Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose I have come. (Mark 1:38)
Christ cured St. Peter’s mother-in-law of her fever. But He did not do it simply so that she could get up and serve Him a cup of cool water and a falafel sandwich.
Christ came to heal us in the most profound way. The true center of our health does not, in fact, lie in the body. What we need first are healthy souls. And our souls are healed by one precise, vigorous act. When we make this particular act, we course with undying life. The act of faith.
Fifty years ago this past Thursday, Blessed Pope John XXIII summoned all the bishops of the world to Rome to meet the following October. A great anniversary has come upon us, dear brothers and sisters. The fiftieth anniversary of…the Second Vatican Council.
Now, please: I do not bring this up in order to make some of us feel old. Quite the contrary. The holy meeting of the Pope with the shepherds of all the Catholic communities throughout the world had precisely the opposite effect. As Pope John Paul II put it, Vatican II awoke again the perennial youthfulness of the Church of Christ.
Repent and believe in the Gospel. The Kingdom of God is at hand.
The Lord Jesus filled the highways of Galilee with the truth of Who He is. He beckoned all to respond with faith. Christ’s preaching reaches into the center of everyone who hears His Word, into the invisible pilot-house of the ship of every human personality.
Light the beacon in the pilot house, captain! Believe! Come alive for true life, the life that does not end.
What health can we really have without this? What health can each of us have individually, and what public health can our society have, if it does not all begin with health of soul, with faith?
Last week a priest friend of mine engaged in a public debate on a college campus. He squared off against an atheist. The atheist spoke very intelligently and well. My own mind is still heaving and swaying with the 127 things I want to say to answer the atheist’s ideas.
The atheist speaker scored points by distorting or limiting the meaning of the words he used, for his own advantage. One of the high skills of rhetoric is to use words to mean what you want them to mean, so as to lull your audience into forgetting that they might mean something else.
I could get into a number of examples of this rhetorical technique from the debate. Maybe I will come back to this list of words in the future, if you want.
But today let’s just consider one of the words that the atheist frequently used. A simple word. An “electric” word, according to the artist formerly known as Prince. Life.
Life. The atheist explained how life arose as a result of the workings of chemicals, all of which were originally set in motion by the Big Bang. Life exists on earth and may very well exist on countless other, similar planets. Life is possible during the window of time the universe is currently passing through, but it won’t be possible after the universe expands a little more—after another 10, or 20, or 30, or 40 billion years. Life arises arbitrarily, gets doled our arbitrarily, extends for an arbitrary length of time, then ends in an arbitrary way.
But here’s the question: Does this summary truly capture what we mean by the word ‘life?’ Is life simply the congregation of molecules and vapors that can be spliced and diced under a microscope?
Sure enough, amoebas possess life, and worms, and raccoons, and ferns, and cauliflower.
But what they have, they have as a shadow and a figure of what we have. We too consume nutrients and process them; we need to be watered, cultivated, treated right, and housed in a proper habitat.
All this, though, lies around the center of who we really are, like a garden surrounding the true house of human life. Life means more than molecules. Life means communion with something immeasurably greater than a good meal and a warm bed.
Life means having a friend. Life means singing. Life means taking a walk for no immediately observable biological reason. Life means studying things, contemplating things. Life means making progress toward the truth.
Life means more than breathing. Life means self-sacrifice, too. Life means—above all—love.
Life, our life, the vigor of our souls—it did not arise from the amoeba. And it is not crushed—not even by the dusty, ponderous tonnage of death.
We Christians, we Catholics—we cannot prove by logical argument that God loves us and the whole world. We receive faith as a gift, and the act of faith reaches the true reality which science cannot observe.
But: We can show that human beings have a solid capacity to believe that God loves—and this capacity chemistry cannot explain. By plain reasoning, we can show what the word ‘life’ really means. Not us and the dust and the chemicals and the solar winds and the wandering photons. No: Life = us and God and every beautiful thing that God has made.
One thought on “Vatican II and the Atheist”
Appreciate how you share your gifts with us in turn. Words have consequences, but we seem to be living in a time where people discard consequences as so much flotsam and not important to insisting on their point of view. Note that anyone can call themselves Christian without living up to any particular beliefs. I like that you trust that the faithful are still out here…..