February 16, 2009
Astronomy, Catholicism, International Year of Astronomy
Catholic News Service reports that this Sunday a Mass marking Galileo’s birthday was celebrated at the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs, presided over by Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi. If I can find a translated copy of the homily online, I’ll link to it.
This year was selected as the International Year of Astronomy because it is the 400th anniversary of the use of a telescope by Galileo. I will be checking throughout this week to see what other celebrations throughout the world commemorated his 445th birthday.
Galileo’s birthday was overshadowed by the 200th birthday of another famous scientist, Charles Darwin whose birthday was February 12. As an astronomy student, I am a bit miffed that Galileo’s birthday has been somewhat forgotten in light of this other day, but I suppose that it’s the result of people liking round numbers. My own university, MSU was involved with celebrations of Darwin’s birthday by joining in an international birthday wish on Youtube. You might notice a Catholic connection in this video as well; it includes Father George Coyne of the Vatican Observatory.
Interestingly, the basilica has functioned as a bit of an observatory itself. It is one of several large churches to have meridian lines which track the movement of the sun throughout the year. The image above of the line at St.Mary of the Angels and Martyrs shows how such a line works (image credit: wikibob). As solar noon (which need not be at 12:00 PM) approaches, the image of the sun approaches the line. Because the sun reaches different heights in the sky at different times of the year, the sun will cross a different portion of the line at different times of the year. In this way, the line functions as a sort of calender, or in this case, a means of testing the accuracy of the calender. Placement of pinholes at locations in the church also allowed the observation of specific stars for the purpose of recording stellar transits. What an appropriate location for a Mass celebrated in memory of Galileo.
Keep your eyes open for more IYA news as I finally get back to blogging.
June 1, 2008
Catholicism, Personal Reflection
National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Ordination, Vocations, Washington DC
It only took me two weeks to do it, but I have finally taken advantage of my close proximity to Washington DC for the summer.
It rained (actually poured, if even that word suffices) but I missed it because I was inside at the Natural History Museum. The highlight of the day was visiting the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. It was my intention to go, pray in some chapels and attend the Saturday vigil for the Sunday Mass, which I did. However, I discovered when I arrived at basilica that the vigil Mass would also be the fiftieth anniversary Mass for Cardinal McCarrick, the Archbishop Emeritus of the Washington Archdiocese. So I attended a Mass presided over by a cardinal and several bishops and archbishops, including the papal nuncio to the US!
It was a beautiful Mass which focused on the vocation to priesthood and ministry, appropriate for an ordination anniversary I suppose. It left me with a deeper appreciation for the life to which the priests I have known dedicate themselves and which my friends in seminaries are preparing to join. It is a life of service and devotion to God and the Body of Christ, full of deep faith and love. It is not necessarily a call which I have myself, from what I can tell at this point at least, but it is most certainly one of the most beautiful and challenging ways in which one can give of himself. So I shall have to keep that in mind and be thankful for those who respond to it.
This summer I am at an internship in part to experience it would be like to be an astrophysicist . For a while I have been somewhat bugged by the feeling that besides adding to knowledge, an astronomer does little to help the the world. However, perhaps I need to look at things in a slightly different manner. We are called to use all the many things that make up who we are to serve others, to devote ourselves fully to God and each other in lives of faith and love. It is in all of our living, not merely in how we make a living, that we follow Christ. So then this summer through prayer and greater awareness of my actions each day, I may also come to understand how it is that I am best to respond to this call, in life as an astronomer or otherwise, but also in daily life as a better model of Christ. As so often happens, it may also be that like stumbling upon a Mass presided by a Cardinal when all I expected was a typical Saturday vigil, I’ll find myself in a place far bigger than I could of imagined. But one does not go looking for serendipity and so for now, I shall just have to continue to patiently, hopefully, and ever more faithfully use whatever opportunities come each day.
Aestas adveniet et focillor ignes Spiritus Sancti!
(Summer is coming and I am refreshed by the fire of the Holy Spirit)