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January 2001
: The Patron Saint of TV and the Vegetarian Antichrist
By Catherine Clyne


Recently, I received an unexpected package in the mail. It was the night before I was planning to get plugged into the 20th century: I was expecting the cable guy the next day to hook me up. I had finally admitted to myself that I enjoy a little prime time and realized I was tired of standing on my head to make sense of my fuzzy reception.

The envelope contained a small statue of Saint Clare of Assisi and the snazzy packaging informed me that Clare is the “Patron Saint of Television” (this, by the way, from an old friend who had no idea that I was getting cable). Clare, following the example of her mentor St. Francis, renounced a life of privilege, cut off her hair, took a vow of poverty, and founded the “Order of Poor Ladies.” A blurb explained that once Clare could not attend mass while ailing on her sick bed. Miraculously, however, the image of the service appeared on the wall of her cell accompanied by the singing of the choir. Hence, in 1958, Roman Catholic Pope Pious XII declared her the Patron Saint of TV.

The chain of logic may be somewhat ironic, since Clare lived in a small town during the 13th century, where no such technology was even imagined. Sure, television beams religious services into living rooms; but it acts more as a source for the ubiquity of American capitalism, and the majority of shows are uninspired and insipid. I used to feel that TV was the evil “opiate of the masses” (as Karl Marx said of religion), brainwashing people with commercials and dulling the imagination, sending us distorted images of American society, and discouraging children—and adults—from reading or getting out in the world.

It seems unlikely that, if she were living today, Clare would have a TV in her cell. Somehow, noisy images of Big Macs and hyper-sexed car commercials just don’t jibe with the hermetic life of contemplative poverty. But then, Joan of Arc is the Patron Saint of the Telephone because, as we all know, she heard voices in her head, and look how successful she was when she listened to them (granted, she was executed for heresy—but she did liberate France). Am I missing something? As telecommunication takes over every aspect of our lives, we could use a little divine intervention to help us deal with it all. Does this mean that I should return the cable box and that if I position my plastic (glow-in-the-dark even!) figurine on top of my TV that Clare will bring me clear reception?

Pizza and Coke: WWJD?
Every religion or philosophy experiences moments of discord, particularly when faced with circumstances in uncharted territory. Case in point: one of the contenders for the papacy, should (heaven forbid) the position become available, is Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, aged 71, the conservative and outspoken Archbishop of Bologna. Cardinal Biffi (pronounced “beef-y”) has observed that ordaining women as priests would be “like having pizza and Coke instead of bread and wine at the Eucharist.” (I’m not kidding.) Now, that’s an idea.

A popular way to determine the “right” course of action these days is to apply “wwjd” or “what would Jesus do?” One imagines what Jesus would do if he were in your shoes. So, it’s not hard to imagine that if traveling the American countryside and sitting down to a meal with a group of people today, Jesus might be more likely to share pizza and Coke rather than bread and wine. It is, after all, the common fare of the day.

Another choice “observation” of Biffi’s is his belief that the Antichrist is among us and is a “fascinating” and “charming” personality who advocates vegetarianism, nonviolence, environmentalism and animal rights. He also has identified the Antichrist as a biblical expert who promotes “vague and fashionable spiritual values” rather than actual scripture. Even more outrageous is that he (of course the Antichrist is a he) encourages dialogue between the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations, Could this perhaps be someone we know? The cardinal has not said whether he has a particular individual in mind. But, according to Biffi, seemingly honorable issues, such as ecology and humanitarian aid, are really “feel good” causes that are being substituted for “true religion” with the end goal being to undermine Catholicism and bring about its collapse. Does this mean that the Antichrist eats (vegetarian) pizza and drinks Coke? Is it coincidental that Beefy is from Baloney?

Need vs. Greed
She may not be a candidate for papal successor, but Marie Hendrickx, a Vatican official, recently authored an article entitled “For a More Just Relationship With Animals,’’ which appeared in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano (12/7/00). In it she asserted that human “dominion” over the natural world does not mean indiscriminate killing or the infliction of needless suffering on animals. Hendrickx questioned the morality of the modern treatment of animals, such as the methods of the food industry, animal experimentation, the wearing of fur, and bull fighting.

In light of the growing awareness and popularity of animal rights movements, Hendrickx said that the Church needs to assess to what extent the dictum “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’’ can be applied to the animal world. Official Catholic teaching says that humans can use animals for food and clothing, and allows for the domestication of animals for labor or leisure. But Hendrickx is asking to what extent? Catholic catechism also says that in general it is “contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly.’’ With regard to the use of animals for medical experimentation it is deemed morally acceptable only if it contributes to the caring for or saving of human lives. Hendrickx questions the moral acceptability of factory farming practices: the terribly cramped cages of chickens, the tiny boxes in which veal calves are incarcerated, and the restraining of sows by pinning them down to the floor so their piglets can constantly feed. She also asks whether the “right” to wear fur allows for the torture of fur-bearing creatures. These are promising words indeed.

In short, a Vatican official is questioning the legitimacy of need versus the use of cruelty for those needs, a crucial distinction when it comes to the suffering of animals. Hendrickx reminds Catholics that they should avoid causing suffering to animals unless there are legitimate reasons to do so. Feeding one’s family is one thing, inflicting pain for profit is another. It seems rather obvious. Just think: wwjd?


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