By Clifford Yeary
Associate Director, Little Rock Scripture Study
“Indeed, before you the whole universe is like a grain from a balance, or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth. But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook sins for the sake of repentance. For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for you would not fashion what you hate. How could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you? But you spare all things, because they are yours, O Ruler and Lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things!” (Wisdom 11:22–12:1)
No one can possibly attempt to imagine the universe in either its immensity or its complexity, but scientists do attempt to work in teams to piece information together to provide theoretical frameworks they can work with.
Some of the very brave speak confidently of eventually deriving a single grand theory for how everything in the universe functions together. Others think the complexity of the universe will always add a new layer of mystery.
There remains, of course, one ultimate mystery concerning the universe that only faith can address with confidence: why there is something instead of nothing. All the subsequent mysteries of Christian faith fall back on our belief that there is something rather than nothing because of the Creator of all.
The Vatican has an official astronomer, Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ. If any Catholic is competent to discuss the vastness of the universe, its 14-or-so-billion-year history that begins with the “big bang” and the subsequent cosmic processes that had to take place for the formation of earth and our solar system, it should be him.
And he assures us that science and faith should be able to communicate with each other with respect for what is important to both. After all, this is a man with deep commitments to both realms of knowledge.
I admit being dumbfounded by it all. On those rare occasions where I have had the privilege of resting under the shade of a beach umbrella on a sandy shore of the Pacific, my mind reels in amazement, falling eventually into a state of wonder and awe by the fact that there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on all the beaches of our tiny, little, insignificant planet.
Being a person of faith, though, amazement is a tool which nourishes my faith. This is when the passage from the Book of Wisdom springs to mind in its declaration that, “before you the whole universe is like a grain from a balance, or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.”
The vastness of the universe only hints of the greatness of the Creator. The same passage goes on to assure us that everything in the universe, no matter how large or small, shares in God’s merciful love. This is something only faith can tell us, and what joy it must be for Brother Guy Consolmagno to be able to behold the universe with the penetrating acuity of a scientist while embracing through faith God’s love for us and everything in the universe.
The wonder of faith extends far beyond our joy in believing in God as the Creator. The depth of our joy resides in turning to God as our redeemer. While God loves all things that are and loathes nothing that he has made, not all is good in our world.
We know there is evil. There is hatred. We witness wave after wave of terror spewing from human activity. When we acknowledge the turmoil created by our presence in the world, we must ponder the fact that God’s love for us is absolutely an act of God’s mercy.
Perhaps the greatest wonder of all is God’s patience with humanity. “How could a thing remain, unless you willed it?” (Wisdom 11:25) Our sins are overlooked, not because they are ignored, but because God’s mercy awaits our repentance. Beyond our repentance, Christ calls us to be living signs of God’s mercy.
During this Year of Mercy let us remember the prayer of St. Francis: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, where there is hatred, let me sow love.”