Forgiveness is For Giving (not withholding)

Hello! This post is unlike anything I’ve shared before: it’s an actual academic exegesis I wrote for my Synoptics class. You know how I sound when I write casually, now hear how I sound as a wannabe-scholar… (I promise, there are some really amazing things I learned and want to share with you!) The paper is based on one of my favorite verses in all Scripture, Luke 7:47: Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.

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Luke 7:41-50 (RSV)

[41] “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. [42] When they could not pay, he forgave them both. Now which of them will love him more?” [43] Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, to whom he forgave more.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” [44] Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. [45] You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. [46] You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. [47] Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”  [48] And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” [49] Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” [50] And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Introduction:

Ideally, the entirety of Luke 7:36-50, known as “A Sinful Woman Forgiven,” would be explored and discussed. However, the confines of this essay restrict us to an abridged reading covering only v.41-50, which exudes yet a great deal of wealth for faith that seeks understanding. The scene opens with Simon the Pharisee inviting Jesus to dine with him, which our Lord accepts. At table, a seemingly notorious woman approaches the Lord and begins to do him homage in the presence of Simon and others at table. Seeing this, Simon secretly criticizes Jesus for allowing this woman to even touch him, “for she is a sinner,” at which point, Jesus addresses a parable and lesson to Simon, and to us as well.

The Parable and the Pardon:

To help understand this parable in Luke 7, we must know the value of a denarius. In New Testament times, a sole denarius was a standard day’s wage,[1] and so in Jesus’ brief parable, one debtor owes fifty days’ worth of wages, whereas the other owes 500 days’ worth. Because the creditor cancels both debts, the difference between the debtors, with one owing a far larger amount, is important for grasping the message Jesus seeks to impart. Firstly, that the debtors cannot repay their debts, though the amounts owed would normally be repayable (unlike the debt owed by the unforgiving servant from Matthew 18:21-35), shows that perhaps unforeseen problems (e.g., debilitating injuries or disease) have arisen and made the debtors incapable of repayment. Allegorically, our debilitation is the sin of Adam, as well as all subsequent personal sin. Some bear greater sin than others, but all remain debilitated by Original Sin until Baptism, and then debilitated again with each following grave sin committed. Thus, sin is not merely debt but debilitation also.

Our Lord then says a peculiar thing in mentioning love with his question in v. 42, the original Greek of which is agapēsei (ἀγαπήσει) and means a love more nuanced toward willingness and commitment.[2] This is strange, for the business relationship between debtors and creditors usually do not involve love of any real sort, much less agapic love. Appreciation, gratitude and further indebtedness would be more fitting, but here actually lies the potential for love: the creditor in cancelling debt acts not only generously, but acts charitably,[3] acts as a benefactor who need not do such a thing out of lawfulness, but out of lavishness, out of love. Justice calls for the repayment of debt, but love becomes possible when a great debt is given, or rather, is forgiven as a gift to the debtor,[4] a gift of such immense cost that its giving transforms any stranger into a benefactor, into a lover, and any stranger into a beneficiary, into a beloved, for such great love moves the beloved to love freely in return. Thus, our Lord brings love into the parable of debt to reveal that the relationship is not one of economic basis, but of intimacy. He is priming Simon to “reconsider the meaning of [the sinful] woman’s actions – not the repayment of a debt, as though she were a slave girl or prostitute, but an expression of love that flows from the freedom of having all debts cancelled.”[5]

Indeed Simon understands, for Jesus responds that he “judged rightly” with his answer, but then Jesus does another peculiar thing. The Lord, while having turned to face the woman, asks Simon in v. 44, “Do you see this woman?” Jesus here is addressing Simon, but is looking at the woman, and doing so implies that Simon, though he sees the woman, does not truly see her. In asking Simon from this posture and gesture, Jesus invites Simon to “adopt Jesus’ own view of matters concerning this woman,” to see her as he sees her, to stand in his place and look upon her, to “no longer viewing her as [merely] a ‘sinner’ but as one who loves extravagantly.”[6]

Jesus’ address to Simon is also toward us, for we also should imitate the Lord in seeing others not as mere sinners, but as beloved siblings in Christ. Furthermore, the Lord is calling us to also love him and neighbor extravagantly, as the woman loves. From vv. 44-46, Luke’s comparison of Simon’s lack of bare minimum hospitality with the woman’s overwhelming hospitality is also an allegory: Jesus is the divine guest to the household of man. He visits not for merely his enjoyment or sake, but exclusively for ours, and is yet met not only with inhospitality, but even with open hostility from his host.[7] The allegory continues as Luke reveals the woman expresses love with prodigality similar to that of the prodigal father from Luke 15. Her experience of the Lord’s mercy and love moves her to go beyond basic hospitality that society calls Simon to provide, and so Luke compares in vv. 44-46 the coldness of Simon with the woman’s affections, presented here as a table for emphasis, reproduced from Brendan Byrne’s text:[8]

SIMON

I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet,

You gave me no kiss,

You did not anoint my head with oil,

THE WOMAN

but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.

but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet.

but she has anointed my feet with ointment.

With the case of Simon, as the host he should have extended courtesies to Jesus, and that would have been socially enough. Yet, the woman not only extends the courtesies, but humbles herself before the Lord in ways that would have been inconceivable for Simon to have done. Simon should have provided water for Jesus to wash on his own, should have welcomed the Teacher with a kiss and anointed his head, yet the woman not only gives water, but gives water drawn from her tears of love, and dries the Lord’s feet with her own hair, which is seen in New Testament times as a woman’s pride and glory. Moreover, the woman, like the centurion from just prior in Luke 7:6, does not consider herself worthy to kiss the Lord on his divine face, but only on his feet, and does not even dare anoint the Lord on his crown, but reaches for his feet alone. Her humility in act and her extravagance in provision show her gratitude and reflect the forgiveness she has experienced from Jesus. To forgive and seek forgiveness is an act of humility and extravagance both for the penitent and the person offended: humility because pride prohibits repentance from the sinner and prohibits mercy from the one sinned against, and extravagance because parsimony restricts atonement by the sinner and restricts charity by the one wounded.[9] The allegory deepens here and finds completion in v. 47, but before continuing, the term kiss deserves special discussion.

Of the four Gospels, only the Synoptic Gospels employ the term kiss, and of the Synoptics, Luke makes most use of the term. All three Evangelists present Judas betraying Jesus with a kiss, but only Luke presents kisses elsewhere in different pericopes: once in the parable of the prodigal, and thrice here regarding the repentant woman. The appearances of kisses is telling in Luke, since his first kiss is here in Luke 7, bestowed on the Lord by a sinner on behalf of repentant sinners, and the next kiss is that of God (through the person of the prodigal father) upon repentant sinners in Luke 15’s parable. Luke’s final kiss is Judas’. One can then read that Luke’s intent is much like how he closes some of his pericopes with open endings: what will we choose next? Will we join the celebration of the younger brother’s repentance and safe return, or stay in the darkness of resentment? Will we let the last kiss upon our Lord be that of betrayal, or will we kiss him again with love and gratitude from his forgiving us?

And therein lies the conclusion of the allegory, for in v. 47, not only has the woman shown great love to the Lord for his having forgiven her,[10] but Jesus has also forgiven us our many sins and we, as the character of Simon, have yet to show the Lord such love and gratitude. We have not been forgiven little, for we have even been forgiven for crucifying the Son of God with our sins, but then why do we love so little? And why do we love not only the Lord so little, but also our brothers and sisters who are no worse than we? In fact, we who come after the Lord’s Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension have far more to be thankful for compared to the repentant woman, and so we also are far guiltier since we have in malice sinned against the greater gift of the Lord’s full revelation. Thus, we should in repentance and reconciliation, through the sacrament of penance, express even more love than the woman here, for we have been forgiven far more.[11]

The Lord then declares to the woman: “Your sins are forgiven,” something that at this point is already obviously clear to the woman. Rather, Luke here suggests Jesus not as addressing the woman alone, but to Simon and his tablemates who were questioning the situation, and not merely to Simon and the others, but to us readers also. Jesus here is not assuring the woman of his forgiveness (for such had been done), but is declaring to Simon and the onlookers that the woman is now reconciled with God and with God’s people and should be treated and related to as such by the community,[12] and not as a “woman of the city, who was a sinner” (v. 37). The others at table, however, are not concerned about this restoration of a lost sheep into the fold, but rather turn to critique Jesus in v. 49 with words that hearken back to Luke 5:21, when Jesus earlier forgave the sins of the paralytic. How important it is for us not to follow in such critique, which may tempt us when we ourselves are grievously wounded and do not desire our offender to be reconciled with us or with Heaven. To prevent such further resentment toward a forgiven sinner, Jesus reemphasizes in v. 50 that indeed the woman’s faith has saved her and she is free to go in peace. Here, faith is not to be misunderstood as the instrument of her forgiveness, for the Lord alone forgives, but as the requirement to even seeking repentance in the first place. Faith is necessarily bound to metanoia, for “those who reject faith reject the everlasting life that Christ offers to the world.”[13] Lastly, the peace Jesus mentions in v. 50 is not limited to the woman’s personal and “‘spiritual’ well-being… but speaks of a restoration … to the full social intercourse from which she has been excluded.”[14] The woman was once lost but has now been found.

Conclusion:

Luke closes this pericope with an open ending, as mentioned earlier regarding the kisses found in the evangelist’s Gospel. Such endings challenge readers to imagine what Simon and the others at table will do, and ultimately what readers themselves will do. Will we love much since we have been forgiven much? Will we love the Lord extravagantly, fearlessly and without shame before others who may judge us as sinful and untouchable, perhaps even as unforgiveable? Will we ourselves in turn forgive others much since we ourselves have been forgiven infinitely more?

[1] Hahn, Scott, ed., Catholic Bible Dictionary, (New York: Doubleday, 2009), 211.

[2] Catholic Bible Dictionary, 553.

[3] The word forgave in vv. 42-43 is from the Greek charizomai and connotes “by way of gift,” as in charity. See: Johnson: 127, note #42.

[4] Johnson, Luke Timothy, The Gospel of Luke, (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1991), 127.

[5] Joel B. Green, Gospel of Luke, 312.

[6] Green, Joel B., The Gospel of Luke, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997), 312.

[7] Byrne, Brendan, The Hospitality of God, (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2015), 88.

[8] Ibid., 87.

[9] The parable of the Prodigal Son and Father in Lk. 15 further elaborates this nature of forgiveness.

[10] Johnson, Luke Timothy, The Gospel of Luke , 128. The woman’s love is the effect of the Lord’s forgiveness, not the cause of the Lord’s forgiveness, as can be misread in various translations. The preceding parable in vv. 41-43 also requires such a reading in v.47.

[11] Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, II-II, q. 72, a. 11.

[12] Green, Joel B., The Gospel of Luke, 314.

[13] Catholic Bible Dictionary, 764.

[14] Green, Joel B., The Gospel of Luke, 314.

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Sacred Heart of Jesus

Let me tell you the tale behind this latest Holy Smack card:

As with all of the cards, I wait for the Holy Spirit to prompt me and provide me with art and prayer to pair together into a holy card. Without the Spirit’s guidance, I do nothing. One thing that being a former seminarian has taught me is to be obedient to God’s will. And when we obey His will, amazing things happen that we could never have imagined.

With this card, I was searching for images of our Lord’s Sacred Heart. I had been on the lookout for many months, but nothing came up that rendered me speechless, until I stumbled on this blog and saw this piece. As soon as I saw Him and His heart, I knew this was the image I was always meant to find, and meant to find at that specific moment in time.

At that point, I had been going through a severe struggle in my life. Someone precious to me had been suffering in spirit and body, and like anyone who ever loved, when one’s beloved is in sorrow, one is in mourning also. Yet, when I saw this image of our Lord, the power of His light cut into my darkness. I had to find out more about the artist.

It turns out, the beaming Sacred Heart of Jesus here is a freak “accident” of flash photography! The image is a photo taken by a priest, and the blast of holy light is only a reflection of the camera’s flash. The shot was perfect, and so the priest posted it on his blog, and that’s where the digital paper trail ends, for after contacting Father, I was informed the artist is unknown, and perhaps even deceased.

And for the next four months, I deliberated and waited, I searched and listened. I found a prayer and I finished the entire card’s design, yet I still hesitated. Something was not yet in place. And then my friend shared with me more tragedy.

It was then I knew the time had come to print. The card was meant for her all along. The Lord was meant for her, His Sacred Heart was for her, the humble prayer was for her. And the card is the first to be dedicated to anyone.

Please pray for her.

Thank you, and if you happen to know the artist of the image, please do inform me so I can seek her or his forgiveness for using the image without permission.

—Updated June 8, 2018: Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus…

In honor of today’s feast, I have re-designed the prayer card (images updated below) and will be stocking up on them! Please continue praying for all to know the love of our Lord.

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Note: as with all of my cards, please know I would be honored to share them with you for free and that any donation would be appreciated to support the continued ministry.

PowerBall and Poverty

Nice try.

But dividing the 1.3 billion dollar PowerBall by America’s population will not fix poverty. Here’s why:

  1. Not only because 1.3 billion/300 million = $4.33,
  2. But because poverty is global, and worse around the world.
  3. But even if every person on earth got millions, poverty will worsen:
  4. Because nobody would work; everyone would go into retirement
  5. So nobody will grow your food, run your government, keep your emergency services going, run your schools and universities, open your restaurants, stock your favorite stores, make your merchandise, sell your wares, etc.
  6. Suddenly all that money will be worth nothing.
  7. Civilization falls apart
  8. Culture of bums
  9. Because the motivation that drives most people is making a living
  10. Besides, if Jesus did not fix poverty, what makes you think we can? (see Mark 14:3-9)
  11. There’s a reason Jesus did not rid us of poverty and suffering:
  12. Because poverty and suffering teach us that life is more than about having stuff and stuffing ourselves:
  13. It’s about loving others, which requires sacrifice to be real:
  14. And sacrifice means enduring and struggling, about putting another’s well-being before yourself.
  15. So no, money will never solve poverty. Only real love, hard work, and self sacrifice.

But having some money would be nice (so please share some my way if you win!). Money is only meant to be a tool to help with the tasks of love, work and sacrifice, not be a substitution!

Here’s the stupid (no other word for it) meme, edited:PowerBall

Zombie Theology

IAmLegend.jpgThe film “I Am Legend” is a far too underrated zombie story. It is well acted, well written, well scored and well played over all. Though a few years old now, it is still a fine viewing film, especially for the Advent and Christmas seasons (yep! you heard right, and they did indeed release the film during Advent 2007, after all). Let me show you why zombies and theology mix well here.




—SPOILER ALERT—


—–1) Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the Krippin Virus: both are good, and made with good intentions. The Tree that God made is by default good because He does not create anything less than good, because He is Goodness itself. The only bad was when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and doubted His goodness and love. They believed the lie and tried to usurp God. the consequences of this Original Sin are death, hatred, and evil in man. In the movie “I Am Legend,” the Krippin Virus is also made for good, but its consequences are too devastating to man.

IAmLegend3.jpg—–2) Season of Advent: the movie shows us that the beginning of the Krippin Virus (K.V.) outbreak was during the season leading up to Christmas time. Decorations are everywhere, and the decorations stayed up because the world fell apart waiting for a cure, a savior (magazine cover). We see that the effects of the virus are horrific
and ravaging, affecting soon all of mankind. This is an allegory for Original Sin and its consequences for all of us. The world is weary in fighting the illness of sin, with no hope of Heaven. At the same time, there are signs that God still loves us (throughout the movie). A motif representing this is the butterfly: a transformation from illness to health, from sinner to saint (i.e., same creature, different existence). So there is indeed hope, if we know how to read God’s signs, which increasingly become less and less random and more intentional. Advent is a time of waiting and preparation for Christians, and waiting for three things: a) Christmas as a memorial of Jesus’ birth, b) the coming of Jesus into our lives and hearts, c) the future Second-Coming of Jesus to judge the world in glory. And so we see int he film a perpetual advent, waiting for a cure, for salvation.

—–3) We are the infected in the film, sinners infected with concupiscence and death. Instead of destroying us in our evil (our illness), Jesus comes to redeem us. In the film, Neville does the same and seeks to cure us of our ills. Jesus is immune to our sins. Neville is immune to the virus. And Neville does not seek to wipe out all who have K.V., but rather hopes to help them, to save them.

—–4) In order to help us though, Jesus was born of a woman, Mary, who is a woman of great faith. Neville, in order to help us, also needs to be cared for by a woman of great faith. Please see points #9 and #11 for more about this.

—–5) As sin is atoned for by the shedding of blood (think of the Israelite animal sacrifices), Neville also sheds blood in order to cure us (i.e., he sacrifices himself for us, and the immunity to K.V. is in his blood). Jesus, of course is the true sacrifice who died to redeem all of us; it is Christ’s precious blood that saves us.IAmLegend2.jpg

—–6) Fisherman: Dr. Neville is shown to be a fisherman a few times in the film, either when he says “Like fishing in the dark, son” or when he is actually fishing. Now, the fisherman is a metaphor Jesus used also in the Gospels, not to mention that most of His apostles were actual fishermen (Peter and Andrew, James and John).

—–7) There is also the display of prayer in the film: Neville’s wife praying with Robert and their daughter before the family separates. We see here that the family is Christian and prayerful, devout enough to pause during an intense evacuation to petition Christ. They know who is the Lord and who is in charge (even though Neville later loses his faith).

—–9) “They won’t stop.” Neville says this toward the end of the film, realizing that the infected (the dark seekers) will not stop trying to kill him. This applies to Christian theology in that we sinners will not stop sinning, because we cannot stop on our own strength. We will live forever in our sins, unless we have help from someone above us (above sin), greater than us (greater than sin and its effects [death]), someone who is not ill (not a sinner) and has never been ill (never sinned) and cannot become ill (cannot sin). Coupled with all the talk and symbolism about “listening” and “light” and the analogy of the film to Christian theology only grows.
“I’m listening,” “the world is quieter now, if you listen, we can hear God’s plan,”: listening and finding the space, time and silence to listen in our prayer is essential. See how Neville misses all the signs God has provided for him (the butterflies), to encourage and assure him in his waning faith. See how Anna (the name of St. Mary’s mother, by the way) has learned to hear God and hold fast to Him in the darkness. See how the light works in the film: sinners (dark seekers) live and hide in the darkness, and those who are redeemed in Christ (those immune to K.V.) live in the light. Jesus, the Light of the World, is what the film is hinting at with this symbol.

—–10) “Don’t worry about a thing, because every little thing is gonna be all right…” This song is not only optimistic, but it’s the Christian way to live, because we know Christ not only was born to save us, but he died to save us, and he even came back from the dead for us! A God who loves that much, who is that powerful and close to us means we have nothing to worry about. True Christians do not worry about a thing because every little thing is gonna be all right, because the Lord is in charge — not us, not the devil, not the universe. Only Him. And He loves us.

—–11) Now if all these subtle nudges that the movie is a Christian allegory does not work enough, then there is the obvious rosary. Not only does it appear on Neville’s birthday (symbolizing Christmas, Mary, Jesus’ birth), but it also appears right at the moment when Neville is nearest to death, nearest despair. Yet, because he is meant for a mission, a woman arrives to help him bearing a rosary: the symbol and prayer of THE WOMAN: MARY, the Mother of God. This is not only important in the film, but also for us: we need the help of our mother’s (St. Mary) prayers. Jesus entrusted us to her care (John 19:25-27), and she is His mother. Think about this: she is His mommy, which means she loves Him more than any of us can, and He (because he is the perfect human being, and therefore the perfect child) loves her more than any of us can. “Never be afraid of loving Mary too much. You can never love her more than Jesus does.” -St. Maximilian Kolbe.

—–12) Finally, once at the survivor’s colony (sort of like a promised land, a haven… a heaven), the first thing we see when the gates are opened is… a church with bells ringing. And Anna and Ethan would never have made it were it not for Neville’s sacrifice: we will never make it home to heaven if not for Christ’s.IAmLegend4.png

—–13) And the date of the cure’s discovery is September 9th. If you are reading this and this date means something to you (you know who you are), then you know why this detail is important to me.

 

*Special thanks to HLD, an old friend who shared most of these insights with me years ago.

make room for Room

With all the films one can choose from, it takes a bit of effort to find movies worth viewing and reviewing. Today, allow me to recommend that you make room for “Room.” Here are my reasons why (besides being this year’s top Toronto International Film Fest’s fan fave):

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SPOILER ALERT


—–1) There’s a scene when Joy (the mother) decides to tell her son, Jack, the truth about their situation and home (which they call “Room”). This part is perhaps the most difficult to watch, because here Joy is, sharing the truth about how she was tricked, kidnapped, imprisoned and enslaved for seven years inside a backyard shed. As she shares this vulnerable and honest story, Jack, because he was told lies all his life (he is five years old at this point) about Room, the world and his mother and the rapist, does not believe her. Jack refuses to believe and throws a tantrum, even saying that he “hates her story.” Joy tries to convince her son that the world is so much bigger, grander than Room. But he denies it. He hates it.

It was at this scene I realized that we are not so different. So often, we forget how much bigger and grander the world is. We forget that there is more we do not know than of what we do know. I imagine God trying to convince us that He made us for so much more than the daily grind, the paycheck to paycheck, the latest fad and the trend of the year. He made us to live forever, and to be satisfied only with things that last forever: everlasting love, endless beauty, unlimiting truth, and eternal goodness. Who does not want that?

But instead, we deny it. We hate it. We go back to what we know and what we’re used to. We go back to a world we can control, a world we can create, buy, and sell, instead of entrusting ourselves into the adventure He customized for each of us. We go back to the lust, the ugly, the lies, and the greed. We lock ourselves up in our Room and hate His story.
Another movie that echoes this is the Matrix, where some cannot handle the truth and prefer to live a lie.

—–2) When a TV station interviews Joy, the interviewer asks if she had ever thought of telling Jack who his biological father is (the rapist). Joy’s response is great (paraphrased): “That man is not his father. A father is someone who loves and nurtures. Jack belongs to me, and only to me.”
She is absolutely right, but sadly there are many men out there who are ready to make children, but not father children. They leave their children, they leave their women, they leave so they can live as they please instead of loving and caring for their responsibilities. This standard also goes for mothers, of course, but I thought it was well said in the movie.Room.jpg

—–3) Finally, the fact that Joy not only kept her child, but nursed and nurtured him, but taught and raised him shows how right such a decision is! The thought of aborting Jack or abandoning him was impossible to Joy, inconceivable to her. She is horrified at the idea when it comes up. She explains that because of Jack, her whole life changed, her whole experience of Room changed, and that she was saved because of Jack. Her son gave her life a purpose, a meaning, a motivation: to live for someone else, to live to love another. Even though the way her child came to be was sinful and evil, Jack himself is an innocent person. The crime belongs to the rapist only. And every child is a powerful addition to the family, to all humankind. We should not judge someone because of what his parents did, nor because of where he came from, nor how he came to be. Instead, we value him because of him! And because of Him, the God Who created him!

—–4) This film is not an easy one to watch, but it is a powerful two-hours. Here’s the trailer:

Freedom Is Not Free

Today is Veterans Day (Remembrance Day in Canada). On this day, we remember the veterans who served us by risking their lives to ensure our freedom is protected.

We all know how important freedom is. People die to have it, and heroes die to give it to others (be grateful for them!). But freedom is not actually the highest value, is not the most important thing we can have. Freedom is not even actually free… freedom is a servant. Freedom is merely a slave.

Freedom is only a tool.

And like all tools, we need to use it correctly. In fact, bad things begin to happen when we incorrectly treat something: we do not use bleach to flush our eyes, we do not use sugar to brush our teeth, we do not use a hammer to trim toenails, etc. Instead, we use bleach to do what bleach does best: disinfecting things; we use sugar for what sugar does best: sweeten edibles; we use hammers for what hammers do best: fastening nails.

This logic goes for everything in life, including how we treat ourselves and other people. When we treat others with respect and dignity, we are being moral and good. When we treat others with disrespect and malice, we are being immoral and evil. We do not use people since people are not tools, but there is a way to treat them correctly.*

But as for freedom, many people treat it as the highest value, the end of all goals, when freedom is only a tool that exists for only one thing. Freedom is even useless if this higher goal did not exist. Take a moment and try to figure out what this “higher goal” is.

Answer: freedom exists only so that love can be real.

Example: if someone threatened that you must be their friend, then their friendship is not real, because they are not allowing you to freely decide to be their friend. In fact, stay away from people who do this to you!

Another example: if a man and woman were forced to marry each other, there is no freedom in their choice, and so there is no love (and for Catholics, in this case there is no true marriage).

Final example: if God made you without freewill and forced you to love Him, then that love is actually false, because in order for love to be real, you also must have the freedom to not love. (See my Lego Movie review for more about this! Worth it… trust me.)

Soundbyte: If you cannot say “no”, then your “yes” means nothing.

*So then how does someone use freedom correctly?

By freely choosing to love others, not treating others as objects, as tools, as disposable. Freely deciding to treat everyone with respect and dignity, despite how your emotions may sway or force you (because we cannot decide how to feel, and sometimes our emotions are just plain selfish).

But why should people be treated with love?

Simple: because as Christians, we believe God created all persons in His image and likeness, and we also believe that God is love. And so, all persons are made of His love. Logically then, the only way for us to live is lovingly, and the only way others should live is lovingly, and the only way we should live together is… lovingly.

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 your 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 bother 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 one 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.

P.s. Here’s another thoughtful Catholic review of the film, by Fr. Nathan Goebel.

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

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:small_millefleur_dream_joseph_color

[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.