NEW YORK (RNS) With Christmas just around the corner, Brother Guy Consolmagno gets a lot of questions this time of year about the star of Bethlehem that led the Magi to Jesus in the manger.
Consolmagno is an astronomer — a planetary scientist for the Vatican observatory, in fact — who specializes in asteroids and meteorites, the very sort that may well have been the famous “star” described in the Gospel of Matthew.
“It’s fun speculation,” Consolmagno said, smiling though a graying beard while sitting on a bench in Central Park on an unseasonably warm afternoon. “It’s fascinating to realize that there actually are a couple of quite plausible things it could be.
“But what’s even more interesting to me is that this story was included, of all the stories that Matthew might have included,” he said, growing animated as he does when diving into his twin vocations of science and theology. “Whether it’s something he heard from Mary, or whether it’s something he made up, why was it included?”
If those are the sort of musings you enjoy, and a level of ambiguity you can handle, then you will like the new book that Consolmagno has written with his fellow Jesuit, the Rev. Paul Mueller, who heads the Jesuit community at Castel Gandolfo, a hilltop town near Rome where the Vatican’s main telescope is located. (The other is on a mountaintop near Tucson, Ariz.)
Their book is titled “Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?” another question that Consolmagno is asked a lot in his many speeches and media appearances, and one that Pope Francis — a fellow Jesuit and a trained chemist — has posed as part of his focus on Catholic inclusivity.
Consolmagno’s short answer is “yes.“ But “only if she asks!”
While the longer answer is spelled out in the book, the two Jesuits are really aiming their lens at a bigger goal: to show how people of faith can also believe in science.
“God is reason. If you reject reason, you are rejecting God,” Consolmagno said.
Unlike many apologists, Consolmagno isn’t fixated on the so-called “New Atheists” like Richard Dawkins who wield science like a cudgel to bash religion, and believers.
“I don’t mind someone disagreeing with my views on religion,” he said. “But I’d like to have a sense of mutual respect. If you think that what a lot of people believe is nonsense, then maybe you don’t understand what it is they believe.”
But such debates are mostly a sideline for Consolmagno.
“The thing that really bothers me,” he said, “is the creeping fundamentalism among Catholics who don’t know their own faith and who are desperately trying to do the right thing and to be faithful believers, thinking that they have to sacrifice their reason to follow God. And that is exactly the opposite of what God wants.”
Preaching that old-time Catholicism of faith and reason is what Consolmagno will now be doing almost full time.
Yet Consolmagno has always seen himself as a teacher as much as a researcher, and now he will be able to educate people even as he raises money in his new post as head of the Vatican Observatory Foundation. Instead of living in Italy, he will be based in Arizona and will travel much of the year.
The goal is to make the church and the public more aware of the scientific work the Vatican does — who even knows that the pope has an observatory, and why? It’s also to teach Catholics about their own intellectual tradition.
While Consolmagno happily describes himself as an introvert — “pretty much a nerd,” is how he also puts it — he says that it’s easier for him to talk to 2,000 people than it is to deal with individuals.
Indeed, that’s why he became a Jesuit brother rather than a priest who might have to look after a parish. Born in 1952 in a well-to-do suburb of Detroit, Consolmagno’s immigrant family placed a high value on education and faith. He loved science as a kid and, like many in those days, his imagination was fired by the space race in the 1960s and the moon landing — the kind of efforts he believes we need to invest in today.
Space travel “is the one thing that draws us all together,” he said, noting that both the Vatican and the U.S. government spend about 1 percent of their budget on astronomy-related science.
“This kind of curiosity transcends momentary human conflicts and gives us a sense of perspective,” he said.
Consolmagno continues to be a sci-fi buff, though he prefers old-school books to movies. He did, however, love the recent space epic “Interstellar,” watching it in an IMAX theater with a high school buddy and a chum from MIT. The science was pretty good, he thought, and not even central to the film: “The word religion is never mentioned because it’s everywhere. It is entirely about dealing with the transcendent.”
Consolmagno started out at Jesuit-run Boston College yet soon decided he didn’t want to be a Jesuit. “I realized I’m much better at dealing with numbers and factoids,” he says. So he transferred to MIT and was pondering academic stardom in planetary science when his Catholic conscience called again; he joined the Peace Corps, working for two years in Kenya teaching physics and astronomy.
“People in Africa are curious about the stars, too,” he said. “If you deny them the chance to go ‘Wow!’ looking at stars, you are saying they’re not fully human. They are hungry for that because human beings are hungry for that.”
When he returned to the U.S. he found a satisfying teaching job at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, yet it wasn’t enough. He wanted, needed, to “stand for something bigger than myself.”
Consolmagno had just ended a long and rocky relationship and realized he was better on his own. So his old Jesuit calling beckoned, only this time as a brother, and by 1993 he found himself a fully vowed Jesuit, in Italy, and working for the Vatican. He wasn’t teaching, but it wasn’t a bad gig, to say the least.
Now, in his new incarnation, he hopes to be able to use what spare time he has for research, especially into the asteroid Vesta, which he wrote about years ago. He’ll put the popular books on hold for a while, though he still hopes to test that hypothesis about baptizing an extraterrestrial.
But his main job is to ease the fears of fellow believers who worry that science undermines faith.
“I don’t know how it could,” he said before heading off to another interview. “Because my faith is already full of doubts. And the doubts have nothing to do with what I’ve learned is science. They have to do with what I’ve learned in myself. And in some ways the doubts are the strongest proof I have of my faith.
“If there wasn’t a God,” he said, “why would I be so worried about there not being one?”
Wow! So let me review this article very briefly.
So here’s this priest, and forgive me for paraphrasing, ‘whose faith is full of doubts due to what he has learned in himself -nothing to do with science – these doubts are the strongest proof he has of his faith’. A Jesuit “priest”, a “man of God” would without hesitation baptize an Extraterrestrial but “only if she asks!” That’s quite a reasonable approach if you were applying it to a human interaction – but an ET? The article then finishes with one of the oddest statements I’ve ever heard from a priest, that is only comparable with some of the things Pope Francis says, “If there wasn’t a God,” he said, “why would I be so worried about there not being one?”
For me interpreting that final statement, in conjunction with his previous remarks: about his faith; and his quantum leap to baptize an alien; leads me to consider, he does not believe there is a God. Or, so he alludes. I consider, that from what he learned about himself, he is more of a mystic. This whole concept throws up concerns for me: his priestly convictions and Jesus; mysticism and God; the Physicists’ God-talk.
At no point during this article did this, man who is first and foremost, priest of the Society of Jesus(SJ) mention anything to do about the love or salvation offered and guaranteed by Jesus. Surely as a man of God, he should be offering encouragement, at every opportunity, to the people of God, who may read about his article to draw them closer to Jesus their Redeemer and Messiah. It would also serve as a reminder to him that he is a priest of God, following in the footsteps of Jesus, which indubitably would have a positive impact on his faith.
With regards to Mysticism and God I’d first like to consider the definition of mysticism from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
MysticismFirst published Thu Nov 11, 2004; substantive revision Mon Mar 3, 2014
The term ‘mysticism,’ comes from the Greek μυω, meaning “to conceal.” In the Hellenistic world, ‘mystical’ referred to “secret” religious rituals. In early Christianity the term came to refer to “hidden” allegorical interpretations of Scriptures and to hidden presences, such as that of Jesus at the Eucharist. Only later did the term begin to denote “mystical theology,” which included direct experience of the divine (See Bouyer, 1981). Typically, mystics, theistic or not, see their mystical experience as part of a larger undertaking aimed at human transformation (See, for example, Teresa of Avila, Life, Chapter 19) and not as the terminus of their efforts. Thus, in general, ‘mysticism’ would best be thought of as a constellation of distinctive practices, discourses, texts, institutions, traditions, and experiences aimed at human transformation, variously defined in different traditions.
The reason I consider Fr Consolmagno as being more “mystic” than “priest” is based on this idea of concealment. Concealment of the truth. Now is that to do with him as an individual or more to do with Jesuit-ism. Clearly there is a “larger undertaking aimed at human transformation”, and whilst there may well be a personal transformation for Consolmagno, let’s not lose sight of the transformation of the larger human population’s consciousness, or outlook, when religion and ET are blended in the same sentence- by a priest!
Furthermore, I found this following excerpt quite enlightening from Center for Sacred Sciences which is contrary to the teachings of Jesus and of God our Creator, which again fits in with my thoughts on Fr Consolmagno being a mystic.
The fact that distinctions are not ultimately real means that we are not truly separate selves. In Reality, all mystics declare, our True Nature is God, Brahman, Buddha-Nature, the Tao, or Consciousness Itself.
Our very self-nature is the Buddha, and apart from this nature there is no other Buddha. —Hui-Neng (Buddhist)
Having left aside Life and Death, he is now completely one with the universal Transmutation. —Kuo Hsiang (Taoist)
God is one’s very own Self, the breath of one’s breath, the life of one’s life, the Atman. —Anandamayi Ma (Hindu)
Some simple people think that they will see God as if he were standing there and they here. It is not so. God and I, we are one. —Meister Eckhart (Christian)
Thou art He, without one of these limitations. Then if thou know thine own existence thus, then thou knowest God; and if not, then not. —Ibn ‘Arabi (Muslim)
For now he is no longer separated from his Master, and behold he is his master and his Master is he. —Abraham Abulafia (Jewish)
….Some well-known physicists in recent times have used language which, to many Christians, sounds as if these men have some sort of Christian faith, or are leaning in that direction. Some Christian people have thus been encouraged, even claiming that what they say authenticates the Bible…
…Physicists tend to use religious terminology because it graphically expresses the religious/philosophical nature of their thoughts and the sense of almost religious reverence they feel about their subject. Like the ‘liberal’ theologians, they use the language of orthodox Christianity, but in using the words they do not mean what we may think they mean…
…We should not be lulled into thinking the physicists are ‘fellow travelers’ just because they use our language. Indeed, much of the physicists’ religious talk is tongue-in-cheek — and in this they ridicule true Christian faith. Even worse, they blaspheme in referring to ‘God’ as an atomic particle. Unfortunately for them, God will have the last word, for He says: ‘… I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent’ (1 Corinthians 1:19)…
This is a marvelous article by Don Batten with spectacular points made very succinctly, and I thank him for his insight. On reading it, I could not believe that, what I was hearing from Vatican astronomers & Pope Francis- with regards to aliens, was to in fact “ridicule true Christian faith.” Fr Guy Consolmagno SJ, Fr Giuseppe Tanzella-Nitti SJ, Fr José Funes SJ and Pope Francis, who are all Jesuits, have all confirmed or alluded to a belief in alien, or extraterrestrial existence and the next steps that would have to be considered.
This consideration is done knowingly, as the “Vatican Insiders” are aware they will need to inform us(disclosure to be confirmed in 2015), as Don Batten says, “…but in using the words they do not mean what we may think they mean…” so that the “transformation of the larger human population’s consciousness, or outlook”, regarding aliens can be completed. This will then permit the next transition, of “the plan,” to a One World religion headed, in the short term, by Pope Francis.
Remember the words of Jesus, “Do not be afraid”.
Please also remember Do NOT be deceived.
There are NO such things as aliens or ET
these are FALLEN ANGELS, DEMONS, SATAN’S workers