Do Not Attempt Docking: Interstellar and the Synod on the Family

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Brand: Dr. Mann, do not open the inner hatch. I repeat, do not open the inner hatch! I repeat, do not open...  
Dr. Mann: Brand? I don't know what he said to you, but I am taking command of the Endurance, and then we can talk about completing the mission.  
Brand: Dr. Mann, listen to me...  
Dr. Mann: This is not about my life, or Cooper's life; this is about all mankind!  [opening the inner hatch]  
Dr. Mann: There is a moment...  [the airlock explodes] 


Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” is a brilliant catechesis on the communion of saints. That for another blog if I get around to it. With the current synod and all of this hubbub about communion for divorced and remarried couples, it would be helpful for us to look at one crucial scene in the movie as a lesson on this subject.

Minor spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen the movie (or read the Bible). 

Matt Damon’s character, Dr. Mann, represents Adam (creative, right?). Dr. Mann has found himself all but dead on a desolate planet in a deep sleep awaiting a savior against all hope. After a murderous and deceitful rampage, Mann attempts to escape the planet by hijacking a smaller ship and gaining entry to The Endurance - the mothership which alone can bring the entire crew home. The problem being, for Mann, that because he’s actually a murderer who opposes the mission, he cannot complete the mission. He has been locked out of the ship and faces incineration if he attempts to dock. In short, he has been denied access to the mothership for his own good.

"Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life." (Gen. 3:23-24)

Adam gets kicked out of the Garden. But isn't God...inclusive? When we read this, there's a part of us that's inclined to think “awe too bad for Adam - if he could only get back to that tree of life, he’d be ok… mean old God.”

Adam is locked out of the garden - and denied access to the life-giving tree and its fruit (yes, this is the Eucharist - the tree, the Holy Cross). But though we usually think of this exclusion as a punishment - a divine quid pro quo - is it really a punishment, or a great act of mercy? In sin, Adam is at enmity with God. He opposes reality - he opposes himself. What would a total encounter with the truth mean for a man in such a state? What would a step into eternity do to a man who has sold himself to the desires of his flesh (Gen. 3:17)? Could a fallen man stand an encounter with God Himself? Is re-docking possible for Mann? No, says the Lord. “You cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live.” (Exodus 33:20). Thus, God prevents Adam from returning to the garden and eating from the tree of life precisely to prevent Adam from encountering judgement and condemnation. Adam is spared… but only by being excluded from the banquet.

Enter St. Paul: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.” (1 Cor.  11:27-30)

The Church’s teaching which prohibits anyone in a fallen state from eating from the Tree of Life is not mean - it’s merciful. There’s something pretty sadistic, on the other hand, about advocating for those who oppose God in deed to be given an holistic and immediate encounter with Him. It’s no wonder that the crowd doing just that at the Synod is the same Pharisaical crowd that can’t stop begging God for justice. Do they know what they are asking for? What would happen if God gave any of us what we truly deserve? How about we try asking for mercy instead? After all, mercy is what commanded the woman caught in adultery to “Go and sin no more” - rather than leave her in the ring to face judgement. Like the woman, those living in adulterous relationships are not being judged by anyone - at least not by anyone on the right side of this issue. The church constantly calls each of us back to sin no more and receive the merciful embrace of Jesus. But what would happen if the Church called us to eat of the Tree while we remain resolute to sin?

In the words of TARS given to Cooper who asks what happens if if Mann blows the airlock? “Nothing good.”

Let’s pray for our bishops. 

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