By John McCarthy, SJ
Since once again, Lord – though this time not in the forests of the Aisne, but in the steppes of Asia – I have neither bread, nor wine, nor altar, I will raise myself beyond these symbols, up to the pure majesty of the real itself; I, your priest, will make the whole earth my altar and on it will offer you all the labours and sufferings of the world. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Hymn of the Universe, New York: Herder & Row, 1965, p. 19.
This varied scenario of celebrations of the Eucharist has given me a powerful experience of its universal and, so to speak, cosmic character. Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world. It unites heaven and earth. It embraces and permeates all creation. Encyclical Letter, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, of Saint Pope John Paul II on the Eucharist in its relationship to the Church, 2003, No. 8.
David Blackwood’s Fire Down on the Labrador (1980) is haunting. A lone lifeboat of survivors drifts from danger under the chilled Labrador night. An iceberg reaches into the depths, into the home of the denizen humpback, the drifting mass of humanity oblivious to the pelagic life and the icy thrust way down deep.
On the surface of life, we make our comings and goings, intent on beginnings and endings, bound by joy and delight, failure and despair. We often content ourselves with the veneer of life, oblivious to the wonders that play below.
In the encyclical Laudato Si’ on the future of our planet and all its life, Pope Frances calls for a renewed imagination and dialogue on the care for our common home. Both religious faith and scientific inquiry may help in this needed dialogue. Jesus Christ would say, Let those with eyes see, and those with ears hear … It is an invitation to witness the meaningful depth of the world, to go deep within our souls and deep within all of creation. Both faith and science offer insights that add depth to our understanding of the world.
The 14-billion-year old universe has a story, a history. Galaxies came to be, life emerged, photosynthesis was “invented”, and the diversity of mammals exploded after the rapid demise of the dinosaurs. Even humans have a story, with ever new discoveries refreshing our knowledge of our hominoid genealogy. In the human, emerged consciousness and active self-awareness, language, and the joy of singing. Creation became conscious of itself and expressed itself in word.
Through open-ended and dynamic ages emerged the unthinkable and the novel. We have also witnessed evolutionary dead–ends and the extinction of most of all species that have ever lived. The greatest insight from this story is the deep, abiding truth of relationality. All creation, from rivers to chrysanthemums to humans, bear the mark of the Big Bang, sharing as we all do in the elements of life. Furthermore, all life shares common genetic roots and descendants.
Our faith language also attempts to fathom the mystery of existence and life. All creation is rooted in a very act of Love, flowing as a gift from the effusive, creative love of the Trinity. The world is not an accident but has meaning and purpose, animated by the wild and free Spirit of God. At the centre of creation rests the Word, the deep, incarnate gift of Jesus Christ. As Alpha and Omega, as the beginning and the end, Christ acts as the crucible in and through whom all things were made. Our Trinitarian God is revealed as the Creator Trinity. Our credal formulations, clean and precise, simply state the obvious regarding the utter depth of all this is seen and unseen.
Creation is the very action of salvation.
Furthermore, as the ground of creation, God is revealed as a Trinitarian dynamic in a mutuality of love among Father, Son and Spirit. All of creation is relational and connected. Thus, the world is by its very essence, dynamic, relational, and with a depth best seen by the eyes of faith.
The word of science and the word of faith help to make sense of this beautiful and groaning world. On the surface of things, we may seem adrift in the lifeboat of life. But, deep within creation breathes a spirit that engenders life, that same breath of life as when the world was a formless void. The dance of science and faith fills us with hope and direction. May we only have the eyes to see and the ears to hear.