Thursday, September 30, 2021

Film Review: Dear Evan Hansen


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

Music is a shortcut to the soul.

For about 2 years I fooled myself into thinking that the show Glee had any merit because I was wrapped up in the music.  It took me a little while to realize that it was hollow Hollywood moralizing.

But music can also elevate.  I remember seeing The Greatest Showman and feeling slightly transported.  Each song moved me and lifted my spirits.  That movie has a special place in my memory because of that.

This brings us to Dear Evan Hansen.

This is movie musical based on the Broadway show.  Evan (Ben Platt) is a socially awkward high school senior dealing with severe anxiety and depression.  His therapist makes him write letters to himself that begin "Dear Evan Hansen."  His single-mother Heidi (Julianne Moore) is barely home because of work, but tells Evan to get someone to sign the cast on his arm he broke over the summer.  But not even his closest classmate Jared (Nik Dodani) will sign it.  On that first day Evan has a run in with a violent loner Connor (Colton Ryan).  Meanwhile Evan pines for Connor's sister Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever). When Evan goes to print out one of his therapy letters later in the day, Connor appears to try and reconcile, even signing Evan's cast.   But when Connor finds Evan's letter and sees that in mentions Zoe, he gets angry and stalks off with the letter.  A few days later, Connor's parents Cynthia (Amy Adams) and Larry (Danny Pino) come to school and inform Evan that Connor has taken his own life.  The only thing they found on the body was Evan's letter, which they mistakenly believe was from Connor and conclude from this and Connor's name on Evan's cast that they were friends.  Evan tries to clear up the mistake, but he begins to watch the family, including Zoe, begin imploding from rage and grief.  So Evan begins to make up stories about Connor to ease their suffering.  This begins to snowball as Connor's story gains more notoriety and Evan gets closer and closer to Connor's family.

I began this review talking about the music because I think this will be a key factor in whether or not you enjoy this movie.  For me, I found the music, beautiful, emotional, and memorable.  There is an old saying that characters in musicals sing because there is no other way to express what they are feeling.  That is absolutely the case in Dear Evan Hansen.  Each song touches on the deep, sometimes awkward, burning emotions that you have in your teenage years.  Every passion and pain is heightened by a hyper-emotional awareness.  Halfway through the movie, Evan sings a song about Connor ("You Will Be Found") that goes viral on the internet.  It is not hard to believe that it would in the way it talks about darkness and loneliness with a sense of hope.

If you do not like the music, it may be a bit more difficult to connect with the characters.

Even still, if you were the awkward kid in high school there will be much that will be familiar with Evan's story.  The movie opens with Evan singing about how he feels on the outside of everything ("Waving Through A Window"), which how I spent a good portion of my high school experience: bullied by classmates, nervous all the time, pining for girls I was too shy to talk to... All of this was very familiar to me when I saw it on the screen.

Another thing that the movie does incredibly well is capture the spirit of the modern high school experience.  It is not an exaggeration to say that the level of anxiety and depression that students are struggling with today is way more than in my generation.  For some like Evan, their struggles are clearly seen.  But for others like the over-achieving Alana (Amandla Stenberg), it is hidden behind a peppy personality.  As a teacher, I have witnessed first-hand the overwhelming sense of alienation and the desperation for any kind of belonging.  It also captures a teenagers shallowness and depth of emotion at the same time.  Students who used to bully Connor post selfies with his memorialized locker.  But these same students can be seen incredibly vulnerable in their own loneliness and join things like "The Connor Project," which is designed to raise awareness of mental health.  But, like most teenagers, when the immediacy of the emotional moment passes, so does the hastily made commitments that come with them.  In my years working with teens I've noted that you have to give them a powerful emotional experience in order to break through the noise, but that all you have is the emotional experience, it will all fall apart because emotions fade.  Dear Evan Hansen captures that perfectly.

As a result, very few of the characters, even the side characters, come off as one-dimensional.  They may not be very likable in the end, but they all have layers.  I found this surprising and refreshing.  There are no real villains in the piece.  I'm also glad that they did not turn Connor into a misunderstood saint after he died.  Connor did a lot of bad things and so we are tempted to label him a monster.  But Connor also had hidden depths and we are tempted to label him a misunderstood victim.  The truth is that Connor struggled with both light and darkness and while his life was tragic, it is not easy to judge.  As a Catholic, I love that even when you struggle with the bad things a person does in this movie, you keep being reminded not to judge them.  And this is not done in a preachy way, but by showing you all of the different dimensions of the characters.  I could do without a few casual references to sexual immorality or drugs and alcohol, but 

Director Steven Chbosky does an excellent job of capturing the emotional moments in the visuals.  While Evan wanders the halls anonymously we feel his simultaneous alienation and claustrophobia.  He lets some little details in the background fill in the emotional logic of the scene.  

Most of the performances are very good.  Dever does an excellent job of keeping Zoe aloof and reserved.  I appreciate her wonderfully understated take on a young woman who is dealing with completely contradictory and inflammatory emotions.  Adams and Pino have a good chemistry, both in love and hate.  Moore plays her Heidi with a weary grace.  Stenberg also brings a great sense of charisma to her performance.

This brings us to Platt.  It would be an injustice to say that he does a bad job.  He plays Evan with depth and honesty.  But there is something just slightly off about his casting.  It is strange to say that he is too old, but he sort of is.  At 28, he just doesn't feel right for the awkward high school student.  And even Dever is only 3 years younger than him, it doesn't quite fit.  Perhaps it is the makeup they used on him to make him look younger, but only served to make him look... puffy.  You can tell Platt is doing his best and if he was just a bit younger I would be more connected.  But the oddness was like a hint of something sour in a sweet meal.  It isn't a deal breaker and the movie was still very moving, but I wish they could have fixed this.

My last gripe is that I prefer my musicals to end with a big climactic number.  That doesn't happen here.  The big show-stopper is right in the middle.  Instead, the movie ends on more a more somber note which is fitting for the type of story they are trying to tell.

I've written before that experience of most movies fade quickly after the credits crawl.  But Dear Evan Hansen is sticking with me still.  I would advise you if you are interested to check out the trailers for the movie and if the music at all sounds pleasing, check out this movie.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Film Flash: Dear Evan Hansen


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

If you like the music: a powerful, emotional movie about teen alienation and being seen.

New Evangelizers Post: Why Does God Rest On The Seventh Day?



I have a new article up at  

“On the seventh day God completed the work he had been doing; he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken.” (Genesis 2:2)

God is All-Powerful.

An All-Powerful Being should never get tired.

So why does an All-Powerful Being need to rest on the 7th day?

This is a very basic question that is often asked by modern people who read the Biblical story of creation. If this Creator gets tired, then the God being described here is not the True God. Otherwise there must be an alternative explanation.

It should be remembered that the first 11 chapters of Genesis are not written like modern historical or scientific textbooks. Many Bible scholars note that these chapters are written in mythological language. The modern ear hears the word “myth” and thinks that it means “a story that isn’t true” like Hercules or the Loch Ness Monster. But that isn’t what is traditionally meant by “myth.” The richer context of the word means that it is a story meant to get across a deep and abiding truth in a way that we can understand. A story can be mythical and literal, but let us leave that question aside for now. As a myth, let us focus on the meaning the story tries to give.

First of all, it should be noted that it takes God six days to create the world. The first question I would have is “What took Him so long?” Couldn’t God snap his fingers and pull a reverse-Thanos and bring the entire universe in being in an instant?

Of course He could.

The fact that He orders creation in this very specific structure tells us that there is meaning behind His method.

The second thing to grasp is the way the ancient peoples used number symbolism. Modern people don’t carry number symbolism as deeply in our culture as the ancients did. The closest way I can relate what numbers meant to them is this:

Imagine you won a free ticket to Hawaii. But then the ticket arrives and you leave on Friday the 13th at gate 13, flight 1313 in seat 13. Would you be at all hesitant? If you answered yes, it is because in our culture, 13 is considered bad luck.

In ancient Jewish culture, many numbers had deep significance. Below are some examples:

1 = The number of God and unity.

The Hebrew people were one of the first monotheistic religions. Their oneness and the oneness of God set them apart from all the other nations of the world.

3 = The highest, the superlative

The Hebrew language does not have suffixes. If I wanted to say that someone in my class was the tallest in Hebrew, I could not add a suffix to the root word tall. Instead, I would have to repeat the word three times to indicate the superlative trait; I would say the person is “tall, tall, tall.” We see this play out at Mass when we say of God that He is the holiest when we say “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Hosts.”

4 = Perfection of the world.

The ancient people saw the world balanced by the number four. In nature they kept seeing a balance of four things
-The Four Seasons (Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer)
-The Four Winds
-The Four Elements (Earth, Wind, Fire, water)
-The Four Corners of the World
-The Four Humors (Phlegm, Blood, Bile, Black Bile)
Four was therefore thought to bring a kind of perfection.

This brings us to the number 7

7 = 3+4. This means that it is the “highest perfection.” Therefore, 7 is the holy number. This significance also gives meaning to the number 6.

6 = 7-1. This show a falling short of perfection. That is why the number six can mean incompleteness, imperfection, sin, or evil.

It is important to note that God finishes making the world after 6 days. The number six would set off alarm bells in the heads of the original listeners. It is like our modern understanding of 13, but worse.

Now, we know from context the 6 does not mean that creation is evil. Every time God makes something, He passes judgment on it and says that it is “good.”

So what does it mean that the world is made in 6 days?

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday Best: Emmy Results 2021


Perhaps I am getting older or more mature or perhaps my tastes are changing, but I don't have the same excitement that I used to for award shows.  I used to look forward to the Golden Globes, the Emmys, and most especially the Oscars.  But now they seem like an afterthought.  I still consume a great deal of media (perhaps too much).  But my desire to see the industry award itself is waning.

My biggest takeaway from watching the Emmys didn't have to do with any of the actual awards.  I noticed that all of the help had to wear masks, but the rich and beautiful people did not.  I was very surprised to learn that a virus knows who is important enough to not need a mask and who isn't.

The show was an improvement over last year's unwatchable show.  Cedric the Entertainer wasn't that bad of a host.  There were even some funny bits like the skit for the non-Emmy-winning support group.  It reminded me of an old SNL skit "Emmy Fight!"

But here are a few of my thoughts:

BIG WINNERS: Ted Lasso and The Crown

I do not watch The Crown, so I could care less about their wins.  But I was very excited for Ted Lasso.  Even though the 2nd season is not as good as the first, I was impressed with that first season's ability to mesh cynisicm with optimisim and heart.  The performances are also fantastic, which is why I'm glad that they won in every category of acting where they were nominated.  The other big winner was Mare of Eastown, a show that I heard is great, but I haven't seen.


For all his years on television, I would say that has been the funniest late night host I have ever seen.  And while there has been a more depressive edge to his work in the last decade or so, he is funnier than any of the other nominees.  Even the winner, John Oliver, acknowledged that.


Even though I had this as my best movie of 2020, I was surprised that Hamilton pulled off a win this year.  I'm not sure how it qualified, but I'm glad it won.  I have the feeling this will be the last award that the show will win in a long time.  And even though he won previously in 2014, Lin-Manuel Miranda is still only one Academy Award away from an EGOT.


This year, I started the show late and then sped through it on my DVR.  As a result, I got to skip almost all of the thank you speeches.  And I have to tell you, it made the night much more pleasant.  I couldn't tell you if anyone said something offensive or annoying.  I could just concentrate on the awards themselves.


I don't know how these awards shows keep screwing up the In Memoriam part of the evening.  Sometimes they leave off names they shouldn't.  Sometimes they choose the wrong song/singer.  But this time, it was the directing that ruined it.  Why don't the directors understand that this is a time where we don't care who is singing.  Don't put the band in the foreground obscuring the dead people in the background.  


Again, The Mandalorian is the one invited to the party that no one asks to dance.  So many of these shows are not going to be remembered in 10 years.  Heck, I would say some of them won't be remembered in 5 (I'm looking at you, Hacks).  But people will still be talking about and debating The Mandalorian and its effect on Star Wars for decades.


Thursday, September 23, 2021

Trailer Time: American Underdog

I really like Zach Levi.  He has a lot of good will from me.

This looks one of the first non-comedic roles I've seen him play.  He's done drama, but always with a hint of comedy.  This looks to be a straight-up drama.

I always enjoy the story of someone who rises above the odds and does what no one else can do.  It is so interesting to me that if you want succeed in life, you have to believe in yourself.  The world is full of failures who also believed in themselves.  But that doesn't change the fact that this self-belief is the only way to rise to greatness.

The story on which this is based is something unknown to me.  So from this teaser, I'm eager to learn more.


Sunday, September 19, 2021

Sunday Best: Rest in Peace Norm MacDonald

File:Norm Macdonald.jpg
photo by playerx from laguna hills,ca, US


I was only a late fan to the late comedian.

Growing up I knew Norm MacDonald primarily from two things: Saturday Night Live and Billy Madison.  In both cases he failed to make an impression with me.  Throughout the years, I would see him pop up from time to time, but he didn't really make it onto my radar.

And yet, he was adored by other comedians.  He was one of David Letterman's final hand-picked guests.  He was constantly lauded by other stand-ups.  I've heard more than one famous comedian say that there was no one funnier than Norm.

You have to understand that as a kid I loved stand-up comedy.  I used to stay up on week-nights from 11pm-midnight to watch A&E's Evening at the Improv.  I had comedy tapes of Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams, and others.  The art of stand-up is one that I truly admire.

As I grew older and I saw how comedy was becoming less and less funny (or perhaps I was losing my sense of humor).  I began to revisit some of Norm's old material, particularly from when he hosted Weekend Update on SNL.  What I discovered was a with and delivery that I missed as a kid.  When I was younger, his jokes went over my head.  Now, I can see how he pushed boundaries in order to find laughs that no one else would get.  His OJ jokes continue to make me laugh.  He spent weeks using a recurring punchline, "Or so the Germans would have us believe" in order to set up an even bigger punchline out of nowhere.

I will admit that when I listen to his stand-up shows, it sometimes goes a little too blue for my tastes.  But even there I can now see his intelligence.

Norm MacDonald was actually an incredibly well-read person.  He read broadly and deeply.  And yet, he always played the part of the stumbling idiot.  That's part of what made his jokes even funnier.

He could pull off a simple three sentence joke like: "Cliff diving, there's an interesting sport.  There doesn't seem to be a lot of margin for error.  You're either 'Grand Champion' or 'Stuff on a rock.'"

But he could also spin a set up to its breaking point.  If you've never heard his Moth Joke, please look at it.  As humor is subjective, I'm sure some won't enjoy it.  But that was the joke that made me go from liking him to loving him.

The thing that all the comedians admired him for was that he was completely dedicated to comedy as an art.  He wasn't someone who wrapped himself into knots about it like Jim Carrey playing Andy Kaufman.  But Norm only cared about if something was funny.  He didn't care if it was offensive or politically correct.  If he found a joke, he would go with it.  You can see that in his time on shows like The View or in the legendary episode where he rips into Carrot Top in front of his movie co-star Courtney Thorne-Smith on Late Nite with Conan O'Brien.

He constantly searched for the perfect joke, which was one where the set up and punchline were the same.  The closest he came, Norm said, was when he said, "Lyle Lovett and Julia Roberts are getting a divorce and people close to the couple say the reason is because he’s Lyle Lovett and she’s Julia Roberts."

It was also this fearlessness that supposedly got him fired from SNL.  The story goes that an executive at NBC was friends with OJ Simpson and told Norm to ease off of the accused murderer.  For a comedian, the Weekend Update spot is a prime set on one of the most watched comedy shows in history.  Rather than cower, Norm doubled-down and did more jokes about Simpson.  And so Norm was allegedly fired for not bending the knee.

Another thing that set Norm apart was that he was public about his Christian faith.  In interviews he seems to struggle a lot with all of its implications, but for a man dedicated to jokes, he sure seemed to take the question of God seriously.  He was a man with serious flaws who wrestled with a lot.  He was a gambling addict, but he once joked, "It may be a disease, but its the only disease where you can win money!"  He was married with a son, but he and his wife separated after 11 years.

He had other TV gigs besides SNL, but none really took off.  I remember him fondly as Mike Heck's brother on The Middle and a surprisingly compelling sentient blob Yaphit on The Orville.  He had one major movie Dirty Work, which I have not seen and was a box office bomb.

Nine years ago,  he was diagnosed with leukemia and he did not make it public.  He once said that if a comedian got up and talked about their fatal diagnosis that it would be "the height of narcissism."  As always, Norm just wanted to make people laugh.  It was about the audience, not himself.  Even as he was struggling with his leukemia in secret, he would deliver jokes like, (I'm paraphrasing) "I hate when they say 'He lost his battle with cancer.'  That's no way to die.  'What a loser that guy was!  Last thing he did was lose!  Here's the thing... I'm no doctor, but I'm pretty sure when the guy dies, all of the cancer in his body dies too.  So to me, that's not a loss.  Worst case scenario, it's a draw!"

I marvel that he wrote that joke while knowing that the cancer inside him would probably end his life early.  But Norm took that and turned it into a joke.  Even in something as horrible as cancer, Norm tried to find the funny.  I imagine many people were offended by his comedy.  And to be sure there are things that Norm said that I didn't like.  But I always got the sense that there was no real offense in it.  He was always simply trying to dig into the uncomfortable spaces to find the humor hiding underneath.

And even though Norm has gone to stand before the Lord, the laughs he gave us will echo on for years to come.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord and may perpetual light shine upon him.  May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen.

Rest in Peace, Norm MacDonald.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Film Review: CODA (Apple TV)

 Coda poster.jpeg

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

Sometimes you just want to watch a nice, touching film that is uplifting and affirming about life.

And that's what you get with CODA.

The movie centers around Ruby (Emilia Jones), a teenage girl who lives with her deaf family: father Frank (Troy Kotsur), mother Jackie (Marlee Matlin), and brother Leo (Daniel Durant).  They are a fishermen family, barely scraping by.  Ruby loves her family, but her secret passion is singing, which her family cannot understand or appreciate.  Ruby keeps mostly to herself in high school (except for her loose friend Gertie (Amy Forsyth)) because of her poverty, a history of being bullied, and a constant smell of fish that surrounds her.  She decides to join a choir class because the boy she has a crush on (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo).  After some initial resistance, her teacher Mr. Villalobos (Eugenio Derbez) sees her potential and pushes her to try for a scholarship to the Berklee School of Music.  Much of the movie follows Ruby as the pull of her family and the call of her future tear her in opposite directions.

This is a movie that is beautiful in its straightforward simplicity.  I actually admire a movie that understands what its heart is and makes that the central focus.  My biggest critique is that there is some unnecessary vulgarity and sexual talk.  I get the feeling that these elements were inserted so that this movie would be dismissed as some saccharine Hallmark film.  The added spice of some adult language and sex talk preclude that and make it more "serious."  But they are actually distractions from the beauty of the story.  In order to make the movie more "mature" it actually makes it less accessible.

CODA captures Ruby's sense of alienation.  Her family never truly understands her, but she cannot be angry at them for their lack of understanding.  She knows the place she has in her family and how much they depend on her.  It is unfair how much the parents lean on the child, but that is the circumstance they find themselves in.  And Leo cannot help but feel passed over and emasculated by his baby sister.  And yet Ruby's prison is one with an open door.  The only thing keeping her in this position the genuine love and affection the family has.

Another thing that I loved about the movie was Derbez' performance as Mr. Villalobos.  As a teacher, I appreciated the fact that he demanded greatness from Ruby because he saw her potential.  He did not coddle her.  He pushed her.  He did not let her feel sorry for herself.  Ruby tells him how the other kids made fun of her because she talked "funny" as a child because of her parents.  Instead of letting her wallow in self-pity, he says to her "Do you think you are the only one who was made fun of for talking different?"  In this, he is not dismissing her pain, but opening her up to the pain other people feel.  He is not letting her run from her trauma.  He is helping her use her trauma as fuel for her greatness.  I get the feeling that Villalobos had a bigger storyline in the movie but it was cut for time.

Everything culminates with her audition.  Writer/director Sian Heder brings all of the plot, character, and emotional threads to this moment and knows exactly how to converge them.  To very honest, I have rewatched this scene several times with my wife.  It is something that lingers with you long after the movie is over.  This is no small feat in an age when disposable entertainment fades from the memory quickly like a polaroid, but in reverse.  CODA is able to work its way into your memory and heart.

And this would not be possible without the great performances.  Emilia Jones is utterly fantastic.  As emotional as it is, she knows how to pull her feelings in reserve.  She feels like the average teenager going through deep internal struggles.  You always get the sense that she can never be truly herself either at home or in public and that she always has to play a part.  Normally if a movie has a conflict between a teenagers artistic dreams and responsibilities to the family, I am very critical of the teenager (see my review of Blinded by the Light).  But Jones makes me feel her frustration and the need to break away.  Kotsur and Matlin have great chemistry and really play well the alienation they feel from Ruby.  I really liked Durant's frustration.  There is a wonderful scene where he goes to hang out a bar with the local fishermen.  The are kind and welcoming enough, but he has such trouble keeping up with what is happening that I could not help but squirm.  Durant makes you feel ever ounce of that.  Derbez is mostly known for his comedic work, but he handles the drama very well.  He can communicate more with one stern most can.

CODA is nice movie.  That sounds like a backhanded compliment, but it really isn't.  There are very few movies that lighten the heart the way this movie does.  Watch it and you will feel the same.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Trailer Time: Hawkeye

I have be apprehensive about this series, mainly because of the character of Kate Bishop.  Like most legacy characters in Marvel comics, Kate is just not that interesting.  On top of that, every time I've encountered her in the comics, she has been completely insufferable.

The one moment in this trailer that confirmed this feeling was when Kate called herself the world's greatest archer.  And yet, I do have hope for this show.  One of the things that I'm gathering is that Kate is actually pretty awful at being a super hero.  And that, at least, is interesting.

This seems to be a series that is in parallel to Falcon and the Winter Soldier, in that it is hopefully a bit more grounded than WandaVision and Loki.  One of my favorite aspects of Clint as a character is how is secretly a family man.  The moment in Endgame when his family disappears is one of the most emotionally harrowing moments of the MCU.  To see him reunited is wonderful (though I am wondering where is Linda Cardellini?)  He is also an incredibly dangerous person.  The part where he tosses back the Molotov cocktail was my favorite.

If this show is another case where the new legacy hero constantly one-ups the older, classic character, I think I shall be disappointed.  But if, as the trailer seems to suggest, Kate has to go through lots of pain and mistakes to become the hero she should be, then that could be a good story.  I tend to trust the movies and tv end a bit more than the comics.  After all, they took the eternally boring Miles Morales and made him awesome in one of the best Spider-Man movies ever made.


Monday, September 13, 2021

New Evangelizers Post: Explaining the Substantial Change of the Eucharist



I have a new article up at  

The Eucharist might be the strangest of all Catholic beliefs.

For those of us who grew up with the faith, we also experienced our understanding grow from a childlike acceptance of Jesus’ hidden presence to a more mature spiritual insight of the Real Presence. But for those who do not have this upbringing, it can be very hard to understand.

The term for what occurs at the consecration that we Catholics use is “transubstantiation.” The language of transubstantiation is very much rooted in the philosophy of Aristotle. We learn from him that all material substances are a combination of form and matter. A chair, for example, is matter arranged in the the form of a chair. This chair can go through many material changes and still remain a chair. You can paint it, cause wear and tear, or add arms to it and it still remains a chair because its form has not essentially changed, even though the matter has. Think of yourself. You have changed significantly since you were a small child, but you are still the same person because your form (that is, your soul) is still what gives your person its sameness throughout all the changes.

But sometimes things go through substantial changes. If I take a chair and I throw it into the fire where it transforms into ash, then it has gone through a substantial change. It ceases to be a chair and it becomes a new substnace: ash. This is because it has lost its essential form or “chairness” and the matter left behind is now in the form of ash.
This is what occurs in the Eucharist. The form of bread and wine leave the substance and are replaced with Jesus Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. The material properties all appear to be the same, but the form has changed, thus the change is a substantial change.

I remember back in college I had a discussion with a good friend of mine about the above explanation of transubstantiation. He insisted that a person should not have to become fluent in Aristotelean metaphysics just to come to some understanding of the Eucharist. The average person, he claimed, should not have to get a degree in philosophy in order to see the reason for the belief.

First, it should be said that the Eucharist is a mystery that we will never fully understand. Even a non-Catholic like CS Lewis understood that there was a deep mystery here when he wrote of Christ at the Last Supper, “The command, after all, was Take, eat: not Take, understand.” We will never be able to fully understand the miraculous event that occurs upon every altar at mass.

Second, he was correct in saying that you do not need Aristotle to come to a rational acceptance of the Eucharist. This Aristotelean definition is not found anywhere in the Scriptures. The Apostles and very early Christians all believed in the Real Presence without having to reference the ancient Athenian philosopher. There are many ways to approach some understanding of Eucharist. The Church has adopted much of the language of Aristotle because it has proven to be a useful way to describe the fact of the Eucharistic change.

Have said both of those things, it is still very helpful to know this in order to help non-Catholics understand what we believe about the Eucharist.

Recently I had a student who was having trouble understanding this sacramental mystery.

I said to my class that Catholics do not eat bread or drink wine at mass. The bread and wine cease to be bread and wine and instead turn into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ.

“But it’s still just bread and wine, isn’t it?” she asked.

I responded with an explanation similar to the one above about form, matter, and substantial change. But she remained unconvinced.

“So,” she asked, “If I were to examine the Host scientifically, would I find that after the consecration it now has Jesus’ DNA?”

“No,” I replied, “That is not what happens.”

“Then I don’t see how you can say that the Eucharist is Jesus.”

To be perfectly candid, this question about Christ’s DNA in the Eucharist is one that I had never encountered. After years of teaching, I usually have a quick arsenal of answers to the commonly asked questions by my students. But I must admit I wasn’t sure how to answer. So, I did what I always do in situations like this: I prayed to the Holy Spirit. When I’m not sure exactly what to say, I put my trust in Him.

“There is more to you than just the material components of you, isn’t there?” I asked my student. “You are more than your physical parts. You have a soul or a mind don’t you?”


“And the same is true of me. But if I were to die, this material body would become a corpse. But the corpse isn’t me anymore is it?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that when someone dies, the body left behind isn’t fully them. We honor their body because of the unity it had with their soul, but the corpse isn’t the person. If it was still the person, we couldn’t bury the body or cremate the body, because we don’t do those things to persons. Does that make sense?”


“But if I die and we were to do a scientific examination of my corpse, whose DNA would it have?”

“Yours,” she replied.

“But even though it has my DNA, that corpse would no longer be me. That is because it is now a different substance because it has gone through a substantial change. My essential, invisible form (or soul) has left the matter. Even though the material body still has the sensible qualities of me, it isn’t me anymore. In the same way, the bread and wine go through a substantial change. All of the sensible qualities of the bread wine remain, but the essential, invisible form have left and been replaced by Christ.”

You can read the whole article here.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

9/11 - 20 Years Later

  File:National Park Service 9-11 Statue of Liberty and WTC fire.jpg

20 years ago today.

When preparing this post, I was planning write about my experiences of that day and how they are burned violently into my memory.

But I was only a bystander.  Like so many, I watched from the outside as the horror was unfolding on TV.

Upon reflection, I decided that this day is not about me.

Today is about the 3,042 people who were horribly and viciously murdered by wicked men.

The best thing to do today would be to remember the dead.

Here is a link to the names of the murdered.  In your charity, perhaps look at the names and pray for a few of them by name.

Let us never forget.


Friday, September 10, 2021

Trailer Time: The Matrix Resurrections

Okay, I have several thoughts about this.

I don't think movie is going to be particularly good, but I really want to see it.

Somehow the CGI has gotten worse in 22 years.  Things look less real than they did before.  I can't imagine that the story is going to be very good.  This feels like the creator is returning to the well after all their other projects failed.

But here's the thing, Keanu Reeves has earned a lot of good will from me for both the John Wick movies as well as the recent Bill and Ted.  On top of that, he has done nothing but endear himself to his fan base in a way that always has me rooting for him.  On top of that, I really liked seeing him together with Carrie-Ann Moss.  Maybe I'm just buying into the nostalgia bait.  And this movie also has me really curious if Neal Patrick Harris could do an really good action scene.


Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Film Review: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings


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

I liked this movie more than I thought I would.

Those who have been loyal readers to this blog know that I am a big fan of super hero movies.  But I also grew up on martial arts films.  Bruce Lee was one of my movie heroes and I used to imitate him all the time, tying my socks together and pretending they were nunchucks.  When Marvel announced that they were doing a movie about a C-List hero who was known to be the Master of Kung-Fu, I was a bit dubious.

But the movie surprisingly works more than it doesn't.  In fact, I think I liked it better than Black Widow, which is something I was not expecting.

The story centers around Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) who is the son of a notorious criminal leader Wenwu (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung).  Wenwu has ten mystical braclets of unknown origin that cause him not to age along with several other super powers.  He used it to form an organization known as The Ten Rings.  Searching for more power, he searches for a hidden magical land called Ta Lo.  But he is bested in single combat by a woman warrior  Ying Li (Fala Chen).  Despite their opposition, the two fall in love.  Wenwu gives up his powers and criminal empire to become a family man.  But when old enemies kill Li, Wenwu returns to the ten rings and his evil ways and trains Shang to be an ultimate assassin.  But Shang has run away from that life.  The plot really begins with a 24-year-old Shang living in San Francisco, working as a parking valet with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina).  They spend their days in their dead-end jobs and their nights partying.  It is a life free of responsibility and ambition.  But one day, Shang is attacked on a bus by assassins and he has to unleash the full force of his martial arts power.  This sets him on a journey to find his estranged sister Xialing (Meng'er Zhang) and stop his father from his plans.

There are two things that this movie does very well.

The first are the fight scenes.  Like most Marvel movies, there is a bit too much CGI and the battles escalate to a ridiculous level in the third act.  But when they do actual martial arts action, it is a great deal of fun.  The opening fight between Wenwu and Li reminded me of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in a good way.  It was poetic and beautiful like a dance.  But the fights could also be thrilling and creative.  The fight on the bus was much better than I expected, with Shang using as much of the environment to fight his enemy.  I even like the moment where he found himself sitting next to a cute girl in the middle of the fight and had a micro-moment to flirt with her.  

The best of these scenes, though, take place on the side of an unfinished building several stories high.  I got the chance to see this movie in 3D and it made a big difference.  I found that one of the best uses of 3D is to get a sense of height.  As someone who is afraid of heights, this action sequence hit me right in the gut.  The constant fear of plummeting while fighting for your life gave the scene an added kick that had me completely invested.  And it culminated in one of the best one-on-one fights of the movie.

The second thing that was excellent about the movie was the relationship with Wenwu.   

Wenwu is such an interesting character to me because he taps into a deep truth that a lot of men feel.  Perhaps I am wrong, but any man who is married to a good woman can feel the way that civilizes him and makes him a better man.  I can feel deep in my bones that without my wife, I would be a much worse person.  There may even be a fear that deep down we are bad men or monsters, but for some reason this wonderful woman believes we can be good.  In Wenwu you can see the fear of losing that woman realized.  But compounded is the fear that you will lose whatever goodness she had brought out of you.  And that badness will spill over into your children.

It is very clear that Wenwu is the antagonist of the film.  But he was the most relatable character because I could understand him completely.  And his relationship with Shang is wonderfully complicated.  Wenwu resents Shang for not saving Li, even though he knows there is nothing he could have done.  Shang hates all the evil that his father inflicted on him and made him do, but he cannot help feel a connection to that man his mother loved.  This movie surprisingly taps into the deep contradictions we feel towards our fathers.

This could have been one of the top origin movies in the MCU.  But there are a few things holding it back.

The first are the performances.  Simu Liu does a better job than I was expecting.  He can turn on the charm and charisma at times.  But his performances feels like a water spigot that gets turned off when he doesn't have something to actively do.  There are moments when it feels like he just turns into a blank slate until it is time for him to do something again.  I imagine too that people will have polarizing reactions to Awkwafina's humor.  It didn't bother me much.  But she is still a performer and not yet an actress.  Watch her body language as she overexaggerates her personality like a freshmen doing a spring performance of Grease.  Of all the performances, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung is the most emotionally grounded.  There is also a rather good comedic performance from someone who appeared in a previous MCU film that I will not spoil here

The second is that the story is too messy.  I don't mean that it is too complicated.  There are too many elements that detract, rather than add.  There are whole patches of the movie where the main character, Shang, does almost nothing.  For an origin movie, this shouldn't be the case.  Look back at Iron Man or the first Captain America, and they don't really fade into the background in scenes the way Shang often does in order let his sister or another supporting character shine.  Others have pointed this out and it is true that instead of the sister supporting Shang's story, she ends up taking up a lot of the story oxygen.  

The final issue is the one that most super hero films have: a bloated third act.  It is difficult problem to overcome because it has turned into something that is expected from films like these.  You need a gigantic spectacle to cap off the film.  But instead of raising the emotional stakes, you end up adding more visual noise to the ending.  That is what happens with this ending too.

Two minor gripes are that they have to turn Katy into an expert archer in the third act in order to give her something important to do for the story.  The second is that they never explain what the ten rings actually do.  This way, the rings can do anything the story needs them to do at any moment.  I don't mind having mysterious, mystical items, but there should be some understanding of what they are instead of having them be a perpetual Deus ex machina.

Despite these criticisms, I found myself enjoying the movie more often than not.  If the other movies in phase 4 of the MCU are at least this good, I will keep coming back.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Labor Day Prayer to St. Joseph 2021


Happy Labor Day!

I remember during the early days of the pandemic, I was so worried that the school where I teach was going to lose enrollment and shut down.  As often as I complain about the toil of work, I am reminded how ungrateful I am for the privilidge of working in a Catholic school (or to have a job at all for that matter).  It is truly a blessing to be given labor to help build up the Kingdom of God.

As I have written before, I credit St. Joseph for all of my jobs.  I pray that, like him, I can be a good worker and provider for my family and work the best that I can to be a model of moral manhood.

I pray that St. Joseph bless all the work of our hands that we all build up the Kingdom of God together.

Oh, St. Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God. I place in you all my interests and desires. Oh, St. Joseph, do assist me by your powerful intercession, and obtain for me from your divine Son all spiritual blessings, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. So that, having engaged here below your heavenly power, I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of Fathers.
Oh, St. Joseph, I never weary of contemplating you, and Jesus asleep in your arms; I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him in my name and kiss His fine head for me and ask him to return the Kiss when I draw my dying breath. St. Joseph, Patron of departing souls - Pray for me.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Film Flash: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings


Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings poster.jpeg

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

Surprisingly better than expected.  Good Marvel/Kung-Fu film.  Excellent fights,  so-so acting, but too long