Those millions who have tuned into the recent Netflix comic book hero series Daredevil, will have been confronted with the curious stereotypical suggestion that there is some symbiotic relationship between blue collar people who specialise in blue collar things like boxing and traditional Catholicism. Now there are no Latin Masses (yet) in the hit show about a blind lawyer who rises from being the son of a grafting boxer to setting up his own law firm. BUT! He does fight crime at night as a blindfolded vigilante, as exact and precise as the law itself (in theory). And before he begins this period of seeking to assist those who suffer at the hands of criminals, the opening scene is of Matt Murdock (Daredevil) sitting in a confessional box, stating with uncertainty how long it had been since his last confession. The imagery... the darkness, the tension. A priests who listens with intent, not apology. It is, for the frivolity of his nature as a comic book adaptation, a strikingly affecting opening sequence. Not quite Francis Ford Copolla's Michael Corleone rejecting Satan as he contemplates violent murder, but compelling nonetheless for its contrast to much of the post-Vatican II images of a Church that specialises in apologies, rather than apologetics, in staring at the floor in embarrassment rather than into the eyes of the very souls it seeks to save.
The association of Catholicism and a tough sport may seem an anachronism in a modern world where both have become more irrelevant as (ironically though not coincidentally) they have become more 'inclusive'.
The joint biggest star in the sport, Manny Pacquiao was, for years, the poster boy of blue collar Catholicism the world over. He wore Rosary Beads to the ring. He was the feather in the cap of the (supposedly) deeply Catholic Phillipines.
That was, until his recent conversion to Protestantism. After a period of waste and excess, Manny Pacquiao took the decision to abandon the faith with which he was raised and convert instead to a branch of Evangelicalism.
|It's not idolatry if you're praying to a painting of yourself|
The question for Catholics is: why? Do we even need to ask why? Does his celebrity affect us to the point where we should feel obligated to show concern for the fate of this stranger's soul?
His conversion, in his words, stems from a fairly unusual place. Pacquiao reckons that he has had visions which revealed to him that he should convert. “I have a lot of dreams and visions I even heard the voice of God. When I heard the voice of God, I am trembling and melting. I feel I have died. It was an amazing, amazing experience. Perhaps he did. Or perhaps, his other explanation is more telling, as when he says, I’m happy because I found the right way, salvation, born again. We are required to be born again, all of us. Christ said unless we are born again we cannot enter the kingdom of God. The likely answer being that Pacquiao was attracted to Evangelicalism for whatever reason and then internalised much of its dogmas and hyper literal optimism regarding grace afforded by God to the soul.
But what brought him to this point? His despair, a longing for an escape from a life of depravity surely? Hasn't he left that behind now? Well, it depends on your perspective. From a Catholic point of view, earning obscene money for a prize fight is not necessarily immoral per se, but as to your reasons for pursuing it, they had want to be for good reasons. A man who has earned $300 million in his career has to seriously mull over Our Lord's words when He said It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. It hangs heavier over a Catholic than it does a Protestant. For the simplest of reasons. Protestantism, in disdaining of Papal authority anointed the individual as the great authority in matters spiritual and divine. Interpret the Bible however you wish, judge the measure expected of you by your own expectations and remember that by grace you are saved so works are irrelevant.
To criticise Pacquiao's apostasy, perhaps we can surmise that he was motivated by a desire to capture his demons by becoming his own master, himself his own agent of interpretation and an instrument of divine revelation. How better for a sportsman to assert power of his fears and vices, than to declare that he is a member of a faith that allows him full control and direct responsibility for his life's direction? There are very few better ways to face your opponents armed with the knowledge that God apparently choose you as a very special recipient of His grace, making you worthy of salvation.
To pardon him somewhat, can any of us truly say that they past 50 years have given us a Church that makes us feel strong? Can any of us declare that the vernacular Mass, the child abusing priests and the desecration of beautiful and powerful sacraments such as the sacrament of reconciliation as has captured the imagination long before and long after it did in Daredevil? The faith that Pacquiao was raised in, by all accounts thrust upon him by his mother, perhaps he was merely conforming all along rather than genuinely believing?
Whatever the reason for Pacquiao's defection from Catholicism, I sincerely hope that, for the sake of his soul he returns to the One True Faith, even if it was never too strong to begin with I hope he can learn it anew. Perhaps a Pacquiao who becomes acquainted with the value of the Church's foundation by Christ Himself through his appointment of Peter and the value of its beautiful tradition will be better placed than ever before to be a symbol for her renewal. I have no ill will towards him in his fight with Floyd Mayweather tonight, I trust that God will allow for the best outcome according to what will benefit his faith. Though, I can't help but hope that a man who said I changed when I heard the voice of God, and I can testify that there is a God. I saw two angels, white, long, big wings. I saw Paradise. God showed me about the end of time and other flowery exhortations of the Evangelical kind, learns something far deeper about faith than such empty rhetorical images and feelings lend themselves too.
I pray that Pacquiao, like the rest of the world, learns that it is one thing to see God through our joy. It is another thing altogether to see him through His wounds, to see how those wounds built our beautiful Church, how much holiness can be attained in suffering, the inevitable realm of at least some part of our lives. $300 million is very far from Our Lord on the Cross.
The man of the people, the average spectator's choice in this big fight, should remember from his Bible Studies what the meaning of popular opinion equates to. What it is worth at the end of time which was apparently shown to Pacquiao by God Himself.
For, the Gospels tell us, Barabbas was the people's champion too. Barrabas was protesting against Our Lord's Church too. And his way seemed the best way from him at the time too.
Please God Pacquiao will seek redemption in a confessional box someday. Bless me Father for I have sinned, it has been too long since my last confession.
As Pacquiao himself has been quoted as saying about Mayweather, What profit is it to a man if he shall gain the whole world but lose his own soul?