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.

Classic Film Biopics often portray the subject’s life through a series of episodes. Contemporary Film Biopics typically center around a crystallizing event in the subject’s life. Unfortunately, most Saint films tend to rely exclusively on the classic biopic style. For example, Lincoln dealt with the passing of legislation, rather than entire series of episodes of his life. While the Song of Bernadette (1943) attempts her entire life, Bernadette (1988) captures the apparition event. Most Saint or Pope movies employ the Classic Episodic style Biopic.

Finally, they are portrayed as spiritually unconflicted and morally uncomplicated. That is not always a bad thing, but that would not work for many of the subjects that I haveselected. When I speak of character development, there has to be a mountain in the heart that is moved by faith. There has to be some sort of challenge that they are to face, and that is more meaningful and inspiring than watching a subject never flinch in the face of adversity. I am sure that some people would like to see movies about miracles, stigmata, or zapping fireballs at pagans (see Patrick below), but were we to be approaching stories of human persons becoming saints, it might be the most effective and powerful method. Besides, when you are focusing on covering 60 years in 100 minutes, you miss a the emotion, or you miss the passion

For my proposed ideas, some I have thought about for the past several years. A few have suggestions for a director. I have no interest in suggesting actors, so that it is clear that this list is meant to emphasize how having a skilled director could do a lot more for a film than having some attractive faces.

Augustine
One of my saint film disappointments in recent times was Restless Heart about Augustine. As an Augustinian, I certainly had high hopes. The central theme of Augustinian Friendship as a communal discovery of Truth was absent. The sort of personal conversations among confidants was missing. Sometimes I wonder if you had a director like Richard Linklater, you might be able to capture some of the banter which is essential for a film portraying Augustine. It wouldn’t hurt to also have an Augustinian scholar brought on board to consult, as they do in many other historical pieces. We are, after all, entrusted by the Church with the Spiritual and Theological Legacy of Saint Augustine.

Martyrs
Almost any group of martyrs in the history of the Church could be portrayed as a compelling drama for the big screen. Unfortunately, most Catholics filmmakers are more interested in making something that is okay for children. Films have been made portraying violence while minimizing gore, this would not be that hard. I do think of Cecilia, Felicitas, or Perpetua as possible protagonists if we are dealing with early Rome. Alfonso Cuaron, of Gravity and Children of Men has taken on complicated nuanced dramas, and I could see something like this being taken on by him.

Antony of Egypt
Lets face it, the early desert monks don’t look good on a vintage kitsch prayer card. They are not pasty-skinned enough, dainty blonde enough. Think, weathered face, squinty eyed (Clint Eastwood). The Temptation of Antony is one of the oft-repeated paintings throughout art history, and I wonder what an intelligent film director would do with it, and add his twiest. Because, let’s face it, a film like this could subvert the modern cultural paradigm which sees temptation as either insurmountable or as pleasurable. Out of the other ideas mentioned, this one wouldn’t lend itself easily to lighthearted humor. David Fincher and Tim Burton are two completely different director’s, who would take this in very different directions, but could do something awesome with it.

Francesco d’Asis
Many people’s visions of Francis are as a gleeful sprite gracefully prancing around Assisi singing like Snow White to the little birdies. They completely miss the fact that he left behind his urban dandy of a cloth-merchant old man for the callous hands of a wild and rugged stone chapel. Francis was a short man, kind of like X-Men’s Wolverine. I do believe that a Francis movie can find a good way of mixing playfulness with manliness. After seeing Prince Avalanche, something I would like to find in a Francis movie, David Gordon Greene might be able to pull something similar.

Thomas the Apostle
Christianity has existed in Southern India within a century of Christ’s crucifixion. All of the Eastern Christian Churches often appear different than what we expect Christianity to be. Having a film portraying early Malabar or Malankara Christians would, in many ways, be earth-shattering for our stereotypes of Christianity as a Western Religion. This could even be an enthralling story with Thomas as a supporting character or catalyst, rather than a protagonist. Slumdog Millionaire was a joint operation in England and India, and this would be what I would hope for with something like this, however, I wouldn’t want to see Danny Boyle (who did a work about Saints in Millions), as much as a local director.

Patrick
A few years ago, I saw a Saint Patrick movie, where he was going around zapping pagans with fire. There is a desperate yearning to make a Catholic movie into a big screen spectacle. I find my heart moved by his story, and would prefer to have something more dramatic. Years ago, there was a little Irish animated feature The Secret of Kells (2009). It portrayed a group of Christian Monks creating the Book of Kells. It had its share of fairies and folklore, and was meant to be for children. I have wondered what it were like to have short stories of some of the important Irish Saints: Cuthbert, Brendan, Brigid, and of course Patrick.

Mother Theresa
Here is someone that is still in the popular imagination among Catholics, as well as some secular humanist types. Younger Catholics don’t know who she is. I admit, that I am not a card carrying member of her fan club, and there could be a moment or two in her life that is worth capturing. I am impressed that she caused a ceasefire, she got a Nobel Peace Prize. These could be instances. It is also known that she did not feel internal spiritual consolations for the last part of her life. This is the sort of thing that works good on film. I don’t know that I have an idea of a director for this one (as I am not as familiar with her), but one person suggested Parish Hilton should be cast to play her.

Bonus: Hipster Pope Benedict
Ratzinger was forced to join the Nazi youth. He deserted, broke the law by going to the seminary, and became a priest. It could be a sort of wartime star crossed romance, except falling in love with God, and perhaps enjoying beer and having a friend cat. This wouldn’t go through the rest of his life, in fact becoming the pope would be irrelevant to this story that could be wrapped up in the climactic event of him being accepted into the seminary.

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.

Some context: The sophomore class had their retreat at a Catholic Parish. During the day, we used the Parish Hall, the Church, and one of the annexed parking lots for all the activities. We had over 100 students that I was responsible for throughout the day. These encounters were with people who were around the parish, and not any of the students (or faculty members involved with the retreat). It is also worth mentioning, that I was in the Augustinian habit, and that probably had them begin to open up to me.

  1. There to open the Parish Hall, there was a man who quickly asked me to pray for him. He was there the previous day, and I had a chance to interact and greet him. This day, he probably thought he could seize the opportunity and ask me to pray over him and bless him. It often amuses me, that after mass, after the priest has just given everyone in the congregation a blessing, sometimes a person will come up to me for a blessing. I have blessed people after a young adult event, and a line of very young adults come up to me for a blessing. I think sometimes they mistake youth for sanctity, but often I have to remind them that they just received a blessing. In this case the man didn’t. The man, that morning of the retreat, ready to open the Parish Hall, asked me to pray for his family to return to the faith. As an Augustinian, I thought of St Monica. So I prayed with him on the spot for a minute, and asked for the intercession of Saint Monica.
  2. Later in the morning, a woman shouted to me from across the parking lot. She asked if I was a monk, and what kind of monk I was. I had stepped outside of the hall of 100+ students, to move my car. It was near the entrance to unload supplies, and I wanted to keep the entrance wide open. Before I could get to the car, she was already within a foot in front of me, ready to spill out her entire life story. Interjecting her attempts to tell her life story, and how she ended up in San Diego, she wanted to know what kind of priest I was, and if there was an association with the priests that staffed a St Augustine school where she was from. She continued opening up about her life, on several random tangents. I was unsure if she was going to stop to catch her breath. As a pastoral minister, I realize that many people expect me to drop my entire life on the moment of their need. She wasn’t terribly needy, she was obviously a devout Catholic. I had to remind her that I was overseeing an event (I was not just the chaplain there to say mass, I was the man responsible for the retreat, meaning if a student got injured I had to contact parents, I had to ensure they got to the hospital, etc). She literally followed me around to the door of my car, as I was apologizing to her for not being able to set aside the retreat to hear her tell her life story. It is sort of amusing when you think about it. These sorts of encounters do happen at least once at every single parish or Catholic place that I visit, they either want to tell their life story, or want my life story.
  3. During Lunch time, I had just finished saying Mass for the students in the Church, and a Fire Dept inspector was checking the extinguishers. He was ready to open up not so much about his life stories, but about some of his faith experiences. He was the sort of person, who probably rarely has an opportunity to talk about those sorts of things. As he was looking over the extinguisher, and I was cleaning up the sacristy, he was telling some of his story. He was kind of excited to meet a young priest, I don’t think he ever met a priest younger than him, which probably also made him more excited to talk about faith, religion, church stuff, sacraments, etc. Often I will meet people who are somewhat unchurched, but go to Mass with some kind of regularity. They typically favor their religion, but don’t talk much about their faith. Seeing a young priest often gets them expressing their faith. Sometimes I am told (more often by women), that I am too young to be a priest. When I meet men like this Fire Fighter, I wish that there were more young guys in the priesthood that are easy for him to open up about.
  4. Okay, this guy probably wasn’t Catholic, he probably wasn’t there for Church. He saw me in habit on the street as we went between the Parking Lot and the Parish Hall. He wanted to know who we were, and what we were doing. He seemed disturbed by the fact that we were an group of students that were all boys (almost the complete opposite of most people that I encounter). When I explained that we were an all boys school, and that we were on retreat, he responded “Retreat from what?” I could scientifically explain to him the value of single sex education from a secular perspective, and there are enough secular retreats out there. I sort of felt bad for him.

Anyways, that about sums up the four encounters, fourth being a bonus, and not your typical Catholic encounter.

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?

But first, a reminder of why this show is effective from the outset. A couple of years ago, there was an awful reality show about young men discerning a call to the priesthood (not religious life). At no time were they together. At no time were they actually put in situations of serving others or showing compassion or charity to others. One of the guys had to make a pilgrimage (Traveling across the country with no money and little resources, dependent on the generosity of others). Another had to drag a cross around in a literal imitation of Christ’s Passion (I mean really?) Dramatic demonstrations of “devotion,” are much more difficult to test commitment for attitudes and motivations than placing someone in service of inconvenient and needy people. Instead of challenges rooted in the Gospel, they were giving challenges that looked good for reality television with competitions and tests of faith. None of it entailed actual discernment. Besides, choosing Consecrated Life as a vocation is not a dichotomy between God or the girl, it is choosing your fullest self, even if romance and marriage are not part of it. None of the young men applied to seminaries after. I was impressed, because this show actually gave the young women challenges that are rooted in the Gospel, but are practical for Religious Life. I am also convinced that the producers received input from the Sisters of the convents that hosted the girls

Personal Difference One: Age

I joined the Augustinians at 22, and lived in a community of Friars that included elderly retired Friars, Friars in full time ministry, and one other pre-novice / postulant who was 19. The young man left within a few months, and I didn’t have people my age to share my journey with. The following year of Novitiate had me move across country, except I had 3 other men in novitiate with me, and only one was younger (that did not, in any way mean we got along). Nowadays I can’t count on one hand the 20-somethings in our Order across the country, and I’m not in my 20’s. I also had two good friends join the Order as I was completing formation.

Personal Difference Two: Cellphones

When I joined, I never used text messages, and smartphones weren’t the standard phone. Facebook wasn’t around. You might have made a call when you had time, and I didn’t use every night to make or receive phone calls. I never had my phone confiscated. In my first year, I was encouraged to visit my dad when I could. In my second year (in WI), I couldn’t but called him briefly at least once a week (mostly to tell him I was alive and wasn’t miserable). On the flipside, from about 16-26 many young men have an overwhelming desire to establish themselves independently, while many young women have an overwhelming desire to bond deeply with the important people in their lives. It is not that women cannot, or never want to establish themselves independently, it is that on average men more often mature by independence followed by bonding, while women do so with bonding and then independence.

Stacey, 26 NY: Sharing Your Life

When I look at young men who visit and discern with us, a major question I have is “Would I want to live with him?” We are not merely looking for people to staff our institutions, we are looking for people to share our life with. I have indicated to our Vocation Director, when we have a visitor/discerner, who would be awful to live with. One thought I have with Stacey is that she would be the person who easily passes this test. She is receptive, attentive to others, while also being lighthearted and serious. I had noticed that in someway she wasn’t being provoked by the producers to talk about issues as much, and she stood out as someone who was really present to the moment, present to the other young women, and present to the people she served in the ministry settings. Were she to have a vocation, any convent would easily be blessed to have her.

Christie, 27, CA: Intentionality & Prayer

I met this girl at a party once. She didn’t talk about Jesus visions. In fact, they played this up with her at the beginning. I do not find it unusual. I did a study on Medieval Christian Spirituality, and found something: While Male Saints tended to write systematically on Spiritual Theology, Female Saints tended to write vividly, descriptively, imaginatively and sensuously. I believe it is much more normal for men, and especially women, than this program let’s on, to experience Jesus in a personal way. In her case, it is often romantic. What I am struck by her is her focus on prayer and intentionality. She wants to spend more time in the chapel and in prayer. Often, Catholics use the busy-ness of ministry as a way to escape the vulnerability that intimate prayer requires. I have been there. But on the flipside, I have also had plenty of times, where I felt like the odd man out wanting there to be more prayer (ie suggesting repeatedly to have more Adoration, or Quiet Prayer in the Chapel as a community). I think that the producers have had a challenge portraying her as the crazy woman with the visions, because in social situations she is actually one of the most fun and well-rounded of the bunch. If she does seem like she could be more balanced (more structured common prayer), I believe that she could experience that naturally in any formation program. Again, I could easily say that she would be a blessing to any convent.

Eseni, 23, NY: Being Broken

Eseni joins this series as one of the most conflicted, in that she is currently in a relationship. I don’t think you could be accepted into any formation program if you left a significant relationship that far in the air as she did. Since she is doing a discernment program that is much different, and I don’t see her as problematic. Further, even though she often comments about trying to reconnect with God and her faith, she has also been haunted by the idea of becoming a Sister for a very long time. If you look over my tips on Discernment, I would say that she has good reason to do a deliberate discernment program as such. Whether or not she stays, it is clear her boyfriend may never understand this calling, as there are people who will never understand it. Were I to encourage her personally, I think she should open her heart to the adventure, instead of getting trapped inn expectations. For myself, I wasn’t in love with someone before I joined, but have fallen in love a few times since then. I suppose I will fall in love again. Married people fall in love with other people sometimes. Falling in love is always a reminder to make a choice with God’s guidance rather than being a slave to whims and feelings. I can also personally relate to Eseni, because she is quite aware of her brokenness, I can’t count the many times I have had to put aside my feelings of brokenness and unworthiness in order to discern. I can also relate to having a person (or in my case several), were anticipating me leaving, or giving me the ultimatum of choosing a friendship with them or my vocation.

Augies

Augustinians in formation ~2007. You can find me on the left with my arms crossed.

Francesca, 21, NJ: The Importance of Spiritual Mentors

Francesca is the youngest, and obviously the most emotionally volatile. I guess I was closer to her age when I joined then some of the other women on this show. She is made to stand out, probably by the producers, for wanting to run away, for wanting to call her family. Unfortunately, she is portrayed perhaps too unfavorably on the show. When you are in formation for religious life, you should meet regularly with mentors, a Prior, a Formation Director, a Spiritual Director. These people are there not to give you easy answers, but to help you process the difficult decision you have to make, as well as your own Spiritual & Ministerial Growth. Finally, opening up to members of your community can help you cement bonds. I remember I had a few times I would visit family during Summer or Christmas, and would get caught up in the drama of some of my old friends. Often, I felt as if I was the only student / seminarian who had to deal with the kind of stuff that I was, so it was difficult for me to reach out for understanding. Maybe Francesca has a lot to learn, and some maturing to do, but much of that is because she is still young, so I wouldn’t be too hard on her. I can appreciate her struggle. I imagine the cameras following her around, as well as taking the risk of appearing amount to a lot of pressure for any 21 year old girl. She is the kind of person who would probably benefit from a check-in each week by Superiors for the first couple months, (ie, one on one time for her to be able to process). I also think that her family has had their share of challenges, and is understandably tight knit. Maybe her vocation would actually flourish if she had a few visits from her mother during the beginning of her formation, were she to have a calling. Of course, I come from the Augustinian background, where Augustine’s Rule permits that each person’s needs are addressed particularly, depending on where they come from. Some other religious communities would disagree with this approach.

Claire, 26, IL: Loving Other People

Claire comes from a homeschool family in Joliet, IL. I assisted with an Augustinian Parish near Joliet, and could have run into her at some young adult gatherings in Joliet that I attended. (At least I don’t recall). She seems to have had a rigorous faith formation, and in some ways has never come across the challenges that have shaped the other young women on the show. In some ways, it appears that the producers picked up on this early, and have been digging into her for comments about the other young women. In religious life, we often use our opinions of other people to distract ourselves from what God is calling us to. Sometimes I would rather be persnickety because some other brother is failing to live up to our ideal in Religious Life than do so myself. Sometimes I would rather make a judgment about another than about myself. I remember during my novitiate, I sat across from the computer room. I made a decent effort to avoid internet use during the day (I was literally sending hand-written letters to friends, as well as reading a lot of awesome books). I struggled, because I had a clear view of the other student Friars entering the computer room with frequency. I also struggled because I was the only student who took up a hobby, or who exercised each afternoon, instead of watching all the Harry Potter movies. I was also perceived as too blunt by my classmates that year (even in comments that were not about them). So I can relate. I just remember learning that I also had to be a contributor to community life, toward it’s delight and enjoyment. Certainly, loving my brothers could be a higher penance than fasting or abstinence, but that I was also to be involved in the delight and flourishing of others (rather than mere toleration). Yet, as the show progresses, the more she immerses herself in the life and service of the sisters, it lessens her noticing the flaws of others.

*** UPDATED: Spoilers ahead for those who have seen the whole series ***

As I said, Reality Shows are often more competitive, and so the dynamic is about stirring conflict and controversy. I believe that the producers didn’t go as far as normal shows, and I believe that the girls sincerely did not attempt to go at it this way. That doesn’t stop it from happening. I am seriously convinced that the Producers took the Sisters at each of the convents, and their wisdom and input, very seriously. I believe that they set the agenda for the girls, and the Producers accepted it.

Some people might balk at the young women speaking candidly about their sex lives on national television. Some Catholics might find it unnecessary, or disgusting that they would. I have found that sexualized images of nuns are a problem on tumblr. I also find it off that in our pornographic culture, people generally feel entitled to that sort of information. Whether or not there were cameras rolling, they would have talked about this stuff. Whether or not the producers had a say, it probably would have happened. It is one of those sad states in our culture. However, their conversations rotated around their past, not about their future. One has no reason to believe that any of them think that a Consecrated Sister should subvert her own Vows of Chastity. I think it also gave one of the girls an opportunity to talk about Chastity as redemptive.

When the girls conclude the discernment program, they end up better off. Some of the girls take their discernment to the next level. Only one walks away from discerning religious life, and she is ends in a better position for herself then when she started. One of them invites some of the sisters over to meet her family. It is very important for anyone discerning religious life to make sure their family is connected. All the parents assume that entering a convent means that their daughter WILL NEVER, IN A MILLIONS YEARS ASSOCIATE WITH THEM. If they actually got to know the Sisters, they would feel happier with them and more at ease.

10 Tips on Discerning Religious Life

Saint Augustine Monastery, Austin Hall Arcade, San Diego, CA. Where I dwell and stroll to Morning Prayer & Mass each morning.

I have met several Vocation Wrecks, who can never manage to get close to deciding what to do with what God has given.

Sometimes they are given really lousy vocation advice. To deal with vocation wrecks, to comfort people, to dispense scrupulous young people from the misery of discernment, they give them bad advice. Worst is that God gives you a desire. This is an attempt to comfort people who want to be married, assuming that they think marriage is evil or something. I have met more people who cannot make a decision because they desire two mutually exclusive vocations. Second awful vocation advice is telling people that they will find peace. More on that below. I could actually go on about the lousy vocation advice that people who grew up in sheltered ethnic (Irish / Italian / German) parishes tell young people who have become spiritually obese on pop culture and consumerism.

I have found myself repeating many of these to many people. Sometimes I not even giving advice to discerners, but explaining the process to people who have a lot of misconceptions. I believe that most of those misconceptions are shared by people who may be called, but never looked into it. So I gathered these into ten points.

  1. If you begin to feel strangely drawn, begin to have a desire, you should look into it. If you begin to find yourself defensive, opposed, or repulsed by it, it probably requires you to look again. I used to think “They Wouldn’t Let Me Rap.” I met a Sister who used to think Nuns were ugly. If you have no emotional reaction besides a little gratitude or cheer, kindly move on.
  2. Do not Passively Discern in your head or your imagination. Do not think that by “praying about it” to yourself is actually discernment. If you have felt drawn or repulsed by it, become an Active Disciple, and then see how you feel about it.
  3. Sometimes a desire for Consecrated Life is simply a call to Radical Discipleship. Spend more time reading the Scriptures, especially the Gospel. Have a Master/Disciple relationship with Christ. Pray daily. Befriend the Saints. Participate in service to the Church or the community. Go to Eucharistic Adoration. Deepen and grow your commitment to Christ, & the church. See a Spiritual Director.
  4. Sometimes it is a good idea to defer discernment. If you are younger than a Junior in college, if you just broke up, or got rejected by a potential special someone, if someone close to you has died, if you have moved to a new city or state, or if you are changing jobs, it is a good idea to at least let 8 months pass before any serious committed discernment. I am not saying don’t discern, it is difficult to decide. Also, a yearning that persists through this is valid.
  5. A conflicted desire for both Married Life & Consecrated Life deserves a critical look. If marriage appears more comfortable, or includes more perks, you need to be honest, both come with their own Crosses. Many people NEVER have a desire for Consecrated Life. The fact that you do means you should look.
  6. You WILL NOT find immediate Peace, instead you find trepidation. All the Prophets & the Saints felt incredible turmoil. They found no Peace until they gave themselves over to a calling. Being afraid of a Vocation to Religious Life requires that you face it, not run from it. If may feel comfortable to turn away from it. If you feel drawn, but afraid, running won’t give you peace, it will only give you comfort. What is the worst thing that can happen, you find God’s plan for you in Religious Life and you discover immeasurable Love & Joy in Christ
  7. Talk to a Religious. Visit a Religious House, a Convent, or Seminary. Spend a portion of your day with a Sister or a Priest. Attend Mass several days a week. Do a weekly Holy Hour. Deepen your commitment to discipleship. Attempt to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. Try the single life for a few months. This is Active Discernment.
  8. You don’t join a religious order for yourself, you join for Christ, His Church, and that community. You don’t pick a habit or patron saint or location that suits your fancy. Eventually all the superficiality and sweetness will wear out, and you will realize that you are stuck with a group of quite unremarkable human beings. This is not a sign to leave or not, but you have to look deeper in yourself and the community you want to join.
  9. Invariably, the moment you decide to actively discern or apply the boy or girl of your dreams WILL magically appear. GOD DOES NOT OR NEED a few bored lonely people with nothing better to do. God wants you to make a choice. Entering religious life does not make everyone else completely unattractive.
  10. Do not wait for 100% certainty to join. No Religious Order expects that. It is easier to leave a Religious Order within a couple years than a Marriage. Do not wait to attain 100% holiness or practice perfect chastity for every millisecond of every day. Marriage IS NOT the magic cure for lust, people have lustful thoughts after being married, and can even fall in love with other people who they are not married to. The point is growing up and moving past your emotions, comforts of 100% certainty or comprehensive preparedness.

Reblog… John Allen on All Things Catholic at the National Catholic Reporter writes on 3 Myths to ditch for Lent:

1. Purple ecclesiology

“Purple ecclesiology” refers to the notion that the lead actors in the Catholic drama are the clergy, and in fact, the only activity that really counts as “Catholic” at all is that carried out by the church’s clerical caste, especially its bishops. You can always spot purple ecclesiology at work when you hear someone say “the church” when what they really mean is “the hierarchy.”

The truth is that the number of ordained clergy in the Catholic church comes to roughly .04 percent of the total Catholic population of 1.2 billion. If they’re the main act, then all one can say is that the Catholic show is wildly top-heavy with supporting cast.

Seeing the church through a purple filter is misleading, even if all we take into view is the visible, institutional dimension of Catholic life. Most Catholic schools, hospitals, social service centers, movements and associations, even chanceries and parish headquarters, are staffed overwhelmingly by laywomen and men. More deeply, however, the church doesn’t exist for itself, but to change the world, which means that if its message is to penetrate the various realms of culture — medicine, law, the academy, politics, the economy and so on — it’s either going to be carried there by laity, or not at all…

2. A church in decline

Seen from global perspective, however, that’s just wildly wrong. The last half-century witnessed the greatest period of missionary expansion in the 2,000-year history of Catholicism, fueled by explosive growth in the southern hemisphere. Take sub-Saharan Africa as a case in point: The Catholic population at the dawn of the 20th century was 1.9 million, while by the end of the century it was more than 130 million, representing a staggering growth rate of 6,708 percent. Overall, the global Catholic footprint shot up from 266 million in 1900 to 1.1 billion in 2000, ahead of the overall rate of increase in world population, and is still rising today.

The dominant Catholic narrative of our time, in other words, is not decline but astronomic growth. (That’s not true everywhere, as there are significant losses in Europe, parts of North America and in some pockets of Latin America, but it is the global big picture.)

Even in the United States, the Catholic church is actually holding its own. Yes, it’s lost a third of Americans born into the faith, but its retention rate of two-thirds is actually fairly healthy by the competitive standards of America’s wide-open religious marketplace. (It’s much higher than, say, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who retain only one-third of their members.) Further, the Catholic church is holding steady at roughly a quarter of the national population, thanks largely to Hispanic immigration and higher-than-average birth rates among Hispanic Catholics. In the words of Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum, American Catholicism is “browning,” but it’s not contracting…

3. Christianity is the oppressor, not the oppressed

Of all the popular misconceptions about Catholicism, and about Christianity in general, this is arguably the most pernicious.

Here’s the stark reality of our times: In the early 21st century, we are witnessing the rise of a whole new generation of Christian martyrs.

Christians are today, statistically speaking, by far the most persecuted religious group on the planet. According to the Frankfurt-based Society for Human Rights, fully 80 percent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed against Christians. The Pew Forum estimates that Christians experience persecution in a staggering total of 133 nations, fully two-thirds of all the countries on earth.

As part of that picture, the Catholic relief agency “Aid to the Church in Need” estimates that 150,000 Christians die for their faith every year, in locales ranging from the Middle East to Southeast Asia to sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Latin America. This means that every hour of every day, roughly 17 Christians are killed somewhere in the world, either out of hatred for the faith or hatred for the works of charity and justice their faith compels them to perform.

Perhaps the emblematic example is Iraq, where a strong Christian community that took two millennia to build has been gutted in the arc of a little more than two decades. Prior to 1991, the year of the First Gulf War, there were more than 2 million Christians in Iraq, while today the high-end estimate is that somewhere between 250,000 and 400,000 may be left.

3 Myths about the Church to ditch for Lent

5 Reasons I Love Religion!

It may be that the “I Hate Religion, I love Jesus” video has officially passed out as a cultural phenomenon like many other pop culture trends that this very video is indebted to, while Religion still stands. It may be that another critical response is so late in the game, that it is somehow irrelevant.

I, however, still did wish to share some affirmative critical responses in favor of Religion. My Catholic Church still stands despite my ability or incapacity to defend it. My defense of it does not validate it any the more. After some time on reflecting, as well as much time postponing for various reasons, I offer my thoughts. I only hope to add a few of these affirmative responses, if only that they are not merely responses but affirmations that are relevant beyond the moment.

Many of the responses to the video that I have read act merely as ad hoc phrase by phrase responses. Having had a few days to gather some of my thoughts and emotions together I decided to piece together five significant reasons why I am proud to be a Religious follower of Jesus Christ.

Reason 1 Children

I had the awesome experience of helping a 2nd grade class prepare for their 1st Holy Communion.

1st Holy Communion Masses are inundated with plenty of Catholics who have not attended Mass in years, and are notorious for becoming spectacles. They are running around Church taking photos of their precious pristine children taking a rite of passage. And the irony is, that despite it being special to them, they themselves may not even be receiving communion. Despite what may be some overt hypocrisy… Well it does not even take away from the amazing nature of the sacrament if believers fail to grasp the magnitude of the event. Even if they inherently know this day to be set apart from others, they carry a sense of pride for their children. Even if the children themselves fail to see the riches of the Sacrament. Hey, that is the wonder of being a child, joyful discovery.

Unlike the jaded fallen away Catholic, or anyone who insists on Jesus and no religion, who dismisses this joyful discovery. The Jesus without religion insists that this faith experience of the child has literally no value, while the religious person carries the joy that they have an entire life to joyfully discover and grow into the understanding of this very event.

I cannot merely dismiss the faith of a child, given they do not understand the magnitude of the event, it is just uncharitable. In fact, I think their own humble willing acceptance is seriously valid. It is something we share, and I am proud to share the faith, and inspired by the faith of children. In fact, in some way, my own religion insists that the faith experience of these children is somehow more valid then my own. This is so radical and counter intuitive in the same way that Jesus proclamation of the Kingdom of God was so radical and counter intuitive, and not as radical and counter intuitive to insist that understanding people only apply to the alter call. To insist that the only valid encounter of faith is an adult who “accepts Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior,” fails to grasp the magnitude of childlike faith, and submits itself to the sinful yoke of cynicism.

I cannot help but think that I am a better man when we have a religion where children are full and valid participants.

Reason 2 Art, Music, and Architecture

A few years ago I studied medieval and renaissance art in a university setting. I was inspired by the course, and impressed by how far the professor managed to cover the spiritual and religious genius of artists that we covered.

Although on one hand I am sure many people would flock into magnificent churches over the centuries with the same human inclination for the spectacular that they flock to in laser show mega churches and special effect extravaganza blockbuster movies… There is still something more at work. The impulse in the human spirit to craft magnificent beauty in the cause of a greater purpose is one of the most amazing things about humanity. To dismiss this aspect of the human spirit as idolatry or as uncharitable is more ironic idolatry than anything. In fact, the impulse itself only verifies the existence of our Creator and the creative achievement. To have one’s heart dramatically arrested in silent reverence, seems to ennoble the soul to greater virtue, more then the cold and nearly inhuman insistence on dismissing the entire western repertoire of artistic achievement.

Because some people fail to appreciate the divine beauty manifest in art does not itself invalidate the art, or more significantly, the glorious realities that the art manifests. However, to fail to acknowledge the total human person, sensuous and emotional, traps the human person in their own ideological madness. When you kill the poetic imagination in the human spirit you are left with nothing then legalism or fanciful speculative superstition. Perhaps that is whey our society is so fragmented on ideologies, is because our culture has been so iconoclastic when it comes to religious art. Perhaps this is why “Jesus and No Religion” is so legalistic with all its “No religion, no art, no this, no that.” Perhaps that is why there is this rampant obsession with speculative superstitious interpretations of the Apocalypse with non-contextualized passages of Scripture.

In order for their to be a great artistic tradition, it requires a shared pedagogy of symbols. Religion does that. Where there is no shared pedagogy, you see as modern art is reduced to intangible reckless subjective nonsense.

I cannot deny that somehow I have become a better man by a religion that drives women and men to manifesting beautiful art music and architecture.

Reason 3 Culture and Communal Christian Identity

I grew up in Southern California, going to a parish established by Spanish Franciscan Missionary Junipero Serra in 1771 before the Declaration of Independence was signed. The Catholic story of the American Southwest is a different one than the Catholic story out in the East Coast. The Catholic story of the Irish, Italian, and German immigrants differs from the Hispanic Catholics who became part of this country without ever immigrating. You see the results, and the Mission Church to which I grew up in is markedly different then the Churches I see out here, is different from the Churches in Europe.

A philosophy professor when I started College made the comment that Protestant Churches throughout the world make very little admission for cultural differences then Catholic churches, and that says something significant. Perhaps old Protestant Churches only permitted Gothic styles, and modern Evangelical churches only permit theatrical auditorium settings, while Catholic Church admit to a diverse inclusiveness when it comes to cultural settings. This is not to say that certain aspects of Catholic worship are incredibly essential, and this theory overlooks the sad state of Catholic architecture in the past thirty years (which itself is not the point, it is more a failure to relate and live up to something essentially Catholic).

The same could be said about the devotional life of Catholics of differing settings. Unfortunately, when you have a dogmatically narrow self-righteous insistence of Jesus and no religion, you hypocritically fail to allow a communal relationship with Jesus to grow in a particular character, and you fail to allow the Spirit itself to work. At some point years ago, I was instinctively opposed to some sort of “Religion of the Masses.” That instinct was itself a self-righteous disdain to set myself over and above others who failed to live up to my own narrow idea of purity.

What you end up getting is a bunch of Evangelical, Pentacostal, Non-Denominational churches sprouting up targeting Hispanic Catholics condescendingly as biblically ignorant while training them to disdain their own Religious Cultural Patrimony. Believe me, I have seen it happen my entire life growing up in Southern California. I am sure the same could be said as Evangelicals likely do the same elsewhere.

Reason 4 I am liberated from the tyranny of self

Although on the one hand I become most fully myself in my relationship with the Divine Trinity, there is still something about myself that has to die. Perhaps it is a result of a sinful impulse within me, that we often refer to as Original Sin, that causes me to desire to protect myself from God’s work in my life.

It is like I want, at all cost, to accumulate more things. There is this survival instinct that fears that I will not have enough, and that I will wear out and die. There is this tendency to put my short term desires and needs ahead of my own long term destiny, and the destiny of humanity in general.

Jesus comes around preaching the Beatitudes, and giving himself up to die on the cross, and it turns this whole human dynamic on its head. It turns Communism, Capitalism, Consumerism, and every other self-protecting ideology on its head. In fact, it turns this same sinful self enclosing instinct to have Jesus and no religion on its very head as well.

Even to hold the bible in my own, like an app on my personal smart phone device only closes up God in a box even more, if I cannot allow the bible to be interpreted by a community more competent then myself. Perhaps this is why I see the value itself in Patristics, as well as a legitimate authority that is not me, because of my own instinct to protect myself.

The tradition of the Church has always been helpful for liberating myself, and others from their own selfish instincts, while Jesus and No Religion only helps one to give power to their own selfish instincts. What an incredible hypocrisy then, to talk all this stuff about what Jesus insists that you do, while pretending that there is no religion at all behind it. To be accountable to a 2000 year tradition and a standing authority that is not me, only refuses to allow myself to become the tyrant of my own interpretation of what Jesus meant.

When the Church comes up with a legal code, Canon Law, has been a way of verifying the rights and responsibilities of the members and the institution beyond stringent lists of forbidden things. That is not to say that there are some limits that are forbidden, if only that the Church will insist that I will be losing my total human spiritual identity by crossing those limits.

There really is no way around it, but I cannot be a better more liberated person if I am not accountable to those things.

Reason 5 Sanctified Rhythm of Life

The logical conclusion of Protestant failure to carry a sense of Sacred with things has resulted in a failure to worship with a beautiful liturgy. There is no Sacred Sunday of the Resurrection, there is just a day to hear Pastor Preach. There is no entering into the Divine Drama in Human History in the Rhythms of Feasts and Seasons each year, as there is only another day to listen to Pastor Preach. There is no participation that takes us beyond the daily mundane of our lives, as there is only the incessant demand that Pastor Preach, or to incessantly demand that God deal with all the daily mundane of our lives. This is the whole market with Evangelical Self Help books, bible daily devotionals, and the like.

Not only does an authoritative tradition act as a balance to my own instinctual fight for survival, a living tradition imparts life insofar as I participate in it.

Think about it. We have Advent, leading to Christmas, and Lent leading to Easter. We behave in a different way in Advent then in Lent, and a markedly distinct manner in Lent compared to Easter. We hope in one and relish in the other. We cry in one and solemnly rejoice in the other. We are losers in one, and we participate in God’s victory in the other.

The very act of praying in such a seasonal manner sanctifies our sorrows and consecrates our ecstasy. It places each tear and each smile of our lives in a greater story. It relates our pain and pleasure to something beyond our everyday mundane, and even goes so far as to identify it with all of humanity and with God’s story.

People tell me that I am always so joyful and always so happy. I tend to laugh with irony during the month of November when I listen to melancholy music thinking of the Holy Dead, and meditating on my own mortality. When Christmas arrives, with its cakes, candies, and drinks, I go to Mass over and over again, and then go party over and over again. I laugh and dance with pride and gusto. This is what religion does to me. It does not dismiss my sorrow as morbid, nor does it dismiss my celebration as excessive.

Of course, the “Jesus and No Religion” do not even know how to celebrate and drink like Jesus, with their puritanical insistence on no alcohol. They are more like the Pharisees who will criticize the disciples of John the Baptist who mourn and fast (as they will dismiss anybody who does not always and everywhere remain happy for Jesus Resurrection) while simultaneously, like the Pharisees criticize Jesus disciples who drink and feast (as they dismiss “worldly” people with their excesses).

To the non-religious person who says they follow the teachings of Jesus

People often say that they follow the teachings of Jesus, as a way of skirting around the issue. They accept, and/or follow some vague, fluffy, generic, abstracted, unspecified and imprecise collection of ideas and values from a variety of religious traditions, as if to boast on their inclusivity and open mindedness. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things from Orthodox and Evangelical Christianity which have inspired my faith, as well as many particular things in Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism as well. The problem, when people say that they accept Jesus teaching, they do not actually accept Jesus teaching, they merely accept a vague, fluffy, abstracted, unspecified and imprecise collection of ideas and values which are often refered to as Judeo-Christian. Let me explain, it would be like telling the person who declares their love to you, that you are more in love with the idea of love then them in particular.

Let me make it clear. There is a whole lot of what Jesus taught which was not particularly revolutionary, and which was traditional wisdom among the Jews of his day. In this sense, he was a good Jew in every sense of the word. One can look at his condemnation of religious hypocrisy, and find similar statements among the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. One can look at the ideas behind his parables, and find the echoing sentiments and values from the Wisdom Tradition of Israel. Some scholars also debate on some phrases which were put on the mouth of Jesus by the early Church. Even for the Christian, who believes in the inspiration of the New Testament, this is not troubling, as the inspiration in the living Church, the Body of Christ, does not require every single word uttered by Jesus to have actually literally been uttered by him at a specific time, place, and moment documented absolutely perfectly as data. To be so nitpicky to the letter of the law of empirically verifiable data is only to fall into the very irrational madness that Jesus and the Prophets condemned repeatedly.

So there are two aspects of Jesus life and teaching which were incredibly radical. The first was more principally his actions, his good works, and miracles to those in need. When individuals say that they follow the teachings of Jesus, what is the big deal. Jesus went around multiplying fishes and loaves, food for the hungry, sight to the blind, and forgiveness to the sinner, and then he turns around and insists that if we have enough convicted faith and devoted love in him we may do even greater works than this. Often times, in my experience, people go around saying they follow what Jesus taught, but do not imitate what he did; which is what Jesus mandated.

Further, I cannot seem to find a place that Jesus insists that we follow what he taught, rather Jesus insists, mandates, commands, that we follow him. Jesus does not want us following his words, he wants us to follow him who is in the Incarnate word. Jesus does not want us being spiritual seekers of the truth, Jesus insists that he is Truth, and that we commit to that Truth. What would truth be, if we merely accomodated it to our liking and comfort, rather, when Truth finds us, we are compelled to sell everything we have.

It is really easy to say that all religions are the same, when you reduce Christianity to a set of morals. Ironically, people who are not religious seem to like Jesus for challenging the legal narrowness of the Pharisees, but when they turn around and reduce Christianity to a set of morals, they themselves become legalistic in the opposite extreme. What we find in Jesus is not a strict moral code, but a compelling moral witness for a better world. This is the Reign of God that he preaches, and he insists that in him is the fullness of this Reign, verifying it in his actions, his death, and his Rising from the dead. If the Jesus in exposition of the Scriptures and Tradition is absent, you have a neat little legal Judeo-Christian all religions just the same, and you can keep it safe, and you can keep yourself safe in your complacency. However, if what Jesus taught us that he is the living water, the bread from the Heaven, the Word made flesh, God’s Reign come, then that puts our clever manipulations in danger. When we encounter Jesus Christ, the Truth, we can no longer float in a vague, fluffy, generic, abstracted, unspecified and imprecise collection of ideas, because Truth is a person, and we must dare to make a specific, living, actual, and precise person, and what they are about. The Jesus who is the Christ of the Scriptures is a threat to all our complacency and comfort, so therefore, it is much easier to reduce Jesus to a moral teacher, because it requires nothing else of us that sacrifices our self-righteousness.