‘A God in Israel’ versus ‘Mary Sue’
Twenty-eighth Sunday of the Year. Fr Leon Pereira warns against an inauthentic kind of Christianity.
In medieval art, the devil is anatomically challenged. He has no knees, because he does not want to kneel and adore God as he ought. And he has no genitals, because evil cannot give life or create—it can only deform a pre-existent thing. As a faithful Catholic, Tolkien follows this idea in his writings: ‘The [devil] can only mock, it cannot make: not real new things of its own’.
Modern popular culture has been impacted powerfully by such things as Tolkien’s writings and Star Wars. It is unsurprising that writers and producers might be tempted to mine these sources for further tales and entertainment. In this we see Tolkien’s observation about evil realised—writers unable or unwilling to create something new, simply take a pre-existing tale and reshape it. Imitation is the sincerest form of a total lack of imagination.
In these new tales drawn from Tolkien or Star Wars and the like, there are mostly female protagonists, preferably non-white. But these protagonists suffer a fatal flaw: they have no flaws. The technical term for such heroines is a ‘Mary Sue’. A Mary Sue knows everything, does everything right, does not need to learn, does not merit anything but has everything served on her lap. There is no struggle and consequently no genuine, believable achievement. Mary Sues make the whole tale boring and wretched. When audiences vote with their feet and leave, they are accused of misogyny or racism, or both.
Chesterton said that orthodoxy was the only exciting thing; by contrast heresy is boring, because it rehashes old things in new packaging. Only orthodoxy captures the imagination, and makes new beginnings and new ways possible. In the Church also, evil deforms and perverts the Faith. Evil does not engender faith. Heresy does not breed a new generation, because it is contracepted and sterilised. Therefore it seeks to propagate itself by commandeering and imposing itself on others, like a virus.
We see much of this in the pre-synodal reports in certain countries. They clamour for changes to doctrine and morals; they claim holiness is an ideal not a goal; and they seek to ‘accompany’ which means keeping people exactly where they are. What is sinful is no longer called sin. Hell is not eternal, or it is empty. Holiness is not sought, we are fine as we are. This attempt to change the Faith turns us all into Mary Sues. We all become instant saints, but without any actual holiness. There is no struggle, no cross, no sacrifice. We win instantly without playing the game. It is the boredom and joke of being Mary Sue.
These illusions arise when we treat God as absent. Everything then depends on us, and we hijack God’s word for the sake of our passing whims. Error manifests as a failure to love people enough and properly: by lying to them and blessing their disordered unions, by confirming them in adultery and fornication, by affirming their grave errors like abortion and rewarding them with Communion without repentance. It is the failure to love people’s souls and a willingness to risk their eternal salvation. And all this for the sake of being inclusive and nice, for the sake of making ourselves popular. It is the grievous failure to be authentically pastoral and genuinely loving.
We need to ask ourselves: Do we really believe Jesus is God? Do we believe Jesus is alive and active in His Church? Do we believe the Eucharist is truly Jesus, body, blood, soul and divinity?
The Syrian Naaman realises the truth: that all other gods are false, and that the true God is in Israel. The Samaritan comes back to Jesus because Jesus told him and his companions to show themselves to the priests, and he realises Jesus is the true High Priest. For us too, we cannot settle for becoming Mary Sues—saints without actual holiness. The real God is not absent. We must come to Jesus. The Faith is not a plaything to twist to our own destruction. There is indeed a God in Israel, i.e. the Church, and He is alive and active, and He loves us more than any deformation of faith ever could!
Readings: 2 Kings 5:14-17 | 2 Timothy 2:8-13 | Luke 17:11-19
Image: detail from The Healing of Naaman, a stained glass window from the cloisters at Mariawald, a Cistercian abbey, c.1510-30, currently at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, photographed by Fr Lawrence Lew OP
Wow Wow Wow! This is prophetic voice of our time. Is there a way to make this reflection open to reach out to any many people as possible?
Fr. Leon you are an inspiration we need in our MOTHER CHURCH.
I will share this with many people.
In general, I very much enjoyed your essay. I was particularly taken with your excellent phrase “Imitation is the sincerest form of a total lack of imagination.”. However, after a bit of reflection, I recalled the well-known medieval book “The Imitation of Christ”. I then thought, “Ouch !”. Nevertheless, I greatly appreciate the thoughts expressed in your essay.
Nice reflection friar.
Fr. James Harris
Amen! Amen! Father thank you for these words. I too will share this truth with those under my care.
Showing mercy and compassion to all (as Jesus showed us) is not attempting to “change the Faith” nor is it our place to judge others for their actions and whether they are repentant. Without inclusivity how can others see and understand what living as part of a Christian community can be. Once experienced it will, hopefully, promote individual conscience thus opening communication with God. If our faith is a living faith it should not be totally static.
How encouraging is this. THANK YOU
I agree with Christine’s comment. It is odd that a Dominican friar adopts such a stern interpretation of the voices of the Synod. Even in the extreme cases where what Leon says about the abuses in these voices (i.e., accepting adultery, fornication, etc.) are true, the way of addressing the matter, by denouncing and accusing, is not productive. And alas, it is not Christian. That is very similar to feud the Pharisees had with Jesus, accusing him to talk and eat with sinners. Why have they done that? Because for them Jesus’s attitude could have been misunderstood as approval, or even collusion, with sin. But, as Timothy Radcliffe says: “In our cautious, risk-adverse society, one is told to beware of ‘sending the wrong message’. One must not confuse people. But if one preaches the gospel, one will inevitably be misunderstood. Misunderstanding nailed Jesus to the cross. We shall probably have to endure nothing more than poisonous words on blogs. If one does not risk being misunderstood, one will never say anything at all.”
If I may, I would like to offer a humble philosophical approach to this issue. It is rooted in Aquinas, so I would expect that Dominicans would like it. Evil has actually no substance. To do evil we need certain good that attracts us, because evil by its own cannot attract any human will. This is called the principle of movement. What moves a person to do or support something evil cannot be the evil itself, but an accidental good that is taking the place of, or precluding, certain essential goods. Otherwise, we would fall in what Chesterton’s citation is warning, namely, heresy – in this case the Manichean heresy.
The poor should always be the priority. And sinners are the poorest of all people, because they are devoid of grace, which is the highest human good. So, I believe that we should be extremely careful when proclaiming that we should «defend» God. Defend God from whom? From the sinners and the ones that proclaim sinful behavior? The problem is that they are the poorest, and by revelation we know that what we do to them we are doing to Christ. Are we going to defend God from God? It does not make sense. The apostolate is not like a football match.
Every time that one of our human fellows is saying something that makes our blood boil by defending sinful practices, she/he is Christ crying in desperation: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”. In my humble opinion, that is what we should see in those that Leon is warning us about. In essence this is what Pope Francis calls the theology of tenderness: compassion, closeness, tenderness.
Here here! Excellent words Father. I pray more priests follow and teach the true Magesterium and return from heresy that has invaded The Church founded by Christ not by public opinion. Correction is a Cardinal virtue. We should never flee the true teachings.
The true Magesterium:
“True heresy consists not only in preaching another gospel (cf. Gal 1:9), as Saint Paul told us, but also in ceasing to translate its message into today’s languages and ways of thinking, which is precisely what the Apostle of the Gentiles did. To preserve means to keep alive and not to imprison the message of Christ.”
(Pope Francis, 22 December 2022, in the Hall of Benedictions, annual Christmas greeting to Officials of the Roman Curia, L’Osservatore Romano 23-30 December 2022, English version).