Sylvester Stallone grew up Catholic, stopped going to church after he tasted fame and fortune, but now considers himself a churchgoing Catholic again.
Stallone's shift back to church started when his daughter Sophia was "born sick," Stallone said in a Dec. 7 telephone interview from Dallas to promote his new movie, "Rocky Balboa."
In November 1996, at age 2 months, Sophia underwent open-heart surgery at the University of California at Los Angeles Medical Center.
The operation went well, and Sophia, now 10, is doing "great," Stallone said. "She's the No. 1 athlete in her class."
Stallone tried to find the words to describe what brought about his self-imposed exile from Catholicism.
"I don't know. Life," he said. "Your career is going, you're not communicating with your family."
The weight of celebrity was "very heavy," he added. "I didn't have any strong foundation behind me of people that would keep my feet on the ground. I was extremely seduced by the newfound freedom."
Things started turning around for Stallone, he said, before his marriage in 1997 to his third and current wife, Jennifer Flavin.
"When I got married everything changed," he said. "When my daughter was born sick, and I realized I really needed some help here, I started putting everything in God's hands, his omnipotence, his all-forgivingness."
Stallone added that being Catholic "puts me where I should be. I was alone in the world. I thought I would have to handle things in my own way."
But then "I thought if I put myself in Jesus' hands and asked for insight and guidance I am basically taking the yoke off of me and using his intelligence and wisdom to make the proper decision," he said.
It's a process Stallone uses not only in life, but in his profession. "I really feel that in the writing of (the first) 'Rocky.' I felt my hand was truly guided," he said.
And so it is for "Rocky Balboa," which opened Dec. 20. "Let me put this way," Stallone told CNS. "He's coming in there this way, buoyant, being pushed by a different kind of energy – Jesus energy. At the end of the movie, he points his finger up and shows respect (to Jesus)."
If you're rolling your eyes at the prospect of a 60-year-old Stallone playing an aging boxer, that's OK with him.
"I actually embrace that, and the rolling of their eyes (is) a 100 percent natural valid reaction. I rolled my eyes when I thought of it," Stallone said. "You can't judge anything until you see it. When you see the film, it's about actually being able to listen to your heart and not so much your mind, following the guidance of someone much more powerful than you: Jesus.
"In 'Rocky I,' the first person we saw was Jesus," he said, referring to an opening scene of the boxing club where there is a big mural of Jesus on a back wall.
And if a sixth "Rocky" movie isn't enough, there's "Rambo IV: Pearl of the Cobra" in the works.
"It's also a Christian movie," Stallone said. "Here's how it is. I believe that you can have a Christian theme but you can't hit it too heavy. You can't hit 'em over the head with a hammer. You have to be subtle about it."
Stallone described the plot to "Rambo IV," now in pre-production: "Rambo is a borderline atheist. He doesn't believe in anything anymore. His job is to bring a group of Christians upriver into a very hostile territory, and they're there to bring the word of God and medicine and dentistry to these natives. He has conversations with some of these Christians and he doesn't see it their way. They get captured, and ... he starts getting influenced by their faith in the face of such incredible odds.
"I think it may work," he added.
By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service (www.catholicnews.com)
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