The Avatar and the Pope and the Passion

KorraMy brother first introduced to me Avatar: the Last Airbender eight few years ago when it was still on TV. And since The Legend of Korra (LOK) started airing, I’ve been more and more surprised by how much goodness the two series has. Not only is the story tightly writ, but the characters also exhibit virtues (sacrifice, pro-family and pro-life) and the overcoming of struggle, as well as dealing constructively with the consequences of bad decisions. Both series are very mature, not merely for kids (in fact, there’s a lot that only mature viewers could grasp).

Anyway, I’ve been waiting for an excuse to post about the LOK, and this weekend’s season finale really gave me no way to ignore posting. Here we go…

SPOILER ALERT

PopeFrancis     1) Though the show involves reincarnation,* the line of unbroken succession from Avatar Wan to Avatar Korra hints very much at the Catholic line of unbroken Apostolic succession from Saint Peter to Pope Francis.

This is especially interesting since though each avatar is carrying on the “spirit” of the past avatars, each avatar is still unique (which seems to go against true reincarnation)! Korra is not Aang is not Roku is not Kyoshi is not Kuruk is not etc. Just like how Francis is not Benedict XVI is not John Paul II is not John Paul I is not Paul VI is not John XXIII is not Pius XII is not etc.! Each pope continues the office of Bishop of Rome (aka: the Papacy) as an individual, just like how each avatar continues the office of Bridge between the Human and Spirit Worlds (did you know “Pontiff” [one of the Pope’s titles!] comes from the Latin Pontifex, which means “to make a bridge”).

And if this symbolism isn’t enough, it hit me recently that when a pope leaves office, the next pope is always a surprise choice! That’s the same with the avatar! Nobody knows who the next avatar will be, just like how nobody knows who the next pope will be. It’s all up to some unknown power (Holy Spirit!) working with the Conclave that determines the successor!

     2) Another point: at the end of the Legend of Korra’s first season, we see her being guided and nurtured by all the past avatars. This, to me, amazingly presented what we Catholics believe about the Magisterium and Church Tradition, in that all the saints and popes and bishops of the past have left us with a huge counsel that we can refer to in time of confusion regarding Church teachings. Their prayers, intercessions, writings are all available to the Church to help guide and nurture us! When I saw the army of past avatars backing up Korra in her darkest moment, I saw something very much like the Communion of Saints. It was beautiful, and we as Christians have that with us as the cloud of witnesses that St. Paul mentions in Hebrews 12:1.

[the Crucifixion of St. Andrew by Peter Howson]

[the Crucifixion of St. Andrew by Peter Howson]


     3) At the end of LOK’s third season (the 1st and 3rd seasons deal with very mature themes), I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. There Korra was, willing to sacrifice herself to save an entire people (and the world). When she was bound, the Red Lotus (like the Pharisees) fixed her limbs into a CRUCIFORM. Yes, it was not an actual wooden cross, but the X-shape is exactly the same as how St. Andrew was crucified for his love of Christ. And not only that, but Korra struggled greatly to restrain her power; just like how Jesus refused to manifest his divinity and come down from the cross… Korra also refused to enter the Avatar State. She suffered on the X (which isn’t much different from a t), and her agony reminded me of the Passion of the Christ. Even the poison that the Red Lotus inflicted on Korra was symbolic: the venom was metal based, as the nails in the Crucifixion were metal based. The venom was applied onto Korra through her arms and legs, as were the nails were driven through Jesus’ wrists and feet.

Korra on the CrossAnd finally, when Korra fell under the effects of her crucifixion, her father holds her in a way that mimics the Pieta, when the Blessed Mother holds her Son. At Jesus’ death, the devil howls and laughs in victory (presumably), only then to discover that the Resurrection is God’s last laugh against sin/death/evil. The same happens in LOK: Zaheer laughs out loud (I refuse to type LOL, even though I just did), only to recoil in outrage and horror when Korra is revived after the extraction of the metal (poison/nails) from her body.

Here’s a big difference though: Korra is greatly wounded by the persecution, to the point of being restricted to a wheelchair. Exhaustion and sadness is obvious in her eyes. She won, but certainly looks defeated — not much different from a zombie. Contrast this with Jesus after His Resurrection! He is teleporting all over, visiting His loved ones, cooking breakfast for his apostles, taking hikes and roadtrips, even sharing stories and rising to Heaven! So obviously, Korra (and the other avatars) is not presented as a god in any way. She is mortal. Don’t get it twisted.

     4) And so, I look forward to what the writers (Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko) of this series have in store for following seasons. They have not let me down these past nine years since 2005’s first series’ launch. May the Holy Spirit bless and inspire them to create greatness. I mean, they did hire the very Catholic Gene Yang (author of the Rosary Comic Book) to author the comic series that told the story of Zuko’s long-lost mother!

*a note regarding reincarnation: if it were truly real in the show (and in real life), then why bother trying to save others? It wouldn’t make a difference to save Korra, just let her pass on and return via another life (instead of having her continue to endure her present life through a broken spirit and body). Unless… unless it’s true that we are all unique and unrepeatable individuals who are worth saving at every effort. Unless… it’s actually more meaningful and more beautiful to believe that we all are special and have our own customized destinies. In short, I disbelieve the existence of reincarnation because it’s simply meaningless and not beautiful. Reincarnation shows me nothing but a vicious cycle of hopeless repetition. My Catholic Christian faith shows me that God is love, truth, beauty and goodness. Don’t mind me if I’d rather have faith in that.

**Lastly, considering the writers have already exhibited blood-bending (water), and breath-bending (air), I only wonder when bone-bending (earth/minerals) and brain-bending (electrical neural activity) will be manifest. I truly appreciate that they used these frightening prospects only to serve moral stories (and not mindless mayhem), and also have shown restraint in presenting these terrifying abuses of power.

For the HolySmack take on more of Korra, including the series finale, check here: Closing Thoughts on Korra

LML: Secrets of Another Annunciation (CH:01)

[WARNING: what follows is an interview that reveals the details and depths of Little Miss Lucifer: The Legend of the Exorcess. SPOILER ALERT.]

CH01 Another Annunciation—You: So let’s skip to where the story seems to start. Just before the first chapter, I’m noticing the Flutterfly again, but this time without a heart… just has its horns. Does it have to earn its heart or something?Flutterfly

—Evan: Not only that, but it has to trade something to gain a heart…

—You: What about the words on the page opposite the Flutterfly? It sounds like a taunt. From what I gather so far, is it the Devil taunting God?

book_of_job—Evan: If you’ve never read the Book of Job in the Old Testament, then you definitely should look into it! It’s exactly that: the Devil testing the limits of a person’s morality, daring God to let him – the Devil – tempt us to show our true colors. It’s quite fascinating, and also not a very long book to read.

—You: Maybe I will! Is that a taunt?

—Evan: It’s a dare.

—You: Well, perhaps when I finish Little Miss Lucifer. But opposite the first page of the story, there’s a quote by Saint Paul from his letters to the Corinthians. It’s 1st Corinthians, chapter 6, verse 3: “Did you not know we shall judge angels?” I have to say, I’ve never heard that ever.

—Evan: Me neither, not until about Lent 2012! I was praying the daily Scripture readings at Mass that day, and when I hit that line from Saint Paul… I stopped and read it again, and again. I remember thinking, “What is this?! I cannot believe this! This is what the whole story is about! Saint Paul… I stole your idea!” So I knew then that I absolutely had to open the novel with that quote.

—You: But, what does it even mean? For us to judge angels?

—Evan: Well, Saint Paul is talking about the saints of Heaven, which is the Church Triumphant – the Church that’s actually made it to Heaven. The saints (and I hope you and I are among them one day!) along with Jesus Himself will be pronouncing judgment on the Last Day. At that time, as Saint Paul says, we’ll be judging and sentencing, and if we can judge, we can also dismiss… we can also pardon… we can also forgive. I don’t know about you, but that’s BIG news to me… us mere mortals judging walking shards of lightning? Craziness…

And anyway, what kind of angels need judgment? The good ones? Of course not… of course it’ll be…

—You: It’ll be the fallen angels. The devils.

—Evan: And Satan himself. The first of the fallen. The fact that the Lord would even let the saints judge angels shows us how humble He is. The only analogy I can think of is a farmer asking his cattle to judge his children! Baffles me… in a good way! The honor He would give those of us who love Him… despite how unworthy we are. But don’t get me wrong, it’s not for a prize that we should love Him, not at all, because then it’s not real love… but it’s shocking how generous He is…

—You: Wow. I heard of forgiveness of enemies… but forgiving even the Devil…

An Exorcist Tells His Story—Evan: That’s the ultimate enemy. In fact, when I was doing research for the story, I read plenty of accounts by exorcists. One who I looked up to most is Father Gabriel Amorth, the chief exorcist of Rome. I will never forget when he explained that even Satan must be respected. Because the Devil is still a creation of God, that we must respect all Creation.

—You: What? Why? Isn’t Satan a fallen angel? Evil?

—Evan: But that’s not what defines Satan. Satan is still an angel. It’s the same with us humans. Just because someone grows up and becomes the Nazi fuhrer does not mean he’s no longer human. No matter how twisted, corrupt, wicked… Hitler was still a human being. Though he chose to be evil, his evil did not define him. Because if it did, then all of our own immoral actions also define us… but what defines us is permanent and unchanging. A definition cannot change. But our actions can change, because we can choose.

—You: So what defines Hitler then? What defines Satan?

—Evan: Well, same thing that defines you! You are the child of your mother and father. That is your identity, your unchangeable definition. Even if a person is disowned, they still are the child of their parents. And as Christians, we believe that everyone is a child of God. The angels are, and we are too.

—You: You’re saying that God still thinks of Hitler as His child? Still thinks of Satan as His?

—Evan: If a mother has a son who murders, is he not still her son? And does she not still want her son to become a better person? Hoping against all hope?

—You: This is going pretty deep… and we still didn’t start the chapter yet!

—Evan: Here we go then! Chapter One: Another Annunciation. The best visual aid I can share for this chapter is a painting by Henry Ossawa Tanner. The Annunciation is the event when God sent the Archangel Gabriel to announce God’s proposal to a young Jewish peasant girl. Her name was Mary, and we all know she said yes. I find Tanner’s depiction of the Annunciation as very real. I mean, just look at it! You can see how nervous and shy Mary is. She’s just getting over the fact that a beam of fire is speaking with her, without razing the whole house down.Henry Ossawa Tanner's "Annunciation"

—You: I’ve never seen this picture before! I really like how the angel is unintelligible… just brightness, just heat.

—Evan: Would you say it’s HOT? Just like the artist’s initials?

—You: Haha! You would notice that, of course.

—Evan: Thanks. And so the first chapter is merely another annunciation, and HOT’s Annunciation inspired me to present how it might’ve happened, but on another night, in another place, before another young lady in another time. One image I tried to describe was that the room became so bright, that it was like looking at the sun with our eyes shut.

—You: I don’t think I’ve ever done that.

[Almost like the Earth is bleeding.]

[Almost like the Earth is bleeding.]

—Evan: Try it next time on a sunny day. Close your eyes and turn to face the sun. The red you’ll see is intense… like staring at lava. But of course, it’s the blood in your eyelid that you’re seeing. That reminds me of a friend who slept under the open sun before. I have no idea how he fell asleep with a redness that bright glaring down at him…

—You: He must’ve been wiped out! But this chapter… this another annunciation is different, isn’t it? It could be Gabriel the Archangel again, but it’s not like the first one with Mary?

—Evan: No, you’re right. This one ends in violence, almost a rape. But not by the Archangel or by God. Never. Instead… we meet abductors, body snatchers, kidnappers. In a trance on the angel’s message and the angel’s beauty, she doesn’t realize what’s happening…

Strawberries in Heaven

My beloved friends,

Guess what happened this weekend in Cedar Bluffs, Nebraska?
About 150 campers got to peek at the beauty of Heaven. Let me tell you more of what we experienced…

Every summer across the U.S., Catholic Vietnamese Americans criss-cross the interstates. This year in the Midwest, friends in states from Michigan to Kansas, from Minnesota to Ohio, and even from Washington and Georgia, converged in the Cornhusker State for 55 hours of learning, praying, practicing and discovering friendship with one another and with Christ.

And there it was: a chance to catch a preview of Heaven.

I once heard some people say that they were afraid of Heaven, “It’s gonna be so boring! Who wants to pray all day, every day, for all eternity? The same thing — forever… what a drag!”

But that’s not Heaven. Instead, Heaven is where He makes all things NEW. ALL things (Rev. 21:5).

strawberry-wallpaper
I love strawberries. I didn’t always love them as much as I do now, but I daydream sometimes about strawberries in Heaven… …

-Me: “Oh look, a strawberry! Don’t mind if I help myself!”

-Jesus: “So you like that strawberry, eh? Well… try THIS ONE!” (pulls out another berry from behind His back)

-Me: “Whoa… this one’s even better!”

-Jesus: “Yes, now try THIS ONE!!” (pulls out yet another berry)

-Me: “Whoa! This one is better than the last two combined!”

-Jesus: “Think so? Try THIS ONE!!!” (and this could go on FOREVER)

Christ. What a curious God He is. Who makes something that is already perfect, into something better… better than perfect! Always new! How could that ever get lame?!

It’s like the love we experience in this life: love makes every moment new, a new experience. The restaurant of your first date becomes special, not repetitive. The movie you first watched together, laughed through together, sniffled through together… that movie becomes a highlight, and  every time you watch that movie or visit that restaurant with your beloved, it’s something new: you’re both a little older than the previous time, both in a different state of mind than before, in a different life-situation.

Now let’s go deeper.

There is one thing people never get bored of doing. NEVER.
Yes, I will get bored of strawberries.
Yes, you will get bored of _____________.
But think a moment before reading on. What do people never bore of doing? What is never boring?

The answer: meeting new friends and strengthening friendships. Sure — we’ll get tired of talking, dancing, dining, traveling, camping, playing games, etc. But after the tiredness goes away, we’re back at it again! We can get “tired” of making and strengthening friendships, but we’ll never be BORED of it to the point of thinking: “No more! I’m so bored of friends! Having friends is so boring!”

Don’t know about you, but I’d rather be exhausted and annoyed with my family/friends rather than be energetic and have no family/friends at all.

So that’s what I saw happen again this past weekend. So many of us stank for lack of showering. So many were exhausted for lack of sleep. So many were cold for lack of a summer. But we were with our friends.

In Heaven, you make friends. And you will never lose a friend. You will meet new persons forever, doing whatever activities that make friendships flourish. Every person is so rich in their specific personality — after all, nobody is identical to another on earth, why would they be redundant in Heaven where ALL THINGS ARE MADE NEW?

And I specifically said “persons” because humans aren’t the only persons in Creation. Angels are persons too! Imagine that… meeting and making friends with the angels. I’d like Saint Michael to give me some jousting and samurai lessons, for sure!

And then, the ultimate person to meet… Holy God Himself.

THAT is the Communion of Saints. THAT is Heaven.

But remember, what I saw happen was only an itty preview: like merely being able to smell fresh baked cookies. But, in Heaven we will finally get to eat the cookies 🙂

vision-of-the-empyrean

[Now if that’s Heaven… then how is Hell like? Where all things are never new. Where you lose friends and are left to solitary confinement. Where time does not pass because there’s nothing that’s going to happen next anyway.]