Science and God

(Homily for Epiphany Sunday)

Bottom line: The Magi show that a love for learning, the desire to know more about this world can lead one to God.

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany, also known as the Feast of the Magi, the Three Kings. Our Gospel speaks about "magi from the east." Who were they? The word "magi" has the same root as our modern word, "magic." They are sometimes referred to as "magicians" or "astrologers," but that is a bit misleading. The ancient world did not have our modern distinction between "science" and "pseudo-science." Astrology and astronomy were blended. The magi - with their careful observations of the stars and planets - were early scientists. In his commentary on St. Matthew's Gospel, William Barclay says, "These Magi were men who were skilled in philosophy, medicine and natural science."

It is significant that such men would come to worship Christ. The Magi inaugurate a great tradition: scientists who are also devoted Christians. A person could make a long list, but I would like to mention just a few: Roger Bacon - thirteenth century mathematician who is considered the forerunner of the scientific method; Copernicus - famous for developing the heliocentric theory (that the earth revolves around the sun); Nicolas Steno - the great pioneer in anatomy and geology; Gregor Mendel - the "father of modern genetics" and Georges Lemaître, who first proposed the "big bang" theory. Those five are a tiny percentage of great scientists who were devout Christians. Bacon, Copernicus, Steno, Mendel and LeMaitre also have this in common - they were Roman Catholic clerics or priests.

I mention this not as a point of pride - although as Catholics we can be proud of the contributions made by priests and Catholic laypeople. I have a more important reason, however, for speaking about scientists who were devout Christians. Like the Magi in today's Gospel, they show us that a sincere, in-depth investigation of the natural world can lead a person to God.

Nuclear physicist Werner Heisenberg said that reality is designed in such a way that even the improbable is essentially possible. The Nobel Prize winner then added, "The first swallow from the cup of the natural sciences makes atheists - but at the bottom of the cup God is waiting."

In his latest book, Pope Benedict commented on Heisenberg's statement: "It is only so long as one is intoxicated by individual discoveries that one says: 'There can't be anything more than this, now we know everything.'" The pope concluded, "as soon as one recognizes the incomparable grandeur of the whole, one’s vision penetrates farther and the question arises about a God who is at the origin of all things."

The Magi, the "Wise Men" studied the planets and stars - and the study led them to Jesus. Their desire to know contrasts with other people in today's Gospel. Herod and his advisors did not bother to go to Bethlehem and find out for themselves. It's a pretty short trip - only about six miles. A person could easily walk it in a couple of hours - but they did not have the basic curiosity involved in learning. They were too wrapped up in their comforts and intrigues. They did not want their world disturbed. They wound up missing everything.

On the other hand, the Magi made that journey and they found the greatest prize. In worshipping Jesus, they laid their treasures at his feet and received in turn the greatest treasure - the one that lasts. As people skilled in natural science, they possessed a love for learning and a desire to know more about the created world. The Magi show that a love for learning, the desire to know more about this world can lead one to God.

In conclusion I would like to mention one way the Catholic Church has taken a direct interest in the natural sciences: We determine the date of Easter by observing the movements of the moon and the changes of season. In order for Christians to celebrate Easter at the same time, we need a common calendar. Our modern calendar is called the Gregorian Calendar after Pope Gregory VIII who introduced it in 1562. Although only a few nations initially adopted the Gregorian Calendar, it eventually became the standard for the entire world. To develop the calendar, Pope Gregory employed the best astronomers and scientists of his day. (The Vatican itself has one of the world's oldest astronomical observatories.) In all this the Church has a practical concern - to determine the correct date for major feasts. Epiphany Sunday is the traditional day for letting Christians know the important dates for the coming year - especially for Holy Week, Lent, Ash Wednesday and Pentecost. With that in mind, I ask you now to listen to the Proclamation of the Date of Easter 2011. Proclamation of Date of Easter 2011:

Dear brothers and sisters:

The glory of the Lord has shone upon us, and shall ever be manifest among us, until the day of his return. Through the rhythms of times and seasons, let us celebrate the mysteries of salvation.

Let us recall the year's culmination, the Easter Triduum of the Lord: his last supper, his crucifixion, his burial, and his rising, celebrated between the evening of the twenty-first day of April and the evening of the twenty-fourth day of April, Easter Sunday. Each Easter as on each Sunday, the Holy church makes present the great and saving deed by which Christ has forever conquered sin and death. From Easter are reckoned all the days we keep holy.

Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, will occur on the ninth day of March.

The Ascension of the Lord will be commemorated on the fifth day of June.

Pentecost, the joyful conclusion of the season of Easter, will be celebrated on the twelfth day of June.

And this year the First Sunday of Advent will be on the twenty-seventh of November.

Likewise, the pilgrim Church proclaims the Passover of Christ in the feasts of the holy Mother of God, in the feasts of the Apostles and Saints, and in the commemoration of the faithful departed.

To Jesus Christ, who was, who is, and who is to come, Lord of time and history, be endless praise forever and ever.

Amen!

(The deacon or lector – or priest – may read this proclamation after the homily or after the Communion Prayer on Epiphany Sunday)

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Spanish Version

From Archives (Epiphany Sunday)

2016: New Beginning: Lift up Your Eyes
2015: Two Uses of Science
2014: The Big Story
2013: Price of Liberation
2012: Where the Sun Is
2011: Science and God
2010: Three Types of People
2009: A Glimpse of the Mystery
2008: Where the Sun Is
2006: When Worlds Collide
2005: A Powerful River
2004: The Last Man
2003: The Materialist and the Magicians
2002: Astrology and the Christ Child
2001: Together with His Mother

Other Sunday Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)

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Fr. Brad's Homilies

Fr. Jim's Homilies

Fr. Michael White's Homilies ("messages")

Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)

Parish Picture Album

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(December 2013)

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(December 2012 - Vacation Bible School at Mary Bloom Center)

From Fr. Bob Barron Herod and the Magi : Feast of the Epiphany (audio file well worth listening to)

40th Anniversary Celebration

Parish Picture Album

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MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru

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