Environmental Spirituality: What Is The Meeting Point Between Faith and Creation?
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A subject that is rather taboo to bring up while discussing different expressions of Christian spirituality is Environmental Spirituality. As a Catholic who came of age in the late 80’s and early 90’s, the phrase Environmental Spirituality was synonymous with New Age spirituality that views the Earth and everything on it as an object of worship. This spiritual view is contrary to Christianity, condemned in 1864 by Pius IX. Considering this, most mainline Christians have an understandable hesitancy toward any talk of a spirituality in which the environment is the focal point. Nevertheless, the reason why certain teachings over history have come to be condemned is in part because there is something in them that touches upon a profound truth that is in need to be protected and clarified. For example, as I write this piece, I am watching a beautiful sunset from one of my favorite coffee houses in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. When beholding the beauty of sky, sun, … Continue reading

Arm Counting
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What does the Milky Way look like? Are there two spiral arms like our sister spiral galaxy Andromeda, or four? We cannot exactly get a “bird’s eye” view as the Galaxy is so vast that if we were to send a satellite out a useful vantage point it would take millions of years. Even if we could start such a venture and build a satellite with parts and batteries good to last millions of years then what are the chances that our future descendants would remember to check back to look at the pictures? It seems instead that we must make do with mapping out our home galaxy from Earth. On top of the poor vantage point, mapping out the Milky Way has proven difficult in part because Earth is a moving platform situated amongst the stars and clouds which are themselves also in motion. This introduces some ambiguities in our distance measurements. For example, when we look straight through … Continue reading

The Great KENTUCKY Eclipse of August 21, 2017: A Photography Student puts his Skills to Work
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In September Dang Nguyen, a student at my college (Jefferson Community & Technical College in Louisville, Kentucky), in response to Tim Dowling’s guest post, dropped me a note about his experience with the August eclipse.  Dang took a physics class from me a while back, and is currently a student in Jefferson’s Communication Arts Technology program (a very cool program—their students win awards on a regular basis), studying photography.  He sent me some excellent pictures, and a bit of time-lapse video.  I, of course, asked if I could share them on this blog, and he agreed. The Nguyen family observed the eclipse from Hopkinsville, Kentucky, and Dang told me that the most memorable moment for him was when the Sun was revealed after totality.  “It is bright but not bright enough so I could not look at it with my naked eyes,” he said, “and my eyes’ reaction to it was very strange.  It’s unlike anything I saw before!  I don’t … Continue reading

Interpretive Frames In Faith And Science: Is Power A Myth?
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Truth is power. This simple phrase was often the topic of discussion for many a theology and philosophy class in seminary. Whether it be Nietzsche or Machiavelli, much of our philosophical studies sought to debunk this secular axiom. Any committed Christian, regardless of denomination, would quickly affirm that authentic faith seeks to be detached from power. Nevertheless, the Christian must also be aware of just how deeply the “truth is power” axiom is presumed in our cultural worldview. The parish of which I serve, St. Joseph Parish in Menomonie, Wisconsin, is currently conducting a book study on Jean Vanier’s work, Drawn in the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John. Jean Vanier is a personal hero of mine for his ministry to those who have developmental disabilities. Through this ministry, Jean Vanier has authored many books and reflections on what it means to be community in light of his experience of founding L’Arche, ecumenical religious communities for the developmentally disabled. In … Continue reading

The Mystery of Fast Radio Bursts
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One of the more intriguing mysteries in astronomy today come from what we call “fast radio bursts.” The first one appeared in the year 2007 in the form of a sudden, very large burst of radio waves. What followed afterward was equally interesting, and that was pure silence. Astronomers pointed their radio telescopes in the same general region of sky for years and just could not manage to detect another burst episode. Could this have been a one-off event, or perhaps an event coming from a terrestrial source (Earth)? Some purported that perhaps the detection was a complete accident, citing that a microwave oven operating with the door open could leave a radio signature similar to what was seen by the radio astronomers. So now, might the fast radio burst causing all this ruckus have been the result of a hungry astronomer? Astronomers would have to wait patiently for another 8 years before finally being rewarded with the detection a … Continue reading

Understanding The Interpretive Frame Of Faith And Science
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Last Friday, the Diocese of La Crosse was blessed with an all-day inservice with Br. Guy. The day was primarily meant for our Catholic School teachers, but the gathering of over 150 also included diocesan clergy and interested lay people. While listening to Br. Guy’s presentations, my takeaway was of the importance of understanding the interpretive frame that many bring to questions of faith and science. After understanding and establishing a healthy framework, then an honest dialogue of truth can commence. Many of you may be asking, “What does Fr. James mean by an ‘interpretive frame?'” The late Francis Cardinal George once gave a powerful lecture on interpretive frames. The lecture focused on presentations of the Catholic Church in the media and the frustration many feel when the Church is depicted in a negative light. Cardinal George explained that media bases stories upon an interpretive narrative or frame that gives focus to the story. When an interpretive frame is established, … Continue reading

Dueling Black Holes
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One can hardly resist writing about the good news that physicists found yet another remarkable example of a binary black hole. This is even more astounding as black holes are invisible to us. We are able to detect them because when they make head-on collisions they shake spacetime over vast distances in every direction. This is similar to what happens when a large explosion goes off on Earth it shakes the ground over a large radius from the impact center. The collision of the black holes results in a single, larger black hole with a mass equal to the sum of the two masses of the two smaller black holes minus a large bit of mass that was converted into the energy that fueled the shaking of spacetime. These cataclysmic cosmic events have been happening since the dawn of human existence, but it is only in the past year that we have built observatories sensitive enough to detect the Earth … Continue reading

A Look Back: The God Of Surprises.
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For those of you who have followed The Catholic Astronomer from the beginning, you know my journey. For those of you who may be new to our blog, you might be wondering, “Why is a non-scientist, Diocesan priest with very little formal training in astronomy writing for an astronomy blog that includes Vatican Observatory scientists, along with brilliant lay women and men who are professional and amateur astronomers (and artists)?” If you’ve ever wondered this, you’re in good company – I’ve often wondered the same thing. The oft-used baseball analogy to give voice to these feeling is that I often feel like I am “swinging out of my league.” Yet, every time I feel a twinge of unworthiness for the gift I have been given, I take this to prayer and sense God simply saying, “Keep swinging!” The reason for this Monday reminisce is that I felt a twinge of nostalgia when reading about the gravity assist received by OSIRIS-REx last … Continue reading

Is Our Galaxy a Rebel?
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We are particularly fond of the Milky Way because it is the home of the Sun and the Earth (as well as another 100 billion other stars and still more planets). The Milky Way forms the cornerstone against which we base our understanding of how other galaxies might work in detail. The question is: can the Milky Way be described as a typical spiral galaxy? There are a few signs that the Milky Way may be a bit different from its neighbors. One clue comes from looking at the galaxy centers. All massive spiral galaxies like the Milky Way are found to harbor giant black holes, except that for the Milky Way this central supermassive black hole is smaller. Another clue comes from an investigation of the surroundings of spiral galaxies. The Milky Way has dozens of very small galaxies in its immediate vicinity which we call satellites. Many of these satellites have been discovered only very recently as they … Continue reading

Kurzynski Country’s Response To The Graney Data.
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I was delighted when fellow blogger, Chris Graney, floated the idea of the two of us doing a “blog and response” for The Catholic Astronomer. Given our common interest in matters of ecology and care for creation, this challenge seemed to be a perfect fit. When reading Chris’s piece about the climate history of Prairie du Chien over the past 115 years, my first thought was of the fittingness of Chris’s choice of cities. Prairie du Chien is the city where the first parish in our diocese was established with a ministerial pre-history that goes back to the early Jesuit missionaries, Marquette and Joliet, in 1673. My second thought took me back to my grade school science days, recalling the confident prediction from one of my teachers that, by the time I was in my 40’s, Wisconsin’s winters would be like Florida’s winters because of global warming. A few years ago, while shoveling the sidewalk at Roncalli Newman Parish on a … Continue reading

In the Sky this Week- September 19, 2017
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A veritable riot of conjunctions is happening all week in the eastern predawn skies; Venus is VERY close to the star Regulus, and Mercury and Mars continue to be low in the sky before sunrise. These conjunctions can also be seen from the southern hemisphere; note how the position of the planets differs from the northern hemisphere. Saturn continues to be a good observing target in the southern skies after sunset. The southern skies seen from Perth after sunset are something I’d REALLY like to see; visible are the two Magellanic Clouds, the Carina Nebula In the eastern sky seen from Perth at 1:00 AM on Sept. 18th we see a good example of the different orientation of constellations seen from the southern hemisphere. The Pleiades star cluster can be seen high in the eastern sky at 2:00 AM. The Pleiades open star cluster consists of approximately 3,000 stars, and is among the nearest star clusters to Earth; the cluster … Continue reading

The Footprints of Reionization
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The emergence of the first stars in the universe must have been quite a spectacular sight. The standard lore is that the first stars were probably massive, bright, and short lived. As remarkable as these stars must have been, as well as the second generation of stars to follow them, they would all have died very young, exploding only a scant million years after they formed. Fortunately for us, they left behind traceable signatures of their existence. You see, the bright light from these stars shone to vast distances in all directions. Wherever the light encountered a hydrogen atom, which was very nearly everywhere, it would remove the electron from that atom. It would ionize that hydrogen atom. The ionized hydrogen would surround the star out to large distances. As an analogy, imagine unknowingly walking across a a sidewalk filled with wet cement. Your footprint would be embedded in the drying concrete. Long after you left the scene to buy … Continue reading