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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

The Pope’s Astronomer

Scripture tells us that some people followed a star to find Jesus, the Son of God. People today are still following the stars to discover God. Here’s the story of one of them.

Did you know the Pope has his own astronomer? In a way. His name is Brother Guy Consolmagno, a native of Detroit, a graduate of MIT with a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Arizona, a former member of the Peace Corps, a Jesuit, and the director of the Vatican Observatory. Established in 1582, the VO (as it is called) was first located within the walls of Vatican City. But when light pollution got too bad, the VO was moved to Castel Gandolfo, the former papal summer residence. Today most of the VO’s research is conducted 100 miles east of Tucson, Arizona on Mt. Graham, one of the best places in the world for astronomical observation.

You might be wondering, why does the Vatican operate an Observatory? What’s the connection between star gazing and religion? To answer that, I went to the VO website (a fascinating place to visit!) It states that the VO’s mission is to conduct “astronomical research and public outreach to advance the scientific understanding of the universe.” The underlying belief seems to be that by discovering more about the cosmos, we can expand and deepen our knowledge of and relationship with God.

(Brother Guy with Pope Francis )

Br. Guy was recently interviewed in the Winter 2023 issue of The Occasional Papers, the publication of the National Conference of Women Religious. Br. Guy maintains that one essential quality of the scientific mind is “staying open.” He says, “You can only stay open to new concepts when you recognize that there are many ways of seeing things and that you don’t have all the answers.” Learning something new is more exciting “than to just have your old prejudice reinforced.” To possess such openness, Br. Guy says, you must have what he calls arrogant humility. “You have to be humble enough to know that you don’t know something, and arrogant enough to think that you can learn something new.” (I think “staying open” is an essential quality for all kinds of “professions”: engineers, doctors, parents, teachers, politicians, law enforcement personnel, theologians, writers, etc. Don’t you?)

During the interview, Br. Guy was asked: “How is it for you to relate to a Divine Presence that is so incredibly expansive, yet so intimate with us?” He answered that question by sharing a story by a British journalist named Emma Townshend. When she was growing up she had a wonderfully close relationship with her dad. He traveled a lot, and when he returned, his family was always so happy to see him again. To Emma, her dad was a rock star. When she was about 11, she discovered that her dad was actually a real rock star, Peter Townshend, the lead guitarist in The Who. He was going out playing before millions of people all over the world. And yet, when he came home, he was her dad. Br. Guy sees a parallel with our relationship with God. He says, “God attends to me personally (as well as the other eight billion people on Earth and all the other beings in the multiverse, because that’s what you do when you are infinite); and God’s also the superstar who actually created all of this.”

Pope Paul VI talking to the Apollo 11 astronauts on the moon.

Br. Guy was asked how he personally copes with the existence of evil. He said, “What I have learned from my life as an astronomer is that we need the dark to see the light of the stars–and we need a very dark sky to see the faintest of the stars. The temptation is to turn the night into day.” I thought, how true! Sometimes we need the darkness, the pain, the sorrow in our lives to perceive the light of goodness, beauty, and truth we might not have detected without the darkness.

At the end of the interview, Br. Guy welcomed the readers to visit the Vatican Observatory online: He added, “We have an extensive library of videos and essays that link faith and science, and especially astronomy, that I would love for people to see.” So, consider this a personal invitation from the Pope’s very own Astronomer!

For reflection:

Is there anything in today’s reflection that caught your attention?

Do you think operating an Observatory is something the Church should or should not be doing? Why?

How would you answer that question posed to Br. Guy: “How do you personally cope with the existence of suffering?

P.S. A friend of mine received this little Advent prayer from the Shalem Institute. She was surprised when she saw the author. I too was surprised when I saw the author!

May our slowing down this Advent

be our gentle protest against the violence of our rushing world.

May our slowing down give quiet, steady, witness to the values of

attentiveness, carefulness, patience, receptivity, stillness.

May our slowing down enable us to make real and meaningful connections

with people, nature, work, art and (most importantly)

with God.

Melannie Svoboda, SND

I’m offering two videos for you today. The first is an award winning video about Brother Guy and the Vatican Observatory entitled “The Pope’s Astronomer.” I found it fascinating–and it’s only 13.5 minutes long! I hope you’ll be able to “slow down” enough this Advent to enjoy it! The second video is a song “Majestic” by Aaron Shust. It is based on Psalm 8 and includes some breath-taking pictures of our star-studded night sky.

Meet Br. Guy Consolmagno in this informative and delightful video:

It’s easy to pray along with this song of praise…

Would you like to comment below about anything in today’s blog? Our readers really enjoy hearing from other readers!

21 Responses

  1. Good morning, Sr. Melannie,
    Good morning, all!

    What a gift you’ve given us! There’s that verse from the psalms, “Justice and peace” shall kiss. Brother Guy would say, “Science and faith shall embrace.” Many think faith precludes science. Not at all, at least not with Catholics. I shall share this blog post from the rooftops!

    PS: Such a beautiful Advent prayer!

  2. How wonderful a post and how timely with the peak of the Gemini’s Meteor shower this Wednesday!
    God bless and thank you for your weekly reflections.❤️

  3. We have a Great Courses with brother Guy. It was fascinating and reinforced my belief that we have an awesome God. Thanks for you post and beautiful Advent prayer

  4. Thank you for this early Christmas gift Sister. I never knew of the Pope’s astronomer or of the Vatican Observatory. I have been participating in a Catechism study this year and with it drawing to an end we were challenged with planning something prayer – full to begin in the New Year . I will be visiting the VO for sure and look forward to the materials offered. Thank you for this. And your prayer is lovely

  5. As I understand the big bang from my reading, it all started with a tiny dot of tremendous density and energy, from which came the elements and atoms that formed the stars of the entire cosmos, and from the star dust, our earth and all that is in it, including ourselves, over the course of 15 billion years. What an amazing God who designed and created all of this so that we can learn about it and give glory to God for it. Thank you, astronomers, for helping us to know a little bit about God’s creativity, and thank you Melannie for making us aware of the Vatican observatory website.

  6. I am so delighted to be receiving Sunflower Seeds in email again.
    Thanks so much.
    This one on science is exceptional…..
    God bless….

  7. I’ve always been humbled by the night sky since I was a kid growing up on Catawba! It is so dark and clear that you could see forever. Even before I became Catholic I wondered how you could look at such beauty and not believe in God!!! My friend and I still go out and watch meteors when there are meteor showers and I often go out at night to watch and look for the satellites among the stars. What a marvelous way to think about God’s goodness while watching the night sky. I’ve been to Kitt Observatory (I think that’s what it is called) in Arizona …and amazing place…
    This was a wonderful video!

  8. I was thinking of Cosmic Christ. I always feel close to God when I see the stars. A contributor to Give Us This Day, like yourself, Sr. Melanie, works for the VO- Valerie something I think. What a wonderful (literally) job she and Br. Guy are blessed to have.

  9. I had no idea that there was/is a Vatican astronomer! This post and the video were so inspiring, exciting, moving. Thank you.

  10. Grateful, again, for a Monday morning moment to pause! The theme of light and darkness abounds in the pages of scripture! Here are a few verses to illuminate the steps on our path.

    Jesus said, “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in Me may not remain in darkness.” John 12:46

    In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood (overcome) it. John 1:4-5

    Even the darkness will not be dark to You; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to You. Psalm 139:12

    And of the New Jerusalem to come: The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. Revelation 21:23

    May Jesus, the Light of the World, shine on us all in this season and always.

  11. Today I am grateful that I am finally receiving your emails again!!!

    I shared the blog with my husband today who loves all things astronomy and space.

    This was lovely, thank you as always.

  12. I had a CALTECH PhD as my physics instructor in college who was also a priest and he definitely impressed me with the agreement of science and religion. Thank you for this lively segment.

  13. I love your blog. I have been to one of your retreats years ago at Ascension, Kettering, OH. I am subscribed to Give Us This Day and read your reflection on Dec 13, which so happens to be my beloved mother’s birthday. Saw that you wrote it and came to your blog about the Vatican conservatory. I’m praying that this post will get my fallen away Catholic children will think again about their faith. Please pray for them. Mark, Mary, Steven and Matthew. I believe I was suppose to read this today for a reason. Thx and God Bless, Carol

  14. I visited your blog for the first time this morning after reading your reflection in “Give Us This Day”. It will not be my last.
    Thank you and have a blessed day.

  15. I love the Advent prayer & the humbling song.

    The information on the Popes astronomer was so enlightening when you learn how to give praise to this part of creation!

    Thank you for this gift this week.

  16. This is the first Sunflower Seed blog that I’ve opened and I’m so happy that I did. I found the video so enlightening that I had to share it with my son who is a Catholic priest. He recalled his days in Seminary when he had to write a paper about religion and science. He actually contacted 2 priests who worked at the Arizona site and was able to interview them and learn of their work. Thank you Sister for bringing light to creation.

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Meet Sr. Melannie

Hi and welcome to my blog! I’m Sister Melannie, a Sister of Notre Dame residing in Chardon, Ohio, USA. I’ve been very lucky! I was raised in a loving family on a small farm in northeast Ohio. I also entered the SNDs right after high school. Over the years, my ministries have included high school and college teaching, novice director, congregational leadership, spiritual direction, retreat facilitating, and writing. I hope you enjoy “Sunflower Seeds” and will consider subscribing below. I’d love to have you in our “sunflower community.” Thank you!

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