This blog originally appeared in the January 4th Catholic School Matters newsletter
When I read Pope Francis’s Christmas greeting to the Roman Curia, I was struck by his desire for Catholic artists to embrace their unique vision of life. I was reminded of Fr. Andrew Greeley’s work on the “Catholic Imagination,” and certainly Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman would qualify as just this type of work. The idea is that Catholic artists should be able to detect and express a sacramental imagination—that is, see the world as more than it is. My mind has been captured by a character in HBO’s The Watchmen and I had to google Damon Lindelof, the showrunner and co-creator of Lost to see if he was, in fact, Catholic. Alas, he is not but the character qualified as inspirational.
Most critics focus on the show’s commentary on race, which is commendable and insightful, but I found the portrayal of Dr. Manhattan the most thought-provoking. He is essentially a god and the most powerful being in the universe. When he meets the protagonist, Angela Abraham, he reveals his ability to see all time at once—the present moment, the past, the future. All time is happening at once for him. That vision of transcendence gives me pause.
As I watched my children opening Christmas gifts, I could see them as infants and remember the joy on the day of their birth. What parent hasn’t had those moments? But don’t we also imagine the day of their high school graduation? Their wedding days? Of course we do, from time to time. When we truly behold our children, we see all time at once.
And isn’t that our calling as educators? When we welcome a new kindergarten student, aren’t we called to see them as graduating 8th graders? When we welcome the senior class, don’t we also see them as scared 9th graders? For all our students, don’t we dream of their futures and hope that the lessons we are imparting make a difference? Dr. Manhattan’s vision of time augments our view of what our teachers can do now, where our students are, what lies ahead, and how far we’ve come.
In his address, Pope Francis quotes Pope Benedict XVI, who in 2012 underscored the need for artistic inspiration: “Whereas in the past it was possible to recognize a unitary cultural matrix, broadly accepted in its appeal to the content of the faith and values inspired by it, today this no longer seems to be the case in large swathes of society, because of a profound crisis of faith that has affected many people.”
When we come upon a work like The Watchmen which seems timeless (pun intended) and insightful to the human experience, it is rare. It’s not a niche work designed for a certain segment of the population.
Pope Francis goes on to explore this idea later by raising the issue of time and of reality which is being challenged and re-shaped by social media. “It is no longer merely a question of ‘using’ instruments of communication, but of living in a highly digitalized culture that has had a profound impact on ideas of time and space, on our self-understanding, our understanding of others and the world, and our ability to communicate, learn, be informed and enter into relationship with others. An approach to reality that privileges images over listening and reading has influenced the way people learn and the development of their critical sense.”
Happy New Year!