Charlottesville, VA, Saint Peter, You and Me – A Homily

Homily for Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

By Fr. James DiLuzio C.S.P.

1 Kings 19:13-19

Gospel of Matthew 14: 22-33

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/081317.cfm

 

Some people shout but never say anything. Some people scream, but never learn to speak. Some people hate without ever thinking why, and how they came to hate another person or group. Others live by a rule that say, “Fire, Ready, Aim!” Our nation and our world is becoming more impulsive and compulsive—people acting from gut feelings, fears and prejudice without reflection, certainly without prayer–thinking in very limited terms, self-serving terms. More and more people are losing a sense of the bigger picture—a larger, wider, more embracing approach to life and its diversity of peoples.

This weekend’s tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia is an excellent example of the evil that cultural, ethnic and economic isolation and impetuosity create. What motivated people with a white supremacist perspective to travel from Ohio and other places throughout the country to come to this Virginia town to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E Lee?  Since the ethnic and prejudicial killings over the past several years in our country, were there sufficient Town Meetings, Conferences, Dialogues from coast to coast to dissect the complexity of these and related issues to prevent more violence?  In fairness, the Charlottesville Mayor and Council did conduct town meetings to let people air their perspectives and their feelings before taking down its Confederate Flag and deciding on moving Robert E. Lee and other Confederate Statues into museums which could better contextualize these historical figures’ characters and life choices than displays in public parks allow.  But perhaps there was insufficient outreach and dialogue with and about the Supremacist Organization before their rally was allowed in the name of “Free Speech.”  Was there sufficient and significant preparation conducted by the protestors and police prior to the event—and, equally important, because our nation has been crying out for more Town Meetings, have there been (and will there be) significant number of meetings in churches, synagogues, mosques and council halls to address the seeds of hatred, prejudice coast-to-coast?  Why or why not?  Everybody knows “Violence doesn’t occur in a vacuum.”

We all fail to initiate and perpetuate the kind of dialogue about morals, logic, faith, culture, diversity that this Age requires. We fail, in part, because we rely upon ourselves alone without the patience to prayerfully allow God to work through all our thoughts and feelings before we act. For example, thankfully, there were many protestors responding to the KKK/Supremacist March, but I wonder if instead of posters of condemnation there were also (and there may have been) placards stating things like and “God loves us all,” “All Nations Shall Come Together,” “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

 Not that by that time, on that day, it could have made much difference with the Hate march.  But if there were such ideas floating around in the protest, there would at least be some clarification of the kind of thoughtful, preventative action Christianity call us to embrace.

How much, for example, did anyone at that march really know about Robert E. Lee?  I had to do some research myself.  I was surprised to read he was against slavery and against violence.  Against his better judgment he joined the Confederate Army to, in his mind, protect his native Virginians.  He could have been known for pleading for more dialogue among Virginia’s Legislature and with President Lincoln and his Cabinet, more caution on behalf of the Southern States before cessation.  Instead, he compromised his conscience and his deeper values, he didn’t choose to act with a bigger picture in mind.  Lee’s story and conflicts could be better known, better discussed and could lead to more self-scrutiny for our world today, but alas, as in the times of Jesus, only some, not all, are willing to join in the conversation.  Many won’t ever, many don’t, but who do we say we are?  What do we think the proper response of faith is?

Now what does this have to do with today’s Bible Readings?  Everything!  In 1 Kings, we find Elijah hiding in mountain cave.  More dialogue with the previous passages of Scripture is needed to understand the context.  He’s hiding because he acted impulsively, filled with his own zeal for the Lord, he slaughtered all the prophets of Baal, the pagan cult of Jezebel, the wife of Israel’s King Ahab. The king and queen now seek the prophet’s life.  Of course, Elijah expects the Lord to come in Elijah’s own image –with the wrath of whirlwind, an earthquake, in fire.  Instead, God arrives in “a tiny whispering sound” through which Elijah listens and defers more fully to God’s counsel, becoming more rooted in God’s love for him rather than his own zeal to love the Lord more. This conversation results in Elijah being prepared for heaven.  His ministry is over. God wants him to ordain a new prophet in his stead, Elisha.  Then Elijah is taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire.  Something about prudence, patience, and repentance seems to be the thought for the day.

Now let’s look at the Matthew’s Gospel: What made Peter so impetuous as to try and walk on water to Jesus? Was he ready?  Had he fully acknowledged Jesus as both human and Divine?  Jesus walking on Water was manifesting His Divinity, His Union with God to be in command of Nature as well as the source of life for human souls.  Obviously, Peter wasn’t ready; he didn’t understand this nor the degree to which he had to focus on Jesus rather than the raging wind.   Thankfully, Jesus knew that.  He knows we aren’t often ready to let faith’s wisdom sustain us, so he extends his hand.  However, what if Peter were less anxious to act and more open to simply let Jesus come to him?   What if he chose to surrender to the bigger truth that “God loves us First” and that God will act “First” — through our conscience, through our prayer.  Patiently allowing our conscience and our consciousness to be centered in God makes us more fittingly responsive to the evils of the world, more preventative, less reactionary.  Jesus was coming to Peter and all the disciples in the boat. Could / should Peter have waited?  What might have occurred had Peter allowed Jesus to make his point as God and Man first, allowing the Spirit to seep more fully in his mind and body and find more communion with the disciples before boldly reacting and presenting Jesus with his own “state of emergency?”

All this is “food for thought,” regarding our degrees of dependence upon Christ as we address the problems of our times.  One thing for sure, we must speak out against evil, hatred and violence, but how we do it, and more importantly, the extent to which we let the Spirit move us to daily efforts of prevention–THIS is the question we must address today, tomorrow and the next day.  Jesus came, He continues to come and thankfully, we arrived today to let his Word penetrate us again and this Eucharist to nourish our conscience, bodies and spirits.  Allowing Jesus to come to us first, to allow him to do what He Will Do for Us first before we act, react, respond –knowing that we must put our faith into action—can and will make all the difference in our responses to the evils that abound in our nation and in the world.

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

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.

A Spiritual Reflection on SILENCE a Martin Scorsese Film by Fr. James DiLuzio C.S.P.

There are images and ideas in Martin Scorsese’s SILENCE that are likely to resound in many viewers’ hearts and minds long after they leave the movie theater.  A cinematic rendering of Shusaku Endo’s novel (same title), it is powerful and heartbreaking.  Exposing the atrocity of religious persecution SILENCE’S theatrical release couldn’t be more timely.  In that context, it poses important ethical and spiritual questions that warrant ongoing discussion among religious and secularists alike.  It deserves to find a wide audience.  But viewers be warned: there are benefits and burdens in watching the film.  Scorsese’s devotion to Endo’s book has compelled this director and co-screenwriter to give practically every page of the novel its cinematic equivalent. This may be too much for the average filmgoer in terms of length but more so because of the graphic violence in its depiction of persecuted Christians.

The context of SILENCE is historical: In 17th century Japan, the ruling class decided it best for its national interest to eradicate Christianity from their country. The faith was closely associated with (and at times in complete cooperation with) Western Imperialism, Colonialism, Slavery and various manipulations of international trade.  Worse, the infighting among Christians, between denominations and nationalities scandalized the Japanese and caused them grave concern.

Prior to the film’s time frame, the Japanese government sanctioned the arrest, torture and execution of Catholic priests to intimidate the Christian faithful.  But the priests’ refusal to recant their faith and subsequent martyrdom strengthened the Japanese Christians’ faith and inspired growing number of converts.  In retaliation, officials evolved alternative measures:  mercilessly torturing Christian hostages in front of priests who could only stop the assault by publicly denying Christ. Should the priest refuse to deny his faith, the Japanese continued to subject Christians to excruciating torment, to slow and painful deaths with pastors forced to watch the proceedings.  This is the historical and ethically abhorrent situation SILENCE explores and the implications are mind boggling.

How can a religious leader in conscience dictate martyrdom to his flock?  To do so would be an offence against free will, against personal integrity.  Catholic priests of the 17th and any century would be fully cognizant of the centrality of free will as the divine spark that makes each person in the image of God.   And yet for a priest to apostatize is to betray his life, his vocation and the faith that those poor tortured souls embraced.

Most viewers would know, a steadfast confession of faith under threat of torture and death is a solemn and courageous act. For Christians, martyrdom witnesses to the promises of Christ–the reality of heaven, of resurrection and life in the world to come.  It exemplifies the value of suffering for a greater truth beyond worldly comfort at the same time it personifies personal integrity—confirming integrity as a value to believer and nonbeliever alike.  Delving deeper into this issue SILENCE not only explores the motivations and choices the priests make but asks “What would each viewer do?” If the characters make decisions that do not correspond to the viewer’s own, what then? This is the magnetic power of SILENCE. It is intent in engaging an audience into this segment of world history to ask that very question.   What’s more, the film repeats the insistence of the novel that viewers refrain from judging the priests as much as humanly possible.  The heart of Endo’s novel and Scorsese’s film is a cry toward compassion, not judgment.  In that it is a very contemporary approach to a 17th Century phenomenon, flavoring it with the seasons of this age: tolerance and a strong sensibility of “to each his own.”

Our age of Enlightenment notwithstanding, Christianity continues to uphold the martyrs as among our greatest heroes.  In imitation of Christ on the Cross, each martyr exhibits a willful surrender to God, to faith and personal integrity, refusing to get co-opted into the violence of the world.   In contrast, the world honors secular heroes for their physical prowess, a Spartan grace that outwits and overpowers their enemies by fighting fire with fire, sword with sword, blade with blade to the point that, in modern cinema, whoever has the better machine gun wins.  The context of the martyrs, of course, is quite different.  They are held hostage by their captors with no recourse to anything but their faith.  Yes, God is silent, but that is because God will not manipulate human beings, deferring (as God has from the beginning) to each person’s free will, allowing the consequences of each choice fall where they may. In honoring her martyrs, Christianity redefines “hero” and overturns Western Civilization relentless recourse to violence.  No wonder the Japanese feared a Christian influence.  Yet even Western Civilization questions the principle that “might makes right,” and for centuries its poets and philosophers have asked “What Price Glory?”  Homer’s ILLIAD, in fact, after highlighting both bravery and bravado of the Trojan War heroes, ultimately asked: “What are we fighting for? For riches, for power, for control of land and resources? Yet all men die.”  The modern, existential response is “we live and die for nothing, so live your life as you see fit.”   The Christian response is “we live for God. We are not afraid of death.  This life is but a stepping stone unto eternity as per the promises of Christ.”

The many martyrs in SILENCE are presented as truly heroic figures.  But the central narrative focuses instead on three individuals who compromise their faith—one out of weakness and fear, the others out of compassion for the tortured souls crying out in painful delirium before them.  Moreover, Endo and Scorsese suggest these priests may have apostatized because they believed Jesus Himself would have had them save lives rather destroy them. After all, Jesus did not insist his apostles be martyred alongside him.  That comparison, however, would not be a fair one for it would mitigate the primacy of Christ in the story of salvation. Instead, there is irony in the fact that because the Apostles and other disciples fled in fear, Christianity survived because only the Apostles and other faithful disciples would witness the Resurrection—the crowning glory of the Christian faith. Likewise, there’s irony in the fact that the small but significant Catholic faith in Japan exists today, in part (and only “in part,”) because its ancestors denied their faith, stepped on the fumie (an icon used to reduce Christianity to “vapor”) renouncing Christianity to survive. But these apostates, too, would have experienced a dimension of Resurrection through the forgiveness of sin and eventual return to the Christian community as the character Kichijiro (expertly portrayed by actor Yôsuke Kubozuka) repeatedly makes clear.  Indeed, many of the Japanese apostates would be forgiven because although they renounced their faith publicly, they became “secret Christians” until that time Japan allowed freedom of religion. Of course, eventually new missionaries would be allowed into the country, and fresh converts of new generations emerged with no connection to their Catholic ancestors other than spiritual ones.  Complicated, isn’t it?  Add to this, the film does not arouse any feeling of anger or hatred toward the Japanese persecutors.  Beyond their ethnicity and culture is a sense that these men simply represent the world and the abuse of power evident in every time, in every place. The officials justify their actions with worldly logic that sounds rather rationale in alarming, matter of fact ways. Consider the ways violence and killing are reported and discussed in the public arena today.

Let’s look again at the “fallen,” characters in SILENCE more closely.  Kichijiro is a central figure identified as a coward and apostate early on. He not only represents apostasy but prefigures choices two priests will make, choices the film scrutinizes in depth. But, as noted, the film is equally interested in the reactions of its viewers. SILENCE asks all: “How do you respond to those who regard life itself as the ultimate value–one that supersedes faith?”  The story questions the human penchant for judgment and condemnation of those weak in faith, those who doubt and refuse to be martyred. It’s as if Endo and Scorsese were asking every Christian:  How literally do you take Jesus’ words in his Sermon on the plain: “Stop judging, and you will not be judged. Stop condemning, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven?”  (Luke 6:37) And consider these words of Jesus: “Everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the holy Spirit will not be forgiven. (Luke 12:10)

Biblical scholars and Church tradition concur on this latter passage’s meaning: to blaspheme the Holy Spirit is not to “curse God and die” but rather to insist that God’s forgiveness toward humanity – the work, the dynamism attributed to the Holy Spirit –is limited or does not exist.  To blaspheme the Holy Spirit is to assert that God’s forgiveness is somehow not available or not true.  In short, to refuse forgiveness, to deny its application and its benefits to all, in all circumstances, puts a person in the position of not receiving it or benefitting from it.  In the Catholic Sacrament of Reconciliation, the words of absolution spoken by the priest to the penitent are: ‘God, the Father of Mercy, through the death and resurrection of His Son, sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins.”  The plot presses further into this tenet of faith:  To what extent do Christians (and all viewers) believe in a merciful God?

Religious sensibilities often hold apostasy (denying one’s faith in public) as among the greatest of sins.  Most religions acknowledge and revere the courageous acts of the martyrs at the same time they acknowledge the choice for martyrdom rests in free will–each person’s capacity to achieve a perfect integrity, synthesis of faith fully integrated and manifested in body as well as in spirit.  To this must be added a capacity for suffering and infusion of God’s grace that alone empowers the glorious impossible.  Moreover, both the reality of human frailty, fear and weakness and the mystery of grace as that which is not bestowed on a recipient because of his or her virtue or “strength of will” maintain Christianity’s recourse to reconciliation and forgiveness which are foundational.[1]  Similarly, SILENCE invites us to expand our notions of a merciful God, insisting that God offers redemption to all.

Throughout SILENCE the narrative evokes the character of Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ Twelve Apostles. Judas, who, within a different context, and with implied but no clearly stated motives, handed Jesus over to religious authorities who in turn, handed him over to government officials who exercised their power to crucify him.  In despair, Judas hangs himself—a decision that indicates that Jesus’ death was not Judas’ intent.  Still, for centuries Christians have highlighted Judas as the one unforgiven soul, patron of betrayal (13th Century poet Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy places those guilty of betrayals in the lowest strata of hell–furthest from the realm of God).  Yet in an almost contradictory way, Judas is also the representative of all who despair and /or commit suicide.

Even though the biblical and traditional treatment of Judas over the centuries belies it, Christian doctrine in many ways affirmed God’s all-encompassing love, asserting God as a God of mercy, bountiful in forgiveness—perpetuating our Jewish roots. Sometimes, however, Christian practice deferred more to tradition and culture than to doctrine when the “sins of Judas” were committed by others.  For centuries, suicides were refused the rites of sacramental funerals and burials; betrayers and apostates were condemned to hell along with heretics.  Vatican II, however, institutionalized a move toward compassion that had taken hold of the faithful much earlier, surrendering the judgment of the inner workings of a person’s heart and mind to God alone. Offering great comfort to the bereaved relatives and friends, the Church officially welcomed suicide’s victims to Christian funerals and burials in Catholic cemeteries, and excommunications have become extremely rare.  Furthermore, theologians have debated the fate of Judas with an emphasis on compassion citing sporadic discourse on Judas’ betrayal and death from Christian writers through the centuries. SILENCE urges its audience to place the story’s protagonists-and Judas himself—in the light of that truth, exposing centuries of prejudice and condemnations justified by what can only be appreciated in hindsight as misguided righteousness.

SILENCE, of course, focuses on Judas’ betrayal (not his suicide) and keeps our responses to its characters’ betrayals front and center.  Whatever the distinction between faith in the heart and faith on the lips, does Jesus’ acceptance of suffering on the Cross insist we accept suffering, too?  Or does his cross and resurrection which offer the blessed assurance that love and forgiveness are inseparable entities within God’s essence assure salvation even to those who choose a form of humanism over faith?  In that sense, God never demands or commands suffering. Only this world does. And suffering is often the consequence of insisting on truth, remaining faithful to one’s faith and convictions.  But, the film asserts, so do the betrayers suffer, so do the weak, the fallible and the fearful. As God silently allows the consequences of every human action to play themselves out, SILENCE puts the responsibility on us to conform our wills to the compassionate Jesus who forgives the repentant thief crucified alongside him on Calvary.

In an interview at Fuller Theological Seminary in California, University, Scorsese said he continually asks himself: How does one express and live true Christian life in a hostile world?  He believes that the truth of Christianity is in our behavior. . . The tribal medieval thinking (i.e. “be faithful or die”) is mitigated by people living their faith in fallible human terms.  The result is that no one is damned for life, there’s always hope[2] – implying that people of faith must be ever patient with each other as the God of the Bible evidences relentless patience with God’s people.

Also at Fuller Theological Seminary, CA, a round table discussion by professors highlighted the insights of Makoto Fujimura, a Japanese convert to Christianity, director of Brehm Center for Worship, Theology and the Arts.  As author of the book SILENCE & BEAUTY (a commentary on Shusaku Endo’s novel), Makoto is convinced that a listening stance and compassion toward the sinner are the central ways Christianity must manifest itself in the present age.[3]

There is great truth in those statements, but also an invitation to expound on related topics such as limits on human freedom, personal accountability and responsibility toward others.

Without those, emphasis on compassion alone presents quite a dilemma.  It seems to diffuse the integrity of a staunch, uncompromising faith, the sacrifice of the martyrs and excuse us from enthusiasm and courage in living out our faith.

For that reason, Bishop Robert Barron of WORD ON FIRE fame, takes umbrage with the film.  He sees it yet another example of Hollywood’s preference for ambiguity regarding faith and religion. The Bishop bemoans the fact that many producers and directors often cast faith more as problem than source of inspiration in their work. His YouTube includes scenes from the film and spoilers but you may wish to check it out to keep that part of the conversation alive:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Th7Tiz1cEk&t=1s

Bishop Barron’s sensibility of “weakened Christianity in films” addresses other aspects of what it means to be Christian.  Some say Vatican II has whitewashed evangelization–the directive to share our faith in Jesus Christ with those of other religions and those who have none.  The film’s emphasis on God’s Mercy could be interpreted that no one need risk his or her life to share the Gospel. Vatican II rightfully asserted that God loves all, forgives all; all religions have validity and share in God’s goodness.  Moreover, diversity among peoples must be honored as it mirrors God’s grandeur in Nature, and respects the God-given gift of Free Will. In that sense, there is no need for all to be one in one universal Church, one faith in Christ. True faith, whatever the faith, must be satisfied to cultivate humility and reverence for Religious Pluralism.

For all that, the Gospel compulsion to share “Good News of Jesus Christ” remains. We need to address the cultural compulsion to make people of faith “Anonymous,” exposing the myth that insists for the sake of peace we need a world of “Anonymous Christians, Anonymous Jews, Anonymous Buddhists, Anonymous Muslims, Anonymous Hindus,” etc. The myth does not acknowledge the loss of hope, of vision, inspiration, of morals and ethics in such a world.

Respecting diversity, perhaps the Christian obligation to evangelize means promoting religious discourse in the public square.  For starters, that would give Christianity greater acceptance if not credence in today’s secular culture: No proselytizing, no arguing who or which is “more right,” no encouraging much less insisting on conversions. As Christians engage in religious dialogue, we witness to Christ through loving service, cultivating commonality on essential truths found in all religions thus building trust and solidarity in which God’s spirit thrives.  What better way to exemplify our trust in Providence and God’s gift of free will –the Divine Spark in every human being.

JESUS: “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give hislife as a ransom for many.”  Mark 10:45

“I am among you as the one who serves.  Luke 22:27

Thus, in imitation of Christ, we can serve others by confirming their goodness and affirming our shared values.  We serve others inviting heartfelt conversation on ethics—the ways to respond to one another when we might harm ourselves and others, addressing problems together without focusing on blame.  We serve others by listening to the importance of their faiths or philosophies or the reasons why they rejected faith or organized religions.  The more we invite others to highlight commonalities among all faiths, the more we let Providence open proper paths for us to share our Christianity. In this way, more people would welcome us to share our faith because we cultivated a comfortability in listening to them share theirs.   Essentially, we will have become more conscious of the fact that evangelization is God’s work, not ours—as it was from the very beginning.

Even with this more humble, patient approach to faith sharing, there are no guarantees that this “new evangelizers” will avoid arousing conflict in the public square or be free from persecution.  Western Humanism prefers the privatization of religion because of the violence shrouded in religious discord in the past.  Christian overtures toward humble faith-sharing could alleviate these fears and reveal faith’s ability to inspire hope and reconciliation.  Discussing SILENCE in churches, homes, at work, schools, universities and other venues is but one accessible entrée into just that kind of witness.

The film SILENCE offers a topic to which many can relate and all religions address in some shape or form: the ways we treat the fallen, the broken–from the good person who makes a terrible mistake, to the hardened criminal, the coward, the bitter and disillusioned, the ignorant, misguided and the scorned. SILENCE inspires a compassionate stance toward all. But it also invites us to explore topics such as the evils of religious persecution and the importance of personal integrity and courage and the principle of non-violence.

I trust your response, and mine, will not be one of silence.

 

[1] The early 4th Century Donatist controversy brought the Church to insist that the sacrament of Christ’s forgiveness must be available to all, including those who have denied their faith. The Donatists who maintained that there were unforgivable sins, were condemned as heretics.   See http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Donatism

[2]  https://fullerstudio.fuller.edu/conversation-martin-scorsese/?utm_campaign=scorsese-silence-qa&utm_medium=homepage-tile&utm_source=fuller-dot-edu&utm_content=scorsese-and-callaway

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=64tkI0PI2Do&t=1s

 

Disney’s Moana: Know Your Story Movie Review and Theological Reflection by Rev. James M. DiLuzio C.S.P.

Water. The Disney Animation Studio has mastered the look and feel of the ocean—a most difficult animation art.  It’s keep-your-mouth-closed-before-your-jaw-drops brilliant.  And that is fitting, indeed, for water is the source of life and without it, there can no life and no stories. In this mash-up of Ancient Hawaiian Mythology’s Creation Tales, the earth and its fruits are dying.  Centuries ago, the demigod Maui stole the heart of Mother Earth and offered humanity its power.  Interestingly, the consequences of this subjugation have only begun to surface in the here and now—in the time frame of our story.  What happened?

Apparently, humanity abused its power and even the tribe that kept itself apart from “the others,” i.e. “the abusers,” have come to face what the rest of the world faces: reckoning day. Thankfully, for the children in the movie theaters, there are only small signs of nature’s imbalance at the film’s onset (contemporary allusions notwithstanding).  These Hawaiian folks, however, are intuitive enough to know that small signs are indications of larger event to come.  Who will find Maui and convince him to return the heart of the earth to Mother Nature?  What will happen when he or she does?  That is the crux of the drama and it’s a good one.  I don’t know how many people will read Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si (“Praise Be (to the Lord) for Creation) with its challenges for us to care for our earthly home and all who live within it, but I imagine far more will see this movie. I hope MOANA keeps the conversation going and inspires more civil action to care for the earth and everything in it.

Fittingly, the Ocean—the original conduit of life in all its forms at earth’s beginning–is a character all its own.  Its animated spirit inspires a young girl Moana (pronounced MWAH-nah) to go where her island people have feared to go.  Although she is heir to the island’s throne, Moana refuses to be “a princess” until she first becomes “a person” — a person concerned about other persons and the world beyond her.   She knows this because she has learned her peoples’ story and that of her family as well—stories that equip her to respond to the call of the waters—a call initiated in her toddlerhood, several years before Moana grew in consciousness, talent and will power.  (Thoughts of Baptism, Mikveh, Confirmation, Bar / Bat Mitzvah, Dedication anyone?)  Moana will journey to Maui and beyond, moving forward on a quest that the adults are unwilling to attempt. Children manifesting a wisdom eschewed by adults is an oft-encountered theme in Disney and innumerable other sources.  I’m sure you can think of a few.

Watching the film, I thought of the innumerable ways the great myths of so many societies overlap in points of intersection that reveal essential truths, no matter the peoples, the culture or setting.  Hopefully, in reading this article, Biblical references like the following already are flowing through your mind:

Genesis 1:28   God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

Isaiah 3:14   The Lord enters judgment with the elders and princes of his people: It is you who have devoured the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses.

Jeremiah 12:10  Many shepherds have destroyed my vineyard, they have trampled down my portion, they have made my pleasant portion a desolate wilderness.

 Jeremiah 31:5  Again, you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria; the planters shall plant, and shall enjoy the fruit. 

Isaiah 11:6  The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. [1]

In the Hawaiian Myth, Moana is the child who will lead. And lead she can, because as among the best of Biblical, Religious, Myth and Folk Tale heroes, Moana is not, “a self-made hero.”[2]   Her ancestors’ history and stories told to her by her grandmother play an essential role in her evolving self-understanding and mission. Because she is initiated into these deeper realities, Moana is ready to live her life, find her purpose and embark on her adventure.  (Do we only go to the movies for “adventure?”  Don’t our spirits long for worthwhile quests and accomplishments in our daily lives?  Don’t we depend on others–past, present and future–to find our way?)

The movies’ emphasis on knowledge of the past compelled me to ask “How many of us who follow Biblical Religions, who have a wealth of stories from Bible and history, the knowledge of our family trees and ancestors at our fingertips, utilize these gifts?  Well, don’t fret.  Most of Moana’s family and friends don’t know or understand their history either.  But Moana does.  Heroes do.  Prompted by her grandmother Moana sets out to fix, to heal, to restore—a universal challenge for each new generation.  You next?

MOANA’s screenplay is credited to Jared Bush (Zootopia) and he’s done a fine job.  But let us be sure to recognize that he was inspired by a small village of collaborators. The movie’s story evolved through the minds of its four directors Ron Clements (Little Mermaid; Aladdin), Don Hall (Big Hero 6) John Musker (Hercules; Princess and the Frog), Chris Williams (Bolt) PLUS three others: Pamela Ribon, Aaron Kandell and Jordan Kandell.  Who’s the “self-made” man here?  Together they have created an engaging and thought-provoking entertainment in which each major character evidences light and shadow in addressing the complexity in the choices before them.  The songs they sing also identify these inner struggles.  One song lyric states “You can find happiness right where you are” while another emphasizes the drive to go beyond the comfortable: “How Far I’ll Go.”  These drives are not in opposition but part of an essential balance.  We need to appreciate our life as it is AND go beyond what we have and know to grow into mature adults. Hopefully, we never stop growing. There’s a Buddhist saying: “We’re perfect as we are AND all life is change.”

Regarding the film’s music, the songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda are exactly what we could expect from the composer/ creator of HAMILTON, THE MUSICAL: rhythmic and joyful with playful lyrics.  Not coincidentally one of the questions MOANA asks its audience is the same question that HAMILTON does “Do you know your story?” http://www.linmanuel.com

And for cultural authenticity and local color, the film offers songs by Opetaia Foa’I (of the band Te Vaka, specialists in indie /South Pacific music).  Beautiful!   http://disneyexaminer.com/2016/11/04/moanas-music-will-highlight-the-culture-of-the-south-pacific-an-interview-with-composer-opetaia-foai-of-te-vaka/

The score by Mark Mancina is refined, well-tuned and effective.  His work conveys excitement and intimate sentiments equally well.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Mancina

As for the rest: the voice talent fits the characters felicitously and the host of animators have collaborated for a feast for the eyes. In brief, MOANA is well worth your family’s time and treasure spent in a trip to your local theater.

In conclusion, I am thankful that the creators of MOANA are engaging us in the big issues of personhood, climate change, manhood / womanhood among other concepts.  As you leave the multiplex, you may wish to entertain some of these questions the MOANA experience poses should you like to move beyond its entertainment value alone:

  • How well do you know your stories—Biblical, national, familial and personal? Are you willing engage them, learn from them, be humbled by them, gain wisdom through them?  Do you tend to focus more on current trends and fashions and neglect the insights of history?
  • Are you actively engaged in life’s adventures or content to be a consumer?  Have you negotiated a “proper balance?”  Typically, our leisure comprises watching movies (I love movies!) and TV (there are some great TV shows these days) — but how much, how many and to what end?  How may we utilize the gift of entertainment toward the realm of action for a greater good?
  • How may we better honor our seniors, gain from the insights of their experiences?
  • Are we willing to take the risk of blessing other peoples and their faiths, myths and stories and find and cultivate the points of commonality and so experience harmony in diversity?

For more information on MOANA:   http://movies.disney.com/moana

http://disneyexaminer.com/2016/11/04/moanas-music-will-highlight-the-culture-of-the-south-pacific-an-interview-with-composer-opetaia-foai-of-te-vaka/

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3521164/?ref_=nm_knf_i1

[1] All citations from the New Revised Standard Version of THE BIBLE (NRSV)

[2] God is always at work. And heroes are cultivated by others who hand on a belief system, ethics and a culture. For all our “American Independence” there is no such thing as a truly “self-made man” or “self-made woman.”  We are more “inter-dependent” than we like to admit.

Celebrate Saint Luke the Evangelist Today!

Catholic and Orthodox Christianity celebrate Saint Luke, the Evangelist today, October 18.  He is the author of Luke’s Gospel and Acts of the Apostles in what I like to call “the Second Testament” (because the Hebrew Scriptures are certainly “the First Testament.”) If you would like to hear selections from my Luke Live! ministry, go to:

http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/revjamesmdiluziocsp

Discerning God’s Will

A friend asked me “How might we discern God’s Will for us?” I thought I would share my response:
 
Discerning God’s Will: God’s greatest gift to humanity is Free Will. “Free Will” is the source of the Scriptural phrase that we are “made in God’s Image.” Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the prolific writer and former Chief Rabbi of London, England, invites us to ponder this concept: Instead of imaging God standing on the horizon, beckoning us to make one particular choice over and against another, imagine God standing behind us ready to support and strengthen us with GRACE whatever choices we make. When our choices enhance the greatest capacity for us to LOVE GOD, LOVE SELF, LOVE NEIGHBOR., grace abounds. And, should we choose another route, GOD has “got our back,” so to speak–ever-ready to catch us falling backwards and give us the strength we need to choose differently.
 
It’s a fact of life that by making choices that fulfill the “Great Commandment” we risk receiving the judgments and condemnations of others. However, most people will “come around,” when they experience the joy and love emanating from us toward them and others.