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Archive for December, 2014

Frozen_(2013_film)_poster

Working on the fourth and final installment of my commentary on Disney’s “Frozen.”  I hadn’t intended for it to take this long, of course — but what with the holidays, the more time-sensitive “Advent, Waiting, and Preparation” posts, and the details of professional and personal life, I have had to stretch the series out a bit.

Like I said, I’m working on it — just want to make sure I do it right.

In the meantime, I thought to myself: “Self, why not do a quickie on an aspect of the film that stood out in your mind, but would not have fit very comfortably into the overall analysis?”

Frozen_Olaf

The “aspect” in question is actually Olaf the Snowman (voiced by Josh Gad).  Fans of the movie will undoubtedly recall the endearing dance number that summarizes this quite literally “cool” little guy’s dream of seeing summer.

Olaf’s desire is actually not that different from the deepest desire of the human heart: The desire for God.

We are made for eternal friendship with God — indeed, for nothing less than the very vision of God as He is.  We may not all realize this explicitly, but we know that we desire perfection and unlimited goodness and beauty, whatever that may mean.

But this is something well beyond our natural capacity as creatures, and all the more unattainable by our own powers on account of our fallen nature.  If any one of us were to attempt to approach this destiny in its fullness in our current state, it would destroy us (just as it would destroy us if we were to walk right up to the sun, were such a thing possible).

Sound vaguely familiar with regard to “Frozen”?  Olaf’s desire for summer is laudable, but tragically incompatible with his physical make-up.

Elsa_Olaf

Yet by way of a gift from Elsa at the end of the film, he is made able to partake of summer without melting.  In a similar way, God wills to bestow upon all of us, in His Son Jesus Christ, the grace to be fit for and to partake in His joy, His life.

How’s that for a “warm hug?”  Thanks for reading 🙂

Movie poster from Wikipedia; remaining images obtained through a Google image search

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Clark GriswoldTexted to me by a trusty acquaintance 🙂

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A t-shirt I got for Christmas, from a fellow “Parks and Recreation” fan:

Ron Swanson

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Twelve_pins

Deep peace of the running waves to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.Deep peace of the smiling stars to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the watching shepherds to you.
Deep peace of the Son of Peace to you.

Image from Wikipedia

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This is Dr. Taylor Marshall (of the New Saint Thomas Institute) and his family wishing folks a Merry Christmas.  Enjoy!

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Thorin Oakenshield

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Please click here for parts one through four.

10. The Virgin Mary

Virgin's_first_seven_steps

(Mosaic, “The Virgin’s first seven steps”)

Less than two decades (perhaps even less than one) after the Holy Land becomes Roman territory, Israel’s most precious jewel yet is born: The Blesséd Virgin Mary.  By a special grace from God, Mary is conceived in her mother’s womb without Original Sin and perfectly preserved from all personal sin throughout her life (see post on the Immaculate Conception).  She is totally dedicated to God in all her being — heart, soul, and body.

She lives a simple, hidden life, and yet we cannot grasp just how much of a novelty is her presence in the world.  She is the first sinless human being to exist since Adam and Eve before the Fall.  Once again, remember the proto-evangelion, the prophecy of the woman and her offspring?

Well, this is the woman.

11. The Star of the Magi

Star of BethlehemWe all know the story — a group of wise men who study the heavens are led, from the east, by the light of a new star to the humble birthplace of Jesus Christ.

In the magi, representatives of the neighbouring pagan religions [at least one of whom probably inherited the spiritual tradition of Zoroaster, whom we referenced in step #7], the Gospel sees the first-fruits of the nations, who welcome the good news of salvation through the Incarnation. (. . .) [T]hey seek in Israel, in the messianic light of the star of David, the one who will be king of the nations.

(CCC 528 – bracketed comment mine)

Remember, the coming of Christ is the fulfillment of the Noahic Covenant with all the nations (cf. #3) as well as the Old Covenant.  But the magi do not find this fulfillment in a vacuum.  Rather, they find their King only among His People, the Jews.  Not only that, they find Him under the custodianship of Joseph, a descendant of King David (lineages in ancient Israel were always traced through the father, even if the child was adopted).  And to narrow it down even further, they find Him in the arms of the Immaculate Virgin Mary.

And finally…

12. John the Baptist

San_Juan_Bautista_por_Joan_de_JoanesTrue, St. John the Baptist comes onto the scene well after the birth of Christ.  But at this point, Christ has not yet publicly revealed Himself.  It was for Jesus’ public ministry that John paved the way, and for that reason he is one of the Church’s favorite figures during the Advent season.

John, the son of a Levite High Priest, comes to Israel after undertaking a long period of fasting, penance, prayer, and mortification in the dessert, preaching the urgent need for repentance and the immanence of the Kingdom of God.  He is the last and greatest prophet of the Old Testament tradition and the forerunner of the Messiah.  He preaches and administers a baptism of repentance and exhorts the people to be ready to meet their Savior…

Baptism of Christ…until at last he comes face-to-face with Him in the Jordan.

Thank you for taking this Advent journey with me.  Happy waiting!

Images from Wikipedia

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For parts one through three, click here

8. The Prophets

IsaiahThis milestone doesn’t so much follow the previous one as run alongside it. Whereas #7 dealt with the axial age among the gentiles, #8 deals with the corresponding situation among the Chosen People.

What we might call the “Age of the Prophets” begins just as the Davidic Dynasty (cf. #6) begins to decline.  The kings of Israel depart from the way of the Lord, and the people soon follow.  Idols are worshiped.  The poor and needy are abused and neglected.  God is honored by lips, but spurned by hearts.

As punishment, God hands Israel over to foreign conquerors.  The armies of Babylon and Assyria sweep into the land; Jerusalem is laid waste; the Temple Solomon had built, which was to be the privileged place of God’s presence on earth, is desecrated and destroyed; the line of David is all but wiped out; and God’s people are led into exile.

Of course, the prophets warn the Israelites of the calamity that will come upon them if they do not turn back to the Lord…but they are ignored and mocked.  By the time the people realize they should have listened, it is too late.  But in Israel’s exile, the prophets mourn with them.  They assure the exiles that though God punishes them, He still loves them and grieves over their fall.  What is more, they assure them that He will one day bring them back to their land and restore Israel.

Equally “fleshed out” during this period of salvation history are God’s sovereignty and justice, His untiring fidelity to His people (even when they are unfaithful), His absolute mastery over history (even when it seems like His plans are being foiled), the unfathomable greatness of His tender love and mercy, and His closeness to the poor, humble, and contrite of heart.

Even when the exiles are finally led back to Israel a generation or so later, God continues to send prophets to give them hope.  They foretell a time soon to come, when God will write His law onto the hearts of His people.  They speak of “a radical redemption of the People of God, purification from all their infidelities, a salvation which will include all the nations” (CCC 64).  They even foretell the restoration of the line of David:

(…) a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.

(Isaiah 11:1)

And here we have clear expectation of the Messiah — “the anointed one” — at whose hands this salvation will take place.

9. The Roman Empire

Pax RomanaLate in the first century B.C., Rome takes control of most of the known world.  Through its ingenuity in law, architecture, and government, it brings about a period of relative peace known as the “Pax Romana” and connects the various regions of the world in ways heretofore unknown, making travel — both by land and by sea — relatively safe and easy.

According to the prophets of Israel, the word of God will be carried to all nations once the Messiah has come.  With Rome’s aforementioned achievement, the stage is set for this to happen.

Three more milestones to go, and we should be able to take care of them all in the next post.

Images from Wikipedia

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For parts one and two, click here

“Beware the frozen heart.”  That’s the warning of the singing icemen in the opening scene of “Frozen.”  We take that as the theme of this third installment of our analysis.

frozen_trollWe turn to the unlikely “love experts” in the iceman Kristoff’s (Jonathan Groff) social circle: The Trolls.

We meet them at the very beginning, when Anna (at this point a young child) is taken to them for healing after Elsa, with her magical powers, accidentally paralyzes her.  And then we cross paths with them yet again after Elsa (Idina Menzel) accidentally freezes Anna’s (Kristen Bell) heart when the latter tries to get her to return to Arendelle.

Grandpa Troll (Ciarán Hinds) declares that a frozen heart can only be cured by an act of true love.  And if it doesn’t happen soon, Anna will be frozen forever.

anna saves elsaUnexpectedly, it is Anna who saves Elsa by an act of true love.  Prince Hans approaches Elsa on the ice, sword in hand, ready to execute her for the murder of her sister — a verdict that he himself has passed falsely.

Fortunately for her, Anna is on the scene.  She jumps in the way just as the clock runs out; she freezes into an ice statue, blocking Hans’ blow.

Elsa weeps for her sister’s apparent demise; but right on the tail of her tears comes a miracle: Anna “thaws out” and reawakens, her frozen heart fully cured.

The act of true love that saves Anna ends up being her own.

frozen-happy-endingOf course, she saves Elsa as well — and not just from Hans’ blow.  She shows her that true love is, in fact, the elusive key to keeping her powers in check — a key Elsa has longed for her whole life, but has never been able to find.

So now we must explore the $1,000,000 question: What is this “true love” of which Grandpa Troll speaks?

As mentioned in the prelude to this series of posts, love is to will the good of the other as other — to give of oneself for the life, for the happiness, for the good of a brother, a sister, a friend, or anyone.

For human beings made in the image of the Triune God, for whom it is not good to be alone (Gen. 2: 18), love also entails a certain vulnerability to the other.  In other words, the belovéd open themselves up to one another, in some sense becoming part of one another (in the natural sphere this reaches its height in true romantic love, but all forms of love are characterized by this to varying degrees and in different ways).

St. Thomas AquinasOne of history’s greatest commentators on the virtue of love (if not the greatest) was St. Thomas Aquinas.  Writing in the 13th century, he identified four particular effects of love, one of which is relevant to our analysis — namely, the effect of melting

…which is opposed to freezing.  For things that are frozen are … hard to pierce.  (. . .) Consequently the freezing or hardening of the heart is a disposition incompatible with love: while melting denotes a softening of the heart, whereby the heart shows itself to be ready for the entrance of the beloved.

(Summa Theologiae I-II, 28, 5, quoted in Peter Kreeft’s “Summa of the Summa”; bold added)

HansBetrayelAnna makes a shrewd observation at the end of the film when addressing Hans: “The only one around here with a frozen heart is you.”

Indeed, the physical aspects of frozenness (terrible as they are) pale in comparison to the sickness of a truly frozen heart — a heart focused on its own interests and ambitions, closed to the needs and desires of others.  Anna submits herself to the former (at least in a sense — she could have focused on seeking help for herself instead of putting her energy into saving Elsa) in response to the promptings of her “melting heart,” and through this submission even her apparent death by frozenness brings about salvation.

I have a little bit more to say, and then I’m done.  Thanks for reading.

Image of St. Thomas Aquinas from Wikipedia; movie stills obtained through a Google image search

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For parts one and two, click here.  We are taking a “tour” of the milestones — some more official than others — by which God prepared the world for the first coming of Christ, so as to better appreciate the “waiting spirituality” of Advent.

7. The “Axial Age”

Antiokhos_IVWe step for a moment outside the history of divine revelation (though without  any chronological deviation, since the period in question begins over 200 years after King David’s reign) to take a look at how God was secretly preparing the gentile world for the coming of Christ.

“Axial age” is a term coined by German philosopher Karl Jaspers to describe the period between 800 and 200 B.C, during which we see unprecedented and momentous developments in human thought and religion.

In Greece, we find the the philosophies of Heraclitus, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and others.  In Persia, we have Zarathustra and the new monotheistic (or at least monotheistic-leaning) religion of Zoroastrianism.  In India, we have the founders of Jainism as well as Siddhartha Gautama, founder of Buddhism.  And then in China, we have Confucius and Lao-Tzu.

Let’s consider the overall historical picture we are getting here.  Throughout the known world, there is a shift in emphasis from mere exterior ritual to actual interior righteousness, from superstition to conscience and right thinking, from the fatalism of many a pagan worldview to the fostering of a virtuous and well-ordered life and society.  We find a surge in passion for learning the meaning of life and for the pursuit of true wisdom.

And this is all happening in places with no discernible contact with one another, either prior to or during this 6oo-year time frame.

Axial_AgeThe Greek philosophers almost deserve their own spot on this list, given their mighty influence on the development of Western thought and culture.  Arguably, their great genius was the love of reason.  From Socrates, Plato, and many others, we learn that truth and wisdom are not esoteric realms of experience accessible only to a tribal shaman or to a few enlightened sages.  Rather, truth is knowable, and can be found by anyone who seeks it; there are even categories we can use to discuss and explore it.

IsaiahAnd then there are the Prophets of Israel, whom Jaspers includes in his analysis of the Axial age.  But they belong in a class of their own, so we’ll talk about them next time.  Thanks for reading.

Images from Wikipedia

 

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