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.

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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.

LML: Secrets of Homecoming (CH:03)

[WARNING: what follows is an interview that reveals the details and depths of Little Miss Lucifer: The Legend of the Exorcess. SPOILER ALERT.]

03Homecoming

—You: Obviously, the title here again summarizes what’s happening in this chapter, right? I mean, the sister comes home, running and running home. I like how you describe smells, views, sounds and even what she feels. Very visceral.

—Evan: It actually came a bit from personal experience. I remember being on my feet all day, heels aching, toes all stiff, and then stepping into soft cool earth. It was amazing how good it felt, especially since it was summer and everything was so superheated. It was like a massage just standing in the soil… similar to digging your foot deep into a beach volleyball court, deep where the sand is cool.

—You: Next time I’m at the beach, I’ll have to try that. But of course, there’s plenty of beaches where you live right? Great Lakes State?

—Evan: Definitely, lot’s of water.

—You: Speaking of water, I was a bit unsure of the third paragraph in the chapter. I mean, I think I know, but it’s so very subtle… Her heart bounces between her juggling lungs – forces blood throughout their bodies. It ripples her womb’s waters. She slides her hand under her belly – cradles with one hand and braces against the wall with the other.

I’m thinking here she’s very pregnant.

Yet again, she just ran all that way home from wherever she was before, some sort of laboratory or hospital. And the setting she’s in now, rice paddies and dirt roads, tells me she’s nowhere near the city.

—Evan: If you can’t tell, I have a smile on my face. Haha, so then what’s your uncertainty? It sounds to me you’re understanding just fine! I mean, a heart that pumps blood to two bodies? A womb filled with water? A hand cradling a belly? The other hand gripping the wall?

And if you think it’s nothing short of miraculous that she could run all that way home… well don’t forget too soon what the previous chapter was…

—You: Right! Divine Intervention. I guess that sort of explains things and also leaves it a mystery. But tell me about these pieces of familiar faces at the bottom of the page. I see later that the woman is holding ceramic skeletons. Are these statues of saints?

—Evan: Is that a question? Because it sure sounds like an answer to me.

—You: Psssh! But is it the right answer?

—Evan: I hope so! That’s what I was aiming to describe, after all.

—You: And these are smashed, hence the litter, the shards, the pieces and the nettlefield. Great metaphor by the way: nettles are so annoying and painful to step on!

—Evan: Not to mention I just realized that “nettle” sounds awfully like “needle” too… wow.

—You: And speaking of similarities, I found an ambiguous sentence, and I really like it: “She stoops to touch the Virgin Mother’s cheek, brings it to her left cheek.” I mean, does the sister bring the broken half of the statue’s face to the other half? Or does she bring the broken half to her own face? Like how people touch cheeks when they say hello in some cultures?

—Evan: Actually, I prefer to leave that ambiguous. But I’d say both understandings show how beautiful some ambiguities can be.

—You: Tell me about the statues though. I see three: the Virgin Mary, Her Most Chaste Spouse, and a broken boy. Who are they, and what are the statues for?

—Evan: I’m glad you asked. It’s like when people use a phone, especially when talking with a loved one. People smile at their phones, whisper at their phones, sing into their phones, and say “I love you” to their phones – but are they showing affection for their phone? Or are they using the phone as a way to connect to the beloved at the other end of the line?

The phone is just a medium, a conduit, a fancy pair of cups tied together with string. Now that we have smartphones and video chat, the analogy gets even better: we’re human persons. Humans have ears and eyes, skin, nose and tongue – we can sense: hear, see, touch, smell and taste. And we need to. As Christians, we believe God made us and that He knows what He’s doing, that He made the physical body a good thing, and that humans need their body to be human!

So when we pray, we not only use our mind, voice and hearing, we want to use our sight and touch. We want to have beautiful eyes to gaze into, patient ears to whisper to, and open hands to hold. A statue serves that purpose. Of course, we would much rather have the person physically there with us, but it’s not always possible. Think of the times a mother remembers and thinks of her child when she folds their clothes, or when a father thinks of his child when he looks at an old photograph – that’s exactly what Catholic statues, icons and relics help us do. We don’t worship or love the object, but we use the object to remind us, to connect us with the beloved. The objects help engage more of us, not just engage our mind but also involve our bodies. As fallen humans, we need all the help we can get when we pray.

In fact, we want so much help that we pray to the saints. We know we can go straight to Jesus in prayer, but some of us don’t exactly have the confidence to do so, and some of us need to start off with an introduction. We see this sometimes when a father is upset with a son or daughter. What does the child do? He goes to his mother and asks for help, asks what he should say to Father, when and how to approach him. This basically explains why some Christians ask the saints for intercession.

Because we also believe the saints are those of us who have risen to Heaven, and they are closer (spiritually closer, and in the Virgin Mary’s case – also physically closer!) to God than we are here on earth. In Heaven, we also become more human than we are here on earth. Here, we have defects and deformities: sin, death and evil. In Heaven, we are what God made us to be: fully pure and alive, immortal and royalty. There’s a crown waiting for each of us. Thing is… do we want it enough?

—You: Wow, that makes sense… it reminds me of the phrase “smells and bells” when people think of the Catholic Mass. The priest uses incense and there are bells being rung at important moments. So, even our sense of smell is brought into use in prayer!

—Evan: And our sense of taste! When we receive Holy Communion, the flavor of bread and wine engage us. That reminds me of a time when I received the Eucharist and had a sort of mini-mystical experience. I won’t go into it now… probably save it for the later chapters.

—You: Hmmm! Interesting. I haven’t seen things that way before. I like how it’s not all intellectual, but also sensuous.

—Evan: That’s why ugly or plain churches are such turn-offs. Think about it: if God is Beauty itself, and His Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, then shouldn’t the building that we gather in be decent? If not dazzling? There’s another reason for the beauty, but I’ll also leave that for a more relevant time. Something to think about for now.

—You: Yes, and for now I’d like to know what/who “Her Most Chaste Spouse” is referring to…

—Evan: Ah… that’s one of the titles (like a nickname) for Saint Joseph: also known as San Jose in Spanish! That’s right… the city in California is named after him. We call him Mary’s Most Chaste Spouse because he loved his wife (Mary) with a superhuman and chaste love, a love that was lustless and self-sacrificing. I understood this nickname of his even better when I heard one of his other titles: St. Joseph, the Terror of Demons. Yep… he terrorizes demons. They loathe him, avoid him, and fear his holiness. Because he refused to lust after Mary, the devil couldn’t bait him. Most of us, men especially, fall into lust because we don’t have the strength or know what true love is. True love is always chaste: honest, sincere, unselfish and faithful. Think about this… Mary is the most beautiful of all of God’s creations (If you were God, wouldn’t you make your mom perfect?), and since Joseph was her husband, it must’ve been quite tempting for him to use her for his selfish gratification. But… her beauty was so out of this world, that it inspired him to love her with a love that is also out of this world.

The Holy Family
[Click the icon to visit the artist’s page!]

And the love that is out of this world is Divine Love: God’s love… holy, pure, generous, faithful, fruitful, free, and total. In Greek, this love is called Agape: the love that would sacrifice itself for the beloved’s well-being.

—You: I never ever knew that! Wow… St. Joseph. And of course then, in this chapter, the broken boy that his arms are holding is the baby Jesus, right? I like that image, almost like a forewarning of suffering… like the child will suffer…

—Evan: I like how you out that! The Child Will Suffer. It’ll make a nice title for a future work!

—You: Haha, you’re free to use it as you please. But last question now: is that a Chinese flag hung up over the altar? Like, “a red flag of yellow stars”?

—Evan: I’m pretty sure the Communist-Chinese flag is the only red flag with yellow stars, right? Haha. I know the Communist-Vietnamese one is also red, but with only one yellow star. But yes, you’re right about the flag in this scene. It’s important to also remember that it’s communist.

—You: I see the antagonist in the story is being built up. This is a story of political struggle, too then?

—Evan: I’d say struggle isn’t strong enough of a word in this case.