A Reflection for the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary
15th August 2018
When I was teaching a physics course a few weeks ago, one of the questions asked was how I reconcile science and religion. In answering that question this time around, I realise that the answer has changed over the years, and I would not be surprised if it will continue to change. So to start with a disclaimer: don’t hold me to this answer forever.
My first response to the question how I can be a physicist and a priest is that both enable me to have an inquisitive attitude to the world around me. Signs of a healthy approach to science and faith are that we feel encourage to seek a deeper understanding; to ask questions that probe deeper instead of signing up to a set of doctrine or dogmas.
That means, then, that science and religion are primarily an attitude: a way of life, if you like. They are not buying into a set of beliefs that you ought learn from a textbook and reiterate when asked. For that reason, for me, the question ‘why do you believe?’ is synonymous to ‘why do you go to Church?’ I could not imagine myself to be a Christian without having a pattern of life that includes regular churchgoing. A second disclaimer: I do appreciate that this may be different for others who make an equally valid claim of being people of faith.
So, this is why I go to Church: I want to say ‘thank you’. Yes, I appreciate that I live a very comfortable life, and that this is not true for everyone. I also see the suffering around us in the world and not for a moment I will claim that this is part of God’s plan and thus a reason to celebrate. However, when we look around us, there is a lot to give thanks for. When we try, we will be able to see not just the bad, but also the good in people. We will see not just our burdens, but also our gifts. But that requires practice, and thus we need a habit, a pattern to get better at it.
But, wait, you may say, that hasn’t answered the question ‘why Church?’ yet. Why do I need to go to Church to say thank you? My first reply is that there is someone or something to whom I would like to say thank you. That someone, to me at least, is best represented by the God of Christianity. Someone who is above and beyond us, yet knows us and cares. Someone who has the ability to give freely, and yet knows that life is not just happiness, and who knows what it feels like to suffer. Someone who creates, redeems and sustains. Someone who has created us in His image, so that in others we can see God’s goodness reflected.
Going to Church gives me the opportunity to listen and to participate, to be reminded of the story of God and his people, and an opportunity to practice seeing the good in others and myself as I realise how different, yet united we are. And, going with others helps me to keep going. It’s not that dissimilar from going to the gym: when you know others are expecting you, you may be more likely to keep on going.
Finally, I don’t believe that through this habit, this practice, I become a better person. However, I do believe that by saying ‘thank you’, I become more aware of how much there is to be thankful for. Again, this does not take away the suffering, especially not that of others, but it helps me to see through it, or to see it through. So, on this day when we celebrate the witness of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in her words My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.