Monday, July 22, 2019

Marianist Monday

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August 2019

My dear graduates of Chaminade, Kellenberg Memorial, and St. Martin de Porres Marianist School,

As I read Bro. Stephen’s July Magnificat letter, I was struck by memories of my own summers growing up in Saratoga Springs, New York. I spent most of my mornings working at the Saratoga 
Race Course, and most of my afternoons enjoying any number of thrilling watersports on Saratoga Lake. I have never really been one to stop and let the beauty of nature -- of God’s creation -- sink in. I am usually too busy diving headfirst into something fun, fast, and exciting. I guess witnessing the beauty in nature as God’s creation was automatic for me.

This was also the way I tended to look at the natural sciences. Rarely, if ever, was I troubled by what society sees as mutual exclusivity of science and faith. Science usually answered the “how?” and sometimes the “what?” Faith and God, on the other hand, always answered the “why?” In high school, I was fortunate enough to have teachers who gave witness to true academic passion for the natural sciences but seemed to have no difficulty balancing this out with steadfast faith in God.
This changed for me during my freshman year of college. At the time, I was a biology major at the University of Miami, taking the normal first-year courses of general biology and biology lab. I found these courses fascinating and sometimes intense and difficult, but, still, there was never a conflict for me between faith and science.

One day, however, as the semester neared its end, my professor was flipping through PowerPoint slides on evolution, Darwinism, and natural selection. He concluded class with a slide entitled THERE IS NO GOD. From what I remember, the professor spent the remainder of class essentially “preaching” an emotional sermon about the pains of suffering and loss in his own life and, thus, how there could be no God. I felt for this obviously grieving man; his final sermon was devoid of hope. Personal tragedy weighed so heavily on him that he had lost sight of the God lurking behind the myriad natural phenomena to whose meticulous observation he had dedicated his life.

As college continued, many of my friends and peers were shocked to find out that I had eventually switched from a biology major to a religious-studies major with a minor in biology. Many of my peers thought that these two areas of study made no sense together and questioned how and why I came up with that combination. And, to be honest, it was difficult to verbalize why I wanted to study both, other than my standard response, “It makes sense to me.”

The quest to understand this synthesis of faith and science for myself and to be able to explain it more effectively to friends certainly led me to a deeper understanding of my own religious beliefs and the beauty of the created world. I learned that there is nothing to fear about looking to science and reason for answers to questions and for greater knowledge. On the other hand, I grew increasingly convinced that science and reason alone cannot answer all of life’s questions.

Pope Benedict XVI expressed the complementary of faith and science quite well when he addressed the creation vs. evolution debate:

. . . there are so many scientific proofs in favor of evolution, which appears to be a reality we can see and which enriches our knowledge of life and being as such. But on the other [hand], the doctrine of evolution does not answer every query, especially the great philosophical question: where does everything come from? And how did everything start which ultimately led to man?

Regardless of our programs of study, I think we will all confront questions and challenges about our faith. At some point in our lives, we are all going to have to reconcile faith and reason, religion and science. At some point, verbalizing our religious beliefs -- and even living our faith quietly -- will most likely elicit questions from others -- and in some cases, even criticism. Sadly (and erroneously!), professors and peers will try to use “science” to drive a wedge between us and our faith.

How do we answer these challenges? For me, what I have known for so long seems to be the best response: Faith answers the “why?”, while science answers the “how?” As Pope Benedict XVI pointed out, we need both religion and reason to understand our world. Both the tenets of faith and the tools of science are absolutely necessary to appreciate and respect the beauty of creation.
During this month of August, we celebrate a feast that has become increasingly special to me. On August 15, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, we remember that Mary was raised - body and soul - into eternal glory. This is the feast day on which I made my Aspirancy and Novitiate promises for the first two stages of my vocation as a Marianist Brother. As we all enjoy this truly beautiful month of August and celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, let us allow God to “raise” both our intellect and our faith to a more complete understanding of His mysteries.

You will all be in my prayers; I would appreciate it if you could keep me in yours! 

On behalf of your Marianist Brothers,

Bro. Thomas Terrill, n.S.M.