The Bottom Line

("Out of the Midst of Fire")

Although its method limits science to making observations and hypotheses, its spokesmen cannot resist excursions into religious questions. Scientists sometimes use their authority to propound sweeping philosophies. When I took a biology course back in my college days, the textbook confidently stated that scientists would one day explain all life in terms of chemical reactions. Moreover, chemistry will finally reduce itself to physics. Thus tiny particles and their movements become the "bottom line" of all reality.

To overcome such reductionism we must first acknowledge a distinction between the scientific method and the philosophy of naturalism (a.k.a. materialism or atheism). The two do not necessarily have to go together. One indication is the a growing body of scholars who recognize the scientific method, as we know it, originated in the Christian culture of the Middle Ages.* Nevertheless, as in the above mentioned biology text, many folks continue to identify "science" with naturalism. G.K. Chesterton pointed out the problem with this identification. Materialism, he says, gives a plausible explanation of "everything," but it does so by leaving out everything important.**

The philosophic naturalist is like the man who wants to see what lies below the earth's surface. He gets the best tools available and starts digging. Turning over soil he finds tiny animals which he begins to analyze. Soon he hits bedrock. Unable to go further he concludes all that exists "below the surface" is dirt, vermin and parasites. Nevertheless, beyond the bedrock lies something else - the subterranean fire. This he could have discovered not only by powerful drilling, but because of certain manifestations: hot springs, geysers and volcanoes.

In giving this comparison, I do not mean to downplay the efforts of working scientists. Rather I offer an analogy to illustrate that the "bottom line" of reality might not be what it first seems.

This Sunday's Old Testament lesson refers to a mysterious Being who speaks to Moses "out of the midst of the fire." (Deut. 4:33) Here we have a hint about what is below the surface. The New Testament brings it out more explicitly. In contrast with other religious leaders Jesus doesn't spend much time moralizing. Instead he talks about the relationship he has with "the Father" and that, amazingly, we can get in on it. In saying this I know some will picture Jesus as a guru who helps us get in touch with the "God within." Nothing could be more antithetical to Jesus' mission than pantheism. No, he offers what he alone possesses - since before the foundation of the world. This Father-Son dynamic is the origin and goal of human existence, indeed the universe itself. The word used to describe their relationship is love - much more than a profound emotion, a distinct divine person.

We get a glimpse of God's inner life because he chose to reveal himself to us. The Bible uses human language which tho inadequate, faithfully expresses Jesus' great revelation. We employ the word Trinity ("threeness") to describe that inner life. It may come as a surprise that the precise word appears nowhere in the Bible. Still it succinctly sums up biblical teaching; it proved its value value during the great controversies of the early Church.

Almost all Christians today accept the doctrine of the Trinity. That acceptance distinguishes orthodox Christians from the heterodox - Mormons, Witnesses and now "feminist" Christians. The Church Fathers expressed the doctrine this way: The Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God, but there are not three gods but one God.

Another formulation says, "The Father is almighty, the Son is almighty, the Holy Spirit is almighty, but there are not three almighties, but one Almighty." You get the idea. Everything we can say of the Father, we can also say of the Son and Holy Spirit - except for their relations to each other.*** Jesus is the Son precisely because of his relation to the Father:

"For the Father loves the Son
and shows him all he does." (John 5:20)

They are so closely related that Jesus can say, "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father." (John 14:9)

This mystery, the foundation of all reality, has shown itself. In today’s Gospel the Risen Jesus instructs his apostles to go out and make disciples "baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." To return to the original comparison, baptism is like the subterranean fire bursting thru the surface hardness and grime. The question for us this Trinity Sunday is whether we remain on the surface of things or chose to join ourselves to that foundational reality.


*For more information, see The Middle Ages and the Birth of Science or consult The Road of Science and the Ways to God by Stanley L. Jaki.

**For a list of what naturalism leaves out, please see my review of Reason in the Balance

***That, by the way, is why we cannot sign ourselves "In the name of the Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier," or other formulae which focus on activity rather than relationship.

From Archives (Trinity Sunday - Year C):

2016: Levels of Happiness
2013: The Desire to be Known
2010: I Have Much More to Tell You
2007: Hope Does Not Disappoint
2004: I Was There
2001: The Image Within
1998: Foundation of the Universe

Complete List:

2016: Levels of Happiness
2015: Disciple Makers Week 9: The Final Goal
2014: Who Look Into the Depths
2013: The Desire to be Known
2012: Ultimate Freedom
2011: Origin and Goal
2010: I Have Much More to Tell You
2009: Purpose of Our Existence
2008: Family as Origin and Goal
2007: Hope Does Not Disappoint
2006: Back to the Basics
2005: Alone Again
2004: I Was There
2003: The Name
2002: An Excellent Question
2001: The Image Within
2000: Out of the Midst of Fire
1999: A Capacity for God
1998: Foundation of the Universe

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)

Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.

Fr. Brad's Homilies

Fr. Jim's Homilies

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

Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)

Parish Picture Album


Parish Picture Album

(May 2013)

My bulletin column (May 30, 2010)

St. Mary of the Valley Album

(May 2010)

Bulletin (Baccalaureate, Randy Terlicker, sad news - John Casio)


Prayer/Protest at NARAL Fundraising Breakfast (Sheraton Hotel, Seattle)

Warning: Graphic Pictures

Bulletin (Diversity & Unity, Mark Shea, Monsignor Kelly)


Archbishop O'Malley Targeted

Beatification for Emperor Karl, Anne Emmerich

Chicago Cardinal George's Remarks to the Pope: Church's Ability to Evangelize Is Diminished (well worth reading)

Deacon Keith A. Fournier on Barry Lynn's attack on Bishop Sheridan

Bishop Olmstead Suspends Dissenting Priest (I studied with the new bishop of Phoenix. I pray for him and all our bishops every day. Please do the same.)

Pope's Words to President Bush

Parish Picture Album

(June 2011)

Bulletin (Two Painless Ways to Evangelize; 40th Anniversary)



Hitler's Pope: Comic Book Approach to Church History

Stem Cell Research: Teaching of Bible & Catholic Church

Boston Globe's Misleading Article on Catholic Church Interview on Birth Control

MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru