Perhaps Catholicism’s love of tradition has rubbed off on my family. Maybe it’s because we’re packrats who refuse to throw much of anything away that attaches us to a past memory. Whatever the reason, my family has a history of patiently wading through hundreds of old family photographs, trying to preserve every memory of our lives by carefully archiving them in three ring bound scrapbooks.
Some of the pictures in these family archives bring about great joy, like family trips to Illinois to visit our favorite cousins. Other images evoke deep emotion, like the sense of adventure I feel every time I look at the picture of my grandmother trying to imitate Emilia Earhart, leaning against my childhood pastor’s airplane. Scrapbooks provide us with a clear, visual history of our lives. Yet, they also inspire our future as we prayerfully reflect on who we are by gazing upon images of who we have been.
Yesterday, Br. Guy posted a quick announcement that registration has opened for FAW2019! The Faith and Astronomy Workshop is a wonderful and unique opportunity for those who love their faith and love astronomy to explore these two passions as a part of a community of non-scientist clergy, laypeople, educators, and catechists. Since I have had the privilege of being involved with FAW from the beginning, it feels rewarding that we have enough history to do some FAW scrapbooking of our own, similar to how my family carefully catalogues our past!
The origins of FAW were simple. When I was ordained a priest back in 2003, I felt an inadequacy in my formation on issues of faith and science. Since I loved astronomy and knew of the Vatican Observatory, I contacted Fr. Coyne, then Director of the Observatory, to see if the VO offered any programs for the non-scientist? The answer was a polite no, emphasizing how the VO works primarily in post-doctoral astrophysics, but my idea was good and invited me to check back at a later date to see if anything new had arisen.
Ten years later, I finally got around to writing the follow-up e-mail. Fr. Coyne had retired, so I wrote Br. Guy, asking the same question. His first response brought a smile to my face, “Don’t wait ten years between e-mails!” His next response was humbling and invigorating, “We still don’t have any programs, but let’s make something!” And that something was the Faith and Astronomy Worship (FAW)!
For the first FAW, I was a participant and an annoyingly curious one at that! Br. Guy had told me to hold off on telling people why I was at FAW until my homily at the closing Mass. It was rather awkward when the participants that year would ask me, “So, how did you hear about FAW?” I often pondered how I could tactfully, but honestly answer, “I didn’t… I was there from the beginning!” Below is a write-up I did for our Diocesan newspaper on the first Faith and Astronomy Workshop, FAW2015.
In 2016, my role reversed at FAW. I went form being a participant at the Faith and Astronomy Workshop to being a presenter. After being invited by Br. Guy to write for The Catholic Astronomer, he asked if I would be willing to present at FAW2016 on how I integrate faith and astronomy into my parish work. As usual, I was so excited that I tried to put to much into my presentation, focused on the wrong things, and came away feeling like – that… didn’t go as well as I hoped. Still, the one point that many of the participants appreciated was when I shared with them, “This is not a program in which you will be spoon-fed tidy answers to questions on faith and science. Rather, you will be thrown into the world of professional astronomy and be asked to apply the faith you bring to these questions. In other words, YOU are the bride between faith and science as we share our thoughts and experiences with each other as a group!”
I think this little nugget of wisdom is important to keep in mind if you are considering going to FAW2019. If you are looking for a week of apologetics, thinking you will learn all the best answers to questions that atheists can throw at a Christian about faith and science, this probably isn’t the workshop for you.
Instead, if you embrace the Church’s tradition of embracing science and the mission of the Vatican Observatory that doing good science is part of being a good Catholic, then FAW2019 could very well be your workshop!
As conversations, prayer, and friendships develop over the week, your eyes will be opened anew to deeper and deeper questions about faith and science. To put it another way, you will probably come to realize that what you bring to FAW2019 as the pressing issues that interest you might give way to a whole new view of the relationship between faith and science you never knew existed!
To learn more about the Faith and Astronomy Workshop from 2016, I would encourage you to read some of the pieces done by Dennis Sadowski. Dennis joined us for FAW2016 and wrote some wonderful pieces on the workshop. Here are some links to his articles:
- Heavenly Mysteries: Questions of faith, science intersect at astronomy workshop.
- Connecting with cutting edge astronomy.
- Priests find comfort that in studying the universe, they come closer to God.
- This piece is not by Dennis, but a wonderful reflection by FAW Alumni Fr. Sauppe
FAW2017 was an interesting event for me. I came to the workshop rather tired. My Diocese was asking more from me in my ministerial work, making my energy reserves rather low for FAW that year. Still, it was a wonderful week of meeting new people, with new backgrounds, and were looking for different things than did the last FAW group. That’s one thing I find fascinating and hard to describe to people about FAW: Every event has been very different because the group dynamics were very different.
The easiest way I can try to explain this dynamic is from my experience as a high school teacher. Every year, each class I had was very, very different. I learned that the best of teachers can pick up on these differences and provide new experiences for their students while communicating the same information year after year. As I learned how to apply these tricks of the trade, I grew in my knowledge and understanding, being attentive to how my students needed to be approached in the process of learning. Why do I mention this in regard to FAW? Part of my excitement of coming back to FAW2019 as a presenter is the unknown of a new group dynamic that will be asking similar, but different questions. As we journey together, not only will I share my journey with them, but they will share their journey with me, inviting me to grow in my understanding of faith and science. In many ways, I go as both presenter and participant!
I could go on, but I’ll spare you the lengthy slideshow. I hate long, boring jaunts through someone else’s vacation just as much as the next person! Nevertheless, I hope this virtual tour through some of the highlights in my FAW scrapbook was helpful to give you a sense of what a faith and astronomy workshop is about!
In closing, I simply wish to invite you to prayerfully consider joining us in Tucson for FAW2019. It is a unique experience and a rare opportunity to journey alongside professional scientists from the Vatican Observatory and lay people who are friends to the Vatican Observatory Foundation. It will be a wonderful opportunity to explore your questions with the other participants as you search for your own bridges between faith and science. From this standpoint, part of the goal of FAW2019 is for you to see that the faith you bring is an essential part of this journey. And, as we pray together, we ask God to reveal to us, under the beauty of the starry nights of Arizona, a new appreciation of our common home and our place in this vast universe.
To get a taste of what a FAW presentation is like, I would invite you to watch the video below of Dr. Brenda Frye and Br. Guy. Dr. Frye has presented at FAW in the past on the subjects of dark matter and dark energy. They have always been some of my favorite presentations at each FAW! Enjoy and I hope to see you in Tucson!!