Thursday, November 30, 2023

St. Andrew Novena Starts Today - 2023


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 aptitude 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 60 AD.

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.

Monday, November 27, 2023

New Evangelizers Post: Reflections on The Imitation of Christ



I have a new article up at  

The Imitation of Christ is a spiritual classic. It is also one of the most read and influential spiritual books in the history of Christianity. Year after year I would attempt to sit down and read through this book. However, each page was filled with deep spiritual insights that required me to pause and think about. Finally, I decided to sit down and try to at least get through the entire book so I could understand its overall ideas. I am sure I will go back later and meditate on its deep insights. What is written below are my biggest takeaways from reading this book. I am sure there are holier and wiser people than I with more complete reflections.

Attributed to Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation is a guide to transforming your life into conformity to Jesus Himself. The key to spiritual progress is summed up here: “Two wings lift a person from earthly concerns: simplicity and purity.” (The Imitation of Christ, II.4) Throughout the book, Thomas brings these two themes to light in order to draw the person deeper into holiness. It reminds me of how sailors have to scrape the barnacles off the hull of a ship in order to reveal the vessel’s true form; and only then will the boat sail along as it should. Thomas attempts to bring the reader to a place where Christ can scrape the accumulated baggage of life and help the person’s soul sail towards God.

The Imitation is divided into four sections: “Useful Reminders of the Spiritual Life,” “Suggestions Drawing One toward the Inner Life,” “Of Inner Comfort,” and “The Book of the Sacrament.” In the first section, Thomas focuses on removing the distractions of the world in order to focus on God. He writes that even reading religious text in and of itself is not enough. “Endless reading and talk do not satisfy the soul, but a good life puts the mind at rest…” (I.2) The key to this is humility. “What good does it do, then to debate about the Trinity, if by a lack of humility you are displeasing to the Trinity?” (I.1) In other words, spiritual knowledge profits you nothing if it does not draw you closer to God. We must have a pure motive for our reading if we are to progress. I am reminded of my studies of King Henry VIII, who famously loved reading theology and debating religion, but he was not interested in personal sanctity.
Thomas tells us to simplify our lives by avoiding things like unnecessary chit-chat. He also recommends that we learn to love solitude: “No one is secure except the person who freely keeps to himself.” (I.20) There is a severe distrust of the idleness that can come from too much familiarity. I have heard it said that friendships can help us grow in virtue, but they can also be places that cultivate vice. Gossip can be the ruin of people and communities.

In this section, he also tells us to keep death on our minds, so that we can have a strong motivation to get our spiritual lives in order before we are judged. This is a common Catholic theme of memento mori. When we look at things from the eternal perspective, the worries and temptations of everyday life do not seem as overwhelming to us.

The second section continues on with the main themes of the first. He calls us to purify our conscience. “A good conscience is the best thing a person can have.” (II.6) With this, we can empty ourselves and take up the cross of Christ with love. This involves returning to that purity and simplicity, “Seldom do we find a person so spiritual that he lives stripped of everything.” (II.11)

In the third section, Thomas writes dialogues between Christ and the Disciple. Jesus calls us to “Let go of all passing things, and seek eternal ones.” (III.1) The entire section follows this theme where Christ draws the disciple to let go of sin and earthly desires so that their life is focused on heaven and their hearts are centered on Jesus. We are reminded that we should be humble and not think too highly of ourselves. In fact, we have to remember that the only good we have in us is good that comes from God. “There is no holiness, Lord, if you withdraw your hand…” (III.14) We can have peace if we remember to do four things: “Strive… to do another’s will rather than your own; always prefer less to more; always seek the lower place and be submissive in all things; always wish and pray that God’s will may be entirely fulfilled in you…” (III.23) The entire section has Jesus lead the disciple to a place where they place all of their hope and trust only in God Himself.

The final section focuses on encountering Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. He writes that we should receive Communion often and that we should yearn to be united with Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Film Flash: Napoleon


15 words or less film review (full review to follow soon)

Disappointing movie advertised as another Gladiator but is instead a depressing Bridgerton.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Thanks For Nothing (repost 2023)


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

In the last few months, my wife and I both went through some medical screenings.  Everything turned out fine by the grace of God.  But there was a great deal of fear and anxiety as we waited for results.  

I don't know how successful I was, but I tried to use that time to place myself in the shoes of someone who has to bear these heavy health burdens.  In a small way, I wanted to feel some of the feelings they feel.  I came to the conclusion that I lack the strength of character that the courages people with chronic illness have.  They are brave and heroic in ways I cannot describe.

God knows that I need more gratitude in my life and for that reason, I shall continue to be grateful for all the crosses He has not given.  

With that in mind, please enjoy this repost.

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.

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Film Review: The Marvels


Sexuality/Nudity Acceptable

Violence Acceptable

Vulgarity Acceptable

Anti-Catholic Philosophy Acceptable

A lot of people have been dog-piling on this movie as the negative reviews and poor box office news poor in.  And fair enough, the movie is not a financial nor a critical success.  

However I think that much the venom is unfounded.

The Marvels is actually a fairly enjoyable, middling MCU super hero film.  

Of the Marvel Phase 4-5 movies, it is better than The Eternals, Thor: Love and Thunder,  and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.  It's about at the same level as Shang-Chi, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and Black Widow (I have not seen Black Panther: Wakanda Forever).  I know that these movies haven't been everyone's favorites.  And The Marvels is not as good as Spider-Man: No Way Home or Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.  But for what it is, The Marvels was better than I expected.

The story centers around our three heroes: Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel (Iman Vellani), and Monica Rambeau/Photon (which she is never called in the movie)(Teyonah Parris).  Through some simultaneous mishap, these three become "quantum entangled" so that when they use their powers, they switch places with each other, no matter wear in the cosmos.  This poses a problem because Carol is fighting Kree on an alien world, Monica is doing technical work on a space station, and Kamala is at home with her parents and brother.  The ensuing chaos and violence actually is one of the best sequences in the movie where the characters are thrust in into unexpected life and death situations without any understanding of how they are seemingly pulled away at random.  It turns out that this is connected to Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), the new leader of the Kree.  She has just found one of the Quantum Bands (the other is being used by Kamala).  Dar-Benn intends to use this power to siphon precious resources from other planets to save the Kree homeworld of Hala.  Together, our three heroes have to work together to save the day.

One of the reasons that this movie is more enjoyable than Captain Marvel is that the characters are allowed to have more fun.  This is especially true with Vellani's Kamala.  She comes with a youthful, silly, hero-worshipping energy that was so endearing about Tom Holland's first outings as Spider-Man.  Even as the danger mounts, Vellani brings joy and wonder to everything.  And her awkward interactions with the other two bring out much of the film's humor.  Part of the fun is watching Larson have to react to this wild presence.  It helps melt away a lot of her more serious persona from her first film.

The movie moves into some very strange comedic territory.  But as I mentioned in my review for One Piece, I have become more comfortable with the Asian flexibility in style and tone.  This is not The Dark Knight, where everything is grounded in a tangible reality.  This is a story where you can go to a planet where everyone speaks by singing and a spontaneous dance number can break out.  If that is not to your tastes (as it wasn't to my young nephew who came with us to the movie), you may be turned off.  But if you can appreciate the humor of an absolutely bizarre sequence in the third act choreographed to the Broadway hit "Memory," then this movie will be enjoyable.

The movie flirts with depth of character and theme, but never really commits.  Perhaps this was done in order to keep the overall tone lighter.  There is a lot of tension between Carol and Monica, the latter who feels abandoned by one of the few people she has left who she considers family.  Kamala has a little bit of a wake-up-call regarding the limits of heroism when she has a confrontation with Carol over trying to save everyone on a dying planet, to which Carol replies "We need to save who we can!"  All of this is good fodder from some enriching and complex character work, but the movie only scratches the surface and glosses over the conflicts pretty quickly.  There are some deeply philosophical ideas that resonate with the Catholic tradition that are hinted at, but never fully explored regarding family, war, responsibility, and sacrifice.

Director Nia DaCosta does a competent job with the film.  As I wrote before, the first big action sequence was incredibly fun and creative.  Beyond that much of the visuals are boiler-plate Marvel content, which is not a negative.  But this movie does not stand out from the rest.  She does a good job of keeping a strong feminine tone without making it seem like a big deal.

I generally enjoyed the performances.  Larson, as I said, seems more relaxed in this film.  Some have criticized her performance as lazy, but I think that it just feels like lower energy because she is more at ease.  Villani is the bright spot of the movie.  Given the right material, I think that her character's popularity could go places.  Parris does a competent job as well.  However, the heroes should be forming a Freudian Trio with Kamal as the Id, Carol as Ego, and Monica as the Super Ego.  And while she is clearly the smartest one of the group, her personality is a little too close to that of Carol to get a fun clash of personalities like a Kirk-Spock-McCoy outing.

I really don't mean to be uncharitable, but Zawe Ashton is just awful as the antagonist.  Granted, she does not have a lot to work with, but she has managed to create the worst MCU villain I have seen.  Her performance would be completely forgettable if it wasn't so terrible.  It's like she watched Daenerys Targaryen in the final season of Game of Thrones and tried to copy that, but badly.  She is constantly mugging for the camera and putting on affectations that are meant to convey power but feel more like a child play acting as a grown up.  Widening your eyes and flaring your nostrils does not a performance make.  Samuel L. Jackson is back as Nick Fury, but really doesn't have much to do here so his performance also has a laid-back energy.

If you focus on what The Marvels could have been, it is definitely a disappointment.  

But as it is, it is from the disaster that is being purported.  If you are open to its tone and style, it is a fairly enjoyable piece of superhero fare.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

TV Review: Once Piece (2023)


I am not a big anime guy.  So when the news came out that there was a live-action version of a long-running manga and anime series, it did not pique my interest at all.

However, more and more people whose opinions I respect came back with reviews saying that this particular show was actually incredibly entertaining.

With that in mind, I decided to take a chance on Netflix's One Piece.

And it is as good as advertised.

One Piece takes place on a fictional world where most of the planet is ocean with one major strip of land dividing the hemispheres along with several islands throughout.  Chaos is reigned in by the massive and restrictive World Government.  Anyone who defies them is labeled a "pirate."  

Enter Monkey D. Luffy (Inaki Godoy), a young man in a straw hat with a mischievous grin and an indomitable spirit.  Luffy wants to get a crew together so he can go to a dangerous place called "The Grand Line" and find a mythical treasure called "The One Piece."  Once he finds he, he plans to become "King of the Pirates."  Early on, Luffy meets an enslaved cabin boy named Koby (Morgan Davies), who is timid and shy, but dreams of becoming a Marine for the World Government because he wants to protect people.  Luffy ends up breaking into a local Marine headquarters in order to steal a map to the Grand Line.  While there he meets up with Rorona Zoro (Mackenyu), a green-haired, deadly-serious swordsman and pirate-hunter.  Luffy also encounters an orange-haired thief named Nami (Emily Rudd), who is also trying to steal the map.  Also in their adventures, they are thrown together with people like Usopp (Jacob Romero), a teller of tall-tales and Sanji, (Taz Skylar), a fighter with deadly kicks who dreams of being a great chef.  Together they must evade enemies like Vice Admiral Garp (Vincent Regan), psychotic clown-pirate Buggy (Jeff Ward), and brutal fishman villain Arlong (McKinley Belcher III).  Along the way they learn about each other and get into all manner of situations as they look for the One Piece.

While that sounds a bit convoluted, the show does an excellent job of balancing all those elements while doing a fair bit of world-building.  Rather than focusing on every single bit of lore upfront, the show wisely understands that if the audience can attach itself to the main character, then we will follow him through, no matter how strange the path turns out to be.

One of the things that makes this show work so well is that the main characters are well-defined, distinct, and the play off of each other with excellent chemistry.  It is so boring when you watch a show with an ensemble cast that all talk and behave in such similar ways.  That isn't the case with One Piece.  Luffy is Don Quixote: a dreamer with and impossible dream that he believes in with all of his heart.  He improvises his way through most situations with an undying optimism and a wide smile.  Godoy could have played him as less-than-intelligent.  And while Luffy is no genius, he is also not stupid.  He just sees the best in people and in most situations and he wants people to follow their dreams.  When you meet Luffy, you want to be his friend too.

This relentless positivity clashes well with the stoic Zoro, who speaks with a flat affectation as if every topic is the most serious in the world.  It also sparks well against the cynical Nami who always sees the worst in the world and the people in it.  The show could have easily fallen into the trap of having Luffy always be naively right and his companions having to learn a lesson at the end of each adventure.  Instead the show is smart enough to show how their characteristics both help and hurt themselves and each other.

Usually when translating an anime into a live-action, there is an attempt to ground the visuals in something closer to reality.  One Piece does not do that.  Everything about it feels like a cartoon.  This is not a detriment, but it is a stylistic choice.  I think my recent exposure to Bollywood movies has broadened my tastes for the radical tonal shifts that can occur.  Movies like RRR go from over-the-top action to melodrama to comedy in the blink of an eye while maintaining their overall aesthetic.  One Piece invites you into this cartoon come-to-life and accept that the rules of the real world don't fit.  If that does not comport with your tastes, then this show will turn you off.

The performances are generally good.  Actors have to perform characters with several dimensions.  But while the characters are layered and multi-faceted, they are not subtle.  There is absolutely no subtlety in One Piece.  Characters make bold declarations at the top of their lungs for seemingly no reason.  Things are big, bold, and theatrical.  That isn't to say that there isn't symbolism are depth.  But everything is easily accessible.  The symbolic and emotional meaning of something like a straw hat is so powerful that when it is placed on someone's head, it speaks more powerfully than any bit of dialogue.

And again, the lack of subtlety does not mean lack of complexity.  There is something very Catholic about seeing that every person, no matter how they appear on the outside, has an entire inner life that humanizes them in our eyes if we can see it.

The relationships between the characters, particularly when at odds, causes the narrative to twist and turn in incredibly interesting ways.  What does Luffy do when one of his crew wants to follow a dream but could get him killed?  

Returning to the performances, they are all competent, but have potential to grow.  Godoy is able to hold the entire show as its loveable center.  Emily Rudd shows some charisma and range, though she is basically recreating Mary Elizabeth Winstead's Ramona Flowers.  Many of the others play the characters very broadly, which works for the show, but could be made even better with a little more depth.  

My biggest criticism of the show is the overall inconsistent aesthetic.  Some people dress like pirates, but others wear t-shirts.  There doesn't seem to be electricity unless there is.  Nothing feels like it belongs together.  This isn't a deal-breaker, but it sometimes took me out of the story.  When Peter Jackson did The Lord of the Rings, he made sure to give Middle-Earth a sense of consistent reality.  In One Piece, some things look like they were taken out of a costume shop and don't feel like they belong in that world.  

Ultimately, One Piece works because it is about friendship and adventure.  There is a refreshing innocence to the story.  Mind you, it is not necessarily for little kids.  There are murders and swearing, so this may not be appropriate for little ones.  But at the core there is a strong beating heart, not weighed down by cynicism.  Everything about this world, with its oppressive governments and violent pirates, should crush down our heroes into horrible pessimists.  But Luffy's unstoppable belief gives wind to their sails and pushes them on to the horizon.

Monday, November 13, 2023

New Evangelizers Post: The Five Levitical Sacrifices and Christianity



I have a new article up at  

I sometimes ask my students if they have tried to read the Bible all the way through. Some hands go up. When I ask them how far they get, most say that they stop somewhere in the third book: Leviticus.

The reason why Leviticus is difficult to read is that there are no stories in that book. It is entirely made up of laws. I know very few people who find enjoyment out of reading the owner’s manual to their car or a volume of local tort case laws. While this may be fascinating to some, to most it is drudgery.

But since all Scripture is of God, there are still things that we can take of value here. Even if we do not find it inspiring, the work is still inspired.

Today I would like to focus on the Five main Levitical Sacrifices.

The priests of the tribe of Levi would offer sacrifices on behalf of the people. The five major sacrifices were the Holocaust Offering, the Grain offering, the Peace Offering, the Sin Offering, and the Guilt Offering.

The Holocaust was the Diving Offering. A person would present to the priests a lamb or goat for sacrifice. If you had many lambs, this was to be the best of your flock. Like Abel in the Genesis, it was a sign of your dedication to God. You would not give God your scraps. Instead, you gave Him what was of highest value to show that God came first. For us, we can ask ourselves if we have this same mindset. When you get your paycheck is your first thought about paying off your bills or perhaps paying for that weekend vacation? Or is your first thought, “How can I use this money to give glory to God and help others?”

Goats and lambs, however, were not cheap. If you were too poor to afford this as an offering, then you made an offering of grain. The Grain Offering was the offering of the poor. Even the poor need to acknowledge that any good thing they have comes from God, even though they are not expected to give as much as the rich. Offering the grain or the bread showed a thanksgiving on the part of the poor for all that God has given.

In the ancient world, table fellowship was a big deal. It is one of the reasons Jesus always asks to dine with the sinners. Even today, sharing a meal with someone is one of the most common social activities. We do it on dates, meetings with friends, and gather around the table for special holidays. Table fellowship was also a sign of peace and reconciliation. The Peace Offering was a meal eaten with others. If you were having a feud with your neighbor, you would invite them to a meal to bury the hatchet. You make peace in the community as a sing of God’s love for us.

The last two offerings deal with our sinfulness. The Sin Offering was a sacrifice made on behalf of the people as a sign of our repentance and God’s forgiveness. I just finished watching a show called One Piece. In that show, a character betrays their friends for the villain. Feeling awful about it, this person looks at their shoulder where they have the villain’s logo tattooed. In repentance, this person begins to stab at the tattoo, trying to remove it. This was done as a sign of how sorry they were for what they had done and how they are turning their back on their former way of life. That is what the Sin offering does.

But there is more. As a kid, if you hit a baseball through the window of old Mrs. Slobovovich’s house, you aren’t supposed to run and hide. You are supposed to go, knock on her door, and apologize. But asking for forgiveness is not enough. Their is still the matter of the broken window. You must offer to repair the damage. That is what the Guilt Offering is for.

God is a God of justice. This means that all sin must be punished. But if sin must be punished and I have sin in me, then this means that I will be punished. However, the Guilt Offering involves something called the Scapegoat. This is a goat or lamb that is brought before the community. All of the sins of the community are symbolically placed upon this animal. No, the punishment of sin will fall on the animal and not upon the community. The animal takes the blame, hence it is our scapegoat.

After looking at the above description of the Five Levitical Sacrifices, you may wonder why a Christian should care about them? After all, we do not do animal sacrificing anymore. So what advantage is there for us to know these?

Because all of these foreshadow Christ.

You can read the whole article here.