The Pensées of Pascal and the Conversion of Judith Caboud

The Pensées of Pascal and the Conversion of Judith Caboud
Blaise , 1623-1662 (author of Pensées)
The music of Bach roused up in the heart and soul of Judith Caboud a desire for the transcendent. But it was the writing of Pascal that brought her to the Church. Assigned to read Pascal’s Pensées for her studies in Paris, she followed the argument perfectly. Judith grasped the significance of his apologetic:  “he made a between science, or I could say pseudoscientific studies that I was doing, and the world of God and true religion.”

Her own religious heritage from a Jewish childhood had not brought her to a relationship to God and she saw only a formality of religion. The beauty of culture roused up the desire for God. The various thoughts of Pascal led her to see the way to God.

I have identified the following Pensées she found important for the steps towards ; in the Lafuma edition (Penguin edition) they are numbers:
201: “the silence of the infinite spaces frightens me”
622: we seek diversion and we fear to be at rest or to endure silence because we come face to face with our solitude, weakness and emptiness
199: we contemplate the two infinities of the very large and the very small and see the disproportion of man in the world
200: man as a thinking reed, whose glory is to think and to confront our own death
198: we inevitably experience our own inability to find the full truth, as well as the inability to achieve goodness; thus we feel forlorn and as if abandoned on a desert island — can one find any hope? “Has God left any trace of himself?”
She then turned to the many ruminations by Pascal on scripture and prophecy then led her to this decisive passage from Pensées about the commonality of the Jews and Christians as witnesses to the Messiah —
286: “Two kinds of men in every religion. Among the heathen those who worship animals and others who worship the one God of natural religion. Among the Jews those who were carnal and those who were spiritual, the Christians of the old law. Among the Christians the gross ones, who are Jews of the new law. The carnal Jews awaited a carnal messiah, and the gross Christians believe the Messiah has dispensed them from loving God. True Jews and True Christians worship a Messiah who makes them love God.”
Just as Augustine opened the book after hearing “Tolle et lege” and he came to believe when struck by a passage, so too Judith opened Pascal’s Pensées to read that passage and she experienced the joy of conversion. Grace poured into her heart. Augustine was fond of Romans 5:5: “Hope does not disappoint us, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

In her beautiful prose she wrote:

“Millions of stars were sparkling in the cold December night and rays of ineffable light were pouring down through the darkness toward me. Unbearable emotion swelled my heart and tears came to relieve the aching; throbbing truth and something inside of me, were whispering and telling and showing me, in the gushing of sudden brightness around me: “Jesus Christ is God! Jesus Christ is God!” 
She made an act of faith.
 The following is her summary of the book, found on her web page, Hebrew Catholics:
The most striking event was that he himself, Blaise Pascal, had this huge revelation of God as being the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and not the God of the philosophers and the scientists. And so I said to myself, “Gee, this guy, he was not even born a Jew, and he found that there must be something to it.” Then I was reading those Pensées by Pascal one December evening. It was already late and the stars were out. I was sitting in this little room in Paris where I was studying, and it was like something had given me a hit on the head. I really felt like something had happened. It was like beaming light that suddenly immersed my soul, and without understanding why, within a second, I said, “Jesus Christ is God.” The young man, Jean, was sitting there. He was there and saw it; he’s a witness, an eyewitness. In fact, he was tired of arguing with me on questions of religion. He could not understand what I was saying. I had fathomed in an intuitive way this mysterious between the Old and the New Testament. Pascal’s explanation was so luminous to me. Me, I was sitting in obscurity, and all of a sudden this light went on. Pascal said, “Faithful Jews and faithful Christians both adore the Messiah, who makes them love God.” So of course, all of a sudden I wanted to accomplish what I had always secretly desired, that is, to understand what it meant to be a real Jew. And according to this great writer, it was necessary first, therefore, to become a real Christian; this is exactly what happened. In other words, just follow the dotted line. This unexpected grace was on a perfectly logical path, and I took the plunge once more, and this time, hand in hand with Jean, it led me closer to God, to Jesus Christ and His Church.

For good reason did Fr. Oakes call Pascal “the first modern Christian” (see his article here). Pascal turned the scientific mind on itself and showed the proper balance between certitude and doubt; most of all he opened the way to a renewed appreciation of both mind and heart. He was a man who was great in mind (his mathematical and scientific discoveries are monumental) and he was also great in the depth of his thought about the human condition; at the outset of an age that sought to reduce man and master nature (shades of the “Abolition of Man”), he showed true greatness of heart and love of wisdom..

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