Thursday, August 11, 2005

How a scientific mind rediscovered the reality of God

Some of you may remember a piece I posted some time ago called "Why Mary Wept at Arlington" (June 11, 2005), about the supernatural events that were reported to have occurred at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish in Arlington, Virginia. The events reported from that parish were published in a book entitled The Seton Miracles, as well as in an online account at The Marian Foundation. I concluded my post with the observation: "People are often skeptical and dismissive of such phenomena as traditional Catholic superstition. See for yourself."

Many of you may be interested to know that, despite such prevailing skepticism, such events, by what can only be described as the working of the Holy Spirit, often compel belief in honestly inquiring minds and bring about remarkable changes in their lives. One such individual is Jacob Yoder, the brother of a former student of mine, Matthew, who became a Catholic some years ago. Jacob, it should be noted, is of a scientific bent, both by temper and profession, which makes his story particularly interesting. He majored in physics at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, from which he graduated in 2002. He is currently working on his doctorate in experimental nuclear physics at the University of Urbana-Champaigne, in Illinois. With his permission, I share with you the following letter, which I received from him yesterday (August 8, 2008) by email:

August 8, 2005

Greetings Phil,

Before you read any further, I thought I should make clear that I'm Jacob, Matthew's brother, not your LRC colleague. I thought you might appreciate my reflections on The Seton Miracles, which you recommended on your blog a month or two ago.

I'll try to avoid being long winded, but some background on my faith is in order. I was raised Lutheran, and drifted to agnosticism around the age of 17. That agnosticism slowly hardened into atheism, although I would have claimed to be an agnostic on the principle that atheism was another kind of faith and therefore unreasonable. But in fact, I was deeply pessimistic about the concept of an eternal soul. I thought man's fear of death was so great that desperate men came up with the notion of God to comfort themselves. It was a reasonable explanation, or so I thought. I now realize that this sort of explanation (or others like it) was convincing primarily because I had already made the atheistic assumption.

Three months ago, I found myself more and more depressed about the whole affair. Any attempt I made to find meaning in the Universe was thwarted. Even though I would die, my children (and other humans) would live on. Live on, until our sun went red giant that is. The universe has a number of nearly insuperable hurdles for us, according to astrophysicists. First our sun will expand and make earth uninhabitable. Then it will burn out and provide almost no light at all. Eventually, the entire universe will shut down, and all heat transfer will stop (known as the "heat death", a principle arising from thermodynamics). I ran out of ways to convince myself that anything I did had any meaning at all. Oddly enough, I've always thought relativism was stupid, even though I had intellectually convinced myself that there could be no meaning to the universe. Hedonism had no appeal for me. So I was adrift. I was overwhelmed by this sort of thinking for about a week, though it felt like it lasted years.

It was in this spirit of desperation that I said, "Christ help me!" I read the Gospels in a couple of days, and started my road back to Christianity. I read some Lewis and some Chesterton. I've been going to church. My faith has been slowly getting less wobbly. So it is in this context that I read The Seton Miracles. And what timing!

The Seton Miracles is an account that overwhelms (in a good way) the reader with evidence of the weeping statues seen in the vicinity of Father Bruse, as well as the "miracles of the sun" that several people witnessed. I was left with three logical choices concerning the truthfulness of this account:

1) James Carney is a shameless liar.
2) Everyone at St. Elizabeth Anne Seton is either a liar or mentally incompetent.
3) God is present and active in the world.

Option 1 seems fairly unlikely since parishioners at SEAS (many of whom he named) would call him out, and it is also unlikely that the Marian Foundation would have published such a gross lie. Option 2 seems fairly absurd. It would be a conspiracy greater that any ever conceived by mankind (that is real conspiracies, not the Area 51/Jews control the world kind). So I am left with option 3. The truly amazing thing to me was to realize that before I regained my faith, I would have been forced simply to ignore the evidence in The Seton Miracles and assume there was some sort of "reasonable explanation". The joy I felt in reading this account was nearly overpowering.

I must confess that before I picked up The Seton Miracles, my nascent theology had God pegged as more or less a clock maker type. How in my mind I squared this away with a risen Christ I don't really know. That notion has been thoroughly dispelled. This book was the shove I needed to pursue a more personal relationship with Christ, as well as to think more carefully about epistemology (a word I picked up from my brother -- I never took philosophy).

In short, this was the right book at the right time for me. I would recommend it to any new Christian, or anyone questioning whether God really cares.

In Christ,

Jacob Yoder

P.S. I apologize for the length of this message. I wrote this email as much to document my faith journey as to convey to you the impact of The Seton Miracles.


Joshua said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Joshua said...

I don’t know if you can help me, but my name is Joshua Jones and I actually came across this blog in a search for Jacob Yoder. I haven’t seen him for years, but I still think of him often and as a friend. The last time we saw each other was at a mutual friend’s wedding.

It seems like more than a coincidence to me that I found this letter from him. I’ve recently become enamored with electrodynamics and have been planning a return to school. It seems at least once a week I come across something I’d love to talk with Jake about as I always loved when he would talk science with me.

Jake and I also delved into atheism around the same time (he ,according to his letter, at 17 and myself at around 20). I also changed my mind a few years ago. Although I am admittedly not affiliated with any particular religion, I do believe there is a God.

You see how this can only double the ground I need to cover with my old friend. I ask if you have any way of contacting him, please share with me or share my information with him.

Pertinacious Papist said...


Give me a way to contact you, or email me at phblosser AT gmail DOT com.