February 25, 2009


1. "Every picture tells a story, donut?" How much more a moving picture.

2. Seeing is believing.

3. We are fast becoming a post-literate civilization.

4. Movies force us to look at other people's lives, stories. (Like we used to have to do scanning newspapers. Now we just cherry-pick our news.)

5. Movies surprise us. Even jaded us.

6. Movies (in theaters) force us to shut up and watch/listen. For 2 hours. Quite a feat. Even with a little texting going on. It's one of the most contemplative experiences we have in our frenetic world.

7. It's very hard to read a book and multi-task. And we are a society of multi-taskers.

8. Movies are the new lingua franca.

9. Movies give us an experience. And postmoderns highly value experience. And movies are one of our few shared experiences in our niche-market world.

10. Brain science is revealing that our brains light up (involuntarily) in imitation mode of whatever stimulates us visually (see the book "Mirroring People").

11. A picture is NOT worth a million words, unless it is somehow self-explanatory. Movies give us pictures AND words.

12. Show, don't tell.

13. Movies touch us on so many levels (head, heart, senses, memory, moral imagination, etc.) all at the same time (words, pictures, movement, emotions, music, sound, life and death events and dilemmas, etc.), and all larger than life (in the theater)!

14. Studies show that as our culture's word-intelligence descreases, its visual-intelligence is increasing.

15. "The movie has a greater effect than the press, because the spectators are more numerous and because it acts upon a greater number of the human faculties."

"Great is the mission of the movies! ...More than anything else, consider the impression that the movie makes on a soul. That impression is much more profound than that made by a bad companion, or reading a bad book.... This mission is great, therefore! If well done, a film impresses itself upon the soul and makes a greater impression on souls than a sermon, than the catechism. This is because the sermon speaks to the sense of hearing, whereas the film speaks a bit to all the senses: sight, hearing, sentiment, imagination, heart. It alsmost takes possession of the individual and dominates him." --Blessed Fr. James Alberione, SSP, filmmaker and Founder of the Pauline Family

February 23, 2009


"Get off my lawn!" is the new "Make my day!"--and old is the new cool, thanks to Clint Eastwood in my favorite movie of 2009.

I can't say enough about this movie, but queen of verbosity that I am, you know I will. Since the Sacrament of Confession figures big into "Gran Torino," I'll start with my own confession: I did not know what a "Gran Torino" was. I thought it was like "Casino Royale," a hotel or something. My brother, a mechanic/technician who owns his own shop, is constantly floored (no pun intended) by my gross ignorance of all things "car." (His first word was "car"--"cah" with the Boston accent.) I once ground up the transmission of a convent van (by jamming the car into reverse while going 45 mph) and called him for advice. When he asked me make and model, seriously, all I could tell him was "green." The weird thing about it is I LOVE 70's muscle cars! I used to drool over them when I lived in SoCal. But I can't tell you the first thing about them. OK, am I absolved?

First of all, the trailer makes this movie look soooo serious and it's HYSTERICALLY funny. I could not stop laughing. That take-you-by-surprise, rolling laughter that keeps coming back in waves as the implications sink in of just HOW funny that scene was. It's "My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding" kind of laughs, evenly spaced out, but constant. Not cheap laughs, but tee hees bubbling right up from the characters we are getting to know like the back of our hand. And yet, the film IS mighty grim. Not as grim as the Holocaust, but think "Life Is Beautiful."

Clint's character, Walt, is a Korean War vet (we don't see that too often). This, too, is personal for me. My brother and I are my father's second family. Our half brother, PFC Jere Eugene Burns, went M.I.A. in Korea, October, 1952. He was 23. My brother was born on his birthday and has "Jere" for his middle name. For a long time—which deeply irked my father—it was simply called "the Korean Conflict."

I think Clint is laughing at himself in this film. Yeah, he's cool—even with his old guy, hiked-up-to-his-ribs pants—and scary (he's got a gun and he's not afraid to use it), but more than anything he's a grumpy old curmudgeon in love with his Pabst, his dog and his car, and would like nothing more than to be left the hell alone, thankyouverymuch. But this man runs deep. He's "the greatest generation" America that lives by a code of honor, decency, hard work and valor that makes his consumeristic, shallow son and his family look like caricatures. But he is also troubled, fighting demons of deeds done in war time, deeds that commanding officers did NOT order.

I really don't want to spoil the film, you just have to see and enjoy it, but the film has many complementary themes. Just as in the Vietnam War (which the Vietnamese call "the American War"), the U.S. was fighting both for, with and against Koreans in the Korean War. So Walt's relationship with Asians is ambivalent. Wouldntcha know, a Hmong family moves in next door. Still don't know who the Hmong people are? (I didn't either.) You'll know by the end of the movie. And you will also know every possible racial epithet for "Asian." But Walt is an equal opportunity racist. No one, not even his Polish and Irish buddies are spared, and the sheer preponderance of his Archie Bunkeresque ethnic slurs makes them downright empty.

"GT" is a kind of urban Western. An ailing senior citizen standing on his porch--as a gang of young thugs ominously drives by--is this depressed Michigan neighborhood's best hope. "GT" could also be called: "How To BECOME a Guy in 10 Days." Again, see the film.

Some of the dialogue was on the nose, and I didn't believe Clint WASN'T mumbling to us when he was mumbling to his dog. But who cares?? This is a brilliant film, and Clint Eastwood (don't you LOVE that name?) has never been so exposed.

Columbia College in Chicago teaches a course on the films of Clint Eastwood. I am now intrigued by this film legend. I used to watch him in movies on TV as a kid—this impossibly good-looking, impossibly slender, impossibly stiff, monotone actor that always looked like he was trying to remember his lines. But he's been trying to tell us something. Now I want to know exactly what. (I didn't understand "The Unforgiven" at all.)

"Gran Torino" proves my theory right. Hollywood has been watching us (the Catholic Church) for a very long time, and chronicling us rather accurately, especially our foibles. Tell me if the young priest in this movie isn't representative of our new priests? I know this guy! Yes, he's fresh-faced, green and idealistic, but he can't help that, and he's not backing down. He knows who he is, and he will roll up his sleeves, get in there and learn. Hooray for Hollywood! Mini-spoiler: Note how Walt, the old man, calls the younger "Father," or "Padre," and the young man calls Walt "son"—because that IS their relationship and they both understand that.

Do the following lines tickle your funnybone? "Don't call me Wally." "Have a nice day." "I gotta go." "Toad, I need your help." Well, your funnybone will be in traction after hearing these lines delivered by Eastwood's growly, raspy Walt. That's genius writing. We're so deep into the character's world by the middle of the movie that we're in on a very funny joke we wouldn't get at all a half an hour earlier.

Many things "came to me" during the film. It's so contemplative. Four things freaked me out: 1) Can you ever LEARN reverence for human life if you never "got it"? 2) Only myself and another woman my age were laughing our fool heads off. 3) Walt's granddaughter was very, very frightening. 4) Almost the entire audience in my packed theater ran out the door at the end, chatting gaily. How could they??

"GT" is a quintessential "nonviolent action" (aka "pacifist") film. Yes, you heard right. The ending is ingenious. Could this be Clint's reparation film for his bloodier fare? Is this a Eureka! film for him? I don't know. I'll have to take the course at Columbia.

Theology of the Body? Yo. Walt understands that a man is to guard and protect. Walt understands that life isn't cheap. Walt tries to make a man out of Thao (as questionable as that whole business is). Walt knew that the love of a good woman was the best thing that ever happened to him. Walt fights for the honor of a woman. Walt lays down his life for his friends. Walt takes upon himself the evil of the world.

P.S. BIG, FAT, CATACLYSMIC SPOILER ALERT!!!! A film reviewer asks: Did Walt commit indirect suicide at the end? I think not, otherwise, we might be able to make the case that Jesus committed suicide.

March 2009 update: This is proving to be Clint's biggest grossing movie overseas. Why? Besides it being a great film, I'm wondering if it isn't in part because how well it expresses the immigrant experience AND how the American Dream seems to be dying (certainly in Detroit, America's fastest "dwindling" city according to recent stats). Mexican immigration has fallen of 48% because "there is no longer an American Dream."


So, who wants to rehash old news? Well, you know how pizza often tastes better the next day…? For those who missed the Oscars OR fell asleep during the Oscars OR didn't watch even half of the Oscar-nominated movies, this retrospective is for you.

Of course you know that "Slumdog Millionaire" swept the Oscars with eight wins. Why? Probably because it's the little movie that could. It might as well be called "Underdog Millionaire." Various winners of the night reiterated: "Anything is possible. Work hard. Don't give up." Perhaps "Slumdog" encapsulates this Hollywood dream. It boasts an unusual story-line (along with being fantastically unbelievable), amazing child actors, and is a feel-good romp with a pounding, dance-friendly, Bollywood-meets-Harlem soundtrack (which won Best Original Score AND Song). Decide for yourself if it should have won eight awards INCLUDING Best Picture. (My pick for best picture: "Benjamin Button"—a beautiful and difficult story to tell, an incredible movie-making feat, pulled off with flying technicolors.)

"Benjamin Button" DID win for Art Direction, Makeup and Visual Effects. These were important categories for it to win because these are what made the movie. It wasn't really an actors' movie. However, it WAS a director's movie, and I think David Fincher should have won.

Best Actor: Sean Penn for "Milk," the story of California's first openly gay elected official. Both Sean Penn and writer Lance Black (who won Best Original Screenplay) took the opportunity to advocate for "gay marriage rights." I actually have no problem with celebrities using their notoriety OR award ceremonies for political activism, but, of course, there is no such thing as "gay marriage," and Penn and Black are only adding to the confusion. The part of Black's tearful speech about the fact that God loves same-sex attracted people (my terminology) and that they deserve to be treated with dignity was truly touching, and I couldn't agree more. The "curious case" here is that if Hollywood espouses a cause, celebrities may blather all they want about it. But do you remember the flak (and subsequent blacklisting) Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon got over simply mentioning their opposition to the second Iraq War? For all their hatred of censorship, Hollywood demands that its stars espouse the "right" causes only.

Best Actress: Uber-talented Kate Winslet for "The Reader," nominated six times with no previous wins. This Oscar felt misplaced (like Denzel Washington winning for "Training Day" when he should have won for "Malcolm X," or Sean Penn winning for "Milk," when he should have won for "Dead Man Walking"), especially with the other incredible female performances "The Reader" was up against here.

Best Actor/Best Actress: Two longtime character actors were nominated: Richard Jenkins for "The Visitor," and Melissa Leo for "Frozen River." Although they didn't win, this was a wonderful nod in the direction of hard-working thespians who are the glue in many of our favorite movies!

Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger. This award was well deserved, and not just because Heath died. Heath totally appropriated his character of the Joker in "Dark Knight" and stole the entire movie.

Best Animated Feature: "Wall-E." Again, well deserved, but Wall-E should have won more awards, especially in the sound and music categories.

Best Documentary: A delightful moment here that will go down in Oscar history. "Man on Wire" won. The French tightrope walker who strung a wire between the Twin Towers in the 70's and did his thing (illegally) was present to accept the Oscar which he promptly balanced on his chin.

Adapted Screenplay: "Slumdog" again. However, "Doubt," adapted from stage to screen was quite masterful. It's unfortunate that "Doubt" didn't win anything. This would have been the best category for a victory.

Best Foreign Language Film: Again, the competition here was stiff: "The Baader Meinhof Complex" (political unrest in post-Nazi Germany), "The Class" (the French anti-"Freedom Writers"), "Waltz with Bashir" (a former Israeli soldier remembers a slaughter in Lebanon). "Depatures" (a Japanese cellist becomes an undertaker) won.

Biggest Pity: "Gran Turino" wasn't nominated for anything.

Post-Oscars is a great time to rent must-see movies "Benjamin Button," "Slumdog Millionaire," "Doubt," "Frozen River," "Dark Knight," and those hard-to-find Documentary Features, Documentary Shorts, Animated Short Films, Live Action Short Films (hopefully available from Netflix).

Oscar Night planners promised a new look and a new way of presenting. Host Hugh Jackman (a hoofer and singer!) wowed us with interspersed Broadway-style numbers, turning the Academy Awards into a true show. The stage was revamped and much closer to the audience. However, no clips of nominated movies were shown which was a disappointment. A cadre of former winners (Hollywood greats) addressed each nominated actor/actress personally (tres exciting!)

February 20, 2009


Run to the nearest video store and rent…oh, wait, we don't have to do that anymore, do we? Run your fingers over your keyboard and put "Frozen River" at the top of your Netflix queue. This indie gem is getting Oscar attention for a reason. Although all the brouhaha is focused on Melissa Leo, this is really a story of TWO tough chicks, one white, "Ray" (Melissa Leo), and one native (Mohawk), "Lila" (Misty Upham) living on the New York/Canada border. They're both short on cash, a man, and both are struggling to raise children. They don't like each other, but they need each other and do things for each other that even best friends wouldn't do. Both are rather bigoted and judgmental towards the other. The characters are written so realistically--carefully avoiding stereotypes of both white trailer trash and noble, wronged Indian. Yet, each of them is exactly who they are and nothing more. They live in very limited, defined worlds with small dreams and aspirations. The everyday tenuousness of their respective situations doesn't allow them the luxury of daring to think too big. However, precisely because of their hardscrabble lives, every decision, every altruistic gesture that Ray and Lila make takes on gigantic proportions and consequences. There is absolutely nothing angelic about these women, and yet hints of transcendence creep in here and there at unlikely moments.

A lucrative smuggling operation of illegal aliens is too tempting for either woman to pass up. They use Ray's car (because of the trunk) to transport human cargo over a frozen river. But there are State troopers, kids left home alone, house payments, shady underworld characters, and literal thin ice to be dealt with. The women form an alliance of convenience and don't think too far ahead—it's just too scary to do so. The power shifts between Ray and Lila, as do their manifestations of human tenderness. (They can't afford to both be caring at the same time.)

Not to be overlooked is Charlie McDermott's performance as Ray's teenage son, T.J., poignantly named after his absent father. He's trying valiantly to be the man around the house and take care of his younger brother, but his methods are as criminal as his Mom's. I don't want to spoil the ending, but there's a whopper plot point that could either be a head-scratcher or simply overlooked. You need to know something about "First Nations" (what native Canadians are called) to appreciate its momentousness. First Nations peoples had a slightly different experience than Native Americans. They were never slaughtered or hunted down. They didn't sell land or sign treaties (that's why some are demanding Vancouver back). The white people just kind of moved in on them, set up reservations, pushed them around, etc. The agreement from the beginning was "self-governance," so, technically, First Nations peoples are not bound by white man's laws. They have their own tribal police and tribal justice system, which, by the way, works well. T.J. gets a taste of this tribal justice, or rather, mercy.

I must digress further. Dwayne "Dog" Chapman of the A & E real-life TV hit show "Dog the Bounty Hunter" is part native, and you will see this same justice/mercy dynamic at work in his tactics. "Dog the Bounty Hunter" is THE most Christian show on TV. There, I said it. Dog (who comes from a long line of bounty hunters and is a Christian) has as his motto, "give everyone a second chance" (as God did for him). He shows forth the mercy of God the Father to each fugitive while upholding just laws. His first aim is to treat each person with dignity. Second: rehabilitation from drugs and/or a life of crime so you can go back to your family. Third: serve your time, pay your dues to society.

"Frozen River" is a near-perfect little movie. The only thing I woulda done differently was have Ray break down and really bawl when she hugs T.J. toward the end, but maybe, again, that's not an option for a hard-luck woman like her. The highs and lows in this movie come and go in a matter-of-fact way, as in the lives of the poor, yet the movie never bores. I have never felt so UNmanipulated by a film. Kudos to writer/director, Courtney Hunt. I eagerly await her next project.

I'm sure that Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha (who was half Mohawk and migrated in the opposite direction, from Auriesville, NY, to Kahnawake, Quebec, where she's now buried in the church of St. Francis Xavier) smiles down on "Frozen River." http://conservation.catholic.org/kateri.htm

OK, can't let this tidbit go: I just looked up Misty Upham's biography on www.imdb.com --where actors can write their own bio. Misty is self-described as "pro-life"! You go, girl!

February 12, 2009



Somewhere around page 429.

[utterly useless comments by Sr. Helena in brackets]

The physical allows us to participate in the spiritual. In reality. The first Catholic was God because every time He made something He said, “It is good.” Adam was the second Catholic.

Singleness is not a vocation because there is no permanence to it. [No one can say their vocation is to “be alone.” Permanently.] It’s not the fault of the single person, it just hasn’t happened yet. But the single person can still live spousally (God is our ultimate spouse). Everyone is called to live spousally. A vocation is something permanent. A permanent giving of a gift. Singleness tends to be more temporary, unless there is a gift given permanently in the single life.

If we’re united to Christ here on earth, we’re united to Him forever (and to others) here on Earth and then in heaven. We should realize we’re really all together at Mass in a unique way (even if we’re sitting together with family!) When we serve at Mass, we leave our family in the pew to be part of the larger community.

Second marriages were frowned upon in the Eastern Church (even after death of spouse), and the second ceremony had a penitential tone. (Because marriage is forever, even in the next life, but transformed in the next life so that Jesus said: “There is no marriage in heaven.”) Paul said you could get remarried if you had to. Married Eastern priests cannot remarry after first marriage. There’s a belief that the “continence” rule came from Apostolic times (the Apostles). And it meant that after the laying on of hands/ordination, the wife (had to agree) and husband did not have relations. So, even the passage in NT where Paul says Cephas (Peter) and others had their wives with them, they may very well have been continent. Why? Because at the end of the day, we’re focused on God. Eastern priests’ ordination is like a marriage ceremony. Not a sacramental/EARTHLY marriage, but a mystical/HEAVENLY marriage (to the Church).

Chastity=the living out of your sexuality purely.

Married priests in the Eastern Church aren’t allowed to have sexual relations if they celebrate the Eucharist the next day. (ONE of the reasons the Orthodox don’t have daily Mass, as well as to emphasize the Lord’s Day Eucharist.)

If we totally separate marriage and virginity, we won’t know how to live either!!! That’s why we’re so bad at both today! It’s one of our problems today! One subsists in the others. Marriage=union, Virginity=singularly (all) God’s.

Women’s “non-ordination”: Some people who have a problem with it say that the only thing the Church officially teaches about it is that “Jesus didn’t do it.” But we have a clue why God does what He does. If we’re only going to live by the bare bones DOCTRINE, we’re going to miss a lot of life. AND then we can also tear the doctrine down: Jesus only ordained men because of the times, etc.….

No separation in East between doctrinal/mystical doctrine! If you’re a mystic, you’re a normal person. You know God. The rest of us need to become normal. Because it’s normal for people to know God. Paul gives us dogma and Christology because He knew Christ. They mystical is the MOST REAL. [Flannery O’Connor said dogma is the guardian of mystery.]

Why do we yearn for marriage? Because intimacy and fruitfulness is what makes us like God!

Fr. Tom doesn’t let people call him “Tom,” because his reality/relationship is different from that. Spiritual fatherhood and motherhood are very real things. And they’re not “formal,” they’re the best, deepest relationships!

If Fr. Tom was giving a retreat to married people and celibates, it would sound very much the same, because both groups are married, just in different ways. A married man is celibate to all women except one. A celibate man is “married to all women” but none in particular.

Q: Is the gift of self “natural”? A: Yes, because of our bodies. They speak the language of gift. Concupiscence gets in the way, though, so we can’t always hear our bodies.

Celibate priests need a sense of spousal love like religious women, otherwise their celibacy really doesn’t mean anything, and become empty.

Q: So how do men experience the love of God? God doesn’t want them to become women, but they have to become receptive. Men love to be doing things and rescuing, but you can’t rescue God. A: Spirituality in a sense is harder for men. Men/priests must develop a real deep love of the Blessed Virgin Mary. When we say men have to adopt the female principle, it’s mystical language. Men wrestle with God. Men grow through battle and resistance. Men draw strength from God, the way men draw strength from one another. Men MUST experience this to grow into men. Men become men externally. It’s not intuitive for men. It’s about connecting with something outside of them. How do we know that? Again, the body. Priesthood is synonymous with manhood. A priest is a man, a man is a priest. Men become men by having something external bestowed on them: “This is my beloved Son.” Men absolutely need approval (1. From father, 2. male world, 3. beloved—wife), bonding, rites of passage. But our world is taught to put men down, that men are buffoons, so they are getting the wrong message (which redounds negatively to women!) Men want to know that they have what it takes, that they’re adequate, that they can get the job done. Priests/men must develop relationship with God through prayer. Men experience God’s love as Father, brother, friend. That’s why the doctors of the church are theologians—theology (esp. Jewish theology) is wrestling with God! Men in the Jewish Temple would approach God while the ladies stayed back. It was thought of as an awesome thing and the guys would handle it!

There’s no such thing as marriage problems: only TOB problems! Men and women have to understand each others’ legitimate needs and fulfill them.

Just listen to the language of your body!

“Garment of skin”—[the ancient rabbis said this, too]—Church Fathers posited that our bodies didn’t have genitalia before the Fall….but they didn’t have developed theology yet, and certainly not the Theology of the Body!

Q: Would Jesus still have become incarnate without the Fall? A: The Church doesn’t teach either way, but theological speculation leans towards that He would have come—joining with His Creation would be the apex of Creation.

We can become very non-Catholic in our attempt to be very Catholic (prudery) and we can cause another sexual revolution!

We can’t retrieve the original innocence of Adam and Eve, but there is an “echo,” and in Christ we are propelled forward to the future when it will be even better than what Adam and Eve had….

Q: What’s the diff between “human being,” and “human person”? A: Person is deeper. We are persons because God is Person (3 Persons). [God is so intimate that He is 3 Persons in one.][Think of conjoined twins Abbey and Brittany who share 2 legs, 2 arms, but each has their own heart/lungs and head. They are teenagers. One girl operates one side (leg and arm) and the other girl operates the other side.]

Virginity/celibacy and marriage “interpenetrate” (JP2G). Father likes to say: “subsist within each other.” Married people show celibates what God’s spousal love looks like. Celibates show married couples what God’s spousal love looks like. :]

What makes you a TRUE parent is a SPIRITUAL INVESTMENT in the child for the child’s sake, not just giving biological life to your kids.

“apophatic theology”—knowing God by who He is not….. (Eastern church likes to use….)

[If we ARE our body, then it is a person, not a thing—we can’t USE it.] [male spirituality—EXTERNAL, concrete, git ‘er done, pragmatic, EUCHARISTIC ADORATION]

If some Catholic person has a problem with TOB, they simply don’t get it. [There’s also Ordinary Magisterium.] [The status/classification of what kind of Church teaching TOB is in the Introduction to TOB.] TOB IS dogma—it’s JP2G’s rearrangement, compilation of it. He looked at old things in new ways. “Go back to the beginning.” He connected the dots. He shook the box with the Catholic Faith jigsaw puzzle pieces inside and they came together in a way we could see. Different saints/ teacher thru the years did this.

FCC rules on the radio were determined by what would offend Catholics.

We’re letting millions of people flounder by not preaching this word, esp. thru the media. St. Paul would have done that. Fulton Sheen did it.

FAVORITE MOVIE FOR GUYS: “Braveheart”! We need to tell a good story. The best stories use the Catholic ethos.

“Marley and Me” made by a Catholic…. Father liked it a lot. Refreshing, very Catholic. “Bella” was too overtly too Catholic…. [“message movie”] Too contrived, too goody two shoes, if people think it’s religious or something, THEY THINK THEY CAN’T RELATE TO IT (AND PROBABLY CAN’T)—IT’S NOT THEIR EXPERIENCE. JP2G started TOB from people’s experience.

We should be able to say of a married person: they would have made a good priest/nun. We should be able to say of a priest/nun: they would have made good married persons. Because we are all called to live spousally with others and with God. Even couples who practice NFP are living monastically, celibately for a time. [Because, ultimately, sex is liturgical! The liturgy goes by the chronos—time, cycles, nature, etc.!]

For the 1st 1,000 years in the Church, both East and West had married priests, but there was always the question that from Apostolic times, once a man was ordained, he was to be celibate—so the Church has always leaned a little more toward celibacy for priests. Since the 1920’s the Eastern Rite in the New World required celibacy for its priests. But then JP2G allowed married men to be ordained in the Eastern Rite in the New World, but it was not to be with fanfare so that the Western Church would say: hey, how come not us? And the Eastern Church fixed their canon law so that the Western priests wouldn’t come flocking over just for that reason. :]

February 10, 2009


By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI asked young Catholics to use their computers, Facebook accounts, blogs and Internet video posts to share with their peers the joy of faith in Christ.

"Be sure to announce the Gospel to your contemporaries with enthusiasm," the pope told young people in his message for the 2009 celebration of World Communications Day.

"Human hearts are yearning for a world where love endures, where gifts are shared, where unity is built, where freedom finds meaning in truth and where identity is found in respectful communion," said Pope Benedict's message, which was released at the Vatican Jan. 23.

The theme for the 2009 World Communications Day, which will be celebrated May 24 in most dioceses, is "New Technologies, New Relationships: Promoting a Culture of Respect, Dialogue and Friendship."

Releasing the message -- which included e-mailing it directly to 100,000 young Catholics around the world and asking them to forward it or post it on their Web sites -- the Vatican also announced that it would take a further step into the digital age by making video of the pope available on YouTube, a video-sharing Web site.

In his message, Pope Benedict said that if used creatively and correctly new computer technologies can help people meet the human longing to connect with others and share the search for goodness, beauty and truth.

Of course, he said, people must "avoid the sharing of words and images that are degrading of human beings, that promote hatred and intolerance, that debase the goodness and intimacy of human sexuality or that exploit the weak and vulnerable."

And praising the way young people use the Internet to form and maintain friendships, he also cautioned against trivializing friendship by not forming real, face-to-face relationships.

"It would be sad if our desire to sustain and develop online friendships were to be at the cost of our availability to engage with our families, our neighbors and those we meet in the daily reality of our places of work, education and recreation," Pope Benedict said.

"If the desire for virtual connectedness becomes obsessive, it may in fact function to isolate individuals from real social interaction while also disrupting the patterns of rest, silence and reflection that are necessary for healthy human development," the pope said.

Still, Pope Benedict said, new technologies have an "extraordinary potential" to bring people together, to help them share information, to rally them to work for good causes and to educate.

"They respond to a fundamental desire of people to communicate and to relate to each other," he said.

"When we find ourselves drawn toward other people, when we want to know more about them and make ourselves known to them, we are responding to God's call -- a call that is imprinted in our nature as beings created in the image and likeness of God, the God of communication and communion," Pope Benedict said.

Much of the pope's message was addressed to the "digital generation," to young people who have grown up using computers and cellular phones, e-mail and text messaging.

He asked them "to bring the witness of their faith to the digital world" and to write openly about the joys of faith when they write their profiles on social-networking sites or blogs.

The first step in evangelization is to understand the culture in which the Gospel will be proclaimed, he said, and young Catholics are the ones who have that understanding of their peers and of the Internet culture they use to communicate.

"You know their fears and their hopes, their aspirations and their disappointments," the pope told young Catholics. "The greatest gift you can give to them is to share with them the good news of a God who became man, who suffered, died and rose again to save all people."

Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, told reporters Jan. 23 that the message was distinctive for the sense of trust and openness it showed toward new technologies and for the fact that it was addressed primarily to young Catholics.

Msgr. Paul Tighe, secretary of the council, said people who have grown up with computer technology "and integrated it naturally into their lifestyles" communicate, learn, get information and engage in political and social activities differently than people over 40 years old, the so-called "digital immigrants."

But, he said, young people and anyone else using the new technologies need to be careful about the content they are generating, sharing or drawing to the attention of others.

"We are all aware of the risks of news forms of cyberbullying and abusive postings that have emerged in recent years," he said.

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Editor's Note: The text of the pope's message in English is posted online at: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/messages/communications/documents/hf_ben-xvi_mes_20090124_43rd-world-communications-day_en.html.

The text of the pope's message in Spanish is posted online at: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/messages/communications/documents/hf_ben-xvi_mes_20090124_43rd-world-communications-day_sp.html.

February 9, 2009

















February 8, 2009


Just when you thought the sewing box was safe…. (Buttons have never been so malevolent!)

“Coraline” is a 3-D (at select theaters), stop-motion animation, hyper-imaginative, mildly creepy, postmodern fairytale set in the rainy Northwest and…a parallel universe. Actually, it’s adolescent Coraline’s ideal, CLONED universe with her “other mother": you know, the good kind of mother that serves your favorite food, dotes only on you, and lets you do whatever you want. What starts off as a dream world becomes a nightmare, and Coraline learns to appreciate her real, not-perfect,* but loving parents. (Moms and Dads everywhere are going to LOVE this movie.) Dakota Fanning EXCELLENTLY voices Coraline with loads of nuanced expression (a very tricky feat)!

“Coraline” is postmodern because Coraline and her family are postmodern: a bit removed from nature, rather cynical and sarcastic, and in place of religion there are all sorts of superstitions and occultisms, notwithstanding the fact that this IS a magical tale (voodoo-type dolls, reading tea leaves, amulets). Also, “Coraline” is postmodern because the horror (although not accessed via computer) is that of being trapped in a computer-like virtual world of someone else’s making, where things can fade to a terrifying white nothingness. It’s playfully hinted that Coraline might be a witch (she employs the dubious practice of “water witching” or “dowsing” at the beginning of the film, and cries out “I’m a witch!” when taking on her nemesis). A talking black cat is her mentor.

Both our heroine, the spunky Coraline, and villain, the creepy “other mother,” are women. One could Freudianly read into the smotherlove of “the other mother” who turns into a spider and traps Coraline in her web (the cat adds that the other mother might also want to eat Coraline), but we won’t go there. (The other mother wants everyone to be happy all the time, and wants to love and be loved forever in a very clingy, selfish way: “I’ll die without you!”) This is a rather matriarchal movie: Coraline’s real mom is the acknowledged “boss.” Coraline’s boy neighbor lives in fear of his grandmother. The tunnel connecting the two worlds is much like a birth canal. However, there were plenty of guys of all ages in my packed cinema, and they all loved it (I heard them talking on the way out).

Coraline’s self-confident attitude reminded me of the book “Reviving Ophelia,” by Mary Pipher--how tween girls have a real sense of self that they often seem to lose in their teen years. However, with today’s social networking, I wonder if that has somehow changed a bit (the book is at least ten years old).

The production values are phenomenal, boasting some of the sharpest life-like detail I’ve seen in animated movies yet (note the needle and fabric during the opening credits). The tone is rather quiet and reflective. Anything can and does happen in the “other world.” Animals and flowers are personified in both delightful and frightening ways. (Andrew Stanton, creator of “Wall-E,” says that animators see the entire world as alive; e.g., he said that when an animator watches a leaf fall to the ground, they think think: “Ouch!”) There are strong archetypes like the GARDEN. First: no garden. Second: a perfect fake garden. Third: a hostile fake garden. Fourth: a homely real garden. I’m sure Coraline’s origami and barrette dragonflies mean something, too.

Two ancient former burlesque queens who aid Coraline are comic relief, but at one point, they put on a show, and the one with the Monty Python-esque outsized breasts is practically naked for quite a spell, and it borders on the pornographic. (Porn is created in today’s very realistic computer animation, so, cartoonish as this portrayal was, it was highly inappropriate/irresponsible in a PG movie).

In order to stay in her perfect world, Coraline must agree to have her eyes removed and buttons sewn in their place (not as gory as it sounds) like all this world’s inhabitants. Coraline will not go that far, but when her parents are parent-napped and taken to the “other world,” Coraline must return and save them at her own peril. She must also find the eyes of three ghostly children trapped in the other world. Once their eyes are returned to them, their souls will be freed.

Is “Coraline” too dark for kids under, say, nine? I would say no (but each child has their own sensibilities). Kids seem to love dark fairytales (like the live action “Matilda”) because they DO fear the monsters and bogeymen in their lives (real or imagined), and they love to see a young person triumph over them. (Personally, when I was a kid, I couldn’t handle anything scary, because I instinctively knew that in real life the bad guy sometimes wins. I hadn’t yet realized that in Hollywood, the good guy always wins, and so I’d get lost in the sheer endless terror of the moment. (The new movie "Wendy and Lucy" was only rated R because the MPAA didn't think kids could handle that fact that life doesn't always turn out as we would like!!!!) When I was about nine, I almost snapped watching Doris Day in “Midnight Lace,” because the bad guy came through a little window with a lace curtain like I had in MY bedroom. My mother found me screaming in front of the TV and sent me to bed. Alone. Where the lace curtain was. As you can tell, I was scarred for life. (My mother was not perfect.) I also freaked out (at about age eleven) watching a live action “Alice in Wonderland” in the middle of the day on our black and white TV. Everyone had two sides, good and bad, except the Jabberwock (who looked like Satan), who turned around and showed that he had no good side, he was just pure evil. I blew an existential gasket. So, know your kids.

Although it seems the filmmakers would like “Coraline” to be about “seeing,” that theme is not fully developed. It’s more about embracing an imperfect world. Coraline has “good enough” parents, and Coraline even has delightfully imperfect teeth just like her Mom’s. (Teeth give character! Cher and Nicholas Cage should never have had their teeth done.) As one character says: “The better world is a trap,” or, as the saying goes: “The best is the enemy of the good.”

Films “Coraline” reminded me of:

“Boy in the Striped Pajamas”—a child’s quest to save parents

“Gattaca”—human imperfection is OK

Any Tim Burton film (Henry Selick also directed Tim Burton’s “A Nightmare Before Christmas,” also “James and the Giant Peach”). Lots of spindly characters….

My favorite scene (spoiler alert!):

When Coraline’s real Mom buys her the funky gloves after telling her she couldn’t have them. Isn’t that just like a Mom? (But 24.95??? On sale???)


*Mom also has fat thighs. Yay!

February 3, 2009


Here at Texas A & M, we had a Theology of the Body presentation filled with film and TV clips, all illustrating negatively or positively "God's Five F's of True Love."

The body/sex speaks a language and it says:

"THE OTHER"--male person to female person, female person to male person (not treating each other as things) FUNDAMENTAL


"YOU ONLY"--exclusive, total gift, mutual exchange (marriage) FULL

"FOREVER"--commitment FAITHFUL

"YES"--open to new life FRUITFUL

When these elements are not present, the language of the body/sex can be spoken as a lie.



--Benjamin Button

--Painted Veil (good portrayal of nunnies, too!) relationship in trouble, mostly woman's fault

--Not Easily Broken relationship in trouble, mostly woman's fault

--Fireproof (the best TOB movie ever!) relationship in trouble, mostly man's fault

--Wall-E ("E--V--A!!!")

We showed clips from lots of other movies also.

The reaction was fascinating. When asked what romance movies the guys liked, they said: "The Empire Strikes Back." Me: "That's not a love story." Dude: "To us it is." Another dude offered: "Braveheart"? Then a bunch of dudes: "We don't like romances." Yet another dude: "A Walk to Remember." One dude: "Yeah, we like it cuz the girl DIES at the end." Ha ha. (Can someone please tell me why this movie is so popular with guys and girls alike? It just looks like a weepy, dime-a-dozen chick flick to me, but it has consistently hit a nerve.)

When the girls shouted out that they love "The Notebook," the guys boo-ed it down. Me: "Why don't you like it?" "It was all about him having sex with her." Hmmmmm. (These were fairly devout guys.)

"Life is Beautiful" wrapped up the clips. ("Buon Giorno, Princepessa!") "Is every woman a princess"? "YES!!!" squealed the girls. "Is every man a prince?" Nothing. Girl: "Well, some of them are...." Me: "Hey, is God our King?" "YES!" "Are we children of God?" "YES!" "Then what does that make us????" Girls (reluctantly): "Princesses and princes." Me: "We're royalty. Let's act like it."