So not too long ago, I was watching The Colbert Report and was treated to something awesome: an interview with Archbishop Timothy Dolan, who is the current head of the United States Catholic Council of Bishops (USCCB). Colbert and Dolan seem to actually be pretty good friends and did a talk at Fordham University called The Cardinal and Colbert: Humor, Joy, and the Spiritual Life. This has nothing to do with anything geeky, so why am I bringing it up? Stephen Colbert hasn’t hidden the fact that he’s a devout and proud Catholic. And, in my opinion, he is one of the most positive examples of a Catholic on TV today.
So watching Colbert got me thinking: are there any Catholic characters, particularly in geek culture, that show a positive portrayal of Catholics?
Definitely. Some are just side characters, while others have major roles in their respective narratives, but all depict Catholics that truly live out their faith in ways that are relatable and laudable to both Catholics and non-Catholics.
In the anime Maoyu, there is Knight, who is a nun and the Prioress of her order. She is not just a badass fighter, but also very religious. She stands up against a corrupt church in her universe to the point where she even separates from the Church and forms her own sect. Yeah, I know, not very Catholic, but Maoyu’s Catholicism shows a lot of the problems the Catholic Church had during the Middle Ages and often it was the nuns pointing out the problems in the Church (even if those nuns didn’t actually leave the church).
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Hunchback of Notre Dame also have some good Catholic characters who stand up to corrupt Catholics. In Prince of Thieves, Friar Tuck goes to battle with the corrupt bishop helping the Sheriff of Nottingham. And the Archdeacon in Hunchback plays a small role as an actual good Catholic as opposed to Judge Frollo, a bad one.
Despite many people not liking the Daredevil movie, I actually really loved it, mostly because of Fr. Everett, who is Daredevil’s confidante and confessor. Fr. Everett’s portrayal is one of the best film portrayals of Catholics I’ve seen, as he understands what Daredevil is doing and can sympathize on some level, but as a Catholic is still very much a pacifist and in general disapproves of Daredevil‘s actions and tries to help him find some peace that doesn’t involve crime fighting and violence.
But my two favorite Catholic characters are from X-Men and Les Misérables, respectively. In X-Men, Nightcrawler, who looks something like a blue devil, is actually a devout Catholic who becomes a monk. The monks in his Order are also wonderful people who accept Nightcrawler despite his appearance and mutant abilities. Nightcrawler preaches love and understanding, prays for those who hurt him, and tries not to resort to violence unless he must. Even then, he tries to disable or disarm people in a way that doesn’t hurt them.
I have already talked pretty thoroughly about Les Misérables being a positive story for Catholics, so I won’t say much more about it here, but two of the most devout Catholic characters in Les Misérables (aside from Javert, who is a poor example of a Catholic) are the Bishop and Valjean. Out of the two, my favorite is probably Valjean, because usually when someone wants to talk about religion they either show bad Christians or good people in the religious life. Nuns, priests, bishops, and other religious clergymen/people almost always feature as the token religious person, but it’s seen as weird or almost impossible to have a lay person (a non-clergy member) who is devoutly Catholic, so having the everyman Valjean strive so valiantly to live the Gospel message is, I think, pretty profound.
Having people like Colbert on TV and having characters like Valjean and Nightcrawler is really important when it comes to helping people understand Catholicism. Not even necessarily as a way to try to convert someone, but to show how important Catholicism is to people like me. They show how you can be utterly devout and still a good person, or even that you can be a good person because you are so devout in your faith. This whole blog is built on the premise that pop culture affects how we view the world. In many ways, people like Stephen Colbert sometimes do more for Catholicism (at least in the United States) than any bishop. Because Colbert is Catholic and mentions honestly how important his faith is to him and how it affects him, it challenges viewers who may have judged Catholicism harshly or even just dismissed it altogether to rethink their stance of the religion. Either Colbert is silly for following this ridiculous religion, or there is at least some merit to his faith,
as he wouldn’t be so devoted to it if there weren’t. For Catholics, seeing someone positively live out their faith, someone who isn’t an already deceased saint and who hasn’t done something “extreme” like become a priest or nun, is really enriching and empowering.
The same can be said about these fictional characters. Sometimes fictional characters can affect real life far more than actual people can. Fictional characters have the benefit of being designed to be relatable to the reader while still, at least in this case, upholding some ideal. Valjean lives out his faith in a profound way. If one truly is a Christian, Catholic or not, they know their ultimate destination should be the cross, meaning that they know they should do everything in their power to help others, including laying down their own life. Valjean is willing to go to prison for a man he never met, and he nearly dies protecting and helping Fantine, Cosette, and Marius. He even forgives Javert, despite all that Javert did to him.
Nightcrawler as monk is a little more of an extreme figure. Being a monk is even harder than being a priest, but the comics make Nightcrawler’s
religious journey personal and relatable. His faith in the comics-verse inspires even the jaded and the broken–even people like Wolverine, who understandably find Nightcrawler a little annoying. But Nightcrawler’s love and compassion, which come from his faith, force even the cynical Wolverine to admit the merits of having such faith.
I always believed that if your religion is based on loving others (and most are), if you are truly following that faith, people will be more moved by your example than by any amount of preaching you could do. I believe it was Saint Francis (who the current Pope is named for, so this is appropriate) who said “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” There is a difference between when a story or characters are “preachy,” aka trying to shove their religion down others’ throats, and when a story or character simply accurately reflects the message and faith that real people try to live. People like Colbert, and characters like Valjean and Nightcrawler, will always greatly affect how people view Catholicism, because they
realistically live a faith that most people just talk about.
That’s a great article on good Catholic figures, though the nun example sounds more like a female Luther than a Catholic. There’s also a good Catholic character in the anime Ghost hunt, the very, very young priest Fr. John. (His age is under what Canon Law proscribes for the minimum age of ordination, but that just makes his introduction more amusing.) Then again, Blassreiter has several great Catholic characters and, much to my surprise, overwhelmingly traditional Catholic themes focusing on the problem of evil. It’s an awesome show if you’ve yet to watch it.
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