Wednesday, November 30, 2022

St. Andrew Novena Starts Today - 2022


Much of what is below is a repost from years earlier.

I think about St. Andrew quite a bit.  He was one of the first four called by Christ.  It was James, John, Andrew and Andrew's brother Peter.  But of that quartet, only the trio of Peter, James, and John ended up being Jesus' closest friends.

I wonder if Andrew was like us and got jealous.  According to the Gospel of John, it was Andrew who brought Peter to the Lord, and the Lord seemed to like Peter better.  How often have we introduced a sibling or friend to our inner circle only to have them become more popular or have a greater aptitude for what you enjoy?

But I bet that Andrew was better than most of us.  He was probably a model of humility.  I like to imagine that he was happy for his brother and he was content to have others loved and esteemed more than himself.

My favorite story is about when he died.  They tied him to the cross, but for days and days he preached non-stop to the point where the officials realized it was doing them more harm than good.

But when they came to take him down, Andrew looked at Jesus and told him he was tired and he just wanted to go home to heaven and be with Him.  So the soldiers were unable to take him down and Andrew finally went home to the Jesus and his brother Peter on November 30th 60 AD.

Today is the feast of St. Andrew.  And there is a special novena prayer that is prayed between now and Christmas.  It goes as follows:

St. Andrew Christmas Novena

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born Of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold. In that hour vouchsafe, I beseech Thee, O my God, to hear my prayer and grant my desires through the merits of Our Savior Jesus Christ, and of His blessed Mother. Amen.

That prayer is prayed 15 times a day until the ends.  My wife and I pray this together every year and have found many graces through the intercession of St. Andrew.  I pray that all of you do as well.

God Bless.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

New Evangelizers Post: Advent - A Spirit of Longing



I have a new article up at  

One of the things I have learned when it comes to spiritual writing is this: steal from the best. I am fortunate that I have a wonderfully profound pastor at my parish and his homily on the 1st Sunday of Advent was about longing.

One of the big problems of this season is that we fill our lives with Christmas music, Christmas decorations, Christmas shopping, and Christmas everything that when the actual day of Christmas comes around, we are almost sick of it. It is amazing to me how quickly we go from “O Holy Night” on Christmas Eve to “What’s your New Year’s Resolution.” And yet, it is the time during and immediately after Christmas Day that we are supposed to fill our lives with the Christmas Spirit.

I often joke with my friends that I only have one rule in my house: no Christmas-themed items are to be displayed until after Thanksgiving. This sometimes causes some consternation to my wife who loves everything Christmas. But my reason for holding off is that I want to make the build-up to the holiday special.

In the book of Leviticus, there is much written about the “holy.” There are many ways you can define “holiness.” But in Leviticus, the “holy” is that which is set apart for God.

In my home, we try to make Advent a time that is set apart for God. Now of course, all time belongs to God, but our liturgical calendar is set up the way it is for a reason. And Advent is a time set aside for longing.

One of the deepest truths about life is that it is in a constant state of flux. We are constantly in a state of anticipation of things to come because the future is not certain to our troubled minds. Because of this, humans live in a state of expectation. This is both good and bad.

We look forward to the good things to come like graduations, birthdays, weddings, vacations, retirements, and the like. Sometimes we count down the days until the moment occurs. As someone who adores movies, I ball up with excitement the closer we get to opening night for a movie I want to see. In fact, in the days before online ticket sales were big, my friends and I camped out overnight on the sidewalk to buy tickets to the midnight showing of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. I remember that time and the time waiting in the theater before the movie began. The entire auditorium was thick with anticipation, you could cut the tension with a knife. Why? Because the children who were raised on Star Wars were about to see a new Star Wars movie for the first time in sixteen years. Regardless of how many people felt about the actual movie, I experienced that time with great joy.

But human beings also anticipate the bad. We wait for news about medical test results. We watch the news, dreading bad economic news. We spend thousands each year on insurance policies we hope we will never need. In this way, we also live in a spirit of anticipation. We are waiting, and fearing the worst.

And this is our state throughout most of life. When someone we love dies, their journey is over. For them, the anticipation is done. They find themselves in the loving arms of the Savior. The ones that are left behind are the ones who still live in anticipation, waiting for that day to be reunited.

This is the purpose of Advent. Advent reflects life’s expectation. It is also one of the reasons why the readings at Mass often deal with the end of the world. Jesus told us that we are in the End of Days and that His return would be soon. So we live in expectation. In Advent, we experience that same expectation: we look forward to all of the good in the holiday. But at the same time there can be some fear: will it be different now that a loved one is gone? Will I be able to find that perfect gift for someone? Will I give my children a Christmas memory they will cherish?

Compacted in these four weeks are the hopes and fears that we experience in this expectant life. But also, Advent reminds us something very important about this journey of expectation:

The journey comes to an end.

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday Best: Christmas Movie Watchlist 2022

   Most of the below article is from 2017, but for the most part, with some new editions.

This either speaks to the fact that these movies are so good that they still endure as the years go on or the fact that nothing in the last few years has been able to match them.  Or it could be both.

Anyway, enjoy the read and share your thoughts in the comments section.

And no, I don't talk about the Star Wars Holiday Special

No one should talk about the Star Wars Holiday Special.


There are some movies that I only watching during the 25 days leading up to Christmas.  So at least once a year these movies will be played at the Catholic Skywalker house, especially during Christmas activities like putting up the Christmas tree and present wrapping.

(not surprisingly, a good portion of the choices below are from my previous Sunday Best list of best Christmas movies of all time).

Spirited poster.png
Since seeing this movie in the theater a few weeks ago, I have watched it a few more times and it has grown on me even more.  The music has woven its way into my consciousness and I find myself revisiting the musical numbers out of sheer delight.  There are parts I skip over, especially in the first half (not a fan of the Ghost of Christmas Past in this movie) and it is just a bit too vulgar for a holiday film.  But it is overall a heart-warming, feel-good Christmas tale.

8-Bit Christmas
A pile of people form the shape of a Christmas tree.
Now, this could be simply because I am a Gen-X '80's child who grew up on 8-bit video games.  There was an authenticity to the world they created in its over-the-top strangeness.  But there is a reason why this movie is on here and not A Christmas Story

 As I will write in my upcoming review, A Christmas Story works because of how it never strays from its tone of utter irony and cynicism while cloaked in 1950's nostalgia.  It is utterly bold to never have Ralphie learn the lesson that material things are not the true meaning of Christmas.  For that reason, A Christmas Story tends to stand out.

8-Bit Christmas is almost the exact same movie, only set 30 years forward.  The movie is in many ways the opposite of A Christmas Story.  While A Christmas Story has the outward appearance of wholesomeness while inside is hollow cynicism, 8-Bit Christmas is packaged as a disposable, cynical Nintendo commercial, but I was literally shocked at the beating heart that was underneath.  The movie is not earth-shattering, but was surprisingly touching.

The movie is still fresh, so I will see if it lingers long enough in my memory to be back on this list next year.

Emmet Otter' Jugband Christmas

Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas.jpg

I remember seeing this back in grade school and it was unlike any other Muppet production I had seen. It was so… sad.  There was a melancholy to this movie that I had never really encountered in a puppet based film, let alone a Christmas movie.  But that is part of its amazing charm.  Nothing in the world of Emmet Otter is easy, but the smallest things are so heavily valued.

And I can't help but love the music.  It has a diverse range of emotions, from sentimental, to silly, to heartbreaking.  One of the things I love about it the most is that it reminds us that life is unfair, but often things work out for the best.  I remember as a kid hating the Riverbottom Nightmare Band and thinking about how they stole the prize from Emmet and his mother.  But the Nightmare didn't do anything wrong.  They simply won.

And Emmet and his mom got something better than a temporary prize.  They found something that could sustain them for life.  I think that is a beautiful reflection for Christmas: how it isn't just a single day of gifts, but a place to begin making life better.

White Christmas

White Christmas film.jpg

What a great song and dance team Crosby and Kaye make.  This movie is just pure fun and heart.  And it has one of my favorite movie dance numbers of all time.  Danny Kaye is one of the true greats and I love him in almost anything he does.

 Love Actually.

Love Actually movie.jpg

This movie expertly interweaves seemingly disparate stories and reminds us that Christmas is about love.  Christmas is a time when love, any kind of love, should be made more manifest.

Men discover that they truly love their friends.  Lovers pour out their hearts to each other.  Parents and children dare to dream for each other.

There are issues with the film, though I will not try to argue against them here.  I could definitely do without the gratuitous nudity and vulgarity.

It also has one of my favorite comedic bits with Rowan Atkinson.  I always claimed that he played an angel in the movie and I think my theory has borne out to be true.

Expertly directed, sharply written, and splendidly acted.


A man dressed like an elf stands between the letters "e" and "f".

What this movie gets right is that it captures the fun and heart of the old TV Christmas specials like Rudolph and Frosty, all the while setting it in our modern, cynical world.  But more than that, we would rather be Buddy in his boundless enthusiasm and love.

The laughs are big and it will leave you with a desire to spread Christmas cheer by singing loud for all to hear!

 The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

This is, hands down, the best portrayal of Santa Claus I have ever seen.  He was big and beefy, with grey hair, but he was not slothful and slow.  He was a Santa Claus who was up to doing his yearly heroic mission. The gifts Santa Claus brings serve as a clarion call to fight on the side of the King of Christmas.

The Nativity Story

This is probably the best movie I have seen that is centered around the birth of Christ.   It is filmed beautifully by Catherine Hardwicke.  The landscapes, the homes, the costumes all feel so genuine.  And I love Oscar Isaacs' Joseph.  I love that he is portrayed as a young man who is still trying to find his place in this world.  He is a simple carpenter who just wants a simple life, but God has other plans.  I love how Isaacs performance of this man so overwhelmed that he almost buckles.  But he mans up and trusts in God and Mary.  For me, he is the real lynchpin of the movie.

I watch this movie every Christmas Eve to remind me of the heavenly peace of the Nativity.

The Muppets Christmas Carol

This is, hands down, the best screen adaptation of Ebenezer Scrooge's story.  It is also the move that the Muppets have made.

Michael Caine is perfect.  The music is fantastic.  And how can anyone not love the Ghost of Christmas Present?

 The Muppets make an excellent fit to the magical world depicted.  I also love that they did not eschew the explicitly religious elements, but brings out how essential Christ is in Christmas.


One of the reasons Scrooged works so well is that it is hysterical.  Bill Murray milks every ounce of humor from every quip and every glance.  To this day, I can't help but smile as the elves go for their automatic machine guns.

But what puts this movie over the top is the closing monologue.  The last 10 minutes of the movie are Murray preaching to the audience the meaning of Christmas.  It is one of the best performances of his life, if not the best.  It is almost exhausting to watch how he pours everything he has emotionally into that performance.

And it is a special movie that can get an entire movie theater of strangers singing at the end.

 It's A Wonderful Life

It's a Wonderful Life (1946 poster).jpeg

As a Catholic, I love that it starts with the collected prayers of the people of Bedford Falls.  This is ultimately, the story of a man whose prayers have been answered.  And I love the fact that God answers his prayers in a way that he doesn't expect.  God has a knack for doing the unexpected and better thing.

If God had simply given George the $8,000, then he never would have realized what a wonderful life he was living.  The point of the story is not the ending where the people give him the money (as the mighty John Nolte has pointed out).  When he returns from seeing the alternate reality, all of George's problems remain: he's deaf in one ear, bleeding from a punch, and he's going to lose his business and his freedom.  But even with all that, George is deliriously happy because he realizes that even with all of those problems, he still has a wonderful life: he has friends, he has a loving wife, and a treasure in his children.

The older I get, the more the worries and problems of the world begin to weigh on me.  But this movie is a reminder that our lives are not defined simply by the problems we face.  It is defined by the friends and family in our lives.  That is the real treasure of life and how sad it is for those who cannot see it.

In the movie, George has a plaque underneath the picture of his father that says: "The only thing you can take with you is that which you give away."  It's A Wonderful Life makes me want to be a better person.

I can't think of a better compliment to give a movie, especially the best Christmas movie of all time.


Community title.jpg

I also have to watch the claymation Christmas episode of Community

And maybe also the BBC Office Christmas Special

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Back From the Future - A Thanksgiving Day Reflection (repost 2022)

(After the loss of another close family member, I decided that it was a good time to repost this Thanksgiving Day reflection from four years ago.  I pray you find this meditation helpful to you in the way it has been helpful to me.  Happy Thanksgiving.  - Catholic Skywalker)


 Traditionally on this blog I repost the same essay each year on Thanksgiving.  I continue to get positive feedback on it and I am very grateful for everyone's kind words.

This year I thought I would do something a little different and share with you something a little person and a little strange.  Bear with me as I walk you through a mental habit I have acquired over the years.  I don't necessarily recommend it.  Perhaps its overall tone is too dark for you.  But I have found that it is a reflection that has born good fruit in my life. 

There is a quote attributed to the Buddhist Ajahn Chah which reads: “Do you see this glass?  I love this glass. It holds the water admirably. When the sun shines on it, it reflects the light beautifully. When I tap it, it has a lovely ring. Yet for me, this glass is already broken. When the wind knocks it over or my elbow knocks it off the shelf and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ But when I understand that this glass is already broken, every minute with it is precious.”

This is perfectly in line with the Buddhist philosophy of impermanence: the belief that everything in this material world is going away.  This world can be so lovely and there are so many people and things to love in it.  But this world can also be so cruel and it can take all of those people and things from our lives.  

As I've gotten older I've found that I have become more, not less attached to this world.  Perhaps this is a spiritual failing on my part.  I don't mean that I have become consumed by greed or lavish wealth, although the material comforts of life have become more appealing.  What I mean is that when I come to realize my affections for something, I have this horrible desire to hold onto it tightly and not have it leave my life.

I am a collector.  Right now I am sitting in my makeshift library surrounded by not only hundreds of books but also hundreds of DC Comics action figures organized all over my shelves.  Hal Jordan is pointing his ring right at me while Barry Allen runs on his cosmic treadmill.  Sometimes I will have my nieces and nephew over or my friends and their children.  I give them free reign to play with any of my collectibles.  I do this understanding that children are prone to breaking things.  I accept things will be lost and destroyed, although I have been pleasantly surprised by how little damage has been done.  This is in no small part to their parents' careful attention.

But when something does break, there is a part of me that hurts a little.  Most things can be repaired, but there is a tiny loss.  I know that these are small things, but they reflect the same attitude I have regarding large ones too.  

I loved my first car.  I had essentially lived in it when I was at college.  As a commuter, I would sometimes have long hours between classes.  The back seats folded into a bed and I would take naps in there while staring at the ceiling that I decorated with colorful pictures.  When it was time to give the car away, even though I was upgrading, I was filled with a strong sense of sadness.  I was losing something which had been a big part of my life.  It was just metal and upholstery, but I couldn't help how I felt.

And this story repeats over and over again throughout my life: affection followed by loss.  The only way to avoid the sense of loss, it seemed, was to withhold my affection.  Yet it seemed wrong not to open my heart to these things.  Again, these are only things, but it seems somehow wrong to not enjoy them.  But the more they are enjoyed, the greater the loss when they go away.

I thought about the above quote from Chah.  To think of the things as already broken seemed a little too dark.  To imagine these things cracked and crumbled in their present state seemed to put too much of a pallor over them.  And yet that is where they are destined to go at some future state.  And that is where my mind wandered: to this future state.

At some point in the future all the material things will be broken.  This is a certain truth.  What I could do in my imagination was go to this future and get a sense of that brokenness.  Then I could return to the present and see the thing in its present state.  This would put a concrete sense in my mind of how precious the time is and how I should cherish it.  

When I was a kid, I had a plastic Luke Skywalker lightsaber that would make sounds as the air passed through it while playing.  It has been broken and lost for a long time.  When I think about it, there is a small sense of sadness.  Part of me wishes I could go back in time, just for a moment, and hold it again.  My wife bought me a Master Replicas Luke Skywalker lightsaber.  It is one of my favorite possessions.  But I know that I cannot hold it forever.  One day it will break.  So sometimes when I have it, I close my eyes and I imagine some future date at which it is broken.  I then get in touch with that feeling of loss and the deep desire to go back in time, just once, to hold it again.  I then open my eyes and I am holding it and am filled with a deep sense of gratitude.

We are surrounded by so many blessings.  And yet I often forget to be grateful.  The old saying that you don't appreciate something until it is gone still rings true.  By doing this little reflection and imagining that it is gone, you can increase your appreciation of the thing in the here and now.

And this does not have to be only for material things.  

When I was in the hospital and couldn't walk, I felt so lost and helpless.  By God's grace I have made a full recovery.  And yet I know that time, age, and injury could steal away my mobility again.  Sometimes when I am doing simple chores around the house or walking down the long hallways at school, I close my eyes and take a moment and imagine some future date where I will be back in a wheelchair.  In that moment a feel the sorrow over the loss of my mobility and I feel the wish to go back in time just once and experience what it was like to walk again.  And then I open my eyes and am filled with gratitude that I am upright and walking with ease.

Time will take even more from us.

When I was babysitting my nieces and nephew over the course of several days I was exhausted.  Not having children of our own, the overwhelming time commitment hit my wife and I hard.  There were times all I wanted to do was crash on the couch.  But then my niece or nephew would ask to play a game with me.  As tired as I was, I would take a moment and close my eyes.  I imagined a future, not too distant I am sure, where they will be too cool to play with their uncle.  They will be more interested in hanging out with their friends and then they will be gone and grown with families of their own.  I feel how much I missed being with them as children and I wish I could go back just one more time and play one more game with them.  And then I open my eyes and I am filled with gratitude that I get to play their games.

Last year my mom got sick.  We thought she was getting better, but then she went back to the hospital and began her month-long decline towards the end.  I will never forget looking at her there in the hospital.  Her eyes were a little glassy, not with unconsciousness but with sadness and depression.  She was never going to get out of the hospital.  She would sit there so silent, so lifeless, just numbly watching TV.  We'd ask her questions and she would often just answer with a limp shrug.  It was hard to be there with her sometimes, to see her suffer in body and spirit like that.   

But then I closed my eyes and imagined the not too distant future when I would be sitting there at the funeral home looking at the casket as the closed it one last time.  It would be the last time I would ever see her face.  I was filled with an overwhelming, choking sense of loss.  I felt so deeply that I wished I could have one chance, just one chance to go back and tell her how much I loved her.

And then I opened my eyes and I was filled with gratitude that she was still here.  I held her hand and with tears streaming down my face I told her how much I loved her.  I told her I was sorry for everything I ever did that ever upset her.  I told her that I have a great life because of her.  I told her that if by God's grace I help people know the Lord and put them on the path of salvation, then it is only because she put me on that path.  All of the good things I've done in my life I owe to her for giving me life.  I told her how grateful I was to be her son.  I told her how grateful I was to be with her now.

Even now just writing that last paragraph, that moment hits me hard.  And when the time came soon after where they closed the casket for the last time I wished I could go back and have one chance, just one chance to go back and tell her all of those things again.

But I can't.  

Real time allows for no do overs.  The only time we get them is in our imagination.

As I said, this reflection may not suit your personality and is perhaps too dark.  But if you want to give it a try...

This Thanksgiving, if you are having a bad day with the kids or at work or with your spouse or in your broken down car, then close your eyes and imagine a time in the future when you will no longer have around you the kids, the job, your spouse, or that broken down car.  Let that unpleasant loss touch your heart for as long as you can stand it.  And feel yourself wish for one chance, just one chance to go back and enjoy those kids, that job, your spouse, and that wonderful broken down car.  

And maybe, just maybe you will feel a renewed sense of gratitude when you open your eyes and come back from the future.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Film Flash: The Fabelmans


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

Spielberg movie that proves that artists don't necessarily understand their own art (also oddly anti-Christian).

Star rating 2.5 of 5.png

Friday, November 18, 2022

Film Review: Spirited (AppleTV)


Sexuality/Nudity Mature
Violence Acceptable
Vulgarity Acceptable

Anti-Catholic Philosophy Acceptable

There have dozens of variations on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  Some are more successful than others.  In recent decades, the only ones that have made a lasting impact are Scrooged and A Muppets Christmas Carol.  

But Spirited is looking to change that.

What is so strange about this movie is that it unintentionally a great metaphor for spiritual ministry.

The movie begins on Christmas.  The Ghost of Christmas Past (Sunita Mani), Present (Will Ferrell), and Future (voice of Tracy Morgan) have just completed another successful night of saving a miserable and miserly soul.  But in the aftermath, Present is pensive.  He is offered “retirement” from his job, but he still feels like he wants to make a difference.  As the group scouts their next potential soul to save, the come across Clint Briggs (Ryan Reynolds), a consultant who is so openly amoral that his audacity is matched only by his deviousness.  Present thinks that if Clint’s soul is changed, then this could have a major impact on the world.  To make matters more complicated, while doing their research on Clint, Present starts to fall for his assistant Kimberly (Octavia Spencer).  When the Christmas haunting begins, nothing goes as planned as Clint refuses to play along with any of the deep emotional catharsis that the ghosts have planned, much to Present’s chagrin.  As the movie progresses, Clint pushes Present even more so that you begin to wonder who is the one who will end up changed by the end: Present or Clint.

And by the way, the whole thing is a musical.

My major critique of the film would regard some of the content.  With Reynolds and Ferrell, we have two comedians who often work very blue material.  As a result, there is a lot of cheeky content that isn’t exactly R-Rated, but skirts a line.  I have no problem with mature content, but I find it very limiting in a movie like this, which should have a much broader appeal.  I wouldn’t feel comfortable showing this movie to anyone younger than 13.  The Ghost of Christmas Past is particularly off-putting as she lusts after Clint throughout.  

Now some people may be uncomfortable by the deep strain of cynicism that runs throughout the film, but I think that this is essential to making the movie work.  Clint doggedly refuses to look into his own soul and he equivocates all of his actions, constantly turning the tables back to Present.  Clint makes Present even question the concept of redemption and even tempts him into giving in to his baser urges.  This is frustrating, but also creates the tension with actual stakes.  As the movie goes on, you really do not know whether or not it will have a happy ending.  I found myself turned in knots at the possibility of leaving the theater completely deflated, but as a result I was totally invested in the events as they were unfolding.

Ferrell is great as Present.  He has an optimism that is tinged with fear.  He hopes, but he acts the way that he thinks he’s expected instead of the way he feels.  His chemistry with Spencer and Reynolds hold the movie together.  But it is Reynolds who steals the show.  It could be argued that he is simply doing his standard “Ryan Reynolds” character: charming and naughty at the same time.  And to that extent it is true.  But his charisma draws you in when you should be utterly repulsed.  He is seductive, not in a sexual way, but in making his horrible world-view sound practical and palatable.  The writing helps out a great deal here by having his Clint push you to question your own concepts of good and bad.  A line that sticks with me is when he questions the possibility of real redemption by saying, “Anyone can be good for three and a half weeks.”

It also helps that this movie goes all in as a musical.  It is packed with show-stopping numbers with amazing choreography and enjoyable music.  Ferrell and Reynolds are able to sing their way through the numbers, but Spencer is the one whose voice really stays with you.  The movie has some really nice and moving ballads as well as toe-tapping crowd-pleasers.  The style reminds me of The Greatest Showman but it never quite matches that level.

As I mentioned earlier, this movie is unintentionally a metaphor about spiritual ministry.  I say unintentionally, because the movie tries desperately to avoid anything that is traditionally Christian.  The sexual morality is very loose and there are lines about turning the whole operation Present a non-denominational affair.

But whether they meant to or not, this movie strikes a chord for anyone who has participated in the work of saving souls.  Most of us a zealous about our ministry because we have experienced something deeply personal, cathartic, and life-changing.  We want other people to have that experience too.  We work hard to create these deeply moving, often emotional moments for them to experience, either on retreat or in the classroom or in any other number of situations.

And when they don’t react the way we want… we get frustrated.  Present is constantly getting stressed because Clint refuses to open his heart in the way that Present plans.  Whether I want to or not, I cannot help but relate.  We ministers work hard on these experiences and it feels so upsetting when they fail to make an impact.  But herein is an important lesson: ministry is not a one-size-fits-all situation.  What works for one person may not work for another.  Clint’s resistance forces Present to acknowledge this reality.

The only time real progress seems to be made is when Present opens himself up and makes himself vulnerable to Clint.  About halfway through the movie, Present reveals a secret to Clint that really changes things for both of them.  Too often ministers set themselves up above the ones to whom they are ministering: they are the enlightened ones who offer redemption.  But Clint forces Present to understand that even though he is Christmas ghost, he is not a saint.  He is a man with normal wants and normal flaws.  By standing above Clint, they never connect.  But it is only in walking with Clint and really befriending him that any hope can be found.

Ministry is walking with people, being a part of their lives.  Yes, you hope to make their lives better, but you have to let them make your life better too.  When Present sees the value that Clint has for his life, new worlds open up.

The movie also makes clear that redemption is not a one-time event.  I cannot tell you how many times I have put on retreats with people who have deeply emotional experiences.  Their lives change… for a few weeks.  And the experiences of everyday life pulls them back to their old ways like gravity.  Redemption isn’t a single moment of conversion, but making the choice every day to be better.  The movie could be implying that we only have to be a little bit better than we were before and that is enough.  If that is the case, I would reject that theme.  We are called to be saints.  If the movie is implying that saintliness involves the slow walk up the road to righteousness, then I am completely on board.

I may be reading more into Spirited than I should.  But because of that resonance with my life, it struck a chord in me.  And it might just do the same for you.

Monday, November 14, 2022

New Evangelizers Post: Why Was Moses’ Sin So Bad?



I have a new article up at  

In my Theology class, we recently went over the sin of Moses.

For those who do not recall, in Numbers 20, Moses was instructed to strike the rock with his staff so that water would miraculous flow out to the thirsting Hebrews. Instead, Moses struck the rock twice. As a result, Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land.

Whenever I go over this story with my students, they always have the same reaction: “That’s not fair!”

Up until this point, Moses had done so much on God’s behalf. He led the people out of Egypt, he received the 10 Commandments, he guided them in the ways of God. He was so close to God that it said of Moses that he spoke to Him “face to face.” (Exodus 33:11)

Also, if you look at the context of the event, you can why Moses would be out of sorts. His sister had just died and immediately the Hebrews complain, saying that they wish that they were dead because of their lack of water. This would be like complaining to someone holding a wake for a loved one over the quality of the refreshments.

So why is God so harsh with Moses?

Part of the problem is that when we think of this story, we often place ourselves in Moses’ position and imagine how unfair the punishment would be if we had struck the rock twice. The thought experiment breaks down because we are thinking of ourselves striking the rock and not Moses.

When I teach this lesson in class, I begin by engaging the students in seemingly casual chit-chat before the lesson begins. I mention that I heard a news story that the pope was accused of stealing Vatican money and using it to bet on soccer matches. I ask the students if they had heard the news as well (surprisingly, there are usually a few who say that they have). We then discuss how they feel if the story turns out to be true. Many of them express dismay. When I point out that people steal and gamble all over the world, they say that this is worse because the pope is the leader of the Church. He is held to higher standard.

And that is the key to understanding the sin of Moses.

Moses’ sin is so great because it is Moses who sins.

You can read the whole article here.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Trailer Time - John Wick: Chapter 4

I remember a time before I saw John Wick.  I thought the premise was so silly (assassin kills his way up the Russian mob for revenge over a dog).  And then I saw the film and it blew my mind in a way that few movies could.

And now we have a full-blown franchise (along with upcoming spinnoffs).  

I really liked this teaser for John Wick: Chapter 4.  Every chapter of this story draws us deeper into this increasingly complex and interesting underworld that exists just below the surface.

The opening scene of this teaser harkens us back to root of John Wick: he is a man mourning the death of his wife.  He is also a man of contradictions and depth that he often keeps closely hidden.  I remember in Chapter 2, when he was asked if he feared hell.  He simply answered, "Yes."   I like how in this teaser he says that he doesn't believe his dead wife can hear him in the afterlife.  When asked why he keeps speaking to her, he says very simply, "I could be wrong."  This is something so powerful in that stoic simplicity

The action also looks like more over-the-top fun.  I have enjoyed every chapter of this saga and I see no reason why this next will ruin that winning streak.  


Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Film Flash: Spirited (AppleTV)


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

Surprisingly unintentional metaphor for spiritual ministry.  Good music, good performances, and real moral stakes.