In case you are curious, yes, the title means exactly what you think it means. I am surely and truly about to use a show drenched in Eastern mysticism and legends to demonstrate an ideal way to behave as a solid member of the Roman Catholic Church.
If at any point you should find me mad or kooky (say, the moment you read the previous sentence), I suggest you gather an elite team of cheerful heroes complete with some dark and brooding types for balance, and come meet my friends and allies for battle in New York. Because the Avengers fought there in their new movie and it seems to be a place where people like to throw down, IN THA STREETZ. Our feud will be a bitter and destructive one, for I have powerful friends, and terrors yet unknown to you lurking in the depths of my own shadowy and sinister talent for unhindered destruction…
Oddball tangent done. On to the Main Point.
I think that each Element in Avatar: The Last Airbender can embodify a certain method of behavior or philosophy present in Catholicism, and give an excellent model for us to work from so that we might better serve the Bride of Christ, and therefore the Bridegroom. So, onward and upward!
Many might say this is the only Element that can be detected in the confines of the Catholic Church, and for good reason. You don’t look at something that has been in existence for 2,000 years and say to yourself “Gee, that looks really short-lived and unstable”. Holy Mother Church, like the bedrock beneath your feet, has been around for a long time now, and I have it on good Authority that She will be around forever more. So, what as Catholics must make us Earthbenders?
It is tenacity.
The Rock of Ages is what we cling to, and it holds fast through any storm. We do not build our house on sand if we are wise, but on solid stones. Faith is our shield and our root, and if it is strong enough, through it we weather any obstacles or hardships placed before us. This is the unchanging Truth of our Religion, and in it we take refuge, and from it we have our armor and shield. We must be implacable and resolute, with faces like flint, to overcome the Adversary in the grand Eternal Revolution against Sin and Death. When all else falls, we must endure. As others bow, we must remain unbent. Steadfast in our Hope, we must be unyielding like the Earthbenders, unconquerable like the Earth itself.
Yet even in our ironclad defense and firm footing lodged in Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, we must also be adaptable, and able to change our stance and state in life, so that we are always doing the most good according to the Will of the Lord. This seems counter to what I have just urged you to do. It is not. Water, no matter what form it takes, is still H2O, be it steam, liquid, or ice. The very nature of water is its own Earth-like stability, despite its adaptability.
When we are placed in a situation where we seem powerless, much as humidity and condensation does little but rust and corrode, and is heavily subject to an outside influence (namely the movement of Air, which we will get to next), we must rely more directly on the Power of God. We must increase our prayer in magnitude equal to the degree of our powerlessness at that time in our lives. And, when moved properly by air currents, just as we are moved properly by the Sovereign Will of God, water droplets coalesce and form rain, which renews and replenishes the Earth, just as we are called to renew and replenish the world.
Liquid water is a beautiful thing in that it covers and fills any nook and cranny it is in contact with. It is also cohesive and adhesive, as we must be in our Evangelization of others. We are called to stick together as the Body of Christ, and we should cling to those who have yet to hear the Good News in its fullness like a refreshing morning dew. We must slide into their hearts and minds whenever and wherever we can, filling their empty void spaces with the Light of Christ, just as water permeates into the gaps of rock and soil. We must saturate our society with Goodness, Truth, and Beauty.
Then, like ice, when we have filled all those spaces and cracks, we must harden and become resolute, like water turns to ice during the bitter months. Ice, especially in glacier form, has immense erosive power. It plucks up rocks as it moves downhill, just as we must gather those we can as we move forward under the momentum our proselytizing has given us. In our rigidness after new gains, we keep what we have now baptized and prevent the retaking of those souls by the worldly means of the Adversary, like ice keeps small rock particles frozen within it from being washed or blown away.
In fact, I would even go so far to say that the essence of Evangelization is similar to the essence of Waterbending, for both are required to keep that same sort of rythmic balance. Waterbending is based on Tai Chi, which is all about guiding your enemy’s strikes to your own advantage. We must learn to even use our defeats in apologetics to guide our unredeemed brothers and sisters ever closer to God.
Air is the most elusive of elements. Most of us do not know what is even meant by the “spirit” that drives the essence of Airbending, though we can tell when someone possesses it. Intangible and lacking in definition, this Element is a perfect comparison for our own Un-Worldliness. We are, of course, meant to live in the World, and love it, but we are not of it anymore. We have one foot in Heaven, and our souls are held aloft by the Sovereign Will of God, expressed through the Holy Spirit. This “Catholic Spirit” is seen in the sort of unclear but easily recognizable joy and purity of one who shows this Blessed Light to the darkened world. You probably know one or two of them yourself, men and women who calm and heal others by their presence and Faith, or drive them wild and berserk, because Evil cannot stand the presence of uncorrupted Good.
The secret to this profound Joy is not detachment, as the Tibetan-style Airbending monks of the TV series might tell you, but attachment. Seek the goodness of everything, as Saint Francis did. Even Death he called Sister, and his love for even the deadliest of God’s creatures is well known. As Paul commands, seek what is True, seek what is Good, seek what is Beautiful. Attach yourself to it, lose yourself within, and become a white-hot candle of Holiness through the Power of the Holy Spirit. The heat of that flame shall keep you aloft and not of this world, and people will love you and hate you for it.
Speaking of bringing on the heat, what does Firebending have to do with the Catholic Church, aside from the Heretic Roasts, hosted by the Good Ole’ Inquisition?
What? I’m Catholic, I get to make fun of that, just like black people get to use the N-word. (Cricket…cricket…cricket…)
Well, actually, Firebending isn’t all about destroying the living snot out of your enemies with an unstoppable wall of iridescent flame and doom. As fun as I am sure that sounds to many of you (I have a particular young lady in mind, actually…she’s probably torching someone to fuel her oven right now.), Firebending is about drive, purpose, and energy. And to me, NOTHING seems more Catholic.
Why? Well, what more all-consuming purpose can you think of than to get yourself and everyone around you to Heaven? Following Christ is not a by-degrees thing, as our sinful nature forces our fiats to be. It IS all or nothing. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to bring as many people as close to God as possible, every moment of every day. What sort of madman, what sort of Herculean Will chooses this sort of life? Oh, I can think of a few people. All of them, and myself, fall horribly short of our goal, but though we are so terrible at being Good, as Prince Zuko complains, and though we fail repeatedly, as he warns us we will, surrender is not an option. Christ’s call to die to yourself, inch by bleeding inch, stands out a stark, blazing white against the background of swirling shades of grey (yes, all 50 of them…ick), and smolders ever brighter when placed against the Darkness rent free from its deceptive shrouds.
The inextinguishable Will of the Catholic Church has painted billions of its men and women red with their own blood. Whether you exsanguinate yourself slowly as the average struggling soul, or all at once in a rush of pain and Glory as men like Saint Peter and women like Joan of Arc did, you are called to do the same.
Masters of Mastery
Aha! You thought I was done! Nay! There is more yet to come!
Chiefly, the fact that the Avatar is not merely a Master of all four Elements. The Avatar is a Master of Mastery. A mere Master of the Elements can take the styles one at a time and apply them to situations as needed, but a fully realized Avatar must actually be able to use the Elements cohesively. To be very good at each one individually carries a risk of unbalance and a resulting over-correction. Say, for example, you are in a situation that requires you to be quick and adaptable, say, Evangelizing an emotional, easily ticked-off friend. You also need to put drive and willpower into keeping that up for a long period of time, most likely months or years (Hint: conversations rarely happen on the spot.) If you lose sight of the end goal and forget your purpose, you lock yourself into a watery dance of not pushing things too far and never actually get anywhere with your friend. If you become to end-game oriented, you lose track of the now and become to intense for your friend to handle. Or, say you have to deal with a very angsty Anti-Catholic stranger. Fly too high and get too mystical and joyous, and they will write you off as a fruitcake and forget anything important you might have said. Or become to set in stone and intractable and they will also write you off, this time as a reactionary stick-in-the-mud, and likewise ignore anything pithy you have said in defense of the Church.
Gee, doing all of that sounds hard. Probably because it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do: be worthy of Heaven in your perfection. Did I mention that unbalance leads to corrupting your Faith with Sin? Burning others needlessly or crushing them underboot when you are feeling all high and righteous is the most lethal kind of Pride there is, for it is what caused Satan to challenge God. Being lukewarm in the Faith for the sake of not driving everyone off is an insidious kind of Sloth. I could go on and on ad nauseum.
Fear not. You have the redeeming Blood of Christ, the whole of the Church and her Sacraments, and a legion of Martyrs and Angels at your back. It will end well if you choose to end it well. So go out there, and fully realize your Avatar potential!