To The Heights!
A little over a week ago, the Synod of Bishops wrapped up their month-long XV Ordinary General Assembly, which bore the theme “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.” During the Synod, Bishop Robert Barron gave an intervention that stressed the need for “an intelligent, respectful, and culturally-sensitive explication of the faith.” Among other things, he indicated that this renewed apologetics and catechesis should delve deep into the relationship between religion and science.
At first glance, one might be tempted to think that this topic—or the related theme of faith and reason—would be the last thing that would really catch the interest of many youth. However, regardless of perceived interest, study after study is showing that this theme plays a crucial role in whether young people continue to practice the faith or walk/drift away from it.
Bishop Barron affirmed, “Young people frequently cite intellectual reasons when asked what has prompted them to leave the Church or lose confidence in it. Chief among these are the convictions that religion is opposed to science or that it cannot stand up to rational scrutiny, that its beliefs are outmoded, a holdover from a primitive time, that the Bible is unreliable, that religious belief gives rise to violence, and that God is a threat to human freedom.” He later went on to say, “For many people today, scientific and rational are simply equivalent or co-extensive terms. And therefore, since religion is obviously not science, it must be irrational. Without denigrating for a moment the sciences, we have to show that there are non-scientific and yet eminently rational paths that conduce toward knowledge of the real.”
This affirmation really hit home for me. Growing up, I attended Church on a regular basis, but I also attended public school, where by design there is no reference to the Designer. Consequently, in my teenage mind, I was left with “faith” on one hand and “reason” (reduced to a form of scientific empiricism) on the other, with no real bridge between the two. I found myself wanting to believe in God, secretly jealous of saints who had visions of Him, but incapable of understanding how God could exist in a world where everything seemed to have an explanation without Him, as if God didn’t even enter into the equation.
I remember perfectly well the moment when the chasm was finally bridged. Toward the end of my junior year of high school, my father had given me the book, “Theology for Beginners,” by Frank Sheed. Since I no longer “felt like” going to religious-education class, and—in my pride—I spouted that I wasn’t learning anything, it was to be a sort of challenge. In spite of myself, the grace of God somehow moved me to actually pick up the book and read. In all honesty, I didn’t make it too far through the book, but it was enough to change my life forever. In chapter two, Sheed discusses the existence of spiritual reality from a rational point of view. I finally had a credible explanation that non-material reality exists, as well as the beginnings of a foundation to understand the relationship between faith, reason, and science. At last, it clicked. God, who is Spirit, is real!
That same year, unbeknownst to me, St. John Paul II published the encyclical “Fides et Ratio” (“Faith and Reason”). My mind and heart have ever since been captivated by its opening line: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.”
Have you ever seen a bird fly with one wing? Or—possibly closer to reality—two partially maimed wings that work out of sync? And yet, our hearts yearn to be lifted up. We long to fly, to soar, to bask in the Light. It is this Light alone that can truly set our hearts alight. Let us learn to fly and draw others to the heights!
Joel Padgett is the Parish Catechetical Leader at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Daylight. Contact him any time at firstname.lastname@example.org.