Monday, November 30, 2015

St. Andrew Novena

Much of what is below is a repost from years earlier.

I think about St. Andrew quite a bit.  He was one of the first four called by Christ.  It was James, John, Andrew and Andrew's brother Peter.  But of that quartet, only the trio of Peter, James, and John ended up being Jesus' closest friends.

I wonder if Andrew was like us and got jealous.  According to the Gospel of John, it was Andrew who brought Peter to the Lord, and the Lord seemed to like Peter better.  How often have we introduced a sibling or friend to our inner circle only to have them become more popular or have a greater apptitude for what you enjoy?

But I bet that Andrew was better than most of us.  He was probably a model of humility.  I like to imagine that he was happy for his brother and he was content to have others loved and esteemed more than himself.

My favorite story is about when he died.  They tied him to the cross, but for days and days he preached non-stop to the point where the officials realized it was doing them more harm than good.

But when they came to take him down, Andrew looked at Jesus and told him he was tired and he just wanted to go home to heaven and be with Him.  So the soldiers were unable to take him down and Andrew finally went home to the Jesus and his brother Peter on November 30th 60AD.

Today is the feast of St. Andrew.  And there is a special novena prayer that is prayed between now and Christmas.  It goes as follows:

St. Andrew Christmas Novena

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born Of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold. In that hour vouchsafe, I beseech Thee, O my God, to hear my prayer and grant my desires through the merits of Our Savior Jesus Christ, and of His blessed Mother. Amen.

That prayer is prayed 15 times a day until the ends.  My wife and I pray this together every year and have found many graces through the intercession of St. Andrew.  I pray that all of you do as well.

God Bless.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Sunday Best: TV Dramas of All Time #11 - Arrow


Fresh off of the ending to the long-running DC Comic show Smallville, it was announced that they were going to be doing a show about Green Arrow.  Like Iron Man before the Robert Downey Jr. film, Green Arrow had always been a second tier character, kind of a Batman-lite.  So I was dubious about basing an entire show around him.

But boy was I wrong.

As the show developed, it not only had fantastic action, heart-breaking melodrama, and witty humor, but it also had tons of Easter eggs for comic fanboys like me.

At first I was very concerned about all the strange liberties they were taking with the character, chief of which was that our main character Oliver Queen/The Arrow (Stephen Amell), was killing bad guys.  I also had trouble connecting to all of the supporting characters and their storylines.  But after sticking with the producers' vision, I saw the slow unfolding and evolution of the characters, showing me that this creative team really knew how to use the medium of television to tell long form stories.  And this is key to understanding the brilliance of the show.  A lot of series are afraid to change things up and simply give you the same thing each week.  And while there is a generally same mixture of action/drama/humor in each episode, the producers are able to take the characters on a real journey so that even our main character is not the man we met 4 years ago, for good or ill.

I have also come to love how they've slowly brought in the more fantastical elements of the DC Universe instead of thrusting Oliver into a world of super-powers.  This not only helps ground the show into some kind of believability, but it slowly ups the stakes as Oliver gets better and better at being a hero.

What set this episode apart and what made this the threshold was how it dealt with the seemingly unavoidable suspicion that Oliver was the Arrow.  Like in Batman Begins, the long lost billionaire returns home and suddenly there is also a masked vigilante around.  Who couldn't put 2 and 2 together.  The fact that the producers look at this possibility and meet it head on shows a bit more respect for the audience that other producers have shown in the past.  But this show was also revelatory in terms of how broken Oliver is from his experiences on the island and how he really hasn't healed.  He is not a hero yet, but you can still root for him to overcome his pain.


"Draw Back Your Bow"
They often say that a hero is only as good as his villain.  And the villain in this episode, Cupid (Amy Gumenick) is a lovesick stalker that is way too over-the-top.  For the most part, Arrow has done of a good job of not going too silly with its villains, but Cupid just rubbed me the wrong way.  Although I have to say that the producers do something pretty cool in the episodes leading up to this by placing the actress in the background of a number of scenes so that when you go back you can see how she was stalking him.

This is not only the best episode of the series thus far, but it is one of the best single episodes of television I have seen in a long time.  This season finale is the culmination of the season-long build up between Oliver and Deathstroke.  The stakes are so high because the villain is not only stronger than our hero, but also much smarter with an army of superpowered soldiers.  So Oliver has to raise his own army and the confrontation is fantastic.  But that wasn't what blew me away.  It was a quiet moment back at Ollie's mansion.  SPOILERS BELOW:
For those familiar with the comics, Oliver Queen and Black Canary (Katie Cassidy) are the central couple of their comic, like Superman and Lois Lane.  And throughout the series, the two danced around this love/hate relationship involving lies, betrayal, and love triangles.  One of the things to lift the tension was the introduction of the character Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards), a high-tech nerd who is so incredibly awkward, says things that fans of the show are thinking, and has the worst kind of out-of-her-league crush on Oliver.  As Oliver keeps trying to connect to his old love, it was funny and heartbreaking to watch Felicity pine away hopelessly for our hero.  And then this:

My jaw dropped.  I never expected them to do this and it made the mushy romantic in me squeal.  But the show wasn't done with me and did not make it that simple.  Another twist lay around the corner that was so well played that I forgave the show for toying with my emotions.  It was a fantastic piece of writing, directing, and acting.  And this episode raised this show above the numerous other shows I have watched in my life.


Each week Arrow brings new challenges and new drama.  It is a show that allows its characters to grow and change and evolve in ways that brings something new, fresh, and exciting as the series rolls on.  That is why it is the #11 Drama of all time and it is the greatest comic book superhero show of them all thus far.

Friday, November 27, 2015

TV Review: Jessica Jones Season 1

Jessica Jones is the second Netflix Marvel series to come out, following on the heels of Daredevil.  Both shows are attempts for the Marvel brand to show a darker, more mature side.

Daredevil was dark.

But Jessica Jones is dirty.

Jessica Jones is about the title character (played by a amazing Krysten Ritter), a former superhero who is now a private investigator.  From the first moments of the show we can see there is something horribly broken about her and she tries to cover it with hard fighting and hard drinking.  Jessica is then pulled into a case that is directly connected with her traumatic past.  And this sets up the entire trajectory for the season.

The show has strong connections to the Film Noir tradition of the hard-boiled detective, and it is very successful in this respect.  But the show gets dragged down instead of energized by its vulgarity.

I don't mean to say that the show is necessarily bad.  There are many fine things about it that I will discuss below.  But the big takeaway for me was how this show pushed the envelope in terms of mature content for a Marvel property.

This should come as little surprise since the comic that it is based on, Alias, is the first Marvel comic ever to drop the F-Bomb, among its many R-Rated features.

The comparison to Daredevil may be a bit unfair considering the storylines and subject matter, especially because Jessica Jones suffers in comparison.  Daredevil was the darkest thing that I've had ever seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe up until that point.  But the darkness was of a kind that set the heroes in dire relief against their harrowing circumstances.  Jessica Jones does the same thing, but the level of sexuality and vulgarity acts as more of a distraction than anything.

I find it so interesting that even though there was some sex in Daredevil, there isn't nearly as much or as explicit as in Jessica Jones.  Thankfully there is no direct nudity.  But there is little left to the imagination when depicting the acts themselves.  I'm usually not one to hunt out sexism in media, but I find it so interesting that Marvel's first central female hero on screen is defined a lot by her sexuality, whereas the male heroes are not.

I find it ironic that the show's main producer/writer, Melissa Rosenberg understands how being more graphic can turn off viewers.  This show deals with the subject of rape, but Rosenberg said in an interview with the LA Times:

"With rape, I think we all know what that looks like. We've seen plenty of it on television and I didn't have any need to see it, but I wanted to experience the damage that it does. I wanted the audience to really viscerally feel the scars that it leaves. It was not important to me, on any level, to actually see it. TV has plenty of that, way too often, used as titillation, which is horrifying." 

I agree completely with her point, but I don't think she sees how this could also be applied to the other graphic content.  The show also has an abortion, which is sometimes a deal-breaker for me.  And unlike Daredevil, Jessica Jones does not have the same respect for religion.  While the show never comes out and attacks faith, there is one scene with a Catholic woman and the writing for her is so terrible because it makes her sound almost delusional.  The show flirts with nihilism, but only in the way Daredevil did as a temptation rather than a destination.

The other big drawback of the show is that most of the side characters feel like distractions and are not as interesting.  That isn't to say their performances are in any way bad.  But the non-Jessica storylines lack anything that held my interest.

Having said all of the above, there is still much to admire about the show.

The main storyline is incredibly compelling.  Jessica's struggles are not only external and filled with spectacle, but they are also internal and visceral.  There are a lot of unexpected gut punches in the show.

The writing, while admittedly vulgar, is also incredibly clever.  Plot threads are woven throughout the series and slowly pay off.  The payoff at the end of episode 9, "AKA The Sin Bin" was so cathartic that I punched the air in excitement.  And the show does a wonderful slow build the entire season as the tension and stakes mount higher and higher with each passing episode.

The performance are also fantastic.  I was a bit skeptical about Krysten Ritter only because I had never seen her tackle a character this complex.  But she was more than up for the job.  She has a disaffected cadence in her voice that could be mistaken for indifference, but she uses that tone as part of her characters layers.  And Jessica is at times repulsive and heroic and Ritter plays those contradictions beautifully.

But the standout of the show is without question David Tennant as Killgrave.  I've read a number of reviews that say that Killgrave is best MCU villain, even better than Loki, and I would have to agree.  Tennant is charming, terrifying, sympathetic, vile, funny, and disgust often at the same time.  Tennant makes every insane and evil choice completely believable.  And even though you accept that he is the worst kind of villain, there is a small part of you that hopes, deep down, there is something redeemable.  I credit that mostly to Tennant's ability to see the man behind the monster, while never letting you forget that he is a monster.

The other supporting actors are very good as well.  Rachel Taylor as Trish Walker (Hellcat in the comics), Eka Darville as druggie neighbor Malcolm, Carrie-Anne Moss as sleazy, upscale attorney Jeri Hogarth, and Mike Colter as Luke Cage are all top notch.

So because of the good content and bad content I am in the awkward position of not being able to recommend the show.  Again, this does not mean that it is a poor quality show at all or that you shouldn't watch it all.  But because of the mature content, it may detrimental for those who struggle with graphic content.

I'm hoping the second season will rise above this one.

4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanks For Nothing (repost)

 I am very grateful for all of the wonderfully positive feedback on this essay, so I thought I would share it again.

This past year has I've seen so many difficult and challenging things that my friends and family have had to endure.  As bad as those things are, one silver lining is that it makes me pay attention to all of the good things that I was taking for granted.

Happy Thanksgiving!

(originally published November 22, 2012)

Thanks For Nothing

When I was 15-years-old, I got a little sick.  In what was obviously an over-reaction on his part, my dad took me to the Emergency Room.  As it turned out, I had pneumonia and my blood oxygen level was down to about 50%.  If he had waited much longer to take me I might have died.

I share this with you so that you will understand why I am a little bit of a hypochondriac now.  I don't freak out at every sneeze or obsessively lather myself in Purell.  But whenever I have chronic problem, I begin to have a persistent fear of the worst.

For the past 4 weeks I've had a persistent cough.  I cannot remember having one that has lasted this long.  So of course, my mind helplessly gravitated to the worst case scenarios, despite the constant assurances from my long-suffering wife.  After weeks of fretting, I went yesterday morning for a chest X-ray.

After they were taken, I was asked to wait for a moment alone in the exam room.  I stood there for 5 minutes in that room with its claustrophobic white walls and antiseptic smell and thought about all those people who came to that room and got bad news that resulted in a lot more time between claustrophobic white walls and antiseptic smells.

Finally, after hours of fretting (and trying to distract myself with a viewing of Wreck-It Ralph) we got the results.

And what did they find?


They found nothing.  I was worried about nothing.

I was put on some new medication and I've been feeling a bit better.

I didn't realize how much the storm clouds had been hovering over me until today.  I was walking around, doing chores and errands with such a light heart.  It was because I knew that my cough, though a bit annoying, was ultimately nothing.


Today is Thanksgiving.  It has always been one of my favorite holidays, and not because I eat enough turkey to put a man twice my size into a literal coma (although that is a plus).  I love that we take time out of our year to appreciate the blessings of life and give thanks to our Provider.

My boss, a man I greatly admire, once said to me that you cannot be truly happy unless you are truly thankful.  Happiness only comes when you acknowledge that everything thing you have is a gift from God.

I have tried to take those words to heart and be thankful for everything I have.  I have an holy wife, a loving family, loyal friends, a fulfilling job, and more action figures than you can shake a stick at (if that's your idea of a good time).  Bing Crosby sang that we should count our blessings instead of sheep.  But I never get to the end of count because God has been so very generous to me.

But all this time I have been overlooking something else to be thankful for.


I wrote earlier about how much I have come to realize what a blessing it is to feel normal.  But I did not take it the necessary step further.

There is nothing wrong with my lungs.  But it could have been something.  And that something could have been not-so-bad to catastrophic.  But God, in His goodness, gave me nothing.

About 2 years ago I was on the highway on my way to work in the middle of winter.  I was in the left lane when I noticed a car had skidded off the road.  I tried to get a better look, but I must have not been paying attention to the road.  Because I then hit a patch of ice and my car spun out and did a 180 degree turn that hurled me across the other lane.  And do you know what I hit?


For one of the only times I can remember, there were no cars around me on that part of the road.  I skidded off to the right embankment facing the opposite direction.  But I was fine.  Nothing happened.

A few weeks ago during Hurricane Sandy, the wind was so strong it blew down a tree in my back yard.  What did it hit?


A little to right and it would have destroyed my shed.  If it fell in the opposite direction it would have caved in the roof and crushed my wife and I.  But instead, nothing happened.

This world is so full of darkness and danger, disease and disaster.  Some of it falls on us.  But a lot of it doesn't.

So today I'm going to give thanks not only for the all of the things God has given me this past year, but I'll also praise Him for the "nothings" too.

No sudden falls down the stairs that break a limb.  No food poisoning from that new restaurant.  No angry student deciding to respond to his detention with his fist.  No home burglary in the middle of the night.  No careless accident to hurt anyone I love.

I do have my share of crosses, many of them of my own making, but I have not been crushed by them. And I am not saying that any of the aforementioned catastrophes won't one day be mine to bear.  One day, an X-ray may find something.

But not today.

Today, I am thankful for nothing.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Trailer Time: Captain America - Civil War

To my mind, Captain America: The Winter Soldier was an unexpectedly excellent film.  So my hopes are very high for the follow up: Civil War.

And so far, the trailers look pretty intense.  I like the fact that they are delving into the moral ambiguity of conflicting loyalties.  I just hope that they don't go the same thematic route as the Civil War comic.


Monday, November 23, 2015

New Evangelizers Post - The Lord’s Prayer Part 1: The Heavenly Family

I have a new article up at  

The Lord’s Prayer, also commonly known as the “Our Father” is the perfect prayer of Jesus Christ. When His disciples asked Him how we should pray, Jesus did not give a vague subjective answer. He said, “This is how you are to pray.” (Lk 11:1) The prayer is so powerful and profound that that it is the only penance that Fr. Larry Richards every gives after confession. One Lord’s Prayer prayed well can be more spiritually effective than many heaped on devotions. It is the prayer that we recite word for word at each mass, with every decade of the rosary, and many other times throughout our lives.

This article will be the first in a series, unpacking the theology of this prayer and hopefully understand its perfection a bit more.

(There are two versions of the prayer found in Matthew and Luke’s Gospel. Since Matthew’s version is the more expanded, traditionally used version, we will focus on that one.)

You can read the entire article here.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sunday Best: TV Dramas of All Time #12 - Star Trek Deep Space Nine


This is the best Star Trek series.

Hands down.

And yet, I think that it is one of the most undervalued and under-appreciated.  It came after the more popular Star Trek The Next Generation and before the highly hyped Star Trek Voyager.

But DS9 was different than all the other Treks.  They were not about exploring new worlds but in preserving the world they had.  Slowly over the course of the series, the show became a show about war.  And that high-stakes drama made it stand apart from all the other shows.  It was amazing to watch the evolution of characters that you did not get a chance to see on the original series or on TNG.  The complicated alliances and betrayals brought the series to fantastically frustrating emotional complexity.

Like other Treks there are a bevy of strange and exotic characters, the best of which is Constable Odo, who is to my mind the most complicated and tragic Star Trek character of all time.  Back this up with some fantastic performances and you have the makings of a science fiction that looks at the darker side of violence and human nature, but with that same ultimate Trek optimism about human life.

This was the episode when I realized that DS9 was not a TNG clone.  In this episode the perennial omnipotent villain Q shows up to mess with the crew of the space station.  As before, he transports the characters to exotic fantasy locales and taunts them.  And then came the moment when Commander Sisco (Avery Brooks) punches Q in the face.  When told that Picard would never hit him, Sisco's response is perfect: "I'm not Captain Picard."  And it was at that moment that I realized that this show was more violent, more dangerous than I had anticipated and that the old rules didn't really apply.

"Trials and Tribbilations"
I know that there is a lot of nostalgia for this particular story from the original series.  And there were a few clever easter eggs spread throughout.  But the story felt like a weird stretch by the producers to connect to older fans as a way to increase the fan base.  It felt very out of place and out of character for the show.

"Move Along Home"
It is unfortunate that the worst episode of the series happens so early.  I can imagine a number of fans being turned off at this point.  Thankfully it occurred after the TV Threshold episode.  The problem with this story in which Quark enters into a game where the crew are pawns, is that it is a story without purpose or consequence.  It forces the crew into strange and awkward actions (I do not need to see Sisko singing and playing hopscotch).  And at the end of it all, the whole experience feels pointless.

"Homefront" and "Paradise Lost"
Here you can see the seeds of paranoia that will later play out in series producer's later project Battlestar Galactica.  In this episode, the Changelings have infiltrated Earth and the entire planet is riddled with fear.  There is a wonderfully tense seen where Sisko even suspects his own father.  The show is a good balanced mediation of freedom vs. safety.  But the best part of the episode is where a Changeling imitating O'Brien speaks to Sisko and asks him how many Changelings he thinks there are on the entire planet causing all of this chaos.  He says to Sisko, "What if I were to tell you there were only four?"  The horror of what this statement implies is terrible and profound.  And from this point on, the dire stakes of the entire Star Trek universe is placed in a desperate perspective.


This show deserves a revisit from fans of science fiction and Star Trek in particular.  You will find some true TV treasures here.