Author links the periodic table, virtues

A biologist who taught science to young people for many years, Father Fred Gaglia has written a new book bridging science and faith entitled, “Periodic Chart of Virtuous Living for Teens: One Element at a Time” (Outskirts Press, $14.95). In the book, the retired priest seeks to build on students’ interest in science and the periodic table of elements to draw them deeper into the spiritual life. Our Sunday Visitor recently spoke with Father Gaglia.

Our Sunday Visitor: What inspired you to write this book?

OSV: How can young people approach it?

Father Fred Gaglia: I discovered that there’s this great order that exists in nature and best exhibited by the periodic chart of how each of the elements was able to be put into its own organizational structure and how the individual elements interact with one another. It just recalled for me the organization of our Church — that it is a hierarchy of order and authority. Working for so many years as I have as a priest with young people and having taught biology and chemistry, I said maybe we can find some connection between the scientific material world and equally, some order — organization — in the spiritual world. I said maybe this is just a good avenue to use the symbolism of chemicals and then use that elemental symbol, that letter, and see how we can apply it to some virtuous way for a young person to live.

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Father Gaglia

Father Gaglia: Instead of lengthy chapters that have a progression and a story, this is in bite-sized pieces of each element so that a young adult, even adults, can read one element at a time and proceed to get a little bit of understanding.

It could be used by an individual or by study partners. Or by a youth group using whatever virtues the leader might want to talk about. Because of the format, they can relate it to something they may be studying in class.

OSV: What about the periodic chart intrigues teens?

Father Gaglia: I think what intrigues them is the fact that matter — elements — are so organized and structured that they fall into categories. They’re organized as you go across the table from left to right, in groups of similar function. And from top to bottom are called the periods of the periodic table, each of which has similar characteristics. With the chart they have the blueprint. As they start to decipher it in their science classes, maybe they can take this as a parallel and use some of that organization and decipher those symbols into virtuous living.

OSV: How do the virtues correspond with the elements?

Father Gaglia: They line up similarly but not exclusively. The virtues are very definitely related to some characteristic of the element. There’s an application that works consistently. The virtues were fitted to the elements, which took the primary focus.

OSV: Can teens can be as intrigued with the spiritual life as they are with science?

Father Gaglia: They probably have a more predominant interest in science than spirituality. If we can show them or illustrate to them that there is a parallelism then we can get them more excited about spiritual matters.

OSV: Do they accept that faith and science are compatible?

Father Gaglia: I think the reason it is not readily accepted is we have not made the connections between science and faith. Fortunately Pope St. John Paul II in his encyclical, “Fides et Ratio” (The Relationship Between Faith and Reason), tried to establish some basis. There is the natural world and what we refer to in the spiritual realm we call “supernatural” — meaning above natural. There’s a famous expression that “grace builds on nature.” With that understanding, the parallelism in the book might make sense.

OSV: What about the idea that people of strong religious faith can contribute to the fields of science and technology?

Father Gaglia: If we start to understand the very basics of nature it leads us to understand the incredible design that exists in nature. It didn’t design its own structure. It begs the question, then, as St. Thomas Aquinas used to say, “who created this?” History has illustrated that many of the great scientists have been people of faith. Even several centuries ago, the Church was their sponsor, in many cases, for doing research.

I think it’s very important for Catholic people of faith who do research to be able to use their faith-basis in their research. It will certainly give an additional dimension. It’s not impossible to teach principles of faith when teaching science.

Susan Klemond writes from Minnesota.