Math articles and loving to the end

Fr Charlie McCoy, CSC

The University of Portland has enjoyed a full month for Christmas break in 2011-2012, and I have spent some of it reading over, editing, and critiquing two different mathematics papers that have not yet been published. I am a co-author for the first paper, but a graduate student at Notre Dame composed the actual draft of work from our research team. A journal sent me the other paper so that I could “referee” it, ensure that it’s both correct and worthy of publication.

Like many researchers, I find these kinds of jobs pretty tedious; most of the fun, insight-filled part of mathematical work occurs during the research discussions and the first write-ups. Nevertheless, while unexciting, this process of review is not at all easy or rote, because the reviewer has to think very carefully to determine whether each link in the chain of reasoning does indeed hold.

As I have been grinding away, I’ve found myself a little annoyed that the time spent on these two projects has made it more difficult to prepare for spring courses and simply enjoy the break. Perhaps more important, in the midst of this kind work, I can find myself feeling anxious about its place within my vocation: What does any of this have to do with being a Holy Cross priest, or even with being a follower of Christ?

We as a Church have just completed the winter Advent and Christmas seasons, and now we enter into a relatively short period of ordinary time before the long spring season of Lent. Christmas calls us to marvel at the mystery of Christ’s birth, expressed divinely by St. John’s Gospel Prologue: “And the Word became flesh.” Ordinary time and Lent, on the other hand, invite us to meditate more soberly on Christ’s life and work and redemptive suffering. And just as Lent comes to a close, on Holy Thursday, St. John’s Gospel offers a line that is simpler, but no less beautiful, than his Christmas Prologue: “He loved his own in the world, and he loved them to the end.”

Christ’s birth was a joyful spectacle: angels sang, shepherds adored, wise men bowed down. But the angelic and human worshippers certainly didn’t accompany Jesus for most of His days, and many of the Gospel stories relate experiences of controversy and perhaps even a kind of frustration. And yet, only Christ’s faithful perseverance through His life and His Passion are enough to save us. The love of God to send His only Son would have accomplished nothing had not the Son “loved us to the end.”

God calls each of us, and when we discern our vocation, it is an exciting and joyful thing. But any job, even a vocation, will probably include a certain amount of tedium, or controversy, or frustration. We may feel tempted to avoid those parts of the job, to cut corners there so that we can concentrate on what’s inspiring and more obviously life-giving. Yet it may be precisely in our faithfulness to these less glamorous tasks that we accomplish God’s ends by loving to the end.

Fr. Charlie McCoy, C.S.C., is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at the University of Portland. He is a monthly contributor to the Spes Unica blog, reflecting primarily on the work of Holy Cross in education. Learn more about the work of Holy Cross priests and brothers in the field of education to bring hope to the Church and world.

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