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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Are you an inflated self-important speaker or presenter? with a bonus list of 12 helpful hints

I have had a lot of bad experience of Presenters, Speakers and Teachers over the years that I thought to write about this. You know, the Student Presenters who are given a ten minute time slot to present, and then complete 25% of their presentation in that ten, and insist that they have many additional important things to conclude? You know, the professor who goes over the ending time of class, or even worse the break time, and will not extend the break? You know, the audience isn’t desperate to hear, but the speaker is certainly desperate to speak, and even more desperate for everyone to understand it?

I am not talking about the Professor who is overly (or obsessively) passionate about their topic and wants others to share in that passion. It is very different. It is a Teacher (or any of the above) that is obsessively convinced that their topic is of urgency and significance, and were it not for that Teacher, they would be lost. Simply, the Speaker is convinced that the audience is bereft of knowledge or abilities without the speakers comprehensive life-saving presentation. Maybe it’s a Messiah complex that has little regard to the audience or assembly’s capacity to receive the message, but it is certainly about the Teachers desperate neediness to be the herald of some perceived significance.

Most Public Presentations Are Awful

For instance, a student, or a group of students, present on historical developments of liturgical music in Christianity. There is a 10 min requirement, with a few extra for questions. One student is well versed on the topic with a great degree of depth. For the sake of saving his classmates, or for the sake of illumining the ignorant, the student feels compelled to elaborate with wordy powerpoint slides, and address some more obscure, complex details of liturgical music. He goes well over with wordy powerpoints, and obscure complexities, disconnected from any concern of anyone in the classroom.

The fact is, we live in an information overload age, where people are adept at tuning out uninteresting data. Likewise they are exhausted from massive amounts of data impounding and invading their lives. Not only are people more technologically literate and well connected, it is more important that people are connected to the resources that matter. Rather then your audience becoming immediately proficient in your passions, it is more important that they know where to turn to access more meaningful data. Most of all, people will be looking for an idea or two to take with them. This boils down to each person probably not absorbing 80%-90% of whatever you say. If they are not being tested on it, perhaps they will not retain 95% of what you say. If you have nothing relevant they will not remember anything.

Desperately Needy Messiah Complex Preachers.

If you are, however, about the work of the Gospel, keeping in mind all of the practical things I have said, I have to add to it. I have been on many retreats, where we were behind schedule, and we cut out significant personal reflection and small group process times. Speakers were convinced that they were the sole possessors of some profound life changing truth that MUST be spoken to them, even if we have to go overtime, and force them to hold out on the bathroom (so they won’t even pay attention).

If there is a message or truth that God wants to share, that you believe you are the most important person for God to transmit through, then you have a problem. If God has an important message, remind yourself, wouldn’t God’s great message or Truth, beyond your own capacity, make it’s way to their lives REGARDLESS of what you say or do? I am humbled that God trusts his Sacraments, and his Mission to such lowly incapable beings. However, I am even more humbled that God is not ANTICIPATING THAT I AM THE LAST RESORT. You, are not the last resort. If you think you are, you have a problem.

Basically it goes like this: If you insist on burdening the time, energy and anything else of your audience with your ultimately urgent message, you are saying that God is so powerless that he needs you. You are saying that God is so small, so powerless, so insignificant, that God will never be capable of unveiling whatever urgent insight or message. Giving yourself, or your message, that much credence, is idolatry.

Bonus List!

I thought I might come up with a quick list of points to keep in mind. Everything I am saying here is in reference to public speaking and presenting, and therefore whatever advice I give cannot be equally applied to faith sharing conversations between individuals or small groups. So here are some ideas and perimeters to keep you from conflated self importance.

1. God will certainly speak through you. God will say something through you, even if it is not the profound thing that you intended God to say. Keep that in mind, especially when you accidently neglect a major point, or run out of time.

2. You are NOT God’s Last Resort. You do not know the state of the souls of large groups that you are speaking to, and cannot presume to divine some sort of profound truth that will cause them to convert or whatever. God will always have a way of reaching out to people beyond you personally. Besides, thinking yourself God’s Last Resort can cause you to come off as intimidating and people will tune you out.

3. Avoid Powerpoint presentations and handouts with Too Much Information. Instead of people engaging with the dynamism in your talk, they will probably read the information you put before their eyes. I am personally against using powerpoint except for pictures or quotes.

4. Avoid filling up your entire lecture, lesson, or presentation with your words. Listening to one voice talk for too long will cause people to tune out.

5. Avoid, at all costs, going over your allotted portion of time. If people are required to sit in on, or participate in your presentation then sometimes you can consider finishing a minute early.

6. Avoid the standard manner of presentation. If you are one of many presenters in a class or seminar, they will all blend in the minds of the audience and will remember less.

7. Avoid the basic stuff. If you are presenting something around a topic that your entire class or group has studied or been a part of, cut through all the rudimentary stuff they know and get to your point.

8. Avoid Rambling. Get to your point! And on that, yeah, say your main point, or main points a few times, make a few lists (like this one here).

9. Make Dialogue, Questions & Comments important for your presentation. Each person will most remember the idea that answers or connects to their questions and concerns.

10. Learn about techniques in Public Speaking, Orality, & incorporate a presentation that engages a variety of learning styles. (For instance, some people are more analogical learners, some require more logical deduction, some require more poetry and music, etc.)

11. Surprise your audience. Give them something they have never seen or experienced, which is relevant to your topic. Something that will connect them to your idea.

12. Resources Resources Resources!!!! I can say the most important thing is, (in our technologically literate and information overload age), connect people to resources that matter.

The Trinity for Agnostics Part 3

Read Part 1

Read Part 2

Augustine refers to having valued Jesus because of what his mother Monica taught him. He probably admired the person Jesus of Nazareth for being another remarkable teacher or philosopher. I think it would bear resemblance to your average agnostic today.

If you were to take your average lapsed Catholic agnostic, and ask them about Jesus, they would probably be in agreement on many things that perhaps do not agree with the Catholic Tradition. Beyond blaming the sorry catechesis, I think it would be interesting to see the generic and harmless Jesus that can only be the product of an overly materialistic consumer society. Jesus is another self-help guru. I am sure that is how they imagine him. He had some non-religious spiritual wisdom teaching, and he was a healer just like self-help gurus are or whatever. At the same time, there is nothing compelling or urging about this caricature, who can as easily be disregarded with each new pop fad. But by and large, Jesus remains a positive person that even the agnostic has a hard time overtly disrespecting him.

The apostles were vividly struck by this man Jesus of Nazareth. He was like the prophets before him. But he was not like them. He was like the lawgiver before, but Jesus was totally something beyond that. Jesus was, and Jesus was not quite in the way they understood. The Gospel themselves clearly testify to a certain Apophatic reflection on the person of Jesus as they grappled to categorize and bracket him into what their experience knew. Another lawgiver. Another prophet. Another teacher. Another preacher. Another wonder-worker. But Jesus was not any of these things.

Jesus was the son of a carpenter. Yeshua bar Yosef, he would have been referred to. Christ was not his last name (or Joseph and Mary’s). But what was with this guy? He was nothing like his family. There was nothing that could prepare anybody for the authoritative teaching, the inspiring proclamation, and the wonders he worked among the people.

All of this turned them on their head absolutely when they saw him in glory after having been publically executed. Their lives were turned on their head. They all went to the ends of the earth to endure brutal torturous death on account of the proclamation of this wonderful event.

Jesus said that his Spirit would come upon his followers, and there was a concrete and tangible difference. Whereas the Apostles locked themselves away in terror when Jesus was captured, suddenly they had no fear in the face of similarly gruesome torturous assassinations and executions.

They baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Each of these titles corresponded to something, or someone they experienced. It was clear that Jesus was not the Father that he prayed to, but Jesus was the one with the Father. That Jesus was not the Spirit who came upon the disciples, but there was a unity.

The whole movement of the Church exploded amidst bloody persecutions. There was something alive and flamboyant at work behind the scenes. It took them a while to let their intellectual reflections catch up with their own experience and the tradition. It was clear from the beginning that there were three divine persons, each with their own solid ground and integrity. Yet, It was clear, as has always been that there is still one God.

As the Church Fathers were quite comfortable with articulations about God, balanced with an incomprehensible Divine Mystery, the idea that there God is Triune was not altogether difficult to accept. It is, unfortunately far removed from our experiences. I do believe that the magnitude of the incomprehensibility of Divine Mystery has been so incredibly undervalued publically, that many people do become agnostics. But God has acted in history. God has acted in our lives. It is quite concrete, so much so that it does not make sense to remain an exclusive agnostic for very long. Jesus, the Son of God, had flesh and blood like us. He hungered and feasted as us. And he spoke to us. He speaks to us in the Scriptures. Perhaps the Father is caring, nurturing, and providing for us. Perhaps the Spirit is moving and vivifying us likewise. It does not make sense to remain agnostic, because God is acting in our lives in a concrete manner, demanding a concrete response.

People who remain hard hearted agnostics, often will find themselves deliberated trapped, to protect themselves from hypocritical Christians. They want to see results. They want to see that following God leads to happiness, that the moral life is possible, and that they are all connected. Most of all they are craving communion, not more abstract moral theories, not more abstract moral doctrines. It is not that these have no value.

But the story of God is very personal. The story of Trinity is very personal. The Son of God is Incarnate. The Son of God has eyeballs, ears, a nose, and a tongue. The Son of God has a story, the story is our redemption, the story becomes our story, our story becomes part of his story, our story becomes the Church’s story, the Church’s story becomes our story, the Son of God’s story becomes our story. The Story of God follows with the gift of the Holy Spirit, and we can receive that gift through the Sacraments. We begin our Trinitarian Life at Baptism, in the Name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. So it becomes very important for us to be well versed in this story. It becomes important for us to reflect on our personal part in this story in the Life of the Trinity. We see our past with new perspective, and God transforms our pain into something beautiful.

Augustine looked deeply into the story of Jesus, and the story of the Church, and the story of the Communion of the Saints. He saw something too remarkable to deny, and followed his heart into the story.

Read Part 4

Creation Theology I

In the past semester, I studied Creation Theology: the area of our tradition that attempts to understand God in terms of being a creator, and creation in terms of being God’s. We explored a number of contemporary theological perspectives, including Joseph Ratzinger, and others who attempted to integrate modern scientific theory into theology. As part of this project, we attempted to understand the relevant effects of Creation Theology to us personally, and why it would be relevant to the Church today. The following two part reflection is that section of my final project that would, I believe, be important to share, and easy enough to read, without any theological jargon.

As a child, I was played with dinosaurs, and I think my obsession drew me to ancient origins. After a time, as my imagination expanded, I think I became fascinated with the entire vast cosmos. Either I would be an astronomer gazing at stars, or a paleontologist collecting dinosaur fossils. I cannot remember reasoning through Biblical Creation accounts, or when I rejected them. I did not take Genesis for granted, I took science for granted. Scientific doctrine had a more immutable and authoritative character that reasonable people must submit, and detractors were either heretics and mad.

The truth behind the Genesis story of the divine image and human dignity were not solid in my heart, and my blind faith in a simple interpretation of evolution had an effect on me in my early adolescence. Coupled with my wild imagination, I was enthralled with science fiction and confused mere speculation with certainty that we had concrete interactions with extra terrestial life. I used to invent stories I wanted to be published in comics or anime that encompassed this.

The belief that an accidental series of chance occurrences in a cruel and lonely cosmos caused my own sense of isolation from a meaningful life. I was not dignified or divine; I was a monkey, or a composition of evolved cells. Since there was not a sense of the intrinsic value of the human person, how was I supposed to accept that evolution itself was even progress? What was not to keep me from believing that we, as a species were not monkeys progressed but freak mutated monkeys?

Darwinism saw survival the privilege earned by the fit. Strength, aggression, and domination were embedded, therefore in nature. All injustices that I knew of aggression, from slavery to human trafficking, were ironically unjust, but a part of nature. The inconsistency that we question nature was unsettling to me personally. Considering that I lacked strength, aggression, or domination, I was not fit for this world, and was stuck with a meaningless life.

When I studied Biology in high school, my professor challenged my narrow dogmatic perception of evolution, and I began to see the process as much more open ended. As I came to see in my personal reflective experience, as well as the data in the class, I was shocked by the inner consistency, and almost symphonic harmony in the natural living world. I was also shocked to discovery that the earth in what had always been a simple thing, was dependent upon a myriad of complicated measurements. If any aspect were to be altered to the slight variable it would drastically transform the planet, and very likely make it incapable of life. Not only was the cosmos one beautiful harmonious symphony, it was fragile, precious, and one in a million. For the first time in my life, my idea that this was all some random, chaotic accident had fallen apart. Maybe, perhaps, there was a Creator intimately involved in the intricate patters of the universe crafting an orderly composition. I soon signed up for Confirmation, and took too studying my faith with greater personal responsibility.

Having a new understanding of the immense vastness of the cosmos additionally gave me a greater wonder at the ineffable magnificence of the Divine. My horizons of God were broadened to say the least. I would soon find, as a result, that being made in the divine image, would broaden my horizons on what exactly it is to be a human being.

Read Part II