Signs: Contemplating “the Love that moves the sun and the other stars”

Aurora boreale
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By Roberto de Mattei

Exceptional weather events, including eclipses and northern lights, have multiplied around the world over the past year.

  On April 8, 2024, there was a major solar eclipse in the Americas, visible from Mexico to the United States to Canada, 14 days after a lunar eclipse that had darkened the skies over parts of the Americas and Europe on March 25. 

A few months earlier, on November 5, 2023, the skies over half of Europe were illuminated by an aurora borealis, which in Italy was observed from the Alps to the coast of the Adriatic Sea. On March 25, a new magnetic storm produced northern lights on our planet that were visible at different latitudes. A new aurora borealis between May 10 and 11, 2024, lit up not only the skies of the Northern Hemisphere but also southern Europe. The Northern Lights are very rare, yet in recent months tens of millions of people in Italy and around the world have witnessed the impressive spectacle three times. 

        These unusual events certainly have their own natural explanation. The aurora borealis is an optical phenomenon whereby moving bands of different colors can be seen in the atmosphere as the result of the encounter between particles carried by solar winds and gaseous particles in the Earth’s atmosphere. Lunar eclipses occur when the Earth comes between the Sun and the Moon, while in the solar eclipse it is the Moon that comes between the Sun and the Earth partially or totally obscuring the Sun. But beyond the “scientific” explanation, which reduces natural phenomena to a combination of particles of matter, connected to each other and in mutual motion, there is, however, the question of whether there is not a deep and invisible meaning of these events.

The inadequacy of a merely quantitative analysis of natural events was already noted by St. Augustine who, in his Discourse 68, quoting the Book of Wisdom, blames those who, investigating the cosmos, were unable to find the One from whom everything was created. “For if they were able to possess so much science as to realize the universe, how is it that they did not more easily find the Lord of it? (Wis 13:9).” They, “investigated the motion of the stars, the distance between the various stars, the path of the heavenly bodies; thus occupying themselves with such studies they arrived at such scientific knowledge that they predicted the eclipses of the sun and moon, and when they predicted them these occurred on the predicted day and hour, in the measure and point of space predicted by them. Great skill! Great skill! But when they set out to seek to know the Creator, who stood not far from them, they could not find him; if they had found him, they would have had him in themselves.”

In ancient times, and in the Christian Middle Ages, people scanned the heavens trying to know the meaning of extraordinary events, as happened to the Magi when the comet star appeared announcing the birth of the Savior.  And when Jesus died on Calvary, the sky darkened and the held trembled (Mt. 27:45-51). For it was fitting, the Church Fathers comment, that darkness should fall on the earth at the moment when He who came to bring light to the world was crucified. 

At Fatima, in July 1917, Our Lady revealed to the three shepherd children that the chastisement that would befall mankind if it did not comply with her requests would be anticipated by a great sign from heaven: “When you see a night illuminated by an unknown light, know that it is the great sign that God is giving you of the fact that He is preparing to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine and persecution of the Church and the Holy Father.”

 World War II, which broke out on Sept. 1, 1939, was preceded by two northern lights, on Jan. 25-26, 1938, and Aug. 23, 1939. Sister Lucia, in the institute of Santa Dorotea in Tuy, Spain where she was then living, seemed to identify the northern lights of 1938 with the “great sign” prophesied by Our Lady. “God used it to make me understand that His justice was about to be unloaded on the guilty nations, and I then began to insistently ask for the Communion of reparation on the First Saturdays and the consecration of Russia” (Documentos de Fatima, Porto 1976, p. 231). 

Sister Lucy’s words give pause for thought, but since World War II was the beginning and not the end of the chastisements that would befall mankind because of its unfaithfulness, the northern lights of 1938 and 1939 must be considered as the anticipation and foreshadowing of other heavenly signs to come, without the origin, natural or supernatural, of them being clear.

        Whatever the sign of Heaven foretold by Our Lady, it seems likely that it will be granted by Divine Providence not so much to convert those immersed in sin as to strengthen the faith and hope of those fighting for the establishment of Mary’s Kingdom promised at Fatima. In fact, according to the Gospel, not even one raised from the dead could have shaken the unbelief of the rich man Epulon’s brothers, who rejected the word of the prophets (Lk. 16:19-31). How could those who persist in rejecting the prophetic message Our Lady at Fatima gave to humanity be convinced by a heavenly sign, however spectacular?

On Aug. 23, 1939, the day the Soviet and German foreign ministers, Vyacheslav Molotov and Joachim von Ribbentrop, signed the nonaggression pact between the two countries that led to the partition of Poland, Hitler gathered his closest associates in his refuge in the Salzburg Alps. “That night,” wrote Albert Speer, the regime’s architect, “we lingered on the terrace of the Berghof to admire a rare celestial phenomenon: for an hour or so, an intense aurora borealis illuminated with red light the legendary Untersberg that stood before us, while the vault of the sky was a palette of all the colors of the rainbow. The last act of the Twilight of the Gods could not have been staged more effectively. Even our faces and hands were dyed an unnatural red. The spectacle produced in our minds a profound disquiet” (Memoirs of the Third Reich, transl. it., Mondadori, Milan 1997 p. 196).    

The Nazi hierarchs were astonished, but failed to grasp the symbolism of the event, unlike what had happened a century earlier to the writer Adalbert Stifter (1805-1868) who, in Vienna, had contemplated the great solar eclipse of July 8, 1842. Stifter states that he had never been so awestruck in his life, seeing in it the hand of God: “Never in my whole life have I been so shaken with sublime terror as in those two minutes” (Eclipse. Winter Letters from the Bavarian Forest, tr. it, Clueb, Bologna 2006, p. 38).

God has not only willed from eternity that these extraordinary celestial events should happen, but He has willed to place in our hearts a deep feeling of awe and wonder that generates a desire to discover their meaning. This spirit, which allows us to contemplate the “metaphysical symphony of the universe,” spoken of by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira (Sacred Contemplation of the Universe, Cantagalli, Siena 2013), must be recaptured in order to restore a profoundly sacred and God-ordained society.

The loss of the transcendent sense of history corresponds to the disappearance of a metaphysical view of nature. In both cases God, creator of heaven and earth, is expelled from the created universe. Let us therefore lift our gaze to the celestial firmament, trying to perceive those mysterious messages that astronomers do not grasp, but which do not escape those who contemplate in the universe, “the Love that moves the sun and the other stars” (Dante, Paradiso, 23, 145). 

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