by Fr. Jonathan Atchley
It was the dream of a lifetime, mine the career of the Ages. We had excavated and explored a long lost civilization of an alien species with an intelligence that dwarfed ours—and I felt like a spy sent to steal foreign top secrets without an instance of intrigue. There were no armies waiting to defend their incredible technology, no traps or tricks to harass or hurry us into making mistakes as my team carefully studied and assembled everything needed to transfer the alien technology back to our own labs. I was surrounded by the brightest and best of our own scientists to attain this simple task: disassemble what we called the Effinger Set, on site with eight straightforward steps and reassemble it back here for our own wonderment and delight.
The theory was solid. Two generations studied the language of this long-lost race; we all read in the newspapers of the wonders promised by their technology, discovered by a team headed by none other than the inestimable 22rd century Dr. Mark Effinger, scientist and philosopher extraordinaire. The human race was practically handed a device that could gift the viewer of this bizarre, highly advanced “television set”--we jokingly referred to it with the most affectionate if lame analogy our limited comprehension allowed—to grant, I repeat, to give the viewer whatever one desired. The promise was nearly beyond belief, but years of delving into these foreign mysteries proved that it was possible once again to bring about these miraculous, if alien, effects.
One can only surmise that it was this device which led to their demise: having whatever you want, instantaneously realizing your own imagined desires by simply viewing them on a screen—it would certainly be the downfall of any proud race of beings, however advanced. Of course, that did not deter research teams in the least; it only fed our stabbing hunger for that same technology. The only difference being that we were forewarned: what was before us, if not properly handled, could kill us. And here I was, head of that team, with the singularly simple responsibility of detaching the device following their manuals in eight basic steps…in order to reconnect us with past wonders for future ages.
We took every step with painstaking precision, spending a year and a half to carefully detach and move this device to our own lab with every conceivable human contrivance imaginable needed to ensure that the transfer and setup worked. My team was exceptional at what they did; we finished the task without sleep in one and a half days, so eager were we to reestablish the connections and throw the switch while all the world’s presidents and potentates eagerly looked on, ready to test the device for themselves. Expectations couldn’t have been higher had we discovered living mummies in the Egyptian pyramids who were able to share their long-hidden secrets.
The Effinger Set was turned on and...nothing happened. The world was dumbfounded. I cannot recall the words and actions of those potentates before us, having lusted for nearly absolute power and then denied their delirious dreams. It’s been nearly a lifetime ago since then, and I had decades to analyze our efforts over and again, to understand what we had done wrong, why this incredible technology did not work. Our present reality--what the best minds could have achieved by simply disconnecting and reconnecting a marvel only the rarest of enlightened imaginations could have conceived--was gone.
Now at wit’s end, my career destroyed, the feverish hopes of humanity dashed, what had been promised by this mischievous Pandora’s Box being forever removed--all I had to show for our efforts were innumerable, thick government publications piled on and around our desks that repeated over and again the one mistake we made that should have been clear as day to a simple child. Oh, the hubris of our science; the waste of this technology…the possibilities of perfection and unimaginable delights…lost, LOST forever!
For in our eagerness to take that which had been handed on to mankind by a far superior race now defunct, we did not bother to understand. In the process of dismantling, moving and recouping mysteries from beyond, who would have thought that the source of such insights was a living being, and that it needed to be kept alive to work? Our woeful science had taken this beautiful creature and killed it by removing its various parts to in order to transfer the deceased pieces back together.
Me here. I apologize for the lengthy, lazy build up and speedy denouement just now typed out. In truth, l woke with this story from a dream and transcribed it here as a fresh memory. The story is an analogy, for I realized afterwards what my dream meant: that without the Living Tradition of the Church, the power of the Sacraments, the meaning of her Catholic dogmas and Liturgies, the secrets of her theologies…none of these would make sense or remain valid and effective for future ages, if the living reality of Christ’s bride on earth were to be severed and killed off for a single generation. These treasures we received from God that sustained mankind for many, many centuries in fulfillment of eternal hopes and dreams are only made possible by the Church. Without her living faith, or that is to say without living her Faith, as guide that reestablishes the necessary connections of our many precious treasures from past to present…all of it could be forever lost unless these mysteries are passed on from this generation to the next.
Now I can go back to sleep, having entered and left a Twilight Zone tale for you to ponder: ours is the wondrous gift of passing on, best we can through exemplary practice, the precious gifts of the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Living Faith.