Lego Movie Theology

LegoMovieWhen I first saw the trailer for The Lego Movie, I thought: “Dude, who wants to watch Legos when you can play with Legos?” But now I realize: why not do both?

So after reading the ever trusty [soon to be Deacon] Steven Greydanus’ review, I finally had the chance to see the film for myself and I noticed a few things…




—SPOILER ALERT—


—–1) The movie revolves around a tyrannical perfectionist who tries to brainwash, dominate and freeze the Lego-world into what he thinks is the perfect Lego world and society. Opposite this obsessed character is a resistance group trying to inspire people to be creative, to think for themselves and use their free will.

SheenTIMERight away, this reminded me of Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen’s talk on a Perfect World versus a Moral World: essentially, what kind of world did God create… a perfect one? or a moral one? and why?

Well, we all know the world is far from perfect. Even in the beginning, when Adam and Even sinned, we were imperfect, since why could they sin if they were perfect? In fact, even before our beginning, one-third of the angels sinned and fell from Heaven! So… if even 33.33333333 percent of the angels crashed, what in the cosmos was Almighty God thinking when He made everything?
Again, we can see here that God had two choices: make a perfect world, or make a moral world. And obviously he chose a moral world. That leaves us to ponder: WHY?????!!

Because a perfect world would mean he is a puppetmaster, an overlord, a slavedriver, a Matrix. He would call all the shots, make all the moves, think all the thoughts, and do all things done. There would be no possibility for anyone else to have freewill, self-determination, self-mastery, etc., etc…. including LOVE.

That’s right — if God created a perfect world, there would be no love, because we would all just be programmed to love, we would all merely love because we would be forced to. And if love is forced… guess what? it ain’t real. We need to be able to decide to love. If we cannot choose, we cannot love. This is why we inherently feel there’s something off about a 100% arranged marriage (some parts may be arranged, but to the point of forcing the man and woman to join against their will? that’s not gonna fly in the Faith.)
HelixNebulaSo God took the humongous risk: to create so that his children have free will. Free will for what? Free will to decide if they will love each other, to love Him back. If He forced them to love, that’s not good enough because it ain’t real. So He let us choose, and many choose not to love others, not to love Him… but those who do choose love, well then their love is true, real, free, total, faithful, and fruitful (or at least become that way eventually).

God made us with freedom not so that we can do whatever we want, but so that we can choose love. Love was worth it for God to forsake perfection. Love is always worth it for Him to forsake perfection. And if even He believes so, then we should also believe perfection is worth losing for the chance to love. And once you have real love, then the true creativity begins, because no one creates something to hate it, but to love it!

And last thing: God is the only person who can make something better than perfect… over and over, for forever. What was great, He can make even greater. What was super, He can maker superer (I know that ain’t real word), and yes… what we think is “perfect,” He can upgrade into eternity.

—–2) There’s a line in the film where Morgan Freeman says: “Sometimes you have to believe in order to see.”

Well, as awesome Freeman is, this line is not his. Saint Augustine already thought this thousands of years ago, and I just learned this a few months ago! A lot of people think we need to see something before we can believe it, like an “I’ll believe it when I see it!” kind of attitude… but actually, the reverse is more important!

If scientists didn’t believe in the logic of the scientific method, if they didn’t believe the laws of nature were consistent and non-contradictory, if they didn’t believe the facts and the data, then they would never see the truth. They would be closed to their own illusions, unable to see the intricacy and complexity of what they observe.

This also goes in our relationships: if we don’t believe our mother loves us, if we don’t believe our father protects us, if we don’t believe our siblings care for us, then we will always be suspicious of them, make up reasons to think they’re untrustworthy and lying, make up a fantasy that fits our disbelief.

Augustine and ChildThis is similar in our faith in God: if we don’t believe He is real, we will not know how to see Him. If we don’t believe he could be real, we will not know where to seek Him. If we don’t believe, we close our mind (and heart) to Him and will make up reasons that explain Him away instead of thinking more, meditating and contemplating into the deep.

And so, keeping an open mind involves leaving the window open, but also keeping the screen on… since there are always pests that want to sneak in and distract you.

—–3) Lego is successful because it teases our creativity. There’s a line that Saint John Paul II once said: “Man is, in a sense, condemned to create.”

When I first heard this, it hit me hard, because it’s so true. Our creativity is a powerful gift. We can create — like no other creature can! Our cities, stories, songs, sagas, civilizations… our arts, technology, cultures, societies… these are amazing things. Yet, at the same time… these can be a burden, a curse, a condemnation to us. How many times does an artist slave over her work? How many engineers become workaholics? Creating is laborious, tedious, and exhausting… yet our creativity drives us on (like right now… I should stop writing to get to my studies, but… just… one more… sentence!). Creativity is a mixed blessing, given to us by God. I only hope we use it for love and not evil.

LegoEnemy—–4) Finally, we see in the film an example of the best way to crush an enemy: by making him into a friend. After all, if you kill your opponent, he dies as your enemy, he dies in evil ways (assuming you are right and he is wrong) and you become his killer. But, if you can win him over, get him to understand and believe in your cause, then he becomes an ally, a friend, and the evil in him dies and leaves nothing left but love and friendship. The person is not the enemy, but it is the evil he thinks, believes and does that is the true enemy.

That’s all I got! I hope you enjoyed those insights! Thanks for reading. Now go play with some Legos!

The Anima Christi

On this day, after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, when we remember Our Lady of Sorrows, may I present the newest addition to the Holy Smack Holy Card Collection: the Anima Christi [Soul of Christ]!

This card showcases the Sacred Heart of Jesus with the Anima Christi prayer in the original Latin on one side, with an English translation on the reverse. Popular belief claims that St. Ignatius of Loyola composed the prayer, but others believe he merely popularized it. This English version is given to us by Blessed John Henry Newman — an Anglican priest who became a Catholic cardinal after researching Church history far enough and critically enough to see that the one, true Church is the Catholic Church.

Personally, I love praying the Anima Christi after receiving the Holy Eucharist.

AnimaCardLatin

 

AnimaCardBack3

 

Praying and Praising with Audrey Assad

The first time I encountered Audrey Assad‘s prayer through music, I was stunned silent. It was during an August sunset, and she was only a guest appearance during Matt Maher‘s charity concert. Before this point, she was only an unknown backup vocalist… but when she started singing her Restless… nobody wanted her to be merely a backup anymore.

Audrey AssadYesterday night I had the chance to see Audrey again on her final tour. So much of it felt like a reunion of sorts, but I also noticed and appreciated the beautiful and subtle ways she has changed since 2010’s experience.

She was not center stage this time — not even close! She put herself off to the side, and made sure icons and masterpieces of the Faith were our focus. The artwork would appear distorted at first, and only gradually become recognizable as we prayed with Audrey through song.

And she didn’t just sing, but she led us in prayer. She moved away from the mic and would let us take over — hinting to us that our voice is beautiful too. We needed to pray while she hushed.

And hushed… and hushed until she backed away from stage, unknown to us. She left us praying and praising Christ at the end, herself decreased to the point of absence, Himself increased to the point of sole presence.

It was clear she wanted to remind us that we were gathered there for Jesus — not for anyone else, not for her. Even after the whole show, she was nowhere to be found, because she wanted us to find Christ instead.

And I think a lot of us did find Him.

As my brother seminarians and I drove home after, we prayed and praised God the whole way. I really don’t think the other fans were doing anything different either as they went home that night.

Thank you, Audrey [and Bellarive!] — may Mary keep you and your beloveds close to her Son’s Sacred Heart always.

Some favorites:

“Heaven Is for Real” Made Me Cry… a little

Heaven is for RealBefore I begin, let me say first that I did not love this movie. It has great space for improvement (cinematic, theological and Scriptural), and I’m glad it didn’t cost me to watch it. Having said that, here’s a positive moment that I walked away with:

— SPOILER ALERT —

It takes quite a bit from a movie to make my eyes water. But, I’ve been noticing a winning recipe…

Mystery SisterIn Heaven is For Real, I was quite surprised they could dish it up. The scene that got me was when Colton tells his mom about his long-lost sister. When his mom asks how she looked like in Heaven, and what was her name, Colton says: “She looks like Cassie, but with your hair. And she doesn’t have a name. She said you never gave her one. She said she died in your tummy.”

This mystery sister was miscarried at such an early stage that her parents didn’t know her sex, and so left her unnamed. That part got me big. That this girl had no name. That even those who die before their birth deserve a name was evident in how brokenhearted Colton’s mother felt when she realized her little girl still went nameless.

And I hope you see how important this is. Everyone deserves a name, and God would actually give us such a privilege as to name our children for eternity. God does not directly name us… our parents do! And if we too become parents, then we name our children, and they will bear that name forever. That is the name other people will know them by, that is the name the angels will know them by… that is the name that God will know them by. Forever, into the ages of ages.

What kind of God do we have, who creates all and knows all, would allow us to name someone with a name that even He would have to use to address? He created this person! He loves this person more than any other can! And He let’s us name His beloved?!

I hope we don’t make light of this privilege.

P.s. If you didn’t notice, Adam was the first human, and he was also different from all the animals in many ways, including that he was given the privilege to go out and name everything else in creation.

["Adam" by Theresa Dawn]

The Avatar and the Pope and the Passion

KorraMy brother first introduced to me Avatar: the Last Airbender eight few years ago when it was still on TV. And since The Legend of Korra (LOK) started airing, I’ve been more and more surprised by how much goodness the two series has. Not only is the story tightly writ, but the characters also exhibit virtues (sacrifice, pro-family and pro-life) and the overcoming of struggle, as well as dealing constructively with the consequences of bad decisions. Both series are very mature, not merely for kids (in fact, there’s a lot that only mature viewers could grasp).

Anyway, I’ve been waiting for an excuse to post about the LOK, and this weekend’s season finale really gave me no way to ignore posting. Here we go…

SPOILER ALERT

PopeFrancis     1) Though the show involves reincarnation,* the line of unbroken succession from Avatar Wan to Avatar Korra hints very much at the Catholic line of unbroken Apostolic succession from Saint Peter to Pope Francis.

This is especially interesting since though each avatar is carrying on the “spirit” of the past avatars, each avatar is still unique (which seems to go against true reincarnation)! Korra is not Aang is not Roku is not Kyoshi is not Kuruk is not etc. Just like how Francis is not Benedict XVI is not John Paul II is not John Paul I is not Paul VI is not John XXIII is not Pius XII is not etc.! Each pope continues the office of Bishop of Rome (aka: the Papacy) as an individual, just like how each avatar continues the office of Bridge between the Human and Spirit Worlds (did you know “Pontiff” [one of the Pope's titles!] comes from the Latin Pontifex, which means “to make a bridge”).

And if this symbolism isn’t enough, it hit me recently that when a pope leaves office, the next pope is always a surprise choice! That’s the same with the avatar! Nobody knows who the next avatar will be, just like how nobody knows who the next pope will be. It’s all up to some unknown power (Holy Spirit!) working with the Conclave that determines the successor!

     2) Another point: at the end of the Legend of Korra’s first season, we see her being guided and nurtured by all the past avatars. This, to me, amazingly presented what we Catholics believe about the Magisterium and Church Tradition, in that all the saints and popes and bishops of the past have left us with a huge counsel that we can refer to in time of confusion regarding Church teachings. Their prayers, intercessions, writings are all available to the Church to help guide and nurture us! When I saw the army of past avatars backing up Korra in her darkest moment, I saw something very much like the Communion of Saints. It was beautiful, and we as Christians have that with us as the cloud of witnesses that St. Paul mentions in Hebrews 12:1.

[the Crucifixion of St. Andrew by Peter Howson]

[the Crucifixion of St. Andrew by Peter Howson]


     3) At the end of LOK’s third season (the 1st and 3rd seasons deal with very mature themes), I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. There Korra was, willing to sacrifice herself to save an entire people (and the world). When she was bound, the Red Lotus (like the Pharisees) fixed her limbs into a CRUCIFORM. Yes, it was not an actual wooden cross, but the X-shape is exactly the same as how St. Andrew was crucified for his love of Christ. And not only that, but Korra struggled greatly to restrain her power; just like how Jesus refused to manifest his divinity and come down from the cross… Korra also refused to enter the Avatar State. She suffered on the X (which isn’t much different from a t), and her agony reminded me of the Passion of the Christ. Even the poison that the Red Lotus inflicted on Korra was symbolic: the venom was metal based, as the nails in the Crucifixion were metal based. The venom was applied onto Korra through her arms and legs, as were the nails were driven through Jesus’ wrists and feet.

Korra on the CrossAnd finally, when Korra fell under the effects of her crucifixion, her father holds her in a way that mimics the Pieta, when the Blessed Mother holds her Son. At Jesus’ death, the devil howls and laughs in victory (presumably), only then to discover that the Resurrection is God’s last laugh against sin/death/evil. The same happens in LOK: Zaheer laughs out loud (I refuse to type LOL, even though I just did), only to recoil in outrage and horror when Korra is revived after the extraction of the metal (poison/nails) from her body.

Here’s a big difference though: Korra is greatly wounded by the persecution, to the point of being restricted to a wheelchair. Exhaustion and sadness is obvious in her eyes. She won, but certainly looks defeated — not much different from a zombie. Contrast this with Jesus after His Resurrection! He is teleporting all over, visiting His loved ones, cooking breakfast for his apostles, taking hikes and roadtrips, even sharing stories and rising to Heaven! So obviously, Korra (and the other avatars) is not presented as a god in any way. She is mortal. Don’t get it twisted.

     4) And so, I look forward to what the writers (Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko) of this series have in store for following seasons. They have not let me down these past nine years since 2005’s first series’ launch. May the Holy Spirit bless and inspire them to create greatness. I mean, they did hire the very Catholic Gene Yang (author of the Rosary Comic Book) to author the comic series that told the story of Zuko’s long-lost mother!

*a note regarding reincarnation: if it were truly real in the show (and in real life), then why bother trying to save others? It wouldn’t make a difference to save Korra, just let her pass on and return via another life (instead of having her continue to endure her present life through a broken spirit and body). Unless… unless it’s true that we are all unique and unrepeatable individuals who are worth saving at every effort. Unless… it’s actually more meaningful and more beautiful to believe that we all are special and have our own customized destinies. In short, I disbelieve the existence of reincarnation because it’s simply meaningless and not beautiful. Reincarnation shows me nothing but a vicious cycle of hopeless repetition. My Catholic Christian faith shows me that God is love, truth, beauty and goodness. Don’t mind me if I’d rather have faith in that.

**Lastly, considering the writers have already exhibited blood-bending (water), and breath-bending (air), I only wonder when bone-bending (earth/minerals) and brain-bending (electrical neural activity) will be manifest. I truly appreciate that they used these frightening prospects only to serve moral stories (and not mindless mayhem), and also have shown restraint in presenting these terrifying abuses of power.

How Women in Veils Inspire Males Like Me

[The following post is in honor of Pope Saint Pius X, whose memorial is today, and the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which we honor tomorrow.]

Ever since I rediscovered the Extraordinary Form of Mass for myself, being Roman Catholic has never been the same. In fact, three big markers pop out of my timeline of Catholic living: when I encountered the Theology of the Body, when I met Mary, and when I discovered the Tridentine Mass.

Over the past few years of attending Tridentine Masses whenever I could (each time a wonderful treat!), one of the things most noticeably distinct to me are the number of women — young and old — who don the chapel veil (aka: mantilla). I always felt different at Mass and worship in the presence of these women in veils, but I didn’t know why (or how so) until this past weekend in the most unlikely of places…

Mass at CampI was at the Midwest’s annual weekend training camp for leadership in the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement of America. Just before our opening Mass in an open field, in the humble shade of a tree and under the gaze of the morning sun, one of my dear friends beside me pulled out a white lace veil and draped it over her hair. It was out of the corner of my eye, but I saw everything in slow motion. I could not believe what I was seeing, and how it lifted my heart. Instantly, I felt a rush of reverence: if she could humble herself so much before Jesus… then how much more should I long to join her in worshiping Him! Her simple gesture to honor Christ floored me, and inspired me to show at least as much reverence.

And then, I found out she was not the only one. Throughout the Masses we shared at camp, I saw another young woman under a veil. As she approached Jesus in the Eucharist, as she knelt before our King and received His Communion, I found myself no longer able to stand before the Lord. The simple and passing beauty of the scene between the King and His daughter made me feel unworthy of beholding it so. I turned my eyes down… I wanted to crawl to Communion because my soul could sense the holiness present. My humble little heart could not handle the beauty.

I know not why it was this setting, this weekend, this event that helped me see how women in veils could help males like me worship, but I praise the Holy Spirit for the gift of this experience, for the gorgeous gift of these women. Thank you. And to further the glory of God, I asked these women to personally share with you their beautiful story…

I’m an all-in-kind-of girl, and as of that, I’ve come to realize that my inability to commit partially is both a blessing and a curse. In any case, it is most definitely the reason why I usually find myself, either, fatally wrong or unshakably confident.

My decision whether to veil or not to veil was no exception. Unbeknownst to me, my discernment process started a few years ago as casual curiosity and admiration. I didn’t have any strong feelings towards it, other than, “Wow, that’s beautiful and holy looking……. I probably shouldn’t wear it.”

But then, through my encounter with the Theology of the Body and the Blessed Sacrament, my understanding for the Church, worship and the nature of God developed — and I wanted to participate in my faith more fully.

It started with my decision to dress more modestly — by replacing my skimpy bikinis with one piece bathing suits.  I avoided controversial situations, like getting drunk while bar hopping in leotards — or just getting drunk, period. (I’m not really sure why I ever thought that it was appropriate to wear leotards as a complete outfit). But bit by bit… all these little changes restored my self image as a child of God. It helped me see myself how my Creator intended me to be. I became more aware of how I needed to represent myself as part of Christ’s body, so much so that I became uncomfortable when I misrepresented myself — and thus misrepresented Christ.

But the holy smack didn’t happen until a few months ago, when I was listening to Tim Staples, an apologist, talk about how Catholics are missing the point of Mass. It’s not just about us ‘getting fed’ but instead the Mass/Sabbath is a day, set aside to give God the praise and worship that is just.  It’s the time to fall to our knees to ask for forgiveness, grace and mercy. It’s the time to glorify Him and hail Jesus to be our true Savior.

Worship is not a matter of my feelings, it is our response to faith.

Furthermore, when I reflected on Scripture, and saw how Jesus references the Church as His bride. The pieces started to fall in place and I understood more clearly, what my Living God was doing. Day-in-and-day-out, upon that altar, He was keeping His Word. He was coming to us, as a MAN. He was offering Himself — completely and fully to us. He was re-establishing a covenant.

Jesus was all in.

[Korean Figure Skater, Yuna Kim, wears the veil.]

[Korean Figure Skater, Yuna Kim, wears the veil.]

This brought me to my knees — literally. I not only genuflected before the Eucharist, I went down on both knees. I am a mortal human that has been chosen to be a temple of God…! I was in the presence of a king. I was receiving Christ! And I wanted to do what was just and deserving of that honor.I begin to prepare for Mass differently. I hung onto every word of the liturgy. I humbly, surrendered and re-committed my life to Jesus, each and every time I received Him.I am a woman, claimed by Christ, Himself.So, what about the veil? Well, there’s no high theology here. It just made sense and was fitting. I want to submit myself before the Lord.  I want to embrace my role as a woman in the Church. The veil represents something that had changed WITHIN me. It is an outward sign of a commitment made in the depths of my heart and soul. So with unshakable confidence — I wear it…’Cause I’m an all-in-kind-of girl.

-Santa Thérèse

The beauty of the mantilla never struck me until reading Crystalina Evert’s blog on the Chastity Project; before, it had just been some weird headdress that old women and younger, presumptuous girls wore to Mass to show off their holiness.  Little did I know that those women didn’t wear those veils because they thought they were holy – it was because they needed to be holier.

Before Vatican II, women were required to wear a chapel veil to Mass in order to show reverence to the Lord on His day, as well showing the world that they, as women, were sacred enough to veil and be protected from the world around them.  The sacred should be veiled, as the Eucharist is protected in the monstrance, the tabernacle, and under the veil during Mass.  After Vatican II, the requirement of wearing the mantilla was taken out of Canon Law, and feminists in the 60’s denounced wearing it because they believed that it was a symbol of slavery to men and to the church, and so the beautiful tradition of the mantilla faded away.

When I read Crystalina’s thoughts on the mantilla, the idea of wearing one intrigued me, but I brushed it off because I didn’t want people looking at me funny or thinking I was getting above myself.  But the image of the veil kept popping into my head, incessantly and constantly.  I decided to pray about it and leave it up to God to show me what I should do, because if I was going to go all out Mary-style, I needed to know exactly why I would.  In the meantime I did some research on it.  I found that several First Ladies, including Jackie Kennedy, Nancy Reagan, and Michelle Obama, all wore veils upon meeting Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis.  If powerful women felt the need to veil themselves in the presence of the Holy See, why shouldn’t we veil ourselves in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist?  Not only does the veil show that women are sacred, it also helps you grow into your sacredness.  The wearing of the mantilla promotes the growth of virtues such as chastity, purity, humility, and modesty, all of which are exemplified in the Virgin Mary, who is always depicted wearing a veil.

[Icon by Mina Anton]

[Icon by Mina Anton]

The more I read, the more I felt that God was calling me to be more like our Mother, and to emulate her in everything that I do. Like Crystalina, I loved the idea of being covered by the Holy Trinity and being protected by it.  My boyfriend bought me a white mantilla, which is the traditional color for unmarried women, made of Spanish lace as an homage to my patron saint, Teresa of Avila.  Wearing the mantilla makes me feel like I am alone with Christ during Mass; everyone else melts away, and it’s just me and my maker. I feel more alert, more open, more joyful, and even excited when I get the chance to put it on. I feel even more excited when people ask me about it, because it gives me a chance to share my love for the Holy Family and Holy Trinity.  I love the feel of the lace on my hair, like the caress of a parent’s hand on their child’s head.  I love the way the veil frames my line of vision when I look at the Eucharist.  And I love being able to grow closer to my heavenly Father and my Blessed Mother.

-ANonymous

“And this is why the female body should be veiled because everything which is sacred calls for veiling. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, he veiled his face. Why did he veil his face? Because he had spoken to God and at that very moment there was a sacredness that called for veiling… Veiling indicates sacredness and it is a special privilege of the woman that she enters church veiled.” –Dr. Alice von Hildebrand

More thoughts on the mantilla from around the Catholic blogosphere:

1) I Love My Chapel Veil

2) Notes from Beneath the Veil

3)And here’s a video on the veil!