The heavens truly have always beckoned us, and with that call has come the mystery of whether there is life out there, perhaps pondering whether we exist. In this issue, Paul Thigpen answers a question that I am often asked and that — as the piece notes in grand detail — Christians have been debating for a very long time: What should Catholics think about extraterrestrial life?
The idea of alien life is now so commonplace that it is virtually unimaginable that extraterrestrial intelligent life (ETI) is not found in great abundance across the universe. The popular atheist astrophysicist Carl Sagan (best known for his television series “Cosmos” in the late 1970s) used his novel “Contact” (1984) to postulate the global impact of a genuine encounter with alien life-forms. An intriguing idea was undone in the novel by the straw man of religious zealots who turn quickly to violence because they cannot reconcile aliens with their theology. As Paul shows, many different Christian thinkers have pondered this question, and their reflections are positive, open and forward thinking. Little wonder then that the Vatican hosted a symposium on this very topic in November 2009, the same place where the Church has been encouraging astronomy for many centuries.
This interst in science leads to a question of a more terrestrial nature. Woodeene Koenig-Bricker answers what Pope Benedict XVI actually teaches about the environment. The pontiff has written and spoken extensively on this topic, and many Catholics ask about Church teaching on the proper stewardship of the Earth. As with every other major crisis and issue of importance, the Church gives us clear direction and helps us to understand fully what Christ taught and how that has such meaning for our lives, without being caught up in political extremism.
Pondering the heavens and earth brings us to Dennis Emmons’ article on the feast of Christ the King, which we will celebrate on Nov. 21. The feast was established to commemorate the royal prerogatives of Christ. What the two previous articles also remind us is that Christ’s kingship knows no limits or boundaries. All things are under Christ’s lordship, both the heavens and the earth. There was thus very good reason for Pope Paul VI in 1969 to change the full title of the feast to “Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of All” ( Domini Nostri Iesu Christi Universorum Regis ).
A blessed Advent and Christmas! TCA
Matthew Bunson, D.Min., M.Div. , is editor of The Catholic Answer and The Catholic Almanac and author of more than 40 books. He is a senior fellow of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and a professor at the Catholic Distance University. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.