Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Catholics Who Moved Mountains

September 29, 2016

        Jesus said his apostles, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” On another occasion, he told his disciples, “Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

        Though I have yet to come across any historical accounts of saints transplanting foliage or excavating stones by faith-powered miracles, there are many historically-documented incidents of Catholics achieving the seemingly-impossible on earth through their faith.

St. John Paul II and the Soviet Union’s Fall

        Karol Wojtyła barely survived the Nazi’s occupation of Poland, but once that evil was defeated the Soviet Union replaced them. As parish priest and later as an archbishop, Wojtyła championed the Catholic Faith against the atheistic communists’ religious persecution. Upon his election as pope in 1978, John Paul II’s first papal journey abroad was to go back to his homeland.

        While there, he celebrated an outdoor Mass before millions, proclaiming Jesus’ words, “Be not afraid!” The crowd shouted in reply, “We want God! We want God! We want God!” Speaking in defense of human dignity, he encouraged all people to peacefully pursue true freedom. The threat posed by this Polish pope (armed merely with his words, example, and prayers) was so potent that the Soviets may have ordered his nearly successful assassination in 1981.

        On the 1984 Feast of the Annunciation, Pope John Paul consecrated Russia (along with the whole world) to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, just as she had requested in her appearances at Fatima, Portugal in 1917. On Christmas Day, seven years later, a miracle was realized. Mikhail Gorbachev peacefully resigned as the President of the Soviet Union and from atop the Kremlin, the Soviet flag was lowered forever. The ‘Evil Empire‘ ended not by a thousand Sun-bright nuclear blasts, but through the peaceful power of God and the faithfulness of his holy, humble servant.

St. Joan of Arc’s Liberation of France

 joan-of-arc-at-the-coronation-of-charles-vii       In the 15th century, France was delivered from English domination by history’s most-unlikely military commander; a teenage peasant girl. Joan had no military training, but she was compelled by visions and the voices of Sts. Michael, Catherine, and Margaret to lead the French forces, drive out the English, and see prince Charles VII crowned king at Reims. With divine help, she achieved all these feats before her martyrdom at the hand of the English at the age of nineteen. Mark Twain (though not generally a fan of historic Christianity) wrote of her:

Whatever thing men call great, look for it in Joan of Arc, and there you will find it. …It took six thousand years to produce her; her like will not be seen in the earth again in fifty thousand. …  She is easily and by far the most extraordinary person the human race has ever produced.

        St. Joan of Arc was indeed great, but her glory was but the mere reflection of God’s infinite splendor.

Fleming’s Discovery of Penicillin

        History has seen many great Catholic scientists, including Copernicus (Sun-centrism), Bacon (the scientific method), Descartes (modern geometry), Mendel (genetics), Pasteur (microbiology), and Lemaître (the Big Bang Theory) just to name a handful. But one Catholic scientist’s search for effective antibiotics in the early 20th century saved an estimated two hundred million lives. Through insights occasioned by providential occurrences, Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. In this, he saw himself employed as an instrument by God:

I can only suppose that God wanted penicillin, and that this was his reason for creating Alexander Fleming.”

St. Patrick’s Conversion of Ireland

        In the 5th century, a 16-year-old boy was kidnapped from Britain and sold into slavery on a distant, pagan isle. There he experienced a spiritual awakening. He tells us:

I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain, and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time. And it was there of course that one night in my sleep I heard a voice saying to me: ‘You do well to fast: soon you will depart for your home country.’ And again, a very short time later, there was a voice prophesying: ‘Behold, your ship is ready.’ And it was not close by, but, as it happened, two hundred miles away, where I had never been nor knew any person. And shortly thereafter I turned about and fled from the man with whom I had been for six years, and I came, by the power of God who directed my route to advantage (and I was afraid of nothing), until I reached that ship.”

        Lead on by this faith, he went on to become a priest, a bishop, and a missionary to the land of his former bondage. Today we think of Ireland as a very Catholic country, but it only became so through the courageous faith of St. Patrick.

Our Lord’s Redemption of the World

        In the 1st century, by his short three-year ministry in a backwater of the Roman Empire, this poor man from Nazareth transformed the world forever. Jesus Christ is the pattern for all fruitful disciples who have followed him since, achieving the impossible through faith and the power of God. One anonymous author describes Christ in these words:

Greatest man in history, named Jesus.
Had no servants, yet they called Him Master.
Had no degree, yet they called Him Teacher.
Had no medicines, yet they called Him Healer.
He had no army, yet kings feared Him.
He won no military battles, yet He conquered the world.
He committed no crime, yet they crucified Him.
He was buried in a tomb, yet He lives today.


Jesus on the Cross

“Miracles Happen,” or “Atheism Can be a Dogmatic Faith”

January 23, 2014

A neat article by National Catholic Register’s Mark Shea recounts how the miracles of Lourdes can bestow faith to an atheist or reveal his hardened heart.

St. Benedict & The Pharoah — Monday, 15th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

July 11, 2011

Today we recall two lawgiving rulers, one Egyptian and one Italian, one who was wicked and one who is good. This morning we hear of Pharaoh, who oppressed the Israelites, and we celebrate St. Benedict, who is called the founder of Western monasticism.

When Pharaoh saw the growing demographics of the children of Israel, he saw them as a threat and devised a new social strategy. Pharaoh had the Israelites enslaved and ordered that their male babies be sacrificed to Hapy, the fertility god of the River Nile. This would then force Israeli young women to take Egyptian husbands. In this way, if everything went according to plan, after a few generations of cultural assimilation, the children of Israel would be effectively no more.

St. Benedict, for his part, also established new laws over those he governed. His “Rule of St. Benedict” has directed the spirituality and administration of Benedictine monastic life for more than fifteen hundred years. Both Benedict and Pharaoh were shrewd men, clever and astute about practical matters like human behavior, but Pharaoh’s strategy was evil and failed while St. Benedict’s was good and still endures. Both men had intelligence, but only one had wisdom.

Pharaoh and St. Benedict demonstrate that intelligence is not the same thing as wisdom, that being clever is not the same thing as being good. Just because we know how to do something doesn’t mean we should. We see this in science, which teaches us how to do certain things, but which (of itself) cannot tell us whether we should. Governments can pass new laws, but that does not mean that all laws are just or serve the common good. Intelligence without wisdom is almost a curse. The devil is a brilliant creature, but he is without wisdom.

Where do we find wisdom? We find it in Jesus Christ, who presents Himself as the definitive prophet and righteous man, who presents His life as our pattern to follow. Whoever receives Him receives wisdom, and will receive wisdom’s reward.

Sodium Chloride Reaction — 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

February 8, 2011

Let me tell you two stories about chemicals that produced quite a reaction in me. In summers when I was a kid, I liked to go to the Osseo city pool. They had there a brown door with red letters warning something to the effect of: “Danger, Deadly Chlorine Gas, Staff Only!” I needed no further persuading. Years later, my high school science teacher put a bucket in the snow, and in the bucket he put some water, and in the water he put in a chunk of pure sodium, using tongs. The water steamed and bubbled and exploded a couple of time. It was awesome, but also rather threatening.

What do you get if you put these two dangerous elements together? You get sodium chloride. I warn you that this compound is now found in our environment and in our homes. The oceans are full of it. It’s on our city streets. It’s even in the food we eat and feed to our children. Sodium chloride sounds rather threatening, but you know this benign compound by another name: Salt.

Like salt, Christianity is pervasive, it’s everywhere. Like salt, people can fear and oppose Christianity, thinking it’s harmful for people and bad for our world. But in truth, Christianity, like salt, is necessary for life. Christians, to the extent that they are truly Christians, are the salt of the earth.

The world’s irrational fear and opposition to our faith is nothing new. Listen to this anonymous letter written to a man named Diognetus that dates from the second century. Listen for how Christians resemble the salt of the world, ubiquitous, helpful and good, and feared and opposed:

“Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. … With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign. And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives.  They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh.

They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they, rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.

Why does the world oppose devout Christianity, now as then? One reason is that the Christian dedicates himself exclusively to Jesus Christ, in a way that worldly people think is disproportionate and dangerous. They imagine the believing Christian behaves like sodium in water, hot with intolerance and hatred, violent in their reactions. In fact, a Christian’s total commitment to Jesus Christ is what leads Him to have mercy for all and extend love toward all. Who is more responsible for ‘sharing bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless, and clothing the naked’ in history of the world than Christians in general and the Catholic Church in particular?

Another reason why the world hates Christianity is that worldly people think it lethal to the joys of life. Like inhaling chlorine gas, they fear that Christianity stands to afixiate their happiness. This too is nothing new. In Roman times Christians were charged with “hatred of humanity” for it was thought, “whoever loves man will love what man loves.” As the writer to Diognetus observed in the second century, “The world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because [Chritians] are opposed to its enjoyments.” It is still so today. It is as Jesus said: He calls us the light of the world, and elsewhere notes, “Everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.” We tell the world that some things that it loves are false roads to happiness, and it hates us for it.

So what are we to do? First, realize that the modern world’s hostility to Christianity is nothing new. Don’t wait for the world’s hostility to pass, it won’t. And don’t think your faith is a shameful thing, it’s not. Instead, do as Jesus teaches, “your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” If you are a Christian, people who know you should see something different in you and ask, “What’s your secret.” And when they do you should say, “It’s because of my relationship to Jesus Christ and His Church.” Pray for this grace. Pray that you may be a witness to Christ in both your words and deeds. Then, as the psalmist said, you will be “a light in darkness” and you will help to save many souls in the world.

Thursday, 29th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

October 28, 2009

G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton, the British Catholic writer, lived one hundred years ago, but his writings are still witty, insightful, and relevant today. Once he wrote in answer to the question, “Why I am a Catholic.”  Chesterton explained, “The difficulty of explaining ‘why I am a Catholic’ is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true. I could fill all my space with separate sentences each beginning with the words, ‘It is the only thing that…’”  One of the examples of this he gave was that Catholicism “is the only thing that frees a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.”

Why is it that after so many centuries we remain divided, three against two and two against three, on so many important matters?  We may be far more technologically advanced than they were in Jesus’ time, but every generation seems to repeat falling into the same, or slightly differing, forms of foolishness.  While science and technology is cumulative, part of every generation thinks they have to rediscover wisdom from scratch.  That’s why we still have ethical debates about questions that Jesus has settled.

Can we do evil in the hopes that good will come of it? [This is Ethics 101.  St. Paul teaches about this to the Romans, “And why not say—as we are accused and as some claim we say—that we should do evil that good may come of it? Their penalty is what they deserve.”] What if we’re [almost] certain that really good things will come from the evil we do? [Even if the evil does result in some good, what does freely-choosing evil make us?] Should we let the progress of science be bogged down by questions of morality? Should morality and private conscience have a place in politics and public life? [If not, then what will science, public life and policy be guided by beyond base desires and power?] Is it really always wrong to intentionally kill the innocent? What if intentionally killing 100,000 civilians will end a war?

If this is how things are when the wood is green in our country, then what will it be like when the wood is brown, dry, and dead, as it may well be in years ahead? What is the Christian to do?  Remain closely rooted to Christ, the source of our wisdom and waters of life. To borrow the words from the psalmist today:

The Christian “is like a tree
planted near running water,
That yields its fruit in due season,
and whose leaves never fade.
Whatever he does, prospers.”

Even if he is martyred, whatever the faithful Christian does prospers; for he is not a child and a slave of his age, but a child of the age to come.

2nd Sunday of Easter—Year B

August 23, 2009

Jesus said to “Doubting” Thomas, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and believed.”

This gospel passage has a very fond and special place in my heart, because when I was younger it used to really tick me off. If I had had my choice between either seeing and believing, or not seeing and being blessed, I’d have picked the seeing option every time. But now looking back, I realize  that if Jesus had actually appeared to me in a vision that would have just raised more doubts and questions in me. I once shared my various frustrations about faith and doubt with a priest.  After he had patiently listened, He suggested that perhaps I was going through these kinds of trials so that I could help others through similar trials someday.  At the time, that also ticked me off… but he was right. I hope that six lessons I’ve learned in the years since will be of help for you today. Today the Church celebrates Divine Mercy Sunday, but on account of Doubting Thomas one might also call it Doubter’s Sunday. I feel a lot of mercy for the doubters out there, and Jesus does too.

Lesson One:  Jesus does not condemn the honest doubter, the sincere questioner, the genuine seeker.

When Jesus appears to doubting Thomas notice that he is not angry with him.  He says, “Peace be with you!”  Then he says, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving but believe.” The Gospel does not say whether Thomas actually took Jesus up on touching his wounds, but Jesus was not patronizing him when he made the offer—it was an sincere invitation that met Thomas where he was at.

Still today, Jesus is not angered by our honest questions.  In fact, it is a compliment to him to ask tough questions of our faith because it shows that we believe there are good answers out there to be found. Honest questions make our faith stronger, not weaker. However, our questioning must be sincere. We must not build a comfortable home upon our doubts, doing nothing to answer or resolve them. This sort of questioning is not sincere, but often self-serving.  Jesus wants to give to those who ask, to reveal to those who seek, to open for those who knock, so that they will not be unbelieving, but believe.  But, when we refuse to ask, or to seek, or  to knock, we frustrate the Lord.  Jesus is pleased, however, by the genuine seeker because the genuine seeker will find him.

Lesson Two:  Having beliefs is unavoidable and our faith is reasonable.

Some people object to faith saying that “reason” or “science” is certain while “belief” is doubtful.  But in reality, all of our knowledge depends upon trusted beliefs. We cannot live, or even reason, without accepting beliefs. Before the scientist calmly walks across the street he assumes a thousand things without certain proof of them. We can learn many valuable things from science, but science itself cannot prove all of its own assumptions. There are even questions that science cannot answer, such as the transcendent goodness, worth, or purpose of things. Our faith answers such questions and our faith is not unreasonable. Our true faith is no more in conflict with reason than the truth could contradict the truth. Not everyone shares our faith, but you cannot live as fully alive without it.

Lesson Three:  If you ever worry about whether you really believe in God, you shouldn’t be worried.

Some people experience real spiritual anxiety when they ask themselves, “Do I really believe in God?” Realize this: people who don’t believe in God, don’t spend time worrying about whether they believe in God. Only a believer would do that. So if you ever worry about your belief in God, you shouldn’t be worried; you’re actually a believer and your mind should be at ease.

Lesson Four:  You already have enough faith to do what Jesus asks of you today.

Some people say, “I believe in Jesus Christ, but I just don’t have enough faith to do what he wants me to do.” These people experience a spiritual paralysis: they’re waiting for faith to show up, before they’ll take the next step in living the Gospel, whatever that might be. They’re actually psyching themselves out. They are like the apostles who once begged the Lord, “Increase our faith!” Jesus told them if they had faith the size of a mustard seed they could uproot trees or mountains with a word and plant them in the sea. At first this might seem like a word of discouragement, but it is actually a word of hope. Your tiny, microscopic speck of faith is already enough for you to accomplish everything Christ asks of you today. Your faith right now may be only a pinhole-sized trust in him, but the God who can fit a camel through the eye of a needle can pour a river through your pinhole-sized faith. You already have enough faith to do what Jesus asks of you today.

Lesson Five:  Faith grows through being exercised.

We often keep very low expectations of God.  Maybe we think that if we don’t expect too much from him he won’t expect too much from us. Or maybe we think we won’t be disappointed by him, if we never get our hopes up. In this way our faith stays small. Our faith, which is our openness to the Gospel and our trust in Jesus Christ, remains small and weak because our faith is so rarely exercised. Do we really want to come to the end of our lives and have to look back and wonder what our lives could have been if we had committed ourselves more completely to Jesus Christ and his Gospel?

Consider this question:  If you had all the faith in the world, how would you pray, what would you pray for, and what would you do? If you want to see you faith grow, if you want to see the power of Jesus Christ active in your life, then try doing these things today.

Now sometimes Christ comes out of nowhere and powerfully reveals himself to those who have never really striven for him, or even looked for him, but it is more often the case with Christ that the more we give him the more we get. Imagine you hold in your hand seeds which symbolize your life; your time, your talents, and your treasure. You received all these seeds from Christ as pure gift. As long as we cling to the seeds in our hand, they will never bear fruit. But once we begin letting Christ plant these seeds, and we see the good fruit they produce, we will eagerly give him more and more. In this way, our faith grows through being exercised.

And finally, the sixth lesson:  Faith is about trusting in Jesus Christ.

Faith is not so much about generating a certain feeling, or a feeling of certainty, about particular facts.  The demons know that Jesus is Lord—and shudder. Faith is more about trust, trusting in a person who is worthy of our trust, Jesus Christ. Living-out such trust requires a personal relationship of knowledge and love with him.

What might be holding us back in the life of faith could be that we have unresolved sins, past and present, impeding our relationship with Christ. This Divine Mercy Sunday we celebrate the infinite mercy God shows toward all those who ask for it. Through the sacrament of reconciliation, we can receive a fresh start, a clean slate, an infusion of grace, a healing of the heart and mind, a full restoration of personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Whenever I go to confession, I encounter Christ through the priest, like Thomas encountered Jesus in the upper room. Jesus enters into the locked inner room of my heart, where I would otherwise hide out of fear on account of my sins. I see his wounds, I admit the ways that I helped to put them there, and I tell him I’m sorry. And his response is always the same: mercy. “Peace be with you. Your sins are forgiven.” Confession gives us pardon and peace, it increases our trust and love for Jesus Christ, and strengthens our faith in him.

This Divine Mercy Sunday, let us pray the prayer that he has given us for our uncertain times: “Jesus, I trust in you.”