With the abundance of coverage of the Roman Catholic Church and the Vatican, here’s our show about a Jesuit priest who’s living a life of Christian service that flies under the radar. Father Greg Boyle’s gang intervention programs in Los Angeles are becoming more well-known, but his ideas behind them often get short shrift.
He makes winsome connections between service and delight, and compassion and awe. He heads Homeboy Industries, which employs former gang members in a constellation of businesses. This is not work of helping, he says, but of finding kinship. The point of Christian service, as he lives it, is about “our common calling to delight in one another.”
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Q:Can someone at On Being recommend a good book to start reading the works of Teilhard de Chardin? I was transfixed by this show! Thank you!
Most definitely! There are two books I’d definitely recommend reading.
The first is Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: Writings Selected. It’s edited by the religious scholar Ursula King, who is a guest voice in our podcast on “Teilhard de Chardin’s ‘Planetary Mind’ and Our Spiritual Evolution.”
This book is a good introduction to Teilhard’s spiritual thinking and biographical notes. Ms. King writes a beautiful summary at the beginning that gets at the heart of Teilhard de Chardin’s spirituality, which “creatively welds together science, religion, and mysticism in one unifying synthesis.”
Ms. King doesn’t just write about him and selectively quote from his writings. This is a good thing. She pulls healthy sections from some of his most notable works — including Writings in a Time of War, The Divine Milieu, Heart of Matter, and The Phenomenon of Man — which allow you to imbibe the sensibility of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in his own words. The translations are passionate and very readable, thank goodness, because we’ve come across other translations will make you feel like you’re eating week-old bread with nothing to wash it down.
I’d also recommend reading Amir Aczel’s The Jesuit and the Skull. Mr. Aczel is a superb storyteller and popularizer of great scientific minds and finds. For devotees of Teilhard, Mr. Aczel may not do enough, but his focus on the French Jesuit’s role in the discovery of Peking Man in 1929 gives the reader a sense of Teilhard as scientist who is trying to reconcile his religious beliefs with those of the Catholic Church.
Teilhard de Chardin’s struggle is at the heart of Aczel’s book. It’s an adventure story too, trotting the reader all over the globe, introducing us to countries and cultures of the day that speak to our own ongoing wrestling match about evolution.
Whereas, Ms. King’s compilation will force you to read slowly, think deeply, and savor Teilhard’s passionate langue and ideas, The Jesuit and the Skull lets you buzz through with a liveliness and vitality of a good summer vacation exploration.
Hope this helps!
Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Participating in the Mystery of the Universe
by Krista Tippett, host
“Misremember” is a word I often use about the history of science and religion in the West. We’ve forgotten or misremembered that the great classic scientists did not understand science and religion as opposed. Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and Newton may have had their struggles with religious authorities. And they did not believe that their scientific exploration would prove or disprove the existence of God. But they believed quite fervently that their explorations and discoveries in the natural world would deepen human understanding of the nature of God, of the mind of the maker.
In George Coyne and Guy Consolmagno, I found two modern-day exemplars of this tradition. They have clear boundaries between their science and their faith. Father George even goes so far as to say that to “need” God vis-a-vis his science would be a diminishment of God and of human intelligence. They both insist, in a few different ways, that they don’t see God at the end of their telescopes. Their belief in God and their sense of the love of God, are borne out in other kinds of experience.
Yet Guy Consolmagno has also written these words:
“(A)s I see the pattern of Creation unfolding, over and over…complexity from the simplest of rules, beauty from the surprising interplay of basic forces…I begin to get a closer appreciation of the personality of the Creator.”
And when I ask him to describe that “personality,” he answers, without missing a beat, that “whoever is responsible for this universe has a great sense of humor.”
His own vocation might be seen as an illustration of divine humor, or at least one of history’s “jokes,” as Coyne puts it. The Vatican Observatory is located in the papal summer residence in Castel Gondolfo, Italy — once the home of Urban VIII, the pope who took Galileo to task. Today the papal summer palace has telescopes on its roof and houses one of the oldest astronomical research centers in the world.
Part of the joy of this conversation is the evident fun Coyne and Consolmagno find in this and in so much else, but most of all in the work they do. They take delight in each other, too, and it is a pleasure to hear them react to each other’s ideas. And they hold good humor in a creative, faithful tension with their equally intimate knowledge of the difficulties of human life and the shadow side of the natural world they study.
Guy Consolmagno considered abandoning his scientific career at one point because he could not justify studying the stars when people were dying of hunger. He joined the Peace Corps and was sent to Kenya where he was assigned to teach astronomy at the University of Nairobi. There, every time he cranked up a car-battery-powered telescope, entire villages would turn out in thrall to what he could show them about the night sky. He came to believe that the urge to look up at the stars and wonder where we come from and how we fit in is as essential to our humanity as our need for food. He joined the Jesuit order in his late 30s.
The 16th-century founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius of Loyola, charged his men to “find God in all things” — in a laboratory as passionately as in a monastic cell. We didn’t originally plan this as an Easter show, but it seems fitting that, as our schedule unfolded, it landed in Easter week. And yet it it is a cosmic view of the Easter story that these astronomers evoke — one nourished by their apprehension of billions of years of the birth, death, and renewal of stars that made life on Earth possible. Inspired by this cosmic drama, they are also content with faith itself as something more dynamic than fixed, a process rather than a destination that is spacious and always evolving. George Coyne puts it this way: “Doing science to me is a search for God. And I’ll never have the final answers because the universe participates in the mystery of God.”
About the smaller image (inset): Brother Guy Consolmagno shows a Mars meteorite. (photo by: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images)
Is my life any different since I became a Jesuit? Oh, yes. The rules of obedience, from the structure of the day to this assignment at the Vatican, have put me under constraints I did not have before, but they’re constraints of my choosing, which, like the rules of a sonnet, give me a framework to create a wonderfully fulfilled life.
—from Brother Astronomer: Adventures of a Vatican Scientist by Brother Guy Consolmagno
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
Two Vatican Astronomers: A Twitterscript
Trent Gilliss, online editor
Two Jesuits who work at the Vatican Observatory — Brother Guy Consolmagno, curator of meteorites, and Father George Coyne, its former director (whom you might recognize from his appearance in Bill Maher’s Religulous) — have been on our interview list for years. Yesterday, Krista was finally able to interview them, together, from a recording studio in Arizona. These two astronomers had a great dynamic between them and have a bit of different perspective from most of the “hard” scientists — usually physicists — we have spoken to over the years. Oh, and they have great sense of humor, as you can see in the video to the right of Br. Consolmagno’s appearance on The Colbert Report.
We’ll start producing this interview while Krista’s out on tour speaking about her new book, and we can’t wait to release this program! In the meantime, Colleen and I tweeted some of the lines that struck our ears. A transcript of our Twitter stream:
- For the next 90 minutes, tweets from Krista’s interview w/ two Vatican Observatory astronomers: Fr. George Coyne and Br. Guy Consolmagno.
- 68 degrees in Arizona. They’re rubbing it in since it is frigid today in Minnesota.
- Fr. George is a Jesuit who grew up in Baltimore. Tells a great story about a priest who hooked him up w/ books from the Reading, PA library.
- Br. Guy grew up in Detroit and transferred to MIT when he discovered they had the largest science fiction collection!
- Br. Guy joined Peace Corps b/c he “couldn’t see the point of studying stars when people are suffering.” Realized that all people love stars.
- Fr. Coyne: if all we do is feed and clothe people, we’re all going to be naked; what really makes us human is music, the arts, science…
- Br. Guy: you don’t find answers to theological ?s by looking through a telescope; you don’t go to the Bible to find answers to science.
- Fr. George: “the God of religious faith is a lover.”
- Fr. George: “My understanding of the universe does not need God. I don’t need God in my science.”
- Br. Guy Consolmagno: “The tragedy of Haiti is the tragedy of death. … There isn’t any answer to that.”
- Fr. George Coyne, astronomer: “To limit our human experience to scientific knowledge is to impoverish all of us.”
- Br. Guy Consolmagno, on seismic and cosmic activity in the creation of life: “The climate will change. … The Earth is not a paradise.”
- Fr. George Coyne: “To have faith is an extreme risk. ‘Rock of Ages’ is a nice hymn but…”
- Br. Guy Consolmagno: “We know our understanding of the universe is incomplete; our understanding of God is incomplete.”
- Br. Guy Consolmagno: “You have to experience something before you can react to it.”
- Fr. George Coyne, an astronomer on his science: “It’s exciting to be ignorant.”
- Fr. George Coyne, when he presents papers at scientific conferences: “I’m not dressed as a priest. It just confuses things.” Funny moment.
- The Vatican Observatory is staffed by all Jesuits, except one diocesan priest. But the observatory was not founded by the Jesuit Order.
- 4 Jesuits have asteroids named after them: Xavier, Loyola, and the 2 chaps Krista is interviewing: Fr. George Coyne + Br. Guy Consolmagno
- Br Guy on Galileo: why is it that 400 years later he’s symbol of science religion clash when that’s not what it was about at his time?
- Br Guy: Don’t just learn science from reading Newton & Galileo, but also from Plato, Shakespeare, and scripture
- Br. Guy Consolmagno, a Jesuit astronomer: “Truth can sometimes only be expressed in a poetry.”
- Fr Coyne: language of universe is math; it’s a tool to understand beauty; we absract to understand
- Br Guy: Being able to do science is trying to understand how God plays with us
Alda Balthrop-Lewis, Production Intern
Catholics of all sorts have been responding to our call for their stories. They’ve been writing to tell us about their experiences in the Catholic Church — the beauty and the pain and the hope they feel belonging to this vast and ancient tradition. We have been amazed by the depth and feeling with which these people have told us their stories. In an upcoming show in May, you’ll hear for yourself the fruit of these insightful voices.
In the meantime, I am reading a new spiritual memoir about one man’s experience on the path to Catholic priesthood. Andrew Krivak spent nearly a decade of his life training to become a Jesuit priest before leaving the order, marrying, and having children of his own. A Long Retreat: In Search of a Religious Life expresses Krivak’s deep love for the years he spent with the Jesuits and offers a window into the complexities of one man’s discernment. Krivak describes difficult issues — especially the challenges of poverty, chastity, and obedience required of all Jesuits — with unblinking honesty. And he gracefully reconciles his deep appreciation for the wisdom of Saint Augustine of Hippo and Saint Ignatius of Loyola with his very modern life. I have been savoring the book.