The Very Rev. Joseph Barbieri, judicial vicar of the Catholic Diocese of San Angelo, often reflects on Psalm 19, which begins, “The Heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament proclaims the work of his hands.”

“For those of us who have faith, we look up on a clear starry night and ask, “How can anyone see this and not believe?” Father Barbieri said. “If you are interested in astronomy and cosmology and enjoy following recent developments in these fields, then you are aware that articles, books, blogs and YouTube videos abound on these topics.”

“We are fortunate to have at our fingertips the thoughts and works of astrophysicists and luminaries such as Einstein, Feynman, Hubble, Eddington and Rubin. You may be more familiar with names closer to our own times including Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Brian Cox to name just a few.”

As judicial vicar, Barbieri rules on the diocese’s internal legal affairs in its ecclesiastical court.

He said that as a Catholic priest, amateur astronomer and astrophotographer he actively seeks through prayer and study to integrate personal faith with science.

“Christian cosmology is a field of study that deals with how and why God created the universe and sustains it,” he said. “In this context ‘cosmos’ implies the order and arrangement that is the universe.

“The order and rationality of creation testify to the Creator. I recall Psalm 90:2, ‘Before the mountains were born and the earth and the world brought forth, from eternity to eternity you are God.’ In the endeavor to integrate faith and science I do not ignore but try to integrate what the science of cosmology, the study of the universe at the most extreme scales of space, energy and time, has to offer.”

Barbieri said religion and science each have their own realm of applicability and one cannot be reduced to the other.

“St. Gregory Palamas (14th Century) reminds us that the natural sciences are unable to lead to ‘saving knowledge’ and cannot ‘procure for us the joy from above,’” he said. “Neither should we use the Bible as a scientific manual.

“Yet science and faith are interwoven and meant to guide us on the path to truth. In her book ‘Particles of Faith’ the scientist and author Stacy Trasancos, who holds a Ph.D in chemistry, describes the interaction between faith and science this way: ‘Faith and science are two different manifestations of the same reality. When they seem to have conflicting conclusions, it is because our knowledge is incomplete.’

“Faith and science can intersect especially in one point: in the human being who is the scientist, in the human being whose ultimate motivations and yearnings are, overtly or not, religious.”

Barbieri noted that the theoretical physicist Albert Einstein (1879-1955) said the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.

“Edith Stein, a philosopher and Carmelite nun and martyr of the Second World War, wrote, ‘Everyone who is searching for the truth is searching for God whether they know it or not,’” he said. “I believe that scientists who claim to be atheists or non-believers fall into this category.

“If scientists can be criticized in any aspect of the search to integrate faith and science, it would be that they are often too specialized to see beyond their own field of expertise. Yet cosmologists would be the first to say that their particular discipline of science is a humbling endeavor and that scientific thinking is a constant reminder that we don’t know all the answers.

“Admittedly some proponents of religious thought could also be criticized for being narrow minded. The conflict between scientific thinking and religious thinking has existed for centuries.

“The question is, why can’t we live happily together and why can’t people pray to their God and study the universe without this continual clash?”

Barbieri said the clash centers on the uncertainty of the scientific thinking of agnostics and the religious certainty that God exists and in the beginning he created the heavens and the earth.

“Father Georges Lemaitre, the recognized father of the Big Bang Theory, once shared, ‘I was interested in truth from the point of view of salvation just as much as in truth from the point of view of scientific certainty,’” he said. “‘It appeared to me that there were two paths to truth and I decided to follow both of them.’”

Barbieri said the believer who seeks to integrate science and faith intuitively recognizes that the laws of the universe and the laws of spiritual realities do not conflict nor do they contradict each other.

“Since the nascent days of the Church Christians have seen the image of the Lord’s Paschal Mystery (death and resurrection) imbedded in cosmological realities,” he said. “The New Testament testifies that Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the Word (Logos) in whom and for whom all things were made (Rev. 22:13; Jn 1:3; Col 1: 15-16).

“If the Logos is the image of the invisible God, the first principle of all things, the foundation and model by which all things are formed, then it stands that his life, death and resurrection should in some way be reflected in the created world modeled after him. It is in the Logos that everything has come to be, is held together and to which everything will return.”

Barbieri said it is a true blessing to receive an occasional glimpse into where principles of the spiritual life intersect with those of physical reality.

“For example in John 12:24 we read, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit,’” he said. “This is a profound truth.

“It is also true that if a star does not die and explode into a supernova there can be no other stars or the elements for life that make us. Every atom of oxygen in our lungs, of carbon in our muscles, of calcium in our bones and of iron in our blood was created inside a star before Earth was born.”