By now the main elements of the original trilogy have become household words and are also found in the new movie. The "Force" is obviously with little Anakin Skywalker throughout the plot as he seeks to balance the cosmic forces in order to save humanity. Myth and faith, belief and self-control are mixed and mingled and often interchanged in what some critics have called a "pseudo-religious" drama and "Zen Lite."
Halfway across the globe, on the very same day, tens of thousands gathered under the early morning Roman sun for another global event. Here there was no one donning laser swords or Darth Vader outfits. In fact, there was not even the slightest mention of the "world premiere," actually limited only to the U.S., among those gathered for the occasion. For these people it was a non-event.
They had come to the weekly general audience of John Paul II to listen to the leader of over 1 billion Catholics exhort them to live their faith, mature in their beliefs and to deepen their prayer life in the tradition of centuries of mystics and saints. Nothing lite or pseudo-religious here. And yet, several of the themes and topics discussed had more than a few things in common with the underlying contents of the new movie just released on the other side of the world.
Call it destiny or cosmic coincidence, but the fact is that the parallels are uncanny and impossible to ignore. The Vatican of course issued no public statement or press release on the Pope's opinion of the new addition to the Star Wars series, and there was no featured movie review in the L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.
That doesn't rule out that the Pope will eventually watch the sci-fi thriller, as he has the first three, or even add a copy to his already immense videoteca which includes originals of recent works such as "Schindler's List," "The Prince of Egypt" and "Life is Beautiful," as well as two of his own plays written before he was elected Pope that have been made into full-length movies.
So, given the fact that a face-to-face encounter is something that seems hard to imagine in the near future, we have decided to take a page from the same world of virtual reality that made the movie possible and, using the digital method of "cut & paste," we'd like to present an imaginary dialogue between George Lucas and Karol Woytila about religion, faith and belief.
No, we are not making this up. While the encounter never actually occurred, all the words are very real indeed. Lucas' words have been selected from an interview with Bill Moyers published in the April 26 edition of Time Magazine on the "Theology of Star Wars" and the words of the Pope have been translated directly from the original text of the general audience on May 19 mentioned above.
While this dialogue may not get morphed into any upcoming edition of the remaining two movies of the Star Wars trilogy, at least it might serve as food for thought for the rest of us, too often "spiritual aliens." MOYERS: Is one religion as good as another?
JOHN PAUL II: The Acts of the Apostles offers us Paul's discourse to the Athenians which is very appropriate for the religious pluralism of our time. In order to present the God of Jesus Christ, Paul takes advantage of the religiousness of his listeners with words of appreciation: "Athenian citizens, I see that you are very religious. In fact, as I walked among your sacred monuments, I came upon an altar with the inscription: 'To the unknown God.' What you adore without knowing, I have come to announce to you." (Acts 17:22-23)
At the foundation of the Church's encounter with world religions is the discernment of their specific character, or the way in which they approach the mystery of a Saving God, the definitive Reality of human life. Every religion presents itself as a search for salvation which proposes itineraries in order to reach that goal (CCC.843). One of the suppositions of this dialogue is the certainty that man, created in God's image, is also the privileged "place" of his salvific presence.
LUCAS: I guess it's more specific in Buddhism, but it is a notion that's been around before that. When I wrote the first Star Wars, I had to come up with a whole cosmology: What do people believe in? I had to do something that was relevant, something that imitated a belief system that has been around for thousands of years, and that most people on the planet, one way or another, have some kind of connection to. I didn't want to invent a religion. I wanted to try to explain in a different way the religions that have already existed. I wanted to express it all. (...) I put the Force into the movie in order to try to awaken a certain kind of spirituality in young people -- more a belief in God than a belief in any particular religious system. I wanted to make it so that young people would begin to ask questions about the mystery.
JOHN PAUL II: Certain practices originating from the great oriental religions are especially attractive to contemporary man. To these, Christians should apply a spiritual discernment so as never to lose from sight the concept of prayer as it is illustrated in the Bible throughout the whole history of salvation. This necessary discernment does not impede religious dialogue.
Then there is theological dialogue in which experts try to deepen their understanding of each others' religious heritage and to appreciate their spiritual values. Nevertheless, encounters among specialists of different religions shouldn't limit themselves to look simply for a minimum common denominator. They have the final goal of lending a courageous service to truth, highlighting both points of mutual agreement as well as fundamental differences, in a sincere effort to overcome prejudice and misunderstandings."
MOYERS: One scholar has called Star Wars "mysticism for the masses." You've been accused of trivializing religion, promoting religion with no strings attached.
LUCAS: That's why I would hesitate to call the Force God. It's designed primarily to make young people think about the mystery. Not to say, "Here's the answer." It's to say, "Think about this for a second. Is there a God? What does God look like? What does God sound like? What does God feel like? How do we relate to God?" Just getting young people to think at that level is what I've been trying to do in the films. What eventual manifestation that takes place in terms of how they describe their God, what form their faith takes, is not the point of the movie. (...) When the film came out, almost every single religion took Star Wars and used it as an example of their religion; they were able to relate it to stories in the Bible, in the Koran and in the Torah.
JOHN PAUL II: Prayer, as an adoring acknowledgement of God, gratitude for his gifts, imploring his help, is a special means of encounter, above all in those religions which, even though they have not yet discovered the fatherhood of God, nevertheless "have, in a certain sense, their hands outstretched to heaven" (Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 53). Nevertheless, it is more difficult to establish dialogue with certain contemporary religiousness, in which prayer is reduced to the increase of a vital force, which substitutes salvation.
MOYERS: In authentic religion, doesn't it take Kierkegaard's leap of faith?
JOHN PAUL II: Dialogue about religious experience is also becoming ever more important. The exercise of contemplation responds to a growing thirst for interiority which is indicative of persons with spiritual desire and helps believers to deepen their understanding of the mystery of God.
Nevertheless, mysticism can never be invoked in favor of religious relativism, in the name of an experience which diminishes the value of God's revelation in history.
MOYERS: You're creating a new myth?
LUCAS: With Star Wars I consciously set about to re-create myths and the classic mythological motifs. I wanted to use those motifs to deal with issues that exist today. The more research I did, the more I realized that the issues are the same ones that existed 3,000 years ago. That we haven't come very far emotionally. (...) Myths tell us these old stories in a way that doesn't threaten us. They're in an imaginary land where you can be safe. But they deal with real truths that need to be told. Sometimes the truths are so painful that stories are the only way you can get through to them psychologically. (...) I'm telling an old myth in a new way. (...) I guess I'm localizing it for the end of the millennium more than I am for any particular place.
JOHN PAUL II: ...Christian truth allows the spiritual, moral and social-cultural values found in [other religions] to advance. (...) As disciples of Christ we feel the urgency and the joy to witness that precisely in him God has manifested himself, as the Gospel of St. John tells us: "No one has ever seen God: it is the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, who has revealed him" (Jn. 1:18).
This witness should be given without any fear, but also with the conviction that the action of Christ and of his Spirit is already mysteriously present in all those who live their own religious experience sincerely. The Church, together with all truly religious people, continues its pilgrimage through history towards the eternal contemplation of God in the splendor of his glory. ZE99052123
That came during the conclave following Pius' death. Because of the Borgia track record, Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere was finally able to achieve the goal he had been groomed for: the papacy. He took the name Pope Julius II as the 216th successor of Peter, the first Julius since Pope Saint Julius I who was elected the 35th successor of Peter while Constantine the Great still ruled. Julius II's coronation was on November 1, 1503. While he could have been a great Vicar of Christ and brought unity to the Church and quite possibly have averted the pending Protestant rebellion throughout Europe, he was so obsessed with eradicating the Borgia clan that it often clouded his thinking and made him a ruthless, violent ruler. He was, in a word, militant. He marshalled the papal troops to take back the Papal States confiscated by the Borgias and was relentless in slaying anyone loyal to the Borgia side and sought to make Italy free of any interference from the rest of Europe. He drove Cesare Borgia out of Italy and convinced Venice to evacuate Romagna or else. To cover his back he called on old colleagues Louis XII and Maximilian I along with Spain to form the League of Cambrai.
Julius II donned full armor and rode at the forefront of his troops into battle, taking back Perugia and Bologna for the Papal States. When Venice balked, he officially excommunicated the residents of the city on April 27, 1508 and the following month clobbered the Venetians where they had to surrender Rimini and Faenza and all taxation rights. Control of Church appointments in Venice was taken from the Doge and placed back in the hands of the Pope. But one of the fallouts by inviting the Holy League in was France's desire to covet Milan. Julius saw this and summoned a new Holy League, this time with Venice as an ally to oust France with the battle cry, "Out with barbarians!" The battles that ensued took their toll on both sides and a new fued broke out between Julius II and Louis XII. The latter tried to depose the Pope, calling a Synod in Pisa, and reestablishing some of the decrees of King Philip IV from the Avignon days and the battles between Philip and the feisty Pope Boniface VIII. In an effort to stifle any momentum Louis had gained, Julius called the Fifth Lateran Council in Rome, the eighteenth Ecumenical Council and first since the Council of Basle-Ferrara-Firenze in which the Papacy regained superiority over conciliar power. This was called in 1512 and would last five years on and off until 1517 though Julius would not see it through to fruition. Julius expedited the beginning of this Council for Maximilian had sided with Louis and thus, being an astute military genius, sought to cut the snake off at the head rather than scatter the pit. Spain remained loyal to the Holy See and England joined as well, but King Henry VIII did not send troops right away. Nevertheless the tide truly turned when a group of Swiss troops arrived and by the end of 1512 had driven the French from Italian soil. It was the beginning of the vaunted, prestigious Swiss Guard who retain the same militia apparel today as then. Julius recaptured Parma, Piacenza and Reggio Emilia and was hailed as the liberator of Italy.
An ambitious and impatient man by nature, when he wasn't on the front lines, Julius was seeing to the rebeautification of Rome and the Holy See, often nagging the Renaissance master Michelangelo Buonarrotti into completing the Sistine Chapel, a project begun by his uncle Pope Sixtus who built it and now would be finished during his pontificate nearly thirty years later. Julius is best depicted by Rex Harrison's portrayal of him in the 1965 film "The Agony and the Ecstacy" in which Charleton Heston played Michelangelo. Julius also summoned Michelangelo's protege Raphael to work on various projects as well as Bramante to whom he entrusted the design of the new St. Peter's Basilica, laying the cornerstone on April 18, 1506. He also established the first bishopric in South America, laying the foundation of the faith there that would blossom thanks to two events - the missionary efforts of Spain and Portugal and later France, and the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the new world, most specifically at Guadalupe. Meanwhile back in the Old World, many attribute Julius' influence in transferring the center of the Renaissance movement from Florence to Rome in the early sixteenth century. Yet, sadly, much of this was financed by the sale of indulgences which was necessitated by Alexander's total gutting of the Vatican treasury. Julius left the coffers with ample funds raised through taxation, and confiscated funds from regions recaptured. He basically rid the Church and Italy of the Borgia influence, but, as historians will recount, it was too little too late. The snakes had slithered throughout Europe and were ready to strike in the middle of the darkness for the spiritual darkness had descended on the continent. Julius II died on February 21, 1513 of the fever and Italy mourned him not as a holy pope but a great liberator, a military power. The Pope had become the first power in Italy, but it would not last for a greater danger was coiled and ready to strike, bearing its fangs of resistance and enlightenment. It would not be lifted during Julius' successor's reign either for Pope Leo X would have no idea how to deal with Martin Luther and the Protestant rebellion as we shall see in the next installment.
Next issue: Pope Leo X: no match for the world, the flesh and the devil
Death of Saint Bede the Venerable, who also was a Benedictine monk in England and a learned man who specialized in English history and wrote an account of Christianity in Britain from the earliest times up to his time. He was dubbed "the Venerable" because of his wisdom and learning acumen. Unlike Aldhelm, he was named a Doctor of the Church in 1899 by Pope Leo XIII. He is said to be the first to date events using A.D. (anno Domini. For more, see DAILY LITURGY
Death of Pope Saint Gregory VII, the 157th successor of Peter and a strong pontiff who excommunicated the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV and lifted it only after Henry came on bended knee wearing a rough hewn habit of public penance in the bitter cold of northern Italy to seek a pardon. For more, see DAILY LITURGY
Death of Pope Alexander IV, the 181st successor of Peter and the pope who canonized Saint Clare and confirmed the reality of the stigmata of Saint Francis of Assisi. It was something he was eminently qualified for since he had been Cardinal Protector of the Franciscans before his elevation to the papal throne.
Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, crowned by Pope Clement VII summoned the princes and bishops of Germany to a conference at Worms in Germany. In it they confronted Martin Luther and accused him of heresy and apostasy and demanded he recant. He refused and the group convened by Charles ordered Luther and his followers condemned and his writings burned and destroyed. This became the Edict of the Diet of Worms.