Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Sunday, April 22, 2018

I was never very good with numbers. Throughout my life, I had panic attacks whenever I had to deal with mathematical formulas. I struggled through geometry and calculus with barely a passing grade, which led me to consider pursuing a simpler career like, say, pastry chef, but even baking cakes and cookies requires recipes and measurements.

If America’s competitive future in science and technology depends on people like me, China is sure to win.

In my defense, however, I recently learned to balance the checkbook, largely because of the new programs they have to make sure you don’t spend more than you make, although even that doesn’t always control my impulses, which is why I have my wife.

A friend of mine who is a hospital administrator and knows a lot about finances and balancing budgets was recently trying to explain a formula the hospital uses to ensure patients are getting the most for their money. It’s called “cost and value positioning,” the goal of which is to reduce costs while making services better. They define value as quality over cost or something like this: V = Q/C.

He explained the importance of this simple equation for hospitals that are trimming costs while trying to improve quality; and all this mind-expanding mumbo jumbo got me to thinking about God and the quest for spiritual quality, a quest that fewer and fewer people seem to be pursuing nowadays because it’s easier to languish than improve.

In a simple-minded way, I developed a formula, a sort of spiritual “cost and value positioning” formula that calculates spiritual growth. It looks something like this: SG=J/WP. Pretty impressive, right? But what exactly does it mean? Let me explain. SG is spiritual growth, J stands for Jesus, and WP represents worldy priorities.

What my formula means is this: You will advance in your spiritual life only when the numerator is more than the denominator. (The numerator is the number on top – at least I think it is.) Spiritual improvement requires that you put more importance in Jesus than you do in your worldly concerns.

You have to be more concerned about Jesus than you are with such worldly priorities as the pursuit of money, pleasure, prestige and possessions. There are countless distractions in our lives, which in the end lead nowhere. The path to Christ is all that matters, which requires uniting our wills to the will of God, and you don’t need an understanding of math to do that.

One observing Catholic I know is so obsessed with making money that it consumes him day and night, and overshadows everything he does. This fellow, who goes to Sunday Mass and gives to the church, lives to make money. However, unless he starts thinking about Jesus more than he thinks about accumulating wealth, his growth will be stymied.

And the more he thinks about Jesus, the less he’ll think about getting richer and eventually the less he’ll want to think about material success because Jesus will become the most important priority in his life.

Thinking about Jesus can mean many things. Most important, it means finding quiet time to talk to him and listen to his response. It means turning your life and will over to his care.

Very often, we’re assailed by countless worries that embezzle time we should be spending with Jesus. When we’re lying awake at night, worldly cares often pass through our minds, one after another, like storm clouds circling the sky: Will I get that promotion? Will my son get into Notre Dame? How will I pay for my daughter’s wedding? Can I afford a new car? Is the boss out to get me?

Here’s a corollary to my formula: The more you think about Jesus, the less you’ll be encumbered by worldly concerns because they will work themselves out. Or more accurately, Jesus will solve them.

I spend too much time – more time than I should – worrying about saving for retirement. I’m worried about my 401(k) investments. Is there too much in stocks and not enough in bonds? Should I buy U.S. Savings Bonds? Should I look into an annuity? Believe me, it’s an important issue; but as my wife always says, Jesus will take care of us.

After a few false starts, I realized I had to think about Jesus more and retirement savings less. Jesus had to become the priority in my life. Not home improvement, not my daily exercise program, not Barack Obama, not the governor or the mayor or my career.

When Jesus comes first, the formula will yield miraculous results. It has been tested and proven effective. And if everything goes according to plan, I could win a Nobel Prize in something or other for my discovery.

J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.