Several winters ago, my sister went to a place called White Horse, Canada with her husband. While they were there, she took a bunch of photographs, including some of the Northern Lights, which were on full display. She had a copy of one of the photos blown up and framed, and it now hangs on the wall of their home. It’s a very beautiful image. But as beautiful as the photograph is, if you think about it, the image on the wall derives its beauty from the original photo that she took. And if you think about it some more, the original image that she took derives its beauty from the Northern Lights themselves. But what if you took it one step further? Where does the beauty of the Northern Lights come from? It comes from the Source and perfection of all beauty, who is God.
I was listening to Bishop Robert Barron on the Word on Fire Show podcast the other day, and he was talking about a recent article in the New York Times entitled “Why the Big Bang Produced Something Rather than Nothing.” He was expressing frustration with the article, because the author insisted on approaching the question only from a purely materialist perspective – the Big Bang was caused by neutrinos and the imbalance of matter and anti-matter, etc. But this merely raises the question of how we explain the existence of those things? Bishop Barron argued that the article reveals the limitations of science in its attempts to explain the whole of reality. While science is an amazing tool that helps us to understand the world and how things work, it cannot answer the foundational question: “why is there anything at all?”. That, Barron argues, is a question for philosophy rather than the natural sciences. It is what’s called a metaphysical question, that goes to the very mystery of “being” itself. When one treats science as the only field that can give us a true understanding of reality, it is to claim that the beautiful things of nature are the cause and the source of their own beauty. But there’s something deeply unsatisfying about that, because it seems to cut short the inquiry and to restrict our desire for knowledge to only that which can be subjected to the scientific method. This begs the question, of course, since one cannot use the scientific method to explain the scientific method and why it works.
St. Josemaria Escriva says that the Gift of Knowledge allows us to perceive and understand that “all creation, the movement of the earth and the other heavenly bodies, the good actions of creatures and all the good that has been achieved in history comes from God and is directed toward him.” This Gift of the Holy Spirit allows the one who has it to participate in God’s knowledge. It allows even those without fancy academic degrees to see with ease the relationship between Creation and the Creator and how Creation serves to bring us closer to God. The Gift of Knowledge also helps us to recognize more easily when things that are good in themselves are twisted and treated in a way that does not lead to our supernatural end. For example, the beauty and goodness of marital love, which leads to the sanctification of the husband and wife, is distorted and twisted when those acts that are reserved to marriage are done outside of that context.
The Gift of Knowledge perfects our natural faculties of reason to help us recognize that the world is more than a bunch of subatomic particles interacting in random ways that stimulate our sensory receptors to give us an experience that we have come to describe through the evolution of culture as “beautiful.” The Northern Lights are more than just disturbances in the magnetosphere caused by solar wind. The beauty of the world is a window into the transcendent and perfect beauty of God, who shares His beauty with His Creation, as well as His goodness and His truth. It does not conflict at all with the power of science to describe and explain how things in the world work. Instead, it works on a deeper level, allowing us to see the fingerprints of the Creator in the truths that science reveals to us, moving us to give Him thanks and glory for the gift of this amazing world in which we live.
Come, O Spirit of Knowledge and make us understand and despise the emptiness and nothingness of the world. Give us grace to use the world only for Thy glory and the salvation of Thy creatures. May we always be very faithful in putting Thy rewards before every earthly gift. Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be, etc.