The Holy Father’s Sunday Angelus message made reference to today being the winter solstice. He also mentioned Galileo, who as we know was forced in his day to retract his scientific findings, and to whom the Church very recently offered an apology.
Again, the following is my translation of the Italian original, as no official English translation is available:
“The Gospel of the fourth Sunday of Advent proposes for us again the account of the Annunciation, the mystery to which we return every day in reciting the Angelus…..We are only a few days from Christmas, and we are invited to fix our gaze on the ineffable mystery that Mary kept in her virginal womb for nine months: the mystery of God made man. This is the first pillar of redemption. The second is the death and resurrection of Jesus. These two inseparable pillars manifest one divine plan….. Christmas is tied to the winter solstice, when days in the northern hemisphere begin again to lengthen….perhaps not everyone knows that in the piazza of St. Peter’s there is a sundial. The great obelisk throws its shadow along a line that runs on the cobblestones toward the fountain under this window, and today the shadow is its longest of the year…..the winter solstice offers me an opportunity to greet all those that are participating … in the year of astronomy announced for the four hundred year anniversary of the first observations by telescope of Galileo Galilei. (Benedict XVI, 21 Dec. 08)
Not many scientists are theologians, and not many theologians are scientists (although some do exist from what I understand), but mutual recognition and respect is so important for the advancement of humankind. Perhaps in our modern era they are two “pillars” on which the human person and human society can peacefully advance and mature, if only both have ears and a language with which to hear and understand each other.
Let us in our hearts give place for the mystery of God-Man, and for the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection. This mystery we begin to celebrate on Christmas morning.