Breaking news: Mel Gibson is a sinner.
Evidently, because he made a movie about Jesus Christ, he was assumed not to be.
Never mind that God became man because we are otherwise hopeless sinners in need of divine assistance.
We, of course, live in a culture mesmerized by celebrity. There are myriad reasons for the fascination. Celebrities tend to be attractive. They tend to dress well, live in (many) grand homes, have beautiful things. If you’re anything like me, in other words, they’re what you’re not. They’re a bit exotic and curiosity is piqued by them and their publicly displayed drama, with all the expensive props.
But there’s more to it than just that. We’re not just watching “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” for the tour of the closets and yachts anymore. We — by which I mean various media outlets with various followings, followings that undeniably exist — want them to come out of the closet. We watch as their marriages fall apart. We know all the porn-star ex-girlfriends. We watch the wife stand up again with her Academy Award and adopted baby. And do we take some relief in knowing they really aren’t perfect?
I’d like to think I don’t. I suspect I’m not alone. But somewhere, in the ravenous appetite for news about the private lives of public people, there is something unhealthy going on. Media laptops and tweets and “E! True Hollywood Story” strategy sessions are a chisel to the lives of human beings, who by nature or surgery are beautiful; their lives now lie in pieces for us all to watch and discuss.
Walk past St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York or St. Edward’s in West Palm Beach or St. Victor’s in Beverly Hills. I always thank God, particularly in those locales, that I can walk in and accept the gifts of the sacraments. No matter how beautiful our surroundings are. No matter how beautiful the people around us are. No matter where we are or who we are, none of it compares to heaven. The most beautiful, most generous, most kind-hearted person of integrity is but a simple foretaste, being an instrument of God’s love, allowing him to work through him, love with her.
But it’s only a sip from the chalice of the merciful offering of eternal bliss. And all we need to truly know Heaven, even as we try to build it in this temporary home, is to accept God’s mercy. Every day. Every moment. For as long as we live.
So often, though, instead of humility and hope, we opt for convincing ourselves we can truly be at home here on earth — that we belong here in some permanent way, that we are of this place. And so we build our mansions, instead of praying and experiencing unplanned and unearned heights of contemplation and consolation that no luxury estate can provide. And we work until it kills us, having expended all that time and energy on the most fleeting of tasks, however well-intentioned.
Mel Gibson has made me think a lot about this. Not because I’m any better than him, but because, well, he’s all over the cable shows and tabloids and my inbox and it’s all just hard to miss. That and I’ve become the most minor, insignificant part of the story in our 24/7 Internet-archived and cached-Internet world. Google me and Mel and you’ll see we do turn up together. Around the time his movie The Passion of the Christ was being released, I praised him for his creative understanding of what John Paul II was writing about in Mulieris Dignitatem (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women). His portrayal of Mary exposed the lie that Christians, and Catholics in particular, are patriarchal oppressors of women. (The Virgin Mary herself tends to expose this lie.)
We Catholics clearly and obviously embrace the natural gifts of women as something we need for salvation. We need Mary. We need her as our mother. Behold, your mother!
But angry, chiding e-mails condemned me for my refusal to apologize for what I said about Gibson and his work at the time. For my “inaccuracies,” because I called the director of this movie a feminist for the work he did in bringing the mother of Our Lord to life for a culture that needs her and the mercy her son offers.
Mel Gibson, presenting that fruit of labor and prayer, was more of a feminist than any activist in Washington devoting her energy to the destruction of innocent human lives. Does that make Mel Gibson a better person than the activist? Does the fact that he has so publicly fallen — in the midst of battles of darkness and light — change my answer?
Of course not. We’re all in this together. Which is why that movie continues to be a beautiful gift, highlighting the most beautiful of gifts: the mercy God offered us when he demonstrated the perfect model of humility, submitting to life among us, as a man, and crucifixion. For each one of us he did this — no matter how beautiful or famous or plain or anonymous to TMZ and “Entertainment Tonight” we are. And he continues to offer us this incomparable and immaculate mercy in the Mass and the sacrament of reconciliation — the sacramental life of mercy — every day.
It’s a proud culture that thinks that the next Christian politician who is revealed to be less than perfect is shocking news. It’s a culture that simply doesn’t get Christianity. We believe because we yearn and struggle and beg to be better. But we always fall short, in our various ways.
E-mails chiding me about Mel make me want to get to my next confession. Not because I’ve discerned I was wrong to write that piece or because my demons are Mel’s. But because I’ve got them, too, as the guy e-mailing me does, as the gal walking past me on the street on the way to the confessional does, as the next beautiful person who makes People’s “Sexiest” cover does. And for each one of us, God offers mercy. And I know I want it.
Imagine if we spent half as much time on receiving that mercy, on accepting the grace of the sacraments as we do watching and reading about and commenting on one man’s, or the next man’s, sins. The next time I fall, I hope I’m seeing the light of the confessional brighter than the mocking crowd, suffocating in a confused fog of pride that divides man from divine mercy.
Kathryn Jean Lopez (email@example.com) is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a nationally syndicated columnist. A version of this originally appeared on the Catholic Eye newsletter published by National Committee of Catholic Laymen.