The Purpose of Beauty and the Great American Eclipse

Something strange was happening – the sky darkened and took on an eerie character, almost like twilight but something different altogether. A cool breeze picked up, the temperature noticeably dropping. 10:15 in the morning and stars started to twinkly forth along with objects in our own solar system, the planet Venus clearly visible just above us. The sun, that once constant companion in the sky, never-failing and always life-giving, was losing it’s hold, disappearing behind the transient moon. For a moment, one could almost say that a diamond ring hung in the sky, beckoning for someone to come and grasp it.

Then it happened: totality was upon us.

eclipse 1

Total Solar Eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017. Photo Credit: NASA

Twilight surrounded us on all sides and night seemed to descend right above us. The glowing ring that was the eclipse stared back as if an eye peered down from the heavens. Through my binoculars, shots of hot plasma sprouted from the surface of the sun, reaching out into space for 100,000 kilometers or more, enough to engulf our small place in space in flames if the Earth were right next to it’s normally life-giving star. White wisps of the sun’s corona danced around and seemed to envelop the moon itself, putting on display a sight that unaided eyes rarely get to see, all at once fleeting and fragile yet demonstrating the power and energy contained within the burning-hot heavenly body. The world was silent, focusing on this strange phenomena which hadn’t been seen in this part of the world for 38 years and would not return for another 28 years. Mesmerized by the sight in the sky, I was moved to prayer, thankful for God’s creation, the beautiful intricacy of His universe, and the blessed opportunity to witness this awe-inspiring event, which for many people, may be the only chance they have in their lives to see it.

eclipse 2.jpg

Time-lapse of total eclipse over Madras, OR. Photo Credit: NASA

No words can adequately capture the moment of totality during the 2017 Great American Eclipse. No pictures or video can do it justice if you didn’t have a chance to see it in person, although I still highly recommend finding those pictures and watching some of those videos (being wary, of course, of some social media photoshop fakes that are floating around). Viewing a total eclipse is a life-changing event, with the potential to alter one’s view of the world.

The total eclipse is a reminder, however, that no matter what beauty we behold here on Earth, it is all a foretaste of that ultimate beauty, love, and truth for which we strive to be with for eternity in Heaven. While the eclipse was wonderful, it is a reminder that just as it was fleeting, our own lives are fleeting as well, and we must remember that we should be preparing ourselves for something so wondrous, so fantastic, that nothing we see here on Earth, not even a total eclipse, can ever approach the magnificence of residing forever in it’s presence: I am of course talking about that beauty and truth which we will experience in the Beatific Vision. With all of the excitement surrounding an event such as the eclipse, we need to remind ourselves that all of it, no matter how wonderful, should be used to glorify God, who gave us His only Son, and leaves His Spirit with us always, to guide us and draw us closer to Him.

The Great American Eclipse inspired millions to learn and grow, but it’s primary purpose in this writer’s opinion? To serve as an example of the beauty of His creation and remind us that He remains with us always, whether in the celestial heavens or here on our Earthly home. May God be praised in all we do.

Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his love endures for ever;

who alone has wrought marvelous works,
for his love endures for ever;
whose wisdom it was made the skies,
for his love endures for ever;
who fixed the earth firmly on the seas,
for his love endures for ever.

It was he who made the great lights,
for his love endures for ever;
the sun to rule in the day,
for his love endures for ever;
the moon and the stars in the night,
for his love endures for ever.

-From Psalm 136

The next total solar eclipse to hit the United States, although on a massively different trajectory will occur on April 8, 2024. Personally, I wouldn’t mind heading to Argentina in 2019. Anyone want to go?

Backyard Astronomy: Go outside and look up!

This is part of a continuing series on backyard astronomy. While there is no set frequency on the posts, you can find them (and the initial introduction) here.

I remember like it was yesterday when I saw the Milky Way for the first time. My dad and I were camping, and as we sometimes did, we camped with only the stars as our tent and the granite Sierras as our floor. Looking up, far from city lights, I observed a multitude of stars strewn across the night sky, taking my breath away. Then, over in one section of the dark expanse of the universe I saw it:a band of faint but certainly discernible light touched by darker splotches, both extending across the night sky, almost as if someone had taken a cosmic milk bottle and spilled it on the canvas of the cosmos.

800px-ESO-VLT-Laser-phot-33a-07

Image of the night sky above Paranal on 21 July 2007, taken by ESO astronomer Yuri Beletsky. A wide band of stars and dust clouds, spanning more than 100 degrees on the sky, is seen. This is the Milky Way, the Galaxy we belong to. At the centre of the image, two bright objects are visible. The brightest is the planet Jupiter, while the other is the star Antares. By ESO/Y. Beletsky [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Astronomy does not start with expensive telescopes or fancy software. As I used to tell my English students, the best way to get started in one’s journey with the stars is to get away from the lights and look up. Only by using your own two eyes, unaided by any equipment, can you get a true idea of the sheer immensity of the universe. Well, you may not even get a true idea, but you might get an inkling!

So what happens if someone comes to me and says they are interested in studying astronomy? Here is what I would tell them:

  • First, shelf the plans for buying a telescope. You won’t need it for at least a year, although a good pair of binoculars will come into the picture before then.
  • Second, buy a planisphere. These hand-held charts are portable and should be part of the toolkit for any budding astronomer. Find a size that suits you, and make sure it corresponds to your viewing area! Case in point: when I travel to Mexico for language immersion this summer, I need a different planisphere than if I were back at the seminary in Oregon. The planisphere will help you to identify many common objects in the night sky and help you to grow more comfortable in navigating the cosmos.
  • Third, find a small flashlight and cover it with red transparent film. This will help your eyes stay adjusted, as it can take up to 30 minutes for our eyes to grow accustomed to the dark skies. One stray beam of unfiltered light can hamper, or even restart, that process. Use it to view the planisphere, or write in your journal (more on that in a later post).
  • Fourth: Find a comfortable viewing area that gives you a wide-open view if the sky, unhampered by trees AND city lights. Bring some snack and water too, and if it’s winter, don’t forget to dress warmly! If you want to stay off the ground, bring a reclining lawn chair or something similar; the idea is to stay comfortably while you look up for extended periods of time. The light issue is something that is increasingly difficult to overcome as urban sprawl and development continues unabated. Many of my students had never even been stargazing, much less seen the Milky Way!
  • Contact a local astronomy club! Even if you don’t plan on joining the club’s viewing parties, their websites often include tips for local viewing, even providing directions to particularly lucrative observation locations.
  • Finally, share it with someone! Whether it is the local astronomy club as mentioned above, a close friend, significant other, or even an online community, amateur astronomy can bring a lifetime of enjoyment, and what better way to experience the fullness of that enjoyment than by sharing it with like-minded individuals? When we share our experiences, we not only can help teach others, but we can gain new insights ourselves.

Notice how I made no mention of apps or other software. For now, stay away from them, at least while you are actually outside observing! For your first few trips, grow familiar with the night sky by just using the planisphere, rather than relying on technology. When you move on to binoculars or telescopes, it will make your viewing much easier and more enjoyable. I am not saying to never use star-finder apps, just don’t use them yet And by all means, use the internet for research before heading out. If you do end up using a phone app, however, make sure it has a a “red filter” mode or something similar, so as not to disrupt your night vision, and turn off any automatic lock screens and timers that will cause your phone to exit the app, again, for the same reason. See how much simpler it would be without the technology, at least when you are getting started?

There you have it: 6 steps to taking your first foray into night-sky viewing and amateur astronomy; next I will talk a bit about equipment. If you have any questions, comments, or anything to add, let me know. Until then, keep looking up!

Pax.

Bill Nye and the Loss of the Liberal Arts

Bill NyeThis past week, Bishop Robert Barron published a critique on a recent video posted by Bill Nye, known to us millennials as The Science Guy. In the video, Nye answers a question from a philosophy student (full disclosure: I have a degree in philosophy) who asks whether or not philosophy is still relevant. Nye answers in the negative, and while he provides one or two salient points (such as the fact a career in philosophy is not exactly lucrative, but most people going into it know that anyway), for the most part, he misses the point entirely; it’s quite clear that he is outside his field of expertise. While I think that Bishop Barron does take some of Nye’s examples too seriously, I whole-heartedly agree with the Bishop’s main point: Nye fails to realize that in order to truly flourish as a society, we need philosophy, and the other liberal arts, to teach us about beauty, truth, and the intrinsic value of the human person. As Bishop Barron points out:

Father BarronThe physical sciences can reveal the chemical composition of ink and paper, but they cannot, even in principle, tell us anything about the meaning of Moby Dick or The Wasteland. Biology might inform us regarding the process by which nerves stimulate muscles in order to produce human action, but it could never tell us anything about whether a human act is morally right or wrong. Optics might disclose how light and color are processed by the eye, but it cannot possibly tell us what makes the Sistine Chapel Ceiling beautiful. Speculative astrophysics might tell us truths about the unfolding of the universe from the singularity of the Big Bang, but it cannot say a word about why there is something rather than nothing or how contingent being relates to non-contingent being. How desperately sad if questions regarding truth, morality, beauty, and existence qua existence are dismissed as irrational or pre-scientific.

Science is, indeed, a critical and necessary part of our lives. Without science, we would still be in an age that equated astronomy with astrology and chemistry with alchemy. We cannot, however, throw out philosophy and the other liberal arts. As Bishop Barron points out later in the article, without these disciplines, we wouldn’t “know anything about how to live a decent life, how to differentiate between the sublime and the mundane, how to recognize God.” I have great respect for Bill Nye. He taught me a lot about investigative science when I was a kid, and now as CEOt of the Planetary Society, he has done a lot of good work to increase awareness of the need for planetary exploration. That said, he certainly does not understand philosophy or the value of the liberal arts.

While our lives would be dark and perhaps even more dangerous without science, so too would they be dreary, boring, and meaningless without philosophy, without literature, without a study of the human person in all its glory and brokenness, without a recognition of the good, true, and beautiful.

Science, specifically astronomy, pointed me in the direction of faith, but it could only go so far. In the end, it was these other disciplines, and most of all Divine Grace, that carried me the rest of the way. I suppose Bill Nye would see that as trite and perhaps a bit deluded. That’s OK.

Come to think of it, Grace carried me the entire way from the beginning, because it was probably by His grace that the first book I ever checked out from the library was a book on the solar system, initially piquing my interest in the larger universe. Then, years later, He would draw me closer to Him through the recognition of that same beauty I could see through the telescope was created by Goodness itself, with His Son by my side the whole time, waiting for me to open my heart to the promptings of the Spirit so that I might come to faith and trust in Him.

Pax.

You can see the original video here. 

Find more from Bishop Barron and his Word on Fire Ministries here.

Social Networks, Nanobots, and the Dignity of the Human Person

We just recently took part in a two-day symposium here at the seminary looking at the place of technology and social media in our lives, what it means for our ministries, and the impact that it may have on our future. While I hope to write a longer post in the coming days regarding the symposium, I will say that we covered many topics with our presenters, Sr. Mary Timothy Fokes, FSE, and Fr. William Holtzinger of the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon, ranging from social networking to nanotechnology to artificial intelligence, and even the integration of technology and the human mind itself. I just stumbled upon this article focusing on a recent interview of Ray Kurzweil by Neil deGrasse Tyson, one of the authors from which Sr. Timothy derived her research. Fascinating and thought provoking…

From the article:

When I talk about computers reaching human levels of intelligence, I’m not talking about logical intelligence…It is being funny, and expressing a loving sentiment… That is the cutting edge of human intelligence.

The question with which we will be faced: how do we maintain the dignity of the human person in this rapidly evolving world and what can we personally do to achieve this goal, no matter what the technology? I am certainly not saying there is no answer to this question, I am simply saying that we need to keep it at the forefront as we develop these technologies!

Be sure to check out the article and accompanying video of the interview with Kurzweil and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson!

Pax.

Stephen Colbert, Brian Greene, and Gravity Waves

I know I am a bit late in posting this, but last month, Albert Einstein was proven correct once again (but who’s really surprised at that?): gravitational waves were detected by LIGO, he Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory. This is a huge discovery for the field of physics, one that promises to send ripples through science for decades to come (pun intended).

The waves detected by LIGO are the result of two black holes rotating around each other, leading to an eventual merger. But what does all of this mean? If you recall from high school physics, Einstein said in his general theory of relativity that space-time was similar to a giant rubber sheet. Gravity then is simply the various heavenly bodies resting on that sheet, causing indentations, or distorting the fabric of space-time itself. Einstein predicted further that when two massive bodies rotate around each other, ripples would then be sent out in space-time, similar to the ripples you see in a pond when you skip a rock. These waves are important for the same reason that we study seismic activity in the Earth: as seismic waves in the Earth allow us to form a picture of the interior of our planet, so too would these gravitational waves allow us to study areas of the universe that we are otherwise unable to observe.

But don’t take my word for it; let an actual astrophysicist, Brian Green of Elegant Universe fame, explain the whole thing, with a bit of help from Stephen Colbert:

Looking forward to the discoveries to come in the years ahead!

Pax.

Backyard Astronomy: Getting Started

Note: Regular readers may notice some changes. Please hang in there while the dust settles; I will be posting an update on said changes (including background on the new address and blog title) this weekend. You can still expect reflections on faith, literature, and current events, but I also want to include more science (and specifically astronomy) based content as well. As always, I reserve the right to post as frequently or infrequently as needed, due to my primary duties and busy schedule as a seminarian and graduate student in Theology. Pax.

 

When I heard the learn’d astronomer, 
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me, 
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, 
   and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with
   much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time, 
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

-“When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” by Walt Whitman

Telescope

I hate to break it to ya, but you will be starting with something a bit more modest – your own two eyes. Photo by User Ericd on en.wikipedia (GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

A few people have asked me how to get involved in astronomy. I am no expert by any means, but I am also happy to help people get started on the journey. After all, astronomy helped me in my own faith journey, and continues to be a profound inspiration for me to this day. So when someone expresses an interest in discovering the secrets of our endless universe, I jump at the chance to be a guide, however imperfect. To be honest, that is one of the reasons* for this blog: I hope to show people that the sciences like astronomy and religious faith are not mutually opposed. Here are a few things I have learned over the years about getting started in astronomy:

Go outside and look up – Often times when we get involved in astronomy, we want to go out and buy a telescope, expecting to unlock the mysteries of the cosmos. This is probably the worst thing you could do, and will likely destroy your new hobby. Just go outside and look, and I don’t mean step outside for a few minutes and say, “oooh, that’s nice, time for some hot chocolate.” No, bundle up, get comfortable, and really look. Find objects in the sky that interest you. Jot down their location by identifying familiar constellations.  Try to get away from light pollution too (take a look at the International Dark-Sky Association for more info).

Don’t go off and buy expensive equipment at the start – I already mentioned it above, but seriously, don’t go out and buy the Celestron NexStar 8SE telescope, even if you can afford it, at least not yet (after all, it is pretty nice). Your own two eyes are just fine to start with, and eventually, you can upgrade to a good pair of binoculars. One useful piece of equipment that you can invest in now (for only 10 bucks) is a planisphere, an adjustable hand-held star chart. Make sure you purchase one that corresponds to your area though! There are also many useful apps that you can get for free or relatively cheap.

Share it with someone – Astronomy becomes even more fun when you are with someone. You can compare notes and help one another notice things that perhaps the other person did not notice there before. It’s also great to just geek out about what you saw while warming up over the afore-mentioned cup of hot chocolate after a night of productive star-gazing. You are likely to find astronomy clubs almost anywhere, and many of them are more than eager to help newbies get started.

Read and write – Read read read! The internet of course is a great resource to stay alert to current astronomical events and new breakthroughs. You should also venture down to the local bookstore and library and peruse their selection of astronomy books. There are many fine works out there to get you started. One important aspect of astronomy that I think is often overlooked by the budding backyard sky watcher is journaling. Whenever you go outside and look at the stars, right down what you see! Take notes, draw pictures, give details about the conditions. The more detailed the better, and it will help hone your observational skills.

Be patient – Astronomy is not a sport of the impatient. Some nights you will see countless wonders that leave you breathless, and others you will see a grey rain cloud covering up that planet or nebula you were hoping to catch, and that’s OK. The important thing is to keep at it and to not get discouraged.

Google will provide many resources on getting started in astronomy, and many of the articles provide similar advice, but I have found these sites to be particularly helpful:

Over the next few months, I will provide more detailed posts on each of the topics above, such as explaining the various types of telescopes and some methods for astronomical observations and journaling. These will be including among the more faith-based topics I cover and an occasional review here and there, as well as some newsy items. I currently carry a full load of graduate courses, so I can’t promise a timeline, but my own love for things otherworldly will motivate me to write, and I hope that I can guide one or two people in their first steps into this amazing world. Until then…

Pax.

On the Journey: Moving with the Torrent

Note: Regular readers may notice some changes. Please hang in there while the dust settles; I will be posting an update on said changes (including background on the new address and blog title) this weekend. You can still expect reflections on faith, literature, and current events, but I also want to include more science (and specifically astronomy) based content as well. As always, I reserve the right to post as frequently or infrequently as needed, due to my primary duties and busy schedule as a seminarian and graduate student in Theology. Pax.

Augustine’s Confessions: Book I, Chapter 16

But we are carried away by custom to our own undoing and it is hard to struggle against the stream. Will this torrent ever dry up? How much longer will it sweep the sons of Adam down to that vast and terrible sea which cannot easily be passed, even by those who climb upon the ark of the Cross?Confessions I.16

Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings; for it is well that the heart be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited their adherents. -Hebrews 13.9

Bhs_int_classroom_la

Not for the faint of heart! Photograph of Battlefield High School, taken 2 Feb. 07 by K.D. Reeves. Public domain, free for public use and consumption. Complies with Prince William County School photo use guidelines. Via Wikimedia Commons

Being a teacher is tough. I know. Even though I was not in education any great amount of time, I worked in both the private and public systems. My experience ranged from being an assistant in a program that welcomed students with the most difficult situations and histories to teaching English in a small Catholic school.

Yes, teaching is tough. As a teacher, you are left with the responsibility of forming young minds, of helping them grow and become well-formed individuals. Your job extends far beyond school hours. The Lord knows how many late nights I spent up as a teacher! It is not for the faint of heart, for teaching is one of the greatest tasks a person can undertake.

And yet, there are teachers out there who lead their students astray. Whether through imposing their own personal ideologies or teaching outright error inside the classroom or outside the classroom, it is sad to note that some teachers do not lead their students down the right path, and this is what Augustine speaks about in this week’s passage. He recognizes that many of his instructors not only taught contraditions, but taught outright error as well. I know that many reading this may think that surely it is not so bad today (even I bristle at all of this), but I wouldn’t be so fast to make that assumption. While I have been blessed to work with some of the most gifted educators who deserve far more credit than they have received (specifically those in the Catholic school and those who worked with students who experienced Emotional Disturbance), I have also recognized that many parts of the system are broken, particularly in public schools. False ideologies trump truth and more money is thrown at the problem, rather than trying to spend the existing money more responsibly.

Educators have a lot of hard work ahead of them, and we need to pray for those dedicated teachers who seek to teach and form their students properly! But, that’s not what this post is about. This post is about the student…

Christ the Teacher icon

Christ the Teacher Icon

Augustine recognizes that even though some of his teachers led him down wrong paths, he was more than willing to follow them: “It is true that I learned all these things gladly and took a sinful pleasure in them. And for this very reason I was called a promising boy” (I.16). Augustine acknowledges that even though teachers have a certain responsibility, so to do the students. As we journey on the spiritual path, we should and must look to others for guidance. But those whom we seek need to be well-founded in the truth.

Let’s look at science: would you trust an established scientist who presents peer-reviewed research, or the guy selling snake oil or other “get well quickly” schemes in order to treat an illness? Would you look to an experienced cosmologist to teach you about the universe or the conspiracy theorist who sees shadows around every corner?

But what about our faith? How does all of this apply to Christianity? As Catholics, we have the authority of the Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium. Clinging to the Word of God, looking to the history of the Church, and allowing ourselves to be rightly guided by our shepherds, we can grow closer to the Lord. Some practical ways to do all of this are to read Scripture daily, study the lives of the saints, and get to know the Catechism. In the next few days, I will pass along some helpful hints on reading Scripture and staying with it.

There is one true teacher, but we as students must choose to follow Him.

Questions for reflection:

  • What can I do to better inform myself about my faith?
  • Have I allowed myself to be carried away by strange teachings?

This is part of a continuing series, Companions on the Journey, which travels along with a particular companion in the spiritual life, one of the great saints, in order discover how some of their writings might be applicable to our everyday lives. Currently, we are traveling with Augustine of Hippo through his work, Confessions. You can take a look at previous posts in the series or read the introduction.

On the Journey: Bad Grades and Prideful Students

Augustine’s Confessions: Book I, Chapters 13-15

(I will provide a link to an online translation next week; my usual source seems to be down at the moment. Although for my personal use and for these reflections, I am using this translation.)

“O God, You are the Light of my heart, the Bread of my inmost soul, and the Power that weds my mind and the thoughts of my inmost heart.” (I.13)

I've always had my head buried in a book. Especially these books...

I’ve always had my head buried in a book. Especially these books…

When I was in high school, I was a horrible student. OK, in elementary and middle school too… But I just was not interested in the subjects being taught! Instead of learning my multiplication tables, I wanted to study the stars. Instead of learning how to tell the difference between passive and active sentences, I wanted to read Sherlock Holmes. Instead of studying the rise and fall of the Roman Empire from a textbook, I wanted to read first-hand accounts of the people who were there.

How prideful of me!

But as one who used to teach in a classroom, it prepared me for encountering the same difficulties in my own students, and I can certainly identify with the struggles that St. Augustine expresses in this week’s reading: he preferred the great stories over learning the basics of reading, writing, and math. He thought he knew what was best for his education, rather than defer to the wisdom of those who had gone before him.

How often do we think we know what is best without deferring to the such wisdom? I wonder how often that happens when we struggle against God, trying to make manifest our own will instead of his?! Again, there’s that ugly pride popping up again…

This picture says it all. We must get back to basics! Painting by Caravaggio - "Saint Jerome" Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

This picture says it all. We must get back to basics!
Painting by Caravaggio – “Saint Jerome” Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

We are sometimes given tasks that we don’t want to do, especially when we are young. We want to venture out into the world, and yet we forget that we have barely left our front yard. In all things, however, we need to start of with the basics. Whether mathematics, English, science, or history, we have to build upon a firm foundation. This reality is no less true for the spiritual life. We must build a firm foundation first. Even though we may “prefer more empty romances to more valuable studies” (Confessions I.13), that does not mean we can eschew these studies, for even though we may prefer quantum mechanics to 1+1, 1+1 has in itself its own mysteries, and is vital for us in the pursuit of knowledge.

I think, however, that there is a deeper truth that Augustine is trying to express here, namely that we must begin with God first, for He must be our foundation. Whether we are budding astronomers, intrepid historians, or the next great American novelist, all that we do is naught without Him, for it is through Him that we receive our foundation, our bearing, and our purpose. Before all else, we need to focus on our relationship with Him, then everything will fall into place.

In other words, we need to focus on our multiplication facts before moving on to differential calculus.

I think it is best to end with this prayer from the conclusion of Confessions I.15:

“Grant my prayer, O Lord, and do not allow my soul to wilt under the discipline which you prescribe. Let me not tire of thanking you for your mercy in rescuing me from all my wicked ways, so that you may be sweeter to me than all the joys which used to tempt me; so that I may love you most intensely and clasp your hand with all the power of my devotion; so that you may save me from all temptation until the end of my days.”

Amen.

Questions for reflection:

  • Who or what is the foundation in my life? Is it God or is it someone/something else?
  • What can I do to better learn about the Lord and His action in my life?

This is part of a continuing series, Companions on the Journey, which travels along with a particular companion in the spiritual life, one of the great saints, in order discover how some of their writings might be applicable to our everyday lives. Currently, we are traveling with Augustine of Hippo through his work, Confessions. You can take a look at previous posts in the series or read the introduction.

Finding Meaning in Life

I came across a quote by Neil deGrasse Tyson recently that has me thinking:

The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things in life like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people in life recognize that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation. For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.

This broad panorama of the Carina Nebula, a region of massive star formation in the southern skies, was taken in infrared light using the HAWK-I camera on ESO's Very Large Telescope. Many previously hidden features, scattered across a spectacular celestial landscape of gas, dust and young stars, have emerged. Picture: ESO/T. Preibisch

This broad panorama of the Carina Nebula, a region of massive star formation in the southern skies, was taken in infrared light using the HAWK-I camera on ESO’s Very Large Telescope. Many previously hidden features, scattered across a spectacular celestial landscape of gas, dust and young stars, have emerged. Picture: ESO/T. Preibisch

I am a huge fan of Tyson. He has done a great deal to further science education and awareness. Despite some misgivings about his portrayal of the Church in his remake of Cosmos, which is probably the result of Seth MacFarlane more than Tyson himself, I have seen every episode. I also listen to his podcast, StarTalk, regularly. So when I read this quote, I thought, “That sounds nice. It makes sense. We are responsible for our own destinies.” But something wasn’t quite working for me. While the sentiment was nice, there was something missing. I agree with Tyson’s thought that we should constantly be learning, and work towards lessening the suffering of others. His statement on how we create our own love and meaning, however, gives me pause.

The answer to my misgivings is best expressed in Sunday, May 18th’s, reading from the Gospel of St. John:

Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where I am going you know the way.” Thomas said to him, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

In some sense, Tyson is right; we must work to create love and meaning in our lives. That love, however, does not originate from ourselves. The love, the meaning we find in life, is in Jesus Christ. He is the only “way” that can give us true meaning and fulfillment. In His “truth” we find the reality of love, and the power of mercy and forgiveness. In His “life” we discover our vocation to holiness. Tyson is correct when he says love and meaning cannot be found behind a tree or a under a rock. In fact, they cannot even be found in studying astrophysics and piecing together the secrets of the cosmos, a pursuit which I have enjoyed following since I was a young child.

The pursuit of learning and scientific truth remains laudable, and can carry a person far in life, but it cannot carry a person to the fullness of truth; they are but roads to Truth. The love and meaning that Tyson speaks of, whether we realize it or not, comes from a journey with something greater than ourselves. This something, rather someONE, brings us to the fullness of Truth, the Word of God.

Study the world. Study the universe, but remember that the true meaning of life goes much deeper.

Pax et bonum.

PS: There’s a new post over at Consider Priesthood. Check it out!

It’s the end of the world as we know it…

Or not.

On a side note, I highly recommend checking out more of Dr. Tyson’s work. I may disagree with him in regards to religion, but as far as astrophysics goes, he is humorous and engaging, bringing difficult concepts to the people and enlivening their interest in the development of science and technology.

Anyways, on to the point at hand…

I came from a New Age and Pagan background before being baptized in 2005, and so I am well versed in a lot of these subjects. Planet Nibiru/X, the shift to a higher consciousness, psychic energies, and enlightenment in the “aquarian” sense were all very much a part of my life and study for several years. I devoured any books that I could find, and I really believed some of this stuff. Coast to Coast AM was my favorite radio show (actually, I do still listen to it except when there are more…outlandish…guests on the air).

But I eventually found that these theories did not hold up. They did not make sense. There was no “proof” to their validity. Around the same time, I came in contact with the Church, and while that is a much more in depth story, the rest is, as they say, history. In fact, it was my love of subjects such as theoretical physics and quantum theory that helped to draw me closer to the faith. In their beauty, I found the imprint of the Creator of the Universe. I found real Truth in the Faith.

But I digress, as usual. I can hear some people now: “Well Catholicism doesn’t have proof either!” No, it doesn’t. At least not the empirical evidence that our society seeks. The evidence is there, if one is willing to open his or her heart to it. Picking up a history book or two doesn’t hurt either. In the case of the Doomsday supporters, however, there is literally no evidence. Everything they have put forward has been disproven and is not well-researched. The Mayan calendar ending? That’s just a coincidence. The Mayans themselves didn’t believe that the world would end. The alignment with the galactic core? As Dr. Tyson points out, that happens every year. Planet X? There is not a shred of gravitational or other types of evidence to say that there is a rogue planet barreling down on us right now. Besides, we would have already felt the effects of it (extreme tides submerging San Francisco, anyone?).

We need to stop worrying about all of these end-times theories  Only the Lord knows when the world will end. What we must worry about is our lives as they are right now. Are we striving to love God and neighbor? Do we reach out to others, and work to deepen our relationship with Him? All of our actions, even the most mundane daily activities, should strive toward these goals, toward this Love.

But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man. Then two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left. Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Matt. 24:36-44)

My prophecy? Just like this guy, the doomsday prophets will pull back and make new “predictions” on December 22. May the Lord grant us the grace to seek Him in all things…

Pax et bonum.