All the Light We Cannot See: A Homily?

Novels, or stories, are particularly helpful to teach us truths about different aspects of our human experience. All the Light We Cannot See is a recent novel written by Anthony Doerr. It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2015. The book is beautiful, filled with a rich and elegant vocabulary, making it incredibly pleasant to read, while also presenting to us a thought-provoking tale. In addition, it gives us insight into the theological virtue of faith.

Marie-Laure was a 6-year old French girl when she went blind. Her father, Daniel, was a very loving man, a locksmith, and a skilled woodworker. He treasured his daughter. The story is set in World War II as the Germans are about to invade France. Marie-Laure’s father was deeply worried about his daughter getting lost, so he built her an exact wooden model replica of the town. For hours and hours, Marie-Laure’s hands explored and fumbled over all the intricate details of the town. Through those many hours with the wooden model, she became keenly aware of the greater reality of her town, aware of all those features she otherwise would miss. Her father Daniel would then take her to different parts of the town where she would have to carefully walk finding her way home. There is a lot of visible light that Marie-Laure does not see. Throughout the novel, though, she finds a way to see into a deeper reality and truth than many of her non-blind friends do.

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Our world is fascinating. Yes, it is a world that is rational and follows certain scientific laws. Science is true and good. Our world has an intelligibility to it, accessible to our probing minds. At the same time, it is also a world that is deeply mysterious and enchanted. Contemporary physics has defied the modern expectations of a deterministic world. There remains a certain unpredictability, or openness, to our world. Any claim to the contrary lacks humility.

Our world is a reality that cannot be exhausted. What I mean by this, is that though it is palpably close to us, it is also utterly beyond our control. We find we are stewards rather than masters. Do we have the humility to acknowledge our human limitations?

I introduce these observations to make clear the correct relationship between faith and science. Science is good and true. However, scientism is a fallacy that is all-too-popular today. Scientism claims that science is the only way toward truth. Scientism reduces everything to the scientific mode of investigation as if that was the only mode. Scientism sets up science as an idol by making science as the true God. The major error we see with this is that it reaches science a step too far beyond its competence. There are many important questions that are properly non-scientific questions. Science only investigates the empirical world, the world of matter, material things. But doesn’t love have an immaterial aspect to it? Is love simply a certain mixture of pheromones and chemical bonds? Do we actually believe that? Or what about beauty? Does beauty have no greater reality than its atomic components? Further, you cannot scientifically prove science. The possibility of science must be proved my something other than itself, and this is where we enlist philosophy. Philosophy helps us to understand the nature of science, as well as the foundation for many other beliefs we hold. Philosophy shows us the truth is attainable through other ways of investigating reality: faith (theologically understood), art, and literature being three such ways.

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So, what do Marie-Laure and science have to do with faith? These help us show the role faith needs to play in our lives to live in the fullness of truth rather than with just a partial truth. Our life is necessarily incomplete without faith.  Faith is “the realization of what is hoped for and the evidence of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). We see that the Lord, Our Redeemer, teaches us what is for our good.  “By faith we understand that the universe was ordered by the word of God, so that what is visible came into being through the invisible” (Heb 11:3). God is the creator of the world. As the creator, He created us out of love and for love. He is not in competition wanting to limit us. Living the virtue of faith is living life to reflect these truths. Faith, as the evidence of things not seen, is making decisions in life with the understanding that we have a loving and merciful God who wants to give us deep joy. He desires our prosperity to be like a river and for us to have descendants as numerous as the grains of sand in the desert (cf. Is 48:18). Faith is to trust God.

Therefore, scientism is too small a worldview for us. It’s too small because it ignores the Creator who made science even possible. Science is true, but only part of the truth. Faith grounds our knowledge and elevates our scientific knowing. Faith answers the deeper questions that science cannot know, like the question of why life is worth living? So rather than putting God and science against each other, instead, let’s live with both God and science, with both in their proper place working in sync. Let God as our loving Father direct our life to show us what makes life worth living. Let’s also then thank God for the gift of an intelligible world, the fact that we have minds that can understand, and use science to be good stewards of this world.

Faith must be a gift from God. This means that we must pray for God to increase this virtue within us. As the Gospel of Mark tells us, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). We do have control of allowing ourselves to be open to receiving faith. We have the ability open or close our eyes to God. How much light are we willing to let in?

Faith is a form of vision that we walk our life by. Marie-Laure’s blindness allowed her to see more of All the Light We Cannot See. Yes, it allowed her a greater physical knowledge of her town, but as you read the book it appears to give her a precise moral insight as well. She understands all of reality in a more profound way than the other characters. Had she never been blind, she would have never known home so well. Her blindness required her to spend many hours exploring that intricate wooden-model. Do we spend hours in prayer exploring our world? Her blindness required her to grow in trust, and it was easy to trust her father because he loved her so much. Even with that fatherly love, though, being forced to actually walk home, while blind, those first few times, was difficult and scary. Faith requires us to trust our loving Father, just like Marie-Laure. It requires us to trust God and to spend many hours exploring the intricacies of our life and purpose. This means we need the sacraments. We need to receive Jesus often in the Eucharist. We need reconciliation. We need to heal our broken relationships with God and others. This means we need a prayer life. We need to schedule time each day to sit in quiet prayer, asking God for ears to hear and a heart that is soft. Lord, give me your eyes to see as you do; thin that veil between heaven and earth in my life. Lord, give me eyes to see All the Light I Cannot See. Lord, give me touch to feel the work you are doing in my life.

What if we had more than five senses? What if we could experience reality in more intense and varied ways? It would be nice to thin that veil between heaven and earth a little more, although we’ve all experienced it before, little tastes of heaven.  The virtue of faith does that for us. Faith thins that veil, giving us a more complete picture of how everything fits together in our life.

The Gospel today shows a generation that refuses the possibility for faith. “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard’” (Matt 11:19). That generation was impossible to please. Damned if you do; damned if you don’t. We must not close our eyes like that generation. We must not limit our vision too much. For, what is Faith if not the gift of the vision of All the Light We Cannot See?

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*Based on the readings from Friday of the Second Week in Advent- Lectionary: 185
This was a practice homily assignment for my moral theology class. The focus was to encourage the faithful to grow in the virtue of Faith.

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