Saturday, November 30, 2019

St. Andrew Novena Starts Today

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.

Thursday, November 28, 2019


Thanksgiving: November 28th, 2019

I was having a conversation with someone earlier this year and he mentioned something that completely changed the way I looked at the world.

Have you ever had an experience that you thought was common to all people, only to find out that it was rare or non-existent in everyone else?  I remember for years I was pronouncing the word "translucent" as "trans-Glousent."  I don't know where the error occurred, but I had been doing it for nearly 30 years.  It wasn't the most earth-shattering thing, but it made me look back at my entire story and realize that I saw the world slightly different than everyone else.

In my conversation earlier this year, I was speaking about friendship.  The person with whom I was speaking said, "I don't think most people have friends the way you do."

Allow me to explain.  It has to do with the movie Young Guns.

One of the reasons that I spend so much time and thought on things in pop culture like movies is because I think that on an autobiographical level, they DO matter.  The stories we encounter, and for me it is especially found in movies, shape how we look at the world.  They create the vocabulary for us to express and interpret our lived experience.

I saw the movie Young Guns when I was 10-years-old.  Perhaps it was a bit violent for someone my age, but I grew up in a house with cable TV and very little supervision in that area.  The movie is about Billy the Kid and the Regulators who take on the corrupt forces in New Mexico.  At one point in the movie, one of the Regulators is about to leave.  But Billy says:

"See, you get three or four good pals, well then you've got yourself a tribe.  And there ain't nothing stronger than that."

For me, these words resonated deeply.  There are many people in my life that I would call my friends.  And I think that is true about many of us.  There are those people whose company we enjoy and thus continue to spend many pleasant hours with.  But there is a deeper level to be found.  There is a fellowship that is more than a mutual admiration or mere sentiment.

It is a bond.

The deepest level of friendship, for me, has always been that place where your life is knit together with another in a way that needs not be declared or ever spoken out loud but is present regardless.  It happens when, whether planned or not, the other person is not simply someone who happens to be in your story, but they become a part of your story and you are part of theirs.  This bond takes the form of new language, a shorthand that looks to people from the outside like inside jokes.  But it isn't a code to keep people out.  When you share a life with someone, your mutual memories co-mingle with each other so that your souls come into closer contact than with others.

It is also most deeply expressed in the intuitive sense of obligation.  When you become a parent, there is a part of your life that you immediately understand is no longer yours.  It is the same thing when you get to the deepest level of friendship.  You owe an unpayable debt that requires you to be there for your friend when they are in need.  It doesn't matter if it is convenient or inconvenient, you owe.  But there is no bitterness in the debt.  There is a solemn pride in being someone who is allowed this sacred bond.

I have been blessed with amazing friends.  I do not say this as a boast or even a surreptitious humble-brag.  I don't know what I have done in this life to warrant this treasure.  Don't get me wrong, I am not some social pariah, but I find that the rewards of my friendships have greatly outweighed any costs.

CS Lewis said that we find friends when we see the same truth.  He made his best friend when, as boys, they realized that they loved Norse Mythology.  Jack (as CS Lewis was known by friends) and the other boy Arthur Greeves were pals until the day Lewis died.

I've probably written about this before, but back in seventh grade I did a presentation on my comic book collection.  Afterwards, one of my classmates began to talk to me about an issue of Wolverine that I had not read.  Years later he was the best man at my wedding.

In preparing to write this, I've tried to recall how my best friends have entered in my life.  I can remember with such clarity the day I met my wife, but with my friends it is much fuzzier.  I was recently reminiscing with a friend that my first recollection of our friendship was in fourth grade when we were transferring desks from one school building to another singing "I Feel Good" by James Brown.  There is another I can only remember our friendship beginning in second grade because we got into a contest about who could sit on certain colored lunch chairs for the most consecutive days.  It doesn't make any sense that these moments could be the seeds that grew into life-long friends.

And these friendships are not the only ones.  During high school, you begin the process of being the person you are going to be for the rest of your life.  While there is still plenty of time to grow, the window for change begins to shrink as your choices for your life path get narrower and narrower.  And here, you find people that begin to explore with you those awkward years of self-discovery and see you through all of your mistakes.  They stand by you and lift you up when you fall.  And if you have particularly good friends, they will confront you when you are on the wrong path.  Again, some of the friendships began because we started hanging out and going to the movies together or because our widening social circle brought more people in.  Sometimes it was even the geography of who lived across the street from whom.  It starts with small encounters followed by car-ride conversation, late-night Denny's dinners, and conversations at 2 am in a foyer.  We grew up with each other and because of each other.

And it didn't stop there.  Funnily enough, though I made some friends in college, no one I went to college with became bonded to my life in the way I'm describing.  But during those college years, those circles of mutual friends brought more people into my life. Again, it starts simply with mutual love of something like Star Wars or comic books.  And somehow you are having late-night conversations about life or watching their kids grow up through the years.

One of the things that has been a real blessing is becoming friends with my siblings.  Growing up at such different times and ages, you see the world so differently.  And yet as adults, we can come back together because of our shared life and we are bonded over that.  I am so blessed to call each of my sisters my friend.  And through them I can enter into friendship with their husbands.  I was very close to my brother when we were younger, but we are not close friends now.  Much of this is my own fault and how I behaved as a younger man (and to this day).  I want to become friends again, and I will continue to figure out how.

Because that is what you do when someone is important in your life like this.  One of my friends exited my life for a few years.  Nevertheless, I never stopped keeping that door open to reconciliation.  I even had someone tell me I was foolish and that I should let that friendship end.  But here is the thing: I don't know how to do that.

When someone is bonded to your life like a pal, those doors are never shut.  Time and distance don't break the invisible chains that bind you.  There is someone with whom I became very close for a few years, but then there was a separation and we don't really talk.  But I hold out hope that we will return to where we once were.  And even if that day never comes, the bond is still there.  A few years ago when my wife and I hit dire financial difficulties, this same friend called, though we hadn't spoken in a while, and spent a good hour on the phone advising me and consoling me.  Even if his life's story is being written in a different book, the bonds still pull us together when the call is heard.

And of course, my greatest friend is my wife.  And while the bonds of marriage are very different from all others in its intimacy and exclusivity, there is still the strong sharing that can only come from the deepest of friendship.  Also, while I know I am called to friendship with Lord, I am shy about labeling this relationship as such.  For while God is closer to me than all other persons, His majesty is so high above, that I will say that I am His friend, though I pray that He can say I am His.

Aristotle said that true friendship can only exist between equals.  In some sense he is right, but I don't think friends really see each other as equals.  Author Brad Meltzer once wrote that the best of friends don't see the other as an equal.  They see them as their better.  There is something about the other person that I admire and to which I aspire.  Meltzer hit it a bit closer than Aristotle.  How did I ever get so lucky as to have these friends in my life?

If you lined up my pals and offered me $1 billion dollars to let any of them go from my life, I would reject that offer without a moment's hesitation.  Each one of them is too much of a treasure to compare to anything else.

I always thought that everyone else in the world experienced friendship like this.  As I said, my conversation from earlier this year told me that they do not.  I pray that this is wrong.  I could not imagine my life without them: past, present, and future.  I see so many young people today with an ever widening social circle, but no rock-solid companions on life's journey, no hand firmly gripping yours to raise you up to the next step.

My friends have shaped the contours of my life.  It doesn't mean we always get along or agree.  It doesn't mean that all of our free time is spent with each other.  It doesn't mean there won't be bad times.  What it means is that despite all of that, your pals will be there for you.  They are the bedrock of my entire existence.  Because of them, I know that in this world I am not alone.  They confer a value on my entire life that can only be given when a friend pledges the bonds we share.

So this Thanksgiving, while I have much for which to give thanks, I will raising a glass of ginger ale to all those who fill, strengthen, and mold the very heart of me and I will simply toast them all with one of the most sacred words in my entire life:


Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Wednesday Comics: DCeased - Superhero Zombie Story Done Right

Image result for dceased #1

A number of years ago, Marvel hit it big with a mini-series called Marvel Zombies.  The story arose from an arc in Ultimate Fantastic Four, but it morphed into it's own mini-phenomenon.  It was dark, twisted, cynical, and nihilistic.  It was a chance to take the stable of Marvel characters out and do disturbing things with them.

Needless to say, I hated it.

So when writer Tom Taylor brought us his take on a similar premise with DCeased, I assumed I was in for the same treatment.

I could not have been more wrong.

This was one of the best mini-series that DC has produced in a while.  At first it started as standard zombie fare.  In this story, the Anti-Life Equation has destroyed Darkseid and the planet of Apocalypse, but it has also infected the digital parts of the hero Cyborg.  When Cyborg returns to Earth, the virus is spread via the internet.  Anyone who looks at a digital screen is turned into a zombie.  This includes anyone with super powers.  The world immediately begins to collapse.  It is up to the heroes to band together in a losing fight to save humanity.

While the story was decent most of the way through, it was the final two issues that put it over the top.  It is difficult to review without giving away any major spoilers.  But what Tom Taylor was able to do was create situation so dire that you honestly get the impression that the heroes may not pull through this time.  While some stories do this simply intentionally subvert expectations, Taylor never lets you give up hope, even though you start to get a sinking feeling that the end is just around the corner.

On top of that, it has some of the funniest lines I've read all year.  And the humor does not feel forced.  It comes as a much needed relief from the darkness and is driven by character.  In the fifth issue, Lex Luthor says something that I am going to remember for a long, long time.  It was hysterical and completely in keeping with his character.  Green Arrow also has a great bit towards the end.

The best moments from the series come from Superman and his family.  Superman has always been the symbol of hope for the DCU.  To watch him slowly lose his grip on that is harrowing.  You watch him make a mistake that is so forgivable that you want to ignore the horror that it unleashes.  But watching his son Jonathan step up in the final issue was emotional in a way that I was not expecting.

This story was better than I was expecting.  What might have been simple gory schlock for the sake of shocking the audience, Taylor told an incredibly moving and human story about sacrifice against impossible odds. Artists Trevor Harisine and Neil Edwards capture the darkness of the situation while not tarnishing the shine on our heroes.

If you weren't sure about picking up this book, I'd definitely recommend it.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Film Flash: Frozen 2

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

Frozen made a Pocahontas sequel.  More songs, but less quality.  A mediocre, but enjoyable sequel.

Monday, November 25, 2019

New Evangelizers Post: Never Stop Forgiving

I have a new article up at  
One of my favorite stories about the Sacred Heart revelations is when St. Margret Mary Alacoque told her confessor, Fr. Claude de la Colombière, that she was seeing visions of Jesus. Fr. Claude asked for proof. He told her to to ask Jesus what was the last sin he confessed when he went to the sacrament of Reconciliation. When St. Margret Mary asked Jesus what Fr. Claude last confessed, Jesus responded, “I forgot.”

The reason why I love this story is that it shows us the complete and absolute forgiveness that comes from God. When we truly repent and confess, then in God’s eyes it is as if the sin has never happened. Of course, Divine Knowledge can never be truly ignorant, but the statement “I forgot,” is the closest thing that we human beings can come to understand the totality of that absolution. In God, none of the sin lingers when He has cleansed us by His forgiveness. His merciful act of forgiveness is given and then all is set right.

If only we humans could do the same.

We are told that we have to forgive and forget. For many of us, the forgiving is difficult, but the forgetting is even harder.

Some people are predisposed by temperament to be easily merciful and forgiving. For the rest of us, forgiveness may be a struggle. This is especially difficult when the people we need to forgive do not come first to make amends. And yet, our call to forgive is not only for those who ask for it, but for all. Christ on the cross offered forgiveness for His murderers as they were killing Him (Luke 23:34). Blessed Miguel Pro offered forgiveness to his executioners before they took his life.

Forgiveness is a must for all Christians. It is not optional. On top of this, forgiveness releases the soul from the bitterness and resentment that shackles it. When we forgive others, we are set free from the negativity that fills our hearts.

I have found that the easiest way to get to forgiveness is to remember my own sins. When I stack up my own faults before the Lord and I remember how much He has forgiven me, then I find it impossible to withhold forgiveness. It would be too much like Christ’s parable of the unforgiving servant (Matt 18:21-35) who could not let go of a small debt owed to him when his master forgave him of an unpayable debt that he owed.

It takes a significant act of the will and, more importantly, an acceptance of supernatural grace to truly forgive from the heart.

But that is the easy part.

Now comes the “forgetting.”

If you are anything like me, some time after choosing to forgive, remembrance of the wound enters the mind. When that happens, the undesired feelings of bitterness, anger, and judgment, flood back into the soul.

CS Lewis talks about this very clearly.

“There is no use in talking as if forgiveness were easy. We all know the old joke, ‘You’ve given up smoking once; I’ve given it up a dozen times.’ In the same way I could say of a certain man, ‘Have I forgiven him for what he did that day? I’ve forgiven him more times than I can count.’ For we find that the work of forgiveness has to be done over and over again. We forgive, we mortify our resentment; a week later some chain of thought carries us back to the original offence and we discover the old resentment blazing away as if nothing had been done about it at all. We need to forgive our brother seventy times seven not only for 490 offences but for one offence.” (CS Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms)

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Sunday Best: Top Ten Disney Animated Songs

With Frozen II out in theaters, I thought it would be a good idea to reflect on the great Disney songs of the past.  Much of Frozen's success comes from how powerful "Let it Go" was and how much it resonated in the popular culture. 

Disney has produced hundreds of wonderful songs, but we are going to limit today's list to animated movies.

10.  "Heigh-Ho" from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Snow White 1937 poster.png
This simple tune is so embedded in the culture that it is synonymous with going off to work.  While it might not be the most complex melody, its resonance is still strong after all of these years.

9.  "Belle" from Beauty and the Beast

While this song's main purpose is exposition, it works incredibly well as an upbeat introduction to the entire musical.  It is fun, funny, and has that beautiful interlude where Belle is reading her book.

8.  "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes" from Cinderella

This is very much in the classical style of Disney, a lyrical ballad on the main theme that is light and dreamy. 

7.  "Once Upon a Dream" from Sleeping Beauty

This lovely little waltz is so simply and pure in its melody.  This song has such a lovely movement that you cannot help but feel the dancing that is woven into the music.

6.  "When You Wish Upon a Star" from Pinocchio

This ballad is so emblematic of all of Disney's fairy tales that it is the main tune for their company logo.  Like the song from Cinderella this ditty by Jiminy Cricket calls upon the child-like belief in the power of imagination.

5.  "Circle of Life," from The Lion King

When the first teaser for the original Lion King came out, all they did was play the opening scene with this song.  I knew nothing else about the movie, but that song alone sold me on seeing it.  There is something moving and epic about its composition that still feels fresh today.

4.  "Let it Go," from Frozen

I know that this song became overplayed, but there is a reason for that.  This ballad not only is beautifully written, but it has a deep emotional resonance for anyone who feels like they have been held back by social pressure and self-doubt.  Belting out that ballad is a cathartic experience.

3.  "Baby Mine," from Dumbo

I know fewer songs that can bring me nearly to tears with each playing than this.  The separation of parent and child that is associated with song is so potent and primal.  And yet, even in that sadness, there is the hopeful and loving lullaby woven into it.

2.  "Part of Your World," from The Little Mermaid

This is the ultimate Disney Princess song of longing.  There is that deep desire to grow up and enter the world of adulthood, while barely understanding it.  While the choice the grow up quickly may or may not be foolish, this song touches on that feeling that children have to grow up and become their own person.

1.  "A Whole New World," from Aladdin

The best of all the Disney love ballads, not only is the melody sweeping and sweet, but the lyrics are some of the most poetic in any Disney song.  What great art and the great stories should do is open up a window into a whole new world of possibilities that can include adventure, danger, magic, and romance.  This song does it all.  It captures the joy and splendor of pure romantic love than any other Disney song.


Saturday, November 23, 2019

Film Flash: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

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

Touching story about simple kindness/forgiveness.  But this Mr. Rogers movie needs more Mr. Rogers

Friday, November 22, 2019

Film Review: Ford vs. Ferrari

UPDATE 11/23/19
I had accidentally posted a rough draft with grammatical errors and incomplete ideas.  I am embarrassed by this and I apologize.  The review has been

Sexuality/Nudity Acceptable
Violence Acceptable
Vulgarity Acceptable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Acceptable

I am not a big racing guy.  But I was thoroughly impressed by the sheer scale and artistry it took to put together a movie like Ford vs. Ferrari.  I would imagine that if you are really into cars and racing then this movie will resonate with you in a way that it did not for me.  And yet, there is much in the movie to admire.

The movie is based on the real life story of how the Ford Motor Company decided that it wanted to update its image by defeating Ferrari in the brutal 24 hours of Le Mans.  With the baby boomers coming into prosperity as teenagers, Ford wanted to tap into that market.  However, as one of the main characters points out, money cannot by a win, only a car.

Enter Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon).  He is an ex-racer who is now a car salesman, popping pills for his chronic medical difficulties.  On his spare time, he manages race car driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale).  Ken is a man with a short fuse because his passion for racing and cars runs so hot.  He is also a family man, struggling to make ends meet with his small auto garage to support his strong wife Mollie (Caitiriona Balfe) and their son Peter (Noah Jupe).  Both Carroll and Ken seem to be heading down the long slow decline of middle age when Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) approaches them with the idea of designing and racing a Ford car to beat Ferrari.

There is so much of this movie that works.  James Mangold has captured the look of the era in much the same way that Tarantino did with Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood.  The movie shines with a nostalgia of a less cynical world where a car represents the American ideal of freedom.  And Mangold shots the film with grace, beauty, and visceral thrills.  You can feel the roar of the engines and almost experience the g-forces as the cars push their engines to their breaking points and beyond as they speed down the tracks.  And Mangold does not phone it in for the quieter moments.  There is a tender and sad moment towards the middle of the movie between Ken and Mollie that is so perfectly lit by the industrial lighting, that could not be more romantically shot if it was done with candlelight and a roaring fire.

Thematically, the movie taps in to the  American spirit of fierce independence while at the same time emphasizing the importance of teamwork.  I was worried that this film would be a big corporate commercial for Ford.  And to be sure, the cars they make look beautiful.  But the movie shows how a great deal of the human spirit can be swallowed up by corporate culture.  Ken reminds Carroll that there are hundreds of people who will all want their hands in the planning, design, and coaching of the race.  It gets to the point where Carroll has to tell the head boss Henry Ford II that you cannot win a race by committee.  You need to trust your men on the ground, but that is a high risk, high reward situation.

The performances are very good.  While Damon and Bale have done better work, I don't know that I have seen them this likable in recent movies.  Carroll and Ken are a bit on the arrogant side, but that is because they know that their competencies are being hampered by the incompentencies of others.  Bale is very good at showing his wild and violent creative side while believably portraying Ken as a loving and tender father and husband.  Balfe particularly stands out to me as someone to look out for come awards season.  She may be overlooked, but her performance is reserved and powerful.  On paper, she could come off as the simple, doting wife.  But her Mollie is every bit the match to Ken's passion and intelligence.  Tracy Letts is also excellent as Henry Ford II.  You can see how Letts shows Ford trying to look imposing and strong.  He plays him as a man who is constantly under the shadow of his greater predecessors.  This comes out in a comedic, yet revealing way when, after receiving an unexpected trauma, Ford refers to his father as "daddy."  You can see the way the actor shows Ford's continued idolization of his father and how he feels like a little boy dressing in a great man's clothes.  Bernthal has a cool swagger about him as Iaccoca.  Ray McKnnon does a nice supporting job as Phil Remington, a grounded and down to earth member of Carroll and Ken's team.  Thought it appears that Josh Lucas has now been relegated to the smarmy jerks of cinema.

As the movie was coming to an end, I began to think that this might be the greatest racing movie I had ever seen.


But like the movie A Star is Born, Ford vs. Ferrari completely defecates on itself in the last ten minutes.  The movie had a chance to end on the perfect point.  There is a moment that is bitter-sweet, and yet it was filled with a sense of accomplishment at the past and hope for the future.  But then, the movie. FOR NO REASON, decides that it needed to pull at our heartstrings more by killing off a character.  This death is not necessary to the plot.  And even if it happened in real life,  it would have been much better to mention this in the end credits.  Instead of feeling a greater sense of catharsis, I ended the movie quiet angry and annoyed.  All of the emotional good will that the movie built completely evaporated in an overly-sappy emotional pablum.  Endings are important.  Watching this movie was like finishing a delicious meal and then accidentally sipping some spoiled milk.  As good as everything was that came before it, the linger bad taste ruins the memory of the rest.


Without this ending, the movie would rank much higher.  But they crashed and burned just before the finish line.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Film Review: Booksmart

Sexuality/Nudity Offensive
Violence Acceptable
Vulgarity Offensive
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Offensive

Booksmart is one of the most vulgar and vile movies I have seen in a long time.  If this is an accurate representation of all of America's youth, I would be tempted to ask God to burn the country down and start over.

This movie has a lot in common with a much superior film: Can't Hardly Wait.  Both movies are about graduated or soon-to-be-graduated seniors who go on journeys of discoveries at a big party.  Both movies have drinking, partying, and a bathroom hook-up.  But whereas Can't Hardly Wait feels like a night of youthful excess to be played for comedy, Booksmart feels like an empty and vulgar screed of existential emptiness.

The story revolves around two graduating seniors.  Molly (Beanie Feldstein) is an over-achieving, class president who thinks that she is better and smarter than her classmates.  Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) is the beta of the pair, a shy lesbian who is afraid to tell her crush about her feelings.  These two have avoided the party scene in high school to concentrate on their studies in order to get into good schools.  Molly has a mini-breakdown when she has a revelation that the party animals of the school also got into good colleges.  Determined to get that party experience, Molly forces Amy to accompany her on a quest to find the best graduation party of their class.

It is hard for me to describe how ugly this movie is.  The characters lack any kind of redeeming qualities.  The impetus for the quest is Molly's insane envy.  She is completely filled with an inflated pride and it shakes her to the core that anyone could be as smart as her without working as hard.  Their success takes nothing away from her own achievements, but she is so enraged by their good fortune.  The only reason that you feel even a little sympathetic with her is that all of her other classmates are portrayed as horrid.  They are mean, selfish, sexually promiscuous, intoxicated, vulgarians.

The thing is that Molly and Amy are really no different.  They talk explicitly about their own sexual indulgences, look at pornography together, and they rip apart all those they see as different than them.  The only thing that separates our heroes from their perceived antagonists is that they don't publicly display their sins.  For example, the two look down on a girl with slutty reputation called "Triple A" (Molly Gordon).  And yet, Molly and Amy are open to engaging in random sexual encounters too.  Also in a particularly mean spirited scene, Molly decides to mess with Amy's Christian parents (Will Forte and Lisa Kudrow).  They are obviously struggling with their faith and how Amy's sexuality affects their family dynamic.  The scene is meant to gently rib them for their discomfort with their "homophobia," but it comes off as very hurtful.

You could make the argument that a movie like Can't Hardly Wait is morally worse than Booksmart because it sanitizes the ugliness of sin and makes it more acceptable to watch.  I am open to those arguments, but Can't Hardly Wait had a setting which is a bit scandalous, but it had a great deal of heart.  It didn't seem to revel in the ugliness of the sin and Booksmart does.  It wants to be "in your face" and shock you.  Writers Emily Halpirn, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, and Katie Silberman have given us two very unlikeable, lecturing lead characters surrounded by flat, unfunny characters.

That is also one of the cardinal sins of the movie: it isn't funny.  Bad comedians replace humor with shock, hoping that the vulgarity will be so great that it will provoke laughs, like in Borat.  But that wears off quickly.  I chuckled maybe once or twice in the entire film.  Nothing was funny.  Each new adventure should have been a ludicrous laugh riot.  Instead I felt like Dante going deeper and deeper into the concentric circles of hell.

The movie tries to do an end run around their flat characters by trying to give them depth in the last act.  But this almost makes it worse.  Instead of complete caricatures engaging in deviant behavior, we had more realistic characters debasing themselves.  No one seems to have grown from the experience.

What makes this even worse is that director Olivia Wilde actually displayed some real talent.  There are about 5 minutes of the movie that are actually incredibly well-directed.  There is a scene in a pool that is lyrical and heart-breaking which transitions into a single-camera shot that is expertly crafted both in technique and emotion.  It's like she kept all of her directing ammo dry for these moments and then let everything else fall apart.  But there wasn't much to do with the script.

The performances are mostly wooden or bad.  Dever is the best, making her incredibly sympathetic in all of her pursuits.  Feldstein does okay, but she is hampered by the wet-blanket that is Molly.  Billie Lourd show some real charisma as the wild and unpredictable Gigi and Skylar Gisondo is sympathetically pathetic as the rich and lonely Jared.  Other than that, everyone is completely forgettable.

This movie died a horrible death at the box office.  And I don't think there has ever been a more just cinematic execution in movie history.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Wednesday Comics: Undoing King's Tragedy - Flash Forward #1 and #2

Image result for flash forward # 1

I have made no secret that Heroes in Crisis #8 is the worst comic book I have ever read in my life.

After the horrible debacle of that book, after Tom King wiped his nose with Wally West, and after the fan response has been overwhelming negative, DC had a choice: either double down on making Wally a villain or immediately being unraveling the travesty of what King wrote.

Luckily DC chose the latter.

I know that I often complain that storylines are disregarded by the next writer.  But Heroes in Crisis is the exception.  None of the characters in that book were written with any sense of continuity to who they were.  Wally was the worst example, but characters like Booster Gold sounded nothing like who they were meant to be.

Writer Scott Lobdell had his task set out for him with Flash Forward.  Wally is currently serving a prison term for the crimes he committed in Heroes in Crisis.  I was worried that this new mini-series would be a complete angst-fest.  And Lobdell takes the bull by the horns and tackles Wally's sense of guilt.  In prison, he is surrounded by his former enemies.  Some try to kill him.  But others want him to stay alive because his living with his guilt is a worse punishment.

Luckily, this is only the set up.  While in his cell, a cosmic being named Tempus Fuginaut (who I believe was created for the recent comic book Sideways) comes to Wally and tells him that he is needed for a mission to save the multiverse.  At first, Wally is reluctant, but what follows is a fun adventure.

Freed from the shackles of Tom King, Wally runs with excitement and cheer.  Lobdell does not ignore Heroes in Crisis, but this story feels much more in line with the Wally written by Mark Waid and Geoff Johns.  This story is also very much a classic Flash/Multiverse story.  We get re-introduced to the "President Superman" universe and all of the exciting characters there.  And the last page of the second issue had my jaw on the floor.

What Lobdell gets and what King does not is that comic book readers have a relationship with these characters.  The affection we feel for them is internalized like friendship.  Lobdell gets this and helps us spend time with our friend again.  Artists Brett Booth and Norm Rapmund make the story pop with dynamic action and big splashes of character and color.

Reading this book feels like waking up from a bad dream.  And I cannot wait for the next issue.

Film Flash: Ford vs. Ferrari

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

Like A Star is Born,  the final 10 minutes completely ruin an otherwise good movie.

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Sunday, November 17, 2019

Sunday Best: Movies Inspired by Shakespeare Plays

Last week, I made a list of the Top Ten Adaptations of Shakespeare to Movies.  However, I received some feedback asking where movies like 10 Things I Hate About You were.  This would require a different category.  Movies like this are based on Shakespearean plots, but they do not incorporate his words. 

There is also another added level of difficulty in that ideas, themes, dialogue, and plot points have been borrowed from the Bard in a myriad of movies.  So this list current list must be selective.  The plot must have large enough plot similarities to the original Shakespearean story in order to be here. 

So here are the Top 5 Movies Inspired by Shakespeare Plays

10 Things I Hate About You
(based on The Taming of the Shrew)
10 Things I Hate About You film.jpg
While the dialogue is often not great and most of the acting is sub-par, this movie works primarily because of the fantastic charisma of Heath Ledger.  He elevates this material by being incredibly masculine and sensitive.  One of the greatest romantic moments in movies that I have seen is Ledger effortlessly sliding down the light pole while singing Frankie Valley. 

Warm Bodies
(based on Romeo and Juliet)
Warm Bodies Theatrical Poster.jpg
It is scary how much this movie adheres to the source material, but transposes It into a zombie apocalypse.  The movie is clever and funny and surprisingly strong in its theme about how love can bring us back to life.  Wonderful performances by Teresa Palmer and Nicholas Hoult

The Lion King
(based on Hamlet)
In an African savannah, several animals stare at a lion atop a tall rock. A lion's head can be seen in the clouds above. Atop the image is the text "Walt Disney Pictures presents The Lion King".
The story of Hamlet is complex, but it is primal.  This means that it can be whittled down to its essence and folded into a children's film.  The story parallels have been pointed out all over the Internet.  And while this movie does not end as tragically as the other, it does a wonderful job of capturing how Hamlet's inaction leads to more tragedy.

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
(based on Othello)
Below a dark metal mask, a young man with long hair is front and center, with a woman at his left and a bearded man at his right. Two warriers hold lightsabers on either side, and below them in the middle, two men clash in a lightsaber duel. Starfighters fly towards us on the lower left, and a sinister hooded man sneers at the lower right.
The parallels between the main story line of this movie and Othello are too strong to ignore.  Palpatine acts as the villainous Iago, poisoning Anakin's soul under the guise of friendship until he is so enraged by jealousy that he strangles his wife to the point where he "kills" her.  I've always felt that this movie was a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.

West Side Story
(based on Romeo and Juliet)
West Side Story poster.jpg
Dare I say that this story is actually an improvement on the original.  Shakespeare writes some of his most romantic lines for his play.  But I firmly believe that Romeo and Juliet is horribly misinterpreted by modern audiences.  I believe Shakespeare meant to show Romeo as the villain, like Macbeth, who resorts to murder because of his passions.  West Side Story not only makes Tony a complete hero (albeit one who falters in a moment of shock and grief), but the music  elevates the emotion.  I do not think anyone could make a better movie inspired by a Shakespeare play.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

New Evangelizers Post: Clarity and Confusion

I have a new article up at  
There is a song that was particularly dear to me many years ago when I came to my conversion experience. One of the lyrics goes “Lord, take the darkness from my min, when confusion makes me blind, come renew me with your truth.” A short while later, a friend of mine changed the lyrics when we sang to “when temptation makes me blind…” He reasoned that temptation was a spiritual problem, but confusion was not.

Over the years I have come to see that my friend was wrong.

Confusion, like temptation, is not necessarily a spiritual weakness. Jesus was tempted, after all. And God can use our confusion as a means to his will. Sometimes in our confusion, we come to realize how in the dark we truly are. As the great Rich Mullins wrote, sometimes God allows us to be confused so that I can come to the place “where I’m lost enough to let myself be led.”

But there is another kind of confusion that is incredibly problematic for Catholics: moral confusion.
One of the things that I have found in all my years of teaching is that my students want to know the answers to their questions. Even if they don’t like the answers, they want clear responses from their teacher. I can see how many of them roll their eyes when I tell them how is too far to go with their boyfriend or girlfriend. Some of them bristle when I inform them that intentionally skipping the Lord’s Day Mass is a mortal sin. I understand the temptation that some teachers have in avoiding the difficult topics. But it is the responsibility of the theology teacher to speak the truth, whether convenient or inconvenient.
To be sure, not all answers are cut and dried. When I get a question like, “Is it true that if someone kills themselves, they are going to hell?” it requires a great deal of sensitive explanation. But even with cases like these, it is important to be absolutely clear. There are some who would shy away from the Church’s teaching here so as not to offend those who have lost their loved ones to suicide. But this leads to more problems, not less.

Take a concrete issue from recent days. Inside of the Church of Santa Maria, close to the Vatican, were displayed statues of Pachamama in recognition of the Amazon Synod. The problem was that Pachamama is a god to some people who reverence and worship Pachamama as an idol. So some Catholics took the statues and threw them into the Tiber. Pope Francis apologized for this desecration of Pachamama. This whole event has led to a great deal of confusion.

Was this an idol? And if so, shouldn’t they be removed from the Church? If they are not idols, but they are not sacred images, why are they on display in the Church? If they are simply symbols of planet earth, then why did people bow down and reverence them? If they were not reverencing them, what were they doing?

All of this confusion leads to even bigger problems. Can we revere and image that is being used by some as an idol for worship? It would seem the answer is obviously no. That is, unless there is absolute clarity on the part of all involved that Pachamama is only a symbol. But this is problematic, since the lived experience seems to say the opposite.

When Peter was at Antioch, he made sure to eat with the Jewish Christians and follow the Jewish dietary laws. Paul took Peter in front of everyone and scolded him. Peter’s actions caused confusion among the Gentile Christians, and Paul wasn’t having it. Paul understood that this confusion could be used for diabolical doubt and the erosion of true faith.

In America, Pope Paul VI refused to excommunicate Catholic leaders who openly defied his teaching on artificial contraception. Many, like author Philip Jenkins, believed that Paul feared if he did so it would lead to a schism with the American Catholics. And to be sure, a Schism would be disastrous. But even more disastrous is what followed. In the confusion, many people came to the conclusion that they could be full-fledged Catholics and reject essential Catholic teaching. If the pope wasn’t going to kick them out, then it must be okay, right? This is why we have so many “pro-choice” Catholics and Catholics who support things like same-sex “marriage” while other fundamental teachings like the Real Presence of the Eucharist.

I believe that there are some (and feel free to disagree with me on this point), that use the confusion as a moral smoke-screen. Thinking that the moral teachings are the Church are too difficult, they create an atmosphere where the answers are intentionally murky. They think that as long as people act in good conscience, then the confusion excuses their rejection of the moral law.

But this overlooks one of the most important lessons about the moral law: that it exists for our good. Sin is not just bad, it is bad for us. Yes, confusion may lessen the culpability, but it doesn’t change the disastrous effect it has on our lives and the world. If you raised by an alcoholic, you may have less culpability if you become an alcoholic yourself. But whether it is your fault or not, alcoholism can destroy your life.

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Sunday Best: Top 10 Shakespeare Movies

This is the opening week for the second Shakespeare play I have directed.  I adore William Shakespeare, though I will not vouch myself an expert.  Instead I will say that I am enthusiastic student of his work.  His plays have been adapted hundreds of times in hundreds of different ways for the stage and screen.

With that in mind, it would be good to look at the best ways in which the immortal writer's stories were captured on the sliver screen.

10. Love's Labour's Lost (2000)
You are going to see a lot of movies directed by Kenneth Branagh on this list.  Those familiar with this blog know that I am not shy about my partiality towards his work.  This time he does something quite experimental: he combined the play with 1930's Broadway hits.  The combination is odd and works sporadically well.  The modest budget of $13 million forced the film to look a bit almost all the sets looking artificial like a film from the era of the songs the cast was singing.  The reason this film makes it into the top ten is that when Branagh is able to get it to work, the movie is incredibly charming.  Like many of his comedies, the story is incredibly silly.  But Branagh and his cast do an admirable job of moving the movie along with some toe-tapping numbers in between.  I particularly enjoyed Branagh's monologue about love towards the end of the film.

9. As You Like It (2006)
As U Like It 2006 poster.jpg
Another Branagh adaptation, this one transposes Shakespeare's characters to feudal Japan.  The scenery is simple, but beautiful.  But what really makes this one work are the performances.  I was surprised at how good Bryce Dallas Howard was in the lead role.  She was both charismatic and charming, showing intelligence and feminine grace.  Kevin Kline showed wonderful range as the melancholy Jaques.  Alfred Molina also does a wonderfully comedic job as Touchstone the jester.

8. Much Ado About Nothing (2012)
A man wearing scuba googles and snorkle, his head is just above water. In his hand is a red cocktail, the image is otherwise black and white.
Joss Whedon adapted this version of the classic comedy and shot it with friends almost exclusively at his home.  The simple black and white piece captures the universality of the story and why it is so familiar and resonant whenever it is adapted.  The war of the sexes should always end in mutual surrender to love.  Alexis Denisof and and Amy Acker lost none of their chemistry from their time on the TV show Angel.  Nate Fillion is particularly good as the dead serious, but dead stupid Dogberry.

7. The Hollow Crown: Henry IV Part I (2012)
Hollow crown logo.jpg
This adaptation is the best I have seen of this story.  Most of that falls on the shoulders of Tom Hiddleston as Prince Hal.  He carries with him his roguish Loki grin, but he pushes all of his dramatic buttons to really peel back the layers of this incredibly complex character.  Jeremy Irons does a great job as the imposing Henry IV, but the one who brings both the comedy and tragedy to all of this is Simon Russell Beale as Falstaff.  The play-within-a-play scene turns from hilarious to heartbreaking because he and Hiddleston play the subtext to perfection.

6. Julius Caesar (1970)
There is no getting around the fact that Jason Robards as Brutus Is awful in this movie.  But as bad as his casting is, you will completely overlook it because of the magnificence of the mighty Charlton Heston.  His performance as Antony, especially at the funeral speech is one of the all-time greatest Shakespearean performances.  You can see how Shakespeare understood the power of words and how they can sway people's hearts, even when they are insincere.  Heston squeezes every drop of dramatic blood from those words to conjure a rhetorical storm so that you believe the power of his speech could move a city to riot.

5. A Performance of Macbeth (1978)

This one is a little bit of a cheat.  It is a recording of something that is essentially a stage play.  But the filming of it is very specifically used to make it feel more than a theatrical performance.  The performance space is bare and so the entire movie must hang on the faces of the actors.  And these performances are world-class.  Ian McKellen knocks it out of the park as you see the slow erosion of MacBeth's soul.  Judi Dench is every much his equal as she goes from evil to insane as the sins she commits come back to destroy her.  This is dark and haunting the way Macbeth should be.

4. Hamlet (1990)
This was my first exposure to Hamlet.  I was only twelve, but I was shocked at how much I was able to understand.  Not only was this because of Franco Zeffirelli's direction, but it was primarily because of Mel Gibson.  I had known him primarily as an action star and hadn't thought of him much beyond that.  But he gives a tour-de-force performance that knocked my socks off.  There is a wildness in his eyes, a madness that sets the movie on fire.  I could feel his intensity in my own heart and it resonated with me like few other Shakespeare performances.  Helena Bonham Carter's waifish Ophelia, who collapse into madness, haunted me with her crazy, sunken eyes.  A dark and tragic take on the classic story.

3. Henry V (1989)
Henry v post.jpg
This film received a number of Oscar nominations, all of them well deserved.  I did not know the story of Henry V when I went to watch it and Branagh drew me in with his directing and his performance.  Everything fires on all cylinders in this movie.  I absolutely adore everything from the night before the battle of Agincort through to the final tracking shot.  It is so beautifully filmed with such long, sweeping takes.  The Patrick Doyle score has been sampled dozens of times for film trailers because it captures the uplift and drama presented on the screen.  I still get chills watching Branagh give his St. Crispin's Day speech.  It is the perfect antithesis of Heston's Caesar speech.  Whereas I believed Heston's words could spurn others to vile destruction, Branagh made me believe his words could inspire hopelessly outnumbered men that they were privileged to stand their ground and fight with him.  A great film.

2. Hamlet (1996)
Hamlet 1996 poster.jpg
This movie is absolutely beautiful.  Branagh took all of his skills as a visual filmmaker and brought to life the best version of Hamlet I have seen.  It is the only movie that captures the entire entire text of the play, clocking in at just above four hours long.  The icy landscape ultra-wide and ultra-wide format give a scale reminiscent of Doctor Zhivago.  All of the performances are excellent and are complimented by the incredible visual design.  Patrick Doyle's score is passionate and haunting.  The movie is a who's who of acting greats with Branagh in the lead, but also featuring Derek Jacobi, Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Charlton Heston, Richard Attenborough, Billy Crystal, and Robin Williams.  And yet none of the casting feels like a stunt as each actors executes their role to great effect.  Crystal's gravedigger is a particular highlight for me.  The film requires endurance to sit through because of the length, but doing so rewards you with a unique and beautiful cinematic experience.

1. Much Ado About Nothing (1993)
Much ado about nothing movie poster.jpg
I've said this before about this movie: it was a revelation to me because it taught me that Shakespeare was actually funny.  That revelation made me realize that his words were not cold and distant, but alive and relevant.  The movie is pure romance, and I mean that in both the modern and medieval way.  It captures to pomp and poetry of the age.  Branagh is fantastic as Benedick and Emma Thompson shines as Beatrice.  Denzel Washington brings his princely bearing to the proceedings and Michael Keaton shows off all of his manic comedic skills as Dogberry.  This movie is a joy and triumph.  The subject matter may be whimsical, but it captures the pain, poignancy, and pleasures of romance.  If I were ever to show a movie to help someone fall in love with Shakespeare it would be this one.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Film Review: Ad Astra

Sexuality/Nudity Acceptable
Violence Mature 
Vulgarity Mature
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Mature

I've always said that if you want to sound smart to people, either quote them Latin or Shakespeare.  The makers of this movie desperately want to sound smart.  To the Stars didn't sound pretentious enough, so they Latinized the title: Ad Astra.

The film centers around Roy McBride (Brad Pitt), an emotionally walled-off astronaut in the not-too distant future.  A calamity befalls the people of earth and the powers that be think that the source of the problem is Roy's father, H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones).  Clifford went on a mission to Neptune and from there seek out intelligent life outside of the solar system.  SpaceCom lost all contact with the expedition decades earlier, but they have reason to believe that some kind of energy wave is emanating from their ship and affecting Earth.  Roy is tasked to go to Mars to make radio contact with his long-lost father and see if they can resolve this crisis.

I don't know what it is about space movies that brings out the pretension in directors.  This movie desperately wants to be 2001: A Space Odyssey.  To be sure, writer/director James Gray does some fine visual work.  But the space opera feels like it is trying too hard to be lofty.  Even the great Christopher Nolan fumbled a little with his finale to Interstellar.  Gray wants to make a movie with big themes, sweeping emotions and potent visuals.  But he forgets that first and foremost he is telling a story.  And none of those other things matter if you do not have characters that you want to follow. 

There is absolutely nothing interesting about Roy.  He is a block of wood in a space suit.  That is not an insult to Pitt's performance.  I am sure he was told to play the part of someone with the emotional depth of a thimble.  I suppose this was meant to show how Roy's abandonment as a child has stunted his full emotional growth.  Donald Sutherland has an extended cameo as a friend of Clifford, but he exits the movie too soon to have any impact.  The movie builds to our potential reunion between Roy and his father, but everything about it is hollow.

The world-building is excellent.  In fact, it is so good that you almost wish they would jettison the main story and explore some of the side ones.  Usually in good writing, you create a detailed environment for the story to take place in, while explicit showing only about 10% of the foundation that you imagined.  But the story that is told in this movie isn't worth telling.  Some of the fascinating tidbits include commercial trips to the moon, where it has been colonized.  But factions have broken things down in some areas like the Old West.  When traveling beyond safe borders, moon pirates attack travelers for supplies.  Also, there is a space ship that is in distress because the baboons being used for research animals escaped and started eating the crew.  All of these things are much more interesting than what we end up watching.

One of the things that the film tries to capture is the tedium of space travel and the long loneliness that it engenders.  While this is interesting on paper, it was unenjoyable in execution.  You begin to feel like a child in a long car ride, waiting for it to end. 

One of the other annoying things was how the film used religion.  Many movies about the future remove all mention of Christianity, seemingly under the assumption that humans will outgrow religion.  So it would have been refreshing to see that a movie recognizes the deeply rooted religious instinct in human beings.  But any good will is undercut by the cliched use of religiosity as a sign of irrationality.  Whenever a character speaks of God or prays in the movie, you know that they are either crazy or stupid.


One of the most frustrating things about the movie is how pointless all of it is.  When contact is finally made with Clifford, Roy is not allowed to go on the mission from Mars to Neptune because of his emotional connection.  He fears that the ones they are sending will simply nuke his father's ship and call it a day.  So Roy sneaks onto the ship and during the struggle, all three of the other astronauts are killed.  Instead of Roy realizing that he made a mistake, he caries on for months through space alone to Neptune.  When he gets there, he decides to nuke the ship anyway and his father commits suicide in a moment where Roy has to literally let him go that is about a subtle as a sledgehammer.  The only thing Roy accomplished was getting three people killed who were only doing their jobs.  Roy does bring back the data of the lifeless worlds his father found, but that seems a poor exchange of value.


This movie was a mistake.  It is a spectacle devoid of character, emotion, and catharsis.  Instead of this one going "To the Stars" it is going "To the Dollar Bin" at Walmart.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Happy I'm Still Sad

CS Lewis said that "No one ever told me that grief was so much like fear." 

On dealing with the death of his wife, Lewis was overcome with a grief that shrouded his mind for a long time.  He spent a great deal of mental and spiritual effort to work through his grief.  He did not need to live with it very long as he followed his wife into eternal rest three years later.

For me, the biggest loss I've had so far in my life has been my mom.  Those weeks and months of her hospitalization had been filled with fear and sadness.  After her passing, only the sadness remained.  Oddly, there was a calming sense of relief.  It was a very strange feeling, but I think I understand it.  One the thing I had feared came to pass, there was no longer anything to be afraid of.  All we had to do was process the loss we endured.

For weeks and months later, I would describe to people what I would call "sadness attacks."  It is the best way I can describe it.  They similar to people having panic attacks, where the overwhelming feeling comes out of nowhere and takes over your emotions.  I would be doing something simple like wrapping some leftovers in foil, and I would remember how the first time my mom made me a school lunch it was KFC wrapped in foil.  As innocuous as these memories seem, it only reinforced that this person whom I loved and loved me was no longer here.  And then the sadness would come.

It has been over two years since her passing.  And time does do a great deal to heal.  Yet every once and a while, I will remember and my heart will ache.  Just recently, there was an episode of the TV show The Goldbergs that aired where the dad wanted to do something special for his sons.  So he bought them Wrestlemania tickets even though he hated wrestling.  I've written before about how one of my favorite memories with my mom was when she took me to see Wrestlemania III even though she hated it.  Watching the show I got oddly emotional.

I share all of this not to complain.  With all of life's challenges, I am still incredibly blessed and happy.  And yet this grief has become a constant, though not debilitating, part of my life.

Hitting middle age, you lose people from your life.  I've lost relatives and friends.  And I will lose more.  There are those for whom the loss is felt, but does not persist.  I had a very close friend named Scott from grade school.  I remember for my third grade birthday, my parents took me out and only allowed me to bring one friend and it was Scott.  We were close all the way through junior high.  We went to different high schools and lost touch.  He hooked up with a bad crowd and his life ended way too early.  When I found out about Scott, I was incredibly sad.  But even now as I think back, the feeling is more akin to pity than to grief.

I think this is because Scott had not been a part of my life for so long.  I am sorry for his loss and he is missed.  But the loss of someone like my mom feels more akin to a piece of who I am being torn from me.  When people lose limbs, they often experience phantom pain, which is the feeling of pain coming from a body part that isn't there.  There is a phantom pain in my heart for the piece that is missing that was my mom.

And here's the thing: I don't want this pain to go away.

I think that if ever I completely "get over" my mother's death, it would be a loss for my soul.  This doesn't mean that I shouldn't go on with life and enjoy the days ahead.  But if I ever come to a place where I don't miss her, then I know I've come to a place where my love for her has diminished.  And I don't want that.  My wife will sometimes feel the same way about my mom's loss and it will bring her to tears.  As much as I hate to see her cry, it fills my heart with great relief to know that other people still miss my mom.  She was that important and that loved.  And that loss is in proportion to that love.

One of my greatest fears in this world is the loss of my wife.  As the years march on, I know that the day of our separation is getting closer.  In this mortal world, there is no avoiding it.  That's the deal.  If she should leave before me, I could not imagine the hole that it would tear in my life.  It is such a loss that I don't know how much of me would be left.

And yet, by the grace of God, I know He can bring healing, especially over time.  But there would never be a time where I wouldn't want to feel the loss of her.  There would never be a time when I would ever want to not miss her.  Even in our life now, when I am not with her, I miss her every moment.  That ache in my heart reminds me of the place she has there.  It is as if her place has been reserved for her and no one else.  And without her, it is empty.

That is how I now feel about my mom.  But I know that the vacancy is only temporary.  The rooms are closed, but not shut up and shuttered.  We will be reunited one day and all of that emptiness will be filled. 

Until then, I want my sadness to be like a candle in the window: a sign that the place in my heart for her and those I've loved is still here.  I have not forgotten.  And because I have not forgotten, even though they are not here, they are still a part of me until the day I die.  In that way, their memory has not left this world.

And for that reason, I am happy that I am still sad.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

New Evangelizers Post: No Detente with the World

I have a new article up at  
“I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” (John 17:14-15)

There has been a lot of talk recently about how best to evangelize to the world. While every generation has its own challenges, there are things that this modern world faces the likes of which we have never seen before. Unlike the pagans of old, in many ways, we live in a post-Christian society. CS Lewis made the observation in Mere Christianity that preaching to the pagans was like preaching marriage to a virgin about marriage while speaking to modern non-Christians is like speaking to a divorcee about marriage. Both are unmarried, but one has never experienced marriage and the other one has and rejected it.
In our modern world, many people have rejected Christianity or at least what they think is Christianity. So when we speak to them about the faith, their hearts close up against something that they think is antiquated, outdated, discredited, and thoroughly unmodern.

One of the purposes of Vatican II was to open the windows of the Church to reach out to the modern world as it. There is no point in preaching to a world in which you have no understanding or engagement. In the post-modern society, a world that has in many ways become smaller and larger, the Church must constantly learn the best ways to engage and dialogue with modernity.

But dialogue is not the end. It is only a means.

I have noticed that in many circles, there appears to be a kind of detente (meaning a kind of peace with the modern world that accepts it as it is) mentality when it comes to the Church and the modern world: . In the name of tolerance and diversity, there seems to be an acceptance of the ways in which modern society is at odds with the Church. This is, of course, not a blanket statement. But when we reach out to communities at odds with our faith, what is the end or purpose?

Our ultimate goal must always be to bring them into communion with salvific love of Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Matthew ends with the great commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20) Our goal must always be to bring people to Jesus. As long as this is the ultimate goal, then there can be some legitimate disagreement on methods. For example, many in proposed during the Amazon Synod that missionaries do not impose a Western style of Christianity if it will not make sense to the people. This may be wise or foolish. But as long as the ultimate goal is to bring people to Christ, then we can have a legitimate debate.

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Sunday Best: Top 10 Movies About the Afterlife

Welcome back, gentle readers!

Thank you for your patience as I took care of the number of projects I had in October.  Now that there is a little bit less of an issue with time, I can return to writing for all of you.

I thought that since we just celebrated Halloween, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day, it would be nice to rank the best movies about the afterlife.

To be clear, I am not ranking these movies on how well they ascribe to Catholic orthodoxy.  Some of these movies have very different views of what happens after we have shuffled off this mortal coil than what the Church says.  These movies are simply being ranked on their quality and their qualification that they be about some kind of life after death.  That last part means that in order to qualify, the movie must be ABOUT the afterlife.  There are number of fantastic movies like Somewhere in Time or Titanic that have elements of the afterlife in there.  But they are not major parts of the plot or the theme, so they are not on this list.

10.  Defending Your Life

Defending your life poster.jpg

This is a unique film.  The concept is that after you die, you are placed on trial to see if you have overcome fear in your life.  If you have, you move on to a higher level of consciousness.  If not, you are reincarnated.  The story centers around a thoroughly average man played by Albert Brooks.  This version of the afterlife is simplistic in its wish fulfillment (e.g. all food tastes amazing and you never get too full).  What makes this film even more interesting is that Brooks' character falls for a woman played by Meryl Streep.  This breaks through the established convention of the movie to an incredibly satisfying finale.

9.  The Frighteners
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I remember being shocked the first time I saw this film.  It does an amazing job of transitioning from Ghostbusters-like horror/comedy to an outright horror film.  The story centers on Michael J. Fox as a man who is part fraud/ part actual psychic who gets caught up in a real ghostly mystery that could spell doom for everyone he knows.  You can see how adept Peter Jackson became at visual storytelling and how this translated later into The Lord of the Rings

8.  Chances Are
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This film is so effortlessly charming, thanks in no small part to Robert Downey Jr.'s performance.  In this movie, he plays a man who gets reincarnated and finds his wife 20 years later and rekindles the romance.  But things get incredibly complicated with how her life has moved on.  It is a nice, feel-good movie that has some of my favorite performances by Cybill Shepherd and Ryan O'Neil.

7.  Flatliners
This was such an original concept (the first movie, not the remake).  5 medical students decide to induce death to be resuscitated soon after so that they can explore whether or not there is an afterlife. Not only did it capture the raw competitiveness of medical school, but it explored the afterlife in a truly unique way.  The last act devolves a bit into too much sentiment, but the journey to get there was strong enough to be invested in the end.

6.  Exorcist III
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This is one of the scariest films I have ever seen.  And what it implies about the afterlife can be horribly disturbing.  But the movie does it so effectively.  The soul of a serial killer (who may be attached to a demon), has possessed the body of the priest who died at the end of the first Exorcist.  That priest's soul is trapped in torment in that body as the serial killer continues to do his evil work.  This is not a film for the easily frightened.  It is masterfully written and directed by William Peter Blatty.  Everything puts you on edge until the very end.

5. Ghost
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This movie received a nomination for Best Picture at the Academy Awards and it was well deserved.  It does such a good job of embodying that Scriptural ideal of "love stronger than death."  Sam (Patrick Swayze) dies and cannot leave behind his love (Demi Moore), and must communicate through psychic Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg) and solve his own murder.  The movie makes you yearn for the simply things we take for granted, like reaching out and touching the ones we love.  It's image of damnation is so incredibly terrifying.  And the last line of the movie still haunts me: "It's amazing, Molly.  The love inside, you take it with you."

4.  Scrooged
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Even though this is traditionally a "Christmas movie," the supernatural element, particularly regarding death and judgment, are essential to the story.  There have been several iterations of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, but few have captured its pure, life-changing ecstasy of the Christmas spirit.  This movie is a wonderful Memento Mori to remind us that this world is not our home and that the only thing we take with us is the love we give away.

3. Field of Dreams
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I think that you and your father ever shared a game of catch, this movie would resonate with you in a way that it does not with me.  Nevertheless, the movie is so powerful that it breaks through my deficit in this traditional father/son activity and still strikes at the heart.  Kevin Costner plays a farmer who hears a voice and receives a vision to build a baseball field in his corn field.  The movie is one whose logic is completely fluid.  There is almost never any kind of rational explanation for anything that happens.  But the emotional truth that runs throughout the entire movie becomes the structural glue that binds everything together until the final, touching conclusion.  For many people, the final scene may be the most cathartic moment in movie history.

2.  Ghostbusters
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It's Ghostbusters.

1.  Dead Again
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This is the story of a woman with amnesia (Emma Thompson) who thinks that she is the reincarnation of a murdered musician who was killed by her composer husband (Kenneth Branagh).  This woman gets involved with a private detective who also might be the reincarnation of her husband.  This movie is one of the best mystery/thrillers that I have ever seen.  It is charming, funny, scary, and shocking.  I witnessed an entire theater jump simply because someone said the name "Margret."  It explores the idea of reincarnation and karma and how it would affect something like love and murder.  A fantastic film!

Honorable Mentions:

Hamlet (1990 and 1996)
Almost an Angel
Made in Heaven
Ghostbusters 2
Just Like Heaven
Heaven is for Real
What Lies Beneath