Christ Reorients Webb

Even a casual glance or two at the astounding images being released from the Webb Space Telescope, that penetrating eye in the sky, can rapidly lead one to a crisis of orientation, a disorientation of meaning, of personal identity, of individual existence.

Even a casual glance or two at the astounding images being released from the Webb Space Telescope, that penetrating eye in the sky, can rapidly lead one to a crisis of orientation, a disorientation of meaning, of personal identity, of individual existence. In front of the vastness, of the images of thousands of galaxies, the head spins, the voice within cries out: “So what does all this mean to me? Just take a look and cast aside?” “Where do I fit in?” “Where can I place a firm ground for my footing?” 

No place in all that is steadily streamed on the web by Webb is there any mention of a Creator God. Such mention is clearly strictly forbidden by the Universe’s Scientific Code of Conduct. Reference to a “Big Bang” origin from “nothing” is permitted by the ideology of scientism. Yet humanity, unconvinced, has continued to search for the beginnings, the origins, the centers of all in lived history, observations and meanings since the first glimmers of thought. 

That searching has most often begun with the inner reflection of “Who am I?” “Where have I come from?” Then it has moved over the eons to the science of observations, theories, calibration, and verification of such, with science of late rising to the forefront as to what can be trusted and relied upon. The motivation for all this searching, groping, even groveling is to understand and then presumably exercise a measure of control over human destiny. When all this is done in the absence of a recognition of the presence of God, of the Being in which all that exists, exists out of Love, then the search is ultimately doomed to futility, to a bottomless pit of confusion—endless babbling, beard tugging, and ultimate violence and death. This is the state of our culture today.

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This continual sending of ever more sophisticated and larger telescopes into space has consistently expanded the boundaries of the universe, now on the order of tens of billions of light years to the farthest distance received. This is a number beyond normal comprehension. The speed of light (186,000 miles per second) is such that in one second light travels around the circumference of the earth seven times. Even a casual human visual glance at a night sky reveals a wonder and beauty of light and darkness, of questioning, of poetry, of song. 

The latest images, which are now so easily disseminated, constantly astound the viewer who begins to recognize that he or she is “buried” in one of those galaxies, the Milky Way, on a tiny speck of dust; “buried,” yet alive with a strange, ever-increasing desire to see beyond the “edge.” Webb immediately places Earth into ever increasingly smaller, infinitesimally smaller, size relative to the size of the Universe. For example, if one compares the diameter of the Earth to the diameter of the universe as if the universe were one meter in size, the Earth would be one billion times smaller than the size of an atom! In front of this infinitesimally small Earth, the vastness of the Universe, the uncertainty and meaning of the beginning of when all this began, a reaction of being disoriented can easily enter and is readily understood.  

To reorient is to look to a center. God, the Creator, now stands over all of Webb images and—like a mighty, caring, fiercely loving Father—at the appointed time, hurls the pointed lance of the Incarnation of His Son into this Universe, to its very center, a place we call Nazareth, to its very point of entry into all of humanity. Pope John Paul II announced this in the first line of his encyclical Redemptor Hominis: “The Redeemer of Man, Jesus Christ, is the center of the universe and of history.”

For our constant crises of orientation, of longing to see the image of the plan of God, now we can look and see rising in the midst of the great images of Webb the slender radiant Pole of Christ at the Center, a shaft of Light rooted in all of humanity, in my speck of Earth; a Christ linked to the Infinite Divine from this Center and yet extending to the billionth light year yet unseen. A Lance of Light visible to the naked eye of faith, invisible to the telescope of scientism.

What an outstanding sight! Easily surpassing that of Webb! An image, real, not doctored, not filtered, but the very image of Christ, incarnated into history, into the center. But for what purpose? This Pole of orientation inserted, thrust, plunged into our universe by God is to direct us to the fundamental reason for our existence—to love as Christ loved, loves, and continues to love. Now I am free! We, all of humankind, can look to the Center to “get our bearings,” our true orientation.

But what is the source of our disorientation that leads to so many anxieties, fears, concerns for the future? In front of us are the constant images of our lives, images which are presented always “photoshopped,” ideologically filtered; images which can so easily whirl our minds (and hearts) into a wormhole of anxiety. The images that appear instantaneously during a meeting, during a web search, during a morning run: a tearful, divorced grandchild; the eyes of a 37-year-old suicide; the protestors with banners of violence; the sardonic smile of a President. Then the overwhelming images of a universal culture of a sovereign science, devoid of belief in the Supernatural, of images of death presented as life, of images totally blank, empty, masquerading as beauty and pleasure.

These are our highly individualized, personally beamed images. Our filtered images can no longer be trusted, their perspectives are so manipulated by the many conflicting journalistic, political, and academic ideological images that we are quickly led to despair, a crisis of meaning, or orientation. We detect our nothingness, our infinitesimal littleness, and we desperately look about for a center. The peak of loss of orientation is to succumb to our culture’s solution: the center exists within oneself. Such an orientation rapidly leads to a form of self-centeredness to the exclusion of relationship. Love of the other becomes alien to living simply because there are too many centers to focus upon. Enemies continue to jump from the trenches and our ability to love is conquered by our focus on survival.

Disoriented as we are, beset by our personal and human crises of universal dimension, the true center to all of the Webb images, the Center from which the fullness of trust emerges, is then the magnificent reality of the slender Pole of light rising at the mid-point of the Universe. We then look to the Christ Incarnational Center rising up in the midst of the thousands upon thousands of images, of galaxies of dusty stars, and what is seen with a clarity and unfiltered reality is a Love that transcends the Universe. It is a Love that is assumed into this speck of humanity and bound to the Divinity of it all. 

This Love, when allowed to enter into us, looks out at the images of today and yesterday, the tears, the smiles, the prone bodies, the defiant lifted arms, the endless sameness of loss of faith and life, and embraces all with new eyes of joint compassion and suffering. A freedom results that is known only through the death of one’s ideology, of one’s desire for centrality. Our seeming condemnation to freedom is reversed to a release to an exaltation of joy at being reoriented from the scattered images of the Webb to the centered Incarnational radiant Pole of Christ.

[Image from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, revealed on July 11, 2022, is the deepest infrared view of the universe to date. (Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI)]

  • Deacon Robert V. Thomann

    Robert V. Thomann, D. Min., Ph.D., is a Permanent Deacon of the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey. He and his wife, Joan, minister in the parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Ridgewood, New Jersey, where they also walk in the Neocatechumenal Way. He holds a Doctor of Ministry from Fordham University, a Master’s in Systematic Theology from Seton Hall University, a Ph.D. in Oceanography from New York University, a Master’s in Civil (Environmental) Engineering from NYU, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering from Manhattan College.

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