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Dark Devotional: Can We Love the Alien?

Dark Devotional: Can We Love the Alien? November 19, 2021

 

This Sunday is the last Sunday in the liturgical year, the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.

This solemnity was established by Pope Pius XI in 1925 in his encyclical, Quas Primas, at a time when secularism was on the rise. His hope was for a threefold blessing from the solemnity:

  1. “When we pay honor to the princely dignity of Christ, men will doubtless be reminded that the Church, founded by Christ as a perfect society, has a natural and inalienable right to perfect freedom and immunity from the power of the state; and that…she cannot be subject to any external power.”
  2. “Nations will be reminded by the annual celebration of this feast that not only private individuals but also rulers and princes are bound to give public honor and obedience to Christ.”
  3. “The faithful, moreover, by meditating upon these truths, will gain much strength and courage, enabling them to form their lives after the true Christian ideal.”

Wow. I could write for days on how #1 is a misguided overreaction to the politics of the time, but the words Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report should be enough to remind us that the Church is nothing near a perfect society, nor should it be immune from the power of the state.

As for #2, of course a Catholic leader is going to hope that the leaders of all nations will give obedience to Christ. It is unrealistic and narrowly focused, but not terribly surprising.

But in my 50 years as a Catholic, I never heard a homily on this solemnity that focused on either of the first two. They always focused on #3—take strength and courage, for “He’s got the whole world in His hands.”

I am left wondering at the flip side of strength and courage. What are we to be strong and courageous for? What is our responsibility to the King of the Universe?

The King Himself tells us in John 13:34:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

So says the King—not of Americans or of straight folk or of white people or even of fellow Christians or of humans—of the Universe.

In Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, a group of Jesuits is first to reach a distant planet that has been sending out radio signals. I’ll not ruin the book, but if you haven’t read it I strongly recommend it. The Jesuits encounter several new races, including the Jana’ata, whose practices seem barbaric to the humans.

Are we prepared to love even Jana’ata? How about seeing an alien depiction of the Nativity? What if it turns out we’re not the most intelligent race in the Universe? Will we still be able to believe we are uniquely loved by God?

This would certainly take all our strength and courage. Some of us, myself included, struggle with having enough strength and courage to love our neighbor with the MAGA hat or the Biden bumper sticker; the inmate on death row or the person pulling the lever; the trans woman in the women’s bathroom or the brute who beat her up when she came out. And yet if the King holds us all, tells us to love one another (full stop), we must dig deep for that strength and courage. We owe it to the King of the Universe to love even the most alien among us.

 

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