Tag Archives: evolution

Our Bodies Through Time

One of the exhibits at the “Deep Time” exhibit, currently at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, is called “Your body through time: Your body is the result of more than 3.7 billion years of evolution.”

So we didn’t just come from Mommy and Daddy, our favorite human way to say it; 3.7 billion years has been at work bringing us to where we are, and we’re not the only ones. A vast tree of created beings has come to be in deep time.  

The Book of Genesis says in its creation story we come from “the dust of the earth”. All of us. The story we know now is much more complex, and we still don’t know it all .  

I’m sure the young children and an adult viewing the exhibit in the photo above went away, like me, wondering at the mystery it presented. “ Too wonderful for me, this knowledge, too high, beyond my reach.” (Psalm 139)

The same can said of St. Paul’s words to the Colossians read today in our liturgy: 

“In Jesus Christ, everything in heaven and on earth has been created, things visible and invisible.” (Colossians 1,12-20) 

Yet, this knowledge tells us who we are and what we are to do. We need to keep it in mind.

What’s a Retreat?

I’m preaching a retreat for priests next week and I’m wondering what to say. As usual,  I ask myself –what is a retreat anyway?

A car tune-up comes to mind.  I usually delay getting it done because I wonder if I really need it; after all, the car still runs. Why go on retreat we say; we’re still going along spiritually? But the car needs to be tuned up; the oil needs to be changed; the tires need to be balanced and any unusual noises need to be checked out.

The concept of balance stands out. A retreat is a time to regain spiritual balance. That’s suggested by a commentary on the Our Father by St. Cyprian I read recently.

God is “our” Father; we pray for “our” daily bread; we ask that “our” sins be forgiven, the saint stresses. Early commentators like Cyprian emphasized  a common approach to God as they reflected on the prayer taught by Jesus.

It’s not just me and God.  We go to God together, not alone, the saint says. My voice joins with others. I have to ask for others as well as myself. I have to pray that “Our bread–that is, Christ,” the cosmic Christ who embraces us all, be given to us all.

“ We must fear and pray lest anyone should be kept at a distance from salvation who, being withheld from communion, remains separate from Christ’s body. For he has given us this warning: Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you will have no life in you. And therefore we ask that our bread – that is, Christ – may be given to us daily, so that we who live in Christ may not depart from his sanctification and his body.”

We live in an age of  “expressive individualism,’ as Charles Taylor describes it, and we need to rebalance ourselves by entering into communion with other realities besides ourselves.  We’re imbalanced towards individualism, and  imbalance is dangerous.

What realities? Certainly we need to open ourselves to other human beings. We belong together and we need each other. We tend today to become preoccupied with ourselves, which leads to isolation and loneliness. We  might need rebalancing.

“As generous distributors of God’s grace, put your gifts at the service of one another.” ( 1Peter 4,9) It’s not enough for me to have gifts; it’s wrong to hoard gifts;  I have to use them for the service of others. That will cover a multitude of sins, St. Peter writes, our personal sins.

In an age of expressive individualism, it’s easy to fall into a selfishness that causes us to look out for ourselves and turn away from others.

It’s not just the human world we must commune with. What about the natural world? The fragile world of nature so endangered today? Some say we have become imbalanced because we have lost our connection with the universe. We come from the dust of the earth;  besides giving ourselves to our human family, we need to put our gifts as the service of our natural world as well.

Finally, we must remember our union with God, our creator, the One who sustains us; the one who calls to intimacy and lasting communion. “God is my refuge and our strength,” we say in the psalms. “Without me you can do nothing, “ Jesus says.

In the recent issue of the Jesuit magazine American (June 6-13,2011) Fr. Richard Hauser SJ reviews a book by Louis Savary call The New Spiritual Excercises: In the Spirit of Teilhard de Chardin, (Paulist Press)  It’s an attempt to re-envision Ignatian retreats in the light of de Chardin’s evolutionary and cosmic perspectives. Good idea, the reviewer says.

Is a retreat a time of rebalancing, renewing our communion with God, our human family and our world? Is a retreat a time to become aware of where we fit in the evolution of things, in the cosmic picture? I think so.

Evolution and Intelligent Design

Nova’s presentation  “Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial” was on last night at PBS.

The program, about teaching evolution in the public schools, reenacts the 2005 trial that pitted the school board of Dover, PA, against plaintiffs who objected to the theory of Intelligent Design being presented along with the theory of evolution in their local school district.  The court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs.

It’s interesting that Nova chose Dr. Kenneth Miller, a biologist from Brown University and a Roman Catholic to make the case for evolution and argue against the theory of Intelligent Design on its website:http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/id/defense-ev.html

Miller is articulate and thorough explaining both sides. In the television presentation he makes the point that truth is one; religion and science don’t contradict each other, but they approach reality in different ways and are complementary.

I liked his answer to people who object to being descended from monkeys.

“Well, they’re right, they’re not descended from monkeys. They’re not descended from chimps or monkeys or gorillas or any other living organism.
The essential idea of common ancestry is that ultimately all living things on this planet share common ancestors if we go far enough back into the past. So, for example, to take the case that people talk about all the time, we share a common ancestor with all primate species. This means that we’re related, by having a single ancestor somewhere in the past, to monkeys, gorillas, chimpanzees, and so forth.

But the idea of common ancestry goes way deeper than simply saying we’re related to monkeys. We’re in fact related to all mammals. You go farther back, we are related to all vertebrates. And, ultimately, we are related, if you go far enough back, to every living thing on this planet. The almost universal nature of the genetic code, the fact that all life depends upon DNA, all of these things are evidence of this commonality of ancestry, if we go far enough back in time.”

In today’s readings, St. Ambrose offers what faith says. A great promise has been made to us by God. Called to be heirs with Christ, we share in his resurrection. But not only human beings receive this promise.  According to St. Paul writes, “creation also looks forward to this revealing of the sons of God.”  It too is a “son of God as it were,” groaning in bondage, till it shares in this glory. (Ambrose)

Together with the children of the church, and “all who are worthy of seeing the face of God,” creation waits in hope to rise in incorruption.
Our 4th Eucharistic Prayer expresses this same hope:

Then, in your kingdom,

Freed from the corruption of sin and death,

We shall sing your glory

With every creature, through Christ, our Lord, from whom all good things come.

We need more information on evolution from the Catholic Church, so it’s good to see a big conference on evolution in Rome sponsored by the Gregorian University, Notre Dame University and the Pontifical Council of Cuture for early March. More details  http://www.evolution-rome2009.net/