The science of Pope Francis

In two of his public appearances last week, Pope Francis addressed two aspects of Catholic belief that I find are relatively new to most college students I meet. The first in his address to the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences encouraging scientific exploration and discovery and the second, during his Wednesday audience, that we — all the baptized — are the Church, not just the Vatican or the bishops and priests.

There was nothing new in terms of Catholic teaching or belief in these statements. Catholics have been at the forefront of scientific exploration throughout history. The fact that Pope Francis was speaking to the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences shows that the Church still sees a great value and need for scientific exploration. Pope Francis’ words to them were words of encouragement not words of suspicion or warning. The Holy Father said, “the scientist, and especially the approach of the Christian scientist, is that of investigating the future of humanity and the earth, and, as a free and responsible being, to contribute to preparing it, to preserve it and to eliminate any risks to the environment, both natural and man-made.”

I find it interesting, and perhaps I shouldn’t, that among the students most active in campus ministry at UMD, most of them major in biology, physics or engineering. This seems to contradict the thought that science and faith are opposed to one another. I think some of these students are tired of hearing me make that point, and perhaps even some of the readers of this column are as well. However, it is still a very prevalent thought, not only in the world of academia but in society as a whole, that faith is opposed to reason.

The other point was that of who is the Church. At the general audience on October 29, the Holy Father stressed the fact that the Church is all the baptized. Again, nothing new in Catholic teaching here. Yet, so many of us forget that. Each of us has an important role to play in the life of the Church. I’ve often said in homilies and retreat talks (using history as evidence to support it) that any real reform of the Church begins with a reform of our own hearts and minds.

Let’s take a look at the “Rite of Baptism for Infants.” After the parents present their child to be baptized, the priest or deacon then says to them:

“You have asked to have your child baptized. In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of training him/her in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring him/her up to keep God’s Commandments as Christ as taught us, by loving God and our neighbor. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?” (No. 77, “Rite of Baptism for Children”).

If the ritual continues, it means that the parents have agreed with the statement. The parental responsibility is one of the most important leadership roles in the Church and one that can’t be replaced by deacons, priests, bishops or even the pope. As a pastor, it is my responsibility to make available resources to assist parents in their duty, not to take over their responsibility. 

In the instruction given at the Rite of Confirmation, those to be Confirmed are told, “Christ gives varied gifts to His Church, and the Spirit distributes them among the members of Christ’s Body to build up the holy people of God in unity and love. Be active members of the Church, alive in Jesus Christ. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit give your lives completely in the service of all, as did Christ, Who came not to be served but to serve” (Rite of Confirmation, No. 22).

This means all of us have a responsibility in building up the Kingdom of God, not just those of us who are ordained or in religious life. If you feel the Church needs to be more present somewhere or doing something more to care for others or correct an injustice, you have a responsibility to help the Church address the issue. Christian is a verb as much as it is a noun. 

As a pastor and a campus minister, I have the responsibility to provide resources to allow the Christian people to grow in faith, mind and heart. However, it is also the responsibility of the Christian disciple to take advantage of the opportunities to grow in faith, to learn more about God and to connect to the Spirit dwelling in our hearts. Doing so not only helps us grow as Christian disciples, but helps us to change the world.

Anchor columnist Father Frederici is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Pocasset and diocesan director of Campus Ministry and Chaplain at UMass Dartmouth and Bristol Community College.

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