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“The Heavens Declare the Glory of God”

In his Life of St. Augustine, the 5th-century bishop Possidius tells us that the greatest of the Latin Doctors of the Church, knowing that his earthly end was near, had four penitential psalms copied and hung on the walls of his room. “From his sickbed,” Possidius writes, Augustine “could see these sheets of paper . . . and would read them, crying constantly and deeply.” It was an act of deep piety that we all might ponder ways to emulate. 

Were I to do something similar, however, I might add Psalm 42 (“Like the deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is yearning for you, my God / My soul is thirsting for God, the God of my life; when can I enter and see the face of God?”)—and a few color prints from Astronomy Picture of the Day, an extraordinary project of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, available for free at apod.nasa.gov. NASA has come in for a lot of (justified) criticism in recent years. By contrast, Astronomy Picture of the Day is a service for which I’m delighted to pay federal taxes. Every day, it provides me with a preview of what I hope to see post-mortem: the glory of God declared in a display of astronomical wonders that vividly illustrate the extravagance of the divine creativity. 

Astronomy Picture of the Day lifts my spirits, which is why I try to accompany morning prayer with a visit to the site. For a brief glimpse of the visual feast that awaits anyone similarly inclined, let me suggest four recent gems, available at the “archive” tab at apod.nasa.gov.

On April 25, APOD and the Hubble Space Telescope offered a brilliantly-hued panorama of the “Cosmic Reef” within the Large Magellanic Cloud, 160,000 light-years away. On May 15, APOD featured two dancing galaxies 12 million light-years away, which, as the brief explanation following the striking image notes, “have been locked in gravitational combat for a billion years”—a dance that “in the next few billion years” will lead to a cosmic merger. On June 1, APOD introduced me to the “whirlwind of spectacular star formation” happening within the Lagoon Nebula, captured in resplendent magenta by Hubble at a distance of 5,000 light-years. 

Read more at First Things

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