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 beautiful 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 for that he is known as the Terror of Demons. Joseph terrified and terrorizes demons 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 who demons wanted me to lust after now actually inspires me to pray — beauty turned my weakness into strength: beauty saved the beast. 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.

BONUS: There’s been a bit of debate about whether St. Joseph was a young man or old and grandpa-like. Well, here’s the theory I stand by (best expressed by Fulton Sheen on page 96 of his “The World’s First Love“):

But when one searches for the reasons why Christian art should have pictured Joseph as aged, we discover that it was in order to better safeguard the virginity of Mary. Somehow, the assumption had crept in that senility was a better protector of virginity than adolescence. Art thus unconsciously made Joseph a spouse chaste and pure by age rather than virtue…To make Joseph appear pure only because his flesh had aged is like glorifying a mountain stream that has dried. The Church will not a ordain a man to the priesthood who has not his vital powers. She wants men who have something to tame, rather than those who are tame because they have no energy to be wild. It should be no different with God…Joseph was probably a young man, strong, virile, athletic, handsome, chaste, and disciplined; the kind of man one sees sometimes shepherding sheep, or piloting a plane, or working at a carpenter’s bench. Instead of being a man incapable of love, he must have been on fire with love….Instead, then, of being dried fruit to be served on the table of the king, he was rather a blossom filled with promise and power. He was not in the evening of life, but in its morning, bubbling over with energy, strength, and controlled passion.

And for more about St. Joseph’s age, his possible assumption, and other amazing things, check Dr. Taylor Marshall’s article here.

Modesty at Mass

Recently I received a thoughtful question from up the TNTT vine…

“If the Theology of the Body teaches that our bodies are beautiful and reflect God, why must we be modest in Church?”

audrey_hepburn_type_1

[Audrey Hepburn’s quote illustrated by Alicia Vasquez.]

Modesty is not about covering up something because it is ugly. Instead, it’s about cherishing and protecting the beautiful, especially about safeguarding love and respect. Since Woman (and all things women) is the more beautiful sex, there is an emphasis to safeguard her. Women do this by dressing and behaving appropriately to help others see that there is more beauty to them than just their skin and hair (because it’s so easy to stop just there).

Since women are so attractive, it is easy for men to get caught up in the physical and external looks. By dressing and behaving modestly, they are helping others find where their true beauty is. I like to remind myself with this quote: “The most beautiful part of a woman is her.” Meaning ALL OF HER. The moment we focus on just one aspect of her person, is the moment we objectify her and abuse her. Her whole person (body, soul, mind and heart) is beautiful, and modesty helps us find that total beauty by guiding our attention to her as a person instead of getting caught up in and stopping at the external beauty. Modesty helps us treat others and ourselves with the dignity and respect we all deserve. Modesty done right, it makes us free and happy!

At Mass, we also dress modestly* to help others find where the true beauty is… where Beauty Himself is: Jesus (God). After all, God invented beauty itself! He is Beauty itself! And everything that is beautiful is only beautiful because He knows how to make it that way. So if we behaved and dressed immodestly, we are not just disrespecting ourselves, but God (because we’re distracting others from realizing where Beauty is).

Here are two posts I wrote before addressing this question:

Even the Blind See Her Beauty

How Women in Veils Inspire Males Like Me.

I hope that helps!

*Note: dressing modestly does not mean making yourself look ugly! It means having good taste, class and dignity. For tips about this, I recommend these:

1) Verily Magazine (yes, I do read this once in a while and not ashamed about it!)

2) Leah Darrow (once competed on America’s Next Top Model)

3) And a whole bunch of short articles about Modesty from ChastityProject.com (by Crystallina and Jason Evert)

A Look-See at Lucy

Lucy-BannerWhen the first Lucy trailer hit my face, I was about to scream plagiarism!

On a warm autumn day in 2002, I daydreamed about a girl who had an accident that fully unleashed her mind. From then on, the scenes of how she would live played out in my imagination… and eventually give rise to the raw origins of my novel: Little Miss Lucifer.

I wasn’t worried though, and am not even threatened by Lucy. The story is way different. But even so, after spoiling it by reading the plot on Wikipedia, I still wanted to see what director Luc Besson could do with such a character. Here’s what I think of Lucy:

[SPOILER ALERT]

Saint Lucy1) First, the name of the film and Johansson’s character is — you guessed it — Lucy. But who was the person who popularized that name? Who is the person who every “Lucy” afterwards was named after? Well, like most names we have in English today, those names belonged to saints who launched them into popular use. Think of MaryAndrewJohn, and yep… Lucy.

Saint Lucy was a young Christian woman who was persecuted for her love of Jesus. One of the ways she was tortured before being martyred was that her eyes were ripped out from her face. Many icons of St. Lucy depict her holding her two eyeballs in a dish.

But here’s how this relates to the movie: In Latin, the “lu” in the name Lucy refers to “light,” as in “luminous” or “luster”. When St. Lucy was blinded and murdered, she no longer saw created light (the light of the sun, stars, firelies and lightning), but instead became able to see the true Light of the World: Jesus Christ, the God who created all other lights. (Btw, notice all the emphasis and focus on Lucy’s eyes in the film and its ads.)

In the film, Lucy also symbolizes this as someone who becomes able to see more than light. She can see, and sense, the world we know as mystery. She even explains that time is the standard of defining reality, not us humans and our standards, but time. Now, I don’t agree with this because even time itself can be destroyed (since spacetime is only a product of the Big Bang), and if time itself can be destroyed, then what? Instead, what I take from this is that we do not define what is real or true. Instead, the film tells us that reality and truth exist apart from what we think of it. In short, the film busts relativism (the idea that something is true only as long as we want it to be, and that we can all have our own truths about reality) into smithereens!

Creation of Adam2) Lucy in the movie also amasses huge amounts of information. She and others believe that knowledge is the purpose of life. She gains the ability to time-travel, manipulate matter, teleport, and even control other people. There’s criticism out there that the film’s use of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam suggests that Lucy has become god. However, if this is the film’s intention, then it cancels itself out in a few ways. First, Lucy knows a lot about how and what things are, but she does not know why: as in why is there such a thing as the universe as opposed to nothing? Why is there life? Why does she exist? Why does she love her parents (their conversation was one of my favorites in the film)? Why is there love anyway? And what is love? Why are some things beautiful and others not? Why does beauty exist?Why does anything exist at all? Second, Lucy can do a lot, but she couldn’t even save her own body from decay. Unless there’s a sequel about her resurrection, she’s a pretty flimsy god. Third, she’s an even flimsier god since she needs a cell phone to tell her friend that she is everywhere (and more on this below). Fourth, is it really enough to know something, to know all things? If you had all the information in creation, but nobody ever existed to share it with, would that be enough for you? If you knew about love and what it was, but you were never loved by anyone, and had no one to love in return… would that be enough for you? What I’m saying is that knowledge is not the purpose of life… love is! And this reminds me of a quote from beloved Pope Benedict XVI: “For those who love, you can never have enough information” — meaning that a lover never tires of discovering and rediscovering  the beloved.

3) So, what’s up with Lucy needing to use the cell phone? In fact, what’s up with all these latest mind-movies (like Transcendence and Her) showing that untethered consciousness still needs a way to be physically expressive? Could it be because God (the real One) created us humans that way? That we need the physical to make ourselves known? That “the body alone, and only the body, can make visible the invisible” (I stole that quote from Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body). Think about it: if I had an idea, how would anyone know about it? Unless… I used my brain, nerves, eyes, hands, skin, bones, muscles, etc. to pick up a pen and write it out. Or used my vocal cords, lungs, breath, tongue and teeth to speak it out? We need our bodies, because we are our body. It’s not just something we have, it is us.

Lucy4) And back to the beauty question from #2 above: beauty is one of those realities that knowledge and information alone cannot explain. I mean, how do we recognize beauty? Why does it exist? Why is it important to us? And don’t just think of visual beauty, but think of music, flavor, fragrance, and texture! (Yes, this movie did make me think of this, after all… if knowledge was everything, why bother making it all pretty with Scarlett and cinematography?)

5) Scarlett made me notice another thing: when her roommate was gushing about her night with a man, Lucy was totally disinterested. Lucy not only didn’t care, but even mocked it. This reminds me of why some men and women in the Catholic faith choose a life of celibate chastity. I’m thinking of priests and religious sisters (aka: nuns). That’s right! Scarlett Johansson’s character just exemplified celibacy. Here’s how: priests and nuns put the ordinary and natural desire for married sexual intimacy aside and instead choose the extraordinary and supernatural desire for intimacy with God. By living celibate lives, they’re witnessing that we were not meant merely for marriage with another person, but were meant for marriage with the Person, with God who is more real than any creature, more beautiful than beauty (since He created beauty). In the movie, Lucy knows reality more than the average person and sees that sexual intimacy is not enough for her — that compared to intimacy with supreme reality, sexual intimacy is kind of a joke. [NOTE: Catholic teaching does not say that sexual intimacy is a joke (married intimacy is very holy), only that any other intimacy is incomparable to intimacy with God.] (Click here to see what I mean (these sisters went on Oprah to share their story!) (And click here for how Professor-X from X-Men also exemplifies celibate chastity.)

6) The movie starts and ends with this voiceover: “We were given life over a billion years ago…” Notice that it says we were given life. Not that life popped out of nowhere, or that we gave life to ourselves, but that it was given to us. In that case… who gave it to us? Being given something implies there’s a giver…

7) Lastly, there’s a sort of throwaway line that Lucy says when the lead police officer warns her about people dying. She says point blank: “No one ever really dies.” Now, this is a claim Christians should know very well, since we profess to believe in the Resurrection and the Life, that we will all live forever, and not just spiritually, but bodily too! So, not sure what to make of this line from Lucy since nothing else follows it up and fleshes it out.

8) All in all, I enjoyed Lucy. It made me ask a lot of philosophical questions and hinted at theological truths. It was fun, although corny at times. I’m just glad it wasn’t a waste of 90 minutes and a free admission, and I’m even more glad Luc Besson didn’t steal my idea about a girl who goes 100%. Yet, the greatest disappointment was that Besson himself didn’t go 100% on this film.

Even the Blind See Her Beauty

Once upon a hot summer day, a young man was on a beautiful beach. He saw a young woman even more beautiful – and his heart skipped, fell, and broke. He felt sorrow at the sight. Even today he feels great sorrow… only now does he know why:

Her skinny two-piece was telling me to see her body, but I wanted to see her. I couldn’t even walk up to her. I wanted to say hello and I wanted to know her name, but I couldn’t look without lusting. I broke my own heart. To save her from me, I broke it.BeautifulPartWoman

She was worth so much more than what she wore, and what she wore didn’t do her any justice. Her beauty is so great that nothing deserves to see it. Nothing. Not the rocks, the lake, the birds, trees, grass, not the sun, moon and stars – and not any person – not even her future husband! No one “deserves” the gift to behold her so.

And so I couldn’t bear to look and see her that way. How sad it must’ve made her… that she tried to share her beauty and nobody would notice it the way she deserved to be noticed. All was misunderstood and mistreated, especially herself. Her real worth and person was not realized, but was deprived.

Yet no matter how much love I had for her, I know I was even less worthy to see such beauty. I know myself – and I needed her to help me see HER and not just her body. It is not that her body is bad, but that her body is more cherished than we know. I hope and pray that one day she will be sufficiently loved, and that she knows how great and glorious she really is – even if we all went blind.

 

[First written and posted by Evan Pham on May 30, 2011]

The Girl and God

A young man falls in love with a young woman. How he is still an atheist makes no sense. She is beautiful… even the mere complexion of her skin wracks my thoughts — never mind her entire person! How it doesn’t make a believer out of him confuses me just the more…

I would tell him:

Look into her eyes and tell me they just got their color and shape because of 7,000,000+ years of human evolution. Tell me her voice is just noise vibrating from vocal cords in her throat, and that her words communicate thoughts that are merely electrical charges passing from one neuron to the next.

Tell me her hair is just like the next woman’s — the next great ape’s — and that her laughter is just some strange development not much different from hyena calls. Sit down, share honeyed tea with her and overlook how her lips kiss the porcelain — it’s nothing but the animal need to satisfy thirst. In fact, it’s all just an animal need and an animal reaction. If she was struck dead by one of many cancers, or fatally stabbed through the blood-brain barrier, just go and find another female human to perpetuate the species. She was weak, sick, and too stupid to protect herself anyways… it would’ve been bad to have her pass her genes onto the next generation.

BlackSesameKem

[Black Sesame Ice Cream: an Asian Delight]

Why bother memorizing her phone number, email address, birth date, last name, middle name, first name, saint name, favorite color, song or ice cream flavor? All of those things are random and meaningless. Her phone number is only a jumble of digits mixed by the telephone service company database server. Her email may be just the same thing as her phone number – only it was her brain instead that jumbled the mix of digits and letters. Her ancestors jumbled the letters for her names. And what’s a saint got to do with anything? Colors are merely wavelengths of invisible photons. One color is as special as the next: yellow, canary, saffron, gold, and urine color. Songs are just assortments of organized noise. If you listened to all the explosions, crashes, hushes and thunder in the universe, you would have by now heard all the frequencies audible to your ears. Anything else was already heard before in the mix… somewhere. Ice cream flavor — if nothing discussed above matters, then ice cream matters even less. What does that have anything to do with some female human that’s going to die one day and be replaced by an evolved and improved female human?

Unless… unless you love her like I do. Unless you see signs of God through her person – and by person I mean everything that is hers. Can you not realize that no chance process set her fingers so that they fit so warmly into yours? No toss up tuned her voice so that you can hear music call your name from even across busy streets. There’s no way she wasn’t thought up and nurtured by Love. Something – someone so beautiful and precious to you could never be merely a thing rolled out by an expanding universe of matter… she could only be a holy miracle.

 

 

– “To love someone means to be the only one to see a miracle that is invisible to others.”

-François Mauriac

First written and posted by Evan Pham on: April 28, 2011

The World Is Not Enough

I am thinking of some of you… perhaps most of you — maybe.

I am asking the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. The following is an actual prayer journal entry of mine from the morning of November 15th, 2013:

Jesus? how do those who used to believe in You stop believing? How would anyone un-believe after realizing the Beauty? When in unbelieving, the cessation would limit their gaze on Beauty?

BrideSilhouetteHow did they decide there was enough beauty, that they were satisfied with the world and all its temporary aesthetics? Whereas myself… in love and in need of greater and greater beauty, in hope of deeper and deeper drowning in Beauty, drowning in Her. I could never settle for the beauty of mere creation, not because Creation is cheap… no! But because She is so sensuous and luscious that I must find Her source! I must reach for it to reach it! Did man who gazed upon the blush of the moon rest content on merely gazing? Does man shrug at the tropical beach and leave perfectly happy to have seen it from afar? Does a bridegroom just married to his bride find satisfaction in merely beholding her silhouette?

What man would not hope instead to stroll the cheeks of the moon? to rest upon the beach, upon her warm sands, wade in her warm waters, wander her gardens and taste the sweets of her groves? What husband would not desire to embrace and behold fully his wife? All of her!

WeddingCoupleTunnelAll of Her! All of Beauty.
And only All will do for me.

And who does not want even more? Who would settle for less than Heaven?

And I believe in You, God, for I cannot believe that Beauty ends, as this mortal creation ends. My appetite for Beauty is too great, it is too devoted to accept that it all perishes, and perishes forever. But, it is just barely great enough to have faith that Beauty is eternal, forever.
I will only be sated with Her forever.

“If love is not forever — it is nothing.” -Saint Teresa of Avila