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Wednesday 25 November |
Saint Catherine of Alexandria

NASA keeps us looking at the stars, this Advent

NASA/Public Domain

Elizabeth Scalia - published on 12/11/17

NASA has scheduled a press conference for Thursday, December 14, and plan to announce the latest discovery made by its planet-hunting Kepler space telescope.

Some people are pretty excited, and wondering if we’ve found alien life. Or at least a mirror planet, i.e., Earth’s twin.

Via Space.com:

Kepler spots alien worlds by noticing the tiny brightness dips they cause when they cross the face of their host star from the spacecraft’s perspective. Kepler is the most accomplished planet hunter in history. It has found more than 2,500 confirmed alien worlds — about 70 percent of all known exoplanets — along with a roughly equal number of “candidates” that await confirmation by follow-up observations or analyses.

Some of the folks discussing this on social media sort of sound like this:

Hey, I have no problem with this. The pope is not troubled by the notion of aliens showing up, nor is Vatican Observatory Director Brother Guy Consolmagno SJ, so I’m up for this, announcement, particularly now, in Advent, when we are, like the sky-reading Magi, looking for a sign of our salvation.

As a Catholic, though, I cannot help but notice that December 14 is the feast day of St. John of the Cross, the great Carmelite mystic and Doctor of the Church, who wrote this magnificent poem.

I Came Into the Unknown

I came into the unknown

and stayed there unknowing

rising beyond all science.

I did not know the door

but when I found the way,

unknowing where I was,

I learned enormous things,

but what I felt I cannot say,

for I remained unknowing,

rising beyond all science.

It was the perfect realm

of holiness and peace.

In deepest solitude

I found the narrow way:

a secret giving such release

that I was stunned and stammering,

rising beyond all science.

I was so far inside,

so dazed and far away

my senses were released

from feelings of my own.

My mind had found a surer way:

a knowledge of unknowing,

rising beyond all science.

And he who does arrive

collapses as in sleep,

for all he knew before

now seems a lowly thing,

and so his knowledge grows so deep

that he remains unknowing,

rising beyond all science.

The higher he ascends

the darker is the wood;

it is the shadowy cloud

that clarified the night,

and so the one who understood

remains always unknowing,

rising beyond all science.

This knowledge by unknowing

is such a soaring force

that scholars argue long

but never leave the ground.

Their knowledge always fails the source:

to understand unknowing,

rising beyond all science.

This knowledge is supreme

crossing a blazing height;

though formal reason tries

it crumbles in the dark,

but one who would control the night

by knowledge of unknowing

will rise beyond all science.

And if you wish to hear:

the highest science leads

to an ecstatic feeling

of the most holy Being;

and from his mercy comes his deed:

to let us stay unknowing,

rising beyond all science.”

And that has nothing at all to do with NASA or aliens. But wasn’t it great to sit still and read it? Didn’t it take your breath away?

Meanwhile, here’s Brother Guy doing a TED Talk on what it’s like to be both a science fanatic and a nerd about one’s church. Very entertaining!

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