A blistering criticism of Vatican II.
A review of “Reconsidering Vatican II” by Michael Novak has led me to believe that the author was originally from the progressive camp at the time of the “event” of Vatican II and with time and reflection firmly can to a reformist camp position. On the one hand, he acknowledges great gains and insights regarding ecumenical issues and impact on relations with nations, eastern churches, and Jewish peoples. On the other hand, he clearly depicts the devastating impact on religious orders that he attributes to the progressive expansion of Vatican II that bought the religious orders to a place of meaninglessness, disconnected from the church. I see it as a laissez faire religiosity that unchecked, like capitalism, leads to dissolution of the main purpose of what the “system” or “institution is there for in the first place: to improve “authentic universal humanism.” The unity of progressive and traditional paradigms is required for true pursuit of the divine nature of the church.
Pope Francis has roots in Argentina that are strongly connected to Liberation theology. His outlook and actions are reflective of this theology. This scares western society. Why? Catholic/Christian roots have a rich tradition of social responsibility and economic justice.
The most recent defining doctrine for the Catholic Church is Vatican II. I anticipate Pope Francis will be touching on many of the reflections that I jotted down below as I read over key documents of Vatican II:
“Let us work to see that created goods are more fittingly distributed among men.”
“The People of God have not been immune from the faults and failings of human affairs — and are, therefore, subject to self-criticism and self-correction.”
“The faithful are called upon to embrace “a vision of a community of faith, hope, and love that answers to their deep and unsatisfied hungers for a truly human, truly meaningful existence.”
“On the other hand, a written record is a dead letter, needing constant interpretation and commentary in succeeding ages.”
“Though there may still be some who yield to the temptation to claim Omni competence for ecclesiastical commentators on the human scene and its contingent social, economic, and political complexities, they cannot appeal to this constitution for for such a pretension. On the contrary the text tells us something significant about the churches true understanding of its own nature and function, as well as its modesty and humility with which it regards its relation to the world.”
“Or else, weighed down by wretchedness, they are prevented from giving the matter any thought.” (Materialism)
“…implementation should be given to the right of all men to a human and civic culture favorable to personal dignity and free from any discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, nationality, religious, or social conditions.”
“In some places it even results in a decline of social status of the weak and in contempt for the poor.” (Intensified wealth gap)
“…..payment for labor must be such as to furnish a man with the means to cultivate his own material, social, cultural and spiritual life worthily, and that of his dependents.” (Governing socio-economic life as a whole)
“…basic rights of the human person are counted the right of freely founding labor unions.”
“Feed the man dying of hunger, because if you have not fed him you have killed him.”
“It is not rare for those hired to work……to receive a wage or income unworthy of human beings.”
“Human beings should also be judiciously informed of scientific advances in the exploration of methods by which spouses can be helped in arranging the number of children.” (Ambiguous with regards to birth control)
“In even more sweeping terms, lack of full fidelity to the gospel on the part of Catholics is as an important cause of man’s unhappy condition today.”
The ditch for Catholics is a deep one when entrenched in our own moral failings – yet we attempt to prescribe morality for others. It is time for serving and interior reflection – not condemnation based on our own sheltered and limited understanding.
Sarah Metts published an article “Fighting Evil Like the Cure of Ars” (Catholic Exchange 08/04/2015). In brief, the article postulates that the way to fight evil in the world (abortion, murder, oppression, violence, etc.) is simply to be holy. She sites work by Peter Kreeft where he states our enemies are not “liberal media, anti-catholic bigots, or even the culture of death, but fallen angels and sin.” To fight those enemies we need Saints like “The Cure of Ars.” St. John Vianney lived at a time when Catholicism was clearly counter-culture in France. In his example, he attracted sinners to his confessional booth from all over the world by his holy life. The article neatly points out our path to sanctity maybe a little more humble (prayers, confession, mass, help the poor).
The article connected to me on-going pieces in the American Conservative by Rod Dreher on the Benedictine Option. In essence, he is challenging the catholic faithful to learn how to live in a culture that is fundamentally counter to our values. We cannot all retreat to monastery life and live according to Benedictine rules, but we can create enclaves within the culture by living holy lives and attracting “barbarians” to the light.
The idea is to retreat to an interior spiritual life that is deeper in meaning and practice, deeper than catholic rituals that at times come to feel like civil religion as opposed to instilled spiritual belief. Or at the very least, a reason for a bull horn and a political stance. The article quotes Richard Rohr’s quote from Falling Upward: “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better….I learned this from my father St. Francis, who did not concentrate on attacking evil or others, but just spent his life falling, and falling many times into the good, the true, and the beautiful. It was the only way he knew how to fall into God.”
As a catholic I can do more by living my life in pursuit of sanctity via prayer, sacraments, confession, good deeds, study, and vigilance than I can by attacking the counter-culture. And trust me I am not claiming any victories here in my pursuit of sanctity, what little victories I have had were given to me on a silver platter and my epic failures were primarily my own inventions – or at least with my consent.
When we live happy lives in harmony (as well as model how to virtuously deal with suffering), help the poor, and practice our faith we can attract more converts to our kingdoms door and God’s grace will do the rest.
The Benedictine Option is not casting aside our role in the communities, it is arming ourselves within a counterculture with the tools to remain faithfully oriented to God. A lot of fancy terms, saints, and philosophers come into play. You can simplify it by a using the four gospels often and praying directly with God. Still, the lives of the Saints provide us with role models of sacrifice and simplicity as well – but they would be the first to say turn your eyes to Jesus and God, not to themselves. Veneration not idolization!
“Personal Holiness changes the world.”
Mt. 6:6: When you pray go to a private room and close the door. You may pray there, say a thoughtful version of the Our Father (Mt. 6: 9 to 15). Fasting privately can also increase faith. For most of us prayer is experienced as a solitary and often lonely experience. It does not have to be long.
Difficulty in prayer is to be experienced with patience. Sleepiness, monkey mind (anxious prayer filled with human concerns or individual concerns), or self-directed prayer that may limit the ability to let God’s intentions and presence surface in our consciousness are some barriers. Simply pray for God’s desires for you, and strength to follow the grand design.
Here is the rub. How can I follow a grand design when so few actually hear God’s plans (like Prophets) personally and to not get ahead of myself. The act of prayer alone is a grandiose act. The immensity of approaching a deity with a two thousand year old letter of introduction. That is faith.
We do have guide post in scripture and inscribed in our hearts. The mystical believer can fine tune through rigorous contemplation and holy acts their inscribed purpose. For most of us, it is a little nudge judging a circumstance, reflecting, and coming to know what is right in God’s eyes, in our sixth sense, a divine intuition.
Humility must be applied consistently. We have no ability to harness divinity at our own rate and our own plan. We do not manage God. We have some minute influence and management/ownership of worldly things, but very little purchase on spirituality or divine presence. It is no wonder we seek comfort in worldly attachments.
Prayer, when in its purest form, seeks the kingdom of God for all, not the mediocre of the kingdom of men and all its entrapments and temporal promises.
Eternal life calls for me to not look for validation from men, but from God. However, temporal life should call for the same measure of accountability, creating heaven on earth by numerous mortal acts of love.
How can you not share this when in the throes of grace or what you think is grace? And if shared no good outcome is to be found. You become smug claiming a proximity to God closer than others or you become labelled “God’s Fool,” chasing a mission that cannot be realized. Both of these are good outcomes given the range of other responses meted out by opposing religions or fascist governments, No good can come from this approach.
Evangelize by deeds great and small without any words, God will do the rest. Entangled thoughts in complex times and an inexperienced way fayer make for confusing post.
Coffee Cup to Grave Sin and everything in Between
The Sacrament of Reconciliation
Since Vatican II a greater emphasis has been placed on God’s action in the sacrament of Reconciliation, than by its former name known as Confession, where an emphasis was on man’s actions. The Sacrament of Penance, yet another name for the same thing, calls for us sinners to approach the sacrament with sorrow for our sins.
On day one of a four-day retreat, I was ready to seek Reconciliation at 5:30. I had my list of sins, doubts and my act of contrition ready to go. The chapel was perhaps 25 yards away from my writing pad, my notes, and my room. At 5:10 or so a deep slumber overtook me and the window of opportunity slipped by on day one. Just as well says I, I have thirty minutes of spiritual direction the next morning that can help me refine my confession and address any of the doubts as well.
On day two, with an early morning spiritual chat about sin and its meaning, the dangers of relativism, the intersection of politics and religion, and our individual and collective roles and responsibility, I refined my confession. It was a little longer, but I was ready in the chapel at 5:10.
At 5:30 a tiny Pious Asian women heads behind the church altar for the confessional room. I position myself non-verbally that I am next in line, antsy to reconcile my sins and retreat back into prayer. The pious woman is taking forever. Does she not know how many people are out here? She cannot have that many sins. She emanated spirituality and goodness. She finally comes out and I head up, genuflecting on the way, and ready to turn the corner to the confessor. The pious women signals to me, a barely audible sound, I turn, and she is coming back up. I say to her I thought you were done, do you have to go back! She explains she went back there to wait for the priest but he never came!
Another evening and a day passes to carry my burden and refine my confession. Saturday afternoon proves to be deeply moving and my sins and the sins of our society are enormous. I get to the chapel at 4:30 for an extra 5:00 p.m. confessional offered by the priest who missed the day before. The Pious One is first in line already, seated right next to the entrance way up on the side of the church. She goes in at 5 p.m. with the priest who provided me guidance the day before. I will be next and he knows my thoughts. Time goes by, and by, and some more. Finally she exits the confessional and heads back and just as I am about to go up a Nun (of immense size) heads back in front of me. Oh well, it won’t be long now. But it is long! If she is that long, I may need a week in there.
I move to a seat close to the front, not to listen, but to be next. Than others follow suit and we now have a legitimate line of sinners eager to reconcile their conscience with the priest.
Another priest and heads behind the church altar. I think maybe the first priest called for backup with the Nun. An elderly lady, several rows back, clearly more pious than the rest, and not in need of confession, caught my eye and told me via a hand gesture to go back. I went back unsure only to find two confessional rooms back there.
I confessed to the new young priest, adding two more sins to my list, which was not minute, that included misjudging the Pious Asian women and thinking negative thoughts about the large Nun who was next door to us and cut the line.
The easy sin was placed out there first for the young priest. Oh how I wanted the veteran next door. A dunk in donuts clerk was rather discourteous and rude to me, and in her rush, did not charge me full price for a coffee product despite my inquiry. It was crowded and I took the coffee mug and coffee at a discounted price and kept going, more out of anger than anything else. Missing church and prayers were considered grave omissions. “Capital sins are also considered grave matter. These sins may include vices that are contrary to the Christian virtues of holiness: pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth (acedia).” Dependent on one’s measuring stick; I suppose we are all guilty to some degree on anyone of these measures. The gravest sins were for last, the sins of our society in their multitude. You name the illness and depravity: robbing or taking advantage of the poor, murder, adultery, and other sins of grave nature happen under our watch and society universally regardless of how you vote.
Wednesday, the first day, I did not have the wisdom or intuition to address the “sorrow for our sins” as deeply as I could on Saturday. I do not rob the poor, work as an executioner, or commit other abominable crimes. However, Christ came to save not my sins, but all of our sins. We are in a betrothal period for union with the father, where we are all sinners and martyrs alike, unified by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
No wonder the Pious Asian women and the Large Nun were taking so long. They were in their confessing for all my sins! The atonement was rather generic for me; attend Mass regularly and reconciliation often! The details of reconciliation appear to be sacrosanct and personal – if you have a real need to know my sins, ask the Pious Asian Lady and the Large Nun. Clearly Reconciliation is the right word, for we truly need God’s sanctifying grace for the actions of the world we live in today, individually and collectively.
Retreat Summary Review:
• Am I open to God’s presence?
• Do I ask for what I must deeply desire?
• Do I know what I mostly deeply desire?
• Am I open to the treasury of the Catholic Faith, its signs, symbols, sacraments, saints?
• I am open to your presence.
• I desire consolation and union, the opposite of emptiness of spirit.
• Yes, union, guidance, healing, and purpose.
• Yes, with reflection and guidance.
Nicene Creed & Apostle’s creed meditation
• Father Paul McCarren 30 minute reflection on Priest
• Barriers to prayer (futile politics, worry, sleep, intellectualism)
• Keep it simple
• Transcendent in reality: Personal Creed
• You are not alone
• Daily Examen
• Desolation and Consolation
• Commissioned, sent, not my words but his words
• The Stations of the Cross
• Rite of Reconciliation preparation
• King of Men Vs. King in God’s world
• Always facing God and always towards God.
• Choose life and collective guilt
• 21 forgiving passages
• My immediate family
“Jesus died for my sins.”
We are taught from a young age our faith and taught in the language of grade school children. This language, perhaps condescendingly, often crashes into a series of ‘”you” and “I” dialogue. At that age, we are taught our place first, often wrongly, within the larger church. The larger context, of social responsibility and collective unity of all human beings, is often overshadowed by the lesson of the day. Catholicism does recognize collective ownership as represented by collective guilt, we do that very well.
However, our unity understanding, through the prism of our western culture which stresses individualism, and through the culture of multi-faith societies, has created a sense of helplessness when considering the magnitude of grave sin amongst believers, never mind the actions of non-believer or people of other faiths. We have default human response to attend to the controllable, to the “I.”
When we do that we are at crossroads with the basis of our faith. Jesus Christ came not for one individual or one cast of people, but all people, sinners and saints alike. The mystery of the bride of Christ (saints, the church, wayfarers) joining Christ in preparing for union as one is often lost as our multi-faith society and multi-nation society, often indistinguishable from each other, battle for earthly and religious superiority. Is this not reminiscent of the tower of Babel?
The entire bible addresses not relationships with individuals, but a call to all people. Some individuals are chosen to lead, but to lead for all, not for the self, the “I.”
The story of the greatest sacrifice and atonement for our sins was for all people (the Jews, the Christians, the romans, the pagans, their forefathers and all the generations to come). It is a new day.
Atonement means that Jesus sacrificed for all of our “lawlessness” and sins and united us as one, believers and unbelievers in solidarity. How incredibly frustrating this is for us Catholics. Aside that we are always seemingly sub par relative to the chosen (Saints) or even to the guy next door, we are on a team with murderers, rapist, child abusers, kidnappers, terrorist, atheist, Jews, ISIS, capitalist, communist, and every type of person who acts contrary to God’s nature.
In the face of overwhelming evil, how critical is it that we model, each according to our ability, the “visible communion as a visible solidarity” among those of us who have accepted Jesus Christ? Without the scripture, without the liturgy, without the Eucharist, without all the symbolism and signs of our faith, we are powerless to attract people to join us in salvation. The emptiness of soulless lives will require the constant feeding of temporal needs of which we will have no alternative to offer but our judgement and condemnation? How often do we see condemnation from our religious and political representatives without any visible solidarity with those they condemn?
Through the visible actions (not words) of attending church, praying, receiving the Eucharist, all the sacraments, helping the poor and living the word we can achieve greater peace (mind you we will still suffer) that can project the glory of God, with the grace of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, to all people. By merely acting and living like Catholics we can do more than by any acts of condemnation of our brothers in Christ.
Jesus did not die for my sins, although they are many, he died for all of our sins that we all maybe redeemed.
Like a very long a parable, the bible presents scripture from Genesis to Revelation. Ask ourselves questions that simplify following the thread of connectivity through the lens of God (well perhaps not as clearly!) through these historical time periods. Genesis establishes the “foundation” of the earth (creation account). The Old Testament provides testimony to man’s journey and disappointments to God thru repeat grave sins against creation, himself, and God despite numerous prophets sent to provide instruction. We live in empires (think St. Augustine City of men) driven by power (think Lucifer the beast of the earth).
Enter stage left, the lamb of God, begotten of the father, one and the same, Jesus Christ from the very foundation of the world, the one of God, is sent as truly man, to be slain for our sins. God provides us his only son so that we may “see” his glory and his compassion, his grace, and his never-ending majesty. Meaning, Jesus Christ, in his death conquered death for us. The blood of Jesus Christ, if we wash our robes in the blood of the lamb, opens the kingdom of heaven for us eternally despite our shortcomings while living in the kingdom of men.
Jesus, symbolically the bridegroom, is courting us the bride (wayfarers here on earth). The church, the saints, and each of us committed to God and Jesus, are the bride. The book of revelation discusses this betrothal period (preparation period) highlighting different degrees of readiness of the churches and their people. The Saints, exercising greater holiness and righteousness than the rest, wear the robes of the bridegroom as they help move us towards unity with Jesus, the true bridegroom, that we will join as one. Easy enough said, just read revelation, it’s as clear as day! The betrothal period is getting long!
Christological Ontology is a mystery before even selecting a subject of study. It delves into the philosophical study of Christian beliefs, metaphysical concepts, and existential applications of said beliefs. The early church recognized deviating teachings from well-meaning Christian believers that were taking on different aspects or definitions of three incarnational truths regarding Jesus Christ are simultaneously maintained:
- Jesus is the Son of God who is man with full divinity (of the father).
- Jesus is truly man that the Son of God is here on earth, experiencing full humanity (birth, hunger, thirst, doubt, pain, and death).
- Jesus, although having two natures (that of man and that of Son of God) is one being – he is the son of god existing in man.
Thomas Weinandy, OFM., CAP presented these truths as coming out of three councils (Nicaea 325 bc, Ephesus 431 bc, and Chalcedon 451 bc). The above three truths do not strike me as controversial, however, the early church had real challenges and accusations of heresy lodged at fellow believers over the essence of who Jesus Christ represented within the context of the Trinity. How could he be both man and God at the same time? If he is man, he cannot be God and vice a versa.
The Council of Chalcedon, the last of the three councils above, solidified the above three ontological truths for the Catholic Church. Not all churches followed suit and to this day questions are raised by these assumptions. How can I explain the unexplainable? As a catholic we have a difficult task of explaining our beliefs as they are based on a rich tradition, history, and lived experiences. They become self-referential and from the outside become even more mysterious than we may feel as believers.
Jesus Christ was incarnate by the Holy Spirit in Mary, the Mother of God. From the very beginning he is different than prior prophets. He is spirit and divinity by getting life through the Holy Spirit and Human by being born like you and me from the Virgin Mary. As he fulfills his redemption and salvation journey, he performs miracles and experiences fully as a human being. He is man. Yet he is not separated from his divinity and his divinity is not tainted by or changed by his sacrifices. God gave us his only son temporarily, to experience and sacrifice for our redemption. His son “emptied himself” of his divinity to be made man while simultaneously still being one with the father. The council of Chalcedon demanded that we recognize Jesus full humanity (which authenticates his descending to earth and sacrificing for us wholly and completely) and that we recognize that he remains the son of God while temporarily giving himself up totally to being man. Hence, after the ultimate sacrifice, being crucified for our redemption with the body of man (and all that entails in pain and suffering), he is called back to the father thru the resurrection to fulfill the majesty of scripture and the word of God.
The practicing catholic need not get caught up in metaphysical existential philosophy and Ontological Christology. We have to only strive to think and act like Jesus Christ (easier said than done). However, if we are to be messengers of the word of God, we have to be able to provide a story or an account of the mystery of the trinity, that although not entirely explainable as it is a mystery, has essential truths that define Jesus Christ and Christianity.
My Personal Creed
July 18, 2015
Saturday Evening excercise
Retreat “Priest, Prophet, King”
Loyola Retreat House on the Potomac
I have come to know you as The Father, The Almighty. I have come to know your son, Jesus Christ, through tradition, and Mary the Mother of Jesus, saints and martyrs, priest and religious people through the church, through life, and hopefully by your grace. Still, despite two thousand years of history since the last prophet, the son of God, has walked the earth, you are unknowable as an infinite being to my finite flesh. You have given me quite a treasury of role models, mediators, and false prophets from which to test what is truly your way or your desires. The tool chest is vast, but the master mechanics are few. I am afraid I will spend much time breaking what is not broken and little time reflecting on what needs repair. I know this from my human experience with worldly things; imagine my bewilderment with approaching your direction, your will? I must throw myself at your mercy and pray for divine providence and grace.
In the meantime, you have given me my bodily form with which to by trial and error, attempt to live a holy and virtuous life. It has been a disaster from the start, and only more so as I have matured. I have not achieved greatness in Satan’s den of thieves but nor have I achieved much more than perhaps an honorable mention, or perhaps only an asterisk for good attempt at a holy life. I have, surely not by my will and individual merit, had great blessings with the sacrament of marriage, three beautiful children, fourteen years of serving the homeless, ten years serving the mentally ill, and the gift of other helping acts over time. I have interrupted these blessings with periods of excess alcohol consumption, bouts of worry and anxiety, and general self-destruction tendencies. I had crosses mind you, but mine were light and airy, like say carrying the cross as Simon of Cyrene did, knowing only physical exercise was required, and that at the end of the journey, the hard work would be done by your son. You would not know it though if you listened to my tale of woes, because I had only my internal experiences, my misery, and my grief from which to judge. I judged you a lousy referee on many occasions of the game of life.
The reality is all I can do is pray daily to “overcome myself and to order my life” in so far as I can shy of your divine providence, your grace, and my tendency for human folly. May my decisions be self-aware, aligned with your desire, and be demonstrated by my action.
Lucifer may have something to say here as he is “seated on a throne of fire and smoke, in aspect horrible and terrifying.” He is reading the playbook, the scouting report of my weaknesses to his minions and yes, he is also reading to me when he is not seated on the throne of fire, he whispers so low, that I think it is me thinking aloud.
It isn’t really complicated. All he has are the tools of things not God, things contrarian to God, worldly things! The things you gave me God, to through trial and error, seek your divine will.
Here are some places where I request your help:
When suffering is at hand, may my integrity, my authentic self, and my character be supported by your grace to respond virtuously and willingly to my cross, however small or large is the crisis. May I say and believe: “Jesus, I trust in You.”
Let not my pride surge or my soul dive into “morose self-pity” when confronted with successes or failures. They are two sides of the same coin, egotism on a rollercoaster of human design. These are driven by all our human passions: belonging, love, friendship, money, food, leisure, power, and other worldly goods. In and of themselves, these “things” are not evil; they become evil when they supersede you. They enslave my soul. Shame is perhaps the most crippling of all. Is shame not a representation of lack of trust in the forgiving and healing power that you provide! Help my faith be strong so I may be open to your healing.
Desolation and Consolation of the spirit:
Oh how lowly I am, I am most in need of your love? Or, I need your presence, I need your grace, I need to speak tongues, I need a sign? My mood, driven by my earthly desires, can ricochet into depression, anxiety, listlessness. My distorted thinking can elevate my circumstances, with help from Lucifer, into a spiritual crisis, or at the very least, a damaging moral crisis. (Note to self: this is not addressing medical anxiety and depression that many people suffer without distorted thinking). The prayer I need to recite is what do you desire for me? Am I answering your divine will if I am too busy seeking your constant consolation? If I cannot shoulder brief moments of desolation, how can I help others who have sustained grief? Please help me find prayer in times of desolation.
Knowledge of you is wonderful. “The World is Charged with the Grandeur of God” when we are open to your ways. However, experiencing you, in everything, and finding you in our own image can be overpowering whenever we are blessed with a glimmer of the divine nature that is your way. Did not the apostles struggle with who is the greatest? I am no preacher. My calling has been family man, social worker, and court jester. The latter ensures I am never too pious. My human nature, though, is competitive. Guide me to use that competitiveness in your service.
The nation of Israel wanted a king. They knew not what they wanted. Your nation is nation less. Your kingdom calls for us all to be priest, prophet, and king. The laws of our nations are failing miserably as well as the houses of worship (at times). We are in disarray God. Seven times seventy is not enough.
Judged on my accord, I am fearful of my frailties and under achievement. Judged on our collective actions, without the saving grace of your son, we are doomed. Please help me to seek confession often for myself, for my church, for the society of believers with Jesus Christ and the aid of any intercessor or mediators that are beyond my comprehension. Help me to use the “examen” exercise often and meaningfully.
Eucharist and the Church:
Help me to receive the Eucharist at every opportunity and join the Holy Spirit and fellow believers in your home.
May I receive your mercy and forgiveness at every turn and hence forth the same compassion to others who have committed offenses against me, my family, or you.
Please guide my prayer life and let my prayer life infuse my ability to see the image of God in my fellow people.
New View of Family Life in the North American Nebula02.10.11
An Extended Stellar Family This swirling landscape of stars is known as the North American nebula. In visible light, the region resembles North America, but in this new infrared view from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, the continent disappears. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
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Pasadena, Calif. — Stars at all stages of development, from dusty little tots to young adults, are on display in a new image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.
This cosmic community is called the North American nebula. In visible light, the region resembles the North American continent, with the most striking resemblance being the Gulf of Mexico. But in Spitzer’s infrared view, the continent disappears. Instead, a swirling landscape of dust and young stars comes into view.
“One of the things that makes me so excited about this image is how different it is from the visible image, and how much more we can see in the infrared than in the visible,” said Luisa Rebull of NASA’s Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif. Rebull is lead author of a paper about the observations, accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series. “The Spitzer image reveals a wealth of detail about the dust and the young stars here.”
The new image is online at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/spitzer/multimedia/pia13844.html .
Rebull and her team have identified more than 2,000 new, candidate young stars in the region. There were only about 200 known before. Because young stars grow up surrounded by blankets of dust, they are hidden in visible-light images. Spitzer’s infrared detectors pick up the glow of the dusty, buried stars.
A star is born inside a collapsing ball of gas and dust. As the material collapses inward, it flattens out into a disk that spins around together with the forming star like a spinning top. Jets of gas shoot perpendicularly away from the disk, above and below it. As the star ages, planets are thought to form out of the disk — material clumps together, ultimately growing into mature planets. Eventually, most of the dust dissipates, aside from a tenuous ring similar to the one in our solar system, referred to as Zodiacal dust.
The new Spitzer image reveals all the stages of a star’s young life, from the early years when it is swaddled in dust to early adulthood, when it has become a young parent to a family of developing planets. Sprightly “toddler” stars with jets can also be identified in Spitzer’s view.
“This is a really busy area to image, with stars everywhere, from the North American complex itself, as well as in front of and behind the region,” said Rebull. “We refer to the stars that are not associated with the region as contamination. With Spitzer, we can easily sort this contamination out and clearly distinguish between the young stars in the complex and the older ones that are unrelated.”
The North American nebula still has a mystery surrounding it, involving its power source. Nobody has been able to identify the group of massive stars that is thought to be dominating the nebula. The Spitzer image, like images from other telescopes, hints that the missing stars are lurking behind the Gulf of Mexico portion of the nebula. This is evident from the illumination pattern of the nebula, especially when viewed with the detector on Spitzer that picks up 24-micron infrared light. That light appears to be coming from behind the Gulf of Mexico’s dark tangle of clouds, in the same way that sunlight creeps out from behind a rain cloud.
The nebula’s distance from Earth is also a mystery. Current estimates put it at about 1,800 light-years from Earth. Spitzer will refine this number by finding more stellar members of the North American complex.
The Spitzer observations were made before it ran out of the liquid coolant needed to chill its longer-wavelength instruments. Currently, Spitzer’s two shortest-wavelength channels (3.6 and 4.5 microns) are still working. The composite image shows light from both the infrared array camera and multiband imaging processor. Infrared light with a wavelength of 3.6 microns is color-coded blue; 8.0-micron light is green; and 24-micron light is red.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA. For more information about Spitzer, visit http://spitzer.caltech.edu/ and http://www.nasa.gov/spitzer .
Whitney Clavin 818-354-4673
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.