June 27, 2016

MOVIES: "THE INNOCENTS"





There's a new film out about nuns. And we can never have too many films about nuns, of course. The film "The Innocents" is  about a convent in Poland in 1945, at the end of World War II, where horrors have occurred. Horrors not just from the war and the Nazi occupation, but from the newly-occupying Red Army. I won't be able to go any further in this review if I don't tell you more. SPOILER ALERT: The whole film is about the fact that many of the Sisters were raped by Russian soldiers and are now pregnant. Each Sister, from the Mother Abbess to the youngest novice, deals with it in her own way.

A SENSITIVE, NON-SENSATIONAL FILM

Why are filmmakers so fascinated by nuns and sex/pregnancy/babies? And most specifically: pregnant nuns? Do they see it as the ultimate oxymoron? The ultimate contrast? The ultimate conflict? (And in some cases, the ultimate joke?)* Thankfully, "The Innocents" is none of the above. This is a very sensitive, non-sensational film of based on actual events (and many nuns have been raped and gotten pregnant during other wars as well) that manages to wrap itself around and enter deeply into the psychology of this very pointed and specific trauma.

A young female doctor working with the French Red Cross is summoned to the convent to assist in the several births that will be occurring all around the same time. She does so at great peril to her own life and risks being penalized by her superiors. The Mother Abbess' main concern is to keep the "scandal" and "secret" quiet. Her utmost concern is the "honor" of her convent (as if they were at fault somehow!) The babies will be quietly given to relatives of the Sisters to raise.

NOURISHING CONVERSATIONS

There are many nourishing conversations about doubt, faith in God, the problem of evil, "God's will," and happiness, both among the nuns themselves and with the young doctor. Over time, most of the Sisters are able to accept and embrace the life within them (without accepting the heinous and harrowing violation).

Without a working knowledge of the Catholic Church at this point in history (and the ancient, entrenched subculture of religious life): the nuns' attitudes toward the will of God, the vow of chastity, the body, sex, the vow of obedience, authority, Providence, sin and modern medicine will definitely throw you for a loop. What???!!! The Church teaches that???!!! No. And the Church didn't even teach exactly that THEN. The good Sisters were in dire need of some Theology of the Body (fortunately, seminarian Karol Wojtyla--within the borders of their very own country, ordained 1946--would be working on that...). And who knows what kind of a life some of the Sisters had before entering the convent? How many were already physically or sexually abused? What if they had already been shattered by the War?

HONORING TRAUMA

I would think that any sexual abuse or rape survivor would appreciate this film. Never is their ordeal downplayed or shown for anything other than the egregious, monstrous crime it is. And yet, a sisterhood of solidarity and trust develops, which includes the young doctor, and they are able to support each other and even find joy in the tiny beings (of whom they are truly mothers now) who are soon to emerge.  What transpires from here I will not spoil.

"The Innocents" is styled in a strongly European strain, which is positive if you like slower-moving films, unfolding and reflective in real-time (especially at the beginning) that are not afraid to examine the human condition in its stark interiority. American films are afraid to do this, but excel at showing stark exterior realities.

GOD

"The Innocents" is a truly religious film. Religious films are about God, not the trappings of God or His human mouthpieces. The nuns are three-dimensional characters with backstories, and even the most fearful nuns are genuine in their timidity. And for all their skittishness about the body (and not just because of the rapes), these nuns are very demonstrative and huggy.

 No one has an easy life or easy answers in "The Innocents." A Jewish doctor who plays the Red Cross doctor's minor love interest is delightfully honest and unvarnished in the face of his own tragedies.

Thank you to whoever made this film for caring about rape victims everywhere--and the lives of nuns. Thank you to whoever made this film for telling yet one more of the millions of stories of suffering from "The Good War" and Communist oppression, dying to be told.

__________________
*See "Agnes of God," "No Men Beyond This Point," "Not of This World," "Philomena," "The Magdalene Sisters"

OTHER STUFF:

--"The only truth is His love."

--"Faith is 24 hours of doubt and 1 minute of hope."

--"When you're little, your father holds your hand. But at some point, when you grow up, he lets go of your hand--you cry out and no one answers."

--This film is partly a study of fear....

--This film is party a study of the via negativa....

--This film is partly a study in what happens when we have the wrong priorities....

--Moving Letter of a Young Nun Raped During Bosnian War Who Became Pregnant: http://www.realclearreligion.com/index_files/9700d87ecef59271ce15f9554f57fe47-436.html

--Is it weird for a nun to like nun movies?



June 26, 2016

NEW VOCATION VIDEO OF DAUGHTERS OF ST. PAUL!




Film on the life of our Founder, Blessed James Alberione: www.MediaApostle.com

Daily discernment book for young women: www.tinyurl.com/DailyBook


June 13, 2016

MOVIES: "ME BEFORE YOU"


BIG FAT SPOILER WARNING:
IN THE NEXT SENTENCE I AM GOING TO TELL YOU HOW THE MOVIE ENDS.

Due to the serious subject matter of the film "Me Before You" (euthanasia), and the fact that most people already know how the movie ends (euthanasia), combined with the fact that the film is based on a novel by the same name that came out in 2012, this entire movie review will be one big spoiler. Advance at your own risk.

PRETTY IN DEATH

This British film maintains the light air of a romantic comedy throughout, overlaid with tear-jerking moments and the sweetest violins. Unlike a Jodi Picoult story that explores controversial issues as serious dramas, "Me Before You" more or less accepts assisted suicide as a valid option and a part of life (irony intended). Suicide, in fact, is sexy and sweet. As sexy as a gorgeous, wealthy, young quadriplegic, Will (Sam Claflin from "Hunger Games"), and as sweet as his new, bubbly, Kimmy-Schmidt-like caretaker, Lou (Emilia Clarke from "Game of Thrones"). And it's not just our main characters that are comely, the actual moment of Will's demise is preceded by jokes, kisses, smiles and lots of sunshine pouring in the window--all set to swirling, swelling strings.

The film starts off in a sort of saccharine, almost overly simplistic way: from Will's insanely perfect life with his girlfriend to Lou's insanely ditzy existence. But this caricature-ish, one-dimensionality never quite inflates into two or three dimensions, even at the most poignant moments.

BUTTERFLIES MEETS BITTERFLIES

Lou eventually gets under the embittered and sarcastic Will's skin with her perpetually cheery, optimistic and endearing demeanor, coupled with her highly original fashion choices. The dialogue and gentle sparring is genuinely witty and charming. The plot machinations are funny. At one point, while the "superior" Will is trying to school Lou about life, Lou comes back at him with a knowing description of how the type of upwardly mobile woman Will is encouraging her to be actually fares in the end. Lou is not as dumb as she looks.

Lou finds out about Will's plan to undergo euthanasia in Switzerland in only six months' time. She and his mother (who also is hoping along with Lou that he'll change his mind) put their heads together to try to get Will to enjoy life again, get out and do things as best he can in his motorized wheelchair. Will obliges, but more for Lou than for himself. However, he is thoroughly enjoying her company.

THE SELF ABIDES

When Will finally tells Lou about Switzerland, she tells him she already knows. Will then begins to lay out before her his reasoning. He liked his old life. A lot. (He was also very athletic.) Is Will trying to say what is said of dementia patients in order to euthanize them? That he's not really "himself" anymore? Sorry. The "self" remains till the last breath--no matter what condition the mind or body is in. Will doesn't mention his prognosis as part of his justification for ending his life, but Lou gets that information from others: Will's main problem is his spinal cord which can't be fixed. He's on lots of medications and is weak and vulnerable to infections. He has recurring pneumonia. He is often in pain. In his nighttime dreams he is active once again, but wakes up screaming when he realizes he's paralyzed.

In "Me Before You," quality of life is more important than life itself. Will wants his old life back. He resists change (as horrible as the changes in his life are) and moving forward. But who can ever "have their old life back"? And for how long? In a few more decades, he will be elderly and unable to do all things he loves to do anyway.

A brief discussion about the morality of assisted suicide is put in the mouth of Lou's cross-wearing, grace-at-meals-praying mother: "There are some choices we don't get to make! It's no different from murder! You can't be a part of it," she tells her daughter. Lou is not sure if she did the right thing by refusing to go with Will to Switzerland to be with him when he dies as he had asked her. Lou's Dad simply says: "We can't change people." (True enough.) Lou had tried so hard to change Will's mind. When Lou asks in return: "Then what can we do?" Dad says: "Just love them." Her Dad instead encourages her to join Will and his parents in Switzerland. (Lou, of course, is not materially cooperating in getting Will to Switzerland--others did that--she is only "being there" for him while he knows she still doesn't agree with his decision.)

IS THIS EVEN A LOVE STORY?

The title is curious. Who is "me"? Who is "you"? Although Lou begs Will not to go through with his lethal plan, promising to stay with him, Will tells her that his mind has been made up from the beginning and that he has never wavered, not even for her. He will not stay alive for her. She brought some joy into what he has determined to be the end of his life, and he did his part trying to bring her out of her shell and get her to dream big--but this eleventh hour fling was only in the context of a promise he made to his parents: he would give them only six more months. The sacrifice (even though Lou is a well-paid employee of Will's mother) seems to be all on Lou's part. This does not seem to be a true, reciprocal love story. If he had stayed alive for her, it would have been. You can't be in love with a ghost and share life with a ghost (all apologies to Patrick Swayze). Will also hints that because they won't be able to have a married life with sex and children, she doesn't know for a fact that she won't have regret in the future for having stayed with him. Will has NO STORY ARC. NONE. Neither does Lou, really either. There are no major changes or transformations in this entire story. What is this story, then? Either it's an aesthetically-pleasing but poorly told story OR simply propaganda for euthanasia.

PRO-DEATH (WHICH IS NOT YOLO)

What is the point of this book/movie? Why was it created? To make euthanasia more palatable? "It's his choice" is stated over and over again. Yes, of course, suicide has always been a choice, an option. A very sad and tragic one, one that people choose only in utmost desperation, and one that humanity has always tried to talk and help its constituents out of. Will says: "I'm not the kind of man who can accept this." (Who can really "accept" a tragedy such as quadriplegia?) And yet people do "accept" it all the time. Look at the brilliant and drastically compromised Stephen Hawking (who suffers from ALS) who presses on with humor and an indomitable will to live, still contributing to the world of science). Although, sadly, he has evidently said he will look into euthanasia when he can no longer do what he wants to do.

There is no mention of God as the master of life and death. No mention of going back to God at death. (Although there is a belief in some kind of an afterlife when Will tells Lou he will be right by her side all through her life. Which is also strangely creepy. What if she gets married?) No mention of what dying naturally would be like (most likely he will diminish irreparably in just a few years and die naturally then anyway). No mention of redemptive suffering: the fact that suffering purifies us and can be offered up for others. No mention of the fact that we go on living till the last gun is fired. What if there are still important lessons for him to learn, indispensable bits of living still to be lived? Others who need to come in contact with him--whose lives he can grace? And of course, as believers, we would want to grow daily in our relationship with God as much as possible on this earth before we leave it.

"Me Before You" has to be classified as a pro-euthanasia film. It's like a sugar-coated poison pill. Our world is on a slippery slope to CELEBRATING suicide. What happened to helping each other live, not die? What happened to hope? Does this mean we shouldn't stop people from jumping off ledges? After all, it's their choice. "Hey, buddy! Hold it right there! We respect your choice, and we don't really care if you die or not, so just hold on and we'll get you a physician to 'assist' you...."

OTHER STUFF:

--"Me Before You" is a watershed film. In a bad way. A really bad way. It occurred to me that the whole point of film is conflict, dramatic tension, resolving seemingly insurmountable obstacles. But what if suicide begins to lurk prominently as the go-to option in cinema, in our own life? NO STORY. Yes--Will had a very challenging life as a quadriplegic, but euthanasia legislation is very, very broad and includes reasons like "emotional distress." "Me Before You" is a bold, ugly new dimension to the culture of death. (And I think people instinctively recognized this about MBY--one of the reasons the film is so buzzy--even if many can't put words to their discomfiture.)

--"Me Before You" is only one of several recent much-lauded pro-euthanasia films: "One True Thing," "The Sea Inside," "Million Dollar Baby," "Amour."

--Death can only be bittersweet when it's inevitable, not when it's a planned control-move.

--Will didn't take his own advice to Lou to "live boldly." He quit.
From Instagram:


--Toward the beginning of the film, Will makes Lou watch "Of Gods and Men" (with French subtitles) about the Trappist-martyrs of Algiers who chose to stay with the people and be killed rather than abandon their mission. Lou says: "They could have left!" (and saved their lives). Will says something like: "But their lives had more meaning because of their action" (likening it to his own planned assisted-suicide)? The Trappist-martyrs were not suicides.

--What is a "culture of death"? It is a culture that has separated body (the physical) and soul (the spiritual). It is a culture that sees death as not only a valid solution, but a good solution. Not only a good solution but the best solution. Abortion is the "loving" thing to do. Euthanasia is "dignity." War and violence are easily invoked.

--We all know or know of someone who has committed suicide. Some were terminally ill and in excruciating pain. Some were mentally ill or at their wit's end for whatever reason. Some were facing a desperate or dangerous situation or life. Some had no family or love or basic resources. Some were depressed or bullied teens. Suicide was not the best solution--palliative care (to relieve the pain of terminal illness), proper psychiatric care and medication, better circumstances or a societal safety net would have been the best solution. But they are now in God's mercy: God who alone sees our state of mind and reads our hearts. St. Therese of Lisieux (who suffered immensely at the end of her life) warned: never leave potent medication within reach of a suffering person.

--Check out this organization/hotline and other organizations for suicide prevention:  www.samaritanshope.org

--The majority of failed suicide attempts are grateful to have NOT succeeded. They were temporarily in so much pain (of whatever kind) that they couldn't see any other way out. These people go on to embrace life and help others who are feeling suicidal.

--In today's Western society, the young in particular seem to want to insulate themselves from any kind of unpleasantness, discomfort, difference of opinion, negative experience. They don't even want to hear certain words that might be "triggers." This is a mentality ripe for euthanasia. What will happen when real tragedy strikes? Illness or accidents? Won't it be simply unbearable? I'm not saying that young people today haven't suffered a lot already in their young lives--only that the best way to cope with suffering is not always avoidance. Check out C. S. Lewis' weighty little book: "The Problem of Pain."

--If you're a Christian, we have a whole 'nother take on suffering. We believe it can be redemptive. Check out John Paul II's "On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering," written after he was shot.
https://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_letters/1984/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_11021984_salvifici-doloris.html

--"Take up your cross and follow me." --Jesus

--Think about this: It's human nature that when we know we don't have an easy option, we make do. We challenge ourselves. We find a way. Give us an easy out? We'll often take the path of least resistance.

--Should euthanasia be granted for any reason? Hey, it's all about choice, right? How about this one: unwanted sexual attractions. This man "doesn't want to be gay": http://www.bioedge.org/bioethics/will-belgium-grant-euthanasia-for-unwanted-sexual-attraction/11911

--WHERE DOES IT ALL END? OR IS THERE ANY END TO THE SELF-KILLING?

--This rush to legalize euthanasia everywhere (now legal in 5 U.S. States, with Canada on the verge of passing a sweeping euthanasia bill) is like a massive, worldwide deathwish.

--In its original form, the horrifying Canadian euthanasia Bill C-14 would include: "mature minors" (um, aren't children by definition not mature yet?), the mentally ill(!), and just about anyone having a bad day. It's not all about terminal illness and the elderly--as bad enough as that is. This is about death on demand. Death on tap. Society agreeing that the world is better off without you and you are better off without you. This is society participating in your suicide.

--Needless to say, the disabled community is not thrilled with MBF: "Disabled Want To See Different Ending at Flicks": http://www.pressreader.com/canada/toronto-star/20160606/281874412670125

--Quadriplegic author angry about his memoir's inclusion in 'Me Before You' via  "Quadriplegia isn't the end of life, it's the beginning of a new life...."

--Check out my friend Taylor's video:


--One of the many problems with culture-of-death solutions is that they decrease the overall value of human life in both theory and practice. And in countries like the Netherlands that have had euthanasia for a long time, IT'S NO LONGER A MATTER OF CHOICE. Are you an old person with no family to advocate for you? You're taking up a hospital bed. Bye bye.

--Euthanasia is WICKED BAD FOR THE ECONOMY. There are entire industries and jobs surrounding care of the sick, disabled and old. The only one who profits from euthanasia? Governments (more money in governmental coffers and pockets), insurance companies (no payouts/coverage) and the organ transplant industry.

--Thankfully, at least a Canadian First Nations Manitoba MP (member of Parliament) said his spiritual beliefs prevent him from voting for euthanasia, as well as the fact that there is an ongoing suicide crisis among native teens. What kind of message does "suicide is dignity" send to them? http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2016/05/04/robert-falcon-ouellette-assisted-dying-c-14_n_9843314.html



--So what kind of a life is WORTH living? Is it like President Obama said would be the focus of Obamacare: we'll concentrate on ages 15-55 because the young and the old need too much care?

--THEOLOGY OF THE BODY? We don't get to separate our body from our soul. We didn't put them together, we don't get to take them apart.







FROM THE CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH:





May 1, 2016

MOVIES: "NO MEN BEYOND THIS POINT"


A wickedly funny new mockumentary made by Mark Sawers (known for "The Kids in the Hall") is entitled: "No Men Beyond This Point." Just one look at the smart trailer lets you know this is a commentary on today's feminism--or rather, the "battle of the sexes." The set-up could have been a simplistic: "What if feminists really did take over the world?" but it's more sophisticated than that. Instead, it's an act of nature ("praise Nature") that's eliminating men.

GIRLS ONLY

Women are now "asexual" and are producing only female babies through parthenogenesis (reproduction without fertilization--something found in some insects and reptiles). Without the male contributing the Y chromosome, no males are conceived, and a race of "women only" is born. The youngest man on earth, Andrew Myers, is thirty-seven years old and works as a housekeeper. Women "pair off" in mostly non-sexual, non-romantic partnerships in order to raise their children together (all girls, of course).

The mockumentary maintains an incredibly even, deadpan tone. The main interviewees are Andrew and the couple he works for: Terra and Iris.  Interspersed are other interview snippets, black and white re-enactments, real and fake historical footage. "Caught-in-the-act-please-turn-off-the-camera" moments drive the developing story forward. Iris has always taken men's "side" in her interviews. She doesn't dismiss them and feels sad that they are going extinct. Being an artist, she begins painting her one proximate masculine subject, Andrew, rather obsessively. Terra is not blind to Iris' sympathies, and the friction begins.

CAPTIVITY

It must be noted that Andrew is one of very few younger men, and also one of the few men (with a worker's permit) who is not in, well, captivity. Yes. There is a "man sanctuary" that is basically a lodge with good food, medical care, a golf course and other guy amenities. The women may have lost their taste for men, but it's not reciprocal, so, once in a while, a man will make a break for it, hungering for female companionship. Running through the woods to female civilization, he will encounter signs "No Men Beyond This Point." Why are the men being kept apart? The governing council of women (there are no more wars or separate countries: women made the whole world one big, happy family) decided that it was best to hasten evolution and corral the stragglers. In fact, Andrew is lucky to still be out and about and must play his cards carefully.

HETERO-RIGHTS

Andrew and Iris fall in love, Terra confronts Iris who admits to the fact. The women's combined five or so daughters witness Andrew and Iris kissing furtively under a tree. ("Gross!") Punishment? Andrew is sent to the sanctuary. SPOILER ALERT! (Read on at your own peril.) But there ain't no mountain high enough, ain't no river wide enough to keep Andrew and Iris apart. They go public with their plight (opposite sex marriage is illegal) and the female populace rises up in their favor with marches and slogans such as: "Celebrate Gender Diversity!" "End Manlessness!" "Make Opposite Sex Marriage Legal!" The end of the film sports a perfect twist that highlights our perennially imperfect world (I'm NOT giving away the twist).

What's on display here is foible-ridden human nature that we're all too familiar with. Some film reviewers questioned (very seriously) in a podcast whether the premise would have worked better in the dystopian sci-fi genre. Balderdash! It's hilarious. I will only mention two tee-hees here:
--One Australian "manosaurus" complains that the women have even taken their God away and replaced it with a "sheila," that is, Mother Nature ("praise Nature").
--The men in the sanctuary go on a hunger strike, but...they get hungry.

CATHOLIC STUFF

The film dwells at length (and then revisits again) Jesus' Virgin Birth, but there's really no correlation to God the Son becoming incarnate by the Holy Spirit and human parthenogenesis. I think the film was (respectfully) grappling for a punch line that wasn't there. "NMBTP" gets the Catholic stuff pretty correct. There's even an interview with an "Italian priest" who works for the "Congregation for the Causes of Saints" and had to investigate what seemed at first to be miracles--when the parthenogenesis began occurring. Even a nun in a remote part of northern Spain becomes pregnant (this really comes off as a silly "cheap shot" sequence in the film). And, of course the misogynistic, patriarchal Church suppresses all the evidence of the nun's pregnancy.

TABLE TURNING

"NMBTP" is everything a meticulous mockumentary and comedy should be. The action is never flagging. It's clever but not cerebral. It won't go over your head, it will only make you feel smart as you get the jokes. Along with nailing the style of the contemporary documentary, there is no mean-spiritedness, it's not a "message film," and there's no "unrelatable" stretches of the imagination (except the human parthenogenesis). The actors are utterly believable. Much of what is said of/to/about women today is now said of men. The tables are turned--but not to an exact and too obvious degree.

EQUAL OPPORTUNITY SEXISM

Men's and women's idiosyncrasies are both poked equal fun at. There's a lot of food for thought here--enough that it would be good for a film discussion group. And even the most outlandish features of this "broad" new world aren't all that far-fetched, at least in the rhetoric of today. What's interesting about the women is that they are not "mannish," nor are they frou-frou. They're just capable, intelligent, albeit rather bland women who don't seem to need or miss the men. The indifference would be chilling--if it weren't a comedy. And of course, it's way funnier if you know Theology of the Body.

Available on iTunes Canada. Coming soon to USA.



April 9, 2016

MOVIES: "THE ORIGINAL IMAGE OF DIVINE MERCY"


A new full-length documentary film on the Divine Mercy is now available for large or small screenings during the Jubilee Year of Mercy. It has the long and intriguing title of: "The Original Image of Divine Mercy: The Untold Story of An Unknown Masterpiece."


ALSO FOR DIVINE MERCY NON-FANS

Now. If you, like me, are one of the .0001% of Catholics who do not warm up to the Divine Mercy devotion, who are, perhaps, even nonplussed by it: this film might be just what you need. I'm calling this documentary "The Thinking Person's Guide to Divine Mercy." AND, if you do not take a shine to most or all of the images of the Divine Mercy you have encountered? That's because you probably have not encountered the original image. (Above.) 

WHAT IS "THE DIVINE MERCY" DEVOTION?

If you are one of the other .0001% of Catholics who have never heard of the Divine Mercy devotion (non-Catholics are completely absolved), it is simply this: Jesus appeared to a young Polish nun living in Lithuania in the 1930's (Sr. Faustina is now "St. Faustina") and revealed His desire that an image of His Divine Mercy should be promulgated throughout the world, with the words "Jesus, I trust in You" beneath. This "devotion" is to be accompanied by prayers to/for divine mercy and acts of mercy.  A book with the words of Jesus as recorded by St. Faustina: "The Diary of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska: Divine Mercy in My Soul" is available in many languages.

Countless numbers of people now pray "The Divine Mercy chaplet" (prayed on regular rosary beads) and "The Divine Mercy Novena." Prayers to the Divine Mercy are especially prayed every day at 3 pm, the "hour of mercy" when Christ died.

A HIRED BRUSH

Jesus told Sr. Faustina to paint an image exactly as he appeared to her. She was no painter, so she and her spiritual director, Fr. Michael Sopocko, enlisted the help of an artist, Eugeniusz Kazimirowski, who labored to get the details just right (and of course, Sr. Faustina was never satisfied, even with the final product, but she came to accept the fact that no artist could ever fully capture Jesus the way she saw Him).

A few of the important details of the original image are the face of Jesus looking down (Jesus said this was His gaze on us from the Cross), and the hands raised in an particular way in blessing while white and red rays (representing mercy) radiate forth from His unseen heart. The background is blackness. It's utterly simple and uncluttered, what one sacred art expert in the film calls: "A masterpiece of iconography. Face, hands, that's it."

THE SUFFERING OF THE CHURCH BEHIND THE IRON CURTAIN

A highlight and constant of the film is the parallel story of the fierce persecution of the Catholic Church in Lithuania under the Soviets after World War II. Those of us old enough to remember the days of the former U.S.S.R. heard plenty of stories as it was happening: the beginning of the fall of the Soviet Union was 1989. The famous (infamous to the Communists) "Hill of Crosses" is also briefly featured in the documentary. Most poignant of all is the subdued pain in the faces and voices of the elderly bishops and priests (some of whom did forced labor in Siberian work camps). The story of the heroism of the persecuted Church under Soviet rule is a story yet to be told (actually many, many stories to be told). The Church had to be crushed because its doctrines were the polar opposite of atheistic Communism.

BUT ISN'T THE DIVINE MERCY DEVOTION FROM POLAND?

So why have we thought the Divine Mercy devotion was from Poland? Many Poles live in Lithuania, and there was even a Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the 18th century, under common rule. Sr. Faustina was Polish, and under the Soviets, each country absorbed into the U.S.S.R still had strict borders (though these borders were not shown on many world maps of the time) that could not be easily traversed. Just as the image of the Divine Mercy began to spread from Lithuania, World War II hit, and Poland became prominent in furthering the devotion. However, Polish artists, one in particular, began doing their own altered versions of the original image, and these became associated as "the" image. There is a movement today toward restoring the original image to prominence. After  being: forgotten, abandoned, ignored, secretly venerated, sold for a bottle of vodka, kept in a priest's private residence, on vacation in Belarus and heisted by some daring nuns, the original image is now enthroned above the main altar of the Church of the Holy Spirit (where Fr. Sopocko once served) in Vilnius, Lithuania.

CELEBS GALORE

The documentary unassumingly features Jim Gaffigan, Harry Connick, Jr., Bishop Barron, three Cardinals, a slew of Bishops, priests, art and church historians (lots of women here), and those who were witnesses to the image's sojourn. These articulate folks and the entire film have a lot to say, not just about this particular image, but the role of images in our Faith in general. "Sacred icons are primarily mediums of grace." If you still don't care for the portrayal of the original image "...the image is not the object of our devotion anyway." Jesus said it's all about His grace and mercy, not the particular color or beauty of the painting.

A warm, personal theology exudes from this entire project. If you've ever given up on theology as dry, aloof, clinical, hard, cold and abstract? This film will be a fragrant balm. This is serious, profound, lived, battle-scarred, Eastern European Christianity, people.

IMAGE OF THE IMAGE

This documentary is an image of the image, in a sense. How are its production values? "The Original Image of Divine Mercy" is a contemporarily contemplative film. Cooler-than-thou acoustic guitar, the vocals of Mike Mangione and an Audrey Assad soundalike grace our ponderings. Natural lighting floating in from a window. No boring sit-down interviews. A fondness for handheld filming. A flowing fluidity to the camerawork . Most interviewees stand in their own environment or an ambience of the original image. Mostly mid-range shots and hardly any close-ups situate us in a "this is bigger than all of us and involves all of us" frame of mind. There's a connectedness with the surroundings, including the filmmakers who are very often in the shots. It has an immediate, "you are there" feel which doesn't allow us to be passive bystanders. 

The camerawork can be raw, but with a purpose. The interviews can be long, but not unedited. The filmmakers are letting people have their say, the way they want to say it, clarifying here and there with a translator: it's all captured because--like the very image of Divine Mercy--it's not perfection we're after. After each segment of interviews, we take a break and see the Divine Mercy image doing its thing around the world in public places. We see the interviewees relaxing, preparing, meditating before the image, interacting with the filmmakers in candid shots. At first I thought: there's too many "behind the scenes," but then I realized these are NOT behind the scenes at all. A sense of real life and not "show" is communicated effectively.

Two pleasing devices: uniformly stylized paintings of the interviewees , as well as stills of quotes from Sr. Faustina's Diary with a Polish-accented female voiceover, tie the narrative together. Some misspellings and sloppy punctuation in the subtitles (but not horrible)--will be corrected in DVD release in November.

What the filmmakers have created is an artistic, oral/visual historical document.

TAKE HEART

I really can't abide any of the images of the Divine Mercy I've seen (unless they've superimposed the face of the Sacred Heart of Jesus from Hales Corner, Wisconsin, on it, but then it also looks tacky), but this original image is realistic, natural, normal, approachable, pleasing.

Take heart if you don't "get" the Divine Mercy devotion. It took Sr. Faustina's own spiritual director time to comprehend it (and at least one other prominent person in the film admits to the same). This film concretizes the development of the devotion and the physical and spiritual journey of the image itself, as it spread throughout the world. And, as an interviewee sums up at the end: the journey isn't over.

For a reasonable licensing fee, screenings are being offered throughout the Holy Year for parishes, schools, organizations and events commemorating the Jubilee Year. 
Proceeds from the licensing of this film will go to foster the development of pilgrimage facilities for the Divine Mercy Shrine in Vilnius, Lithuania – the permanent home of the Original Image of Divine Mercy,

For more info go to www.DivineMercyFilm.com

"The painting is not necessary for mercy to reach the world. The Holy Spirit works anyway. But this image is a gift, a gift from Jesus. And it's something that we can touch in a very concrete way, and see, and not just have the concept from Holy Scripture about the mercy of God, but also have a very concrete illustration. This is a testimony to the will of Christ. And in giving us this image He makes known His request to fulfill His will." --priest interviewee

"Sr. Faustina said: The world is incapable of its own conversion. We must trust in Divine Mercy. Why do we talk about Divine Mercy today? The devotion began before World War II. God was warning that a war was coming. Is God warning us again? God is calling us back to God's mercy, to Jesus Christ." --Cardinal Dziwisz

"Divine Mercy is the last barrier to the spread of evil in the world." --John Paul II

April 4, 2016

THEOLOGY OF BODY IN ST. LOUIS: MASCULINE & FEMININE GENIUS



Wanna help promote this event? Email me for a .PDF flyer!
srhelenaburns @ gmail com

TOPICS APPROPRIATE FOR AGE 13+.

BRING YOUR MUNCHKINS.
We are pro-life and pro-family and Sister can scream louder than your kids.

SOME TOPICS COVERED:

--What is gender? A social construct? Nature or nurture?

--Is God the Father an old white guy?

--Why can't women be priests?

--What's great about being a guy?

--What's great about being a gal?

--Who sinned first, Adam or Eve?

--Gender roles

--How do men and women image God differently?

--The Women's Liberation Movement

--Is feminism a dirty word?

--The Sexual Revolution

--Are wives supposed to be "submissive" to their husbands?

--What does "there is no more male or female" in Christ mean?

--What does it mean to be man today?

--What does it mean to be a woman today?

--How can men and women help each other be better men and women of God?

--Will the Blues win the Stanley Cup?

March 26, 2016

MOVIES: "MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN"


"Miracles from Heaven" is a disruptive new God film from the folks who brought us "Heaven Is For Real." (My review: http://hellburns.blogspot.ca/2014/05/the-movie-heaven-is-for-real-based-on.html#.VvbmEvkrKM8 ) There are many similarities to the two films. Each film is about a miracle experienced by a child. Each child has an out-of-body encounter with heaven and God, and comes from an already-believing family. Each film features scenes in church with preaching and praise and worship music. And each film is, thankfully, well-lit. "Heaven Is For Real," for me, was a much more straightforward film about a four-year-old boy who dies, goes to heaven and comes back, while "Miracles from Heaven" is a much stranger, more complex story of a slightly older girl (ten years old) with a complicated medical condition who experiences a bizarre accident that cures her, or does it? Was it really the accident that cures her? Was it prayer? Was it God intervening no matter what? And how can anyone relate to such a weird miracle?

IS THE TRAILER A BIG SPOILER?

My suspicion was that I had already seen the film just by watching the trailer--that is, all the good parts were shown in the trailer and "spoiled." I was half right. What you see in the trailer is pretty much the third act. A lot is given away in the trailer, to be sure, but I don't know how else the filmmakers could have gotten people in theaters without revealing an event so curious that moviegoers would want to see the full story. Casting big-name actor, Jennifer Garner (as Christy, the Mom), gives even more credibility to this incredulous tale.

DISRUPTION

I am calling this a disruptive film because my very first gut-reaction was: "'Heaven Is For Real' is about an experience of heaven. 'Miracles From Heaven' is about a family who received a miracle. People's reaction is going to be: I prayed for a miracle for my child and didn't get one!" But this does not seem to be people's reaction. The film does not sidestep this question of the problem of evil, the question of "Why, God?!" and the answers are not the usual. The answers are embedded in events, experiences and the realities the everyday miraculous along with the extraordinary miraculous. There is a wonderful emphasis on "being the miracle" ourselves, but not to the exclusion or doubting of the truly God-miraculous. It's not God or us, it's God and us. And our God is disruptive, is He not?

FIERCE MOTHERLOVE

The film starts off super-saccharine: a portrait of the happiest family in Texas (no doubt to show the contrast to their upcoming struggles). Their church is the happiest place on earth with the best music in Christendom (the golden-voiced  Mac  Powell from "Third Day" is the music ministry). The pastor is jovial, entertaining , kind and beloved. Life is a dream until middle daughter, Anna (Kylie Rogers) begins having severe, persistent stomach pain out of the blue. The always-excellent New Zealand actor, Martin Henderson, plays Kevin, the husband/Dad: a laid-back veterinarian who doesn't worry too much about anything because of his tremendous faith in God. Christy, instead, is losing faith fast. Although they're a great parental team, "Miracles" is also a story about a fierce mother-warrior who storms heaven, earth and hell to get her daughter help. Jennifer Garner's performance is average, nothing more. Her range is more suited to "Alias," and roles that require a kind of earnest, superficial lightness. The child actors--as are all child actors today it seems--are magnificent.

"Miracles" is not a Hallmark film, not "heartwarming" (both of which I am allergic to). This film "goes there," albeit in a slightly whitewashed way. We observe a little girl who is dying, who is depressed, who is angry, who is going through the five stages of dying. We see a mother at her wit's end and a family who is literally torn apart and focusing all its attention on only one member.

GETTING REAL

The real Beam family is shown at the end with an update and voiceover from Anna herself. Fascinating.

"Miracles From Heaven" gets better and better as it goes along, and there are even a few surprises at the end. The answers given (to the question of tragedy) midway through the film pale in comparison with the final answers. The answers are not a bunch of tenuous chatter. The answers are lived and inarguable. The ultimate question of the film seems to be: "Is life better with God?" It's a question that each one of us will have to answer for ourselves.

OTHER STUFF:

--I would add: "Is death better with God?"
 "If we have believed in Christ for this life only we are the most pitiful of men." 1 Corinthians 15:19

--If you think (from the trailer) that the little girl falls OUT of a tree? She doesn't.

--FEMALE DIRECTOR! FEMALE DIRECTOR!

--The soundtrack is rather facile, excepted, and standard for an "inspirational film."

--Without investigating every nook and cranny of the problem of evil, it covers enough.

--Ma always berates me because I don't like her Hallmark films. "What's wrong with a happy ending, huh?!" "Why do you have to be so cynical all the time?!" "There's not enough goodness in life!"

--The film is something of a medical drama (which we are so used to from TV: we now find in-depth medical explanations and terminology interesting).

--Maybe this whole film is a metaphor for the hope of heaven (that thought really came to me at the end, from the film itself). Heaven which is real. Heaven where all shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

--Anyone who has lost a child or has a sick child would really appreciate this film, I would think.

--Like "Heaven Is For Real," they do "show" us "heaven." Noooooooooooo!!!!! It doesn't make me wanna go there! But, thankfully, unlike "Heaven Is For Real," they don't try to show us God/Jesus.

--I did cry a bit at the end, OK?

--The aftermath of the "accident" unfolds rather deliciously.

--I was very conflicted about even bothering to see this film for the reasons mentioned above:
1. Didn't I already see the film by watching the trailer?
2. Why would anyone make a film about such an unrelatable episode in someone's life?
3. If you're going to make a film like this, you'd better darn well deal with the problem of evil, and deal with it very, very well.
But they did it. The film is successful as a film and as a God story.

--The ending is really quite good I must say (notwithstanding a hammy speech by Christy and the reaction of the stereotypical, self-righteous, annoying church ladies).




March 19, 2016

NEW (AND ONLY) DOCUMENTARY ON THE LIFE & WORK OF FLANNERY O'CONNOR JUST RELEASED!


A new DVD: "Uncommon Grace--The Life of Flannery O'Connor"--the only documentary ever made on her--has just been released that does great justice to the life, work and faith of the ever-relevant Flannery. Although only sixty minutes in length, you will feel like you have sojourned for years with the acclaimed short story writer in Georgia, Iowa and New York City. Carefully researched, with interviews from Flannery experts and those who knew her, "Uncommon Grace" is an in-depth peering into the soul of a most unusual American author. Flannery was a devout Catholic who nevertheless knew, understood and wrote about the Protestant South that was her home.

Starting from childhood, Flannery (her real name was Mary Flannery O'Connor) loved books and creating books. While she was still quite young, she even felt that "literature" would be her future, her calling. Flannery was an only child whose father died an early death of lupus--an incurable auto-immune disease that would claim her life prematurely also (at age 39 in 1964). But in those short years, Flannery's rise to notoriety was meteoric.

I knew bits and pieces of Flannery's story from people in my life who are ardent admirers. I had read parts of a collection of her letters and a few of her startling "Southern gothic" short stories. "Uncommon Grace" tied all these threads together for me. Her importance to the world of modern literature cannot be underestimated. She has been a major influence on artists of other genres (e.g., songwriters). She has been imitated by many. The dark and shocking quality of her characters and endings seems incongruous at first with the bespectacled, conservatively-dressed O'Connor. But when one gets to know the unsentimental, quipping, sharp-tongued scribe, it all makes sense. Flannery was concerned about her contemporaries whom she saw falling into agnosticism and atheism. How could faith penetrate the modern age? What did her peers need to hear? Flannery famously said of her works: "When people are hard of hearing, you need to shout."

A basic premise in Flannery's narratives is that God is offering every person transformative grace in the moment, every moment, but even more at life's decisive, even if unforeseen, turns.

At the height of her career, due to her illness, the still-young Flannery was forced to live as a part-time recluse on the dairy farm run by her mother. (However, all writers have to be recluses of a sort in order to write.) She folded the everyday landscapes and scenes and people around her into her prolific tales (two novels and thirty-two short stories along with other writings) that were published and received with much buzz, reprintings and awards.

One of the most important questions explored by the film is the question: "Was Flannery a racist?" The answer is a bit complicated, especially in light of her short story: "Everything That Rises Must Converge."

"Uncommon Grace" is thorough and engaging on all counts (not too heavy, not too light) with an original, sparse, utterly fitting piano soundtrack. My one criticism is that the filmmaker herself did some of the narration. Although she has a pleasant voice and reads well, she has a Midwest accent and is not a professional narrator. It would have been well worth it to hire a professional. However, the film is otherwise up to snuff and completely worthy of immersing oneself in--by Flannery aficionados and neophytes alike. The filmmakers created this film as a true labor of love: to give some insight into Flannery's uncompromising worldview informed by her Catholicism.

Flannery suffused her stories with a jarring otherworldliness invading thisworldliness at life and death moments. In other less talented hands, these parables may not have worked, and might even have sounded preachy. But Miss O'Connor was deadly earnest about her craft and essentially gave the Gospel message new incarnations, new wings and new audiences.


"Uncommon Grace" is available on Amazon. Website: www.BeataProductions.com

February 22, 2016

DIGITAL GENERATION RESOURCES


“DIGITAL GENERATION” RESOURCES


Read this first! Collier & Magid’s “Online Safety 3.0: A Refreshing Approach to Internet Safety”www.tinyurl.com/OnlineSafety3-0 (Link is just the intro. Be sure to click thru to 8-page manifesto! The best thing you’ll read on Internet Safety! Digital Citizenship!)

Also: the Common Sense Media Summer 2012 Study of How Teens View Their Digital Lives www.tinyurl.com/TeensDigitalLives

SOFTWARE FILTERS & MONITORS:

www.software4parents.com (a collection of various software options for your computer) Includes NET NANNY MOBILE (for phones and eBLASTER MOBILE for Android) LET KIDS KNOW WHEN SOFTWARE INSTALLED & HOW IT WORKS! DON’T SPY! (The best sofware is installed online, not by consumer, so can’t be disabled by consumer or kids) Call cell phone service provider for filter options on phones. Also: www.covenanteyes.com       www.safekids.com   www.safeteens.com  (great, simple ideas for parents and youth themselves, includes “Family Contract for Online Safety” that both kids and parents sign)
www.clearplay.com With studios' permission, bad language, etc., is excised out of DVDs and streaming so whole fam can watch!

CATHOLIC/CHRISTIAN BOOKS:
 "Connected Toward Communion: The Church and Social Communication in the Digital Age" Zsupan-Jerome, "The Church and New Media" Vogt, "The Social Media Gospel" Gould

SECULAR BOOKS:
“Talking Back to Facebook” by James Steyer, founder of www.commonsensemedia.org, “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology & Less from Each Other” by MIT’s Shirley Turkle, “Virtually You: Dangers of the E-Personality” Elias Aboujaoude,
“Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure & Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected & Unhappy Kids” & “Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success” by Dr. Madeline Levine

www.vatican.va  Must-read Vatican documents on media: “Dawn of a New Era,” “Rapid Development” (JP2). Also read the recent, short addresses by the popes for "World Communications Day" at www.vatican.va

MEDIA LITERACY ORGANIZATIONS/CONFERENCES/TRAINING/CURRICULUM:





www.PaulineCMS.com: ML certification for catechists & teachers
www.SQPN.com (Catholic new media leaders, yearly conference), www.medialit.org (Center for Media Literacy), www.NAMLE.net  (Nat’l Ass’n for Media Literacy Education—formerly AMLA), www.NAMLEmarketplace.org (all kinds of curriculum), www.frankWbaker.com  (sign up for his listserv and get the latest on media literacy daily—about 5 emails a day), www.catholicvideogamers.blogspot.com (for teens and parents, written by Chicago seminarians and friends), www.connectsafely.org, www.sheriffs.org (click on “Safe Surfin’ Foundation” for free CDs with videos/files/.pdfs/tests for kids, teens, parents/communities), www.fbi.gov also has internet safety info (but only about predators, not comprehensive), www.pope2you.net (Youtube, Facebook, iphone), www.xt3.com (worldwide social networking pope uses), www.commonsense.com (rating for and by parents for all things media) www.PluggedIn.com (Focus on the Family=ALL things youth & media!) www.MasterMediaIntl.org (get a monthly prayer calendar to pray for who's who in media!)

NEWS LITERACY: www.CenterforNewsLiteracy.org,   www.TheNewsLiteracyProject.org

PORN PREVENTION AND RECOVERY RESOURCES:
www.ReclaimSexualHealth.com(Catholic)&www.candeocan.com(secular)(confidential sites w/information, accountability & help)

THEOLOGY OF THE BODY (also for teens): YOUTUBE: JasonEvert channel, www.WomenMadeNew.com ,
www.pauline.org, www.ascensionpress.com www.christopherwest.com TOB  CDs/DVDs,  www.theologyofthebody.net “The Interior Gaze: Remedy for Pornovision and Lust DVD,” Fr. Thomas Loya www.taborlife.org , “Out of the Darkness” DVD (interview w former porn star turned Christian & others) from www.anteroompictures.com,  Accountability websites: www.thekingsmen.us
COMPREHENSIVE porn prevention and recovery resources (always being updated): www.tinyurl.com/PornPreventionResources

MUST-HAVE MEDIA LITERACY / MEDIA MINDFULNESS CURRICULUM BOOKS:
from www.pauline.org
--“Media Mindfulness—Educating Teens About Faith & Media” Sr. Gretchen Hailer & Sr. Rose Pacatte (easy-to-use lesson plans!)
--“Our Media World” Sr. Gretchen Hailer & Sr. Rose Pacatte (Media Literacy/Media Mindfulness K-8) (easy-to-use lesson plans!)
--“Imagining Faith with Kids: Unearthing Seeds of the Gospel in Children’s Stories” (tots to tweens) by Mary Margaret Keaton
--“How To Watch Movies with Kids,” by Sr. Hosea Rupprecht




MUST-READ MAGAZINES:
“Entertainment Weekly” (the latest on ALL entertainment media, serious journalism, even tho’ it looks like a tabloid)
“WIRED” (computers, internet, futuristic technology)


WATCH:
www.MediaApostle.com and then download the free study guide to start a conversation about the Church and Media: www.MediaApostle.com/Resources




EASY MEDIA STRATEGIES FOR FAMILIES

--Media is comprehensive: CONTENT, TECHNOLOGY, CULTURE, INSTITUTIONS, AUDIENCES


--We CHOOSE HOW WE USE media. We can change, go back, adapt, re-think, modify, perfect!

--How can I use media in a way that respects HUMAN DIGNITY and never destroys it?


--How can I make MEDIA WORK FOR ME AND MY FAMILY and never against us?
We can make media work for us through:
  • DISCIPLESHIP—We need to follow, glorify & imitate Jesus in everything we do, including media.
  • DISCERNMENT—We need to make good media choices (media technology use and media content).
  • DISCIPLINE—Practice makes perfect. We need self-mastery, to be in control of media rather than it controlling us.

--CONTROL IS FOR THE MOMENT, COMMUNICATION IS FOR A LIFETIME. (Talk at length with your kids about media so they process, think, agree, decide, gain skills to make good choices on their own.)

--“Choose, apportion, accompany & correct young people’s media use.” –Blessed Fr. James Alberione

--We need to PRAY about our media use: it’s powerful, it’s everywhere, and it’s the stuff of our lives.

--All media are virtual reality. VIRTUALITY IS REAL. Real in appearance and effects. In media, a partial gift of the bodily presence is there, but the full gift of the bodily presence is not.

--Bodies are not optional. We need to give each other the GIFT OF OUR FULL BODILY PRESENCE. Face time and undivided attention is the best form of communication. Other mediated forms are secondary. The people bodily present to us always have precedence (rather than people we can communicate with through media).

--There are 3 SACRED PLACES (tables & altars) where we DON’T NEED SCREENS or mediated communication.

  • CHURCH: God is present
  • FAMILY TABLE: the images of God are present
  • MASTER BEDROOM: the primary image of God, “male & female He created them,” are present
If it’s absolutely necessary to use media in these 3 places, intentionally excuse yourself, take care of the matter in another space, and then return.

--The Church believes that the MEDIA ARE GIFTS OF GOD, and that we should use them and use them well.

--God is everywhere in the media, especially in human persons. We can’t hurt God through media, but we can hurt human beings. We need to focus on how human dignity is respected (or not) in media.

--We need to transfer the Gospel into virtual reality: WWJDO? What Would Jesus Do Online? If we wouldn’t/shouldn’t do it in person, don’t do it online. (The Golden Rule also applies!)

--“Internet Safety” includes being safe here AND hereafter. Since we are spending 7 hours a day online, we are “working out our salvation” partially online.