December 31, 2008


That is, year of the hugs and kisses. (OX, get it?)

Too bad we're not reading Luke for the Sunday cycle of readings.

December 29, 2008







Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter dies at 78 after battle with cancer, his wife says

This story was sent to you by: sr. helena

Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter dies at 78 after battle with cancer, his wife says

Associated Press Writer

December 25 2008, 1:17 PM CST

LONDON (AP) — British Nobel laureate Harold Pinter — who produced some of his generation's most influential dramas and later became a staunch critic of the U.S.-led war in Iraq — has died, his widow said Thursday. He was 78.

The complete article can be viewed at:,0,624815.story

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The last paragraph of the story sets up a false dichotomy: religious people saying "to be a good parent, you have to give children religion," vs. non-religious parents saying: "to be a good parent, you have to let children think for themselves." It's BOTH / AND!!!!


Non-churchgoing families look for like-minded groups

By Robin Shulman

The Washington Post

December 28, 2008

BOSTON --They are not religious, so they don't go to church. But they are searching for values and rituals with which to raise their children, as well as a community of like-minded people.

The complete article can be viewed at:,0,921249.story


So much to meditate on in the Christmas hymns!
So many Christmas hymns, so little Christmas Season!
I'm celebrating the old way this time around--till February 2.
(commentary in bold)

Good Christian friends rejoice! With heart and soul and voice!
Now you hear of endless bliss (We were created for no less than bliss! Why do we so seldom talk about this? Does it sound too good to be true? Eden sounded too good to be true, too.)
Jesus Christ was born for this (born to suffer and die for OUR bliss)
He has opened heaven's door (Not only did the Chosen People not know about the Trinity and the Beatitudes, they were pretty shaky on the afterlife, too. Now we know there IS a heaven and it's for us, and it's OPEN!)
And we are blessed forevermore! (meaning: we are blessed forevermore!)
Christ was born for this, Christ was born for this. (Jesus' raison d'etre: Us. And only God gets to choose His raison d'etre.)

Now we need not fear the grave! (meaning: we need not fear the grave!)
Jesus Christ was born to save,
calls you one and calls you all (Christianity is not a club. ALL. All are called.)
to gain His everlasting hall (Heaven is open. To all. For the taking. By the "violent.")
Christ was born to save, Christ was born to save. (Save who? Us. From what? Us. The sin of Adam and Eve was not to trust God. We have been given another chance, a last chance, to trust God. Jesus has made it easy to trust Him. Will we? "Jesus, I trust in you." We must trust in His "too good to be true" will and ability to save. Us. Me. But how do we trust, what does it really mean to trust? I think it means to follow His directions, His lead, His way, His example. We didn't get it in the garden, now it's pretty clear: "No greater love has one than to lay down one's life for one's friends." It's about some kind of gift and sacrifice. In the language of the Theology of the Body, it is to "make a gift of self." Jesus spoke about "losing ourselves," and I think this means that the gift is total. We really do give ourselves away. But, like the exchange of gift/love in the Trinity, each member of the Trinity can be trusted to give the "self" back to the "other." People don't generally do that. They usually accept the gift and maybe partially give it back at best. But we can trust that God is good for it even if people aren't. He'll give us ourselves back one way or another. We have to trust that when we make this total gift of self, ultimately, we are safe in His hands. "And there is no snatching out of the Father's hands.")

December 27, 2008


OK--so I'm going to the doctor.

What is rabies?

Rabies is a disease caused by a virus that can affect the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) of any kind of mammal, including humans.

Animals that are infected with rabies - rabid animals - can spread the disease through their saliva or brain matter. People who get rabies are almost always exposed from a bite from a rabid animal. Because of widespread animal vaccination programs, people in the United States rarely get rabies: it is more common in developing nations.

What causes rabies?

Rabies is caused by a virus that is usually spread through contact with an infected animal's saliva. In the United States, the rabies virus is found almost exclusively in wildlife. Bats, raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes are the most common hosts of rabies. Small mammals such as mice or squirrels almost never have rabies. And there is no known case that they have spread it to humans. Larger rodents, such as woodchucks, are more likely to be rabid. The animals most likely to be infected with the rabies virus vary by region, although bats are becoming a main source of infection among humans in many areas of the U.S. and Canada.1

People in Asia, Latin America, Africa and many other countries are most likely to get rabies from dog bites.2, 3

Report all animal bites, especially those from wildlife, to your local health department. They can tell you which species pose a threat for rabies in your area. This will help determine the need for preventive treatment.

Occasionally, the rabies virus can spread to pets, such as dogs, cats, and domestic ferrets. However, household pets rarely get rabies, due to successful vaccination programs. A pet that always stays indoors is highly unlikely to be exposed to the virus.

In extremely rare situations, a person can get rabies without being bitten by a rabid animal (nonbite exposure). Humans have acquired rabies by handling a rabid animal or by inhaling airborne virus in places where it exists in high quantities, such as caves filled with bats.

What are the symptoms?

Signs of rabies in animals may include having excessive saliva or sometimes foaming at the mouth, paralysis, or behavioral changes in your pet (such as shyness when the pet was friendly) or no fear of humans in a wild animal.

Rabies infection in humans begins with symptoms such as fever, cough, or sore throat followed in several days by more serious and rapidly progressing symptoms such as restlessness, hallucinations, and seizures. The final stage is coma and death.

The incubation period—the time from exposure to the rabies virus until symptoms appear—is usually 4 to 6 weeks. In rare cases, the incubation period can last from several days to more than a year after exposure to the virus.

If you are concerned that you may have been exposed to the rabies virus, it is important to seek medical attention before symptoms develop. Rabies is nearly always fatal, but shots given before symptoms appear can help prevent the disease.

How is rabies diagnosed?

Rabies in humans can be difficult to diagnose. After symptoms start, tests that can be done include:

  • Direct fluorescent antibody (DFA) test. This common, rapid test detects the rabies virus protein. DFA testing is done by taking a sample of tissue from the potentially affected area.
  • Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay. This test finds the genetic material (DNA) of the rabies virus proteins. PCR testing is very accurate and can be done on saliva, cerebrospinal fluid, or tissue.

To find out if a person was exposed to the rabies virus, the animal must be tested. Diagnosis in animals also is difficult. Animals that show signs of abnormal behavior but can't be tested often are assumed to be rabid. The risk that an animal is infected with the rabies virus is based on:

  • The type of animal. Some animals are more likely to carry rabies than others. Bats, skunks, raccoons, foxes, and coyotes are common carriers of the rabies virus.
  • The behavior of the animal. Examples include excessive drooling or aggression, a wild animal being unafraid of humans, or an animal that is usually active at night being active in the daytime instead.
  • Risk for rabies in a specific geographic area. For more information, contact your local health department.
  • The date of the animal's last rabies vaccination.

Can rabies be treated?

After rabies symptoms appear, the disease progresses quickly, and there is no cure. It is important to get medical care before symptoms occur so that there is less chance of serious damage from the rabies virus. Medical care for rabies includes:

  • Thorough cleansing of the area of exposure (bite, scratch, or open sore).
  • Vaccines and immune globulin.

Any animal bite or area of exposure should be washed with soap and water immediately. Your doctor and local health department can help you find out if you have been infected with the rabies virus. Rabies vaccinations will be given right away if your chance of getting rabies is high.

December 26, 2008


Isn't it amazing how incredibly tender Christmas is, and how incredibly violent? Think of the scene in "Children of Men" when the baby is brought through the ranks of soldiers engaged in some nameless, senseless street battle. They all stop for the passage of the baby—but just for a minute. We are not there yet.

Christmas 2009—violence escalates in the Holy Land. We are not there yet.

Think of what a hideously difficult life Mary had. Pregnant, she had to take a long trek to comply with a census. A King was out to kill her Son and the Holy Innocents were slaughtered in place of her Son. Mary had to flee to a foreign country. Mary had to keep a divine secret to herself for years. Mary was poor and worked hard. (Where would she have been without St. Joseph to share these burdens?) Presumably, her husband died. Mary watched her Son fall out of favor with everyone, and she chose to be present at His excrutiatingly violent and cruel death. We are not there yet.

With feastdays immediately following Christmas, the liturgy reminds us of our world's real attitude toward God: rejection: St. Stephen—proto-martyr, St. John the Evangelist (boiling oil and exile), Holy Innocents—the "first" martyrs, St. Thomas Becket—martyr.

And yet, we are capable of such tenderness. Every Christmas, at a gorgeous mid-sized gothic Church in Chicago, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, a chubby, older Italian tenor, John Vorassi, sings one of the sweetest lullabies to Jesus you have ever heard, called "Nenia Pastorale" by Bonaventura Somma (1893-1960). It has been the highlight of my Christmas for the past four years. It's very Italian sounding, and a certain point, there are no words, just humming and "oh"-ing. This song was WRITTEN for John Vorassi. I weep every year.

"Sleep, holy Jesus, from the distance comes the sound of trembling harps.
Your angels descend from heaven to keep watch over you as you sleep.

Today the Cherubim are singing accompanied by heavenly violins.
The countryside has now become a King's land.
Heaven and earth sing for you, gentle Jesus."

December 24, 2008


Biblical scholars continue to establish more accurate dating of historical events of the Old Testament, and scientists refine the age and stages of the universe. A Martyrology entry for the Nativity based upon contemporary biblical scholarship and science (and allowing for further development) might picture the history of the universe into which Jesus Christ entered as follows:

The Twenty-fifth Day of December

From the creation of the world, when in the beginning God created the universe, 13.7 billion years,

From the formation of the first galaxies, 10 billion years,

From the formation of our galaxy, sun and solar system, five billion years,

From the formation of planet Earth, 4.6 billion years,

From the origin of life on Earth, the first living cells, 3.5 billion years,

From the time when the continents of earth stabilized, 2.5 billion years,

From the time of the first ice age, 2.3 billion years,

From the birth of sea life and fish in the ocean, 550 million years,

From the first plants and vegetation on land, 400 million years,

From the age of the dinosaurs, 230 million years,

From the age of the first apes and monkeys, 35 million years,

From the age of Homo habilis, 2.6 million years,

From the time of Homo erectus and the use of tools, 1 million years,

From the time of the first female from whom all human DNA can be traced, 160,000 years,

From the time of Homo sapiens and the use of language, 80,000 years,

From the time of the last ice age, 12,000 years,

From the time of the first cities, 10,000 years,

From the invention of phonetic writing, 3,500 years,

From the time of the flourishing of civilization in Egypt, 3,000 years,

From the time of Abraham and the Patriarchs, 1,925 years,

From Moses and the coming of the Israelites out of Egypt, 1,280 years,

From the anointing of King David,1,011 years,

From the time of the prophets Amos, Hosea and Isaiah, 750 years,

In the 194th Olympiad,

In the year 752 since the founding of the city of Rome,

From the time of the poet Homer, 700 years,

From the time of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, 450 years,

In the 42nd year of the empire of Octavian Augustus, when the Roman world was at peace,

Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father

Desirous to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming,

Having been conceived of the Holy Spirit,

And nine months having elapsed since his conception,

Is born in Bethlehem of Judah,

Having become human of the Virgin Mary.

The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to the Flesh.

Peter Schineller, S.J., is an associate editor of America. (Leave it to the Jesuits!)

December 23, 2008


I recently had the opportunity to go to a private screening of the documentary "Testimony," based on the recollections of Pope John Paul II's personal secretary of thirty-nine years: Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwicz (pronounced "Jivish," the "J" being soft as in Zsa Zsa Gabor). Cardinal Dziwicz came out with a book, "A Life with Karol," earlier this year that revealed some little-known facts and episodes of the Great Pope's life. Cardinal Dziwicz had been keeping a page-a-day diary on John Paul II, thus the title of the movie, "Testimony." Karol Wojtyla chose Dziwicz to be his personal secretary in 1966 when Wojtyla was still Archbishop of Krakow, so no one in the world was a closer or more extensive eye-witness than Dziwicz.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a mega-JP2G groupie. No one has impacted my faith more than John Paul II from my teenage years till the present. I am of the belief that he is one of the greatest human beings (never mind one of the greatest saints) to ever walk the planet, and I have to be careful when I give presentations on the philosophy of John Paul II and his Theology of the Body, because I begin to seriously GUSH about him and my audience begins to seriously edge their chairs away from me. Seriously.

So there I was on Milwaukee Ave. in Chicago (what could best be described as an annex of Polonia itself), in the Center for the Arts, waiting for the screening to begin. Only Polish was being spoken, classical music was playing, Polish intellectuals milled among Polish artists' work adorning the walls, champagne was being served. The Polish clergy that were present kept trying to start a conversation with me (in Polish). I was forced to decline (even though I have a Polish name, I haven't an ounce of Polish blood in me). I began to wonder if the movie was in Polish (it wasn't).

"Testimony," narrated by Michael York, is the project of a Polish Knight of Malta who is ambassador of the Knights to Cuba. He collected thirty hours of interviews with Cardinal Dziwicz, and one hundred hours of footage of John Paul II, much of it never before seen by the general public. The film's premier was already held at the Vatican with Pope Benedict in attendance who commented: "This is the best movie about the humanity and sanctity of John Paul II." One of the last scenes of the film is John Paul II on Easter, 2005, trying to speak from his window to the crowds below, and being unable to. The producer of the film was unable to speak to us for a while after the screening because he always gets very moved by this scene.

What makes this documentary different from other fine documentaries on "the people's Pope"? First of all, the rare footage. You will see John Paul II being made a Cardinal, on his way to Vatican II, at Vatican II. You will see the hushed-up second attempt on his life in Fatima (yes, it's on film). You will see a whimsical event when a large, seated statue of a Polish Madonna is being crowned. The men holding her tip her and her scepter falls. Guess who catches it? The priests who were present joked to Cardinal Wojtyla: "See, Mary is sharing her power with you!" Did you know that he liked coffee and sweets? That, when Pope, he sang a different Christmas carol every night after supper until February 2? Did you know that he forgave his would-be assassin even in the ambulance on the way to the hospital? Are you sufficiently enticed?

Secondly, this documentary is deeply personal. It is John Paul II through the eyes of Dziwicz, what he has chosen to highlight from the beginning of Karol's life till the end. For example, the Theology of the Body is not even mentioned, and neither are most of his encyclicals. But John Paul II's need to be in the mountains was stressed (he used to sneak out of the Vatican without security to go to the mountains). John Paul II's relationship with his native Poland and struggle with Communism is also stressed. An encounter with a possessed woman is reenacted. (The reenactments--often woven with bits of real footage and stills--are masterful.)

Needless to say, I bawled my eyes out during most of the film, but they were joyful tears. We can still enjoy our beloved Holy Father's beautiful face and perpetual smile through the art and science of film.

"Testimony" will be aired on EWTN (and the DVD will be available exclusively from EWTN until Easter when it will be in general release).

For more on the Knights of Malta:

December 22, 2008


(from an article in "America" magazine about "Dignitas Personae"--the new bio-ethics document from the Vatican)

Reaching Postmodern Minds
The instruction’s subject matter is technical. It offers a sustained and serious treatment of vital problems. Just as the sciences have their own languages, so moral theology needs technical terminology and patterns of argument. The problems the congregation addresses are pressing; but the obstacles to communication are great. The language of natural law has limited power today to turn back the tide of technological transgression we face. Pastorally, the church needs to find an improved rhetoric to engage the postmodern mind, and in its apologetics it must experiment with varied genres of persuasion to affect the fluid imaginations of the Digital Age. Who will be the C. S. Lewis for our day, defending human nature and celebrating the Christian vision of life for the 21st century?


VATICAN CITY, 21 DEC 2008 (VIS) - At noon today Benedict XVI appeared at the window of his private study to pray the Angelus with the pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square.
"With Christmas near at hand", the Pope said, "we are invited to fix our gaze upon the ineffable mystery that Mary carried within her virginal womb for nine months: the mystery of God made human. This is the first cardinal point of redemption. The second is the death and resurrection of Jesus and these two inseparable points reveal a single divine plan: to save humanity and its history, taking them up entirely by completely taking on all the evils that oppress them".
"This mystery of salvation also has a historical dimension, a cosmic dimension: Christ is the sun of grace who with His light: 'transfigures and ignites the universe that awaits Him. The very placement of Christmas is tied to the winter solstice, when the days in the Northern hemisphere start to become longer. Regarding this, perhaps not everyone knows that St. Peter's Square is also a meridian: the great obelisk projects its shadow along a line that runs along the pavement toward the fountain under this window, and in these days the shadow is the longest of the entire year. This reminds us of the role of astronomy in marking the hours of prayer. For example, the Angelus is prayed in the morning, at noon, and in the evening".
"The fact that the winter solstice takes place today, 21 December, at this very hour, affords me the opportunity of greeting those who are participating in the initiatives of the International Year of Astronomy 2009, called to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Galileo Galilei's first observations with the telescope. Among my predecessors ... there have been practicioners of this science, including Sylvester II, who taught it, Gregory XIII to whom we owe our calendar, and St. Pius X, who knew how to build sundials. If the heavens, in the beautiful words of the psalmist, 'tell of the glory of God', the laws of nature, which many scientists have studied over the years giving us an ever-better understanding of them, are a great incentive to contemplate the works of the Lord with gratitude". ANG/NATURAL LAWS/...VIS 081222 (370)

December 21, 2008

THEOLOGY OF THE BODY: 2 important articles by Christopher West & Michael Metzger

In a message dated 11/28/2008 12:09:54 P.M. Central Standard Time, writes:
official logo with tag
Theology of the Body Institute Newsletter
November 2008
Volume 1, Edition 10
4 pics jan jpeg
Wife, Mother, and Teacher Grateful for Lessons Learned
Teacher's Testimony
Mary and Michael LaLoggia

"Theology of the Body set before my husband and me the divine plan for the Sacrament of Marriage --- a challenge, a mystery, a call to trust each other, our Lord, and the teachings of His Church."

Click here to read Mary's entire TOB Testimony.
Upcoming Courses
CW and Jim
"Head & Heart" Immersion Course
taught by Christopher West

March 1-6, 2009

Black Rock Retreat Center
Quarryville, PA

Early Registration Ends December 1, 2008*

Click here for more information or to register.

*Courses often sell out prior to the early registration deadline.

The January, 2009 "Head & Heart" course is

Click here to see the complete 2009 Calendar.
Weigel: There Is No Match for
Theology of the Body

"The teachings of John Paul II's Theology of the Body offer a healing vision of human sexuality that the dominant culture simply can't match."

Click here to read the full article from ZENIT

A Message from Christopher West
Christopher West 2008
In light of the recent elections, my contribution to this month's newsletter is my most recent column on the subject, reprinted below.  I also encourage you to read the attached blog of an evangelical friend of mine, Mike Metzger entitled "Appetites and Appetizers."  It demonstrates how the Spirit is blowing in many, many Christians today calling for a new langauge and approach in the way Christians address questions of sexuality.

Sex, Happiness, and the Presidential Election

The election of an African American president shows just how far our nation has come in addressing its racial prejudices. This is a sign of hope in which we should all rejoice. For our nation has demonstrated that it can change its wrong-held beliefs, even deep-seated ones. That's a good thing, because I'd contend that our nation's embrace of Barack Obama points to some other deep-seated beliefs that we will eventually need to change if we are ever to flourish as a people.

It should go without saying that my reservation about Obama has absolutely nothing to do with his skin color. Rather, it has to do with fundamental issues of life and death and love and sex that Obama believes are "above his pay grade." Well, I'd like to lobby for Obama to receive an increase in salary so that he can take a deeper look at what does and does not lead to human happiness and the flourishing of a nation.

It comes up during every presidential election. Eight years ago, during the Bush-Gore "chad saga," Francis Fukuyama, professor of public policy at George Mason University, summarized it well in his Wall Street Journal article entitled "What Divides America." The real debate, he argued, is not over foreign policy or the economy. The real issues, he said, stem from our understanding of and approach to sex.

He wrote: "The single most important social change to have taken place in the United States over the past forty years concerns sex and the social role of women, and it is from this single source that virtually all of the 'culture wars' stem."

Click here to read the full article
Appetites and Appetizers
by: Mike Metzger

"If you want your teenage daughter to avoid pregnancy (or your son to not get a girl pregnant), turn off the racy TV shows. If you want your teenager to abstain from sex until marriage, stay away from church. If the first suggestion makes sense and the second doesn't, read on."

 Click here to read the full article
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Help us Build Holy Families 
This month's testimony by Mary, a TOBI student, wife and mother, shows how Theology of the Body can transform and aid the nucleus of our society- the family. 
  This season, consider making a gfit to society and to families by supporting the programs of Theology of the Body Institute. We know that times are financially challenging and we hope you will see the lasting effect your gift of $100, $50 or $25 can make.
Every gift is tax deductible and will go directly to bring John Paul II's revolutionary teachings on the human person to clergy, laity and society as a whole.
Make your end of the year gift today!
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Prudence Allen, RSM: "The Concept of Woman" (she's big into the complementarity of the sexes)

Janet Smith: "Why Humanae Vitae Was Right--A Reader," "Humanae Vitae: A Generation Later," "Life Issues, Medical Choices," "The Right To Privacy"

Kimberly Hahn: "Life-Giving Love--Embracing God's Beautiful Design for Marriage"

Alice von Hildebrand: "The Privilege of Being a Woman"

Sr. M. Timothy Prokes, FSE: "Towards a Theology of the Body and Mutuality: The Human Image of Trinitarian Love"

Sr. Therese Auer, OP (Nashville Dominicans) has written something on TOB for use in schools (her specialty is philosophy) 615-256-5486

Sr. Sara Butler: "The Catholic Priesthood and Women" (world-class theologian, Sister was a proponent of women's ordination for many years, until coming into contact with John Paul II and Theology of the Body)

Katrina Zeno: "Discovering the Feminine Genius" (formerly "Every Woman's Journey") and "The Body Reveals God—an Introduction to the Theology of the Body"

Mary Healy: "Men and Women are from Eden"

Monica Ashour--talks available from

Mary Shivanandan: "Crossing the Threshold of Love"

Patty Schneier: CDs from (talks to parents, teens, and a powerful personal testimony).

December 18, 2008


Bishop Anthony Basil Taylor of Little Rock, Arkansas is thunk to be the first bishop on Facebook! Way to go, bishop! He also wrote a fantabulous pastoral letter on immigration--what the Church really teaches.

CORRIGENDUM: NOT the first bishop on Facebook.


How to end the so-called "war on Christmas"?

Just say "BLESSED HOLIDAYS" to everyone!

December 17, 2008


“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is a pro-death movie. Let me explain. We’re all terminal. We’re all dying. And “CCBB” says that’s OK. Death isn’t glorified or dressed up pretty (because, as one of the Fathers of the Church said, “death is a cosmic obscenity.”) Death just is what it is, a member of the human family. Not banished, not locked up, not thrown in the river. Death has its place at the table of life and is mentioned, talked of, thought of, expected, accepted. “CCBB” is also a pro-life fairytale. The characters are in each other’s keep. They take care of each other whether they’re white or black, young or old, healthy or deformed. Irregular babies and messy old people all belong and are loved by someone.

This long (165 minutes!), ambitious, elaborate, seamless adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s story was eyed by filmmakers for years, however it is only now that the technology has developed enough to be able to do it justice. The story’s premise is that a baby boy (Benjamin Button, played by Brad Pitt) is born as an old man who grows younger and younger. Software developers were able to use the real Brad Pitt for each life-stage (and the real Cate Blanchett who plays Daisy, Benjamin’s love-interest, who also ages, but normally). If you think Brad and Cate are acting rather placidly, my guess is they were told to do so in order that their faces could be digitally manipulated. Director David Fincher’s only other notable films were “Se7en,” “Fight Club” and “Panic Room,” and he comes from an impressive background of music videos. “CCBB” is a major leap forward for him. Screenwriter Eric Roth is more seasoned: “Forrest Gump,” “Horse Whisperer,” “The Insider,” “Munich.” This movie could well have been a huge mess, but it's not. It's gorgeous, almost in a genre all its own. Evidently the filmmakers took the crumbs of Fitzgerald's short story and worked marvels with it, even inventing the Daisy character.

We are beaten over the head repeatedly with some obvious, trite themes (that perhaps we do need to hear over and over): “Be yourself! Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or can’t do or be!” “You can always change! It’s never too late!” But the real themes of “CCBB” are far more subtle and profound. “Time is precious. Time is all we have. Life is made up of fleeting moments. Nothing lasts forever but love. Love knows no age, time, place. Love is not about externals. Love simply loves.” “You never know what’s coming for you (but you go out and meet it any way).” Benjamin’s mom—like many moms of disabled kids—teaches him to accept himself, be at peace and enjoy life. “CCBB” is an anti-self-pity film.

God is a character! The good folks in “CCBB” believe in Him and pray to Him and thank Him. There is deep gratefulness for the honor of being alive no matter the hardships. Or, as the alien-turned-Chinese-elder in “The Day the Earth Stood Still” says: “Even though human life is hard, I feel privileged to have lived it.”

“CCBB” is an antidote for our Botox culture of youth and earthly immortality. Even the lovely Julia Ormond is shown close-up in all her middle-aged splendor.
“CCBB” is definitely a movie about forgiveness, moving on, letting go. The characters overlook, or rather get over the injuries and insults of both enemy and friend, and go on living.
“CCBB” is about the arts. Piano, opera, ballet, writing a diary, being the artist you are inside (even if that’s a tattoo artist).

Of course, there is a real disease where babies age super-rapidly and only live a few years (and look like they’re 80 when they’re 5). I wonder what the parents of these children think of this movie?

There should be more movies about old people. As Benjamin says of his old folks home: “It was a great place to grow up in.” Old people have histories, secrets, points of view. They know what’s important now. (Check out the movie: “Mrs. Brown.”)

Even in this world of new media, people will still always gather for a story. We’re desperately looking for help and wisdom and understanding and meaning and transcendence and something bigger than ourselves and something worth living for. The mostly young adults in my free screening were transfixed by “CCBB.” And what does it purport that we still desire to bring these “old” classics to the modern screen? And as much as I love technology, it was such a relief to watch people (in pre-tech-saturation eras) simply sitting at a table across from each other, talking, giving each other their undivided attention.

A sparkling, dreamy, but not overly-sentimental soundtrack ties every flashback, change of locale, change of decade, and the whole bouquet of characters together. It’s said it takes an army to make a film. Stay for the credits and you’ll meet the myriad soldiers of human genius and creativity. Just when you think Hollywood “can’t top this,” they can.

Although PG-13, what is portrayed is quite mature, and there is much, much shall we say, “romancing,” including prostitution and affairs. And it’s never clear if Daisy ever married Benjamin. I would’ve given this an R rating.

BIG FAT CAVEAT: Call me Sr. Aloysius, but there's a distinct possibility that something very subversive is also going on here. As mentioned in my "Twilight" review, pretty much the only thing today that keeps lovers apart (by law) is age. Is F. Scott Fitzgerald (or the filmmakers) trying to tell us--quite literally--that romantic love knows no age? The old man Benjamin (who is really a young boy inside) falls in love with the young girl, Daisy. (Lolita?) The older woman, Daisy, goes to the teenage Benjamin and they make love. (Lolito?) So, is the point that "age is just a number?" Who's to say how old we are/feel inside? What is maturity anyway? Is a statement being made about age of consent laws? Hmmmmmm.....

Notwithstanding this "problem," the movie is quite accurate in its pro-personhood stance. We are who we are no matter our age. We remain who we are, even if impaired, even if our memory fails, etc. Some false philosophies of the human person equate us with our brain function, especially memory, to the point that if we can't remember who we are, we are "not." Silly! That's what friends and family are for! "CCBB" truly stresses human connection, human community, or even better, true human communion. Or, as "Horton Hears a Who" says: "A person's a person no matter how small," or old or sick, etc.


Vying for “Most Hilarious Cinematic Moments” are the scenes of the elderly gent who keeps asking: “Did I ever tell you I was struck by lightning seven times?” When we least expect him, there he is, and by the end of the movie, we get to see all seven times, filmed in speeded-up “Keystone Cops” black and white. You’ll laugh your spleen green.

“CCBB” begins with an ancient, barely audible Daisy on her deathbed. Most realistic deathbed scene ever.

In an interview with "Rolling Stone," Brad Pitt says that the movie profoundly changed him, and made him think of his own death and how little time we have here. He said he doesn't get into as many arguments with "Angie," any more, and when he does, he lets it blow off, because it's just not worth it--"we'll only be together for a short while on earth, anyway--it's not worth it." Not bad, when a movie changes the actors!

The lagging moments were hardly noticeable.

I don’t know if this was intended, but there was an extremely poignant image of the grown-up Benjamin carrying his dying, elderly Dad on his back to the edge of Lake Ponchartrain for him to enjoy the sunrise. All I could think of was the scene of his Dad with the newborn “monster” Benjamin at the edge of the river, ready to throw Benjamin in.

The best actor, hands down, is Taraji P. Henson, Benjamin’s adoptive Mom, Queenie. She kind of outshines the whole cast, and that’s saying something.

Brother Ray Charles: “You can’t fight God and you can’t fight death.”

Cardinal George said something “curious” recently: “Miracles are only miracles in a fallen world.” GOD SHIFTED TIME: Mary was preserved free from original sin IN VIEW of the Redemption that hadn’t happened yet. SPOILER ALERT: As elderly Daisy holds baby Benjamin, I saw a kind of Madonna and Child: Mary holding a Person who had pre-existed. If aging is the result of original sin, Mary didn’t age (the decrepitude part). I think I finally get the Assumption. That’s what was planned for Adam and Eve, not death. And Mary was the only one to actually experience it. (Some “low Mariologists” hold that Mary did die like Jesus. After all, she’s not greater than Jesus, wouldn’t she/shouldn’t she go through what he went through, what we all go through? I think not. No one will ever die quite like Jesus did (in order to kill death). If Jesus preserved his Mother from original sin, wouldn’t she automatically be preserved also from sin’s ultimate fruition, death? Death holds no sway where there is no sin. Mary is totally human, but special and unique, “the highest honor of our race.” Virgin and Mother. Immaculate. She not only conceived miraculously, she also gave birth miraculously. As the Liturgy says in the Christmas Season: The Virgin Mary gave birth "without loss of her virginity." (See also the book: “The Mystery of Mary” by Paul Haffner.) She is now what we will one day be.

December 29: This movie is a "delayed reaction haunting movie." When you least expect it, it keeps creeping back into your consciousness, thus creating a review as sprawling as the flick itself.

December 15, 2008


Y 1/2
This is a narcissistic film about a narcissistic man who even manages to make the toast at his deservedly-estranged daughter's wedding about himself. (But we're supposed to like this guy!)
Not even Dustin and Emma could save this movie which they both seemed to inexplicably enjoy acting in.
Emma! He's just lonely--he doesn't really care about you! What did he ever do for you? You've done everything for him! Don't drink the Kool-aid!


John Patrick Shanley (playwright, screenwriter, director) has done it again. If everyone knew human nature like Shanley, we'd have much more great art filling our screens.

"Doubt" deals with the possible sexual abuse of a twelve-year-old student (Joseph Foster) by Fr. Flynn (Philip "I love acting more than life itself" Seymour Hoffman) in a Catholic school in the Bronx in the 1960's. A hard-nosed, pink-eyed principal, Sr. Aloysius (the incomparable Meryl Streep), is Fr. Flynn's archnemesis. Sr. James (eversweet Amy Adams) is caught somewhere in the middle.

When I saw ads for the play, "Doubt," I thought it might be a slam against priests, the Catholic Church, mean old nuns, or present the Catholic Church's inner workings as simply some huge power struggle. I thought it might be sordid and gloating over the recent clergy sex scandal. It is none of these things. "Doubt" is about a very specific incident, based on an experience from Shanley's past and filmed in Shanley's old neighborhood. Pay close attention to student William London. That's probably Shanley, who said his friends were preyed on, but not him. The incident involves very specific people who take very specific actions and say very specific things to each other. (Ah, the beauty of theater.) The play has translated very well to the screen (except for the screenwriting no-no of beginning a film with a speech), and has loaned the art of filmmaking the rich dialogue of theater, while still flowing like a film.

This is not a hate-fest of the Catholic Church. Not by a long shot. This is not even stereotypical film-Catholicism. Fr. Flynn and Sr. Aloysius are some of the most nuanced and surprising characters you'll see in film all year, while still ringing true to who they are as a priest and sister of a particular era. Roles are clear, but there's a real give and take all around, including the students. These are REAL people (well, as real as simulacra will allow).

The moral teaching/practice of the Catholic Church shines through tarnished behavior as Sr. Aloysius and Fr. Flynn grapple with "what really happened." "Mental reservations," "mortal sin," "virtue," are forces to be reckoned with here. Did Fr. Flynn do it? Do something grossly inappropriate? It seems pretty clear that he did, and nobody would ever have known if it weren't for the deeply-suspicious-of-human-nature nature of Sr. Aloysius. She carries this burden like her cross. Is she too much? Is she overly confident of herself? Yes, but if we had had more Sr. Aloysius' through the years, the elephant may have hit the fan sooner and spared so many children, their families and the whole Catholic Church the terrible grief we now bear.

Sr. Aloysius--as she claims--"knew people." She knew their worst selves and not much else, it seems. (Why? Had she stared down these demons in herself and won?) She didn't need psychological tests to tell her what certain people are like, whether or not they are rehabilitatable, etc. She knew instinctively that abusers are often charismatic, tricky and have an alibi for everything. As is common knowledge now, abusers often think they are the only ones "helping" and "really loving" their victims. She wasn't afraid to do whatever it took to correct the situation. Was she driven by some self-interest? Yes, but not much. Although there was an undercurrent of Fr. Flynn's progressivism (to become a welcoming, kind Church) versus Sr. Aloysius' conservativism and grim asceticism, I believe she really did have the welfare of her students as her uppermost concern. Father: "It's a new time." Sister: "There's nothing new under the sun." Two worldviews. Maybe what Sr. Aloyisus had wasn't all that unique after all: observation, common sense and courage.

We now know that the transfer patterns and even rewarding of dubious priests were commonplace. Ultimately, Sr. Aloysius' pursuit of justice backfired, but she did save HER students at least. "Doubt" is like a little window into yesteryear to see how it all transpired back then, and a window into the complexities of human behavior even in a culture with clearly-defined expectations.

For being about such a heavy issue, "Doubt" has plenty of quick, lighter moments bubbling forth from the characters themselves, just like the tragicomedy life really is.

The clergy sex scandal is not over. It is now deeply embedded in the consciousness of Catholics and everyone else. To cease examining it is akin to lack of remorse, circling the wagons, shutting back down again into a closed, clandestine system. What are we skittish about, afraid of? Do we have something more to hide? Aren't we glad it's all out in the open and being resolved? Pope Benedict is still apologizing. Germans willingly acknowledge the Holocaust and are still trying to make amends. Why? So it doesn't happen again.

At a certain point, Sr. Aloysius bursts out at Fr. Flynn: "What are you doing in the priesthood anyway?" An excellent question. To hear the oxymoron "pedophile priest" means that sick men got themselves ordained under the gaze of the shepherds, and went on to act out on their sickness, again and again, under the same auspices. The same could be said of public school, Cub Scout and Little League gatekeepers. Maybe what was needed was a little more accountability akin to the religious life of the good Sisters who were certainly aware of each other's doings.

I didn't understand what was meant when Sr. Aloysius said that in "pursuing wrongdoing" (that is, correcting injustice) we must go away from God a little. Maybe things like her lie?

Did Father cave in to Sr. Aloysius because he realized she would destroy his reputation either way because of her "certainty"? It doesn't seem so. He made a confession of sorts to her. She has no compassion on him (in her own words), but do we? (We CAN compassionate and stop an abuser at the same time.) Do we see an adolescent personality that hasn't developed properly, fully? Someone who holds out hope for the Spring? Someone who perhaps was abused himself? In the USA, the law says we're innocent till proven guilty. Sr. Aloysius doesn't have much proof, and having done things her own way (almost blackmail style) out of necessity (she knew the hierarchy wouldn't listen to her/believe her, and she was right) she became a judge and jury of one.

I could only give "Doubt" 4 1/2 stars (hearts) out of a possible 5 because of the ending. Thank God it was only one sentence. I don't mind Sr. Aloysius' frailty, I just don't want to have any doubts about her doubts. Were they about Father or her faith? But maybe that's Shanley's whole point. Otherwise, Bravo! Bravo!

Check out this new book: "Broken Trust--Stories of Pain and Hope from Clerical Abuse Survivors and Abusers"

There is an organization of over 300 (and growing) Catholics who commit their daily sufferings in reparation for the scandal: Join us!


"The Day the Earth Stood Still," is a remake of the 1951 movie by the same title. The latest version has kept many—even seemingly outdated—elements of the 1951 film, most likely as a reverential nod to sci-fi film history, but the story-line is also very similar. What's new is the new threat to planet Earth.

The 1951 film came out in fearful, post-WWII, Cold War times, as a kind of morality play and warning. It was centered on the absolute necessity of peace among peoples. The biggest threat at the time was all-out nuclear war. The nuclear age had begun. The plot: A spaceship lands in D.C., an alien informs earthlings that a super race of robots will destroy the earth if humans insist on escalating their violence. Klaatu, the alien, is an explicit Christ figure, coming in "peace and goodwill," calling himself "Mr. Carpenter." But he is also very much the figure of a judge-savior. In the film, the obliterating, incinerating force of nuclear power is evident in the quite-advanced special effects. Military tanks, the mainstay of WWII ground battles, simply evaporate.

The 2008 film is equally somber. It felt a bit hokey to me, but everyone in my crowded theater was wrapt in hushed silence. There was hardly any humor in the film. Even John Cleese (Monty Python) plays a grave role. Keanu Reeves is Klaatu (there will be unavoidable jokes about how well he plays an alien—he has always been noted for his stiff acting). Jennifer Connelly is Helen, scientist and stepmother to Jacob (Jaden Smith), who is called upon by the U.S. government to assist in the crisis. Jon Hamm (successor to the "Harrison Ford worried look") is a fellow scientist.

SPOILER ALERT: The new threat to Earth (from the same source: humans) is not so much the destruction of each other through violence, but the destruction of Earth itself. The aliens want to save the earth by destroying the humans, because Earth is "one of the few planets that can sustain life." The aliens begin saving animal species in spherical "arks." They have studied humans and see that we do not have the will to change. Helen is the only one who can change Klaatu's mind.

Klaatu witnesses human love and human's ability to change. He warns that if he saves Earth, there will be a price to pay. That price will be our present "way of life. "

The U.S. government and military is portrayed as stuck in impossibly futile and antiquated mindsets and strategies. They are reminded over and over: they are not really in charge, but their only response is more violence.

The solution at the end is radical, interesting, but untenable. Any other options out there (besides what we earthlings are already attempting)?


Will someone please give Jaden Smith an Oscar already??

Scott Derickson, the director, is a great Christian dude. He did the excellent (and very Catholic) "Exorcism of Emily Rose." He is associated with Act One, Hollywood—Christian bootcamp for the industry.

SPOILER ALERT: How will the aliens get rid of us? Through the use of a swarm of metallic insects that only consume humans and our artifacts, leaving no trace. Again, this looks much like the effects of a nuclear explosion.

When they think the end is near, a scientist prays the Our Father.

Religion plays a role as TV news reports say that the major world religions see this as the sign of the beginning of a new era.

"The Day the Earth Stood Still" (2008) is a typical, now-hackneyed, dime-a-dozen, apocalyptic, cataclysmic, end-of-the-world, total-disaster epic movie. We've seen these same scenes over and over. Why do we still watch? (I do because I have to as a film critic.) Because we believe in it? To allay all other fears by immersing ourselves in the mother of all fears? Are we like kids who love to hear/see the same thing over and over again? Are we practicing, like some huge fire drill? I suppose it's a good thing to believe in the end of the world, to imagine solutions to saving the planet. Neither science nor the Bible say it will end with a "whimper." Is this a guy thing that women feel obliged to watch, also?

THEOLOGY OF THE BODY: Klaatu, when asked if he's human, says: "My body is." GONG! No can do, dude! You is either yooman or yoo is ain't.

Accurate skewering of trigger-happy Americans? At first meeting the alien reaches out his hand to Helen and, of course, the military shoot him. Little Jacob says: "Kill the alien—just to be sure."

Klaatu says (about human incorrigibility): "I spoke to your leaders (U.S. gov), but they wouldn't listen." Helen says: "Those are not our leaders!" and takes him to a Nobel Peace Prize winning scientist. Hmmmmm….. He says: civilizations change on the precipice, when they're forced to. Don't take that moment away from us.

THEOLOGY OF THE BODY: Klaatu: "You treat the earth as you treat each other…." Right on, spaceman! BTW, The earth is feminine. Implications???

A rather cool image at the end (like "Fight Club," "Bella," and so many other movies) of man, woman, (& child) on the brink of a new world.

Cold, impersonal science vs. what makes us human:
At his father's grave, Jacob begs Klaatu to raise his dead father to life (Klaatu has healing powers). Klaatu says he doesn't have that power, but don't worry, the universe doesn't waste anything, everything gets transformed, energy never dies, blah, blah…. Small comfort! Jacob tells Klaatu to take a hike.

Want more Cold War-abilia?

--You must, must, must see "Dr. Strangelove OR How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" starring Peter Sellers.

--You must, must, must get a copy of Christian band "Passafist's" eponymous album, if ONLY for the song "Christ of the Nuclear Age."

--You must, must, must look at Ukrainian-Canadian Catholic artist William Kurelek's "Nuclear Madonna" image. (Check out more art by this holy, pro-life and amazing artist who struggled with mental illness all his life: ) If you can't find it online (I couldn't) see: who also has a Nuclear Madonna.


I sat three seats down from a elderly, homeless dude who began SNORING early into the movie. I mean giving the thunderous soundtrack a run for its money SNORING. I mean like some huge, rumbling emergency generator SNORING. I mean serious surround sound SNORING.

MOVIE: The huge ball of light containing the alien approaches New York and illuminates the Chrysler building and St. Patrick's Cathedral with white-hot light.

DUDE: SNORING begins. Audience around him doesn't seem to notice or care. I'm telling you, people LOVE these disaster movies. I get my first whiff of him.

MOVIE: Alien is shot and rushed to ER.

DUDE: SNORING escalates.

MOVIE: The U.S. government is afraid because the alien disables our defense missile system. Alien states that his human body will "take some getting used to."

DUDE: A female cinema attendant wakes him up and tells him he must SNORE no more.

MOVIE: Klaatu is being interro-tortured.

DUDE: Had SNORELESSLY fallen asleep again, now wakes up, begins repeatedly blessing himself, pointing at and talking to the screen. I began seeing a parallel between the alien and this man. What did I really know about him? What was his story? Was he a Vietnam war vet? Is there a reason this scene is speaking to him? Is he Catholic? (I have not inspired the rash of Signs of the Cross. I am freezing and have a knit hat covering my head.)

MOVIE: Military attack the alien's huge "Iron Giant" robot. The Iron Giant freezes up all their controls.

DUDE: Steps over me and leaves theater.

MOVIE: The military manage to put the Iron Giant in a big Iron Giant carrying case.

DUDE: Returns to the theater and sits next to me. Second whiff. (I have a very poor sense of smell, so when I can smell something or someone, it's bad.)

MOVIE: The swarm of human-and-human-ephemera-eating-bugs eats up a truck.

DUDE: I move a few rows away and surreptitiously spray some emergency perfume. White musk fantasy. SNORING resumes.