Monday, December 26, 2005

Where the news really is -- and was missed

It was a sad Christmas in St. Louis. There are all kinds of stories this morning about the illicit Christmas Mass that Father Marek Bozek presided over at St. Stanislaus Church in St. Louis. It was illicit because Father Bozek left his assignment at the Cathedral in Springfield, Mo., without his bishop's permission, and indeed, against his bishop's will, and was "hired" by the six-member board at St. Stan's.

This action, of course, put them outside of the Catholic Church for a very simple reason -- laity do not have the authority to hire their priests. They are assigned by their bishops, as the successors of the apostles, to wherever the bishop requires them.

Anyway, the stories say that anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 people were present at this illicit Mass and that, therefore, anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 people now have gravely sinful matter to bring to Confession.

But one wonders -- how many people were at Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis? Or at the Old Cathedral? Or at St. Agatha's where Archbishop Raymond Burke transferred the Polish apostolate to? I can bet there were a lot more than 2,000 people in those three places combined. And how many were at the rest of the parishes throughout the City of St. Louis? Then, St. Stan's becomes a drop in the bucket and one then wonders what the media fuss is all about.

One also wonders what the Archbishop said in his homily. But, of course, all the reporters were at the schismatics' church and not at the Cathedral to hear the Archbishop, or at St. Agatha's to see how many Poles are being faithful to the Church. All of this tells you a lot, not about what's going on in St. Louis, but about where the affections of the media lie.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

'A darker subtext'?

Mr. Hetero Massachusetts 2006 I won't be. I don't live there anymore and I can't rip any magazine, never mind one of Oprah's.

But is there "a darker subtext," as a critic in The Republican story states? It depends on what you mean by "darker." In Massachusetts, the only state in the Union where there is an attempt at the oxymoronic "homosexual union" of "marriage," the clear text of Rev. Crouse's contest is a poke-in-the-eye at the homosexual and PC establishment. Nothing could be clearer or lighter.

Now perhaps there will be some who object on the grounds that Jesus would never have poked fun at His enemies. That's not so. When the Pharisees and teachers of the Law came to Him to ask Him about divorce, His reply was clear sarcasm. "Have you never read.....?" He begins asking them. These, as Dr. Scott Hahn has rightly pointed out, are the teachers of the law, the ones who know the Torah inside and out, including Genesis. So for Jesus to ask them if they've never read Genesis is also a poke-in-the-eye.

Homosexual "marriage" is a laughable concept, and Rev. Crouse is only pointing out the obvious with a bit of good humor.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

I Am David

No, I'm not David. But there's a little-known film out on DVD called I Am David that stars Ben Tibber, Jim Caviezel and Joan Plowright. Hristo Naumov Shopov, the Romanian who played Pilate in The Passion of the Christ, is also in it, though not credited.

It's a low-budget film and you can tell it to a certain degree in the scenery and some other aspects. But that and one choice of music are really my only complaints about this film. Otherwise, it's absolutely fantastic.

David is a boy who has been raised in a Soviet labor camp in Bulgaria and lost both of his parents to the regime. We meet him as he is escaping from the camp with help from someone, though we are not sure whom. He carries with him some papers that he is not allowed to look at or let anyone else see until he gets to Denmark. As he makes his way down to Greece to get on a ship bound for Italy and on his journey through Italy to get to Denmark, he has flashbacks of his time in the camp, especially of a man named Johannes (Caviezel).

The voice we hear telling David how to escape tells him to trust no one, something David keeps in his mind. But he's obviously torn as he meets up with all kinds of people who could help him very easily if he would but open himself to them.

As David has more flashbacks, we see more of what has happened in the labor camp with Johannes. We know at the outset of the film that Johannes has been shot in one of those infamous concentration camp line-ups, but we don't know why. As time goes on though, what we find is Caviezel in another Christ-like role and Naumov Shopov in an almost Pilate-like role.

Catholic imagery abounds in this film and one of the final scenes is nearly too rich in it to describe as we hear Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus being sung by a small-town church choir (actually it's the Westminster Choir, I believe, but the actors make it look pretty authentic).

Get this film and soak it in. Lessons about trust, love, sacrifice and redemption are all in it.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Considerations on the new document from the Vatican

There are so many people who have commented on the new Instruction from the Congregation for Catholic Education that to put up the links would take up a whole blogging page. But here's the gist of what they're saying --

"This document is supposed to deal with the sex abuse scandal. It's not going to do it because homosexuals don't do pedophilia. Anyway, the Vatican doesn't understand that homosexuality isn't something that comes and goes; it's inherent and can't be changed. Besides, if a priest is supposed to be celibate, what difference does it make what his orientation is?"

First things first. The document isn't supposed to deal with the sex abuse scandal. That is a myth perpetrated by the MSM. The document was begun in 1996, six years before the Boston Globe's stories on Cardinal Law.

I'm not going to really comment on the claim that homosexuals don't do pedophilia because it's tedious -- and wrong. Suffice it to say that pedophiles come in all sizes, shapes and orientations, including homosexuals -- just ask the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA). Ask the FBI and other law enforcement agencies that break up child sex rings, a lot of them where boys are gotten and brought in for men from all walks of life -- from the CEOs of major companies to the janitors of those companies -- to abuse. And the fact that the vast majority of the boys abused by priests were those who were in their adolescence and in the prime of their lives speaks for itself.

Now that those two points are cleared up, what the document is supposed to deal with is a problem in many seminaries that has been there ever since the end of the Council and that is a prevelance of homosexuality. I would guess that many "gay" groups would rather not have the issue addressed at all and would rather see the priesthood riddled with priests who are "celibate but gay."

But all that does is undermine the Church's teaching ability on this and other very serious moral matters. If a priest has a homosexual orientation and is part of the "gay" culture, or even if he's not part of the culture but has sympathies towards it and friends in it, then he is not really going to be able to address firmly the issues of homosexuality, contraception, abortion and a whole host of other sexual and biological moral matters. He will be seriously compromised.

The reason for that is because homosexuality itself is intrinsically disordered. The phrase "intrinsically disordered" raises, of course, all sorts of hue and cry about how that must mean the homosexual himself is, therefore, intrinsically disordered. Not true. The person struggling with same-sex attraction (SSA) is as disordered as the adulterer, thief, murderer, wife-beater, liar, child abuser, cheat, blasphemer, tyrant, traitor -- in other words, as disordered as the rest of us.

But the nature of this intrinsic disorder is different from these other sins. St. Paul says that those who do other wrongs sin outside of themselves, while a sexual sin is a sin against our ownselves. Because of that, anyone who yields to these temptations or who has sympathies towards them can't think clearly about the nature of the sin and those sins which are close cousins to it. So a priest who has homosexual proclivities cannot teach the fullness of the faith.

The claim that SSA is permanent is nonsense. Why is it that a female basketball star is not questioned when she claims she just became homosexual? Why are those folks who were in the homosexual lifestyle, who went through therapy and are now no longer struggling with SSA ignored? One of the "gay" publications had this headline: "Vatican to gays: Grow up!" Well, yes. We all need to grow up and those in SSA situations may need it a lot more than those who are not.

What really peeves me is that many men who claim to be homosexuals are those who were abused by other men. That warped their image of themselves. In that case, it's not genetic anymore than when a tree has barbed wire placed next to it and the tree grows around the wire and eventually engulfs it, is genetic

Finally, to the last claim. The Church rightly says that a man with homosexual tendencies can’t fulfill that role because he can’t properly relate to men and women. A man who claims to love another man as a man and a woman would normally love each other is not relating properly to men and women. It is simply impossible.

Besides that, there is the fact that two men who claim to love each other as men and women normally would cannot be fathers. It is biologically impossible. Well, a priest has to be a spiritual father and the spiritual is reflected in the physical. If a man cannot bring forth biological children because he is suffering from SSA, then he has no business trying to act like an alter Christus.

Plus, if a man does not look at the vocational options (marriage, priesthood, religious life, single life) available to him and freely choose one over the others, then there is something wrong with his choice. So if a man looks at the priesthood because he cannot marry a woman because of SSA, then he has not made a free choice for the priesthood and the validity of his vows can be called into question. (Of course, the Vatican hasn't said anything like that -- this is merely my interpretation of the law, for what little it's worth.)

This reflection of the spiritual in the physical is what a sacrament is all about, isn’t it? Take a look at Baptism. We don’t baptize with Coke or beer or even dirty water. We baptize with clean water because it reflects what happens to the soul. The Holy Spirit cleanses the soul from original sin just like clean water cleanses the body from dirt.

We use physical signs that point to a greater reality, but the signs have to be an accurate reflection of the spiritual reality. This doesn’t mean, though, that other things are bad. Beer isn’t bad because it can’t be used for Baptism. Rice isn’t bad because only wheat can be used for the Eucharist. Canola oil isn’t bad because only olive oil can be used for anointing.

In exactly the same way, women or married men aren’t bad in the eyes of the Church because we can’t be ordained. It doesn’t reflect our worth, it only shows that we can’t accurately point to what the sign of ordination is supposed to be – an alter Christus, another Christ. In plain and simple terms, Jesus wasn’t married and Jesus was a man. It’s that easy. So women and married men cannot reflect that image in a sacramental way. And neither can someone who has such a serious disorder as homosexual attraction. (Neither, by the way, can someone who has a tendency to murder, to fornication, to theft, to serious selfishness, or to any of the other deadly sins.) If a man can't act in the way he was created to act, he cannot accurately reflect the truth of who God is.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

What's behind the noise on the priesthood

This is a superb article by a former Episcoplian now Catholic priest who teaches at Providence College. He gets to the heart of why the priesthood is so contended these days, and amazingly enough, it begins in the 16th century.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The new Narnia movie

My wife and I were among the lucky ones to see a pre-screening of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe this past weekend. So how was it? Well, here's a long-winded review:

I had the privilege to take a full course in C.S. Lewis when I was in college at Franciscan University of Steubenville. I learned a lot in that class from Dr. David Ard, who now teaches at Mount Mercy College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. One of the things I learned is that Lewis was steeped in the Christian faith and in mythology (or should I say that the other way around?).

That is clear from his Chronicles of Narnia. Here, not only do you meet Aslan (a Christ-like figure modeled on the messianic title, Lion of the Tribe of Judah), you also meet fauns, satyrs, Bacchus, centaurs, minotaurs and all other manner of mythical creatures. Lewis knew mythology inside and out. He studied it extensively before his conversion and he taught it at Oxford. This was no small part of his life.

But what it seems to me a lot of people are missing is that after his conversion to Christianity, Lewis subordinated this to Christ. Yes, he knew a "good yarn" when he saw 0ne and wrote one. And yes, as many commentators have pointed out, he did not start writing the Chronicles as an exercise in Christian allegory, but rather he simply started writing about a little girl going through a wardrobe into a land in winter and meeting a faun. And he liked it, as well he should have. It is a good yarn.

However, there's something more that people are missing. Lewis, for as much as he didn't like the Catholic Church (despite his close friendship with JRR Tolkien whose Catholicism permeates all of The Lord of the Rings), was heavily influenced by the Catholic Church in some of his thinking -- primarily that Christ is the fulfillment of all of the world's hopes and dreams, not simply the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy. He certainly is that, but, as Michelangelo painted the Greek Sybils in his masterpiece on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, all the good that the pagan world every hoped for -- from Plato to Aristotle to Virgil to Buddha -- is found in Jesus Christ.

That is why Lewis can have characters such as Bacchus in his stories. In Prince Caspian, for instance, Susan and Lucy are with Aslan and come across a wild outdoor party with a young man and a bunch of girls, not a party as 21st century American adults think of, but a wild game and eating without manners. Here is their conversation:
"I say, Su, I know who they are."
"The boy with the wild face is Bacchus and the old one on the donkey is Silenus. Don't you remember Mr. Tumnus telling us about them long ago?"
"Of course. But I say, Lu--"
"I wouldn't have felt safe with Bacchus and all his wild girls if we'd met them without Aslan."
"I should think not," said Lucy.
It is Aslan who brings these mythical creatures into right order. It is his divine nature that brings them to the way they were created to be.

With that in mind, the abundant dualistic commentary on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is really off the mark. Lewis did not think in an "either/or," nor even in a "both/and" mode, but rather that the one (paganism) is subjected in truth to the other (Christianity).

So when it came to watching the film, it's easy to see that Andrew Adamson is not comfortable with the one being subjected to the other. It seems to me, rather, that he's more interested in the bottom line and does not effectively address the issue of who Aslan is and his overwhelming presence in the books.

The film is well shot and the scenery in it is stunning. The special effects are quite good, and it's clear that there is a lot of influence from The Lord of the Rings. (Of course, the film was partly shot in New Zealand, the same place as LOTR, and Adamson used WETA Workshop for a lot of the digital effets as well as things like the swords.)


The storyline follows the book very closely -- the basics are there and I have no complaints about that. Interestingly, Adamson chose to focus a lot on the children's home life in London, something which Lewis hardly glances at. In fact, we begin with the bombing of London and the children getting out of the house as Nazi bombs fall. Edmund runs back -- against his mother's and brother's wishes -- to get a photo of their father, who is off in the war.

But when they do get to Narnia, Peter and Susan keep looking back wanting to get back to London. While in the book this does happen when they first get in, once they've gotten to the Beaver's house, that's long forgotten.

What I noticed most, though, is that there is something missing to the dynamics, a certain sense of longing, of connection to Aslan. When the Beavers first mention Aslan, there's no sense of awe and wonder on the children's faces -- they sit rather impassively, almost in a "So?" attitude -- completely opposite of what Lewis went into great detail to describe. The dynamics between Susan, Lucy and Aslan are low-key. I was left wondering what it was that was between them that they would stay with him, except for the fact that it was the plot of the story.

There is also an irritating aspect about Peter's character -- can no one in the Hollywood elite believe anymore that it is possible for a man to be single-minded in good character? Why is it that leading men are being portrayed as having so many doubts about their identity and should they do what they're supposed to do? Peter Jackson did this to the character of Aragorn in LOTR. Tolkien was clear that Aragorn knew who he was and what he was doing and where he was going. Jackson and his team of writers, though, would have none of it. Aragorn was portrayed as confused, perplexed, unsure of what he had to do and if he was willing to do it. They did an even worse job to Faramir, Boromir's brother. Tolkien was firm that Faramir was by no means tempted to take the Ring, but Jackson has Faramir not only wanting it, but kidnapping Frodo to get at it. Only later does he realize he's wrong.

Peter Pevensie is shown just the same way. He keeps wanting to go home. His mother told him to keep an eye on his three siblings and he's taking that charge seriously -- so seriously that he doesn't want to stay in Narnia, and he certainly doesn't want to lead an army against the White Witch. In the heat of the battle, he yells at Edmund to get the girls and go home, something which the Peter that Lewis portrayed would never have done.

This seems to be a misplaced feminism -- the man watching out for the home front sort of thing. While that may be OK in another story, it falls short here. That's because Lewis's Peter is concerned about honor and virtue and winning the battle for Aslan, to whom he has sworn fealty. There is no "I don't care about a prophecy" attitude at all. Aslan has won over Peter's heart and Peter will do what is needed to save Narnia from the White Witch.

What is also disappointing is that there is no clear Christian theme here. Oh, some lines come out, but it is not the overarching theme. In fact, some things get downplayed. After Aslan has been raised and the stone table split in two, Lewis has Aslan say, "It means, that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation..." In the film, that line about "a magic deeper still" is missing and he only talks about the deep magic. Which means that we have a dualistic outlook here -- two gods of equal strength who are at war with each other. And that is definitely not what Lewis had in mind.

Was there anything good about it? Oh yes -- the battle scene was terrific. Borrowing some techniques from Peter Jackson, Andrew Adamson makes an excellent battle. The creatures on the Witch's side look a lot like Orcs from LOTR, but, hey -- how many evil-looking creatures can you come up with? The battle kept you in suspense, which was quite an accomplishment considering you already know how it's going to turn out.

The character of the White Witch was played to icy and chilling effectiveness by Tilda Swinton. She personally has an enigmatic beauty about her, something which she used to great effect in playing the witch, because while you were attracted, you knew subconsciously that there was something evil about her that you could not quite put your finger on. No wonder Edmund felt the attraction.

Edmund was well-played as a brattish sort of boy who couldn't stand his family by Skandar Keynes. William Moseley's Peter would have been good, had it not been for the direction Adamson took him in. Anne Popplewell's Susan was OK, but Georgie Henley as Lucy was much better done. However, there was, as I said before, that certain spark that was missing in their relationship with Aslan, which was due to scripting and directing, more than their acting abilities.

All in all, it's a good yarn. But while it's being marketed by the same people who marketed The Passion of the Christ, this isn't something that is anything on that order. Remember that this is Disney, and Disney has one thing in mind -- the bottom line, not the truth of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The Christmas enterprise

There are people clamoring now for a boycott of Target since this company supposedly refuses to allow the words "Merry Christmas" in its advertising. In fact, a lot of companies have decided not to use the word "Christmas" in the annual winter money grab to the end of the year, the time when most retail businesses make the most money. That's something that a lot of Christians are upset about.

I can understand that. The Christmas shopping season, which, according to the Census Bureau, gives retail about 15 percent of its annual revenue in one month, came about because of, well, Christmas.

Yes, that Christmas -- the Christian holiday celebrating the birth of the One whom we recognize as the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Who, in His great mercy and compassion, took up human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary and became, first a human embryo, then a human blastocyst, then a human zygote, then a human fetus (Latin for "little one"), and then was born. (The word "Christmas" comes from the compounding of "Christ" and "Mass," the Mass celebrated for Christ's birth, much like the "Michelmas," the Mass for St. Michael the Archangel, of Jane Austen's writing.)

This is not something that is secular in nature, not something we can pass a law on or do business with. It is religious pure and simple.

Christmas was not even celebrated in the northern part of the U.S. when the Pilgrims first came here. They were Puritans who wanted nothing whatsoever to do with what the Vatican liked and since the Vatican liked Christmas, they didn't celebrate it. It wasn't until the German Catholics came that such things as Christmas trees became popular. And when the Irish and others from Catholic countries like Poland, Belgium and France came over, they too brought their Christmas traditions with them and that's when the American penchant for making a buck came into play. (Of course, the southeastern part of the country probably had something going since it was settled first by the Spaniards, who were thoroughly Catholic.)

Christmas is a time for giving gifts and when crass American entrepeneurship grasped this, they ran with it. So for American businesses now to turn this into simply a "holiday" season, when its origins are strictly religious and specifically Christian, is to turn its back dishonestly on its roots.

However, let's look at this from a different perspective. For Christians to be upset about this betrays something in their attitudes -- it betrays that they think business has the upper hand on Christianity, that the Christian faith needs business to affirm its right to exist. But that is not the case. What does it matter if Target, whose only purpose in life is to make money for its shareholders, decides to start calling it 'holiday shopping? How does that effect the Christian celebration of Christmas? It really shouldn't.

This is not unlike the attitude betrayed when minorities complain that businesses don't advertise to them. What's the big deal? It appears they don't feel worthwhile because Sears, or whomever, is ignoring Hispanics. But since when has one's worth depended on whether or not Target, Wal-Mart, Gillette, or any other company advertises to you? That seems to me to show that their sense of value comes from material things -- hence materialism has made serious inroads into people's hearts.

Christians at this current point in time should still be celebrating Advent -- Christmas is still three weeks away and we're supposed to still be preparing for it via prayer, fasting and works of mercy (St. Francis of Assisi used to call it his "little Lent"). I find nothing in the tradition -- or in the Scriptures for that matter -- that says Christians have to spend the weeks leading up to Christmas buying gifts, going to parties, gorging ourselves on food and drink for a holiday that has not yet even come, and shopping in the local mall while men in overstuffed red suits and fake white beards parade around getting wish lists from little kids setting up their expectations and setting up their parents for serious credit card debt.

I remember some saying of Jesus, something about making His Father's house into a den of thieves. Not, of course, that Christmas is the Father's house, but I think the analogy works to a certain extent.

Why are we insistent that these cultural and corporate elites tell their employees that they can say Merry Christmas to their customers? Are we Christians abandoning our duty to evangelize and saying corporate America has to do it for us? If we've haven't been preaching the Gospel to the Macy's, Dayton's and Walton's, then embarrassing them into allowing the word "Christmas" into their advertising isn't going to help them a whole lot. Nor is it going to help the general cause of evangelization too much, either, since it only makes Christians look like demanding brats.