About this time of year, groups of adults in varying sizes start to meet more formally as part of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (or RCIA). The RCIA is a process by which adults who are unbaptized and often "unchurched" can discern whether to become full members of the Catholic church by eventually celebrating the sacraments of initiation: Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Communion. While the invitation to begin this faith journey as an Inquirer informally asking questions and learning more about Catholic faith and practices can begin at any time, certain Rites are celebrating during the Advent Season (the 4 Sunday prior to the Christmas Season). Thus, the fall season shows an up tick in group meetings in preparation for Advent and the rest of the Liturgical Year.
Currently, a small group of English speaking adults has been meeting after the 10 AM Sunday Masses at Christ the Redeemer. The group is comprised of parishioners and practicing Catholics who act as mentors and faith journey companions for unbaptized Inquirers as well as adults from different Christian denominations, who may be welcomed into full communion with the Catholic church through a Profession of Faith.
In one recent meeting, one Inquirer asked how to reconcile the existence of dinosaurs when there is no mention of them in the Bible. The question arose initially from an informal conversation with this Inquirer's roommate who he described as non-religious. On a basic level, he wanted to know, "How do I respond to this?"
The first off the cuff response was that the Story of Genesis doesn't mention platypuses specifically either, yet clearly they exist. But on further examination the question really centered upon two related issues: How do Catholics interpret the Bible and What is the relationship between Faith and Reason (or Religion and Science)? As the attached video mentions, Catholic belief allows for both faith and reason/religion and science to exist together rather than in a either/or relationship. Yet, at the same time, many Catholics may be unaware of this or be unable to articulate it.
Some Catholic members of the group offered explanations recalling things they remembered from Catholic elementary school years ago. "Perhaps the creation of the world in 6-7 days can be reconciled with modern science if a day isn't literally 24 hours long but perhaps many centuries or eons," offered one person. Another offered the simple explanation that Catholics are allowed to employ various methods of biblical interpretation, which liberates Catholics from narrow readings. Perhaps a better way of saying this was that Catholics are not biblical literalists. But was it enough to simply leave it as "As Catholics we are free to have our own interpretations?"
Finally, after allowing everyone to offer their thoughts, the group leader framed the discussion this way: "The Story of Genesis is not about how long is a day. That's the wrong question. The point of the story is that God is the creator of the universe."
Recalling catholic tradition (as well as memories of catholic elementary school), one might also remember talk about the Book of God's Word (the Bible) and the Book of God's Works (creation). In both places, one can learn about God and do so employing our God-given senses and use of reason. The scientific method, which yields observations and knowledge about the cosmos as well as DNA is based upon the basic premise that we can trust our observations and our senses. Following that strand alone, humanity is capable of unveiling humanistic value systems, philosophically based or anthropologically based natural religions. In addition, those employing the gift of faith are also able to participate in a revelatory relationship with the Creator, who at least in Catholic belief confirms and supports what goes on in the observable world. Both are trustworthy and worthy of examining that trust: basic faith relates basic hypothesis.
For an early Inquirer as much as for a "cradle Catholic" understanding the mutuality between Religion and Science is essential to grasping how Catholics understand not only their God, but the world in which they exist and relate to that same God. The observable world is in part the very means by which the creature can come to know the Creator, that "the Word became flesh", and that Catholic sacramentality can be properly understood. It is indeed a very good place to start.