Cry Room Outcry!

Baby cries. There’s something about them. They do something to you.

If you don’t believe me, then have a look at Alfonso Cuaron’s “Children of Men”. In that 2006 film, the world is old and sterile, aging and dying out. For reasons unknown, human fertility and pregnancy is no more, and the youngest person alive is 18 years old:

In a world where children are extinct, adults go mad. And trust me, the film is worth your time, considering it was Cuaron’s last film before his latest “Gravity“.

That brings me to what I noticed one day at Mass. Most Catholic church buildings constructed after the 1950s have a few things in common that older churches just do not seem to originally have. Actually and unfortunately, the “new” churches have many things I find irritating on good days and barely tolerable on bad days, but the thing I noticed this one day were the quarantine cells.

Cry RoomThat’s right. Isolation chambers. Also known as baby rooms, or cry rooms, where parents attend Mass with their infants and toddlers, safely behind soundproof windows and walls.

A few questions: how did young families at Mass handle their crying babies before the invention of modern soundproofing? And what did priests and people in the pews do with the cries and yelps and whimpers in the old days?

My thoughts: Baby cries are closer to the songs of angels than we think. I mean, if Jesus said that only the childlike will enter Heaven, then it makes sense that babies belong in the nave, not in some outlying room removed from the Mass, as if they were dangerous to everyone else’s prayers. I even dare say that people at Mass need to hear those whimpers and yelps! It reminds them, it reminds all of us that the Church is young! The Church has young husbands and wives with young children! The Church has loving and patient parents! The Church is fruitful and multiplying!

We need to learn how to listen to babies again. Too many of us find it excruciating and annoying. We throw death stares at hungry and tired children, and we roll our eyes at their parents. Sometimes, we even dream of snuffing out their breaths to gain some peace, and that’s not far from the culture of death…

Shame on us. As if we were never that way ourselves. As if we saw the hungry and tired brothers and sisters on the street and thought them annoying and needing to be quarantined. Those cries convict us if we are bothered by them, and those cries convince us if we could only hear their beauty: that we are all crying to God, crying for mercy, forgiveness, beauty. Crying for justice, love and Heaven.

We’re all supposed to be weeping at Mass. Tears of joy at the Kyrie, tears of sorrow at the sacrifice, tears of ecstasy at Holy Communion. And the whole world is meant to hear our cries, our cries that remind it that the Church is young! The Church has a loving and patient Father and Mother! The Church is fruitful and multiplying!

P.S. Check out what one parish is doing to help parishioners cope with the kiddos.

And I’m not the only one who thinks this. Check out what Pope Francis has to say about bawling babies at Mass.

Choose Better News

ProdigalPress

[definitely start with this book if you want more info]

Journalism ain’t what it used to be.

It used to be about getting the truth out. But now that relativism is the philosophy of life, any lie can be the truth and any truth can be a lie.

It used to be about fairness and awareness. But now there are only politics and propaganda, and a whole lotta news that is actually more like gossip and gimmick than informative.

And it used to be honest and modest. But now the news is shamelessly attacking people’s reputations, slandering them, and even selling porn like it’s part of the programming.

If you cannot tell, I am more than angry. Especially when the media talks trash about the Bride of Christ: aka, Mother Church. And you just don’t talk smack about someone’s momma, and that goes infinity-mode for Jesus’ Momma!

I’m thinking we all need a New Year’s Resolution that goes something like this: I will be more critical and skeptical of Big Media, and fact check when it comes to politics and religion. If I am Catholic, I will do this by actually reading news reported by Catholic journalism that is faithful to Church teaching. After all, faithful Catholics probably know more about Church news than a bunch of non-believers (and sometimes even anti-believers!) who don’t know transubstantiation from transportation, or the papacy from pepper spray, or excommunication from miscommunication, or exorcize from exercise!MediaBiasThink about it: why let someone who knows nothing about your family heritage tell you what to believe about your legacy? Would it perhaps be better to, I don’t know, listen to your great grandmother? Ask your grandfather? Eh?

So if you are Catholic, and actually want to be more Catholic (yes, that’s a challenge and a dare), then give these sites a chance during this new year and drop TIME, New York Times, Yahoo!, CNN, FOX, NBC, CBS, ABC, ETC.*

And if you are not Catholic, then why listen to a bunch of biased anti-Catholics talk about the Church? Shouldn’t you let the Church speak for herself? Get both sides of the story? Fairness and awareness, ya know?

Because who knows? You might stop missing out on big things happening with the Church, and you might even actually start picking up the treasures of the Church that were yours to find all this time…

1) National Catholic Register (I check them every day)
2) Catholic Vote (ah… politics without heretics)
3) Catholic News Agency (I admit some bias here, since they once interviewed me about Yuna Kim)
4) Catholic Exchange (not as informative, but always good to skim through)
5) LifeNews and LifeSiteNews (these two are pretty intense and never boring. You have been warned)
6) Ave Maria Radio (if you prefer listening instead of reading news)
7) Catholic Answers Live (if you wanna call in and ask questions)

*Note that I am not saying never consider those news sources anymore, but only that they should be compared and checked with Catholic sources regarding reports about Church topics.

Closing Thoughts on Korra

The Legend of Korra has ended, and what a series of surprises! I have to say my favorite Books of Korra have to be One and Three. Amon was such a tragic and complex villain, and the peril inflicted on Korra by Amon and the Red Lotus really tested our heroine’s character.

—–1) But let’s take a closer look at Book Four‘s episode 8: Remembrances. This episode was more like a recap to prepare us for the finale stretch, but this was no filler episode. Some intense insight was to be seen:

KorraMakoWhen Mako and Prince Wu are sharing their stories with each other, Mako shares with us what he learned from his time with Korra, and then with Asami. The takeaway here is that when we date, we should be able to breakup without turning our girlfriend/boyfriend into an enemy. If the two do become enemies, then what was the relationship worth in the first place? Obviously then both were too immature and irresponsible with one another’s hearts. Now, this doesn’t mean the two cannot argue. Arguing is actually a healthy thing if the argument is over something extremely important! But it’s vital not to tear each other down in the argument, but to work together and find out the truth. Arguing should strengthen your relationship, not bomb it into oblivion.

But here’s the gem from Mako’s experience, when he says: “I had to figure out who I was without a lady in my life.” This is exactly why it’s so important for boys and young men to have good fathers and big brothers. Boys will stay boys if they don’t have a mature man to guide and challenge them. Boys will stay boys and really mess up their girlfriends if they don’t learn from their fathers how a women should be respected and honored. For Mako and Bolin, they grew up without a father or mother, so we can see now why it took them so long to mature, and to do it the hard way with much hurt and hurting others involved.

This is also a reason why seminarians focus so much on fraternity (the good kind, not the college frat-boy kind) and put dating on hold (either temporarily or permanently). We’re finding out who we are, so that we can better serve and sacrifice in whatever vocation God is calling us to. Because without this self-awareness, then we have no idea what our flaws and strengths are, and without this understanding we can never better or humble ourselves. Chastity and modesty are the virtues that help us achieve this. Men also need more time alone in prayer with God, without the distractions of dating (because dating should only happen after our relationship with God [Love itself] is on the right path — after all, how can you hope to love anyone if you don’t first know Love?). For more about this, please visit ChastityProject.com.

And there’s seemingly a throwaway line from Prince Wu: “I’m not strong like you, Mako! I can’t help being weak! I was born this way.” Yet, there he is, Prince Wu learning to toughen up under Mako’s training. It goes to show that yes, we are all born weak, illiterate, ignorant and with a bunch of other deficiencies, but does that mean we should stay that way? Heck no! And we see the Prince really mature as the season progresses.

—–2) And as for the series’ finale with episode 13: The Last Stand? A few things stuck out to me:

KorraSavesKuviraFirst, the whole series has been recurrent with self-sacrifice. We see this again, but this time Korra sacrifices herself to save an enemy (no one before Jesus ever taught us to do this!). Especially noteworthy is that it’s Kuvira’s own weapon that is going to kill her, until Korra steps in as a body shield. This analogy fits well with how Jesus took on our fallen nature and our sin (our own weapons, our own mess and selfishness was going to condemn and kill us) and died in our place.

KorraBrokenSecond, after both Korra and Kuvira are blasted into the Spirit World, Korra shares that she has finally realized that all the suffering she has gone through actually were blessings in disguise — without them she would not have matured and grown in wisdom, humility and compassion. Throughout the season, she was struggling to find meaning in her near-death experience and past trauma, and it was only after saving Kuvira that Korra understood. This is one reason why Christians believe suffering is permitted (not caused directly) by God, and that just because someone is suffering does not mean it is better for them to die, thus why euthanasia is morally evil (because murder is a sin, but suffering can be for our good as long as we suffer with Jesus).

Third, forgiveness of one’s enemies was found three times in this episode alone: when Asami forgives her father’s betrayals and deceptions, when Korra forgives Kuvira and saves her out of compassion, when Kuvira herself forgives Korra. Earlier in the season, we saw Korra forgive even Zaheer and accept his help! And it’s important to understand that forgiveness does not necessarily mean trusting the offending person again. It means you let go of the resentment you have for the person who hurt you and move on.

BONUS: the final scene of The Last Stand has most viewers interpreting it in a way that advocates for LGBT issues. All we see is Korra and Asami walking into the Spirit World hand-in-hand and turn to face one another. To me, this is more likely to be about the two becoming closer as sisters. We saw earlier how Mako and Bolin grew as brothers, but now we also see how Asami and Korra grew in their sisterhood. This is supported by the fact that the whole series moved from the romance between the friends in the beginning (Mako and Korra, Mako and Asami) to their love of one another as close siblings at the end. To see this love between Asami and Korra as romantic seems a far stretch to me, and is a sign of how lustful and perverse our society has become to see even this simple innocent gesture between them as sexual.AsamiKorra

Yet, even if our two leading ladies have same-sex attraction: all persons are called to love and to be loved, including those of us with same-sex attraction! And to have same-sex attraction itself is not sinful (despite what many Christians wrongly believe), but to act on that love in a sexual way is a sin, because love need not be sexual (if it needs to be sexual, then it ain’t love). In fact, sexual expression is only appropriate in a holy marriage between one man and one woman (not a marriage done for lust, for social gain, for politics and power, for money, for polygamy, etc.), because the marriage vows [of sacrificial love] help the husband and wife prevent sex from becoming lustful, abusive, perverted and harmful to their love. Catholic teaching pushes back against this culture’s lust and perversion with true love that is understood to be genuine and selfless, chaste and courageous. I hope to share more about this in a more in-depth post, but for now, please let me share these insightful videos and interviews of persons with same-sex attraction instead: The Third Way, and the Desire of the Everlasting Hills. And for more authentic and compassionate Catholic wisdom on this topic, please start here.

Well, that’s all I have for now about this latest Avatar series. I thoroughly enjoyed the journey it put me on, and I hope the best for the creators and cast of the Legend of Korra. Pray for them all!

For more about Korra on HolySmack, look here: The Avatar and the Pope and the Passion.

Exodus is Excusable

Exodus

—SPOILER ALERT—

And by Exodus I mean the film by Ridley Scott (starring Christian Bale as Moses), not the inspired history account of divine intervention by YHWH.

So I was very eager to see this film, and heard both criticism and awe in early reviews. I knew this was another film I had to see for myself. Here’s what I got:

—–1) Eh. For a 140 million dollar budget, I would’ve expected a story at least as engaging as the special effects. By leaving so much out (since nobody can cover Exodus entirely on film), what was left wasn’t portrayed creatively enough. I could sense myself actually getting bored during the movie! Everything felt too rushed. My eyes were in for a treat, but my soul was not impressed.

—–2) The soundtrack is forgettable. I don’t remember a single moment where I went: I gotta hunt this score down and put it on repeat ASAP!

—–3) Things missing include: Moses’ real mother, the pillar of fire, the staff’s importance, how angry God and Moses get with the golden calf, and that’s only what I can remember…

—–4) But there are good things too about the film: Moses must be humbled before God. The ways humility is taught and represented is interesting. In Moses’ first encounter with God’s messenger, he is stuck in quicksand up to his face. Nothing else is visible but Moses’ eyes, nose, mouth and cheeks: he is literally dirt and mud. And that’s the root word of humble: humus (Latin for earth, soil, etc.).

Being humble means being grounded in reality, close to the soil, because we are dust and will become dust again. We must remember our mortality and finitude, and let God be God. Moses in this film had to learn this, and for good reason since he was a spoiled prince of the ancient superpower called Egypt.

—–5) God’s messenger (aka: angel) is portrayed as a boy. I don’t see anything wrong about this. In fact, probably a good way to teach Moses more humility! A grown warrior prince humbled to obedience to a child who represents the Almighty.

MosesZipporah—–6) Perhaps one of the few best parts of this film was the emphasis on marriage and family, especially fatherhood. Moses and his wife, Zipporah, share beautiful vows together, and the respect they show for one another is a good example of marriage. Fatherhood is shown through how Moses cares for his son, and even in how Ramses loves his own.

—–7) Another part well done are the plagues. I enjoyed seeing how the plagues were set up to be more naturalistic, including the parting of the Red Sea. As the audience, we could relate easier to the doubting Egyptians and Pharaoh who brushed aside the calamities and pushed on with their goals and lives. They saw everything as explainable by nature, and we moviegoers could too… until the coincidences got so stretched that it could NOT be mere coincidence anymore: oh… the sea level just happened to lower when the Hebrews needed an escape? Oh… the fact that only Egyptian first born children died during the first Passover? Hmmm… something tells me this was all guided by an intelligence. Wonder who that could be…

—–8) All in all, Exodus: Gods and Kings failed to insult me, and also failed to impress me. I wish it actually did one or the other, because I’m glad I don’t have to write more about this because there ain’t much here other than superficial visuals. Go ahead and watch it, but don’t be surprised if it’s underwhelming. If you’re in a mood for a more intense version, check out the original in the Bible or even the Prince of Egypt, and you’ll wish Hollywood would’ve been more creative. We were promised an epic, but got eh… Wasted opportunity, I think.

ExodusRedSea

For what I think are good reviews, see here:

1) ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’: Theological Reflections

2) An Interview with Scott, Bale and Edgerton

Help Holy Smack Make Holy Cards

HelpSmack

Dear Holy Smack Readers,

I never thought I would do this, but I need your help to get the word out, and to help lighten the tab. Let me explain:

If you didn’t notice, I love beautiful Catholic art. Too much out there is mediocre, and a lot more is not worth a glance (I personally believe one of the biggest factors in people losing their faith is because new Catholic art has been so ugly and banal in recent decades). One of Holy Smack’s missions is to help inspire others with Beauty, to help others discover the Church through Beauty — to wake up their senses and see that there is more! Beauty is a beast!

To do this, we have the Holy Card — something the Church culture has been sharing and creating before Hallmark was even around. But the Holy Card has been needing a transfiguration for a long time now. Just go into any Catholic bookstore or church (or search “Catholic holy cards” on Google) and you’ll see what I mean: uninspiring art with prayers in uninspiring fonts and underwhelming color. I wince every time I see a wimpy Saint Michael (thought of posting a sample of a wimp, but better not…).

Now, I’m not saying I know exactly what the Holy Spirit ordered, but I’ve been getting vibes that Holy Smack is on the right track with the cards being featured here. Catholic art here is getting noticed again, and I hear compliments from everyone who sees the art.

The goal is to produce and share art cards so catchy to the eye and soul that no one would feel fine throwing any away, but that everyone would want to share more with others!

But beautiful art takes lots of work and diligence and talent. It’s been a blessing working with the few [very generous] artists featured in the card collection so far, but the time has come for commissioning special art from special talents. Here’s where you can help, either by donating what you are willing to give, and/or by spreading the word. But whatever you do, please pray for us artists and bloggers. Feel free to reach me at EvanPham@HolySmack.com if you have any questions or requests.

Please join our work. It really is time to show the world again how beautiful our Faith is.

And of course, thank you gifts for your donations are part of our way of showing our gratitude!

Our fundraising campaign is on IndieGoGo. The deadline to make this goal happen is… at the end of the 12 Days of Christmas (January 6th)! If the amount is not met by then, well… we’ll have a very blue… blue, blue, blue Christmas…

Here are some pieces we’re seeking to feature soon in a new expression (the photos are not up to standard to produce cards out of them):

[Our Lady of Sorrows, a sculpture in Italy]

[Help Daniel Mitsui (artist of the Samurai Archangels) remake this into a Japanese version!]

Mary Crushes Serpent

[Help Gwyneth Holston remake this into a masterpiece on canvas!]

Always the Best and Nothing Less

[Daniel Mitsui’s “Wedding at Cana” in the Traditional Japanese style.]

The Wedding at Cana has been special to me ever since my silent retreat experience with Mary in 2011. Only, I didn’t realize how special it was to me until the past year. More and more it appeared in my life. More and more… but here are a few treats from the wedding feast, just in time as America feasts this Thanksgiving week:

—–1) After telling her Son there is no wine left, Mary turns to the servants of the wedding feast and tells them, “Do whatever He tells you.” These are Mary’s last words in the Gospels. No more of her words are recorded, and so these have a weight to them. But, while I prayed the Rosary and contemplated on this mystery, I heard Our Lady say to me: “Do whatever He tells you… when He tells you.”

I immediately realized that just as important as the “what He tells you” is the “when He tells you”!

So often we think we know what we need to do, so we rush, we hurry and end up doing not as well as we could have. I can think of many examples where if I had only slowed down, prepared, planned and waited to the Holy Spirit to send me, I would have succeeded. Learning to follow Divine Timing has been difficult, but I have seen things happen that are nothing short of miraculous. Coincidence just can’t explain away enough these experiences (one of which I may share in more depth later).

CremeBrulee—–2) For the longest time I wondered how strange it was for Jesus to make/serve the best wine after wedding guests were already too drunk to know the difference and appreciate anything. Like, why would anyone give a thousand dollars to an intoxicated person? Or why give a crème brûlée to someone who has a miserable cold and can’t even taste anything? Or why serve the finest sashimi to guests who don’t know their shoes from their sushi?

Well, I asked Jesus this point blank, in front of a group of friends (His beloveds), while He was in the Blessed Sacrament. And I stared Him down. And He sent the Holy Spirit gushing into me. Once I asked, the answer just swelled up from out of nowhere, effortlessly:

Jesus saves the best for us, makes the best for us… always the best and never less… because He is God and because He loves us. Even when we are too drunk to see the greatness of the gifts He has given us, too wasted to understand and use the talents He gave us, too stupid to care for the loved ones He brought us to, too sinful to love Him, even despite all our inadequacy… He still gives us all of Himself and everything good for us.

And if we don’t see the goodness, the greatness, the loveliness and treasure… it’s because we need to get sober. Otherwise, we will miss out on all that Heavenly glory (as Bruce Lee used to say):

“Mary, I have no wine. Please ask your Son to turn my blood into love. Mary, tell Him, ask Him.”

-Evan Pham, as inspired by St. Francis de Sales

Lisa Ling Visited and Made a Documentary

A few years ago, Lisa Ling visited the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in Ann Arbor, Michigan to help Oprah viewers get to know how Catholic religious sisters live, love and serve God.

The show was so successful that Oprah asked the sisters to visit her studio! Yep!

But that wasn’t the end of Ling’s fascination with the Church.

KoenigsknechPriests

[God bless you both, Fathers!]

LisaLing2 LISA LING: THIS IS LIFE

This year she visited Michigan’s Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit (I remember her and the CNN crew walking around in the Fall) and filmed a documentary about two twin brothers who just finished formation here last spring and were ordained priests over the summer. This is the episode — Called to the Collar — for your evangelization enjoyment. Find out why Michigan was special enough to beckon Lisa Ling all the way over here!