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Monday, January 9, 2012

JPII and Acting

From sports to writing to philosophizing, JPII covers a lot of leisurely pursuits.  But he takes such topics and makes them more accessible to the layman, so that there's no place that the layman can go without JPII having already gone.  It's refreshing to know that a man has freed up such a vast array of subjects, so that no one has to wonder whether or not the truth of Jesus can be known, and in being known, set men free. 

Acting is another category which the former Pope essentially '(r)edeemed' and 'freed up' for the layman to investigate without having to settle for Hollywood or Broadway.  Therefore, I want to describe what acting is in the modern world vs. how JPII viewed the potential of acting for preservation of culture, history, and identity.

In Hollywood and on Broadway, there are three types of acting, all of various levels of talent.  First there is method acting, which is the original imaginative process of taking on a completlely different character from oneself and making the audience believe that that character has his own story, personality, and faculties/capabilities.  Second, there is typecast-acting, which is really just being yourself on stage or on camera, and making the audience see that your normal personality fits the character you are playing.  Lastly, there is musical acting, which is essentially typecast or method-acting with the added talent of song and dance for the stage. 

So again, I have very basically identified three categories of acting that exist in the modern world, and all of these are more or less at the whim of post-modern/post-Christian culture.  Granted, acting could be argued to be much more psychologically complex than what I have described above, but for the interest of my topic "JPII and acting", I will settle for a simpler explanation of what we know as acting vs. what JPII's legacy has 'redeemed' for us in terms of acting.

A brief history of Karol Wojtyla's early involvement in theater can be summed up by saying: In 1938 he attended Jagellonian University and joined a group of students interested in theater.  WWII brought the Nazi's to Poland in 1939.  Wojtyla began the underground 'Rhapsodic' theater group as a response to the threat of Nazi destruction of Polish culture. 

By 'Rhapsodic' theater, JPII meant for the style of the group to be focused on 'carrying the problem' (see 'On the theater of the Word' by Wojtyla) of Polish Literature, and not just on acting or reciting the text itself.  'Rhapsodic' theater employed neither method acting nor typecast acting, but rather, a heritage whose purpose was to preserve a common national/religious identity.  The actors, as artists, understood that what they were doing with theater was the best way to combat the Nazi occupation of their country.  They understood that the stories and poems they were preserving through theater were integral threads of their own history that were too valuable to lose.

In 1999, JPII wrote a letter to artists that summed up his appreciation for those who were dedicated to preserving the truth and beauty of Catholic culture in craftsmanship and creativity.  Included in that letter were assorted thoughts on acting, all of which were results of JPII's own experience with the theater during WWII in Poland:
It is in living and acting that man establishes his relationship with being, with the truth and with the good. The artist has a special relationship to beauty. In a very true sense it can be said that beauty is the vocation bestowed on him by the Creator in the gift of “artistic talent”. And, certainly, this too is a talent which ought to be made to bear fruit, in keeping with the sense of the Gospel parable of the talents (cf. Mt 25:14-30).
Here we touch on an essential point. Those who perceive in themselves this kind of divine spark which is the artistic vocation—as poet, writer, sculptor, architect, musician, actor and so on—feel at the same time the obligation not to waste this talent but to develop it, in order to put it at the service of their neighbour and of humanity as a whole.

The Nazi regime threatened to wipe out Polish culture from the face of the earth during WWII.  Underground theaters like Karol Wojtyla's helped to carry on language, history, and tradition to the next generation.  Acting was intentionally utilized for such a crisis of culture, morality, and identity because Polish youth knew that God wanted them to remain free and true to themselves.  In this sense, JPII sees a calling in acting and art, much like his own calling to the priesthood. 

  Though he had much fewer resources at his disposal than Broadway, JPII's theatrical legacy is more consistent with his message of a need for a culture of life in direct opposition to a culture of death found in other media.  His influence throughout the world with WYD especially, has proved over time to draw more people than any film festival or Broadway play!  I would argue that WYD is actually the culmination of his early experience with the theater, and his offering of that experience to the service of the Universal Church.                

Friday, January 6, 2012

JPII and Sports

An exciting thing I have in common with JPII is sports.  He was an outdoorsman, sportsman, and all around athlete throughout most of his life.  In his later days, he wanted to show the world that his increasing weakness was just as much of a testament to God's grace as when he was in his athletic prime.  I admire him for such wisdom and resilience. 

Certainly, sports today are somewhat different than what JPII grew up with in Poland.  Soccer has proved itself to be the international language, but in the U.S., we still rely heavily on basketball and American football.  Had JPII grown up in the U.S., he might have been exceptional at these two sports, but instead he focused on soccer, skiing, cayaking, running, etc.  Traditionally, these latter sports are more European in style, and JPII was a European man.  His native Poland owes a lot to his influence on European masculinity, as he took his Polish roots and magnified them beyond celebrity status.  In essence, he established himself as the preeminent Polish man.   
I argue that no other European man is as easily identifiable with masculinity, virtue and wisdom as JPII.   But the point is, that sports were a major part of how JPII expressed his masculinity and encouraged others to do so as well.

In fact, the address he gave in 2000 to a host of athletes in the Roman Colisseum proves that he recommended sports as one of God' greatest gifts to modern man:

With this celebration the world of sport is joining in a great chorus, as it were, to express through prayer, song, play and movement a hymn of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord. It is a fitting occasion to give thanks to God for the gift of sport, in which the human person exercises his body, intellect and will, recognizing these abilities as so many gifts of his Creator.
Playing sports has become very important today, since it can encourage young people to develop important values such as loyalty, perseverance, friendship, sharing and solidarity. Precisely for this reason, in recent years it has continued to grow even more as one of the characteristic phenomena of the modern era, almost a "sign of the times" capable of interpreting humanity's new needs and new expectations. Sports have spread to every corner of the world, transcending differences between cultures and nations (Homily "Jubilee of Sports", par. 2).

Just before his prayer of thanksgiving in the above paragraph, JPII reflects on his own memories of being involved in organized sports, and looks on the athletes with a bit of envy--as though he wanted to be with them competing in the games.  This type of competitive edge that JPII displays here is what proves that he was a natural athlete intellectually as well as physically.  He goes on to point out how sports involve so much of man's faculties that they must be an invention of the Creator who delights in seeing his creatures in full throttle activity!

On the other hand, he also warns against the abuses related to sports and exploitation of the human body.  Sports are not entirely innocent from corruption: gambling, advertising, scandals and cover ups.

The educational and spiritual potential of sport must make believers and people of good will united and determined in challenging every distorted aspect that can intrude, recognizing it as a phenomenon opposed to the full development of the individual and to his enjoyment of life. Every care must be taken to protect the human body from any attack on its integrity, from any exploitation and from any idolatry (ibid). 

Athletes are held to a very high standard of excellence, and JPII raises the standard even higher by his own example.  Olympic athletes, in particular, have less room for mistakes when trying to compete for world titles and medals, even when the temptations are great.  Performance enhancing drugs have greatly marred the face of baseball, for example, and it will prove very difficult for the game to recover its original nobility in America.  The challenge of the former Pontiff is to put an end to these "distortions" before they "intrude" into the game in the first place.  Perhaps the consequences for steroid use should have been greater in the home run race, so that players down the road would not have considered it themselves.

Either way, as is typical of JPII, every aspect of a subject is covered in his thinking.  Sports are no exception, when you consider that he both presents them as an ideal pasttime of the "new civilization of love", but also as an instrument of abuse and corruption.  He is a both/and type of thinker, while also being very absolute in his convictions about subjects like sports.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

JPII vs. Liberation Theology

On Christmas Eve of 2011, I had a long conversation with my brother and my fiance about the Catholic Church.  At one point it was argued that Liberation Theology is still acceptable in the Church, and I quickly refuted that idea with the fact that the Church has condemned "Liberation Theology" altogether as heresy.  JPII's pontificate proved extremely effective in combating ideologies and aberrations of the truth, and Liberation Theology was no exception to the rule when it came to being an obvious obstacle to true faith for Catholics, especially in Latin America.

However, I had no idea how much of a hold Liberation Theology still has on Catholics today, both in Latin America and, sorry to say, even hidden in some of my own thinking as an American!  In the U.S., it is difficult to separate the "prosperity Gospel" and Liberation Theology mentalities from true and sound Catholic faith.  To begin with, the downturn in the economy over the past few years hasn't helped the fight against these heresies in the least bit.  If anything, it has increased them to the point where people unconsciously associate a certain veneer of economic status with salvation.  This is ludicrous!  Social Justice cannot be taken so far as to substitute liberation from sin and death with liberation from food stamps!  Granted, the Church is obligated to advance social development, but not to the point where the message of salvation is reduced to mere comforts in this life only!    

That being said, I want to remind the reader that the early Church took off among those who were wealthy enough to own property in the Roman Empire, and nominal Christianity has thrived in an urban, middle-to-upper class setting.  Perhaps this is why Liberation Theology has such appeal to Catholics of this economic status--who are good-intentioned in their desires to raise others to their level, but fail to see that their salvation comes from the sacrifice of Jesus alone.  Peter and John didn't give the beggar whom they passed some silver or gold, they gave him what was of greater value through prayer and itnercession, the presence and power of Jesus!

Now back to JPII and what he has done specifically to combat Liberation Theology.  His trip to Latin America in 1979 was by far the most influential action he took to put an end to heresy, not that this was his only reason for visiting Mexico in particular, but that he timed his address to the Bishops there at the most opportune of moments.  Why?  Because Liberation Theology was in its hey-day right after Vatican II, and JPII's Pontificate meant to implement the council properly--not with just the "spirit of Vatican II".  Here is JPII's warning against unfounded interpretations of Jesus' message in the council:   

  This idea of Christ as a political figure, a revolutionary, as the subversive man from Nazareth, does not tally with the       Church's catechesis. By confusing the insidious pretexts of Jesus' accusers with the—very different—attitude of Jesus himself, some people adduce as the cause of his death the outcome of a political conflict, and nothing is said of the Lord's will to deliver himself and of his consciousness of his redemptive mission. The Gospels clearly show that for Jesus anything that would alter his mission as the Servant of Adonai was a temptation (cf. Mt 4:8; Lk 4:5). He does not accept the position of those who mixed the things of God with merely political attitudes (cf. Mt 22:21; Mk 12:17; Jn 18:36). He unequivocally rejects recourse to violence. He opens his message of conversion to everybody, without excluding the very Publicans. The perspective of his mission is much deeper. It consists in complete salvation through a transforming, peacemaking, pardoning and reconciling love. There is no doubt, moreover, that all this is very demanding for the attitude of the Christian who wishes truly to serve his least brethren, the poor, the needy, the emarginated; in a word, all those who in their lives reflect the sorrowing face of the Lord (cf. Lumen Gentium, 8).  (Entire excerpt taken from CELAM 1979 conference address, par. I.4).       

The essential untruth of Liberation Theology is that it looks for a different messiah besides Jesus!  That is JPII's warning to the church in Latin America, stop looking for another messiah! Some may be able to make the poor prosper for a time, and relieve the suffering of the hungry or the homeless, but they cannot take away the sins of the world like Jesus.  They cannot reconcile all mankind to the heavenly Father, and so gain access to heaven!  

In North America, the dilemma of Liberation Theology is different though, as we have never looked at a single man as a messiah--much less our rebellious founding fathers.  Instead, we subscribe to the "prosperity gospel", believing that we will never suffer as Christians if we have wealth.  That is to say that if you give your life to God, then you will never have to worry about finances and bills, because you "made it".  

In reality, the poor are much more rich in faith than the wealthy of the United States, as Mother Theresa diagnosed the U.S. with the worst "spiritual poverty" she had ever seen.  Liberation Theology and the prosperity gospel are contradicted by the faith of the poor, the addicted, and the abandoned.  The wealthy are called to be good stewards of their possessions, recognizing that they themselves are on borrowed time, with borrowed goods for the sake of true human development.  They cannot segregate themselves from the poor in the public sphere, nor can they try to eradicate poverty by strictly monetary or material measures.  A shared faith and love for the Lord, despite various trials, will draw out true theology from the Church in every country.  Until then, the recognition and dismissal of liberation theology will point us to the right track.    

Below is an article that reinforces my points:

ROME, SEPT. 28, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Liberation Theology and the role of the Catholic Church in the lives of the poor were discussed by Bishop Martin Kay Schmalhausen SCV, Bishop of the Prelature of Ayaviri, Peru.
Bishop Schmalhausen was interviewed by Johannes Habsburg for the program "Where God Weeps," in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need.
Q: Peru is the country where Liberation Theology was born and that also brought reflections that, while very beautiful and interesting, were not the answer to poverty and social injustice and not an authentic Christian response. Why is Liberation Theology not that answer that the church can offer to these challenges of injustice and the need?
Bishop Schmalhausen: The perspective was wrong, very wrong unfortunately. We need liberation, liberation of the human heart from sin. We cannot make that liberation, Jesus Christ makes it, it is he who reconciles us, it is he who forgives us, it is he who makes a man new again and makes us new. That's the only, the authentic liberation that is capable of arousing and achieve real social change. Social change begins in the human heart.
Q. But with Liberation Theology, the roles were reversed...
Bishop Schmalhausen: Yes, according to it, it is we who frees man, who liberates society, we who are here to restore the dignity of the human person and Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, the Savior became a political leader. In this reversal of roles, we have lost a lot of energy, and we have left a long open field for much confusion and bewilderment. In that sense, you cannot think of Liberation Theology in partnership with the principles of Marxism, seeks a social demand of the poor simply for economic, social, political reasons ... forgetting that the whole question of man is in his heart. And that heart is transformed, transfigured by the Lord and by his grace.
Q: But precisely atheist-Marxist approach leads to heart more violence and conflict.
Bishop Schmalhausen: I think here we have a very serious problem; liberation theology posed a direct opposition to the Gospel, something which hadn't been seen. A conflictual perspective that belies, radically, the dynamics of love and reconciliation that the Lord has come to bring; No hate, but unity: unity in truth and in love and that's what makes reconciliation.
Q: If this is not the answer to social injustice, but inequalities still exist, what we can offer in response? How does the Church respond to this challenge?
Bishop Schmalhausen: I think there are different levels to answer this. First, I think it is a mistake that as a Church we pretend to substitute the State. The State has a responsibility, a social role and must assume it, it must assume this role and not think that others will do it. In the region where I live, for example, there is a lack of state and it is certainly a shout, we would say, that is compelling.
Q: And is that where the Church is called to subsidize?
Bishop Schmalhausen: Yes, the Church cannot ignore the personal, family, and social concerns and anxieties that  God's people live in, that our faithful live in and therefore we have to be close to them. Wherever possible, we have tried, but certainly my Prelature, which I can say in all honesty, is bankrupt, but by aid of others, of generous Catholics also of some companies who see the importance, the social responsibility they have in the area, we have been able through Caritas to organize some activities of importance in the area of health, drinking water for communities, education, and so we put our grain of sand.
Q: But that's not all the help that is expected from the Church, only at that level?
Bishop Schmalhausen: Exactly, that's only one level, then the other level is the level of evangelization, that means an announcement of the Gospel, close, clear, direct that really satisfies the hunger for God within people's hearts. There is no social justice, there will be no social justice if you do not touch and help the conversion of hearts. And I have no hesitation in saying, here where I live and where the vast majority is very poor, however the injustices among themselves can be atrocious.
Q: I mean everyone needs a change of heart, not just the wealthy.
Bishop Schmalhausen: Correct. The first task of the church is this, without however neglecting the other side of effective charity, charity that gives concrete help. But the first task of evangelization of the church is the conversion of the heart. Therefore, a priority for us is the presence of priests, religious communities and our well trained laity - catechists and leaders in Christian communities where there are no priests - so that together, we as a body shape ourselves and grow and mature in the faith.
Q: You found your calling in a full Christian church movement, how do we wake up the lay people in Latin America to transform the world in Christ? It is a challenge because the lay often separates faith from their real life, how do we break that artificial barrier that we have created?
Bishop Schmalhausen: We need to help the Christian life to be part of everyday life. We need to overcome the divorce between faith I profess, that I say and then what I  sometimes do that has anything to do with that faith. This is in regards to parish communities. It is undisputed, moreover, that the Holy Spirit has raised in the bosom of the church - as we have heard so many times from [Pope] John Paul II and our beloved Pope Benedict XVI - the presence of movements. They are a touch of the Holy Spirit, an action of the Holy Spirit in the Church, to assist in this task that lay people can live a personal Christian commitment in a particular community in which they feel they have a sense of belonging and rootedness and then where they also learn to project their faith in a commitment to society.