The following is the text of Deacon Pat Hessel’s Homily from the weekend of Sept 27-28, 2014 at Holy Trinity Parish in Spruce Grove.
I read a book last week called “The Case for a Creator.” It was written by Lee Strobel. He’s a former newspaper reporter and was once an atheist. He says that one of the reasons he stopped believing in God was the theory of evolution. He thought that the theory that all life on earth arose from purely natural, random processes – without any outside guidance – meant that God was not necessary. And if God was not necessary, then he didn’t have to believe in God. He thought, as many people do, that we have to make a choice between science and faith in God, and he chose science – at least his understanding of science.
The book includes a series of interviews that he had with scientists – experts who’ve studied the formation of the universe and life on earth. He spoke to a cosmologist – those are the people who study the origin and development of the universe. Cosmologists have been able to determine what the universe looked like when it was a fraction of a second old. But as much as they know about the origin of the universe, they still don’t know what happened before that. Where did the “stuff” that made the universe come from? Their conclusion is, as St. Thomas Aquinas said so many years ago, that everything must have a cause. There had to be something or someone who started the universe.
Then a physicist described some of the laws of physics and characteristics of particles large and small, showing that if some things – for example, the force of gravity – differed by even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction – then life would not be possible – not on earth – not anywhere in the universe. And the physicist concluded that the laws governing the universe are so precisely fine-tuned to support life, that it can’t be just an accident.
You may have heard it said that because the universe is so large, there are probably many other planets like earth where life could have developed. His interview with an astronomer showed that our sun, our solar system, and our planet are uniquely situated to support life. And he also noted, that our planet is strangely well-suited for observing the universe – just where we are in our galaxy – the Milky Way. The astronomer said it’s as if God wants us to be able to discover what he has created.
He spoke to a biologist about DNA – the “code of life” that exists within each of our body’s one hundred trillion cells. Each cell contains more than 30,000 genes, capable of producing more than 20,000 different kinds of proteins. Then he described how a protein is created from DNA. It is nothing short of amazing – a miracle – a miracle that’s going on in each of our cells right now – a miracle that cannot be explained by a series of random “accidents.”
And he spoke about Darwin’s theory that all of the plants and animals on earth developed by natural selection in a process that did not involve an intelligent architect. He pointed out that the fossil record simply doesn’t support that. Yes, natural selection can account for changes in plants and animals over long periods of time – changes that help them to survive – things like a longer neck for giraffes or protective coloring for birds. But there are numerous examples of plants and animals that have no logical predecessors. So where did these “new” plants and animals come from if they didn’t evolve from other plants or animals?
Now some of you are probably wondering if you accidentally stumbled into a science class instead of Mass today. There are two reasons that I wanted to speak to you about this. First, I want it to be absolutely clear that having faith in God doesn’t mean you have to reject science. God created the human mind so that, among other things, we would be able to discover the beauty of his creation. God created us to be scientists – to be discoverers. The strong conclusion of the book is that the science generated especially over the last 30 years suggests that the eternal existence of an amazingly intelligent and creative being – God – is the most logical explanation of our universe, our world, and the special gifts that we share as humans – our consciousness, our awareness of ourselves, our souls.
The second reason I wanted to share these thoughts relates to humility, but probably not the way you would think. Reading about our amazingly ordered universe, the development of life on our planet, and the intricate systems that keep us and other beings alive – well, it just blew me away. You see, I always understood that God is an intelligent being, but being reminded – even in a small way – of the intelligence and creativity behind this world of ours – filled me with awe. And of course, contemplating the greatness of God also fills us with humility, but that’s not the humility that struck me first.
The second reading today contains one of our greatest hymns of praise. Just before the hymn, we heard the words:
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.”
And then the great hymn:
“Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”
Don’t you see it? Jesus is God – the intelligent and creative God who designed and gave birth to this amazing world of ours. And what did he do? He became a human person and he emptied himself. The reading doesn’t say he gave back his divinity – he emptied himself. He became a slave and died on the cross for the very people he created. That’s more astounding to me than any of the facts I learned about the universe in that book.
But can we learn from the humility of Jesus? Humility seems to be a forgotten virtue in a world that rewards success, wealth, and power. We look down on those we see as humble because we don’t really understand humility. If I’m humble, it doesn’t mean I think I’m not good enough – I’m not a good person – that other people are better people than I am – that’s not humility – that’s insecurity or a sense of inferiority. We know that Jesus, who did the will of his Father with great humility, spoke with great authority and confidence. Humility and self-confidence can exist together – they should exist together.
Humility is truth – knowing that God is God, and I’m not – that all I have and all I am is a gift from God. And when I understand that truth, then I can use everything I’ve been given, with confidence, for the service of others – just as God did by creating this amazing universe, and just as Jesus did when he came to save us by becoming one of us. Humility should not make us sad or unhappy or insecure – it should make us content in knowing who we are in relation to God, to his Son, and to the marvelous world that’s been created for us.