This is part of a two-part series connecting “The Mandalorian” to the Advent and Christmas seasons. Click here for part one.
By Mike Jordan Laskey
A couple of weeks ago, while pushing my one-year-old son in his stroller and enjoying his gentle babbling, I texted a friend that this activity made me feel just like the Mandalorian — the hardened, unflappable bounty hunter and title character from the popular Star Wars TV series.
Anyone who knows me would laugh at this comparison. I am decidedly not tough and I don’t fly around to different planets fighting angry members of dozens of different species. Why the moment of connection?
(Warning: Small spoiler ahead.)
The basic premise of the series is that “Mando” finds a small child in trouble and reorients his entire life around caring for him. There are loads of scenes of Mando walking around with the child in a fabulous floating baby carriage. After bingeing the entire show recently, I now imagine all my parenting tasks as bits of Mandalorian cosplay.
It’s this relationship at the heart of “The Mandalorian” and how the child changes the bounty hunter that makes it a perfect series for this time of year, even though they don’t celebrate Christmas in the Star Wars universe. (They do have a Life Day.)
The show calls to mind what the great spiritual writer Ronald Rolheiser has written about Christmas and God’s power. When we think about power, we often start with the sort of worldly power on full display in Star Wars — the strength of the Mandalorian’s blaster or the violence of his swift uppercut. Sometimes, I’m tempted to think of God’s omnipotence as this sort of power, just maxed out beyond human understanding. It’d be really great if God would just use his power to zap the coronavirus, for instance.
But God’s strength revealed in the incarnation is a lot closer to the other sort of power at work in “The Mandalorian”: the way a small, helpless child can cause an interior change that lasts far longer than a black eye or broken rib. Mando encounters the child, experiences the tug of empathy and compassion toward him, and his life is never the same. My son can’t really use the first type of power against me — except for when he gets his iron grip on my hair or nose — but his innocence and sweetness can change me interiorly and get me talking in nonsense words. That’s the sort of power God is wielding at Christmas: it’s quieter and meeker than violent power, but it can crack open your heart and move you to acts of love and compassion otherwise unimaginable.
The earliest part of the Jesuit story also includes a brush with this “baby power.” During Ignatius of Loyola’s post-cannonball convalescence, he had his first inklings that he should give up his life as a knight-errant and devote his life to following Jesus. It was in those days when he was graced with what author Ron Hansen calls “a clear and tremendously consoling image of Our Lady with the Infant Jesus.” In Ignatius’ autobiography — which is written in the third person — he writes that the vision left him with “such loathing for his whole past life and especially for the things of the flesh, that it seemed that all the fantasies he had previously pictures in his mind were driven from it.” Artist Peter Paul Rubens made an engraving depicting the moment, which you can see here:
I love that it is an experience of Mary and the Infant that confirms Ignatius’s decision to change his path. The soldier doesn’t receive a vision of Christ as a sort of worldly king. The Christ child doesn’t give an inspiring speech; he can’t even say a word. His mere presence — the way God-as-infant prompts a response of loving care — changes Ignatius’ life forever.
Our own Christmases this year might be quieter than usual, more like Ignatius stuck at home rather than the usual lineup of parties and travel. I think that’s OK. Perhaps 2020 Christmas, freed from some of the usual distractions, will gives us more of a chance to draw near the manger and ask the infant: What is it you need me to do for you? Maybe the quiet will let us hear Christ’s call more clearly.
Mike Jordan Laskey is Director of Communications for the Jesuit Conference in Washington, D.C. He is the author of “The Ministry of Peace and Justice” (Liturgical Press) and lives with his family in Maryland. Follow him on Twitter at @mikelaskey.