Bottom line: We want to follow the example of the Magi. They used the best science they had, but in the end they worshiped Jesus.
Today we celebrate the feast of the Magi, a.k.a. Wise Men. One translation calls them astrologers - men who carefully studied the night skies. They were proto-scientists. As such they give us the opportunity to say something about science and religion.
We know that the perceived conflict between science and religion causes many of our children to lose their faith. Studies show that children as young as ten give up the faith because they conclude that "science disproves religion". Often they are referring to a materialist theory of evolution that has no place for God. They see that science makes possible space exploration, medical miracles and cell phones. Religion by way of contrast, seems like "fairy tales". There's a lot to say about this, but for this homily I will confine myself to a couple of points.
First, as Christians we need to recognize that science is our daughter. Modern science developed out of the medieval university system founded by the Catholic Church. Most of the great scientists - including Copernicus and Galileo - were practicing Christians. For sure, there were unfortunate episodes like the silencing of Galileo, but overall the Church honored and promoted scientists. It's no accident that 34 craters of the moon and ten asteroids bear the names of Jesuit priests. Jesuits weren't the only priest scientists. George LeMaitre who first formulated the Big Bang theory was a diocesan priest - like me (although a little bit smarter). The "war of religion and science" is an imaginary war.
I feel this personally. If God had not called me to the priesthood, I would probably have studied medicine or physics. Those subjects continue to fascinate me. My older brothers pursued careers in science. I remember one telling me he had come to believe in God because the Big Bang theory fits so well with book of Genesis.
We are blessed to live in a time with so many scientific advances. This has led people to practically worship science. But we should not worship science. We should use science. When my doctor told me I had an abdominal aneurysm, I had already made plans to go to Peru. I asked her the chances it would burst. She said statically about 5% - over a year's time. I prayed about what to do. I could have taken my chances, but I made the decision to postpone Peru to address that medical issue. My point is that even though science and medicine offer great benefits, each person has to decide how he will use them. As Christians we do not worship science. We humbly and gratefully use science and medicine.
This brings up a big issue: the authority of science. Some people want science to govern our lives. They consider science the only valid knowledge. This view is called "scientism". As Christians we love science but we avoid scientism. We do not believe that only science offers valid knowledge. For example in addition to science, history, literature and art deliver their own wisdom. Even fairy tales can communicate profound truths. Modern examples are Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. Heck, a lot of the popularity of evolution comes from its "just so" stories, for example the ones that explain why men act the way we do and women the way they do. Truth (and distortion) come at from a lot of angles. For us the greatest font of truth is the Bible and Christian tradition. Like other sources of knowledge the Bible and Tradition have their own rules and guidelines. They have their own "science".
Regarding the Bible, I talked yesterday about the Bible in a Year program. Amazingly, it was ranked number one podcast by Apple and New York Times. By early December Bible in a Year had been downloaded over 150 million times. You can start anytime. It takes 20 to 25 minutes each day. I incorporated it into my morning routine and found it very beneficial. I'm planning on doing it again, maybe with the Spanish version. You can find it easy by typing "Bible in Year, Fr. Mike" into a search engine or YouTube.
Science contains much truth. History and literature propose different kinds of truth. But the Bible offers truth you will find nowhere else: God's truth, practical truth to guide you here on earth and bring you to your eternal goal. Science is wonderful, but you need something more.
What does this mean for a young person who wants to discover life's purpose? First, recognize that science ultimately comes from God. Use science with gratitude, but do not worship science. Notice that when the Magi found Jesus, they realized they now had something greater than their science: "on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage."
They continued to study the night sky, but now God spoke to them in another way. "And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way."
Pope Benedict expressed it this way: "To be sure, we do not possess the truth, the truth possesses us: Christ, who is the truth, has taken us by the hand, and we know that his hand is holding us securely on the path of our quest for knowledge."
We'll see more next week, when we jump thirty years to Jesus' baptism. We will address the question: Why is it that surrounded by scientific marvels and so much abundance, that people - especially our young people - seem so susceptible to depression and suicidal thoughts? That sadness actually also provides a clue for discovering one's purpose. For today we want to follow the example of the Magi. They used the best science they had, but in the end they worshiped Jesus. Like them let's honor and use science, but as for worship, that belongs to God alone. Amen.
From Archives (Epiphany Sunday)
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
Take the Plunge Bible Study (audio resources) *New episodes for Summer - Kings and Prophets*
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
Other Priests' Homilies, Well Worth Listening:
Fr. Frank Schuster
Fr. Brad Hagelin
Fr. Jim Northrop
Fr. Michael White
Fr Pat Freitag (and deacons of St. Monica)
Bishop Robert Barron
Bulletin (St. Mary of Valley Parish)
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru