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Archive for January, 2013

Game-of-Thrones

For those who have not seen this series or read the books, please be aware that there are some spoilers in this post.

Before I begin, the first thing I want to comment on with regard to royalty and its attendant power in “Game of Thrones” is the Iron Throne itself, the seat of the High King, for which the great houses of the Seven Kingdoms vie passionately and furiously.

The Iron Throne, as “Ice and Fire” aficionados well know, is made from the weapons of vanquished enemies.  This, of course, brings to mind the throne from which Jesus Christ reigns: the Cross.  The Cross was the weapon of the worldly powers that put Him to death and, moreover, is permanently symbolic of the weapon wielded by the ultimate enemy (Satan) — namely, death itself.

As King of the New Creation, Christ has transformed the cross from a symbol of fear and death into a symbol of hope, and death itself from the end of life into the beginning of new and eternal life.  How’s that for taking the weapon of a vanquished enemy and making a throne out of it?

Now that I’ve given my $0.02 on that, let’s take a look at how different individuals take on the role of kingly leadership in “Game of Thrones.”

Robert-Baratheon-house-baratheon-29677198-1066-719

First, we have Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy), who we meet at the beginning of the series.  Robert has reigned as High King over the Seven Kingdoms for fifteen years.  We get the impression that he was once a great and noble warrior, but has since grown fat, lazy, and lecherous.  We might say that he has become far too comfortable with the privileges and luxuries of kingship.

David_Bathsheba

It may surprise many people, but a Biblical parallel to Robert Baratheon is King David, the prototype of Israelite monarchs himself.  The Second Book of Samuel portrays David as growing lax amid the comfort and security of his kingship, having been granted the throne of Israel and protection from his enemies by God:

At the turn of the year, when kings go out on campaign, David sent out Joab along with his officers and the army of Israel, and they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. David, however, remained in JerusalemOne evening David rose from his siesta and strolled about on the roof of the palace.

-2 Samuel 11:1-2 (italics mine)

David’s “stroll” is immediately followed by the beginning of his adulterous affair with Bathsheba, which in turn leads to the murder of her husband, Uriah.  David let his guard down against sin, and he is chastised for his resultant actions almost immediately:

Now, therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house…

-2 Samuel 12:10

The situation in which Robert Baratheon finds himself has some similarities to the consequences that follow David’s sin.

Joffrey

In his son, Prince Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), we have a sort of Absalom-like figure whose spirit of treason and rebellion threatens to undermine his father’s authority.

Jaime-Cersei-jaime-lannister-23339624-1226-816Also, Robert misses an incestuous relationship going on more or less right under his nose.  His Queen, Cersei (Lena Headey) — formerly of House Lannister — is having an affair with her twin brother, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau).  Broadly speaking, this bears some similarity to an incident that occurs between two of King David’s children (David’s son, Amnon, rapes his daughter, Tamar).

Whatever similarities and differences there are, I think we can say this: The smugness and laxity that characterize the reigns of both King Robert and King David lead to and reinforce a sort of powerlessness on their parts.  Ultimately, this powerlessness leads to ruin (although there is redemption in David’s case).

Though this particular “flavor” of bad leadership differs from the raw and driven lust for power and domination that one sees in a Hitler or a Stalin, both derive from the same thing: The ego.

Robert Baratheon 2

A sad and telling aspect of King Robert’s brand of egotism is his paranoia with regard to any perceived threat to the security of his throne, which comes across most clearly in his fanatical obsession with finding and killing Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke).  Daenerys, by the way, is the exiled daughter of the former High King, from whom Robert won the crown by conquest.  When his loyal friend, Eddard Stark (Sean Bean), tries to talk sense to him, he writes him off as a traitor.

That’s the ego for you.  The ego would prefer to remain comfortably ensconced in its position of security, comfort, and/or power.  As such, it is hostile to any “outsiders” who might reach out to it, anyone or anything it perceives as a threat to its insulated existence.

For Robert, I think we can say that this insulated existence comes in the form of kingship.  And when this self-obsessed form of egotism is elevated to a high level of authority…well, let’s just say that in Robert’s case it is arguable that this becomes the catalyst for the upheaval that will soon overtake the Seven Kingdoms.

Stay tuned for reflections on more kingly figures from the world of Westeros.

Image of Paolo Veronese’s “Bathsheba at her Bath” from http://www.wikipedia.org.  Remaining images obtained through a Google image search.

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I’ve been working on my first official “Game of Thrones” post.  Of course, I had meant to have it up by tonight, but it undoubtedly needs more work.  I hope there are some fellow perfectionists out there who understand how hard it can be to craft a truly good post.  Please be patient as I give it a little more time to “breathe.”

In the meantime, as we reach the middle of the work week and continue to plow through, here is a great quote from the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen that I think everyone can agree with:

Bp Sheen

The average American is physically, biologically, psychologically and neurologically unable to do anything worthwhile before he has a cup of coffee.  And that goes for prayer too.  Even sisters in convents whose rules were written before electric percolators were developed would do well to update their procedures.  Let them have coffee before meditation.

-From the book “The Priest is Not His Own”

Photo from http://www.wikipedia.org.

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Game-of-ThronesI have been meaning for a while to begin a series of reflections on the popular HBO fantasy/drama “Game of Thrones.”  Some of you will remember me offering some passing thoughts in my Nov. 26 post, “Why ‘Into the Dance?'” (www.intothedance.wordpress.com/2012/11/26/why-into-the-dance/).  But there is a lot more to be said about the philosophical and, indeed, religious implications of this rather estimable saga.

George_R_R_Martin_2011_ShankboneFirst, some clarification: I am not presuming to suggest that George R.R. Martin, the author of the series of novels on which “Game of Thrones” is based, intends to use this story to make converts to Catholicism.  In an interview from a year or so ago, Martin described himself as a “very lapsed” Catholic.

But one thing I think one can see very consistently with artists, philosophers, and others who were raised Catholic is that even when they break away from the practice and beliefs of their faith, in a certain sense they remain Catholic in their imaginations.  The richly textured worldview of their native Catholicism in some way informs their work.  Perhaps this happens subconsciously in some cases, but it does happen.

“Game of Thrones” is not without its problems (what work of art is?).  But God is always soliciting man to draw near to Him, and man is always seeking Him…even if he often does so in the wrong way (that is to say, he often transfers his infinite desire for Got to the pursuit of finite goods).

As the great fourth-century theologian St. Augustine of Hippo famously said:

You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.

I think that in “Game of Thrones,” as anywhere, one can see “Seeds of the Word,” which speak everywhere of both God and humankind.  My hope is to explore some of these “seeds” in this popular contemporary phenomenon as they suggest themselves to me, and hopefully to engage in discussion with someone about them.  As I have said before, disagreements are welcome, provided they are accompanied by civility.

Now, I must confess that I have thus far only seen the show’s first season.  So obviously, my perspective on the series is limited.  That said, I think this is a great opportunity to explore one of the terrains where faith and culture meet.  Whatever comes of it, I look forward to the adventure (call it the “dance,” if you like).

Top image obtained through a Google image search.  Picture of George R.R. Martin obtained from http://www.wikipedia.org.

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This video is from a Youtube user named marcjohnpaul:

With all of the heated emotions that characterize the abortion debate, an essential element of the pro-life movement can easily get lost.  The element in question is celebration.

As I said in my November 22 post, “Celebration and Thanksgiving — Same Thing,” celebration is what life is all about.  The “March for Life,” the pro-life movement’s great annual event in Washington, D.C., brings this truth to the forefront.  It is a celebration of life — all life, whether of babies or mothers, born or unborn, young or old.

Now I know that we pro-lifers can easily be perceived as “finger-waggers,” as people bent on defending “outdated” worldviews without a shred of sympathy or understanding for women who face unwanted pregnancies.  But our message is, at the end of the day, an invitation to joy.

What it comes down to is this: Each and every one of us is responsible for each and every other…even — indeed, especially — for the weakest and most helpless among us.  The obligation to defend life at all levels is not a burden.  Rather, it is a reminder that in the grand scheme of things, not one of us is alone; in fact, interrelatedness goes deeper than we think.  To take responsibility for our fellow human beings is to live out our belief in this wonderful and liberating truth.

And for women facing unwanted pregnancies, the pro-life movement is also an invitation to hope.  While unwanted pregnancies can be terribly painful, we express our care for and fellowship with these women by pleading with them not to give into fear or despair.  We seek to empower them to choose life and thereby not only give the world more precious children, but also serve as beacons of hope themselves.

Here is another Fr. Barron video — if you don’t have time to watch the whole thing, watch up until 4:30.  Fr. Barron offers a great explanation of the Catholic view of creation, the ontology of which explains the proper roots from which zeal for life should come.

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Greetings,

As I’ve said many times before, I am a Catholic.  As such, I wanted to touch on an aspect of Catholic teaching that is commonly misunderstood.

This video comes from “Bad Catholic’s Bingo Hall,” a site that explains the Catholic Faith using humorous materials.  I welcome any questions you might have.

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Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, all!  Enjoy:

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Sandy Hook

For tonight, I wanted to offer some meta-reflections — that is, reflections on reflections — with regard to the Sandy Hook tragedy.  First, let me quote from my own post from Dec. 18:

In a recent interview with WGRZ (www.wgrz.com), University of Buffalo Department of Psychiatry Chair Steven L. Dubovsky, MD, stated that many perpetrators of these types of crimes do not have any psychiatric illnesses.  Rather, they tend to be “losers” and “cowards” who seek fame and notoriety and think that this is the only way they will be able to achieve it.

I thought it would be worthwhile to explore this a little bit further.  No doubt, the “copycat” occurrences these phenomena tend to inspire illustrate this human tendency very well, even if the people involved do have some sort of special psychological “baggage.”

This is nothing new.  Violent and evil manifestations of the desire to stand out in the midst of mediocrity or apathy — or even, sometimes, to stand out against fashionable wrongs — have been around probably longer than memory or recorded history.

John Doe

An example — albeit fictional — that stands out powerfully in my mind is John Doe (Kevin Spacey), the notorious serious killer in the 1995 film “Se7en.”  Doe, as fans of the film know, chooses his victims and his methods based on each of the Seven Deadly Sins — Pride, Envy, Wrath, Greed, Lust, Gluttony, and Sloth.  He has a sort of mini-monologue at the end that cannot fail to arrest the viewer:

We see a deadly sin on every street corner, in every home, and we tolerate it.  We tolerate it because it’s common — it’s…it’s trivial.  We tolerate it morning, noon, and night.  Well, not anymore.  I’m setting the example.  And what I’ve done is going to be puzzled over and studied and followed forever.

boondock saints

We can see something a little bit similar in Troy Duffy’s 1999 film “The Boondock Saints,” in which two brothers (Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus) embark on what they consider to be a divinely ordained quest to rid Boston of its most evil criminals.  This they do vigilante style, fighting violence with violence.

Duffy’s film is bookended with two very interesting pieces.  At the beginning, a priest gives a sermon in which he tells the story of a woman being beaten and raped while crowds of people pass by and do nothing; at the end, we see what are meant to be interviews with citizens on the street who speak highly of “the saints” (the name given to the two brothers) and, to varying degrees, express their own desire to be able to behave as they do rather than succumb to apathy in the face of society’s evils.

Adam_lanza

Of course, we have no indication that Adam Lanza’s actions were geared toward fighting any kind of evil.  But I use the above examples to illustrate an overarching point: Certain things are so much a part of the human makeup that when we try, as individuals or as collectives, to suppress or ignore them, they don’t go away; instead, they come back to us in distorted, unhealthy, and destructive forms.

In the cases of John Doe and “the saints,” the quality that comes back distorted is the desire for justice.  In the case of those of whom Dr. Dubovsky speaks, the quality is broader in nature (the former can be seen as an example within the scope of this broader quality) — it is the desire to escape mediocrity.

Rediscover Catholicism

Motivational speaker Matthew Kelly, in his book “Rediscover Catholicism: A Spiritual Guide to Living with Passion & Purpose,” speaks of minimalism as one of the prevalent philosophies of our age.  We are constantly asking ourselves what is the least we can do.  Kelly calls this “the enemy of excellence and the father of mediocrity.”

The problem with this philosophy is that each and every one of us is made for excellence.  We are made in the image and likeness of our Creator and placed on this earth for a purpose.  Yet how easily we can succumb to the temptations of comfort, security, or similar things, and take the path of least resistance.

As a result, many of us lead what Henry David Thoreau called “lives of quiet desperation.”

When society as a whole fosters this sort of thing, “shadow” phenomena such as John Doe, “the saints,” and school shooters are bound to surface here and there.  But we all know — at least I hope we all know — that this is not the way to respond to our innate desire to go beyond mediocrity.  In fact, it is counterproductive, having as its end destruction rather than the building-up of the self and others.

The real answer to this quandary of ours is to become saints — real saints, not boondock saints.  It is to love — to give of ourselves without expecting anything in return.  It is to pursue changes in our character, so that we not only do the right things, but desire the right things.  It is also to discover our purpose in life, what we are called to do.  We are all called to discover and cultivate those unique talents in ourselves whereby we may contribute to the growth of truth, goodness, and beauty in the world.

This does not, of course, mean that we must strive for extraordinary feats of heroism.  Some are called to those, yes.  But as Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta famously said:

We cannot do great things on this earth, only small things with great love.

As a Catholic, I believe that in entrusting ourselves to God and prayerfully discerning what it is He wants us to do, we have a sure escape from the “quiet desperation” that would like to haunt us all to the grave.  If more of us live this way, just maybe our “societal subconscious” will feel the need to spit out fewer and fewer John Does, “saints,” and school shooters.

Photos of Sandy Hook and Adam Lanza from http://www.wikipedia.org; photo of “Rediscovering Catholicism” from http://www.amazon.com; remaining images obtained through a Google image search.

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