Thanksgiving Day 2017
Readings – English
One of my podcasts the other day (and let’s be honest, it was probably from Bishop Barron) said that one of the reasons people think that science and religion conflict is because priests never preach on science. Well, what better time to fix that than a completely unrelated national holiday on which we likely have visitors that I can alienate?
The question we are going to try to address is “why existence?”. Let me start with the general naturalistic narrative. At the beginning of time, all of matter and energy was contained in a super-concentrated ball of stuff that ended up exploding. We call this the Big Bang. As this “stuff” exploded away from itself, it began to concentrate and organize, first into simple and then more complex atoms. These atoms eventually recombined to form stars, and these stars, in the process of expanding and dying, created heavier elements like iron and even gold. As these heavier elements were created, they combined into planets that began to orbit these stars. Our own planet was the perfect distance away from our own sun so that the geothermal processes involved with planet creation managed to create liquid water, and our planet had the right amount of gravity to retain an atmosphere, so we ended up with oceans and relatively stable weather patterns. At some point life was created, which expanded from single celled to multi-celled organisms, eventually growing and changing through an evolutionary process to become plants, animals, and even human beings. These human beings finally had big enough brains that they could use language and tools effectively, thus bringing about culture, civilization, and technology.
Now, this is the story that every kid coming out of school is supposed to know. But the way it is presented is that one random process led to another random process led to another random process. We human beings are nothing more than the product of a million bagillion random chances and non-fatal mistakes. Yay?
My friends, if this narrative is all we have, this national holiday of ours is meaningless. What in the world are we thankful for? For the physical laws of the universe? For cold, unfeeling statistics? And who are we thankful to? Charles Darwin and Neils Bohr for telling us just how impersonal the universe is?
No, Thanksgiving only makes sense if we realize that every single thing in the entire universe comes from God and is a gift from God.
So let me try that narrative again. In the beginning, before the Big Bang, there was nothing. God, who is existence itself, who is perfect and sufficient in himself, choose to create a universe from nothing, not because God needed worshippers, but because God wished to share the unfathomable gift that is existence. He established this universe with the exact balance of physical laws to allow for a wide variety of atoms and molecules. Not too hot, and not too cold, not too strong and not too weak. Just perfect. And then God oversaw the physical unfolding of this universe until the perfect planet was created in the Goldilocks zone, where water and weather and ozone could all remain together and stable. And on this perfect planet, God once again created ex nihilo, this time bringing life. Life did not simply emerge from random processes but, like the creation of physical matter, was something completely new, completely different, completely beautiful. And God once again patiently oversaw the unfolding of this life, and its evolution into more and more complex beings. Yes, theoretically these initial bacteria may have developed and evolved on their own, but 99% of the time a genetic mutation results in death, so the statistics indicate that God not only watched the evolutionary process, but guided it. And then, finally, the human body emerged, the vessel into which God wished to pour his greatest creation yet, the human soul. So God breathed into us his own life, his own image, and suddenly the Earth was populated with rational beings who could think, who could create art, who could even converse with God himself. These beings were so excellent that God himself entered his own creation by becoming one of them. Of course, the sins of this new creation marred existence to such an extent that God not only became a human being, but also choose to die as a human being, so that he could conquer death and restore creation. In so doing, God provided his people with even greater gifts, none greater than his presence in the sacraments and in the Church. Ever since, humanity has been privileged to walk with God again in grace, just as their first parents did in Eden. God has assured them that they are blessed, they are protected, and that they are loved. God has given them the Church. God has given them himself.
My friends, I hope you can see why Thanksgiving is such a big deal. Not only does everything we have come from God, but everything we are comes from God as well. Without God there is no existence and no grace. But with God there is the infinite beauty of nature, of human life, and of rational souls in constant conversation with their creator.
Let us bless the Lord, and give him thanks. Amen.
[Also, a parishioner sent me this parody the following day.]