Category Archives: Entertainment

Sicario, Excitement and Paying Your Dues

food snack popcorn movie theater
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Recently a trailer for the movie “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” came across my facebook feed. It was not a typical trailer. Typically a movie trailer shows clips from the movie with pulse-pounding soundtrack, and possibly a deep, gravelly, middle-aged male voice-over. This trailer had scenes from the movie, but it had explanatory subtitles explaining how the movie related to real-life drug wars. It explained that the movie demonstrated how cartels bring a complicated reality to south and central America, and that the violence that erupts between them is more like a guerrilla war, or even a conventional war, than it is like U.S. gang violence. When that violence spills over onto American spoil two of the movie’s characters (who I gather were adversaries in the first film) will join forces to “start a war.” My assumption is that they were trying to aggravate violence south of the border in hopes that it would either draw the violence away from U.S. soil, or provide a reason for U.S. forces to engage in the war outside the U.S.

I don’t have much taste for war movies, or even crime movies, anymore, so up until now the trailer was disquieting but not particularly memorable. But it was the last line that really got me thinking. The final scene of the trailer had the words, “Come experience the excitement in theaters.”

Seriously? That’s what this is about?

I mean, I knew that’s what this was about. It’s an action film, designed to be exciting and to convince people to spend money to experience that excitement, ultimately in order to make money for the directors, producers, actors, investors, etc. Money is the goal, sex and violence sell. Of course they want you to come and experience the excitement.

I just didn’t expect them to be so… bald about it. So obvious.

Essentially the movie makers are selling an experience of adrenaline. In that sense they are no different than the makers of Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, Battleground, Halo, or any of a thousand combat related video games. They are trying to simulate the excitement of combat in a marketable package, i.e. a package that involves no risk of bodily injury or death, no heat, dust, sweat, boredom, no training, no discipline, no obedience, no separation from family…

see where I am going with this?

I will not deny that war is exciting. Having spent some time in war myself I acknowledge that some of the most exciting moments of my life have occurred in war, formed of the level of adrenaline, focus, clarity and just shear aliveness that, for most people not saints, only occurs when your life is in jeopardy. I will go further and say that a young man could do worse than make a career of pursuing that excitement. It is not excitement that I am against, it is cheap thrills.

Violence, like sex, excites because it is a matter of life and death. We were made for life and death, for real struggle, real investment, real risk and real growth. That is we were made to fight real bad guys to rescue real good guys (both physically and spiritually). We were also made to make real love that forms real relationships and real babies. There is a proper place for both sex and violence in art, namely to illustrate the truth of these realities and to inform our choices about them in the real world.

The problem with video games and action movies is not that they are realistic and exciting, but that they are not real. When you go to a movie theater to watch people get killed on the big screen you invest nothing of yourself. You feel the rush and rollercoaster, and you may even have a significant emotional event, but when that experience is over you have not changed. You are still the same person you were before the movie. You may have a new appreciation of some topical issue of the day, you may be emotionally moved, you may have had a spiritual epiphany, but unless that mental and emotional reaction is translated into decision, and from decision to action, and from action to habit, it has not changed you.

It is necessary to bear this in mind when watching war movies. If you want to experience the excitement of a firefight, or of fighting a fire, or of digging up IED’s, then pursue that. Join the military, or the police force, or the fire department. Suffer through basic training, put in thousands of hours at the gym, thousands of miles on your feet, training-for-ruck-marches-imagethousands of rounds on the range. Obey the orders of those appointed over you, deny your own inclinations, place yourself at the service of your team. Learn to be faithful in little things. Make your bunk, sweep your floor, scrub the platoon’s toilets. Do maintenance on your vehicles and equipment, take pride in them. Endure the boredom of sitting in a firing position all night, or of driving down dusty roads 12 hours a day. Accept the banality of having to answer to idiots and power-trippers who are in charge of you only because they have been in a few months longer. Miss your chance for a “real” fight time and time again, and still keep showing up to work, putting in your time, taking pride in your performance. Volunteer for harder, more difficult assignments, accept greater responsibility.

Sooner or later you may get your chance to enjoy the adrenaline rush. Or maybe you won’t. But if you pay your dues for enough years you will gain something better. You will learn that excitement is not an end, but a byproduct. It is something that happens when you are engaged in meaningful work, because meaningful work in this world is always risky, but you will not pursue the excitement anymore, you will pursue the meaning.

This is something you will not get from action movies or video games. You can only get it from life.

Book Review: Rizal Through a Glass Darkly by Fr. Javier de Pedro

Conversion and reversion stories never fail to fascinate. Stories of how and why a person freely decides to embrace the Catholic Faith, or return to the Catholic Faith of his or her childhood after having freely rejected it, are intriguing. Such stories edify Catholics in their Faith, giving them more reasons to love it. For open-minded non-Catholic readers searching for truth, these stories open up more avenues for the search.

Rizal Through a Glass Darkly by Fr. Javier de Pedro tells a unique reversion story. Its subject matter is not a canonized saint or a famous apologist, but Dr. Jose Rizal, the Philippine national hero whose writings played a major role in the Philippine struggle for independence from Spain during the 1890s.

Every Filipino learns in school about Rizal’s life and writings. Inevitably, we learn that at one point in his life, he studied in Europe, got exposed to Enlightenment philosophies, became a Freemason, wrote about the abuses committed by the Spanish friars in the Philippines, and was shot by a firing squad on accusations of treason against the Spanish government. His novels, which we also study as part of the basic education curriculum in the Philippines, present the Catholic Church in an unflattering light: lustful, avaricious, cruel, and power-hungry friars; caricatured depictions of superstitious piety of ordinary folk. Most of the heroes of the novels are free-thinkers; in one chapter of the first novel, one of them scoffs at the Catholic doctrine on purgatory and indulgences.

We also learn that before he was executed, Rizal signed a written retraction of his anti-Catholic writings, but historians debate his sincerity in signing it. Rizal’s admirers seem to think that retracting his anti-Catholic writings would reduce his greatness, and surmise that he signed the retraction only out of convenience – an odd position to take about someone whom one is presenting as a hero worthy of emulation (and which, for me, does not make sense because the retraction did not save Rizal from the firing squad).

However, it is documented that before he was shot, Rizal went to sacramental confession four times and contracted a sacramental marriage with Josephine Bracken with whom he had previously been cohabiting. In one of his last recorded conversations before he was shot, he serenely asked the priest accompanying him if he would go to Heaven on the same day if he gained a plenary indulgence.

Rizal Through a Glass Darkly by Fr. Javier de Pedro traces Rizal’s spiritual journey from the piety of his childhood, through his estrangement from the Catholic Faith and his immersion in Enlightenment thought, to his return to the Faith of his childhood before he died.

The author, Fr. Javier de Pedro, is a Spanish priest who fell in love with the Philippines, having lived and ministered here for many years.  He has doctorates in Industrial Engineering and Canon law and, according to those who know him, is a Renaissance man like Rizal himself. Thus, he brings to the book a valuable perspective: that of a Spaniard who knows and loves the Philippines and Rizal a lot, who has done extensive research about his subject matter, and who, as an experienced priest in the confessional, frequently encounters the tension between sin and grace in souls.

Indeed, the book is detailed, well-researched, and reveals the author’s thorough familiarity with Rizal’s writings, which the author refers to as “mirrors” of Rizal’s soul.

The book presents not only the life and thoughts of Rizal, but also his historical context, including the intellectual trends in fashion in the Europe where Rizal developed his ideas.  Thus, the book is valuable not only as a source of spiritual edification, but also as a work of history. It avoids the common pitfalls of isolating Rizal from the historical context in which he lived, and of giving the impression that Rizal’s thoughts remained static and did not develop throughout his life.

The pastor’s perspective is another valuable element of the book. The author shares his insights and analysis on what contributed to Rizal’s estrangement from the Catholic Faith as well as what helped him find his way back to it. Thus, the book also serves as a cautionary tale on what may lead a soul away from the Faith, as well as a guide on how to help oneself and others regain the Faith when it has been lost.

I appreciate the author’s affection for Rizal even as the author points out Rizal’s missteps. In the Prologue, the author refers to Rizal as someone “for whose soul I am now raising a prayer, even if I am convinced that he received long ago the welcome of the Father to the house of Heaven.” The author understands Rizal and acknowledges Rizal’s legitimate grievances against certain clergymen that arose from Rizal’s real experiences. The author is careful to base his insights on Rizal’s spiritual journey on verifiable facts and texts, and emphasizes that in the end, Rizal’s spiritual journey is an mysterious interplay between his freedom and God’s grace.

The book is a compelling read. I especially like the narration of the last days of Rizal, where the author describes recounts details such as the parallel Christmas celebrations of Rizal’s family and the Spanish guards of the prison where Rizal was incarcerated (Rizal was executed on December 30, 1896).  That chapter is full of drama and humanity.

Unfortunately, the book is not widely available. As of now, the only place I know where it could be bought is the bookstore of the University of Asia and the Pacific here in the Philippines (inquiries may be made here).  In fact, one reason I reviewed Rizal Through a Glass Darkly was to change this by promoting interest in the book.

Indeed, the story in Rizal through a Glass Darkly deserves to be more widely known. It is of particular interest to Filipinos, but it is of interest, too, to everyone else. It is a touching story of a talented man with great ideals and who is credited for a lot of important things, who was at the same time a flawed human being who committed grave errors but eventually found redemption. Like every other conversion and reversion story, it is fascinating.

A Quiet Place

By guest writer Br Nicholas Lye.

In a world where we tend to avoid too much silence in our lives, the latest thriller A Quiet Place seems to suggest that silence can actually save us.

[Minimal spoilers]

Unlike your typical horror film whose aim is to simply scare the living daylights out of you, this film intends to send a message through a world where monsters have invaded the planet and kill any living thing that makes a sound. As scary as the monsters might look, what may be scarier is the deeper truth and reality that the loud noises of our society have already been killing us softly and slowly.

In the movie that contains little dialogue for the most part of it, you hear the deafening sounds of guilt, hurt, jealousy, unworthiness, fear resounding in the characters, which resonate with our own realities. Yet it appears that the silent actions of each character, whether by sign language, body language, gestures of love or great acts of sacrifice, actually speak louder and eventually overcome the damaging noise in their hearts. It seems to suggest how little we actually pay attention to our silent actions that can actually go a long way to heal and unite.

Another takeaway from the film is the importance of silence not just in prayer but in waiting. Our common complaint in prayer is that God remains silent to our request. Yet as in the film, timing is essential, whether to escape from the monster, or to discover a way to defeat them. Had they chosen to take the easy way out and scream in impatience, death would have come in one quick swoop. Silent waiting, on the other hand, keeps them alive.

When God remains silent, He could simply be putting a finger to His lips and telling us to wait for the right moment, and to be still and know that He’s got it covered. Having it our way sooner could just bring terrible consequences.

So go catch the film if you can and you might just learn how a little more silence in your life can actually save you from the monsters lurking in the corner of your hearts.

___

Br Nicholas Lye is a seminarian in Singapore.
Originally posted on Instagram.

Also see: Sonny Bunch, The Washington Post — “‘A Quiet Place’ isn’t just pro-life. It makes us understand what being pro-life truly means.

Easter Reflections and Movie Spoilers

We are still in the Easter season, a time to commemorate on the resurrection of Christ and reflect on its message of joy and hope.

I am a pessimist by temperament, so dwelling on the message of Easter is a challenge for me. I tend to see the negative side of things, and to predict the worst outcomes for every scenario. All the reassurance in the world that things will turn out well in the end seldom brings me comfort. It does not help that, indeed, so many bad things happen around the world, in the lives of people I know, and in my own life.

But deep down inside me, I want to believe that things will turn out well. This longing is inherent in every human being, even in die-hard pessimists like me.

For example, whenever a movie ends with the bad guys winning, most of us conclude or hope that there will be a sequel, even as we curse the movie makers for having built up our excitement for nothing. We do not want to believe in evil having the last word, even after having just seen it played out before our very eyes. So we stay in the cinema while the credits roll, hoping for a preview of the next movie installment where, we hope deep inside us, good will win again.

When Christ died on the Cross, it seemed as if evil had the last word. All of His disciples’ hopes seemed to have died with Him. But we Christians know what happened.

When we reflect on the Resurrection, we are not dealing with fiction but with fact. It is not my intention in this essay to go over all the arguments making the case that the resurrection of Christ is a historical fact, as entire books have already been written about them. It suffices to say, for now, that thousands of credible witnesses have attested to the Resurrection with their lives.

Neither is the Resurrection the end of the story, a glorious past event that will never be repeated. There are still sequels, and the sequels involve us. And because of the Resurrection, we already know the ending to the story – that it will be ultimately be happy, even if, every now and then, evil seems to be have the last word.

We must keep in mind that the Resurrection is real as we plod through the trials of living in this world. The prospect of the final triumph of good may seem remote. But Christ has already won the war for us. We show our belief in the Resurrection by tenaciously fighting Christ’s battles here on earth, when we practice hope by persevering in prayer, sacrifices, and good works.

The end may seem bleak but we do not give up hope. We have seen Christ already defeat sin and death. There may be more plot twists and cliff-hangers to come. But we know the story will end for those who are fighting on Christ’s side.

___

Image: PD-US

Mercy, Justice and Grace in “Suits”

Suits is a popular TV show about slick lawyers who are rude, nasty and deceitful while bending, skirting, or straight-up breaking the law and playing interminable office politics, and it may be the last place one would expect lessons in mercy, justice and grace, but as St. Augustine says, where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.

[Warning: spoilers ahead]

Mike Ross is a bike messenger and drug dealer who was expelled from high school for giving his best friend Trevor the answers to a math test, which his friend sold to a girl who happened to be the dean’s daughter, leading to the dean’s dismissal. While evading the police, Mike stumbles in upon a job interview for law graduates, and is hired by Harvey Spector despite his lack of a law degree, after demonstrating his exceptional eidetic memory and knowledge of the law – Mike had also been making a living sitting the LSATS for other people. This incredible opportunity enables Mike to fulfill his dream of becoming a lawyer, which was derailed by the incident with Trevor as he had had to give up his acceptance to Harvard law.

To the associates and partners of the firm Pearson Hardman, their jobs are not just jobs, but become their entire purpose for living, their telos and identity. Jessica Pearson tells Harvey that when he joins the firm, he’s joining a family. The lawyers are married to their work, and this theme is played out over and over in hilarious and heartbreaking ways, as the language and norms of courtship are applied to their work relationships. Mike desists from destroying a dodgy opposing lawyer’s career, because that man pleads with him that being a lawyer is who he is, and all he has left after losing his family following the financially calamitous loss of a massive suit.

In more somber tones, Suits also shows how damaging it is to familial bonds when one becomes completely given over to one’s chosen career. Jessica’s husband divorces her, and Harvey’s mother repeatedly cheats on his father, who is often away as a traveling musician.

The show also explores how one’s childhood and family experiences can continue to play out throughout one’s life, especially when one is deeply wounded. Harvey seems to have everything go his way, and appears to be invincible and suave, fixing everything that goes wrong. But he is unable to sustain a romantic relationship, and although he and his secretary Donna have fancied each other for twelve years, he does not allow himself to truly love her and give himself to her. His inability to be vulnerable and trust others is traced back to his mother’s infidelity. We see how the sins of a parent can mar the child for life, damaging his future relationships.

As for Mike, he lost his parents in a car crash when he was twelve, and he is unable to forgive the lawyer who convinced his grandmother to accept a settlement. His anger bubbling from this ingrained sense of injustice is a key motivation in his practice of the law; he jumps at chances to defend the underdog. Yet, his anger and ambition also blinds him, and he handles 88 cases despite his lack of qualifications. That is something like an invalidly-ordained priest celebrating the sacraments – everything he touches is invalid. Despite good intentions, when the means are flawed, the consequences can be dire.

In Season 5, this lie blows up in Mike’s face when he is turned in for conspiracy to commit fraud, just after resigning following a soul-searching talk with his old school chaplain, Father Walker. We are on tenterhooks while he navigates the court case – will another incredible stroke of luck save him?

Mike ends up in prison after a self-sacrificial act to save his superiors’ skins, but though things look dire, his presence enables him to work for the freedom of his unjustly-jailed cellmate. It is terrifying to watch Mike deal with the resident murderous big bully, but Harvey continues to have his back, pulling all sorts of strings to get Mike out of jail.

Meanwhile, as Jessica faces the loss of her firm and all she has worked for, her romantic interest Jeff Malone reflects that sometimes God allows unpleasant things to happen, for a greater good. Indeed, this decimation of her firm allows Jessica to reevaluate her priorities in life, opening her mind to the possibility that there may be more to life than work.

Suits provides a nail-biting examination of moral issues and the motivations which drive people to cheat, lie and blackmail while trying to secure that nebulous thing called justice. It is a riveting show which deals honestly with questions of truth and the factors surrounding human relationships, bound by die-hard loyalty but also fractured by pain and fear. When viewed through the prism of divine providence working through the messy lives of humans, it demonstrates how good can eventually be drawn from the consequences of bad choices, although each character pays a price for their misdeeds.

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Movie Review: Paul, Apostle of Christ

I was excited when I learned that the life of Saint Paul was going to be made into a movie. Among the saints, Saint Paul is one who has a movie-worthy life:  his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus, a daring escape plan that involved being lowered down the window in a basket, preaching and provoking riots and getting arrested several times, shipwreck, remaining unharmed after being bitten by a viper.

Paul,  Apostle of Christ turned out different from what I expected.  It is meditative, a bit slow-paced in the beginning, and intellectual. It assumes that the viewer knows a bit about Saint Paul. Nevertheless, the movie is still accessible, and though the movie could have been improved by better storytelling and more action, it is not devoid of tension and drama.

In short, I loved the movie despite its flaws.

Paul, Apostle of Christ opened  at the time of the Roman emperor Nero’s crackdown against Christians after the burning of Rome. Christians were being persecuted, and Saint Paul was arrested, imprisoned in the Mamertine Prisons, and condemned to death by beheading.  (For parents concerned with the appropriateness of this movie for their children, the movie depicts scenes of Christians being burned as human torches, the bloody body of a dead child, and Christians, including children, in prison waiting to be thrown to the lions).

The movie follows Saint Luke’s frequent visits to Saint Paul in prison, seeking wisdom for a struggling Christian community in Rome and in order to document Saint Paul’s story in what was later to be the Acts of the Apostles. The movie also follows the subplots of the dilemma of the Christian community whether to stay in Rome or escape, the conflicts with a faction of Christians who want to raise arms against Nero, a Roman officer’s attempt to understand Christianity, and Saint Paul’s own internal conflict grappling with his past as a persecutor of Christians himself.

One of the movie’s strengths was making Saint Paul’s words come alive, putting them in the context in which they were written – a context not so different from our own times. I like how the scriptwriter chose appropriate Pauline quotes for the different situations that the movie depicted. The themes of love, forgiveness, and hope will be appreciated by many.

I also like how the movie made Saint Paul himself come alive, highlighting his mental sharpness and his zeal for souls which made seize every available opportunity to speak about Christ to everyone, even his executioners.

Another of the movie’s strengths is its depiction of the first Christians – how they lived fraternally among themselves, how their ideals clashed with those of pagan Rome, how they sustained hope and witnessed to Christ in their ordinary lives amidst persecution. The Christian characters other than Saint Paul are just as lovable, and one of my favorite parts is when a certain Christian character’s excellent practice of his profession became an occasion of grace for a non-believer.

However, the movie could have given more emphasis on the Eucharist as the sustaining and unifying force of the Christian community. There was a lot of focus on the teachings of Christ as transmitted by Saint Paul, but not enough on the Bread of Life which was the center of life and worship among the first Christians, and which was also a central theme of Pauline writings. More emphasis on the Eucharist would have been also been an apt counterpoint to the movie scenes showing sacrifices to the pagan Roman gods.

Despite its flaws, Paul, Apostle of Christ is a worthy effort to present the apostle’s life and teachings. Its depiction of Saint Paul as a man with a rich inner life and silent power beneath his aging, battered exterior complements my image of him as a passionate and energetic preacher and man of action. Watching the movie gave me a greater appreciation of Saint Paul’s role in the early Church, and how his teachings are as relevant today as they were during those times.

Beatitudinem quaerens – a joyful album of modern Latin hymns

Italian musician Beppe Frattaroli has produced an album in Latin, Beatitudinem quaerens: “Looking for Bliss”. By turns joyful, reflective, and gloriously stirring, Beatitudinem quaerens brings the Latin language to life, imbuing it with the emotive qualities of Italian music while preserving its linguistic integrity.

Frattaroli combines modern instruments and vocal effects with this ancient tongue to produce delightful songs of praise, composing catchy, uplifting tunes like Cogitatiònes (“Thoughts”) with which one can sing or hum along. One may even be moved to dance to the beat.

The more melancholic pieces like Inimici Mei (“My Enemies”) can be aids to prayer (such as praying for those who try you, or praying in sorrowful reparation for the sins which made you an enemy of Christ).

In learning languages, I have always found it helpful to learn songs in those tongues. Although years have passed and I have forgotten most of my lessons, those Mandarin, French, and Italian songs remain with me. Music helps you remember words and develop a feel for how they fit with each other in a particular language’s grammatical system. Frattaroli’s album provides a fabulous opportunity for those who wish to learn Latin and are looking for something besides Gregorian chant to sing. It also melds new expressions of faith with one of the oldest sacred tongues of the Church.

Beatitudinem quaerens is available on iTunes. Frattaroli contacted me via Facebook while “looking for those who love Jesus”. He says: “If you are happy, help me to make it known. I wish you so much joy.”

We address especially the young people: In an epoch when in some areas, as you know, the Latin language and the human values are less appreciated, you must joyfully accept the patrimony of the language which the Church holds in high esteem and must, with energy, make it fruitful. The well-known words of Cicero, “It is not so much excellent to know Latin, as it is a shame not to know it” [Non tam praeclarum est scire Latine, quam turpe nescire (Brutus, xxxvii.140)] in a certain sense are directed to you. We exhort you all to lift up high the torch of Latin which is even today a bond of unity among peoples of all nations.
Pope John Paul II, 1978

Former Ignitum Today Writers Who Have Published Books Part I: Shaun McAfee

Pardon us for engaging in a little self-promotion, but Catholic writers from ages 14-45 who are wondering how they can use their talents to bring others closer to God should consider writing for Ignitum Today.  For many of us, writing for this website has been a rewarding way not only to share our faith but to hone our writing and online publishing skills.  This has led some to go places, which meant even more opportunities to share the faith.

One such writer is Shaun McAfee, the author of books such as Filling Our Father’s House, St. Robert Bellarmine, and Reform Yourself!.  Here, he talks to us about how his journey to become a published book author started out with writing for Ignitum Today:

How and why did you get started writing for Ignitum Today?

Shaun McAfee:  “Writing for Ignitum Today (IT) was a smart step in my Catholic writing journey. I wanted to expand my skills and networking; I  wanted to learn from others;  and I thought joining a group-blog would be the best way of doing that. So I scanned some sites I knew but didn’t really know how to get started. Maybe it’s still there, but I noticed one day that the IT site had a link to the effect of “Want to be a writer?” I clicked and submitted my info and was soon contacted by none other than Stacy Trasancos. The rest is history.”

Please tell us the stories behind your book deals.

Shaun McAfee:  “I got my first book contract with Sophia Institute Press. I admit I never that writing a book was the sort of thing I would do—it seemed a pretty lofty goal, and I did not know what topic I could write about.  But in 2014 I got a huge idea to write about the things Catholics can learn from Protestants in evangelization. That book became Filling Our Father’s House and I really felt lucky to have such a strong title with a big time Catholic publisher.

Next, my pastor asked me to write a short book for the 50th anniversary of the founding of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Omaha, NE. That book became St. Robert Bellarmine. I enjoyed writing that one a lot, even though it wasn’t a huge book, and it received some nice and humble praise. Still, I was really motivated to read and write about the other saints that Robert Bellarmine interacted with during the Counter-Reformation. I noticed that 1) nobody really had written a book about the saints of the Counter-Reformation, and 2) the 500-year anniversary of the Reformation was coming, and it was a good time to do something innovative. Again, I never thought I’d be published, let alone by such a magnificent publisher, but Catholic Answers Press said “yes” to my proposal, and after a long winter of writing and a summer of editing, Reform Yourself! was published. I’m in the season of promoting that one, still, but I’m working on some other ideas in the meantime.“

What are your books about?

Shaun McAfee: “Filling Our Father’s House is a practical book that discusses the great things our Protestant brothers and sisters do to increase holiness and become such effective evangelists. It talks about everything from “having a personal relationship” to the importance of small groups and taking the faith to the streets, literally. Next, I wrote a simple book on St. Robert Bellarmine. The book discusses his life and his major works. My most recent book is Reform Yourself! with Catholic Answers Press. This is a highly practical look at the lives of the saints of the Counter-Reformation, and shows readers how to seek true reform, holiness, sanctity, and several other attributes of the Catholic life, deriving each from the lives of these special saints. I also wrote a chapter with my wife in Patrick Madrid’s Surprised by Life and have recently done the same, with my wife, for an upcoming book on Humanae Vitae with Catholic Answers Press. I’ve got some hopeful projects coming in the near future, but those are secret for now.”

Do you think your involvement with Ignitum Today helped you become a  published book author?

Shaun McAfee: “Like I mentioned, choosing to write for IT was a very smart choice. IT provided me with a nice base of support. I had an editor for the first time, I was able to solicit feedback from other writers, I was able to monitor and understand stats, find my own mistakes, respond in a combox, and was also able to learn from the finer points I noticed with the other writers. Things like productivity, interesting topics, word count, endurance, knowing when to leave and when to push myself to the next level—I was able to learn these and so much more from writing at IT. Not to mention, IT gave my writing a humble but promising platform. In the most practical of exercises, IT really gave me the opportunity to decide if I really liked writing or not. I realized at IT that it was really up to me to decide how successful I wanted to be.

Soon, I became an editor at IT, then I was asked to start and edit a blog for Holy Apostles College and Seminary, and then I founded EpicPew.com. Now, I write weekly for the National Catholic Register and contribute frequently to Catholic Answers Magazine and their Magazine Online. Writing for Ignitum Today provided a basis for a skill set that has carried me this far.”

Any advice that you have for young Catholic writers?

Shaun McAfee:  “To all those Catholic writers wondering where they’re headed, or if you have big dreams I offer you this advice: stay productive, stay as humble as possible, and always push yourself to do better. Thanks for the opportunity to share some words. “

Note:  Interested writers may contact contact Jean Seah at jean.elizabeth.seah[at]gmail[dot]com, and provide a writing sample.

Movie Review: Mary Magdalene (2018)

A friend and I were given free tickets for a preview of the upcoming film Mary Magdalene.

The visuals were truly exquisite, bringing to life the stark beauty of poor Hebrew dwellings, their dress and cuisine, and the simplicity of life in a fishing village, with the soothing susurration of the waves ever present.

However, I was really disappointed with the lack of true understanding of Mary Magdalene’s role as a disciple of Jesus, and how the film pits her against the apostles. The film has a strong feminist bent while funnily leaving out Jesus’ other female disciples.

We are introduced to Mary as a strong-willed though mild young woman who refuses to marry, despite her father’s attempts to match-make her.

She flees to the synagogue to pray in distress, and is rebuked for bringing dishonor on her family by appearing crazed.

Her stubbornness is interpreted as demonic possession, and she is tricked into an exorcism ritual where she is nearly drowned.

However, she encounters Jesus, who is mobbed by villagers seeking cures. She runs away from home to follow him and his apostles to Jerusalem.

The apostles are portrayed as clueless Jewish patriots who see Jesus as the key to overthrowing the Roman Empire. Judas is portrayed in a sympathetic light, as someone who lost his wife and child to the Romans.

The movie depicts Mary Magdalene as being the only one to understand Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness. At her instigation, he preaches to the women of a town, especially one who is filled with hatred and unforgiveness over another’s rape. This is in contrast to the Scriptures, where Jesus needs no one to prompt Him to approach the Samaritan woman, or to visit Mary and Martha, or to raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead.

Also, Mary Magdalene is shown baptizing women, using a strange formula about being “baptized into the Light.” There is no mention of the Holy Trinity, which is necessary for a valid baptism.

Peter resents Mary’s presence and declares that she will cause division among the apostles. However, he is sent with her to minister to the towns. She tends to the dying, and he realizes that she, more than he, has grasped Jesus’ message of mercy.

Mother Mary meets them as they enter Jerusalem. Far from the beautiful and stately Mary portrayed by Maia Morgenstern in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004), she looks crabby and restless. She sharply states to Mary Magdalene, indicating Jesus, “You love him, don’t you?” Mary Magdalene is then depicted lying down near Jesus, his one companion in his distress as he approaches his death.

Jesus is also shown breaking down in tears before entering Jerusalem, while Mary Magdalene comforts him, cradling his head in her lap. It is a poignant reminder of God making Himself vulnerable in His humanity, and that we can comfort Him by doing reparation for sins. Yet, all this intimacy between Mary Magdalene and Jesus in the end does a disservice to the Gospel, where Jesus pursues His earthly mission as both God and man, the Anointed One with the strength to resist temptations alone in the desert.

The movie also omits the true friendship Christ enjoyed with the apostles, particularly St. John the Beloved, who stayed with Him to the bitter end and was entrusted with His mother’s care. Instead, after the Resurrection, Mary and Peter are again depicted at odds, with Mary Magdalene pledging to carry Jesus’ message despite the corrupted message she feels Peter and the apostles will pass on in forming a church. Yet, Scripture records that Peter was the one who stood by Jesus when others deserted Him over the Eucharist.

Oddly enough, the movie ends with references to the very Church built on the rock of Peter (Matthew 16:18); yet, again, it distorts the message of the Catholic Church. It notes Pope Gregory the Great as wrongly conflating St. Mary Magdalene with the penitent prostitute, and claims that because the Vatican has recognized her as the Apostle to the Apostles, that means she is equal to the apostles.

“Apostle” is simply Greek for “messenger”, and yes, Mary Magdalene brought news of Christ’s resurrection to the Apostles, so she was the messenger to the messengers of the Gospel, the messengers ordained by Christ to preach and to forgive sins with His authority (Matthew 18:18). All this hype about “equality” is a tone-deaf rendering of the roles of both men and women in the Church, which are different though complementary.

By denying St. Mary Magdalene‘s identity as a penitent, the film has omitted the awesome wonder of God’s grace working through a repentant sinner to bring the Good News that Christ conquered sin and death.

In the end, the 2018 film Mary Magdalene may be remembered for its beautiful cinematography, but it fails to deliver the salvific truth of the Gospel as ministered through the seven Sacraments instituted by Christ. The Gospel is not just about human charity and forgiveness or equality between men and women. It encompasses God’s great design for human salvation from the time of the Fall to the present day, and the movie very disappointingly lost His plot.

(Also, they forgot the donkey when Jesus made His entry into Jerusalem, foretold in Zechariah 9:9.)

Movie Review: “King’s Faith”

The Christian movie King’s Faith (2013), available on Netflix, is a beautiful and moving story of faith and redemption. Best of all, it manages to convey the reality of faith without being corny or trite, examining complex human issues like death, crime, divorce and abortion with tenderness, displaying the full reality of the pain and trauma of loss while demonstrating the healing that comes with trust in each other and in God.

[Caution: some spoilers ahead]

King’s Faith centers on 18-year-old Brendan King (Crawford Wilson), who has been on the wrong side of the law multiple times and is placed in his eighteenth foster home after being detained for three years. His foster father Mike Stubbs (James McDaniel) is a math teacher at his new high school, and mentors the after-school Bible study group as well as the faith-based community service youth group, The Seekers.

Brendan was given a Bible while in juvenile detention, and came to accept the saving truth of Christianity. With his newfound faith in God, Brendan applies himself to his studies, determined to leave his old life behind.

However, trouble comes calling when Brendan saves a fellow schoolmate, Natalie Jenkins (Kayla Compton), from a car crash and appears on the news. His old gang tracks him down and demands that he hand over a stash of drugs and cash that he and his now-dead best friend had hidden before the federal drug raid that ended his friend’s life and landed Brendan in detention.

The Stubbs are recovering from the death of their only son, a police officer who was killed during a routine traffic stop. Vanessa Stubbs (Lynn Whitfield) is unable to move on, and spends most days cultivating flowers for her son’s memorial on the side of the highway.

Mike, meanwhile, has been able to surrender his pain to God and welcomes Brendan as a foster child, knowing that God may bring good out of this gift of a stable, loving home for a troubled youth. He is a trusting man who looks for the good in others, even those rejected by the rest of society.

As we follow Brendan through his new life and watch him and other characters grapple with the past, we witness the power of faith to transform even the most terrible circumstances, binding old wounds and uniting the estranged in love and truth.

The Old Testament and the Karate Kid

It is a common charge against Christians that we ignore the unpalatable parts of the Bible, in particular the rules set down in Mosaic law as recorded in the Pentateuch.

Firstly, the Old Testament is a pre-Christian record of the development of the Jewish people as a nation.

It’s also an account of how mankind wrestled with the effects of the Fall and failed repeatedly to honor God’s commands. This utter fail demonstrates the need for a divine Savior.

In the spiritual life, as Aquinas explains, there is operative and cooperative grace. God works in us as a doctor does to restore us to full health, but we have to cooperate with the process, as a patient takes medicine and does appropriate exercises.

In the Karate Kid (1984), Mr. Miyagi trains Daniel by having him do seemingly pointless, unrelated tasks like waxing his car, sanding the floor, refinishing a fence and painting his house. However, all the repetitive motions involved in these tasks create muscle memories that are eventually vital to Daniel’s development in the art of karate fighting.

Similarly, some of God’s commandments in the Old Testament can seem arbitrary and strange to us. However, they all had a deeper purpose. They trained the people of God to live in obedience with His will, and marked them as a holy people set apart for His divine purpose.

Even today, the rules of the Church may seem strange and pointless, but they have been laid down with profound wisdom, honoring the unity of soul and body, a unity oft riven by sin. The practice of fasting teaches us not to follow our selfish urges and appetites; it trains us to be in spiritual fighting form, ready to deny ourselves of earthly goods for the sake of heavenly treasure.

As the flesh is cut off in circumcision, so does baptism, the new circumcision in Christ (cf. Colossians 2:11), cut us off from the fallen state of mankind, enabling us to live by the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes, children may not understand their parents’ commands, but when they grow up and mature in their relationship with their parents, they come to understand that it was all said and done in love for their own good.

___

Image: PD-US

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Leisure: Rest & Virtue vs Distraction & Dissipation

“Regret is a waste of time.” Dream said.
“No, I think regret is when people realise they’ve wasted all the time they’ve had.” Chris argued.
— Mary Borsellino, The Boy Who Gave Away His Birthday

The Christian life is a harmonization of the contemplative and the active life. We see from Genesis that God rested after creating the universe, and sanctified this day of rest. The Douay-Rheims Bible explains:

“He rested”: That is, he ceased to make or create any new kinds of things. Though, as our Lord tells us, John 5:17,”He still worketh”, viz., by conserving and governing all things, and creating souls.

In ancient Rome and Greece, leisure was a luxury afforded to the free man.

In Athens, leisure was one of the marks of the Athenian gentleman: the time to do things right, unhurried time, time to discuss in.
— “Otium“, Wikipedia

We see that from classical pagan antiquity and Judeo-Christian tradition, times of rest were to be taken seriously. Times of otium or σχολή (skholē, from which we derive the word “school”) were valuable in rejuvenating oneself and considering how best to re-engage with society, in negōtium (non-leisure: business and politics.). Philosophers like Cicero spent their otium writing profound books which are still valued today. They used their retirement to consider what constituted “the good life” (εὐδαιμονία – eudaimonia) which would cultivate a healthy civic life that would ensure the flourishing of individuals and the country.

Virtual Vices

In contrast, today we usually fritter away our times of rest. We are absorbed in television screens, computer screens, smartphone screens or movie screens. Instead of spending our precious time interacting with our loved ones, enjoying nature or a good book, we often give in to the siren call of pixelated pleasures. Before we know it, the day has turned into dusk, and we are no better for it. Indeed, we may be all the worse:

… the twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy.
— Jean M. Twenge, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?“, The Atlantic

Twenge notes that instead of drinking, driving, or dating, teenagers are trapped in their bedrooms, slaves to their smartphones. Their social lives are now conducted online, assisted by the addictive allure of “likes” and “followers”. This has precipitously increased the rates of depression and suicide.

Meanwhile, the widespread availability of pornography online is wreaking havoc across the globe, contributing to domestic abuse in India and the demographic winter in Japan.

Bodily Blessedness

As Catholics, we believe in the Incarnation of Christ, and the resurrection of the body. Unlike Gnostics, we treasure the physical world, which God created good and which He died to redeem.

… the Church does not come with a mere message. The Church is meant to be a Sacrament, an embodied manifestation of a transcendent reality that, by virtue of its transcendence, escapes full articulation.
— Dr. Matthew Tan, “On Liking the Gospel: the Church and New Media“, The Divine Wedgie

Sabbath Sacrileges

Maria von Trapp, whose life was memorialized in The Sound of Music (1965), wrote a magnificent reflection: “The Land Without a Sunday“.

She contrasts the traditional restful, holy Sundays celebrated in Austria before World War II with communist Russia’s destruction of the 7-day week:

“Instead of a Sunday,” Baron K. told us, “the Russians have a day off. This happens at certain intervals which vary in different parts of the country. First they had a five-day week, with the sixth day off, then they had a nine-day work period, with the tenth day off; then again it was an eight-day week. What a difference between a day off and a Sunday! The people work in shifts. While one group enjoys its day off, the others continue to work in the factories or on the farms or in the stores, which are always open. As a result the over-all impression throughout the country was that of incessant work, work, work.”

Maria von Trapp goes on to voice her astonishment at the desecration of Sundays in the USA. She discovered the sad cause:

The climax of our discoveries about the American Sunday was reached when a lady exclaimed to us with real feeling, “Oh, how I hate Sunday! What a bore!” I can still hear the shocked silence that followed this remark. The children looked hurt and outraged, almost as if they expected fire to rain from heaven. Even the offender noticed something, and that made her explain why she hated Sunday as vigorously as she did. It explained a great deal of the mystery of the American Sunday.

“Why,” she burst out, “I was brought up the Puritan way. Every Saturday night our mother used to collect all our toys and lock them up. On Sunday morning we children had to sit through a long sermon which we didn’t understand; we were not allowed to jump or run or play.” When she met the unbelieving eyes of our children, she repeated, “Yes, honestly–no play at all.” Finally one of ours asked, “But what were you allowed to do?”

“We could sit on the front porch with the grownups or read the Bible. That was the only book allowed on Sunday.” And she added: “Oh, how I hated Sunday when I was young. I vowed to myself that when I grew up I would do the dirtiest work on Sunday, and if I should have children, they would be allowed to do exactly as they pleased. They wouldn’t even have to go to church.”

Redemptive Rest

Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of God.
— 1 Corinthians 10:31

Instead of “the Benedict Option” or “the Francis Option“, one of my friends is a wholehearted proponent of “the Tudor Option” (referring to the early Tudor period). In medieval days before King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, redistributing national wealth at the expense of the peasantry, peasants celebrated over 200 holy days each year.

… economist Juliet Shor found that during periods of particularly high wages, such as 14th-century England, peasants might put in no more than 150 days a year. …

When workers fought for the eight-hour workday, they weren’t trying to get something radical and new, but rather to restore what their ancestors had enjoyed before industrial capitalists and the electric lightbulb came on the scene. Go back 200, 300 or 400 years and you find that most people did not work very long hours at all. In addition to relaxing during long holidays, the medieval peasant took his sweet time eating meals, and the day often included time for an afternoon snooze. “The tempo of life was slow, even leisurely; the pace of work relaxed,” notes Shor. “Our ancestors may not have been rich, but they had an abundance of leisure.”
— Lynn Stuart Parramore, “Why a medieval peasant got more vacation time than you“, Reuters

This was curtailed in the Elizabethan era following Henry VIII:

In the Middle Ages, all of these feast days were excuses for a day off, Popish ceremonies, and general idleness. The thrifty Protestants, of course, disapproved, and limited the observance of many of the feast days. They remained on the calendar, but people were enjoined not to stop working.
— Walter Nelson, “Elizabethan Calendar“, Mass Historia

As Catholics, we recognize that all time is given to us as a sacred gift from God, with the responsibilities of growing in holiness and serving our neighbor. Let us neither waste our leisure time, nor allow it to be taken up by work. We must rather keep our days of rest holy, spending them in fruitful ways which will cultivate our souls and bring true joy.

My life is but an instant, a passing hour. My life is but a day that escapes and flies away. O, my God, you know that to love You on earth I only have today!
— St. Thérèse of Lisieux

Image: PD-US

Article originally published at Aleteia.

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