Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Passion of Mel

One of the interesting things about the internet is that I can have a thought, do absolutely nothing with it, and nine times out of ten, somebody else will eventually write on it and say what I was thinking much more eloquently than I ever could have. That's what Brad Miner has now done with his column People v. Mel Gibson over at The Catholic Thing. If anything, the curious case of Mel has filled me with sadness.

Mel, of course, did the world a great good when he filmed the Passion of the Christ. In many ways it was an extended meditation on the Way of the Cross. The film was a very Catholic work of devotional piety that resonated deeply with much of the Christian world. Mr. Gibson's promotional tour took him to some different outlets, including the Knights of Columbus Supreme Convention and EWTN. In interviews that he gave for both the Passion and his film We Were Soldiers, one got the sense that the man was a believer--that he had undergone a conversion and embraced the truth about his metaphysical state in the world and his relationship to God, both as creator and redeemer. Based on those interviews, one (or at least I) could have concluded that his conscience was properly formed. There was the whole radical traditionalist adherence to the Latin mass, but if anything, one would expect the rad trads to be even more morally rigorous than the so-called happy clappy Catholics.

Then came the infamous drunk driving arrest, with its anti-Semitic and misogynistic rant. As disappointed as I was, I was willing to accept and forgive. Part of being an adult is recognizing and arguing down those thoughts that are not in accord with the Faith without giving voice to them. Throw alcohol onto the fire and thoughts that would normally die an appropriate death within the mind somehow find their way out. Alcohol is famous for lubricating the tongue, but it is a very dangerous thing to remove all friction.

More recently, we learned that Mel's wife was suing him for divorce. The papers were filed the day before Good Friday. Poor man, I thought. His soul must be suffering. But then he appeared with a new Russian girlfriend. That made me blink. And then it was revealed that his new girlfriend was pregnant with his child.

And so you have the context of People v. Mel Gibson.

Mel knows better, but at some point, he made a decision that was at variance with what he believed. He cut away the anchor.

It is a great scandal when somebody who knows, and can articulate, Church teaching turns his back on it. Henry VIII was a defender of the faith. He knew his doctrines. But once he broke with the Church, once he cut away the anchor, he drifted away, out of control, a slave to the currents of his own passions.

When people appeal to something that Martin Luther wrote, hoping to show that he wasn't far from the Church in what he believed, I have to ask when he wrote it. The farther that he got from his fateful break with the Church, the greater the distance between what he had previously believed.

Alberto Cutie is there now. He has cut away his anchor.

I don't bring this up because I want to pass judgment on the persons involved. That's up to God. What interests me is that, objectively speaking, knowledge of the Faith is not sufficient to ensure fidelity to the faith, and once a conscious decision is made to turn away from practicing the faith, the guilty mind rationalizes justifications that defy logical cosistency. There might be people who study and pray and struggle over doctrinal points and end up leaving the bosom of the Catholic Church because of it. But all of the high-profile apostates leave for specious reasons.

Here's the thing, though: I know less than these guys, and I am painfully aware of my own weakness. I don't usually think about the need to pray that I retain what little faith I have. Yet that is exactly what I need to do. I need to pray, with St. Joan of Arc, that if I am not in a state of grace, that God will place me there, and if I am, that He will keep me there. God gave me a human will, but that will can be acted upon by both my intellect and my senses. I pray that I might always act in accord with what I know to be true, even if I have failed to do so in the past. And please, Lord, if I fail to obey your commands, grant me the grace of true contrition, that I might never stray too far from the safe path that you have provided.

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