June 29, 2009


"Gran Torino"
So, what movies and books about priests/priesthood do PRIESTS (and seminarians) like best?

Well, we asked 'em and here's what we came up with (many polled were from the Chicagoland area).

The National Catholic Register recently ran an article of the "Top 10 Priest Movies" (gleaned from their "Top 100 Catholic Movies" list from an online poll of 1,000 people). http://www.ncregister.com/daily/top_10_priest_movies/, but we asked the man of the cloth on the streets himself. The NCR article is also strict about it being an American movie, the movie being about a priest (rather than bishop or pope), and having the priest be the main character. Our responses below are much more varied! (Great gift ideas!)

1. Romero* (1989)
2. On the Waterfront* (older priests especially inspired by this) (1954)
3. The Mission* (1986)
4. Diary of a Country Priest (1951)
5. Becket* (1964) (Protestant pastors also inspired by this to go into the ministry!)
6. Blackrobe* (1991) (Canadian film, historical fiction of Jesuit missionaries in 1600's)
7. Scarlet and the Black (1983)
8. Exorcism of Emily Rose* (2005) (based on a true story, priest is a real hero)
9. Keys of the Kingdom (1944)
10. Keeping the Faith* (2000)

Other feature films priests recommended:

--"True Confessions"* (1981) (some nudity, deals with how priests are tempted to get caught up in Church politics, deals with the true nature of priesthood and tough choices to be made)
--"The Cardinal" (1963) (some priests said too "cardboard" and "pollyanna," but good historical snapshot)
--"Ninth Day" (2004) (priests in Dachau, the book is "Priestblock 25487")
--"Molokai: The Story of Fr. Damien" (1999)
--"Monsieur Vincent"* (1948) (French, award-winning film on St. Vincent de Paul)
--"Beyond the Gates" (aka "Shooting Dogs" 2005) (true story of a priest in Rwanda)
--"The Prisoner" (1955) (based on either Hungary's Cardinal Mindszenty or Croatian Cardinal Stepinac--tortured by Nazis)
--"Father Brown" (G. K. Chesterton's mysteries)

Priest not main character, but good priest parts:

--"Men with Guns"* (1997)
--"Gran Torino"* (2008)


--"Fishers of Men"* (inspiring vocation film by the amazing "Grassroots Films")
--"With God in Russia"* (true story of Polish-American Fr. Walter Ciszek, SJ)
--"Road of Hope--The Spiritual Journey of Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan"*

*Sr. Helena highly recommends:

--"JESUS" (2-hr Gospel of Luke), "Gospel of John," "The Passion of the Christ" (Jesus, our high priest!)
--"Diary of a City Priest" (2001) (film adaptation different from the book; the unglamorous life of a parish priest in a poor, inner city neighborhood; should be required seminary viewing!)
--"The Father Clements Story" (1987) African-American priest adopts kids to set an example
--"Hoodlum Priest" (1961) (surprisingly good, gritty drama of ex-con priest, based on true story)
--"Saving Grace" (1985) (pope gets locked out of Vatican)
--"Gran Torino" (2008)
--"Gospa" (1995) Medjugorje Franciscan played by Martin Sheen
--"Open City" (1945) (Italian, Rossellini, Nazis torture a priest in WWII occupied Rome)
--"Little Flowers of St. Francis" (1950) (Italian, Rossellini, St. Francis and his first followers)
--"Into Great Silence" (2005) 3-hr "silent" movie about Carthusian monks (the Church's most austere order) who live in silence, except for prayers
--"Of Gods and Men" (2011) The Trappist martyrs of Algeria
--"The Rite" (2011) Some theological inaccuracies, but Anthony Hopkins does a great job playing a priest-exorcist
--"Keeping the Faith" (2000) A young priest and young rabbi are friends
--"The Priest and the Devil" (French, B & W) The Cure of Ars
--John Paul II movies--take your pick!

Are YOU a priest or seminarian? Don't see YOUR favorite "priest movie" here? Comment!

Priests/seminarians favorite BOOKS on priests/priesthood:

--"You Are a Priest Forever" by Fr. Groeschel
--"Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom of the Church"
--"Quickening the Fire in Our Midst: The Challenge of Diocesan Priestly Spirituality" by George Aschenbrenner, SJ
--"Reclaiming Our Priestly Character," by Fr. David Toups
--"Gift and Mystery"* by John Paul II
--"The Keys of the Kingdom" by A. J. Cronin
--"The Power and the Glory" by Graham Greene
--"Silence"* by Shusaku Endo
--"Father Brown"* mysteries by G. K. Chesterton
--"The Unchanging Heart of the Priesthood" by Fr. Thomas Acklin, OSB
--"The Priest Is Not His Own" by Fulton Sheen (one priest says it makes him depressed, another seminarian LOVES it)

Sr. Helena recommends (even though she hasn't read some of them):
--"In Defense of the Priesthood" by St. John Fisher, bishop & martyr (written to refute his contemporary, Martin Luther! One of Fisher's only extant writings!)
--"Letter for Year for Priests" Pope Benedict XVI (lots of Cure d'Ars quotes)
--"The Meaning of the Priesthood" by Cardinal Avery Dulles
--"Theology of the Priesthood" by Jean Galot
--"Joy of the Priesthood" by Fr. Stephen Rossetti
--"Behold Your Mother, Priests Speak About Mary" by Fr. Stephen Rossetti
--"Priests for the Third Millennium" by Archbishop Timothy Dolan
--"Priestly Celibacy" by Paul VI
--"Priestblock 25487" (priests in Dachau)
--"With God in Russia" and "He Leadeth Me" by Fr. Walter Ciszek, SJ
--"Alter Christus--St. Paul Speaks to Priests"
--"Virgin Mary and the Priesthood" by Pierre Philippe
--"Priesthood, Manhood and Theology of the Body" Fr. Thomas Loya www.tinyurl.com/FatherLoyaPriesthoodBook
--Anything on or by St. Jean-Marie Vianney, the Cure of Ars (now patron of all priests, not just parish priests)

Books on Women and the Catholic Priesthood:
--"Women and the Catholic Priesthood" by Sr. Sara Butler
--"Priesthood of the Heart" (Alba House)

For more books on priesthood:
http://www.albahouse.org/ (Publishing House of Society of St. Paul)
http://www.ignatius.com/ (Ignatius Press)
http://www.ipfpublications.com/ (Institute of Priestly Formation)

Are YOU a priest or seminarian? Don't see YOUR favorite book on priesthood here? Comment!

Bookmark and Share

June 28, 2009

National Shrine of St. Paul named in St. Paul, MN

By Maria Wiering   
Tuesday, 16 June 2009
Cathedral of St. PaulAs the Year of St. Paul draws to a close on June 29, the Cathedral of St. Paul is announcing its new designation as National Shrine of the Apostle Paul.

The Cathedral is among about 100 U.S. Catholic churches that have been honored with the designation — and it's the only one dedicated to St. Paul the Apostle, said Msgr. Anthony Sherman, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Divine Worship. The designation comes from the Holy See and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at the request of Archbishop John Nienstedt.

The title 'shrine' recognizes the Cathedral's national importance and designates it as a pilgrimage destination for groups from across the United States, said Father Joseph Johnson, the Cathedral's rector.

Already, visitors from beyond the archdiocese —  Catholic and non-Catholic alike — tour the Cathedral when they visit St. Paul. Parish groups from around the Midwest have organized pilgrimages to the building, Father Johnson added.

The shrine designation may result in more pilgrims, he said. Today, the USCCB wants a national shrine to be a place that can accommodate national pilgrimages — in this case pilgrimages intended to increase devotion to the Apostle Paul, Father Johnson said.

Becoming a shrine

More Info

Photos of the Cathedral of Saint Paul can be found in our photo gallery.

Visit the Cathedral's website HERE.
It's significant that this shrine was named in the Year of St. Paul, Msgr. Sherman said. "This was a church that, even by its design and architecture, revealed the life of St. Paul and the challenges of his ministry and his preaching and proclamation," he said. The Year of St. Paul began on June 29, 2008.

"We're hoping that . . . this shrine in particular might be an impetus for evangelization, that people will get the spirit of St. Paul and begin to want to try and reach out and proclaim the message of Christ," he added.

The USCCB granted the designation on March 25, but it is now just being announced by the archdiocese.

The shrine designation will add another layer to the many roles the Cathedral already plays in the community, Father Johnson said. It is a parish serving about 3,000 households; it is the mother church for the archdiocese; and it is a civic monument because of its impressive architecture and history.

Because the Cathedral often hosts group pilgrimages, it has already played a role on the national scene, Father Johnson said. However, the designation will increase its "national spiritual significance," he added.

To be considered for a shrine designation, a parish must complete a questionnaire and provide extensive information about itself, which is confirmed through a visit of a bishop on the Committee for Divine Worship. For the Cathedral, about 16 months passed from the beginning of the application process until the designation, Father Johnson said.

National shrines are designated in the United States because of a specific devotion to a saint or the Blessed Virgin Mary, Msgr. Sherman said. This devotion draws more people to the church, he added.

In the application process, the challenge lies in ascertaining whether or not  a shrine designation might be able to make a unique contribution on the national level, Msgr. Sherman said.

Increased devotion

The Cathedral began the application process when the Year of St. Paul was announced, Father Johnson said. He felt the Cathedral had a particular responsibility to heed the jubilee year's call to greater devotion to the Apostle Paul.

He also thinks the national shrine designation honors the vision of the Cathedral's founder, Father Lucien Galtier, the first priest to establish a parish in the area in 1840. Because of his devotion to the saint, he named the log chapel he built after St. Paul, which led to the name of the city.

"Father Galtier looked to the person of Paul when he arrived in this wilderness, and it's interesting that now the universal church has said we're all going to do that," Father Johnson said.

Because of the shrine designation, the Cathedral will continue some of the programming it began during the jubilee year, including its First Saturday series, which featured speakers, prayer and reflection. It already offers several weekly tours.

The new shrine has also established the Archconfraternity of the Apostle Paul to  help people feel connected to the shrine, Father Johnson said. Members serve as the spiritual apostolate of the National Shrine of the Apostle Paul in five particular ways:
  • Greater devotion to St. Paul and his intercession.
  • Study of and reflection on the Pauline epistles in the New Testament.
  • Practice of corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
  • Commitment to evangelization, especially in everyday encounters
  • Connection with the spiritual life at the National Shrine of the Apostle Paul.
Members are asked to contribute $15 in annual dues.

The designation as a national shrine does not affect its designation as the Cathedral for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Father Johnson said, since it hosts the chair, or "cathedra," of the archbishop. 'Cathedral' and 'shrine' are unrelated designations, he added.

The design for the shrine's insignia was taken from a carved medallion in the bronze grails behind the sanctuary which features a sword and a wreath, both symbols of Paul's martyrdom.

END OF THE PAULINE YEAR (never can say goodbye)

Keeping a Light on for Pauline Pilgrims
Archpriest Comments on Closing of Year of St. Paul

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 26, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Even though the Year of St. Paul will end this weekend, the archpriest of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls says he will keep a light on and the door open for pilgrims wishing to visit the Apostle of the Gentiles.Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo said this today in a pressing briefing ahead of the closing of the Year of St. Paul. Benedict XVI will close the jubilee year marking the 2,000th anniversary of Paul's birth in a ceremony Saturday at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.

"The Pauline Year is coming to an end," the 83-year-old cardinal said, "but the great ferment of pastoral initiatives, catechesis, and cultural events is destined to continue, and to find a large following at both the local and the continental level.""The Pauline Door [...] will remain open, and the Pauline flame lit by the Holy Father at the beginning of this year will continue to burn in the quadriporticus," he added, "reminding all the pilgrims who continue to arrive from every corner of the globe of the richness and profundity of the Word of God transmitted to us by the Apostle of the Gentiles."Cardinal Montezemolo reported that tens of thousands of pilgrims visited the Pauline basilica in the last year, and that on May 1 of this year, the basilica saw more than 18,000 pilgrims. In recent weeks, he added, "we have certainly seen more than 10,000 a day."Pilgrims who visited were able to see Paul's tomb, he added, which hadn't been possible before."

"An opening was made in the ancient fifth century brickwork surrounding Paul's tomb under the main altar, so that pilgrims could see one side of the great marble sarcophagus, which has never been opened and which has held the mortal remains of the apostle for the last 20 centuries." Apostle's messageThe archpriest recalled that the jubilee was about more about than visiting the basilica. He noted that one of the year's main objectives was to "increase people's knowledge of, and invite them to meditate upon, the valuable message left to us by the Apostle of the Gentiles in his writings, which are often difficult and little known or poorly interpreted."

Another objective, he added, was "to create various programs in the ecumenical dimension, which means working to an ever greater degree with non-Catholic Christian communities on various initiatives of prayer, study and culture."Reflecting on the activity of the last year, Cardinal Montezemolo noted "the celebration of the second millennium of the birth of the Apostle of the Gentiles was perceived and experienced as a fresh stimulus, a further reason to work toward evangelization.""This was also felt in the Orthodox Churches and in many other Christian communities, and has become a shared commitment on the path to recreating unity among Christians," he added.Recalling the highlights of the Pauline year, the cardinal noted Benedict XVI's catechetical addresses on the Apostle of the Gentiles, which were delivered at the weekly Wednesday audiences from last July 2 through Feb. 4.Another highlight, he said, was the opening Mass of the synod of bishops on the Word of God, which took place at St. Paul Outside the Walls. He noted that at this meeting of bishops, St. Paul was the most mentioned figure, after Jesus Christ.

Bookmark and Share

June 27, 2009


Sr. Helena Burns, fsp, is a member of the Daughters of St. Paul, an international congregation founded to communicate God's Word through the media.
She is finishing her M.A. in Media Literacy, has a B.A. in theology and philosophy from
St. John's University, NYC, studied screenwriting at UCLA, and holds a Certificate in Pastoral Youth Ministry. She is the movie reviewer for
“The Catholic New World,” Chicago’s Archdiocesan newspaper.

Sr. Helena has been giving media workshops to youth and adults all over the U.S. and Canada since the 90’s, and believes that media can be a primary tool for sharing God's love and salvation.

Sr. Helena Burns, fsp Pauline Books & Media 172 N. Michigan Ave. Chicago, IL 60601 hburns@paulinemedia.com http://www.hellburns.blogspot.com/ http://www.pauline.org/
facebook: Helena Burns twitter: SrHelenaBurns


What does it mean to live in a media culture? What are the promises and challenges
of today’s media content and technologies? How can you be a "media smart" family?
What is the Church’s official position regarding media?Learn the basics of media literacy and how they can help discern and enhance all your media experiences.

(MEDIA IS A FAMILY THING for parenting or family/intergenerational catechesis)
Learn the basics of media literacy and how they can help you effectively communicate
about media with your kids, teens, and as a family.

Where is God in a wired world?

Ever wonder where the media gets its strength? Ideas have names...and consequences!

Develop your personal philosophy of life as you meet the philosophers
who helped create the world we live in. (Great for Confirmation!)

John Paul II insisted on the dignity of the human person, and human rights is THE issue of our times. But what exactly is the human "person"? The foundation of human dignity and rights rests on "person." The basics of Catholic social teaching will be covered.

Whether you're telling your story for the film, TV or computer screen--crafting character and story are the heart of your masterpiece! Learn the basics.

Do you feel “in control” or “out of control” in your use of media?
Are you overwhelmed with media content and technology? Do you find it a challenge to put your faith-life and media-life together? Do you feel the need for an integrated media spirituality? Fear not! A media spirituality already exists! Blessed James Alberione, SSP, a priest, filmmaker, author and founder of ten congregations, has developed a profound media spirituality in the spirit of St. Paul the Apostle.

Our world loves movies. How can we use film to illuminate God's story?Not only are movies full of biblical themes, but we can use film as a springboard for meditation, prayer, and reflection on the liturgy. Lectio divina (sacred reading) can become “cinema divina."

How can we decipher the truth in the myriad media messages we receive daily, especially in the news?

In this age of Google, we now have the world at our fingertips! Along with this incredible gift
comes incredible responsibility. Along with the light, there’s a dark side.
Is it possible to for kids, teens and adults to be truly “safe” online? What about porn?

Need a quick tutorial on Facebook or Twitter? Want to know what the big deal is with social networking? Want to know where the future of media is heading? Get a handle while gaining confidence and insight.

What is true love? Can it be found in the media? We’ll use Pope John Paul II’s revolutionary “Theology of the Body” and Pope Benedict’s “God Is Love."

What is the heart of a vocation to the religious life and/or priesthood?
How do you know if you’re called? Are there some clues in the media?

Create a “Faith and Media Week” for your parish or school! Custom-fit workshops for your parish or school. Book/media exhibits and bookfairs can also be included, as well as movie nights, etc.


"The media presentations helped our teens experience the theme of hope."
--Paul and Tracy La Scala, Confirmation Coordinators, St. John Neumann, Irvine, CA

"The format was great for adult formation...a very comfortable environment in which to learn."
--Tish Petricca, Adult Education Director, St. Matthew, Schaumburg, IL

"Christianity has to be where the new generation is...."
--teen student, Toronto, ON, CANADA

"Excellent! A dynamic, engaging presentation that wowed the teens and parents...fun and thought-provoking."
--Mary Ann Snyder, DRE, St. Robert, Ada, MI

"I enjoyed your presentation very much. Usually I would fall asleep, but you have found a way to get to people."
--teen student, Toronto, ON, CANADA

“Fresh, relevant and informative. Brings the teaching of JPII to life is an easy to understand way for teens and adults.”
--Mike Zak, youth minister, St. Patrick's Church, St. Charles, IL

All workshops are highly interactive and can be adapted for teens and adults.
Each workshop uses TV, film, music video and other media clips.
For catechists: Ready-to-use handouts!

The Pauline Center for Media Studies was founded in 1993 to promote media literacy education in view of integrating human and Christian values in today's entertainment and information media culture.
"Glory to God and peace to people of good will." --Luke 2:14

One hour: $200
Two hours: $250
Three hours (“full day”) or more: $500
Other expenses: (if distance) gas and lodging.

Almost all equipment is provided by the presenter. A large screen is usually the only on-site requirement (in a room that can be completely darkened).

An exhibit of the finest topic-related media resources can be provided on request. Please provide two tables for display.


Let's wrestle with this centuries-old riddle! What is the relationship between Faith and Reason?
Faith and Science? How can we and our youth respond to the "New Atheism"?

Before he was pope, Karol Wojtyla was a poet, actor, playwright, athlete and…philosopher.
(The only thing that stopped Cardinal Wojtyla from teaching philosophy at the university level
was his election to the papacy.) How does JP2G’s philosophy continue to influence the Church?
What is phenomenology? Why did he insist so much on the dignity of the human person?


Join the revolution! What does it mean to BE a body--not HAVE a body?

Covers "The Dignity and Vocation of Woman," Mary, feminism, women and the Catholic priesthoood.

Covers religious life, priesthood and single life.

June 26, 2009


"My Sister's Keeper," much-loved novelist Jodi Picoult's first book-into-movie, is about death and familial love. It looks death straight in the eye and comes up blank. As it should. The film's conclusion is that we don't know much about death or the afterlife, but we do know about love.

I was immediately grabbed by the book's premise when it came out, meant to read it, and never did: A very determined mother is impregnated with a daughter who is specifically designed by medical science to be compatible "spare parts" for her sick older daughter (leukemia). At eleven years old, the younger daughter sues for control over her own body. Sound like creepy sci-fi? It's not at all portrayed that way. As these technologies become commonplace (think: Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick's twins, recently carried and birthed by a surrogate mother; Octomom; the widespread use of IVF; sperm and egg "donation"; frozen embryos; etc.), emotional, home-y narratives will accompany these decisions/choices/actions, and thus, these stories will become just "normal."

As is well known, the Catholic Church sees the above-mentioned "solutions" as disrespectful of human dignity. Anything that treats human beings as objects, things, products, tools, "rights," possessions, etc., is not in keeping with that dignity. (Certain technologies to aid fertility ARE approved, as long as it's within the context of the nuptial act, aiding the natural process. Contrary to popular belief, the Church wants you to have sex, and is very back-to-nature, crunchy granola.)

"My Sister's Keeper" is really a bio-ethical drama, but I've never heard anyone put it in that context which is kind of scary in itself. It's also a legal drama—what are the little girl's rights, if any? While watching the film, one is acutely aware that this is simply the state of the question/problem FOR NOW. Things are only going to get weirder.

Lots of great ponder-this statements and questions surrounding the issue are posed by characters:

"I'm important, too!" –the younger daughter, Anna

"We went against nature. It's our fault. Anna's reaction was bound to happen. If we force her to give her kidney, will she look at us from now on as though we used her? Maybe we just wanted what we wanted."—Dad

"I was engineered." –Anna

Mom to Anna: "You don't have a choice [to give kidney to sister]." Anna: "I do have a choice!"

"Who stands up for Anna?" –Lawyer

The action starts off with a bang—Anna's voice-over brings us up to speed in just a few minutes: how she came to exist and why, and then off she goes to the lawyer. But MSK is an uneven ensemble piece. In the beginning, we hear the thoughts of each character, but that stops abruptly and we switch to Anna's thoughts alone and we think she's the main character, but, no—suddenly it's Kate for a long stretch, including visual meditations of her illness and a budding romance with a fellow teen cancer patient. Perhaps this asymmetry is intentional—to defy expectations and remind us of the unevenness of life. And death. However, each family member, even the devoted, ditzy aunt, has their moment, gets their say by the end.

The conclusion-twist, although altogether a probability, clever, generous and heroic, felt like a bit of a cop-out (much like the miscarriage in abortion movie "Citizen Ruth"). Why NOT follow the real question through to the end? Actually, we know such cases have already happened (families having a child for the therapeutic purpose of healing another child). What ARE the rights of these too-young-to-speak-for-themselves-de-facto donors? Should this ever be done? (Starting from babyhood, Anna has been through many painful procedures with side effects that compromise and jeopardize her health.) Picoult sets her dilemma in the State of California, so she refers to CA law, and also federal law and precedents which I assume are real.

What side does Picoult come down? Hard to tell—if she's even taking sides. Is she trying to "accomplish something" through her literature? Picoult is a graduate of Princeton, does extensive research on her books, is the mother of three teens, and tends toward what is being called "child-peril lit." She does mention in a New York Times Magazine interview that she feels she is somewhat superstitious and hopes that by dragging these possible family disasters out into the light, maybe somehow they won't happen to her family.

This film is quite well done (director Nick Cassavetes, "The Notebook"), and only treads the edge, but never falls into the chasm of sentimentality. This is not to say that you won't be sniffling.

The actors are all outstanding and really mesh: Cameron Diaz (the control-freak, blinded-by-smotherlove Mom--we ALL know women like this, who have complete confidence that they alone know what's best for every member of their family), Jason Patric (the strong, often silent, makepeace fireman Dad), Anna (the strong-willed-as-her-mother fighter, who also loves her sister, literally "to pieces"), Evan Ellingson (the lost-in-the-shuffle middle child), Sofia Vassilieva (the dying-to-live but otherwise typical teen who bounces from highs to lows, from consoling her family to needing their consolation), Alec Baldwin (the slick personal injury lawyer doing one good thing in his life), and Joan Cusack (the judge, but why can't we have a Joan Cusack movie? A series of Joan Cusack movies? All Joan all the time? Why don't we see more of this consistent-bullseye, scrumptious actress with her thick as pea soup Chicago accent? OK, I'm done.)

MSK is like one of those really good "Lifetime" movies. There's not a lot of humor, but the overall tone of the movie is gentle, light, touching. The lack of laugh-out-loud-laughter feels right. Too many movies seem insecure by trying to make us laugh too hard, too often.

The everyone-talking-at-once, rollicking extended family dynamic feels unscripted. Watch the scene where Dad tries to take Kate (the sick older daughter) to the beach. Ugly to watch, but boy, is it true to life! (People clapped for the Dad in my theater.)

In the courtroom, Anna's lawyer comes close to asking: "Where does our 'culture of absolute choice' end?" We pretend it ends when my rights crash into yours, but that happens early on in many cases, and I'm afraid we've learned to deny, justify or just force our way.


--Abigail Breslin--forever our little Miss Sunshine!--is still totally natural and fluid and "her-age" and tripping the light fantastic. A pox upon Hollywood if they ever destroy her. Amen.

--Director Nick Cassavettes' daughter was born with a congenital heart condition, so he knows of what he directs.

--Bittersweet old and new soundtrack which includes Don Ho! Remember him, my FOFs?! (fellow old farts)

--Way too many fade-to-blacks

--Seamless flashbacks

--People in my theater were laughing at the wrong times, which made me wonder if they were just nervous because they would do the same thing to Anna if they had a Kate?

--When hip Mom (Cameron Diaz) calls the hospice lady "broad," and "sister," it felt like false notes—the words of a much older woman

--The full attention on Kate (and hardly anyone else) felt long and drawn out

--The "culture of absolute choice" and "doing what I want with my own body" comes back to butt-bite when the designated-designer-donor-daughter uses the same rhetoric!

--Just exactly was Jesse (the son) doing in Hollywood late at night?

--Problematic theology: Anna thinks souls pre-exist, floating around in heaven looking for bodies on earth....

--Wouldn't Anna's relationship with parents be MUCH more strained?

--There's no God in the movie. But there's lots of genuine sacrificial love.

Speaking of "The Insider":

"The word 'God' was not there but the Reality was; when someone lays down his life for another, God is present."

-- Fr. Bud Keiser, CSP (1929-2000)

June 25, 2009


I shall be posting my own list soon, gleaned from my own poll of priests and seminarians!

Top 10 Priest Movies
Posted by Tom Hoopes
Sunday, June 14, 2009 9:40 AM

For the Year of the Priest, here are the “Top 10 Priest Movies” from our Top 100 Catholic Movies List (the full list, the result of an online poll of 1,000 people, is always under “Resources” above):

1. The Scarlet and the Black (1983)
2. The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)
3. The Mission (1986)
4. Going My Way (1944)
5. The Keys of the Kingdom (1944)
6. On the Waterfront (1954)
7. I Confess (1953)
8. Boys Town (1938)
9. Molokai: The Story of Father Damien (1999), mature audiences
10. The Exorcist (1973) mature audiences*
11. Angels With Dirty Faces (1938)

(This list represents U.S. movies in which a main character is a priest. It omits movies focused on a bishop or a pope. The French films “Monsieur Vincent” [1948] and “Diary of a Country Priest” [1951] would come before “Angels With Dirty Faces” if foreign films counted.)

* UPDATED: Other sites have argued that “On the Waterfront” doesn’t count as a priest movie. I think it does. At any rate, I added an 11th movie so that there are 10 no-doubt-about-it priest movies in the list. Our Top 100 Catholic Movies List also includes two Jesuit priest movies whose votes didn’t rate the top 10: 97. The Hoodlum Saint (1946) which I personally would have put higher on the list100. Padre On Horseback (1977) which I personally would not have included on the list.
(From National Catholic Register)

Bookmark and Share

June 4, 2009


Bookmark and Share

So I'm listening to Relevant Radio (Catholic radio) in my car, and the host says that Obama didn't use the words "terrorism" or "terrorists" in his speech in Egypt and didn't refer to terrorism at all.

Obama DID mention terrorism in his speech. He may not have used the word (why reinforce a stereotype: "All Muslims are *terrorists"?), but he referred (with anger in his voice) to "Al Quaeda" and spoke at some length about the innocent people (of America and various nations) who were murdered on 9/11. (Thank God I had heard NPR's airing of the speech earlier in the morning.)

I am NO fan of Obama's extreme anti-life policies or his Socialist drift (and I certainly didn't vote for him), but if we start attacking him for the good things he does (or worse, falsifying information), we will lose all credibility. It becomes an attack ad hominem. This is gravely dishonest.

Interestingly enough, I was on Chicago's 94 inbound where there were billboards for BOTH "Relevant Radio 950" AND "Chicago's Progressive Talk Radio 820." Hmmm, I thunk, I wonder what 820 is saying about Obama's speech? So I tuned in: "Breaking news! In a zoo in Germany, two male penguins are caring for an egg rejected by its biological parents!"

God bless America.
*Maybe we should retire the terms "terrorist/terrorism" all together. Makes 'em sound real powerful and scary. My mother says we should say "cowards/cowardism."

June 3, 2009


Bookmark and Share

So I was in Minnesota doing my "Philosophy 101--Discovering the Powerful Philosophies Behind the Media" workshop for homeschool parents, held at a secular college. In my workshop, I identify 13 philosophers/philosophies that are most influential today. They are arranged on a chart with slogan, view of the human person, goal and result:

nonviolent action

I identify which philosophies (or some forms thereof) are compatible with the Gospel/human dignity or not.

After the workshop, a college student (who had been working in the soundbooth) approached me to talk. This young man was very intelligent, an economics major, with a keen ability to think logically and philosophically. He had no faith, and seemed to only have had courses in contemporary philosophy (he had never heard of "essences," for example). We ended up talking for about an hour, but we could/should have gone on.

The first thing he told me is that I seemed to be "hostile" toward some of the philosophies. Something he wasn't used to. Here at the college, he said, the philosophies are just presented as neutral and you choose which one you like. I told him I thought I was extremely fair, actually! That others would not have thought certain forms of certain philosophies compatible with the Gospel/human dignity. I told him some of these philosophies have been historically proven to be very harmful to individuals and nations, so I'm not just guessing.

Next, he said he thought of himself as a relativist (for him, the highest good is "as long as nobody gets hurt") and didn't see how I identified the result of relativism as greed, might makes right, war, etc. (We spent a great deal of time on this.) I asked him how he actually knew what was good. How did he really know what was good or bad for someone else, or even for himself. If he was ever hurting himself, that would be hurting someone. I told him that if we have no reference points outside ourselves, it's very hard to determine that, actually. We can look around and see that people are identifying completely opposite things as "good" that WILL effect others.

He eventually asked me: "What is it that we have to look to outside of ourselves? God?" (He really groped to find the word/concept of God--it didn't feel like a conversion moment.) I said, Yes! But if you can't jump right to God, you can look around at how things are, nature is speaking to us, natural law, things are intrinsically what they are, things have objective meaning and value (not just "the meaning and values we give them"). I told him how the Greeks' minds were blown when they came in contact with Judaism's tetragrammaton: "I AM." The Greeks instantly got it: God is the one Being who's very essence is existence. We talked about how we are so limited, there's a time we didn't exist, we get sick and die. We NEED to look outside ourselves for the source of our existence. I told him if God stopped thinking of us or loving us for even a nanosecond, we would cease to exist because He not only created everything, but actively keeps us all in existence.

I admitted that, yes, we MAY choose something good (and provided we stick with it), relativism, for us, may not lead to greed, war, etc., but we are only going on good will (or chance) in our choosing of that good thing. [I also told him that I would mention that from now on in my workshops--that not ALL relativism leads to greed, war!] I told him that good will is a big deal (the Christmas angels said the Good News was for people of good will!), but at the same time it's a starting point and an almost flimsy place to STAY. I told him one of the major tenets of relativism is that YOU COULD (AND MAYBE SHOULD) CHANGE YOUR MIND TOMORROW, so you can't even tell me that you WILL stick with that good choice. (He readily agreed.)

We talked about how Kant just presumed that everybody had good will and wants to be good (that's the only way his system will even sort of work). I talked about the fact that most people DO have good will and want to be good and are trying to be good, but asked: What about all the evil that people do in the world? Where does that come from? I told him how I argued with a philosophy professor who was enamored of Kant. I just kept saying to her: But why be good? Isn't the fact that I CAN choose away from the good prove that I'm human, isn't that my glory? She finally sighed: "You reason like the Marquis de Sade." The point was, not that I believe what the MDS believes, but I CAN see his point, and I CAN reason like he does IF there is nothing outside of myself that I need to refer to. At this point, I'm not sure if the young man was able to admit that the depths of evil might live in him, too. [We really needed to develop this point. We all like to believe we're good people, but unless we can believe we are capable of great error and evil, we can justify anything in our lives. Because we are basically good people, right? I should have said to him: "Can you admit that there is something wrong with the world? Could it be that we all have a part in it?" When G. K. Chesterton was asked: "What's wrong with the world?" He answered: "Me."]

My dialoguing partner was also surprised that I said certain forms of existentialism were compatible with Christianity. "Most existentialists are atheists," he said. When I mentioned that Kierkegaard, the founder of existentialism, was a Christian, he said: "Oh, that's just because he couldn't be an atheist in the culture of his time." (The "cultural" argument!) I told him that Nietzsche, from a long line of Lutheran ministers, had no problem being an atheist. I told him that these thinkers were radical and had no problem breaking away from cultural expectations.

My young friend wondered if President George W. Bush was a relativist, because he created his own reasons to go to war. I mistakenly agreed with him, but actually, W was a utilitarian in this.

My friend was SCANDALIZED, as many young and not so young people are, when the Christians in the audience (during one of the media clips) seemed to be cheering for a pro-war character's position. He just couldn't understand that. I told him of my own anti-war stance, the Church's original pacifist/nonviolent action stance, the fact that the so-called just war theory has been in question ever since WWII, and of the Pope/Vatican speaking out on the immorality of both Iraq Wars. He wondered aloud why Catholics wouldn't listen to the Pope/Vatican. [Egads.] I just told him it was totally tragic. [I need to be much stronger when I present nonviolent action and how it ends violence and creates lasting social change and improved societies. My Catholic audiences seem to scratch their heads on this one. Nonviolent action, too, is historically proven to be effective: India (Ghandi), Philippines, Poland, the Berlin Wall, USA (MLK), etc. One takes on ONESELF the violence and evil--in a very Christlike manner--in order to end the cycle, rather than retaliating. It requires LARGE numbers of citizens in order to work.]

When we talked further about this urge in people (men?) to go to war, he said: "Now you sound like Scientism." Ha ha. I told him we call it "original sin," but at this point our conversation got cut off. I wanted to tell him that Scientism believes we have no free will, but that we do have free will even though we have impulses, instincts, etc. ["Sin is crouching at your door, but you can be its master." --Genesis 4:7]

Please pray for this sincere young man.

June 1, 2009


"Up," the new Disney/Pixar gem, takes the unusual tack of making a senior citizen the main character and hero. Kid-oriented films almost always have a kid as the protagonist. The kid in "Up" is the grumpy old man's sidekick, but becomes every bit as much a hero by the end. Carl (Ed Asner) and his beloved wife, Ellie, had always planned to go adventuring, but never did. Ellie dies, and Carl continues to talk to her regularly. The house they shared becomes the presence of Ellie for Carl, so when adventure calls, of course, the house must go with. A young adventurer, Russell (Jordan Nagai), inadvertently comes along for the ride (Carl's balloon-borne house sailing to Paradise Falls, South America), and Carl resents him until he discovers that Russell doesn't have the love of family that Carl once had. Two more companions join the unlikely duo: a gigantic, rainbow-colored, ostrich-like bird that is supposedly non-existent; and a friendly mutt with a collar that reads his simple, happy-go-lucky dog thoughts and interprets them out loud: "I have just met you, but I love you!" "Squirrel!" Everyone's mettle is tested by the hardships of the jungle and a dastardly plot to capture the bird (named "Kevin" by Russell). The animals are truly hilarious. Raucous laughter is in order. Sample: To the dogs, all humans are just different kinds of "mailmen," Carl is known as the "one who smells of prunes."

Everything is just right in "Up." The animation is uber-realistic, while at the same time being very much caricature-esque (balloon-y, block-y and button-y all at once). Due to the careful craftsmanship and artistry of the Pixar gang (director Peter Docter, Bob Peterson, Andrew Stanton, Brad Bird, etc.) the voice-acting is perfect, never sounding a false, disconnected-from-the-visual note as often seems to happen in other animated flicks (think: "Horton Hears a Who"). The narration is recorded first, so actors are basically sitting around a studio reading from a script, trying to imagine the action. The child performances are especially well done, with a big shout out to the young Ellie (who happens to be Elie Docter, the director's daughter), a half-toothless seven-year-old, who sounds like a youthful Granny from "The Beverly Hillbillies." (Incredible expression and dynamics. This young lady is going places.)

The Disney/Pixar ethic allows the artists at the helm to do their thing. Loving attention is paid to each detail. The filmmakers actually went to South America to sketch the flora and fauna and get ideas. The crew also play music, so they performed Tin Pan Alley gigs at old folks homes just so they could watch the mannerisms and movements of the residents. You'll be saying to yourself throughout the movie: "How do they think of these things??" Case in point: the sound that Russell's face makes as it slides across the windshield of the dirigible. At Disney/Pixar an old-time sensibility, the sense of wonder, remembering what it's like to be a kid, and the spirit of adventure are all alive and well.

Much has been made about the image of Carl dragging his house behind him, or rather, above him, held aloft by balloons, and tethered to earth by Carl's living in the past. It is not a burden for Carl, but a labor of love. It makes us instantly reflect: What am I carrying around that is ridiculously too old and large? The fact that Carl was able to remove the house at will by tying it to a tree for a rest, reminds us how easily we can let go what needs to be let go, if only we will.

Carl was a devoted husband, but seems to think that that's all life asks of him. His answer to everything else is: "That's none of my concern." As the saying goes: "Old dreams kill new ones." And sometimes we just can't have both. But Carl uses his ingenuity to incorporate the old into the new. He transforms his comfortable nest into a vessel of rescue for the living. And he knows Ellie would have approved.


--The old guys' fight!

--Some dreams turn deadly (Charles)

--Russell is the fat-kid hero!

--Afraid of heights like me? You're palms will be totally sweaty since much of the action takes place at 30,000 feet above sea level.

--Reminded me of the "island of misfits" from "Rudolph."

--There was a yellow house that looked JUST like Carl's house in downtown Toronto in the 90's, surrounded by skyscrapers, holding out against development. It was uninhabited but you could still see the old lace curtains in the windows. Would love to get a picture of it. It's gone now.

--Tons of production babies in the credits!

--Film dialogue/plot understatement of the year: "Assisting the Elderly" badge.

--A charming, waltzing, muted brass soundtrack peppered with way-south-of-the-border bold brass dance music. It's on my wishlist of movie soundtracks.

--Coming full circle for Pixar: didn't they start with a short of old guys playing chess??