful column. It’s relevant to the real world I live in today. I also receive via e-mail the “Saint of the Day“ and the “Minute Meditations”—each interesting in their own way. But I don't look forward to reading them half as much as I do your column. I am grateful to be able to start my day with a cup of tea and your morning message. Laurie

Dear Laurie: Thanks for your words of encouragement. You pray and reflect with a cup of tea. I pray with a cup of coffee every morning. Friar Jeremy

Friar Jeremy: I couldn’t sleep well, so the first thing that I saw when checking my e-mail was your timely reflection on gratitude! Thank you for your ability to put a balance in my attitude and focus on positive thoughts. Nancy

Dear Nancy: I'll try to imitate you and focus on the positive today. Peace! Friar Jeremy

Send your feedback to friarjack@franciscanmedia.org

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Welcome!
I am Fr. Jim Van Vurst and hope you'll enjoy
all of the news and great features at AmericanCatholic.org as well as my own writing. By the way, I am a real Franciscan friar, as is my co-worker, Friar Jack.
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