Archive for November, 2013

In case you haven’t noticed by now, I’ve added a new tab.

Previously, I added pages to organize all of my movie-related posts and all of my posts dealing with religion and spirituality.

“Humor/Social Commentary/Other” is my final “indexing” page, and includes links to posts that don’t fall into the other two categories.

At some point, I may add a page featuring links to some of my favorite websites.  But until then, we’re up to date.  Thanks for reading, and I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!

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I wrote this almost a year ago…thought it was worth re-sharing, now that we are into Hanukkah 🙂

Into the Dance

First of all, let me assure my readers that the film reviews will resume soon.  I just wanted to touch on this time-sensitive topic as early as possible.


I’d like to think that it is providential that we Christians celebrate Advent during the same time that our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrate Hanukkah, the “Festival of Lights.”

Both peoples — that is, Christians and Jews — have known God’s faithfulness and care throughout the millennia, and the flames of the menorah and the Advent wreath alike call to mind the hope that comes from this faithful God — a hope carried through many turbulent centuries in the midst of turmoil, darkness, and uncertainty.

I’ve discussed the focus of Advent already, if you recall.  But what exactly is Hanukkah all about?


Hanukkah commemorates the Maccabean Revolt, which took place in Israel in the second century B.C. and is chronicled in the…

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Did I get your attention?  Good — now I can clarify that I mean “hedonism” in the broadest sense of the search for happiness.

G._K._Chesterton_at_workI am reminded of comments from the great English essayist G.K. Chesterton, who had a lot to say about the joy of a life of thanks-giving in his biography of St. Francis of Assisi.

Basically, what he said was this: Most of us, to our own misery, go through life as creditors rather than as debtors.

Now why would going through life as a creditor make one miserable?  Well, think about it…here’s the attitude that goes with it:

  • A. I am owed something…even a lot of things;
    B. I am not being given these things, and therefore I am being cheated;
    C. I’ve got to ceaselessly hound the world to give me what it owes me, or else I must be unhappy.

We could probably stop right there.  But let’s look at the alternative of living the life of a debtor — that is, someone who has been given much, and cannot possibly repay anyone or anything for it.

Now, if this indebtedness is to a creature, then we could see this causing nervousness.  But if it is to the Creator, Who needs nothing and to Whose happiness we, as creatures, could never add, then how could we live except in pure joy?

Saint FrancisTo be a Christian is to be grateful — first and foremost for the gift of the Son of God and His vicarious sacrifice for our salvation, but also for all the gifts of God.

Indeed, God Himself is pure gift.  From all eternity, the Divine Life consists of the self-giving and generous interplay of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The Father, from all eternity, gives Himself away in love to the Son.  The Son, from all eternity, gives Himself away to the Father in gratitude.  The Holy Spirit, from all eternity, is this very Love between the Father and the Son.

And God communicates this goodness to us through the gifts of life, creation, and providence.  The more we realize our reasons for gratitude, the deeper our relationship with God can become; the deeper the relationship, the greater the spiritual blessings we receive, and the more obliged we are to show gratitude…and the joyful cycle continues.

Happy Thanksgiving all.  Take care!

Images from Wikipedia

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TrainLikeTribute-595For part one, click here.

So we’ve established the Hunger Games as symbolic of the totalitarian regime that runs them (Panem) in that people are pitted against one another for survival within a controlled environment, or “small world,” and thereby kept unaware of the true enemy.

But in both of the “Hunger Games” movies that have been released, we have protagonists who fight back by refusing to play the game by Panem’s rules.

Hunger Games KissIn the first film, “The Hunger Games,” you have Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark feigning a romantic relationship, showing willingness to die rather than kill each other, and capturing the hearts of spectators.

In “Catching Fire,” we see the effect of this unique, dual victory on the people.  Katniss and Peeta become symbols of hope.  They embolden the populace and, for that very reason, are perceived by President Snow and the Panem Capital as a threat.

catchingfirefinnickkatnisspeetaAnd what is the Capital’s response?  Katniss, Peeta, and 22 others are put in an arena for the “Quarter Quell,” an event that occurs every 25 years and draws from the pool of past Hunger Games victors.

Once in the arena, several of the tributes strive to work together rather than against one another, recognizing that they share a common enemy.  But the bond they form is pretty vague, and they are operating within the enclosed “world” of the game.



But this time, Katniss takes her subversion even further by serving as a Christ-figure. This she does at the “lightning tree,” which is always struck by an artificially contrived lightning bolt at midnight (if I remember correctly).  At a decisive moment, she stands by the tree, bow aimed toward the sky, and then lets an arrow fly the moment lightning strikes.

In so doing, she redirects the lightning bolt toward the force field that holds the arena together.  This brings down the metallic ceiling of this contrived, artificial environment and disables all screens by which the Panem employees who control the games can see what’s going on.

We could look at this as a symbolic gesture: Katniss is bringing down not only the Quarter Quell arena, but also — and by extension — the false “world” created by the Capital, thereby inviting the people to see that their fundamental freedom is not, in fact, in Panem’s possession.

Hence, the rebellion is quickened.

She also shows her fellow tributes that victory cannot be achieved by playing the “game” they have been put into, even if they play through cooperation rather than competition.  If they are to achieve true victory, then there’s no way around it…they have to bring the game down.

We’ll explore the spiritual significance of this scenario in part three.  Thanks for reading.

Images obtained through a Google image search.

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Francis Lawrence’s adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ “Catching Fire” is clearly dominating the box office — and with good reason.  It’s a great film, filled with emotion, depth, artistry, and impressive visuals.

I want to begin my reflections by noting a coincidence.  This post happens to coincide with some interesting and relevant liturgical readings from the Catholic Calendar.  I’ll just share today’s first reading, in which the prophet Daniel interprets the Babylonian king’s dream of a statue with a golden head, silver chest and arms, bronze stomach and thighs, and iron legs being struck and destroyed by “a stone which was hewn from a mountain without a hand,” which stone then grew to become a mountain that would fill the whole world:

Another kingdom (silver) shall take your place, inferior to yours (gold), then a third kingdom, of bronze, which shall rule over the whole earth. There shall be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron; it shall break in pieces and subdue all these others (…) In the lifetime of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed or delivered up to another people; rather, it shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and put an end to them, and it shall stand forever. That is the meaning of the stone you saw hewn from the mountain without a hand being put to it, which broke in pieces the tile, iron, bronze, silver, and gold. The great God has revealed to the king what shall be in the future; this is exactly what you dreamed, and its meaning is sure.

(Daniel 2: 39-45) (parentheses mine)

President SnowThe reality of the transitory nature of human governments  and their total dependence on God’s permissive will accounts for both the brutality and the urgent sense of self-preservation we see in totalitarian regimes, which seek to transgress their bounds and “play God.”

Panem, the oppressive government in the post-apocalyptic “Hunger Games” series, is no exception here.  As President Snow (Donal Sutherland) basically admits in “Catching Fire,” it is a fragile system that must assert itself desperately through the use of force.

How do such governments manage to hide their vulnerability and keep people in check?  Well, an excellent tool — one used very effectively in the “Hunger Games” series — is to keep the masses trapped within a superficially tiny world, one small enough that a dictatorship could exercise complete authority in it.  What they must do, in other words, is keep people blind to the transcendent, to the larger world and/or larger reality.

catching fire arenaThe Hunger Games are wonderfully symbolic of this whole situation.  Think about it: The Panem Capital takes a group of people — “tributes” — puts them into an artificial and controlled environment, deprives them of necessities, makes them have to fight for survival every minute, and has them compete against one another for this survival.

What then happens is that they get so busy fighting each other that they lose sight of who the real enemy is.

But, of course, you have the hero figures Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) who strive to stand against the status quo.  I’ll get more into this in part two.

“Catching Fire” poster from Wikipedia; remaining images obtained through a Google image search.

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Thanksgiving MemeImage from http://www.memegenerator.net

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Just saw this movie a couple nights ago — I regret not having heard of it until recently.

I won’t launch into a full-scale review or commentary, but I want to say a quick word about I.S. 318.  While the school’s thriving chess team is, in many ways, the main focus of this movie, chess is not the only thing I.S. 318 has to offer.  They also offer their students a variety of great programs in the arts, music, technology, etc…and you get a nice snapshot of these at the beginning of the film.

Plus, they appear to have a very active student government; and whenever their school’s programs are threatened with budget cuts, the students work hard to raise necessary funds — and with remarkable success.

The whole thing reminded me very much of the the story of Eden and God’s original vision for humanity.  When we hear “Garden of Eden,” we typically think of God’s prohibition: “Do not eat from that tree.”  But we tend to become so focused on the prohibition that we forget about the far greater permission given in the very same story.

God gave to our first parents the right and the mandate to cultivate the Garden.  Many of the Early Christian Fathers saw in this His endorsement of the human project — of human flourishing in the arts, sciences, politics, and all of those very exciting things that show forth the dignity of God’s children.

When we talk about educating “the whole child,” we are getting at something much deeper than we think.  Would the world be made magically perfect if a school like Brooklyn’s I.S. 318 was replicated everywhere?  By no means…but I hope you are presupposing my acknowledgement of this in reading this article.  But I do think that in a school such as this, we can see something of the Edenic ideal in action.

One more thing: I was very impressed with the fact that the students in this documentary didn’t whine about their school’s budget problems or sit around waiting for the City to give them more money.  They took ownership for their school, and for the programs that meant so much to them.  That’s another aspect of God’s vision for humanity that we need to recover: Personal responsibility…agency…free will.

Anyway, I’d recommend the movie. (I would also recommend reading the first few chapters of Genesis, but one thing at a time :))

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I was recently involved in a conversation about infant baptism.  A lot of people question the practice, and there are some who outright object to it.  To be fair, it’s not easy for people of our age and culture to understand.  But I’d like to take a moment to try and explain it a little, for anyone who would like to read it.

The objection goes something like this: “A baby is not capable of making a spiritual commitment or of putting his/her faith in Christ.  Therefore, to baptize an infant really doesn’t make sense.”

Let’s give the other side their due: Infants are certainly not capable of a leap of faith.  But it is equally true to say that infants are incapable of feeding themselves.  Are we, for that reason, going to refrain from feeding them?  Should we not, according to the aforementioned logic, be saying, “It would make no sense to feed them now; let’s wait until they get old enough to decide for themselves what they like to eat”?

Spiritual nourishment is no less important than physical nourishment, and Christian parents have understood that from the earliest centuries.  I understand why people today have a different idea, since our modern Western culture tends more toward an emphasis on personal autonomy and responsibility (that, too, has an indispensable place in the spiritual life — that would be more what the sacrament of Confirmation is all about).  But there’s one key thing we have to remember about the spiritual life of any person.

Here it is…

God must act first.

Apart from grace, we cannot live the spiritual life.

“Yes,” my fellow debater will reply, “but God already did that through Jesus Christ on the Cross.”

You will get no argument from me there.  But one of the greatest and most exciting things about God’s work in the world is that He does not despise space, time, and matter.  Indeed, He acts in and through material things, which become the means of our contact with Him.  That’s what the sacramental life is all about.

Far from adding to or taking away from the Sacrifice of Christ, Baptism is how that saving Sacrifice becomes applied to the individual particularly.  It is the door to the spiritual life, to the divine life that God wants to share with us not just hereafter, but here and now.

There are a lot of issues to address when it comes to infant baptism, and there’s a lot more I could say about it.  But I think this post is long enough.  Maybe I’ll return to this topic another time.  Thanks for reading.

Image from Wikipedia

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The clip I’m going to share — which is roughly 11 minutes long — is from last week’s episode of “The World Over,” a weekly news show on EWTN.  Two guests share concerns about the new Common Core (CC) that is being implemented for education in America.

Please note that while the interviewees’ intended focus is specifically on how the CC will affect Catholic education, the issues they touch on reflect the concerns of many public school teachers as well (in fact, I would say that the overall focus is on the CC itself, not on Catholic education as such).

Click here to see the interview.

Image from Wikipedia

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We began by looking at the heroic likeness between veterans and priests, and then proceeded to examine the reflection of priestly spirituality in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings.”

Here are two additional works of art in which we get a glimpse at priestly heroism:

2. Game of Thrones

Jon-Snow-Jeor-MormontFor me, the “Night’s Watch” along Westeros’ Great Wall has an obvious connection with the priesthood.  Did author George R.R. Martin intend this?  Can’t say…but I know he was raised Catholic, and I’m sure the Marists who were responsible for his early education must have at least given him the “raw material” for this part of the story.

Here we have men who forgo the lives of husbands and fathers, leave their natural families behind, and together form a new family with a common purpose: Defending the Seven Kingdoms against supernatural enemies in which no one any longer believes (probably as a result of the complacency that has developed out of the safety they have enjoyed so long because of the Watch’s protection).  In the extreme cold of the North, deprived of common comforts and, for all intents and purposes, almost forgotten, they persevere in the face of dangers both natural and supernatural, and on their watch the Seven Kingdoms are kept safe.

One of my favorite scenes from the first season of the HBO series occurs in one of the last episodes.  Novice Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) attempts to leave the watch in order to help his brother, Rob Stark, in his battle against a usurper king.  Jeor Mormont (James Cosmo), the Lord Commander of the Watch, confronts him with this question: “Is your brother’s war more important than our war?”

He goes on to ask what difference it would make “who sits upon the Iron Throne” when the supernatural threat stirring in the North came upon the world.  Their war, like the war of our priests and of all believers, is with supernatural powers that stand outside the ages and threaten us all.

St. Paul puts it this way:

For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. (Ephesians 6:12)

3. The Exorcist

max-and-miller-andsoitbeginsfilms-comFinally, we must look at what is arguably the most favorable portrayal of the priesthood in Hollywood in the last 40 years — a portrayal that occurs in what is arguably the most frightening movie of all time: William Friedkin’s adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s “The Exorcist.”

Most people hear “The Exorcist” and think of Regan MacNeil, the sweet-little-girl-turned-green-vomit-spouting-demon-possessed-monster.  But I think too few of us pay attention to the role of the two priests who drive the demon out of her: Fr. Merrin (Max von Sydow) and Fr. Damian Karras (Jason Miller).

SPOILER ALERT: Both priests die in the exorcism process (not unheard of, believe it or not).

Even prior to this, we see those heartbreaking scenes in which the demon torments Fr. Damian with the guilt and memory of his recently deceased mother.  (Indeed, that is something anyone who would participate in an exorcism is advised to be aware of.  The devils can read our thoughts, and they know our secrets.  Anyone directly involved in the exorcism process is fair game for this kind of thing.)

And then, at the end of the movie, freed from possession and ready to begin life anew with her mother, Regan encounters a priest in the street…and gives him a kiss on the cheek.  She realizes all too well that the collar is the mark of a brave and selfless warrior.

I want to make it clear that I am not in any way trying to take attention away from our military veterans.  By comparing our priests and our veterans, I only want to point out one of the many demonstrations of how the Church, while transcending history, nevertheless takes its place within history, uniting Herself to the world in its joys, hopes, sorrows, and struggles.

With these joys, hopes, etc. in mind, let’s end with this video:

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