I am not a very good golfer. It may come as a scandal to some that a Catholic Priest is not a scratch golfer, but the fact is that, though I enjoy the walk and the fresh air, keeping a score card simply leads to depression. As a “weekend golfer,” I enjoy the slightly uncharitable experience of watching PGA tournaments when the difficulty of the course promises scores that would look more like mine (if I kept score). Invariably, the winds end up being favorable to the players, the rains stay away, and a new course record is set, leaving some of us feeling a little disappointed that we didn’t see a colossal meltdown. However, there still is a reverential awe at the professional golfer because, even if we took a sinful delight at their six shots from the sand trap, we know just enough about golf to understand that the “bad” shots they made would be impossible for the weekend golfer to even attempt.
I thought of this experience while watching the Press Conference today for the New Horizons flyby of Pluto. Time and time again, I listened to professionals in astronomy answer questions from the media with: I don’t know, we didn’t expect this, and we’re going to have to wait in order to answer your question. As a hobby astronomer, there was a moment of “that’s how I feel when I try to answer people’s questions about astronomy,” similar to the guilty pleasure a weekend golfer will have watching a professional struggle on a Scottish links course. The interesting thing about the Press Conference, however, was that the scientists never looked discouraged, deflated, or defeated. Instead, their childlike excitement was so self-evident that, even though a lot of initial theories about Pluto and Charon appear to have bit the dust, there was joyfulness about the opportunity to explore a “new world.” Similar to the reverence a weekend golfer gives to a PGA pro, I came away with the same respect for the science team, realizing that their “I don’t know how to answer your question” moments came from a profound understanding of the world we live in and is far beyond any “fairway shot” I could accomplish.
When I look to apply this to faith, I am reminded of a thought from Br. Guy. He explains that when a scientist comes across a new discovery that questions a previously held idea, the scientist doesn’t throw up his hands and say, “I don’t believe in science anymore,” but, instead, experiences the excitement of “Wow, there’s something new here!” As people of faith, we can have our lives turned upside-down by experiences that make us question our faith, undoing what we initially thought was certain. Do we, as people of faith, have the excitement of the scientist to see this as an opportunity to see God and the world in a new way or do we throw in the towel on our faith life out of frustration? As we enjoy the continual discoveries that New Horizons presents to us, let us see in this exploration a call to deepen our faith in God, exploring questions that trouble the soul as a part of faith’s journey, not as the end of faith’s road. Enjoy the Press Conference!
*Important Note: In the Press Conference, the panel begins to give names to surface features of Pluto. If you are a fellow hobbyist, you may have fallen into the presumption that these names are now set in stone. Truth is, they are not set in stone. It is important to remember that all naming of surface features must go through an approval process with the IAU Committee. Therefore, similar to the “I don’t know” moments of the Press Conference, take the suggested names of surface features with a grain of salt.