Across the Universe: Hidden inclusions
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This column first ran in The Tablet in July 2013 I was in a state of high excitement (or what passes for such when you’re sixty years old): the Pope was coming to lunch with our Jesuit community at the Vatican Observatory! Meanwhile, I was also preparing a paper for the annual Meteoritical Society meeting, and I had just noticed a wonderful correlation in my data. These sorts of insights are as rare as Papal visits… if indeed I had really made one. I’ve been studying iron meteorites; and it’s been hard work. For one thing, they are, quite literally, hard – lumps of nickel-iron, too hard to cut up easily to see what’s inside. I’ve seen iron meteorites being cut at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC; their saw sits in a room the size of gymnasium, makes an awful racket, and spews water everywhere. (The water cools the meteorite while a diamond-encrusted wire scrapes through it.) When you do … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Song of Praise
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This column first ran in The Tablet in May 2016 When Pope Francis issued his groundbreaking encyclical, Laudato Sì, the Italian publishing house Elledici took the moment to reissue a book written in the 1960s by the Italian scientist Enrico Medi: Canitco di Frate Sole, a meditation on the Franciscan poem that gave Pope Francis his title. At that time, they asked me as the “Pope’s astronomer” to write an introduction for the book. On first anniversary of the Pope’s encyclical, in 2016, I was invited to Medi’s home town of Senigalia, on the Adriatic coast, to celebrate the publication of this book. I’d never heard of Medi; but I discovered that he was the spokesperson of his generation in Italy on faith and science. Reading his words, even with my poor Italian, I can see why. For example, in one chapter Medi begins with our scientific understanding of water as a marvelous molecule, but he arrives at finding in … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Faith and Expectations
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This column first ran in The Tablet in March 2013, soon after the election of Pope Francis How do I feel about a Pope who is not only a fellow Jesuit, but one who’s studied science (in his case, chemistry) as well? To be honest, I am terrified. For the past twenty years I have lived off the expectations that others have of Jesuits and scientists; now I am going to have to deal with someone who can see past the mystique. Familiarity breeds a certain discomfort. I can only imagine what it’s like for our Observatory’s director, Fr. Funes, who is himself not only a Jesuit and scientist but also from Argentina. [In fact, as it later came out, when José first began the process of entering the Jesuits as a young man, one of the Argentinian Jesuits who interviewed him was a certain Father Bergoglio…] Pope Francis’ chemistry background has not gone unnoticed in the scientific world. A … Continue reading

COP21: Understanding the Paris Climate Change Conference in Light of Laudato Si’.
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It’s no secret that one of Pope Francis’ goals with his Encyclical Laudato Si’ was to influence the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris (COP21).  So, how much influence is Laudato Si’ having upon COP21?  Since I am the pastor of a parish and not a member of the media, I’ll leave that question for others to answer.  However, by analyzing what is coming out of the meetings through the media, I feel confident in saying that COP21 is definitely adapting the same mentality Pope Francis encouraged the fathers (and mothers) of the Synod on Marriage and Family Life to have: Speak boldly and hold nothing back.  My proof of this is that, on the first day of the gathering, a coalition of close to 40 countries and a myriad of business leaders have called for an end to fossil fuel subsidies; France is investing two billion Euros to help Africa develop renewable energy sources; and a coalition of 11 countries, including the United States, has given 248 million … Continue reading

Catholicism, Evolution, and Intelligent Design: What is the Relationship?
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Growing up as a Catholic youth in the 80’s and 90’s meant my vision of Catholicism was profoundly shaped by St. John Paul II. Whether it be camping out in Denver’s Cherry Creek Park at World Youth Day or trying to read his dense, philosophical writings, it seemed that almost every word that came from JPII’s mouth became the backdrop for how to interpret Jesus Christ and the Church. I emphasize the phrase “almost every word” because two areas of his writing that were not universally embraced were Catholic Social Teaching and Evolution. Though some argue over the intent of St. John Paul II’s statements about evolution in his 1996 Message on Evolution to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the fact remains that he affirmed Pius XII’s teaching from Humani Generis that evolution is not in conflict with Church teaching as long as evolution is restricted to the material origin of ours bodies, affirming that the soul is created by God alone. (paragraph 36) When … Continue reading