The moon sets behind a mountain at sunrise in Lake Louise, Alta. CNS photo/Andy Clark, Reuters

Editorial: God’s grace in space

  • July 12, 2019

The 50th anniversary of the first moon landing salutes a towering human achievement, but it should also be a call to contemplate our place in God’s creation.

An irony of the past half century is that in the decades since humanity began to rocket towards the stars and touch the moon, it has distanced itself from Heaven. Not entirely, of course, but as infatuation with science and technology grew, devotion diminished.

That’s not the fault of NASA or the astronauts who took 500 million television viewers to the surface of the moon on that amazing July night in 1969. They energized the world to the vast potential of human ingenuity. But while many viewers were left humbled by the vastness of creation and grateful for God’s gifts of intelligence and curiosity, many others perceived Neil Armstrong’s small steps for mankind as footprints pointing to a future grounded in science.

The Pope at the time, Paul VI, was a space enthusiast who was enthralled by the moon mission. He was glued to television coverage of the landing and moon walk through the wee hours of the morning. “Today we celebrate a sublime victory,” he said that night in a recorded message.

But as Pope Paul saluted the triumph of human courage, ability and endeavour he was mindful of the tension between faith and science. He understood how a feat as technically monumental as putting a man on the moon could tip an already delicate balance and further encourage mankind’s devotion to scientific creativity at the expense of devotion to faith.

So when he spoke about the moon mission, which he did often that summer, he stressed that space exploration was possible only because mankind was graced with God-given abilities. In applying those abilities to reach for perfection, humanity was drawing nearer to God. Untangling the mysteries of space, he said, needs to inspire a more profound awareness of the power, immensity and perfection of God. It should animate discussions around the Creator and His creation of a complex, infinite universe that mankind had barely begun to comprehend.

That theme, that science may explain how the stars and planets were formed but only faith can answer the who and why, was revived years later when Pope Benedict XVI addressed a meeting of scientists. He said their work was essential and often compatible with religious thinking — but it could never explain the divine mysteries of the universe.

Scientific achievement, he said, should inspire important dialogue between the secular and spiritual communities. The purpose of these exchanges is to explore the common ground between science and faith, and then to cultivate true encounters between “man and his Creator.”

A half century ago, mankind encountered the wonder of creation on the moon. The astronauts travelled inside a marvel of science but were carried by the grace of God.

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