It’s been a long, long time since I offered a “From the backyard” reflection. Part of the reason for this delay is the occupational hazard of all astro-buffs: Clouds! I can’t speak for other parts of the United States, but the cloud cover over Wisconsin has been epic. Clouds at this time of year are common for the badger state, but the transition from 2020 to 2021 has been a challenge for night sky lovers. Thankfully, the clouds broke the last couple nights and I finally was able to capture first light with my new duo-band filter (H-Alpha/OIII). As with all things, time will help me improve my images, but, for a first attempt, I’m pretty happy with the results!
Something I’ve come to quickly love about duo-band astrophotography is that you can still image deep sky images in a city that boasts a bortle class 6 sky (in other other words, we don’t see too many stars over head) and a waxing gibbous Moon. As a star gazing priest, my time to spend doing astrophotography is limited. Therefore, to be able to set up my gear just outside my house and still get nice results really helps keep the drive for astronomy alive!
I’ve started to work on a basic video of how I approach astrophotography. It isn’t going to be a “professional” approach by any means. It will simply be a, “How do I maximize the limited time I have to enjoy imaging the night sky.” I’ll share some links in those videos of amateur astrophotographers I have come to admire. When you see their results, you will have a hard time thinking of them as amateur, but what I love about them is they provide a glimpse into what this hobby can be for anyone with time, patience, humility, and a modest financial investment.
As I was imaging Orion, I couldn’t help but reflect on our world situation. My thoughts wandered in many directions, but always came back to the theme of gratitude for the emerging vaccines for Covid-19.
One of my stress points of late has been offering the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick to Covid-19 patients. For those of you who are not Catholic, the Anointing of the Sick is a Sacrament given to people who have a persistent illness that is life threatening. At the point of death, a special form of the Sacrament is given called Viaticum. It is a Sacrament that prepares a person who is actively dying to make life’s final journey: From death to eternal life.
Hospitals differ in their policies about non-medical personnel entering patient rooms. In Wisconsin, some of the hospitals have enough protective gear to allow clergy to visit patients at the point of death. I want to thank the staffs of Mayo Hospital and Marshfield Hospital in Eau Claire who take such good care of clergy to ensure, to the best of their ability, our safety with these visits. Seeing the worst of Covid-19 in the hospital room is an experience I pray none of you ever have. Though the optics of a Covid-19 death is far different from the physical trauma of an emergency room surgery, the emotional trauma of helplessness is something I’ve seldom experienced as a priest. I know I’ve shared this with you before, but, please, stay safe, follow the guidance of our health professionals, and let’s beat Covid-19!
As a result of clergy being allowed into emergency rooms, the Health Department determined that clergy of any tradition that are routinely called into Covid-19 situations should be in the early rounds of vaccinations. Last week, I received my first dose of the Moderna vaccine. So far, no side effects! However, there is an interesting range of emotions I am experiencing.
The night before I was to get vaccinated, I couldn’t sleep and was having this odd mix of stress, excitement, fear, and relief. Every emotion could be summarized with the thought, “Does this mean Covid-19 is starting to come to an end?” This question was greeting with an emotional “ping-pong” match of “yes” and “no.” “Yes” from the standpoint that I’m a couple months away from achieving a level of immunity from this disease. “No” from the standpoint that it’s going to be some time before we can achieve herd immunity, even with a large number of people being vaccinated. In light of this, I have made sure we add a petition at Mass every week for patience. We’re not out of the woods yet, but I am thankful that faint glimmers of hope are starting to emerge through the trees. If you have concerns about vaccination, talk with your primary care physician and seriously open your hearts to being vaccinated. God has blessed the medical sciences with the ability to uphold one of the core themes of Catholic Social Teaching: The health, welfare, and dignity of the human person. In that spirit, I want to thank every research scientist who has and will continue to work toward developing vaccines and treatments for Covid-19!
Needless, to say, there was a lot on my mind while capturing the image above. I so appreciate that God has made my heart passionate about the night sky. It filled me with wonder as a child and now provides peace and comfort to deal with the cultural and emotional trauma we are all experiencing with Covid-19.
Question for Prayer: I’ve asked this before, but how are you doing with finding healthy ways to deal with this pandemic? Could the night sky offer a chance to lift eyes that have been downcast? If you have clear skies tonight, enjoy the stars, reflect on your life, and ask God to continue to help us through these most difficult times.