Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Mary, the New Ark of the Covenant

September 4, 2017

Did you ever see Indiana Jones and The Raiders of the Lost Ark? You may recall seeing the movie’s replica of the Ark of the Covenant featured as the McGuffin artifact everyone was seeking out. This movie has been very helpful to preachers in providing a visual aid to everyone of what the Ark of the Covenant looked like.

Like Noah’s Ark, the Ark of the Covenant was a box constructed according to God’s design and command. It served as a portable throne bearing the presence of God on earth. The Ark held inside of it three important things: the two tablets of the Ten Commandments, the wooden staff of Moses’ brother Aaron the High Priest, and a gold jar containing some of the Manna God provided his people to eat in the desert. The reason I mention these things today is because the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament foreshadows the Blessed Virgin Mary in the New Testament.

The old Ark held the Ten Commandments, the word of God in stone; the Virgin Mary bears the Word of God in flesh. The old Ark held the priestly staff which on one occasion miraculously blossomed despite being dead; Mary conceives by the power of the Holy Spirit despite her perfect virginity. The old Ark contained Manna bread in a golden vessel; Mary’s holy womb contains the true Bread from Heaven, provided to us for our journey to Promised Land — Jesus Christ, our Prophet, Priest, and King.

At God’s command, the old Ark was made of natural wood overlaid with pure gold inside and out. Mary is a human woman who is made “full of grace.” King David once joyfully leaped and danced before the Ark of the Lord. At the Visitation, when Mary visits Elizabeth her relative, John the Baptist likewise leaps with joy within his mother’s womb. David once asked, “How can the Ark of the Lord come to me?” Elizabeth likewise asks, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” On one occasion, the old covenant ark was kept for three months in the house of a man named Obed-edom outside Jerusalem, and Scripture records that God blessed his whole household. Mary likewise dwelt three months in the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth near Jerusalem and was surely a blessing to them.

No man was to touch the Old Covenant Ark, lest they be struck down dead. (God instructed his ministers to move that holy Ark only by means of two gilded poles which slid through rings on the sides of the Ark.) Joseph of Nazareth held a similar reverence towards Mary, his ever-virgin wife. In the Old Testament, the Lord was to be found wherever the old Ark dwelt, from the Sinai wilderness to the Temple in Jerusalem. In the New Testament, “on entering the house, [the Magi] saw the child with Mary his mother,” and, “standing by the cross of Jesus [was] his mother.”

In the movie, Indiana Jones and the Nazis were looking for the “lost” Ark because Scripture reports that the Old Covenant Ark was hidden soon before the Jewish Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BC. Jeremiah the Prophet took the Ark and placed it in a secret cave. Unlike in the 1981 movie, the Lost Ark has never been recovered. Yet, in his revelations recorded at the end of the New Testament, John the Apostle sees the new Ark revealed. John writes: “God’s temple in Heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple.” The next thing John describes is a glorious woman pregnant with the Christ child, “A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” This is Mary, the New Ark of the Covenant, whom at the end of her time on earth God lifted up body and soul into Heaven.

The old Ark was of central, though secondary, importance in the Old Covenant. Drawing physically nearer to it brought one closer to the presence of God on earth. Likewise, God gives the Blessed Virgin Mary, the new Ark, a central role in his New Covenant. If you draw closer in your relationship with her, you will surely draw closer to our Lord Jesus Christ.

Advertisements

St. Ignatius’ 14 Rules for Spiritual Discernment & The Lord of the Rings

January 26, 2017

Please enjoy, and freely Like and Share this video.
My special thanks goes to Mary Walker for lending her voice to this project.

Reflections on Martyrdom

December 29, 2016

I have not seen and cannot recommend the recently-released Martin Scorsese film Silence, but reviewers describe it as haunting and unsettling for believers and non-believers alike. It is set in Japan during a fierce persecution of Roman Catholics in the mid-1600’s. In one scene, a Jesuit missionary is forced to watch arrested Japanese Christians be cruelly tortured before him. The young priest is told that these men and women’s sufferings will cease if he would only step on an image of Christ and renounce his faith. What does Jesus want his followers to do if faced with such a choice?

A person might think there is little harm done in trampling the crude likeness of someone, or by insincerely mouthing a few words, but Jesus told his disciples, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” (1) At the very start of his ministry it seems that Jesus himself was confronted with the film’s test; the temptation to deny God so that human suffering would end.

After his baptism, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” (2) But Jesus firmly refused. Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness by James Tissot 1886-1894.What was so wicked about the devil’s suggestion? What could be wrong with alleviating hunger? Imagine if Jesus had relented, waving his hand over a nearby brown stone and then biting through its soft crust. Then the devil could accuse him, “So, you have provided food for yourself—how can you now refuse to wield your power to feed the whole world!?” Satan also pressured Jesus to insist that the Father spare him from death: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down [from this great height]…” But Jesus again refused. The tempter preferred Jesus to be a messiah who would give people an abundance of material wealth and safety while leaving them in their sins, separated from God forever.

Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’” Jesus accepted suffering with and alongside us as a crucified savior-king and never surrendered to the temptation of becoming an earthly ruler who had denied God and bowed to Satan. Jesus Christ understood that he would be Isaiah’s “Suffering Servant” and “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” as St. John the Baptist proclaimed him. (3) Even as his desert tempter invited him to end all earthly hardship, Jesus in some sense foresaw the multitude of suffering martyrs who would follow his path after him. Jesus did not waiver. Jesus refused to capitulate to evil for this world’s fleeting, lesser goods because was not the will of God, his Father.

These reflections came to mind last week on the December 28th Feast of the Holy Innocents, those little ones who died in place of Jesus Christ. When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. (4) Modern biblical scholars estimate Bethlehem’s population was around 1,000 at that time, which means that up to about twenty infants were slain. (5)

These babies and toddlers have been venerated in the Church since the first century.  Early Church Fathers, including St. Irenaeus of Lyon and St. Augustine, and the liturgical tradition of the Church have celebrated them as saints and martyrs. (6) This pair of titles is remarkable for those “who, though still unable to profess [Jesus] in speech, were crowned with heavenly grace on account of his birth.” (7) None of these young Jewish boys were baptized or made a conscious decision to die for Jesus, but they were all saved through Christ.

Jesus spoke of the importance of baptism for salvation, for instance saying, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (8) Yet he also said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.” (9) The Church, lacking an explicit teaching from Christ about children who die unbaptized, “can only entrust them to the [great] mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them.” (10) Perhaps the Lord, knowing his own provisions for their salvation, has kept us in our uncertainty lest we employ the twisted logic of Herod, Pharaoh, or Pilate to rationalize the intentional killing of little ones. In any case, it has been the firm conviction and long tradition of Christ’s Catholic Church that the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem now dwell with him in Heaven.

Jesus Christ and his martyrs, from Bethlehem to Japan, reveal and witness to strengthening truths: That this life, however long or short, is not all that there is. That God can bring salvation out of evil, even from crimes and disasters that break our hearts and surpass our understanding. And the martyrs affirm that, as Charles Spurgeon said, “Suffering is better than sinning. There is more evil in a drop of sin than in an ocean of affliction. Better [to] burn for Christ, than [to] turn from Christ.” Whatever terrible crosses may afflict us or those we love we can remember that our crucified Lord has suffered likewise and is always with us. Jesus tells us, “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (11)

26-martyrs-of-japan

A memorial to “The Twenty-Six Martyrs of Japan,” a group of Roman Catholics executed by crucifixion on February 5, 1597 at Nagasaki. Their feast day (i.e., St. Paul Miki and companions) is February 6th.

Footnotes:
(1) –  Matthew 10:32.
(2) –  Matthew 4:1-11.
(3) –  Isaiah 52:13-53:12, John 1:29 & 1:36.
(4) –  Matthew 2:16.
(5) – Raymond E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, pp.104–121.
Donald A. Hagner, World Biblical Commentary, Matthew 1–13, pg.37.
“Holy Innocents” entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia. 
(6) – Hugo H. Hoever, Lives of the Saints, pg.525.
(7) –  Opening Mass Prayer for The Feast of the Holy Innocents.
(8) –  Mark 16:16.
(9) –  Matthew 19:14.
(10) – Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1261.
(11) – John 16:33.

 

Captain America, St. Thomas More, & the Spirit of Truth

May 14, 2016

In the new blockbuster movie Captain America: Civil War the titular hero is discerning an important decision when he hears this message in a church:

“Compromise where you can. And where you can’t, don’t. Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right, even if the whole world is telling you to move. It is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye and say, no. You move.”

Captain America - No, You MoveAs I watched in the movie theater, that bit about the tree struck me as odd. Trees bend and can be cut down, but pillars of iron or stone mountains don’t budge. I later discovered that these movie lines were adapted from a famous comic book speech Captain America once addressed to Spider-Man:

“When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world — ‘No, you move.’”

Did you spot the difference? “Plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth.” That’s not only more beautiful, it’s also an allusion to Old Testament imagery. Psalm 1:3 says:

“[The Just Man] is like a tree planted near streams of water that yields its fruit in due season, whose leaves do not wither, and whatever he does prospers.”

And Jeremiah 17:8 says:

“[Those who trust in the Lord] are like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: It does not fear heat when it comes, its leaves stay green; In the year of drought it shows no distress, but still produces fruit.”

These verses teach that the just man who is rooted in the Law (or the Truth) of God prospers, and that those who trust in the Lord prevail against adversity.

I wish that Hollywood had included the fuller quote in the new Captain America movie—not only because it’s better writing, not only because it echoes Sacred Scripture, but because it better reflects the truth about where Truth comes from. My all-time favorite film disappoints me in a similar way.

A Man for All Seasons - St. Thomas More at TrialA Man for All Season won the 1966 Academy Award for Best Picture, but its depiction of its hero, St. Thomas More, falls short of perfection. In the movie, as in real life, Thomas More suffers unjust imprisonment for refusing to swear an oath recognizing King Henry VIII as the supreme head of the Catholic Church in England. The movie’s screenwriter, the agnostic Robert Bolt, drew on More’s own writings to craft some fantastic dialogues, but Bolt somewhat misrepresents the saint’s true motivations.

In one scene, Thomas More’s friend, the Duke of Norfolk, asks why he won’t just “give in.” Thomas answers, “I will not give in because I oppose it — I do — not my pride, not my spleen, nor any of my appetites, but I do — I!” The real St. Thomas More’s motivations are portrayed more accurately in the scene at his trial. He tells the court:

“The indictment [against me] is grounded in an act of Parliament which is directly repugnant to the law of God, and his Holy Church, the Supreme Government of which no temporal person may by any law presume to take upon [himself.] This was granted by the mouth of our Savior, Christ himself, to Saint Peter and the Bishops of Rome whilst He lived and was personally present here on earth. It is, therefore, insufficient in law to charge any Christian to obey it.”

The real St. Thomas More refused to sign the King’s oath because he saw in it a denial of Christ. He preferred to die rather than lose Heaven; and he did go on to die, thereby gaining Heaven. But Robert Bolt has his Thomas More conclude his courtroom speech like this:

“Nevertheless, it is not for [refusing the King’s] Supremacy that you have sought my blood, but because I would not bend to the [King’s re-marriage]!” (In other words, “No one is going to make me act contrary to my own self-will!”)

The real St. Thomas More was not standing up against the world for individually-chosen truth. (More opposed heretics when he served as King Henry’s High Chancellor.) He knew that Truth and right and wrong are not things we create for ourselves. We receive them, as water from a river. They do not flow from us as their source. The real St. Thomas More was a champion for the Truth which comes from God.

So how can we be faithful to the Truth which comes from God? How can we be planted like trees beside the River of Truth that flows from God? By prayerfully welcoming the Holy Spirit.

At his interrogation before the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate, Jesus says: “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” (In the Holy Trinity, the Father is the Speaker, Jesus is the Word, and the Holy Spirit is the Voice) But Pilate refuses to listen. He retorts to Jesus, “What is truth?” He rejects the Spirit of Truth and walks away.

Later, at his Ascension, Jesus instructs his disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they are clothed with power from on high with the Spirit of Truth who will teach them everything and remind them of all he has told them. Unlike Pilate, the disciples listen to Jesus and obey him. Some 120 persons (including the apostles, the Virgin Mary, some women, and some male relatives of Jesus) gather together and all devote themselves to prayer. They pray for nine days—the Church’s first novena, and on the tenth day, on the Jewish feast of first fruits called Pentecost, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, comes and fills them.

St. Peter PreachingOnce the Spirit’s fire touches their heads, the disciples know what to say and they are unafraid to say it. Previously they had been hiding behind locked doors, but now they go out into Jerusalem’s crowded streets praising and preaching Jesus. This new-found wisdom and courage are gifts from the Holy Spirit, who empowers them to begin reaping the Church’s first fruits from the world. Observe well what the disciples do, for we are called to do the same: they listen to Jesus and obey him, they gather together and pray, they receive the Holy Spirit’s inspiration and gifts, and then they go forth to speak and act powerfully in the world.

In the Gospel of John, on the last and greatest day of one of the Jewish feasts, Jesus stands up in the temple area and exclaims, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture says: ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him.’” Here the Gospel writer adds: “He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive.”

The Holy Spirit is our River of Living Water. As trees planted beside him we will prosper, and by being rooted in him we will prevail against adversity. In Holy Mass let us pray to receive the Spirit wholeheartedly and to be clothed with his power. And then, filled with the Spirit of Truth, even if the whole world tells us to move, we will have the words and courage to stand our ground. By the Holy Spirit, we can be heroes for this world in desperate need of heroes, in the likeness of Captain America, St. Thomas More, and the apostles after Pentecost.

The Eight Beatitudes at the Movies

May 2, 2016

At the start of his Sermon on the Mount (in Matthew 5) Jesus lists qualities which describe the blessed in his Kingdom. These eight Beatitudes are models for living our lives. On the silver screen, the fictional characters in these eight classic films manifest the Beatitudes:

Phil Connors in Groundhog Day: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The arrogant self-sufficiency of Bill Murray’s character must be humbled before he can turn the corner towards living the perfect life by loving truly.

+  +  +  +  +  +  +  +

Most characters in The Sixth Sense: Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. In this film, both the living and the dead suffer great losses, but they ultimately receive their peace.

+  +  +  +  +  +  +  +

George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life:Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.” Jimmy Stewart’s character repeatedly sacrifices his big dreams (of college, of riches & fame, of an around-the-world honeymoon) to save the little Building & Loan of Bedford Falls. By the end of the story, George realizes that he is truly “the richest man in town.”

+  +  +  +  +  +  +  +

“Juror 8” in 12 Angry Men: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be filled. The eighth juror (played by Henry Fonda) shows how a principled advocacy for the truth can change minds and bring about true justice.

+  +  +  +  +  +  +  +

Jean Valjean in Les Misérables: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Having received mercy, the former criminal Jean Valjean practices mercy, and so is saved.

+  +  +  +  +  +  +  +

Forrest in Forrest Gump: “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.” Forrest is “not a smart man, but [he] knows what love is.” His simple virtue and true devotion toward his friends blesses their lives together.

+  +  +  +  +  +  +  +

Mary & Bert in Mary Poppins: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Julie Andrews’ Mary (with assistance from Dick Van Dyke’s Bert) delights in serious play to help heal the Banks Family.

+  +  +  +  +  +  +  +

Terry Malloy & Fr. Barry in On the Waterfront:  “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.”  The courageous actions of Marlon Brando and Karl Malden’s characters prevail against the mob and manifest that ‘Jesus Christ is here on this waterfront.’

+  +  +  +  +  +  +  +

Time Travel & God’s Prophesies

March 3, 2016

Many science-fiction stories have explored the idea of traveling through time and changing the past. For example, 1980’s “The Final Countdown” imagined a modern-day U.S. aircraft carrier being transported back to 1941 and facing the choice of either thwarting the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor or allowing history to play out unchanged. In the early 1990’s, the TV time traveler Dr. Sam Beckett would “Quantum Leap” into other people’s lives, “striving to put right what once went wrong.” Just last fall, the internet hotly-debated the morality of going back in time to kill Adolf Hitler when he was still too young to have chosen or have committed any crimes.

ITardiss it possible to go back in history and change the past? There’s good reason to think that it is logically impossible. Here is why: Imagine traveling back in time and, by some tragic accident, killing your grandparent as a child. This would mean that one of your parents would have never been born… so you would have never been born… which raises the question: who killed your grandparent? Or imagine a time traveler’s intended history-changing mission succeeding, such as stopping JFK’s assassination. If so, then there is no cause for the time traveler to have ever been sent back from the future at all. This sort of logical contradiction is called a paradox.

Most serious time travel stories avoid this paradox problem using the premise that the past can be visited but never truly altered. Time travelers simply fulfill the role they have always played in those past events. Any and all attempts to avert some disaster in history will either prove useless or actually contribute to bringing about the calamity.

Time travel is merely fantasy, but the prophesies of God, which have correctly foretold future events, are very real. Consider, for instance, these passages from the 22nd Psalm written by King David under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit some 1,000 years before the coming of Christ:

“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? … All who see me mock me… Like water my life drains away; all my bones are disjointed. My heart has become like wax, it melts away within me. As dry as a potsherd is my throat; my tongue cleaves to my palate… They have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones. They stare at me and gloat; they divide my garments among them; for my clothing they cast lots. … I will live for the Lord…”

This psalm is clearly fulfilled in Christ’s sufferings on the cross; the onlookers’ gloating mockery, the gambling over his garments, his dehydration and laboring heart, wounds cutting to his bones. What other form of torture is there that pierces the hands and feet? Jesus spoke this psalm’s opening words even while sharing the psalm’s closing hope in a life restored. These events were accurately described a millennium before they occurred.

God prophesying future events raises questions about human freewill. If Jesus’ crucifixion could be long foretold then what responsibility could Judas, Caiaphas, or Pontius Pilate possibly bear for their roles in the Passion? The answer is that Eternal God, from his vantage point outside of time, can behold all of history, including the free choices that each of us make. C.S. Lewis reconciles God’s knowledge and our freedom in these passages from his book “Mere Christianity”:

“…God is outside and above the Time-line. In that case, what we call ‘tomorrow’ is visible to Him in just the same way as what we call ‘today’. All the days are ‘Now’ for Him. He does not remember you doing things yesterday; He simply sees you doing them, because, though you have lost yesterday, He has not. He does not ‘foresee’ you doing things tomorrow; He simply sees you doing them: because, though tomorrow is not yet there for you, it is for Him. You never supposed that your actions at this moment were any less free because God knows what you are doing. Well, He knows your tomorrow’s actions in just the same way— because He is already in tomorrow and can simply watch you. In a sense, He does not know your action till you have done it: but then the moment at which you have done it is already ‘Now’ for Him.”

God’s knowledge of our free choices does not make our choices any less free. As St. Augustine once noted, “Just as you do not compel past events to happen by your memory of them, so God does not compel events of the future to take place by his knowledge of them.” God’s divine knowledge does not strip us of human freewill, but it does permit him to communicate perfect prophesies to his people concerning events further along our timeline. Such prophesies concern not only the Messiah’s life, but our times and future as well.

Jesus Christ has already victoriously prevailed. His Second Coming in glory is foretold and assured, and his people’s final victory over sin and death is prophesized and certain. This is the connection between time travel stories and the prophesies of God: like the futility of time travelers attempting to avert some historic disaster, any and all attempts to prevent the ultimate triumph of Christ will either prove useless or actually contribute to bringing about the coming of his Kingdom. The enemies of Jesus schemed to destroy him and his movement, but their very plotting led to the fulfillment of his mission and the birth of the Church. This knowledge is a cause for Christian endurance and joy, even amidst our times of struggle. We know that we are free to serve a faithful role in helping bring about the great, holy, happy ending of history.

Jesus is Risen, Not Undead

February 26, 2016

All the classics of horror are Catholicism twisted. Vampires are the shadow opposite of Jesus in the Eucharist; they prey on the blood of others to possess eternal life apart from God. Depictions of Frankenstein are distortions of the Mystical Body of Christ, with the dead parts of many monstrously combined as one. And what are zombie stories but corruptions of the Resurrection? A new friend of mine teaches a faith formation class with a 5th grader who periodically pipes up saying, “Jesus was a zombie.” So, this week, she taught them about how Jesus is different from zombies.

Zombies are typically said to be created by a virus or a magic spell, but Jesus lives by the power of God. Zombies lose their memory and intellects, but the risen Jesus knows his friends and converses with them. The bodies of zombies decay and they can be “killed,” but the risen Jesus is free from corruption and can die no more. Zombies “desire” to kill people, but Jesus would give them life. (What other differences can you find with your family?)

After seeing The Passion of the Christ in 2004, I heard a fellow seminarian say that the movie ending with Jesus walking from the tomb on Easter morning frustrated him—he want to see what happened next, he wanted the story to continue. Last Friday, I had the great pleasure of seeing a new film which tells that story: Risen. In it, a Roman soldier named Clavius is tasked by Governor Pontius Pilate to find the body of Jesus the Nazarene and end rumors of his resurrection. Only about a dozen people were in the theater on opening night, so if you want to enjoy this highly-recommended film on the big screen you should make a point to see it soon.

 

Remedial Kant

January 26, 2016

I produced this seminary skit in 2009. It’s not only funny, it’s (a little) educational, too.

Our philosophy teacher (of Spanish origins) had never heard the Mahna Mahna song before, so it took some clever editing to get her to “just say ‘phenomena.'”

“For God And Country”

November 21, 2015

A 32-year-old Ronald Reagan plays a (fictional) Catholic priest army chaplain in this 1943 short film. “Chaplain Michael O’Keefe” is depicted celebrating Mass, working alongside his Protestant and Jewish chaplain friends, visiting a prisoner, and being mourned among the fallen in New Guinea.

The film was made to give army personnel “a better understanding of the chaplain’s place, work, and accomplishments in the army.” It was produced by the U.S. Signal Corps and filmed at MGM Studios. [source]

Contemporary politics make a brief appearance in the dialogue: Vermont is referenced as being a Republican state and Georgia as a Democratic one. (Today, those political alignments are reversed, though Ronald Reagan did win Vermont while losing Georgia in 1980.)

A True Story of Pain, Transformation, & Hope

August 20, 2015

My hometown friend, pro-life speaker Katie Stelter, spoke at our parish’s youth group this evening. Her story was made into this powerful docudrama, Metamorphosis:

Reflections on The Passion of the Christ

February 26, 2015
  • Jesus Writing on the Ground from the Passion of the Christ with Jim CaviezelThe 2004 film begins quoting Isaiah 53, “He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah foretold Christ’s sufferings seven centuries before they came to pass.
  • We see a full moon, for Passover was always celebrated upon a full moon (similar to how Easter is always the Sunday after the first full moon following spring equinox on March 20th.)
  • We find Jesus in the garden, praying the psalms to his Father: “Rise up, defend me” (Ps 94) “Save me from the traps they set for me” (Ps 141) “Shelter me, O Lord, I trust in you. In you I take my refuge.” (Ps 16)
  • Satan appears in the garden; androgynous, attractive, and deathly pale. He speaks doubts to Jesus: “Do you really believe that one man can bear the full burden of sin? No one can carry this burden… No one. Ever. No. Never. … Who is your Father? Who are you?” Jesus never speaks to the devil throughout the film, but here he stands, locks eyes with Satan, and crushes the snake’s head underfoot. This recalls God’s words to the ancient serpent in Genesis 3:15, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.
  • Awoken from her sleep, the Virgin Mother senses something is awry. She asks Mary Magdalene, “Why is this night different from every other night?” She answers, “Because once we were slaves and we are slaves no longer.” This quotes the traditional dialogue of the Jewish Passover meal ritual.
  • Given the choice, the crowd calls for the unsavory prisoner Barabbas, a violent revolutionary, to be freed instead of Jesus. “Barabbas” means “Son of the Father.
  • At the pillar, Jesus quotes Psalm 108: “My heart is ready, Father. My heart is ready.” In Hebrew, to say “very,” you repeat a word twice. To say something is so in the greatest measure, it is said thrice (e.g. “Holy, Holy, Holy.”) The Romans directing the flogging of Jesus say “Satis / Enough” three times.
  • The angry crowd from the Passion of the ChristPilate presents the lacerated Jesus saying, “Ecce Homo / Behold (the) man!” The shot is from behind, emphasizing the angry, riotous mob in the background, for these words are a critique of fallen man/mankind.
  • Pilate asks, “Shall I crucify your king?” The high priest replies, “We have no king but Caesar,” denying the kingship of God.
  • The 14 Stations of the Cross make appearances throughout the film, including the three times Jesus falls.
  • Embracing his cross, Jesus alludes to Psalm 116: “I am your servant Father. Your servant and the son of your handmaid.
  • Mary, recalling when Jesus once fell as a child, rushes to his side. Jesus tells her, “See, Mother, I make all things new,” foreshadowing Revelation 21:5, “Behold, I make all things new.
  • Veronica, who gives Jesus her veil to wipe his face, has a name which means “true image.”
  • Jesus’ experiences at Golgotha are paralleled with flashbacks to the Last Supper. Jesus is stripped, the bread is uncovered. The Host is lifted, his cross is raised.
  • The Virgin Mary at the foot of the cross calls Jesus, “Flesh of my flesh, heart of my heart…” echoing the words of Adam toward Eve.
  • On the cross, Jesus quotes Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Neat Things About “A Man For All Seasons”

August 21, 2014

“A Man For All Seasons” was 1966’s Academy Award winner for Best Picture, and it is my all-time favorite movie. This YouTube video I made presents a number of interesting things you never knew about this wonderful film. I invite you to watch, “like,” and “share” it.

 

Four Cheeks Turned — 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

February 22, 2014

Gospel: Matthew 5:38-48

When attacked, our natural response is “fight or flight,” but Jesus suggests a  supernatural response: “When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well.” Since the Jews regarded the left hand as unclean, they would reflexively strike with the right hand. If the right cheek were hit, then one had been backhanded with contempt. Responding by turning the other cheek neither attacks not retreats, but insists on being regarded as an equal, whom one must strike (if at all) with an open hand. Jesus wants us to stand our ground in the face of injustice, assertively but lovingly, in hopes that the offender will reconsider his ways. Jesus modeled this response when he was struck during his trial before Annas:

The high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his doctrine. Jesus answered him, “I have spoken publicly to the world. I have always taught in a synagogue or in the temple area where all the Jews gather, and in secret I have said nothing. Why ask me? Ask those who heard me what I said to them. They know what I said.” When he had said this, one of the temple guards standing there struck Jesus and said, “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” (John 18:19-24)

Another saintly example was shown by Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Though reports vary, Mother Teresa was once begging bread from a baker for her orphanage. When the baker responded by spitting into her hand, she replied to effect, ‘I will keep this for me, but please give something for my children.’

In Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, a bishop welcomes an impoverished convict to join his table and sleep at his home. However, that night, Jean Valjean steals his host’s silverware and goes away. The police catch him and take him to the bishop. Looking at Jean Valjean, the good bishop exclaims, “Ah! here you are! I am glad to see you. Well, but how is this? I gave you the candlesticks too, which are of silver like the rest, and for which you can certainly get two hundred francs. Why did you not carry them away with your forks and spoons?” Jean Valjean opens his eyes wide and stares at the venerable Bishop “with an expression which no human tongue can render any account of.” The bishop’s turn of the cheek spares the thief’s freedom and saves his soul.

And finally, a true story from a modern marriage: A woman’s husband had a terrible temper and every time it flared she would say, “That’s just like you to lose your temper!” But then, following a stroke of insight, she began responding differently. The next time he began to fly of the handle she told him, “That’s not like you to lose your temper,” and he nearly fell out of his chair. Even the kids looked at her funny, but she stuck with her new resolution. Months later, while at a restaurant together, he became irritated by the slow service. He started to fume about it, but then he suddenly stopped, turned to her, and said, “That’s not like me to lose my temper, is it?” This time, it is said, she nearly fell on the floor.

Was it true the first time the woman declared that it was not like her husband to lose his temper? The claim did not match his previous behavior, but perhaps he changed because she revealed to him that his uncontrolled anger was quite unlike the father, husband, and Christian man he truly and deeply wanted to be. This is the sort of realization and conversion we are to hope for in turning the other cheek.

Plus, a fifth story: “If a teen mugs you for your wallet…

Metamorphosis: A True Story of Pain, Transformation, and Hope

January 20, 2014

Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15)

In the United States, for every four babies born alive, there is one whose life is ended by abortion. (In other words, look around a room and divide the number of people by four–that’s how many people are missing.) What leads a woman to this terrible choice? How can God save a soul from the darkness?

Katie, a hometown friend of mine, whose post-abortive testimony became the subject of a 30-minute film, will be coming to speak in Sacred Heart’s parish hall in Wauzeka, Wisconsin at 7pm this Wednesday, January 22, 2014.

All are welcome, especially young people who are mature enough for themes of out-of-wedlock pregnancy and abortion. If you cannot attend, the film can be viewed online.

Checkout Catholic Movies

July 14, 2010

Did you know the St. Vincent DePaul Society just two blocks from St. John’s (location) has a library of Christian movies, books, and CD’s free for checkout? Pick up the films below for a spiritually edifying and entertaining evening:

The Ten Commandments (1956, VHS, 219 min)
Moses faces Pharoah demanding “Let my people go!”
+ Charleton Heston, Yul Brynner, and a cast of thousands
+ Regarded as the greatest Biblical epic of all-time
+ In *Technicolor*!

For another film about a great shepherd of God’s people, I recommend…

John Paul II (2005, DVD, 180 min)
A dramatic biography about Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II
+ Regarded as the best drama about the Great Pope
+ Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride) plays the young Wojtyla
+ Jon Voight stars as Pope John Paul II
— The latter half is better; I suggest skipping to the conclave

For another film about a character who becomes a new man midway into the film, I recommend…

Becket (1964, VHS,  150 min)
St. Thomas Becket’s conversion makes him King Henry II’s enemy
+ Good dialogue, verbal sparring
+ A great excommunication scene
+ Teaches that personal conversion is possible

For another film with another English Thomas crossing with another King Henry, I most highly recommend…

A Man for All Seasons (1966, DVD, 120 min)
St. Thomas More’s conviction makes him King Henry VIII’s enemy
+ Won Best Picture, Actor, Director, Cinematography
— This title can be mistaken for another starring Charlton Heston
+ Brilliant dialogue, drawn from More’s own words
+ My all-time favorite film, it’s almost perfect…
— Gives More a pride at heart inconsistent with his character
+ Teaches the awesomeness and the attractiveness of virtue

For another film about religious conviction not bowing to the politics of the age, I recommend…

Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2005, DVD, 117 min)
A German girl is arrested for writing against the Nazis during WWII
— Subtitled
+ The lead actress is captivating
+ Great verbal combat throughout the interrogation and trial
— Ends sadly, like A Man for All Seasons
+ Shows times can cloud truth, but that conscience still speaks

For another film about another Christian who heroically resisted the Nazis, I suggest…

Maximilian: Saint of Auschwitz (1995, VHS, 76 min)
St. Maximilian Kolbe is a knight for Mary in a darkened age
+ All roles are interestingly played by one man, Leonardo Defilippis
— The recurring theme music is not bad, but overplayed
+ Satan’s speeches are enjoyable in a Screwtape Letters way
— A tad too preachy by way of the masonic, communist, Nazi foes
+ Presents the value and power of Marian devotion

For another film by Defilippis about a saint whose faith was a spiritual romance, I suggest…

John of the Cross (1997, VHS, 60 min)
A Spanish mystic seeks God and reform with St. Teresa of Avila
+ Leonardo and Patti Defilippis play all of the major roles
+ Gives a taste of John’s spirituality, quoting his Spiritual Canticle

For another film by Defilippis about a Carmalite Doctor of the Church, I suggest…

Therese (2004, DVD 96 min)
Thérèse of Lisieux’s story, the most popular saint of modern times.
+ Anyone with a fondness for her will gain from this movie
+ The lead actress, whom Providence led to this production, shines
— Criticized for not being as good as it should have been
— One gets no clear sense of her simple, “Little Way” spirituality
+ This film increases one’s love for this great, little saint

For another film about a holy nun’s experiences in the convent, I recommend…

Faustina (1994, DVD, 75 min)
Jesus tells a Polish nun, St. Faustina, to proclaim Divine Mercy
— Subtitled
+ A work of art of profound depth
+ Her love for Jesus and message of mercy are communicated well
+ Teaches that Jesus’ Mercy embraces all willing to receive it

For another film about supernatural phenomena and the value of suffering, I recommend…

Padre Pio: Miracle Man (2000, DVD, 214 min)
St. Padre Pio bears Christ’s wounds, reads souls, & battles Satan
— Subtitled; English is optional but its voices and dialogue are poor
— Long, 3 hours and 34 minutes, presented in two halfs.
+ Great scenes, like the actresses’ confession and His spiritual battles
+ Teaches, among other lessons, that holiness is manly

For another film about a Franciscan priest with amazing spiritual gifts, I recommend…

The Reluctant Saint: The Story of St. Joseph of Cupertino (1962, VHS, 104 min)
An unintelligent man rises to the heights of sanctity
— Black and white
+ Joseph is played handsomely and enduringly
+ Rather funny, if you are in a fun mood
— Runs about fifteen minutes longer than it needs to
+ Shows a little of the old ritual for exorcism, which is interesting
+ Teaches that God takes the weak and makes them strong

For another film about a simple mystic who was doubted in their day, I recommend…

The Song of Bernadette (1943, DVD or VHS 158 min)
St. Bernadette Soubirous’ sees Mary appear in Lourdes, France
— Black and white
+ Jennifer Jones, at her most innocent, in a Best Actress role
+ Vincent Price (Thriller) plays the skeptic
+ Teaches that God is still real and found among the small

For another film about the life of the Visionary of Lourdes, I recommend…

The Passion of Bernadette (1989, VHS, 106 min)
St. Bernadette Soubirous’ life after entering the convent
+ Sydney Penny reprises her role as Bernadette
+ Shows that humility is beautiful

For another film about a great French saint, I recommend…

Monsieur Vincent (1947, DVD, 114 min)
St. Vincent DePaul grows in his understanding and care of the poor
— Subtitled
— Black and white
+ Gritty, yet beautiful
+ Well crafted characters
+ Teaches us to love our neighbor as ourself

For another film about charity and our resposibility to the poor, I highly recommend…

Entertaining Angels: The Dorthy Day Story (1996, VHS, 112 min)
Dorthy Day’s journey from communist to Catholic humanitarian
+ Stars Moira Kelly (The Cutting Edge) and Martin Sheen
+ Heather Graham (Austin Powers 2) does surprisingly good acting
— Contains an historical, non-graphic nor explicit abortion subplot
+ Teaches that life’s meaning is in committed personal life

For another film with an American, pro-life message, I highly recommend…

Bella (2006, DVD, 91 min)
A man with emotional scars helps a friend through a crisis
— Not a true story
+ Rich characters
+ Shows that life is beautiful, in every sense of the word

For another film about escaping prisons of the heart, I recommend…

The Count of Monte Cristo (2002, VHS, 131 min)
A falsely-condemned Frenchmen escapes prison and plots revenge
— Not a true story
+ Stars Jim Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ) charmingly
+ Richard Harris (Harry Potter) portrays a good Christian
+ In a great scene, a fight to the death has a surprising end
+ Explores the Problem of Evil vs. Providence in a powerful way

For another film about an imposter who gradually becomes a real hero, I recommend……

Meet John Doe (1941, DVD, 122 min)
A feel good movie about American values and the little guy
+ This film is in the public domain; click above to watch it now
— Black and white
— Not a true story
+ Directed by Frank Capra (It’s A Wonderful Life)
+ Teaches about the enduring strength of the little guy