Cabiria’s Nights, And Elton’s Rebellion
I have written just a few days ago about the perception of the Catholic Church as the Barque bringing safely to the other shore the bad swimmers – and even the outright lazy seamen – provided they still make, sinner as they all are, the quantum of effort required of them. I have no illusion that the average Catholic in even very pious past times was not the type his contemporary Calvinist or Puritan would have considered an example. I have also no doubt that in past, more Catholic times most of the worst sinners were still Catholic enough to understand themselves as the sinners, rather than thinking they are the spotless victim and the Church the oppressive stepmother. Sixty years, and how the times have changed!
In Federico Fellini’s “Le Notti di Cabiria” we see the traditional Catholic religiosity at play: a small group of prostitutes goes in pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of the (if memory serves; don’t bet your pint) Divino Amore. There, among the huge mass of faithful – we understand the meaning of true “inclusiveness” here: the prostitute in the shrine, elbow to elbow with the saintly girl, with the chaste mother, and with the countless simple popolane – Cabiria asks the Blessed Virgin to give her the strenght to abandon her sinful life, and to choose a path of hope and wholesomeness. It will not be so easy at first, and the poor woman will be utterly betrayed in her naive hopes. But Providence – the same Providence who led her to visit the shrine – is at work in the darkest hour, and God turns even the wickedness of a most evil man to a good end, if we cooperate with His grace.
At the end of the movie – after a scene among the most celebrated in the history of cinema – we leave the cinema in tears, with the implicit, but still clear message that the young woman – betrayed and robbed, and almost killed, but now with a new hope in herself – will find the strenght to cooperate with Grace and reform herself.
We note here the following: Cabiria does not blame the Church for her sinfulness. She does not decry her “exclusion”. She does not call for a change in doctrine allowing her to receive communion. She does not consider the country “prostitutephobic”. Sinner among sinners, but more gravely a sinner than most (at least in those more innocent times, in which fear of the Lord was far more widespread), she realises in what need she is, and her supplication to the Blessed Virgin tells us that she already begins to really understand. As we all know, there is understand and then there is really understand.
Is Cabiria, then, “excluded”? No, of course she isn’t. The Church that succors all sinners does not leave her out. Fellini shows her to us in the middle of the multitude, from the saintly to the very sinful and from the very simple to the educated, all together in their tight spaces, all pretty much packed and pressed together as it was so common in those times; and still, not willing at all – least of all the good girl, and the chaste wife – to even imagine that the prostitute should be denied her moment “in front” of the Blessed Virgin. And there she is, the prostitute, in the middle of them; asking the Blessed Virgin for the strenght to change herself, rather than demanding that the entire world (and the truth) may change so that she may think she does not have to.
How different this attitude is from today’s. Today, we are right by default. We are all little wannabe-gods, and do not notice the folly of it. We are right by default. Therefore, if we are at odds with the Church, it follows that the Church must be wrong. Because lurv. Because “inclusion”. Because “mercy”. Because heresy. Because Satan.
Today, a person can publicly severe his ties from the Church because his being at odds with the Church makes, in his logic, the Church obviously wrong. It pains me to say so, but I have the impression that this attitude puts one in a worse position before God than the one of the shameful prostitute. I do not doubt both will receive a terrible punishment. But who, pray, will God punish more severely: the miserable wretch unable to overcome her weakness or the willful, vocal rebel against Him?
There aren’t many Cabirias nowadays. Not even in Catholic Countries, such as they still exist. There are, however, a lot of Eltons, Elton’s helpers, and Elton’s Priests. Heck, we even have Elton’s Cardinals, and something very similar to Pope Elton. Which is why, by the way, the real Elton is such a fan of the Evil Clown. Similia similibus solvuntur.
No, the allegedly oh so oppressive Church of pre-Vatican II did not “exclude”, at all. Her arms were always ready to embrace. She called prostitutes to mix themselves among the faithful, to take part in the same pilgrimage of the good girl, to stay in prayer near the chaste wife. But it was an embrace calling to repentance, not to rebellion. It was an invitation to embrace Truth, not to deform it. It was a reminder of the infinite worth of every soul, not a celebration of a sordid life.
Cabiria’s life was entirely wrong, and she was clearly bound for hell. But in those times a strong and charitable Church took care that the moral compass was not entirely lost, that the needle would still be visible, and point to repentance and redemption. Elton’s life is a moral bankruptcy much worse than Cabiria’s. He has trampled the compass and crushed it to little pieces amidst anti-Catholic cries of joy. He will have no other compass than the one made by himself, whose needle points firmly towards hell. He will consider it perfectly normal to say out loud that not he, but the Church is wrong. Fool.
Cabiria’s problem was big enough, but Elton is so deep in the dung he does not even smell the stink anymore. Cabiria could still see a bridge she did not have the strength to cross; Elton has destroyed the bridge, and now looks at the ruins with joy.
It would still be less bad to be a Cabiria, than an Elton.