Movie Reviews:  The Big Sick and War for the Planet of the Apes

by Paulist Father James DiLuzio www.lukelive.com

THE BIG STICK is a film about individuation: what it takes to define the true self as it wrestles with expectations of family, culture, religion and their associated guilts. It boasts a semi-autobiographical script and stars its author Kumail Nanjiani, a prolific and talented stand-up comedian / actor / writer best known for the HBO series SILICON VALLEY.  Here, we meet Kumail as an almost-no-longer young adult thrust into discernment about life and love. He still treads lightly, however, vying to honor his role as the younger son of a Pakistani Muslim family. They moved to Chicago as he’s been told “for your sake” during his childhood.

THE BIG STICK also addresses critical illness and how the reality of death / possibility of impending death forces us to face ourselves and, hopefully, if we let it, make life-giving choices.  The movie is a welcomed change to the current film offerings and a bit retro, offering the familiar but with some novel twists and perspectives. Ultimately, THE BIG STICK is a serious comedy, offering chuckles and giggles, appropriately lacking in hilarity to pursue its important, universal themes.

The film is poignant, touching and entertainingly aggravating as we witness the foibles and comedic dynamics of family, friendship and romance. Nearly everything about the characters and their responses to their predicaments rings true. Each one, in his or her own way, tackles to claim personal TRUTH.[1] That’s a topic any priest would applaud, and, as scripted by Kumail and his wife Emily Gordon, the film succeeds on, oh, so many levels.  THE BIG STICK offers honesty and tenderness that is truly refreshing in our cynical age.

And what a wonderful roster of actors has assembled for this enterprise: Nanjiani may be a bit too dead-pan-to-a-fault in this role, but he has a fine screen presence and holds his own with veterans Holly Hunter (captivating), Ray Morano (strong and appealing), Zenobia Shroff (wonderful!) and the charming Zoe Kazan (granddaughter of legendary director Elia Kazan). Kazan plays Kumail’s love interest and her character’s complexities offer a wide range of emotions that she delivers with aplomb.  I recommend THE BIG SICK to you when you find yourself in one of those wonderful “down-to-earth moods,” ready to eschew the need for thrills, grand violence, murder and mayhem, and enjoy being a member of the human race. .

Now, you may expect that WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES will offer you plenty of the thrills and chills.  Surprise!  There is war and violence at the onset, but, all the same, a better title might be: ACCESSION TO THE PLANET OF THE APES. There’s a great battle at the end, but our title characters do not participate. For the thrust of the plot echoes the Biblical Vision of Isaiah 2: “He shall judge between the nations, and set terms for many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.” A most honorable and inspiring theme, an essential Hope for this age as for any other.  And, humbling, too, to see it accomplished by what we consider the lesser of the species. To those familiar with the franchise, these apes embody a deeper humanity than many who claim the classification of human, and, in what may be the final chapter of the series, they supersede us completely. But this fable has, from its inception in 1968 and into its re-boot that began in 2011 warned of humanity’s capacity for self-destruction, and has always focused on our need for humility –to learn from nature and all of nature’s creatures, insisting that we attend to our essential common bond. Here, humanity loses its power of speech as the apes learn to use language to cultivate HOPE — the reason it was bestowed upon humankind in the first place. Along with the gift of free will and the capacity to love fully, language is the third aspect that made us in the biblical “image of God.”

In addition to plot, character and theme, you’ll find the special effects most rewarding and the digital motion-captured acting of Andy Serkis memorable. He’s assisted by many others but the most notable: Karin Konoval as the wise orangutan Maurice, and Steve Zahn, as a sad-clown sidekick named Bad Ape who ushers in some welcomed comic relief in the second act and beyond.  Director Matt Reeves keeps the plot moving at an enjoyable pace and some of the visuals—especially the winter scenes can take your breath away along with the natural look and feel of each and very ape. NYTIMES film critic A.O Scott noted in his review “There is a scene toward the end of “War for the Planet of the Apes” that is as vivid and haunting as anything I’ve seen in a Hollywood blockbuster in ages, a moment of rousing and dreadful cinematic clarity that I don’t expect to shake off any time soon.”[2]  I urge families with kids 12 and older to venture forth to your local Cineplex for this one. Your experience will give you some wonderful conversations in many-a-family-meal to come!

[1] John 8: 32: and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+8%3A32&version=NABRE Also Psalm 15: “Who may dwell on your holy mountain? Whoever walks without blame, doing what is right, speaking truth from the heart;” https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+15&version=NABRE/  And from the Islam quotes website I found this: ‘“Always Speak the Truth, even if there is fear in speaking the Truth. Remember there is Freedom in speaking the Truth” – Prophet Muhammad (saw) https://islamiquotes.wordpress.com/category/truth/

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/12/movies/war-for-the-planet-of-the-apes-review.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fmovies&action=click&contentCollection=movies&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=8&pgtype=sectionfront

 

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July 16th Homily: Down and Dirty

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily by Fr. James DiLuzio C.S.P.

Readings:  Isaiah 55: 10-11; Psalm 65; Romans 8:18-25; Matthew 13: 1-23:

“A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path . . .”

In the time of Jesus, the world was primarily agrarian. Towns like Nazareth were surrounded by farmland, wheat and barley fields and more.  Cities, too, had sections for growing crops within or adjacent to them. Not too long ago, even New York City had fields of crops on Manhattan Island to say nothing of the farm communities that was once Long Island. How well do the spiritual analogies to sower and seed resonate with us today? For many these images exist in our minds and imaginations–memories of our trips beyond the confines our homes in cities or suburbs.  There’s a danger in those associations, however, when these thoughts and images become nostalgic–memories of history, glory days of the past; sadly then,  so, too, Jesus, forever linked to “long ago and far away.”

Part of the role discipleship for each and every Christian is to re-phrase, re-point the vocabulary and images of the Bible into contemporary ones, as Isaac Hecker, the founder of the Paulist Fathers once wrote: “If Christ is to be to us a savior, we must find him here, now, and where we are, in this age of ours also; otherwise he is no Christ, no Saviour, no Immanuel, no ‘God With Us.’ “

So, let’s translate Jesus’ words with some more common, everyday analogies:

·       “The Seed on the path which the devil takes it away”:  A toddler plays with a favorite toy. Parents, Godparents, Aunt and Uncles savor this gift:  How well it suits this baby!  See how his or her personality and talents are beginning to emerge. But one day another toddler comes to play. This one has a different toy. Oh, no! Our little darling abandons the gift, that wonderful, unique self-revelatory toy—with so many games and instruments yet to explore!  With chagrin-no, disgust-we look on as our son or daughter grabs the inferior toy and fighting ensues amongst the babes. The “best toy,” “The best gift” gets tossed aside.

·       Then we have “Seed on rocky ground”:  We come to Mass and make a brief but superficial connection between Jesus’ life and ours.  We find ourselves too tired to keep the connection going.  Our expectations about prayer become too elaborate – a kind of “all or nothing at all.”  Forgetting that Saints and Prophets reminded us in many different ways: “It is absurd to say you do not have the time to pray, as it would be to say that you have no time to breathe. Pray when you rise and dress, pray when you are on the way to work, or to your place of business, or on your return home or before you go to bed.” (That’s another quote from Paulist Founder Isaac Hecker.)

·       “Seed on thorny ground” is evidenced in the growing boy or girl who enjoyed bible stories but now prefers Star Wars, Spiderman, Wonder Woman and Marvel Comics.  We must ask, “Will no one help this child make connections between these stories and great spiritual truths?” For that matter, who will enlighten the adult who sees no connection between being a Yankee Fan and applying good sportsmanship and team work at school or work or within his or her social network?  And, of course, there are the thorns of anxieties and fears that could motivate prayer, seek counsel, work themselves out through conversations with friends offering comfort and other perspectives, but, alas, sometimes each of us prefer the “funk.” Yes, even we ignore the many options for healthy release.  How often we forget Jesus is everywhere, including other human beings!

To all of these, the “Rich Soil,” of course provides the antidote: On “Rich Soil,” Someone begins to sing, clap hands and dance, distracting  the violent toddlers from the toy of contention.

On “Rich Soil,” the family that prays together – but not with rigidity—not by insisting that it’s always the after-dinner-rosary, but expanding prayer to discussions about God in our lives, or favorite bible stories that link to what we’re going through today, or the wonders of what the school kids are learning in science or in Art and sees this as extension of prayer—this family stays together.

On “Rich Soil,” the thorns of negative thinking, constant criticism, or compulsion to “keep up with the Joneses” fades away.   On “Rich Soil,” Christians enjoy religious dialogue—we don’t shelter ourselves within the Church but understand the importance of “coming and going” as in Psalm 110: “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. . . The Lord will guard you from all evil; he will guard your soul. The Lord will guard your coming and going both now and forever.” –  Words that show how the dynamic Isaiah described of rain and snow returning to the heavens through precipitation applies to us receiving and getting caught up in grace, increasing our intimacy with Christ as He feeds us and draws us closer to Him, moment to moment, day after day.”

In “Rich Soil,” every Christian humbly acknowledges “I am all these soils—WE are all these soils.”  In so doing, we trust that Jesus cultivate us, gives us the appropriate toy, sings the song we need to hear, offers the prayer we need to pray – if not today, then tomorrow or the next day. When we’re in the rich space, the “right place,” there’s comfort in admitting God’s timing is not our timing.  The Holy Spirit is at work within us and in the world.

Pope Saint John XXIII is quoted as saying, “Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams.  Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential.  Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do”—implying, of course, that “nothing is impossible for ‘God With Us.’  Today’s Word and Eucharist offers yet another opportunity to make all things possible as we hold on to Jesus’ words: “knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you.”  May we not take them for granted!

 Today’s Scripture Readings may be found at:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/071617.cfm

Sunday Homily 9 July 2017

Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time:

Zechariah 9: 9-10; Romans 8: 9, 11-13; Matthew 11:25-30

What is humility? It is GRATITUDE for life itself! JOY in being alive. Humility is Gratefulness for the gift of work—whether fulfilling in the moment or not. It sees every opportunity as a stepping stone to cherish, an opportunity to learn. “What is” – is enough to be good for each day.

Humility levels the playing field. It looks beyond position, social influence, prestige or income. It doesn’t judge. Humility defers to Hope. It keeps its sights on God — eschewing evaluation, judgement and critique on the mortal soul for the sake of the immortal soul. Saint Paul says, “abandon the flesh!” What he means by “flesh” is “self-interest above all other concerns.” His Letter to the Romans insists that this self-absorption constitutes hostility toward God. To live in selfishness is to refuse to accept why God made us and why we are here. Humility is the ability to see ourselves and others beyond our wants, our needs and preferences, beyond our assessment of “friend” or “foe.” To be humble, as Saint Paul says, is to “thrive in the Spirit!”

Sometimes it takes tragedies to bring us humility. War and conflict can make us bitter, but in faith, they humble us—making us ever mindful of human weakness, cruelty and sin with a desire to be done with it, once for all. Humility thinks not of the past but of the future. It releases us from the hell of hate and fear. During a time of civil and religious violence in India, a Hindu cried to Gandhi, “I’m going to Hell! I killed a child!” Gandhi asked, “Why did you do this?” He replied, “Because they killed my son! The Muslims killed my son!” “I know a way out of Hell,” said Gandhi. “Find a child, a child whose mother and father have been killed and raise him as your own. Only be sure that he is a Muslim and that you raise him as one.”

Examples of this kind of humility can be found in our recent history when, in the 1990’s, Churches and Synagogues sponsored refugee Muslim and Orthodox Christian families fleeing the genocide of the Bosnian/Herzegovina/Croatian/Serbia wars fueled by the atrocities of racist Serbian President Slobodan Milošević. Just as today, even amidst our cantankerous Immigration Policy debate, Churches and Synagogues are welcoming Serbian and Middle Eastern refugees with teams of faithful people offering room and board, language and technical skills to resettle here. And what have Americans in common with these families—neither language nor faith nor customs– except our common humanity? This is humility in action; evidence of grace.

Gandhi knew that humility is seeing another as a human being, and nothing more. Zechariah knew it.  Jesus knows it. Then, and only then, do we begin to respect what makes us different. But the difference remains secondary to the knowledge that because of the sins we have in common, we must transcend them lest we perpetuate them. Humility offers hope for the future. In the Second World War, two individuals from warring nations, decided to initiate a new beginning:

“A soldier wrote to a German mother: ‘As a member of a Commando unit raiding a village in France, it became my duty to kill your son… I earnestly ask your forgiveness, for I am, after all, called to be a Christian. . . I hope I may, some day after the war is over, talk with you face to face.’ The German mother received the note several months later, and she wrote to the English soldier in turn: ‘I find it in my heart to forgive you, even you who killed my son, for I too am a Christian . . . If we are living after the war is over I hope you will come to Germany to visit me, that you may take the place in my home, if only for a time, of my son whom you killed.’’

Indeed, Humility is seeing another as a human being, and nothing more. This is the only way the Vision of Zechariah, which is also Jesus’ vision, becomes a reality: when “the warrior’s bow is banished, and (the King) proclaims peace to the nations; his dominion stretching from sea to shining sea. Jesus invites us to accept this vision as our own. It’s a cross, but he bears the weight. And the Good News is we don’t need to wait for a war or tragedy to take it up. All we need be is humble.

Jesus doesn’t offer us the Eucharist because we deserve it. He looks beyond our pasts–good, bad and indifferent as they are—and sees human beings in need of Saving. Jesus knows our human hearts are prone to self-interests–be it our own, our families’, our nation’s or that of our Church. So, he invites us to come “down to earth,” offering us spiritual food that our bodies must digest. His Eucharistic meal invites us to keep our sights on the horizon. Only an honest, humble stance will create the gratitude needed for this meal to have its full effect. Otherwise we tend to relive the past, the blame, the regrets, or indulge today without any thought of tomorrow. As recipients of His Eucharist he asks us to see ourselves and to see others in the same way: dependent on God and one another. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Hospitality and the Cross – A Sunday Homily

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time 2 July 2017

Reading 1 2 Kgs 4:8-11, 14-16a

Responsorial Psalm Ps 89:2-3, 16-17, 18-19

Reading 2 Rom 6:3-4, 8-11

Gospel Mt 10:37-42

HOMILY

Fr. James DiLuzio C.S.P.

What would you say to the priest who announced from the pulpit, that he, personally, needs you to come to mass?  What would you say if he told you his life dependent on you, your active participation at Mass AND that you would wound him greatly if ever you should miss Mass, regular confession or one of his many religious education seminars?

 

What would you say if that same priest saw you on the street and burst into to tears, telling you how happy he is to know that you are alive and asking, “What on earth could have happened to prevent you from hearing last Sunday’s sermon?”

 

And what would you say if that priest called you on the phone to say, “Congratulations on your new car,” AND “Oh, how I would like a new car and, that, if you were a true Catholic, you would buy one for me at your next available opportunity?”

 

I think you would say, “Send for the ambulance! This priest is MAD! The man has lost his marbles!”

 

Even without such drastic, inappropriate behavior, human relationships can easily become disordered, unbalanced, yes, even crazy. Sometimes unawares we move from genuine enjoyment of another, from acceptance of another’s abilities and failings, to neediness, manipulation, jealousy and resentments.

 

For example: A marriage filled with reciprocity and mutuality can suddenly dissolve into insecurities that make unreasonable demands, devolve into disrespect for changes that occur naturally over time; alterations in likes and dislikes, comforts and discomforts. A model couple in their youth becomes a monstrosity when the two don’t mature together, with one or the other or both insisting their relationship remain as if they were still high school sweethearts, having never advanced in education or career paths or developed new interests.

 

Similarly, what happens in our family dynamics when parents of adult children (or adult children toward their parents) insist on weekly phone calls or birthday presents or visits to such a degree as to convey that their love for their children / parents is contingent on these and these alone? Suddenly, spontaneity, mutual respect, generosity of spirit–fly out the window.  Through these and perhaps more subtle examples than that of our crazy priest, we know something is wrong when one family member or friend becomes needy, suspicious, demanding and greedy and the other feels resentments without any idea as to what to do with them.

 

When we insist that love must be justified, proved and actualized to our personal satisfactions, as if to say: “If you love me, you will agree with me;” “If you love me, you will always take my side, right or wrong,” — What kind of love are we falling into these days?  Thankfully, there is an antidote to this fallible human condition of ours—The antidote, of course, is Jesus.  Jesus who tells us we must love HIM first, honor God first above all, including family members and friends. Only then, with the Holy Spirit at the center of our lives, can we love one another modestly, with generosity and patience, free from the fears, demands and insecurities to which human love is prone.

 

The Cross we pick up as disciples insists we love others beyond our wants and needs–not to our neglect (Only God can be the True All-Giving Tree if you might be thinking of that popular children’s book) but to our mutual benefit that puts the relationship above all else.  Whether relations among spouses, friends or business associates, faith invites us to cultivate the kind of give-and-take that will keep our families, friendships and businesses healthy and holy.  Just as the Trinity – Father, Son and Spirit – is in perfect balance, all relationships that aspire to holiness require the time and effort to find a balance between what I need, what you need and what we both enjoy together and not without considerable sacrifice either –just as the Sacrifice of Christ offered freely to the World for the Father’s glory remains part of our redemption.

 

Counseling couples and families in crises I urge them to clarify each decision they make.  Each need to state clearly any one of the following:

  1. I choose this because it is clear to me that we both want / like this choice equally. 2. I go along with this choice as a gift to you because it’s not my personal preference, but I give it freely and with joy. 3. I go along with this choice as a sacrifice because I’m against it but I can live with it for your sake. 4. I cannot go along with this and I need for us to look at alternatives / a compromise. There needs to be a balanced use of all four of these tools in every kind of relationship. That’s the human cross, the recognition of our fallibilities as we try to help relationships mirror the perfection of Father, Son and Spirit as much as possible.

 

We find an example of Healthy and Holy relationship mirrored in the spirit of outrageous hospitality that the woman of Shunem offers the prophet Elisha–a spirit of complete enjoyment of the other, generously giving without asking anything in return except for the sheer pleasure of his company.  She makes no conditions. Her house is opened. In fact, she’ll expand it. Ultimately, this kind of unconditional love is rewarded: for the one who receives such generous love (if he/she like Elisha keeps God at the center of his /her life as Elisha does), is bound to offer reciprocity—in this case the promise of a much longed-for child. And even if they don’t bestow upon us something miraculous, or anything at all, the rewards are still ours: peace of mind, contentment in Christ’s love, and, yes, belief, that there are, indeed, the rewards of heaven. The truth is that in God’s time, wonderful surprises abound when two or more love one another as God loves us, when we see what God sees in others. “Go ahead, mother, go to your office and practice your violin, write the next great American novel!  I’m happy to fix my supper myself for all the meals you’ve offered me in time.”  In brief, we learn to say to others: “Be who God wants you to be; not what I need you to be.”  This healthy, holy dynamic is meant to engage every Christian within and beyond family, Church and Nation. In Christ and through Christ we are invited to take any and every opportunity to cultivate mutual respect, joy in diversity and reconciliation-as needed- in every encounter, in all situations.

 

Our misguided priest thought his life and ministry was about him and him alone.  He represents the shadow within all of us that must come into the light of Jesus.  Thankfully, in Word and Sacrament, Jesus offers his hospitality to us—unconditionally, freely. His is the Glory of the Cross expanding from the family to the stranger, the immigrant, to a holy world view.  Thank you, Jesus, for the faith that draws us to you. May we experience your nurturing, unconditional love in this Mass today and come to appreciate the extent of your patience with us until we fully place YOUR LOVE FOR US at the center of our lives, in the heart of our families, at the table with friends and strangers, alike.  Yes, Jesus, today we understand: Eucharist is more than something we share in Church.