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Posts Tagged ‘Communism’

John_Paul_II_1980_croppedHere I am, nearly a week later, to talk about the second of our two recently canonized popes.  Why did it take me so long?  I suppose it was a combination of occupation with other matters, fatigue, and a bit of routine procrastination.

In any case, here’s what I have to say about Saint John Paul II:

First, I’ll try to address the controversy.  Some people have protested John Paul II’s canonization on the grounds that his response to the priestly sexual abuse crisis was inadequate, and perhaps even negligent.

Fr._Marcial_Maciel_LCMuch of the controversy surrounds the sexual improprieties of Fr. Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ, under his pontificate.

I’ll state my defense very briefly.  May God have mercy on Fr. Maciel; but without a doubt, he behaved disgracefully and, to make matters worse, fooled a lot of people…and the pope was no exception.  Remember, sainthood does not mean that a person was gifted with perfect insight or circumspection in every situation.

Hammer_and_Sickle_Red_Star_with_GlowFurthermore, it may be useful to keep in mind that the sainted pope — born Karol Wojtyla in Wadowice, Poland — spent his later youth, early priesthood, and most of his episcopacy under Communist rule.  The governing Communist Party regarded the Catholic Church as a major enemy, and it was not uncommon for them to level false accusations against priests and put out propaganda against them.

That being the case, and knowing the great pressure his fellow priests were under by virtue of their sublime duties and societal misunderstanding, he most likely discerned that accusations against priests like Fr. Maciel needed to be taken with a grain of salt.  And unfortunately, this led to the matter not being looked into as it should have.

Pope John Paul I

Cardinal Wojtyla pictured with his predecessor, Pope John Paul I

But I beg of you, please let’s not allow this to shatter this man’s reputation.  It would be a shame to blind ourselves to all of the good Pope John Paul II did on account of what was undoubtedly a painfully tragic, yet understandable mistake.  What good did he do?  Let’s just run through a few brief examples:

1. Youth Outreach

World Youth DayOne of the late pontiff’s most memorable achievements was the inauguration of World Youth Day, which is but one expression of his constant and passionate outreach to the youth and young adults of the world.  In a time of uncertainty and pessimism, he appealed in a kind, fatherly fashion to the hopes and dreams of young hearts, thereby inspiring a whole new generation of faithful people to live their lives on fire for the Gospel.

2. Catholic-Jewish Relations

Yad VashemRelations between the Catholic Church and the Jews had undoubtedly been improving prior to Saint John Paul II’s papacy.  However, the strides he made in the improvement of said relations are truly legendary.  Having grown up with Jewish people as best friends and having experienced something of the horrors of the Holocaust, he saw it as part of his mission to make peace with the Jewish people, famously begging forgiveness at Yad Vashem for the sins of Christians against Jews over the centuries.  He also exhorted Catholics to look upon the Jews not as enemies or “Christ-killers,” but as our elder brethren in faith.

3. Ecumenical Dialogue

Pope John Paul II worked harder than any previous pope toward the cause of Christian unity.  He reached out in friendship to leaders and members of various Christian denominations, and even went so far as to ask for input into what, from their perspective, the papal office could do to aid the aforementioned cause.  He even signed the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, a document produced by the Catholic Church’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation.

4. Teachings on Human Sexuality

Theology of the BodyThis deserves a whole separate post, but I’ll say a few words here.  About two-thirds of the Catholic Church’s teaching on sexuality come from Pope John Paul II (not that he just pulled it out of thin air, but it needed to be “unpacked,” clarified, and developed).  Through his world-famous Theology of the Body, he helped people in a hyper-sexualized and sexually wounded world to understand the true nature of human sexuality…in opposition to two extremes: 1) A puritanical attitude that sees sex as evil or taboo; and 2) A vehicle for selfish pleasure.  In truth, sexuality goes right to the heart of what it means to be a human being — and, specifically, of what it means to be a man or a woman.  Indeed, when a man and a woman united in holy matrimony are lovingly engaged in the act of sex, they are imaging the God in Whose image they are made…the God who is self-giving love.

There are a number of other things I could mention (his pivotal role in the collapse of totalitarian regimes, f0r example); but to give you a sense of the great saint’s deep humanity, I want to leave you with a link to a clip.  I know it can be a pain to jump from one Web page to another — but please, just take a moment to have a look at this; it’s less than two minutes long (stop at 24:58): Interview with a former Swiss Guard member.

May we all learn to be more like this in our daily lives.

Saint John Paul II, pray for us!

Image of “Man and Woman He Created Them” from http://www.amazon.com; remaining images from Wikipedia

 

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Dark Knight_Bane

This is the third installment of my commentary on Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises.”  Here are the links to the first and second posts, respectively:

https://intothedance.wordpress.com/2013/02/20/dvd-review-the-dark-knight-rises/

https://intothedance.wordpress.com/2013/02/24/hope-in-the-dark-knight-rises/

DarkKnightRisesPrison

I left off with a discussion of hope among the prisoners who watch Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) climb the dungeon wall and escape through the round window far above.

But imagine for a moment that someone was able to take the prisoners’ attention off of the light that shines from above.  Imagine someone getting them to focus instead on the reflections of that light on the prison walls.

Pushing the envelope even further, imagine this nameless intruder taking advantage of their love of these reflections and persuading them that they can actually turn the prison cell into the equivalent of what is outside — that is to say, a place that can generate its own natural sunlight, its own oxygen, its own sources of natural sustenance, etc.

Fix this scenario firmly in your mind, and you will get a sense of the great evil of Bane’s (Tom Hardy) project.

This world is not a bad place, nor is the Christian vocation to escape from it.  God created the world and everything in it, and all things remain fundamentally good.  But at the same time, as St. Paul says,

…creation was made subject to futility (Romans 8:20).

Happily, that’s not the end of the story.  St. Paul continues…

…not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.  We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.  For in hope we were saved” (Romans 8:20-24) (italics mine).

That last sentence is particularly important.  As mentioned in the previous post, man’s ultimate hope lies not in this world, but in the “new heavens and new earth” to come.

Far from bringing out the best in humanity and what this world has to offer, the movement toward an earthly paradise actually arrests the journey toward fulfillment in Christ and perverts the here-and-now by forcing the present world to take on a role it cannot possibly fulfill.

Hence, you have the dystopic vision of society — a vision to a certain extent realized in Communist and other totalitarian societies in the past half century.

Uri

Only those who know they are in prison can truly have hope.  Only those who know the realities of sin and death, and of being part of a world “subject to futility,” are ready to receive the peace that can only come from a Divine Savior.

But if you can take the prisoners’ focus off of the light that shines from above, you can warp even that most fundamental human hope for deliverance.  And that’s exactly what the devil, the supreme enemy of mankind, would like to do.

Thankfully, our world has a savior infinitely greater than Batman.  Let us therefore be vigilant in…well, hope!

But how do we do that?  What does this mean concretely?  I think I’ll need to do a fourth post to address that one (and I should warn people that there is a major spoiler ahead).

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Dark_knight_rises_poster
I finally got around to seeing Christopher Nolan’s third Batman movie over the weekend.  This final installment takes place eight years after the events of the previous film, “The Dark Knight.”  Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become somewhat of a recluse, but is inspired to take up the cape, mask, and suit once more when Gotham is threatened by the masked villain Bane (Tom Hardy).

And that’s the point from which I want to take off.  Having seen all three movies, I am struck by the many faces of villainy in the Batman trilogy.

Ra's al GhulRa’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson), head of the League of Shadows and the antagonist of “Batman Begins,” represents a sort of right-wing totalitarianism that seeks to impose order and justice using force.

JokerThe Joker (Heath Ledger) represents evil in the form of nihilistic anarchy in “The Dark Knight.”

BaneFinally, Bane is the incarnation of a left-wing totalitarianism that “hooks” people through false promises of establishing an earthly utopia by toppling corrupt power structures and returning all power to “the People.”

In due course, we learn that Bane was once part of the League of Shadows, but was eventually exiled for differences with Ra’s al Ghul.  Bane’s relationship to the League struck a chord in my mind.  It seems to suggest, in its own way, that two supposedly polar realities — namely, right-wing and left-wing tyrannies — are much more closely connected than one might think.

Hitlermusso2_editThe middle part of the twentieth century saw the rise of various forms of totalitarianism from both the right (most notably, Fascism) and the left (most notably, Communism).  Although I am an expert neither in history nor in politics, I think we can safely say that both styles of dictatorship proved to have the goal of reducing society — perceived to be all wrong and unredeemable — to ashes so as to build something new and better from scratch.

But herein lies the problem: We live in an imperfect world, and any “system” of society or government is going to have its problems and, sadly, evils.

Bane2Turning from any attempt at political commentary back to the Batman films themselves, I would have to say that Bane strikes me as the most dangerous of Nolan’s villains.  Although he is not blatantly oppressive (at least not to the masses) like Ra’s al Ghul, nor unprincipled and totally unpredictable like the Joker, Bane is dangerous precisely because he plays off of one of the strongest, deepest, and most innate elements of the human psyche — hope.

Hope is a powerful and dear thing.  If you can get a hold of people’s hope, there isn’t much you won’t be able to do with them and to them.

I will return with reflections on hope in “The Dark Knight Rises” by the end of the week.  Thanks for reading, and stay tuned.

Image of the Joker and second image of Bane obtained through a Google image search; remaining images from Wikipedia.

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