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Posts Tagged ‘Priesthood’

It has saddened me in recent years that Catholics — members of a tradition that has over the centuries created such beautiful art, architecture, music, poetry, literature, and other forms of artistic expression — have had difficulty achieving quality in the art of film (with a few notable exceptions, such as “The Passion of the Christ”).

But I think a new “wind” is blowing, and that this an example.  If you have about 10 minutes, give it a watch.  You won’t regret it.

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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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DF-SC-84-11899Veterans Day is one of those rare holidays that pay homage to the lost virtue of heroism.

Along with our policemen, firefighters, and other public servants who put themselves in harm’s way for our freedom and safety, our men and women in uniform are a sign of contradiction.

Most of us prize subjective contentment as the summum bonum of life.  We pride ourselves on enjoyment and convenience.  So when people — flesh-and-blood human beings just like us — dedicate themselves to complete self-oblation, to the risk of life and limb for a cause higher than themselves…well, we cannot help but admire that, but at the same time it’s hard for us to understand.

Our veterans and those currently serving speak to us of mankind’s greatest potential glory.  For to give oneself away in the service of others and of a higher cause is part of the essence of sainthood, the call to which is universal.

Escriva_at_Mass_1971

Okay.  So we’re all called to sainthood.  But I want to reflect a little bit on those who are called to a higher degree of sanctity during this life — not for their own glory, but for the good of the multitudes.  The ones I speak of are veterans and warriors indeed, but of a different sort.

I am talking, of course, about the priesthood.  And to expand on my statement, I want to take a look at priestly spirituality as either directly portrayed or vaguely alluded to in three popular works of art:

1. The Lord of the Rings

Jrrt_lotr_cover_designThe priestly character of Aragorn as a ranger comes across a little more clearly in the books than in the movies.  Consider this quote from “The Fellowship of the Ring,” which Aragorn addresses to Boromir, a warrior of the more conventional sort:

If Gondor, Boromir, has been a stalwart tower, we have played another part.  Many evil things there are that your strong walls and bright swords do not stay.  You know little of the lands beyond your bounds.  Peace and freedom, do you say?  The North would have known them little but for us.  Fear would have destroyed them.  But when dark things come from the houseless hills, or creep from sunless woods, they fly from us.  What roads would any dare to tread, what safety would there be in quiet lands, or in the homes of simple men at night, if the Dúnedain were asleep, or were all gone into the grave?

And yet less thanks have we than you.  Travellers scowl at us, and countrymen give us scornful names. “Strider” I am to one fat man who lives within a day’s march of foes that would freeze his heart, or lay his little town in ruin, if he were not guarded ceaselessly.  Yet we would not have it otherwise.  If simple folk are free from care and fear, simple they will be, and we must be secret to keep them so.  That has been the task of my kindred, while the years have lengthened and the grass has grown. (pp. 278-279)*

Enough said, right?  I can’t help but think that J.R.R. Tolkien, a devout Catholic, had in mind the priests who raised him as an orphan, who absolved him of his sins, who gave him Our Lord in the Eucharist (Tolkien was a daily communicant), and who lived lives of chastity, prayer, discipline, and service so that Christ’s work may continue to be present in and nourish the world.

Anyway, I’ll be expanding on how this applies to the priesthood in my next two illustrations.

* Tolkien, J.R.R.  The Lord of the Rings: Part One — The Fellowship of the Ring.  New York: Ballantine Books, 1966

P.S. I am assuming this quotation falls under Fair Use laws, as my intention is to comment on it.  But if it in any ways violates copyright law, someone please let me know, and I will promptly either remove it or modify it so that it is shorter.

Images from Wikipedia

For part two, click here.

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