Homily for The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord 12 January 2020

Here’s the Scripture Readings:

Reading 1 IS 42:1-4, 6-7

Thus says the LORD:
Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased,
upon whom I have put my spirit;
he shall bring forth justice to the nations,
not crying out, not shouting,
not making his voice heard in the street.
a bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smouldering wick he shall not quench,
until he establishes justice on the earth;
the coastlands will wait for his teaching.

I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice,
I have grasped you by the hand;
I formed you, and set you
as a covenant of the people,
a light for the nations,
to open the eyes of the blind,
to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 29:1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10

R/ (11b)  The Lord will bless his people with peace.
Give to the LORD, you sons of God,
give to the LORD glory and praise,
Give to the LORD the glory due his name;
adore the LORD in holy attire.
R/ The Lord will bless his people with peace.
The voice of the LORD is over the waters,
the LORD, over vast waters.
The voice of the LORD is mighty;
the voice of the LORD is majestic.
R/ The Lord will bless his people with peace.
The God of glory thunders,
and in his temple all say, “Glory!”
The LORD is enthroned above the flood;
the LORD is enthroned as king forever.
R/ The Lord will bless his people with peace.

Reading 2 ACTS 10:34-38

Peter proceeded to speak to those gathered
in the house of Cornelius, saying:
“In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.
Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly
is acceptable to him.
You know the word that he sent to the Israelites
as he proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all,
what has happened all over Judea,
beginning in Galilee after the baptism
that John preached,
how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth
with the Holy Spirit and power.
He went about doing good
and healing all those oppressed by the devil,
for God was with him.”

Alleluia  MK 9:7

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The heavens were opened, and the voice of the Father thundered:
This is my beloved Son, listen to him.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel   MT 3:13-17

Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan
to be baptized by him.
John tried to prevent him, saying,
“I need to be baptized by you,
and yet you are coming to me?”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us
to fulfil all righteousness.”
Then he allowed him.
After Jesus was baptized,
he came up from the water and behold,
the heavens were opened for him,
and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove
and coming upon him.
And a voice came from the heavens, saying,
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

We’re leaving a Season of Symbols – Evergreens representing God’s eternal, undying love will be grounded into mulch or used to stabilize sand dunes in beach communities; twinkling lights that witness to Christ as the light of the world withdrawn to attics and corner closets; candles, the burning fire of the Holy Spirit– snuffed out. Poinsettias–plants with striking red leaves branching out in star-like fashion akin to the Star of Bethlehem—perhaps lingering longer in homes and churches than the other signs, might provide us with a remnant of  Christmas Spirit to carry us through the mischief of March and the coming of Lent.  Oh, Lent!  Those perennial forty days that annually insist we repent for not keeping Jesus close, not letting Jesus guide us in all aspects of our lives, asking, “Why is your manger vacant?”

Yes, the Christmas Season concludes this weekend, but not without offering one more Christian symbol, this one perpetual and unchanging: Baptismal water. The Baptism of the Lord is the fourth and final of the “First, Initial Epiphanies” of Jesus’ manifestation to the world.  First: His birth set before lowly shepherds and innocent of animals. Second:  his presentation in the temple to people of faith—Simeon and Anna who lived, longed for rejuvenation, “new hope” in “God. The third Epiphany: Magi, models of the world’s Wisdom figures seeking eternal truths worshiping Jesus. The Magi—representatives of all discontented Gentiles drawn to Judaism’s God—THE GOD who created the cosmos not through the riotous and ravenous warfare as in most pagan world’s religion or atheism’s accusations through some cruel and indifferent power, but out of infinite, all-consuming love.  The fourth “First” is Jesus’ Baptism through which the Christ inaugurated his public ministry.   

That Jesus submitted to Baptism is but an extension of his submission to human nature.  So deeply united to humankind, Jesus identifies fully even with human sin, though He Himself was completely innocent and without sin.  Through Baptism, Jesus attested to the power sin holds over humanity while offering a way out–a remedy to sin’s oppression. And what are these “sins,” rooted in the primordial evil pulling humankind away from God?  Nothing more or less than the world’s compulsion to advance at the expense of others; arrogance and pride that denigrates the weak and the lowly; hate and prejudice leading to violence and murder, sacrificing others—often innocent others—to manifest human will against God’s will.  Jesus enters the waters to show that  in the words of the prophet Hosea, “God desires mercy, not sacrifice,”  i.e., mercy toward the guilty and innocent alike for only mercy, only compassion will establish the reign of Peace that is God’s justice, not human justice. Remember when all humanity’s sins were exposed on the Cross, Jesus offered mercy.

Through Baptism Jesus offered the fullness of God’s mercy to the nations. As the prophet Isaiah foretold, Jesus is “the Chosen One,” in complete possession of God’s spirt – a spirit that does not demean or diminish anyone.  That is the meaning of Isaiah’s words “a bruised reed he shall not break, and a smouldering wick he shall not quench”  In modern parlance, Jesus would never kick a dog when its down, or prey upon the weak to make Himself powerful or give himself advantage.  Through Baptism He invites us to trust in compassion as God’s reality–THE Christian reality– and to participate in it.  It’s time we face it: most of the worlds’ history is a story of the powerful sacrificing the weak – be they children or women or people with darker skins or people who don’t fit any consensus of attractiveness or conventional wisdom.  It’s time we repent.  We must re-appropriate our Baptismal charism and start over.  This is the great challenge of the 21st century.  It’s now or never.    

And it is our Baptism that give us hope, assuring us God’s mercy is forever.  Baptism invites us to be courageous and humble.  Let God’s will, not our will, win out–not populism, nationalism, racism, ethnocentrism, antisemitism or any other “ism.”  God puts people first. God puts Mercy first. It’s time we are shocked into Baptism’s deeper reality and submit to it.  This is how the fullness of the Christmas Story will brace us to face the new year. 

Whether it’s the teacher unkind or cruel to a student, a manager demeaning his crew, a spouse impatient and unfeeling, a politician snidely dismissing one ethnic group or another, world leaders out for themselves and their constituencies with no consideration for their neighbours, businesses with no concerns for their impact on local communities, Church leaders who protect themselves against the innocent and  the poor–ONLY REPENTANCE AND SURRENDER T0 GOD’S MERCY WILL TRANSFORM MINDS, HEARTS, NEIGHBOURHOODS AND NATIONS.

Follow Jesus through the water of life again and again, a life force perpetuated for us through frequent Eucharist and, when needed, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, offer us the grace to let go of our resentments, humble ourselves to offer mutual repentance for society’s sins and invite reciprocal learning and shared responsibility.  Of course, we must hold people accountable for their sins yet not without supporting them in mending their ways, helping them accept the consequences of their actions, remedying the situations together without blame, malice or rancour. Why?  Because no wrongdoing emerges from a vacuum but rather erupts from a convergence of many personalities and many situations left un-mended, unattended to or outright ignored.  That is why we needed a Saviour and still need one.

The more we participate in mercy –putting ourselves in the place of others, walking in their shoes, patiently working towards understanding and exploring choices of genuine mutual benefit and sacrifice (for all live by God’s mercy)—the more true Christianity becomes a viable way of life for the world’s consideration.  

The Gospel insists that Jesus fulfilled this righteousness (right way to live/ God’s way to live), inaugurating it through His Baptism because only Mercy empower us to start our lives over, beyond guilt, remorse, regret, revenge to live in the present moment with hope.  Baptism and our Sacramental life provide us with the grace we need to let God’s will work through us to make a better present, a better future. Yes, the Christmas lights have dimmed, but remember Jesus has made you light for the world. Think of that each time you dip your fingers into the Holy Water fonts—for that water is the water of our Baptism, the water of fullness of life and peace and joy, the true Spirit of Christmas.

Re; HOW TO FIGHT ANTI-SEMITISM – a book by NYTIMES Staff Writer Bari Weiss

As a Catholic priest committed to fighting anti-semitism, I attended Bari Weiss’ NY Times Talk on Thursday evening, Sept. 5, promoting her book (2019, New York: Crown) which I just finished. There’s also a NYTIMES magazine piece 9/8.  I think this very short book (206 of 7” x 4 ½ “pages) is best in its definition of Anti-semitism and its overview of its history (the “HOW TO segment is shorter and addressed primarily to the Jewish community itself),  I want to share some of Bari Weiss’insights (and mine–IN PARENTHESIS) with you:

  • Judaism is not only a religion, it is an ethnicity, a people and a nation.  Not acknowledging all three opens critics to contributing to antisemitism .
  • Anti-Semitism comprises a goal of eliminating Judaism and the Jewish people.  (In that sense, I believe Christian supersessionism is Anti-Semitic)
  • Anti-Semitism includes superstitions, lies and falsehoods about Jews and Judaism’s but can include misunderstandings that are not fact checked.  There is also a strong illogic– Jews and Judaism are blamed for whatever! –with no basis on reality. E.g., ” controlling the planet, controlling banks/ Wall Street/ education / Hollywood/ government policy / responsible for the spread of communism/ engineering wars for profit.”
  • (Anti-semitism is in evidence whenever inquiry into the standard ” who, what, when, where, how?” questions go unanswered.)
  • Anti-Semitism includes Denial of, and/or refutation of, the distinct ethic, moral, faith, social and literary contributions of the Hebrew Bible and the major contribution of Jews to Western Civilization. 
  • The FAR-LEFT ideologies contribute to Anti-Semitism:
  • “The Politically Correct”  dynamic makes adherents  of left-leaning ideas disproportionately fearful of offending Islam (Islamophobia), thus they downplay the acts and rhetoric of  Radical Fundamentalist Islam ignoring its extreme hatred of Jews.
  • There is  disproportionate blame and outright scapegoating of Israel as a nation that is essentially anti-semitism.  In contrast, holding American and Israel to their highest ideals and constitutional directives is not Anti-Semitism. E.g., one may fairly state that “the current policies of the Jewish state betray Jewish (and American constitutional) values.

The FAR-RIGHT: White Supremacy ideology forms hatred of Jews because of its biblical ethics, sensitivities to immigrants, minorities; hated for its internationalist character. It is threatened by Jewish civilization

HOW TO FIGHT ANTI-SEMTISM:

Weiss offers this:

  • Follow Abraham’s example: refuse to worship false idols (incl. lies, biased reporting) and nurture courage to keep out-of-step with the status quo;  risk acting on behalf of deeper, biblical values; don’t be afraid to stand alone, even while cultivating community within and beyond Judaism
  • Remind people that the American values of liberty, freedom of thought and worship, the notion that all people are created equal—are Jewish values coded in Genesis 1 and throughout the Hebrew Bible.  So, too, the very notions of Hope and a present that nurtures a more positive future for humanity are specific Jewish contributions to Western Civilization. 

I offer this:

  • Hold all comments made in conversation about “The Jews” (or any group) to the “Who, What, When, Where, Why, How” standard
  • A foundational aspect of the Bible’s inspiration is the way the Jewish community writes of its great accomplishments and its failures, often with more accounts of the failures and the sufferings it endures.  All peoples would do well to do the same, holding accomplishments –positive contributions to wisdom, world values and cultures while remaining humble of all the failures.  I think one aspect of antisemitism is that others are not secure about their own ethnicity, heritage, strengths and failures and so let themselves become envious and resentful of the Jewish identity and its outstanding contributions.  More HUMBLE pride all around could help!

See: See:  https://www.bariweiss.com/                                           Twitter:  @bariweiss

See: https://forward.com/culture/books/431220/bari-weiss-anti-semitism-how-to-fight-review/

Keeping Us God-centered – a Homily for 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Reading 1:IS 66:10-14C Responsorial Psalm   PS 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20 Reading 2  GAL 6:14-18 Gospel   LK 10:1-12, 17-20 

Jesus said Satan was being conquered by the Gospel. How did that happen then?  How does it happen now?  Are we still applying the Gospel to advance the good and limit if not eradicate the bad by the grace of God?

There are many ways to live and many different foundations of faith to stand on.  Christianity and Judaism are rooted in worship (which teaches us humility, reverence and awe in God’s presence). Faith assures us that God willingly shares a divine spark and spirit with every member of the human race.  Faith invites us to see each other differently than  the world views us—i.e., as consumers, numbers, quota or constituencies.  

With many abandoning organized religions these days, the most popular “alternate religion” is humanism, which, although it denies God and the need for worship, continues to reverence the human being. As it abandons the Jewish and Christian belief in the Divine Spark, the soul in every person, humanism maintains the importance of people as individuals.  It champions “free will” not as a God-given right but a right, nonetheless.  It values “liberty” while softening its tendency to selfishness by borrowing the biblical ideal of unity among peoples for the common good. 

Yes, Humanism promotes tolerance and good will, respect for differences but without the profound Eucharistic dimensions of true acceptance.  Humanism has difficulty with Jesus’ insistence on forgiveness and reconciliation rooted in the Jewish Covenant.  Humanism promotes a vision of the future in which everyone gets along but that lacks the profundity of the Biblical promise of a new heaven and a new earth guided by cooperation with a loving God.  

Why are these distinctions important?  Because without God there is no true humanity.  Without God there is no true humility;  no deference to a wisdom and  love greater than our own.  Humility rooted in submission to God acknowledges human weakness, limitations, tendency to selfishness –what we call “sin”—without which we see ourselves as little gods, tribal leaders, kings and queens  or their modern counterparts, presidents and prime ministers of our own design. The Bible does say, at times,  “You have made us little less than a God,” but the emphasis is on “less than.” 

 In contrast, humanism trusts not in the Trinity of Father, Son and Spirit but in a trinity of its own inventions—commerce, science and technology.  It is time we realize that, more and more,  humanism surrenders human dignity to these newly created gods making “Progress” the greatest good.  If not kept in check, progress will advance at the expense of all religions and even humanist values.  

Saint Paul insisted on humility as a faith foundation, an essential ingredient in true goodness when he wrote: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Covenant with Israel insisted “”Let all on earth worship and sing praise to you,  sing praise to your name!”

And Jesus saw evil being conquered through the efforts of 72 disciples (both Jews and Gentiles at this juncture) participating in His Gift of the Holy Spirit when he said, “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky. … Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you,  but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”  i.e. God is at work through you.  That is the faith that will bring you to eternal life.  Life is not about us, but God in all.  We view ourselves as “masters of the universe” at great peril.

Jesus’ commandments to the 72 disciples emphasized God, not humanism, not commerce, nor science.  Jesus sent the 72 abroad to experience God through deference to the kindness of strangers, requiring disciples to see every individual and family as members of God’s family.  Jesus’s instructed them to “Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals”  Why?  He did not want them to find their confidence in material things but in the Spirit alive in them.  Jesus said, “Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you, for the laborer deserves his payment.” Notice the “payment” is not gold or riches or social advancement but a sustaining meal; meals in which people truly listen to one another, attend to each one’s feelings and share questions that evoke conversation of values, of faith, of rights and wrongs.  And, since no one is always “right,” but all are sometimes wrong, with forgiveness and hope.   Today’s counterpart to the 72’s experience would be meals without cell phones and private texts, meals without tv, computers or other distractions, meals where monetary concerns are put aside.

Today’s Scriptures offer lessons that teach us how to engage in the modern age.  We must be consistent in posing critical questions to our neighbors, employers, politicians, doctors and heads of corporations and technological conglomerates:

“Who will benefit from these business decisions, from these economic standards, these political views and who will be left out? Will these new technologies advance the health and wellbeing of all or a select few?  Who may be harmed by these decisions and advances?  Do we want to repeat the sins of the past or learn from them instead?

Commerce, science and technology offer amazing possibilities but without God, without you and me and other people of faith, they have no motivation to value a common humanity over a privileged humanity;  no value system to nurture mother earth for the common good.  Instead they will nurture advancement for its own sake, over and above everything and everyone.

Building on the Jewish prophets, Jesus has empowered us to keep commerce, science and technology in check. We must align ourselves with the 72 disciples as we approach the Eucharistic table today.  We must ask the Lord to strengthen our faith -filled convictions, to expand our reverence for God, for all God’s people and God’s good earth.  If  we do not leave this church today with that kind of reverence, what will become of our world? To which Trinity will we have allegiance?  Whose people will we truly be?

Mini-Movie Review: RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET

RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET is an animated morality tale about the blessings and challenges of friendship.  With typical top-notch Disney animation, the script offers remarkable character development of its two protagonists from the first Wreck It Ralph film.  As before, Ralph and Vanellope are expertly voiced by John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman.  Each vocal performance conveys outstanding character chemistry. There’s also a wonderful surprise in a character with the warmth, beauty and sophistication of none other than the outstanding Gail Gadot (Wonder Woman) although her character’s initial appearance indicates a person of an almost villainous persona. Bits of wisdom abound throughout the movie as Ralph and Vanellope explore the benefits and burdens of the Internet and aspects of their relationship to it and one another.   Younger viewers may get a bit impatient as the plot takes its time to unfold, but there’s lots of eye-popping visuals to encourage perseverance. Still, I’d recommend it to ages nine and up.
Theologically, I found myself meditating on God’s complete non-manipulative, unconditional, genuine love. Because of this, God bestowed the Divine Gift of Free Will upon humankind. Although this truth engages us in the problem of evil in the world, more importantly, it inspires awe in the blessed assurance that God’s love for us insists that love is freely chosen. God’s love remains constant whatever we choose–guiding us to return to the most generous state of loving that only wants the best for others.Each time we may be tempted to control or manipulate a loved one we do well to remember that Imitation of God is our greatest calling.

 

A fine family film.

Know the Past to Improve the Future: Knowing Jesus

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time  Lectionary: 101

Reading 1 Ez 2:2-5  Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they to whom I am sending you.  But you shall say to them: Thus says the LORD GOD!  And whether they heed or resist—for they are a rebellious house— they shall know that a prophet has been among them.they shall know that a prophet has been among them.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 123:1-2, 2, 3-4   Our souls are more than sated with the mockery of the arrogant, with the contempt of the proud.

Reading 2       2 COR 12:7-10  :     for when I am weak, then I am strong.

Gospel  MK 6:1-6   Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.”  So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Two men rummaged through the remains of their deceased Uncle’s estate.  They happened upon a stack of canvas paintings, unframed, piled high in a corner.

“What a waste of money, buying all this junk” said the older brother to the younger. “He was a foolish man.”

“You didn’t know him as I knew him,” said the younger.  “He enjoyed supporting the locals, the shops that were on the verge of closing. Maybe some of these are worth something. I’m going to have them appraised.”

His brother retorted: “Don’t waste your time or your money. Not much of an inheritance. That’s all I can say,”

In time, the paintings were appraised.  Alas, all worthless, except for one. It brought a great price.

“Here’s your share,” said the younger to the older.

“It’s yours,” said the other. “I didn’t want any part of it.”

“If you knew him, you would know he wanted us both to have something from him. He was a very generous fellow.  Take it.”

He does.

The crowd in Jesus’ home town didn’t really know him.  They couldn’t have. Evidently, they didn’t take the time to know his story – Angels at his birth, light and revelations at his Baptism, conflict with religious authorities through which he stood his ground and healings that occurred through him in Capernaum and other villages south of the lake.

What’s more, they didn’t know their own stories very well.  Not necessarily their personal stories, but their collective stories; stories from the Torah and the prophets:  Remembrances of things past meant to inform the present.  Why were these stories recorded on scrolls if not for edification, for learning, for hope?  Inspiration and Wisdom to be gleaned from reviewing the conflicts among the great patriarchs, matriarchs, prophets and kings; Passovers of deliverance on more occasions than one; battles between good and evil within human hearts as much as among and between rival tribes and nations. They must not have personalized their own biblical and national histories, otherwise those stories of arrogance and humility, greed and generosity would have kept them constantly aware of the human condition ever in need redemption.

Ignorant or forgetful they were—probably  some combination of both—the people who dismissed Jesus. They reduced him to his contemporary family links. No one special. No one unique.  Didn’t they realize that negating Jesus’ uniqueness they were denying themselves of their own uniqueness, and their universal needs? How foolish they were.

How foolish are we!  It is essential that we  be mindful of our pasts if we are to live fully in the present.  I’m not speaking only of our personal pasts–our families’ pasts, but that of our nation and our biblical heritage as well.  These are the realities that impact our minds and hearts consciously and subconsciously every day; they are the realities that bring our need for Jesus and His communion of disciples—those on earth and in heaven—working together in prayer and action to  navigate the rights and wrongs, the truths, the lies, the generosity, the self-serving aspects of human nature and society in every generation, in every age.

The Good News is whether we know Jesus or not, whether we claim our identity and our heritage as His Disciples or not, His love and Wisdom is for everyone.  And, on wider circles, the same is true for God the Father as the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures reveal God – generous, kind and forgiving to all including the ungrateful, the clueless and the wicked.

Let’s face it, even we who know, we who follow Jesus and seek communion with him, exploring, discerning, illuminating Christ’s Spirit in ourselves and others, yes, even we could be more knowledgeable of Biblical, Church History and that of our nations.  All offer innumerable examples of virtues that triumphed, goodness that failed;  hospitality and selfishness, of peace and violence, the ever-constant approach / avoidance of God we all experience – a treasure chest of knowledge with great potential for Wisdom for today.

Come to the Eucharist today with a greater willingness to wrestle with our past—the failings of Saints and Nations as much as their successes. Gauge them alone and with others as to the degrees of our ancestors’ cooperation with God, with 10 Commandments, the extent of their  identification with Jesus and the Spirit.

Confident that Memory is one of God’s most vital gifts to humanity for Growth and Wisdom, may today’s mass motivate us to keep learning from our mistakes, acknowledging our ignorance, inspire us to know more who of we are, who we’ve been and what the signs of our times call us to be.  Pope Francis has written encyclicals that urge us to attend to care for the Environment and our relationship with the animal world (Laudato Si), to re-evaluate the way business and commerce commence (part of Lumen Fidei—light of faith—an encyclical that insists we engage the world not just our individual souls).  And let us not forget the 1986 US Bishops “Economic Justice for All” – so much of the wisdom and compassion of that document has yet to reconcile our culture to the values of Faith. Nor should we forget the warnings of Pope Saint John Paul II on that same topic: Centesimus Annus – on Capital, Labor and Catholic Social Teaching.

May we trust Christ’s indwelling in us will strengthen us to name the sins of the past, undo the damage done that continues to threaten the land, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the relationships among nations and within and among peoples. May faith, hope and love be strengthened in us through today’s sacrament, moving this entire generation of Christians forward –ever-ready, ever-willing to access every possible opportunity for GRACE, knowing that Christ Jesus and his truth make him not just yesterday’s Savior, but Our Savior for today, tomorrow and always.

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/

 

Men & Women Loving Neighbors

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Homily by Fr. James DiLuzio C.S.P.

 Reading 1;        EX 22:20-26

Responsorial Psalm:  PS 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51

Reading 2:       1 THES 1:5C-10

Gospel:    MT 22:34-40

 Considering recent headlines of women being harassed, exploited, intimidated in the workplace, it should be evident we need to look at the relationship between men and woman in accordance with the Great Commandment that irrevocably link Love of God and Love of Neighbor.  “How should men treat woman?” is the primary topic, but its counterpart, “How should women treat men?” is also an aspect in the equation.  How may we remedy the sexism of our age and the not uncommon practice of sexual harassment?

 

First let’s look at its probable cause: There is an erroneous concept and/or belief that sexual engagement is an entitlement rather than a sacred gift.  This idea is legion in social media in ads and programs that focus on sexuality at the expense of all other facets of the human person. Who is not tempted in some fashion to indulge in the fantasies these constant images and temptations provoke?   We can and often do feel helpless in the realm of sexuality because of too many mixed messages, too many insecurities about our bodies and too little certainty of what it means to be a fulfilled human being.

 

It seems obvious today that many people are apt to let their feelings overpower logic, desires outweigh morals, appetites take precedent over respect—a respect which expresses Love of God and Neighbor.   With the prevailing attitudes toward love-making as sport and entertainment, human sexuality is reduced to “favors” and “benefits” as if our bodies are commodities, means to a financial end.

 

Sex as recreation and entitlement continue to hold sway in the mind of many—an aspect that is not at all divorced from the abuse of women, the manipulation of women and in some cases men, too, in the workplace, in college and universities and everywhere else.  It is also a component in psychological disorders and the abuse of vulnerable minors and children—scandals that continue to be a grave concern.

 

Church and society may agree that no one should be pressured into surrendering themselves against his or her free will in any circumstance.  Lacking is the commitment, time and patience required to nurture reverence of the human person-body, soul and spirit. This Spirit of Discipleship is not to control people (a common secular accusation against the Church) but to cultivate maturity, trust and commitment in all friendships and associations.  This is the role of Church and family. This is what we are called to contribute to improve society.

 

In truth, in the past, a disproportionate negativity regarding human sexuality on the Church’s part in some ways contributed to the current confusion and the libertarian approach to sexual expression.  Still, the Church has learned and keeps on learning to see the gift of sexuality in a far more holy and holistic light.  Acknowledging sexual thoughts and feelings as part of an aspect of human experience that cannot be ignored, refuted or demeaned but rather as a component of the beings God made and intended is where we now begin. This is what is called for: Respecting ALL the respective components of the human person, not dismissing or avoiding them—but rather integrating them in healthy balance: the intellectual self, the emotional self, the psychological self, creating a beautiful harmony between a well-informed conscience and the generative and creative/ productive/ artistic dimensions in each of us.

 

The truth is that Society and even some (though not all) sexual education programs continue to give very confusing, mixed messages.   People of faith must work together to transform society’s mixed message to one of positive, healthy relationships that guide men and women to higher values and greater integrities in our friendships, in business relationships, dating, in courtship, in marriage. If the schools don’t offer courses on “how to be Friends,” “How to be Healthy Families,” “How to be Respectful Workplace companions” then Families and Church must take up the slack and take advantage of the many spiritual and therapeutic tools offered us.

 

Hopefully you know that many Religious Education courses for children up to and including teen confirmation classes explore how faith in Jesus cultivates harmony among family members, emphasizes the joy that respectful dating brings and the self-esteem that can be achieved by overcoming temptations to be self-indulgent at the expense of another human being. Yet, discipleship insists on extending these values beyond the classroom to the words we choose to use at home about our bodies and other peoples’ bodies. Discipleship must extend to how husbands and wives treat one another alone AND in front of their children and to the way parents cultivate friendship, patience and compassion among siblings, cousins and neighbors.  Compare our language and conduct in private and social situations.  What words and gestures do we use at high emotional events such as baseball and football games?  Do we insist that every woman be recognized as someone’s mother, wife or sister –with all the integrity those roles provide?  Do we acknowledge that every man is someone’s father, husband or brother?  Seeing each other first in this way needs to be the foundation of all relationships, including those that potentially may lead to dating, romance and marriage for that sacrament insists on a relationship of equal partners.  Millions of married people affirm that friendship is the most long-lasting dynamic of any marriage.  These are Catholic Christian values.  Catholic Christian goals.

 

Goals must be worked at, inform our daily choices. What we clearly need are more hours spent at-home with in-depth discussion about the songs and films and tv shows and books the children encounter –and that we adults encounter.  Yes, scrutiny is needed to discern the most age-appropriate programming for each member of a family,  but because the state of the media and electronics do not prevent kids from stumbling upon less wholesome content at home or elsewhere, our families must commit to setting time aside that not only address the topics, characters, the stories, and the friends and adults that kids encounter but allow  time for children to express feelings, explore attitudes and social conventions with parents and other trusted adults. And to assess all these in the light of Christ and our Catholic sensibilities. Of course, this isn’t only a message for parents and guardians.  We all can benefit from more conversation among adults about what we read and see—not condemnatory, but honest sharing of feelings, vulnerabilities and our temptations, too. More conversation, more understanding among friends, dating partners, engaged and married couples can bring greater integrity and respect to all adult relationships.

 

The Church’s insistence on weekly Eucharist is a constant reminder that we need help applying the Two Great Commandments to our lives.  Consider, also, the Persistence of the Word – how often and in how many ways these Great Commandments are articulated, their benefits exemplified in countless Scriptural encounters throughout the Hebrew and Christian Bibles preached for thousands of years.  What’s more, within and beyond the Bible there are innumerable historical tragedies evidencing the terrible consequences of people who thwart these Commandments.  And because we’ve all become lax and at times unwilling to incarnate them in all our relationships, in all our social, business and political endeavors, we return to Mass and Sacraments. What else can we do?  No!  Not “what we can do?” Rather, what will we let GOD DO with us as boys and girls, men and women on our pathway to heaven?