Category Archives: Movies

Sicario, Excitement and Paying Your Dues

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 soil 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 sheer 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 roller-coaster, 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.

Images: PD-US

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.

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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.

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Image: PD-US

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.

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.

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Image: PD-US

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Fatherhood and Redemption in “Pirates of the Caribbean 5”

[Caution: spoilers ahead]

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a moving paean to fatherhood. The entire movie centers around Henry Turner’s quest to release his father Will from a curse damning him to eternal servitude on The Flying Dutchman. The movie opens with 12-year-old Henry locating the sunken ship which holds his father captive. Henry says, “I’ve read about a treasure. A treasure that holds all the power of the sea. The Trident of Poseidon can break your curse. … I want you to come home.” Will tells his son to leave: “Henry. I’m sorry. My curse will never be broken. This is my fate.”

Nine years later, Henry is working aboard a British naval ship, which chases a pirate craft into the Devil’s Triangle. There they encounter Captain Salazar and his crew, who are also accursed and trapped as the living dead. After his father’s death at the hands of pirates, Salazar dedicated his life to cleansing the seas of pirates, hunting down and killing them all until tricked into the Triangle by Jack Sparrow.

Later, Henry meets a young astronomer and horologist, Carina, who has also spent her life seeking her long-lost father. Her father left her the means to find Poseidon’s Trident, and she believes that finding it will lead her to him.

What strikes me about this movie is the three above-mentioned characters’ obsession with freeing, avenging or finding their fathers. With today’s modern Western societies where people believe that two females can parent a child as well as the child’s biological parents, it is refreshing to see a movie which affirms the importance of the father in a person’s life. The father is an integral part of the child’s identity. We find our identity in relationship with others, not as singular individuals. And no-one on earth can fully replace our biological parents. This is demonstrated by people who were adopted or donor-conceived spending years searching for their biological parents, even when they love the people who raised them as their own. We have this need for belonging with people who share our ancestry, especially the people who gave part of their bodies to give life to us.

In the end, Carina and her piratical father meet, and they each verbally affirm that the other means everything to them. Everything. Although they have never really known each other, they love each other to the point of complete self-sacrifice. Carina has sacrificed her entire life for the one purpose of finding him, and he sacrifices his life to save her from the unforgiving Salazar.

The family is the image of the Holy Trinity, a communion of love, and our parents are the image of God to us; all fathers share in the divine fatherhood of God. God is our true everything, and it is worth it to sacrifice all for Him, just as He did for us (John 3:16). Henry is a Christlike figure, a second Adam who “to the fight/and to the rescue came”. Instead of wielding the Trident, which would have given him control over all the seas, Henry destroys it, as Christ freely laid down his life out of love for us, although as God He could very well have controlled us instead. Henry descends into the ocean depths and frees all the accursed, including his father, and reunites his parents, just as Christ descended into Hell and freed Adam and all mankind from the shackles of sin and death, bringing us to new life and reuniting us with the heavenly family of God.

Moana: the Ocean & the Holy Spirit

Guest post by Magdalyn Fiore.

A lengthy comparison between the Ocean and the Holy Ghost? What can I say except you’re welcome!

I recently saw the Disney film Moana for the first time. As you might know by now, the movie has some encouraging themes, such as stepping up to responsibility, discerning one’s calling, and learning that worth and identity are not dependent on material possessions (like magical fish hooks) or even the affection of others. There are also a few delightfully quirky side characters in the film, like Tamatoa, the shiny crab voiced by Jemaine Clement, and Alan Tudyk‘s character Heihei, the chicken who surely would have died off long ago by natural selection had it not been for Moana’s constant and patient intervention.

But the character I found most intriguing was the Ocean, which takes on a very present personality of its own throughout the film. There was something about the Ocean that was familiar to me, and I quickly noticed a handful of similarities between the Ocean character and the Holy Spirit — one of the three persons of the Holy Trinity.

The film begins following Moana of Motunui, the island Chief’s daughter and future heir, as a child when she has her first meaningful encounter with the Ocean. The Ocean chooses Moana to fulfill the task of finding the demigod, Maui, and taking him on a journey across the sea to return the heart of Te Fiti, the goddess of life. The heart was stolen by Maui long ago, which led to a curse that has affected the well-being and livelihood of Moana’s people. Returning Te Fiti’s heart would restore the life of Moana’s island and undo the growing threat of the curse. The Ocean calls Moana to her vocation at a very young age, knowing that her island will one day suffer from the curse and that Moana will grow to be the perfect instrument to fulfill the task and save the people.

The way the Ocean chooses Moana is similar to how the Holy Spirit gently directs us to our own calling. God always meets us where we are to guide us to His will and writes it on our hearts. In Moana, the Ocean meets the Chief’s daughter when she’s a toddler and speaks to her in a gentle and playful way that Moana can delight in and understand, at least to some degree. The Ocean invites Moana to come see what it wants to show her by leaving her a beautiful conch shell to find — and then another, and another like a trail of breadcrumbs, leading Moana closer and closer to the joys of the Ocean and the greatness it is calling her to. The Holy Spirit meets us in the same way. Though we are small and imperfect, God comes down to our level to love us and call us to greatness, just as the Ocean playfully calls Moana. The Holy Spirit often communicates with us through the people in our lives, small moments or words we hear throughout our days, or sometimes even through a trail of conch shells if that’s what will speak to us. These small (and sometimes big) moments and interactions are the trail of breadcrumbs the Holy Spirit leaves for us, leading us to our calling and vocation. Possibly more telling than anything, however, is the desire God places in our hearts for whatever it is He is calling us to, exactly like Moana’s deep desire to explore beyond the reef and her love of the sea. God would not place a desire on our hearts if He did not intend to fulfill it in some way. Speaking to us in ways we can understand and relate to, the Holy Spirit works with our strengths and weaknesses to lead us to our vocation, and therefore help us grow deeper on our greatest path of love.

momo
Additionally, when Moana faces opposition to her mission from Maui, who resists the journey throughout most of the film, the Ocean helps Moana in extraordinary ways, such as swiftly guiding Moana back to the boat every time Maui throws her far off into the ocean. Even before she finds Maui, the Ocean helps Moana by keeping her awake when steering the boat as she searches for the demigod. The Ocean provides Moana the means to fulfill her calling when she is faced with adversity, just as the Holy Spirit assists us on our journey. When fulfilling God’s will, we are given the graces we need to follow our mission through. The Holy Spirit helps us overcome obstacles that threaten to derail us when our hearts are fixed on achieving what God is calling us to. We are never without help when seeking God’s will, much like Moana is never completely without help on her journey.

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But early on in her venture to find Maui, Moana finds herself suddenly caught in a treacherous storm while sailing the sea. The rough water thrusts her boat on its back and crashes into Moana as she tries to stay afloat. Moana pleads with the Ocean, asking it to help her manage the storm, to flip her boat and keep her from drowning. However, the Ocean does not provide help to Moana during what she thinks is her greatest time of need. Moana is knocked unconscious and dies. No, I’m just joking, Moana lives — but Hehei dies. I’m kidding, I’m kidding, Heihei doesn’t die… or does he?

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Moana lives and awakes to find she, her boat, and Heihei (maybe) have washed up on an island Moana is unfamiliar with. She becomes frustrated and feels betrayed by the Ocean, who gave her nothing but silence when Moana was struggling to survive the storm. Moana feels ignored and abandoned, until she turns around to see Maui’s shadow in the distance, signaling that she has finally reached her destination and found the demigod. The Ocean did not abandon Moana; it knew exactly what it was doing and was with her the whole time. The Ocean knew the storm would take Moana to her destination and that Moana would survive. It was not being silent out of spite or abandonment, rather the Ocean was allowing natural events to unfold and lead Moana to where she needed to be. This might have been my favorite scene just because it’s so relatable. How often do we pray and hear nothing but silence from God? I know it happens to me pretty often. But even when it feels as though God is not listening and doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want Him to, that does not mean we have been betrayed or ignored. The Holy Spirit never abandons us, it only remains silent because it has a greater plan, similar to how the Ocean had a plan for Moana during the storm. God hears our prayers always, but sometimes He answers them in ways we do not expect. The Ocean never left Moana, and the Holy Spirit never leaves us.

Finally, God never forces us to follow the vocation He intends for us to follow, similar to how the Ocean never forces Moana to finish the journey she started. After a series of events, Moana begins to believe she is not the “chosen one” and is not fit to handle the responsibility the Ocean bestowed upon her. Moana tells the Ocean that it made a mistake when it chose her, and gives the heart of Te Fiti back to the Ocean, recommending that it find someone more adept for the task of returning the heart to the goddess. Though disappointed, the Ocean gently accepts the heart and Moana’s resignation. The Ocean doesn’t make Moana do anything she does not want to do, it allows her the free will to choose a different path, though it may be a path of lesser love and fulfillment. The Holy Spirit treats our choices similarly. God has extraordinary plans for each of us and wants to use our unique gifts to bring greater love to the world and to our own lives. We must decide whether to follow God’s calling and accept the graces He wants to give us — but God leaves that decision in our hands. We can choose a different path, and God will never force the decisions we make. But if we are open to it, the Holy Spirit continues to send us graces to guide us to our greatest path of love and redirect our path when we veer off course, sort of like how Moana is given a pep talk by her grandmother after giving back the heart. The Ocean (I think) sends Gramma Tala to speak to Moana. Gramma helps Moana see that Moana was chosen for a reason and that she is fit for the task. Moana then dives into the ocean to retrieve the heart in order to finish the task she was called to complete, and sets off with a clear mind and conviction in her heart to save her island. You go, Moana. You go.

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The character of the Ocean in the movie Moana provides a charming and relatable metaphor for how we experience God in our lives, particularly through His Holy Spirit. Discerning our vocation and following our calling can be hard sometimes. We are all called to greatness, and greatness is often faced with hardship and adversity. But if we keep our eyes on God and ask for the Holy Spirit’s wisdom and guidance, we will not be led astray, and there’s just no telling how far we’ll go.

Originally published at “Flowers and Foxes.

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Magdalyn “Maggie” Fiore was raised in California, USA. Now living on the east coast, Maggie is pursuing her Master of Arts in Science Writing at Johns Hopkins University after recently receiving her Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland. Maggie’s greatest aspiration is to one day own a baby dinosaur. Unfortunately, some dreams don’t come true.

The Seven Deadly Sins in “The Jungle Book”

The Jungle Book (2016) is a masterful adaptation of Kipling’s book, paying due homage to the classic Disney film with its meshing of the familiar soundtrack with exquisitely-rendered new visuals.

It is also a tale of growing up in a dangerous world, of fulfilling one’s telos or true end, and of choosing to practice virtue instead of being consumed by vices which enslave us and lead us to harm others.

[Caution: Spoilers ahead]

Shere Khan is gripped by a burning anger, unable to forgive Mowgli’s father for scarring his face with a firebrand in self-defense. The tiger’s hatred of men is boundless, extending to the innocent Mowgli who was a mere toddler when Shere Khan killed his father. Khan’s insatiable wrath isolates him, making him feared by the other creatures of the jungle, while he spends each day in a terrible rage, enslaved by his fixation on ending Mowgli’s life.

It should in fact be Mowgli who hates Shere Khan for killing his father and hunting him relentlessly, but Mowgli does not seek revenge on Khan even after learning the truth from the serpent Kaa. Even when Mowgli hears of the wolf Akela’s death, he only wants to face Khan and stop him from further devastating the wolf pack for letting the boy walk free. Mowgli even places himself in mortal danger by hurling his torch into the water so as not to frighten the other animals. By this act of making himself vulnerable, Mowgli wins back the trust of the others, although he has accidentally set their forest on fire, and they all band together to fight against Khan. In contrast to Khan, Mowgli only resorts to killing his opponent in self-defense – and by indirect means, allowing Khan’s own rage to fuel his fall into the fire. Furthermore, Mowgli does not allow his losses and scars to bind him in brooding rage over the past, although Khan has twice robbed him of father-figures and his home. He goes on to lead a happy life in the jungle, in the company of his assorted friends.

Similarly, Satan is a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8) with an undying enmity against the human race (Genesis 3:15), and we are to be ever vigilant against his attacks on our souls; there are times in the spiritual life when we must flee in order to preserve our virtue (as St Thérèse did once)1, and there are times when we must take courage and face the adversary, overcoming him with the purifying fire of the Holy Spirit. Satan knows no peace – Which way I fly is hell; myself am hell2 – but is possessed by a terrible rage against mankind. Yet, when we stand together as the Body of Christ, instead of being divided by fear, we will not succumb to his deadly rule, but will win through to everlasting life in the heavenly communion of saints.

As Satan lured Eve by inciting her lust for the forbidden fruit, of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 3:5), Kaa lures Mowgli with the knowledge of his past, seducing him with lies that he is safe with her. Of course, the python only sees him as a tasty morsel to be gobbled up. (In the book, Kaa is male and a mentor of Mowgli’s.) Kaa is so fixated on her prey that she is unable to react in time when Baloo the bear chances upon them and saves Mowgli from certain death.

Baloo is a sloth bear who lazes around, trying to use monkeys to procure honey for him. He initially lies to Mowgli too, taking advantage of him and allowing him to be stung horribly all over while obtaining honeycombs. However, unlike the other predators in the jungle, Baloo gives Mowgli his freedom to leave whenever he likes, and Mowgli chooses to stay with the bear, forging a firm friendship as they forage for food. Yet, Baloo still uses Mowgli to pander to his gluttony, claiming that he will starve in hibernation if they do not store enough honey. Bagheera the panther, Mowgli’s mentor, turns up and points out that Baloo does not hibernate. Happily, Baloo is ultimately virtuous and self-sacrificing, overcoming his fear of heights to save Mowgli from his next mishap.

King Louie the monstrous orangutan is possessed by greed and envy, longing for “man’s red flower” so that he can rule over the entire jungle, although he already has plenty more than enough, with the simians of the forest waiting on him hand and foot. He wants to be like man, “on top of the food chain”. His boundless lust for power is his downfall, for in trying to capture Mowgli, Louie destroys his own palace and is buried in the ruins of his home.

In the end, each villain meets their downfall through self-absorption and overweening pride, hankering after something not rightfully theirs; each hero triumphs through humility, overcoming their shortcomings and embracing their true strengths. Bagheera tells Mowgli to fight Khan as a man, not a wolf, and Mowgli, though physically much weaker than any of the animals, triumphs by exercising his intellect, exploiting his fearsome opponent’s weakness and using Khan’s wrath against himself. Similarly, when we are beset by fears and discouragement, we can turn it against Satan, offering up our suffering in union with Christ so that the Kingdom of God may triumph in the hearts of men. As delineated in Plato’s Republic, the body is in harmony when the intellect governs the emotions and the appetites; there is justice in the body politic when each part of society works together for the common good. Then we shall rid our homes of the scourge of evil, and live in peace with all of God’s creation.

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Image: The Disney Wiki

1  Story of a Soul Ch. 9: “I thought that if I began to justify myself I should certainly lose my peace of mind, and as I had too little virtue to let myself be unjustly accused without answering, my last chance of safety lay in flight.”

2 John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book IV, l. 75.

The Silence of Mary vs Endō’s “Silence”

In the Martin Scorsese film Silence, based on the book by Shūsaku Endō, the Jesuit protagonists face a terrible choice: to renounce their faith and trample on the image of Christ, or to let their flock of Japanese faithful suffer torture and death.

In saving their flock in the temporal realm, did they not risk losing them for eternity? Did they not betray those who had already been tortured and killed? The pagan Japanese have traditionally understood dying for honor, as in the practice of seppuku. The real-life Japanese martyrs understood dying for God and the eternal salvation of others. Christian martyrs have always held it a privilege to die for the Faith, participating in the redemptive death of Christ.

The Nagasaki Martyrs
Choir of La Recoleta, Cuzco, Peru

The only reason for my being killed is that I have taught the doctrine of Christ. I thank God it is for this reason that I die. I believe that I am telling the truth before I die. After Christ’s example, I forgive my persecutors. I do not hate them. I ask God to have pity on all, and I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain.
St. Paul Miki

Crucifixion with Intercessors (The Crucifixion with Sts Paul and Francis)
Luini Bernardino, c. 1530.

Let us turn to the example of Mary, our Mother.

Have you ever remarked that practically every traditional representation of the Crucifixion always pictures Magdalene on her knees at the foot of the crucifix? But you have never yet seen an image of the Blessed Mother prostrate. John was there and he tells in his Gospel that she stood. He saw her stand. But why did she stand? She stood to be of service to us. She stood to be our minister, our Mother. If Mary could have prostrated herself at that moment as Magdalene did, if she could have only wept, her sorrow would have had an outlet. The sorrow that cries is never the sorrow that breaks the heart. It is the heart that can find no outlet in the fountain of tears which cracks; it is the heart that cannot have an emotional break-down that breaks. And all that sorrow was part of our purchase price paid by our Co-Redemptrix, Mary the Mother of God!
– Venerable Abp. Fulton J. Sheen, Calvary and the Mass: The Sanctus

She knew, better than anyone else will ever know it, that the greatest of all griefs is to be unable to mitigate the suffering of one whom we love. But she was willing to suffer that, because that was what He asked of her.
– Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God

Unlike Peter, who remonstrated with Jesus after He said He had to suffer and die, Mary quietly accepted this sword which pierced her heart. She watched in silence as her beloved Son, bone of her bone and flesh of her flesh, was mocked, cursed, defiled, falsely accused, scourged, spat upon, and crucified, with a crown of thorns jammed cruelly onto His poor head. All through the torture of the One she loved best, she never said a word against God. She trusted in His plan of salvation, though it tore her heart to shreds.

That suffering silence was the silence of a strong and virtuous woman who trusted completely in the foolishness of God, which is far above the wisdom of men. Unlike the priests in Silence, Our Lady held fast to the Word of God, the pearl of great price, the Way which leads through death to everlasting Life. Let us imitate her when we see our loved ones suffering, and stay close to Christ.

…the secular establishment always prefers Christians who are vacillating, unsure, divided, and altogether eager to privatize their religion. And it is all too willing to dismiss passionately religious people as dangerous, violent, and let’s face it, not that bright.
– Bishop Robert Barron, “Scorsese’s ‘Silence’ and the Seaside Martyrs

…our world doesn’t know what to make of the Resurrection or indeed of miracles and the supernatural. And so a veil of deep silence falls over them. This, in fact, is the deepest silence in the film: that the Resurrection is not even alluded to. And so, ‘Silence’ is left with a naturalistic tale wherein the most noble goal is to alleviate and reduce suffering. This is unsurprising since the very notion of redemptive suffering makes no sense and is a scandal without the theological virtues.
– Fr. Lawrence Lew O.P., “Initial thoughts concerning Scorsese’s ‘Silence’

From that time Jesus began to shew to his disciples, that he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the ancients and scribes and chief priests, and be put to death, and the third day rise again. And Peter taking him, began to rebuke him, saying: Lord, be it far from thee, this shall not be unto thee. Who turning, said to Peter: Go behind me, Satan, thou art a scandal unto Me: because thou savourest not the things that are of God, but the things that are of men. Then Jesus said to his disciples: If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For he that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for My sake, shall find it.
Matthew 16:21-25

Only in silence can the word of God find a home in us, as it did in Mary, woman of the word and, inseparably, woman of silence. Our liturgies must facilitate this attitude of authentic listening: Verbo crescente, verba deficiunt. (“When the word of God increases, the words of men fail.” – Augustine).
– Pope Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini n. 66

As a convert, in watching The Passion I was most profoundly affected by a new understanding of Mary, as The Mother of Sorrows.  It  recently occurred to me that her Son was only 40 days old – a tiny little Baby – when she was told that through Him “a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2: 35). And yet, did she hold back? Did she choose to protect herself from pain that was sure to come? No. She never held back her love in an effort to protect herself. She opened wide the doors of Hope. She rested in the joy that this life is not the end. She prepared her soul for the glory of eternal life. And she surrendered her will to the Will of her Heavenly Father, with calm, quiet, peace.
– Vicki Burbach, “Love, Loss and the Liberty of Letting Go

…martyrdom is a gift from God that is born of profound charity. It is a specific and glorious sharing in the life of Christ… Martyrdom is the crown of a life lived with ardent love for God and the people of God.
– Bro. Edmund McCullough O.P., “Life and Martyrdom

Also see: Taylor Marshall, “The Seven Sorrows of Mary are the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit”;
Joshua Bowman, “The Last Words of 30 Saints”.

Image: Signum-Crucis (1, 2)

Rogue One: An Advent Story

If you are a Star Wars fan, you have likely felt either excitement or apprehension when considering the release of “Rogue One”. This is uncharted territory for the Star Wars universe. A movie without an episode number, without an opening scroll, and independent of a trilogy to tell the story. We knew it would be unlike any Star Wars movies we’ve seen already, and could only hope that it would take us someplace worthwhile. That hope did not disappoint!

Rogue One brought us the endearing characters, plucky wit, and compelling action that many have come to love in this franchise of movies, television shows, and novels. It also brought us a gritty, heart wrenching picture of the realities of evil and the difficult choices we face – choices that don’t always allow us a clear view of the right and wrong.

At the center of the film is a virtue that makes it quite appropriate for the liturgical season of its release. Hope. As we are given a deeper look into Imperial rule, which includes tyranny of Storm Troopers in the streets, an imperial work camp, and deception of the senate, the only force that can take on the Empire is unraveling. The Rebel Alliance is scattered and has no unity or direction. While rebel leaders are attempting to come together, they are surrounded by doubt and indecision. Can we fight this evil? Can we unite? Is this even possible? The heroine of the film, Jyn Erso, echos her rebel partner, Cassian Andor, as she attempts to rally the Alliance to a common mission saying that, “Rebellions are built on hope.” It is this hope that ultimately unites the Rebel Alliance and empowers them to fight the greatest evil in the galaxy.

With Rogue One premiering during the third week of Advent, I can’t help but allow it to inspire me on this journey toward Christmas. Advent is the time in which we dare to hope against all odds that good will conquer evil. What is Christmas if not an audacious hope in the face of evil and tyranny?

The divine plan would have seemed ludicrous to most people. That God would become a helpless infant would seem too far fetched, too unbelievable, too risky. And yet this seemingly ordinary, hidden birth was precisely unlikely enough to work. St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote that, “The virginity of Mary was hidden from the prince of this world, as was also her offspring…” Perhaps it was the simplicity of the Incarnation and the humility of his arrival that allowed God’s plan to unfold, and permitted him to come into the world undetected.

The Incarnation proves that the Lord abounds in hope and is willing to risk everything for us, His beloved. The wonder of Christmas lies in the immensity of that risk which was taken for our sake. So whether you’re a Star Wars fan or not, let your heart be amazed by the power of hope. Because hope may have sparked rebellion a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, but hope born in a Bethlehem stable continues to ignite the divine love in our hearts today.