Easter 2019

EASTER SERMON 2019 by Father James DiLuzio C.S.P. delivered at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Las Vegas, NV.

NOTE: My Easter homily became a Sermon in light of the tragedy of terrorism in Sri Lanka this morning. As a result I incorporated insights from my Good Friday homily into it. However if you scroll down on this page, you can read the original version I wrote, Or, if you’re pressed for time, scroll down further and read the shorter version I delivered at the Easter Vigil. To my surprise, the congregation applauded at this longer version!

2nd Note: On April 22, 2019 the Sri Lanka Government identified the suicide bombings coordinated by a local Islamic Terrorist Group: National Thowheeth Jama’ath calculating targeting Christians.

We arrived!  Arrived at the culmination of all things: Death and Resurrection.  It’s the heart of life; the promise of tomorrow and a sobering witness to the reality of good and evil in the world. 

This morning we are confronted with the news of another terrorist attack.  This time in three Catholic Churches in Sri Lanka and three hotels there.  People instinctively ask, “Why does God allow these things to happen?” It’s a natural question and the answer lies in what we have been exploring throughout Holy Week from Passion Sunday through Good Friday.  That question is posed somewhat differently but it is, essentially, the same question: “Why did God demand Jesus to suffer on the Cross?”  The Holy Spirit continues to inspire the Church and great spiritual writers and scripture scholars no longer accept the age-old explanation that God demanded Jesus’ sacrifice to atone for all the world’s sins. We are evolving a more honest response from an even older, less time-and-culture-conditioned theology:  Jesus is the full revelation of the invisible God.  Thus, we understand as Jesus surrendered to the Cross, exposing the sins of the world (all that led Jesus to Calvary—hatred, fear, envy, jealousy, greed, scapegoating and more) in order to offer the only antidote: Love-Forgiveness, we see God in this way, too.  Indeed, a studied view of biblical history reveals that from the beginning, God endured and surrendered to humanity’s sins because of the gift of Free-Will, one of the essential dimensions of the “Divine Spark,” the eternal soul in humanity that mirrors the image of God.   So, just as Jesus revealed on the Cross, God patiently endures the harm we do to ourselves and others, all the while inviting us to conversion, to repentance, to a better vision of ourselves and what our world can be. God’s constant call: Die to Sin, Live Anew in Me, transform yourselves and others. That’s the eternal Easter message

We look at the tragedy in Sri-Lanka and ask what does the world need? Practicality may advise more police, more military.  Yet don’t we know that contemporary police and military are now schooled in psychology and diplomacy—they’re learning how to disarm angry, violent frustrated individuals, tools that acknowledge their suffering, however, misguided, however insane, and invite them to alternative actions.  Christians everywhere must approach violence in just the same way, picking up the Cross to discern the causes of hatred, fear and violence and strive to eradicate the sins at their source.  It is believed the attacks are, once again, from Muslim fundamentalists. There’s a tendency to blame Islam.  But we know that millions of Muslims throughout the world are also victimized by the radical, fundamentalists in their midst. Christianity, too, has its fundamentalists who see all tragedies as a direct act of God, punishing humanity for its sins.  True, most fundamentalist Christians do not resort to physical violence, but their view is, at times, violent and causes great disruption, confusion and pain among Christians and others.  We need more dialogue with them to share how our biblical interpretations have grown.  And we need more conversation with our well-intentioned Muslim neighbors, locally, internationally, politically and religiously to help them and us address the roots of radical fundamentalism and its violence. God knows, even some of our nation’s policies with other countries, not intentionally, but inadvertently adds to some of the suffering of peoples in those countries and makes them vulnerable to fundamental radicals. The Cross of Jesus insists we join Christ in suffering with others in order to uncover evil’s sources and address them, heal them, transforming ourselves and the world in the process.  This too participates in the eternal pattern of dying and rising.  It’s more difficult work than blaming and addressing violence with more violence. It requires more patience, more faith, more hope, more love.

Let’s move now from the news, to another level of the Easter message: The Cross and Resurrection is the pattern of ultimate reality of all:  everything and everyone who ever was and ever will be.  From the astounding Big Bang, when Jesus voiced God’s creation into being- “Let there be LIGHT” and light, energy and all the elements of the material world came to be.  Participating in dying and rising that is the entire evolutionary process, we recognize the COSMIC CHRIST in whom we move and live and have our being.

Science tells us that asteroids formed around the stars, propelled into space by cosmic energy formed the planets –offering carbon and oxygen, silicon—essential material for life.  Their individual components remained but together, at the same time, they formed something new: planets orbiting around the sun.  In a sense, they died, yet retained their essence while transformed into a greater whole.  That’s the story of our planet, the story of all species, including ours. Why the carbon of asteroids and exploding stars is in us all—we have the Divine Spark, the immortal soul in us AND we are made of stardust, too! The instances of our continuity with the best, but in new forms, new dynamics are amazing.  Why we only recently discovered Neanderthal DNA in peoples of European descent. The Neanderthals are still with us, gone yet transformed!  Believe it!  This is the story of Jesus of Nazareth fully human and fully God, indivisible, whose human essence was retained but transformed into something new, more alive, in His Resurrection from the dead; a deeper reality to enjoy greater communion with us beyond the confines of time, of history and the limitations of earth.  ALIVE in every age, inviting every generation in be communion with Him. 

Too many people look at the science of evolution and think of it as cruel, meaningless and random. For that reason, and the scandal of too much biblical literalism, some people of faith reject it entirely. But Popes from Saint John Paul II to Benedict and Francis see in it NOT CRUELTY BUT CHRIST Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.  For Evolution bears the stamp of Jesus birth, life, death and resurrection.  Jesus tells “Do not be afraid” of this eternal pattern, be at peace with it, participate in this living and dying and get caught up in its ultimate resolution: eternity in a communion of Saints. 

Surrendering to dying and rising offers heavenly rewards but it also provides us with the only one, true valuable “immediate gratification:” literal experiences of heaven right here, right now. Today and every day the Resurrected Jesus cries out to us, “Peace be with You. Don’t be afraid to DIE to sin. Don’t be afraid to enter into your suffering and the suffering of others, for I am with you. WITH ME you can do anything, including transforming the causes of sin and suffering so this old world can become something new. 

Meanwhile, we must be mindful that much of our World rejects this Paschal Mystery.  It distains the Cross and its life-giving properties. It denies death—creating an Eternal Youth Culture that ignores the wisdom that comes from the process of aging.  And yet, all the world’s philosophies recognize the importance of the eternal pattern:  we humans die repeatedly—from infancy to childhood, to youth, to middle age, to senior years–each in their own time, each with their own lessons of pain and recovery, failures and successes, dying and growing in wisdom.   Part of EASTER GLORY is knowing that the sins of our past, now that we are in Communion with Christ, become a treasure chest of wisdom—not of guilt or regret but of determination to change because of the Love-Forgiveness Jesus offered from the Cross. Still, great challenges confront us:  so many peoples of our world, Christians and non-Christians alike remain unwilling to learn from biblical history and world history and continue to perpetuate the same cruel realities, cultivating death by advancing at the expense of others rather than the mutual uplifting of all peoples.   

But for us in the light of Easter we stand with the Resurrected Jesus.  Like our Savior, we vow today never to cause death but to surrender to it in its natural progressions, ready to learn from it, unafraid to be humbled by it and transformed into new ways of living, of loving, of hoping—the GREAT REVERSAL, THE STAMP OF THE SCRIPTURES, THE HEART OF THE GOSPEL. And, how wonderful for your local church this Easter, last night 17 people of various ages, joined us in Christ, baptized and in Catholic communion along with thousands of others throughout the world in Easter Vigils.

The World may thrive self-aggrandizement, power and manipulation.  Jesus offers us the opposite:  humility, surrender, transformative faith, freely chosen, freely engaged in—the freedom of being Children of God who doesn’t manipulate us, but continually invites us to be and to live as we were meant to live from the beginning, CAN BE NOW, and with God’s Amazing Grace, ever shall be.  Happy, Joyous, Ecstatic Easter, everyone!

SERMON # 2: Here’s the HOMILY I wrote PRIOR to hearing about the bombings in Sri Lanka:

We’ve arrived!  Arrived at the culmination of all things: Death and Resurrection.  We began Holy Week affirming that God is Love-Forgiveness incarnated in Christ Jesus. 

We explored on Holy Thursday the confirmation of the GREAT REVERSAL –humanity choosing a “GOD”-centered life instead of a “ME”-centered life.  For this ongoing conversion, we must forever keep in our hearts and minds the Holy Thursday image of our mighty God’s tenderness: Jesus washing the feet of sinful, base yet precious and holy humanity –all these aspects represented by the Apostles. Allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed with such an affectionate display of God’s Love-Forgiveness, we ask our God to make for us every Eucharist a dying to sin, rejuvenating us to rise to serve God through patience, kindness and compassion to all our siblings, i.e. all children of God.

Yesterday we contemplated the Cross and how Jesus suffered to assure us he is with us in our suffering. He also invites us to enter into suffering of others.  This is how He will transform us and our world. The Easter Mystery invites us to absorb  this reality, to be filled and transformed into new wineskins—honoring the old ways, but not clinging to them that we deny ourselves the gifts of living with JESUS in the present moment, willing to invite Him to helps us grow, mature and offer fresh wine to others.   

And, speaking of “NEW WINE,” it is important we continue to wrestle with, discuss and share how the Church has come to understand Jesus’ death on the cross. It’s evolving!  We are moving beyond the old ways that interpreted the crucifixion as God’s demand for sacrifice by revisiting deeper insights of an older, more consistent tradition: “Jesus if the full revelation of the invisible God.” Thus as Jesus surrendered to the Cross not because God demanded it—God’s will was that the KINGDOM, new way of living and loving be accepted—but to remind the world how God endured, surrendered to human folly, sin and sickness with infinite patience from the beginning even unto now.  Bring this conversation into your Easter dinner:  Jesus died on the Cross to expose the sins of the world—hate, fear, envy, jealousy, greed, scapegoating—to provide the only antidote to sin:  LOVE-FORGIVENESS, the very heart of God. This is the insight of our generations. New generations will add their own revelations as the Holy Spirit continues to guide the Church through dying and rising.

Life, Death and Rebirth manifested in Christ continues to be manifested through the Church but far beyond it as well.  The Cross and Resurrection is the pattern of ultimate reality of all:  everything and everyone who ever was and ever will be.  From the astounding Big Bang, when Jesus voiced God’s creation into being- “Let there be LIGHT” and light, energy and all the elements of the material world came to be.  Participating in dying and rising that is the entire evolutionary process, we recognize the COSMIC CHRIST in whom we move and live and have our being.

Science tells us that asteroids formed around the stars, propelled into space by cosmic energy formed the planets –offering carbon and oxygen, silicon—essential material for life.  Their individual components remained but together, at the same time, they formed something new: planets orbiting around the sun.  In a sense, they died, yet retained their essence while transformed into a greater whole.  That’s the story of our planet, the story of all species, including ours. Why the carbon of asteroids and exploding stars is in us all—we have the Divine Spark, the immortal soul in us AND we are made of stardust, too! The instances of our continuity with the best, but in new forms, new dynamics are amazing.  Why we only recently discovered Neanderthal DNA in peoples of European descent. The Neanderthals are still with us, gone yet transformed!  Believe it!  This is the story of Jesus of Nazareth fully human and fully God, indivisible, whose human essence was retained but transformed into something new, more alive, in His Resurrection from the dead; a deeper reality to enjoy greater communion with us beyond the confines of time, of history and the limitations of earth.  ALIVE in every age, inviting every generation in be communion with Him. 

Too many people look at the science of evolution and think of it as cruel, meaningless and random. For that reason, and the scandal of too much biblical literalism, some people of faith reject it entirely. But Popes from Saint John Paul II to Benedict and Francis see in it NOT CRUELTY BUT CHRIST Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.  For Evolution bears the stamp of Jesus birth, life, death and resurrection.  Jesus tells “Do not be afraid” of this eternal pattern, be at peace with it, participate in this living and dying and get caught up in its ultimate resolution: eternity in a communion of Saints. 

Surrendering to dying and rising offers heavenly rewards but it also provides us with the only one, true valuable “immediate gratification:” literal experiences of heaven right here, right now. Today and every day the Resurrected Jesus cries out to us, “Peace be with You. Don’t be afraid to DIE to sin. Don’t be afraid to enter into your suffering and the suffering of others, for I am with you. WITH ME you can do anything, including transforming the causes of sin and suffering so this old world can become something new. 

Meanwhile, we must be mindful that much of our World rejects this Paschal Mystery.  It distains the Cross and its life-giving properties. It denies death—creating an Eternal Youth Culture that ignores the wisdom that comes from the process of aging.  And yet, all the world’s philosophies recognize the importance of the eternal pattern:  we humans die repeatedly—from infancy to childhood, to youth, to middle age, to senior years–each in their own time, each with their own lessons of pain and recovery, failures and successes, dying and growing in wisdom.   Part of EASTER GLORY is knowing that the sins of our past, now that we are in Communion with Christ, become a treasure chest of wisdom—not of guilt or regret but of determination to be change because of the Love-Forgiveness Jesus offered from the Cross. Still, great challenges confront us:  so many peoples of our world, Christians and non-Christians alike remain unwilling to learn from biblical history and world history and continue to perpetuate the same cruel realities, cultivating death by advancing at the expense of others rather than the mutual uplifting of all peoples.   

But for us in the light of Easter we stand with the Resurrected Jesus.  Like our Savior, we vow today never to be the cause death but to surrender to it in its natural progressions, ready to learn from it, unafraid to be humbled by it and transformed into new ways of living, of loving, of hoping—the GREAT REVERSAL, THE STAMP OF THE SCRIPTURES, THE HEART OF THE GOSPEL. And, how wonderful for your local church this Easter, last night 17 people of various ages, joined us in Christ, baptized and in Catholic communion along with thousands of others throughout the world in Easter Vigils. The World may thrive self-aggrandizement, power and manipulation.  Jesus offers us the opposite:  humility, surrender, transformative faith, freely chosen, freely engaged in—the freedom of being Children of God who doesn’t manipulate us, but continually invites us to be and to live as we were meant to live from the beginning, CAN BE NOW, and with God’s Amazing Grace, ever shall be.  Happy, Joyous, Ecstatic Easter,

SERMON # 3: Here’s the SHORTER VERSION delivered at the EASTER VIGIL

We’ve arrived!  Arrived at the culmination of all things: Death and Resurrection. 

We began Holy Week affirming that God is Love-Forgiveness incarnated in Christ Jesus whose death exposed all the sins of the world in order to forgive them in an unconditional love. 

We explored on Holy Thursday the confirmation of the GREAT REVERSAL – God’s plan for humanity since the Original Sin when humans chose a “ME”-centered life instead of a GOD-centered life.  Through the Covenant with Israel and the Promises of Christ, God continues to invite us to reverse that pattern.

We were invited to hold that image of the Eucharist—that experience of “God with us,” the communion we participate in every day or every Sunday, week after week, year after year—holding that experience in our hearts, living it daily, with the Holy Thursday image of our mighty God’s tenderness: Jesus washing the feet of sinful, base humanity represented by the Apostles, making every Eucharist a dying to sin and a renewal to rise to serve God through kindness and compassion to others.

Yesterday we contemplated the Cross and how Jesus suffered to assure us he is with us in our suffering and to invite us to enter into suffering of others with Him so he may transform us and those who suffer with faith, hope and love.

Now the suffering is over for we have contemplated in new, fresh ways some of the heights of depths of the Great Mystery of God of Peace, as Jesus offered PEACE, not recrimination to the disciples and evermore offers Peace to us, regardless of our denials, betrayals or failures.  The Easter Mystery invites us to absorb  this reality, to be filled and transformed into new wineskins—honoring the old, but not so clinging to them that we deny ourselves the gifts of living in the present moment with Jesus willing to grow, to mature and ready to offer fresh wine to others.   

Life, Death and Rebirth are manifested in Christ and all who experience Jesus.  Yes.  But His pattern is the ultimate reality of all, of everything and everyone who ever was and ever will be.  From the astounding Big Bang, when Jesus voiced God’s creation into being-“Let there be LIGHT” and light, energy and all the elements of the material world came to be to the dying and rising of the entire evolutionary process, we recognize the COSMIC CHRIST in whom we move and live and have our being.

Just as asteroids formed around the stars, propelled by cosmic energy beyond them to form planets –offering carbon and oxygen, silicon—essential material for life.  Their individual components remained but together, at the same time, they formed something.  In a sense, they died but retained their essence while still becoming something new.  That the story of our planet, the story of all species, including ours and the story of Jesus of Nazareth fully human and revealed as fully God indivisible in His Resurrection, his human essence retained but transformed into something new, more alive, in a sense, with greater communion with God and us than ever before; ALIVE in every age, every generation in communion with Him.  And, mystery beyond glory, love beyond all telling, Jesus offers us the same NOW and onto Eternity. 

Too many people look at the science of evolution and think of it as cruel, meaningless and random and so some people of faith reject it entirely. But Popes from Saint John Paul II to Benedict and Francis see in it not cruelty but Christ Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.  For Evolution bears the stamp of Jesus birth, life, death and resurrection.  Jesus tells “Do not be afraid” of this eternal pattern, be at peace with it, participate in this life to be caught up into its resolution for all eternity’.  Yes, surrendering to it offers heavenly rewards but also the only true valuable “immediate gratification,” literal experiences of resurrection, of heaven right here, right now. Today and every day the Resurrected Jesus cries out to us, “Peace be with You. Don’t be afraid to die to sin. Don’t be afraid to enter into your suffering and the suffering of others, for I am with you; with me you can do anything, including transforming the causes of sin and suffering and become something new.  Not perpetuating the ways of the world but participating in God’s ways, creating a kingdom here on earth that mirrors all the realities and promises of heaven. And in our heart of hearts we know this is true.

The World rejects the Paschal Mystery.  It distains the Cross and its life-giving properties. It denies death when it can—creating as it has an Eternal Youth Culture that ignores the wisdom that comes from the process of aging.  And yet, all the world’s philosophies recognizes the human realities that we die repeatedly– to childhood, to adolescence, to youth, to middle age, to  senior years–each in their own time, each with their own lessons of pain and recovery, failures and successes, dying and growing in wisdom.   On the other hand, the world also participates in death, causing death while ignoring its repercussions, the consequences of evil it cultivates in its wake. Not willing to learn from its history but perpetuating the same cruel realities.

But for us in the light of Easter we stand with the Resurrected Jesus.  Like our Savior, we vow we will not cause death but we surrender to it in order to learn from it, unafraid to be humbled by it and to transform into new ways of living, of loving, of hoping—the GREAT REVERSAL, THE STAMP OF THE SCRIPTURES, THE HEART OF THE GOSPEL.

The World thrives on self-aggrandizement, power and manipulation.  Jesus offers us the opposite:  humility, surrender, transformative faith, freely chosen, freely engaged in—the freedom of being Children of God, the same NOW and onto Eternity.  Happy, Joyous, Ecstatic Easter, everyone!

Trinity Sunday 2017

Trinity Sunday. Why is it important – so important, in fact, that we devote one Sunday every year to exploring this confounding Mystery and all its implications?  Just as we do for the Christmas Incarnation, the Good Friday Cross and Easter Resurrection.  It may be the most taken for granted Holy Day in the Church for it has no secular counterpart or observance.  Christmas and Easter are everywhere in stores and bank holidays, Good Friday, not as much, but there’s still a general cultural acknowledgment. But the Trinitarian Understanding of God, well, it’s only for those of us who call ourselves CHURCH.

 

Just as all life is a burst of energy, creativity, diversity, life, death and rebirth –a confirmation of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus in all things, the Trinity, too, makes its imprint on all creation.  How?  Because all life is Relationship.  Nothing exists except in relationship to something else.  No human being originates all by himself or herself.  We say humanity is made in the image of God, and as we are relational beings, so too must the heart of God be relational. The Great Mystery is that God is ONE, Indivisible, Undividable yet still Relational: Father, Son and Spirit.  Not merely different functions of God, although we often speak of God in those ways, but ONENESS. There’s relationship in ONENESS, in UNITY, in HARMONY.  In, dare we say it—in COMMUNION!

 

But I may be getting ahead of myself.  Understanding of the Trinity began with the words of Jesus –his unity with God whom he identified as FATHER, and his promise to send forth God’s SPIRIT -the advocate who bestows Wisdom, Courage, Stamina, Inspiration on all humanity, with, we believe, a unique dose of faith and comprehension bestowed on Jesus’ followers.  In fact, Jesus cultivated us to perpetuate preachers and teachers to help us understand and express this reality imbedded deep in Creation and human experience. So, powerful, important and penetratingly deep was this revelation that it took the Church many generations and over three hundred years’ time to begin to articulate TRINITY in any formal way.  We must not be surprised at that.  One of the many consistencies in the Biblical Revelation is how slow humanity is to understand God and God’s purposes.  From the back and forth, hide and seek relationship the Israelites had with God and their prophets, themselves and others to the obtuseness of the disciples and the trials of Peter and Paul in the Acts and in the Epistles—humanity groans in its struggle to experience and articulate TRUTH.  Biblical and Church History (and human history) make very clear: No pain, No gain.  Therefore, it should be no surprise that even after the Great Councils of Nicaea, Chalcedon and Ephesus we continue to debate within ourselves and with other religions the Reality of Unity and Relationship that is our God.  (You’ll find it a delightful surprise to learn how other religions, while rejecting the Trinity, articulate their own understanding of God desiring relationship with humanity and all creation.)

 

What is NOT relationship in living things?  The ATOM is comprised of Protons, Neutrons and Electrons.  The ATOM is ONE ENTITY but it’s the relationship between the three components that is the source of its energy, source of LIFE. Plants need Sun and Water and Earth to thrive.  John’s Gospel states: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”  So, of course, CREATION would be in God’s IMAGE-a relational IMAGE.  Tending to the quality of relationships—all relationships-must be the heart of our lives because it is the very Heart of God who showers love on the grateful and the ungrateful, the just and the wicked alike.  God’s patience with us may be as difficult to comprehend as the Trinity itself, and, yet, it’s in evidence everywhere.

 

This mystery of TRINTITY is a gift to us.  But not just a gift for us.  It is essential that we find creative ways to keep it current in our consciousness and conversations, and attend to passing it on to future generations for the Kingdom to come. We must look to ways can we convey these truths to our children—the future Church. And we must be persistent, and prayerfully insist the Spirit inspire us.  Because in some ways this young generation is less likely to explore this Mystery, less likely to take the time to contemplate GOD as we do today.  There’s less in our culture to help them familiarize themselves with the potency of Jesus, His Life, Death and Resurrection.  But there is now in Science, as our insight into the components of the ATOM reveal and in the ways more and more Science acknowledges MYSTERY and the relationship of all things.  Still, we must cultivate conversations of these parallels at home. Dropping the children off to Religious Education or even Catholic School is not enough.

 

We all know that Myths, Stories, even Fairy Tales posit truths about life that can be helpful in explaining and understanding eternal truths.  Analogies with familiar stories are important teaching tools. My favorite for kids is THE WIZARD OF OZ –  one of the few movies that we can speak about with confidence that everyone has seen or read the book. The theme there is that to be one’s true self – to be HOME – is to encounter and appreciate the OTHER, and the only way to do that is to risk relationship.  Dorothy represents all of humanity who needs the gifts of a Trinity – Mind/Brain, Love/Heart, Courage/Respect and Patience with our Animal Natures—to know herself, to grow, to fully love: the essential energy of all human persons.   (And, if you go see the current WONDER WOMAN, you’ll that love is an essential theme of that story, too.)  These are important conversations to have with our kids, don’t you think?

 

From the Fairy Tale Analogy, may we return to our FAITH perspective in and through the realities of this Eucharist we all share.  What a diverse group we are—essentially the SAME soulful bodies, yet unique with different stories and experiences to share – yet ONE in Unity, In Communion in Faith, Hope and Love that is an essential TRINITY that binds us to God and One Another. What an insight! What an inspiration. What a grand scheme, a marvelous mystery to experience time and time again until our very pores and sinews, our bodies and souls understand a little more who we are and who Jesus calls us to be: A diverse people, a diverse world as ONE loving the Lord Our God with our whole heart, all our mind, all our strength and our neighbor as ourselves.

Movie Review: THE REVENANT

Movie Review: THE REVENANT

Fr. James DiLuzio C.S.P.

The vagaries of nature often wreak havoc in the minds of believers as they try to reconcile the hardships and challenges nature inflicts on the human condition with our insistence on a loving, merciful God. The best possible explanation comes from centuries of theological discernment and debate, but it is a simple one: God honors God’s creation on its own terms: Nature will be as Nature needs to be, i.e., based on the aptitudes and limits of its essence and design. Most every believer acknowledges these days that “Nature” is not God’s moral agent of reward and punishment because ancient biblical understanding was framed in a more primitive mindset.  Nature simply is what it is for God allows the material world to exist within its own laws and limitations.  Occasional interventions notwithstanding.

The same applies to human nature, particularly regarding man’s inhumanity to man.* The suffering we inflict upon one another through God’s gift of free will certainly vindicates God from any blame.  God’s grace may empower and expand the good we chose but the evil we display grounds itself in our freedom to act against conscience and inherent moral codes of the human psyche.  A psyche illumined and informed by the collective (and, for believers, God-inspired) wisdom on display in the Ten Commandments, Jesus’ Beatitudes, teachings of Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed and many, many more.

Spiritual reflection is inherent in THE REVENANT.  God is an ever present but silent force in this narrative because of the way director Alejandro G. Iῆarritu’s tells his story.  The film, the script and the scenery all evoke questions about faith, morality, nature and humanity.   The movie is more than just about one person’s survival (or inability to survive—no spoilers here) in part because characters invoke Christianity and in some cases a false understanding of Christianity in key scenes.  There’s an implicit sense throughout the film that not only is the protagonist’s life at stake, but so, too, his soul.  All the characters hang in the balance between good and evil, with many if not all tipping the scale to the dark side as we, the audience, look on and ponder survival of the fittest and so much more.

 

THE REVENANT is a fascinating cinematic exploration of one man’s attempt to survive the cruel, dark impulses of the human heart and will in the context of all of nature’s menace.  Is it revenge that animates him or something else entirely? The man in the question is Hugh Glass, an historical American figure of the 1820’s western expansion and fur trade, played by Leonardo DiCaprio employing all the tools of the great method acting tradition with aplomb. In a captivating performance, Leonardo reveals the inner struggles of a man confronting fears and prejudices, hate and greed on grand display among the warring French and American fur traders and native American tribes for whom betrayal, scapegoating and murder are often excuses for living.  Furthermore, Hugh has many inner demons of his own, while, at the same time his courage, intelligence and his love and devotion toward his son Hawk and the memory of his martyred wife gain our respect and admiration. In many silent stretches of struggle, victory and defeat, DiCaprio keeps us in suspense and awe.  He deserves his Oscar nomination.

And amidst all the human conflict, the magnificent vistas of Wyoming’s majestic mountains, trees, sparkling rivers and roaring waterfalls alternately cast their spell of beauty, grandeur and indifference just as God seems to do at times.  THE REVENANT (the word means “ghost” or “one that returns after death or a long absence”) is an adventure story turned into theological reflection.  I dare anyone who sees it not to be steeped in deep thought about life, nature and survival—and the choices between fully living and mere existence.  At times the visuals are raw, the tearing of human flesh, the gutting of entrails human and animal—the result of arrow and gunfire, fire and stone.  And much has been written about Hugh’s battle with a mother bear ferociously defending her cubs after his unwitting encroachment.  (Extraordinary computer generated images.) But the whole offers a profundity much greater then these individual parts. The film is slowly paced, contemplative and for that, it stands alone among most modern cinema with the exception of the works of Terence Malik whose visuals also convey spiritual dynamics and questions of God and Nature (TREE OF LIFE).  The crucible of Hugh Glass we see on the screen also serves as a test to viewers’ ability to pay attention to detail, to focus one moment at a time, to surrender the impatience that can occur when accustomed to so many fast paced action adventures.  Good for the soul.

THE REVENANT features stunning cinematography, seamless editing and evidences first-class direction.  Great acting, too, not in any way limited to DiCaprio alone. Antagonist Tom Hardy as John Fitzgerald is a perfect foil for Glass and there are compelling performances by Domnhall Gleeson as Captain Andrew Henry (government agent in charge of the trader’s security), Forrest Goodluck as Glass’ son and Arthur RedCloud as a benevolent Native American.  The latter three provide some welcomed moments of compassion and attempts toward a greater good.  The film’s conclusion offers possibilities of transcendence but remains ambiguous. A perfect opportunity to engage in conversation and debate with others about the worlds without and within.

 

*Fellow feminists be warned: there is only one woman in this film and she is featured briefly in flashbacks and in visions. Appropriately she reinforces a multi-layered theme–a “revenant” inspiring the “revenant” aspects of the title character.

“The Mystery and Beauty of God” is Immeasurable

In this weekend’s Sunday ARTS section of the NY TIMES (distributed on Saturdays in NYC), Kip Thorne, a theoretical physicist and executive producer for the upcoming film ‘Interstellar’ is cited in a conversation among the film’s three leading players. Actor Matthew McConaughey says “Everything you ask him, he goes, “Well, it’s not this or this. It’s both.” I was like, “Well, where’s the end?” He’s like: “That’s the point. There is no end. No answer you have in astrophysics should ever not lead to another question.” The same answer applies to TRUE SPIRITUALITY. We can know and experience God and yet there will always be more to know and other aspects far beyond our comprehension.  Now there’s an invitation to humility for people of all religions.