Friday, June 13, 2014

Concerning the Confessions of St. Augustine and Doctor Who

Warning: The following blog post contains large quotations and is my random train of thought. So things may or may not connect.  

There. You’ve been warned. Now read on if you so desire.

Today I’d like to talk about St. Augustine. He’s pretty much awesome, and had a crazy journey to Catholicism. A few months back, I decided that this summer, I would tackle The Confessions. We translated some bits of it in Latin class, and it sounded incredible. And it is. I’ve been reading one “Book” (basically the equivalent of a chapter) a day, and it’s so, so good. St. Augustine has beautiful reflections on his life experiences, and this is what I want to share with y’all today.

St.  Augustine notes that people watch sorrowful theatrical shows to be moved to compassion and mercy, and even enjoy that feeling of sorrow (he many times watched theatrical shows that fit his sinful lifestyle while he was a student in Carthage). However, he cautions against being flung into these passions that arise (the bolded bits are my emphasis):

“It is sometimes right to entertain compassionate feelings. But beware of impurity, my soul...I rejoiced with lovers on the stage who took sinful pleasure in one another, even though their adventures were only imaginary and part of a dramatic presentation, and when they lost each other I grieved with them”

Right away, I was like—whoa, St. Augustine, you got us there. How many times, while watching movies or TV shows, do we do this same thing? Rejoicing in the sinful pleasure of lovers—sounds like a bunch of chick flicks (and books) I’ve heard of. …

“A person who sorrows for someone who is miserable earns approval for the charity he shows, but if he is genuinely merciful he would far rather there were nothing to sorrow about…We must conclude that, while some sorrow is commendable, no sorrow is to be valued for its own sake. You, Lord God, lover of souls, show mercy far more purely than we can, and in a way free from all taint because no sorrow can wound you. Which of us is sufficient for that?” (Confessions 3.3)

St. Augustine continues to point out:

 “At that time I was truly miserable, for I loved feeling sad and sought out whatever could cause me sadness. When the theme of a play dealt with other people’s tragedies—false and theatrical tragedies—it would please and attract me more powerfully the more it moved me to tears. I was an unhappy beast astray from your flock and resentful of your shepherding, so what wonder was it that I became infected with foul mange? My love for tragic scenes sprang from no inclination to be more deeply wounded by them, for I had no desire to undergo myself the woes I liked to watch. It was simply that when I listened to such doleful tales being told they enabled me superficially to scrape away at my itching self, with the result that these raking nails raised an inflamed swelling, and drew stinking discharge from a festering wound. Was that life I led any life at all, O my God?”  (Confessions 3.4)

Honestly, if you look at the books, movies, the news, and TV shows of today, you will find a bundle of darkness. And while there is merit, as St. Augustine notes, in being moved to compassion and sorrow through the media, what good will come from a society where darkness is filling our minds completely? As St. Augustine points out, “Was that life I led any life at all?” Despair breeds upon complete darkness, when all hope is gone from sight. And despair is so very lame.

     “There were times before mass media when the amount of evil seen was tempered considerably because of the relative isolation of villages. When a neighbor’s house burned down, all would pitch in and help out in whatever way they could. The suffering was just as real, but there was always a feeling of solidarity, and a tangi
ble means of showing compassion, built on a hope in God…
      Presently, a high school student can go home, watch three or four wars enfolding before his eyes, see plane crashes killing hundreds, natural disasters …All this takes place before the evening meal with the family. There’s no sense of solidarity, and no tangible means of showing compassion for suffering all over the globe…and when most children haven’t seen the inside of a church or a catechism book, obviously there is not much hope being fostered. Rather a subtle feeling of despair pervades everything.” (Fr. Michael Gauvreau: The Providence of God and the Existence of Evil)

Yeah, there’s darkness in the world, in the media, in our entertainment, etc. So what’s a Christian to do? Cultivate hope and trust in God’s goodness, mercy, and omnipotence! It’s all fun to talk about doing that, but really. We need to actually cultivate the virtue of hope. And hope joyfully! Because God is all-powerful and has complete control, and He has amazing mercy. So we need to trust Him! Yeah, easier said than done. But that still shouldn't stop us. 
"The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men's activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude." (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1818)

And this is why I like the BBC show Dr. Who.

Yup. It happened. I got hooked on the show this week. 

In the past, I have seen a few DW episodes scattered around here and there, and many of my friends are Whovians. Honestly, a lot of people here at FUS (and all colleges, most likely) are into Dr. Who. Plus, my family is into it: my older brother is a huge DW person. And my parents started watching the show several months back. My youngest brother has gleefully told me that he wants a Sonic Screwdriver. So, I decided that this summer, I would get  a one-month free Netflix trial to watch a couple more episodes, to understand a bit more. Keep up with my family and friends.  Just so you know, I don’t like committing to TV shows much, because they take up a ridiculous amount of time (especially the longer shows). Just a few shows here and there was my plan...
 Well, the other day, a friend of mine informed me that Franciscan U’s library has seasons 1-7 of the Dr. Who reboot. So…I picked up season 3, and over the course of the past 3 or 4 days (I lose all sense of time), I watched the season.

It’s epic.

The Tenth Doctor
For those of you unfamiliar with Doctor Who, its a BBC show about a Timelord known as "The Doctor." The show ran for several years, stopped, and in 2005 or something they started making episodes again. Basically, The Doctor travels around through time and space with a female companion, and they battle aliens and people who threaten the universe. So anyways, like I alluded to...I greatly enjoy Doctor Who because of the joyful hope that it cultivates
(at least in season 3, which is the season I’m going off of in this post). In every episode, at least one massively hugely terrible thing happens, which many times threatens the existence of the human race. Terrifying, creepy aliens. Weeping Angels (who I personally didn’t find as scary as I thought they’d be, but they were still creepy), crazy robots that kill...and multiple people die in many of the episodes.

The Doctor and Martha Jones, his companion in Season 3
Joyful hope? You bet. The Doctor many times runs around during those dangerous situations while telling people to hope, explaining to them that he’s got things figured out (or that he’s figuring it out as he goes, but that he’ll still win). When the Doctor is not the one actively cultivating hope, his companion (in Season 3, Martha Jones) is. In fact, Martha Jones laughs a couple times as she’s threatened with death, because she has a joyful hope and trust and knows that everything will be okay. Because The Doctor will fix all problems.

Things get intense. Every episode I have seen makes me feel like I’ve been running, because the escape from darkness and evil things is continual, and I get really caught up in the action. In Season 3, one encounters people who have lived inside of cars in a polluted tunnel for up to 20 years without seeing the light of day, humans who are being plummeted towards the sun, individuals in danger of man-eating creatures. But when I watch the show, I don’t get conquered by darkness or despair. Because the joyful hope is constant, and I know that good will always triumph. There are times where I don’t see exactly how The Doctor is going to get himself, his friends, and others out of danger, because things just look really, really bad. But there’s always some way that he wins, and I know that without a doubt, The Doctor will defeat the evil, no matter what.

The Tabernacle at the Chapel of the Miraculous
Medal in Paris, France 
Doctor Who challenges me to live with a joyful hope and trust throughout daily life. How many thousands of Whovians and random viewers of the show trust that the man in the blue box will always save the day, but don’t trust the God who lives in the little gold box in their local church? (And though the TARDIS is “bigger on the inside”, the Tabernacle contains an infinite God—way bigger on the inside) The Doctor and Martha Jones saw suffering, and they themselves also suffered. But they persisted to have joy, and The Doctor saved the day, time after time.  We see suffering. We suffer ourselves. And we can live as joyful, trusting, hopeful people.

“And in the desert people of faith are needed who, by the example of their own lives, point out the way to the Promised Land and keep hope alive. In these situations we are called to be living sources of water from which others can drink. At times, this becomes a heavy cross, but it was from the cross, from His pierced side, that our Lord gave Himself to us as a source of living water. Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of hope!”
(Pope Francis, Evangelium Gaudium #86)

Don’t just talk about “hope,” but live hope joyfully every day.
And watch some Dr. Who. Just don’t blink. 

One of the infamous Weeping Angels.