Recently, I was reading some retreat talks [John Paul II] gave for university students Cracow in 1972, back when he was still Cardinal Karol Wojtyla. In one of these talks, he described a letter he received from a great natural scientist. Here is what that scientist wrote to him:
For the most part, I do not find God on the paths of my science. But there are moments — most often in the face of the majesty of nature, the beauty of the mountains, for example — that a strange thing happens: I, who do not find God on the paths of my science, at such moments, I feel that God exists! And then I begin to pray.
This is what I want to talk with you about this afternoon. It is something that concerns me very much.
Why is it that during the course of this good man’s scientific work, he could not find God? How come, when he was in his laboratory or doing experiments in the natural world, this great scientist could not discover that God exists? Why did he not think of his scientific work as a kind of prayer, as something pleasing that he could offer to God?
My dear sisters and brothers, he could not because we have allowed Almighty God to become eclipsed in our scientific and intellectual life – in higher education, and in our culture in general.
We have eliminated God from all the processes by which we seek knowledge about ourselves and about our world. God is no longer a factor in our methods. Hence, God is nowhere to be found among our conclusions.
This fact has profound implications for the world you are entering into, my dear young brothers and sisters.
You are entering into a culture in America and in the West that is increasingly secularized and de-Christianized.
Powerful interests have been at work for decades now, seeking to erase the influence — and even the memory of Western civilization’s Christian roots. God has been eclipsed not only in science, but also in our laws and public policies, in our arts and literature, in our schools and media.
The goal, advocates of this effort say, is to get to a post-Christian society.
They image a beautiful world, liberated from depending on God or superstitious or magical thinking. They imagine a society governed by reason and technology, dedicated to individual freedom and the pursuit of material comfort. And they imagine a society that would have no interest in defining the good life, or making distinctions among the array of religions, cultures, lifestyles and viewpoints we find in the modern metropolis.
Now, I believe this goal of a secular, post-Christian society is a seductive illusion and a trap. But that is the subject for another talk at another time.
This afternoon, I just want to point out that this mindset will be a challenge to you, dear graduates. But it forms the territory of your Christian witness and mission. This is the environment in which you are called to proclaim Christ as his disciples.
–from the Archbishop’s 2014 commencement address at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California