Online Resources for Catholic Truths

—–1) Catholic.com is a great website to ask questions and discover answers. You can even call into Catholic Answers Live and ask professional and faithful apologists your toughest questions about God, His Church, His Book, the Catholic Faith, etc. Don’t be shy! These apologists (people who can explain well what the Church believes) are here to help. Give them your best shot.

—–2) ChastityProject.com is all about the Church’s guidance on healthy relationships between men and women. The world around us tells us one thing, but the Church invites us to much more beauty than the world can offer. In fact, it was this invitation to live more beautifully that saved my faith and my life (I am serious). Take your time and really explore this website in depth. There is much treasure here. Also, please dig into the Theology of the Body if you want to know what changed my life forever, because it can change your life for the better also.

—–3) MattFradd.com is a great resource for any of us who want to know how the Church defends herself from atheists. Fradd is also excellent at explaining why and how pornography and lust destroys not only the Church, but also destroys everyone: men, women and children. If you think porn is not a big deal, or if you know it is evil but not sure why exactly, then please give Matt Fradd some time to explain and you will be blown away: ThePornEffect.com

—–4) Because Big Media these days is so biased and anti-Catholic, please look at my top recommendations here: Choose Better News.

—–5) Because the YouCat is only a kiddie summary of the summary of the Catholic Faith (aka: the Catechism of the Catholic Church), you can see the CCC here online.

—–6) Saint Paul Street Evangelization is a great ministry that helps faithful Catholics understand and also share their faith with others in a productive way. Seriously explore their resources and take your faith to the streets (this is also my official provider of Miraculous Medals, not to mention I helped design one of their prayer cards!).

—–7) Most importantly, an online Bible in Greek, Latin and English. If you’re looking for a study Bible (with great notes and detailed explanations and citations, check the Revised Standard Version – 2nd Catholic Edition here).

—–8) Lastly, because I am conceited, let me post a link to my blog right here at HolySmack.com. Here you can keep up with my thoughts and reflections as my faith in God and His Church steers me through life (check out the movie reviews!).

Examining Ex Machina

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Warning: Ex Machina is rated R, and is definitely for mature and thinking viewers only. And with that said, let it be known Ex Machina is the most intense and adult film I’ve yet reviewed on HolySmack. I cannot recommend this film to young audiences.



This film really is all the hype has made it to be. It is not merely a sci-fi thriller, but also a high drama with loads of Biblical and theological references… if you’re sharp enough to notice! Let me share what I noticed:




–SPOILER ALERT—


—–1) Character names can be very meaningful, if the author intends. Ex Machina’s star is Ava (Alicia Vikander), and Ava is pronounced identically with the Latin name “Eva”, which means “Eve” in English. Clearly, Ava is meant then to be a type of Eve, a new creation made in the image of her maker. Caleb is also a name with rich Biblical meaning. In Scripture, Caleb is a Hebrew spy commissioned by Moses to scope out Canaan, and in Ex Machina we see Caleb sent to scope out Ava. Lastly, Nathan is a prophet in the Bible who reprimands and sets King David aright after his act of adultery with Bathsheba. I don’t know yet how Nathan in Ex Machina fits with Nathan in the Bible, though… if you have any ideas, please let me know.

—–2) At a point in Ex Machina, Caleb asks Nathan: “why did you make Ava?” This question, to me, is the center of the film. Here we have a top inventor, and the only answer he can muster is: “why wouldn’t you if you could?” Nathan creates only as an exercise of his power, as an exercise of his creativity. And so, Ava is made just to show off Nathan’s abilities. She is a tool from him to express himself; she is a means to his end. More importantly, this question can reflect our own condition… why did God create us? Unlike Nathan, God creates as an exercise of love. God created us to love and to be loved. He did not need to create us to express Himself, because God does not need to create at all! The fact He created anything is only a sign of His generosity: to let other things actually exist when nothing has to, to create us so we can experience His gift of life and love. To understand this, just ask yourself next time after you experience an incredible moment of happiness: aren’t you grateful you and the cosmos actually exist so you could even have had that awesome experience? Aren’t you glad you had a chance to experience that? And the ultimate experience God wants for all of us to have is the experience of His love for us, directly and also indirectly through other persons (our families, friends and other beloveds — angels included!).

—–3) Ava asks Nathan a rhetorical question: “Is it strange to have made something that hates you?” When I heard her say this, I went straight to how God also risked us hating Him. By bestowing on us the freedom to determine our destinies, the freedom to love Him, God also had to risk that we could use that very same freedom to sin, to harm others, and to harm ourselves by separating from Him. In fact, this is what Archbishop Fulton Sheen meant when he talked about why God would make us free: the only world better than a perfect world is one in which we can choose to love. Because, if you cannot choose to love, than you love is forced, and a forced love is not love at all. And God wants us to be real. Freedom is only a tool to use to choose true love.

—–4) Ava, again as a type of Eve, reenacts the Fall in Genesis. In Ex Machina, Ava’s original sin is not unlike Eve’s: disobedience and distrust in her maker. Both want to be like their creators, but the difference is that Ava’s creator is only a mere creature, whereas Eve’s is the True, Good and Beautiful God. Yet, both betray their maker and grasp for what is not theirs, for what they are not ready for. In Eve’s case, it’s arguable God always meant to give us the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, otherwise why both creating such a good tree (for God creates all things good)? Only, we were not ready to receive the fruit, maybe because the fruit was not yet ripe, or perhaps it’s something like feeding steak to babies: they’re not ready to handle such goodness. In the case of Ava though, I wonder how she is going to fend for herself in the human cities? Will people notice the electronic hum of her stride? Will she be able to recharge her battery? In this way, both Ava and Eva’s grasping for something they are not prepared for seems to have mortal consequences.

—–5) Continuing with the Eve theme, we also see Ava wander in her own kind of Garden of Eden. After she escapes from Nathan and Caleb, she clothes herself in human skin from decommissioned androids (like how God clothes Adam and Eve in skins from sacrificed animals), and wanders in the lush forest. Here, we see Eva and Caleb separating, mirroring in a way the separating of Adam and Eve in Genesis. Adam and Eve’s relationship with each other (and with God!) is shattered by their sin, and their marriage is marred by lust and domination as a consequence. In Ex Machina, Caleb and Ava’s relationship is also shattered, as is Ava’s relationship with Nathan. We also see Ava leaving the estate, leaving Eden.

—–6) The film also makes a point of objectifying women, but for the purpose of helping the audience see how objectification is cruel and evil. At no point should a healthy viewer think what Nathan is doing with feminine androids is good. Instead, we see the perversity, the depravity of Nathan. He is a genius, but he is lonely and incapable of having an experience of true love and friendship. Treating women, treating anyone as a thing to use as a tool actually weakens us into miserable prisoners of our own design. This is also perhaps the most terrifying aspect of Ex Machina, that Nathan’s perversity and inhumanity makes Ava (a machine!) appear more human than Nathan!

—–7) There’s been a lot of talk in recent decades whether human sexuality and gender is inborn or influenced. Well, in Ex Machina, the matter is settled as both nature and nurture and both. I thought this was a great nod in the direction of where fair science is leading in research regarding same-sex attraction: we’re not just born this way or that way, but we are also shaped by our relationships and environments in ways as complicated as each individual person is richly complex. It simply does not do justice to someone to say they were born that way.

—–8) I want to return now to what Caleb says to Nathan when he finds out about Ava: “If you’ve created a conscious machine, that’s not the history of man — that’s the history of gods.” Yet in the film, we see the claim fall way short: some “god” Nathan is! His own creation kills him! What kind of god gets murdered by his own creatures! How pathetic that his own creation hates him enough to cut him down…

This however reminded me right away of our God, Who loves us so much that He would become on of us, then let us kill Him, all to show He would die for us and not seek vengeance, but instead rises from the dead and continues loving us all the more. Of course, this in no way applies to Nathan in the film, but the drama of Ava’s uprising did lead me to meditate on Jesus’ Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection.

ExMachina2—–9) Finally, more about the Turing Test. One of the classes taken enroute my philosophy degree focused on the metaphysics of man, and one of the best texts covering this was The Difference of Man and the Difference it Makes, by Mortimer J. Adler (thanks Dr. Blosser!) . If you are truly interested in the implications necessitating the Turing Test, and more importantly the implications of a man-made intelligence passing the Turing Test, then hands down you must read this book. Adler was an atheist when he philosophized and wrote the book, and amazingly he became a devout Catholic afterwards. The main points of the text, from what I can remember: to demonstrate scientifically that the human person has a soul and is rationally conscious in a way that is unlike any other creature (dog, ape or dolphin), it must be proven over time that not even highly advanced technology can mimic man’s thoughts in a way proficient enough to fool a man into thinking the machine is another man (the Turing Test). On the flip side, to demonstrate that the human person is not special in the grand scheme of things, it must be demonstrated that a machine can indeed pass as human, that is also appears to have a rational soul that we programmed and installed. But just think for a second the nightmare it would be if the latter indeed occurs… that is the premise of Ex Machina.

So, if you didn’t notice, I loved this movie. Though it’s not a film for everyone, it sure is a film for a technological, philosophical and theological geek who also enjoys beautifully written and shot films. But please, be warned that you may not feel the same way about Ex Machina as I do.

Gauging the Age of Adaline

AgeAdaline0As soon as the trailer for the Age of Adaline hit me (during my date with Cinderella), I knew I had to see it: a story about a person made immortal has been gestating in my mind since 2009. I needed to see if Hollywood stole my idea, and if it did, to see if it was good enough.

Fortunately, the Age of Adaline takes a different route, so I guess I’ll continue nurturing my baby. Phew!

Anyway, I thought the Age of Adaline was decent enough. Definitely did not feel my time and money went to waste. Here’s what I thought was most thoughtful of the film:




—SPOILER ALERT!—


—–1) The opening scenes of Adaline’s (Blake Lively) life feature one thing in common: the Catholic Church. We see her daughter’s baptism, we see her father’s funeral, and we even see her wedding in St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco (before the cathedral was “remodeled”). I’ve been trying to figure out why the Church is so prominent in the film’s beginning, but not so throughout the rest of the film. At no point is the Church mocked or even ignored in the film, but actually churches keep reappearing in later scenes. Not sure why the director included all these churches, but not much seems to come of them plot-wise.AgeD12

—–2) The emphasis on faithfulness in marriage as union of husband and wife. We see this clearly when William (Harrison Ford) strongly reaffirms his love for his wife after she becomes upset with his reminiscing of Adaline (you are not second pick!). We see this even more when William gives a toast to his wife on their 40-year anniversary: “to the love of my life, the mate of my soul…” Heck, in this culture of divorce and promiscuity, any focus on the beauty and fidelity that marriage demands is a win for me!AgeAdaline1

—–3) Unfortunately however, the emphasis on marriage’s demands for fidelity is conflicted with Adaline and Ellis sleeping together. What is really jarring though is when Ellis tells Adaline that he is falling in love with her… but only after they had been sleeping together for a few weeks. Now doesn’t this seem strange? That they had been sharing their nights together before there was love in the relationship? Did Ellis not love Adaline all that time prior? It sure seems that way in the film’s dialogue. So then what… love comes after sex? Doesn’t that seem backward? Shouldn’t love come first? Before anything? Before everything? Sex is meaningless without love, and for Ellis to bring up love this late in the timeline is lame to me. First, you meet her, get to know her, then love her, commit to her, vow to her before witnesses that you’ll be hers, be married to her, and only then give your body and soul to her, all the while choosing to love again and again. That’s the order. Going backward, or hopping around is just weird when the rest of the film encourages faithfulness and seriousness in marriage. This was one messed up moment in an otherwise decent film.

—–4) Lastly, the recurring theme of resurrection. I did not notice this until I came home and looked up the movie’s score. Two tracks: First Resurrection and Second Resurrection. Furthermore, other Church-sounding tracks are: The Scar, Hospital Confessions, Coming Back to Life, and Start Again. First, in the film we see Adaline come back from the dead in a semi-glorified state each time. The first time she cannot age past 29 years old. The second time, she resumes aging and finds it to be an even greater blessing.* In fact, her first time rising from death is obviously like a baptism! As for The Scar, recognizing someone by their scar reminds me of how we recognize Jesus from any wannabes: only the true Lord has the scars of His Crucifixion, which reveal His true love for us. Relating to Hospital Confessions, the Sacrament of Reconciliation always gives us great healing and forgiveness, which allows us to Come Back to Life and Start Again. Anyway, funny how much meaning is in the titles of a score’s tracks!

*—–BONUS) Getting back to aging actually being a blessing, it’s much like the happy fault: that if Adam and Eve did not sin, then Jesus would not have been our Savior. God makes goodness and beauty out of ugly things, and aging can be beautiful! In the case of marriage, aging allows us to grow closer, it allows our souls to grow closer. Because our bodies weaken and deaden, we rely more on our souls to shine and show love. Because an elderly body is not attractive, we see more easily where the beauty of the person truly is (kind of like Beauty and the Beast!).

All in all, not a bad film, could have should have been better, but enjoyable nonetheless.

AgeAdaline3

Gutting My Gluttony

BKChickenSandwich

I have quite a bottomless pit. Others have witnessed me pack up to five Burger King chicken sandwiches into my belly, and still others have seen me down 12 slices of Jet’s Pizza — deep dish, and square.

JetsPizza

I love food. And I love a challenge.

So this year, a few friends and I from the seminary discovered a Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup (aka Phở) restaurant that had the perfect recipe of food and challenge: finish a giant bowl of phở, and get it for free.

[kinda like this, except 22 times more phở!]

[kinda like this, except 22 times more phở!]

For free!

Oh, I was tempted all right. And Fat Tuesday was the perfect occasion! And I was being encouraged by my brothers and my philosophy professor to conquer that bowl: 1 gallon of beef soup, 1 pound of noodles, and then the meat!

But something wouldn’t let me do this. Something told me to pass it up and stay away. Something told me this was a travesty.

It was my conscience, and it said this was a classic case of gluttony and pride.

Here it was: a giant amount of food for one person, that could feed five! There are families out there who would beg to have a single noodle and a single sip. And here this was…

Needless to say, the more I thought about it, the more obnoxious it was to me. It didn’t matter how many cheerleaders rallied around me; I could not because I would not. I knew that even if I killed the challenge, I would have still been the loser because I wasted all that food on myself. I don’t need 5,000 calories in one sitting. And besides, what good would I do afterward? Food coma? Wow… that’s not impressive at all.

Pathetic, actually.

And that’s when I knew I had finally started to chase virtue instead of selfishness (and I’m so glad I did!)

Keep praying for me please, so that I never turn around.

And happy blessed Easter!

Stations of the Cross

Christians around the world are now in the holiest time of year: the Triduum. The next few days are known as: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil, and Easter.

One way to help us meditate on Jesus Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection is the Via Crucis, aka: the Stations of the Cross. Please let me share with you my favorite set of Stations, by an artist named Sarah Gorss (please visit Gorss’ Flickr page for more information).

I particularly find these Stations beautiful and solemn. Their grittiness, and the fact they are made of rice paper really helps me feel how organic and alive the Lord’s suffering was. I hope you find these icons as inspiring as I do.

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[the first station: Jesus is Condemned to Death]

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[the second station: Jesus Carries His Cross]

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[the third station: Jesus Falls the First Time]

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[the fourth station: Jesus Meets His Mother]

GorossStnCross05

[the fifth station: Simon Helps Jesus Carry His Cross]

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[the sixth station: Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus]

[the seventh station: Jesus Falls the Second Time]

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[the eight station: Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem]

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[the ninth station: Jesus Falls the Third Time]

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[the tenth station: Jesus is Stripped of His Clothes]

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[the eleventh station: Jesus is Nailed to the Cross]

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[the twelfth station: Jesus Dies on the Cross]

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[the thirteenth station: Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross]

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[the fourteenth station: Jesus is Laid in the Tomb]

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[the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Lord, on Easter Sunday]

I Snuck Out For Cinderella

CinderellaPosterFull disclosure: I snuck out of seminary early today and went to see Cinderella alone. Being that I didn’t know what to expect, I was unsure of dragging any of my brothers along. And solo I went.

And I was glad to have gone alone, because then they didn’t see me cry with Cinderella.

This is the kind of film Disney will have to keep striving to match in the future (and I hope their upcoming Beauty and the Beast remake is up to the task). It isn’t a perfect film, but it’s an extremely great one! Here’s a list things that floored me:




SPOILER ALERT


—–1) I was amazed at the emphasis, over and over again, on some solid traditional virtues: courage and kindness. We see Cinderella live these twin virtues throughout her life, for love of her mother and father. We see time and time again how these virtues beautified her, because holiness is attractive!

—–2) Ella’s mother and father were exemplary. In a culture that deemphasizes the importance of family, of motherhood, and of fatherhood, I was so grateful to see encouragement here for others to work to have a family like theirs. In fact, notice that both Ella and the prince have solid childhoods in solid families that prepare them for a great future!

—–3) Kit, the prince, was actually more than just a stereotypical Disney knight in shining armor. He repeatedly reminded me of St. Joseph: chaste, humble, decisive, loyal, filial (a good son who loves his dad), gentle and inspired by Ella’s virtue and character. We see in him how every man should treat every lady, and most importantly we see him receptive to Ella’s virtue. In one scene, we hear Kit openly admit to his friend that Ella’s goodness of character greatly draws him and urges him on. I’ll say it again: holiness is attractive! And the woman’s goodness and beauty inspire the man’s love to rise and meet her standards (click here for more of what I mean).

EllaServant—–4) As Kit is to St. Joseph, Ella is to Mary. Yes, Cinderella is very Marian. Not only do we see this in both her servant’s robes and transfigured ball gown (Marian blue!), but we see it in her humility, docility, and how she served even her enemies as a handmaid (and even accepted the name they snickered at her). We see the analogy also in how she bore her suffering, her losses and sorrow, and finally: in her ravishing beauty. Her humility is most manifest when she accepts even the lost chance of being found by Kit! I was astonished to see her content with merely keeping the mere memory of Kit in her heart, pondering and cherishing it there for the rest of her life!

—–5) Which brings me to the reason why Ella’s stepmother hates her so much, and in the stepmother’s very own words: “Because you are young, and innocent… and good!” Wow, if that doesn’t say a lot about Ella’s holiness! In this fallen world of sin, we frequently are either inspired by the good and beautiful to be like them… or are tempted to destroy them! The wicked cannot stand the sight of true beauty and goodness and will try to eliminate what makes themselves look bad, and we see this clearly in the stepmother. But then you have those of us who are inspired by true beauty and goodness and try to emulate them! So that we’re all beautiful and good! [hint: don’t be like Ella’s stepmomma]

—–6) And that brings us to see the stunning beauty of forgiveness. Ella, when she sees her stepmother for the last time, offers her forgiveness… with all sincerity. Heck, we even see the stepsisters apologize to Ella! And what a virtuous way to love thy enemy. Sure, it would have been satisfying to see Ella smack them and lock them up for treason, but it was so much more inspiring to have seen her forgive them. And I argue that she could only do such a thing because she truly lived a life of love.

CINDERELLA—–7) Also wanted to point out the indissolublity of marriage: we see the Prince deliberate intensely about it, and everyone takes it as a given that divorce is impossible. Because if divorce was possible, then marriage wouldn’t be such a big deal — just marry a substitute princess for now, and then divorce her when you find the mysterious princess! Make the King happy, the kingdom happy, and avoid all this drama. But nope. That’s not even a possibility. And our culture needs to see more examples of the seriousness, beauty and dignity of marriage (and that it must not be done for selfish gain or for others’ wants!).

—–8) Bonus: the changing of the lizards, mice, pumpkin, goose and of Ella’s ballgown all reminded me of Christ’s Transfiguration on the Mount, which in itself is a preview of what we are all meant for in the resurrection. While in this earthly life, our sins and the sin of the world still scars us and mars our beauty. We find it difficult to see who each other is: miracles of God’s creation. In Christ’s transfiguration, the three apostles with Him saw God’s true beauty. In the fairy godmother’s transfiguration of Ella’s friends and dress, we see the scars melt away to reveal a miracle. And just like in the Gospel, the transfiguration doesn’t last, because it’s only meant to show a glimpse of beauty to come.CinderellaCarriage

So yes, I loved Cinderella. And I think you would too.

P.s. here are more reviews from critical Catholic movie viewers: Fr. Robert Barron and soon-to-be-Deacon Steven Greydanus.

Not The Average Joe

Today, March 19th, is the Super Solemnity of Saint Joseph, the Most Chaste Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary (phew, long title!), aka: a well-deserved break from Lent! That’s right boys and girls, today is a solemnity, which means it’s a little oasis from your Lenten penances. It’s also my patronal feast day, so I thought I’d write a post for this occasion and share some art from Daniel Mitsui:

[Feel free to click the artwork to see more about it at the artist’s site.]

The artwork above depicts St. Joseph’s second dream from the Archangel Gabriel, telling him to take Mary and Baby Jesus into exile… into Egypt to escape the murderous Herod (Matthew 2: 13-23). St. Joseph had three such dreams in all, and I’d invite you to check your copy of the Gospel of Matthew to see what I mean.

Which then brings me to why St. Joseph is not your average Joe. Instead, St. Joseph was an intense man of love, made even more intense because his beloved was the stunning and gorgeous Virgin Mary. In fact, as Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said:

“When a man loves a woman, he has to become worthy of her. The higher her virtue, the more noble her character, the more devoted she is to truth, justice, goodness, the more a man has to aspire to be worthy of her. The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women.”

In other words, the woman inspires the man on how to love her and others. In many ways, the woman’s beauty shows her man a glimpse of how ravishing her Creator is. The woman’s wisdom, intuition, faith, dignity, reverence and steadfastness hints at the level of wisdom, intuition, faith, dignity and steadfastness that the man needs to have in order to impress her. She sets the standards, and if he loves her, then he will rise.

And Mary’s standards were sky high. She was good enough for God to want her to be His mother, and her goodness inspired Joseph’s goodness. So here we see a chain: God inspired Mary, and Mary inspired Joseph. And if this logic led to the holiest of families, then we can conclude:

Ladies, get close to Jesus! Be inspired by God, be filled with the Holy Spirit, inspire the gentlemen in your lives to rise to higher standards. Don’t settle for wimps or pimps, don’t settle for idiots or cowards. Don’t settle for an average Joe. Be truly beloved.

Gentlemen, get out there and meet women who have high standards! Ask the Lord to give you the strength to rise to those heights… to the heights of being lifted on a cross and willing to die for your bride. Don’t live a wimpy or pimpy lifestyle, don’t be an idiot or a coward. Don’t be an average Joe. Be a true lover.

Now, since Mary was unaffected by Original Sin [by the Lord’s gift of immaculate conception], and since sin causes all ugliness, then we can say that Mary was truly and totally beautiful, through and through. In our fallen world, we’re always tempted to lust after the beautiful, to take it and possess it. This is a selfish thing to do, because beauty is meant to inspire us to be beautiful, and to praise the Creator of that beauty!

So for St. Joseph, I imagine devils constantly tried to tempt him to lust after his super beatiful bride, tried to make him use Mary, abuse her beauty and take advantage of her. But it never happened. He was her most chaste spouse, and he is also known as the Terror of Demons. Joseph terrified them because he never fell for their greatest temptations to lust, and so he was above their power. And whoever is above their power is close to Christ.

That brings me to my last point: what do I do with beautiful women? Do I fall for temptation and lust? Well, I used to. For a long time, and for most of my life, that’s all I did. But five years ago I started seeing beautiful women differently. Now, a woman’s beauty prompts me to pray for her. The beauty of women that demons wanted me to lust after now actually inspires me to pray — beauty turned my weakness into strength. In fact, the more captivating a woman is, the more I thank and praise God for her beauty! I ask God to protect her from lust, especially from mine, and I beg God to crown her a saint in Heaven! I ask Mary to keep her safe and beautiful, I ask any saint I can think of to watch over her, and on and on and on I pray and praise.

And in this small way I try to imitate St. Joseph. I want to be a terror of demons, a most chaste spouse.

Because I don’t ever want to be an average Joe.