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June 10, 2009

A Grain of Sand
by Friar Jim Van Vurst, O.F.M.

A Single Moment, a Grain of Sand

Several months ago, I wrote a column entitled “Just a moment, please.” In it I spoke of the unbelievable significance a single moment can have in our lives: Mary’s “fiat” when God asked her to become the mother of the word of God. At that moment, the entire direction of history was changed and became salvation history.

There is another way of looking at creation in terms of size. For example, Jesus spoke of the potential of the tiny mustard seed: “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to [this] mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (Lk 17:6).

I have a magnificent book of photos of the universe, entitled The Hand of God, by Sharon Begley, with pictures taken by the Hubble space telescope. Just think. We are able to make a telescope, attach it to a rocket, send it into space, launch it into orbit and see the universe—planets, stars and whole galaxies—in clarity and detail that ancient people could not have dreamed of. We don’t know yet if there are other planets with some forms of life on them, but we know humanity cannot stop exploring the wonders of God’s creation. And every new discovery only uncovers so many more questions.


The Earth, Just a Speck of Sand

But think about this. Our earth is just one small planet in our solar system, which is a part of the Milky Way Galaxy, which itself is just of ordinary size as far as galaxies go. We know there are at least 100 billion galaxies out in space, each containing billions and billions of stars. Well, try to imagine how that must make earth feel, if earth had any feelings! As far as size is concerned, even describing earth as the size of a grain of sand would be making it bigger than it really is in comparison with what’s out there in the universe. Just try to pick up a single grain of sand or a single grain of sugar or salt. It’s actually difficult to do. But think of that as our earth. Here we are on earth sitting on this grain of sand, so to speak, and WE are exploring God’s whole universe. And, indeed through the work of scientists, we do know a great deal about the universe.

Now we could ask a simple question: Why on earth (as we say) did God create this whole universe with billions and billions of galaxies, each containing billions and billions of stars? In a way it seems such a waste of space. Why not just create earth and float it out in space somewhere? One answer might be exactly what the psalmist tells us: “The heavens proclaim the glory of God and the firmament shows forth the handiwork of his hands. Day unto day takes up the story and night unto night makes known the message” (Ps 19:1). He created it for us to give us a hint of his grandeur and his size. Of course, God is infinite, not contained in any way. He is without beginning, without end and without limit. We can’t imagine the size of the universe; no wonder we can’t even begin to imagine how big God is. And, of course, “big” doesn’t even apply to God.


The Answer Is Love; It Always Is

But this is the point. Imagine this infinite God even considering becoming so very tiny that he would fit himself into the womb of a young teenage Jewish girl and be born as an infant. So tiny, in fact, that you and I could hold this infant in one hand. Hard to believe, isn’t it, that God in the flesh would leave human footprints on this little spot in the universe? How is it possible for an infinite God to squeeze into such a tiny body? Why would he do it? From any point of view it makes no sense for God to do that. Why bother with this infinitesimally small planet earth, populated with truly messed up and sinful people? We scratch our heads and wonder. Well, we have the answer, but it is still too hard for us to grasp. He loves us. “Yes, but…” we say. “We don’t deserve it.” God’s reply is, “It doesn’t matter; I love you, and I can’t take my eyes off you.” And then we realize we can never grasp God’s love for us. If we could, we would ourselves be God. Love is the answer, and the corollary to that statement is that “love does the craziest things.” And we are silent.

We stand back in utter awe and wonderment when we look at the heaven above and consider a God so infinite. But, if you think about it, isn’t it even more awesome to think of how little God became?

The next time you see a tiny infant, remind yourself that God became as tiny and fragile as that beautiful baby. Go one step further and gaze at the Eucharist in your hand at communion and realize that you hold God in your own hand. Don’t be surprised if you are really startled by what you see. It could well be a very special “moment of grace.”


Friar Jack's Inbox
Readers respond to Friar Jack Wintz's May E-spiration, Musing: Similar Traits of St. Anthony and St. Francis

Dear Friar Jack: I appreciated the similarities of these two wonderful saints. As a child, my mother taught me about these saints, and they became dear to me. Many times I asked for help in locating lost items and for the health of a pet. Theresa

Dear Friar Jack: Let all of us, each in our own environment, become bridge-builders [just as St. Anthony and St. Francis became in their own day as shown by their willingness to dwell among Muslims]. Beverly

Dear Theresa and Beverly and all readers: Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for being readers of Friar Jack. Know that I keep you and your loved ones in my prayers, asking God to hear your petitions. I regret that I cannot answer all your questions and requests personally. By the way, I am still receiving many responses to my April E-spiration, “Do Our Pets Go to Heaven?Friar Jack

E-mails like the following continue to come in:

Dear Friar Jack: I just received my copy of your book (Will I See My Dog in Heaven?). You have answered a question I have battled for years, i.e., where do dogs go after they die? I went to Catholic schools all my life. The “good sisters” always taught us that animals do not have souls and therefore they cannot go to heaven. I always thought as a child that God is good and will give us whatever makes us happy in heaven. He loves me that much, to let my pets be there also. You have given me the answer I’ve always sought. I now know all my dogs will be there to greet me. I’m looking at the one I have now, a sweet little poodle girl, with a “new eye.” She in her own way praises God every day. How beautiful. Thank you for this sweet, inspiring book. Maryann, SFO

Dear Friar Jack: Thank you for an excellent, reasoned, faithful explanation on our animal friends. As personal “servants” for a 13 lb. Shih Tzu, my wife and I believe that pets are God’s gift to us. I’ve also come to believe that dogs are incognito angels! How else can all that love be explained? Paul

Dear Maryann and Paul: I appreciate your gracious support of my belief that we will indeed, in some way, see our pets and other creatures in heaven. Friar Jack

I’m also pleased to inform you and thousands of other readers that the publishers of my book Will I See My Dog in Heaven? (Paraclete Press) have set up a Facebook group that allows people interested in discussing that subject to share their thoughts. This is especially true of those who have read the book. I’m happy to share this link with you: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=79403029838

Send your feedback to friarjack@americancatholic.org

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I am Fr. Jim Van Vurst and I hope you'll enjoy
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