Extract from the Knockanore parish annuals

Please note that these four annuals, from 2016 to 2019 can still be purchased. Email pjgeary16@gmail.com or phone Pat at 086-8746691 – Cost €10 per issue

Heavens Above

By Fr. Shane O’Neill

Everyone needs a hobby. No matter who we are or what we do for a living, we all need some kind of activity or routine that helps us to relax, unwind and be ourselves and to recharge our batteries. For some, sport ticks that box perfectly. For others, it’s exercise, or music, or fishing or photography and so on.

There’s something for everyone, regardless of age or ability. Whatever floats your boat, as they say. A favourite pastime can bring exciting opportunities for discovery and learning, along with a lifetime of enjoyment.

For the past twelve years or so, I have dabbled myself in the area of amateur astronomy. I’ve always been fascinated by the sheer vastness and beauty of the rural night skies of Knockanore and there came a point when I wanted to know more about what was up there.

Using a pair of ordinary binoculars, I found that many of the fuzzy clumps of starlight became beautiful little clusters of stars, while neighbouring galaxies, entire islands of billions of stars, came into view as graceful clouds of light, floating in the inky blackness of space.

A trip to Eason’s bookshop saw me procure a guidebook, to provide some information on what I could see and it launched me on my intergalactic voyage.

My telescope ready for a night’s observing.

Soon afterwards, I acquired my first telescope, which opened up the night sky in a new and deeper way. For an hour or two on a clear night, I would lose myself in viewing a host of objects like star clusters, galaxies and pretty double stars of different colours. With a star atlas and red flashlight in hand (to preserve night vision), I would typically track down a small number of these objects over the course of an observing session and spend some time viewing each one in detail and learning about its nature and history.

Nearer to home, the moon and planets became newfound friends, with the mountains, craters and cliffs of the moon looking crisp and clearly detailed, the bright brown cloud belts and moons of Jupiter clearly defined and the elliptical yellow rings of Saturn, hovering majestically in the eyepiece.

Enjoying such sights as these proved to be a most relaxing way to spend time, and after a busy day of work or college, I’d look forward to savouring some of the prettiest views the starry night sky had to offer.

Astronomy is something I have kept up as a priest, as it still serves as a great way to relax after a hectic day. I continue to find value in astronomy not just for the enjoyment of observing, but for what it has taught me and continues to teach me, in terms of our place in the universe as contingent human beings.

For a person of faith, peering out into the vastness of space and viewing immense star clusters and galaxies that are millions of light years across and billions of years old fills you with amazement and wonder at God’s creative power.

As Psalm 19 says, ‘The heavens proclaim the glory of God and the firmament shows forth the works of his hands.’ In observing, one begins to see a universe that is characterised by beauty, order and stability. A universe, most importantly, that contains life – ourselves!

One of the central beliefs of our Christian faith is that we are created in God’s image and likeness and that the natural world around us is also a reflection of God’s beauty and goodness. Just as we learn more about the style and technique of an artist or craftsman by studying their work, so does God’s handiwork reveal various little insights into the divine plan of creation.

Who could fail to be captivated by the beauty of a golden sunset, or a panoramic view of the countryside from a mountaintop, or the power of the ocean on a stormy day? In a similar way, a starry night sky has revealed to me something of the beauty and power of God and it has taught me some valuable insights about faith and human nature.

For instance, in looking at the stars, we notice that no two are the same; each one is unique in its brightness (or magnitude, as astronomers say) and colour. Some stars are very large and very old; these we know as ‘Red Giants’, while younger stars are smaller and hotter, shining with a bluish colour. It’s the same with human beings; no two of us are the same, and we all ‘shine’ differently, with a unique array of talents and abilities.

Also, we know that the stars are grouped into constellations such as Aries the Ram, Leo the Lion, Orion the Hunter and so on. Constellations are essentially families of stars and every star in the sky belongs to one. It’s a pertinent reminder, perhaps, of our own families and that the family unit itself has come from God. God himself is a family of persons as a Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in one God and our human families reflect this in the unity of husband, wife and children.

The celebration of the World Meeting of Families back in August reminded us that the family is God’s gift for each person to have a stable environment in which to grow and to be nurtured and taught in the ways of love.

There are seven observable planets visible in the sky: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. The planets, with the exception of distant Uranus and Neptune, are generally large and bright and can be recognised by the fact that they don’t twinkle like stars. Their positions in the sky change from year to year as they orbit the sun. Poor Pluto was kicked out of the solar system in 2006 after the International Astronomical Union reclassified it as a dwarf planet; a decision I still struggle to accept!

Anyway, the seven planets are all different and are impressive to view through a telescope. The fact that there are seven of them, I think, is significant. In the Bible, seven is the number of perfections; for example, the creation of the world was in seven ‘days’ and the Jewish Sabbath, the day of rest, took place every seven days.

The seven planets are a reminder of the seven sacraments of the Church: Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders, Sacrament of the Sick and Penance (Confession). These seven sacraments are the seven ‘great lights’ of our faith, where we encounter the presence of God and his grace in a special way in each of these celebrations.

The constellation of Cygnus the Swan forms a large and well-known cruciform pattern of stars known as the ‘Northern Cross.’ On summer and autumn nights, it passes directly overhead, straddling the centre of the Milky Way, our home galaxy. Its significance in the heavens is striking; it’s a potent reminder, perhaps, of the centrality of the cross in our own lives, as suffering is an experience, we all share.

Up there, at the summit of the heavens, this particular cross silently proclaims the truth that the Cross of Jesus is both the ‘power and wisdom of God’ (1 Cor. 1:18), and that Jesus’ death on the Cross is what defeated sin and death and won eternal life for us. It is only through the Cross that we reach the fulfilment of the Kingdom of God for eternity. Thus, at the high-point of the night sky, the Northern Cross represents the triumph of God’s glory; the living sign of our salvation.

Observers in the Southern Hemisphere are not left out; they have the famous ‘Southern Cross’ for company; a small, distinctive bright cross visible in spring evenings. It features on the flags of Australia and New Zealand and it once guided sailors navigating the southern seas in centuries gone by. So wherever one is on earth, the cross is almost always visible in the night sky, whether north or south.

The more the observer watches in silence, the more the mystery deepens.

Many of the stars that we see in the sky are actually double stars, which can be split with binoculars or a telescope. The most famous of these is ‘Albireo’ at the head of Cygnus the Swan, a beautiful pair of orange and blue stars that looks like just one star to the unaided eye. Double stars pay a fitting homage to the vocation of marriage.

Like stars, many men and women are called in God’s plan to come together in marriage to bring new life into the world and to reflect the love and faithfulness of God in the family home. The many clusters of stars like the famous ‘Seven Sisters’ visible high overhead each winter or the famous ‘Plough’ to the north remind us of how God has also called human beings to live together, not only in families, but also in religious communities, to live a celibate life devoted to the worship of God and praying for the needs of others.

We think for example of the Carmelite Sisters in Tallow, who follow a life of prayer, work and contemplation modelled on the spirit of Elijah the prophet and the Cistercian communities of Mount Melleray and Glencairn, as they follow the Rule of St. Benedict through prayer at different times of the day, study of the Scriptures and spiritual reading and manual work, giving expression to their different talents and co-operating with God in bringing forth the fruits of the earth.

Looking at the pretty clusters of stars in the sky reminds me of these religious communities and of the much-needed witness of holiness and moderation that they offer in the secular and materialistic world of today.

Even the telescope itself has become for me a symbol of what faith is; it allows us to see further into reality. Just as the telescope enables a clearer and deeper view into the treasures of the universe, faith enables human beings to see beyond the here-and-now, to perceive a divine plan at work, and to see meaning and purpose in all created things.

As Pope Benedict XVI said in his inaugural homily in 2005, ‘We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.’ Looking up into the universe through the lens of faith, it is truly astounding to realise that although we are but a tiny speck in the universe as a whole, God has created us out of infinite love to share in his life, for us to be fulfilled and truly happy, both in this life and the next.

Sometimes when I’m stargazing, I like to step back from the eyepiece and look up, letting my eyes wander through the sky. I wonder if there is life out there somewhere, looking back at us. Who knows, perhaps there may be? Yet whether there is or not, you and I can in the meantime be grateful for the home we call ‘Earth’, to take care of it as best we can, because it’s the only home we have, given to us from God.

We can see the starry heavens somewhat as a snapshot of revelation; a ‘divine selfie’, perhaps, of God’s handiwork, silently suspended in the firmament above. The night sky proclaims his love for the human race that is as steadfast as the billions of years that have come and gone.

On the next clear night, take a step outside and see for yourself the beauty of the heavens and allow the sight of those heavenly jewels to fill you with wonder and gratitude for the mystery of life and for the fact that you and I are here to appreciate it.

Message from Fr Condon re annual cemetery Masses

Monday, June 29: Cemetery Mass at Knockanore church, 8pm; blessing of graves at Kilcockan, 7.30pm; blessing of graves at Knockanore, 7.45pm.

Tuesday, June 30:  Cemetery Mass at Kilwatermoy church, 8pm; blessing of graves at Old Kilwatermoy, 7.30pm; blessing of graves at New Kilwatermoy,7.45pm.

Wednesday, July 1: Cemetery Mass at Glendine church, 8pm; blessing of graves at Templemichael, 7.30pm; prayers in Glendine church, 7.45pm for those laid to rest in Youghal and elsewhere.

Please prepare cemeteries, if possible, in advance of Masses.

Looking forward to meeting you all soon. Best wishes, take care, yours sincerely, Patrick T Condon PP.