On this night of New Year's Eve,
With 2021 coming to a close, it is time for us to choose what the best entertainment of the year was. And just as the Academy Awards have their "Oscars", so too the Catholic Skywalker Awards have their "Kal-El's"
|The Good Place|
This show is a fantastic blend of inane workplace politics and goofy absurdity; it's almost like The Office and Community had a love child.
Mythic Quest fills their show with over-the-top personalities, but always infuses them with just enough humanity to keep them grounded. The show takes you behind the scenes of a massive multiplayer online video game. Rather than the show being something insular that only gamers could appreciate, the setting is a medium to explore all kinds of different human relationships. The writing also reminds of Arrested Development in that it takes these very unlikeable characters and puts them in situations where their humor and depth can be seen. And just when you start to sympathize with them too much, their horrible flaws come to the surface, but not enough to repel you completely. It is such an odd and tense dance, but somehow they are able to make it work.
One of the things I really like about this show is how it handles social issues. Rather than taking a simple side and then preaching, the show delves into the issue to mine it for comedy while making fun of all sides.
All the while, you begin to connect to these characters and the humor becomes more pronounced once you really get to know them.
A few weeks ago, my school hosted a Christmas event with a live nativity. As I wanted to support the school, I stopped by to look around. I listened to the choir sing the carols and sipped my hot cocoa. I went to see the live nativity and saw my students dressed as the ones who were there on that first Christmas night. I knew that they would be bringing animals to help give the stable a genuine feel. There were donkeys and goats. But when I looked to my right, I was not prepared for what I saw:
I know that I have seen a real camel at some point in my life, probably at the zoo. But here he was, just standing there in front of me with no barrier. I stood a moment as families brought their children to the beast so they could pet him and have their pictures taken. After I found a space where it didn't look I was taking time away from the kids, I stepped up. The first thing that struck me was the enormity of the creature. There was no way this could ever pass through the eye of a needle! I then asked if I could touch the camel.
I put my hand on the creature's jawline. I had expected it to feel rough and sinewy. Instead, his face was delicate and soft and foamy feathers.
When I touched him, the camel turned his head towards me, inching it closer to my own. I tried to quickly remember if camels had a habit of biting people or not. Because if it did, I was in real trouble. I was powerless to defend myself at this range. But I gently pressed my hand on his face and he remained. I pet its plush head and looked into its eyes.
Even now, sitting here, I can remember the sensation. I began to share pictures of the experience with my friends and family. I called up one friend and he said to me, "This isn't like you."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"I never here you get this excited over nature and God's creatures," he replied.
I thought about it, and this is true. While I appreciate the beauty of God's world, I am very certainly and "indoorsy" type of person who revels in the creature comforts of modern home rather than the rustic life of roughing it. My time spent out doors recreationally is very small.
But there was something special about touching that camel.
Until that moment, the creature had always been something alien to me. It's not like I doubted their existence, but I never thought I would ever get to touch one. But now that I have, camels are more real to me than I ever imagined. They are no longer creatures seen in movies or read about in books. The tactile reality that I experienced changed all of that. And it's unexpected nature is really what threw me. Touching a real camel served to shatter all of my illusions of what I thought a camel was. Now whenever I think of a camel, the memory of its reality will once again fill up my senses.
That's what happens when you touch the real thing.
Of all the senses, I don't think there is anything that makes something more real than touch. We hear words, but people can lie or we can misunderstand. We see things, but our eyes sometimes play tricks on us. But it is the touch, that concrete sense, that gives us confirmation that something is truly real.
I think that's why Thomas said he would not believe until he probed Christ's nail marks with his fingers and put his hand into His side. This imagery is gross and disturbing, but it also goes to show the limit of Thomas's doubt. Maybe Thomas believed his fellow Apostles saw something. But he held himself to a "higher" standard. Seeing would not be believing. Only touch could remove all doubt.
Once you touch someone, so much of the barrier is removed. I think of the movie Dead Man Walking, where the man is being escorted to his execution. He had spent the movie talking to Sister Helen through a phone, through glass, and through bars. But in his final moments, he asked, "Can Sister Helen touch me?" In the movie Ghost, Sam says to Molly, "I would give anything if I could touch you again." He could see and hear her, but the touch made them present to each other in a new way. With the touch, we become truly real to each other.
Christmas is the day that we could touch God.
God is great, He is beyond sensible reality. Yet in His largeness, He had to power to make Himself small without losing any of His immensity. For 9 months He remained hidden in the womb of Mary. And then on that Christmas, He revealed Himself to the world.
And we could finally touch Him.
His tiny fingers and toes wiggled in the cold nigh air as Mary and Joseph snuggled him closely. Did any of the shepherds get to hold him? Did the Magi touch his little feet in homage?
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus would go out of his way to touch people. In Mark's Gospel, a leper asks to be healed. Christ could have simply said the words of healing. Instead, He laid his Holy Hands upon him. Why? Because He came to touch us.
Christmas is the day that God gave us access to Him in a way that we never could have imagined.
My conversion experience when I was 17-years-old centered around finally seeing Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. The next day, we had mass. The minister held up the Host and said, "Body of Christ," to which I replied "Amen." And then he placed the Host in my hand.
And in that moment I realized that I was touching God.
Until that moment, God had always been something alien to me. It's not like I doubted His existence, but I never thought I would ever get to touch Him. But now that I have, God is more real to me than I ever imagined. He is no longer Someone seen in movies or read about in books. The tactile reality that I experienced changed all of that. And it's unexpected nature is really what threw me. Touching the Real God served to shatter all of my illusions of Who I thought God was. Now whenever I think of God, the memory of its reality will once again fill up my senses.
Like Thomas, I have reached the limits of my doubt. And all of this because I touched His Body.
And that is the greatest Christmas present I can imagine.
Merry Christmas and God Bless!
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Acceptable
I like movies that can surprise you. And 8-Bit Christmas surprised me.
The story is simple enough. A father (Neil Patrick Harris) named Jake tells his daughter (Sophia Reid-Gantzert) the story of how he got his first Nintendo. The story is told mostly in flashback in the mid 1980's. Young Jake (Winslow Fegley) is the most middling suburban kid imaginable. He is not the most popular nor the most alienated. His family is firmly middle-middle class. His father (Steve Zahn) is constantly involved in unfinished construction projects around the house. His mother (June Diane Raphael) is an overworked teacher. His little sister (Bellaluna Resnick) seems to get everything she wants. But Jake and his friends spend their weekends and afternoons trying to get invited to the rich kid's house (Chandler Dean) so that they can play the only Nintendo in town. When that system gets destroyed, they conspire to find a way to get a Nintendo for themselves.
On the surface, this movie is merely a remake of A Christmas Story set in the 1980's. We have: an adult narrator, a plot centered around attaining a Christmas gift, a playground bully, and parents who don't understand the obsession. Jake's father, in particular, tries to impart the importance of getting out into the fresh air when all Jake wants to do is play video games.
But this is a better movie than A Christmas Story.
Now, there are many people who hold up A Christmas Story as a holiday classic. There is a reason that this movie stood out from all other Christmas films. In that movie, Ralphie begins the film with an all-consuming, selfish desire for his Red-Rider BB-gun. Many Christmas movies start off like this, but what makes this movie so bold is that Ralphie never learns the real meaning of Christmas. He is selfish and materialistic at the beginning and remains so until the end, with no real lesson learned. It is such as shocking turn that it is unique among many Christmas movies.
8-Bit Christmas seems like a similar cynical nostalgia-fest focusing on the joys of material gain at the holidays. And to be fair, the movie leans heavily into this feeling. It is a very childish mindset, but one that is reflective of a lot of our early Christmas experiences. How many of us when we were young loved the presents and the candy and things like going to church and gatherings with relatives? 8-Bit Christmas lets you get caught up in the Nintendo craze as well as other insane toy fads like Cabbage Patch Kids.
But 8-Bit Christmas has something A Christmas Story does not: heart.
I do not want to spoil anything, but there is more to 8-Bit Christmas than the silly comedy and Nintendo nostalgia. There was something truly heartfelt about how the story progressed. I was not expecting to find this movie so touching.
This movie will be most especially appreciated by people who grew up in this era. Everything about this will be familiar: the gigantic student that no one quite knew, the huddling around the radio listening for snow days, the rich kid who had all the cool toys, the kid who would constantly make up stories, losing retainers, losing siblings in the mall, power gloves, and everything in between. While everything was over-the-top, there was something authentic about how director Michael Dowse captured everything. He keeps the movie moving at a fast, fun clip. He gets you into the mindset of a child who gets wowed by a house with a built-in intercom system.
The performances by the child actors are perfectly acceptable as child actors. Harris always brings his charisma to everything he does. Raphael is a very funny actress that has been hovering around the edges of stardom. I'm really hoping she gets a big breakthrough because she is wonderful in this and should get more recognition. But for me the standout is Zahn. He doesn't seemed to have aged in 20 years, but he has matured. There is something very real and flawed about the portrayal of Jake's father that is incredibly funny and moving. He is angry all the time without coming off as a bully or abusive. He has that distance that a lot of us felt with our dads when we were little because his world and his worries seemed so alien to us. But Zahn finds the heart of the character to not only elicit laughs and pull at the heartstrings.
I am going to watch this movie again next holiday season and see if it holds up. But now, even after several weeks, I still leaves me with a smile.
In a few days, we will be celebrating Christmas.
For many of us this holy day is centered around our families. While God is always at the center of all things, the focus on family is absolutely appropriate. Our Lord was not just incarnated into a world, but into a family.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “In creating man and woman, God instituted the human family and endowed it with its fundamental constitution. Its members are persons equal in dignity. For the common good of its members and of society, the family necessarily has manifold responsibilities, rights, and duties.” (CCC, 2203)
The family is not some incidental accident of human culture, but something deeply ingrained in our nature. By “our nature” I do not simply mean our biology. Family is built into our very souls.
The family is so important that we look at it as the “domestic Church.” It is the place where the faith is taught and nurtured. Not only that, but “The relationships within the family bring an affinity of feelings, affections and interests, arising above all from the members’ respect for one another. The family is a privileged community called to achieve a ‘sharing of thought and common deliberation by the spouses as well as their eager cooperation as parents in the children’s upbringing.'” (CCC, 2206)
Why did God put us into families?
Because He wanted to teach us about real love.
All of us know that our families know us in a way that no one else ever will. There is an intimacy of every-day life that is almost impossible to communicate to anyone else outside of that family. They see us at our worst, our sickest, our messiest, our cringiest, our most embarrassing, and every other state. There is very little hidden when living in a family.
Growing up, I was the weirdest child. My family has got the goods on me. And I’m sure your family has got the goods on you.
And when living in close quarters, friction is inevitable. Sometimes the people who annoy us the most, who disturb us the most, and who hurt us the most are members of our family. That closeness makes every wound more painful.
But that is part of the lesson of being in a family: families forgive each other.
Now, I am not at this time referring to issues of abuse, crime, or addiction. While the underlying principles laid out in the article are still the same, these extreme problems require more nuance and expertise than I am able to offer here. This article is talking about the pain, rivalry, and drama that is common in the typical family.
As a family we are stuck with each other. People break up with their boyfriends and girlfriends. Sometimes friendships drift away and die. But forever and ever, my mom is my mom, my dad is my dad, and my siblings are my siblings. Nothing can change that. We are bound by blood.
This bond of blood is a reminder of the unity that we all share. We are connected. This permanent bond reminds us that no matter how much we hurt each other (again, abuse is a separate case), we are called to forgive. If I am in a fight with my brother or sister, they remain my brother or sister. Unlike romantic partners or friends, I can never deny the reality of my family. This concrete reality forces me to understand that if there is hurt and injury between us, then it must be reconciled or there is something unbalanced in my life.
With 2021 coming to a close, it is time for us to choose what the best entertainment of the year was. And just as the Academy Awards have their "Oscars, " so too the Catholic Skywalker Awards have their "Kal-El's"
As I wrote in my review for issues 1:
The Last Ronin feels very much like Old Man Logan for TMNT. That may sound like an incredibly odd fit, but it works so well.
Set in a dystopian future, one of the Turtles is infiltrating a walled-in NYC that is run by the Foot Clan. Which Turtle? It isn't readily apparent. He wears a black mask and he has all of the weapons used by the four. He is worn and weathered and he is on a mission that just might be a suicide mission.
The entire issue is pure action as he infiltrates the bad guy's headquarters. The narration is simple, but that is a powerful plus in a book like this. Turtles creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird are in no way phoning this one in. Their writing and art with Esau and Isaac Escorza is perfect for the book.
The thing that struck me about our hero was how as often as not he fails. He is full of amazing skill and pulls off fantastic feats. But he is facing such insurmountable odds that he sometimes barely makes progress. Or we see how age and fatigue cause him to make near fatal mistakes. He is not Batman who has ingeniously calculated 25 moves ahead. But he is also not some washed-up, has been shell (no pun intended) of his former self. He is prepared, skilled, and quick to improvise. But those improvisations don't always work out. The fact that he is not some unstoppable, invincible ninja makes the action all the more compelling and his struggle all the more desperate.
In fact, we get to see our hero brought to his absolute lowest and it is so heartbreaking. This leads us to the final page that has me excited for the next issue.
I don't know if the subsequent installments will be able to keep up this quality. But this first issue was a great and fun read from start to finish.