(January 7, 2018)
Bottom line: Like great thinkers after them the Magi did not separate faith and reason, science and religion.
Today we celebrate the Magi - also known as the Three Kings or Wise Men. They were early scientists, studying the configuration of stars and the movement of planets. This is a good moment to talk about something affecting young people: the perceived conflict between science and religion.
This ties in with the parish prayer for youth. Some of you began the New Year with a three fast for our children. We are concerned that even though they have unparalleled abundance, studies show they are more depressed and sad than young people even 20 years ago. Along with that they are giving up faith in higher numbers and at a younger age. Interviews reveal that the typical age is 13 while 23% say they left the faith before age 10.
When researchers interviewed young people they said things like:
- "As I learn more about the world around me and understand new things, I find the thought of an all-powerful being to be less and less believable."
- "I realized that religion is in complete contradiction with the rational and scientific world."
- "[Faith] no longer fits into what I understand of the universe."
Even though people keep bringing up Galileo, real conflict is rare. But perceived conflict persists. People who study popular culture note a trend to (quote) "see atheism as 'smart' and faith as a 'fairy tale.'" When a child concludes he is an atheist he becomes one of the 'smart people'. It's like getting a college degree without having to open a book.
We are up against a culture that looks down on faith - even considers it dangerous or narrow-minded. But before someone dismisses the faith, he should consider what Louis Pasteur said. You remember him, the man who discovered the principle of vaccination, microbial fermentation and pasteurization. Pasteur said, "the idea of the Infinite (God) imposes itself on the mind and baffles the mind's effort to comprehend it." It's too simple to divide people into atheists and believers. Atheists sense something uncanny, beyond science, beyond imagining. On the other side believers struggle with doubts and God sometimes seems distant. As Ecclesiastes says, "God has planted eternity into the human heart but even so no one can see the whole scope of God's work from beginning to end." On some level every person senses God's reality, but - apart from revelation - who can know his plan or imagine what he is? We need both faith and reason.
This brings us back to the Magi - those early scientist astronomers. Like great thinkers after them the Magi did not separate faith and reason, science and religion.
In memory of the Magi today I will bless and distribute chalk. When you get home write 20CMB18 on the frame above your door. A handout explains how the numbers refer to the current year and the letters to the names of the Magi.
The Magi searched the heavens and discovered some new configuration of stars, comets, planets. Their curiosity brought them to Bethlehem. Others stayed smugly in the big city but they went to Bethlehem. "They saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage." Amen.