Reclaiming the Wild Man / Wild Woman in Each of Us

Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist – Mass during the Day (12th Sunday since Pentecost)

Reading 1:  Isaiah 49: 1-6;  Psalm 149;  Reading 2: Acts 13: 22-26;  Gospel:  Luke 1: 57-80

 Today we celebrate the Saint and prophet who was and forever will be John the Baptist. It is fitting that we explore the many persons and events contributing to his legacy and to expand his legacy to ourselves as people pointing the way to Jesus.  

Like many a prophet before him, John the Baptist came to embody the persona of the WILD MAN, and, in deference to “The Women Who Run with Wolves,” Wild Woman, too.  

These are their Strengths
Wild Men and Wild Women can be role models for taking the road less travelled.

These are their Weaknesses
Because they are unchecked in their sensitivities and brutal in their will to do things their own way, they can be frightening and threatening to those who live more traditionally.

Here are their Passions
Nature, festivals, poetry, singing, spirituality, and storytelling

The Merriam-Webster Definition of wild man / Wild Woman

1 a: an uncivilized person: savage

b: a person of fierce and ungovernable character

c: a person holding radical political views

Throughout the centuries, nearly all cultures have admired these strong, eccentric, impulsive men and women, evolving stories that celebrate their courage, wisdom and strength, while offering lessons to be learned from their more reckless and vengeful natures. From as early as the third millennium before Jesus – that is, some five thousand years ago, the Epic of Gilgamesh carved in stones in Sumerian and Akkadian languages told of Enkidu, a wild ass of a man, covered in hair, attune to the speech of animals, in harmony with nature, set apart from the corrupted so-called civilized societies humanity created. Enkidu, however, is ultimately initiated into love and the better aspects of human society by a woman, Shamat.  Eventually he wrestles with and is befriended by the great King Gilgamesh who benefits from Enkidu’s strength and more nature-based wisdom.

The First Wild Man in the Bible is Ishmael, son of Abraham and Hagar in Genesis 16: 11 Then the Lord’s angel said to her:

“You are now pregnant and shall bear a son;  you shall name him Ishmael,[e] For the Lord has heeded your affliction. 12 He shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him;
Alongside[
f] all his kindred shall he encamp.

 The Second is Esau, twin brother to Jacob, sons of Isaac and Rebekah:  

When the time of her delivery came, there were twins in her womb. 25 The first to emerge was reddish,[k] and his whole body was like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. 26 Next his brother came out, gripping Esau’s heel;[l] so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when they were born.

27 When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country; whereas Jacob was a simple[m] man, who stayed among the tents. 2

 We know from the twins’ saga that once Jacob steals Esau’s birthright, Esau plots to kill him but Jacob escapes, become indentured to his cousin Laban’s estate.  Jacob marries Leah and later Rachel. When he decides to embark upon a bold but cautious return to his homeland with his wives and flocks, Jacob wrestles with God as he prepares to face the consequences of his betrayal of his brother.  Esau, wild as he is, has also matures over the years and evidences a hallmark of the biblical Wildman who cooperates with God’s grace: On Jacob’s return home, the adult Esau embraces his adult brother in a great moment of reconciliation.  Esau, the original “hairy man,” expanded the biblical Wild Man/ Wild Woman prototype as one who is guided by God, in part, because of his or her earthiness.

From that episode we traverse from an unknown time and place to the second millennium (12th century around 1,200 before Jesus).  Here we encounter two Wild Women:  Deborah and her sidekick Jael whose feats are reported in the biblical book of JUDGES: Deborah from the Hebrew “bee,” as in “honeybee” that bestows both sweetness and scathing sharpness of a sting; Jael—a name derived from the root word for “mountain goat.”  Deborah summoned some of the tribes of Israel to a great battle on Mount Tabor in which an oppressive Canaanite regime was defeated.  Meanwhile, Jael seduced the Canaanite general Sisera only to kill him in his sleep. Their victories are recorded as “The Song of Deborah,” chapter five of the Book of Judges, which is hailed as the oldest extant poetry of antiquity–the antecedent and inspiration for over one third of poetic verse found in the Bible from Psalms and Proverbs, Song of Songs to prophetic poetry of Isiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel.  

          Quickly moving through the Bible, we note that the prophets in Books of Samuel and Kings (10th and 9th centuries) Elijah, Elisha, Nathan further develop Deborah’s political acumen, crystalizing the essentially political and social dynamics of God’s ethics.  These figures established a strong foundation upon which the three greatest prophets stand: Isaiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah (8th and 7th centuries B.C.E.).  In today’s Isaiah reading we find the prophet and poet Isaiah’s ministry blossoming with strong political as well as spiritual directives for Israel as a nation.  By this point, the political aspect is fully harmonized with the Wild Man / Wild Woman ‘s Spiritual attributes. Those who argue religion and politics should not mix and that the Church should avoid political critique, have eschewed, whether consciously or unconsciously, this strong biblical tradition of these wild and crazy prophets.

          So, too, John the Baptist, perpetuates the consolidation of both spiritual and political in his Wild Man role.  We do well to remember on this day John’s highly critical exhortations against tetrarch Herod Antipas, as much as his insistence on the legacy of Esau:  reconciliation rooted in the essential virtue of truth.  For John commanded the citizens and political leaders of Judah to acknowledge their sins, repent and be open to a new life in harmony with God, the Law and with one another.  And who nurtured and extended this bible-based legacy to him?  Elizabeth, his mother, of course, along with his father the priest Zechariah.

          In their own way, Elizabeth and Zechariah fit the Wild One archetype as they lived “in the hills of Judah” –apart and above the great city of Jerusalem.  Their initial childlessness set them outside the norms of Jewish life and must have added to their ability to see it more critically, with an outsider’s objectivity. We don’t know the extent to which John and Jesus spent time together growing up, but both would have been learned in the prophetic legacy that reinterpreted the Torah for their age and continues to do so for our age and for centuries to come.

          As we come to communion this day celebrating Saint John the Baptist and the way he prepared people for Jesus, may we reclaim our prophetic Wild Man, Wild Woman roles to apply faith to all aspects of our lives – personal, social and political.

Isaiah proclaimed: “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”  John the Baptist cried, “Repent in all the ways you fail to cooperate with God’s grace, God’s plan for the earth, for the world.” And remember, Jesus called Herod “a fox,” and some of the Sadducees “Hypocrites,” reminding us that sin has not only personal but deeply social dynamics.  May we share the Eucharist today conscious that Jesus commanded that Eucharist be perpetuated through the Church through time and space so that all His followers be nourished in this truth: Communion with God is about personal transformation, and, equally so, about transformation of the world.  A Wild idea indeed.

 

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Trinity Sunday: Mass Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of My Ordination to the Priesthood at Saint Paul the Apostle Church, New York, NY

WHAT I’VE LEARNED THUS FAR –3 Points for Trinity Sunday

By Father James DiLuzio C.S.P.

 From Sunday’s Scripture Readings:

Excerpt from Deuteronomy 4: “This is why you must now know, and fix in your heart, that the LORD is God in the heavens above and on earth below, and that there is no other. You must keep his statutes and commandments that I enjoin on you today, that you and your children after you may prosper, and that you may have long life on the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you forever.””

Excerpt from Matthew 28:  And Jesus words confirm all this: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

 What follows is a more detailed expression of my thoughts.  For the Sunday Mass, I spoke on what follows more extemporaneously.  (I did not include the RED text on Sunday)

 It actually happened!  25 years!  I’m humbled and grateful for these years of faith and service and I am thankful to the Paulist Fathers without whom I never would be living a life in continual dialogue with the Scriptures and the People of God in extraordinary, intimate ways.  Today’s readings also remind me how in debt I am to the 10 Commandments and Jesus’ teachings.  They bring true freedom.  Observing them as closely as we are able, we may place our heads on our pillows each night and sleep soundly embraced by amazing grace.  We may wake up each morning as a child awakes filled with hope and enthusiasm,  conscious of God’s love and energized for the day for the good, the true and the beautiful.

 

In celebration of TRINITY SUNDAY on which we contemplate the Christian understanding of ONE GOD in Three Persons—we affirm that GOD IS RELATIONSHIP ITSELF—that’s the true meaning behind “Father, Son and Spirit.”  Indeed, as God is the SOURCE OF LIFE, THE FORCE MAINTAINING THE COSMOS, an UNDYING ENERGY FROM WITHIN AND WITHOUT –God extends God’s very essence expanding loving relationship to and through humanity and all creation.  Relationship is the heart of life—all people, the entire cosmos is inter-related in ways we need to keep exploring, understanding and celebrating.  And the best way is to keep cultivating the awe and wonder and freedom of childhood.  On this Anniversary Celebration I would like to share 3 (3 ½) insights I’ve gained from my 25 years as a Paulist priest.  Here we go:

  1. Point 1: “Whoever does not accept the Kingdom like a child shall not enter it.” Luke 18: 16-17
  • An energized adulthood demands that we cultivate and grow in our childhood JOYS. Are childhood joys comprise the essence of who we ARE, and Who God CALLS US TO BE.  Share who we are!  That’s the mission. . .. Don’t gauge your joys and talents in terms of money you make from them.  That’s not the point. We must keep developing our childhood happiness whatever our ultimate livelihood.  Get out those guitars, gardening tools, baseball gloves, science kit, puzzles or whatever it may be that keeps you fully alive. Let your lights shine!
    1. THE SHADOW SIDE OF CHILDHOOD: Childhood inevitably imparts wounds, too.  True growth engages us in “un-learning” negative patterns bestowed on us by exploring healthy patterns of thinking and living. Faith offers us the “bigger picture” we need to trust in a Loving God, accept the truth that people who mistreat, manipulate or domineer are transmitting pain they received in their childhoods.  We never deserved their cruelty, and, ultimately, safe distance may be required, yet in our hearts we need to develop compassion for ourselves and our family’s and institutions’ failures so that we don’t let our hurts prevent us from living and loving.
    2. In Exodus the Scriptures reveal God as saying God will be about “inflicting punishment for their ancestors’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation.” All that means is that God allows the consequences of wrong actions -be they selfish, greedy, violent—to play themselves out and they do, indeed, impact many subsequent generations. Meanwhile, both Hebrew and Christian Scriptures affirm God never abandons us as we work through the harmful residues of the past.
    3. Later the prophet Ezekiel assures the people saying, “The son shall not be charged with the guilt of his father, nor shall the father be charged with the guilt of his son. Justice belongs to the just, and wickedness to the wicked.”  This implies, in part, what I’ve come to understand:  God invites each new generation to correct, amend and extinguish the sins of the past –be they that of our parents, grandparents or ancestors, or our nation’s or our religious body’s—so we keep ever-growing in the ways God set out in the beginning:  the 2 GREAT COMMANDMENTS: Love of God, self and neighbor as self.  Strong faith gives us the COURAGE to do just that.  It’s what Jesus meant when he said, “Pick up your cross and follow me” and “I am with you always, even unto the end of time.”
    4. Strong feelings from childhood are often evoked in contemporary situations that nonetheless must be distinguished from the situations and contexts of the past. We must learn to deal with these and the distinct people involved in them in healthier, more creative ways, detaching from our past.  e., the person who treats us ill today is not our parent, our wicked 4th grade teacher, the abusive boss from our last job.  He/She and we are in a different situation now.  We must calm our bruised inner child and live in the present. We must assert ourselves because we don’t need other’s good behavior to claim our self-esteem as children of God.  Claiming our foundational dignity in God’s love, no one can take it away. We can then see the person and his/her inappropriate or hurtful behavior as someone in pain; someone who tries to claim their dignity at the expense of another because they are deeply insecure.   Assured of who we are as Loved by God, we can move from anger, to pity, to compassion for the wounded, insecure fellow (without ever telling him or her that they are wounded or insecure—that won’t get us anywhere!).  Centered in this way, we are far more able and likely to “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6) and advance to the Biblical Vision: “With firm purpose you maintain peace (O, Lord!); in peace, because of our trust in you.” Trust in the Lord forever!  (Isaiah 26)

2. Point 2: I’m continuing to discover and develop the virtue of Abandoning Aesthetics regarding human persons.

  1. We are all nurtured in aesthetics based on our family backgrounds and communities. We learn what our group deems appropriate for dress, personal hygiene, decorum, and proper pleasures.  This is natural.   As we grow and assert our individuality, we adopt, adapt or reject aspects of what we’ve learned and apply them to ourselves.  In addition, Education invites us to develop critical thinking regarding works of art, music and literature; Church and Society cultivate ethics regarding social norms and proper politics. The gift of critical thinking is essential to life and advancing public mores.
  2. Yet, we fail to engage in the Gospel, when we view another human being according to the criteria we deem best for ourselves or evaluate them as if they are a theatre piece or literary work. We can project our expectations upon them and fail to see who he or she really is. Jesus emphatically insists: “Stop Judging, and you will not be judged.  Stop condemning and you will not be condemned; Forgive and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6).  It’s letting go of aesthetics and critical evaluation of a person–even his or her actions –that help us see a fellow human being as God sees him or her.
  3. Judgment and Condemnation create chasms between people and prevent us from working together to solve problems, to undo the damage that is done. Instead of saying “How can you wear that? Say that?” or worse, “How dare you!”  “How could you!” I’m learning to keep silent and inwardly pray about my evaluations of another.  Only when someone’s actions warrant it, I find it’s better to ask, “What’s going on within you that brings you to speak or act in this way?” or “Please, help me understand your choices in this matter.  Might there be a more productive way to deal with this?  How may I help?”   (In truth, even compassionate statements such as these can rile another person, so this approach it’s not a guarantee for successful dialogue. In the realm of human relations, there is no perfect panacea.  Furthermore, our own emotions can get in the way of our best intentions, making what we think is a “kind response” received by another as anything but.  (God help us!)

3. Point 3: “Can any of you by worrying add a moment to your life-span? 26 If even the smallest things are beyond your control, why are you anxious about the rest? “(Luke 12). To follow Jesus is to “Come Down to Earth.”

Our Christian faith is centered in God who enters human history through the Incarnate Word, in Jesus of Nazareth.  To follow Jesus, we must “come down to earth,” too.  Living in a “down to earth” way, we may more readily “live in the present moment” with much less anxiety. Here are life’s bare bone essentials to always keep in mind when in relationship with others but especially in times of conflict:

  1. Everyone needs air and water. (Deprive any one of these and the issues before us have no weight, no matter.)
  2. Everyone needs food, clothing and shelter. God created us as beings that must cooperate, collaborate to provide us with these bare necessities. No one can obtain all these essentials on his or her own. This basic concept assures us that we are all in this world together.
  3. Everyone needs LOVEFORGIVENESS –I understand this now as ONE WORD. Each dynamic is inseparable from the other. Mere Existence becomes LIFE in its fullness when this irrefutable, indivisible dynamic is nurtured and maintained.  Besides, no one can live without it. Now, LOVEFORGIVENESS doesn’t mean we can’t hold people accountable for their actions but it does mean that the accountability offers hope and opportunity to change while taking responsibility for his or her actions. We must assist ourselves and others always to claim and re-claim our true dignity as children of God.  (Another dimension of “Pick up your cross.”
  4. Everyone needs STORY to endow meaning to all the other fundamentals I’ve stated. Our FAITH provides the greatest and foundational stories, and in our diverse and heterogeneous world, we need to dialogue and discern the commonalities in all people’s stories –religious, national and personal—to create the solidarity in addressing the problems we face.  So many Religious Traditions affirm Unity, Harmony and Peace as God’s goal for the world. We all need to know our stories and keep learning from them.
  5. Everyone dies. Humble recognition of this truth may help us advance LIFE and LIFE-GIVING CHOICES for as long as we are on this earth because our earthly life is inextricably linked to our life and relationship with God and others for all eternity.  Detaching from our emotions or taking “time out” from an argument or discussion when emotions are strong can keep us alive and well until our time is up.

Keeping life “simple” is the best way to live, for, in truth God is the simplest, most uncomplicated essence of Being, of Personhood and Relationship there is—all generative, all creative, all overflowing love.

I would like to close with the song I sing at the opening of every parish mission I offer:  Leonard Bernstein’s SIMPLE SONG with lyrics by Stephen Schwartz.

You can hear me sing via this YouTube link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3h9s0OY2Ues

(This was recorded several years ago.  I think I sang it better on Sunday!)

God bless you all for reading and sharing in my reflections.

 

 

Stop the Scapegoating; Stop AntiSemitism; Stop Anti-Humanity

Anti-Semitism is Anti-Humanity. Who are we scapegoating these days–family members, friends or foes, peoples or nations? Who are we blaming for all our problems, conflicts or woes? Blaming in many ways is irrational because we all contribute in varying degrees to the problems we face. Moreover, blaming paralyzes us, exhausts our energies that could be better used to addressing our problems by collaborating with others on solutions to the problems we face.

This is exactly what Jesus meant when he insisted that his followers “Stop Judging” and “Stop Condemning” for these are dead ends that prevent us from correcting problems with honesty, humility and a deeper humanity. This does not mean we should not speak out against wrongdoing , but without the condemnation because no hurtful action occurs in isolation of a troubled relationship for which all parties bear responsibilities. We must ask ourselves when we are tempted to blame a person, a group, a nation for something, “What have I done (or our leaders done?) to contribute to this problem, this conflict, these negative feelings?”

Even more importantly, ask “What approach will better address this conflict, these feelings to blame, to scapegoat : Name-calling, demeaning, belittling another? OR -asking “How can we work together to alleviate our conflicts and the prejudices we have embraced?” “What’s honest about our issues and complaints with another? What’s irrational?” “What are the true sources of our problems?” We need to ask God for greater maturity and wisdom in addressing feelings of conflict and blame and take care to act in ways that let grace take hold of us.

Heed this WARNING:

https://mailchi.mp/rabbisacks/ive-been-doing-thought-for-the-day-for-thirty-years-but-i-never-thought-that-in-2018-i-would-still-have-to-speak-about-antisemitism

 

 

“Right” vs “Rights”

Here’s something for the Guns and Mental Health debates:

What’s really at issue: In essence, the ideal of right (what is true, good, and mutually beneficial for all and not a few, I.e. THE TEN COMMANDMENTS) has ceded to the ideal of rights (there’s a law that says I can do this, so I can and I will. The impact on others is of no concern for me. ). Big Difference.

Consider reading this article for more in-depth exploration of this distinction:

Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Sunday 4th of February 2018

 Reading 1JB 7:1-4, 6-7

Job spoke, saying:
Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?

Responsorial PsalmPS 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6

  1. (cf. 3a) Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted.

Reading 21 COR 9:16-19, 22-23

Brothers and sisters:
If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast,
for an obligation has been imposed on me,
and woe to me if I do not preach it!

GospelMK 1:29-39

On leaving the synagogue
Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John.
Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever.
They immediately told him about her.
He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up.
Then the fever left her and she waited on them.

When it was evening, after sunset,
they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons.
The whole town was gathered at the door.
He cured many who were sick with various diseases,
and he drove out many demons,
not permitting them to speak because they knew him.

Rising very early before dawn, he left
and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.
Simon and those who were with him pursued him
and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.”
He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages
that I may preach there also.
For this purpose have I come.”
So he went into their synagogues,
preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.

It’s easy to fall into the existential angst of Job – “what does anything matter?” We let the words of Ecclesiastes echo repeatedly in our heads: “All is vanity. Life is meaningless.” When we’re in that state of mind, it is profitable to remember that faith insists that humanity needs a Savior.  God initiated a Covenant with mankind for this very purpose: deliverance from mere existence into fullness of life.

For us, the story of Jesus is a healing story.  It’s restorative, transformative.  Jesus’s destiny was and remains a healing ministry just as he healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law and myriad of others long ago.  But note Jesus’ exemplifies an essential aspect of his restorative technique right here in today’s Gospel for all of us to appreciate:  solitude: “Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.”  We must remember that prayer does not / must not always include words.  Sometimes in our despair, words are even too much for us to bear.  Solidarity with God requires silence, too.  Here’s a perfect example from a story by religious sister and spiritual writer José Hobday:

“One summer Saturday when I was 12, I was waiting for my friend who wanted to come over. We had planned the morning together. She was quite late. I was fretting and complaining and generally making a nuisance of myself. In fact, I was becoming rather obnoxious to everyone else in the house.

“Finally, my father said to me ‘Get a book a blanket and an apple and get into the car!’ I wanted to know why, but he repeated the order. So, I obeyed. My father drove me about eight miles from home to a canyon area and said, ‘Now get out.  We cannot stand you any longer at home. You aren’t fit to live with.  Stay out here by yourself today until you understand better how to act. I’ll come back for you this evening.’

I got out, angry, frustrated and defiant. The nerve of him! I thought immediately of walking home.  Eight miles was no distance at all for me. Then the thought of meeting my father when I got there took hold and I changed my mind.

“I cried and threw the book, apple and blanket over the canyon ledge. I had been dumped and I was furious. But it is hard to keep up a good, rebellious cry with no audience, so finally, there was nothing to do but face up to the day alone.

“I sat on the rim, kicking the dirt and trying to get control of myself. After a couple of hours, as noon approached, I began to get hungry. I located the apple and climbed down to retrieve it– as well as the book and the blanket.  I climbed back up and as I came over the top, I noticed the piñon tree. It was lovely and full.
I spread the blanket in the shade, put the book under my head and began to eat the apple.  I was aware of a change of attitude. As I looked through the branches into the sky, a great sense of peace and beauty came to me.  The clouds sat in still puffs, the blue was endless; I began to take in their spaciousness. I thought about the way I had acted and why daddy had treated me so harshly.  Understanding began to come and I became more objective about my behavior. I found myself getting in touch with my feelings, with the world around me.

“Nature was my mother, holding me for comfort and healing. I became aware of being part of it all, and I found myself thinking of God. . .. I felt in communion with much that I could not know, but to which I was drawn.   .  .  Of touching the holy.

“By the time my father came to get me, I was restored.  Daddy did not press me about the day.  He asked no questions and I gave him no answers.  But I was different and we both knew it. . . Before I got out of the car, I thanked him.”

May we begin with a little more silence now then we usually do—that is, before we return to the words of The Creed.  And so, may the balance of this Mass increase our comfortability with solitude and the mystical presence of Jesus.

Four Oscar Contenders:  THE POST, THE SHAPE OF WATER, LADY BIRD and CALL ME BY YOUR NAME

All four of these Best Picture Nominees are worthy of your time and investment.  Here’s Why:

THE POST directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks confirms the essential role of the press to insure a healthy democracy and honesty in government. It’s an important slice of history.  If you happened to see the recent Ken Burns/ Lynn Novik VIETNAM documentary on PBS this fall, you’ll appreciate THE POST even more. THE POST relays how the Washington Post struggled with the ethics of printing The Pentagon Papers –US classified reports documenting the futility of the Vietnam war. The papers revealed how a succession of American Presidents (Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon) sacrificed TRUTH to perpetuate an “American Myth” — INVINCIBILITY!  The TRUTH: Cold War fears prompted administrations to reject stalwart military advice to end the war and prevent the violent death of millions. The film centers on Kay Graham (Streep), the first ever female major newspaper publisher, and the plethora of ethical and legal considerations she must wade through as Ben Bradlee (Hanks) demands publication. Streep inhabits her role with the usual aplomb and, this time around, Tom Hanks cultivates outward quirks and idiosyncrasies that brings his performance closer to an outright impersonation. Not his usual style. It works.

There’s a high degree of cohesive interplay among the supporting cast that creates an aura of “in-the-moment” authenticity—all to Director Spielberg’s credit.  Standouts: Bruce Greenwood as Robert McNamara (whose friendship with Kay Graham causes her considerable angst), Matthew Rhys as Daniel Ellsberg and Bob Odenkirk as reporter Ben Bagdikian. The film’s pace is slow; the script is familiarly linear. The result is a more comfortable movie-going experience despite the high-pitch stress THE POST depicts.  The movie is almost contemplative–but not quite. Its message is irrefutably vital: The Courage to speak (and print) the Truth makes life worth living. The Truth will set you free.

THE SHAPE OF WATER is a grand, spectacular adult fairy-tale, a riff on Beauty and the Beast that insists on the audiences’ transformation rather than that of the characters who are perfect as they are. Well, almost.  Beauty’s arc includes a sexual awakening along with developments in courage.   In this venture, director and writer Guillermo del Toro (with co-writer Vanessa Tyler) melds fantasy with more traditional Hollywood suspense seamlessly with dream-like impressionism in sharp contrasts with metallic laboratories with the burgeoning technologies of the 1950’s.  His movie deserves a wide audience from high schoolers on up for the plot not only depicts Love’s triumph but exposes the many false ideals and vanities of American manhood that continue to confound and confuse every generation.   Actress Sally Hawkins is intrinsically believable and enchanting as the mute Beauty. The “Beast” is strikingly portrayed by Doug Jones with an assist from CGI and inspired costume designer Luis Sequera along with an army of terrific makeup artists.  Their collaborative Amphibian Man creation is more appealing and less freaky than del Toro’s PAN’S LABYRINTH creature. I found it most engaging. Once again actor Michael Shannon is a standout as the villain while Richard Jenkins and Octavia Spencer offer sensitive portrayals of the milk of human kindness. Michael Stuhlbarg as a scientist and (spoiler alert) spy with an ethical backbone offers another informed, convincing performance.  The music by Alexandre Desplat richly enhances the proceedings with a fitting appropriation of “You’ll Never Know” (music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Mack Gordon, 1943) at significant plot points. Opera diva Renée Fleming uses her pop alto voice for a lovely version of that plaintive Oscar winning hit during the closing credits. A wonderful, all-around entertainment.

 

LADY BIRD might just be the most enjoyable coming-of-age, mother-teenage daughter, old school-new school conflict to hit the screen in quite some time. Captivating performances by the fast becoming Irish (and now American) Living Treasure Saoirse Ronan as the teen and Laurie Metcalf as the Mom and fine supporting cast make this “little picture” a major one. With a clever, funny script and adept direction by Greta Gerwig, the movie is a gem. Gerwig elicits first-rate performances from the entire cast, especially Lucas Hedges (a boyfriend), Lois Smith (Sister Principal) and Beanie Feldstein (the girlfriend). The “feel” of the film is impressive in the way each of the character’s respective flaws are as much humbling for the audience as they are dramatically engaging. And, in a surprising change from the usual Hollywood wisecracking, LADY BIRD offers an honest and overall positive depiction of a contemporary Catholic school.  Hurrah!  Best of all, LADY BIRD is more than just a story of growing older and wiser, but an incisive exposé of conflicted social mores and the perils these present to moral development, personal authenticity and integrity in relationships from family to the wider world.

 

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME offers another kind of coming-of-age story with a central emphasis on sexual awakening, in this case with same-sex attraction, albeit with bisexual undertones.  Tomothée Chalamet is excellent as Elio Perlman, a seventeen-year-old whose fascination with an exceedingly handsome thirty-something research assistant (solidly and sensitively played by Armie Hammer) is fraught with age appropriate confusion and elation, awkwardness and excitement. Director Luca Guadagnino offers a stylized romantic view of the relationship highlighted by stunning views of summers in the Italian countryside and earthly delights of teens and young adults swimming in lakes and rivers.

This love story occurs in the context of a highly educated Jewish Italian American family residing in Italy as Elio’s father (once again, a formidable presence and well-crafted performance by Michael Stuhlbarg) pursues and catalogs artifacts of ancient Roman Art. Mom is played by international actress Amira Casar with strength and grace.  The three that make up the Perlman family are true contemporary Renaissance figures, exceedingly well-read, fluent in multiple languages (Italian, French, German and English), dignified, warm, welcoming and hospitable to special friends ranging from foreign academics and local neighbors.

An only child, Elio is in some ways more mature than others his age and it is easy to see how his emergence into manhood would include an attraction to an older man even if that man weren’t as Adonis-like as Mr. Hammer is in appearance.  Still, one would think a sexual attraction on the part of a mature teen would emerge from mentor/ mentee relationship, with mutual likes and dislikes established, common visions and life goals. But the characters, at least initially, have little in common except their masculinity and their connection to Elio’s parents. Still, Elio’s youth accounts for a great deal here. What is not clear, however, is what makes Elio attractive to the older Oliver? Was it Elio’s infatuation with Oliver that elicits comparable sexual response in Oliver?  Perhaps, but the script does not clarify the relationship enough beyond the sensual dimensions, nor does it explore in any detail the realities of a grown man initiating a minor into gay sex, although Oliver does express some misgivings at the onset. Overall, the story presents Elio as ready and willing, and primarily the initiator –more the cat than the mouse, but the ethical question remains.  I left the film asking, “is this a story of a genuine first love or more a sentimental episode of sexual attraction and exploration?” Professor Perlman’s words to his son, Elio, near the conclusion of the film offer some insights as to the importance of self-acceptance and the value and beauty of intimacies in friendships, but the moral dimensions of each character’s actions are left for the audience to decide.  These questions, by the way, apply to Elio’s heterosexual encounters with an adventurous (same age) female neighbor, but would apply with equal gravity to this story if it concerned an adult woman with a not-yet-eighteen teenage boy.

Adults introducing teens into sex, no matter the sexual orientation, no matter who initiates the invitation or who evokes the desire or the foreplay, is rife with psychological, emotional and spiritual consequences. Considering contemporary issues such as Kevin Spacey’s scandal, for example, or the tragically long-standing cases of priests’ abuse of teenagers, I hope my reflections here offer some food for thought regarding even “consenting minors. ” Indeed, this film engenders wide-ranging public discussion.

I welcome you to read another of my movie reviews: The Oscar contender:  GET OUT!

https://frjamesdiluzio.com/2017/03/

 

God’s Authority is Compassion

Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time

28 January 2018

Reading 1 Dt 18:15-20    I will raise up for them a prophet like you (Moses) from among their kin, and will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 7-9:   If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts. Come, let us bow down in worship; let us kneel before the LORD who made us. For he is our God, and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.

Reading 2 1 Cor 7:32-35   An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided.

Gospel Mk 1:21-28  Jesus rebuked him and said, “Quiet! Come out of him!” The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him. All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority.

Several years ago, a group of computer salesman from Milwaukee went to a regional sales meeting in Chicago. They assured their wives they would be home in plenty of time for dinner, but with one thing or another, the meeting ran overtime so the men had to race to the station, tickets in hand. As they barraged through the terminal, one inadvertently kicked over a table supporting a basket of apples. Without stopping, they all reached the train and boarded it with a sigh of relief.  All but one.

This one paused, got in touch with his feelings and experienced a twinge of compassion for the boy whose apple stand had been overturned.  He waved goodbye to his companions and returned to the terminal.  He was glad he did. The 10-year-old boy was blind.  The salesman gathered up the apples and noticed that several of them were bruised. He reached into his wallet and said to the boy, “Here, please take this $10 for the damage we did. I hope it won’t spoil your day.”  As he started to walk away, the bewildered boy called after him, “Are you Jesus?” The man stopped in his tracks. And he wondered.

Well, so much for being married and being distracted from the ways of the Lord!  We know the ways of the Lord most when we allow the Holy Spirit to move us into action.  It only takes a moment.  Or, perhaps, an extra moment –to feel something, to ponder—to move away from the compulsion to keep asking, “Where am I going?” “What’s next?” and ask, instead:  “Where am I?” and “What about NOW” Even more than these, there are the essential questions of faith: “Who guides me? Who is with me now and every moment of my life?  Who is my true authority?  My touchstone?  My cornerstone?”

The people in the synagogue were amazed that Jesus cured the man from his demons, but even more marveled at His “authority.” Jesus had complete freedom to express His powers (i.e. no inhibitions / insecurities / fears). Only a pure Union with God could endow a person with that kind of authority.  Because of this, the people realized  Jesus had more authority than their scribes. Indeed, Jesus’ power was akin to the Sun’s power over the day (Ps 136.8) and its ability to overcome the night.

Jesus has confidence in God and in Himself as God’s Anointed One: confirmed by his Baptism and His experiences of His Power over the Devil’s Temptations in the desert –important events that precede today’s Gospel.  Jesus believes God’s WORD: “You are my beloved Son” and refused to be tempted by Satan not to trust that affirmation.  We, like Christ, will often be tempted by Satan not to believe the words pronounced at our Baptisms: “you have been clothed in Christ,” “you have received the Oil of Salvation,” “you are destined to be among the Saints” when the power of evil seems to be invincible. When we forget these sacred realities we allow  our insecurities and fears to possess us.  Then, unlike Jesus, we are tempted to adopt the world’s forms of power and authority rather than one of service, mutual benefit and solidarity with others.  We can try desperately to advance our own reign rather than God’s reign. Sadly, many people with power these days seem to fall head over heels into that temptation.  But we don’t have to. Jesus’ authority comes from His conviction that He and God are one and that God always chooses the benevolent act, the supportive action, the healing word—contrary to many world philosophies.

Note this important detail in today’s Gospel.  Mark asserts that Jesus began His public life channeling his authority in an act of compassion—freeing a person from evil’s grasp.  Jesus once again shares that power and authority with us through this Eucharist.  His plan is to increase our faith, strengthen our confidence in Him and His authority—the only true authority there is. Shall we cooperate with the Plan of God today?  The choice is ours!  Are we not his Beloved?  Will not this Eucharist unite Us with Him?   Not to believe, not to trust in that truth makes us more susceptible to doubts, insecurities and the powers of evil.  But fear not! In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ authority makes it clear: Compassion trumps fear His compassion will move us out of ourselves, our inner conflicts, our dramas and into the only true way to live:  trusting in the power of God and of His Christ.