Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Advent of Hope

In this Advent period we will once again experience the closeness of the One who created the world, who guides history and cared for us to the point of becoming a man.   - Pope Benedict XVI

A few weeks ago, I visited the local Science Center with another postulant from the Daughters of St. Paul. The exhibit that most impressed me was the timeline that illustrated the age of the universe and the evolution of man. 

Astronomers estimate the age of the universe to be around 13 billion years, give or take a billion or so. Scientists believe that life began on our planet between 3 to 4 billion years ago. It is estimated that the species to which we belong, Homo sapiens, has existed for only 100,000 years.

Just take a moment to think about that vast expanse of time and the extremely minuscule portion of it that contains human life.

Now think about this. We live in one galaxy that is only one among what scientists estimate to be hundreds of billions of galaxies in the entire universe.

At the Science Center, when I considered this historical time line and the vast expanse of physical space we live in, I have to be honest, I was shaken. In that moment, I understood why a lot of people can lose their sense of God when they study science. I cannot really describe the feeling except that it felt like an overwhelming despair, an understanding of how empty the world would be without God.

I think the enormity of the concepts were what caused the momentary crisis. Humans have a tendency to do this, at least I do. If my brain cannot wrap around something, it shakes my faith. I want answers the moment an idea or concept clashes in my mind and I cannot make sense of it. This is positive in the sense that if something does not make sense, I seek out answers and do not rest until I am satisfied. But unfortunately it reveals that I have an underlying assumption that my intellect has the capacity to understand anything that does not make sense in the world. This is not true for anyone, no matter how intelligent they are, and certainly is not true for me.

But faithful to my inquisitive personality, I returned home from the Science Center on a mission to understand more about evolution. The first thing I was relieved to find out was that the Catholic view of evolution and science in general is very reasonable: 

Methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. (Catechism of the Catholic Church,159)

Thankfully, the Church does not automatically reject science that is contrary to the literal interpretation of the Bible. I can understand why atheists and agnostics are infuriated by this tendency in some Christian denominations. When we deny our reason, we are denying a fundamental aspect of our humanity.

But this preliminary foray into the issue of evolution left me with even more questions: "When did the human soul come on the scene? What about Adam and Eve, how do they fit into this? What about the dinosaurs, what were they all about? I continued my research into evolution and I have read online and listened to four podcasts so far and they have been helpful but I am not even close to having an understanding of this issue to write a blog about it, which was my original purpose.

However, recently I realized that this tangent that I have allowed myself to get lost in has been very fitting for the season of Advent.

During this blessed season we contemplate the mystery of the Incarnation. The idea that we as Christians profess: God Himself, the Creator of this vast and amazing universe entered human history and became a man named Jesus.

This idea is ludicrous. Really, if you are bored with Christianity, it is because you do not really let yourself absorb the insanity of what we believe. It is insane, so insane humans could not have made this up. God Himself became a zygote and then later a fetus and then a beautiful child who could not speak. God, the Creator of all, the Omnipotent, All-Knowing God, the force who created the entire universe with its billions of galaxies, became a little, helpless baby born into poverty to parents who were refugees.

Why did God do this? Because He is Love and He could not do anything else.

I encourage each one of you to take one hour (or more!) this Advent to contemplate this amazing mystery, perhaps before the Blessed Sacrament in adoration. It is a mystery that one hour will not exhaust and I am slowly realizing that my entire lifetime will never be enough to understand the height and breadth of God's love for us.

Blessed Advent my dear friends.