January 31, 2013



(by Sr. Helena Burns, fsp--originally printed in the “Engaging Faith” newsletter of Ave Maria Press)


It’s not a cliché to say that today’s young people are up against a lot. The breakdown of the family, divorce, remarriage, blended families and single-parents present profound challenges in teens’ formative years.

New media technology allows constant connection, information and creativity, but also has a dark side of addictions (e.g., porn and videogames) and dehumanization.

Teen sexual behaviors that lead to incurable STDs, infertility, heartbreak, inability to bond, cynicism about love, unwanted pregnancies, abortions, etc., are simply par for the course.

Record numbers of young people now self-describe as “unaffiliated,” “none” (no religion) or “atheist.” Young people are fond of saying that they’re “spiritual” but not “religious.”

Is there a comprehensive, consistent, Catholic approach to all these areas of young people’s lives, something that would tie them all together and offer a healthy, happy, holy alternative for the long haul? Yes! It’s called “Theology of the Body,” a gift from Pope John Paul II to the planet.

Our world no longer believes in what it cannot see. Our world no longer believes in religious authorities, sacred books and top-down systems. But our world has not given up on the body, sex, love, relationships and beauty. This is what they CAN see, what they DO know, what they ENJOY experiencing. John Paul II said: Fine! God is the Source of all these things! The Church is about all these things, too! And they are the BEST things in life (so the world has chosen well).

In his dual works, “Love and Responsibility” and “Male and Female He Created Them—A Theology of the Body,” John Paul II said: Let’s THOROUGHLY examine these five excellent things in the light of anthropology, philosophy, theology, Scripture, nature, and, of course, human experience, but we must be very HONEST about our human experience and we must be seeking AUTHENTIC human experience (because we can do things “wrong” for years and claim “but it’s my experience!” without gaining any true or practical wisdom from our actions).

By today’s tearing apart of sex and love, sex and marriage, sex and babies, we have created a culture of death. The definition of death is “the separation of body and soul.” Separating two things that absolutely go together, that are instrinsically united, results in spiritual and physical death. (To be “spiritual” [soul] but not “religious” [body] also rips the self in two.) Theology of the Body puts Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Theology of the Body begins with the fact that we ARE bodies, we don’t HAVE bodies. To HAVE something is to have a possession that is outside of us, something that can be used. To BE something is part and parcel of who we are. The human person=body and soul together forever (the resurrection of the body means we will get our bodies back)! What we do with our body we do with our soul, what we do with our soul we do with our body. We experience all of life through, with and in our bodies. Therefore, God must be accessible to our bodies, and He is. Not only did He become incarnate as one of us, but He remains with us in the Eucharist: God’s Body.

Certainly chastity, abstinence, and celibacy-outside-of-marriage is part of the message of Theology of the Body, but Theology of the Body doesn’t dwell on what we CAN’T HAVE, but rather what we CAN HAVE: true love and true sex. The world IS looking for true love and true sex, but if we don’t know what it is, how will we ever get there? Young people are in preparation, in training (or should be) for true love and true sex. It’s all about achieving our goals. If someone wants to be a soccer player, why go to basketball camp instead? Unfortunately, young people--by opting out of dating all together, being sexually promiscuous, not understanding the dynamics of male/female relationships and majorly delaying marriage--are in training for the opposite of marriage: a life of unwanted singlehood or marital discord, infidelity and divorce (not to mention the infertility that can be the result of STDs).

No one can deny that love/marriage/sex are a huge part of life, a kind of foundation stone. If we get it right, everything else in our life will go much more harmoniously. If we don’t get it right, we may be in for a lifetime of anguish and misery. Understanding what true love and true sex is is urgently needed today if young people and society in general are going to flourish. Theology of the Body is a big piece of that puzzle, or rather, “TOB” puts all the puzzle pieces of our everyday lives and Catholic Faith together in one of the clearest, most beautiful and complete visions of the human person ever.

Is it easy to live the Theology of the Body (or rather, conform ourselves to reality)? No. It’s one of the hardest things we’ll ever do, but it’s also the most “worth it” thing we’ll ever do, and young people are looking for a CHALLENGE (as well as MEANING). Sometimes I’m afraid young people actually LEAVE the Church precisely BECAUSE we were afraid to challenge them with the full truth, the truth that sets us free. Young people already love self-discipline because they play sports and musical instruments. Why are we afraid to show them how the self-discipline they already display so well can help them in the most important parts of their lives, too?

So much of catechesis in the past has stressed the spiritual, almost to the overlooking of the physical, almost to the encouraging of a radical split between the two! Not so with Theology of the Body. Theology of the Body STARTS with the physical in order to get to the spiritual. TOB starts with the concrete, the visible, what can be encountered and verified. Same conclusions, just a different method, perfectly adapted to our times.

Young people respond exceedingly well to TOB because it is such a positive take on the body, sex, love, relationships and beauty in a way they have never heard before--especially not coming from the Church!

Young people respond best to TOB when the following are emphasized and incorporated:
--the sacredness of sex
--the “language of the body” (fundamental, free, faithful, full, fruitful)
--God (divinity) interfacing with us (humanity), physically and spiritually
--scientific data regarding the body/sex

How can TOB cut across various subjects/disciplines? By always starting from the physical, from tangible facts, from “authentic” experiential knowledge. Mastering and memorizing some basic TOB principles, basic biblical texts, basic quotes from TOB texts, frequently referring to them, and applying them will help students grasp the concepts and be able to apply them to themselves and current issues (and they will blow you away with their understanding and original insights, of course).

NEED SOME QUICK RESOURCES? www.tinyurl.com/TOBresources

January 29, 2013


Here's another post from when the continued marches to protect marriage reached 1.8 million people:

On January 13, 2013, one million French marched to protect marriage. Vive la difference!

France Marches for Marriage

Led by a provocative comedian, a gay atheist, and a socialist teacher, protest against same-sex marriage draws one million

As many as a million protesters descended upon Paris from every corner of France today to demonstrate their opposition to the Socialist government’s plans to introduce same-sex civil marriage. The Prefecture of Police estimates at least 380,000 participated in the three marches from different starting points that converged at the Champs de Mars in front of the Eiffel Tower. Organisers, however, set up counting stations and claim that, by 7:30pm tonight, over one million protestors had joined the march.
Volunteers charted more than eight hundred vehicles to bring protestors to Paris, while six TGV high-speed trains were reserved for demonstrators. “Had the conditions for chartering trains not been as stringent,” an organiser told Le Figaro “the number could easily have been double.”
“In the freezing cold,” Le Figaro reports, “young, old, and families with children were trying to keep warm waving thousands of pink flags to the jerky rhythm of techno music.”
The entire workforce of the Directorate of Public Order & Traffic was called out to handle the massive demonstration, which forced a Paris Saint-Germain football match to be brought forward. Police believed it would be impossible to secure the area around the Parc des Princes stadium when hundreds of thousands of protesters were expected in the centre of the French capital.
The protest today was organised by the eccentric comedian Frigide Barjot, founder of the Collectif pour l’humanité durable, joined by gay atheist Xavier Bongibault of the association Plus gay sans mariage (“More Gay Without Marriage”), and Laurence Tcheng of La gauche pour le mariage républicaine(“The Left for Republican Marriage”).
The unlike troika claim to have launched “a guerrilla war” against the current Socialist Party government’s proposed same-sex civil marriage legislation. Avoiding the mainstream media, ‘Team Barjot’ went direct to supporters through social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and, countering the government’s branding of same-sex civil marriage as “Mariage pour tous”, named their protest “Le Manif Pour Tous” (‘The Protest for All’), asserting that all children have a right to a mother and father.
If opinion polls are to be believed, the campaign against the proposed law seems to be changing perceptions. From 2000 to 2011, polls showed a steady rise in support for same-sex marriage. In 2012, this percentage began to decline; support for allowing same-sex couples to adopt also fell. Meanwhile, polls claim that 69% prefer same-sex marriage be put to a referendum.
The three marches organised by Le Manif Pour Tous began at separate meeting points before they converged on the Champs de Mars.
The Institut ‘Civitas’ organised a fourth march on its own initiative.

full blogpost: http://www.andrewcusack.com/2013/01/13/le-manif-pour-tous/

"I need a Dad and a Mom!"

"Sex, not gender."

"1 Father + 1 Mother: It's elementary."  /  "Don't Touch Civil Marriage!"

"Frigide Barjot" (far right)

"All born of a man and a woman!"

"1 Dad and 1 Mom is best!"

Tear gas was used against protesters on the second march (March 24, 2013)

These are the "Madelines" who symbolize the French Revolution.
They're holding up France's Civil Code.

(President) Hollande, you will hear us!

"The 'difference' is the key of existence."

January 27, 2013



“Silver Linings Playbook” is a very funny, family (ABOUT families and marriages, not FOR family viewing), terribly feel good film. Screenwriter/director David O. Russell (“Three Kings,” “Flirting with Disaster,” “The Fighter”) wows us again with his realistic, detailed relationships; rapid dialogue and delicious situations that never totally sell out to pure quirk. Russell must be a real actors’ director. He knows how to let them do their thing to the max and really perform (obviously ad-libbing was encouraged). And there’s a lot of Theology of the Body in it, spoken and unspoken (and a little anti-TOB, too). Although mostly TOB, it's as if Hollywood still has to leave the door open for anything-goes, total sexual license.

Set in Philadelphia, Pat (Bradley Cooper in a difficult comedic role that he fills with ease by simply deadpanning and reacting as his character would—usually violently, but it’s funny) is a young married man with mental issues that caused a lengthy stay in a psych ward…AND basically the end of his marriage. But Pat, newly released from the hospital into his parents’ care (his underdog, OCD, sports-obsessed father is played by Robert De Niro with much vulnerability; and his loving, worried Mom, Jackie Weaver) is determined to win his wife back. How do family and friends react to the “new” Pat? In all different ways, but Pat is blessed with some truly great support.

Enter Tiffany (a “look out world, I’m only going to get better at this” Jennifer Lawrence) for one of the plainest “meet cutes” ever--but it’s perfect because these two have no use for niceties and conventions. They don’t even know how to do them. Tiffany is an unstable young widow who is as unfiltered as Pat (according to Tiffany it’s “telling the truth”). But Pat only has eyes for his wife and enlists Tiffany in his plan to win her back. Since Pat now owes Tiffany, he must join her as her partner in a dance competition which Tiffany thinks is a better plan to get Pat’s wife back. But then things get complicated with Dad’s plans, and all plans converge around an Eagles’ game and the dance competition.

The betting that goes on around these two contests carries with it an incredibly long, convoluted and boring exposition, but no matter, the film had us at “excelsior,” “no negativity,” and “look for the silver lining.”

Will a love relationship develop between these two well-matched misfits and kindred spirits? All I can tell you is that, if it does, it will be in great part because Pat totally respects Tiffany even when she doesn’t respect herself  (and many other men don’t respect her). There’s a beautiful scene to this effect: of a man defending a woman’s honor, rather than just standing aside because she’s “free” to do what she wants.


--Everyone will be able to relate to Pat and Tiffany. Because we’re all a little crazy.

--Beautiful portrayal of a beautiful chaste relationship (and very physical: dancing).

--There’s a sense of respect, waiting and earning the woman on the man’s part.

--Solid use of Led Zep.

--Great soundtrack—lotsa 60’s & 70’s: Danny “Good Taste” Elfman.

--The precision of Alexander Payne (“The Descendants”), but not as anal (sorry, don’t know how else to phrase it).

--The “R” rating states that there is “nudity,” but not really: a quick shower scene where nothing really shows. Some sex talk and f-bombs, yes.  Common Sense Media says:  for 16+.

--Pssssst. In real life, Jennifer Lawrence is unfiltered, too. J

--Wouldn’t mind if this film wins some Oscars. Like, the actors win.

--Palpable love story. Intense male-female interaction—in every way. When male-female relationships are authentic? Men and women “catechize” each other about God, love and the human in a way no one/nothing else can.

--Hemingway! ha ha ha

--The side characters (the cop, the kid with the FLIP, Tiffany’s brother-in-law, etc.) are all so necessary, fleshed out and hilarious. Julia Stiles is a REVELATION here.

  1. One does not simply stick Chris Tucker (who is way overdue for a comeback) in a teeny, tepid, barely-funny role. Thank you.
  2. Russell is the master of the "button" (ending the scene with a snappy or funny bit of dialogue or great visual) and then cutting deep into the next scene. He does this throughout “Linings,” but then does one distracting fade-to-black that just bugged me.
  3. The convoluted laying out of the bet (parlay) in Act Three.
  4. No one likes to be judged (and Jesus told us not to), but Tiffany’s near nymphomania is treated waaaaaaaaaaay too lightly. (It's not shown, only spoken of. Often.) 
  5. The climax was so well set up, but it needed to be more twisty. At least a little more. A little too direct. Perhaps.

January 22, 2013


Q: Can someone be a professional BMX biker, med student & Catholic all at the same time?

(Spirit Juice, of course!)

January 15, 2013


Join us! It's number #135. Starts January 16. Since the March for Life coincides with the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul this year, January 25, let's pray it also FOR LIFE!

January 7, 2013



At first, the musical “Les Miserables” kind of assaults the viewer with bumpy, hand-held, close-ups-only camerawork and frantic talk-singing by and about people and events we’re not invested in yet. The first human utterances in the opening scene are actually the grunts of prisoner-slaves who are laboriously pulling in a huge, extremely fake-looking CGI shipwreck via ropes, Volga boatman style. The music is immediately of the offputtingly bombastic variety and sounds like orchestrated cannon volleys. After that, it’s all uphill. I mean that it gets better and better, and slowly sucks you in till you’re crying in three places like I did. (I have heard many unabashed reports from men who have wept during this thing, too.) I didn’t find it emotionally intense or draining—just able to speak well the truth, tell a story beautifully about common experiences, evoking common human emotions. Victor Hugo’s source material is wrung dry, in a good way—like a cup of Maxwell House.


The film begins and ends with the sung words “Look down!” That is, look down at the suffering, the poor, those who are TOLD to look down, those who don’t dare lift their eyes up to dream…. (There is a feeling of the socially-conscious Dickens’ work to “Les Mis.”) This song reminded me of an article by Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI, that I have never been able to get out of my brain: "The Christ Movement Downward": http://guardianlv.com/2012/08/the-christ-movement-downwards/ 

The nemeses are introduced early: Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) towers over Jean Valjean (an almost unrecognizably tattered Hugh Jackman) who is under his merciless, but not sadistic, command.  Javert is a man of untempered justice, and has put himself under the law’s impersonal, blind eyes, as well. He believes salvation—of every kind—lies in the letter of the law.

This film is kind of my first exposure to the full story of “Les Mis”! Yes, I am duly ashamed. Never read the book, never saw the stage play. All I knew was that it involved people waving French flags around and a little waif girl seen on all the advertisements. I HAD watched an excellent 1978 version (Anthony Perkins plays Javert!) many years ago—but all I remembered were the Javert vs. Valjean parts. I still recommend this version, simply because there was hardly any dialogue in the whole thing. You had to watch this silent man, Valjean, silently enduring all that he did and silently changing and silently exercising heroic courage and mercy. Almost like mime. NO, JUST KIDDING!!! It was great.

For those still not familiar with the storyline, the crux is how two different men react to similar misfortune. But they are not polar opposites: one an angel, one a demon. Valjean was shown great mercy and kindness by a bishop that was a turning point in his life. He tries to pass this on to everyone he encounters, including Javert, but Javert’s God exacts revenge and punishment. Javert would rather live in this harsh world that he understands rather than live in “Jean Valjean’s world.” Javert is not evil, he is conflicted. He thought he was doing the righteous thing. He is so conflicted in his convictions that he wonders if Valjean is from heaven or hell. He begins to doubt what for him is indubitable. But no one is able to get through to him. Javert felt that to be truly strong and good, one must refuse mercy: FROM others for oneself and TO others. But the question is: Without mercy, how can anyone become a better person?


There is so much GOD simply and naturally interwoven in the lives of the characters—who were all pretty much believers. God is THE reference point. Different interpretations of what God desires, but He is always just a thought or prayer away. Director Tom Hooper said: “We live in a selfish age, obsessed with how we project various versions of ourselves. But you have to tell this story from the point of view that God exists. And what God means in practice is the act of compassion, the struggle of living your life in a moral way.” It's truly a different mindset.

The action takes off immediately. There’s no dilly-dallying. A colorful, rich, but uncomplicated network of characters enter the story very naturally, and we get to know them very quickly and very intimately—probably because we see the most fateful events of their lives which they then proceed to sing about, revealing their inner discourse to us, something that is usually restricted in the medium of (purist) film.

In fact, EVERYTHING is sung, people! A few running-start spoken words might get us into the song, but this is a musical with a capital “M.” It may sound tiring, but it really works. If you are not a fan of musicals (I am not a foe of musicals, but not a particular fan unless it’s really, really good), it will work even better for you, because instead of enjoying the acting/dialogue and then having that sixth sense suddenly kick in: “Oh no…this is leading up to a song…I can feel a song coming on…oh no, here it comes…oh no, they’re breaking out in song…Arrrggggh!” and waiting in agony for the song to finish, you are just swept along by non-stop singing. The syllables are often extremely short and staccato, almost like speech, so you tend to forget they’re even singing. There are incredible duets and even three or more people singing at one time, in their own scenes, in their own locations, as the song applies to THEM. These parts are just pure genius. You can hear clearly what everyone is singing, and even if their lives might be only remotely connected, the truth is that we ARE all connected by these very, very realistic situations each one finds themselves in: forced to compromise, dire financial straits, tough decisions, unrequited love, separated lovers, begging mercy, showing mercy, paying dues, taking up a cause, etc. There’s kind of “something for everyone,” big chunks of life—without being overstuffed. Totally cohesive and unified plot/execution.

The singing by the well-known cast is MORE than adequate. Each one has a very pleasant, entertaining, expressive voice and ACTS through the song incredibly well.


The songs, as opposed to the musical dialogue, are not your typical choruses/verses/big finales which can be exhausting. They are personal accounts and reactions to the drama going on around the characters. There is also comic relief in the likes of two married con-artists played to the nines by Helena Bonham-Carter and the subversive Sacha Baron Cohen. I couldn’t get enough.  And may I say: there were so many Brits in this film that were singing all cockney all the time that I had to keep reminding myself: France. This is France. Sacha Baron Cohen was the ONLY one who bothered to attempt a French accent. To good effect, I might add. Sacha needs to stay with his cleaned up act and do more of this kind of acting. Like he did in “Hugo.” Cast the man in his own non-offensive funny film. I know that may be doing violence to how Sacha sees himself, what he prefers to do, but he’s just so good at this stuff.

There is a certain grittiness to the film. It’s “digital dark,” “dubious digital focus,” and skin is often exposed without makeup. The actors often drool and spit as they sing. Yes. Like opera singers probably do. Except you don’t get to WATCH opera singers drool and spit at close range. BUT because of the often ferocious emotion, you, too, would drool and spit. Trust me, it sounds gross, but it’s not THAT gross. Poor people are very scabby. And then there’s that rendezvous in the poop-plugged sewers. Blocking: the actor-singers are actually very confined to one little place when they sing—which is constantly, of course. The camera swoops around over rooftops, but the people? They really don’t move around too much.

What was up with Russell Crowe? He seemed very unconfident of his very nice singing voice and he didn’t act one iota. I mean he just stood there like cardboard. Linoleum. Flat. Dead. Listless. Lackluster. Dude!


“Les Mis” is MORE than “set against a backdrop.” The backdrop—that of an uprising in France in 1815 (after the French Revolution)--is an integral part of each character’s  story, even though some situations/circumstances, such as poverty, are universal and repeat themselves in every time and place. Hugo’s novel explains the historical/political at length, but the film was sorely lacking in even the most rudimentary explanations. What exactly were they rising up AGAINST (besides some nebulous injustice, inequality), what exactly were they fighting FOR (what were their demands, goals)? Fascinating to remember, “Les Mis” first published in 1862: pre-Darwin (“Origin of Species” was just published in 1859), pre-Marx, pre-Communism, pre-Socialism, pre-World Wars (however, the first “modern war” was the devastating Crimean War: 1853-1856), pre-liberation theology. Beyond practicing charity required of us by God and the Gospel, how urgent to know and live the Church's social teaching!

The overall question posed to us seems to be: Who are YOU in “Les Mis”?


--You do realize that Director Tom Hooper’s “King’s Speech” won Best Picture, 2011 Academy Awards?

--Tom Hooper filmed the singing LIVE (never been done before). The actors had little earpieces with a piano track with which they sang to in the scene. Full orchestra was added later. The actors LOVED it because it wasn’t canned. THE DIFFERENCE REALLY, REALLY SHOWS. RAW EMOTION. RAW PERFORMANCES.

--Where did I cry? Fantine’s song about broken dreams, Valjean’s song blessing his future son-in-law as he sleeps, Valjean’s song asking God to take him home.

--If Valjean went to the convent at the end of his life, they should have showed the nuns again. Just sayin.’ We nuns need all the screen time we can get.

--Great, soul-stirring, crowd-stirring chants of the “angry young men.” Makes revolution look cool. Sigh.
--My theater--filled with rowdy, munching young adults--got more and more hushed as film went on. And then came the sniffles.

--It amazes me how—in this day and age—people still just love to watch people simply singing: “American Idol,” “The Voice,” musicals, etc.

--THEOLOGY OF THE BODY: When a man falls in love, he is “lost.” The woman is “found.”

--THEOLOGY OF THE BODY: Eponine’s song, realizing Marius is not in love with her, is a great illustration of “women’s fantasy.”

--Valjean has no lady love. Celibate hero? If so, why? Like "Van Helsing"? (Also Hugh Jackman)

--Was quite heartwarming to see a good bishop as a pivotal character.

--Valjean dreads the day some young man “comes for” his little Cosette! Ha ha. Every Daddy’s nightmare.

--Why is Cosette the IMAGE of "Les Mis" rather than Jean Valjean? Perhaps because she changed him more than anything, anyone else.

--“The quality of mercy is not strained” (Shakespeare). When mercy is shown in “Les Mis,” it is never to shame anyone. It’s dignified. Unconditional. Valjean knows that Javert is all about duty, so he tells him: “I don’t fault you. You did your duty,” thus affirming him, theoretically making it easier for him to accept mercy.

--The very, very end went back to the uprising, which felt a little political, even though they were singing about beating ploughshares into pruning hooks and “no more war.” And maybe that was the point. The people of God will rise. Focus on the (poor) people ("the miserable ones"). From focus on Valjean to the people. Everyone.

--The great thing about this musical is that everything, everyone that needs to be--is elegized. That’s one of the beauties and functions of art: to slow everything down and take that time to reflect and say what should be said, what needs to be said, what deserves to be said.

January 4, 2013


Sooooo I may be doing VIDEO MOVIE REVIEWS with a fellow (mystery) reviewer! What would be a good FORMAT? If we like your format you will get a s/o! Oh, and NAME for show? Thank you!