December 20, 2019

Gold Mass helps spread the word: ‘faith and science are compatible’

Father Lawrence Richardt looks on as Paul Giesting, left, thanks those who came to the archdiocese’s first Gold Mass for Scientists, which he helped coordinate, in the chapel of SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis on Nov. 15, the feast of St. Albert the Great, patron of scientists. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Father Lawrence Richardt looks on as Paul Giesting, left, thanks those who came to the archdiocese’s first Gold Mass for Scientists, which he helped coordinate, in the chapel of SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis on Nov. 15, the feast of St. Albert the Great, patron of scientists. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

Paul Giesting has long been frustrated by a concept in Western culture that he says “is absolutely not true.” It’s the concept that faith and science are not compatible, “that you have to pick one or the other.”

So when the member of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Parish in Rushville learned about the Society of Catholic Scientists (SCS) and the Gold Mass for Scientists, he was more than intrigued.

“This exists?” he recalled thinking. “I have to be a part of this.”

The more he learned about the society’s mission “to foster fellowship among Catholic scientists and to witness to the harmony of faith and reason,” the more he wanted such local camaraderie and to help in sharing the message in the archdiocese that faith and science are complementary.

(Related story: ‘Taking faith and science seriously’)

Desire turned to action. And so it was that Giesting helped coordinate the archdiocese’s first-ever Gold Mass, with roughly 25 Catholics working in the fields of science, engineering, technology and math participating.

The Mass was celebrated in the chapel of SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis on Nov. 15—the feast of St. Albert the Great, patron saint of scientists.

“We want the graces from Mass to help us do our jobs for the glory of God,” said Trina Trusty, a medical technician and a member of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis who worshiped at the special liturgy. “It’s always good to have fellowship with like-minded people and for encouragement.”

Faith and science ‘true simultaneously’

Giesting’s interest in science’s compatibility with faith started when he was 14. He was reading Dante’s Inferno, written in 1320 at the beginning of the Italian Renaissance. Intellectuals of that time started exploring science as both separate from and superior to faith as a source of truth.

Giesting read the footnotes of the book as well.

“I was blown away by what I learned,” he said. “People like St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Albert the Great, they did the hard thinking of how do we iron out where there are contradictions [between faith and reason] and resolve them, and what it would look like if both could be true simultaneously—and they can be.”

Giesting went on to earn his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Earth and planetary sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. He then graduated with a doctorate in geological sciences in 2006 from the University of Notre Dame.

It was at Notre Dame that he met William Schmitt, a Catholic then working as an adjunct professor of journalism at the university. The two now host a weekly podcast, interviewing scientists about the impact of living out their faith in a profession that seeks to separate faith from reason. (See related article.)

It was Schmitt who told Giesting in 2018 about the Society of Catholic Scientists, founded just two years prior.

‘A great service these men and women do’

The Society of Catholic Scientists sponsors the Gold Mass for Scientists. It follows in the tradition of special Masses for members of particular professions such as the Red Mass for lawyers and lawmakers, the White Mass for health care professionals and the Blue Mass for those in public safety.

By promoting Gold Masses for Scientists around the world, the SCS hopes to create spiritual fellowship among local Catholic scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians, as well as educators and students in those fields.

It was “a pleasant surprise” for Giesting when roughly 25 qualifying Catholics turned out for the Gold Mass. While many were from the Indianapolis area, others traveled from as far as Terre Haute and Richmond to participate in the liturgy.

“Scientists help us try to understand the mysteries that are in nature, a nature created by God,” said Father Lawrence Richardt, a retired priest of the archdiocese, during the homily. “It’s a great service that these men and women do for us.”

The gathering was “a good reminder that while most of us are very busy … there are these men and women expanding into the universe—both the cosmos and the micro-universe,” he said.

He ended his homily noting that all “are called to look at the meaning of our life both from a scientific point of view as well as a faith point of view. … We give thanks to God for the work of these men and women.”

‘The most plausible explanation’

About 15 of those participating in the Gold Mass met afterward for food and fellowship.

Lay Dominican Tom Rohn, a member of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis and a statistician for the United States Department of Defense, said he felt it was “a really important part of modern Catholicism to explain to the modern world why Catholicism is the most plausible explanation for why reality is the way it is.”

The Gold Mass “is a wonderful thing, especially in trying to get professional Catholics re-engaged with the faith,” he said. “Without the Catholic Church, there would be no conception of the sciences as we know them today.”

As a computer science teacher at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, Ria Pereira said she already has an advantage in helping her students see the relationship of faith and reason.

“We pray before every class,” she noted. “That brings the focus back to the bigger picture, that it is God behind everything, and whatever we do is for his greater glory, be it through computer science or robotics or anything.”

Christopher Breen, a member of St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg and a statistician for Eli Lilly and Company, noted that the Gold Mass and fellowship “could help build a scientific community within the local Church.”

Such is the goal, according to the Society of Catholic Scientist’s website. It notes that such a community and network “may lead to collaborations on various projects, such as study groups and public lectures.”

‘The beginning of a process’

Several of those gathered after the Mass expressed hope that the Nov. 15 gathering marked the beginning of such an effort.

“I want to offer my students the best I can and improve in ways to help them know what the Church teaches when they have to make moral or ethical decisions in the technology field,” Pereira said. “Being

part of a group like this would help me do that.”

She also saw the possibility of such a group sharing with the larger community about the applicability of the scientific method in making moral and ethical decisions.

“We live in world where everything happens very quickly and we need answers quickly,” said Pereira. “That leads us to jump to conclusions very quickly.

“We need to share that the scientific method exists, that it requires you to be patient, to gather all the data, to know all the repercussions of a decision and think about all the people who could be impacted.”

Plus, having a network of Catholics in science-related fields speak publicly on the topic of faith and reason could produce good fruit, said Trusty.

“Maybe it would get people thinking that there might be something to the Catholic faith, seeing that there are intelligent people who are Catholic and still engaged in science,” she said. “And maybe they might consider investigating the faith.”

Giesting hopes the group will “do something in the new year, then look into what it takes to start a local chapter, see if we can put together an event like a talk at IUPUI [Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis] or a local parish downtown about the connection of science and faith.”

As the statistician he is, Breen noted that such a step “is the beginning of a process, but that’s where you always start.”

(For more information on becoming involved in a local Society of Catholic Scientists group, contact Paul Giesting at giesting@alumni.nd.edu. For more information on the Society of Catholic Scientists, the Gold Mass or starting a local chapter, go to www.catholicscientists.org.)

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