Ophiuchus and the Holy Cross

Before the Liturgy of the Word at the school Mass, our pastor asked the kids to listen for mention of any reptiles in the readings today.

During the homily, as he preached on the feast and drew in the notion of spiritual healing by the sign of suffering (for the Israelites, the bronze serpent on a pole, and for Christians, the cross) my brain connected to the thirteenth constellation of the astronomical zodiac, Ophiuchus, the serpent-bearer.

You can see Ophiuchus in the southern sky after sunset, but if you’re in the city, you’ll have a hard time making out any pattern. If indeed you can see any Ophiuchan stars at all.

If you’re fortunate to live under dark night skies (or you can get somewhere that has them) look for bright white Jupiter, medium high in the south these days. Just below it, you’ll see a bright reddish star. That supergiant Antares marks the constellation Scorpio just near the “official” border of the snake holder. Look left and up a bit to behold the serpent-bearer. As you can see from the map above, to the left (or east) of Ophiuchus is Sagittarius (abbreviated Sgr on the map).

My astronomical sun sign is Ophiuchus, not Sagittarius as the “horrorscopes” want to tell me. Since I learned this, I’ve always felt a certain connection with this collection of stars and some of the mythology behind it. One interpretation is the story of Phorbas, who was a sort of Saint Patrick for the island of Rhodes, driving out the plague of snakes terrorizing the people. As a reward, the gods placed him in the sky … right next to a scorpion.

Moses’ bronze snake and the Christian cross invite us to new life and to healing. The prophet Isaiah speaks of our healing by the wounds of the Servant. The principle is a difficult one: the only way out is through, and sometimes upside down from our expectations.

It is through suffering that we find fulfillment. Jesus was tortured and died so that others may live. A tree was uprooted and the wood mutilated so that Another might be uprooted and mutilated. And the wood is restored to an instrument of life for Christian veneration.

Though an object of distrust, disease, and plague, the reptile becomes a sign of the healing arts and sciences. And unknown to the ancients, Ophiuchus is home to the a nursery of new stars, the nearest to our solar system.

Does this mean Slytherin is not such a bad place? I don’t know. But I will celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, knowing that God’s power stands ready to turn our difficulties and obstacles on their heads. And we will, if we muster our courage, be led through in safety and grace.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Astronomy, constellations, spirituality. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Ophiuchus and the Holy Cross

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