Archive for May, 2015

Some More Art…

I haven’t been blogging nearly as much as I would like lately — partly because I have been hard at work on another project, and partly because life is too short to be blogging all the time (as much as we all love it, we know it’s true).

Eager to reinsert myself in the proverbial saddle, I thought I’d share some of the artwork I’ve been able to do with and for the individuals with whom I work:

Sand ArtSand art depiction of the solar system

surfboardA shiny-edged surfboard to go with a Hawaii theme

And last but not least…

TurtleA turtle “with heart,” which I made with the help of co-workers

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enterbirdman-movie-review3mctFor parts 1 and 2, click here

This has never happened before…never once.  I sincerely thought my series on the movie “Birdman” needed a third post, but subsequent reflection and a rough draft have led me to question the necessity thereof.

But I am a firm believer in delivering on what one has promised, and so I will make a very, very brief observation.

The film ends with a hallucinatory sequence in which Riggan (Michael Keaton) encounters his alter ego, the “Birdman,” who convinces him of his almost god-like greatness; Riggan responds to this not by pursuing further superhero fame, but by going through with his Broadway play and blowing his own nose off to make it a success.

His willingness to do this to himself betrays a misguided instinct, but it suggests that he has the right idea of what makes for true greatness.

How do we become great?  By looking up.  If we look down, we are drawn to what is lower than ourselves (an interesting study of this is Gollum from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy; see The Fellowship of the Ring, chapter 2).  This is how we get sucked into superficial pursuits, including that of worldly greatness.  And if we look neither up nor down but merely at ourselves, we make ourselves static and fail to go anywhere.

But to look up, to strive for the service of something higher than ourselves — this is greatness.

Christ's Wounds“Caravaggio – The Incredulity of Saint Thomas” by Original uploader was Dante Alighieri at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User:Tm using CommonsHelper.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas.jpg#/media/File:Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas.jpg

And to look toward the Highest is to begin to be a saint, one who (literally or figuratively) bleeds for the One Who bled for us.

See, I told you I’d be quick 🙂

Movie still obtained through a Google image search; image of Christ from Wikipedia

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Many of you have probably seen this already, but I thought it worth re-sharing 🙂

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Rosary NovenaIt’s not my custom to post on Sundays, but I wanted to share with any interested parties this nine-day Novena that began on Thursday and extends through Friday (I know, I’m a little late in sharing…my bad).

The faithful are invited, each day, to do the following for peace in the U.S. (or in whatever country they live) and around the world — and please bear in mind that all three can be done simultaneously (i.e., #’s 1 and 3 can be incorporated into #2):

  1. Pray at least 5 decades of the Rosary
  2. Spend at least one hour with Jesus in the Blesséd Sacrament (and if you can’t get to an open church, you can make a spiritual pilgrimage to the nearest Tabernacle at home or wherever)
  3. Pray the following prayer:

Queen of the Rosary, Sweet Virgin of Fatima, who hast deigned to appear in the land of Portugal and hast brought peace, both interior and exterior, to that once so troubled country, we beg of thee to watch over our dear homeland and to assure its moral and spiritual revival.

Bring peace to all nations of the world, so that all, and our nation in particular, may be happy to call thee their Queen and the Queen of Peace.

Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for our country.  Our lady of Fatima, obtain for all humanity a durable peace.

Image courtesy of Matt Swaim, who got it from one “Mother Seraphina”

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BirdmanIn part one, we explored Riggan Thomson’s (Michael Keaton) departure from the world of comic book movie entertainment to enter the emotionally and artistically richer world of theater, how this shows a desire to move from superficiality to what is genuinely admirable, and how this in turn betrays a deeper quest for love.

But before we divinize Broadway, we should observe that we see the opposite extreme of Blockbuster Hollywood here: An artistic phariseeism peopled by high culture elitists who seem to think themselves better than the general populace.

lindsay_duncanIf we need a tangible embodiment of this atmosphere, we have it in theater critic Tabitha Dickinson (Lindsay Duncan).  Without knowing anything about Riggan’s play, Dickinson vows to destroy it.  She is disgusted by the thought of “spoiled” and “entitled” Hollywood actors who capitalize on cultural garbage coming into the pristine firmament of the theater thinking they can find success.

Upon encountering Riggan in a bar, she makes her authority felt in no uncertain terms: No one succeeds on the stage unless she says so.

Riggan could easily give up at this point.  This woman is the most powerful critic on the scene, and her opinion alone will make or break the play (regardless even of the audience’s response).  And discouragement is surely only compounded by the fact that Riggan has put everything he has into this project, and has nothing else left.

Okay — so what does Riggan do?  Well, he goes through with the opening performance; and when he gets to the scene in which his character commits suicide, he uses a real gun with real bullets

birdman-2014-movie-michael-keaton-riggan-thomson-gun-screenshot…and fires a real shot at himself.

Riggan_HospitalHe leaves himself alive, but without a nose.

The result is staggering.  The play gets rave reviews all over the place, including that of Tabitha Dickinson!  Commenting on the shedding of blood “both literal and figurative” on stage, she says that Riggan has reinvigorated theater with the lifeblood it has long lacked.

Let’s be clear on something: Bringing a loaded gun onto the stage during a live performance is stupid, and using it to blow your own nose off is stupider still.  But looking past the misguided particulars, what general principle(s) can we see operating here?

A legitimate question we can ask anyone — most of all ourselves — who claims to love someone or something is this: What does it cost you?  If it is love, and not just another accretion on the barque of your ego, you must prove it by somehow pouring yourself into it.

So there, I think, is the principle we are after: There is a part of each one of us that looks for something worth costing us not only sweat, but blood.  (This need not be literal, of course.  Blood is the life of the body, and has been used as a symbol of vitality for ages).  This is how we know that something is important to us, and I think it is how Tabitha knew how seriously Riggan took the theater.

Christ_Carrying_the_Cross_1580“Christ Carrying the Cross 1580” by El Greco – Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Christ_Carrying_the_Cross_1580.jpg#/media/File:Christ_Carrying_the_Cross_1580.jpg

Which brings me to my concluding thought for this installment.  Many people think Catholicism, with its focus on the crucifixion and Christ’s Passion, has a pathological obsession with violence and perhaps even sadomasochistic tendencies.  But the east is nearer the west than this is to the truth of the matter.

How do we know that Jesus Christ is the God of the universe, Who holds all created reality and each one of us together (remember, as Being itself, He is to all that has life and existence what the sun is to the world lit by its rays)?  Because He bled for us.  How do we know He loves us and desires our good, and that we can trust Him with our lives (and our blood, if necessary)?  Because He bled for us.

Why are we human beings — flawed as we are — able to worship Him, to do great things for Him, and even on occasion to allow our own blood to be shed for Him as martyrs?  Because His Blood is Life abundant, Life supernatural.  Flowing from its injured Host it reinvigorates fallen mankind, just as Riggan’s blood in a sense “reinvigorated” the theater scene.

I apologize profoundly.  I really, truly thought I would be able to make it in just two posts…but it looks like I’ll need a third one.  Stay tuned, and thanks for reading.

Movie stills obtained through a Google image search; image of Christ from Wikipedia

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If you liked last year’s video of a nun rocking Alicia Keys’ “No One,” you might like Fr. Pontifex.  This is “No Mercy,” one of his originals.

Yes, he is a real priest (I believe he is part of the Archdiocese of Chicago, but I’m not sure).

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Birdman (poster)“Birdman poster” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Birdman_poster.jpg#/media/File:Birdman_poster.jpg

Catapulted to stardom by a Batman and then killed by a snowman, Michael Keaton makes a comeback in Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s “Birdman, Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).”

Michael Keaton as “Riggan” in BIRDMAN. Photo by Alison Rosa. Copyright © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox.

Michael Keaton as “Riggan” in BIRDMAN. Photo by Alison Rosa. Copyright © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox.

Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, a washed-out Hollywood has-been once known for the title role in the blockbuster “Birdman” superhero franchise.  Now, years later, he has come to Broadway to write, direct, and star in “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” based on a short story of the same name by Raymond Carver.

His reason?  After years of being known for candy and bubble gum spectacle, he wants to do something that truly matters.

The average person might think Riggan insane.  He is gambling everything he has on this risky project, and this in spite of the fact that he was — and still is — widely admired for his “Birdman” fame.

Riggan RunningBut at this point in his life, he has come to understand the superficiality of worldly greatness, and that what people love in him is an image rather than a person.  His aversion to this reminded me of something Thomas Merton, the great twentieth-century spiritual writer, wrote in his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain:

The logic of worldly success rests on a fallacy: the strange error that our perfection depends on the thoughts and opinions and applause of other men!  A weird life it is, indeed, to be living always in somebody else’s imagination, as if that were the only place in which one could at last become real! (pg. 323)

michael keaton - ed nortonThe staging of Carver’s story (a deeply personal project) gives us insight into Riggan’s interest in true admirability, itself evidence of a deeper desire for admiration.  This is mirrored in the character he portrays — who, upon finding his wife in bed with another man and hearing from her own lips that she no longer loves him, solemnly declares: “I don’t exist.”

We might be tempted to see the object of Merton’s critique in this, and perhaps we are correct to some degree.  But whatever the case, we are closer to the truth of things here, because we are within the realm of personal relationship as opposed to fame and stardom.

St. Thomas Aquinas spoke of a particular effect of love called “mutual indwelling,” which basically means that the lover in a certain sense enters into and becomes part of the beloved, and vice versa.  There are various ways in which this happens, but I want to focus on one particular comment St. Thomas offers:

[M]utual indwelling (. . .) can [also] be understood in regard to reciprocal love: inasmuch as friends return love for love (…)

(Summa Theologiae I-II, 28, 2, quoted in Peter Kreeft’s “Summa of the Summa”)

Given that human beings are made for this kind of fellowship (in its various forms), I think this helps explain why unrequited affection of any kind can hurt so much: It’s almost like a deficit of being.

keaton-stoneAnd we do see this deficit in Riggan, whose manic pursuit of success over the years has led to a divorce and to estrangement from his daughter, Sam (Emma Stone).

emma stone - birdmanNor does Sam offer him any comfort in this regard.  In fact, she has this to say:

You’re doing this [play] because you’re scared to death, like the rest of us, that you don’t matter. And you know what? You’re right. You don’t. It’s not important. You’re not important. Get used to it.

Benefit of the doubt my friends, benefit of the doubt: Let’s not assume in knee-jerk fashion that Riggan is looking for an ego massage — at least, not deep down.  Genuine affirmation is simply about the assurance that one does somehow matter, and that s/he has a contribution to offer that is of value.  So if we pursue love (under the banner of which fall affirmation and admiration, in the proper sense of each term) with a sincere heart, we will sooner or later be led to something that points beyond ourselves.

And that’s what we will cover in part 2.  Stay tuned.

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

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For parts one and two, click here

RaisingofLazarus“RaisingofLazarusBloch” by Carl Heinrich Bloch – http://www.familyartusa.com/site/253614/page/917008. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:RaisingofLazarusBloch.jpg#/media/File:RaisingofLazarusBloch.jpg

I’d like to segue into the next topic with an analogy to the raising of Lazarus from the tomb.

The tomb, for our purposes, can represent the “old geography” — beautiful in itself (indeed, part of God’s good creation), but unhallowed by the presence of death.

And then there is Lazarus, who (again, for our purposes) can represent us, to whom comes Christ bringing new life.

Now imagine laying in the musty darkness of the tomb, newly awakened as though reborn.  Christ, the Lord of life, stands above you with hands extended.  You take hold and begin to allow Him to help you up.  As you stand, and as your bones and joints creak, you realize just how hard this is, and how completely dependent you are on the grasp of your Savior.

This makes you grasp all the tighter, and yet you hesitate.  You’re afraid that if you grasp Jesus’ hands any more firmly, you will pull Him down into the darkness with you.

But here’s what you do not yet understand: He is already there.  Just as surely as He is there before you to pull you up, so also is He there behind you to push you forward.

Grief(“Evstafiev-bosnia-sarajevo-funeral-reaction” by Photo: Mikhail Evstafiev – Mikhail Evstafiev. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Evstafiev-bosnia-sarajevo-funeral-reaction.jpg#/media/File:Evstafiev-bosnia-sarajevo-funeral-reaction.jpg)

But why does it have to be this way in the first place?  It’s all well and good for God to be united to us in our suffering, but if He is all-powerful and all-loving, then why won’t He make our path to Him less agonizing?

There are numerous answers to this, but let me throw this out there for you: If the divine-human relationship involved all blessings and no crosses, that would give us less of a guarantee of God’s love, not more.

When we talk about a pattern of blessings for good works, gifts as tokens of love, etc., we find ourselves within the borders of commutative justice (this is a fancy way of saying fee-for-service, or quid-pro-quo); this is true even with tokens of love, in which case the Giver gives in order to get love from the receiver.

Don’t get me wrong — there is nothing wrong with commutative justice; it has its place.  But of itself it is impersonal, and does not necessitate the presence of love.  Co-suffering (which is the literal meaning of com-passion), on the other hand, does.

Prodigal Son“Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn – Return of the Prodigal Son – Google Art Project” by Rembrandt – 5QFIEhic3owZ-A at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rembrandt_Harmensz_van_Rijn_-_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg#/media/File:Rembrandt_Harmensz_van_Rijn_-_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

Instead of a gumball-dispensing Santa Claus in the sky, what we have is a Divine Lover who so loves and values us that there is no kind of suffering — even death itself — that He will not (indeed, has not deigned to) fully enter into with us in order to give us life.

This does not mean that if we are faithful to Him, we will have to suffer forever.  As Scripture tells us, there will come a day when “He will wipe away every tear” (Rev. 21:4).  But until then, we fallen creatures have need of the tutelage of suffering.

With that in mind, I’d like to close by sharing the thoughts of Cardinal Francis George, who recently died after a long battle with cancer.  In this very brief clip of less than two minutes, he shares some very profound and moving thoughts on how suffering prepares us for eternity.  Take a listen before reading the next sentence.

So the “New Geography” is a work-in-progress — but the good news is that the work has already been finished from on high, by He who holds all time and space in His hands.

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