Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Turn Away from Sin and Turn to Him

Father John J. Lombardi

Even in the Resurrection Jesus calls us to repentance (Lk. 24:47). In this Sundayís first reading (Acts 3:13-19) we hear the same call to change from sinís detractions to the Lordís attractions. Obviously sometimes this is hard today, within ourselves and also, unfortunately within our culture.

Think of C.S.I.. No, not the tv show, but≠Culture Subverted InsidiouslyÖLast week I was enjoying a simple lunch in our luxurious Grotto shed when, reading a letter to the editor in this past Tuesdayís Frederick News Post caught my attention. "Christians wake up" was headline-or something like that. It described how the tv animation show South Park planned on lampooning the Islamic prophet Muhammad but, after the producers canceled the writersí plot (with the writers crying censorship-whatever happened to teamwork?), the writers went on to insert a part where Jesus defecated upon President Bushís head instead.

A friend said: "Itís always open season on Christians." She later said "they" would never dream of doing that for Jews or Muslims. Actually the producers of South Park did think of Muslims and thought otherwise. The disciple somewhat satirically also said Christians are always forgiving. Yes we are and should always be forgiving but, as she implied, we shouldnít be rollovers, doormats, either. That is the problem: we Catholics and Christians are "tolerating" or "accepting" or being intimidated by "free speech" and so forth. Actually, the South Park incident occurred right before Good Friday and Easter Sunday≠the holiest week of the year for Catholics and Christians, Go figure. The letter to the editor decried the South Park incidents of course and also Christiansí silence amidst such aberrations and allowing things to happen.

I donít often read the newspaper or see the news or get upset ("Whatís new under the sun?"), however, reading that letter and sentiments caught me and got my blood boiling. But in todayís sterilized world without gnarly prophets like Jeremiah and John the Baptist, we are told to be polite and sensitive and prim. Men are sometimes emasculated (even in the Church and the priesthood) and the prophetís mantle has been largely reduced to PR. Even the liberalist writer Gary Wills in his new book on Jesus said he was more radical than we think or allow.

Anyway, after investigating the story (verifying the facts: yes, the Jesus-president thing happened) I learned another disparaging thing: two weeks ago South Park received one of tvís most prestigious awards, the Peabody Award. Translated: itís not only the cable show thatís the problem, itís also the culture of tv≠as liberation theologians would say, itís a systemic sin (not only in individuals but in the hard wiring incestual culture of writers/viewers/ producers/advertisers attacking religion and God. People and the media are rewarding aberrant behavior; itís being condoned and promoted by many.

Now, Iíve been communicating with a good friend (or two) who disagrees with me and others on this issue. They imply South Park is making the enlightening point that the media is intimidated by Muslims (true) and is thereby hypocritical in its attacks on Christians. Kinda true. My friend also says there are many, many shows which are offensive≠too much money and sex and violence. All true, I agree. However: South Park has been critiqued for attacking (vilifying, not critiquing like other cultural critics do) scientology and Catholics and evangelical Christians. These are, like so many other forms of attack today, transgressive (a fancy in-voguish term used in literature and sociology) to mean offensive, vile≠and in some modern education fields, this is a compliment, because like a lot of art, literature and media today, transgression is against something: Christianity, culture, the family, God, beauty, natural law, order. South Park is apparently against many things rather than being for things. Why not be for and promote beautiful cartoons, or artistry like Michelangelo painted on the Sistine Chapel? People are still paying lots of bucks to see his sacred artistry! Letís encourage the writers and cartoonists and lampoonists to use their talents for this, not filth. Sin detracts; grace attracts. Another point: You never attack, or maim one religion to show another is wrong. Thatís a no-brainer. And you never harm a person to show that harm (repression) is wrong. Also you never have a right to do a wrong. If writers and artists and media elite are so multi-cultural, why donít they reach out to Christians and Catholics? No, instead, Christians and Catholics are sometimes tattooed with religious epithets and then we are called to embrace the media "objectivity." If "tolerance" is such a virtue why donít they tolerate our Lord and the Religion that helped found the very rights and country they depend on? In the midst of this, one friend compares South Park with Edward R Murrow (the guy who encouraged tv as a medium of learning and not degradation), and by connecting these two, says we shouldnít "shoot the messenger" (S. Park writers). Okay, but the messages are different: Murrow probably never defiled other peopleís religion in the midst of defending free speech and decency. Basically put≠transgressivists have trashed Our Lord and the office of the presidency of our country, no matter what their nuanced point. And, friend suggests, donít just critique them (good point) but give them a better idea≠try to match Alexander Solzhenitsyn who decried Soviet Communism with his majestic and impassioned "Gulag Archipelago," without filth. If Solzhenitsyn did it from a jail cell, so can others. One person implied we want censorship. No, just basic public virtues like tolerance, responsibility, respect and justice. Censorship is practiced, though, today. Think of the Holocaust denier in England who is now in jail for his free speech (though he obviously has a dubious point). In Canada it may be a crime to speak out against same sex unions≠censorship. Recently RICO laws once prohibited pro-life demonstrators from exercising free speech in protesting near abortion mills-censorship. Today in schools you can teach evolution (a theory) but you cannot talk about creationism or intelligent design-censorship. You can promote pornography and childrenís violence, but you cannot mention God or Jesus in public prayers and graduations-censorship. People defend Muslims in Guantanomo Bay but where are the defenders of Christians who cannot pray in Islamic countries? Censorship is all around and we do not support it. We do support justice and responsibility≠which is what we ask for in this current case.

This offense toward and against Christianity is what another Russian writer, G.I. Gurjiev says is a "War vs. Sleep." I.e., some are sleepwalking thru this world and donít really see or feel the stakes of the Battle, and we better help each other stay awake. Put another way, some want us to be oblivious to the obvious, i.e., to make people think that what was done is not really that bad or isnít what it seems or not offensive, or, etc. Other examples of corruption of culture today occur: thru the book and soon thru the movie "The DaVinci Code" which hides fiction and promotes the myth Jesus didnít really die or rise and had an affair with Mary Magdalene. "The _____Monologues" (the actual title is too lewd to print) which is promoted on some campuses as "transgressive enlightenment" (recently approved at Notre Dame in Ind.). MTV channel promotes promiscuity, androgyny and misogyny as well as a "sister channel" dedicated to homosexualism. Amidst all this we need Prophets to speak up, wake and shake us up. And the violence peddled to children and the mammon materialism of greed enslaving so many Americans as well as the "oil addiction" we all have and are caught up in. Remember, "All that evil has to do to triumph is for good people to do nothing."

As a couple respondents to my message on this issue wisely said, we must check our emotions, not overreact, and not promote fear or power. All this is true. What is also true is that we are possibly allowing our culture to be subverted. Jesus Himself got angry (Jn. 2) with the moneychangers in the Temple; He was upset at the priestsí treatment of the poor and the discipleís apathy of prayer. This is called, in our tradition, righteous indignation, holy anger whereby oneís emotions and passions are not fueled by sin, but the person is still in control and thus, thereby, the Lord did not sin. Anger in itself is not a sin but only when it overwhelms us and instills wrongful actions. We should get angry at abortion, mistreatment of the poor, and suicide bombers and destruction of souls thru tv violence and promotion of promiscuity and genocide in Darfur, Sudan. The Lord gave us the passion of anger for just these reasons: to get upset to the point of action and change≠not just for angerís rage. Anger can lead to conversion and repentance of sins if we use it rightly. We are called sometimes to be lambs and sometimes to be lions. As a matter of fact a friend said there is a book on this issue called "The Roaring Lamb"≠a good, holy balance there, eh?

A problem today is in our culture of tolerance and dialogue and acceptance. We are wrongly taught to accept otherís sins and immoral behavior and thereby define deviancy down, all the while seeing ourselves, as Justice Robert Bork said and wrote the book, "Slouching Toward Gomorrah." I was just talking to Ed Chambers, a Pilgrim who answered the common cry of "free-speech-at-any-cost" line (i.e., we should always defend a personís right to speak and say anything no matter how offensive; otherwise, we would be on a slippery slope of repression). He said immediately: "Your free speech is like smoking a cigarette≠itís free and protected as long as it is from the cigaretteís smoke to my nose." Bang. Enlightenment.

The culture wars show that Christians have clout, economic and political power and should rightly use this by voting or protesting or by using economic sanctions (Just as progressivists did against apartheid, Vietnam and racism), and not by fearful violence. This is good in mobilizing the Mystical Body to effect change by shrewd means. Yes we need to pray; and yes we need to act. Yes we need to sacrifice and do penance, but we also need to protest and effect change. If your child or friend was learning in a classroom where the teacher smoked or abused children or offered satanic literature, would you just pray for that teacher? What are the three main responses to consider re corruption of culture≠whether it is big business raping the small village; questionable sports programs adversely affecting morals; entertainment and gambling at any cost; or the growing information idolatry of today?

1-Inform yourself of what is really going on. Donít be a spiritual ostrich burying your gifted head in the ground and ignore improprieties. Perhaps we have all done this but this can be changed≠souls are depending on us. Donít be numbed to the pollution around you.

2-Pray and do penance: we connect to the Mystical Body and Lord and can move minds and hearts to change by our loving prayer.

3-Act where and when you can. Write a letter, protest with love. Martin Luther King did this, will you? Lech Walesa and Pope John Paul II demonstrated against oppressive communism and brought change, will you? Ex-mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani reacted against the defilement of the Virgin Mary in an art exhibit and got it banned! Many decried the National Endowment of the Arts monies for questionable art and changed that endowment.

Here is an outline of a letter I plan to write re South Park (you may "fill in the blanks" and do the same). I am offended by your show and writersí depiction of Jesus and the President of U.S (no matter who the president is or was). I urge you to reconcile with the many Christians who were offended; just as you were sensitive to Muslims, so be sensitive to Christians. Stop mocking our Lord and sacred beliefs. We support creative artistry but not at any cost. We respect rights and free speech but these have limits and responsibilities. What if someone mocked your family or personhood≠you would be outraged and respond---satire always requires victims. Use talent for human edification≠even if it is a political or cultural critique. I respectfully ask for your response. Thank you. You may write to Sumner M. Redstone, Executive Chairman of Viacom Inc., 1515 Broadway, New York, NY 10036/ ph 212-258-6000; http://www.viacom.com Ö

Letís all help one another turn away from sin and turn to Him. Remember: sin detracts, Beauty and Grace attract!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi