Over the past two years, I have been blessed to write for The Catholic Astronomer. Having the opportunity to reflect on faith and science (specifically astronomy) has been one of the high points of my priesthood. Many have encouraged me to put my blog posts together into a book. After a little over nine months of prayer, arranging, editing, and more editing, the book is complete!
There are many people I want to thank who played a role in this book becoming reality like my parents who first encouraged me to do God's will in my life, Br. Guy who invited me to write for this blog, and the other authors from The Catholic Astronomer whose writings have inspired many of my reflections. In addition to these and other people I could thank, I want to thank you, the readers of The Catholic Astronomer. Your continued interest in the exploration of faith and astronomy allow us the opportunity to share our passion with you.
Peregrino Press has begun a pre-sale of the book. If you would like to order a copy, click here or on the image below to go to the pre-sale page. If you follow my posts, you know the majority of the material in the book. To get a flavor for how I put the book together, I invite you to read the introduction below. A portion of the monies raised from this book will be donated to the Vatican Observatory Foundation to help continue the work of the Vatican Observatory. Enjoy!
Did you ever have a dream that not only came true, but took on a life of its own? What you are about to read is the fruit of one of my dreams.
A few years ago, I was sitting in my office at Roncalli Newman Parish in La Crosse, Wisconsin, putting together an e-mail to Br. Guy Consolmagno of the Vatican Observatory. In the e-mail, I recounted how, shortly after my ordination to the priesthood in 2003, I wrote an e-mail to the then Director of the Vatican Observatory, Fr. George Coyne. In that e-mail, I asked Fr. Coyne if the Vatican Observatory offered retreats or conferences on faith and science to the non-professional scientist.
I'm not a scientist, but a priest who has had a deep interest in science since my youth. I was one of those daydreaming kids that liked to look for animals in the clouds and lie in the backyard of my parents' central Wisconsin farm to gaze into the night sky. Although I studied a little astronomy in college, I wanted more.
When I was in seminary, I had the chance to explore questions of faith and science, but upon ordination, I still felt I needed more. This background (or lack of one) is what compelled me to write to Fr. Coyne.
Fr. Coyne's response was gracious and explained that the Vatican Observatory didn’t offer such programs and worked primarily in post-doctoral astronomy, but perhaps this type of programming should be explored in the future. He encouraged me to write back "in the future" to revisit the topic.
Looking back, I have to laugh a little about his suggestion. After I received his e-mail, I was busy embracing my new life as a diocesan priest. I spent time as an associate of three parishes, seven years as a middle school/high school chaplain/teacher, and a few years as the pastor of parishes and Newman Ministries on college campuses. Needless to say, the follow-up e-mail was put on the back burner.
Ten years later, I finally got around to writing back to the Vatican Observatory. Fr. Coyne had retired, and Fr. Funes was the new director. Instead of writing to the director, I decided to follow-up with Br. Guy because I had seen some of his faith and astronomy videos on YouTube and was impressed.
At the time, Br. Guy was in charge of communications and public outreach for the Vatican Observatory, making him the logical astronomer to contact. After recounting my previous correspondence, I asked again if the Vatican Observatory had any programs for non-scientists that addressed issues of faith and science.
Again, as I expected, the answer was no. However, Br. Guy opened a door of exploration by simply stating that he liked the idea and wanted to take it to Fr. Funes for consideration.
The excitement I felt was immense. I recall being both excited and nervous as I waited for Br. Guy to share Fr. Funes’ response. My excitement got the best of me and I e-mailed Br. Guy again, asking what Fr. Funes thought of the idea. The response was quick and affirming: He loves the idea, and we will begin planning for the first Faith and Astronomy Workshop (FAW) in Tucson, Arizona, for 2015.
I remember reading the e-mail at least three times, almost in disbelief that a simple request for something I had hoped already existed was now about to lead to something that had never been done before by the Church and I was going to be one of its first participants! This development, in and of itself, would have been more than enough for me to feel a sense of accomplishment when it came to this dream. However, God had more surprises that I never could have imagined.
As the weeks passed, the first Faith and Astronomy Workshop finally arrived. In the run-up to the event, things started to dawn on me that gave me moments of concern. For one, the only contact I had had with Br. Guy was via e-mail. I had never met or talked with him, and now I was going to an event that he and the Vatican Observatory staff put together based on MY idea.
I started to worry, “What if it fails?” I had been to many theology workshops before, but this felt radically different given the personal connection I had made in the development of the program.
Happily, the workshop went well with some wonderful highlights, but also some predictable needs for improvement. After all, nothing like this had ever been done before so why wouldn’t there be room for improvement?
I could write a chapter a day on what we did, but the summary is that Br. Guy, Fr. Gabor, Fr. Corbally, and friends of the Vatican Observatory Foundation threw us into the world of professional science and encouraged us to apply our faith background to discover the bridges between faith and astronomy on our own. This “no spoon-feeding” approach was a little awkward at first, but bore a great deal of fruit. In short, I came away feeling joy that one of my dreams had been realized.
When the first Faith and Astronomy Workshop was over, I remember sitting in the Tucson airport. I was feeling a slight twinge of sadness. The sadness stemmed from the fact that I had an idea, I pursued it, it bore fruit, but what was next? Was this the end of the journey? I remember a moment of prayer in the airport terminal when I felt God put a simple sentiment on my heart, “You don’t need to do anything more. I will open doors that need to be opened in the future.”
This prayer brought relief, but I never could have imagined what those doors would be. The first door turned out to be an invitation to become a contributor of the Vatican Observatory Blog titled The Catholic Astronomer. The second door was an invitation to attend the second Faith and Astronomy Workshop in 2016 as a presenter. Lastly, the third door is in your hands (or on your screen) right now: this book, God’s Canvas.
After the last workshop, Br. Guy encouraged me to look through my blog posts to see if “there was a book hidden in them.” I am happy to report, there was!
This collection of my posts for the Catholic Astronomer has been separated into four sections. In Section One, I pulled together thoughts that can give us an understanding of an authentically Catholic approach to faith and science. In particular, we will explore the nature of faith and science, arguing that when looking at both on their own terms, these two great disciplines are best approached as dialogue partners in contrast to the common myth that the two are, and must be, in conflict with one another. This section will also explore the claims of Stephen Hawking that modern science deems the idea of a Creator to be not necessary, the question of whether or not Catholics believe in evolution, how Catholics read the Book of Genesis, and reflections on a spirituality of growth and evolution found in Saint Irenaeus of Lyons.
After setting our foundations, Section Two will explore some of the most profound thinkers in faith and science. We will meet the “father” of the Big Bang Theory, Monsignor Georges Lemaitre, reflecting on how he saw something rather different than did the rest of the scientific world when looking at Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. We will meet Fr. Stanley Jaki, OSB, who rightly questioned the plausibility of the Theory of Everything. We will also reflect on the role of women in the exploration of faith and science, embracing Pope Francis’ call to empower women in the Church where possible. We will also explore the thoughts of figures from a broad reach of disciplines including Theilhard de Chardin, Catherine Pickstock, G.K. Chesterton, Flannery O’Connor, Carl Sagan, Saint Bonaventure, and Michio Kaku. As we view faith and science through these people, we will conclude by tackling the question, “Are we in need of a new theological assimilation of faith and science in our modern age?”
Section Three will discuss the idea of “Cosmic Liturgy.” Catholicism has a long tradition of seeing our liturgical prayer life as being intimately connected with the cosmos. These reflections are a mix of theological and personal views along with connections to the liturgical seasons to demonstrate how all of creation participates in what can be called the "Hymn of Creation." This hymn affirms that all things give honor and glory to God by their very existence with humanity possessing a unique voice in this hymn, being made in God’s image and likeness.
The final section is a collection of reflections that highlight significant astronomical events of 2015-2016 and reflections on science, faith, beauty, and the humanities. Whether it be the flyby of Pluto, the exploration of life on other planets, the discovery of gravitational waves, or the transit of Mercury, this section provides brief reflections on how people of faith can approach these explorations from a perspective that is true to who we are as Catholics and honors the science of these discoveries on its own terms.
This book would not exist without the support of the Vatican Observatory (particularly Br. Guy Consolmagno), the Vatican Observatory Foundation (including my fellow bloggers at The Catholic Astronomer), Bishop Callahan of the Diocese of La Crosse, and Peregrino Press. With their assistance and encouragement, I am happy to present to you this reworking of my thoughts from this past year on different areas of faith, astronomy, theology, and science.
A simple question is asked of every book ever written, which is, Why should I read this book? Of the many answers I could give, the one I feel strongest about is also the simplest: God has blessed my life with a fascinating pilgrimage of the mind and heart and strengthened my faith through the exploration of faith and science. I want to share that journey with you! This journey does not promise that all of your questions or doubts will be answered. But it is my hope that it helps you start your own pilgrimage, allowing God to reveal the answers you seek in due time.
Did you ever have a dream that not only came true, but took on a life of its own? I have. And I wish to share that dream with you.