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BEFORE THE CROSS | Ask the Lord to increase our faith

Readings guide us to consider the relationships between content and character, faith and science

“Increase our faith.” The apostles make this request of Jesus. It’s one of several things in the readings this week that invite us to think more deeply about it means to grow in faith.

For example, there’s something St. Paul emphasizes in his letter to Titus. In ancient Greek thought, there was a distinction between the content of what someone was saying, and the character of the person saying it. St. Paul urges Titus to teach people the need to maintain an upright character, so that the faith can make its case to the world. For example, he tells Titus that a bishop must be blameless, temperate, holy and self-controlled. That’s because, as he exhorts the faithful and refutes opponents, the bishop’s character matters, not just his words. Likewise, St. Paul instructs Titus about laypeople, asking that they show themselves “as a model of good deeds in every respect.” St. Paul knew that the content of the faith was sound. He wanted to make sure that the character of the faithful was sound as well.

It’s a good lesson for us in the midst of scandal. The problem isn’t the content of the faith; we can hold to that with a clear conscience. The problem is the character of some of the people who proclaim the faith, and we need to hold that up to critical scrutiny. But that becomes a lesson for each of us: even as we rightly criticize others, we need to make sure that our own character measures up to the content of the faith we proclaim.

We also celebrate the feast of St. Albert the Great this week, the patron saint of science and scientists. A year from now we’ll celebrate the first “Gold Mass” in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, celebrating the contributions of science and scientists to the faith. The relationship between faith and science is certainly something we need to reflect on today.

Albert Einstein once said: “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.” A great Jewish rabbi today compares science and religion to the left and right hemispheres of the brain: both are essential, and impaired functioning in either, or in communication between the two, impairs human flourishing. An MIT professor who’s a scientist and a convert to Christianity says that science is like seeing and religion is like hearing: each offers us important and complementary input, and we would be impoverished if we sacrificed either. St. John Paul II said that faith and reason are like two wings on which the soul rises to the contemplation of God.

Whatever your favorite metaphor (and whatever the limits of each), the common point is this: there is no essential conflict between faith and science. Both are gifts from God, and we need not pit one against the other. God’s Word and God’s world are meant to be read together, and can be read together.

When we echo the apostles’ request we’re not just asking the Lord to increase the quantity of things we believe. We’re asking Him to unlock all the qualitative dimensions of faith in our lives — like the relationship between content and character and the relationship between faith and reason. So we say, with the apostles: “Jesus, increase our faith!”

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