Brotherly Love

DONALD DEMARCO

On December 21, 1968, a spacecraft appropriately named after the pagan god Apollo left the earth on its three-day trip to the moon. Thirty some years ago we had, for the first time, a compelling image of the only home that all we humans can call our own. This image urges us to reflect on the brotherhood, mutual love, and respect that our common dwelling place mandates. The inhospitable blackness of the surrounding void is not an alternative, either literally or figuratively.

Scholars do not know the exact date of Christ's birth. It is believed that in the year 354, Pope Liberius decreed that it be celebrated on December 25. He selected this date, in all probability, because the people of Rome already observed it as the Feast of Saturn that celebrated the birthday of the sun. The celebration of the birth of Christ as the Light of the World, therefore, would be in continuity with the pagan celebration of light. Christianity, however, not only carried forward the theme of light, but greatly enriched it with its emphasis on the Star of Bethlehem, glorious choirs of angels, and the Everlasting Light. Both the Festival of Light and Christmas were preoccupied with extraterrestrial events. But the perspective was such that man was always looking toward the skies, away from his home on earth. This perspective took a dramatic change 30 years ago when, for the first time, man looked back to earth on Christmas from a position in the heavens.

A new perspective

On December 21, 1968, a spacecraft appropriately named after the pagan god Apollo left the earth on its three-day trip to the moon. It carried three astronauts: Frank Borman, James A. Lovell, Jr., and William A. Anders. The three were the first human beings to escape from the predominant influence of the earth's gravity, the first to set eyes on the back of the moon, and the first to behold the earth as an object hanging in space. On December 24, Christmas Eve, the astronauts televised close-up views of the moon as they gazed out their window at planet earth that now seemed no larger than a 25-cent piece. The photograph they took of their home planet as they circled the moon has been called the most popular photo of all time, depicting the "blue planet" suspended in space 260,000 miles away, its lower circumference eclipsed by the brim of the moonscape. Lovell spoke of his terrestrial abode as "a grand oasis in the vastness of space."

New light

As Apollo VIII continued to orbit the moon, the three astronauts took turns reading the biblical account of creation, the first 10 verses of Genesis. The first voice that could be heard back on earth belonged to William Anders, a Catholic:

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. . . . And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.(1)

James Lovell, an Episcopalian, continued: "And God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. . . ." Frank Borman, also an Episcopalian, then followed:

And God said let the waters under the heavens be gathered together in one place and the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters He called seas: and God saw that it was good.

And then, on this unique and unprecedented night before Christmas, Frank Borman, while his spacecraft was orbiting at 90 miles above the moon's surface, recited a prayer for all mankind to heed:

Give us, O God, the vision which can see Thy love in the world in spite of human failure. Give us the faults to trust Thy goodness in spite of our ignorance and weakness. Give us the knowledge that we may continue to pray with understanding hearts, and show us what each one of us can do to forward the coming of the day of universal peace.

This prayer proved immensely popular in almost every corner of the world, and among people of diverse faiths as well as people who were not churchgoers. To many people, its words, transmitted from a spaceship circling the moon, seemed to be emanating from God Himself. The following year they were reproduced on countless Christmas cards.

Peace on earth

A prayer was sent from space to earth rather than from earth to space. After returning to earth, Anders stated that

it is quite possible that historians may record that the greatest gain from Apollo and space exploration, above all the technical advancements, is this new perspective on humankind and the earth.

Borman remarked that the astronauts had not begun to realize the magnitude of the positive impact their Christmas message had on people throughout the world until they began reading their mail — as many as 29,000 letters arrived in a single week.

Thirty some years ago we had, for the first time, a compelling image of the only home that all we humans can call our own. This image urges us to reflect on the brotherhood, mutual love, and respect that our common dwelling place mandates. The inhospitable blackness of the surrounding void is not an alternative, either literally or figuratively. The perspective had changed. Christmas in 1968 had an earthly, rather than a heavenly, focus. But the enduring message was the same — universal brotherhood and peace to all of goodwill.

Endnotes:

  1. Richard S. Lewis, Appointment on the Moon (Binghampton, NY: Vail-Ballou Press, 1969), 455.

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

DeMarco, Donald. "Brotherly Love." Lay Witness (December 2000).

Reprinted with permission of Lay Witness magazine.

Lay Witness is a publication of Catholic United for the Faith, Inc., an international lay apostolate founded in 1968 to support, defend, and advance the efforts of the teaching Church.

THE AUTHOR

Donald DeMarco is Professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, CT and Professor Emeritus at St. Jerome's University in Waterloo Ontario. He has written hundreds of articles for various scholarly and popular journals, and is the author of twenty books, including The Heart of Virtue, The Many Faces of Virtue, Virtue's Alphabet: From Amiability to Zeal and Architects Of The Culture Of Death. Donald DeMarco is on the Advisory Board of The Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2000 LayWitness




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