Steve, a scientist, attended a class I taught for parents of students in our Religious Education program. One day I opened up the class by asking if any of them had a question or comment they cared to share.
Steve soon let it be known that he was struggling with his faith and said, “As a scientist I collect data, then observe and measure it.” After he and I spent some time discussing what science can and cannot do, we agreed on a number of points. One point was that while science provides us with much that is good, it cannot provide us with an ethic – in other words – it cannot judge the right or wrong of something. For instance, we can harness nuclear power, but science does not tell us whether to use it for electricity or to destroy the planet.
I asked Steve why he was in the class (I knew of course) and he answered that he had a teenager – his daughter Mary – in a Confirmation class down the hall. He added, “She is a very special young lady who means everything to me and we are very close.”
I followed up by asking him how science would describe Mary? He gave me a questioning look so I added, “Let’s say Mary is not feeling well and you bring her to the doctor who then decides to run additional tests, draws a blood sample, and sends it to the lab for analysis. In a couple of days two pages of scientific data come back describing Mary. Steve, is that how you describe your child?”
He said, “No, the best description is that I love her.”
“OK then”, I replied, “toss some love up here so that we can collect the data, then observe and measure it.” Steve was a good sport and smiled.
As the year went on we all came to better understand that true science and true faith will never contradict one another…and that the most powerful force that brings meaning and purpose to our lives and to the whole world, the Mystery of Love, is bigger, more beautiful and beyond anything that we can measure with data.
Each of us, made in the image and likeness of God, is a unique, unrepeatable person – body and soul – to which the only proper response is love. Steve recognized that none of the precise medical descriptions of blood analysis or other data were remotely capable of describing who Mary is as a person or how he related to her as her father.
Children are the supreme gift of marriage and together with the parents constitute a community of intense interpersonal relationships. The values of “person” and “gift” must be understood as foundational to the family as a “civilization of love.”
In his “Letter to Families”, St. John Paul II restates the importance of the “splendor of truth” (Veritatis Splendor) by saying, “Only if the truth about freedom and the communion of persons in marriage and in the family can regain its splendor, will the building of the civilization of love truly begin……”
Contemporary civilization with its scientific and technological progress often leads to a utilitarianism in which things become more important than persons. But the mystery of the human person far transcends any quantifiable “data” as we image the Trinitarian God, and share in that immeasurable eternal exchange of love.