Voyager 1 has left the solar system. This is pretty awesome, in the true sense of that shopworn word. Has anyone parsed the theology of this moment? Is there one? I wish there were. Let us know.
One aspect that comes to mind is the Vatican Observatory director José Gabriel Funes SJ in this interview segment. When asked by the journalist, “Of the words Pope Francis has said up till now, what teachings have meant the most for your work?”
I think it is that which the Pope has insisted on from the beginning: go to the boundaries, and not only geographical, but also existential [boundaries]. Our mission is part of this going to the farthest boundaries – if I can say it like that – because it has to do with the universe: we go back, in the sense that we also explore the beginning of the universe from the point of view of science, but we also go far away, because we also study the farthest, the most distant galaxies … And this brings up the questions that we all should ask about the relationship between science and faith. I think this is the mission of the Observatory: go out to the truly most distant boundaries, the boundaries of the universe, that is always a gift of God.
For a science observer like me, Voyager skipping past the boundary of the solar system represents the core virtue of hope. We continue to be surprised by what we find as we turn over rocks, climb that high peak, cross that ocean, and now into the deep dark ocean of interstellar space.
Maybe there’s some human arrogance that needs a little perspective. God is always prepared to give us perspective, right? A scorpion emerges from the rock and stings us. We lose companions ascending to the heights and crossing to the next continent. That Venus orbiter named after the globe-circling explorer? Magellan never made it back to Europe. Less than twenty of a five-ship crew returned home and nobody remembers their names.
How about some more perspective? If Voyager 1 has left port, just out of sight of the shores of Europe, keep in mind that if it were pointed to the nearest star, uncounted thousands of years remain before the next mission objective.
Getting back to hope, Voyager 1 tells me that this is one small step. Someday, the ships will be larger and populated. And people will bring God with them to the farthest boundaries of the universe. One star at a time. Until the billions of stars and the billions of galaxies they inhabit will be filled. Does that sound like more than a lifetime of work? Suppose that is humankind’s ultimate mission–to fill the universe with the praise of God. Sure puts a little armageddon in Syria in perspective, doesn’t it?
Voyager 1’s mission, mostly silent, far beyond the sun and planets we know, will outlast human foolishness and violence and insanity. Before Voyager reaches its next star or planet, Syria will have been forgotten. Brutal dictators and brutal rebels will have died and been forgotten. 21st century ideology and madness will have been forgotten. I suspect we will still be preaching and living Christ our Lord.