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Posts Tagged ‘Hope’

Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer.St. Paul-St. Paul, Romans 12:12

 

Image from Wikipedia

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Nebraska_PosterFor part one, click here

So we’ve established that Woody and Kate Grant (Bruce Dern and June Squibb) do not enjoy a blissful marriage.  We can only assume that Woody’s deep discontent, which his supposed $1 million winnings are meant to alleviate, is tied to this.

It seems to me that there are two possible explanations for this.  First, Woody and Kate may have approached marriage with insufficient circumspection in their early days.  Kate comments that boys growing up in their hometown of Hawthorne, Nebraska spent their young lives looking at the backsides of pigs and cows, and therefore were hopelessly lost at the sight of the first girls they saw.

 

Nebraska_WalkingBut there is another possible explanation.  What I have in mind here is the image of Woody walking, which is fairly constant throughout the film.

All sentient creatures have in common the trait of movement (though to varying degrees).  From my perspective as a Catholic Christian, I believe that such creatures are more like their Creator than, say, rocks and plants, which have no consciousness or awareness; as such, unlike the latter they tend toward motion, or activity (while God does not have to “move” as creatures do, since He is infinite and perfect, He is never idle).

With human beings, this goes a step further.  Our drive toward movement is not just physical, but also spiritual (and, as a derivative of both, psychological).  In the depths of our being, we are never satisfied.  We are always yearning for something more, something that seems within and yet painfully outside our grasp.

Saint_Augustine_by_Philippe_de_ChampaigneThis is because, as St. Augustine of Hippo famously said, our hearts are made for God, and are therefore “restless until they rest in (Him).”

bruce.dern_.et_.june_.squibb.dans_.nebraska.dr_It is quite possible that Woody and Kate approached marriage with the idea that it would be a “domestic utopia.” giving them perfect happiness.  One way or the other, it is clear that they were not approaching the whole question of marriage with any profound spiritual basis in mind.

Marriage is a glorious thing.  But if we are expecting it to be the one thing that will fulfill all of our deepest human needs, then we are placing a burden upon it that it is unable to carry.  In this way, we come to expect more of it and of our spouses than they are meant to give.  This expectation affects those who get married for that reason as well as those who avoid marriage because they are afraid of its imperfections; I suspect the latter tendency is, in part, what affects the generations that have followed that of Woody and Kate.

Indian WeddingBut if we view marriage as a calling, if we approach it with attention to the will of a Higher Power and see it as a common mission between husband and wife, that changes things.  If we see it as a sign to the world of the Great Bridegroom, Jesus Christ’s unwavering love for and fidelity to mankind and a foreshadowing of its perfect consummation at the end of time — a promise far more fulfilling than a million bucks — well, that changes things even more. (See my June 7 post for more on this topic)

Grant Family

“Nebraska” ends on a fairly positive note.  The members of the Grant family, having spent some time together on their unexpected trip to Nebraska and gone through a lot of interesting adventures, grow closer.  A situation like this reminds us of how God can, as they say, “draw straight with crooked lines.”  So thank you, Alexander Payne, for leaving audiences with hope rather than despair.

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

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casper_1995_therapy_session_with_ghosts_part_2Ghost movies are popular this time of year.  And not just “ghost movies” per se, but really anything that deals with a spirit world and its “lines of communication” with the everyday world.

Films such as the 1995 family yarn “Casper,” in which ghosts continue to haunt people and places because of “unfinished business,” come to mind.

HereafterBut films such as Clint Eastwood’s 2010 supernatural thriller “Hereafter,” which involves characters who seek the aid of a psychic (Matt Damon) in order to get in touch with their deceased loved ones, are also pertinent.

I could go on, of course.  From “Ghost” (1990) to “The Sixth Sense” (1999), similarly themed tales abound.

What I gather from these is the central and age-old human question: What is the relationship between the living and the dead?

This is, of course, a matter that tugs quite forcefully at the heartstrings.  It lies pretty near the roots of our deepest longings.  The desire for life in us — not just for ourselves, but for those we love and for the continuation of our relationships beyond the narrow confines of natural life — is very strong; so strong is it, in fact, that death makes us sad, frightened, and alone.

I won’t go into the many expressions this has taken from culture to culture throughout human history.  That information is widely available.  But since I’m writing from a Catholic perspective, I do want to share the doctrine of the Communion of Saints with those unfamiliar with it.

“We believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified (in purgatory), and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church; and we believe that in this communion, the merciful love of God and his saints is always [attentive] to our prayers” (CCC 962) (parentheses mine)

Our merciful, compassionate, loving God knows the communal needs of the human heart — in fact, he created them.

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

Jesus Raises Lazarus

In the book “Crossing the Threshold of Hope,” Pope John Paul II made the comment that to believe in the Communion of Saints is to believe in Christ.  Why?  Because Christ is the source of the Communion of Saints, the One in whom it holds together.  He has made it possible just as He has made eternal life possible.

I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live (John 11:25)

What is more, Christ is the very reason both for the Communion of Saints and the desire it meets.  Why do we want eternal life if we don’t have some desire that will take an eternity to be fulfilled?  Similarly, why do we want our relationships with loved ones to continue if not to share in something (namely, singing the praises of the Most Holy Trinity)?

In the midst of our (not always healthy) fascination with the afterlife and the otherworldly, I hope we don’t forget where our hope comes from.

Top image obtained from a Google image search; “Hereafter” image from Wikipedia

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les-mis-eponin-marius

Again, having seen “Les Misérables” is not mandatory.  We are here dealing with a theme, not plot points.

Ok, we’ve had a break.  Now let’s get back into it.

We’d be remiss if we concluded that the Grace/Law issue is the only great theme that shines through “Les Misérables.”  In fact, I think even that falls under a wider umbrella — namely, hope.

We can say that hope is upheld by the change that Grace allows and legalism prohibits.  But on another level, hope is the “food” of the human race.

I can borrow no better words than those of motivational speaker Matthew Kelly, who has commented on the difference made by people “who believed that the future could be bigger than the past.”*

“Les Misérables” bears witness to hope, but it is also a cautionary tale.  We have to remember that hope transcends us, and must be patiently awaited until it is ready to meet us on its own terms.

Humility is mandatory.  Look at it this way: If we think of the progression of time and history as a straight line, we can infer that it is set against a larger background (eternity), and headed toward a final end (heaven).

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As a progression, it has a length, but no width.  No two points in time can exist side by side.

Now, imagine trying to give it width.  Mentally attempt to grab the middle of a line by its “edges” and stretch it out like so…

100_3725

You have some more width — or something vaguely like it — but what does this “stretching” do to the rest of the line?  It pulls it back in both directions.

I think utopianism and triumphalistic ambitions toward hope do the same thing to us as human beings.

When we invest our hopes in this world, we forget where we came from and where we’re going.  The great progression of history becomes no longer a line, but a mess…like a blob of jelly spread out over the face of eternity.

Again, humility is mandatory in order for hope to be truly hope.  As with Grace, we must acknowledge our dependence on something higher than ourselves.

More than that, we have to acknowledge the fact that our destiny, our fulfillment, our hope lies in something that is beyond our powers — and beyond this world.

And now the curtain opens…we’re ready for Act II!

* Here is a link to one of at least two videos in which Kelly says this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PcM7S7Y7r0A

Top photo obtained through a Google image search; others courtesy of Yours Truly.

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Jack_the_Giant_Slayer_posterYou would almost have to have been living under a rock — or at least a ficus bush — the past couple years not to notice that fairy tales are making a comeback.  I suppose they never really went anywhere, but they have experienced a sure resurgence in popularity in the last decade, give-or-take…particularly in popular media.

Oz_-_The_Great_and_Powerful_PosterThe recent releases of “Jack the Giant Slayer” and “Oz: The Great and Powerful” follow two “Snow White” remakes in 2012 and the TV shows “Once Upon a Time” and “Grimm,” both of which bring the world of fairy tales into direct contact with contemporary American life.

We can tie all of this to a general fantasy trend in popular media in the last 10-15 years — from “The Lord of the Rings” to Narnia, from Harry Potter to “Pirates of the Caribbean” and other tales of long ago and faraway places, replete with great adventures, battles, heroes and heroines, and magical creatures of all kinds.

As with any trend at any point in history, we can ask: “Why?”

First of all, fairy tales are perennial.  They speak to timeless and universal truths, principles, and themes that embrace the fabric of every time and place.  As great nineteenth-century writers like G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien would remind us, fairy tales reassure us of a moral universe in which goodness and virtue win and evil and hatred lose.

But as concerns the genre’s current popularity, we can ask what particular “niche” the times provide that it has come to fill.  Setting aside all mundane givens about ticket sales, thrills, etc., let’s explore this question a bit.

Somewhere in our souls, for all our society seems to be moving towards secularism, we continue to yearn for a re-enchantment of the world and of human life.  This is something I’m convinced of, based on what I know and have observed about contemporary life in Western society.

9-11

I think there is evidence for the aforementioned yearning in the fact that the fantasy/fairy tale trend in media goes back to around the time of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001.  This was deeply significant, because most of us in the U.S. had never before witnessed such an attack on the sacredness of life.

A-Bomb

Granted, Western society has harbored a moderate — if suppressed — sense of vulnerability since at least the 1940s, which gave us such phenomena as the Holocaust, World War II, and the atomic bomb.

The September 11th attacks may not have been as catastrophic or destructive to life and to the world as these, but they certainly hit home for us, and perhaps for that reason struck an already troubled nerve.

Our steady diet of fantasy/fairy tale media over the past decade may be an appeal to hope.  Fairy tales themselves are an appeal to meaning, to the belief in a purposeful world in which everything has its place, and everything somehow matters — an outlook that the destructive violence of a 9/11 or an atomic bomb causes us to question.

zombies

Of course, the fairy tale genre is not the only thing trending right now.  A couple weeks ago, a fascinating article appeared on Yahoo! News.  It’s called “Researcher: Zombie fads peak when society unhappy,” by Meg Kinnard, and can be found here:

http://tv.yahoo.com/news/researcher-zombie-fads-peak-society-unhappy-092912860.html

While we haven’t had any 9/11’s of late, lesser evils such as the economic meltdown and mass unemployment have similarly crippled hope, meaning, and a sense of the goodness of the world and of life in human hearts.  In many ways, we are facing the consequences of living in a world bereft of the transcendent values we once held dear.

But I think the fairy tale trend is the flipside of the zombie trend.  Based on this, we can have great hope that all is not doom-and-gloom after all.

Still from “The Walking Dead” obtained through a Google image search.  All other photos from Wikipedia.

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the-dark-knight-rises-batman

So we come to the final chapter in our exploration of Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises.”  In part one, we looked at evil as presented in the form of the villain Bane, who capitalizes on people’s hope.  In part two, we looked at what hope is all about and how it comes across in the movie.  Finally, in part three we looked at how humanity’s final hope must be in a life beyond this world, not in any notion of an earthly utopia.

But common sense — and, indeed, the Christian faith — will tell us that we cannot cease to care for the present world.  So how do we reconcile living and working in the world with our ultimate trust in a transcendent hope?

Let’s look to Batman for a clue.

batman vs bane

Bane’s plan is to destroy the city of Gotham with a neutron bomb.  At the end, Batman tows the bomb out to sea in an airplane-like vehicle that doesn’t have autopilot.  There, the bomb explodes.

Now to be fair, the question of whether or not Bruce Wayne/Batman died as a result of this incident is left open.  The film ends with a scene in which his loyal butler and former guardian, Alfred (Michael Caine), sees him at an outdoor café in Italy with Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), who has presumably become his wife.

Whether this is real or a form of wish-fulfillment on Alfred’s part is, in my view, debatable.

But whatever the case, it is clear that the hero of this story serves his people not by false promises or by flashy displays of power, but by self-sacrificing love.  He puts himself at greatest risk for the good of others.

Arguably, this sort of self-sacrifice is pointless if human beings are to place their hope entirely in this world.  Only if we have some kind of hope that goes beyond what this world has to offer can we make ourselves capable of this kind of service.

Anyway, that’s how we persevere in the world in hope — through love.

Batoni_sacred_heart

Of course, this doesn’t mean we are all called to martyrdom.  But our job is to effect the “Christification” of the world — that is, bringing Christ to the world and the world to Christ.  And self-forgetting love is what Christ’s very life is all about.

So we are to passionately care for the world and for the communities and cultures in which we live; but our care for these should be directed toward a higher hope, rather than our higher hope being forced to fit into the narrow confines of this world.

And that higher hope is Love Himself.

And now, if it’s all the same to you, let us hang up the bat cape.

Image of Batoni’s “Sacred Heart” from Wikipedia; other images obtained through a Google image search.

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Dark Knight_Bane

This is the third installment of my commentary on Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises.”  Here are the links to the first and second posts, respectively:

https://intothedance.wordpress.com/2013/02/20/dvd-review-the-dark-knight-rises/

https://intothedance.wordpress.com/2013/02/24/hope-in-the-dark-knight-rises/

DarkKnightRisesPrison

I left off with a discussion of hope among the prisoners who watch Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) climb the dungeon wall and escape through the round window far above.

But imagine for a moment that someone was able to take the prisoners’ attention off of the light that shines from above.  Imagine someone getting them to focus instead on the reflections of that light on the prison walls.

Pushing the envelope even further, imagine this nameless intruder taking advantage of their love of these reflections and persuading them that they can actually turn the prison cell into the equivalent of what is outside — that is to say, a place that can generate its own natural sunlight, its own oxygen, its own sources of natural sustenance, etc.

Fix this scenario firmly in your mind, and you will get a sense of the great evil of Bane’s (Tom Hardy) project.

This world is not a bad place, nor is the Christian vocation to escape from it.  God created the world and everything in it, and all things remain fundamentally good.  But at the same time, as St. Paul says,

…creation was made subject to futility (Romans 8:20).

Happily, that’s not the end of the story.  St. Paul continues…

…not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.  We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.  For in hope we were saved” (Romans 8:20-24) (italics mine).

That last sentence is particularly important.  As mentioned in the previous post, man’s ultimate hope lies not in this world, but in the “new heavens and new earth” to come.

Far from bringing out the best in humanity and what this world has to offer, the movement toward an earthly paradise actually arrests the journey toward fulfillment in Christ and perverts the here-and-now by forcing the present world to take on a role it cannot possibly fulfill.

Hence, you have the dystopic vision of society — a vision to a certain extent realized in Communist and other totalitarian societies in the past half century.

Uri

Only those who know they are in prison can truly have hope.  Only those who know the realities of sin and death, and of being part of a world “subject to futility,” are ready to receive the peace that can only come from a Divine Savior.

But if you can take the prisoners’ focus off of the light that shines from above, you can warp even that most fundamental human hope for deliverance.  And that’s exactly what the devil, the supreme enemy of mankind, would like to do.

Thankfully, our world has a savior infinitely greater than Batman.  Let us therefore be vigilant in…well, hope!

But how do we do that?  What does this mean concretely?  I think I’ll need to do a fourth post to address that one (and I should warn people that there is a major spoiler ahead).

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DarkKnightRisesPrisonThis is my second post on Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises.”  For part one, go to http://www.intothedance.wordpress.com/2013/02/20/dvd-review-the-dark-knight-rises/

Hope is a powerful thing.  The villain Bane (Tom Hardy) takes advantage of people’s inner sense of hope with his hypnotizing promises of a utopian society run by “the People” and free from the corruption of public authorities and bureaucrats.

Meanwhile, a “de-suited” Batman/Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is held captive in a dark, dingy, primitive-looking underground prison in an unidentified foreign land.  What’s interesting about this particular prison is that there is, high overhead, an opening.  At the height of the weird, spiraling wall extending upwards from the pit to which prisoners are consigned is a tiny glimpse of the outside world, of freedom…of the possibility of escape.

In other words, this is what you might call a round window of hope.

But in order to get to it, the prisoners have to climb the wall.  How easy is this?  Well, in fact, it’s very nearly impossible…so much so that only one person is known to have successfully escaped in the past.

Nevertheless, people keep trying.  Not only that, but the prisoners wait in fervent hope that one day, one of their own will climb to freedom.

I took this as a symbol, in its own way, of the universal (if unnamed and often unclear) hope that has lived in the heart of every person from the making of the world, and will live in the heart of every person unto the breaking of the world.

That hope cannot be described as anything other than the hope for salvation, the hope for deliverance from an existence in which the reality of death and decay seems to have the final word.

BeowulfI think that in some ways, this takes us to the root of humanity’s perennial fascination with hero figures.  Throughout history, peoples, nations, and cultures have celebrated individual persons — fictional or historical — who somehow embody their hopes and dreams.  By overcoming obstacles against all odds, by attaining honor and glory, such figures give shape to people’s hopes and keep them alive.

This reality casts light on the chanting of Wayne’s fellow prisoners: “Rise! Rise! Rise!”  Having been in darkness for a very long time, they yearn to see someone escape into the light.  Whoever that person is, he will give them — and I apologize for being redundant — hope.

And so when Wayne finally escapes, there is much rejoicing.

Ascension

While watching the prison scenes in “The Dark Knight Rises,” I was reminded of Jesus Christ almost immediately:

No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man (John 3:13).

Mankind, like the prisoners in Nolan’s film, wants to know at least one person who has “escaped” — one person who has ascended beyond death, through the “round window of hope” into a new life.

To this day, the Church proclaims the One Who has realized man’s hopes.  At the same time, She reminds the world that this hope is transcendent in nature.  We sinful human beings are in a trap against which we and the resources that are available to us in this fallen world are totally powerless.

Having “come down from heaven” as God and “gone up to heaven” as both God and man, Jesus Christ raises us to a new life, instilling in our hearts even now the “first fruits” of a transcendent hope that will be fulfilled at the end of our lives and at the end of human history, beyond this present world and beyond all of our expectations.

In fact, by His sacrifice on the Cross, He has turned death itself from the ultimate doom of mankind into the very “round window of hope,” the very place of passage, whereby we will come to freedom.

But does this mean that the world, the physical body (from which our souls depart at death), and the concerns that pertain to the here-and-now are bad, irrelevant, or insignificant?

As St. Paul was often fond of saying, “By no means!”

But I think I’ve rambled on long enough for one night.  I’ll come back to this issue in relation to “The Dark Knight Rises” later.  It should be ready within a week’s time, so keep your eyes peeled.

Top photo obtained through a Google image search; “Beowulf” painting by J.R. Skelton and “Ascension of Christ” by Garofalo from Wikipedia.

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Dark_knight_rises_poster
I finally got around to seeing Christopher Nolan’s third Batman movie over the weekend.  This final installment takes place eight years after the events of the previous film, “The Dark Knight.”  Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become somewhat of a recluse, but is inspired to take up the cape, mask, and suit once more when Gotham is threatened by the masked villain Bane (Tom Hardy).

And that’s the point from which I want to take off.  Having seen all three movies, I am struck by the many faces of villainy in the Batman trilogy.

Ra's al GhulRa’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson), head of the League of Shadows and the antagonist of “Batman Begins,” represents a sort of right-wing totalitarianism that seeks to impose order and justice using force.

JokerThe Joker (Heath Ledger) represents evil in the form of nihilistic anarchy in “The Dark Knight.”

BaneFinally, Bane is the incarnation of a left-wing totalitarianism that “hooks” people through false promises of establishing an earthly utopia by toppling corrupt power structures and returning all power to “the People.”

In due course, we learn that Bane was once part of the League of Shadows, but was eventually exiled for differences with Ra’s al Ghul.  Bane’s relationship to the League struck a chord in my mind.  It seems to suggest, in its own way, that two supposedly polar realities — namely, right-wing and left-wing tyrannies — are much more closely connected than one might think.

Hitlermusso2_editThe middle part of the twentieth century saw the rise of various forms of totalitarianism from both the right (most notably, Fascism) and the left (most notably, Communism).  Although I am an expert neither in history nor in politics, I think we can safely say that both styles of dictatorship proved to have the goal of reducing society — perceived to be all wrong and unredeemable — to ashes so as to build something new and better from scratch.

But herein lies the problem: We live in an imperfect world, and any “system” of society or government is going to have its problems and, sadly, evils.

Bane2Turning from any attempt at political commentary back to the Batman films themselves, I would have to say that Bane strikes me as the most dangerous of Nolan’s villains.  Although he is not blatantly oppressive (at least not to the masses) like Ra’s al Ghul, nor unprincipled and totally unpredictable like the Joker, Bane is dangerous precisely because he plays off of one of the strongest, deepest, and most innate elements of the human psyche — hope.

Hope is a powerful and dear thing.  If you can get a hold of people’s hope, there isn’t much you won’t be able to do with them and to them.

I will return with reflections on hope in “The Dark Knight Rises” by the end of the week.  Thanks for reading, and stay tuned.

Image of the Joker and second image of Bane obtained through a Google image search; remaining images from Wikipedia.

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Many people might be surprised to learn that the Christmas Season starts on December 25th — even if from a retailer’s perspective, it starts the minute kids hang up their trick-or-treating costumes.

In the four weeks leading up to Christmas we observe the season of Advent, which is the beginning of the new Liturgical Year.  It is best described as a season of joy, preparation, and expectation.

Yes, Advent is a time to commemorate the birth of Christ, to celebrate His First Coming over 2,000 years ago.  Many are familiar with the image of the Advent wreath and its four candles, one lit each week; these candles are intended, in part, to remind us of Israel’s expectation of the Messiah and the successive Covenants whereby God prepared them for His arrival.

But Advent also has the purpose of anticipating Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time.  In that sense, the way we tend to approach this time of year is a little ironic.  For us Westerners, it is a time of profound attraction to material possessions and to the “spirit of the world,” when in fact it should be a time of preparation for the world to come.

Fittingly, Advent is situated between two key periods: November and the beginning of the post-solstice time of year.

For Catholics, November is the “Month of the Dead.”  We kick off the month with the celebration of All Saints’ Day, which reminds us of our communion here on earth with the saints in heaven.  Throughout the month, we remember our relationship with all of our departed brothers and sisters, whether in heaven or in Purgatory.

“Month of the Dead” may sound morbid, but its purpose is to help us keep our eyes on the big picture and prepare for our final “exodus” into New Life.

On the other side of Advent is the post-solstice time of year.  On December 21st comes the Winter Solstice, the darkest day of the year.  Once this passes, the days begin to slowly get longer and brighter.  Many ancient cultures had festivals to mark this time of year, celebrating the return of the light and the banishment of the darkness.

Christ came into this world to die on the Cross, and that was the worst and darkest thing that ever happened or ever will happen on earth.  But because of the victory over death that He won by His death and Resurrection, the Kingdom of God has come.  Since the Resurrection, the light of God’s Kingdom has been breaking into the world and history slowly (from a Catholic perspective, this has been happening through the growth of the Church, Christ’s Body and extended presence on earth).

And so during Advent, we take the time to “put our affairs in order.”  It is a time to grow in love for God and neighbor, to “open our shut-up hearts” (to borrow a phrase from Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, a beloved character in Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol”), to forgive others, to spend time with family, to be less possessive and more generous with our time, talents, and treasures, and to recognize what is truly of value in life.

Imagine that you are getting ready to go on a big trip, and you have all your bags packed.  That’s how Catholics are called to see Advent.  We are not to attach ourselves selfishly to the things of the world; rather, we are to make sure we have “packed” all we need for the upcoming Journey.

I think you can say that the “suitcase” is the human heart.  Through generosity, and through the spirit of waiting and hope that characterizes Advent, we enlarge our hearts to receive all that God wants to give us.

To that end, I want to conclude with a brief video from Fr. Barron further explaining this aspect of the season:

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