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General Audience, On the Sunday Following the Landing of the Man On the Moon

1969, July 23

At the General Audience of July 23rd, the Holy Father spoke of the historic adventure of the first men on the moon. Here is the text of his discourse.

Beloved Sons and Daughters,

There has been so much talk these last few days, all over the world and from everyone, about the flight to the moon We Ourself gave voice to Our admiration, and now it might seem better for Us to be silent. But We would be guilty of a sin of omission if We did not pause a little during this intimate meeting with you here, in order to meditate about it a little.  This extraordinary planetary mission will conclude tomorrow with the astronauts’ return to earth, which We hope will be very successful, It has penetrated so deeply into the public mind that it has become a matter for thought, questionings and spiritual considerations.

It is sadly true that superficiality is a fashionable attitude. Even the strongest impressions coming to us from modern life are instantly cancelled, ar are rather overlaid with others, in such a way that we are often without the time and the will to grasp them and go deeply into their meaning, truth and reality.

But in this present case the effect of novelty and wonder is so strong that it would indeed be foolishness not to think about what we may call this superhuman and historic adventure, which we all witnessed with bated breath on television–and that in itself was marvellous.

Appreciating the Values of Modern Life

Let everyone think about it in his own way–provided that he does think about it! The importance of the scientific aspect can alone give rise to endless thought. For example, the importance of the development and progress that such scientific studies have made in our lifetime, to the point of modifying the traditional humanistic outlook of our culture and our education, that is of our life. The balance of those positive and scientific studies is so much in credit that it exerts a great attraction, to which a large part of the new generations is drawn as by a magnet. An optimism full of dreams of future conquests receives as it were a prophetic initiation in all this. And so may it be. The field of science deserves all our interest.

But We might observe, in passing, that the current fashionable attitude of defeatism towards society and its structure, and against modern life in general is out of place, at least in this regard. This defeatism is nowadays even misleading part of youth and other men of thought and action. It flatters them with thoughts of bold progressivism and seems to give them a superiority complex when it fills them with instincts of rebellion and relentless scorn for our age and its creative effort.

But life is serious, and we are taught this by the immense amount of study, expense labour, organization, tests, attempts, risks and sacrifices that such a colossal undertaking as the space programme has demanded. It is easy to criticize and contest; it is not so easy to build, not only in this undertaking, but also in the many enterprises from which our present civilization has arisen We therefore think that a duty to rethink and re-evaluate the values of modern life is being suggested to us by the event which we are celebrating. We do not deny that criticism has its flight, nor do We reproach youth’s genius for its instinct for emancipation and new things. But We think that the iconoclastic and loveless decadence of the professional contestators is not worthy of youth. Young people ought to feel the ideal and positive call that comes to them from the magnificent adventure in space. And there is another consideration. Our open approval and encouragement for progressive conquest of the natural world, through scientific studies and technical and industrial developments is not opposed to our faith and to the concept of life and of the universe which the faith entails. One only has to read what the recent Council taught in this regard (Gaudium et spes, nn. 37,58,59).

Unjustified diffidence towards religion

This brings Us to one of the most delicate points of the modern outlook regarding our Catholic religion, which is positive and has well defined teachings, arranged in a unified system and centred upon Jesus Christ, his Gospel and his Church. Now, it is easy to find a twofold series of difficulties existing in the mind of modern man, especially in minds devoted to scientific studies. One series pertains to the essential order, the other to the historical.

The modern scientist asks how the immense body of accumulated scientific discoveries can enter into the dogmatic and ritual pattern of Catholic life, with free and total use of reason and with its resulting concept of the world and human existence? And how, the scientist goes on, can the traditional religion, closed in a static mentality belonging to other times, remain intact, in view of the continuous, rapid and macroscopic changes that are occurring with the progress of time in modern man’s thought and behaviour?

Whole books would be needed to formulate and to answer these important objections. We certainly will not do that here. We will only reassure you for the present. The Catholic faith not only does not fear this powerful confrontation between its humble doctrine and the marvellous riches of modern scientific thought but it also welcomes it. It desires it because truth is one and consistent, even thought it be diversified in differing orders and tests upon differing title. The faith desires such a confrontation also because a reciprocal benefit can come to faith (Gaudium et spes, n. 44) and to research and study of every field of knowledge.

This was one of the characteristic and best documented affirmations of Catholic apologetic thought in the last century and in the first part of this century. It has had magnificent consequences, of which our Universities are glorious evidence.

Nowadays other tendencies are coming to light, which suppose and do not contradict the foregoing. There is the tendency which We may describe as psychological, and which goes back to St. Augustine’s famous words: “Thou (O Lord) hast made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless till they rest in thee” (Confessions, 1, I). Need for God is inborn in human nature; the further human nature progresses, the more it becomes aware of the need for God, and does so even to the point of torment, of a certain dramatic experience. And there is the other tendency which, for the sake of clarity, We may call cosmic. Anyone who studies, who searches, who thinks, cannot escape an objective omnipresence of God, and this is an ancient truth Scripture is always repeating: “Wither shall I go from thy spirit (O Lord), and whither shall I flee from thy face?” (Ps. 138, 7) It is not possible to escape this presence, the matter and nature of which is a book of spiritual reading for anyone who can understand. St. Paul tells us: “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts, 17, 28). The unknown God is always there: all study of the things around us is like making contact with a veil behind which we become aware of an infinite, breathing Presence.

God’s Presence

Now comes the sublime moment, the moment of revelation, the instant in which Christ draws away the curtain and appears in the historical and simple setting of the Gospel. Who is Christ? That is the decisive question. St. John answers the query in the first chapter of his gospel: he is the Word, he is God, the one through whom all things were made. And St. Paul confirms this: “He is before all things; and all things subsist through him” (Col 1, 17). He it is who one day, the final day “of the restoration of all things” (of the “apocatastasis”, Acts 3,21), “will subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3,21) by his power. That is. Christ is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end (cf. Apos. 1,8; 21,6; 22,13), not only of man’s destiny, but also of the entire cosmos, of which he is the focal point, whence come all meaning, all light, all order, all fullness.

We are not afraid, dearly beloved children, that our faith may not be able to comprehend the explorations and conquests which man is making in creation, that we, Christ’s followers, may be shut out from contemplating the earth and the sky, from the joy of progressive and marvellous discovery of them. If we are with Christ we are in the way, the truth, and the life. With Our Apostolic Blessing.

L'Osservatore Romano, weekly edition in English 1969, July 31.