Before I make my confession you need to consider that I spent much of my professional life as a seminary professor. Never ordained, I nevertheless donned the cassock and taught future priests what they’d be assumed to know (the Bible) while trying to earn an academic reputation through my publications. It was a double life in which one half involved the church. Shortly after that job ended I saw trailers for Nacho Libre, a movie in which Jack Black plays a monk who moonlights as a luchador, a Mexican professional wrestler. I never saw the film, but I had been raised on a white trash diet of World Wrestling Federation fandom, back in the day when that involved gathering around the television to watch grown men posturing and preening while knowing that none of it was really real. I secretly wanted to see Nacho Libre.
Recently I visited friends who had the movie. They warned me that it was corny, but I had already supposed that. What I didn’t realize until after it was over (for movie viewing is now followed by internet viewing) is that it is based on a true story. “Based on a true story” doesn’t mean, of course, that a movie accurately portrays events, but I had no idea that a Mexican priest had actually supported an orphanage for over two decades as a masked wrestler under the name of Fray Tormenta. I followed up the movie with a little web research because the film was remarkably respectful of the church. The character of Ignacio never criticizes Catholicism, and he clearly cares for the orphans for whom he serves as the cook. His wrestling winnings go toward purchasing better food for them.
Earlier in the day we watched the movie I’d talked to one of my friends about how religious life, no matter how seriously it’s taken, involves acting. People generally put on masks before going to church (or any other function in which they interact with others). Religion requires a level of piety impossible to sustain in the real world. Early in the history of Christianities it became clear that the church would hire some religious specialists to try to take on the lifestyle toward which all faithful should aspire. I’ve trained many priests. I’ve seen them when they’re in mufti. I know that in the vestibule, at the altar, or in the pulpit they’re wearing masks. Many of them have the heart of Nacho Libre, but outside the church doors they still have bills to pay and family and friends who know them as they really are. As we slipped the DVD in I didn’t know what the movie might be like, but it was based on a true story in more ways than one.