Fr Louis Reflection
3rd Sunday of Easter
I have always been fascinated by the Cosmos, and thanks to the continuing development of telescopes, the wonders of the Cosmos continue to feed my fascination with creation, buoyed by the beautiful photographs taken through the lenses of instruments such as those on the massive floating observatory orbiting 350 miles above the earth called the Hubble Space Telescope. It was ferried into space by the Space Shuttle, where it was ‘placed’ into earth orbit on 24thApril 1990; 30 years ago. A magnificent achievement by any standard. Because of faulty lenses, the astronomers had to wait until 1993 when astronauts were ferried by space shuttle once more to reach the Observatory in order to fit the telescope with corrective lenses which enabled astronomers to see clearly what had been until that moment, to a large extent, the hidden wonders of creation.
‘Their eyes were opened.’
To quote Dennis Overbye in the New York Times, ‘because during the last 16 years, successive servicing missions have kept Hubble on top of its game, astronomers now are confident that it will still be in prime shape when its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope is at last launched next year, we hope’he says, ‘[it will give] the world two peerless eyes in the sky.’
What is the point of such a telescope? Well, the motivations are probably similar to those which drive the adventurous spirits who climb mountains, or search the depths of the seas in submersibles, or risk their neck by joining the ‘dangerous sports society’! Not only do such activities stimulate the heart muscles, but there is a kick in the experience of exploring and being challenged. All such activities are stimulating, and mentally absorbing. Astrophysicists are of the same mind-set, itching to know what is out there, and thanks to the constant development in the science of astronomy now, they think that the Universe [creation as we know it] is 13.8 billion years old and contains -if that is the right word – billions of galaxies and billions and billions of planets. I mention this because last Friday, 24thApril was the 30thAnniversary of Hubble being put into orbit, and there was a television documentary transmitted that evening recalling its active life and its future prospects. I think the programme was on Channel 5, but I’m sure it can be viewed on catch up TV.
The scientists who have the thrill of working with the NASA team, live a life of constant expectation, as every day they see something new as they search the Universe through these powerful lenses they have at their disposal. Their career, their job, their vocation exercises their curiosity, their imagination, but above all else they are witnessing reality, truth, …. and it’s full of wonder. They have opened the eyes of the world to the wonder of creation. One astrophysicist remarked that working in such an environment of awesome wonder had a sense of the ‘spiritual’ about it. But surely all life is an exhibit of something that can be defined as deserving of wonder. Consider the human zygote, the diploid cell that results from the fertilisation between and egg and a sperm. From something so small it develops into the complicated living being called man. Consider the smallest atom, or molecule or amoeba, and read about their function, and then compare that with the reality of a ‘Black Hole’ in space. A ‘Black Hole’ is believed to be an object with a pull of gravity so strong that even light can’t escape it. For example Galaxy NGC 4526 has a supermassive black hole at its centre with the mass of 450million Suns!! Thanks to the development of optics, mankind has the capability of seeing on one hand, something so small which cannot be seen by the naked eye, to on the other hand, something so far away that it can be seen only through a telescope. To me, the very word creation means wonder, and size doesn’t matter!
‘Their eyes were opened.’
‘Two of the disciples of Jesus were on their way to a village called Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking together about all that had happened in Jerusalem a couple of days previously.’ (Luke 24:13)
What had happened? Their leader had been publicly executed. As any budding dictator knows, to be successful, one of the prerequisites is to eliminate the leader[s] of the opposition. These two disciples were dejected because they thought that their hopes of a new era for Israel had been dashed by the execution of Jesus, the type of charismatic leader Israel had been waiting for. Freedom! was what they had been yearning for. Freedom from subjugation by a foreign power; freedom to decide their own future, to regain the dignity, the status that had been theirs throughout much of their history.
Jesus had joined them as they trudged along, and they talked openly with him about their doubts and their future prospects. In simple terms they had ‘thrown in the towel.’ So Jesus gave them a stern ‘pep-talk’, an injection of reality and hope for the future. As you know, when the two disciples neared their destination they invited Jesus to join them for a meal. He did. They sat down: he blessed the bread, broke it, handed it to them; they recognised him, Jesus vanished from their sight, the eyes of the disciples were opened, they turned on their heels and headed back to Jerusalem. They had recognised the truth, the way and the life! They had witnessed the unbelievable; they had seen Jesus in the flesh; they were back on track, the death of Jesus by crucifixion was not the end of their aspirations, it was a game-changer, proof of the divinity of Jesus and a guarantee of a future full of hope.
How many people would love to see a deceased relative or friend just one more time? Mary and Martha experienced that desire when Jesus raised Lazarus, their brother, from 4 days in a tomb. I wonder what the sisters said to their brother as he walked towards them unravelling the grave cloths that bound him. I wonder what Jesus’ reaction was to Martha when she reprimanded him by saying ‘if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ Scripture doesn’t record if Jesus replied to Martha, but reprimands are an honest record of the emotion the accuser is thinking and considers the reprimand worth airing. If it is just, all to the good, depending on the strength and generosity if the recipient; if it is unjust then that could be the result of an error of judgment by the accuser, or false information, or simply to pour scorn out of spite or vengeance.
I’m confident that I won’t be sharing a meal with any of my deceased relatives or friends while I live in this temporal world, but throughout my life, small things have happened which although at the time seemed inconsequential, have made an impression on me as I still remember them. Here is one such example.
I remember as a 13 year old being summoned to the office of the Master of Discipline at school and accused of some misdemeanour or another. For the life of me I can’t remember what it was, not that it is of any significance. However any accusation leaves a sour taste in the mouth, and the last thing my taste buds needed at that time was more unpalatable fodder. The accusation was fiction and I said so, and my reply was accepted as true. Later on that day I was recalled to the Master of Discipline’s office and asked if I would help him with a problem. I agreed, and this was the favour. My accuser, who was in my year group, admitted that he had fabricated the accusation, and when asked why, he said that he was friendless and I had lots of friends and he wanted to pull me down a peg or two. The master asked if I would accompany this lad and make him feel part of the community from which he had ‘self-isolated.’ Naturally I asked how long I would be required to perform this task, and to my dismay the answer was ‘to the end of term!’ about 7 weeks! That was a body blow, as I didn’t particularly like the guy even before he tried to stich me up. I honoured my promise and accompanied him until the end of term. The result of this association resulted in a marked change between me and my previous school friends. Even though I told them the truth about the situation, they distanced themselves from me. I don’t know why they acted in that manner, and I never asked them!
Their eyes were not opened!
Humanity is God’s most wonderful creation. It has the gift to give life or take it away, to build or tear down, to be beautiful or to be ugly, to demonstrate the wonder of human gifts or not. The cosmos doesn’t lie or play mind games. It is always beautiful whether it is the size of plankton or the size of a ‘Black Hole.’ Perhaps humanity needs to turn these powerful microscopes on itself and treat humanity with the same awe as it treats the Cosmos.
Just a thought!