christus mit jüngern in emmaus franz weiss 1971.jpg

Christus and the disciples at Emmaus, Franz Weiß, 1971

But they urged him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.”
So he went in to stay with them.

And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing,
broke it, and gave it to them.

With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him,
but he vanished from their sight.                  
(Lk 24,29-31)

Franz Weiss (1921 – 2014) was an academic painter and sculptor from the Western part of Styria. He has been working as an independent artist since 1951. His œuvre covers an astounding wide range of topics and techniques, mainly sacral works of art and major commitments in public space, including altar-pieces, the decoration of churches and chapels, shrines at the wayside, crosses and tombstones, historical cycles in various techniques, murals al fresco and al secco, painting on panel and canvas, reverse glass-painting and watercolours, woodcuts, enamels, reliefs of bossed copper, mosaics, and stained-glass windows as well as sculptures of wood and stone.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Wer bin ich” – “Who am I”


Wer bin ich? Sie sagen mir oft,
ich träte aus meiner Zelle
gelassen und heiter und feste
wie ein Gutsherr aus seinem Schloss.

Wer bin ich? Sie sagen mir oft,
ich spräche mit meinen Bewachern
frei und freundlich und klar,
als hätte ich zu gebieten.

Wer bin ich? Sie sagen mir auch,
ich trüge die Tage des Unglücks
gleichmütig, lächelnd und stolz,
wie einer , der Siegen gewohnt ist.

Bin ich das wirklich, was andere von mir sagen?
Oder bin ich nur das, was ich selbst von mir weiß?
Unruhig, sehnsüchtig, krank, wie ein Vogel im Käfig,
ringend nach Lebensatem, als würgte mir einer die Kehle,
hungernd nach Farben, nach Blumen, nach Vogelstimmen,
dürstend nach guten Worten, nach menschlicher Nähe,
zitternd vor Zorn über Willkür und kleinlichste Kränkung,
umgetrieben vom Warten auf große Dinge.
Ohnmächtig bangend um Freunde in endloser Ferne,
müde und leer zum Beten, zum Denken, zum Schaffen,
matt und bereit, von allem Abschied zu nehmen.

Wer bin ich? Der oder jener?
Bin ich denn heute dieser und morgen ein andrer?
Bin ich beides zugleich? Vor Menschen ein Heuchler
und vor mir selbst ein verächtlicher Schwächling?
Oder gleicht, was in mir noch ist, dem geschlagenen Heer,
das in Unordnung weicht vor schon gewonnenen Sieg?

Wer bin ich? Einsames Fragen treibt mit mir Spott.
Wer ich auch bin, Du kennst mich, Dein bin ich, o Gott.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer,  Juni 1944

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) war einer der herausragenden deutschen Theologen des 20. Jahrhunderts. Er wirkte unter anderem als evangelischer Pfarrer in Berlin und gehörte zur ‘Bekennenden Kirche’. Er entschied sich zum Widerstand gegen Hitler; er wurde 1943 inhaftiert, und 1945 – in den letzten Kriegstagen – zum Tode verurteilt und hingerichtet. Sein Lebenszeugnis und seine Schriften  prägten und prägen viele Menschen.


Who am I? They often tell me,
I come out of my cell
Calmly, cheerfully, resolutely,
Like a lord from his palace.

Who am I? They often tell me,
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me,
I carried the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one who is used to winning.

Am I really then what others say of me?
Or am I only what I know of myself?
Restless, melancholic, and ill, like a caged bird,
Struggling for breath, as if hands clasped my throat,
Hungry for colors, for flowers, for the songs of birds,
Thirsty for friendly words and human kindness,
Shaking with anger at fate and at the smallest sickness,
Trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Tired and empty at praying, at thinking, at doing,
Drained and ready to say goodbye to it all.

Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today and another tomorrow?
Am I both at once? In front of others, a hypocrite,
And to myself a contemptible, fretting weakling?
Or is something still in me like a battered army,
running in disorder from a victory already achieved?
Who am I? These lonely questions mock me.
Whoever I am, You know me, I am yours, O God.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, June 1944 [1]


[1] translation by Thomas Albert Howard

Fascination – Verzauberung


(c) Ali Nouraldin, Children in Idomeni, at the border between Greece and Macedonia

Unicef 2. Preis: Stunde der Verzauberung

Es ist Nacht angebrochen in Idomeni. Eine Nacht zwischen weiteren Tagen des Wartens, der Bewegungslosigkeit, der Ungewissheit. Über 12.000 Flüchtlinge, meist aus Syrien und in der Mehrzahl Kinder und Jugendliche, harrten im Frühjahr 2016 hier an der griechisch-mazedonischen Grenze aus; gestoppt auf ihrem Weg nach Deutschland, von dem viele träumen. Freiwillige Helfer haben ein Behelfskino unter freiem Himmel aufgebaut, um sie aus der Lagerrealität zu entführen und ihre Gedanken verreisen zu lassen. Der 1985 im Gaza-Streifen geborene, gegenwärtig in Köln lebende und für internationale Medien arbeitende Fotojournalist Ali Nouraldin, hat diese Stunde der Verzauberung während eines längeren Aufenthalts in Idomeni eingefangen. Besonders berührt haben ihn die ebenso bangen wie hoffnungsvollen Fragen, die ihm immer wieder von den Flüchtlingen gestellt wurden. So griff ein kleines Kind nach seiner Hand und ließ sich erwartungsvoll von den Schulen in Deutschland erzählen.

I miss you, and I miss this smile


A reflection for Mother’s Day

A few days ago, I discovered both my parents mentioned on the internet: Nabila, a young lady that majored in Geodesy – the field my father taught, writes on her blog about the “Queen of the night” (Epiphyllum oxypetalum) that started to blossom and adds:

I remember something I read from a book by Helmut Moritz, Science, Religion and Tolerance:
My wife was a botanist. When were walking and she saw a particularly beautiful flower, she used to say with a smile: “Alles Zufall?” (All this is pure chance?).

Source: The Queen of the Night in Full Bloom


Yes, this smile was very characteristic. When I visited her in October 2002, a few days prior to her leaving this world (very unexpected I must say), she smiled like saying: “I am happy you made it here!” – Austria is small, the travel is just 250 km…, anyway! This smile will stay with me as long as I live.

Mother’s Day is approaching fast. When I lost my mother, I knew, my childhood is definitively over. Part of it is gone. That is tough for anyone, independently of the age when this happens to you.
Mother’s Day then is a day for being grateful for what she lived and tried to give to me, in particular:

  1. Passion for biology and nature. My mother knew every plant, every tree, by Latin and German name, and family. As a child I found this pretty boring, but when I was thirteen or fourteen, I got it! We spent long time together collecting and and classifying plants. And I asked non-stop … When I started my College education, my colleagues asked me: “Why do you know this belongs to the (… let’s say) Scrophulariaceae”? I said: “I don’t know, I just see that.” – Year-long, patient training  by my mom.
  2.  Faith informed by study and impregnated by prayer. My mother started the endeavor of faith alone, my father was an agnostic at the time they married and found to the Catholic faith later in his life. Therefore, my mother was the first to educate us in the faith. She was our family expert on theological questions [1] and a role model on living a prayer and sacramental life in the middle of her everyday tasks and occupations.
  3. Her attitudes: Be positive. Learning is a life-long task.  Smile even if life may be rough. – She never gave me these advices in words. But in deeds, yes. I am working on putting them in practice. Work in progress.



Our Lady of Mariazell

I have another mother that is also smiling at me like a good mother does. But she is only smiling if I need this. Most often she is looking at me telling me that I should look at her Son, or she has a sad look, or a contemplative one. When Saint Teresa de Avila was loosing her mother at young age, she went to a image of Our Lady and told her: “Now, you need to take care of me like my mother”. [2]

Maybe, it is more than a conicidence that we celebrate Mother’s Day in May, the month that we dedicate to Our Lady?

This statue is Our Lady of Mariazell in Styria, Austria. She usually wears robes (beautifully crafted). Very few pictures exist of the statue from the middle ages in which Mary looks at us and tells us: “go to Him!” In the reverse, we can go to her and ask her: “Show us Jesus!” – This was the motto of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Austria in 2007 and is taken from the final words of Deus Caritas est.

Holy Mary, Mother of God,
you have given the world its true light,
Jesus, your Son – the Son of God.
You abandoned yourself completely
to God’s call
and thus became a wellspring
of the goodness which flows forth from him.
Show us Jesus. Lead us to him.
Teach us to know and love him,
so that we too can become
capable of true love
and be fountains of living water
in the midst of a thirsting world.

May she be our consolation in times when we miss our beloved parents or family members, leading us to her Son – and through Him to heaven.


[1] In the foreward to his book  Science, Mind and the Universe  – An Introduction to Natural Philosophy, my father wrote the following: “Last but not least, my wife Gerlinde read various versions of the manuscript and was my adviser in questions of biology and theology, besides confirming that the book can be read also without mathematics.”

[2] The story more literally: Saint Teresa of Avila Virgin, Foundress—1515-1582 A.D. – Feast: October 15

Climate change and the moving north pole: science and fairy tales


“Did you hear that climate change is even affecting the position of the north pole? Is that true?”, I was asked yesterday. And today, I found in my twitter feed:

The movie clip is pretty impressive. And the graphic in the article indicated even more:


Before 2000, Earth’s spin axis was drifting toward Canada (left globe). Climate change-driven ice loss in Greenland, Antarctica and elsewhere is pulling the direction of drift eastward.
Credit: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory


My father was professor in geodesy, and some topics, like earth rotation, earth magnetism, plate tectonics were among those topics that I found fascinating – and  I still love them. The north pole moves anywhay, so what’s happening?

How big can this impact possibly be?

Short answer: Very, very small. Yes, we already have and we will have more climate change induced problems. But the drift of the north pole is none of them.


Below, we see in graphic A [1] that the north pole is moving in the direction south-east (towards London) for the years 2003-2015, with a good correspondence between the observed and the calculated values; graphic B allows us to make an estimate of the magnitude of the movement.



A rough estimate tells us that the change between 2003 to 2015 is 40 milliarcseconds (MAS). This corresponds to a change  in the rotation axis of 0,00001 degrees [2], or a movement of around 10 cm[3]. Some further comments: It is not new that the earts always wobbles a bit, the rotation axis is not stable; the north pole also moves a bit, a couple of centimeters a year. What is new is that the north pole has now a new average moving direction. And, btw, this has nothing to do with the meagnetic north pole.

Graphic A: Reconstruction was done using different models based on:  AOM: (nontidal) atmospheric and oceanic mass;  AIS, GIS and GICs: different areas that describe and combine the cryosphere;
TWS: area of the continental hydrosphere.

[1] Surendra Adhikari and Erik R. Ivins, Climate-driven polar motion: 2003–2015, Climatology, 2016  

[2] http://www.convertunits.com/from/milliarcsecond/to/degree

[3] reader’s comment on the article from Climate Central.


The essence of virtue


fighting girlThe German philosopher Josef Pieper says in Leisure, the Basis of Culture:

“…according to Kant, the moral law by definition is opposed to natural inclination. It is simply part of the nature of things that the Good is difficult and that the voluntary effort put into forcing oneself to do something becomes the standard for moral goodness. “

“Effort is good’: objecting to this thesis in the Summa theologieae, Thomas Aquinas wrote as follows: ‘The essence of virtue consists more in the Good than in the Difficult.’ ‘When something is more difficult, it is not for that reason necessarily more worthwhile, but it must be more difficult in such a way as to be at a higher level of goodness.’ The Middle Ages had something to say about virtue that whill be hard for us fellow countrymen of Kant to understand. And what was this? That virtue makes it possible for us …to master our natural inclinations? No. That is what Kant would have said, and we all might be ready to agree. What Thomas says, instead, is that virtue perfects us so that we can follow our natural inclination in the right way. Yes, the highest realizations of moral goodness are known to be such precisely in that they take place effortlessly because it is of their essence to arise from love.”

‘The essence of virtue consists more in the Good than in the Difficult.’ Thomas Aquinas

Virtues shapes our inclinations into the right directions, onto the right path, and makes doing the right thing easier.

I guess, here the easy part stops……

The reference from Pieper’s book is taken from Beth Bilynskyj. She blogs at: http://medievalmind.blogspot.co.at/


What did you learn about the Nazi Regime and Auschwitz?


Auschwitz[Written on 28  Jan 2015. This question came from an American friend who had just visited Auschwitz, and posted his photos on facebook. The photo is borrowed from his collection.]

I was born in 1960. My father’s father died as soldier in France. My father only recently told me how: he was conductor of a truck full of gasoline that got blown up. Sad story. His mother lived from very little money, like many other widows did. My other grandma always told us about the Nazi regime and the war and the post-war (she was in the Russian zone). I still consider it a miracle that she survived the Nazi-era since she was a very outspoken person and hated Nazism. You can never say: we were good and the others were bad: Pro-Nazi and contra-Nazi ran though families, friendships, sometimes even world-views. And on which side of the invisible fence would I have been in 1938 when the Nazi – detested and feared by many and welcomed by many – took over Austria? I don’t know on which side of the fence I would have been. [1]

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