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.
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.”
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: www.vaticanobservatory.org. 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!
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)
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!