Dealing with DaVinci

George Weigel

With sales of The DaVinci Code now topping seven million, it’s a safe bet that Dan Brown’s Catholic readership is well into seven figures. Anecdotal evidence from around the Catholic scene confirms the hunch that a lot of Catholics have read the book – and more than a few have been disturbed by it. The question is – why?

DaVinci’s premise is preposterous: that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and appointed her the head of a movement devoted to the “sacred feminine;” thus the legendary “holy grail” was Mary Magdalene, who nurtured within herself Jesus’s descendants. This “truth,” ruthlessly suppressed by centuries of venal churchmen, was preserved by a super-secret “Priory of Sion,” of which Leonardo DaVinci was a member. In DaVinci’s famous “Last Supper,” what you thought was St. John is really Mary Magdalene, the “holy grail” present at a table without a chalice. And so forth and so on, one bizarre assertion after another – and that’s not to list the flat-footed mistakes in DaVinci, like claims that the Dead Sea Scrolls revealed new information about Jesus (the Scrolls, immensely valuable in other respects, don’t mention Jesus).

Why should this ridiculous foundation for a contemporary whodunit that includes obligatory side-swipes at the conspiracy-driven Vatican disturb Catholics? I can (barely) imagine Catholics appreciating DaVinci as a kind of wild-eyed fantasy – although the “fantasy” contains so much covert and overt anti-Catholicism that you’d have to wonder about Catholics enjoying it. But why should reasonably well-educated Catholics find the novel’s plot raising questions about their faith? What’s to get disturbed about?

You remember the canary in the cage – the old miners’ trick, in which a caged canary, keeling over from asphyxiation deep beneath the earth, would signal miners that the air was getting too foul and that it was time to get out? DaVinci is a kind of literary canary-in-the-cage. The signal being sent by too many Catholics’ inability to dismiss Brown’s story as rubbish is that Catholics have learned to mistrust the Bible. Which is not what the Second Vatican Council had in mind, to put it gently.

The Council wanted to return the Bible to the people of the Church as “their” book, an entirely worthy goal. Just when Catholics were rediscovering the Old and New Testaments, however, “historical criticism” of the Bible was breaking out of classrooms into the American cultural mainstream – and into pulpits, where Catholic priests, newly instructed to preach on each Sunday’s biblical texts, were often tempted to explain what the New Testament wasn’t, rather than preaching the religious, moral, and historical truths the New Testament conveyed.

The cultural and ecclesial ground was thus tilled for The DaVinci Code. If, over the past thirty-some years, you’ve absorbed the idea that the New Testament is really elegant, inspired fiction, it’s but a short step to buying Dan Brown’s storyline, which is that this whole Church business has been a vast, lie-driven conspiracy from the git-go. That’s certainly not what mainstream historical-critical scholars intended to teach Catholics. The disturbances caused by DaVinci suggest that that’s what a lot of people learned, however: they learned to be suspicious about the integrity of Christianity’s basic text.

DaVinci is a problem that could become an evangelical possibility. Pastors and adult education directors might want to ensure that the parish pamphlet racks are full of an admirable brochure, The DaVinci Code: The facts behind the fiction of the bestselling novel, available from Our Sunday Visitor (www.osv.com). The brochure briskly identifies the numerous errors and historical implausibilities in the book while inviting readers to encounter the story told in the Gospels: “the story in which the truth is, if not stranger, certainly more interesting and life-giving, than fiction.” (I carry the OSV brochure in my briefcase, to hand out on planes and trains when I find someone reading DaVinci.)

Then there’s The DaVinci Hoax by Carl Olson and Sandra Miesel, a new book from Ignatius Press that Cardinal Francis George of Chicago calls the “definitive debunking” of Brown’s hypothesis. It’s not hard to imagine an attractive adult education series being built around this able demolition job.

Dan Brown has offered pastors and teachers with nerve and wit a real opportunity. I hope they seize it.

COMING UP: Archbishop: In this time of need, join me for a Rosary Crusade

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

When God chose to enter the world to save us, he chose Mary, whose deep faith provided the way for Jesus to come among us. She believed in the words of the angel, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk 1: 37). As she expressed her deep confidence in the promises of God, the Word became flesh. In our current time of crisis, our Church, world and our country need faith in God and the protection and intercession of Mary. And so, beginning on August 15, I am launching a Rosary Crusade to ask Mary to urgently bring our needs to Jesus.

The last several months of the coronavirus epidemic, the civil unrest that has broken out in different parts of the archdiocese and our nation, and the challenges the Church is facing have made the need for Mary’s intercession abundantly clear. Mary is our Mother and desires only our good like the Father.

In her appearance to Juan Diego, Our Lady reminded him and reminds us today, “Listen and let it penetrate your heart…do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain.  Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?”

Saint Padre Pio, who was known for his devotion to the Rosary offers us this advice: “In times of darkness, holding the Rosary is like holding our Blessed Mother’s hand.”

We turn to Mary in our difficulty because she is our spiritual mother, who with her “yes” to the Lord embraced the mysterious ways of God’s almighty power. She is “the supreme model of this faith, for she believed that ‘nothing will be impossible with God,’ and was able to magnify the Lord: ‘For he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #273).

We know, too, from history that Mary has answered prayers brought to her through the Rosary and that she has personally asked people to pray it for the most serious needs, especially for the conversion of souls.

Pope Pius V famously asked all Christians to pray the Rosary in 1571 to prevent Christianity from being overrun by the invading Ottoman Turks, and the Christian naval forces were subsequently victorious in the Battle of Lepanto. In the apparitions at Fatima, Mary identified herself as “The Lady of the Rosary” and asked the shepherd children to whom she appeared to pray a daily Rosary for world peace and the end of World War I.

During his pontificate, Saint John Paul II spoke of the Rosary as his favorite prayer. In his apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, he added, “The Rosary has accompanied me in moments of joy and in moments of difficulty. To it I have entrusted any number of concerns; in it I have always found comfort” (RVM, 2).

This past May, Pope Francis encouraged praying the Rosary, saying, “Dear brothers and sisters, contemplating the face of Christ with the heart of Mary our Mother will make us even more united as a spiritual family and will help us overcome this time of trial.”

During this time of trial, we need to hear the words of Jesus spoken often in the Gospel, words spoken to Mary by the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation, “Be not afraid.” We need to pray especially for a deeper trust and hear the words of Elizabeth spoken to Mary in our own hearts. “…blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Lk 1:45). The Lord is with us in this time as he has promised! Praying the rosary helps us, with the aid of our Mother, to relive in our own lives the mysteries of Christ’s life.

I personally invite all Catholics in the Archdiocese of Denver to pray the Rosary every day between the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, August 15, through the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, September 15. I would be remiss if I did not thank Bishop Carl Kemme of Wichita for inspiring this Rosary Crusade by launching one in his diocese at the beginning of August.

As we unite in asking Mary for her intercession and protection, please pray for the following intentions:

* For a growth in faith, hope and charity in the heart and soul of every human being, and most especially in our own that we may seek only the will of the Father

* For a recognition of the dignity of life from the moment of conception until natural death and that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God

* A quick end to the coronavirus pandemic

* For all who are suffering from COVID-19, for their caregivers, and for those who have died from the virus

* In reparation for the sins of abortion, euthanasia, and racism

* In reparation for the sins and failings of our spiritual leaders and for our personal sins

* For healing and justice for all those who have been discriminated against because of their race

* For the conversion of the world and the salvation of souls

* For all those who are persecuted throughout the world for the Faith

* For the conversion of those who carry out acts of desecration against our churches, statues and religious symbols

* In reparation for these acts of desecration, especially against Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament

* For our civic leaders and those who keep us safe to experience a deeper conversion, to govern justly, and to seek the common good

* That we may learn how to love and forgive from the example of Jesus

* For all marriages and families, neighborhoods, churches and cities to be strengthened

* For an increase in vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and religious life

Thank you for joining me in this prayer on behalf of our world, country and our Church. I am confident that many of the faithful will respond in turning to the Blessed Mother who “shine[s] on our journey as a sign of salvation and hope” (Pope Francis’ Letter to the Faithful for the Month of May 2020). May you always know the protection of Mary as she leads you to her Son!