All Things New

Just watched The Passion of the Christ again.

Just teared up again at only one scene.

Just watched said scene twice.

Just teared up again.

Each time.

This:


Of all the truth in Sacred Scripture, only this line from Revelation 21:5 gets me every time. I’ve written and thought on it so much (like here, about strawberries in Heaven), and yet these words of the Lord at the end of time still do something.

It’s because I have sinned. The people I love dearly have sinned. We all have sinned and  our sin has made us hideous. The world is ugly because of us. And we cannot do a thing about it. The sun isn’t as sunny because of our sin. The breeze isn’t as fresh because of our sin. The peony isn’t as fragrant because of our sin. The strawberry isn’t as sweet, the birdsong isn’t as breathtaking, and we are not as glorious as God made us to be (not even close) — all because of my sin.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s words on sin have affected me deeply this past Triduum:

SheenSin

Because I now know the horror of my past sins. I don’t know them in their full terror yet: that I will know only when Jesus makes it known when He judges me before everyone. But I do know now how ugly my sin made me. And I need Jesus to make all things new: I need Him to make me new.

*Note: Though Jesus does not speak “See, Mother, I make all things new” in the Gospels (He speaks so in Revelation 21:5), Mel Gibson’s decision to have Him say this during His Passion is very worthy. He tells Mary, His Mother, not to worry, because He will make all this suffering and sorrow into a beautiful new creation. Jesus is only beginning to re-create and renew.

allthingsnew

The Young Messiah

messiah_1sht_3k_rgbBiblical films that surprise me and move me are the only ones I recommend, and that’s not an easy thing to do since I am a very critical viewer with a high aversion to cheesiness. But I am glad to say “The Young Messiah” was worth the admission cost and worth my two hours and months of waiting. Here’s why:




SPOILER ALERT


—–1. Imagination: films like this are a great example of what St. Ignatius of Loyola calls “contemplation”, which is none other than using our God-given imagination to picture the Scriptures and put ourselves in the Biblical scenes. Doing such dedicates our mind to God, allows the Holy Spirit to help us see something we hadn’t seen before, notice a detail we didn’t know, discover God in a deeper and more profound way. Also, contemplation helps us not waste our mental power on lowly things, or in other words: dedicating our imagination and wits to contemplation keeps us from doing stupid things with it, wasting our imagination on perversions and derogatory daydreams. Your mind was made to think about beauty, glory, endless awe and wonder, lost in the infinity of God. And movies/stories like this show us how to do it: it all starts with a question, and it can be as simple as wondering how Jesus was like when He was still growing up.

the-young-messiah03—–2. Joseph: the man we see here guarding the Holy Family is no wimp, but he lives up to one of his many nicknames: The Terror of Demons. Joseph is depicted as courageous, loving, strong, gentle, and ready to die to protect Jesus and Mary. I got to see this movie with a group of friends, and it was overwhelming for us all how inspiring Joseph was in the film, especially when he tells Mary that she should not fear anything, but that the world’s most powerful and fearsome armies should fear her instead! Think about it! She is the mother of God, and God the Father custom made her to be the mother of His Son. God even honored and respected Mary enough to let her choose! So if anything were to happen to her, all Heaven’s legions would probably swarm down on her attackers.

Joseph knows how special Mary is, and he is prepared to do anything for her and Jesus. For more about this great saint, please see my post on Not the Average Joe.

—–3. Mary: If there’s one near impossible role to play on film, it’s the role of Mary. No film has depicted her up to my standards, not even the epic “Passion of the Christ” does the Queen enough justice! But this movie actually gets pretty close, and in fact is my favorite depiction of our Lady. We see her ponder in her heart about her Son, we see how humble she is: humble enough to wonder if she can bear the suffering that is destined for her little boy. Just as we see Jesus growing and increasing in wisdom and stature, we see also His mother doing the same: growing in strength needed to surrender her child to the sacrifice He was sent to accomplish.

But perhaps what made my eyes water the most was watching Mother tell Son His story. And how she described the Annunciation, the simple beauty of the moment history changed course forever, and it changed because she said “Yes” to God’s proposal. This scene is hard to discuss anymore than that, so you’ll have to just see for yourself what I mean.home_youngmessiah

—–4. And the best for last: the boy Jesus. We see Him bursting with healing, and there was such power and desire to do good, so much but I’d like to point out two events in the film. The first is when Jesus raises a boy from the dead, and not just any boy. But a boy who bullied Jesus and wanted to hurt Him. So we see here Jesus not only forgiving His enemy, but healing him also. And when the bully rises, he continues striking Jesus, beating him from where he left off. This reminds me of us: how many times the Lord has brought us back from certain spiritual death, yet we deny Him and betray Him, abandon Him and even curse Him so we can return to our miserable sins. Truly we are a tragedy when we do so, when we reject Love Himself.

Another event is when the Roman Centurion, Severus, has caught the boy Jesus at last. There really is no escape for the Holy Family, except that Severus has seen the incredible might and goodness of Jesus. He has seen the healings, he has heard the witness accounts, and he knows that the world needs this — he himself needs this, this Jesus. You see it in Severus’ eyes that violence and death has defeated him (Severus was the one who executed Herod’s command to massacre the children of Bethlehem), and that he now wants more to life. He wants life rather than death, healing instead of killing, and goodness instead of malice. And all that life, healing and goodness was standing right in front of him.the-young-messiah-header

We should also know that by defecting on his mission to assassinate Jesus, Severus risks being reported to his superiors and then executed for treason. Severus is willing to risk his own life to let Jesus live on, and so we can see him here as a sort of first martyr for the faith!

So when we next see Severus, we see him carrying the toy camel that belonged to Jesus. It’s a relic. And it reminds Severus of the hope that this boy Jesus has brought into the world, and changed everything. Think about it: if He can bring people back from the dead, wouldn’t that change all we know about the world? If He can reverse absolute and certain death, what else can He do?! And of course we find out what more He can do at His Resurrection.

So knowing this, we also must decide if we let Jesus live, or do we kill Him? Will I let the Lord live in my life and heal me of my wounds and evils? Or will I kill Him by rejecting Him, and thereby kill myself also? Will I listen to my conscience which wants goodness and life to win, or will I listen to the Evil One and choose death and defeat?

—–BONUS: Jesus Wept. There is a scene where the boy Jesus asks an old rabbi about what happened in Bethlehem seven years ago. And when He learns of Herod’s slaughter of babies, we see tears in Jesus’ young eyes. He knows now that all those children were martyrs for Him. They were massacred to shield Him, they died so that He could bring all back to new life, and a glorious life at that. And He will make it up to them by dying for them in return, in love.

—–For a great professional and in-depth review, check Deacon Greydanus’ here.

—–More about how much Jesus knew while He was increasing in wisdom and stature.

theyoungmessiah_07-_h_2016

Reviewing The Revenant

During the little blizzard today in Detroit, I got the chance to see “The Revenant“. Though the movie is set in the winter of the American Midwest, it was a film on fire. Here are three major points in the movie worth a Holy Smack about:RevenantPoster.jpg




—SPOILER ALERT—


—–1) The misuse of Christianity: we see Tom Hardy’s character (Fitzgerald) spouting the Lord’s name and calling on God for all the wrong reasons. Most of us do this when we curse God, or use His holy name as a curse, or worse! This is extremely insulting to God, Whose name is power, love, grace, life, truth, beauty, goodness, almighty. To use His name for pathetic things, for things against His will and identity, is offensive. We also see an example of this wickedness when people use God and Christianity as an excuse to do evil: American slavery’s justification that Africans are descendants of Cain (their “mark” is the color of their skin).

In the movie, we also see misuse with the “Our Father” prayer (aka: the Lord’s Prayer) when the captain forces someone to say it under distress and threat of death. Prayer is not a tool for threatening or torturing someone. Prayer is a gift we get to have to talk with God. Its use any other way is a depravity.

—–2) But then the movie shows the correct use of God’s name and Christianity, in two ways. First we see Leonardo DiCaprio’s character (Hugh Glass) approach a Catholic church in his dream. The church is in ruins, its bell is hanging on edge but still tolling away, and its icons are aged but dazzling: it’s the most colorful thing we see all film long. We see the saints, and then we see the crucifix: Jesus on the cross. We realize that it is Glass’ son, Hawk, who is in the church waiting for his father. He holds a fire to the crucifix, letting us see the Lord’s feet.Revenant2.JPG
As Glass enters the church, he finds his only son waiting for him. We also know that his only son had died for him already, earlier in the film. The connection becomes apparent: God lost His only Son, and Glass lost his only son. Glass suffers here with God the Father. At this point, we see a connection with what Glass told his son before: “You are my son”, as in “You are my beloved Son” when God speaks at Jesus’ Baptism (Matthew 3:17). The film is truly a film about a father losing his only son, and learning to suffer with God.

Another insight about this church scene: no matter how broken down the Church appears, the Church remains a place where our loved ones can be found. In the Church Triumphant (Heaven) and Church Suffering (Purgatory, enroute to Heaven), we find reunion with those beloveds we lost. They await us! They are in the Father’s home and they are waiting; we only have to go to the Church to find them. The Church is the family of God, the body of the Lord. So next time you are at Holy Mass, realize that all Heaven is there with you. All the angels, all the saints, Almighty God is there with you, for you.Revenant1.jpg

—–3) Finally, the film shows us Glass surrendering justice and revenge to God’s control. Whenever anyone is so close to a climax, so close to completing (achieving) an intense act, it takes incredible self-mastery and will power to stop. In this case, Glass stops just short of killing Fitzgerald. He remembers that his friend had also lost his family and home to murderers, and his friend said “Revenge is in the hands of the creator.” His friend’s act of letting God be God comes back to set an example for Glass, who says here, “Revenge is in the hands of God.”

Surrendering his quest for vengeance to God is the same as surrendering our quest for justice to God. Actually, it’s the same as surrendering anything to God. When we let God have control, we are letting the person who knows everything, who knows every perspective and nuance and secret, make the call. We don’t know it all to make a good call, but He does.

We also must realize that God loves us more than we love ourselves. Hawk’s murder hurts Glass. But it offends God even more, in fact, infinitely more because God is infinite! And so His love is infinite! So murdering Hawk offends Glass, but offends God forever (unless it is atoned for and repented of). Even more: since God loves us so much and went as far as dying for us, anyone’s murder means that the murderer is spitting in God’s love, saying effectively that He died for nothing. Example: I love my wife, I love her enough to die for her. Someone comes along and says I shouldn’t die for her because she’s not worth it, that in fact she is so worthless that she should be killed. I would be very insulted, because I love her enough to die for her!

But God already did die for us. And everytime we murder, cheat, betray, hate others, we insult God because He loved enough to die for them. We are telling God that He died for worthless people.

And so, Glass’ surrendering of vengeance to God’s providence shows us we should do the same. And by doing so, Fitzgerald’s last taunt falls limp: he says that getting revenge will not bring back Glass’ son. Hawk is dead regardless. And that’s true…

But God can resurrect us all.

And Glass’ act of virtue (surrendering revenge to God) guarantees he and his son will rise and be together again.

—–So as you can see, you should see “The Revenant”.

—–Bonus) Anyone else get the feeling that Glass’ wife was a type of Mary? The way she whispered to him in his memories was like prayers, the way she appeared was like apparitions, guiding him and encouraging him.

—–Bonus 2) Being that the film is set in 1800s America, the church shown most likely had the Traditional Latin Mass (I just had to say it).

Revenant3.jpg

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.

My First Rorate Mass

This morning was my very first Rorate Caeli Mass (please click link for stunning photos), a unique votive Mass starting in the dark of night’s end and ending at dawn, presenting for us how we are to wait for the true Light of the world (the whole point of Advent).

RorateMass-1024x490

The entirety of the liturgy is in candlelight. The shadows of the saints adorn the vaulted ceilings and walls. The altar shimmers in the firelight. The pews and handmissals glow under the candles. Everyone has their own little censer of wax, wick and fire.

Yet the moment that moved me most was the very end, at the Last Gospel (John 1: 1-14), the same Gospel read at the end of each Tridentine Mass. But today, as I was listening to the priest read the holy words, as I was wandering lost in the Latin and in the silence, waiting in the darkness of daybreak, waiting with a church full of people, waiting with my dwindling candlestick succumbing to the dark, waiting… waiting to genuflect at the very moment THE WORD WAS MADE FLESH.

My knee hits the floor.Nativity by Rembrandt.jpg

And then I understood. God Himself came down from Heaven and hit the ground. He covered Himself in the dust of earth, clothed Himself in the mortality of man, smothered Himself in our fallen nature. Touchdown: the Lord touched the ground, touched Creation and began His reclamation. He wore our worn world, but adorned you and me with Himself, with Divinity. And the least we could do was genuflect when we remember He did all this to be with us (Emmanuel), and for us to be with Him.

The world waited for the moment THE WORD WAS MADE FLESH. And the girl the world waited for, and for her yes. The pathetic candlelights waiting for the sun. The blind and those in darkness waiting to wake. Hopeless and helpless sinners waiting for more to life, waiting for a way to become saints. All of us waiting for a way to Heaven.

Let’s stop waiting.

Because it’s all been accomplished. All that’s left to be done is for you and me to decide: will we say yes, too?

Merry soon Christmas.

*All this meaning in the simple gesture of genuflecting…

**More awesome photos of Rorate Masses around the country.

img_0518