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Star of the month: Algieba

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Second magnitude Algieba, Arabic for "forehead" of the lion, marks the radiant of the annual Leonid meteor shower. Located in the constellation Leo's mane, this double star is comprised of a pair of orange and yellow stars that can be observed in a good telescope. Algieba is about 125 light years away and both stars are quite luminous, shining 180 times brighter than our sun. One star has a diameter over 20 times the size of the sun and the other is about 10 times the size. The orbital distance from each other is twice the distance Pluto is from us. In 2009, it was discovered that a large planet may orbit the primary star.

Leo can be seen rising in the east on clear evenings in March and will ride higher in the sky in April and May.

St. Louis archbishop speaks out on the environment

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Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis, Mo. recently wrote in his regular column about the environment.

"We hear a lot about the environment these days. Is global warming really happening? How serious is our abuse of the natural resources of our planet — the air we breathe, the water we drink, the land we cultivate? Have we lost our ability to marvel at the beauty of Earth and the vastness of the cosmos? Do we regard ourselves as "masters of the universe" or as stewards of what truly belongs to God alone?

"Pope Benedict XVI is sometimes called "the green pope" because he frequently speaks about our duty to care for God's creation in respectful and responsible ways. Pope John Paul II and Pope Paul VI also taught the importance of environmental stewardship, but in keeping with growing international concerns, Pope Benedict speaks about this issue with a new urgency."

Read more in the St. Louis Review, the publication of the archdiocese.

Hal Borland: 'The incredible, inevitable renascence of life'

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Hal Borland wrote a nature editorial for many years in the New York Times. This one is reprinted from his book "Twelve Moons of the Year."

March comes, a kind of interregnum, winter’s sovereignty relaxing, spring not yet in control. But the pattern is now established.

The incredible but annually commonplace change that is life eternally renewed has begun to stir. Out of the cold and dormant earth will come the leaf, the blossom, and the twig. Out of the pupa, the egg and the womb will come the palpitant swarming of gauzy wing, chitin-clad body, feathers, and fur. The pulse of plasma with its green chlorophyll and red hemoglobin begins its slow vernal throb. Sap stirs. Blood livens. The protoplasm of life begins to quicken.

\"Bright winds God walks down every single day'

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Southern Missouri hollows are somewhat mysterious places, with clear-water streams that disappear then reappear a hundred or two hundred yards down the hollow. There are shadowy nooks and high walls of limestone cliffs above under the ridgetops. Logging roads crisscross the streams taking advantage of any flat terrain.

One afternoon I was exploring a remote hollow I had never before visited. It was in late March, a stormy day. The somber pageantry of the clouds hid the sun. Mists were forming up around the garrets and lofts of the ridgecrests. As I entered the deeper woods of the lower hollow, the sky darkened. Down the path an animal disappeared quickly in a blur of movement before I could get a good look. A rain crow’s long labored call echoed against the stern hillsides. A nuthatch circled the trunk of a hickory upside down searching for larvae and making its high-pitched liquid tin trumpet call.

The Sierra Club's Michael Brune: United we stand for solutions

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Michael Brune is executive director of the Sierra Club.

When workers began protesting Governor Scott Walker's attempt to bust the public employee unions in Wisconsin, I was proud to say that the Sierra Club stands firmly behind the right to organize and bargain collectively.

By now it's obvious that Walker’s anti-union efforts, like so many recent assaults on the right of people to protect their livelihoods through collective bargaining, were paid for by the same corporate interests that are bankrolling the attacks our nation's environmental policies. In Wisconsin and beyond, people with no regard for clean water, air, or public health (including the Koch brothers) are pouring the money they made from dirty fossil fuels into an all-out attempt to put our nation permanently in the control of the privileged few.

'You're so heavenly minded, you're no earthly good'

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Throughout the 1990s I became involved in a dispute between the Trappist monks Our Lady of the Assumption Abbey in southern Missouri and some of their neighbors.

The monastery was founded in the 1950s by a contingent from New Melleray Abbey in Iowa. A St. Louis newspaperman had given the Trappists a 5,000 acre tract of land that he owned and has used as a hunting preserve. He had constructed a stone lodge on the grounds near the Bryant River. The monks moved into the abandoned lodge and built onto it, even adding some army surplus barracks for extra space.

Their aim was to live off the land, so they also built a carpentry barn, large tool sheds and a milk cow operation, and put in an extensive orchard on a hilltop. In the 1960s after the failure of the milk operation, they constructed a plant for making concrete blocks on the banks of the river. This operation brought income. The cattle were sold and the orchard abandoned. In the late 1960s they built a new monastery at the top of the hill above the old buildings.

Humility before the forces of nature

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Don’t underestimate Mother Nature. She may invoke images of a goddess-like maiden with flowers in her golden hair dancing in the fields, which seems harmless enough. But what if she’s really more like a determined matriarch, with her children behind her, wielding her broom, fire in her eyes, daring anyone to harm her brood? We’d know to steer clear, because her protective instinct once aroused, makes for a dangerous woman. How, then, did we fail to take into account just who or what we were dealing with when we plundered the Earth? It’s probably one more manifestation of the patriarchal mentality, dismissing the Earth as a powerless feminine reality.

As a result, we haven’t seen the connection between God and creation. We have been taught to “fear” God, meaning to take God seriously, to reverence God who clearly has power over us. But we never thought that applied to what God has created, even though creation does God’s bidding, is embedded with God’s characteristics, and partakes of the nature of God. Thus we are learning the hard way that we cannot get away with our transgressions against nature, so perhaps it’s time for some appropriate humility.

The river of grace found in silence

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I’ve only been to a casino a couple of times, and to me, it was a bit of hell on earth — constant clicking and clacking of machines, loud music, bright lights, and frenetic energy everywhere. To me, this kind of a place with its constant noise and stimulation symbolizes what is wrong with our culture —glorifying incessant activity and sound. Even at home, many people have the television or radio on, lest that feared enemy — quiet -- should sneak in their doors. And apparently jogging or driving are only made tolerable by listening to music or NPR or talking on a cell phone.

Leonardo Boff: Enact a law of socio-environmental responsibility

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Leonardo Boff is professor emeritus of ethics, philosophy of religion and ecology at Rio de Janeiro State University.

There is already a law of fiscal responsibility. A government cannot
spend more than it takes in as income gathered by taxes. This has
significantly improved public management.

The accumulation of ecological disasters that has occurred recently, with the collapse of hillsides, devastating floods and hundreds of fatalities, plus the destruction of whole landscapes, forces us to think of enacting a national law of socio-environmental responsibility, with severe punishment for those who fail to respect it.

A step in that direction has been taken with the awareness by the enterprises of social responsibility. They cannot consider only themselves and the benefits for their stockholders. They must assume clear social responsibility, because they do not live in a world apart: they are part of a specific society, in a State that creates laws, they are located in a specific ecosystem, and they are being pressured by a citizenry that is aware and that constantly makes greater demands for the right to a good quality of life.

Leonardo Boff: The Franciscan truth: It is in giving that we receive

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Leonardo Boff is professor emeritus of ethics, philosophy of religion and ecology at Rio de Janeiro State University.

We are in the period of setting up the government. There are disputes over places and functions by parties and politicos. There are negotiations, charged with differing interests and plenty of vanity. In this context one hears the inspiring prayer for peace of Saint Francis: «it is by giving that we receive», invoked to justify the exchange of favors and support amid a torrent of money. It is a crass manipulation of the generous and selfless spirit of the saint of Assisi. But let's put aside these diversions and look at its true
meaning.

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April 11-24, 2014

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