This post is a follow-up for the participants of FAW II. Nevertheless, our regular readers are more than welcome to “eavesdrop” on this post to learn what we discussed at our Workshop. On Tuesday, January 12th, I gave a presentation on how I have tried to integrate the exploration of faith and astronomy into my priestly ministry (both in terms of what worked and what hasn’t worked). I hope these notes not only remind the participants at FAW II of the major themes of my presentation, but may also spark your own applications, allowing the exploration of faith and astronomy to enrich your ministry/profession.
1. Take some time in prayer and reflect on what motivates you when it comes to faith and astronomy.
Since my primary responsibility as a priest is to be the Pastor of St. Joseph Parish and StoutCatholic in Menomonie, Wisconsin, the exploration of faith and astronomy is a “hobby” (admittedly, a very active hobby). Therefore, since the participants of FAW represent a diversity of ministries and professions, I would encourage all who are interested to reflect on how your passion for faith and astronomy can become a life-giving hobby in your life. Central to this reflection is to avoid the trap of thinking that what I or someone else does with faith and astronomy is the only or best way of approaching the subject matter. I have been able to find what works for me and keeps me interested. In light of this, my first question for you to reflect upon is simply this: What motivates you when it comes to faith and astronomy?
2. Assess your gifts, strengths, weaknesses, and ministerial responsibilities to see if there are ways you can explore faith and astronomy as a part of your ministry/profession.
After last year’s FAW, I took some time to assess how my talents could be best applied to the pursuit of faith and astronomy. In that assessment, I had to be honest about my areas of weakness to ensure that I could speak about faith and astronomy from a standpoint of confidence. From there, I assessed my assignment and reflected on the ministerial needs of my parish, looking for logical opportunities to explore faith and astronomy. Below is a recap of some of my successes:
a. The development of a sub-committee of Social Justice to focus on Ecology.
Though it is not explicitly about faith and astronomy, Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si’ definitely explores themes of faith and science. One of my parishioners was heavily involved in local “green energy” movements and was the logical person to tap to develop a sub-committee of Social Justice that focused on Ecology (this was while I was still in La Crosse). The committee has explored how to make the parish more ecological conscious and provides helpful hints to embrace the simplified life Pope Francis calls us to live, seeking to avoid the “throw away culture.”
b. Public Presentation: Faith and Science – Fight or Fusion?
I was blessed to have one of the top Chemistry professors at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse, Dr. Curt Czerwinski, as a parishioner of my previous parish. Together, we did a tandem presentation on faith and science from the perspectives of a Chemist and a Catholic Priest. Below is a video of our presentation.
c. Developed a teacher inservice for the faculty of our prek-6 grade school at St. Joseph Parish on the subject of faith and science.
As part of my new assignment as Pastor of St. Joseph Parish, we have a prek-6 grade school. Every year, the school administration is to provide a Teacher Inservice to help update their religious certification with the Diocese of La Crosse. Since I have been a presenter at other inservice events in the past, I put together a day of reflection for our Catholic school teachers, discussing how they could help their students explore faith and science. The day was a wonderful success! Below is a link to a post I did on the inservice, providing follow-up materials for our teachers and now for you!
d. Student Supper Presentation With Our College Students: Presenting the Ecological Vision of Pope Francis.
This presentation went well, but the overall student feedback was that it was to general and needed more specifics – less theoretical and more practical. This was a good reminder for me that any Encyclical put forward by a Pope needs to be grounded in everyday life. Therefore, if I ever give this presentation again, I will need to focus upon more practical applications instead of philosophical and theological underpinnings. Below is a list of links to posts I have put together that deal with Laudato Si’.
Laudato Si’ – Post One: Overview
Laudato Si’ – Post Two: Intro. and Chapter One
Laudato Si’ – Post Three: Chapter Two
Laudato Si’ – Post Four: Chapters Three and Four
Laudato Si’ – Post Five: Chapter Five
Laudato Si’ – Post Six: Chapter Six
COP21: Understanding the Paris Climate Change Conference in Light of Laudato Si’
3. Becoming the Bridge Between Faith and Astronomy: Explorations of Humility, Awe, and Wonder.
If there is one thing that the exploration of faith and astronomy teaches us is that the more you learn about the world we live in, the more there is to learn about the world we live in. The same is true for theology, with a good example being the exploration of a topic we call Doctrine of God. To understand God means that we wade into an eternal sea of mystery, knowing that to grasp the full knowledge of God in this life is impossible. Nevertheless, we desire to explore God, just as our unthinkably large universe invites us to explore its expansive horizons. In both disciplines, we ultimately come to know more about what we don’t know than what we do know about God and the world. That being said, the personal limits we encounter in this exploration doesn’t mean that we learn nothing about God and the world. Quite to the contrary, we develop a deep understand of both faith and astronomy when we open our minds and hearts to this exploration. Nevertheless, this knowledge is also tempered by the reality of our smallness, realizing that, in material terms, we are less than a spec of dust in contrast to the known universe. Yet, it is our ability to know just how small we are that points to a sense of significance. This realization that the “spec of dust” can come to know the immensity of the universe points to a logical question: Why do we have this awareness in the first place?
From the standpoint of theology, these reflections thrust us into the heart of the spiritual life, calling us to “decrease so Christ may increase.” It is precisely in our smallness that we find our meaning. It is in our smallness that we discover Him who became “small” so that we, in turn, may be “lifted up.” Put another way, the smaller we become, the more God can illumine our mind and heart to know God’s love in our lives.
This pursuit of smallness leads us to the beginning of holiness: Fear of the Lord or Awe and Wonder. Often times, Awe and Wonder are associated with the liturgy, gazing in profound awe at the mystery of God being made present to us in the Eucharist. However, we can also stand in awe at the beauty of creation, witnessing its power, glory, beginnings, and ends. In this mystical gaze at the “canvas of creation,” we can reflect on the reality that just as the universe is majestic and beautiful, evoking a sense of awe and wonder in the human soul, how much more does the source of these wonders stir the soul to love of Him who is our Source and Summit? In this reflection, we begin to realize that the true “bridge” between faith and science isn’t a book we read or a conference we attend. Rather, we are the bridge, exploring the desire God has placed within human nature to create connections between this world and the Divine. Therefore, as you have returned to your ministries and professions, remember that bridging the gap between faith and astronomy does not occur in a vacuum, but it occurs in and through us as we explore fundamental questions of human existence. In the process, we discover a God who desires to be known, revealing to us the full extent of His love and mercy through Revelation and Reason through the study of the world we live in and profound moments of inspiration that transcend this world.
Thank you to the participants of FAW II. I pray you had a memorable experience. Take the lessons you learned from our week in Tucson and, together, let us explore faith and astronomy so we may come to know and encounter our Creator through the study of creation and God’s love in our lives.