Epiphanies: Seeking God in the natural order

Column published: January 5th, 2012

As we approach the Feast of the Epiphany—when the Magi discovered God’s unexpected revelation in the newborn Jesus Christ—two news stories demonstrate humanity’s need for a savior.

A report on marriage by the PEW Research Center finds that marriage rates in America dropped 5% from 2009 to 2010. From a wider perspective, only 51% of those ages 18 and older are married today, a stunning figure compared to fifty years ago, when 72% of all adults were married.

The report isn’t all bad news, but it does show a shift in how Americans view this ancient cultural foundation. What are the societal impacts of all this? The report doesn’t dig deep into that question, but this finding is telling:

“Younger generations are more likely than those ages 50 and older to hold the view that marriage is becoming obsolete.”

Interestingly, the report later notes that just under half of those who say that marriage is becoming a thing of the past also said they would like to be married. These responders seem to be like the Magi—living in one world while seeking the certain presence elsewhere of a greater truth.

In fact, the PEW report shows us that a cultural conversation of epic proportions is taking place, a dialogue that seeks to convince younger generations that the old ways are dying while a new age of freedom approaches. This, of course, is a lie. While a new age does seek to supplant the tried and true, its nature is not one of freedom but of death—one which, in part, seeks to undo the place and beauty of graced, committed relationships between married men and women.

In the eco-world, a December 20th report published in the Journal of Applied Ecology examines the apparent demise of Frankincense. In short, the study provides a natural-world example of what happens when cultures cooperate with death.

Specifically, news of declining numbers of Boswellia tree species—from which comes the resin that that gives us Frankincense—is an example of what happens when people take what they want at unhealthy rates from unhealthy ecosystems. The reported reasons for the decline in the resin-producing trees are many, but in all they demonstrate the interlocking nature of ecology and man’s impact on it.

In short, whether you’re speaking about the decline of Frankincense or marriage, there are laws in nature that we humans must respect. This “must” is not some sort of ethical nicety, but a hardwired reality in the fabric of the cosmos. We ignore such laws at our peril.

This is the very point made by the Holy Father whenever he draws attention to the relation between natural ecology and “human ecology.” That is, just as the pagan Magi of old found the true God in Christ, so secular naturalists today who search in ecosystems for the truths of life can find divinity, if they wish, when they discover how other natural laws foster, nurture, and protect the fragile gift of human life and the even more fragile necessity of the family.

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Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.