To say that we Catholics have become accustomed to negative
portrayal in the news media is a major understatement. The
Church is routinely ridiculed by outsiders. All too often
Catholic clergy, lay people or religious are the ones who are
criticizing Church teaching and portraying the Church as
outmoded and stifling to intellectual development. A
refreshing change to this pattern was the Bill Moyers
interview with Sister Wendy Beckett, the English art critic,
broadcast on PBS on Oct. 16. If Moyers subtle efforts
to trip her up had been successful, the usual menu of
Catholic embarrassment might have continued. But Sister Wendy
was too intelligent, too honest, too spiritual and just too
loving to fall into the traps. Moyers apparently approached
Sister Wendy with the preconceived ideas that the Catholic
Church is opposed to sex and views the human body as ugly and
shameful. When he asked her to reconcile her discussion of
paintings that portray nudity with the Churchs views,
she deftly explained that Gods creation is lovely and
there is nothing to reconcile. As he dwelled too long on the
subject of sexuality, even asking her if she did not miss
having sex, she consistently answered with honesty, dignity,
and a sophisticated innocence that should have made Mr.
Moyers wish that he had not brought up the subject. Moyers
dragged out some of the Churchs dirty laundry and asked
Sister Wendy about the "corrupt popes" who had commissioned
some of the art works discussed in her PBS series. Sister
Wendys distaste for the question was thinly disguised.
She answered with honesty and compassion that no one can
judge these people but God, and that in her opinion they were
misguided. She called them "poor muddled popes." Her attitude
of compassion and her statement that only God could be the
judge of whether a person had sinned appeared to be a new
concept to the interviewer. At one point, Sister Wendy
expressed the view that we humans should appropriately feel
contrition, not guilt. Guilt is ego-fixated, she explained.
Guilt is self-centered wallowing in the consequences of our
wrongdoing. With contrition we ask Gods forgiveness,
accept it and then we move on. Again, this basic concept
appeared new and disconcerting to Moyers. The interviewer
asked if the "key" to Sister Wendy might be loneliness, since
she had referred to it in one of her programs. Sister kindly
explained to him that her contemplative religious life had
fulfilled all her expectations and more. Even while setting
him straight, she took care not to make him look foolish.
Throughout the interview, Sister Wendy repeatedly eluded
Moyers attempts to lead her to say something negative.
She proved too much for him intellectually, and his lack of
understanding of the Catholic faith and the religious life
became evident. Best of all, it was plain that Sister Wendy
spoke from a heart grounded in God, centered in prayer, and
rooted in love. Her joy in the Lord was there for all to see.
By refusing to fit into the media mold, she provided a much
needed change from the usual television fare. Mary D.
is a Catholic member of Alcoholics Anonymous. Questions or
comments may be sent to Mary D., c/o the Arlington Catholic
HERALD, 200 N. Glebe Rd. Suite 607, Arlington, Va.
22203. Copyright ?1997 Arlington Catholic Herald,
Inc. All rights reserved.