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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

And another post from America magazine's blog ....

... this one by Fr. James Martin SJ. It's fairly short so here's all of it ......


Pray for Us

I find myself more and more depressed by the news about the church, including the increasing tendency to blame the media for the church's problems, as if without The Boston Globe the Catholic church would have ever addressed the sexual abuse crisis in this country with such vigor. Without the Globe's coverage there would have been no bishops's meeting in Dallas and no Office of Child and Youth Protection at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Now there is of course some lingering anti-Catholicism in the media (which I've written about) and the media do get things wrong. But we will make a grave mistake if we start blaming the messenger, as we first did in 2002. Last night, a friend tells me, one bishop told the congregation at the Chrism Mass, of all places, not to read The New York Times.

Beyond the question of blaming the media for our problems, comes something much more important: the overwhelming need for the church to recognize its need to set aside the culture of power, privilege and secrecy that led to the sexual abuse crisis. As we approach Good Friday, the church may need to ask itself what needs to die in order that we might live life anew. And what is needed now are saints to show us the way. To that end, I found this picture, sent to me on Facebook, deeply moving.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and Servant of God Dorothy Day, you who embraced a life of humility and simplicity, you who stood outside the power structures of the church, and you who embraced true spiritual poverty, pray for us now and forever.


Go to Fr. Martin's post to see the photo he mentioned.

Washing Jesus' feet

Holy Wednesday .....

In Western Christianity, the Wednesday before Easter is sometimes known as "Spy Wednesday", indicating that it is the day that Judas Iscariot first conspired with the Sanhedrin to betray Jesus for thirty silver coins. This event is described in the three Synoptic Gospels: Matthew 26:14-16, Mark 14:10-12, Luke 22:3-6. The Sanhedrin was gathered together and it decided to kill Jesus, even before Pesach if possible. In the meantime, Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper. Here he was anointed on the head by Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, with very expensive ointment of spikenard. Some of the disciples were indignant about this; the oil could have been sold to support the poor. Judas went to the Sanhedrin and offered them his support in exchange for money. From this moment on Judas was looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus ...

I especially like the part about Mary washing Jesus' feet and I saw a post at America magazine's blog today by Fr. Francis X. Clooney, S.J. that mentioned this, in reference to the following act of Jesus washing the disciples' feet. Here's part of his post ....


Holy Thursday 2010: Everyone needs their feet washed

[...] we should remember that he [Jesus] had just had his feet washed, in the preceding chapter of John, when he was dining with Martha and Mary, and Lazarus, at their house. Not to be confused with the sinful and repentant woman in the other Gospels, Mary washes the feet of Jesus, and lavishes costly perfume on them. Jesus accepts this ministry, and only Judas condemns it as overdramatic and wasteful. I can only imagine that when the Last Supper came, Jesus was still been reflecting on the tender intimacy and care of that scene, and realized that even on this most solemn night he might share the experience with his friends at table: as my feet have been washed, I wash yours; and you too, care for one another in this way .....

On Holy Thursday 2010, we need to take all this to heart. The Church is still a place of holiness, love, and service, yet it also a Church that is partly dirty, partly in need of cleansing. There is no longer a Church in which anyone can imagine himself only the washer of feet, and not one in need of washing as well. It is no longer a Church in which cleansing comes only from above. Perhaps we priests — and bishops and cardinals and the pope — can rethink how we commemorate Jesus’ humble, cleaning, tender action this Holy Thursday? Even today, we may indeed be a lot like Peter the first Pope — who did not want his feet to be washed — but like that same Peter, even today we might learn to be like Jesus, who let his feet be washed by a woman who was his friend, and then shared the experience with his other friends by doing the same for them.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The church my home

Some people think of the church as a kind of family or a home and the way the abuse problem is playing out now does remind me of the family dynamics in child abuse cases (and in my own childhood home) ..... in a family situation, the person abused often meets with denial and hostility if they bring up the subject, and even once the abuse has been proven some family members may defend the abuser because they fear more than anything else the destruction of the family structure.

With the church abuse problem, people seem to be doing the same - there are those who want the church hierarchy held accountable for the abuse, and there are those who feel the church hierarchy is being unjustly picked on. One resent example ot those in the second group: Archbishop Dolan's remarks that the pope is unfairly suffering (thanks the reporting of the abuse scandal) just like Jesus did during Holy Week. Maybe I've not drawn an exact analogy between the family and the church, but when I read about Dolan's remarks I felt physically ill ... the church my home.

Here's a blog post from Bryan Cones at US Catholic on the subject ....


The absolute wrong response to sex abuse

Every day brings another headline on the sex abuse crisis unfolding in Europe and echoing again stateside. And every time the hierarchy is responding in the absolute worst way possible.

Consider this from Archbishop Timothy Dolan's Palm Sunday homily, according to the New York Post: The pope is suffering "the same unjust accusations, shouts of the mob and scourging at the pillar" and is "now being daily crowned with thorns by groundless innuendo." Dolan goes ot credit the pope with the progress the U.S. church has made on its own crisis--credit that should be going to the National Lay Review Board, which struggled mightily, at times against the bishops' opposition, to enforce compliance with the Dallas Charter. (You can read our January 2005 interview with Justice Anne Burke, who once chaired the review board, for some background.)

The Vatican's defense in its conduct in the case of a Milwaukee priest who abused between 100 and 200 children is no more helpful, in effect amounting to an argument that the Holy See didn't know about the case until long after the abuse took place. And a homily by the preacher of the papal household, Raniero Cantalamessa, ends up sounding almost deranged in its narcissistic lamentation about "the present moment of serious hardship we priests of the Catholic Church are experiencing."

It is clear that a form of defensive insanity has gripped some in the Vatican, and it is making matters worse. There is nothing more heinous than the sexual abuse and rape of children, and both civil law especially imposes harsh punishment on perpetrators. U.S. states keep registries listing the address of convicted sex offenders; there are no second chances. Indeed the violation of a child is among the few "unforgiveable sins" in the secular world. Any "defense," any shading of the truth, any appeal to the complexities of church law, only make the hierarchy look even guiltier. Any failure of leadership of this magnitude in most other institutions would have meant meant immediate dismissal, if not prosecution. Yet the sociopathic Milwaukee abuser managed to avoid canonical trial late in his life by begging to be allowed to live out his days in "the diginity of my priesthood."

It is clear the Vatican does not understand that this scandal could well destroy the credibility of the Roman Catholic hierarchy for a generation. The Holy See absolutely must come clean in every way possible and instruct dioceses to do the same by canonical force if necessary. The pope, after all, enjoys universal jurisdiction in dioceses and can require bishops' compliance by law. (There are still four U.S. dioceses and eparchies that have refused to comply with the Dallas Charter.) The pope must accept or demand the resignation of bishops and other church officials that failed to report a perpetrator. And it must do so quickly, before this pope or his office is permanently damaged (if he is not already) and while they still have a chance to get ahead of this crisis.

What the pope and other bishops absolutely cannot do is "clarify," "defend," or blame the messenger (the media) for this crisis. The church may have enemies, but if it does, this scandal has handed them the mother of all weapons of mass destruction. The only way to defuse it is to come clean: repent, confess, accept the requirements of justice, and begin to at least try to make amends.


Christ the Bridegroom

Holy Tuesday ....

"In the Eastern Orthodox Church and those Eastern Catholic Churches which follow the Byzantine Rite, this day is referred to as Great and Holy Tuesday, or Great Tuesday. On this day the Church commemorates the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), which forms one of the themes of the first three days of Holy Week, with its teaching about vigilance, and Christ as the Bridegroom. The bridal chamber is used as a symbol not only of the Tomb of Christ, but also of the blessed state of the saved on the Day of Judgement ....

The Matins service for Monday through Wednesday of Holy Week is known as the Bridegroom Service or Bridegroom Prayer, because of their theme of Christ as the Bridegroom of the Church, a theme movingly expressed in the troparion that is solemnly chanted during them. On these days, an icon of "Christ the Bridegroom" is placed on an analogion in the center of the temple, portraying Jesus wearing the purple robe of mockery and crowned with a crown of thorns ....."

- The Wise and foolish virgins by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale

Monday, March 29, 2010

Two poems

Corporeal Love - David Waltner-Toews

I love the body
earth's body
the body of Christ
your body.
Your mind is nothing without your body.
The spirit of earth is nothing without
the trees, mud, cats, snakes,
children, grandparents.
Victory in war is nothing
without bodies to count.
Bodies count.

I love bodies.
I want to kiss them, hold them, pity them,
refrain from embracing even
as I embrace.
I want to speak unspeakable emotions
in body language.

Whatever we cannot say
we are fated to embody.
Whatever we mean
is meant best with our bodies.
These are the words of God,
incarnation, beyond creeds
and commanding textbooks,
infinity embracing herself,
loving ourselves to life
even unto death.

And what I wish for everyone,
my global fatherhood peace wish,
comes down to a bowl of chili
and buttered toast,
with English Breakfast tea,
with you, in this warm kitchen
on a snow-blown day.

Picnic's Over - Erica Wagner

After Elaine Fasula

Here is the lesson these travellers took:
a river, a lover, a broken book.
Dressed for the weather, naked as rain,
roped one to the other they set out again.

That one has packed up his tricks for the night:
the jack-knife, the skein, the mariner’s light.
The wren is the gift at the heart of the wood;
her song is washed clean in the travellers’ blood.

This one lays bait for the stars to devour:
a feather, a saltbox, his enemy’s power.
He thought that the sandwiches tasted of shame,
his hunger a dog off the edge of the frame.

I will go with you, the fifth one remarked,
past the bridge over silence and into the dark;
the blade and the seed to temper disaster,
the clatter of horns will carry our laughter.

Here is the lesson these travellers took:
a ladder, a letter, a scarlet book.
Stripped by the rain, worn in the weather,
the lover, the enemy, vanish together.

Jesus of Nazareth - part 2b

- Jesus and Judas at the last supper

- arrested

- trial

- scourging

- the cross

- post-resurrection

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Another Palm Sunday sermon .....

... this one from Fr. Lasch -


Palm Sunday 'C'

[...] Even the Church can slip into denial about it’s own need for reform from the top to the bottom. Years ago when the news of the sexual scandal broke in this county, blame was assigned to messengers rather than face the truth of mismanagement and cover-ups. It is time for reform and if it doesen’t come from the top, then it must come from the bottom up.

Jesus was a reformer. He told the truth and challenged the religious and political establishments of his time to act “in spirit and in truth.” He set out to inform his opponents about goodness and ’Godness’ not to destroy them for their badness.

He was popular at first but his popularity peaked and the tide was turned against him. His triumphant entry into Jerusalem and his acceptance as king was not to last. Though some considered his ‘kingship’ a good ruse to depose him through a mockery of a trial, his kingdom was not of this world or on this earth. He was confronted with the inevitable backlash again. He was too good to be true. If people listened to what he said and heeded his call to discipleship, it would lead to personal conversion and religious reform. But anything is better than reform!

The passion narrative can be understood only in the light of the Beatitudes and Jesus’ mission to mercy. He confronted even his opponents with love not hate. He subjected himself to human judgement and eventual degradation because it was only way for humanity to appreciate divine forgiveness. God did not will the death of his son; he willed only that he be faithful to life and to accept the consequences of living faithfully — committed to justice, truth and integrity with a touch of hard nosed compassion — even if it cost him his life.

It was not the Jews who put Jesus to death; it was humanity and its will to power that made Jesus powerless before human pride and the arrogance of earthly rulers and religious rulers too!

This is the mystery into which we are invited this holiest of weeks. But it is important and necessary that we view the crucifixion of Jesus through the lens of the Beatitudes and the miracle stories all of which constitute the meaning of Jesus life and the ultimate reason for his execution.

Too good to be true, he was rejected; too powerless to be defeated, he was raised up in glory. His mission is our mission; his destiny our destiny.


Palm Sunday sermon

- Pietro Lorenzetti

An interesting post by Jonathan/MadPriest about Palm Sunday and how losing his job has changed the way he's done the liturgy this year. Here's a bit of it ....

[...] As this is probably my last Easter as a priest and as there's not much anyone can now do to me if I upset them, I have decided to do Holy Week this year as I think it should be done and damn tradition. I started today by completely ditching the Passion bit of Palm Sunday and going back to the Book of Common Prayer's template of today concentrating on Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem. I remember, when I was a kid, that Palm Sunday was a joyous day with lots of "Hosannas!" I also remember how intense the betrayal of Christ a few days later felt when shown up against the jubilation of Palm Sunday. The Catholic insistence on getting the entrance to Jerusalem over and done with before the service proper so that most of the time can be spent on the trial and crucifixion of Christ completely buggers up this stark contrast between joy and sorrow as you leave church on Palm Sunday feeling just sadness and guilt.

So there was no Passion Gospel at St. Francis this morning (if they want passion they shall have to turn out on Friday). We started off with the blessing of the palms and procession into the church. But we had no gospel at the palm blessing, in stead we had the Palm gospel at the usual gospel spot in the communion service. I preached the sermon that I posted here yesterday, said Palm Sunday prayers and used the Ambrosian Palm Sunday eucharistic preface that is based on Christ's entry into Jerusalem. It all went very well and the handful of people I'm still being civil to really appreciated it ...

I really like this idea of not squishing all of Holy Week into Palm Sunday but letting it take its course day by day. Jonathan also posted his sermon for Palm Sunday - you can read it here or listen to it here. Here's a part of it I especially liked about suffering ....

[...] In some parts of the Church this idea that the pain of human beings pleases God has persisted into our modern era. That people outside of the Church regard Christians as a miserable lot is not an accident. It has to be admitted we appear to spend an inordinate of our time complaining about people enjoying themselves and trying to stop them doing so. There are many examples of even more bizarre practices. In some places men will literally nail themselves to a wooden cross in order to suffer like Christ did. And you can still come across such silliness right in the heart of the Church. I read the other week that the last pope used to regularly self-flagellate. He had a special implement for doing this hidden away in his closet.

Of course, none of this has any basis in the teaching of Jesus Christ. He advised us to live simple lives so that we could be generous to others less well off than ourselves but he never told us to cause ourselves harm and he didn't cause harm to himself either. Jesus fasted at one point in his life for a specific reason but for the rest of the time he eschewed such extreme actions. And the idea that Jesus would want people to suffer like he did is a bit sick if you ask me. It's like somebody going down with a bad case of the flu and saying to their friends and family, "I hope you all get this." If we, weak humans that we are, don't want others to go through the same pains we endure during our lives, why should we think that our merciful Lord would ask for us to endure his pain. Most humans will expend a lot of time, energy and money trying to make sure the people they love don't suffer from avoidable pain and distress. And, Christ did the same. He suffered and died so that we didn't have to. Deliberately embracing suffering when we don't have to is an insult to Jesus. Worse still, it is stating that the suffering of Christ was not sufficient for our salvation ...

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Christ's Entry into Jerusalem

- by Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin

Magic Cats

- Gwendolyn MacEwen

Most cats, with the exception of Burmese, do not celebrate their birthdays. Rather, they are extremely sentimental about Palm Sunday and Labour Day, at which times they survive solely on white lace and baloney sandwiches.
Cats on the whole are loath to discuss God.

Generally speaking, cats have no money, although some of them secretly collect rare and valuable coins.

Cats believe that all human beings, animals and plants should congregate in a huge heap in the centre of the universe and promptly fall asleep together.

Of all the cats I have known, the ones I remember most are: Bumble Bee, Buttonhole, Chocolate Bar, Molten Lava and Mushroom. I also remember Tabby who was sane as a star and spent all his time lying on his back in the sink, thinking up appropriate names for me.

Cats see their Keepers as massive phantoms, givers of names and the excellent gravy of their days.

Cats who have been robbed of balls and claws do not lament. They become their Keeper's keepers.

When cats are hosts to fleas they assume the fleas are guests.

Most cats would rather be covered with live fleas than dead ones.

Cats hold no grudges and have no future. They invade nets of strangers with their eyes.

The patron saint of cats is called: Beast of the Skies, Warm Presence, Eyes.

Cats do not worry about the gurgling horrors of the disease listed in catbooks, some of which are Hairballs Enteritis and Bronchitis. But they do become very upset about Symptoms, which is the worst disease of all.

When cats grow listless (i.e. lose their list) they cease to entertain fleas. They mumble darkly about radishes and death. They listen to Beethoven and become overly involved in Medieval History.

When cats decide to die they lie alone lost among leaves beneath the dark winds and broad thunders of the world and pray to the Beast of the Skies, Warm, Presence, Eyes.

Broadly speaking, cats do not read Gothic novels, although they tend to browse through Mary Shelley on the day before Christmas.

The only reason cats do not carry passports is because they have no pockets.

When a black cat crosses your path it usually means that he is trying to get to the other side of the street.

Cats never get baptized. They lose their dry.

Cats only perspire during Lent.

Cats have no memory and no future. They are highly allergic to Prime Ministers, radishes, monks, poets, and death.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A theologian's view

I saw an interesting post at America magazine's blog - The Expiration Date of This Catholicism: Being a Theologian in an Abusive Church by Tom Beaudoin, a professor of theology at Fordham university, who writes in part ...

I am a member of a church that has abused thousands of kids and teenagers over the last several decades. How does my work in religion and culture relate to this trauma, to this Catholic evil? I have argued in a recent book that “the physical-spiritual violence toward thousands and thousands of young souls in the past several decades calls fundamentally into question the content and purpose of thinking for and with this religious institution. As theologian Stephen Pattison has argued, the ‘long-overdue ‘discovery’ of child abuse must be to Western theologians what the challenge of the poor has been to colleagues in South America—an imperative to a fundamental re-visioning of theology.’ Sexual abuse of minors is the awful lodestar for all future American Catholic theology.”

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Jesus of Nazareth - part 2a

- Peter, Jesus, Matthew, and Judas

I've decided to split my post on the second half of the film Jesus of Nazareth into two parts: this one, which goes from my earlier post up until the last supper, and 2b, which will be from the last supper through the resurrection.

There was a lot in this part - conspiring by the zealots to get Jesus to help their rebellion, discord at the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus preaching, healing. One odd thing about this film as opposed to Jesus is the distance between Jesus and his mother - they don't hang out at all until he's about to be crucified. And one thing I hadn't remembered from the other times I saw the film - how emotional Jesus is. I remembered him as being rather low affect but actually he does laugh and at times gets quite angry. He's really growing on me :)

Here are some screen captures ....

- he calls Lazarus forth

- Mary Magdalene being forgiven by Jesus after washing his feet with her tears. I think there's been only one Jesus movie in which Mary M wasn't (wrongly) portrayed as a prostitute ... BBC's The Passion, thanks to Mark Goodacre

- Jesus gazes at the man born blind

- Jesus writing in the sand as he deflects the killing of the woman caught in adultery with the words, Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone.

Can The Pope Be Removed?

- The Ecumenical Council by Dali

One of the things David Gibson asks in his article at Politics Daily mentioned in my earlier post is whether the pope would step down and he opines that popes perhaps cannot do that. This reminded me of a past post by Andrew Sullivan .....


Can The Pope Be Removed? Ctd
19 Mar 2010 06:40 pm

A reader writes:

All of this is true. But it does not imply that the answer is that a pope cannot be fired. The fact that the laws on the books provide no avenue for the removal of a pope doesn’t mean that the laws couldn’t be changed to make it possible.

There is an authority in the Catholic church that possesses power at least equal to that of the pope: the Ecumenical Council. The decrees of an Ecumenical Council have a force like that of Papal dicta, and they constitute the canon law by which the Pope governs. The Councils write the laws. So the Pope is supreme within the law, but the Council is supreme over the law. As a result, a Council can remove a pope. In fact, it’s happened several times.

The Councils of Pisa, Constance, and Basel all fired one pope or another. At the Council of Pisa in 1409, the bishops dethroned the two rival schismatic popes, Benedict XIII and Gregory XII, and elected a third, Alexander V. At the Council of Constance (1414-1418), the Council accepted the resignations of Benedict XIII and Alexander’s successor John XXIII and deposed the third papal claimant, Benedict XIII. Of course, this Council also settled matters by retroactively declaring some of the schismatic popes as “anti-popes,” so they weren’t popes to be deposed in the first place, and repudiating the Council of Pisa as a mere meeting of bishops, and not a Council at all. At Basel, Pope Eugene IV (who has no rival claimant!) was deposed in 1439, but the Council itself was declared illegitimate by the rival Council at Ferrara and Florence. So, on the books, it looks like no popes were fired. But that’s only because the Councils wrote the books.

It is still an open question as to whether Councils are supreme over the pope, and whether a Council can be convoked without papal authority. Right now, the consensus is perhaps in favor of the pope. But these are questions of doctrine and canon law, and questions of doctrine and canon law are ultimately decided by Council. There’s nothing preventing someone, if they can get sufficient support, to convene a Council that declares itself legitimate and then deposes the pope.

There’s an addendum to this. At the height of the Thirty Years War in 1632, the representatives of Spanish (i.e., Hapsburg) interests in Rome accused Pope Urban VIII of insufficiently supporting the Catholic cause in the conflict. Following a famously fractious consistory meeting, allies of the Spanish party privately threatened to convene a Council and remove the pope. Urban, for his part, took the threat seriously.


Cooperating with intrinsic evil?

I saw a story today in the news - at Politics Daily by David Gibson, at Reuter's FaithWorld, The Guardian, at dotCommonweal, also by David Gibson, Articles of Faith at the Times, and The New York Times story, with the timeline and the document trail.

The dotCommonweal post is worth reading for the comments made to it, but I'll post here part of what David Gibson wrote at Politics Daily .....


[...] a story is in Thursday's New York Times, and it is shocking: That top Vatican officials, including Benedict, when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and chief guardian of doctrine for Rome, did not take action, despite pleas from some American bishops, against a Wisconsin priest who molested hundreds of deaf boys.

"The internal correspondence from bishops in Wisconsin directly to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope, shows that while church officials tussled over whether the priest should be dismissed, their highest priority was protecting the church from scandal. . . .

"The Wisconsin case involved an American priest, the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, who worked at a renowned school for deaf children from 1950 to 1974. But it is only one of thousands of cases forwarded over decades by bishops to the Vatican office called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, led from 1981 to 2005 by Cardinal Ratzinger. It is still the office that decides whether accused priests should be given full canonical trials and defrocked.

"In 1996, Cardinal Ratzinger failed to respond to two letters about the case from Rembert G. Weakland, Milwaukee's archbishop at the time. After eight months, the second in command at the doctrinal office, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, now the Vatican's secretary of state, instructed the Wisconsin bishops to begin a secret canonical trial that could lead to Father Murphy's dismissal.

"But Cardinal Bertone halted the process after Father Murphy personally wrote to Cardinal Ratzinger protesting that he should not be put on trial because he had already repented and was in poor health and that the case was beyond the church's own statute of limitations."

This is not an isolated story .....


I keep hoping if everyone writes about this awful stuff, it won't just get overlooked with a "business as usual" attitude, that it will lead to substantive change in the Church. I doubt that it will, though :(

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Jesus of Nazareth - part 1

- Wake up, little girl!

This week's movie rental is Jesus of Nazareth, the 1977 tv miniseries directed by Franco Zeffirelli, script by Anthony Burgess, and with Robert Powell as Jesus.

I've seen it twice before, the latest time six or seven years ago on the History Channel, with JD Crossan, Felix Just SJ, and other NT scholars discussing it during intermissions, but I wanted to see it again ... it's getting close to Easter and the first time I saw it, though I wasn't even a Christian, it made me feel sad that I couldn't be a disciple.

The film came in two parts and the first one tells the story from before Mary and Joseph get married up until just after the sermon on the mount, when Judas asks Jesus if he can join up. Some of the actors in this first part are familiar - Olivia Hussey as Mary, Michael York as John the Baptist, James Earl Jones as Balthazar, etc. It seems pretty good so far, if somewhat dated. I took some screen captures - sorry about the quality, I'm not sure if that's because the movie is old or because my computer is old :) .....

- Mary before her betrothal

- Jesus' baptism

- Jesus meeting Peter

- he casts out a demon

- watches a paralytic being lowered through Peter's roof

- Consider the lilies of the field ...

- he tells the story of the prodigal son at Matthew's house

Part 2 tomorrow.

Companions of Jesus

In Latin America so many are martyrs, but the Church will never officially proclaim all of them as martyrs, just as there are many who are saints, but few of them will be proclaimed so by the Church. Monsignor Romero will probably have to represent all the martyrs in Latin America. As he was a pastor, this will be a fitting responsibility and task. - Peter Hans Kolvenbach SJ

It's the thirty year anniversary of Óscar Romero's death but I don't want to write about him, but instead want to just mention some others also killed in Latin America .... Jean Donovan, Dorothy Kazel OSU, Ita Ford MM, Maura Clarke MM, Rutilio Grande García SJ, Alfonso Navarro, Ernesto Barrera, Octavio Ortiz, Rafael Palacios, Napoleón Macías, Ignacio Martín-Baró SJ, Joaquín López y López SJ, Juan Ramón Moreno SJ, Segundo Montes SJ, Amando López SJ, Ignacio Ellacuría SJ, Julia Elba Ramos and her daughter Celina Meredith Ramos ..... and to post this past article by Peter Hans Kolvenbach SJ ....


The Gospel's Reality

I remember receiving a message in the afternoon about the murders of the Jesuits in El Salvador. I will never forget that afternoon. I was very deeply shocked. I prayed, but I also had to act immediately. I went to the Holy See because we knew the names of other people who were on the list to be killed by the military, and it was absolutely necessary to bring diplomatic forces to bear to avoid further killings.

The night the six Jesuits were killed, the guerrillas were practically taking over the city; the army felt it had to take extreme, radical measures. One of the measures was to shell their own people, and another was to erase, as they put it, the leadership of the guerrillas. The Jesuits did not belong to the guerrillas, but for years and years they worked as an intellectual group to promote justice in El Salvador and to help the poor to come out of their misery. That was sufficient for the military to consider them as very dangerous. Also, the Jesuits had a lot of contacts with the guerrillas inside and outside El Salvador and were constantly in contact with El Salvador's president and governmental ministers. They wanted to bring both sides to an agreement. But the army considered this very dangerous as well -- mediators are sometimes more difficult people to deal with than radicals.

This was the reason that they were killed. It was a little amazing that the Jesuits, who knew that their lives were at stake, did not see that this would happen. They knew everything about the situation in the country; they were frequently on radio and TV as analysts of the situation; but they did not foresee at all, even though they were very near to the military headquarters, that this would happen. The murderers came like thieves in the night.

I have to say that I was not surprised at the murders. But I really believe that if we look back on this story, we will see that the source, the motivation, the strength of everything that happened was not politics, nor was it ideology; it was really the living gospel. Here were people who took the gospel of our Lord as reality and, like the Lord, spoke up to defend the poor. It was not at all out of political or ideological reasons that they acted; they had become aware that you cannot call yourself Christian without sharing Christs preference for the poor.

I visited them a few months before they were murdered, and we shared a lot with one another. I told them what I had been asked repeatedly by the parents of students at the Jesuit schools in Latin America: Father, why are the Jesuits of today not like the Jesuits of the past? So many of them today are Communist or leftist. So I brought up this matter to the Jesuits at the University of Central America (UCA) during a meeting. When I said, It seems that all of you are Marxists or Communists, they all smiled. Fr. Ellacuría said, Do you believe that we'd give our lives for Marx and his theories? We are companions of Jesus; that's the mystery of our life.

They knew what could happen, but they accepted this as what it means to be companions of Jesus, living the paschal mystery with Jesus. When we spoke about whether it would be better for them to leave the country, they said to me, Did you leave Lebanon during the civil war? No, you didn't. It is not our spirituality to abandon the people just because the situation becomes difficult or even dangerous.

And it was a dangerous time in Latin America. The murder of Jesuit Fr. Rutilio Grande in 1977 was an early message that the establishment would not accept the Church taking up the cause of the poor, becoming the voice of the voiceless. And when Monsignor Romero, who committed himself to the poor at the funeral of Fr. Grande, was killed in 1980, this was once more a message that there would be no restriction, no limitation in this war between the establishment on one side and the Church and the poor on the other.

The murders of the Jesuits was the last act, in a way. It had an impact on the national and international level, compelling everybody, all sides, to come together. The murders of these martyrs was the beginning of the peace process, a reconciliation that is, though fragile, real.

In Latin America so many are martyrs, but the Church will never officially proclaim all of them as martyrs, just as there are many who are saints, but few of them will be proclaimed so by the Church. Monsignor Romero will probably have to represent all the martyrs in Latin America. As he was a pastor, this will be a fitting responsibility and task.

But we should never forget that the martyrs of Latin America are not like other martyrs in the history of the Church. In the beginning of the Church, martyrs were the victims of pagan emperors. In our times, in Communist countries, they were murdered by atheists. The drama in Latin America is that the martyrs are tortured by fellow Christians. They become martyrs at the hands of people who call themselves, believe themselves to be Christians.

But no matter at whose hands martyrs die, martyrdom retains its meaning: giving your life for another. It means not only making the other your neighbor, as in the parable of the Good Samaritan, not only giving things to another, but giving yourself even to the point of giving the most you can give, your lifefor others, exactly what the Lord himself did.

In the situation of the murders of the Jesuits, the result is exceptional; we could see with our own eyes that something good came out of these martyrdoms: they brought peace and reconciliation to El Salvador.

The murders resulted in an important development for the Society of Jesus itself. There has been quite a lot of tension among the Jesuits during its long tradition of education and its creation of so many high schools, colleges, and universities. There are Jesuits who complain that these schools favor the rich, the elite. There are other Jesuits who answer, Yes, but these are the leaders in the future, and it is not a matter of indifference how they are educated. Those who feel that the elite are being served will smile and say, We have no hope whatsoever that these young people will ever transform the world. Give this all up.

Now, Fr. Ellacuría and his companions were university professors; UCA committed itself to the poor so much so that even today the poor consider UCA as theirs, even if they will never study there. The murdered Jesuits at UCA showed the Society that it is possible for a Jesuit to continue the Societys tradition of education but to do it in a way that promotes justice and expresses a loving, preferential option for the poor. We are grateful for the gift that these Jesuits have given us by their sacrifice.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

When the Stars Go Blue

I posted this by Ryan Adams quite a while ago but it disappeared, so ....

Thomas Reese SJ on the bishops and the health care reform bill

I've seen a lot of commentary on the health care reform bill and its passing - the Catholic blogs I visit are concerned about whether abortion will be funded by taxes and the women's blogs I visit are concerned that poor women are being discriminated against. I'm just glad that people without health care will now apparently have a chance to get it, though I'm concerned that it will still be too expensive to be affordable, even if available.

I saw that Thomas Reese SJ has commented on the bill and on the US bishops who were/are against the passing of the bill. Here's just his third of four points made .....

Third, the bishops should acknowledge that their disagreement with Stupak and others was not over abortion or Federal funding of abortion. It was not over principle but the prudential application of principle to specific legislative language. The bishops have no special charism when it comes to interpreting legislative language or guessing how the courts will interpret it.

The bishops must acknowledge the good intentions of Stupak and others who voted for the Senate bill and say that they do not consider them bad Catholics. Catholic social teaching has always acknowledged that Catholics in good conscience can disagree over the prudential application of principles to concrete situations.

Monday, March 22, 2010


After a historical vote in the House to send health reform to the President, he speaks to all Americans on the change they will finally see as they are given back control over their own health care (The White House Blog) ........

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Retreat week 28

- the ninth station of the cross on the Via Dolorosa

This week of Creighton University's Ignatian online retreat in everyday life dwells on the events from the ending of the last supper to the praying in the garden, Jesus' arrest and trials, and his way to crucifixion.

What I remember most about that first retreat week 28 was reading about the stations of the cross. I'd once walked with my RCIA class around the various stations in church but I couldn't see the pictures well and the experience didn't really touch me. But the retreat had a link to an online version of the stations of the cross so I was able to pay more attention. Wow - did I find it disturbing! Still do.

Mote on all this as the week goes by.

Jesus praying in the garden (and Satan) from The Passion of the Christ ...

Asking questions even when you know the answers

Yesterday, when I wrote a post about the pope's letter to the Irish, I had deleted a last part of my post in which I suggested the pope might ask those who were harmed what they thought it would take to make things right. Nope, I don't think he will ask - doubtless he feels he knows the answer and has no intention of going there - but if I cared about a failing relationship in which I'd done something wrong, I'd at least ask the question and listen to the answer. So today when I saw in a post at the Times blog Article of Faith that Barbara Dorris, National Outreach Director of SNAP, had responded to the pope's letter, I thought I'd post what she'd said .....


'The most powerful religious figure on the planet speaks of "decisive action."

'But he refuses to take any. In just one nation, tens of thousands of children have been sexually assaulted by trusted priests. Bishops concealed the crimes, sometimes for decades. But the Pope responds by promising to send a few of his staff there to visit some places and ask some questions.

'While millions are in pain, the Pope can barely bring himself to admit that some bishops in one nation have made some unspecified "errors in judgment."

'Here's the Vatican's essential message: Apparently not one wrongdoer will even get a papal 'slap on the hand.' Not one more predator will apparently be ousted. Not one more horrific secret cover up will apparently ever see the light of day. And not one victim will apparently see any tangible help whatsoever.

'The bottom line: Across the globe, hundreds of thousands of girls and boys have been sexually violated by child molesting Catholic clergy. The man who could pay for therapy refuses. Thousands of the predators continue to walk free among unsuspecting parents, families, neighbors and employers. The man who could warn them won't. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of predators are still in church jobs.

'But the man who could oust them won't.

'Thousands of complicit church colleagues are still on the church payroll.

'But the man who could discipline them won't.

'We're reminded of the Biblical passage about "What parent would give their child a stone when he asks for bread." Again, the Pope offers words when action is so desperately needed. The Pope keeps permitting needless risk where real prevention is needed. The Pope sanctions secrecy where real truth is needed. And the Pope ignores agonizing suffering where real healing - not just words - is needed.'


Poetry break

Maybe - Mary Oliver

Sweet Jesus, talking
his melancholy madness,
stood up in the boat
and the sea lay down,

silky and sorry.
So everybody was saved
that night.
But you know how it is

when something
different crosses
the threshold -- the uncles
mutter together,

the women walk away,
the young brother begins
to sharpen his knife.
Nobody knows what the soul is.

It comes and goes
like the wind over the water --
sometimes, for days,
you don't think of it.

Maybe, after the sermon,
after the multitude was fed,
one or two of them felt
the soul slip forth

like a tremor of pure sunlight
before exhaustion,
that wants to swallow everything,
gripped their bones and left them

miserable and sleepy,
as they are now, forgetting
how the wind tore at the sails
before he rose and talked to it --

tender and luminous and demanding
as he always was --
a thousand times more frightening
than the killer storm.

Exercitia Spiritualia - Geoffrey Brock

We met, like lovers in movies, on a quay
Beside the Seine. I was reading Foucault
And feeling smart. She called him an assault
On sense, and smiled. She was from Paraguay,

Was reading Saint Ignatius. Naivete
Aroused her, so she guided me to Chartres
And Sacre Coeur, to obscure theatres
For passion plays - she was my exegete.

In Rome (for Paris hadn't been enough)
We took a room, made love on the worn parquet,
Then strolled to Sant'Ignazio. Strange duet:
Pilgrim and pagan, gazing, as though through

That ceiling's flatness, toward some epitome
Of hoped-for depth. I swore I saw a dome.

To The Former Self In Art Class - Hannah Faith Notess

You didn’t know the boy sitting next to you
in Watercolor 101 was going to shutter himself
in the car, stop breathing, break the heart
of his father and the whole college.

Let’s be honest. His cones and cylinders
were as lopsided, as badly shaded
as everyone else’s cones and cylinders.

When you hear the news two years later,
you search your own tatty portfolio
for clues, sigh If only I had known—
but I want to shake you and say, You didn’t,

and anyway that phrase is a stupider knife
even than Ockham’s razor. If you went,
with your grey lens of knowledge, back to that
minute, you’d still be painting the same

burnt-out cathedral under burnt-orange blood
dripping from the sky, collaged with quotations
from The Waste Land. You thought it meant

you were losing your faith; but look, there you are
sitting in church, five years in the future,
wondering (like a good Protestant) why
you want so much to pray for the souls of the dead.

In fact, you could go back and forth enough
times to wear a rut in the floor of time,
but your awkward brushstrokes would still paint
the same cathedral that lists to the left. You’d still

stay up all night in agony over the alchemical
substance of the soul. Your grand attempts
at phthalo yellow sunrises would still turn murky,

while the same boy sat silent beside you,
washing the globe of an apple with quinacridone
gold, shading it with Payne’s grey,
the same dark worm asleep on his heart.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Pope's Pastoral Letter

The pope's Pastoral Letterto the Catholics of Ireland about sex abuse is out. As an apology, I found it kind of disappointing. A few suggestions to him on what might have made it more effective ......

Take responsibility: the pope blamed everyone but himself in his letter - the priests, the bishops (sort of), and, I think unfairly, secularism and Vatican II.

Hold accountable those others on your watch also responsible for the damage: no Irish bishops were sacked and Bernard Francis Law is a sad past example of failing upwardly.

Offer restorative justice: if the pope would have encouraged changes in the statutes of limitations and encouraged cooperation with lawsuits, I'd find it easier to believe he's really sorry.

Make sure the bad stuff doesn't keep happening: the pope's plan to change things for the better seems to be prayer and an Apostolic Visitation for Ireland. Prayer is always good but I don't think it's a reasonable way to eradicate sexual abuse, and perhaps the time is past for effective in-house investigations.

Stargate Universe / Breathe

I finally rented a DVD of the the science fiction tv series Stargate Universe. Being a fan of Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis, I was hopeful, but after watching the first few episodes I don't think I'll keep on with it. Still, there was this nice song by Alexi Murdoch on one of the episodes .....

Friday, March 19, 2010

Hee :)

I saw this at America magazine's blog - Fr. James Martin on the Colbert Report, discussing social justice and Glenn Beck .....

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorHealth Care reform

Thursday, March 18, 2010

NT Wright and atonement

I don't like the idea of atonement (In Christian theology the atonement refers to the forgiving or pardoning of sin through the death of Jesus Christ by crucifixion, which made possible the reconciliation between God and creation - Wikipedia), but instead prefer the view expressed by Ken Overberg SJ in his article The Incarnation: God's Gift of Love. Here's just the beginning of it ...

The shadow of the cross covers our Christmas crib. During Advent and Christmas, we prepare for and then celebrate God's coming into the world. Still, most of us probably do not ask why God became flesh. If we did, our answers would likely sound something like this: "Jesus came to redeem us." Or more strongly: "Jesus came to die for our sins." Such convictions are found in the Scriptures and expressed in our liturgy. The shadow of the cross is present, even if not the center of our attention during these seasons.

There is, however, an alternative view about why God became human, expressed both in the Scriptures and in the Christian tradition. Though less well known, this perspective which emphasizes God's overflowing love offers more light than shadow. This article presents some of the key insights of the different perspective and suggests some implications not only for our celebration of Christmas but also for our everyday relationship with God ....

Having said that, though, I do find atonement theory interesting and have posted about it before (David Hart / Atonement ... Gustav Aulen, David Hart, and Atonement ... James Alison / Atonement ... Jeffrey John).

So when I saw a video today of NT Wright discussing atonement, I thought I'd post it here ....

I Confess

I was reminded today of the Hitchcock movie I Confess in which a murderer confesses his crime to a priest (Montgomery Clift) who keeps it secret even when he himself becomes a suspect in the police investigation.

What made me think of it was that I'd seen two stories today:

- Vatican official urges confidentiality by confessors on sex abuse sins ....

A priest who confesses sexual abuse in the sacrament of penance should be absolved and should generally not be encouraged by the confessor to disclose his acts publicly or to his superiors, a Vatican official said. Likewise, the confessor should not make the contents of such a confession public, said Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, regent of the Apostolic Penitentiary, a Vatican court that handles issues related to the sacrament of penance.

And - Monsignor 'would not report paedophile to gardai' ...

AN expert in canon law ... Monsignor Maurice Dooley ... was asked what action he would take if a paedophile priest approached him now to confide his crimes. "I would not tell anyone," he said. "That is his responsibility. I am considering only my responsibility. My responsibility is to maintain the confidentiality of information which I had been given under the contract of confidentiality. There must be somebody else aware of what he is up to, and he could be stopped. It is not my function. I would tell (the priest) to stop abusing children," he added. "But I am not going to go to the police or social services in order to betray the trust he has put in me"

The movie tells a so very different story than the ones in the headlines. Montgomery Clift's character knew from the confession given that the murderer had not meant to kill the victim and so was most likely not a serial killer soon off to perpetrate his next murder, and the priest did not profit from keeping the killer's secret but in fact put himself in danger of arrest.

But in these news stories I see instead pedophile priests and their confessors using the system in a way to benefit themselves to the detriment of present and future victims. They bring up the words responsibility and trust but they apply their use only among themselves, not with the little ones.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Retreat week 27

This week Crieghton University's Ignatian online retreat in everyday life is about the last supper.

It's been almost ten years since I first followed the retreat but I still have my materials from then, including the imaginative contemplation I did for this week. I was pretty unhappy putting myself into that scene and Jesus seemed unhappy too, sort of like the Jesus in the last supper scene from Jesus of Nazareth.

Today, though, I saw this last supper scene from The Passion of the Christ which shows a Jesus who seems somehow more focused on what he wants the disciples to remember than what's ahead for him (the scene, which begins with Jesus washing the disciples' feet, is subtitled in English because the film was done in original languages, and has some song in the background instead of the voices, but still it touched me) ....

Andrew Sullivan and Ursula Le Guin

I saw in the news that the pope hopes his upcoming letter to the Irish will defuse the sex abuse scandal, and also that a Vatican official promises the church will have more transparency in abuse investigations. This is so depressing - apparently no changes are planned which would make such abuse less likely in the first place.. Even worse, the pope and the Vatican appear to believe that sexual abuse, while a bad thing, is an inevitable part of being church, or at least of being the kind of church they want to be.

This brought to mind two things:

One is a post today by Andrew Sullivan ... The Pope: Drowning, Not Waving. Here's just the beginning of it ...

Yes, I know. "Excitable Andrew" is getting excitable again. The recent flurry of stories about sexual abuse and acting out in the Catholic church is just a flurry. The Pope is not Cardinal Law. The hierarchy remains entrenched in the developing world. Benedict's gamble - to double-down on denial about the celibate priesthood's sexual problems, to add more incense to the smoke-screen and more pageantry to the theater of it all - is working. But it isn't. Let us review the recent evidence. The American church is still shell-shocked by abuse cases that have implicated the very top of the church hierarchy in recent years. Many Catholics - from the liberals to the arch-conservatives - will never feel the same way they once did about this institution, nor should we ...

The other thing is an essay by Ursula K. Le Guin .... The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. Here's a description of it from Wikipedia ...

In the story, Omelas is a utopian city of happiness and delight, whose inhabitants are smart and cultured. Everything about Omelas is pleasing, except for the secret of the city: the good fortune of Omelas requires that a single unfortunate child be kept in perpetual filth, darkness and misery, and that all her citizens should be told of this on coming of age.

After being exposed to the truth, most of the people of Omelas are initially shocked and disgusted, but are ultimately able to come to terms with the fact and resolve to live their lives in such a manner as to make the suffering of the unfortunate child worth it. However, some few of the citizens, young or old, silently walk away from the city, and no one knows where they go. The story ends with "The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas."

I thought I'd add a link to a post at a NYT blog - Changing the Vatican’s Response to Abuse - which asks a number of people, including David Gibson and John Allen, for their opinions on how to fix the abuse crises ... they have some interesting thoughts.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


- rose bush leaves

I like spring because the plants in the yard are like new and I can almost imagine I'm in Lothlórien :) ....

"The others cast themselves down upon the fragrant grass, but Frodo stood a while, still lost in wonder. It seemed to him that he had stepped through a high window that looked on a vanished world. A light was upon it for which his language had no name. All that he saw was shapely, but the shapes seemed at once clear cut, as if they had been first conceived and drawn at the uncovering of his eyes, and ancient as if they had endured forever. He saw no colour but those he knew, gold and white and blue and green, but they were fresh and poignant, as if he had at that moment first perceived them and made for them names new and wonderful. In winter here no heart could mourn for summer or for spring. No blemish or sickness or deformity could be seen in anything that grew upon the earth. On the land of Lórien there was no stain."
- The Fellowship of the Ring

- some wildflowers

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Jesus as Wisdom

Jonathan (MadPriest) posted an interesting sermon for Mothering Sunday. It deals, in part, with Jesus as Wisdom, and is worth a read - MADPRIEST'S BOG-STANDARD SERMON FOR MOTHERING SUNDAY (NOT MOTHERS' DAY), Here's a bit of it ....

[...] Wisdom is seen in the Old Testament as one of the primary characteristics of God and is almost regarded as a separate person within the godhead, and wisdom in this respect is most definitely female. For example, Wisdom, chapter nine, states,

“With you is wisdom, she who knows your works and was present when you made the world; she understands what is pleasing in your sight and what is right according to your commandments. Send her forth from the holy heavens, and from the throne of your glory send her, that she may labour at my side, and that I may learn what is pleasing to you. For she knows and understands all things, and she will guide me wisely in my actions and guard me with her glory.”

It is interesting to note that the Egyptian god of wisdom was the great goddess, Isis, herself. The people of the Middle East definitely believed that wisdom was very much a female characteristic. It is even more interesting to note that, within Christianity, the Wisdom of God becomes the Word of God, and the Word of God becomes the Son of God in his incarnation as Jesus Christ. We have a situation where the preexistence of Jesus within God is not of necessity male. This multi-gendered God became man. Genderwise, the Word was something else before becoming man. That is an important point for us to remember ....

As I was looking up Jesus ans Wisdom, I also saw this paper - Jesus: God's Wisdom by Pheme Perkins at Boston College

David Bentley Hart video/podcast

Here's an interview with David Bentley Hart from March 2010 from the Centre for Public Christianity. It's in both video and podcast format. The video is in six parts and I pasted just the last part, on the problem of suffering and evil, at the bottom of this post (here's the whole thing). And here below is the podcast of the complete interview .....

Powered by
And the last part of the video .....

Suffering and the problem of evil from CPX on Vimeo.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Religion Dispatches: Avatar vs The Hurt Locker

- paraplegic Corporal Jake Sully

When I posted my comments on the Academy Awards, I mentioned that I wished Avatar would win Best Picture but that I expected The Hurt Locker to do so instead. I had also tried to explain why I felt that way but later deleted that part as it hardly made sense, even to me :) Today I saw a post at Religion Dispatches that commented on the same thing and it inspired me to try once again, however ineptly, to explain my own feelings about Avatar and The Hurt Locker, and why I think Avatar should have won.

I do think The Hurt Locker is a good movie (I posted about it and the poem from which it takes its title last July) and of course army bomb defusers perform a needed and scary task. But though this will probably be an unpopular thing to write, what we may forget in our gratitude/guilt in the face of the film's extreme circumstances is that in most cities police bomb squads do the same thing, that soldiers in Iraq volunteer to serve, and that as good as it makes us feel to do so, being both anti-war and pro-soldier is somewhat morally schizophrenic. The main character's claim to fame is his courage, but I'd say it would have taken more courage for him to have stayed home and raised his daughter than go back to Iraq as the film had him do at the end.

It's easy to criticize Avatar and I'd be the first to admit it isn't the best of all movies. Its director is not a woman working her way to the top but the arrogant guy who proclaimed himself the king of the world after he made Titanic. The characters in Avatar could be perceived not as "real" as the self-sacrificing heroes of The Hurt Locker but as cartoons (both the lives action actors and the animated ones) because of their polarized moral stances. And the movie dragged in spirituality, environmentalism, anti-war and anti-imperial sentiments, second chances, true love .... talk about cliché. No, Avatar couldn't embody the irony, low affect, and moral ambiguity of The Hurt Locker, but dope that I am, it was this simplistic heart-on-the-sleeve aspect that appealed to me.

See what I mean about my inability to explain well? :) So, instead, here's just the beginning of the post at Religion Dispatches. I don't agree with all its conclusions, but still it does a better job than I did ....


War of the Worldviews: Why Avatar Lost
By Bron Taylor

Avatar had audiences rooting for nature, against the destruction of marauding tanks—but the Oscar went to the film that offered a soldier’s-eye view.

The competition for Best Picture is over. But the war of the worlds, and worldviews, in Avatar and The Hurt Locker, continues.

In The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow provided a terrifying depiction of efforts by US soldiers to survive while fighting insurgents and disarming bombs in Iraq. Their battle was both against an evil enemy and to retain their sanity and humanity.

As is typical in Hollywood war films, The Hurt Locker carried a subtle anti-war message compatible with patriotic sensibilities. Underscoring her own patriotism, when accepting the best picture and best director awards, Bigelow dedicated them to the “women and men in the military who risk their lives daily to keep us safe.” With these words and in the film, Bigelow reminds us that war is hell, while reassuring us of our good intentions.

For all the terror it depicted, the message was predictable and safe.

In Avatar, director James Cameron told the emotionally wrenching tale of the Na’vi, the aboriginal inhabitants of a distant world, defending themselves against an invading human army. The film was obviously a metaphor for the long war between large-scale civilizations and the small foraging societies that they supplant.

Because most of Earth’s people are citizens of such civilizations, Avatar’smessage was anything but safe.

Why, then, has Avatar so clearly won the global battle for hearts and minds, becoming the most profitable motion picture of all time?

The answer is, I believe, that the heart of the film lies not in its criticism but its expression of our natural love of nature. The film evoked our longing for connection and belonging to the sources of our existence.

Cameron understood this, as seen in a recent interview, attributing the success of Avatar to the ways it is connecting the audience to nature and the environmental cause.

Additionally, the film was appealing because it offered a meaningful worldview and a reverence for life ethic compatible with modern scientific sensibilities. This was nowhere more apparent than in the delight expressed by the scientist, Dr. Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), as she explored Pandora’s living systems. The evocative power of the film was thus rooted in nothing less that the way in which it expressed and promoted a modern form of nature religion .......


Friday, March 12, 2010

Ask the Lord for what you desire

The online retreat I made years ago kept surprising me. One of the surprises was Ignatius of Loyola's stance on desiring. I'd expected it to be about eradicating all desires, but I couldn't have been more wrong - the retreat is built on desire. I still have trouble getting this, it just seems too good to be true, so when I saw an article by Fr. James Martin SJ on Ignatian spirituality and desiring, I thought I'd paste a part of it here, if only to remind myself .....


What Do You Want?

[...] I realized why Jesus, in the Gospels, may have asked people what they want. "What do you want me to do for you?" he asks the blind beggar named Bartimaeus, before healing him. Naming our desires tells us something about who we are .... Expressing our desires brings us into a closer relationship with God. Otherwise, it would be like never telling a friend your innermost thoughts. Your friend would remain distant. When we tell God our desires, our relationship to God deepens.

Desire is a primary way that God leads people to discover who they are and what they are meant to do. On the most obvious level, a man and a woman feel sexual, emotional and spiritual desire for one another, and in this way discover their vocations to be married. A person feels an attraction to being a doctor, or a lawyer, or a teacher, and so discovers his or her "vocation."

Desire helps us find our way. But we first have to know them.

The deep longings of our hearts are our holy desires. Not only desires for physical healing, but also the desires for change, for growth, for a fuller life. Our deepest desires, those desires that lead us to become who we are, are God's desires for us. They are ways that God speaks to you directly.

Desire gets a bad rap in many spiritual circles-- because desires are often confused with selfish wants. But our selfish wants -- I want a new car because my friend has one; I want a bigger TV because my brother-in-law has one; I want a more expensive suit so that people will think I'm cool -- are different than our deep, heartfelt longings, which lead us to God. And it takes time to be able to discern between the two kinds of desires.

Desire is a key part of spirituality because desire is a key way that God's voice is heard in our lives. And our deepest desire, planted within us, is our desire for God.