National Honors Society Induction Mass
Saint Joseph Church, Sharon, PA – 10th May, 2017
(Acts 12:24-13:5; John 12:44-50)
In the fall of 1930, an internationally renowned scientist wrote a rather obscure essay alluding to this experience of awe. An abridged copy of the essay was eventually confiscated and destroyed by the Nazi’s during World War II. The copies were forever lost and the whereabouts of the originals remained unknown – at least for over 30 years. Amazingly, the text was retrieved and subsequently published in 1966. An excerpt of the essay reads:
“The most beautiful and most profound emotion we can experience is the mysterious. He who does not know it, he who can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, and no longer stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. [Having experienced the mysterious, and felt awe in its presence, I must admit] that I am a deeply religious man.”
Whether the words surprise you or not, the author of them surely will. These words were penned by none other than the self-avowed agnostic, Albert Einstein. Though he was able to describe and define some of the most sublime theories of modern science, Einstein’s found himself standing in awe and wonder before the marvels of God’s creation. He humbly and candidly acknowledged the limits of science, which falls short of explaining some of the most basic experiences that make us human, setting us apart from the rest of creation – the appreciation of beauty, the desire for immortality, the experience of authentic human love. These things simply inspire in us feelings of awe and wonderment, which can leave even the most brilliant minds of our times, dumbfounded and speechless.
This is one of those moments of recognition that lies at the intersection between faith and reason. The conviction that there is a complementary relationship between faith and reason has long been a part of the Catholic Intellectual Tradition: faith and reason cannot stand in opposition to one another. Firstly, we believe that both faith and reason are a gifts from our Creator. To freely gifts two gifts that stand in opposition to one another would be deceptive, and we do not believe that deceit is within the nature of God. Secondly, both faith and reason are in pursuit of the same goal: truth. To argue that the truth arrived at through faith is contrary to the truth arrived at through reason would suggest that truth is relative; and if all Truth comes from God, then God, himself, is relative (hot one day and cold the next, merciful one day and vindictive the next, loving one day and hateful the next). This is certainly not the God described in scripture or revealed by Jesus Christ. Thirdly, if both faith and reason are characteristics that make us uniquely human, then to reject one in favor of the other – or to reject both, for that matter – is akin to “dehumanizing” us, making us less human, and is an affront to our Creator who made us in his very image and likeness.
Within the Kennedy Catholic Family of Schools, we are privileged to speak freely about our conviction in the correspondence between faith and reason, and to teach in a manner that allows faith to inform our reason and, conversely, to allow our reason to critique our faith. We not only learn about the anatomy and biology of human life, but we also learn about the reality and hope of eternal life. We not only learn about the physics of the universe, but we also learn about the Designer who created it. We not only learn about the history of Western Civilization, we also learn how the past 2,000 years of that history is colored, shaped, and directed by the Christians church. We not only learn about the poetic genius of Shakespeare, but we learn about the literary mastery of the scriptures. If we believe that this world was created and is sustained by God, then everything in this universe bears the thumbprint of its Creator.
In this evening’s Gospel, Jesus proclaims that he came into the world as light. I do not think it a coincidence that we often speak of the learning endeavor using similar similes. We talk about and symbolize a “light bulb” going off in our head, of one gaining enlightenment, or teachers recognize the way a student’s eye “light up” when they finally comprehend a particular concept. The pursuit of truth is the pursuit of light, and the pursuit of light is the pursuit of Jesus Christ, and the pursuit of Jesus Christ is the pursuit of God himself who, many theologians refer to as, “Absolute Truth.”
To pursue God himself – Absolute Truth – is an overwhelming undertaking, and necessitates maximizing our gifts of both faith and reason. For the past 20+ years of my “professional life,” I have been pursuing this God. This pursuit has involved the two parallel tracks of faith and reason that, ultimately, converge into one Absolute Truth, whom we call God. By faith, I have pursued this God in prayer, in celebrating the sacraments, in meditating on scripture, and reflecting on life experiences. By reason, I have pursued this God through study, research, and intellectual inquery. Both gifts have drawn me ever closer to Truth, to God.
This evening, we rightfully celebrate your intellectual and academic achievements, the gifts of your reasoning capacities, but we do so in within the context of this Eucharistic Liturgy, a gift of our faith. In itself, this speaks powerfully and symbolically to our conviction of the fundamental correspondence between faith and reason. As you continue to cultivate and maximize your God-given gift of reason well into your future, do not leave behind your God-given gift of faith. That gift, too, needs to be equally cultivated and maximized if you are truly going to pursue and attain the highest calling of both gifts – Absolute Truth, God.
In the final two years of my seminary studies, a priest who was also a professor of mathematics at Gannon and who I had come to know well during my undergraduate years, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Since I was studying in Baltimore at the time, he and I would often exchange written letters in order to keep tabs on one another. I vividly recall one letter I penned him, complaining about the stress of my studies, the difficulty of my course load, and my ardent desire to finish my studies so I could finally – after 8 years of schooling – become a priest. His reply letter captures perfectly this relationship between faith and reason. He wrote to me, “Soon enough, the day will finally come when you can celebrate the Eucharist at the altar of sacrifice. But, right now, you need to remain focused on your studies. Right now, your desk is your altar of sacrifice. Remaining committed to your desk, to your studies, is an act of worshiping God.”
I challenge all of our honorees as you continue to advance in your studies: do not see it as merely an exercise in intellectual gymnastics, or as perfunctory academic busywork. Rather, understand your studies as an act of worship and, by that, you bring ever greater glory to God.
– Fr. Jason Glover, KCFS President