“SHOULD I LEAVE THE CHURCH?” (Mt 5:20-26): 15 February 2008 (Friday)
As though she wasn’t controversial enough, Madonna came up with an allegedly sacrilegious music video for her song “Like a Prayer” in 1989. The video caused such a stir because aside from the usual display of Madonna’s sexuality, it used a lot of Catholic iconography like the crucifix, statues and pictures of saints, the stigmata, bleeding statues, and many others. Can’t really blame them. The video included one scene suggesting Madonna making love to a statue of a saint that came to life!
The video went on to win the Viewer’s Choice Award at the MTV Video Music Awards that year, and was voted the “Most Groundbreaking Music Video of All Time” on MTV’s 25th anniversary just last year. But unfortunately, when it was first released, because of all the media hype, many people ended up paying more attention to Madonna’s alleged sacrilege when they watched the video rather than the story itself, which actually teaches a deep and valuable lesson.
The video opens with Madonna seeking refuge in church because she has just witnessed the murder of a woman and the arrest of an innocent black man who has actually come to the woman’s rescue. Shaken by the experience, she hides in church and prays there, only to see the statue of a black saint (some claim it’s Martin de Porres or some version of the Black Nazarene) come to life–and walk out of the church! After much prayer–and a lot of singing and dancing, of course–Madonna finally finds the courage to leave the confines of the church and to testify in order to secure the release of the falsely accused man. At this point, the viewer realizes that the actor playing the black man is the same actor in the role of the saint.
I remember that controversial video because in the gospel reading today, the Lord tells the people:
“If you bring your gift to the altar,
and there recall that your brother has anything against you,
leave your gift there at the altar,
go first and be reconciled with your brother,
and then come and offer your gift.”
In other words, our Lord is saying that there are occasions when we ought to leave the church–for example, when we need to reconcile with someone, or as depicted in the music video, when we need to right a wrong.
Sometimes it’s tempting to hide in church. After all, it’s peaceful and calm there, and we can be away from the noise of the world. Of course we all need to occasionally take a step back from the world. Even the Lord would withdraw from the crowds in order to pray. We need to be able to sort out our thoughts and feelings, and more importantly, to listen to what God has to say. And as we know, we can only hear him when there is silence and solitude.
But sometimes, we withdraw to pray or stay in church because we also want to hide from the world and escape from our responsibilities. God knows I’ve felt that way several times in my life. I remember one retreat where I felt so close to God and so much at peace that I didn’t want the retreat to end! But we really shouldn’t forget that one important reason why we pray is to be able to go back to our lives and to make a difference in this world.
That’s something to think about today: this temptation to hide in church and this tendency to use prayer as an excuse not to go back to the world. Hope we don’t need a statue to come alive and walk out of the door to show us the way.
My Quick Question for today is: “Should I leave the church?” Is this a time in my life when I’m called to “leave my gift at the altar” because there’s something in the world that I first need to do? Or: Have I felt the temptation to hide in church or in prayer? Think about it, and share a thought, a feeling, or a question.
(image: from “Like A Prayer” MTV”)
Note: I’ve uploaded Madonna’s music video “Like A Prayer” if you’re interested.