Finding Joy in the Heavens

In a recent post, Br. Guy Consolmagno pondered two different questions,”Why does science need God?” and “Why do we need science?”

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One of the telescopes owned by the Vatican Observatory, this one located at Castel Gondolfo – another main telescope is also located in Arizona. By Stefano Bolognini (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons.

We have to ask ourselves, what’s the point? Why do I spend late nights gazing at the heavens, studying stars, planets, and nebulae? Over the years, my love of astronomy has developed out of a search for understanding and discovery, the desire to know the universe on a deeper level. As I’ve explored topics such as cosmology and theoretical physics on an amateur level, while preparing on a professional (or rather, in a more appropriate term, vocational) level, for the priesthood.

Ultimately, both pursuits are the result of a deeper need to know, to learn, and to come closer to truth, albeit from different perspectives. When I do come closer, at the same time discovering just how much further I really have to go, I also discover something more, something unexpected, and something that Br. Guy discovers in his search as well: joy. The search for truth, both from a scientific and spiritual standpoint both lead to joy: we need science to better understand our physical world, and religion helps us to move ever deeper, discovering the foundation of the beauty of our universe.

As Br. Guy states it, “This is not a sort of pantheism. God is not the same thing as the laws of nature. But everything that makes science worth doing, desirable to do, everything that gets us out of bed in the morning to do it, is a pointer toward God.”

In my own journey, the scientific has led to the religious, and the religious has led me to a greater desire to study the natural world: the more I study science, the greater the awe increases in my heart, and I realize how God the Father has created a universe beyond words and understanding, drawing me into an ever deeper desire to study said universe. Indeed, my continued study of science is what led me to religion, and Catholicism, in the first place, helping me to realize not only the necessity of a Creator behind our magnificent universe, but also the necessity of a Savior, and the faithful presence the Spirit in our lives.

You can read the rest of his article over at the Vatican Observatory Foundation blog.

Friday night fun: a comet, an eclipse, and a full moon

Tonight, Friday February 10th, promises to give us quite a show in terms of astronomical phenomena. While it may mean a late night for observers, hopefully you’ll be able to sleep in a bit on Saturday morning. A rundown of tonight’s show in the night sky:

Full moon: Tonight you will see the full “snow” moon, which is a fairly accurate name, considering the time of year.

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An example of what you will see – from EarthSky Twitter Feed

Penumbral lunar eclipse: If you’re in the right spot at the right time, you may see that something seems a bit “off” about the moon tonight, and you’d be right: for a period of about four hours, the full moon will be just slightly passing through Earth’s shadow. The greatest eclipse will occur at 7:44 EST or 4:44 PST. That means for those of us on the West Coast, such as yours truly, it may be difficult to notice any change at all, both due to the amount of light in the sky and the fact that we are near the edge of the eclipse itself.

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Comet 45P/Honda–Mrkos–Pajdušáková

Comet 45P: In the early hours of morning, just prior to  dawn, you will see Comet 45P/ Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova (say that three times fast) streaking through the constellation Hercules. Better take a pair of binoculars for this one – at magnitude +6.5, it will be difficult to see with the naked eye unless you are in an extremely rural area. Start with the handle of the Big Dipper and continue over to the constellation Bootes and green hue of the comet should be visible. Recent evidence suggests, however, that it no longer has a tail, due to a likely close approach to the sun, burning off much of the comet’s ice.

So make some hot chocolate, bundle up, and enjoy a night of looking up at the heavens! Then sleep in tomorrow morning.

Pax.

H/T to Smithsonian Mag, EarthSky, and Sky and Telescope

Let’s go searching for Geminids!

Tonight, December 13, we are in for a special treat from one of the best meteor showers throughout the year: the Geminids!

Well, sort of.

First, the good news:

The Geminids will be visible all throughout the night sky, seeming to originate from the constellation Gemini. This shower is also one of the most spectacular, both due to the number and the fact that it occurs during the cold months, when skies tend to be clearer and more favorable (with the exception noted under “bad news” below) to viewing.

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The Geminids in 2012 – via NASA

Now the bad news:

This is where the exception, or rather exceptions, I mentioned above come in. First, we have a full moon tonight. This one is also a so-called “supermoon”, when the Moon is not only full, but at it’s closest approach to Earth, which means it will be a bit brighter than normal. That means it will be a bit more difficult to see meteors tonight.

Also, if you are in the United States, you’ll be dealing with this:

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Current cloud cover in the US – via Intellicast

Yes, much of the U.S is experiencing at least some cloud cover at the moment, which will not make viewing any easier. Trip to Mexico City, anyone?

A few quick viewing tips:

  • The best viewing time is around 2AM, when their apparent point of origin will be highest in the ski. That said, the show should be good all night long.
  • Dress warmly and bring some coffee, tea, or other hot drink of your choice.
  • Allow your eyes to adjust for a full 20 minutes
  • If you can’t catch them tonight, you should still see a few over the next few nights, as we will be in the Geminid’s path for a few more days.

So get out there, brave the elements, have a good look at that beautiful supermoon, and hope to catch a shooting star or two!

Happy hunting!

Pax.

H/T to NASA, always an excellent source of information.

Reflection: Christmas is here! Oh wait…

 

First Sunday of Advent – 27 November 2016

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Are you ready? Or maybe you’re already done… Why not take a step back and breathe… And pray. Image Credit: Agape COC

We have officially entered the “Christmas Season”, full of gift buying, food preparation, and celebration. These next four weeks can be some of the busiest of the year, filled with family visits, last minute details, and all manner of hustle and bustle. This can be a time of great happiness, but at the same time, it can also be a time of great stress. The remedy? Remembering that we aren’t really in the “Christmas Season” at all; rather, we are in the “Advent Season”, a time of quiet prayer and reflection as we await the coming of the Lord.

Each Sunday of Advent has a specific “theme” that is reflected in that day’s readings and Mass prayers: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. Reflecting on each of these themes, especially through our participation in the Sunday liturgies, we are called to “climb the Lord’s mountain…that He may instruct us in His ways, and we may walk in His paths” (Is. 2:3). The lessons of Advent teach us that even amidst our busy lives, we must keep our focus always on the Lord, so that we may “go up to the house of the Lord” (Ps. 122) with hearts open to the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.

Friends, this Advent let us cultivate an attitude of prayer and reflection, even amidst our hectic schedules and long to-do lists. “Let us walk in the light of the Lord” (Is. 2:5) and use this time not only for preparing for the coming holidays, but preparing our hearts and souls to be more fervent followers of the humble child who will be born in the manager in just a few weeks time, for “so too, you must also be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come” (Mt. 24:44).

For reflection:

  • How can I include just 15 more minutes of prayer in my life each day?
  • How can I better witness to the truth and love of the Gospel through my busy schedule of the holiday season?

Reflection: Beacons of Hope

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Through the month of November, we remember those who have gone before us: those whom we commemorate as saints in heaven, as well as all those who have passed in our own lives, praying for them and remembering that they pray for us as well. The month of November can, at times, be a bit somber or bittersweet, but this is also a time of hope. While we remember those who have gone before us, we are reminded that this life is not the end. “With the hope that God gives”, we know that this life is meaningful and yet fleeting all at once. Moving our “hearts to the love of God” we experience “the endurance of Christ.” In the memory of those of have gone before, us we have the reminder of God’s love and presence in our lives today, yet also a reminder of the reality of the life that is to come.

As we move closer to the end of the liturgical year, approaching Advent, we see that God indeed “is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” As our Savior and King, He gives us eternal hope and peace, if we but trust in the mercy and love of Christ. Yes, November can be bittersweet, but it serves as a reminder to always keep our focus on the things that really matter, and not on the distractions and pitfalls of the world. Let us then pray for our loved ones as we embrace this hope in eternal life, and become beacons of hope for all those around us as visible signs that “the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever.”

For reflection: How can I be a sign of hope to others? Do I live my faith in an intentional but humble way, such as praying grace in public, or telling people that I will pray for them and following through?

Reflection: Be the Tax Collector

Reflection for October 23, 2016 – 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

pharisee and tax collector.jpgIf last week’s readings showed us the importance of prayer, then this week’s readings demonstrate how we should pray: in humility, trusting God. In our society, how often do we see famous personalities exalting some good work they have done? While not everyone is like this of course, we often see celebrities and others praising their own virtues, showing off their good deeds to the world. The same attitude is seen with the Pharisee in today’s Gospel, who shouts aloud his apparent virtues, going so far as to say to the Lord, “I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity!” The Pharisee, like some famous individuals we see in modern times, was saying and doing all the “right things,” but did he have the right intent or disposition? After all, while our external actions carry great weight and consequence, in the end, it is the final disposition of our hearts that God examines.

Should we look to the Pharisee or the Tax Collector as an example of how we should pray? Is the Pharisee an example of the humble attitude we should take before God, when we enter into prayer? No, of course not! Instead, we need to be more like the Tax Collector, who recognized his unworthiness before the Lord, and yet still approached Him, saying, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” This attitude of humility is important to remember as we approach the end of the Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis: not only must we spread the message of God’s love and mercy to others, but we must embrace it ourselves. Trusting in divine mercy, turning to God and saying, “Let my soul glory in the Lord,” we can find true peace in our lives.

Question for reflection: What are some ways I can cultivate humility in my prayer life and my interactions with others? An example might be to do a good deed, make a sacrifice, or dedicate a Rosary or Mass to someone or some situation without telling anyone about it.


As part of my pastoral internship, I have been given the responsibility for writing our weekly bulletin reflections. Due to the nature of the medium, they are short, but try to take into account the current Sunday’s readings, most especially the Gospel. I will post these reflections here each weekend; your feedback, whatever it may be, is most welcome as I seek to refine my writing skills and ask the Holy Spirit to guide my words! You can read these and other types of reflections based on the readings at Mass by going here. Pax.

Reflection: Pray without ceasing

As part of my pastoral internship, I have been given the responsibility for writing our weekly bulletin reflections. Due to the nature of the medium, they are short, but try to take into account the current Sunday’s readings, most especially the Gospel. I will post these reflections here each weekend; your feedback, whatever it may be, is most welcome as I seek to refine my writing skills and ask the Holy Spirit to guide my words! More on the pastoral internship itself in a later post. Pax.


hpbox_personalprayerWhat does it mean to “pray without becoming weary” or perhaps in a more familiar formulation, to “pray without ceasing?” I don’t know about you, but this sounds like a pretty tall order! We are bombarded constantly by outside distractions, some of which are even good and necessary. Even so, we are called to make our lives ones of prayer and reliance on God. The psalm reminds us today that “Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth,” and so we need to constantly turn to Him, being persistent in our faith, whether it is “convenient or inconvenient.” All we have is from God, and so all that we do needs to be directed towards Him.

How do we cultivate this life of unceasing prayer? One early Christian writer suggested this: a person “prays without ceasing who prays with good works and works with a prayerful spirit.” In other words, prayer does not simply consist of going to Mass, saying grace before meals, and other times of structured prayer. While these are good and essential for the Christian life, it also means turning everything we say and do into a prayer itself. We must not only set aside time each day for personal prayer, but make the entire day itself a living prayer. This is possible no matter what one’s vocation, job, or state in life, in good times and bad, in triumphs and challenges, and even in everyday mundane tasks. By offering our words and actions to the Lord, no matter how insignificant, we remain focused on Him, which will inevitably lead to a more balanced, fulfilling life here on Earth as we seek to be with Christ forever in Heaven.

Question for reflection: What are some concrete steps I can take to make my life more prayerful and centered on God?

Aventuras: Regresando a los Estados Unidos (Returning to the United States)

Es cierto que el tiempo mueve muy rápido! En estos días últimos en México, estoy reflejando en los tres meses pasados. Este es un país maravilloso! Voy a extrañar especialmente la gente y mis muchos amigos nuevos! Pero, necesito regresar a mi hogar, California, para que pueda continuar mi camino durante mi año pastoral. (And continue learning how to use the subjunctive case.)

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One of my favorite paintings in Mexico – God the Father painting the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe

I have had so many rewarding experiences here in this wonderful country! I cannot begin to express the gratitude that I feel for my hosts, my new friends, for their hospitality, for their patience… While I am certainly looking forward to returning home, I will also miss everyone here very much!

I have learned three main lessons here in Mexico, besides learning Spanish of course:

Expect the unexpected: From scorpions to thuribles, my time in Mexico has presented many new and unexpected experiences, many of which I have not begun to realize the impact that they will have on my life. But this is how God works, no? Many times we have small moments, unexpected encounters, that at the time may seem insignificant, but down the road we realize that they define who we are. Mexico has become a part of who I am, and I look forward to using what I have learned here in my ministry and life.

Being patient with myself: When I arrived here, I thought that by August 29th I would be speaking near-fluent Spanish. It’s not like we spend years learning our native languages, right? Of course, I’ve found that my journey with Spanish will extend over much more than three months, and I am at peace with that. In any new endeavour, we need to have patience with ourselves. Normally, we do not change or learn something new overnight. We see this in how God works in our lives: for the vast majority of us, there is no St. Paul-like conversion, or Augustinian revelation. No, the Lord slowly works with us, walking with us, molding us to be more humble servants. Our job is to be open to this process, whether the process involves learning a new language or learning how to be with the Lord.

A priest is a priest for all people: This is a lesson I already knew I suppose, but it was brought into a new focus for me here in Mexico. I think that it is very easy for us to take this maxim, whether you are a priest or not, and give lip service to it, but to not realize the true depths of what it means. Many of us who work in ministry know this maxim to be true, but do we know it in our hearts and really put it into practice? Here in the center of Mexico I have encountered many different people: cardinals, bishops, politicians, businessmen, homeless, former prostitutes, the terminally ill, students, teachers, craftsmen, unemployed, ministers, lay people, and everyone in between. For those of us studying to be priests, and for all ministers in the Church, we are called to reach out to all people, even when it makes us uncomfortable. In fact, especially when it makes us uncomfortable, for it is in those moments that we encounter Jesus Christ. When we find ourselves paying only lip service to these words, then we need to take a moment to reflect, wake up, and realize the depth and beauty of all of God’s people. Mexico has helped me to refocus on this as it presented me with many wonderful, challenging, and blessed experiences!

As I find myself saying goodbye to so many people, I also find that they all now hold a special place in my heart. As I mentioned above, Mexico has become part of who I am, a very cherished part. I fully intend on returning one day, and while I do now know when that will be (very likely some time after my, Lord willing, ordination), until then I will continue to keep these people and this country in my heart and prayers. Espero verte pronto!

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, ruega por nosotros!


This will be my final post in the Aventuras series. I hope that you have enjoyed seeing some of the snapshots of my time here in Mexico, during which I learned not only the culture and language, but also experienced things and encountered people that will remain with me for all my days. From here, the blog will return to astronomy, reflections, the Journey series, and sharing a moment here and there from my upcoming pastoral year.

The other posts in this series can be found by viewing this category.

+AMDG+

Aventuras: La Prisión Militar (The Military Prison)

I just spent the day in prison, and it was probably my favorite day in Mexico so far.

I suppose I should explain that statement… After all, I have had many wonderful days in Mexico!

On Thursday, I went with my pastor to a military prison to celebrate Mass, hear confessions, and have a Holy Hour (obviously, I wasn’t the one celebrating Mass or hearing confessions, but I did serve as an acolyte). We went with two other people from our church and a local religious sister who has been involved in prison ministry for many years.

The day started when Father told me, “Don’t wear blue, red, green, or yellow.” All of this actually made sense, since I have worked with troubled youth in the past and I am very well aware of gang violence and related issues. Still, I did not know what to expect, and to be honest, I was a bit apprehensive. I knew, however, that everything we were about to do would be for His glory alone, and so I left it to Him, asking for the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

When the five of us arrived, there were several rounds of screening. I’m not sure how much detail I should use, so I will stay sufficiently vague I hope. Of course, we had to enter the military base itself, then we proceeded to the prison. Once there, at the first entrance we were checked for any electronics, then at the next gate, the real screening began. I say this because at this particular checkpoint (out of 5 total), we spent about an hour and a half. I quickly found out the reason for our long delay – one of us had one of these:

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Nueve días mas y voy a utilizar esto para mi regresar a Los Estados Unidos…

You can guess who it belonged to…

In any case, after checking to see if it was O.K. for this estadounidense to enter the compound, we were escorted by several M.P.s through the rest of the checkpoints and finally to the prison chapel, where many of the congregation were already waiting for us.

Upon arrival, Father got to work almost immediately, taking a couple of chairs out to a grassy field and began hearing confessions. Meanwhile, I started to help prepare for Mass and the Holy Hour. This experience in itself was very humbling, as the prisoners were asking me if everything was set up correctly. These were men with ranks from Private all the way to Major, who for whatever reason found themselves incarcerated, asking me for advice and direction, this backward hobbit of a seminarian from the Central Valley of California. What’s more, is that they were all so welcoming, prisoners and M.P.s alike. I could tell that many of these men had a deep faith and were truly attempting to seek God’s everlasting mercy.

After confessions were over, we had Benediction to conclude the Holy Hour and then began the Mass. I will always remember the fervor and the strength with which these men sang! I assume some of it has to do with the discipline of the institution and their military training, but to hear their voices ring out in praise to God was truly an edifying experience. I now understand why a soldier’s battle cry can strike fear into the heart of his enemy!

Following the Mass, we had the opportunity to gather and share a meal. So many of the conversations I had enlightened me to life inside the prison, and helped to show me the need for mercy and compassion in today’s world. A side benefit to all these conversations is that today, just nine days before I return to the United States and begin my Pastoral Year, I realized that I have actually learned some Spanish, and it was a joy to be able to connect with so many people on such a profound level (even as they were being very patient with my fledgling speaking skills).

The conditions in this particular prison were very nice, but I am under no illusions that other prisons in Mexico come close to comparing with this institution. I also know that the United States has over two million people under incarceration, almost one percent of the adult population in our country. My time in the federal prison today has helped open my eyes to the need for us to reach out to ALL people – every single person deserves to encounter the merciful touch of the Father through the Son with the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, that encounter may come through one of us, and we have to be ready to respond. No person’s life is worthless, and we cannot let anyone forget this truth, because I think when people do forget it, this is when they begin to slide even deeper into darkness. Let us work to bring the light of Christ to all people, even as we seek to encounter and accept the mercy of God in our own lives.

I have had many valuable and enriching experiences in Mexico – new cultures, new people, new places. There are so many memories that I will cherish for a lifetime, but today, the day I spent in prison, will be the day that makes the largest imprint on my heart, the one exception being my encounter with Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Todo gloria a Dios. Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, ruega por nosotros. San Benito, ruega por nosotros.

Pax.

Fr. Jacques, the police, and 11 years a Catholic

“As we have borne the image of the earthly man, so we shall bear the image of him who is from heaven; since the first man who came from the earth, is earthly, but the second man who came from heaven, is heavenly. And so, dearly beloved, we shall not die anymore. Even if we fall asleep in this body, we shall live in Christ, as he said: Whoever believes in me, even if he die, shall live.” -From a sermon on baptism, by Saint Pacian, in today’s Office of Readings

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Père Jacques Hamel, from the Diocese of Rouen

What does it mean to be Catholic, to live a life rooted in Jesus Christ? What does he call each of us to do, to give, to sacrifice? How are we called to love and to show mercy? I have been reflecting on these questions today for two reasons. The first reason begins Fr. Jacques Hamel, a retired priest in France who was murdered while he was celebrating Mass. He was a faithful priest who carried out his ministry, his life, centered on the Faith, someone who parishioners called, “a good priest … who did his job to the very end.” Fr. Jacques lived out his baptismal and priestly call to proclaim the truth to all nations and all people, even if that meant giving the ultimate sacrifice, even to his very last words.

How are we called to love Christ and his people?

This first reason began with Fr. Jacques and continues to my experience in Mexico, although they are very different. Several times I have visited public hospitals with my pastor, Fr. Augustín, and at each one, we were met by delays, questions, and outright indifference. One hospital prevented us from entering for over an hour, while streams of people proceeded past us and through security without a care in the world. Fr. Augustín later told me that many police officers, being an arm of the government, did not like Catholic priests, and tried everything they could to make life difficult for priests, even in the small ways. Fr. Jacques faced down responded to his call in a very defined and specific moment, and Fr. Augustín responds as well, even if in a different way. This was a shock for my American sensibilities; for as much trouble as we have right now in the United States regarding discrimination against those who are not  “with the times”, I would find it unfathomable if someone were to prevent a minister in this manner from seeing one of his people, whether in a public or private hospital.

As shown by these incidents, through our Baptism, we are called to sacrifice, love and mercy.

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August 13, 2005

Which brings me to the second reason that I am reflecting on all of these questions: today, I celebrate 11 years since my Baptism, Confirmation, and First Communion in the Catholic Church, taking Saint Benedict as my patron. So I am brought to consider how I have lived out that baptismal call in my own life: where am I called to love, to sacrifice, to show mercy? How am I called to give glory to God in the things that I say and do? Although I have discovered some answers, I am still searching, as I am sure many of my Christian brothers and sister do as well. After all, I don’t think most of us have it completely figured out!

As I look out the window onto the cityscape of Mexico City, just 16 days before I return to the United States, I have come to realize though that it is in the everyday interactions with people, here in Mexico and back in the U.S., that I am called to live out the love of Christ. I do not know if I will ever face situations as difficult or profound as Fr. Augustín or Fr. Jacques. After all, in the words of of St. Thomas More in A

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11 years later, after institution as an Acolyte

Man for All Seasons, “this is not the stuff of which martyrs are made.” But as I continue preparation for a different type of calling in my life, the next step of which will be my Pastoral Year, I know that I, and all of us, are called to live out each day molding our lives to Christ. Sometimes we will fall, but then we must return to Him, recognizing that His mercy is ever-present, and that we are called to spread that mercy in our own lives and in the lives of others, something that I pray I will do faithfully when I am, Lord willing, ordained a priest. The Lord knows that since my baptism I have fallen many times, but it is my hope that through the faults and messiness of my life, Christ may work through me and through all of us to bring His message to the world.

Please pray for me, for all your seminarians, priests, and religious. Know that you remain in our prayers as well.

Sancte Benedicte, ora pro nobis.

A Naomh Pádraigh, guigh orainne.

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, ruega por nosotros.