Pope signs up to Big Bang theory! So a recent headline goes. Others were more restrained, reporting that in addressing the Pontifical Academy of Sciences he said that the Big Bang is compatible with the Catholic Church’s teaching on creation. Belief in both is possible. He also saw no problem with believing in a creator God and the theory of evolution.
Why should this be news? The Vatican has had an astronomical observatory at Castel Gandolpho (above the Papal summer residence) since 1789 , staffed by Jesuit priests who also work at the sharp end of academic astronomy up a mountain in Arizona. The first theoretical suggestion of the Big Bang as a theory of origin of the universe came from a Belgian catholic priest, Fr Georges Lemaitre, in 1927. Saying that the big bang is the best account of the creation of the universe and that evolution was God’s way of bring life into being is nothing new for Popes: Pius XII and John Paul II signed up to this.
Pope Francis was more concerned to say that “When we read about creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so”. That is more interesting: God cannot do everything!
God has given the permission for this amazing universe to come into being and with a mechanism that produces free, self-aware, moral beings – me and you. He has set in motion a universe that is able to create itself. Our blood contains hydrogen that was created in the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago and iron that was formed by the explosion of primary stars many million years ago. We are indeed star dust. And Francis is quite right: God cannot wave a magic wand. Not having given us a self-creating universe. He also waits to see what his creation will reveal. We are fearfully and wonderfully formed.
The Revd Canon Dr Mike Parsons, Priest in Charge for St Oswald Coney Hill with St Aldate, Gloucester
I have always acknowledged when watching the news or attending a Remembrance Sunday service how grateful I am to those who have and continue to give their lives in the service of their country. they’re very brave and are doing something I just cannot possibly imagine myself ever being capable of doing. But despite acknowledging this and being hugely respectful to all those servicemen and women, their sacrifice had never really made an emotional impact upon me. Not until I find myself with a brother-in-law in the armed services.
The parliamentary vote a couple of weeks ago to support bombing in Iraq had a very real impact on me, and as the results of the vote were announced I sat there with the creeping dread that this could mean another 6 months for his poor fiance being on her own, another missed Christmas, and more worried phone calls between family checking that they’d heard from him. I know this all sounds very trivial by comparison to the bigger picture that he will no doubt play a brave part in, but its these familiar everyday things which make the emotional difference.
This year, with the huge amount of coverage about WW1 making clear the sheer scale of people lost to the conflict, it made me realise how lucky we are that so few of us have to do the day to day worrying about servicemen and women being away. 100 years ago virtually EVERY family would have been waiting for news about fathers, brothers, cousins or friends, and the nature of the conflict meant that far too many received bad news. You only have to see the pictures of the extraordinary display of poppies at the Tower of London to be struck by the sickening thought of all those people lost.
As we approach 11th November, and the poppy themed car stickers, wreaths and button holes start to appear, even if you haven’t got family in the armed forces, its worth just taking a minute to think about the generations of your family before you that probably did. Armed conflict seems to be a sad inevitability, but we can at least be thankful that it directly affects far fewer of us that it did in the past.
Natalie Fenner, Churches Officer, Diocese of Gloucester
“Ban on smoking in public spaces.”
This was one of the headlines in my paper on Wednesday to which my attention was drawn as only a few days prior I had a mouthful of smoke cover me causing me to cough and splutter whilst leaving a shop in Bedford – the assistant had obviously just gone outside for a smoke and then enquired if I had found all I wanted in his store. I had planned on returning to make my purchases just prior to leaving the area, but immediately decided otherwise after this unfortunate experience. I had forgotten how cigarette smoke smells – thank goodness !!
Well done Boris for coming up with this suggestion – he certainly gets my support.
I have now read that smoking is already banned in New York’s Central Park, as well as all their other parks and beaches, boardwalks and golf courses – in Hong Kong no smoking on all public beaches – and in Toronto smoking is prohibited within nine metres of the entrance of most public buildings, including shopping malls, offices, restaurants, bars and cafes. Parts of Wales have restrictions near childrens’ play areas and Scotland are thinking along these lines as well.
I note the proposal for London is to restrict smoking in Trafalgar Square, Parliament Square and the Royal Parks – London has 20,000 acres of parkland which may become no-go areas for smokers. The former mayor of New York City says “London’s initiative would be a major achievement because no other capital boasts so much parkland”.
I remember cinemas being filled with smoke as well as public houses – no one ever smoked in churches though – and now we may find clean air in our parks thanks to the new proposals to help protect the health of our children and us !!
Well done Boris – maybe Gloucestershire next !!
Elizabeth Reay, President of the Mothers’ Union in the Diocese of Gloucester
Walking into the cathedral every day is something I try not to take for granted. And as the “Crucible 2” exhibition is still with us, each day is an opportunity to spend longer in front of particular sculptures. But sadly, like so many of our visitors, I don’t take enough time to look.
“Looking” is an active word. It requires attention. It requires time. It requires a willingness to really stop and see. Today there were students from Bristol with their cameras at the ready, and I couldn’t help speaking with them about the importance of looking. (The preacher is always preaching to him or herself!) Every piece of sculpture invites us to look properly, and every sculpture is full of ambiguities. There is not one way of looking. Each of us perceives reality in our own particular way.
The exhibition reminds us of the vital importance of imagination in all our thinking and seeing and smelling and touching and tasting and hearing. The Shakespearean scholar, David Horowitz, reminds us that “it is the shaping imagination, art, which produces harmonies, music, grace and nobility, human civilization itself.” We are reminded too that simply to be is to be vulnerable. As the American Christian, Norman Brown, once said, “the defence mechanism, the character armour, is to protect from life. Frailty alone is human; a broken, a ground-up (contrite) heart.” It is our very broken-ness which enables us to respond to the broken-ness of others. The sculpture of the Outraged Christ hints at a broken-ness of infinite power. The resurrection has begun.
The Revd Canon Neil Heavisides, Precentor, Gloucester Cathedral