Mary, the Saints and the Gravity of God
In More Ways Than One, It’s All About Mass
It is not often that physics gets the spotlight in a homily, but I pay special attention when it does, not because I care too much if the homilist gets the physics right (they usually do), but because I am always looking for connections between the subject I teach in school and spirituality. Recently, Father Francis Mary of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal included a bit of Newtonian gravitation in a homily about Our Lady and her humility.
With his own typical humility, he prefaced his comments by appealing to those who know more about physics for correction of his understanding, but he recalled, correctly, that the force of gravity of an object depends on the mass of that object; something with greater mass has a greater gravitational pull. As a physics teacher, I can say that he would get an A for that comment. If he had mentioned that mass and gravitational force were directly proportional, he would have earned an A+, but that was unnecessary for the sermon.
Each of us tends to make himself or herself the spiritual center of the world, artificially creating mass for ourselves that we don’t really have. We evaluate events in terms of how they affect us and our lives. In reality, God is the center, and all events are measured in terms of God’s providence. He has all the mass, and we have none. Humility is the recognition that God is the center and not us; all events go past us in their gravitational attraction to God.
The same is true of praise. St. Francis of Assisi had the habit of talking about the good that God does through people rather than the good that people do — a recognition of the fact that we do nothing good on our own. Every good is pure gift from Goodness himself. So when we allow praise to accelerate toward us and stick to us, we are robbing God of what is rightfully his. Once again, we create for ourselves an artificial and imaginary mass to hold our praises in orbit around ourselves.
The saints, and Mary especially, have learned this secret of zero gravity. They allow all praise and attention to pass away from them to find the true center, God, who truly has all the mass. This is humility, Our Lady’s most dangerous weapon against the enemy who knows only pride. Let God have what belongs to him and will come to him in the end. All our love, admiration and veneration ultimately finds its home in God.
That is a lot of spiritual mileage just from the mass metaphor, but there is another factor that contributes to gravitational pull: distance from the object. A star may have an immense amount of mass, but the gravitational pull is very small at very large distances. The closer one gets to a mass, the greater the gravitational force. In fact, algebraically, the distance factor has a greater impact on the gravitational pull than the mass. If mass is doubled, force doubles, but if the distance is cut in half, the force is four times as much.
Not only do Mary and the saints give up all their own mass, but they remain very close to God, so all prayers, praise and honor we give to them deflects immediately to God. Their own gravitational pull is so small because of their small mass, but God’s own pull is so strong in their vicinity because they are so close to him. The distance factor only magnifies the humility analogy.
There is another analogy that comes out of the distance consideration: the closer we get to the saints, the closer we get to God and the stronger we feel his pull. The love we experience for the saints is the love of God; our attraction to them is our attraction to God. What we love about the saints we love about God. Those on the path to God cannot help but encounter these saints who are scattered all around the Divine Sphere in close proximity. The closer we get to God, the closer we get to the saints, and it might appear that the saints themselves are pulling us in. In reality, it is God who is pulling through them.
If those who are far from God complain that they do not feel a great love for him, it is not a result of any imperfection on his part. The blame can only be placed on the distance they have put between themselves and the Center of reality.
God and gravity. This is not the first time the analogy has been made, but this time there is a different application. Will we never find an end to the metaphors for the spiritual life? Well, if there is any limit, it will be a result of finite nature running out of analogies for an infinite God. The heavens declare the glory of God, but not all of his glory.