Saturday, February 26, 2005

An 'interesting' interview

On Wed, Feb. 23, I did a brief interview with Brian McNeill of Rainbow Sash for a story I'm doing for Our Sunday Visitor. I post it here for your information with but a few of my own comments. I will let you be the judge.

Tom: Your act of protest...Well, I presume you look at this as an act of protest or are you looking at this as an act of protest?
Brian: Yea, right there, I need to clear something up. Our Sunday Visitor, this is St. Cloud?
Tom: No, no. This is Our Sunday Visitor, not the St. Cloud Visitor. Our Sunday Visitor is a national, Catholic, weekly publication.
Brian: Oh, O.K. The diocesan paper in St. Cloud has the same title.
Tom: Right. That’s the St. Cloud Visitor, this is Our Sunday Visitor.
Brian: Well, yes. Starting at the get-go there, the Rainbow Sash, as it was thought up in Australia and then translated to the United States, was always constituted as a celebration and not a protest. So that is how I describe it and really what I try to make the whole event when we attend Mass wearing the rainbow sash.

Tom: But obviously, there are many, many people who do not look at this as an act of celebration but rather as a disruption or of protest.
Brian: You’re right. There are people who look at it that way. I can’t help what meanings people put on the sash. But we who wear it say it is a celebration.

Tom: So you’re saying it’s a celebration of, of what?
Brian: Of our different sexualities, of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender sexualities. We look at this [sic] as gifts from God and it is a celebration of that diversity. And also of our catholocity, our part of the People of God.

Tom: How do you square your understanding of sexuality with what the Church has been teaching for 2,000 years on sexuality?
Brian: The Church has changed its teaching on sexuality a lot over the years. For example, in the Middle Ages you know that Thomas Aquinas taught that women were inferior citizens, they were just deformed males, and the Church held with Thomistic theology that women supplied nothing in the procreative act, that everything came from the male. So the Church’s teaching has evolved over 2,000 years on sexuality and in particular how women are viewed.
Have you ever read John Boswell’s book on homosexuality?
Tom: No, I haven’t.
Brian: Well, I can get you the title, I have it here. It has a good description of how the Church’s teaching and practice on homosexuality have evolved over the years. And his second book, hang on, I’ll get the title for you...(pause) His second book, Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe by John Boswell, he’s a very well-known scholar, he’s since deceased. But Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe describes the earliest marriage liturgies in the Roman tradition since, oh, I think it’s since the 8th century, and there are four that he has found. One of them is blessing for same-sex relationships. It is actually, I would argue, part of our Catholic tradition to celebrate our different sexualities.

Tom: I guess the question people would raise though is, are they simply very strong friendships or were they same-sex relationships in terms of sexual intimacies?
Brian: Reading that book, I don’t see that answered clearly. Primarily these relationships all had to do with property and that’s what marriage was about when it was formulated in the 12th century. It’s basically a property transaction.
To get back to your original question, the history is complicated, it has varied, the Church’s teaching on sexuality has varied over the centuries. The most recent kind of oppression of gays is, is, how do you say, has historical precedence, but is more intense since 1987 than it was in previous centuries.

Tom: When you say the Church’s teaching on sexuality has changed over the years, does that include the Church’s teaching on homosexuality?
Brian: Well, um, do I answer that? I would say it, um (under his breath, How am I going to put this?) It, uh, It has evolved over the years with the understanding of sexuality in general. Where we currently are now is a fundamentalist, literalist interpretation of Scripture, which I would argue contradicts the Vatican’s own teachings on how scriptures are interpreted, should be interpreted based on Pius XII’s 1946 encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritum.

Tom: But it seems to me that if you look through the tradition of the Church, the writings of the various saints, that you’re not going to find any kind of a different teaching, though. I mean, Jerome, Augustine, Aquinas, any of these folks, Peter Damian, whose feast day was the other day, a doctor of the Church from the 11th century who spoke out against homosexual relationships among priests. So it seems to me there’s not a heck of lot of tradition for you to stand on with that kind of a stand.
Brian: Well, I understand where you’re going. But you also have to admit that those authors had no sense of homosexuality as we understand as a psychological, psychiatric construct. Paul, when he was writing, and the other more ancient fathers and mothers of the Church didn’t understand sexuality as we do today. I don’t think you can find anything in Scripture that would be opposed to two men in loving relationships living together. And as I said, there is historical precedent for the Church actually blessing those relationship.

Tom: But again, we don’t know the intimate sexual content of those relationships.
Brian: You don’t know the intimate sexual content of anybody’s relationship. And the Rainbow Sash is not about promoting intimate sexual content. Rainbow Sash is about blessing and celebrating our different sexualities.

Tom: How long is this going to go on? Even Bob Zyskowski is getting irritated and it takes a lot to get him irritated with things from the left.
Brian: Who is Bob Zykowski?
Tom: Bob Zyskowski is the editor, I mean, associate publisher of the Catholic Spirit and wrote the editorial...
Brian: Did you read my reply to his...
Tom: I did not read your reply, no I haven’t had a chance to do that.
Brian: ...criticism. Which he opted not to print, by the way. After doing a long and elaborate criticism of the Rainbow Sash he has opted not to print my response, which makes me question his journalistic integrity. Nevertheless, his opinion was basically, “Go away, leave us alone, we don’t want you here.”
Well, I was born and raised Roman Catholic in St. Paul. I am in a committed relationship with my partner of 17 years, and Dignity Twin Cities, of which I’m a part, has been around 30 years. We’re not going away. It’s going to go on as long as I have strength and breath in my body and there are people who want to do this with me and there are a significant number of people who do.

Tom: One final question. Why do you think the Church needs to conform to how you see things and not the other way around?
Brian: What the Rainbow Sash is about is a call to dialogue. I’m not putting demands on the Church to see things my way, or our way, I would prefer to say. We are asking the Church to come and dialogue with us. The Rainbow Sash asks the Church to honor our experience as GLBT people and its pronouncements, its language, which is insulting, by the way, you haven’t brought that up. The language the Vatican, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith use about gay and lesbian people is insulting. And a Chicago priest two years ago, said that to the Vatican. No other group is spoken to or at or about with the same negativity as GLBT people. And so we are asking for dialogue and that is all that the Rainbow Sash is about.

Tom: But it’s hard to dialogue when the Church, which has always looked at it this way as far as I understand it, has understood living in a homosexual relationship an act of mortal sin.
Brian: I think a good place to begin the dialogue would be the language in many documents of the CDF and in particular the one, the insult that describes us as quote unquote “objectively disordered and oriented towards an intrinsic moral evil” which the Church keeps putting in the Catechism and keeps issuing in its documents, so it’s not distancing itself from that language.
People in the gay community, my friend, hear those as insults. It’s the equivalent of the ‘N’ word to African Americans.

Tom: So basically you’re saying, “Don’t insult us.” But the Church is going to say, “We’re not insulting you, this is an objective reality. It’s not an insult toward you, but simply the fact of how you’re living.”
Brian: Well, the Church has said in the first catechism, they changed it in the second, but in the first Catechism it said, “GLBT people do not choose their orientation.” So this objectively disordered language is a criticism of us as people, as we are created by God.

Tom: What do you mean the first Catechism? Which....
Brian: They have issued a second Catechism which changed the language on the teaching on homosexuality, but in the first Catechism, the one issued in something like 1989 [note: 1992], the first edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church....
Tom: OK, so this is after the revision, you’re talking about.
Brian: I’m talking about...
Tom: Right, yeah I understand what you’re talking about now. There was a first edition and then the revision later on. [Note: I was thinking at first that he meant the Catechism of the Council of Trent, but homosexuality was obviously not dealt with in the same fashion as it is in the current one.]
Brian: The first edition said explicitly gays do not choose to be homosexual, but nevertheless, it is an objective disorder. So that language comes at us, not at our behavior, but at us as people. And the rainbow sash is a request to the Church to honor our experience. And our experience is the Church is insulting us. [Note: The first edition said: “They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial.” The second edition revised that to: “This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial.” Draw your own conclusions.]
The other piece is the rainbow sash, requesting to take it off and requesting us not to come to church in the rainbow sash is essentially saying, “Go back into the closest.” And, you know what? Gay people are not going back into the closet.

Tom: I’m wondering why it is you say you need to stand out when everybody else who has...well, looking at this in the Church’s mind that this is an objective disorder and homosexual acts are wrong, mortally sinful, then if I’m a thief, do I wear some other kind of sash, if I’m a murderer do I wear a red sash, and if I’m a liar, a black sash or whatever?
Brian: Are you equating homosexuality with thieving, lying and murdering?
Tom: Well, that’s the way the Church has taught it.
Brian: And we’re saying we’re asking the Church to honor our experience. We ask the Church to honor our experience and that is we are created this way by God and some of the Church’s documents say that. We do not choose this, we are created this way by God. I think you’d have to admit that theft, lying and murder are, people are not created that way, they choose that. So we are saying that this is actually a gift of God that we are celebrating. It is not a choice that we are making.

Tom: Thank you for your time.

The press are at it again

Speculation is running rampant that with John Paul's latest health episode (the tracheotomy), the cardinals will decide at the next conclave to set a limit on how old the pope can be and still be pope.

This reminds me very much of what happened when the USCCB met in Dallas that summer of 2002. (As an aside, why is it they often meet in a warm southern city for their summer meeting?) This, of course, was the height of the sexual abuse scandal after the Boston Globe had again raised issues about Cardinal Law's handling of priestly abusers. The press were demanding the bishops do something about this, and obligingly gave their suggestions -- "More openness! Greater transparency! More input from the laity! Change the reporting laws! Change the statute of limitations! Get rid of the confessional seal!" (The last one, fortunately, did not get implemented.)

The venerable Russell Shaw was at that meeting. When it was done and the vote taken, he noted in a column for Our Sunday Visitor, the headlines appeared to this effect: "Bishops vote to confront scandal." As he stood there looking at a pile of papers on a table in the press office at the hotel, a journalist from a secular paper tapped on the headline and said, "That's wrong. It should say, 'They did what we told them to do.'"

So, your Eminences all. The pressure will be placed on you by the secular media, and by some 'Catholic' media as well (at least those that lay claim to that title, though their right to that claim is highly questionable), to change the rules and to write a canon that will require the pope to resign by age 80, or some other such nonsense. I beg and plead that you ignore them. There is no crisis of leadership here. The only crisis is that being manufactured by the likes of National Catholic Reporter and company.

Eminences, we need a Holy Father, not a holy CEO. My father has an incurable cancer. However, he has not resigned his office. He is being cared for by his wife and children. Even in his incapacity and need, he is still very much my father. Fatherhood, spiritual and physical, is not resignable.

John Allen, of all people, hit the nail on the head when he wrote this in a column I first saw in the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

"Third, the theology of the papal office is ad personam, meaning that being pope is not just a role you play, it's who you are.

"It "sticks to your skin," as one theologian I know puts it. Being the successor of Peter is more akin to being a father than being the chief executive of a multinational corporation. As Pope Paul VI said, one cannot renounce paternity.

"The Catholic Church regards the pope as important principally for who he is, not what he does -- the living center of unity for a global family of faith. For him to resign because he is no longer an effective administrator would, in the eyes of some, compromise the church's teaching about the nature of the papal office."

To put a forced resignation into effect would only further the world's agenda that only those who are able-bodied can lead. It would also lessen the familial sense we have in the Church, something that needs to be strengthened against the tide of the world's diminution of the family.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Prayer and the UN

I was talking today with a senior official from the Holy See's Mission to the UN for a story I'm doing for the National Catholic Register. The legal committee of the UN passed a resolution calling for member states to forbid human cloning.

That action was less than what was originally hoped for which was a treaty or convention on the matter. But countries like Belgium, Finland, France and the UK were adament that the UN's language and any future treaty only condemn "reproductive" cloning and not "therapeutic" cloning. (The only difference between the two, of course, is that the first allows a newly conceived human person to come to birth and the second allows a scientist to destroy a newly conceived human person after about five days.) The impasse could not be broken and Italy suggested the resolution compromise.

When talking with the Holy See Mission's official, he said a treaty or convention would have made a stronger statement than a declaration, but the politics there "made it impossible" to get that accomplished.

That statement jolted me. "Impossible" to get a world body to agree that nations should bind themselves to not destroy human life. It seemed to me that that impossibility was "impossible" -- not for man, but for God.

When God's will is involved, what Isaiah prophesied holds true: "For just as the rain and the snow come down and do not return without watering the it is with my word. It shall not return to me void but shall do the end for which I sent it" (Is. 55.10-11, my rough paraphrase). Obviously, God's will is to protect human life. And when His will is involved, "nothing is impossible for God" (Luke 1.37).

Not that I am faulting the Holy See's Mission to the United Nations, because I know they work very hard there. I am faulting us laity, particularly those of us in the U.S. who ignore what goes on at the UN as being irrelevant to us. You see, the Holy See is dealing with evil imbedded in national and international policy. As the late Cardinal O'Connor was wont to say when it came to dealing with abortion, which he rightly termed diabolic, the only way to deal with that particular devil was what Jesus said about the devil he cast out of the epileptic boy after the Transfiguration: "This kind can only be driven out by prayer and fasting." (Matt. 16.21)

So when you have countries willing to, not simply condone, but promote and protect by law the destruction of newly conceived human life for scientific and financial profit, that is as diabolic as abortion. So how can it be dealt with? Prayer and fasting.

Please keep Archbishop Celestino Migliore and his staff at the Holy See's Mission to the UN in your prayers as they go about trying to defend human life and dignity in a place where people are all too willing to destroy it.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Anybody up for a good laugh? Or a good cry?

The Boston Globe presumes, once again, to tell the Catholic Church how to run her affairs. This time, it comes in the form of an op/ed from Danielle Kinkel, a grad student at (where else) Boston College and her father, John Kinkel, a former priest, offering "A solution to the priest shortage."

The Kinkels rightly dismiss several theories, but only because of practicality -- no women priests since John Paul won't allow it and neither will his immediate successor, and allowing priests who left in order to marry is also out of the question since "the church forgives, but it does not forget."

So, their solution? Why, of course! Train and ordain the 14,000 married deacons in the U.S.! (visualize hand slapping top of forehead a la, "Ah! I could have had a V-8!") But here's the line that should leave you doubled over -- either with laughter or in tears: "With one stroke of a pen, US bishops could demand that the Vatican acquiesce and allow them to begin training and ordaining married deacons."

Then he goes further by saying, "the vast majority of Catholics would be delighted to see that the bishops can do something right. Catholics could be proud of the institution once again.

"Such a change could be the first step toward parish renewal. Finally, we would have a success story. More envelopes would be dropped in collection baskets -- no small matter considering the financial problems the church is facing. Ordaining married deacons would be a way for the church to solve one of its biggest problems and to move on."

Right! The bishops can't get their own flocks in order and the Kinkels expect them to write letters to the Holy Father, the Congregation for the Clergy and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith demanding the right to ordain married deacons and start doing it? Of all the most absurd things I have heard, that takes the cake.

After rejecting women priests and former priests because the Vatican won't allow those to happen, the Kinkels come up with as impracticable -- and impossible -- a solution as the others. Impractical because, again, Rome will not allow it. Impossible, because bishops can't demand that right. They can request it, but no bishop can demand it since he has taken a vow of obedience -- which I believe Mr. Kinkel also took when he was ordained.

Parish renewal? Vast majority of Catholics would be delighted? I'm not sure which world the Kinkels are living in, but it doesn't appear to be this one.

The tagline to the article notes that Mr. Kinkel is the author of a forthcoming book entitled, Chaos in the Catholic Church. A blasé and obvious title, but beyond that, did he ever stop to think that he's contributing to the chaos by making such absurd suggestions?

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Interview with Jim Caviezel

It's in demand, so here it is, folks -- the full length of the interview I did with Jim Caviezel for Our Sunday Visitor last year (in English).

Playing Jesus Christ is no easy task, says James Caviezel, who plays the Lord in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion.” Caviezel has made it to the big-time in Hollywood, which is an unusual situation for a devout Catholic. He played the title role in The Count of Monte Cristo and is filming for two more movies to be released next year. He took some time while he was in Atlanta filming “Stroke of Genius” on Bobby Jones, and going to a meeting with Gibson to talk with Our Sunday Visitor.

Our Sunday Visitor: What is it like portraying your Lord and Master?
James Caviezel: The positive side is, I’m honored; the other side of me is, “Why would You pick a sinner like me?” Since I was picked, I tried to focus on being grateful that I was being asked to do it.
How it felt was, what I don’t think people can understand, is there was no time playing it where it was ever comfortable, so when I was finished playing it, I was glad to be done. It was excruciating. I don’t know if people want to hear that, but after some point you don’t really care anymore. At the end of the filming, we were taking the pictures together, all of us, and I was next to Mel and he had his arm around me and I had my arm around him, and all of a sudden he said, “Wow We’re almost finished” and then his back began to vibrate, and I looked over and he was crying, he had his head down and he was weeping. I didn’t feel that at all. It was just so bloody painful. There was nothing ever comfortable, from wearing the make-up, to... It would be so hard to do it again. I knew it was going to be painful doing it, but...

OSV: I understand it was literally painful for you. You got hit accidently once by the scourging.
Caviezel: I got hit twice by the scourging. That was just in the scourging scene. There were numerous times where they had whips while I was carrying the cross and I got scourged and I couldn’t drop the cross because it was so bloody heavy; Mel made that thing so heavy. If it hadn’t been for my years of playing competitive basketball, and all the lunges and squats I did to strengthen, there’s no way, there was nobody that could carry this. I was squatting enormous amounts of weight, doing lunges, stuff that I haven’t done since I was playing in college and had I not done that, there was no way I would have had the strength to put all my weight on my right front leg.
There was no time to rest. For example, if you go practice and you have a hard work-out, you go rest, but there was no time. The turn-over from one day to the next was insane.
Call times were at 2 in the morning for make-up. Eight hours of make-up, and then during the day they had to do another two hours of make-up and then when I took it off, it took me two hours in the evening to take it all off.

OSV: So this is 12 hours a day just dealing with make-up.
Caviezel: That’s just make-up. The problem is that there is maintenance, there’s a lot of chemicals, there’s alcohol and things like that that they have to use. Some days they weren’t able to use me and they would put a towel over me, put talcum powder to the make-up and then I’d go to bed. Then you itch. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a sunburn and you go through that itching stage, it’s like that through the night. So it’s Chinese torture; you couldn’t rest. You couldn’t rest in the make-up chair because when they’re putting the make-up on, you’re standing up in a cross position with your arms extended, so you’re not sleeping.
How I balanced this was, I had to pray the Rosary. I prayed all of the Rosary throughout the make-up process. You start to nod off, and you know, they have to “Jim, Jim. Wake up, Jim.”
You had a headache all the time because your right eye is covered, so you’re looking out your left eye and your left eye gets exhausted, so I was always looking down to see with both my eyes. If I looked up, I could only see through one, if I looked down I could through both, so my head was always down, so you get a crick in your neck.
I separated my shoulder during the carrying of the cross. Someone came over and dropped the arm of the cross and separated my shoulder and I went down. I don’t know if you’ve ever separated your shoulder...

OSV: I have not.
Caviezel: When they had me on the cross, the shoulder was just killing me. It was freezing cold – two weeks of hypothermia everyday.
The last day we filmed, we did the Sermon on the Mount, and whether it will be in there [in the film] or not, I got hit by a bolt of lightning.

OSV: Seriously?
Caviezel: People were screaming and my hair was all frizzed out. By the time the pan of the camera came around, Mel yelled out, “What the hell happened to his hair?” The people that witnessed it said they didn’t see the bolt, they just saw me illuminated. When I came off the mountain, Mel said, “What happened to your hair?” And I said, “I got hit by lightning.” I felt the electricity in my head. It didn’t hit my heart.
The other thing it’s so big as far as people walking up to you, bowing before you, and they’re calling you Jesus. Before we started to film, I said to Mel, “We’ve got to have Mass said everyday. Before I get on the cross, before we roll that film, I need to have the Eucharist in me.” And I went to daily Confession. Someone told me that sometimes the even more serious sins than your sins of commission are your sins of omission. I don’t love enough – there’s mine.
We did the Rosary. Every relic I asked for, I got; I had them in my loincloth. I had St. Francis of Assisi, I had St. Maria Goretti, and, who else did I have, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Padre Pio. Even Anne Catherine Emmerich, even though she’s just blessed right now, she’s a big inspiration; and two pieces of the Cross.

OSV: This obviously effected your spiritual life.
Caviezel: Oh, yes; profoundly.

OSV: Did you feel as though you were entering into the mind of Christ, as St. Paul says?
Caviezel: My prayer was this: the only reason I did it was for the conversion of the world. That’s what I asked for; number one for conversion, that this would do that for people. Number two, that they don’t see me, they only see Jesus; that’s what I asked for. And I prayed the Rosary incessantly to basically get Our Lady to guide me to her Son.

OSV: What’s the name of this film you’re shooting now?
Caviezel: It’s called “The Stroke of Genius.” It’s on Bobby Jones.

OSV: I was going to ask you if it is a letdown to go from playing the Creator and Savior of the world to one of his creatures, but it sounds like it’s more of a relief.
Caviezel: People ask me that a lot and all I say is, “It’s a different kind of part.” I probably will never do something like that part [Jesus] in my life again. In this film I have to learn how to swing a club, and I’ve never golfed before, but not only how to swing a club, but do it the way this guy did and kind of grasp who he is.
When I got done working with John Smelik on Thin Red Line, people said to me, “He only works with actors once. You’ll never get to work with him again.” And I said, “Well, at least I have.” People say, “You’ll never find a better role than [Jesus].” And I say, “Well, at least I did it.” I got to do it.
Nobody, I mean nobody has ever seen a passion like this. This is the most authentic passion there is. This is like walking back in time and watching it. We have some projected numbers of people who see this. There could be as many as 2 billion people that see this film. If that’s the truth, and if Titanic’s numbers are “it” -- you can imagine what that did in the box office, then you can imagine... But none of us did it for money; this was all for love. I took nothing for it, Mel took nothing for it; everyone donated their own time – they did for it love.

OSV: Seriously? Nobody took any money on this one?
Caviezel: No. If the money comes in, we’ll get something out of it. But most films you do like this, you don’t ever get any money back.

OSV: I heard a piece on a public radio show that compared this to the Last Temptation of Christ, and they obviously didn’t know what they were talking about. But one of the things the commentator said was that no one knows if this works as a film. What’s your sense? Does it work as a film?
Caviezel: My sense is it is not a film – it’s something else. But yet, it could be the greatest film ever made, but I think it’s greater than that.

OSV: Greater in a different sense, or greater in that same sense?
Caviezel: When you see the film, you ask yourself, “Did I just get done watching a film, or did I watch a meditation?” It is so real.
Every Christian or whatever faith, whoever saw “Schindler’s List” at the end of that film, you felt like people were stunned. When I watched it, I felt like it happened to my friend. When I watch this film on Christ, I feel like it’s happening to my brother, my family.
When I talked to people about anti-Semitism, I said, “Look. When I watched Schindler’s List, it opened my heart and I said, ‘This could happen in any form of genocide.’ And that includes abortion. I wish people could make that jump, but the evil one has a great way to just blind people.
I just want to say to all our brothers in the Jewish faith, “Look, you’re going to have people here coming back. Life will be easier for you because people are going to start enforcing the law better; they’ll start to do the right things in private.”
Something happens in the heart where no one can see it and it eventually comes out into the open and there is where you see war. When a whole generation of people are living in the sin and eventually you can’t hide it anymore, it has come to fruition, it has to come out in the open and sin wants to do that. We see more of it here, all the pornography. Heck, in my business it’s become more and more prevalent. Actually, you’re looked upon as very chic to be in a strip joint.

OSV: Really?
Caviezel: Oh, absolutely. You can walk in and out of those no problem now. It’s a problem for me, but not for anyone else because sin is more and more open. It’s becoming more of a..., more of a....

OSV: Norm?
Caviezel: Yea, it’s kind of like. Evil does that. There’s evil in your life and eventually you have that evil to good; you have to make it good and everyone else has to make it good. You have to make it good and everyone else has to make it good.

OSV: Have you ever found yourself saying, “Should I have done this film?”
Caviezel: You always feel that every time you do a film.

OSV: Even The Passion?
Caviezel: No, I should have done that film. Even if that’s my last film. When Mel Gibson met with me to tell me about it, I said, “You want me to play Jesus, don’t you?” And he says, “Yea.”
The next day he called me and three times he tried to talk me out of it. And I said, “Mel, why are you trying to talk me out of this?” He said, “Because this could be the end of your career. It could be the end of all of our careers. You need to understand what I want to do with this.”
And I said, “Man, it’s like this: Each one of is called to carry our cross. If you don’t carry your cross, you’re going to be crushed under the weight of it.” I said, “My final answer to you is, ‘Yes.’” That’s what happened.
I believe God gave me my career. I have people ask me all the time now [about moral situations] because I did a scene with Jennifer Lopez, it was a love scene. Yea, I don’t always play great characters; I look for redemption in them.
I also get letters, and oooh boy, “You did this and you did that and you’re Catholic.” “Yea, but my character’s not.” What do you propose me to do? Find a character that’s good, becomes gooder and ends the goodest and that would move you to tears or what?
I look for characters in the story that are redeemed. I may play a Nazi. I may play someone who is horrible, but the story itself is redeemable. There’s a lesson you learn from it.
Whether it has to do with nudity or anything, I say O.K., in Schindler’s List I see there was no problem with that. And in a lot of stuff, there is so much gratuitous stuff. In this film, they’re going to say, “Ha-ha Yes, you did gratuitous violence.” It’s not gratuitous violence on our Lord. And it’s as violent as the opening scene of Private Ryan was. No, that’s not gratuitous. There’s a form of common sense I try use in doing that, and when I fail, then I go ask in prayer and say “Help me. I’m not here to offend you, God. I want to do the right thing.” I want to continue to do just the right projects out there, as few as they are.

OSV: What was the atmosphere on the set for The Passion versus the set of other films you’ve done, Pay It Forward or The Count of Monte Cristo?
Caviezel: I’ve been fortunate to be a part of many great sets, with people who have been really kind. Even the one I’m doing right now is wonderful. But need I say, how many people have Mass every morning on the set? How many times can you grab a guy and say, “Hey Mel, before we lunch today, you want to pray the Rosary?” “O.K.”
I’ll go over [to Mel] and people are thinking we’ve been talking for a while as the camera’s being set up, we did a decade of the Rosary. “O.K., we’re ready Jim” and it’s over.
Someone said, “Gee, Jim and Mel have long discussions about what they’re going to do.” How ‘bout just prayer, eh?

OSV: So, obviously, it was quite different than what you found on other sets.
Caviezel: Oh, sure. But this one had to be that way, though. It had to be. It was part of making the movie. I said, “Mel, we gotta watch what we say. If we get upset or whatever, we gotta watch the cursing and stuff. ‘Cause it all comes down from us. I don’t ever want to utter a curse word out while I’m playing Jesus. So most of the time, I just shut my mouth and just prayed. It was continually praying the Rosary, and reading the passage from that day’s reading. That was part of the process. It was just simple things, going to Confession.
What I realized was that the more I made sin rare in my life, the more I had a great joy even in the hell that I was going through. So you say you want to go do it. No, would you want to go back to Auschwitz? It’s during that time, it’s like Victor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning and you have to because you would go out of your mind, you would go insane and sometimes I did.
I remember one day, I was so angry during the make-up, I was so exhausted and I couldn’t cope anymore and I said, “I can’t take it anymore” I got up, I rammed my head into the wall. I said, “You know, I may be playing Jesus, but I feel more like Lucifer.” That’s what I told the make-up crew. And I said, “If this is going to hurt your conversion or anything, just look at me as being attacked by the devil.” I couldn’t do it at times.
The same thing with Mel. About two months into it, we both experienced this horrible lung problem. If SARS had been out at that time, I’d have thought I had SARS. I thought I had mono, I came back here, and the doc said, “Well, you have a form of pneumonia that’s outside of your lungs and it’s trying to get into your lungs, but it’s effecting your back and everything.”

OSV: You’re a devout Catholic, an actor, and there are a lot of other Catholics who want to do what you’re doing. Is there room for more of these folks in Hollywood, and if so, how do they get in?
Caviezel: That’s for the Holy Spirit to guide them. I had no idea whether I was going to achieve that. I was tested vehemently, tested all the time about whether to do a role that will sell you out. The devil’s going to prod you first to buy you out, especially if you’re talented. What [Hollywood] has room for is talented people. There are many people out here who are so good; they don’t believe, but regardless, they’re really good. If you were getting a doctor, would you say, “What religion are you?” And the doctor says, “I’m Buddhist.” “Nope, sorry I need a Catholic to work on me.” This might be the best doctor in the world. You go with the best guys there and it’s the same thing here. There’s no affirmative action here. The best guys usually make it. Actually, I should say not always the best guys, it’s the guys that can handle of the war of attrition. It’s a long, long road. Martin Sheen told me one time, “You never really make it in this town” and it’s true. You work one job at a time, do the best job you can on that and then you go on to the next.
With me, I knew what my faith was and I wasn’t going to change it; I never was. That’s something I can never sell out; it’s me. It’s where my soul is. The soul that you like on the screen is that right there and that’s what gives me happiness.
What I’ve found here is there are plenty of Catholics, plenty of ‘em. Just many of them didn’t have the faith to believe that it was going to take them where they needed to be taken. What I found is that our Lady will take you further than you ever even imagined. I thought, “Hey, in Thin Red Line, Wow Cool Done it ” Worked with one of the greatest directors in the business, then “God, looks like we can’t top that one.” Oooh, no way. He came back and said, “Would you like to play my Son?”
You’re always going to suffer. I spoke to a cardinal recently and I said, “I admire what you do. I know you probably get persecuted for standing up for the truth. Thank you.” And he said, “You know, I’m more afraid of what I don’t do at the end of my life when I stand before God.” And that right there sums up exactly how I feel about that.
The devil, a lot of times, he works in two ways. The first way he works is fear; he scares you. When that doesn’t work, he compliments you. And it’s his compliments that I’m more afraid of than anything; trying to make me comfortable and I don’t want that,

OSV: Well you certainly didn’t have a comfortable role in playing Jesus.
Caviezel: No, but there were a lot of ways to cut corners, there were a lot of ways to cut corners, a lot of ways to cut corners during that filming.

OSV: How so? What do you mean? In the filming itself?
Caviezel: Through filming, in preparation, things like that could have done to make it a lot easier. If we hadn’t set this thing on the mountainside, for example, if we’d have cut a corner and gone into a studio and shot it, I would not have suffered like that. Had I not suffered, you would have never have seen the kind of performance on the cross. I had to experience going through that point of feeling like I may die on that cross.

OSV: You actually felt like you might have done that?
Caviezel: Yea, absolutely, I was freezing. I couldn’t even feel my own arms, I was shaking uncontrollably.
You have to know your flesh is telling you that, but your spirit is telling you you’re going to be fine. At one point I was screaming out when I was saying, “Elahi, Elahi, lama sabachthani – Why have you forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46) I was saying in my heart, “You obviously don’t care whether we make this film or not, whether this cross breaks and goes down a thousand foot cliff, You could care less.” And this is what I was yelling, it hurt so bad. Then after that hard day, Mel comes back and we watch the dailies and he said, “Yup, we’ve got to shoot that whole scene again.” And I said, “Why? Why? I thought it was great.” He says, “That cross is moving back and forth. If they’re noticing that cross is moving, they’re not noticing you. We’ve got to shoot it again.” And I thought, “Oh, man.” It just killed me. But he goes, “Ha But you know what? I found some more angles, though, it’s really more interesting here and there.” And inside it was the feeling of “Oh, I don’t want to do that.” But you’ve got to go against...
You asked me earlier about the people who are coming into this business. When you train as an athlete, some days you love training, other days you absolutely hate it. And when the coach gets in there... I remember Herb Brooks who coached the 1980 Olympic (hockey) team, those guys, they called them “Herbies,” they had them doing sprints and sprints and sprints and sprints and then more sprints. And the players were screaming at him so much, their legs were screaming. They said, “You’re abusing us too much. This is too much.” But he wouldn’t let up and he even put on more work. Most of the games when they got into the playoff rounds in the 1980 Olympics, by they time they got to Olympic competition, they came from behind, they came from behind to win, and that’s [training] what ended up doing it to put them over the top against the Russians. He didn’t want his players to show up, they went for the gold, they went to win.
I have a friend of mine who won a gold medal in the 800 [meter]. I told him, “In high school, I’d get so nervous before my matches I couldn’t even eat that day.” And he said, “Yea, that’s pretty common.” And I said, “In fact, during my mile runs during competition, I would almost think of ways to fall out. I would try to find ways of failing, maybe trip or something and say, “I could have won, but I tripped” or something like that, sabotaging yourself. My friend said, “In the gold medal race I had, it hurt so bad that I wanted to quit and had I quit, I would never have won the gold medal.” And that’s the one race he won; it wasn’t like he was doing great.
It’s who can outlast one another and suffer the most, and take it the most. And that’s what it’s like when you come here. The devil will turn around and say, “Hey, hey, hey, you’re working too hard.” He starts complimenting you on your talent. And pretty soon you stop serving our Lord and your work really then becomes insignificant and that’s how I feel about it. And I don’t ever feel like I’m doing anything that’s not, I feel, everything He’s given me.

OSV: This is analogous to the Christian life.
Caviezel: Yes. You see a farmer. Everyday he goes out, he tills the soil, he works on it and during the time he prays. And during the time he says, “God, please give me rain, but not too much. Please give me sunlight, but not too much.” These are things he has absolutely no control, absolutely none. And there are forces out there that say, “Oh no, no, you have control. You have this absolute control.” Well, you don’t. You have to pray, you have to submit.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

NCR takes on Catholic Answers

Joe Feuerherd of the National Catholic Reporter has a new piece in his Washington Notebook criticizing Catholic Answers and its Voting Guide for Serious Catholics. Here's a letter I wrote to him about it:

Mr. Feuerherd,

Your piece on the Catholic Answers Voting Guide is disturbing for a number of reasons. Chief among them, though, is the fact that it does not appear that you talked to any "conservative" Catholics. Karl Keating, George Weigel, Robert George -- none of them or any others appear to have been questioned. If they were, you didn't mention it.

NCR has always prided itself on being the newspaper of Catholic newspapers, the one providing the hard news, always getting the best investigative report award at the CPA. If I'm not mistaken, American journalistic doctrine states something about balanced reporting. Yet there's nothing of balance here at all.

I could be misreading the piece, of course, and looking at what seems to be news and you intended as opinion. If so, then accept my apologies. Even with that consideration, though, opinion should still be balanced by hearing from both sides. In this case, both sides have not been heard and the story -- or opinion -- is the poorer for it.

Beyond this, NCR forgot a little aspect of this controversy -- the fact that certain diocesan attorneys who forbade the distribution of the Guide in their dioceses had also been contributing in large sums to pro-abortion candidates, as I reported in

Feuerherd plays the "not listening to their bishops" card in his column. But that isn't really the question, is it? Notice that while NCR does not listen to the bishops on many crucial issues -- abortion, birth control, same-sex 'marriage', the identity of Jesus -- they expect that those who claim fidelity to the Church to be sheepish little mice and do everything every bishop says. That says a lot about what they think obedience to the Church means.

There are two issues here:

1) If I had been living in the Church during the 4th century and my bishop had gone Arian, would I be obliged to listen to him? Obviously not. In fact, I would be obliged to do everything in my power to oppose him. So when a committee of bishops from the Conference writes a document that suffers greatly from the "written by committee" syndrome, what obligation am I under to listen to what that committee says?

2) There is a conflict here about the authority of the USCCB. Their teaching is not definitive and it never has been. None of the bishops on that committe is my bishop. Even if my bishop was on that committee, unless he specifically stated to his diocese that it is obligatory for his diocese to follow the document, I would still need only look at it as another pronouncement from Washington. And if my bishop was saying that I had to follow this teaching, then I would be under obedience to do so, as long as the document is not in contradiction to the teaching of the Church.

Now there is nothing that really contradicts Church teaching in Faithful Citizenship. But it is not the USCCB's greatest document, either. Its biggest problem is that it lacks -- conviction, certainty, order -- none of this is present.

So when a group of laity -- extremely well-informed, faithful to the Church and known for their orthodoxy -- present a document that helps Catholics understand the constant teaching of the Church, and this document outshines that of a bishops' committee, it's easy to see why there would be competition.

Monday, February 21, 2005

My stuff on the web

Here is a listing of articles I've written that are on the Internet.

When birth means death
An extensive piece on the practice known as "Early Induction for Fetuses with Anomalies Incompatible with Life" done at Catholic hospitals. But there was a very important piece that was dropped because of space. Here it is at the Heart, Mind, Strength blog.
Here's a link to Jill Stanek's column that later on touched off a furor about this.
And here is a piece I wrote in the National Catholic Register about it.

Beware of 'good' causes -- that support abortion
First published in OSV, then picked up by Catholic Way on Christianity Today's site,

Archbishop Raymond L. Burke
I've done a lot on this bishop's bishop. The title is a link to an interview with him for Inside the Vatican. Here it as reprinted in Women for Faith and Family.
Here's another piece I did on him for San Diego News Notes, recalling what the late Bishop Leo Maher of San Diego had done in a similar vein.
This is something I did on him for Catholic World Report, and this one for OSV.
And finally, this is a piece on did defending his actions that appeared in the Journal Times of Racine, Wis., and in the Capitol Times of Madison. A fee, though, is required to access the archives.

On a related topic, this was done for about the Catholic Answers guide for voters and the opposition it received from within the Church.

The Lost Boys of Sudan
I've had an interest in the Sudanese conflict for much longer than the recent Darfur genocide. I did this piece for Catholic World Report on some of the "Lost Boys" of Sudan whom I found very close to home.
Here's another piece I did about Wisconsin's investments in a Canadian firm doing business in Sudan when I was editor of the Times Review (now The Catholic Times) in the Diocese of La Crosse. Interestingly, the officials in the state office told me they would not do anything about it, particularly under public pressure. So a year later I decided to write another piece admonishing the state on the issue and passed it around to the other diocesan editors in the state. I got a call from one of them -- she had called the state office and was told the state had pulled out their investments.

The Passion of the Christ
I interviewed Jim Caviezel for OSV on playing Jesus in The Passion of the Christ. This is the shortened interview, but if you want to read the whole thing in Polish, you can find it here and here. (No, I don't know Polish. It was translated for me by Professor Olgierda Furmanek at Wake Forest University.)
Later, I'll post the whole thing in English.
This interview was with Michael Medved; this is about the post-production controversy, and this is about the whole controversy.

Sex abuse -- outside the Catholic Church
A look at how others are dealing with this issue -- or not.
And this is what was happens when states think they have to legislate to prevent abuse.

I've done a number of things on stem cells and the like. This is something from OSV on the topic. I did this on the California ballot initiative where those voters have sold themselves down the river.
Here is an article I did for Columbia magazine that is reprinted in the bulletin for Our Lady of Las Vegas Parish in (where else?) Las Vegas (requires PDF).

End of life
When in March of 2004, John Paul II said people in the so-called "persistent vegetative state" need to be given food and water, certain people in the Catholic health care world reacted with, well, to be charitable, a certain amount of skeptism. Read about it in this CWR piece I did.

This is an article on Alfred Kinsey and his supposedly "scientific" analysis of human sexuality. This isn't even the half of it, though. Dr. Judith Reisman has done the best work on this.

NFP and China
It was a curious thing to find out that Communist China is allowing -- and even encouraging -- NFP to be taught to its citizens while we have certain Catholic people who will not allow its teaching in certain Catholic venues.

The attack on marriage
Traditional marriage is under attack, as is well-known. I did this on the failed first vote on the Federal marriage amendment.
Also for OSV, I interviewed Michael O'Brien, the well-known Canadian author and artist about a law passed in Canada that could make it difficult for traditional people to speak out on this issue. This is the full-length version which is on Michael's website.

The secret meeting's fallout
Church politics are something I like to cover. So when a wealthy man from Boston held a secret meeting between laity and the leadership of the USCCB, I thought it was one of the curiouser things I've heard of. This story, for CWR, was about a second meeting that seemed to imply the Church needs to adapt a business model of governance.
Here's something about why bishops and theologians can have difficulty getting along.

Catechism texts and big business
Many of the catechism textbooks used by Catholic children are published by such giants in the publishing industry as McGraw-Hill and Harcourt. This article examines what the consequences are.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Welcome to Epiphany

I've long wanted to start a publication called "Epiphany." It seems a great name for what we laity are called to do -- show forth or manifest the Word of God in our daily lives. I hope that's what will happen in this blog. Someday I will post how I came up with this name -- I think it's an interesting story and perhaps others will.

This blog will serve as an outlet for two things: 1) Original commentary on events in the world and the Catholic Church from my perspective, and 2) Original reporting on things which I believe are either ignored or underreported in the secular or Catholic press.

I welcome comments and other viewpoints so long as they are kept charitable. Those that are not will be pulled.

I look forward to this new adventure and to hearing from others.