Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Solemn Feast of All Souls

Yesterday, we observed the solemn feast of All Souls. As Scripture witnesses, it is truly a "holy and pious thought" to offer prayer for the dead. We do it as we look toward the resurrection of the dead. We do it because we are united with those who have died through our common baptism into Christ who conquered death. It is also a testimony as to the power of God's grace. I offered prayer for many of my family and friends who have died in the past year and beyond. The subject is never lacking for opportunities for meditation. I always think of one of my favorite mystical meditations on the reality Purgatory from St. Catherine of Genoa's Treatise on Purgatory (excerpt):
When with its inner sight the soul sees itself drawn by God with such loving fire, then it is melted by the heat of the glowing love for God, its most dear Lord, which it feels overflowing it. And it sees by the divine light that God does not cease from drawing it, nor from leading it, lovingly and with much care and unfailing foresight, to its full perfection, doing this of His pure love. But the soul, being hindered by sin, cannot go whither God draws it; it cannot follow the uniting look with which He would draw it to Himself. Again the soul perceives the grievousness of being held back from seeing the divine light; the soul's instinct too, being drawn by that uniting look, craves to be unhindered. I say that it is the sight of these things which begets in the souls the pain they feel in Purgatory. Not that they make account of their pain; most great though it be, they deem it a far less evil than to find themselves going against the will of God, whom they clearly see to be on fire with extreme and pure love for them.
My wife and I met friends at our parish for a celebration of a Latin Requiem mass (Novus Ordo/Liturgy of Vatican II) with Gregorian Chant that was, incidentally, celebrated ad orientem and with black vestments (like last year). Those of you who follow my blog know that I am a great proponent of celebrating the mass ad orientem; I have to say that this liturgical orientation was quite proper for this day, particularly because the day and the orientation call to mind our profound hope (with a certain amount of hopeful terror) as we look to the East (the oriens, where the sun rises) for the coming of Our Lord who will come to judge the living and the dead.

Afterward, we went out for coffee with friends and a game of Scrabble. I wish you a very happy and peaceful November!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Papal Address to Astronomy Congress

Pope Benedict XVI gave an address to attendees of the two-day congress celebrating the International Year of Astronomy, convoked by UNESCO in memory of the 400th anniversary of Galileo's first use of the telescope. Courtesy of ZENIT.
I am pleased to greet this assembly of distinguished astronomers from throughout the world meeting in the Vatican for the celebration of the International Year of Astronomy, and I thank Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo for his kind words of introduction. This celebration, which marks the four hundredth anniversary of Galileo Galilei’s first observations of the heavens by telescope, invites us to consider the immense progress of scientific knowledge in the modern age and, in a particular way, to turn our gaze anew to the heavens in a spirit of wonder, contemplation and commitment to the pursuit of truth, wherever it is to be found.

Your meeting also coincides with the inauguration of the new facilities of the Vatican Observatory in Castel Gandolfo. As you know, the history of the Observatory is in a very real way linked to the figure of Galileo, the controversies which surrounded his research, and the Church’s attempt to attain a correct and fruitful understanding of the relationship between science and religion. I take this occasion to express my gratitude not only for the careful studies which have clarified the precise historical context of Galileo’s condemnation, but also for the efforts of all those committed to ongoing dialogue and reflection on the complementarity of faith and reason in the service of an integral understanding of man and his place in the universe. I am particularly grateful to the staff of the Observatory, and to the friends and benefactors of the Vatican Observatory Foundation, for their efforts to promote research, educational opportunities and dialogue between the Church and the world of science.

The International Year of Astronomy is meant not least to recapture for people throughout our world the extraordinary wonder and amazement which characterized the great age of discovery in the sixteenth century. I think, for example, of the exultation felt by the scientists of the Roman College who just a few steps from here carried out the observations and calculations which led to the worldwide adoption of the Gregorian calendar. Our own age, poised at the edge of perhaps even greater and more far-ranging scientific discoveries, would benefit from that same sense of awe and the desire to attain a truly humanistic synthesis of knowledge which inspired the fathers of modern science. Who can deny that responsibility for the future of humanity, and indeed respect for nature and the world around us, demand -- today as much as ever -- the careful observation, critical judgement, patience and discipline which are essential to the modern scientific method? At the same time, the great scientists of the age of discovery remind us also that true knowledge is always directed to wisdom, and, rather than restricting the eyes of the mind, it invites us to lift our gaze to the higher realm of the spirit.

Knowledge, in a word, must be understood and pursued in all its liberating breadth. It can certainly be reduced to calculation and experiment, yet if it aspires to be wisdom, capable of directing man in the light of his first beginnings and his final ends, it must be committed to the pursuit of that ultimate truth which, while ever beyond our complete grasp, is nonetheless the key to our authentic happiness and freedom (cf. Jn 8:32), the measure of our true humanity, and the criterion for a just relationship with the physical world and with our brothers and sisters in the great human family.

Dear friends, modern cosmology has shown us that neither we, nor the earth we stand on, is the centre of our universe, composed of billions of galaxies, each of them with myriads of stars and planets. Yet, as we seek to respond to the challenge of this Year -- to lift up our eyes to the heavens in order to rediscover our place in the universe -- how can we not be caught up in the marvel expressed by the Psalmist so long ago? Contemplating the starry sky, he cried out with wonder to the Lord: "When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you set in place, what is man that you should be mindful of him, or the son of man, that you should care for him?" (Ps 8:4-5). It is my hope that the wonder and exaltation which are meant to be the fruits of this International Year of Astronomy will lead beyond the contemplation of the marvels of creation to the contemplation of the Creator, and of that Love which is the underlying motive of his creation -- the Love which, in the words of Dante Alighieri, "moves the sun and the other stars" (Paradiso XXXIII, 145). Revelation tells us that, in the fullness of time, the Word through whom all things were made came to dwell among us. In Christ, the new Adam, we acknowledge the true centre of the universe and all history, and in him, the incarnate Logos, we see the fullest measure of our grandeur as human beings, endowed with reason and called to an eternal destiny.


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