December 8, 1999

Nuclear Fusion and Community Building

How Can I Liven Up My Parish?

Physics can be a great help in ministry. For example, consider the requirements for a sustained fusion reaction; one that will produce more than enough energy to keep it going.



Fusion is the combining of two or more atomic nuclei into a single nucleus (atom). The following three things are required:

1) Proximity: There must be some nuclei, very close together.
2) Time: They must be this way for some time.
3) Energy: Lots of heat is required.

If all three conditions are met, you will get fusion.


In the Church, it is the same. We want a lively Church, one that is an exciting presence in the world, just as Jesus was an exciting presence everywhere he went. The Gospel says crowds accompanied him everywhere he went. This requires the same three things as fusion:

Proximity – Every Sunday, large numbers of people are jammed into churches. There is great potential in this, but there is also the danger of an illusion that this means the Church is healthy. Numbers, in themselves, mean nothing but opportunity. Anything that brings people together has potential.

Time – Life is so frenzied now that we seldom take the time to enjoy each other. The lie of “quality time” gives the illusion that good time can be scheduled: it can’t. It takes lots of time, lots of opportunities, for wonderful things to happen. Some of the best family time can be while waiting in line, given the right attitude. More good has probably been done on church patios after Mass than in homilies, not because the homilies weren’t good, but because there were so many conversations. Time spent in preparation for parish festivals, open houses, or special rites is always an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to work.

Energy – Every parish has a few people that love God intensely. This fiery zeal comes from the Holy Spirit and can spread throughout a parish provided enough people get together often enough and for long enough. It is contagious because people love to be around lively people, and lovers of God may be quiet, but they aren’t dull. God provides the energy for this “reaction,” and all we have to do is get out of the way. At the beginning, the priest, bishop or other minister may have to be the primary channel for this energy, but once the blaze gets going, they just have to tend it and create more opportunities (see Proximity and Time, above).

A Special Note for Priests

It seems to be the fashion to avoid much contact with people (beyond the superficial handshakes and coffee). Perhaps there is a fear of temptation involved in this, and indeed, I’ve known several priests that got close to people and ended up in scandal. I can only say that all lay people who evangelize or become involved with others run the same risk. A married man has a vow of chastity within marriage, but can’t hide from an opportunity to share the Gospel with a woman willing to listen. Those who work with the homeless risk becoming lost in an ideology and forgetting the rest of the Gospel (Mother Teresa wrote about this; it is very common). We all take risks.

Burnout is a serious problem. It occurs when a priest or other laborer’s prayer life is less than is required for the work attempted. Mother Teresa and St. Thomas Aquinas remind us that we are all called to be contemplatives, and any “excess” from our prayer life spills out into action. We do not pray to support our lives; our lives should pour forth from the overflowing Grace of God being poured into us. It is a shocking fact that so many priests do no spiritual reading (or similar activities) at all.

Last updated December 7, 1999

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