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The Avengers Have Nothing on Jesus Christ

I am a comic book geek. I might not be as geeky say as guys/girls who blog about comic books (I thought about doing that by the way, it would be called Catholic Comicie, no?), but I’m still pretty geeky. I was very much looking forward to watching the film version of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, the Avengers. Marvel had hyped this film up over years of prequels that were created prior to the film itself, a brilliant advertising move. Get’em hooked and then create a super-team. Anyway, Joss Whedon, the idol of many comic fanboys, directed the film so it promised to be done well, achieving where other comic book films fell, mainly in being worth watching. 

Anyway, so when it came out I was on my retreat in preparation for Holy Orders, and although I am a geek, I am also a follower of Christ Jesus. Jesus came before Tony Stark, Thor, and Samuel L. Jackson’s eyepatch. In case you were wondering, I had a great retreat the Lord worked a lot in my heart and thought the great wisdom of Archbishop Alfred Hughes better prepared me for the sacrament I will soon receive. Much of the retreat got me naturally thinking about Jesus, His person and His redemptive act.

Today, I finally got to see the movie, in 3D even. It was very enjoyable and exactly what I imagined it would be. There was a great plot line and fantastic actions scenes. The interaction between the characters was classic Marvel, Stan Lee style with 21st century language.

About half way through the movie, you realize that the Avengers have to save the world from Loki and his army, which is many movies and comic book plots. What was different though was my reaction. I began to reflect, in an action movie that doesn’t evoke reflection (it wasn’t directed by Christopher Nolan). The plot is set for the Avengers to be the only hope for the world. Well, I realized, we’ve already been saved, once and for all, but the death and Resurrection of the Son of God who became man for our sake, Jesus Christ.

After the movie, I began to reflect on that passage from Hebrews that talks about the once for all sacrifice of Christ. It starts by talking about the priests in the temple. They offer sacrifice daily and yearly for their own sins and for the sins of the people. Their sacrifice needs to be repeated whereas Christ’s was once for all. It dawned on me. We treat superheroes like priests. They are there to save us, but their offering needs to be repeated (in trilogy form). They will never fight a fight to end all fights and defeat the archnemesis of all, namely death and sin.

Our desire for heroes is rooted in our desire for saving, which has been fulfilled offered in the eternal salvation offered by Jesus Christ.

Friday Thoughts – Reading Fiction is a Spiritual Exercise

I was going through my day as normal: preparing things for ordination, dealing with schoolwork when I clicked over, vainly of course, to my blog tab on Chrome to see its views for today and realized, “It’s Friday!”

Life has gotten out of control for me right now. Lots of things are going on in my life, and I can barely balance them all. The formation staff here has tried to instill in us a rule of life (sort of like a self-imposed Rule like St. Benedict had for his monks without of course the monastic aspects). About a month and a half ago, I made an addition to my rule of life, read a chapter of fiction each day.

Now being in the Utilitarian culture that had formed us this sounds impractical. If I have stuff to do and not enough time to do it, why spend time reading fiction, going off into fiery lands and imagination and stuff. The same could be said of prayer, and indeed, my reason is this. Reading fiction, for me is human formation (buzz word for seminarians, if you don’t understand ask you’re favorite seminarian, which I understand might very well be me … cue vanity music).

Fiction helps form and activate the imagination. St. Thomas Aquinas spends part of the Summa Theologiae speaking about the imagination (I q.78 and on from there). He elucidates how it is operative within the union of body and soul. St. Ignatius of Loyola speaks of it with regard to spiritual warfare. It is the battleground where the Holy Spirit insights great gifts of prayer and evil spirits tempt.

Watching film doesn’t necessarily activate the imagination. All the images I need are right there in front of me, but with a book, my imagination is hard at work building the words on the page into images in my mind. I will explain with a excerpt from a novella, by Alexander McCall Smith, I just finished called The Perils of Morning Coffee:

She seated herself at the only free table, under one of the large windows, and looked out. The view was of Candlemaker Row, a narrow street that descended sharply towards the Grassmarket. There were angled slate roofs, chimney pots, stone gables, and towering above them, like the set of some improbable opera, the Castle. For a few moments she stared at the scene. The fragility of the city touched her, as it always did; made her catch her breath. And she lived in this: that was what never failed to astonish here. I live in the midst of this beauty.

This is Edinburgh Castle, the “Castle” of
which the character above is referring 

McCall Smith lets the reader in on the beauty of Edinburgh, Scotland. It’s ancientness captures the mind, the heart, and the imagination. That street used to house candlemakers. I can imagine people coming from all over the city to get their candles only to head down the hill to the open-field market to purchase the food for that day. Now, not only do I have an image implanted in my mind of Scotland, but a better appreciation of the history of my own city.

Now that my imagination is activated through this simple reading I am more aware when the Holy Spirit introduces Himself and when the evil spirits force themselves in. To read fiction, in some sense, is a spiritual exercise.

Duped By the Hunger Games?

We have before us a guest post! With the fiery start of the new film Hunger Games in the box office, it seemed good to compare book to film. At the time, I had not read the book and I still I have not read the film. So I asked Katherine Lee over at NOLA Front Porch to lend her Hunger Games expertise. Katherine is distinguished as the first female to post on this blog. It is honor really for her to be here. Hope to see her again soon. Her post will beginning a small series on the Hunger Games (book 1). Check back for more reflections on the book that has taken imaginations by storm.

Without further ado ….

If you were one of countless individuals who was dragged by an overly eager friend, child, or significant other to The Hunger Games movie, I know what you’re thinking. You didn’t get it. You didn’t see the big deal AND you definitely could care less about this Peeta character everybody is raving about. I hate to even mention the thought, but some of you could even be coerced into reading the books simply because you judged the movie as a “B” at best. You’ve come to the right place. Call this the cliff notes or maybe just a short cut to save you the embarrassment of being caught reading the trilogy on your morning commute.

The plot of the Hunger Games unfolds in the futuristic former America, Panem, that is divided into 12 districts tyrannically ruled over by the Capitol. Though not directly explained in the books, Panem’s name derives from the Latin term for “bread” connecting to “Bread and circuses”. The metaphor refers to a government’s use of entertainment to distract and appease citizens from the harsh reality of rule, classically demonstrated by the Roman Republic’s gladiatorial homicide festivals. The Capitol oppressively controls food production and distribution in the districts, forces citizens to watch required media programming, and even outlaws communications between districts. While the rest of Panem’s citizens starve to death, life for the people in the Capitol is glutinous and outlandish signaled by the bizarre make-up and Lady Gaga influenced clothing.

The Capital represents a “dystopian” society, the opposite of the more familiar expression, utopia. The genre of the books is meant to evoke similar themes as Brave New World and Orwell’s Nighteen-Eighty Four. The main character, Katniss, hunts for food so her family doesn’t starve. She and her best friend, Gale, break the law by selling their yields at a black market known as the HOB. The ultimate expression of Capitol exploitation is the annual competition where each district must submit a girl and boy tribute to fight in an arena to the death. The Hunger Games serve the double purpose of intimidating districts into submission and providing a source of perverse entertainment for citizens. Families have no choice in preventing their children from being placed into a “reaping” lottery from which names are pulled. The incentive for tributes to win the games is to secure an ample supply of food for their district for the coming year.

SPOILER ALERT: From here on out your read at your risk of receiving integral parts of the plotline, reading the book or watching the movie is suggested.

The movie moves like a freight train pressing too quickly through the background of the story and directly into the action of the games itself. Here lies the inadequacy. Audiences were left perplexed by the nature of the games, presented as a violent contest for survival of the fittest where promoting a “fake” romance could easily secure necessities from sponsors. The books represent a more multi-faceted insight into Katniss’ interior dilemma of playing the game to save her family versus standing up to the injustice of the situation she finds herself a part. Perhaps the most genuine cinematic look into her interior struggle comes with her sobbing screams after burying her friend, Rue. From her 1st person perspective in the books, the reader feels truly Katniss’ predicament throughout the entire course.

Finally, the majority of the complaints about the movie center on the apparent weaknesses in the character of Peeta, the other male tribute representing District 12. The scene in which Peeta tells Katniss that he hopes that the game-makers don’t change him is extremely important for understanding his value. Unfortunately, the movie fails to explain the reference and doesn’t do him justice. There’s a brief flashback scene in which Katniss is starving and Peeta, outside his family’s bakery, throws her a piece of bread. Peeta’s act of kindness toward her reflects a couple things. First, he did love Katniss from the time she was little. He was not faking the romance. Second, he burnt the bread intentionally to give her at the risk of receiving a beating from his mother- selfless sacrifice. It wasn’t, as the movie portrayed, an act of happenstance.

Katniss is drawn into Peeta’s goodness. She finds herself slowly being won over by his easy going nature and confidence in her. He sees the best. She notices the apparent differences between his warmth, even in front of the camera, and her cold, paranoid nature. Though she does fake the romance on screen, something more is emerging on the interior. After a hard-knock life of self-dependance and struggle, she finally has someone to trust.

Okay, so maybe, this doesn’t mean you’re a Hunger Games expert now, but at least you’ve got the overall idea. For a more in depth analysis of the movie, I highly recommend watching two video commentaries from Fr. Robert Barron. Start with this video ( then move on to his additional comments on the religiosity of the film (

Trains Are Not Safe Places

As some of you know, over the past year, I have been on an Agatha Christie kick. It has yet to subside. Her writing is just too fantastic to pass by. The latest golden egg of hers, that I have now put in my basket, is probably her most famous of the Hercule Poirot series, Murder on the Orient Express.

The current version of the Orient Express train.

I must confess about three years ago I watched the film with Sean Connery and Ingrid Bergmann (not as pretty as she used to be) so I knew the ending. That being said, Christie still had me engaged the entire book.

Her characters weren’t flat or one dimensional but rather began to reveal themselves rather plainly and enjoyably before the reader and even more plainly in front of the masterful intellect of Monsieur Poirot.

The basic plot is Poirot and a full cast of very different characters are on the Orient Express on their way back to Europe from the Middle East. The train gets stuck in a snow drift and one of the passengers winds up dead stabbed 12 times. Poirot is hired by his friend, who runs the train, to solve the mystery. He slowly, meticulously and rather brilliantly, I may add, goes through the evidence. He cannot rely on background checks but rather he has to read each of the cast of characters to figure out the culprit.

Because it is a mystery there is a reveal at the end as in any whodunit. So this is where the road stops for those readers who have not yet read the book or watched the film. You now enter at your own risk


First of all I must say Christie nearly outdoes herself in relation to And Then There Was None. She flips everything and yet keeps the status quo. Everyone is a suspect in both plots, in the latter it ends up being only one person in the plot at hand it is all of the people. They all took part in the murder of a man who held ransom the grandchild of a famous actress which caused the mother of the child to commit suicide. Each of the cast of characters either worked in the house of the family or were related to the people at hand. They knew the perpetrator would not receive justice so they enacted a communal justice to the man.

The question as a Catholic is two-fold: Who enacts justice? And is murder justifiable?

These people obviously thought it their duty, as citizens but also as people intimately connected to the victims, to enact justice where they saw justice due. Is it their role as private citizens to enact justice? Or is that the role of the state? I think the Church would lean toward the latter because the latter exists for the common good which includes the enactment of justice. When justice is taken into the hands of private citizens it inevitably leads to anarchy. Each person become his/her subjective arbiter of justice (not to say the state’s arbitration of justice is totally objective, but that’s another discussion).

Murder, under no circumstance, is justifiable. The end does not justify the means. The telos of any good human act must for the good, in an objective sense deriving from the goodness of God, of the person.

We can see here though that if not kept in the check sin can beget sin. Someone is the victim of a sinful action. If the response to that action is not in charity, one runs the fine line of following the footsteps of their oppressor/victimizer.

Friday Thoughts – Why Barnes and Noble Makes Me Sad

Unfortunately, there is much poor representation of the Catholic Church on shelves of people who like myself grew up with poor Catechesis. One such book might be The Pope’s War by Matthew Fox. To boot, Barnes and Noble is selling the nook book version for $4. A cheap ‘Catholic’ book!

I know should expect this from such a corporation. I know I should expect this from secular media controllers. I know I should expect this from men who are angry at the Church and have an axe to grind. I still need to come out of the naïve mindset that if I treat someone with Christian love and desire to receive that back in turn, I will not necessarily receive it. Nope. That’s not what’s happening in this world.

I desire for people to know Truth and Matthew Fox comes ‘revealing the truth’ about the corruption of the papacy for
the last 25 years. To say there hasn’t been corruption among successors of the apostles, among priests, deacons, religious, would be to lie. He doesn’t target those who rightfully should be targeted for their sad representation of men and women called by God to serve the Church. No, he targets righteous men! Righteous men!

I feel in need of a psalm of lamentation.

Top Ten Books Read in 2011, #2

Number 2 is …

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Again, this has been a year of firsts. I have have always been a fan of mystery fiction and was fully ashamed that my only familiarity with Agatha Christie was a high school drama club rendition of The Mouse Trap (which coincidentally was done very well and probably helped insight my love of mystery fiction). Yes, sad, again … So when I became a member of Audible via my friends over at Catholic Underground who were offering a one month free subscription the first audiobook I bought was And Then There Were None.
I can see without a shadow of doubt having read about 5% of the full corpus of detective and mystery fiction that this is the best book of them all. It has fantastic characters that you immediately hate and learn to love. It has a twisting plotline with a simple ending that literally blows your mind. It is able to be a mystery story where the possible culprits are at the same time the detectives. It follows a nursery rhyme. I mean you can’t get better writing in this genre. If you haven’t read this, read it. This year. You can find at your local bookstore or e-book store. It is worth your time hands down.

Top Ten Books I Read This Year, #6

Number 6 …

The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton

I mentioned this in a post back in April I mentioned this book when talking about a book that will show up later on this list. Although G.K. Chesterton thought himself a poor mystery writer, more out of humility and comedy than out of truthful speech.

These mysteries revolved around a simple country priest, Fr. Brown. It’s the sheer simplicity of the stories, the mysteries, and the characters that make these short stories so endearing. You want to walk alongside Father Brown as he’s walking up a country road in his cassock speaking about such simple, yet profound things (something I would love to do with characters). This series is the first of two regarding this sacerdotal sleuth. It is totally worth the read.

It also has the distinction of being the only book I read completely on an iPod touch/iPhone size screen.

Top Ten Books I Read in 2011, #7

Number 7 is …

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, narrated by Elijah Wood

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, narrated by Elijah Wood

One reader, I know at this point your asking yourself, this self-proclaimed bibliophile has not read this American classic? Can he even make that self-proclamation?

No I didn’t read Twain’s classic in high school, Harry Potter was summer reading (indeed a breakdown in the literature program). Yes, that also means I’m young enough to have been in high school when Potter was published, although to little credit the movies didn’t come till my seminary years.

Now that the awkwardness is out the way … I loved the book. I listened to as an audiobook narrated by the hobbit himself,  Elijah Wood. I was impressed with his skills. He did a great job narrating it. The southern accent was much better than his attempt at an English one in the aforementioned film.

As for the book itself, ’twas great. Twain’s use of colloquial allowed for a certain endearment to Huck and Jim.  The story dealt with the difficulties in the south without being self-righteous or offensive.

For anyone who is like me and uncultured in classic American fiction needs to pick this up in one of its forms.

Top Ten Books I Read in 2011, #8

Number 8 is …

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

This was my guilty pleasure for the year. I couldn’t help but be attracted by the premise of one of our most popular historical figures being a beast killing vampires. SGS tried his best to integrate the story into actual Lincoln history, which made it all the more interesting and compelling.

I listened to this on audiobook via Audible. It was a great read and let me forget about other difficult things going on.

I’m also looking forward to the movie produced by Tim Burton.

Arsene Lupin, the Gentleman Thief

Do not believe, my readers (all two of them), that life cannot be worth living, books worth reading, mysteries to solve. Ahh, mysteries to solve. There are always new mysteries to solve created by the brilliant minds of writers, my favorites being Doyle, Christie, and Chesterton, English all of them. Through a small amount of research on the vast wide internet, I attempted to widen my perspective on mystery writers in the early 20th Century (the jury is still out on more contemporary fare). It is in this search that I find a Frenchman, a Frenchman! A Frenchman can write mysteries. Of course, they can. Right? Mysteries deal with the sin of man, most notably theft and murder. Frenchman, indeed, are very familiar with personal sin. This Frenchman was Maurice LeBlanc. 

Being a true Frenchman, a man who despises things English, including its language, people and cultural descendants, or so I hear, he crafts his protagonist as an antagonist, indeed a French twist. His detective is a thief. His thief is a gentleman. A kindly, suave Frenchman of keen intellect with a vast number of connections named Arsene Lupin is the antagonizing protagonist of LeBlanc. Lupin is a curious character. He is a sort of intellectual vigilante, using his mind and panache to help those who are in need. Batman seems to be an intellectual descendant of Lupin. Lupin doesn’t have the physicality of Bruce Wayne, but certainly the detective prowess and brains. Anyway, I digress. 

The name of this work I read is The Blonde Lady, which is a series of short stories about Lupin’s exploits with the French police and Holmlock Shears chasing along the unifying clue of the mysterious Blonde Lady accomplice. I must digress again. Why Holmlock Shears and not Sherlock Holmes? This apparently is LeBlanc’s second work with Lupin and Sherlock Holmes was his adversary. Being that Doyle was still alive and being Doyle, he forbid LeBlanc by force of law from using his intellectual property, especially when Lupin outwits Holmes. 

LeBlanc does a great job creating meaningful and enjoyable characters. The plots move along quite well and the matching of wits between Lupin and Holmes/Shears makes for a great read. Watson/Wilson because the comedic relief of the stories constantly falling into mistreatment by his weak wits. 

It all brings up a philosophical and moral question inside of me. Can a thief be a gentleman? A gentleman is an image of moral uprightness and for all his panache moral uprightness is not how Lupin goes about his business. I think a character like him belies of the change happening in the culture due to the last 200 years of philosophical theory and cultural distancing from Christian ideals. A gentleman can be a thief is a contradiction in terms and know doubt LeBlanc plays on that, but despite his clever title Lupin is nothing more than a man who does not respect law, even if faulty in it execution. He takes the law into his own hands and cleverly enacts his own sense of justice. He is the arbiter. God, the divine judge, and from whom all laws derive, has no say on the matter. Lupin is a true humanist in this sense. “Man is the measure of all things.”

I listened to the audiobook from the great service of Libirvox. Support them. It is such a great resource for audio version for books no longer under copyright. Check them out.