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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The Trinity for Agnostics Part 4

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Read Part 2

Read Part 3

Trinity is very personal. Person was the term used to distinguish the Trinity in the early Church. Three persons of one substance. The substance is the communion of persons. Persons was a Latinization of the Greek Hypostatis. Hypostasis means the grounding of being. Each Hypostasis had a grounding distinguishing integrity, in much the same way that each of us do.

But even this entire philosophical processing can feel cumbersome that it is not even talked about in our Church.

Contrasting to many the pop-culture eastern mysticism, has at its heart, that the individual and personal integrity of the individual is meant to diminish until the person becomes non-existent. That is Buddhism. Self-Annihilation. Many of the self-asserting individualists who turn Buddhism into their consumer product don’t actually realize the hypocrisy in their spiritual quest. People who want the Dalai Lamas new book like it’s a trendy pair of jeans miss the point entirely.

Yet, in contrast, the Christian is to believe that we become most fully ourselves in God. We have all our personal integrity intact. We are not meant to lose it. We are, however, meant to diminish in the sense that we deny and die to our petty ego-centricism. This is not self-annihilation, neither is it self-assertion.

So we are most our own person in God’s person.

Conversely, we are most our own person in God’s communion, and in relationship to God’s communion in the Trinity. There is a relational dimension we are invited to. This is our salvation. We are redeemed from the wretched suicide of sin.

It is hard for me to describe God in his own existence. But even that is important to consider, because we are so obsessed with our own well-being. Having made it clear that God is more concerned with care for each of us then anything, we also have to shift our concern.

God existed as a communion of persons eternally, preceding any history or creation of the world. Preceding our own existence God was a communion of love. Some of the Church Fathers referred to this as a mutual indwelling of the three persons in a Pericoresis. Pericoresis was a dynamic Greek term that connoted a rotating. The strange thing for present theologians to consider is that the term implied dance.

The Triune God has engaged in a mutual indwelling dance from all eternity.

Augustine also referred to the Holy Spirit as the Unity of Charity between the Father and Son. Therefore we can say that God is Love. Therefore we can say that the Spirit unites Christians and peoples. Therefore we can say the Spirit is always moving in love in all the world.

Some of these images form a basis for reflection in prayer and theology, and they have helped me at all times. The God who is so magnificent and glorious to be conceived by my petty human mind, is the same God who discloses himself in the events in history, and particularly fully reveals himself in the man  Jesus of Nazareth, and the fire and life of the Church the Holy Spirit. God is already active before I was born, in a loving dance of unity. The Incomprehensible Transcendent Triune God existent before all ages, is the same God who cares and saves us.

The posture of the Trinity is always one of love, unity, integrity, and mercy. What then is our posture. It is always easier for us to be agnostic, because embodying compassion, charity and justice in the same way as God is always more difficult then in hiding behind the fact that we are a spiritual seeker, who is more apt at aimless drifting. When we encounter a person it demands the greatest reverence, it changes us. Therefore we must be ready to meet the aimless drifters and genuine spiritual seekers of truth with a personal encounter. God afterall, is very personal.

The Trinity for Agnostics Part 3

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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

The Trinity for Agnostics Part 2

Read Part 1

Many of the Church Fathers termed a process “Apophatic” Theology. Apophatic is a negated speech of God. It was seen in the process of coming to a deeper understanding of God, principally by denying all of your comfortable certitudes about God.

As children, we have very concrete images of God. We let go of them with age. That is normal. If we are serious in our endeavor to understand God in faith, we have to let go of our childhood faith in order to have an adult faith. We can move past the milk to the solid food as Saint Paul says.

It appears to be a dangerous endeavor, and I think many people would rather not have instant answers. Some people want to have the comfort of not having to struggle in the darkness to find God.

Moses encountered the Lord in the wilderness, after having singularly fled Egypt. It was in this darkness that God manifest. Elijah as well, imagining that he pinpointed God in the storms, whirlwinds and thunders, and God manifest in the quiet. The entire Hebrew tradition is wrought with this wonder at divine majesty, that even today, out of reverence, Jews dare not utter the sacred name G-d.

Christians had inherited this. Christians had appropriated it. In many of the instances the Bishops articulated something concise in order to draw a boundary when somebody preached a heresy that took the tradition out of balance, or out of the inherited tradition entirely.

It is not as if most of the heretics woke up one day and decided to wreak havoc on the doctrine of the Church. They probably believed that they had God down in a laboratory. What made it so problematic was that many heretics persisted in their heresy.

But so it is when we encounter someone agnostic whose wandered off with only their speculations. We presume that they have some kind of mal-intent to ruin the tradition. Maybe they are doing apophatic theology and don’t know it. Maybe that is the pilgrimage that God is guiding them on. Maybe you were there too, and God had to take you through it to get you there.

Of course, the Church Fathers do not believe that  Agnosticism is the finality or the climax. While we say that God is love, soon we get confused. We hear the word love thrown around like an old dirty tennisball. We wonder if God really loves us in all our messiness. We wonder if God really even cares, like he hasn’t sent a birthday card in a while. So we can definitely and accurately say that God is not love. The way love is defined, understood, and practiced in our day and age, tainted by lust and jealousy and greed, its really hard to understand what love is, or what we mean by God is love.

Our pilgrimage takes us to something even more spectacular, when we have some kind of solid faith that God is love in such an excellent and magnificent way that words fail. It is like an ascent. We make a positive statement of God, then a negative statement about God, then another positive statement enriched by our awe-inspired reverence for God’s glory, because our love moves us to at least say something.

Of course, some agnostics I have met are just more comfortable not committing to anything, floating along from one experience to another, afraid that should they delve too deeply and sincerely into one thing, their discovery will radically overturn their comfort, and compel them into a dangerous and lovely adventure. It could be that many agnostics are on a sincere pilgrimage, and haven’t gotten to the point where they can again confidently make assertions on God.

Obviously, as faith is a gift from God, so this leap from Apophatic or negative theology requires some sort of divine intervention. God indeed would have to speak. I believe that God did speak quite precisely and definitively in the Word, who is God, who is Incarnate in flesh, Jesus the Christ. Jesus is the fullness of God’s revelation to humankind. Jesus invites us on a dangerous and lovely adventure.

It always evokes in me, a sense that sometimes I need to be hushed in reverent silence before the Glorious Majesty of the Almighty Lord of Heaven and Earth.

Read Part 3

Read Part 4

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