26 August 2017

In Memoriam: Prof Ron Olowin 1945-2017

Last night the family, friends, and colleagues of Prof Ron Olowin (astrophysics) celebrated a vigil at St Mary's College marking his very distinguished and faith-filled life and death. Today we celebrated a Mass of the Resurrection at Ron's parish home, St Perpetua's in Lafayette, CA. Last night after the vigil and reception we walked outside on the SMC campus. The night was beautifully warm and the moon was a striking crescent. Several of us (Frs John Kasper, Jan Olowin, myself, et. al) pointed gleefully to the moon showing off what we had just learned from Ron even now when someone cited his rule on how to tell whether the moon was waxing or waning: "If it is light on the right, it is getting bright; if it is light on the left, it ain't!" It was amazing how many of us had no clue how to tell the difference in this --- and now we are unlikely ever to forget it.

In theology today two strains run through everything we do: 1) the relationship between science and faith, a topic which has been made all the more acute by the scientific reductionism (some would call it the scientific imperialism) known as scientism which asserts the scientific method or science itself is the only way to knowledge and that there is nothing other than, much less beyond the material universe to be known, and 2) the cosmic nature of reality and faith so that everything we speak about in theology has a cosmic depth and our hope for a "new heaven and earth" is a hope for what NT Wright calls, "life after life after death;" Paul refers to this state as that which comes to be when God is "all in all". These two strains were definitive in Ron's life. As Christians we assert a Mystery serving as the depth dimension of all reality, an infinitely personal Mystery we call God, the Mystery which makes science possible and faith necessary. It was this Mystery and the cosmos this God created which Ron explored in his scientific work; it was this  same Mystery he knew in prayer and/or celebrated in liturgy every day of his life. And it was this Mystery he looked forward to meeting "face to face" in what was a great personal and intellectual adventure Ron entered into even more fully over these past fourteen months since his diagnosis with acute myelogenous leukemia. Rarely have I known someone dealing with terminal illness or meeting death in such an inspiring way.

Similarly, never have I heard so many distinguished scientists, educators, and theologians, comment on Ron's life and the humble and utterly convincing way he moved and inspired them as he married scientific integrity and a sincere and intellectually challenging faith he proclaimed in the teaching he did wherever he was. (Ron and his wife Mary attended a presentation I did for Contemplative Outreach several years ago; he paid me one of the highest compliments I have ever received when he called me a "born teacher".) As with any true marriage Ron knew the Love-in-Act which was its real source and ground. This same Love-in-Act motivated his life as husband, father, and dedicated teacher to all of us who considered ourselves his grateful friends, colleagues, and --- to a person --- his students. In this week of total solar eclipses we celebrate Ron Olowin's life and death in the Cosmic Christ. And so we pray: Perpetual light grant unto Ron, O Lord, and let your own perpetual (and cosmic) light shine upon and through him in your Son and Our Lord. With Ron we look for the day when you will indeed be All in All and we stand reunited in a new heaven and a new earth.