Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Odd Couple: Che Guevara & the Virgin Mary

While traveling through Nicaragua, I kept seeing framed pictures of Che Guevara and the Virgin Mary hanging next to each other. Above the bookshelf in the check-in/check-out/lounge area/living room of the hostel, there they were: the famous Argentinian guerrilla leader beside the Mother of God. One looking beyond the backpackers with dark, stormy eyes, the other veiled, her eyes lowered in an attitude of prayer—the most unlikely combination ever.

At first glance, Che epitomizes rebellion, while Mary is the image of obedience. He appeals to youth, with his passion, his ideals, and his band of guerrilla warriors. But it is Mary’s obedience that is truly in rebellion—against the world and the Devil. She is the true insurgent, not Che Guevara.

If anyone had told me in my teens and twenties that to be a rebel you should become Catholic and live your life according to the teachings of the Church, I would never have believed them. What sort of rebel cry begins on your knees, praying a rosary?

Now that I’ve come out on the other side, I know just how wrong I was about that. If you’re wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt right now and think you’re the rebel, see what happens when you voice any of the following “opinions” in mixed company:

Contraception is wrong.” (You could also just say, “We don’t contracept,” and that’s totally sufficient to make you appear insane.)

“Gay marriage is not possible.”

Mothers should stay home to raise their children.”

Then tell me a practicing Catholic isn’t a rebel. Tell me you don’t feel the urge to run for the Sierra Maestra mountains with your small group of tradition-minded brothers and sisters in the faith and wait out the high-level hate aimed in your direction.

Mary might look to all the world like a sweet, naive, young woman, but she was chosen by God to give birth to Jesus—who was sent to conquer the world, death, and the devil. Her life was dedicated to the service of God. There are no “conflicting reports” about Mary, no trail of atrocities left in the wake of the good that she did. There is no “dirt” on Mary, nothing to mar her image.

On the other hand, while Che is hailed by some and hated by others, all would agree that he was no saint. In seeking to oust the corrupt dictator Fulgencio Batista, change the status quo, outsmart the superpower, and give new life and power to the people, he became a mass murderer, trading one oppressor for another. He preached “unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine.” He epitomizes the misguided fight, devoid of love and higher motivation.

Yet he’s worshiped by many—the shirts, coffee mugs, The Motorcycle Diaries. It’s easy to romanticize his life—hiding out in the mountains, hatching plots with Fidel Castro, creating clandestine radio stations to broadcast news of the revolution. But while the oppressive regime in Cuba was a very real evil, the real revolution, inaugurated by the only revolutionary worth worshiping, transcends any single moment in history, no matter how powerful it may be.

Mary’s life—in its entirety—was lived in obedience to God. There is little that is swoon-worthy about openness to life, raising spiritual children destined for sorrow, and submitting to the will of God, and few would wish to experience her suffering. But she is God’s most perfect creation, and she embraced His will, not her own.

It’s strange to see the guerrilla leader’s picture beside that of Mary, but for different reasons than one might think. In both a call to battle is heard: Che’s soldiers armed themselves and toppled a dictator, while the Queen’s martyrs gave (and still give) their lives for the Church. Both sought the betterment of a people, freedom from oppression, and justice for all, but they fought on different battlefields.

The real rebel is the faithful Mary, for her enemy—and ours, as faithful Catholics—is not a powerful man but the powers of darkness. Her obedience will always outshine Che’s rebellion, because she chose that which is eternal over the temporal. Indeed, Christian warfare is spiritual warfare, a battle fought against our adversary the devil. Mary’s disciples, motivated by faith in her Divine Son, are heirs to an eternal reward—while Che’s are left with nothing but their revolution t-shirts.

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By Alberto Korda (Alberto Korda (Korda)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons