The collaboration of knowledge, belief and faith

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Adam D. Hincks, S.J. has an outstanding article that is on the front cover of this week’s issue of America Magazine. Fr. Hincks is an astrophysicist at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver.  The article is a thoughtful and compelling read on the symbiotic relationship between faith and reason. I highly recommend reading the full article here, but set forth below is a teaser:

“She would have to leave her intellect behind, my friend assumed, if she followed up on a profound experience of God that had led her to Mass. Eventually she decided to enroll in the catechumenate in order to become a member of the Catholic Church. Taking this step, she explained to me, would require her to check her brain at the classroom door, but she felt her newfound religion was so important to her that she was willing to sacrifice reason for faith.

Happily, my friend soon discovered that the Catholic faith in fact encourages the use of reason. But her story reminds us that we live in a culture that tends to segregate knowledge, faith and belief. On the one hand, knowledge is seen as scientific, objective and part of a common fund. On the other, faith and belief (which are not usually distinguished) are considered unscientific, subjective and private. At best, the two categories are allowed to coexist if kept at arms’ length from each other; at worst, they are treated as mutually opposed, whether by strident atheists or religious fundamentalists.

Such attitudes toward knowledge and belief do not comport with the Catholic tradition. Nor do they accurately reflect the way our minds actually work. St. Augustine was correct when he wrote, “To believe is nothing other than to think with assent…. Believers are also thinkers: in believing, they think and in thinking, they believe.” Perhaps surprisingly, the clearest evidence for this claim can be found in the world of scientific research.

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If faith perfects reason, then it certainly does not destroy reason. Rather, authentic faith is the guarantor of the validity of human reason, which, on its own, has no way of proving its own trustworthiness. One cannot, for instance, justify the scientific method using the scientific method, but must appeal to something more fundamental. And since our reason is limited, it will never find within itself its own justification. The only way we can be assured that the human sciences tell us true information about the world is if we accept that they are part of a larger, rational order. “It is the one and the same God,” Pope John Paul II continues, “who establishes and guarantees the intelligibility and reasonableness of the natural order of things upon which scientists confidently depend, and who reveals himself as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The contemporary urge to separate knowledge from belief not only fails to grasp their interdependence; it overlooks the essentially collaborative nature of human inquiry. By cordoning reason off from faith, it also threatens to strike at the very root of rationality itself. For human inquiry was never meant to be a purely human collaboration, but a collaboration with the mind of God. If we expel God from the intellectual life, we may find that reason itself soon withers.

Read Full Article

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Teilhard de Chardin Quote of the Week (September 15, 2014): The Cross and Progress

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“If the Cross is to reign over an earth that has suddenly awaken to consciousness of a biological movement drawing it ahead, then at all costs and as soon as possible it must (if it is to be able to coexist  with human nature which it claims to save) present  itself as a sign, not merely of ‘escape’, but of progress.  It must have for us not merely a purifying but a driving brilliance.”

– Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Christianity and Evolution, p. 217

 

 

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Sunday Reflection, Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (September 14): Freedom of the Cross

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“[I]n spite of the profound readjustments that are being made in our phenomenal vision of the world, the Cross still stands; it rears itself up ever more erect at the common meeting place of all values and all problems, deep in the heart of mankind. It marks and must continue more than ever to mark the division between what rises and what falls back. But this is on one condition, and one only: that it expand itself to the dimensions of [today]. — Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.  The readings can be found here. This week’s reflection comes from David W. Parsons, author of the outstanding blog Elias Icons.  (Mr. Parsons’ blog was inspired by Teilhard de Chardin so I feel like he is a kindred spirit). I encourage you to read the entire reflection here but set forth below is an extended excerpt:

“The cross plays a key role in Teilhard’s approach to the Sacred Heart as the symbol of  God’s  evolutionary design for His creation. . . . Teilhard wants us to  see the Sacred Heart in a new way.  He wants us to look deep into the image and get beyond what we see.   We have to get into the Sacred Heart ‘within’ the image.  And furthermore, he believed  that by doing this  – seeing differently and more intensively – the Sacred Heart could serve to become a symbol which could embody a more forward looking vision of Christianity which would take account of  what we now know about the world and the cosmos.   It could serve as a way of promoting  a Christianity which is open to what science  and research can tell us about God’s creation and the place of Christianity in the modern world.

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Teilhard also wants us to penetrate the appearance of THE most important image in the Christian faith : the Cross.  It is, of course, primarily, as he admitted,  a symbol  of atonement and expiation.  But the cross means so much more than this, and if Christianity was to be relevant to the modern world it had to explore the deeper meaning of the Cross we see being exalted in the icon.

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What this means is that when we look at the cross we see ‘suffering, dying, freeing’.  But we should look again. Look deeper. Look at the cross from a cosmic  perspective.  We now see Christ as not just bearing  the weight of our sin: he is bearing the weight of the pain and suffering that is the consequence of a universe that is evolving.  When we see the cross in this way we see the enormity of the truth of the redemptive Cross but it now becomes ‘much more true’. (219)   When we see the Cross  as a symbol of God who has humbly become flesh to progress and advance OUR evolution and the evolution of the universe itself we better understand  the scale and immensity of what the Cross represents.   So just as we have to EXPAND our understanding of the Sacred Heart, we have to expand our understanding of the cross.

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We now see the Cross as raised to new and  awesome heights: a dynamic and complete symbol of a God who has entered fully and completely into the pain of being a conscious and reflective member of the species homo sapiens.  On the cross we see the Word of God made flesh who out of love has penetrated fully and completely human history and evolution.

Read Full Reflection

Elias Icons Blog
Creighton Online Ministries
Fr. Robert Barron Sermon

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Teilhard Opened A Door: A Reflection by Charles C. Finn

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Earlier this week, The Teilhard Project had an outstanding reflection from poet and author Charles C. Finn.  Finn has a poets flair for capturing the essence of Teilhard’s vision in a short post. I encourage you to read the entire reflection here but set forth below is an excerpt:

“It was Teilhard de Chardin who opened the door for me into a new universe back in my Jesuit years. Scientist, priest, visionary, cosmic storyteller, poet, mystic—how hard it is to capture all that he was and stood for. “Such has been my experience in contact with the earth—the diaphany of the Divine at the heart of the universe on fire”—this from The Divine Milieu gives us a clue into why Teilhard received such opposition from conservative religious establishment and materialistic scientific community alike. He was far too Earth-enchanted for the former, far too mystical for the latter. His shift of emphasis from redemption to creation (not creation at the beginning of time, genesis, but evolution’s continuing creation, cosmogenesis) was considered by his Church so radical that his works were not allowed to be published while he was alive.

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We are all of us together carried in the one world womb, yet each is our own little microcosm in which the Incarnation is wrought independently with degrees of intensity and shades that are incommunicable.

Close your eyes and surrender to suffering as to a great loving energy.

God must be as vast as the universe and as warm as a human heart, and incomparably more besides. That is all we can say.”

Read Full Reflection

The Teilhard Project Website
Charles C. Finn Website

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Teilhard de Chardin Quote of the Week (September 8, 2014): Love Alone

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“Love alone is capable of uniting living beings in such a way as to complete and fulfill them, for it along takes them and joins them by what is deepest in themselves” — Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

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Sunday Reflection, 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 7, 2014): Love is the Fulfillment of the Law

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“You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.” — Romans 13:9-10

This weekend is the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings can be found here.  The themes of the readings focus on love, forgiveness and reconciliation with God and others.

These are not attributes that come easily to me. I am heavily influenced by both my profession (corporate attorney) and culture (21st century U.S.) that is transaction based; there is an expectation that there is quid pro quo in almost every human interaction, not just in commerce but in inter-personal friendships also. This mentality has even seeped into religion with the “gospel of prosperity” message of “If I’m good and believe in God, I will be rewarded with health and wealth” that permeates many megachurches. This transactional attitude of an eye-for-an-eye was exactly what Jesus came to transform with his message of interior change that will result in a love of God and neighbor. 

This week’s reflection comes from John Predmore, SJ.  You can read the full reflection here but set forth below is an extended excerpt:

“The one who loves another has fulfilled the law. Scripture this week focuses upon our conduct towards those around us, especially in times when we have been harmed by their actions. Love does no evil. Ezekiel says that you are responsible for the wicked person’s death if you do not dissuade him from doing evil. Jesus tells us to speak to your brother about his fault privately so you can settle the affair, respect his honor, and restore the sacred fraternal relationship. Scripture keeps returning to the point that we are to revere others’ freedom and well-being and we are to lovingly help them make choices that will help them do what is right in society. Even the rudest stranger, we are to treat with kindness, because we have a responsibility to that person who is poorly coping with issues that keep them from pursuing their happiness. Love builds up, encourages, and creates possibilities.

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Everyone can appreciate the idealistic words and the harmonious sentiment of the readings, but no one gives you the tools to smoothly admonish your brother and sister in ways they can hear. When we try extra hard to be kind, we still cannot predict how somehow will respond to our gentle requests. To many, being kind means being soft; therefore they have the right to take advantage of someone who is weaker than I am. To this God responds, “Keep being kind. Keep smiling. Nothing is quite as powerful as true gentleness.”

The Gospel gives us a blueprint on the steps we need to take to resolve the dispute, but it does not tell us how to do it. The steps he mentions says that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of witnesses,’ but that is not enough because we have to begin with the assertions that, ‘No one will ever admit guilt or wrongness.’ Logic, facts, and argumentation never settle disputes. Only acknowledging the hurt we caused settles arguments. Even those found guilty of crimes by judge and jury profess their innocence.

The style of our approach dictates whether we will be successful. Love does no evil. Love does no harm. The law is fulfilled when we respond lovingly. I have to quickly think, “How can my words salvage this person’s honor? How can I not dismiss the person or say something that sounds as if I am judging?” We have to disarm the person and make them feel instantly comfortable. If I say, “I’m not sure I have the best words to convey this, but I’ll try,” then we at least set the person up to hear you. Never just jump in with statements that correct behaviors. Also, if someone’s words hurt us, tell them. Say, “Ouch.” Let the person know their words affect you greatly and you carry that hurt with you. Sane people do not want to hurt you. People really do not want to be the cause of unnecessary harm. One of our greatest gifts to develop is speaking from a loving place all day long – lovingly to ourselves, lovingly to strangers and neighbors, lovingly to adversaries. It often does not matter how they respond. What matters is that I continue to grow in love.

Love is powerful because it does no evil. Love does no harm, but it builds up and encourages. It creates new possibilities. Love fulfills the law because love is the basis of all law. The questions I ask myself each day are, “Am I growing in love? How can I grow more respectfully? Can the words I speak mirror the love I have in my heart for others?” I let God do the rest.”

Read Entire Reflection

Other Resources:

Creighton Online Ministries
Living Space
Robert Barron Podcast

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Feast of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta (September 5)

 

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People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered;  Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;  Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;  Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;  Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;  Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;  Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;  Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough;  Give the world your best anyway.

– Mother Teresa

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