“Sir, we would like to see Jesus.”
These are the words of a Greek pilgrim spoken to Philip the apostle. I have a physicist friend who styles himself a religious agnostic. Raised a Catholic and educated right up to PhD from the University of Notre Dame, at some moment in the post-Vatican II days, when he heard the first plunk of a guitar in church, his faith began to crumble. The grand Catholic synthesis that seemed so stable and sensible came undone.
He is typical of many people, not only scientists, in the decades of the sixties and beyond. The passage from the scene of the great theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking this past week at 76 got me musing about my friend and the avowed atheist Hawking.
To my great surprise, I discovered that Stephen Hawking was appointed to the Pontifical Academy of Scientists at age 33 by Blessed Paul VI. He met and respected four popes and was a valued and active member of the Academy, always adding intellectual heft and luster to their attempts to reconcile faith and science in an ongoing dialogue. Stephen Hawking suffered most of his adult life from an ALS-like disease that limited him to a wheelchair and to communicating by artificial cyber-voice.
My friend the physicist and Stephen Hawking are serious men, both seekers, both endowed with brilliant intellects, and both in awe at the wonder of the universe. I suspect the words of the Greek seeker, “Sir, I would like to see Jesus,” might well apply to them also.
I have a candidate who might serve as a 21st-century Philip, bringing them to Andrew and to Jesus. He is Father Robert Spitzer, S.J., himself a theologian and physicist. He speaks eloquently – brilliantly, really – of the creation of the physical world by an incredibly powerful spiritual force in the “Big Bang.” When I hear Father Spitzer hold forth on the proofs for the existence of God using contemporary developments in science, especially astrophysics, and reminding us that it was a Belgian priest, Georges Lemaître, who first propounded the Big Bang theory, I wonder why my friend, and Stephen Hawking, don’t see it. God only knows!
When the Greek seeking Jesus meets him, Jesus says, “unless the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” I am filled with gratitude to God for the gift of faith that allows me and people of faith to see Jesus. As Gerard Manley Hopkins describes faith:
“For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.”
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Copyright 2018 Fr. Willy Raymond, C.S.C.