In the 1950s Sci-Fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still, we are treated to some state of the art special effects that appear rather primitive to us today. These aren’t the only aspects of the film that appear dated. There are the formal mannerisms of the people. The protagonist, the alien man from outer space, Klaatu, adopts the name Carpenter as an alias, and I don’t think that anyone asks for a first name.
These aren’t the only marks of the passage of a by-gone era. The arms race and the nuclear showdown in the world loom large. Additionally the film was almost a victim of its age before it was ever released. The censors (Motion Picture Review Board) had some concerns that Klaatu was too close of a Christ figure. It wasn’t that they thought that portraying Jesus Christ was bad, but rather because the population was so Christian they feared the audience might be offended by not portraying Him well enough. They didn’t want to be accused of blasphemy. If only we could bring some of those sensibilities back.
Indeed the same similarities to the Christ story seem intentional: a man not of this world, comes to earth to deliver a message of peace, but then is rejected by the authorities, disguises himself as an average Joe, takes the name “Carpenter,” is accepted by the innocent and women, is killed (shot to death), is brought back to life with his alien (i.e. other worldly) technology, reveals who he truly is, makes a post-revival address and then is carried off into space. But these are where the similarities end.
What caught my attention were the 1950’s prejudices. Secular society was esteemed. The natural sciences, military and government were the only considerations as to what might provide world peace. It seems that we have been on this path of thought in our society for a long time. Where has that gotten us? Are we any closer to world peace?
Human life seems more precarious than ever. We promote violence among mother and child with our steady abortion rate and state protections that follow. Some other measures of societal health don’t speak well either: the rates of divorce, suicide and drug addiction, I’m sure dwarf any 1950s measures. Then we’ve opened up whole new means of dissatisfaction, confusion and mental illness with what we think marriage, sex and genders are.
It is good to remember that the root of the word “secular” is the Latin, “saeculum”, meaning, ‘century’ or ‘of the age’. In a real way those who embrace secularism limit themselves to a knowledge that is as old as the generation before them and as farsighted as the next. How does this differ from what we profess?
We believe in the Logos, the Word through Whom all has come into existence. Or if you will, timeless principles upon which the universe was created and is sustained. We have a Church with two thousand years experience, not to mention the future that has been revealed. In a real way those without the light of faith, or at least knowledge of Christian history, have no means of judging things other than by the prejudices of the generation before them and their personal experience. They have no certainty about a future other than death.
In the movie, Klaatu promises to deliver the gift of world peace. Understandably the greatest threat to world peace at the time was seen as more world wars. So the thinking goes, if we can eliminate that, violá, we’ve accomplished peace. So the movie crescendos to where Klaatu delivers the solution to the threat of nuclear war. In his final addresses after his resuscitation and before his departure into the heavens (Not so unlike Our Lord today in the Gospel), the special extraterrestrial knowledge that we hopeless earthlings needed revealed to us is … more fascism.
His solution to the problem of peace is more heavy-handed government enforcement. Of course, he wasn’t advocating that we repeat the mistakes of a decade prior by putting the power in the hands of a national government. No. This broadminded progressive solution reached all the way back to the previous generation for an idea that introduces the international (or rather, interplanetary) governing body. Finally might will make right because, after all, the Interplanetary Police would be free of petty human concerns. They are robots. The idea was for Earth to enter a permanent pact with the other planets in this futuristic League of Nations in order to hold each other accountable. If any member should become aggressive with another world, so the agreement has it, then the consequence would be their destruction by the robots. How in the world does this have anything to do with what we celebrate today?
Jesus Christ died to deliver to the human race the solution. The post-resurrection divinely revealed answer to our problems is none other than what we celebrate today, Divine Mercy. If 1950’s Sci-Fi is an accurate window into that era, we can see why Jesus would be eager to redeliver this message again. And so for our era the Church has established that the mid-twentieth century Polish nun, Sister Faustina Kowalska, did receive inner locutions from the Lord that are worthy of belief. Through this humble instrument, like so many saints, He delivered the message of God’s mercy as a solution to our problems.
I am no student of St. Faustina. Yet in light of what I have read and of what multiple Church approved apparitions have said in the past one hundred and fifty years, we are on borrowed time. Practically all the approved messages and those being investigated currently speak of a chastisement before a time of peace and harmony that will be enjoyed by the world before the end of time. That is, there is to be a time of tribulation because of so much infidelity and disbelief that needs to be rectified. As Archbishop Fulton Sheen said in an address in 1947, “God will not allow unrighteousness to become eternal. … we cannot turn from God without hurting ourselves.” (https://www.ncregister.com/blog/joseph-pronechen/did-fulton-sheen-prophecy-about-these-times)
Now is the time of mercy. We’ve all just experienced how quickly ordinary life for the whole world can change overnight. If this isn’t a merciful wake-up call, I don’t know what one could be. What do we do with the time we have?
There are some very practical steps such as praying the Holy Rosary and or the Divine Mercy Chaplet. In doing so we gain more mercy for the world. By doing so also we help mitigate the future troubled times and win more souls for the Kingdom. Yet the heart of the whole message is what we find in today’s Gospel passage.
The institution of the Sacrament of Penance. This how we get right with the Lord. By acknowledging our sins, confessing them sincerely, making a firm purpose of amendment and exercising the act of self-denial, i.e. penance, we activate our membership in the Kingdom. We are part of the solution. We are helpful members of the Kingdom of God working to expand its reign in the hearts and minds of more souls.
The urgency of The Day the Earth Stood Still is prompted by the threat World War III. In Klaatu’s farewell speech he gave an ultimatum, “But if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder. Your choice is simple: Join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration.” (https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/The_Day_the_Earth_Stood_Still_(1951_film)
Instead of the threat of dispassionate robot calculated worldwide destruction, Christ announces His Divine Mercy. He is clear that challenging times are coming. He is offering us the means not to avoid them but to prepare for them and maintain a sense of peace in the midst of great chaos. As Archbishop Sheen preached, we “must realize that a moment of crisis is not a time of despair, but of opportunity. … Once we recognize we are under Divine Wrath, we become eligible for Divine Mercy. It was because of famine the prodigal said: ‘I will arise, and will go to my father.’ The very disciplines of God create hope. The thief on the right came to God by a crucifixion. The Christian finds a basis for optimism in the most thorough-going pessimism, for his Easter is within three days of Good Friday.” (https://www.ncregister.com/blog/joseph-pronechen/did-fulton-sheen-prophecy-about-these-times)