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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Sisterhood, Reality TV about young discerners

Be sure to check out the show on LifeTime: mylifetime.com/shows/the-sisterhood-becoming-nuns

Be sure to check out the show on LifeTime: mylifetime.com/shows/the-sisterhood-becoming-nuns

The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns is a reality show on Lifetime candidly chronicling 5 20-something women discerning a call to Religious Life. I joined the Augustinians in my early 20’s, and thought I could attest to the validity of what these women go through in the course of the series. However, there were only two noticeable differences that I will comment on briefly. However, instead of commenting overall what seems true for almost anyone, I would rather comment on what I have related to in one way or another discussing each of the Sisters, and what they are going through.

“God or the Girl” Reality Show about Priesthood Discerners?

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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

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 struggle to follow the Christ

Read the Introduction

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

By the 8th grade, we studied world religions, and suddenly I became infatuated by Buddhism and Islam. At least in the way it was presented, I believed that there were many people of deep conviction out there, while my Church lacked deep conviction. I would soon find this overly ambitious as my high school classmates in public school who were Buddhists and still superficial. This only left me feeling more isolated, and there did not appear to be a single person on the face of the planet that I could talk about my spiritual intuitions. I think I felt guilty for even having them, and tried to be another reckless drug and sex obsessed teenager. Nowadays, kids cut themselves, and I often wonder if I would have too. Over the years, I found that stoners could speculate on everything, and I fit right in. I had an outlet for my spirituality for once, giving me the confidence to acknowledge what was in my heart. I also felt free to speculate on the person of Jesus, although he was almost exclusively a moral or political philosopher and revolutionary.

I had consistently opted out of going to confirmation at fifteen like everyone else. I actually believed at 16 that I would be brainwashed. I also thought the introduction of youth group at my parish would have been more lame. I always thought of youth group as a bunch of old people trying to make Jesus look hip. I cannot exactly figure out why at the time, that I thought a ‘cool’ Jesus was problematic. A few months afterward, confronted by the death of biology lab partner to a drug overdose as well as my grandfather to natural causes, I stood over the vast chasm of despair of my mortality upon the cracking foundation of a meaningless life.

Hip Hop Rapper and Singer Lauryn Hill received a Grammy. In her brief acceptance speech she said that she could not find herself until she found God. That moment still displays vivid in my memory. Several months later I would be motivated to sign up for confirmation, if at least to learn for myself in the Church as opposed to continuing to speculate with stoners. I actually thought that this would be something I would move through, onto the next religion, perhaps Buddhism.

At that time, I took up my bible, I think I started backwards from Revelations. The Apocalypse of John was always so sensational, and it was what everyone I knew seemed to be talking about at that time. I read the side notes that put the book in historical context, and it lost its mystery and vitality. I swiftly went to the Gospels, and read forward from Matthew, paying attention to the notes. I had been under the supposition that for years that the Gospels were deceptive fabrications, however, the New American Bible analysis sections made a decent case for the historicity of the texts.

My approach to the person of Jesus had been opening up in various ways. Since I was convinced that the Scriptures need not be either a literal word for word historical fact or fabricated allegorical myth, it left me some room for human and religious interpretations. I was also fascinated with the religious focus of the person of Jesus, whereas previously I assumed he had a purely moral or political mission. If I were to describe it now, the unity of the person and message of Jesus made both the person and message of Jesus more compelling than ever. Jesus claims to divinity, as well as actions of equating himself to God were more numerous than I expected. I think I had heard that Jesus was God, but I never gave it much thought. The consequence of reflecting on the Incarnation would turn my world upside down.

I was convinced that a Church youth group retreat was going to mean being brainwashed. I think seeing people returning so happy was more terrifying then anything that I had known. So despite my inhibitions, I reluctantly went. It was strange, but I was surprised to find everyone in the youth group to not be full of hypocrisy, and they were genuinely good people. Since I went to the retreat, it did mean that I was open to whatever might happen, otherwise I would not have gone. Then we had Eucharistic Adoration.

The host in the monstrance there before me, in the context of the Scriptures that I had been reading, and the reflections of the retreat invigorated me with a deep conviction: God entered into history to be in solidarity with humanity was evidence that God loved us passionately. God loved me passionately. Until then, I had accepted that there was a distant impersonal sort of God, that transcended everything, who vaguely and disinterestedly wanted us to be good to each other. The Creator of the universe was like a rationalist disinterested scientist. There was something more exciting about a passionate lover God who manifests Godself in the human person of Jesus Christ. There was also something troubling about it all. If God entered into history, God entered into my personal life. If God loved me directly, and came all this way for me, I could no longer be the hypocrite that I was. I could no longer have a disunity between what I knew deep down in my heart was right, God’s will for humanity, and the life I had lived.

I had grown comfortable with Jesus as another moral teacher. I had also been comfortable with a God that ‘accepted us unconditionally,’ which really meant that we did not have to be responsible, and that God was really not interested in our lives. Now everything mattered. I mattered. Jesus mattered. God mattered. God’s will mattered. Every other person on the planet mattered. Morals mattered. Love mattered. Heartbreak mattered. Every time I had been hurt mattered. Every time I hurt someone mattered. And this was troubling, because I had seriously wondered if nothing mattered. This new understanding was exciting, and distressing. I was horrified being handed a mission that I accepted. I do not know what got into me. What was even stranger was that I wanted all of this.

I struggled at times, even resisted this movement of grace. For the scope of four months, from May through August, nothing was certain. I seriously could not take satisfaction in things, but I desperately wanted to. It was a psychosis or something. I just could not take satisfaction in drugs or sex, and my awareness of the emptiness was immensely acute. Near the end of summer, I attended another youth gathering. In my next experience of Eucharistic Adoration, I knew it was time to commit. God’s interaction with humankind, through the Incarnation of Jesus, had consequence for this life.

Read Part III: With Christ, I became Critical

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