Living with the invisible 1 June, 2009

Our eyes can see only a tiny fraction of the electromagnetic spectrum – that section we call “light”. Scientific instruments can see most of the rest. But even with every instrument known to man, 96% of the universe is missing, invisible, absent. Called “dark matter” by the scientists, its existence is known only by the process of deduction, and our inability to find it remains a mystery.

The Church Fathers also knew that most of the creation is invisible – that the tiny part we can see forms a miniscule percentage of the whole. The invisible creation includes the hierarchies of angels, creatures somewhat separated from the flow of space-time. The parable of the Good Shepherd – in which the man leaves his 99 good sheep in the field to go and find the missing 100th – was interpreted in accordance with this belief. The 99 sheep were the invisible angels, the 100th was the wayward human race. The Shepherd is the Son of God, who lifts the lost sheep on his shoulders by assuming human nature, and carries it back by ascending to heaven.

We seem to be trying to build a civilization on the assumption that only what is visible really matters – as though God and the angels did not exist, as though values and ethics belonged only to a secret, interior world that had nothing to do with time, space and matter… or politics. But reality has a way of catching up with us. The invisible scandal of child abuse suddenly becomes visible, the abuse of expenses is published for all to see, the lies on which our financial security had been founded are exposed. The invisible is made visible. That which by its nature cannot be seen is revealed by its effects. The sinking of the Titanic has archetypal resonance for us because our whole way of life is heading for a similar disaster. Civilization, punctured by the invisible, is heading into icy depths.

We cannot live without God, and civilization depends upon the sacred, whether we acknowledge the fact or not. Human rights, which we make so much of today as the basis for a secular morality, in fact do not exist without God. They belong to us insofar as we are made in the image of God and exist in relation to him. Our value derives from that likeness, and we have a destiny in him that is defined at our creation. Any other attempt to construct a set of rights for ourselves is built on sand; it is merely a list of what we wish for ourselves. The rights of the unborn, invisible in the womb, or the elderly and the slum dwellers, invisible at the margins of productive society, will always be trampled underfoot, if that is all they are. Seven million babies have been aborted in Britain alone in the last forty years. But the invisible exists, and the blood of the invisible cries to heaven.

The Centre for Faith & Culture and Second Spring join the rest of the Catholic community in welcoming the appointment of Archbishop Vincent Nichols as the new Archbishop of Westminster. In the wonderful homily he preached at his installation he says that belief in God “opens us to all that lies beyond. It’s a constant invitation to go beyond our immediate knowledge and awareness, and even our current commitments. Faith in God is not, as some would portray it today, a narrowing of the human mind or spirit. It is precisely the opposite. Faith in God is the gift that takes us beyond our limited self, with all its incessant demands. It opens us to a life that stretches us, enlightens us, and often springs surprises upon us. Such faith, like love, sees that which is invisible and lives by it.”


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