Thursday, August 29, 2019

Theology of the Body and...Rocky? Part One

The Rocky films are some of my favorite movies of all time because I love boxing and have found
The Rocky films are some of my favorite movies of all time because I love boxing and have found great inspiration in the struggles that the Rocky Balboa character overcomes throughout the series. One of the most amazing pieces of the story that is at times overlooked due to the nature of the underdog theme is the relationship Rocky has with his wife Adrian. Here we have two simple people who in the worlds' eyes have very little to offer that make all of the difference in the world to each other. They truly exemplify the following quote: To the world you may be one person but to one person you may be the world. 

In this first installment of what will be a six part blog that I call Theology of the Body...and Rocky? we will focus on the first film and how these two simple people lived out the call to will the good of the other. To some it may seem like a strange idea to use a boxing film to display such an idea but anyone who has seen the Rocky series knows that there is also a great human story in each film, which would include the desire that we all have for authentic love.

The first time we see Adrian is when Rocky stops by for what we will see are regular visits to her place of employment, which is a pet store. Right away we can see that he's trying to get her attention but does so in a respectful way. He greets her with kindness and wants nothing more than to spend some time with this very shy and insecure women. His jokes are terrible but he's very sweet and even gets Adrian to smile at one point . Adrian's lack of confidence does not prevent her from knowing that Rocky means well so we catch her looking over at him from time to time as she appears to be somewhat interested in him as well.

Rocky's second visit during the film was after he had a very difficult day. He starts out by asking her if she needs any help with what she's working on and then invites her out to a basketball game, which she declines. He tells her a little about his day and then focuses more on her well being rather than seeking her sympathy. That is when he tells her that the night is very cold and even offers to walk her home, which she also declines. Then he suggests that she take a cab home in order to avoid the neighborhood creeps. Adrian continues to say very little to him and even though Rocky is visibly frustrated he continues to act as a gentleman.

Immediately Rocky goes to the local tavern to speak to Adrian's brother Paulie. Rocky is frustrated and wants to know if Paulie knows why Adrian seems to have no interest in him.  Immediately Paulie tells Rocky to forget her and that he can do better than her as he refers to his own sister as a freakin' loser

...and we wonder why Adrian is so insecure.

Rocky deflects each of Paulie's comments because he truly does care about her, which leads to Paulie changing the subject. This shows that Rocky's interest in Adrian was indeed genuine because he continues to speak highly of her even when she is not around.

Such an idea could bring us to the following passage from Song of Songs 4:9:  You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride, you have ravished my heart with a glance of your eyes. In other words, while Adrian may not see what Rocky sees there is something about her that has captured him and it's more than just the way she looks.

Then we arrive to the famous Thanksgiving dinner scene as Paulie escorts Rocky to his home without Adrian's knowledge. As soon as she sees Rocky she knows that Paulie is trying to set them up on a date and immediately says that she is not ready for this. Paulie criticizes her and then calls her a loser in front of Rocky before she demands that he stop calling that. She then tries to use the excuse of having a turkey in the oven for her not being able to go out with Rocky before Paulie, in a horrible act of cruelty, tosses the turkey into the alley. Adrian is humiliated and runs to her bedroom.

Rocky sees that Adrian is distraught and gently stands by her bedroom door in order to speak to her. His gentle approach is what gets through to her as he is the total opposite of Paulie. He admits to feeling very awkward because he is talking to the door and then tells Adrian that he has no one to spend Thanksgiving with so he asks her if she would consider going out with him. Adrian, perhaps out of sympathy for a lonely Rocky or because she would like to to get away from her brother who has humiliated her yet again, decides to take Rocky up on his offer. Before they leave the house there is a great shot of Adrian looking in the mirror where we can see that she is in fact hiding as much of her face as she can behind her glasses and her beanie that she has pulled down to her eyebrows (this last part is unfortunately not in the link)..

Rocky's approach is most effective because it follows the idea that we see in the bible when the man in Song of Songs 5:2 knocks on the gate and calls out to the woman rather than trying to force his way in. The same also applies to the image of Christ in Revelations 3:20 when He knocks at the door and waits for us to allow Him in as He too will not force Himself on us. That is because true love must be offered and received willingly. When a woman sees that a man's intentions are good she may allow him into her world. In Rocky's case he was always consistent with this type of behavior, even when he grew frustrated with Adrian because he saw her as good and wanted her to know that he really cared about her.

As they exit her home Rocky tried to downplay Paulie's actions in order to smooth things over. After all, Paulie is Rocky's best friend so he's trying to clean up Paulie's mess while also showing Adrian that he just wants to spend time with her regardless of the circumstances that led to her agreeing to go out with him. This is very important because such events could have made Adrian uncomfortable with being around Rocky due to the way that Paulie treated her in the privacy of their own home. Yet, Rocky continued to treat her the same way, which certainly allowed Adrian to see that really cared about her.

Then they arrive to the ice skating rink after it had already closed down so Rocky had to smooth over the lone worker at the rink in order to allow Adrian to have some time to skate. This must have been an eye opening experience for Adrian who was certainly used to Paulie's demanding and abusive behavior rather than a man that would do anything to make her happy.

Rocky does not skate with Adrian but jogs around the rink with her because he said that skating is bad for a boxer's ankles. What's most important about this scene is that he is doing whatever he has to do to spend time with her. By having this time together they got a chance to have their first private conversation since they were not at the pet shop. He starts out by sharing the ups and downs of being a boxer and when she can see that he too has certain insecurities and issues she starts to open up more and even starts to look at him more rather than looking down or away from him.

Eventually they get to the famous exchange where Rocky says that his father told him that, you weren't born with much of a brain so you better develop your body. Adrian laughs for the first time in his presence and tells Rocky that her mother told her the exact opposite. For a woman that was certainly not the most pleasant memory but considering the fact that Rocky had a similar experience and felt comfortable enough to share that with her perhaps this led her to feel safe enough to tell Rocky about her similar experience. With that we also notice that Adrian is now speaking in a louder voice than she had in the earlier parts of the film and even laughs as she is obviously more comfortable with Rocky now.

Later as they walk down the street Rocky and Adrian begin a very important conversation. Rocky speaks of people who are very shy by nature and how such people are fine the way they are. By saying that so he again affirms Adrian for who she is. Then they talk more about boxing with Rocky sharing how most fighters end up becoming bums and how he in fact sees himself as a bum. Immediately Adrian tells him that she doesn't think he is a bum so now we see for the first time that she has affirmed him. (the shy comment is not at the beginning of the link)

Later they arrive to Rocky's apartment and while it does take some time for Adrian to accept his invitation to come inside due to Adrian's insecurities she eventually enters. Eventually the fear of being in a situation that she is not accustomed to takes hold of Adrian and that is exemplified by the fact that she won't accept Rocky's invitation to sit with him while also speaking in her soft voice again. That leads her to tell Rocky that she doesn't belong here, that she doesn't think she knows him well enough and that she has never been alone in a man's apartment beforeSurprisingly Rocky admits to also being uncomfortable but reminds her that she is his guest and tries to reassure her that everything is okay. This is important because we see both of them reveal their fears to each other which may have come from a trust that they began to establish earlier in the evening.

Adrian then decides to leave and that's when Rocky insists that she stay, even going as far as blocking door. Adrian had to be frightened at this point but the fact that she didn't fight him again might be from her knowing that he won't hurt her. That's when he asks her to remove her glasses and her beanie. He then tells her that she has nice eyes and that he always knew that she was pretty. Now Adrian has the hardest time looking at him because she can't hide behind her disguise. She responds by saying don't tease me with Rocky responding with I ain't teasing. Now, the same little girl whose mother told her that she wasn't born with much of a body in fact has a man telling her that he sees something that her own mother didn't see and how he saw all of this even when she tried to hide herself from the world. Rocky has made it very clear that Adrian is good!

As the film progresses we see a difference in Adrian because now she is in a genuine loving relationship. Her glasses and hat are now gone. She says a lot more and with a bigger voice because she knows that Rocky will listen to anything she has to say. Rocky made her feel beautiful both inside and out because he accepted her for who she was. One of the most heart warming scenes is when she is waiting for Rocky at his apartment when he returns from a run and he stops in his tracks just to look at her. He then tells her how beautiful she looks, which of course warms her heart as she offers a smile that could only come from a woman who is genuinely happy. (See still image at 0:46) Meanwhile, Rocky remains the same sweet guy that he was when he first began pursuing her as Rocky continued to show her that she was good. Imagine how good that made her feel!

Later we see that Adrian not only accepted the fact that she was good but was also willing to defend her new found dignity. When a drunken Paulie accuses her for being the reason for him never getting married she fights back with a rage that started most likely years prior when he made a habit of putting her down. She states clearly that she was in the fact that one that took care of him and yet he still made her feel like a loser. Then she roars aloud that I am not a loser and most likely at that moment realized that she never was a loser!

Rocky certainly struggled as a witness to this sibling exchange as it must have been hard for him to see Adrian in such pain while also realizing that his best friend had done this to his sister. But this would certainly be an example of Adrian being naked and not ashamed (See Genesis 2:25) because she already knew by now that Rocky would not judge her for what she said to Paulie. With Adrian having the willingness to admit such pain in front of Rocky he too would feel safe enough to share his own fears to her. That was best exemplified when he admitted prior to the climactic boxing match that he knew he couldn't win because he was not in the same class as his opponent. Adrian of course treated him with the same respect that he always gave to her, which of course brought them closer as a couple.

Rocky carried his love for Adrian everywhere he went. The best example was when he received an unexpected title shot and then takes part in his first televised press conference. After answering some questions about the upcoming fight he then makes a point to give a shout out to his girlfriend, even when those who were running the press conference tried to interrupt him. (Start at 5:04)

Finally, when the big heavyweight title match is over it's difficult to tell what is going on in the ring because all Rocky cares about is seeing her. (Start at 1:03) He is greatly moved when she comes to him and tells him that she loves him, so much so that the movie ends with him being the champion of her heart rather than the heavyweight boxing champion of the world. When one sees their final embrace at the end of the film we can see that her love was in fact that thing that will always mean the most to him.

We are just getting started. We will continue this discussion on how the teachings of the Theology of the Body is further revealed in later films starting with the first sequel, Rocky II.

Carlos Arthur Solorzano
BA & MA in Religious Studies from Cal State Long Beach 
Certified through the Theology of the Body Institute 
Instructor of Theology at St. Augustine Catholic High School
Co-founder of Humana Corpus Dignitate


Tuesday, August 27, 2019

King Afonso: The Christian King of Africa

Christianity as we know it is still predominantly a Western religion that has defined its creeds and proselytized its members from a Eurocentric point of view. However, the demographics of Christian communities have been shifting for years now towards the Non-Western nations, which is also leading a number of people to incorporate aspects of those cultures into Liturgies, services and theologies that better serve their communities. This, of course also happened centuries ago in Europe prior to missionaries taking the Gospel abroad.

As those of the Non-Western nations begin to find themselves having more of a say in Church matters we are beginning to find out that the influence of non-Western leaders is indeed nothing new in the history of Christendom. Unfortunately, this is something that is rarely known by most Christians around the world since there has been a bias towards the activities and theological accomplishments of figures from the West. Therefore, this effort will seek to offer a new face to the discussion as it presents the efforts of King Afonso of the Congo, a Christian king whose life rivals many of the great leaders of Christianity, specifically Roman Emperor Constantine.

Another Constantine?

King Afonso of the Congo was born Mbemba Nzinga and was the first Christian ruler south of the Sahara. He became aware of the Christian faith when he came in contact with Portuguese traders and was baptized on May 3, 1491. He claimed that his conversion came from a, special divine grace, which led him to renounce his former indigenous religious beliefs and idolatrous practices. Following his conversion he worked for twenty years to establish a Christian kingdom in to the provinces that he ruled.

Other than the fact that he was favorable to Christian beliefs Afonso has been compared to emperor Constantine for events in his life that seemed to mirror the life of the Roman Emperor who legalized the practice of Christianity in the Roman Empire. Therefore, it has been common to address him as the new Constantine or even the apostle to the Congo. However, we will see that Afonso was indeed a much more sincere Christian than the Roman Emperor.

The first reason to reference Afonso as a Constantine-type figure is the fact that his ascent to the throne was not without a struggle. Constantine of course had to contend with rival emperor figures including his final confrontation with Licinius whose superstitions prevented him from allowing his soldiers to attack Constantine’s forces directly since he feared the labarum on their shields. Afonso on the other hand had to deal with Mpanzo Nzinga, his half-brother along with his accomplices who attempted to deny him his right to the throne following the death of his father. These similarities are striking but most likely not out of the ordinary. It is nothing new for leaders to struggle in their attempts for power, as it is nothing new for supernatural stories to circulate following such events as they are meant to inspire these leaders to pursue their struggles while giving the hearer reasons to believe that such a leader’s ascent was part of a divine plan. However, we will see that it was in the lives of both men after their defining experiences that separate them in terms of who was a better Christian. 

The second similarity to Constantine was his struggle to retain his throne. Religious traditionalists who gathered around Mpanzo accused Afonso and other Christian converts of sorcery while being puppets of the Portuguese foreigners and had a force prepared to fight for the control of their nation. According to tradition Afonso’s forces, upon recognizing the fact that they were outnumbered fell to their knees and called upon St. James, who is also the patron saint of the Portuguese, for assistance. Accounts within the tradition claim that Mpanzo’s forces fled from the scene with survivors claiming that Mpanzo’s forces saw a vision in the sky of a white cross along with St. James and a multitude of warriors on horseback.  This is similar to traditions of Constantine. Eusebius tells us that Constantine had a vision in the sky of the Chi and Rho letters of the Greek alphabet, and heard a voice say to him, in this you shall conquer. Lactantius, on the other hand claimed that Constantine had a dream to place a Christian symbol on the shields of his soldiers. Obviously both Roman traditions along with the Congolese tradition are stories that are meant to demonstrate that God was with Afonso and Constantine while implying that these two men were picked by God to be His King.

A Fork in the Road

Once we get past the traditions of ascent we can see that both individuals had different objectives in terms of the type of empire that they sought to rule along with their personal examples of behavior.  Immediately after his victory Afonso built a church over the tombs of his forefathers and named it Our Lady of Victories so it would serve as a reminder of the battle that led to his ascent as the Manicongo (Lord of Conquest/governor of conquered people). Further, with his intention of creating a Christian nation he personally burned idols, faced rebellions by indigenous traditionalists and, following a blessing the presiding priest, preached to his people after Mass.

Aside from his confrontations with native traditions Afonso also had to deal with problems within the structure of the Church. First, he had to deal with Congolese converts who backslid into their idolatry and polygamous behavior. This led him to contact the Portuguese and request more missionaries and professional preachers in order to reach the heart of the people. Sadly, this would lead to further problems as many Portuguese missionaries would arrive to the Congo and go on to live in homes with slave girls. Once this information went public Afonso was taunted by his own people who claimed that, everything was a lie. Amazingly, Afonso did not give up in his quest to build a Christian nation as this led him to send many of his relatives to Lisbon, Portugal to study in religious houses in his attempt to establish a Congolese clergy and hierarchy.  
Constantine on the other hand ended the persecution of Christians and returned church buildings and cemeteries back into the hands of the church. This would happen while the Roman Empire was still divided into two parts with Constantine ruling the West and Licinius ruling the East. Eventually they would meet in battle as Constantine sought to unify the empire, as it was his desire to return Rome to its ancient glory.

Christian history has been favorable to Constantine not only for his generosity in returning property to the Church but also for his issuing of the Edict of Milan, which of course legalized the practice of Christianity. However, it has unfortunately ignored the fact that Constantine’s consideration of Christians and their practices was not something that was unique in his time. In fact, his last rival Licinius while not being a Christian took no measures against them. Some Christians in his territory detested him because he used his power to neutralize public disorders that were created by Christians who were in disagreement over a number of issues. For some reason many Christians felt slighted by Licinius so they begin praying for Constantine to defeat him.

In terms of Christian practice Afonso was Constantine’s superior as the latter did not align himself with the Christian God even though he did appear to believe in the power of Jesus Christ. He also continued to consult the the oracles of Apollo, participated in non-Christian ceremonies and accepted the title of High Priest in the indigenous Roman religion. Further, he never put himself under the authority of any bishop or other Christian teachers. One could argue that it was necessary for Constantine to have good relations with both Christians and those that practiced indigenous Roman traditions since Rome had not yet arrived to the era of emperor Theodosius who would in turn outlaw all indigenous religious practices.


Afonso and Constantine were both kings that accomplished great things so history in general should be aware of and praise both for their efforts. But in the case of who was the better Christian, the apostle of the Congo should be recognized for his efforts by all Christians, regardless of geography. Constantine however, has always benefited from a kinder interpretation of history including bishops of his day who never questioned his associations with indigenous Roman practices while discouraging such behavior form their regular converts. Sure, we can and continue to praise his issuance of the Edict of Milan but in terms of sincere religiosity, one’s character should count when they are praised by the church as a model of faith.

If a church claims to have a universal message and states that it loves and accepts all people then they should expand their vision and praise and share the great faith and deeds of figures such as Afonso as his efforts should be of great inspiration to all Christians, not just African Christians. However, while many moments in Afonso’s life are indeed comparable to Constantine's life we should not be so quick to claim that he is another Constantine for his merits allow him to stand on his own

The Story of Christianity Volume I by: Justo Gonzalez
2000 Years of Christianity in Africa by: John Baur
A History of Christianity in Africa by: Elizabeth Isichei

Carlos Arthur Solorzano 
BA & MA in Religious Studies from Cal State Long Beach 
Certified Through the Theology of the Body Institute 
Theology Teacher at St. Augustine Catholic High School 

Co-founder of Humana Corpus Dignitate 

Monday, August 26, 2019

Arizona Marian Conference: 2019

It was an amazing feeling to return to the Arizona Marian Conference as I had another chance to sell copies of my book, I Am His Mother, to so many people who attended this year. Getting there was a challenge in itself because I had to see if there would be space for me after reaching out to the event planners at least a month after the vendor due date. I won't get into the reasons for this but some other plans fell through and the way it happened wasn't very pleasing to say the least.

The first day of the conference was Friday August 23 and it concluded on Sunday August 25. Unlike two years ago when I took the day off from work and drove to the Phoenix area much earlier in the day I decided to go to work that day and am gad to say that I had a great day with my students. Then I left from the east side of Tucson and made the drive first to my hotel in Tempe. To my surprise I had no traffic to deal with so I didn't need much time to gather wind down before heading over to the site of the conference.

I was excited when I arrived to the Double Tree Resort in Scottsdale because it gave me a chance to put on my writer's hat for the weekend. First, it was great to see some familiar faces of the amazing people I met two years ago when I first attended the conference. They had all expressed how happy they were to see me again since I wasn't able to attend last year for personal reasons. Then I met some new people who were just as amazing so I was more than excited to spend the weekend in the presence of this amazing community. So, I set up my table with copies of my book as well as some signs that both summarized my book while also giving them a little bit of information on my professional background.

To my surprise many people wanted to know more about me. They asked a lot about what I did for a living along with other things I did besides write books. That led me to share how I give talks on the Theology of the Body and how I have now created an institute with Nurse Practitioner Angelica Delallana called Humana Corpus Dignitate. Many showed a genuine interest in that so I gave them some information on what we do in the event that they want to bring us in for a presentation.

I was also moved by people who attended the conference two years ago who had purchased my book who took the time to come see me at my table in order to express their love for my book. In one case, a sweet older woman told another woman who was looking at my book that she should buy it because it taught her so much more about Our Blessed Mother. The curious woman said that was all she needed to hear so she went ahead and bought a copy for herself.  Just...WOW!!!

The biggest surprise to me was the way people reacted to my summation of I Am His Mother. Not only did they see the idea as both unique and interesting but many of them encouraged me to see if I could do a reading and/or a presentation on my book for a future conference. I must admit that such an idea was most intriguing to me so I definitely have plans to speak to the event planners about this once they decompress from the conclusion of this year's conference. Little do they know that I already an idea in my head that I already started to put in outline form.

On a personal note, I always love to attend such events because I am a practicing Catholic and it's great to be in a setting different than my day job as a high school theology teacher. Don't get me wrong; I love my job and I was eager to get home to both see my family and to be back at work with my students and colleagues. But, this man needs to have his faith fed as well. That is why I am so grateful for the people I got to spend time with on this amazing weekend. To see people on fire for their faith, other vendors who shared their products & ministries with me, stories other people shared with me as well as the joy on the faces of many who attended as they were just as happy to be there as me.

On top of that I made some business connections both for my book as well as my speaking project. I was greatly encouraged when a California based church gift shop manager said that he wanted to stock my book after giving it a look. I also gave a copy to the contact person at Relevant Radio, which is a station that streams all over the country as they expressed interest in having me do an on air interview about the book . Aside from that, I had the chance to meet people from various parishes and ministries who expressed interest in bringing me in to share the teachings of the Theology of the Body.

One image that stuck with me was when the great theologian and author Edward Sri came out among the vendors following one of his talks to sign and sell copies of his books. He was set up across the room from me so to be at my table talking to people and selling copies of my book while watching him do the same...well, it was certainly a great feeling just to be there.

At the end of the conference I was filled with joy, tired, excited, yet aware of all of the work that I needed to do in order to follow through on the connections I made while keeping the momentum going. Most importantly, I was both blessed and encouraged by everyone that I encountered, which is why I am already looking forward to seeing how much I can accomplish with this part of my life before the start of the 2020 Arizona Marian Conference.

Carlos Arthur Solorzano 

BA & MA in Religious Studies from Cal State Long Beach 
Certified Through the Theology of the Body Institute 
Theology Teacher at St. Augustine Catholic High School 

Co-founder of Humana Corpus Dignitate