Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Film Review: Soul (Disney+)


Sexuality/Nudity No Objection
Violence No Objection
Vulgarity No Objection
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Acceptable

Another quick review from a few months ago...

PIXAR used to be the gold standard of quality.  But ineveitably, I've noticed a slow slide into mediocrity with this studio.  Soul is not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination.  But it is as fine as it is forgettable.  

The story is about Joe (Jamie Foxx).  He is a struggling musician who is languishing away as an underappreciated music teacher.  But he does get a chance to live his dream but dies in a freak accident.  He ends up in the afterlife as a soul, but he doesn't want to move on.  Here in this afterlife, unborn souls go through a mentorship program with those who have already lived life.  Once the unborn soul finds its "spark," then it is ready to be born.  Joe assumes the identity of another soul so he can pose as a mentor to "22" (Tina Fey), an unborn soul who has not been able to find her spark.  The two form an uneasy relationshp as Joe tries to use her to get back to his old life.  This results in the two of them entering into a strange adventure in this life and the next.

As I wrote, there is nothing very bad about this movie.  But there is also nothing very memorable.  Perhaps it is unfair to compare this movie to other PIXAR films, but those early films are so iconic that scenes are burned into your brain.  As the months have gone by, very little of the movie sticks.  Partly this is a matter of taste.  I am not a big fan of jazz.  All of the music in that genre sounds the same to me.  As a result, the big musical numbers slide off of me like teflon.  The humor also never really sticks the landing.  Both Fox and Fey are fine, but their brand of humor never really lands with me.

There is one part of the movie that sticks with me and not in a good way.  As stated before, 22 has gone through a lot of mentors who all lost their patience with her.  One of them is St. Teresa of Calcutta.  There are a lot of things in this movie that are not compatible with Catholic theology, but I don't expect them to be.  Like The Good Place or Defending Your Life, Soul is not really about a specific metaphysics of religion.  The problem is bringing in a real saint like Teresa.  As a Catholic, we believe that she is in heaven and has achieved the Beatific Vision of union of Christ.  To have a saint in this beatified state portrayed as un-Christilike is a bit annoyting.  To be clear, I don't think that the filmmakers had any specific agenda.  I think they thought it was a good natured comedic jab like in The Naked Gun 33 and 1/3.  

The best thing about the movie are the fact that it has a very pro-life message.  I don't necessarily mean this in the modern, political sense, although you can read that into the story if you want to.  But more definitively, the movie is about how wonderful life itself is.  Joe spent most of his life wasting it without realizing how wonderful his life actually is.  Part of 22's journey is to come to a kind of Cherstonian wonder at the world in all of its fantastic beauity, even in the most ordinary of things. 

For that reason, you may find Soul enjoyable as you watch it, even thought it may quickly slip from your memory.

Friday, June 25, 2021

TV Review: Intelligence (Peacock TV)

 Intelligence peacock.jpg

When NBC imported the BBC hit The Office, creator Ricky Gervais gave this bit of advice to American show-runners: Make the main character actually good at their jobs.  He said that in Britain, people are willing to accept that people don't their jobs well.  But Americans would not put up with that nonsense for very long.

That is why Michael Scott, Dwight Schrutte, and Jim Halpert are actually incredibly competent salesmen.  I remember I had a similar fear about Brooklyn 99 when it first started.  The main character Jake Peralta is vain, silly, and immature.  If he was bad at his job, I don't think I could have watched the show.  Being a police officer means that people lives depend on you.  If his time as a cop was nothing but incompetence, all I would be able to think about would be the the great harm he was causing.  Thankfully, they made sure that through it all, Jake was still a good detective.

This brings us to the Peacock TV Original series Intelligence, a show so terrible that I had to stop after the second episode.  Please understand, that I almost always give a new series at least three episodes to get off of the ground.  But this show crashed and burned almost immediately.

The series centers around Jerry Bernstein (David Schwimmer), an NSA agent who is sent to be a liase with British Intelligence.  He is arrogant, condescending, abrasive, and stupid.  And he has NO redeeming qualities. 

I've heard someone observe that modern TV characters all start off as horrible people.  There can be an advantage to this in that the series can be about watching the characters grow into better people with very satisfying character arcs.  But we only want to take the journey if we care about the characters.  Michael Scott was driven by a sympathetic desire to be loved.  Jake Peralta, for all his faults, is horribly funny and suprrisingly charming.  Jerry Bernsteain is none of those things.  This isn't Schwimmer's fault.  Though he was my least favorite character on Friends, he was still capable of some real laughs.  The problem is that the material he has to work with is so awful.

Creator and star Nick Mohammed plays Joseph, a member of the intelligence team who begins to act as a kind of sidekick to Jerry.  Like his character on Ted Lasso, he is nice enough, but unlike on Ted Lasso, Joseph is awful at his job.  At one point, the boss, Christine Cranfield (Sylvestra Le Touzel) announces that they will do evaluations and those who don't qualify may lose their jobs.  We are meant to sympathize with Joseph's plight, as he is not very good at his job.  But he works in an intelligence industry, where people's lives are at stake.  The entire episode I kept rooting for him to get fired.

The writing is also devoid of logic.  At one point Jerry performs a lie detector test on Christine and asks her if she has romantic feelings for a co-worker.  It turns out she does.  Jerry assumes that that co-worker is him and tries to blackmail her.  I suppose we are meant to believe that Jerry is such an egotist that he would assume any affection would be directed towards him.  But the assumption lacks any kind of rationality and is there only so the rest of the episode's plot can happen.  (Also in a plot twist that everyone could see coming, Christine is actually in love with the cleaning lady).

Honestly, all the show would need to help it limp along would be a single moment showing that any of the main characters were competent at what they do.  But Gervais was correct: I have no patience for this nonsense.

This is a show that doesn't make you feeling things.  It tells you how to feel them.  It tells you that you are supposed to like Joseph and hate Jerry.  It tells you that you are supposed to believe hacker Tuva (Gana Bayarsaikhan) is desirable because she is aggressively sexual and "plays by her own rules" (you know this because of her excessive piercings).  

Perhaps the show gets better.  But when you spend your first two episodes activing repelling me with utterly repulsive characters, I have no interested in wasting any more of my time on finding out if things get better.

This is a shame, because the talent is there in the performers and the concept could work.  But that would happen only if the show had a little more intelligence.

Monday, June 21, 2021

New Evangelizers Post: St. Ambrose, Bishops, and Abortion



I have a new article up at  

Towards the end of the 4th century, St. Ambrose took his life into his hands.

Ambrose was a man who did not want to be bishop. In fact, in the city of Milan when the previous bishop died, there was a large public debate about who should succeed him. Ambrose was a Roman official who was sent to help keep the crowded debate from turning into a riot. According to the stories, the crowd began to chant “Ambrose! Bishop!” As an official, Ambrose had a reputation for honesty and virtue. The problem was that Ambrose wasn’t even baptized yet. He was only a catechumen, in preparation to become Christian. Ambrose tried to run away but was later baptized, then forced to accept ordination to the priesthood and the role of bishop.

But Ambrose did not wallow in how his own plans were thwarted. He understood that God’s plans were not his and so he set out to be the best bishop he could be. He studied so intently and so quickly that he became (as far as I know) the first person in history to read silently. He was renowned for his holiness by the people and even the Emperor Theodosius, an Emperor who was instrumental in solidifying the Christianization of the Empire.

But then the Emperor became a murderer.

In response to an uprising, Theodosius had the people of a city locked into an arena and his soldiers indiscriminately killed over 700 people. Unlike a legitimate use of force on the battlefield or execution, no effort was made to separate the guilty from the innocent when the punishment occurred.

Ambrose, who had enjoyed the favor of he Emperor, now publicly banned Theodosius from receiving the Eucharist until he repented. As we have seen, the Emperor was not shy about using his absolute power to take the lives of those who opposed him. Ambrose risked everything.


Ambrose understood that there is nothing holier in this world than the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of the Lord Jesus in the Eucharist. His banning of Theodosius can be seen as a triple act of charity.

1. It was an act of charity for the Eucharist. As Christ’s Real Presence, Ambrose wanted to prevent the Blessed Sacrament from being desecrated.

2. It was an act of charity for Theodosius. St. Paul wrote, “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment* on himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying.” (1 Corinthians 11:29-30). Paul is very clear that if someone is not in a state of grace and they receive the Blessed Sacrament, that there is a condemnation that falls upon them that can be fatal. Ambrose wanted to spare Theodosius this.

3. It was an act of charity for the people. Allowing Theodosius to receive Communion could give the impression to the other Christians that some forms of murder are morally allowable. This could have a terribly malignant effect on the morality fo the people.

By God’s grace, Ambrose’s action had the desired effect and Theodosius repented and was reconciled.

Why am I bringing all of this up?

It was announced that the US Catholic Bishops would be drafting a letter regarding the reception of Holy Communion. The document will reaffirm 915 and 916 of the Code of Canon Law which forbids those in a state of grave sin from receiving the Eucharist. It is said that the Bishops will re-affirm that Catholic public officials who work to increase abortion rights are cooperating with grave evil and should not receive the Eucharist.

Two important clarifying points: First, it is possible to vote for a law that allows abortion if it is an improvement on a current situation. For example, a law that made all abortion illegal except for case of sexual assault is not a perfectly pro-life law. However, a pro-life legislator could vote for it if it resulted in more unborn children being saved than the current law allows. Second, public officials who publicly support abortion are committing public sin. Private mortal sins also prevent people from receiving the Eucharist, but public sin adds an extra dimension.

The US bishops have taken a bold step to be like Ambrose. To be clear, this is not a new teaching of the Church. Canon 915 and 916 have always been in place. So some may ask “Why now?” Why is this a priority for the bishops if we’ve had Catholic politicians supporting abortion since the 1970’s.

At this point in history, the President of the United States is a Catholic who publicly supports the murder of unborn children. We have not had a Catholic president since the early 1960’s, so it makes sense that the bishops address this issue now.

Like Ambrose, they are doing so as a three-fold act of charity. 

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Sunday Best: 25 Father's Day Movies (repost)


There so many movies about fathers and fatherhood. And not all of those movies have something good to say. 

But here are the top 25 movies for Father's Day

25. Life is Beautiful
One of the great things about the movie is the father here is not manly in the traditional sense, but he express the masculine traits of protective fatherhood in his own way.

24. Les Miserables (1998)
You can see here how peaceful and fulfilling fatherhood is, so that the words ring true at the end when Valjean says to Cosette "I stole something... I stole happiness with you. I don't mind paying."

23. Return of the Jedi
Great movie about the redemptive love of a son for the father

22. Interstellar
Like Life is Beautiful, the truth about how fathers will do anything to make sure their children aren't afraid is in full display. This is true even when children are unfair to parents 

21. Shadowlands
The movie reminds us that he most important thing about being a father, even in a blended family, is to simply to be there for your child especially in their grief

20. Road to Perdition
What do you do if your son is evil and hurting your life? What do you do if your father is evil but he is giving everything to protect you? As complex as those questions are, the last line of the movie sums up everything.

19. The Godfather
This is more of a model of what not to do as a father. I know most people see Vito is he good father and Michael as the bad one, but it should never be forgotten, no matter how much Vito loves his children, he sets them on the road to hell.

18. It's a Wonderful Life
A beautiful model of what a father does to provide, even if it means giving up his own dreams

17. Dan in Real Life
While not a model of fatherhood, Dan reflects the wonderful stresses of being a dad of 3 daughters

16. A Man For All Seasons
As his daughter begs him to compromise his conscience in order to be set free and be with her, St. Thomas More must refuse her because he knows that a good father must be a model of morality

15. Armageddon 
Harry Stamper behaves as a father to his daughter and to his entire crew. He takes things into his own hands because he knows that his responsibility as a dad means he has to be the one to step up

14. The Way
A father who loses their only child is still a father and this movie shows how that bond is forever 

13. Man of Steel
It is important that the first word in this Superman movie is "man." It is about a hero is trying to learn first what it means to be a man. And both Jor-El and Jonathan say and do some foolish things, but they are completely devoted to their son and make him the man he is 

12. The Incredibles
A good father is not only a hero to his children, but he helps them become the heroes of their own story.

11. Rocky Balboa
One of the toughest transitions in fatherhood is going from being the protector so that your children can grow up. Stallone's speech right before the last act is a fantastic representation of that

10. Father of the Bride
Every dad I've spoken to who has had a daughter get married tells me that this movie captures that painfully hilarious insanity

9. The Pursuit of Happyness 
A dad who is not trying to gain riches apart from his family, but making every sacrifice imaginable to give his son a decent shot at life 

8. Heaven is for Real
Reverend Burpo is a fine, upstanding manly man of God, but God puts him through purifying fire and must learn that a good father will also learn from a child

7. Finding Nemo
A children's film that captures the terror of parenthood and the perpetual fear for their safety while at the same time showing the resilient love of a father

6. Cloak and Dagger
A boy comes up with an idealized fictional version of his father, not seeing the heroic everyday hero in front of him until the final line of the movie

5. Liar Liar
What Mrs. Doubtfire got wrong, this movie got right: a good father must be honest, put his children before his career, and be a loving man to his child's mother.

4. The Nativity Story
I always think of the portrayal of St. Joseph in this movie as a model of manhood to the Son of Man

3. Taken
This movie touched a primal belief in all fathers that they could turn into unstoppable killing machines to protect their kids

2. Field of Dreams
Most people would out this as the number one, and rightly so. Using the medium of baseball, the movie shows  that no matter how much we twist out fatherly relationships into knots, it is sometimes the simplest things, like playing catch, that mean the most

1. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
In a movie where the treasure is the Holy Grail, it would take something truly amazing to overshadow that. And Spielberg expertly understands that the real treasure is the relationship between Indy and his dad. Too much history and too many similarities keep them apart, but it's the acknowledgement of how they are the same and different at the same time. It all is there in the finale: Indy tries his best to make his father's lifelong dream come true even if it kills him. It takes his father's acknowledgement that his son has grown up (calling him Indiana for the only time) and telling him it is okay to let it go. And Indy knows I that moment what every child should know: that the child is he treasure of the father.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Film Review: The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Netflix)


Here is another late, quick review.

Aaron Sorkin is an incredibly talented writer and director.  However, he is constantly hobbled by his own sense of self-righteousness.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is the story of seven men who are accused of conspiring to start a riot outside the Chicago Democrat Convention.  Sorkin portrays them as a mixed bag of idealists and cynics.  But all of them are completely righteous at their core because they oppose the Vietnam War.  In Sorkin's mind, this excuses nearly all legal and personal infractions.

If you know the history of the trial, it is clear that the judge (Frank Langella), did a terrible job and did horrible things like literally ordering on of the defendants gagged.  But the movie comes off less like an insightful political film, but it is instead like hagiographic political martyrdom.

There is a strange phenomenon that I have seen in some films where the audience is supposed to put up with or excuse a character's vices as long as they have the correct ideology.  To be sure, characters who are complicated and struggle with the contradictions of human life tend to me more interesting that flat, static characters.  But Sorkin heavily leans on his audience so that we are supposed to say, "Well, yes, personally this person is a jerk.  But they are standing up for a noble cause, so that makes them heroic."  There is this wall between someone's personal life and their public one, as if one could be corrupted but not the other.  You can see this especially in the character of Abbie Hoffman (Sasha Baron Cohen), who is egotistical and self-aggrandizing, but Sorkin holds him up not for balanced judgment, but for grudging admiration.  College student Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) at one point vandalizes a police car, but we are meant to see the police as the villains because they are keeping tabs on the activists.  The irony that the activists behave violently to the cops, thus justifying the suspicion, seems completely lost on Sorkin.

It is difficult to express how noxious this is to me.  Your character is who you are, both personally and publicly.  I remember watching a movie once called Welcome to the Rileys, where it begins by showing the husband cheating on his wife.  What threw me was that he was the main character with whom we were supposed to identify.  But his behavior was so disgusting that I could never connect.  The Trial of the Chicago 7 does the same thing, but with a political twist.  To see the opposite, look at Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner's Lincoln.  The character of Thaddeus Stevens is a cynical misanthrope, but he is working hard for the cause of abolition.  While his ideals are good, Spielberg wisely holds Stevens up to scrutiny so that you as the audience member get to make the decision about his righteousness.  Sorkin does not give you this freedom.

Because Sorkin keeps his thumb on the scales, his critique of his opposition is hollow.  In the movie God's Not Dead, every single non-believer is portrayed as kind of monstrous.  This makes the film's themes less engaging.  Sorkin does this often in his work, where his political opponents are nothing by cinematic straw-men to be easily dispatched by these heroes.  The only thing that makes this movie at all enjoyable are the performances from such talents as Cohen, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Mark Rylance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Michael Keaton.  But they are not enough to keep Sorkin from drowning his talent in his ideology.  If he had decided to make an insightful critique of the justice system instead of a sermon extolling his political heroes, then this movie could have been something worth watching.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Film Review: The Midnight Sky (Netflix)


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

Here is another short review for a movie I meant to write about earlier.

The Midnight Sky is a story about Augustine (George Clooney), a dying man at an arctic research station.  Some mysterious disaster is killing the entire planet.  Everyone else at the station has left to seek some kind of refuge or to be with their families.  Augustine sees no point to try and escape and instead accepts his fate while slowly counting down the days to his and Earth's demise.  But two things interrupt his plans:

First, a little girl name Iris (Caoilinn Springall) has been left behind at the station and he is unable to reach anyone to rescue her.  Second, A manned space mission to Jupiter's inhabitable moon is returning to Earth, unaware of the plague awaiting them.  The crew, led by Sully (Felicity Jones) feel an increasing sense of unease as they approach, but do not know what to make of things.  Augustine tries to reach them, but his radio is not powerful enough.  There is another, more power relay at a science station across the dangerous arctic plains.  So Augustine and Iris race against time to warn the crew.

The movie is incredibly well directed.  Clooney is very talented both in front of the camera and in the director's seat.  He is able to convey a great deal of emotion and tone with his visuals.  Augustine's world is sterile and bleak.  Clooney makes you feel his sickness, his despair, and every ounce of his determination.  This was one of his best performances in years as a man who tries to find just enough hope to go on.  It is almost inspiring to see him not go quietly into that good night.

The movie has two main problems.  The first is that it is too bleak.  Even if Augustine is able to save his crew, there is still an overwhelming sense that humanity is doomed.  The second is that the plot can only sustain a much shorter movie.  This would have been an amazing Twilight Zone episode, but as a feature film it feels stretched too thin.  This is especially true of the scenes on the space craft.  Everything the characters do feels like unecessary padding to the run time.  And unfortunately Jones cannot carry scenes the way that Clooney can.  Springall does well as a child actress and is able to hold her own in scenes with Clooney.

With a script that matched the level of the directing and performance that Clooney gives, this movie would have been a real treat.  Instead, it is a decent if unspectacular film.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Film Review: An American Pickle (HBO Max)


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

This past year has been so strange that a few things slipped through the cracks.  I have a handful of movies that I each gave a "Film Flash" with no subsequent film review.  I am going to do my best to catch up on those.  However the reviews will be brief.

An American Pickle is a comedy starring Seth Rogen.  He plays Herschel Greenbaum, a Jewish-Russian immigrant in early 1900's New York who ends up in suspended animation for 100 years in a pickle briner.  The movie wisely treats this premise in the silly way it should be and doesn't get bogged down in the mechanics.  Herschel then meets his descendent Ben (also played by Rogen).  At first Herschel is filled with wonder at the modern world, but then he is filled with disgust at how people have become.  Particularly, he is upset at how Ben does not honor his family heritage and religion.  This comes to a head when Ben will not help Herschel in his fight to clean up Herschel's wife's grave.

Herschel then decides to go into the pickle business to show up Ben.  What follows is a an escalating rivalry where both men go to ridiculous lengths to take down the other.

As strange as the premise sounds, the movie actually starts off pretty solid.  The quirky tone works and Rogen actually does a good job of playing both parts as believably different and yet the same.  The problem is that this is one of those movies that is less interested in entertaining and more interested in "saying something."  Part way through the movie, the story inexplicably becomes a satire about Donald Trump, with Herschel standing in place of the polarizing figure.  Herschel is used as a mouthpiece for incredibly offensive statements which for some reason catch on with the masses.  However, things turn on a dime when he says some horribly offensive things about Jesus and the Virgin Mary.  This felt like such an odd diversion where the main story was getting lost.  The other main problem is that the escalation between the two felt unnecessarily nasty and bitter.  Both became increasingly motivated by pride and envy of the other.  This is incredibly ugly to watch and not at all a pleasant thing to experience.  Director Brandon Trost does a decent job and is actually able to insert a few incredibly touching moments without it feeling out of place.

However, these touching moments don't connect the way they should because by the time you reach any poignant moment in the ending, you are disgusted with all that the main characters have done.  By that point, you just want the movie to end.

Friday, June 11, 2021

TV Review: Hacks (HBO Max)


Hacks TV title card.jpg

With the explosion of different streaming platforms, we are seeing even more scripted series being dropped each month.  Based on the trailer, I decided to give Hacks on HBO Max a try.

I quit after the 3rd episode.

The show is about veteran stand-up comedian Deborah Vance (Jean Smart), whose long-running Vegas show is beginning to be sidelined for younger, hotter acts.  Her agent sends struggling comedy writer Ava (Hannah Einbinder) to help her become more relevant.  The two instantly dislike each other, but Deborah takes on Ava for some reason.  This opens Ava's experiences to Deborah's weird world of celebrity, with material luxuries, spoiled adult children, and massive egos.  

The reason I gave the show a chance was because of one scene in the trailer.  Ava is whining to Deborah about how good she is.  Deborah wheels around and says that being good is the bare minimum to have any future in this industry.

It reminded me of The Devil Wears Prada, where the older, prickly mentor helped the snobbish assistant get over herself and find her esteem in being competent at her job (at least that's how I understood the theme of that movie).  

Instead, every episode was simply Ava being a horrible person and expecting everyone to fall over themselves gushing about how wonderful she is.  At one point someone calls her out on this, saying that she always thinks she knows what's best for them, but doesn't have her own life figured out.  I've found this to be a trick that a lot of modern movies and shows are using: having someone point out the main character's biggest flaw so that the audience will excuse it.  But being aware of your vices is not the same as growing out of them.  Ava has an amazingly, narcissistic sense of her own worth as a comedian.

The worst part about it is that she isn't funny at all.

I know that humor is subjective, but everything she says is tinged with nastiness.  And throughout the episodes I've watched, her advice comes down to being even nastier and more stringent.  On top of this, the show constantly and inexplicably virtue signals with the strangest non-sequiturs.  At one point, Ava gets angry at Deborah and shouts at her "I hope you donate to Planned Parenthood."  It was such an odd, out of nowhere statement that assumes the virtue of helping kill unborn children.

The show has two things going for it.  First is that Jean Smart is fantastic.  She plays her character with a ragged pain and exhaustion that is constantly masked by the painted smile of a celebrity performer until the curtain closes.  She handles both the comedy and drama expertly.  If the show was given a different writing staff, this could have been an amazing vehicle for her talent.

The second is the production value.  The show makes Las Vegas look like an exciting and inviting place, full of color and life.  It does let us see some of its underbelly, but not enough to make you totally repulsed.

Hacks is one of those shows where the producers are so busy wanting to "say something" about women in the entrainment industry that it forgot that their primary job is to entertain.  But this only works if we have any kind of emotional investment in wanting to see the main characters succeed.

And in three episodes, they never got there.

Perhaps when the producers came up with the show's title, they were thinking about themselves.

Monday, June 7, 2021

New Evangelizers Post: Why Can't I See God?



I have a new article up at  

As my school year is drawing to a close, I reflect on one particular class that I had. There were three students that insisted that God should show Himself to them. They said that they asked God to make Himself known, and yet He did not. They took this as evidence of His non-existence.

My response to them was, “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” the student responded, “I don’t see Jesus! Do you?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“Where?” the student asked.

I looked intently at the student and said, “I’m looking at Him right now.”

One of the things I have learned in my many years as a teacher is that there can be an enormous gulf between what is said in class and what is heard. I think a mistake we commonly make is that we think we are clearly communicating the ideas in our mind to another mind.

Sometimes this is our fault, when we use poor, vague, or incorrect language to illustrate our thoughts. Sometimes it is the other person’s fault for not taking the effort to understand what was said (we see this especially in political arguments). Sometimes it is no one’s fault. Sometimes our personal life experience colors the way we hear and see things in a way that you cannot anticipate in another person. When I tell my students that God is their Father, I have a very clear image of a benevolent and loving parent. Someone else who only has had abusive father figures, may bristle at this revelation of God’s nature and have difficulty relating.

But the question remains from my students: “Why can’t I see God?”

There may be any number of reasons, but there is one that very few people like to acknowledge:

May I cannot see God because I am not really looking.

This may sound harsh, but it is amazing to me how much (to quote Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace) our focus determines our reality.

One of my favorite movies in the whole world is It’s a Wonderful Life. There are so many amazing things to enjoy in this film from the directing to the performances and its overall themes. But one of my favorite aspects of the film has to do with the title. The main character, George Bailey, has a wonderful life. That is an objective fact. And yet, at the beginning of the movie, he is in such despair that he is thinking of killing himself. Why can’t he see that he has a wonderful life?

George’s problem is at the heart of the problem of seeing God. George is focused on all of the bad things going on: he is about to be arrested and his business is bankrupt from the stupidity of his uncle and mendacity of Mr. Potter. There is no doubt that these are truly bad. He thinks that if he kills himself then his life insurance will save everyone else.

Clarence, his guardian angel, tries to explain to George that he has a wonderful life, but George won’t listen. When I try to explain to some of my students that God is all around us, they cannot see. George needs to have his perspective changed.

Even though George is a good man, he is focused on himself. When he finally sees what life would have been like without him, he comes to finally see that his life is wonderful. The best part about all of this is that it occurs without any of his problems going away. Many people remember the happy ending where the people of the town donate money to save him. But George’s epiphany occurs before any of that. Even though he is bankrupt and going to jail, he is filled with joy because he can see he has a wonderful life.

God is all around us. He is in your neighbor. He is in your heart. One of the most important things you can do is take your perspective off of yourself and open yourself to the beauty around you.

Many years ago, a young woman confessed that she had romantic feelings for me. I did not return those feelings, but since we were very close friends, I decided to go out with her and see where things would lead.

I will never forget that moment four months later. We were down at Franciscan University on a warm July night. I looked at her under the golden glow of a street lamp. And it was like I was looking at her for the first time. It felt like my head finally caught up with what my heart had been telling me: here before me was the most amazing and beautiful woman in the world. And it wasn’t that she suddenly transformed into this vision of loveliness. The amazing part is that I came to realize she had always been this beautiful, only I hadn’t realized it.

If you don’t see God, trust me, He is knocking at the door of your heart. Take a chance and spend time with Him, even if you have doubts. Take your focus away from yourself and how you feel about God. Instead, focus on God and what He wants of you.

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Sunday Best: Top 10 Episodes of FRIENDS


File:Friends logo.svg

HBO Max just dropped a Friends reunion special and darn it if it didn't make me horribly nostalgic for that show.

As I wrote previously on this blog:

When it first came onto the scene in 1994, it had a quicker wit than anything on television.  The banter was fast and funny in a way that wasn't common at the time.

The show also hit a chord with the people growing up in that era.  There was an experience of extended adolescence as post-college young people found their way through the world.

And the ensemble cast had a fantastic chemistry.  There was something honest about they way they related to each other as they teased and taunted each other, though still held by a deep bond of affection.

I've heard people on social media calling the show problematic for its humor and its lack of diversity.  In its day, Friends had a lot of moral problems.  The show constantly promoted immoral lifestyles.  As a Catholic, you cannot help but be sensitive to the casual acceptance of rampant sexual immorality as well as things like IVF.  I have complete respect for people who cannot enjoy the show because of its moral content.

However, in terms of the art that it takes to make a funny TV show, I cannot help but admire the craft that went into making this show.  Humor is also something that is much more emotional than it is analytical, and I cannot help but still laugh at the jokes.

So below are my rankings for the Top 10 episodes of Friends.

10. "The One with the Morning After" (3x16)

This is one of the least fun episodes of the series and that is one of the things that makes it stand out.  The final moment between Ross and Rachel in this scene is burned in my mind.  The way he talks about how he can't imagine his life without her always gets me.

9. "The One with the Two Parties" (2x22)

This is a simple episode in typical sitcom fashion where they have to keep Rachel's parents separated at two parties across the hall.  My favorite part is the bit of physical comedy where the boys have to quickly improv a way to get her father to the other room while her mom is in the hall.  It is so silly and simple that it makes me laugh every time I think about it.

8.  "The One That Could Have Been (6x15-16)

With the exception of the Phoebe storyline, it was really interesting to see how the lives of the characters would have been different and yet the same.  What I liked about it as a writing experiment is to see how the core of the characters remains the same even given different circumstances.

7. "The One Where Ross Moves In (5x07)

I love the way this episode highlights how sharing close quarters can highlight annoyances.  Throwing Ross into the Joey/Chandler dynamic was really funny.

6.  "The One with All the Thanksgivings" (5x08)

This is another one that helps flesh out the backstory of the characters, but as a big fan of the Monica/Chandler relationship, I love how absolutely ridiculous the moment is when Chandler finally says "I love you."

5.  "The One with All the Resolutions" (5x11)

The opening is wonderfully written with everything having to resolve in 60 seconds.  The rest of the episodes are filled with nice sitcom contrivances, but the best part is where Ross cannot get his pants back on.  It might be Schwimmer's best comedic performance.  The absolute sense of desperation as things become more absurd is hysterical.

4.  "The One with the Proposal" (6x24-25)

Again, I am an old-fashioned romantic.  The re-introduction of Richard, Monica's old love, helps raise the tension in this episode.  While the ending should be seen coming a mile away, I remember watching this episode when it originally aired and having a real sense of emotional investment as to whether or not they would end up together.  And at the end when Chandler says, "You make me happier than I ever thought I could be.  And if you let me, I will spend the rest of my life trying to make you feel the same way," I can feel this as the completion of an important part of his character's arc.  It also encapsulates my feelings when I proposed to my wife.

3. "The One with the Embryos" (4x12)

I always ignore the title topic of the episode.  What makes this episode work is the trivia competition for the apartment.  When I watched the reunion episode, I was shocked that I still remember all of the answers.  Not only does it change the status quo (for at least a few episodes), but the game ends on one of the best running gags of the show.

2. "The One Where No One's Ready" (3x02)

I go back and forth as to whether or not this is the best episode of the series.  This bottle episode plays out in real time, which is unlike almost every other episode of the series.  It works together as a mini-play that interweaves greater and greater absurdities while the clock is ticking.  It also has one of the best visual gags of the show where Joey does the opposite of Chandler hiding his clothes.

1. "The One Where Everybody Finds Out" (5x14)

Most of the jokes work really well and the increasing absurdity of the two groups bluffing each other into submission raises the comedic stakes.  But it works out so well because it builds to the cathartic release of Chandler and Monica's public declaration of their love.  Being a softy, I really love this.


Looking back I noticed that all of my choices were from seasons 2-6, and that 4 of the episodes were from season 5.  The fact that there are no favorite episodes after season 6 tells you about my assesment of the show's quality from that point forward.  I will tell you that I have a very clear memory of most episodes in the first 6 seasons, but I don't have a lot of clarity going forward.  And I don't think I'm alone in this.

What are your thoughts?

Friday, June 4, 2021

20th Anniversary Sonnet

The time we met, like yesterday, and yet

So many years did fall like Autumn leaves

In late November, colored like sunset,

My heart is filled with joy and yet it grieves.

Too fast, too fast!  Tomorrow comes to fast!

And yesterday becomes a distant dream.

I try to hold these moments of the past!

They slip away and down time’s lonely stream.

“But don’t despair!” I tell my heart.  For love

Cannot be lost!  The cosmic spheres with all

Their vast expanse, that stretch from heav’n above,

To love’s eternal glory, short they fall.

And time is but a temporary thing

Your love ascends beyond time’s bitter sting