The Apollo 8 Message That Could Never Happen Today

1024px-nasa-apollo8-dec24-earthrise
From Apollo 8 | Dec. 24, 1968

The other day I was listening to a discussion on the radio about the exciting new ‘space race’ of sorts to Mars among private organizations like SpaceX and Boeing. During which it was discussed how 1968’s Apollo 8 carried the first humans to orbit the moon. There was an aside about the message astronauts Bill Anders (Catholic), Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman sent back to Earth as they approached the lunar sunrise on Christmas Eve. The astronauts used what they knew would be the most listened to event in history to quote the Bible and wish the planet a Merry Christmas. Think of this happening today in our perpetually offended PC culture–comical. It’s pretty epic…and moving.

Bill Anders
“We are now approaching lunar sunrise, and for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you.”

“‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
‘And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
‘And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
‘And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.'”
Jim Lovell 
“‘And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
‘And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
‘And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
‘And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.’”
Frank Borman 
“‘And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. ‘And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.'”

“And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas – and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.”

In truth, I suppose the message offended some. Madalyn Murray O’Hair, founder of American Atheists, ended up suing the United States alleging violations of the 1st Amendment but the judge threw out her complaint due to lack of jurisdiction!

Faith and Hope in the Lord

Tonight while finishing the book of Hebrews with my wife (if you don’t make time for it already, let me tell you it’s a real treat when you are able to find a quiet time to read Scripture–especially with your spouse), I found the peace, hope, and beauty of the last two chapters too good not to briefly share for those not familiar enough to recall. Below is the abridgement of chapters 12 & 13.

The Example of Jesus

12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation which addresses you as sons?—

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor lose courage when you are punished by him.
For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers to discipline us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time at their pleasure, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Warnings against Rejecting God’s Grace

12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fail to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” spring up and cause trouble, and by it the many become defiled; 16

[…]

28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe

Service Well-Pleasing to God

13 Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them; and those who are ill-treated, since you also are in the body. Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for God will judge the immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never fail you nor forsake you.” Hence we can confidently say,

“The Lord is my helper,
I will not be afraid;
what can man do to me?”

[…]

12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing abuse for him.14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Saint Paul’s Advice on Living

In 1 Timothy, Saint Paul offers some good and holy advice. While there’s a lot that can be unpacked from this short, rich text, I’d like to share one line that I received particularly well since it’s a theme I try to reflect on this blog pretty often.

1 Timothy 4:6-10

If you put these instructions before the brethren, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the good doctrine which you have followed. Have nothing to do with godless and silly myths. Train yourself in godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.

Living a life rooted in Christ Jesus is not easy (Mt 7:14), but when we “train [ourselves] in godliness” by seeking God through avoiding sin, frequent confession, prayer, avoiding ignorance of Scripture, reading books, and joyfully living out the Gospel we are strengthening a very real part of us. Our soul is like a muscle in that the more we feed it by practicing authentic Catholicism–as an athlete must regularly practice and exercise–the stronger it gets and better we become. The feeling after a serious spiritual exercise can be quite invigorating!

More importantly than a satisfying feeling of strength, Paul points out that living this not-so-easy Christian makes not just improving our chances of making it to heaven, but all aspects of our earthly life better. When people practice an authentic Catholic life, constantly seeking to make the right choices even when it’s difficult (CS Lewis compares this to a screw being turned clockwise with every virtuous choice and counter-clockwise for every bad choice), they naturally make their situations on earth more favorable not only for themselves but also for the people around them. This reality reflects that Church teachings are indeed rooted in an objective truth that permeates space-time all the way from the heavens right into our intimate sphere of daily life. In short, a virtuous life with a focus on our spiritual essence, will likely result in better physical, emotional, and even economic health!

In contrast, today’s culture places a strict emphasis on physical health while ignoring the health associated with the spiritual fortitude required to live in accordance to natural law. I’d submit that this is partly why in a culture that is more aware of exercise, food quality, and medicine than ever before in history, there seems to be unprecedented levels of disorder, confusion, and anguish than humans have experienced in many generations. What good is an era of unprecedented access to scientific facts satisfying our justified curiosity in the how of life if we cannot prescribe this wealth of knowledge to the why of life.

“The trouble with always trying to preserve the health of the body is that it is so difficult to do without destroying the health of the mind.”
– G.K. Chesterton


While on the subject of this epistle, I’ll bring up another tidbit worth mulling over for Catholics. Speaking on the purpose of the Church in the world, 1 Timothy 3:15:

…you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.