The space shuttle Challenger streaked into the Atlantic sky, then burst into a flaming flash. My wife and I were watching from the lawn in front of our home in Titusville, Florida. We looked in stunned wonder, not wanting to believe what we saw on that 28th day of January, 1986.
The pastor of Holy Spirit Church in the nearby town of Mims, where many space workers worshipped, asked me to write something to be read at Mass on Sunday. This is it.
From almost any point in our parish --from the lawns in front of our homes, from the windows of classrooms, from the asphalt surface of parking lots —we were able to watch the shuttle Challenger head for a new conquest of space. But just 74 seconds later the conquest exploded before our eyes, the lives of seven very special Americans disintegrated in a horror of flame.
From that moment our parish was not the same, our lawns and classrooms and even our parking lots were not the same, because the words of St. Peter’s First Epistle moved out of the pages of Scripture and into our lives on a chilly January morning: “Do not be surprised, beloved, that a trial by fire is occurring in your midst.”
Our Catholic faith is a religion of the future. We can understand the convictions, scientific and philosophical and perhaps religious, which inspired the seven space heroes to board the Challenger shuttle for a flight into the future. They were explorers for all of us, just as they were neighbors to all of us.
We Christians, blessed by a God of eternal life, know that we have a proper role in the world, a role that encourages us to understand the nature of the universe and to enter into that universe with confidence. We understand that even as we live each day we are dying a bit each day until we reach the final goal, which comes so unexpectedly and never quite in the manner of our own choosing, comes as it did to our neighbors Gregory B. Jarvis, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Ronald McNair, Ellison S. Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Michael J. Smith and the shuttle commander Francis “Dick” Scobee.
It is part of our role in this world to respond to God’s many gifts, using those gifts to establish within the world a measure of love, of dignity, of simple goodness. Here where we live and pray, in this part of the world known as the Space Coast, we enjoy a profound sense of the awesome power of the Almighty to engage the men and women of his creation in a course of growth, a course that leads to new horizons. We live life fully because we know that there are great wonders ahead.