Movies about Saints my way

Temptation

Salvador Dali’s Temptation of St Anthony

With the Golden Globes finished, and the Academy Awards around the corner, I wanted to publish this long overdue. I often find Catholic Saints film a bore. For fifth grade catechesis, maybe, but not much for inspiration in my faith. For Greater Glory & There Be Dragons pushed the Action and Intrigue. They attempted to make Saint stories suitable for Big Budget / Big Screen Cinema. In 2014, we had Biblical epics picked up by Directors who may have been atheists. The Gospel According to St Matthew, directed by atheist, marxist, homosexual Pasolini, is on the Vatican’s list of top faith films.

While many Catholics dream of big budget, suround sound, 3-D, nationally screened Saint films, I wonder what could be lost. Some saints might get their action sequences. Most saints are dealing with interior dilemmas that just cannot be communicated in the same manner as Big Budget / Big Screen Cinema. You might have to talk to directors who have dealt with smaller scale, intimate portrayals, accompanied by character development. On the one hand, you might limit the audience. On the other hand you might reach an audience (that wouldn’t waste their time on a cheesy sentimental saint film) for an intelligent, thoughtful, artfully crafted film experience around a particular saint.

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4 unusual, although typical priestly encounters

When random people encounter a priest, they are often ready to open up about their entire life. I find, that when I visit different parishes to preside at Sunday Masses, there is always a person or two who will briefly tell me their life story, or want to know mine.

As I am a “young” or “cool” priest, or perhaps a priest without grey hair or a gut, somehow they find me strangely fascinating. My actual ministry is to high school students at an all boys school, and so these sorts of encounters don’t happen at all where I work. Most adolescent boys like to hear stories from their teachers. Myself included. Yet, they never ask me for my vocation story, quite like the adults or elderly people that I encounter at parishes.

Just yesterday, I literally had 4 encounters that I think could virtually sum up what all such encounters.

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Profound Insights in my walk with Christ to Today.

Read the Introduction

Read Part I: My Perception of the Christ in my Youth

Read Part II: My struggle to follow the Christ

Read Part III: With Christ, I became Critical

Spiritual but not religious might be the dogma of choice my generation, but as this perspective dominated various classroom settings, I found it rather shallow and uncritical in and of itself. Jesus was, along these terms, to be accepted as another wise teacher with other philosophers, prophets, and mystics. This made it easy and convenient to dismiss the entire Gospel of Jesus should it inconvenience me. As a result, this wise teacher Jesus was not quite as subversive as it was probably intended to be. It ignored the urgency at which Jesus taught and ministered, separating the message and the deeds. Over the years I would find myself in several circumstances which become vivid in my mind, challenging me from limiting the Christ into something superficial or shallow.

The Passion of the Christ was released in movie theatres at a time when I took a Speech Class in Community College. With all the controversy across the media, and reasonable concern for anti-Semitism, the teacher allowed us a brief open forum in the classroom to discuss the phenomenon around the film. I was concerned that the person and message of Jesus was limited, in a way that limited the significance, power, and effect of the Resurrection. The students affirmed her criticism that the film was not purely and entirely historical, and I was even more troubled by this. It seemed to undermine the whole endeavor of art and imagination in general, if the only acceptable art was art verified by cold, literal, sensible data. It was as if a theology was not permitted on film because it went beyond the scope of historical facts. As I voiced this concern, it was met with confused looks.

I went on to join religious life, and continued my undergrad studies in San Diego. I took a class about the psychology of the religious experience. We read excerpts from some of the notable writers in western mysticism. I had wondered in what way the Divine was being described in semi-scientific terms, which made the Divine appear to be overly impersonal, and automatic. I think the teacher was satisfied with my criticism, but one of the students in the class was not. I have this vivid memory of her aggressive retort that I could not dare to make God into a person, because people are imperfect. I don’t know her whole story, but she was not a Christian. In fact more students in the class, who described themselves as spiritual but not religious, were more uncomfortable with my criticism.

Finally, my experience in a Philosophy of Science helped me to put the pieces together. We came across a school of thought called “Logical Positivism.” It was characterized by coming to knowledge of facts only by those things which can be verified through sensible data beyond any doubt. Based upon a rigid dogmatic acceptance of an Enlightenment exaltation of Rationalism, that would only allow things to be held as truth should they be verified through severe scientific analysis. Logical Positivism, subconsciously grips the minds of western humanity, while we postmoderns are fighting to deny it. Everyone in this class found Logical Positivism disgusting, but hard to imagine that it was not immensely influential. Even as I was reading much of our Christology texts, I found this lingering within, as the writers felt compelled to respond to “Positivism.”

Alongside some of the academic exercises that I was undertaking, my Augustinian formation was taking shape. For Augustine one of the most important images of The Christ is drawn from John 14:6, where Jesus proposes himself as the only Way to the Father. Augustine, therefore, would describe Christ as the Way on which we travel, as well as the destination to which we travel to, and our own friend on the Way. This puts some of the initiative on Christ, while recognizing our own humble incapacity to attain the Divine Life by our own meager efforts. This is also a recognition of the character of Augustinian Spirituality, of “One Mind and One Heart Intent upon God.” Sometimes Intent is replaced with “On the Way to,” to characterize the Christological focus, as well as the dynamic experience of the journey. We are, therefore, shaped by the journey, and shaped by our experience of the Christ.

At school, with a program committed to the Reform of the Second Vatican Council, we began many of our courses reading the Documents of the Council. I was amazed to find the Christological emphasis on the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation. We speak of God’s Word as revealed to us in Scripture, but the Council Fathers point to God’s Word, or God’s Revelation in the person of Christ. Jesus Christ is the fullness of God’s Revelation to Mankind. That puts the person in primacy over the inspired word, which foreshadows, and reveals the Incarnate Word.

Finally, in my Christological course, I have been mutually enriched by Ratzinger and Schillebeeckx theology, which has shaped the central concern of our course. In the past century, there has been a sincere effort to recover the message of Jesus, as if it had allegedly subsided to concerns over the nature of His person. That is, the proclamation of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels focus on the “Kingdom of God,” while the Apostolic Church focuses the proclamation on the person of Jesus the Christ. Ratzinger and Schillebeeckx manage to successfully point out the consistency and unity between the message of the Kingdom of God with the person of Jesus. Ratzinger also draws the term from Origen titling Christ as the “Augobasilaea” which literally translates as “Self-Kingdom.” Jesus parables point to His very person, while the message and challenge of that Dangerous Gospel further compels us to live with a similar unity between who we are and what we do.

I have also found myself concerned, perhaps with my own experience, in which the Incarnation or the Resurrection of the Christ as often seen as a more “Spiritualized and Subjective” events, rather then actual Historical events. The real danger, I have found is to profess the Incarnation or the Resurrection as they have actually happened. That leaves no room for us to be hypocrites or moral cowards. The Incarnation, and the Resurrection verify the Inbreaking of the Kingdom of God. Jesus, the Christ, is the verification, therefore, of God’s continuing engagement, activity, and deep affection for humankind. Jesus, the Christ, is the supreme and concrete manifestation of God’s love for humankind, in that The Christ has chosen to be with us, and to invite us to Divine Life. Further, this Christ has been Raised from the Dead to continually verify the promise for each of us.

With Christ I become critical

Read the Introduction

Read Part I: My Perception of the Christ in my Youth

Read Part II: My struggle to follow the Christ

You may recall, a few weeks ago, that I began telling my story about my journey to Christ. Instead of “searching” for God, God was searching for me. Instead of finding God, God found me. After this discovery, a lot changed.

The major consequence of my walk with Christ had begun to put me at odds with the status quo of the prevailing culture. It also gave me insight causing me to be critical of the often narrow focus of some of the leaders in my youth ministry. For all the good that they did, I was finding that what was missing actually begun to give me a greater conviction in that direction.

I returned to my senior of high school a strange person, studying Ancient Greek Philosophy and Church History while a stoner friend of mind was becoming enthralled with gnosticism. Along with some other friends of his, we spent time in the public library researching. I picked up the Jesus Seminar piece The Five Gospels, if only to read the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas. I did not find any of their conclusions startling, as if there was some Church or Jesus that I was sentimental or nostalgic for. It was easy to entertain it. However, the Gnostic Gospel was too spiritual, and the Jesus Seminar was not quite spiritual enough. Concurrently, I was reading a book about Catholicism from a Progressive Theologian that wrote almost exclusively to deconstruct and disprove every traditional doctrine. It was nice for speculation, but it was rather boring. After deeper reflection, I felt the Gnostics, the Jesus Seminar, and this particular progressive theologian had an elitist Jesus that set them above and apart from the Masses.

By the end of the year, I found that many of my non-religious classmates were becoming obsessed with end-times prophecies and the Book of Revelations. I began to find it ironic, that again there was a group of people who hardly attempted to imitate the life and message of Jesus, who felt that they had an exclusive access to Jesus. The consequence of their obsession was a rather bleak and cynical disposition toward humanity. I just had a hard time fitting in with them. It was difficult for me to agree that our actions in this life, had no connection to our relationship with Jesus.

I think it gave me a greater respect for the context of Scripture. It also gave me a conviction of the necessity for a more normative, inclusive, institutional, and culturally positive religious expression. I found that in my home parish. I found that in the Catholic Church throughout the ages. I found that in my Church throughout the world. I also found it liberating to be in a community of sinners, saints, hypocrites, and human beings, without these other exclusive limits on Jesus.

My participation in my youth group allowed something of a safe haven for me to grow in the faith, to which I had very little encouragement elsewhere. In my first few years of college, I was finding various issues that put me at odds ever so slightly. In many ways, this was an acknowledgment of an imbalanced presentation of the faith, and consequently an imbalanced image of Jesus.

Many of the charismatic Catholics in my youth group were highly influenced by Evangelical Protestant literature and culture. This assumed that there must be a hostile confrontation to a hostile anti-Christian culture. This resulted in a Christian bubble “family-values” entertainment culture, where they insisted we throw away all of our “secular” music, and instead listen to “christian” music. Often times, some of this “Christian” entertainment was like a cheap knock-off variation of a pop-culture chart topper. I had experienced Jesus in Hip Hop, even if it could not appropriately be labeled “christian” music. I also found this adversarial attitude troubling for the life of a Christian disciple. I did believe that I benefited from some of the Apologetics that I studied because of hostility that I experienced, but I found it overall severely limited to the entire Gospel message.

Second, I found their focus on an Atonement Sotieriology constricting to the entire Gospel. At youth events, they would say “Jesus died for you!” as if the suggestion was to provoke me to become a disciple. I felt myself becoming a disciple, not for guilt, but because Jesus invited me to New Life in the Resurrection. Of course, as I understood the Jewish tradition of the Paschal Lamb and the Exodus story and Passover, it gave me a new appreciation for the sacrifice of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. I was coming to see more power for our salvation in the Incarnation and Resurrection events. The locus of our salvation, as I saw it, was in the Incarnation and the Resurrection, because these events enabled us to participate in divine life. All the crucifixion was doing to some of the leaders, was teaching us how to hate ourselves, and to hate the world. The Resurrection gave us hope in a world restored to God’s Reign. I soon found that many Eastern Christians found the locus of salvation in the Incarnation.

Third, my youth group was lacking a clear conviction of the Gospel demand for Social Justice. As I studied the Gospels, the lives of the Saints, and a few contemporary Church documents, it was alarming at how our youth group was going to train us to pretend like this life did not matter. Although our youth group did not change, I think something did happen, since so many of my friends became social workers.

I have often heard it said by my elders that a High-Christology incapacitates us for Social Justice. This was hardly the case with my own relationship with Jesus. A High Christology only gave more urgency, timelessness, and relevance to the Gospel. My prayer life also became characterized by something a bit more romantic and special than I feel capable of explaining here. If God was passionate lover, that defined my passionate prayer life. Despite this intensity in my prayer, it never meant escape, only transformation for myself and for the world.

Read Part IV: Profound Insights In My Walk With Christ Today

My perception of the Christ in my youth.

I was baptized Catholic at an early age, and brought up by Irish and Italian parents, in a predominantly Hispanic cultural setting. It is nearly impossible for me to identify how any characteristic cultural images of Jesus in any of these cultures actually effected me. I chose to go to Mass with my Dad earlier, to have more time to play with the neighborhood kids who did not attend Church. We were sent through our parish Catholic school.

In the same way that I thought it was unfair that the other kids got cooler toys, I wondered if it was unfair that I would have to go to Church. It mattered a lot to my dad, although he could never articulate why. By the 5th grade, I think that I was beginning to believe that religion was becoming obsolete and useless. There were videos we watched in class of a priest explaining the events commemorated during Liturgical year, and the experience was almost as dreadful as his lame sweater. Cartoons were interspersed with this priest’s lectures, but I thought they lacked the quality of the other cartoons I watched on Saturday mornings. Likewise, the happy clappy songs we sung at Church epitomized irrelevance in my childhood world.

I was fascinated by science, the universe, and history. I used to spend hours looking at the pictures and reading the articles in children’s encyclopedia. The wonder of the cosmos often provoked my imagination in defining the games that I played. It was not clear to me how God fit into the universe, but I never imagined that some old white bearded man sat on a cloud somewhere. Further, I do not quite remember how or when I came to a broader more abstract philosophical perception of a transcendent God, it must have been somewhat early. Science had the answers, so I believed. At about puberty a growing dissatisfaction was brewing within me.

Looking back, I think I was dissatisfied with a Darwinian philosophy on life, which saw the weak necessary victims of their own weakness. I think I was also dissatisfied with my materialist beliefs in the universe that saw my existence determined by random accidents. Perhaps I felt excluded because I was not like other kids. My existential loneliness colored everything grey. I was not an atheist, but I had no indication that God took interest in our life, he was more of a scientific creator then a loving parent. I did, however, question the existence of Jesus of Nazareth, and imagined the entire bible to be a complete fabrication.

I really struggled to believe that everyone who showed up to Mass on Sunday to be genuine. I was dumbfounded that the families of my classmates called themselves Catholic as if it had no consequence on their life. Neither was I any more impressed by the libertine lifestyles of the families of the neighborhood kids who did not have a religious affiliation. I think I had a desire to experience someone with a solid, genuine, and visible conviction. I do not believe I was aware, but I was somehow a nihilist who wanted to be shaken out of it. As far as Jesus was presented during his life, he appeared to be an individual of the real kind of conviction that I had hungered for, if he was not a pure fabrication. He was killed for something that I was not quite sure what. He must have upset somebody important. I think I began to become interested in this person, but only insofar as I could eliminate non-scientific things like miracles and the Resurrection. Therefore, I perceived Jesus as merely a moral teacher of some sort, which did not make him any more relevant than any other moral teacher. Therefore, it was quite easy for me to be a moral coward when I approached Jesus, because his message and person were not intrinsic to my life. The Gospel that Jesus Christ was a little too Dangerous for me, and this helped to keep me “safe” from its implications.

Read Part II: My struggle to follow the Christ

Read Part III: With Christ, I became Critical

Read Part IV: Profound Insights In My Walk With Christ Today

Christology and my Journey with Jesus: An Introduction

To Saint Maximus the Confessor, the Theologian is primarily to be a Lover of God. For a Christian of the Eastern Orthodox tradition, it would make little sense to pursue theology, without their whole life being fully enveloped in as a disciple to Jesus the Christ. Christology, follows this same reasoning. Unlike other sciences, which claim to demand an absolute disinterest of the scientist, the one who studies Christology is convicted of the most deepest of personal interests. In our Western Rationalist context, this can almost seem pretentious, but it is even more pretentious to claim that our endeavors in Christology are of little interest. The journey of the disciple of the Christ is admitted to an adventure that can very well cost them everything. The disinterest pursuit of a purely rationalist and somewhat unemotional or inhuman is too stale and too safe for the follower of Jesus who preached a Dangerous Gospel.

Over the course of the week, I will be publishing selections of my Final Paper for my Christology course that I took this semester. I hope this may enable many of you to take a similar assessment of your own perception of the Christ throughout your life.

Our professor wanted us to not get caught up in making this too much of an academic exercise and wanted us to be able to intelligently articulate our own story of our relationship with Jesus, because any academic exercise would have been fruitless and futile without that. He assigned us to read “Meeting Jesus for the First Time” by Marcus Borg, and have us write a critical examination of it. Simply said, the book, written by a non-Catholic, has many problems for a genuinely Catholic Christology. That critique formed the second half of the paper, and I have no intention of publishing an entire 16 page final. So I hope this testimony may be of some value for you.

Read Part I: My Perception of the Christ in my Youth

Read Part II: My struggle to follow the Christ

Read Part III: With Christ, I became Critical

Read Part IV: Profound Insights In My Walk With Christ Today