HOMILY FOR THE THIRTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR B 1 July 2018
Reading 1 Wis 1:13-15; 2:23-24 For God formed man to be imperishable;”
Responsorial Psalm Ps 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11, 12, 13 “ I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me” and “O LORD, my God, forever will I give you thanks.”
Reading 2 2 Cor 8:7, 9, 13-15: For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.
Gospel Mk 5:21-43 or 5:21-24, 35b-43 “He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”
Twelve years with a severe medical condition and her livelihood spent on doctors! Today, as the medical profession continues to transform itself into medical “industry” – the many dedicated, well-intentioned, self-giving doctors, nurses and support staff notwithstanding – and amidst all the complexities of the political debates, this woman’s drama sounds exceptionally contemporary. The Gospel says, “she spent her livelihood on doctors but was unable to be cured by any.” No AARP or Medicare. What made her turn to Jesus? Sheer desperation? Perhaps. Yet desperate people don’t often make the wisest choices. What prompted her decision to risk life and limb and public outcry (if not stoning) as a designated “unclean” individual defying laws separating her from healthy citizens? To discern an answer to that question, it may be helpful to posit possible situations (and corresponding mindsets) a person with her condition would find herself.
She must have been WEARY. Twelve years with a condition that would certainly have made her anemic, weak and perhaps struggling with associated depression. It probably crossed her mind to repeat the words of Job’s wife when she said to him: “Curse God and die.” Evidently, this woman eschewed that temptation. Instead, she found ways to maneuver through those dark thoughts and impulses. Here are some possibilities:
- Consolation: Perhaps identifying with others who suffer offered some relief – recognizing she was not alone in her condition or her situation. She may have sought friendship with others with similar conditions. Lepers, after all, were forced to associate exclusively with lepers. At that time, women experiencing menstruation were set apart from men. So perhaps our protagonist spent her days and years in the company of menstruating women. Of course, these women would come and go leaving her alone, but they would re-appear and the life flow of women’s natural rhythms and the conversations and insights shared may have brought her deeper wisdom and some levels of peace. Perhaps, she was not the only one with continuing hemorrhage and found some kindred solidarity, one among several women there waiting for doctors’ arrivals, commiserating together the lack of antidotes to their condition. In that way, she provided her own sense of consolation with her refusal to isolate herself, to fall into the trap of alienation even though the societal norm pressured her to do so.
- Resourcefulness: We know nothing of her life situation: Married? Single? Widowed? Divorced? Whatever the case she found some way or had some means to have her basic needs met: food, clothing, shelter and the ability to offer her doctor’s recompense. We can assume she was not married for the Gospel specifies “she spent HER livelihood on doctors,” i.e. not her husband’s. Furthermore, her medical condition would have made her unfit for the marriage bed, so it most likely she never married or divorced. Very likely she weaved cloth at her loom and had a colleague purify her products for sale in the marketplace.
- Gratitude: That her medical condition did not inhibit her from productivity, however, mitigated her energy levels. She must have cultivated ways to be thankful for what was, rather than what was not; grateful for who she was, rather than who she was not.
We have much to learn from this woman plagued with but cured of hemorrhaging: Weariness supported by prayer; Consolation in identification with others who suffer; Resourcefulness; Gratitude and Hope, all bound together in FAITH. The beauty of her faith in Jesus and her subsequent healing comes from the fact that she refused to remain a victim; she did not let her past or the crisis of her present illness inhibit her choices for the future. Her faith instilled in her that marvelous capacity to hold suffering and joy in body and mind without annihilating, ignoring or failing to attend to either one.
She must have known enough about the Messianic expectation that the true Messiah would identify with her—for He was to come to the lowly, the persecuted, the suffering, the bereft. After all, Jesus’ miraculous healings fulfilled an essential aspect of JESUS HIMSELF: His oneness with humanity. She was able to recognize in JESUS as the one who perfectly held the tension between joy and sorrow, suffering and deliverance as her faith had motivated her to do. Thus, she courageously surrendered her fallible condition to His Perfect Condition, recognizing that she and Jesus had more in common than what would be apparent to most who did not take the time to know her or consider Jesus to the extant that she had.
YOU and I have more in common with Jesus than we readily acknowledge. You and I continue to be nourished by Him in Sacrament and Word. You and I grapple with joys and sorrows, degrees of sickness and health, social successes and social failures but find our hope in Christ and His Being, His Union with God the Father, trusting in their literal sharing of their Spirit within us – the divine spark in every human being that, for us, for God’s good purposes, has been nurtured so lovingly, consistently through our Catholic Faith and Traditions. For God formed us to be imperishable in the Spirit, and God engages us to cooperate with Grace just as Jesus continually merged His human will with His Divine Will. Hear today what Jesus said to the woman he says now to you: “Your faith has saved you, Go in Peace and be cured of your affliction” — that is be cured of whatever separates you from you, from us, from Christ.
Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist – Mass during the Day (12th Sunday since Pentecost)
Reading 1: Isaiah 49: 1-6; Psalm 149; Reading 2: Acts 13: 22-26; Gospel: Luke 1: 57-80
Today we celebrate the Saint and prophet who was and forever will be John the Baptist. It is fitting that we explore the many persons and events contributing to his legacy and to expand his legacy to ourselves as people pointing the way to Jesus.
Like many a prophet before him, John the Baptist came to embody the persona of the WILD MAN, and, in deference to “The Women Who Run with Wolves,” Wild Woman, too.
These are their Strengths
Wild Men and Wild Women can be role models for taking the road less travelled.
These are their Weaknesses
Because they are unchecked in their sensitivities and brutal in their will to do things their own way, they can be frightening and threatening to those who live more traditionally.
Here are their Passions
Nature, festivals, poetry, singing, spirituality, and storytelling
The Merriam-Webster Definition of
Throughout the centuries, nearly all cultures have admired these strong, eccentric, impulsive men and women, evolving stories that celebrate their courage, wisdom and strength, while offering lessons to be learned from their more reckless and vengeful natures. From as early as the third millennium before Jesus – that is, some five thousand years ago, the Epic of Gilgamesh carved in stones in Sumerian and Akkadian languages told of Enkidu, a wild ass of a man, covered in hair, attune to the speech of animals, in harmony with nature, set apart from the corrupted so-called civilized societies humanity created. Enkidu, however, is ultimately initiated into love and the better aspects of human society by a woman, Shamat. Eventually he wrestles with and is befriended by the great King Gilgamesh who benefits from Enkidu’s strength and more nature-based wisdom.
The First Wild Man in the Bible is Ishmael, son of Abraham and Hagar in Genesis 16: 11 Then the Lord’s angel said to her:
“You are now pregnant and shall bear a son; you shall name him Ishmael,[e] For the Lord has heeded your affliction. 12 He shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him;
Alongside[f] all his kindred shall he encamp.
The Second is Esau, twin brother to Jacob, sons of Isaac and Rebekah:
When the time of her delivery came, there were twins in her womb. 25 The first to emerge was reddish,[k] and his whole body was like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. 26 Next his brother came out, gripping Esau’s heel;[l] so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when they were born.
27 When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country; whereas Jacob was a simple[m] man, who stayed among the tents. 2
We know from the twins’ saga that once Jacob steals Esau’s birthright, Esau plots to kill him but Jacob escapes, become indentured to his cousin Laban’s estate. Jacob marries Leah and later Rachel. When he decides to embark upon a bold but cautious return to his homeland with his wives and flocks, Jacob wrestles with God as he prepares to face the consequences of his betrayal of his brother. Esau, wild as he is, has also matures over the years and evidences a hallmark of the biblical Wildman who cooperates with God’s grace: On Jacob’s return home, the adult Esau embraces his adult brother in a great moment of reconciliation. Esau, the original “hairy man,” expanded the biblical Wild Man/ Wild Woman prototype as one who is guided by God, in part, because of his or her earthiness.
From that episode we traverse from an unknown time and place to the second millennium (12th century around 1,200 before Jesus). Here we encounter two Wild Women: Deborah and her sidekick Jael whose feats are reported in the biblical book of JUDGES: Deborah from the Hebrew “bee,” as in “honeybee” that bestows both sweetness and scathing sharpness of a sting; Jael—a name derived from the root word for “mountain goat.” Deborah summoned some of the tribes of Israel to a great battle on Mount Tabor in which an oppressive Canaanite regime was defeated. Meanwhile, Jael seduced the Canaanite general Sisera only to kill him in his sleep. Their victories are recorded as “The Song of Deborah,” chapter five of the Book of Judges, which is hailed as the oldest extant poetry of antiquity–the antecedent and inspiration for over one third of poetic verse found in the Bible from Psalms and Proverbs, Song of Songs to prophetic poetry of Isiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel.
Quickly moving through the Bible, we note that the prophets in Books of Samuel and Kings (10th and 9th centuries) Elijah, Elisha, Nathan further develop Deborah’s political acumen, crystalizing the essentially political and social dynamics of God’s ethics. These figures established a strong foundation upon which the three greatest prophets stand: Isaiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah (8th and 7th centuries B.C.E.). In today’s Isaiah reading we find the prophet and poet Isaiah’s ministry blossoming with strong political as well as spiritual directives for Israel as a nation. By this point, the political aspect is fully harmonized with the Wild Man / Wild Woman ‘s Spiritual attributes. Those who argue religion and politics should not mix and that the Church should avoid political critique, have eschewed, whether consciously or unconsciously, this strong biblical tradition of these wild and crazy prophets.
So, too, John the Baptist, perpetuates the consolidation of both spiritual and political in his Wild Man role. We do well to remember on this day John’s highly critical exhortations against tetrarch Herod Antipas, as much as his insistence on the legacy of Esau: reconciliation rooted in the essential virtue of truth. For John commanded the citizens and political leaders of Judah to acknowledge their sins, repent and be open to a new life in harmony with God, the Law and with one another. And who nurtured and extended this bible-based legacy to him? Elizabeth, his mother, of course, along with his father the priest Zechariah.
In their own way, Elizabeth and Zechariah fit the Wild One archetype as they lived “in the hills of Judah” –apart and above the great city of Jerusalem. Their initial childlessness set them outside the norms of Jewish life and must have added to their ability to see it more critically, with an outsider’s objectivity. We don’t know the extent to which John and Jesus spent time together growing up, but both would have been learned in the prophetic legacy that reinterpreted the Torah for their age and continues to do so for our age and for centuries to come.
As we come to communion this day celebrating Saint John the Baptist and the way he prepared people for Jesus, may we reclaim our prophetic Wild Man, Wild Woman roles to apply faith to all aspects of our lives – personal, social and political.
Isaiah proclaimed: “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” John the Baptist cried, “Repent in all the ways you fail to cooperate with God’s grace, God’s plan for the earth, for the world.” And remember, Jesus called Herod “a fox,” and some of the Sadducees “Hypocrites,” reminding us that sin has not only personal but deeply social dynamics. May we share the Eucharist today conscious that Jesus commanded that Eucharist be perpetuated through the Church through time and space so that all His followers be nourished in this truth: Communion with God is about personal transformation, and, equally so, about transformation of the world. A Wild idea indeed.
WHAT I’VE LEARNED THUS FAR –3 Points for Trinity Sunday
By Father James DiLuzio C.S.P.
From Sunday’s Scripture Readings:
Excerpt from Deuteronomy 4: “This is why you must now know, and fix in your heart, that the LORD is God in the heavens above and on earth below, and that there is no other. You must keep his statutes and commandments that I enjoin on you today, that you and your children after you may prosper, and that you may have long life on the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you forever.””
Excerpt from Matthew 28: And Jesus words confirm all this: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
What follows is a more detailed expression of my thoughts. For the Sunday Mass, I spoke on what follows more extemporaneously. (I did not include the RED text on Sunday)
It actually happened! 25 years! I’m humbled and grateful for these years of faith and service and I am thankful to the Paulist Fathers without whom I never would be living a life in continual dialogue with the Scriptures and the People of God in extraordinary, intimate ways. Today’s readings also remind me how in debt I am to the 10 Commandments and Jesus’ teachings. They bring true freedom. Observing them as closely as we are able, we may place our heads on our pillows each night and sleep soundly embraced by amazing grace. We may wake up each morning as a child awakes filled with hope and enthusiasm, conscious of God’s love and energized for the day for the good, the true and the beautiful.
In celebration of TRINITY SUNDAY on which we contemplate the Christian understanding of ONE GOD in Three Persons—we affirm that GOD IS RELATIONSHIP ITSELF—that’s the true meaning behind “Father, Son and Spirit.” Indeed, as God is the SOURCE OF LIFE, THE FORCE MAINTAINING THE COSMOS, an UNDYING ENERGY FROM WITHIN AND WITHOUT –God extends God’s very essence expanding loving relationship to and through humanity and all creation. Relationship is the heart of life—all people, the entire cosmos is inter-related in ways we need to keep exploring, understanding and celebrating. And the best way is to keep cultivating the awe and wonder and freedom of childhood. On this Anniversary Celebration I would like to share 3 (3 ½) insights I’ve gained from my 25 years as a Paulist priest. Here we go:
- Point 1: “Whoever does not accept the Kingdom like a child shall not enter it.” Luke 18: 16-17
- An energized adulthood demands that we cultivate and grow in our childhood JOYS. Are childhood joys comprise the essence of who we ARE, and Who God CALLS US TO BE. Share who we are! That’s the mission. . .. Don’t gauge your joys and talents in terms of money you make from them. That’s not the point. We must keep developing our childhood happiness whatever our ultimate livelihood. Get out those guitars, gardening tools, baseball gloves, science kit, puzzles or whatever it may be that keeps you fully alive. Let your lights shine!
- THE SHADOW SIDE OF CHILDHOOD: Childhood inevitably imparts wounds, too. True growth engages us in “un-learning” negative patterns bestowed on us by exploring healthy patterns of thinking and living. Faith offers us the “bigger picture” we need to trust in a Loving God, accept the truth that people who mistreat, manipulate or domineer are transmitting pain they received in their childhoods. We never deserved their cruelty, and, ultimately, safe distance may be required, yet in our hearts we need to develop compassion for ourselves and our family’s and institutions’ failures so that we don’t let our hurts prevent us from living and loving.
- In Exodus the Scriptures reveal God as saying God will be about “inflicting punishment for their ancestors’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation.” All that means is that God allows the consequences of wrong actions -be they selfish, greedy, violent—to play themselves out and they do, indeed, impact many subsequent generations. Meanwhile, both Hebrew and Christian Scriptures affirm God never abandons us as we work through the harmful residues of the past.
- Later the prophet Ezekiel assures the people saying, “The son shall not be charged with the guilt of his father, nor shall the father be charged with the guilt of his son. Justice belongs to the just, and wickedness to the wicked.” This implies, in part, what I’ve come to understand: God invites each new generation to correct, amend and extinguish the sins of the past –be they that of our parents, grandparents or ancestors, or our nation’s or our religious body’s—so we keep ever-growing in the ways God set out in the beginning: the 2 GREAT COMMANDMENTS: Love of God, self and neighbor as self. Strong faith gives us the COURAGE to do just that. It’s what Jesus meant when he said, “Pick up your cross and follow me” and “I am with you always, even unto the end of time.”
- Strong feelings from childhood are often evoked in contemporary situations that nonetheless must be distinguished from the situations and contexts of the past. We must learn to deal with these and the distinct people involved in them in healthier, more creative ways, detaching from our past. e., the person who treats us ill today is not our parent, our wicked 4th grade teacher, the abusive boss from our last job. He/She and we are in a different situation now. We must calm our bruised inner child and live in the present. We must assert ourselves because we don’t need other’s good behavior to claim our self-esteem as children of God. Claiming our foundational dignity in God’s love, no one can take it away. We can then see the person and his/her inappropriate or hurtful behavior as someone in pain; someone who tries to claim their dignity at the expense of another because they are deeply insecure. Assured of who we are as Loved by God, we can move from anger, to pity, to compassion for the wounded, insecure fellow (without ever telling him or her that they are wounded or insecure—that won’t get us anywhere!). Centered in this way, we are far more able and likely to “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6) and advance to the Biblical Vision: “With firm purpose you maintain peace (O, Lord!); in peace, because of our trust in you.” 4 Trust in the Lord forever! (Isaiah 26)
2. Point 2: I’m continuing to discover and develop the virtue of Abandoning Aesthetics regarding human persons.
- We are all nurtured in aesthetics based on our family backgrounds and communities. We learn what our group deems appropriate for dress, personal hygiene, decorum, and proper pleasures. This is natural. As we grow and assert our individuality, we adopt, adapt or reject aspects of what we’ve learned and apply them to ourselves. In addition, Education invites us to develop critical thinking regarding works of art, music and literature; Church and Society cultivate ethics regarding social norms and proper politics. The gift of critical thinking is essential to life and advancing public mores.
- Yet, we fail to engage in the Gospel, when we view another human being according to the criteria we deem best for ourselves or evaluate them as if they are a theatre piece or literary work. We can project our expectations upon them and fail to see who he or she really is. Jesus emphatically insists: “Stop Judging, and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned; Forgive and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6). It’s letting go of aesthetics and critical evaluation of a person–even his or her actions –that help us see a fellow human being as God sees him or her.
- Judgment and Condemnation create chasms between people and prevent us from working together to solve problems, to undo the damage that is done. Instead of saying “How can you wear that? Say that?” or worse, “How dare you!” “How could you!” I’m learning to keep silent and inwardly pray about my evaluations of another. Only when someone’s actions warrant it, I find it’s better to ask, “What’s going on within you that brings you to speak or act in this way?” or “Please, help me understand your choices in this matter. Might there be a more productive way to deal with this? How may I help?” (In truth, even compassionate statements such as these can rile another person, so this approach it’s not a guarantee for successful dialogue. In the realm of human relations, there is no perfect panacea. Furthermore, our own emotions can get in the way of our best intentions, making what we think is a “kind response” received by another as anything but. (God help us!)
3. Point 3: “Can any of you by worrying add a moment to your life-span? 26 If even the smallest things are beyond your control, why are you anxious about the rest? “(Luke 12). To follow Jesus is to “Come Down to Earth.”
Our Christian faith is centered in God who enters human history through the Incarnate Word, in Jesus of Nazareth. To follow Jesus, we must “come down to earth,” too. Living in a “down to earth” way, we may more readily “live in the present moment” with much less anxiety. Here are life’s bare bone essentials to always keep in mind when in relationship with others but especially in times of conflict:
- Everyone needs air and water. (Deprive any one of these and the issues before us have no weight, no matter.)
- Everyone needs food, clothing and shelter. God created us as beings that must cooperate, collaborate to provide us with these bare necessities. No one can obtain all these essentials on his or her own. This basic concept assures us that we are all in this world together.
- Everyone needs LOVEFORGIVENESS –I understand this now as ONE WORD. Each dynamic is inseparable from the other. Mere Existence becomes LIFE in its fullness when this irrefutable, indivisible dynamic is nurtured and maintained. Besides, no one can live without it. Now, LOVEFORGIVENESS doesn’t mean we can’t hold people accountable for their actions but it does mean that the accountability offers hope and opportunity to change while taking responsibility for his or her actions. We must assist ourselves and others always to claim and re-claim our true dignity as children of God. (Another dimension of “Pick up your cross.”
- Everyone needs STORY to endow meaning to all the other fundamentals I’ve stated. Our FAITH provides the greatest and foundational stories, and in our diverse and heterogeneous world, we need to dialogue and discern the commonalities in all people’s stories –religious, national and personal—to create the solidarity in addressing the problems we face. So many Religious Traditions affirm Unity, Harmony and Peace as God’s goal for the world. We all need to know our stories and keep learning from them.
- Everyone dies. Humble recognition of this truth may help us advance LIFE and LIFE-GIVING CHOICES for as long as we are on this earth because our earthly life is inextricably linked to our life and relationship with God and others for all eternity. Detaching from our emotions or taking “time out” from an argument or discussion when emotions are strong can keep us alive and well until our time is up.
Keeping life “simple” is the best way to live, for, in truth God is the simplest, most uncomplicated essence of Being, of Personhood and Relationship there is—all generative, all creative, all overflowing love.
I would like to close with the song I sing at the opening of every parish mission I offer: Leonard Bernstein’s SIMPLE SONG with lyrics by Stephen Schwartz.
You can hear me sing via this YouTube link:
(This was recorded several years ago. I think I sang it better on Sunday!)
God bless you all for reading and sharing in my reflections.
Reading 1JB 7:1-4, 6-7
Job spoke, saying:
Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?
Responsorial PsalmPS 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
- (cf. 3a) Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted.
Reading 21 COR 9:16-19, 22-23
Brothers and sisters:
If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast,
for an obligation has been imposed on me,
and woe to me if I do not preach it!
On leaving the synagogue
Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John.
Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever.
They immediately told him about her.
He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up.
Then the fever left her and she waited on them.
When it was evening, after sunset,
they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons.
The whole town was gathered at the door.
He cured many who were sick with various diseases,
and he drove out many demons,
not permitting them to speak because they knew him.
Rising very early before dawn, he left
and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.
Simon and those who were with him pursued him
and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.”
He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages
that I may preach there also.
For this purpose have I come.”
So he went into their synagogues,
preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.
It’s easy to fall into the existential angst of Job – “what does anything matter?” We let the words of Ecclesiastes echo repeatedly in our heads: “All is vanity. Life is meaningless.” When we’re in that state of mind, it is profitable to remember that faith insists that humanity needs a Savior. God initiated a Covenant with mankind for this very purpose: deliverance from mere existence into fullness of life.
For us, the story of Jesus is a healing story. It’s restorative, transformative. Jesus’s destiny was and remains a healing ministry just as he healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law and myriad of others long ago. But note Jesus’ exemplifies an essential aspect of his restorative technique right here in today’s Gospel for all of us to appreciate: solitude: “Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.” We must remember that prayer does not / must not always include words. Sometimes in our despair, words are even too much for us to bear. Solidarity with God requires silence, too. Here’s a perfect example from a story by religious sister and spiritual writer José Hobday:
“One summer Saturday when I was 12, I was waiting for my friend who wanted to come over. We had planned the morning together. She was quite late. I was fretting and complaining and generally making a nuisance of myself. In fact, I was becoming rather obnoxious to everyone else in the house.
“Finally, my father said to me ‘Get a book a blanket and an apple and get into the car!’ I wanted to know why, but he repeated the order. So, I obeyed. My father drove me about eight miles from home to a canyon area and said, ‘Now get out. We cannot stand you any longer at home. You aren’t fit to live with. Stay out here by yourself today until you understand better how to act. I’ll come back for you this evening.’
I got out, angry, frustrated and defiant. The nerve of him! I thought immediately of walking home. Eight miles was no distance at all for me. Then the thought of meeting my father when I got there took hold and I changed my mind.
“I cried and threw the book, apple and blanket over the canyon ledge. I had been dumped and I was furious. But it is hard to keep up a good, rebellious cry with no audience, so finally, there was nothing to do but face up to the day alone.
“I sat on the rim, kicking the dirt and trying to get control of myself. After a couple of hours, as noon approached, I began to get hungry. I located the apple and climbed down to retrieve it– as well as the book and the blanket. I climbed back up and as I came over the top, I noticed the piñon tree. It was lovely and full.
I spread the blanket in the shade, put the book under my head and began to eat the apple. I was aware of a change of attitude. As I looked through the branches into the sky, a great sense of peace and beauty came to me. The clouds sat in still puffs, the blue was endless; I began to take in their spaciousness. I thought about the way I had acted and why daddy had treated me so harshly. Understanding began to come and I became more objective about my behavior. I found myself getting in touch with my feelings, with the world around me.
“Nature was my mother, holding me for comfort and healing. I became aware of being part of it all, and I found myself thinking of God. . .. I felt in communion with much that I could not know, but to which I was drawn. . . Of touching the holy.
“By the time my father came to get me, I was restored. Daddy did not press me about the day. He asked no questions and I gave him no answers. But I was different and we both knew it. . . Before I got out of the car, I thanked him.”
May we begin with a little more silence now then we usually do—that is, before we return to the words of The Creed. And so, may the balance of this Mass increase our comfortability with solitude and the mystical presence of Jesus.
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!
Suggestions for a CHRIST-CENTERED CHRISTMAS
I BEFORE THE DAY BEGINS:
Invite dinner guests with musical ability to bring their musical instruments
Have family members set DVR to pre-record Football Games; pre-record or purchase/rent CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS, or other cartoons, or CHRISTMAS MOVIES. These will be handy for intervals such as between main meal and desert or as alternate After Meal Activities.
Community Games to Have on Hand: Charades, Pictionary, Balderdash
Music via CD, Spotify, Pandora, YouTube (See item VIII below)
POST-ITS with #s on them, coordinated to # of guests. Separate #s for Adults and # for Children. Have each guest take a #. (Children’s # on one color post-it; adults, another)
Display and have available a Bible & Children’s Bible opened to Luke, Chapter 2.
A Book(s) or Copy of Clement C. Moore’s THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS and the poem/song THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS. Have these available for After Dinner Activity. https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/visit-st-nicholas
Christmas Carol Music Books or Song Sheet or PowerPoint copies displayable on TV (If your TV & computer are integrated, have the “tech” in the family work on this in the weeks prior to Christmas. Otherwise, make copies of Song Sheets or just the lyrics.)
I CHRISTMAS EVE (or Morning) – Replace the colored Advent Candles from your Advent Wreathe with White Candles, and add a fifth White Candle at the center of the Wreathe.
Prayers for the Occasion available in Catholic Book of Blessings and online at
II CHRISTMAS MORNING: A Short Prayer before Opening Gifts: “Thank you God for the Gift of Christ in our lives. May the beauty of his birth bring new life to our faith and help us to appreciate all life, all children throughout the world. Thank you for the gifts before us. Fill us with Gratitude for you and for one another. Keep us young at heart. Amen.” If children are present and not too anxious, invite the family to sing an Inspirational Christmas Carol such as “God Bless Ye, Merry Gentleman” before opening gifts. If no children are present, read Luke 2: 1- 21 and Matthew 2: 1-13 before opening gifts.
III CHRISTMAS DINNER PRAYER: Once everyone is seated, invite each person to say in ONE WORD, what they are feeling—with 2 qualifications: 1. NO EXPLANATIONS AS TO WHY they feel this way (you’ll give them examples below) 2. NO ONE MAY COMMENT or on another person’s feelings. There are no “right or wrongs” feelings. Therefore, comments like “How can you feel that on this day of all days?” are forbidden! God loves us and understands all our feelings whatever they may be. It’s Important that you give example that include a full spectrum of feelings: “happy,” “sad,” “worried,” “thankful,” “frustrated,” “loving,” “frustrated,” “hungry,” “pleased,” “anxious,” “grieving,” “peaceful.” ALSO: GUESTS MUST BE FREE “TO PASS.” After each person states his or her feeling Start Grace with these words (Read/ Pray SLOWLY): “Dear God, Here We Are–Our family and friends–and these are the feelings we bring to this Christmas Day. Helps us understand the beautiful way You accept each us as we are. Make us confident in your love so that we may be at peace and feel your presence among us. Help us to make the most of this meal, this day, and our time together.” Then invite everyone to join in the Traditional Grace before Meals, OR if your company is of mixed religions, substitute the Christian Grace with this: “Blessed are YOU, Source of Life, God known by so many names, help us to experience Joy this Christmas Day and lead all peoples on to the pathway of peace. Bless all our family and guests. Bless our Meal and our Conversation. Amen.”
IV FIRST COURSE ACTIVITY (soup/salad), and /or Hors D’oeuvres:
Ask: What do you remember about the First Christmas Story? Include both the Biblical, Legend and Folk tales if you wish. Begin with the children by number, then adults by number. Everyone gets “help” sharing the Christmas Story as needed.
Conclude this segment by having someone Read Luke 2: 1- 21 and Matthew 2: 1-13
V MAIN COURSE:
ASK: What event or circumstance are most significant for me about Jesus’ story today?
Invite each Guest to share his or her memories of the best Christmas that they have ever experienced and why it is an important memory for him or her. TRY TO KEEP THE MEAL AS LEASURELY AND UN-RUSHED AS POSSILBE.
Any Similarities between Jesus’ story and the Christmas memories shared?
VI AFTER MEAL BREAK ACTIVITY: Share Birth Stories during walks & pre-dessert clean ups:
Postpone desert. Give everyone a break to sustain a slower, un-rushed pace to the day. Encourage guests to go for a walk outdoors if possible. If it’s too cold or raining, then engage everyone in a Pre-Desert Clean UP tidying up the kitchen and the table prior to serving dessert.
During the break, have all guests recall the story of the day each of them was born. Allow time for the elders to inform youngsters if they haven’t already. For those who don’t know their story, have them imagine what it would have been like. Everyone will be invited to share his or her birth story during desert.
VII DURING AND AFTER DESERT:
Once everyone is served, invite each guest to share his or her birth story
After each person shares (or an adult tells each child) Bless each person’s birth story by saying “As the Angels Sang for Jesus, the Angels Sang for you, too! Everyone’s part of the story! Everyone’s part of God’s plan!”
Invite Spontaneous Prayer: “For Whom and for What Shall We Pray for this Christmas Day?”
After all the stories have been told, and prayers are concluded, invite everyone to sing “Gloria in Excelsis Deo!” Why? Because we are all part of Christ’s Story—a bigger story beyond the world’s measures of success and failure. Life and Grace and Hope are the Eternal Gifts for everyone.
VIII AFTER DINNER ACTIVITY: Have everyone participate in Clean-Up:
OR, if space limitations in the kitchen, create Two Teams: The Kitchen Team verses those who go for walks and/or play in the living room. Try to have each team mixed with all ages, both men/woman/boys/girls if possible. Spend the clean-up /walking time memorizing THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS OR THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS or LUKE 2: 1-20. Afterwards, gather together and see which Team remembers the most. NOTE: The Purpose of the Game: Poetry opens us up to the spiritual and to appreciation of ritual: memory, context and associations.
IX AFTER DINNER & CLEAN-UP:
Together recall ALL the Verses of 12 Days of Christmas OR of The Night Before Christmas OR Luke 2: 1-20.
Share the story and / or song together. Which Team Wins?
Share the history of the Poems: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Visit_from_St._Nicholas
Recall and share the story of any Christmas Carol (or a person’s memorable experience of it)
Read one of the many stories and legends about Saint Nicholas
- I’ve enjoyed THE BAKER’S DOZEN story of Saint Nicholas:
X MORE AFTER DINNER ACTIVITIVITES
Gather ‘round a piano and Sing Carols Together
Have Christmas CDs (Vocalists/ Choirs) and have people sing-a-long.
Karaoke Christmas Songs
Conclude with Christmas Caroling in the Neighborhood
XI CHRISTMAS FAREWELL BLESSINGS:
Before Farewells or before the first person must leave:
BLESS EACH GUEST individually or collectively: “May the Spirit of Christmas remain in your heart—the joy of life, the gift of family, and angels singing your song as you continue to compose it all the days of your life. May your song(s) give God glory!”
INVITE ALL TO SING “WE WISH YOU A MERRY CHRISTMAS”
PLEASE & THANK YOU GAME with OPTIONAL CHARITABLE COMPONENT TO CHRISTMAS: INVTIE GUESTS TO BRING A SINGLE $ 1. BILL for each member of his or her family or party to participated in a PLEASE & THANK YOU GAME. Designate a charity and let them know what the dollars are for in advance OR have everyone vote on one of two or three choices before Grace (E.G, Catholic Charities for Puerto Rico Relief or Catholic Relief Services or Unicef.) Have some extra $1. bills around for those who forget.). The FIRST TIME anyone forgets to say Please” or “Thank You,” from the beginning of the Meal (after Grace) to end of dinner (i.e. “please pass the potatoes; thank you), he or she gets a WARNING. The SECOND TIME he or she must surrender their dollar into a basket. Proceeds go to the previously announced charity. At the end of the day, people may contribute the Remaining Dollars or additional $ if they wish to the cause.
Catholic Book of Household Blessings
To Dance with God by Gertrude Mueller Nelson features Great Ideas for Family Rituals & Prayers for Feast Days and Holidays throughout the Year
THE BAKER’S DOZEN story of Saint Nicholas by Aaron Shepherd
Blessing of Advent Wreathe and Christmas Manger
Advent Prayers and Rituals:
Here’s a fascinating article on THE CHERRY TREE CAROL:
Suggestions prepared by Fr. James DiLuzio CSP December 2017