We’re strongly influenced today by science, which depends mainly on what we can see. Because scientists depend mainly on what they can see, they focus mostly on the beginnings of our world and its present state. Few facts are available about the future, and so science doesn’t venture too much into that part of reality.
Paul ventures into the future in the Letter to the Romans, which we’re reading at Mass today.
“The glory of God will be revealed for us,” he says, “the sufferings of this present time are as nothing. Creation itself “will share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.” There will be a new heaven and a new earth.
How does Paul know this? Not by what he sees, but by hope, which reveals what we cannot yet see. “In hope we were saved. Hope that sees for itself is not hope. But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.”
In his recent encyclical Laudato si, Pope Francis draws on that same hope revealed to Paul to bolster his call for care for our common home, the earth. All creation will share in that glory, which flows from the resurrection of Jesus. We must care for the earth because of its destiny:
“The ultimate destiny of the universe is in the fullness of God, which has already been at¬tained by the risen Christ, the measure of the maturity of all things. Here we can add yet an¬other argument for rejecting every tyrannical and irresponsible domination of human beings over other creatures. The ultimate purpose of other creatures is not to be found in us. Rather, all crea¬tures are moving forward with us and through us towards a common point of arrival, which is God, in that transcendent fullness where the ris¬en Christ embraces and illumines all things. Hu¬man beings, endowed with intelligence and love, and drawn by the fullness of Christ, are called to lead all creatures back to their Creator.” (LS 61)
I think it’s safe to say that the scientific community has received Francis’ encyclical favorably, even with enthusiasm, not just as an ethical call to care for the earth, but also for the visionary hope it proclaims. Just as religion must respect science, so science must respect what faith senses. Our belief, which the pope expresses so well, is that the earth should not be degraded or discarded, but admired, loved and cared for. It has a destiny “in the fullness of God.”