Monthly Archives: May 2014

Jesus said Forgive Seventy times seven times

Not “block,” “malign,” “gossip about,” “blacklist,” etc., seventy times seven times. We’re all guilty of it. We don’t necessarily have to put up with abusive behavior:–some in that situation are called to be St. Rita; others St. Dymphna–but we are all called to forgive in our hearts (cf. “The Weight of Glory” and The Great Divorce).
Les Miserables illustrates two sure fire ways to earn Hell: the path of Thenardier and the path of Javert. I praise God that He has more and more saved me from my propensity for the latter.
As people are generally getting fed up with the bickering and in fighting among Catholics in social media, let me offer some suggestions that no one will follow:
A) Enough with guilt-by-association, whether it’s the Pope or the blogger next door,
B) Enough with “this person once said something I disagreed with, so I’ve blocked him.” (Abusive behavior being another matter).
C) Enough with arguing endlessly over abstractions. It’s interesting to a point but hardly evangelistic. How many people are we driving away?
D) Many people of good will, who acknowledge the truth of the Church, who are trying to be virtuous, leave or steer clear because they are scandalized by the people in the Church-you and me-who are unwelcoming, constantly bicker, and do not provide the kind of Christian community they want.
D) We don’t have to sit around and just share prayer requests or happy thoughts, but why not talk about practical ways to live out our faith in parish and public life?

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Update: This is (not) BIG news, arguably the biggest news since there’s been “news”

And I’m relatively late to the game in the 24 hour news cycle: this afternoon, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and Pope Francis have announced that, in 2025, for the 1700th anniversary, they are going to organize the Third Council of Nicea!!!

Update (bummer):
Fr. Lombardi, the Vatican’s spokesman, said that yesterday’s announcement referred to a joint celebration of the anniversary, not a Council, but, “a lot could happen in 11 years.”

Two Things I know I need Most

If I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that things work better with the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
I am a sinner. My worst sins have been hypocrisy, pride, presumption and sacrilege, justifying and excusing my bad habits. I need Confession, even when I don’t “need” it. I need to confess every two weeks, preferably to the same priest, to avoid falling back into my bad habits. While I prefer to kneel and use the veil, for formality, my vocal cord paralysis has necessitated face-to-face. The knowledge that I am going to Confession, and that I am going to have to Confess it to the priest who’s followed my progress, helps me use that pride to my advantage, and I don’t sin as much. Not only do I feel better spiritually and psychologically, but my life works better.
The same goes for Adoration. In combination, weekly Adoration and biweekly Confession are crucial. I say yo my shame that I live in an area where multiple churches have weekly, daily or even perpetual Adoration, and I don’t avail myself of it. There are several reasons, mostly health related, but every day I think about figuring out how we can work it out.
Again, when I’ve been signed up for a Holy Hour and thus obligated, or else just made a point of going after work at night, things have gone a lot better for me and ny family. Add in daily Mass, and it’s amazing.

Why do I stop, then? Inevitably, the Devil attacks, first with the easily dismissed “scare tactics,” and eventually through personal attacks and phenomena that require moving.

Again, at our last move (which will hopefully be our last change of region), We chose an area with a lot of good parishes. We have, cumulatively and at various times, daily Mass, Confession, Adoration, Divine Mercy Chaplet, a Rosary, Confession, Morning Prayer, Vespers (both Roman and Byzantine), and public Novenas. What happened after we moved here? I didn’t get the job I moved for, and I suffered an aortic dissection. I write this in part not only to encourage you, gentle reader, to improve your life by Confession and Adoration, but also for the same reason I need Confession: to shame myself into better behavior.

Liberals say . . .

The Constitution means whatever they want except what it says.  Animals have rights, but people don’t. Babies aren’t babies unless you want them to be. Gender means whatever you want. Sex and marriage are about self-gratification and not procreation and child-bearing. Life is about pleasure and should be “terminated” if it isn’t pleasurable. Money can be created ex nihilo but the universe wasn’t. If you suggest it’s more important that kids learn in school about how their bodies actually work than about dinosaurs, evolution, and various forms of pleasure seeking, you’re “anti-science.” And they call us “wing-nuts”. . . .

“We deserve our punishment”

I know a lot of people  who suffer from chronic pain.  Most of my Marfan friends are non-Catholics, and I observe how very differently they approach the question.  Often, “Offer it up” has become such a cliche that it loses meaning.  Even Jesus cried out from the cross, and sometimes that’s what we have to do, but we must always remember to keep focused on the goal.  I constantly have to remind myself of these things:

1.  “Though He was in the form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at, . . .”

2.  “We deserve our punishment, but this Man has done no wrong.”

3.  “In my own body, I fill up what is still lacking in the sufferings of Christ.”

4.  Mother Angelica once asked, “Why me, Lord?”  She got a response: “Why Me?”  She never asked again.

5.  A single mortal sin merits eternal suffering.  The worst we can bear here is nothing compared to that.  Imagine enduring *anything* forever.  My mom’s all-time favorite homily was, “You think it’s hot here?!”

C. S. Lewis once responded to someone who said, “It’s hot as Hell,” with “How would you know?”  When I was in CVICU last year, thinking I was dead and in Gell, everything seemed unendurable because ?I thought it was forever.  I was hot (high grade fever and screwed up post op metabolism).  I was thirsty (living off a feeding tube and npo).  I was in pain.  Most of all, I was *bored.*  I couldn’t move or speak.  I was strapped in a bed with tubes all over my body.

The only way to survive such a situation without despair is the Lord’s grace.  The Voice kept telling me to stop waive ring and make a choice.  It kept telling me it was over: I was in Hell or destined for it, that Jesus would never forgive me.  Yet, I thought of Faust, and I prayed, and I used the seemingly endless monotony to pray.  In particular, I thought about “70 times 7 times,” though I confused it as “70×70” and couldn’t remember if I was supposed to ask or grant it, so I kept naming people in my prayers and asking their forgiveness while offering mine.  I prayed the Pater repeatedly, the Publican’s Prayer and St Dismas’s prayer, over and over, 24/7, for at least 2 or 3 days.  My recovery began.

Arrow of SHIELD’s Interest: on Season Finales and Tone (Spoiler alert)

The few times I was able to teach freshman literature, I taught at schools which used the Goia and Kennedy text. One of my favorite lessons I came up with was about Gothic literature, comparing how Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Alice Walker and Flannery O’Connor used the same genre with a very different tone and effect. It was a great lesson in how subtle differences in the end of a short story can leave the reader with a different experience. One student asked, “Why do we read all these writers who committed suicide and stuff?” I said, “Beats me, but look at the ones who did, and compare to the ones who didn’t.”
Something similar could be said regarding the seasons, and season finales, of CBS’s Person of Interest, CW’s Arrow and ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I have blogged before about how Arrow is my favorite current show and seems in many ways to draw from POI. Between the three of them this season, there are so many parallels in stories and characters I get confused sometimes.
POI:

  • Starts off with a rich guy who’s legally dead hiring a former special forces and CIA operative to help him track down people who are identified by a computer.
  • The rich guy seeks to atone for his sense of guilt over making the computer to begin with.
  • They gradually uncover a number of conspiracies.
  • They build up a team including a talented female hacker and talented female assassin.
  • The police look for a vigilante known as “the Man in the Suit.”
  • The police detective who started the series chasing after them eventually started helping them and started this season being demoted for it.   She eventually got promoted again just before being shot and killed.
  • Each episode features thematically parallel stories from the characters’ “past” that not only help to develop the characters but often relate to what’s going on in the “present.”
  • They have ties to a fictional government spy agency

Arrow:

  • Starts of with a rich guy who has returned after five years of being legally dead hiring a former special forces operative to help him track down people whose names are listed in a notebook given to him by his father.
  • The rich guy seeks to atone for his father’s mistake in getting involved in the conspiracy indicated by the names in the notebook.
  • They gradually uncover a number of conspiracies.
  • They build up a team that includes a talented female hacker and talented female assassin.
  • The police look for a vigilante known as the “Man in the Hood” and later “the Arrow.”
  • The police detective who started the series chasing after them eventually started helping them and started this season getting demoted for it.  He eventually got promoted back to detective just before being beaten nearly to death (cliffhanger).
  • Each episode features thematically parallel stories from the characters’ “past” that not only help to develop the characters but often relate to what’s going on in the “present.”
  • They have ties to a fictional spy agency.

Now we throw in Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD:

A spy who has been presumed dead comes back to run a covert team that includes a special forces guy, a talented female hacker, and a  talented female assassin.  They work for a fictional spy agency.  They start off by doing weekly missions for their spy agency but quickly uncover a number of conspiracies (which turn out to be related).   Like Arrow, it’s based upon a comic book universe but started by focusing on more “human” stories, using lesser known characters.

All three shows ended their seasons this week with similar cliffhangers:
1) Various conspiracy threads were wrapped up.  In all three cases, we learned that many adversaries who were thought to be separate were, wittingly or unwittingly, working together.   POI and Arrow ended with the main rich guys losing their businesses and fortunes, and SHIELD ended the season with the title organization in shambles, so all three ended with their main characters losing their support networks and possibly being fugitives.  POI and SHIELD ended with evil organizations getting government contracts.  Arrow ended the season with the government spy agency (ARGUS, DC’s equivalent of SHIELD) being possibly either the new employers of the main team or possibly the main adversary of Season 3.

POI is produced by JJ Abrams and Jonathan Nolan (co-writer of the “Dark Knight” Trilogy with his brother Christopher) while SHIELD is produced by Joss Whedon.  Both Nolan and Whedon have obvious ties to Arrow‘s parent company Warner, and now Amy Acker has appeared as a regular on POI and a guest star on SHIELD.  In addition to being two of the most popular sci-fi TV and movie writer/producer/directors of the past 10-15 years, Whedon and Abrams are known for using the same actors in multiple projects and for using “Easter Eggs” in their various productions.

Interestingly, I’m not the only one who’s suggested that “the Machine” on POI, or its new competitor Samaritan, sounds a lot like “Skynet” from the “Terminator” franchise.  Summer Glau, who played a “Terminator” on Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles and has starred or guest-starred in a number of Joss Whedon’s shows (appearing with Amy Acker on both Angel and Dollhouse), has been on Arrow this season as Isabel Rochev, who may or may not have died in the season finale but was working with Slade “Deathstroke” Wilson, a character whose codename in the comics was “the Terminator” until a certain movie came out.  However, it’s apparently Whedon who’s slated to produce the next Terminator movie, not Abrams.

Given all the thematic and behind-the scenes connections, it’s no wonder I feel like they’re basically all the same shows!

Nevertheless, there’s something about Arrow that makes it seem like the better, all-around show, and, as I started this review, while the finales had many superficial scenarios, there were very subtle differences in tone that left me with very different feelings.  Each finale had a “cliffhanger” that would have worked as a series finale.  Each tried to be a “game changer,” essentially setting up, as described, a completely different situation for its main characters next fall.

It seems like every week this season, the reactions of fans online to POI have been very negative, though the ratings have stayed solid.  This week, I saw very few positive comments online.  POI ended with narration telling us that “the one thing left when Pandora’s box has been opened is hope,” but it sure didn’t feel that way: or maybe the hope is in the box?  I don’t know, but I felt rather crushed and depressed by the tone of the episode.  Nothing can be the same, and it’s definitely stepping more into “grounded science fiction” and  out of “potentially happening in the world we live in.”  It’s not really clear if they’ll possibly be able to defeat Decima and Samaritan, or even if they’ll try.

Arrow was somewhere in between.  Things were bad, but looking up.  To this viewer, at least, it didn’t seem as depressing as POI yet still not so much hopeful as challenging or exciting: Oliver and company have a new quest, to win back his company.  The episode actually ends “in the past,” explaining a hinted connection between Oliver and ARGUS director Amanda “the Wall” Waller.   There really doesn’t seem to be a clear enemy to defeat at this point, though the seeds of next season’s adversaries may already be planted (not sure if FOX’s upcoming Gotham will put an end to the potential for any future Bat-villains, but I am still hoping for an appearance by Ra’s Al-Ghul.

SHIELD had the most classic cliffhangers, with a clear sense of completion to this season’s stories combined with hints of mystery for next year.  Where, like the other shows, it ended its year with a new beginning for the characters (“The Beginning of the End”), and although it was the least likely of the three to be renewed, ratings-wise, it was very clear where the show will be going, and that the characters ended on a relative high note compared to the others.  As it happened, while it aired first (Tuesday at 8), I watched it last of the three, and the viewing order may have colored my reaction, but it seemed to set a more optimistic tone.

The other thing it got right, as a “comic book show,” was what gave “comic books” their name: particularly in conjunction with the very big name (both as a character and an actor) guest star in the finale (and that’s a spoiler I won’t spoil for those who haven’t seen it), there was a lot of actual humor in the episode.  As the arch-villain is raving, Special Guest Star says to agent Coulson: “You didn’t tell me he was this crazy?” “He’s kicked it up a notch.”

“Come with me, if you want to be not dead”: The Lego Movie

About a month before its DVD release, _The Lego Movie_ has finally shown up at the cheap theaters, and we saw it today as a family, my first movie-in-the-cinema since my surgeries and hospitalization last year. It was well worth it, and even better than I’d expected from the very good reviews I’ve seen. It’s a multi-layered allegory and parody. I’d have to watch it again to remember all the fantastic quotations.
There are Batman references from the Adam West series (Batman makes sound effect noises while throwing a batarang) to the 1989 “I’m Batman” to “He’s the hero you deserve,” paraphrased from _The Dark Knight_. There’s even a running joke about the poor reception of the _Green Lantern_ movie. While it superficially plays on the seemingly disparate and conflicting franchises to which Lego has licenses (the fact that there are both “Lego DC” and “Lego Marvel” blows my mind).
However, all the film rights to franchises depicted in _The Lego Movie_–DC being the most prominent–are or have been held by Warner at some point. While _Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles_ is currently owned by Nickelodeon, the first four movies were distributed by New Line and/or Warner (and IIRC, Michelangelo doesn’t get a speaking part). _Star Wars_, while usually associated with Fox and now owned by Disney, had some affiliation with Warner via the _Clone Wars_ series and the first _Lego Star Wars_ animated projects on Cartoon Network (and the brief cameo of _Star Wars_ characters doesn’t end well).
On the serious side, it starts with a dystopian world where mindless anonymous workers awaken in the morning, do exercises, read an instruction book on how to be happy, drink coffee, turn on their televisions, and hear messages from President Business, president of the world and the Octan Corporation, which is a trusted company because it “makes all the TV shows, music, history books and voting machines” (“Octan” is a fictional brand on Lego toys dating back to 1992, when it was first used for a gasoline station set). Everyone eats the same foods, listens to the same song (“Everything is Awesome”), watches the same sitcom (_Where are my pants?_, which has the same story and joke) every night, and drinks the same expensive coffee. It’s like a mixture of _Brave New World_, _1984_ and _Fahrenheit 451_–or maybe it’s really just the world we live in. So we have the basic “brainwashed minion breaks out of his dystopian reality to find a bigger world” trope, even to an ending twist that is more like Plato’s myth of the Cave or perhaps _The Matrix_ than the others. Yet, on the other hand, it plays on the dystopian cliches by having a message of the need for a balance between individuality and creativity on the one hand with teamwork and following the rules, on the other.
Meanwhile, the myth of the cave twist makes the story a story-within-a-story, a kind of masque, and parallels (much like the _Republic_) its social theme with a family theme.

Not only is it another great-for-all-ages film, I think it will stand up to more repeated viewings and in-depth analysis than many children’s films: it manages to be both funny and meaningful, and there were far too many jokes, themes and symbols to catch in one sitting.