All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
After my return from vacation this August, a small enveloped appeared in my mailbox, containing a wonderful thing I had been hoping to use. Sad to sad, I won’t be using it in the foreseeable future: my new passport. It’s almost impossible to list all the benefits of travel, throughout our beautiful nation and throughout the world. Travel can be a hassle, expensive, and full of surprises (not all of them pleasant). Yet travel has the effect—if one allows it—of expanding our view of reality, not just mathematically, but exponentially. Speaking for myself, virtually every good thing God has given me has come at the price of “leaving home,” so to speak. One must go beyond the familiar to explore what appears strange, intimidating, and sometimes dangerous. In the midst of this, however, God gives signs of his presence and providence, teaching important lessons even (especially?) through one’s many, many mistakes. The passage above is part of the riddle of Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings, and reminds us that the journey of life, not simply the destination, has a value of its own. I once remarked at a dinner party that I had blessed a friend’s car, which prompted my colleague, a brilliant physicist, to ask how “blessing a car” works. After explaining that God blesses all human experiences because they “lead” us to heaven, she waved me off in exasperation: “Oh please…” Her negative reaction to faith was remarkable. In Western Civilization, virtually all scientists were people of faith. Nicholas Copernicus was a Third Order Dominican. Galileo was a devout believer, a friend of Jesuit scientists and Cardinal Barberini (the future Pope Urban VIII, who reassured him that his scientific calculations were not heretical). Many pioneers of modern science, in fact, were believers (even priests): Fr. Nicholas Steno (geology), Fr. Athanasius Kircher (chemistry), Fr. Roger Boscovich (astronomy, physics), Fr. Gregor Mendel (genetics), Fr. Frederick Louis Odenbach (seismology), and my personal favorite, Fr. Georges Lemaitre, who first proposed what today we call The Big Bang Theory. Since faith and reason both spring from a sense of wonder at the universe, the search for truth can be a joyous adventure that leads us ineluctably to Christ: the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.
This week we celebrate the feast of Pope St. John Paul II, whose encyclical Fides et Ratio (“Faith and Reason”) reminds us that we need both forms of truth to attain our final destiny:
“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.”
Pope John Paul II was devoted to the Blessed Mother, whom he sees as a model for the “pilgrim” (journeying) Church, which moves through “trial and tribulation strengthened by God… (and arriving) at the light which knows no setting” (Redemptoris Mater). However we can, let us set out for new expeditions toward truth in Christ.