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Archive for December, 2012

I have just added a new page to “Into the Dance.”  It is called “Coming Soon,” and will feature short reflections on trailers of upcoming films.

Whenever I see a movie in theaters, I will try to offer my thoughts on the upcoming movies advertised (as long as I have not done so already, of course), so check the page periodically for updates.

My first reflections are on “After Earth,” a sci-fi thriller starring Will Smith and his son, Jaden, and “Man of Steel,” director Zack Snyder’s new Superman flick.

You can access these by clicking on the new tab at the top of this page, but here is the direct link: https://intothedance.wordpress.com/coming-soon/

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Holy Innocents

Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, which commemorates the children of Bethlehem who were murdered by Herod after the birth of Christ.

Even though these children could not exercise reason or free will, we consider them martyrs.  A number of the Church Fathers deemed them the “first soldiers” in Christ’s army.  After all, why did Herod have them killed?  Because the Messiah was in their midst.

That is why the devil, of whom Herod was a mere agent, wants to wreak havoc and destruction among mankind — because through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, God is in our midst.

I wanted to share part of the sermon given this morning by Fr. Anthony Mary, of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word.  In his sermon, Fr. Anthony shares some thought-provoking reflections on the slaughter of the innocents and the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT.

FYI: You don’t need to watch the whole video.  The relevant portion starts at 7:26, and lasts just a little over five minutes.

Top image obtained from http://www.wikipedia.org

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Home Alone DVD

Those of you who read the first part of this pair-o’-posts remember that it dealt with “Home Alone’s” portrayal of both family tension (traceable to the Fall in Eden) and the goodness and importance of the human family, the latter being shown by what happens to Kevin McCallister when he is separated from his own family.

What about redemption?  Is the rift that opens up between Kevin and the rest of his family healed?  If so, how?

As I said in the first post, “absence makes the heart grow fonder” on both sides.  Let’s look at how this works for each in turn.

Kate McCallister

Any parent could relate to Kate McCallister’s anguish as, while flying over international waters, she learns that she and her family mistakenly left her 8-year-old son home by himself.  Furthermore, any parent could feel Kate and her husband’s (John Heard) frustration when the family repeatedly attempts to contact the neighbors to inform them of their emergency, only to find that they have all left for the holidays.

As the movie progresses, we follow Kate’s frantic and seemingly hopeless quest to get back home to Kevin.  She is looking for a flight to Chicago right in the middle of the Christmas rush, when there are very nearly no flights available to…well, anywhere.

The rest of the family, in the words of Megan McCallister (Hillary Wolf), is “rotting” in a Parisian apartment worried about the helpless little brother they left behind.  Certainly, a situation like this would be enough to change one’s mind about even the brattiest younger sibling.

Kate McCallister 2

But it is Kate’s journey that should intrigue us most.  In the mother’s search for her son, we see the breadth and depth of human love…particularly within the family.  We cannot help but feel the extent of her motherly devotion when we see her travelling from Europe back to America and then all over the States, bartering her way from airport to airport, tirelessly and adamantly arguing with anyone who tries to tell her she cannot catch a flight home, and going without sleep for nearly sixty hours in the process.

If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that this level of dedication and self-exertion is necessary (even if not always to that extent) whenever there has been a major falling-out between two parties (family, close friends, a romantically involved couple, etc).  Whenever something has happened to upset the relationship, someone must go out of his or her way to restore harmony.

We could think of it as being like a substance that has been stretched too far in a certain direction.  Sometimes, the only way to put it back to normal is to stretch it a bit farther than normal in the opposite direction.

Kevin Alone

As for Kevin, we notice that the redemptive process works quite a bit more slowly in him.  At first, he is feverishly excited over his newfound “freedom” and wowed that he “made (his) family disappear.”

But before long, he starts to realize that fundamental truth of human existence:

It is not good for … man to be alone (Genesis 2:18).

Kevin learns about the value of belonging through aloneness, of interdependence through isolation, of family through solitude.

In his childhood innocence, Kevin even connects his separation from the rest of the family with his own guilt.  Fans will recall the heartbreaking scene in which, lying in his parents’ master bed, he looks at a family portrait and says: “If you come back, I’ll never be a pain in the butt again.  I promise.”

homealone_church

Almost immediately afterwards, he experiences what I would call “mutual metanoia*” in an encounter with his neighbor, “old man Marley” (see my December 5 post at https://intothedance.wordpress.com/2012/12/05/home-alone-a-great-work-of-art/ for more information on that).  Upon learning that Marley has long been estranged from his son – and, by extension, from his young granddaughter – because of a heated argument they had years before, Kevin strongly encourages him to give his son a call and see if reconciliation might be possible.

Through the encouragement of an 8-year-old, Marley overcomes his fear of the possibility that his son won’t speak to him, and reconciliation does indeed ensue.

Kevin vs Burglars

Finally, I think it’s fair to say that Kevin’s appreciation of his home and the family to whom it belongs sharpens when he has to defend it against the invasion of Harry and Marv, the “wet bandits.” Bravely and ingeniously confronting the burglars from whom he had fled in terror earlier, Kevin learns selfless love through the exercise of courage.

It is interesting that this stage of Kevin’s journey comes immediately after the conversation with Marley.  It’s as if the hope he gains (namely, for family reconciliation) from this exchange strengthens his resolve.

Let’s imagine for a moment that the events of “Home Alone” were factual.  All things considered, the accidental separation of Kevin and his family could be seen as providential.  Through this unhappy circumstance, God brought about healing for a family in need of it.

Christ Crucified by Velazquez

Such things are reflections of the ultimate Unhappy Circumstance – the immolation of God’s only Son upon the Cross – whereby the rift between God and man (and, by extension, the rift within each human person and among the whole human family) was healed.  That is what Christ’s Coming (Christ’s Mass) was all about.

And I think it is fundamentally for that reason that “Home Alone” is such an endearing Christmas movie.

*”Metanoia” means “repentance.”  This signifies a change of direction – we could think of it also as a change of heart and mind.

All images obtained through a Google image search.

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homealone

I’d like to return to my favorite holiday film, “Home Alone” — this time to unpack some of the things we can learn from it about the human condition.

To start, let me share something I learned from my good friend Captain Obvious: “Home Alone” is about family.

Yes, it is also about a clever and devious 8-year-old who outwits two bumbling burglars in a parade of hilarious booby traps.  But let’s be honest, isn’t that just a small slice of the movie?

For our purposes, the film could be divided into three major sections:

A. We meet Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) and his family, who have a falling out.
B. Kevin and his family are separated, and “absence makes the heart grow fonder” on both sides.
C. Kevin and his family are reunited on Christmas Day.

Here we see the familiar narrative pattern of original harmony, fall, and redemption.   And it’s all about the family.

Home Alone Redemption

I don’t think too many people would disagree about the paradoxical nature of family.  It is the fundamental unit of society, the seed of community, the place where we first become aware of ourselves as individuals, where we gain a sense of identity and responsibility, and from which we draw a sense of security that allows us to explore our world…however big or small that world might be.

But it can also be the place of greatest tension.  Of the number of “explosive” situations that occur among mankind, an appreciable percentage seem to occur within the household.

If we look at the last several decades in Western culture, we can’t help but notice that the institution of the family has taken some major hits, much to the detriment of the rest of society.  No doubt, this owes itself to external forces and in no way undermines the reality of the family’s importance.  Yet there are volatile elements within the family unit that these forces can use as “ammunition.”

kevinmad

“Home Alone” does a great job at portraying family tension and family redemption.  The tension builds up gradually at the beginning, culminating in an incident in the kitchen that gets Kevin sentenced to a night alone in the attic bedroom, sent on his way by the fiercely unfriendly stares of his siblings, cousins, aunt, and uncle… not to mention the un-sugarcoated chastisement of his parents.

I am learning more about my faith all the time, but from what I know and have studied, the Catholic understanding of the human family cannot be looked at apart from two of its core doctrines: Imago Dei and Original Sin.

Michaelangelos-creation-of-Adam

The meaning of Imago Dei is clear enough:

God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27).

The “image of God” is personal, but also communal, for God Himself is a family.  As St. John says:

God is love (1 John 4:8).

Holy Trinity

If “God is love,” this entails an eternal communion of Lover (the Father), Beloved (the Son), and the Love they share (the Holy Spirit), and there you have it — the eternal family of the Holy Trinity.

Since human beings are made in the image and likeness of God,

It is not good for … man to be alone (Genesis 2:18)

Adam and Eve

If we are made in the image and likeness of the Thrice-Holy God, then we are made for fellowship.  In Genesis, we read that marriage is mankind’s first covenantal relationship.  The husband and wife image their Creator by their love for one another, but in the begetting of children they share in two other Divine traits as well: creativity and parental care.

So we begin to see how the family becomes the fundamental unit of all community, and why it is in itself such a good thing.

Holy Family

This native goodness is elevated to a whole new level in the Holy Family — that is, St. Joseph, the Virgin Mary, and the Child Jesus.  In the Holy Family, which we see depicted in many a nativity scene at this time of year, the world sees the human family confirmed in its God-given dignity and importance.

And then there’s Original Sin, which we are taught has tarnished God’s image in man.  This impacts not only the divine image each of us bears as a person, but also the divine image in its familial aspects.

We see the consequences of Original Sin for the human family immediately in the Bible:

…the union of man and woman becomes subject to tensions, their relations henceforth marked by lust and domination (see Genesis 3:7-16) (CCC 400).

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out in the field.” When they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him (Genesis 4:8).

Hence the tension families throughout history have experienced.

As we watch “Home Alone,” we see how good and important the family unit is by virtue of what happens when Kevin is removed from its midst.  All alone in a nearly deserted suburban neighborhood, he becomes vulnerable to the intrusion of the “wet bandits” (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern), a pair of avaricious burglars determined to raid Kevin’s house…with or without him in it.

Wet Bandits

Indeed, the breakdown of the family opens the individual up to many dangers.  Whether these entail immediate threats to a child’s safety, bad influences, or otherwise, no one can deny that the burglars in “Home Alone” point to this fundamental truth.

Fans of “Home Alone” will recall the dramatic tension of the scene in which the wet bandits follow Kevin in their van.  Not one to take chances with strangers, Kevin runs…and we root for his safety.

Luckily, he finds a hiding spot in front of a nearby church and loses the burglars.  I confess that I may be reading too much into the scene in question, but I can’t help but raise an eyebrow when I reflect that Kevin takes refuge in a Nativity scene with…who?

That’s right: The Holy Family.

I will deal with the subject of family redemption as portrayed in “Home Alone” in a second post (and yes, there will only be two this time, rather than the five posts that my review of “The Grey” and “Big Miracle” ended up being).

All “Home Alone” images and image of Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” obtained through a Google image search; remaining images obtained from http://www.wikipedia.org.

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Holy Family

Some of you may remember my post on the Advent Season, which I described as a season of hope and expectation, a couple weeks ago.

Well, now the wait is over.

Today, we celebrate the Daybreak.  The “Dawn from on High,” the eternal Beloved, the Light of lights, has come into the darkness of the world, born into poverty and cradled among animals within the earth.

The One Who rested on the seventh day has come to hallow creation with His holy Presence.  He has taken the fullness of our human nature and made it His own.

Indeed, the Incarnation was the greatest event in human history.  In fact, it completely and unalterably changed the course of history.  God is with us (“Emmanuel”).  He became a human being so that we could see him, speak with him, hear him, touch him…and, ultimately, taste him in the Eucharist.

As we approach midnight, many people will be sad.  Confusing Advent with the commercialism of the secularized Christmas Season, they believe that Christmas ends on December 25.

Good news: You are mistaken!  Today, the real celebration begins.

For those of you who wish to know the presence of God in your lives — or if you already know it, perhaps you want to deepen that knowledge — know that God is closer to you than your very deepest self, and that He wants more than anything to be with you and talk to you.  He has a wonderful and unimaginable plan for each person’s life, if only we trust His love.

So talk to God.  Make room for silence so that you can know His presence.  Keep an open mind and an open heart.  If you are Catholic, take some time in the near future, if possible, to visit the Blessed Sacrament.

One thing I learned after praying before Our Lord in the Sacrament is this: What most distinguishes man* from the animals is not that he builds skyscrapers, writes great poems and symphonies, soars into outer space, tames wild animals, or performs any other such marvelous feat.  Rather, what most distinguishes man is that of all creatures on this earth, he is the only one who is most exalted in his knees.

Everything else, I think, flows out of that.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas.  May all of us experience peace and joy this Christmas Season, and may we come to know beyond all doubt that “God is love” (1 John 4:8).

*Just a reminder: I am here using the term’s “man” and “he” in the generic sense.  Women and men are equally included in this statement.

The top image was crafted by a Polish metal smith artist.  It can be purchased here: http://www.polandbymail.com/i/5940/silver-plated-icon-the-holy-family-1-9×12.htm

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Lourdes

So sorry for forgetting to post this yesterday!  I’m sure those of you who would like to pray along may still do so, though.

From http://www.gerardnadal.com:

Prayer

Be blessed, O most pure Virgin, for having vouchsafed to manifest your shining with life, sweetness and beauty, in the Grotto of Lourdes, saying to the child, St. Bernadette: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” A thousand times we congratulate you upon your Immaculate Conception. And now, O ever Immaculate Virgin, Mother of mercy, Health of the sick, Refuge of sinners, Comforter of the afflicted, you know our wants, our troubles, our sufferings deign to cast upon us a look of mercy.

DAY NINE

O glorious Mother of God, to you we raise our hearts and hands to implore your powerful intercession in obtaining from the benign Heart of Jesus all the graces necessary for our spiritual and temporal welfare, particularly for the grace of a happy death. O Mother of our Divine Lord, as we conclude this novena for the special favor we seek at this time.

That your beloved Son send His Holy Sprit upon this nation in its hour of despair, to enlighten every heart, showing the sacredness of all human life from the moment of conception until natural death; that through this tragedy the scales will fall from the nation’s eyes and all will see the seamless garment of human life and dignity.

We feel animated with confidence that your prayers in our behalf will be graciously heard. O Mother of My Lord, through the love you bear to Jesus Christ and for the glory of His Name, hear our prayers and obtain our petitions.
O Brilliant star of purity, Mary Immaculate, Our Lady of Lourdes, glorious in your assumption, triumphant in your coronation, show unto us the mercy of the Mother of God, Virgin Mary, Queen and Mother, be our comfort, hope, strength, and consolation. Amen.

Read more: http://www.ewtn.com/devotionals/novena/lourdes.htm#day9#ixzz2FvVPwYJd

Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.

Saint Bernadette, pray for us.

To leave an encouraging comment for those affected by this tragedy, go to http://gerardnadal.com/2012/12/23/novena-to-our-lady-of-lourdes-for-healing-the-wounds-of-newtown-and-sandy-hook-day-9/

Photo also from Dr. Nadal’s blog.

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Lourdes

From http://www.gerardnadal.com:

As we continue our nine days of prayer, please leave your supportive messages for the folks in Newtown and Sandy Hook in the comments section here on the blog. They’ll be seeing them, I assure you. Each night as we pray for the entire community, we’ll lift up in a special way different groups within that population. Thanks for joining in. God Bless you and your loved ones.

Day 1 here.

Day 2 here.

Day 3 here.


Day 4 here.

Day 5 here.

Day 6 here.

Day 7 here.

Prayer

Be blessed, O most pure Virgin, for having vouchsafed to manifest your shining with life, sweetness and beauty, in the Grotto of Lourdes, saying to the child, St. Bernadette: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” A thousand times we congratulate you upon your Immaculate Conception. And now, O ever Immaculate Virgin, Mother of mercy, Health of the sick, Refuge of sinners, Comforter of the afflicted, you know our wants, our troubles, our sufferings deign to cast upon us a look of mercy.

DAY EIGHT

O Immaculate Mother of God, from heaven itself you came to appear to the little Bernadette in the rough Grotto of Lourdes! And as Bernadette knelt at your feet and the miraculous spring burst forth and as multitudes have knelt ever since before your shrine, O Mother of God, we kneel before you today to ask that in your mercy you plead with your Divine Son to grant the special favor we seek in this novena.

We pray tonight for all of the citizens of Sandy Hook and Newtown, that Christmas brings a reprieve from the trauma of these past eight days. We pray, too, for eternal rest for all 28 people who died in the madness of that day, especially for those most in need of your Son’s mercy.

O Brilliant star of purity, Mary Immaculate, Our Lady of Lourdes, glorious in your assumption, triumphant in your coronation, show unto us the mercy of the Mother of God, Virgin Mary, Queen and Mother, be our comfort, hope, strength, and consolation. Amen.

Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.

Saint Bernadette, pray for us.

To leave an encouraging comment for those affected by this tragedy, go to http://gerardnadal.com/2012/12/22/novena-to-our-lady-of-lourdes-for-healing-the-wounds-of-newtown-and-sandy-hook-day-8/

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