5 Jan 2020. Epiphany Sunday. Cycle A-2020. Is 60:1-6 + Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6 + Mt 2:1-12
The ancients believed that the appearance of a new star ushered the birth of a new ruler. When the magi, who were believed to be astrologers from the East, saw this star they wasted no time to follow it to find out who the new ruler could be.
Astrology brought them close, but not to the place. They needed to supplement what they learned from astrology with what religious authorities learned from the prophets. “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?” they inquired. “We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”
Behold, the newborn king of the Jews! Do you not think they could have been scandalized and embarrassed at the pitifully poor condition the supposed-to-be king was born into?
Caspar could have whispered to Balthasar, “Are you sure we have the right guy?” Bemused, Balthasar could have pulled Melchior to him wondering, “How can a king be poorer than the poor?” But before answering, Melchior, whose faith may have been stronger than that of the two, nudged his colleagues to move closer to the infant. Without saying another word, they found themselves prostrating before the infant Jesus. They lavished him gold, frankincense, and myrrh, gifts befitting a king, their king. How could the prophets ever miss foretelling the poverty that surrounded the King?
Astrologers at that time were considered scientists, experts on the heavenly bodies. They were not as bright as scientists today, but they were considered wise men in their time. Wise, though they were, relying on scientific knowledge, they did not look down upon knowledge derived from revelation. Synthesizing knowledge they gained from their study of the stars with the knowledge they gained from revelation, they found Jesus.
But, wait! If the magi were astrologers, then they were pagans who practiced a profession condemned as an abomination to God (cf. Dt 4:19)! Why did God reveal Jesus to them, and not to the righteous priests? God sees any opening, no matter how small, and He flooded Light through it into the dark minds of the magi (cf. Mt 2:12).
Did the star of the magi shine brightest in the sky? Maybe not; at dawn, what is seen as the brightest star is the Morning Star. This star could not have been what the magi followed since this star was associated with the devil Lucifer (cf. Is 12; Rev 12:7-9). Just as Lucifer was a fake light, the morning star was a fake — it was Venus, a planet. Watch out, then, not all stars lead to Jesus; in fact, most stars lead anyone astray.
Although science has gained tremendous knowledge of the stars, faith, likewise, can stake a claim to knowledge of the stars — that these bright bodies form the universe that God created. While a number of modern-day magi see God in their following the stars, a greater number were blinded by the brightness of Lucifer. The likes of Richard Dawkins have been deceived by the Morning Star who promised, “Your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who see what is fact from what is fake” (cf. Gen 3:5). Lucifer lured them into believing there was no God who could be brighter than them.
Scientism is an exaggerated trust in the efficacy of natural science applied to all areas of investigation. Subscribers to the ideology-turned-religion denounced the believers’ God-of-the-gaps faith, that is, attributing divine intervention to causes that science cannot explain. Science, they said, may not yet have a clear answer to these mysteries, but it will come to that.
We heard some self-acclaimed “wise” offer natural theories to the parting of the Red Sea, to the plagues of Egypt, and to Jesus’ resurrection. They belied Biblical miracles as myths because, according to them, these defied the laws of nature. Their substitute theories, however, turned out to be more ridiculous than the “improbable” phenomenon they tried to disprove. The occurrence of the suggested natural causes even turned out to be less likely than the probability of the miracles they sought to supplant.
If these are natural, why else are these called miracles? Miracles are defined as extra-natural occurrences. How could they explain the over than a hundred remarkable parallels — “coincidences” if one chooses to call these — of the events in Jesus’ life to the prophecies told about these things years before these occurred? Fast forward, how can science explain the “Dance of the Sun” miracle in Fatima? That sign that occurred as predicted, awed hundreds of thousands of believers and non-believers alike who flocked to the scene to witness the event unfold.
Scientism followers do not find Jesus because they ignore the landmarks — his miracles; and miss the road signs — his teachings. They do not see supernatural revelation, because they use natural instruments, inappropriate for supernatural investigation. Just as one does not use the microscope to see distant objects, scientism may not find Jesus through the laboratory.
Some people of faith, on the other extreme, reacted so unreasonably to science’s attacks on faith. Never mind if Richard Dawkins derided faith to be a great cop-out … a great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. He is an incorrigible atheist; no amount of defense would change his mind. According to St. Paul, “…the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, so that they may not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2Cor 4:4). Dawkins’ constant jab at faith, though, is no excuse for faith to barge into the laboratory to argue with science on God’s works on nature.
It is true, some so-called scientific pronouncements seem so rash, they border on conjecture and fiction rather than on fact. But faith is not, and was never, a tool for investigating nature. People of faith, understandably, are bound to defend Jesus’ teachings. They are cautioned, however, not to impede God’s plan of revelation, even if it comes through non-believers. After all, revelation of the birth of Jesus was not given to the likes of them, but to wise, even pagan, scientists, and to not-that-wise shepherds.
Science and faith can see God from different perspectives, and can synthesize knowledge of God more thoroughly. Science and faith are the two eyes of knowledge. Even St. Pope John Paul II once quipped, “Truth [from science] cannot contradict truth [from revelation].”
“Knowledge of God is hardly acquired by force of reason or by intellectual persuasion; rather, by divine grace, enhanced by childlike humility and openness. Conversion of a non-believer must start with, dominated by, and end with intense prayer for divine grace to flow into a non-believer. It is when a non-believer is softened that he could be persuaded by human reason.” I could not remember who said this, but it describes how true conversion occur — not by the skill of the witness, but by the spirit of God.
St. Peter, in his letter, called for constant lookout for opportunities to witness Christian faith, but doing so in gentleness and reverence (cf. 1Pt 3:15-17). The early church grew dramatically because there was then a profusion of saints who inspired nonbelievers with their holy lives. Similarly, the faithful can convert scientists, not by eloquence or by evidence, but by radiating the Christian spirit — selfless love, profuse joy, and calming peace.
Indeed, there are scientists who despite of science, or because of it, believe in God who is the ultimate cause of the universe, and who, they realized, was beyond science’s grasp. Like the magi, they were not led by the brightest star. Like the magi, their preconceived theories of the universe did not blind them of the real vision of divinity. They were vocal and proud of their faith, even if the rest of them were as timid as the Jesus-believing Pharisees. They choose to keep their faith secret out of fear of career backlash from the scientific community.
Francis S. Collins (The Language of God, New York” Free Press, 2006), a world-renowned genetics scientist who headed the Human Genome Project, takes pride in his unwavering faith in God. Many, like him, joined the American Scientific Affiliation, a group of several thousand scientists who are serious believers in God, and who seek a harmony between science and faith.
To his fellow scientists, he admonished, “Science is not the only way of knowing. The spiritual worldview provides another way of finding truth. Scientists who deny this would be well advised to consider the limits of their own tools.” He cited the astronomer Arthur Eddington who told this parable of “a man who set about to study deep-sea life using a net that had a mesh size of three inches. After catching many wild and wonderful creatures from the depths, the man concluded that there were no deep-sea fish that are smaller than three inches in length!” If we are using the scientific net to catch our particular version of truth, Collins wrote, we should not be surprised that it does not catch the evidence of spirit.
Another scientist, probably the most influential physicist of the 20th century, Albert Einstein, quipped, “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.” His words aptly illustrated the interdependence of faith and science in the common pursuit of knowledge. When faith and science follow the star together, the stars would lead them to Jesus, who himself would lead them to the Father (cf. Jn 14:6). VSS
Picture: Silhouette of four men stargazing. Photo by kendall hoopes on pexels.com