A Messianic Vision in Avengers: Age of Ultron (Contains spoilers)

A Messianic Vision in Avengers: Age of Ultron

(This contains spoilers)

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From as far back as I can remember I have loved stories.  As a child I particularly enjoyed television and more specifically cartoons.  I remember years ago getting up remarkably early on a Saturday morning, dragging my duvet down to the living room with a bowl of cereal and settling down to watch the early morning cartoons.  The sun wasn’t up fully just yet and the room was half hidden from the light.  There was something really wonderful about being up and doing before anyone else at home and I could spend some time with my favourite characters.  I feel it’s a ritual children today are deprived of, due to the ease of now being able to see whatever you want, whenever you want.  I had to wait a full week for episodes of my favourite shows.  The reason why I got up so early was because that was the time when the children’s broadcast would screen the Marvel Action Hour.  As much as I enjoyed The Fantastic Four element of the show for me the really enjoyable moments were those devoted to Iron Man/Tony Stark.  I loved the idea of the superhero who wasn’t like other superheroes like Spiderman or the X-Men…he was just a regular guy.  These are memories I cherish.

As I grew older I still had this real love of fantastical stories and found them in filmmaking.  When I went to university to study film I was totally captivated by just sitting watching a film and almost dissecting it to see what was going on underneath.  It’s a process I still love taking part in, and while I certainly enjoy the process of filmmaking I can honestly say I prefer the theory behind it all.  The fact that I was becoming more serious about my faith at the time helped matters greatly as I was able to look at a film and find the presence of God therein.

For years we have been called to be stewards of the New Evangelization, that is, evangelization through the mass media.  I believe filmmaking presents us with a most wonderful opportunity to achieve this.

Recently my girlfriend and I decided to head to the cinema to see the latest blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron.  Although I’ve missed one or two of the more recent Marvel Universe films I felt suitably ready for the two and a half hours ahead of me.  There are a number of criticisms levelled at this film, including one that suggests the plot is overly complex and there are simply too many threads running through the film.  Criticism aside I found the film to be a marvellous character study.  It is packed to the gills with engaging action sequences, plenty of snappy dialogue and balanced nicely with back stories that allow the characters to be more than one dimensional “heroes”.

I should like to write about a number of the characters contained in the Age of Ultron film but for the time being shall focus on one of the secondary characters; the Vision.  If you are still reading you should know this piece will contain storyline spoilers…You have been warned.

The character of the Vision is tied inextricably with that of J.A.R.V.I.S (Tony Stark’s computer programme) and Ultron (Artificial intelligence android with a deity complex).  To me the three characters of Tony Stark, Vision and Ultron form an indissoluble bond and are a marvellous representation of the struggling nature of humanity as we either strive for the good, true and beautiful ways of God (exemplified by Vision) or do we give ourselves over to the ways of the world and see ourselves as all conquering and individualistic (typified by Ultron).

When the Vision first appears in the film he rises from his chamber almost like Christ coming out from the tomb on Easter Sunday and addresses the Avengers who ask is he Jarvis or Ultron.  The response is given: “I am not Ultron…I am not Jarvis…I am…”   Watching this I was immediately reminded of theophanies as witnessed in the Old Testament by prophets such as Moses when God appeared in the burning bush.  Moses asks him what is he to tell the Israelites when they ask who sent him and is told “God said to Moses, ‘I am he who is.’  And he said, ‘This is what you are to say to the Israelites, I am has sent me to you.’” (Ex 3:14).

The Avengers then ask the Vision whose side he is on since he bears a link with Ultron who is currently seeking to destroy humanity.  It is Captain America who asks this question directly and is told by the Vision, “I don’t think it’s that simple.  I am on the side of life; Ultron isn’t.”  Again I was transported back to the Old Testament; as Joshua is making his approach to Jericho and experienced his own theophany in which he asked “‘Are you on our side or on that of our enemies?’  He replied, ‘On neither side.  I have come now as the captain of the army of Yahweh.’” (Jos 5: 12-13)  The Vision proceeds to lift Thor’s hammer which immediately identifies him as godlike.  So instantly while watching the film I got the impression that it had taken a dramatic turn from being one which addresses not just morality and ethics, but now theology as well.  This is interesting given that the film’s director Joss Whedon identifies as an atheist, absurdist and a humanist.

Ultron is the antithesis to the Vision.  His pride and absolute despair for humanity fuel his desire to destroy all in his path.  He says in the film that “When the dust settles the only thing living in this world will be me.”  He proceeds to do battle with the Avengers in a church of all places.  As the film draws to a close we see a fascinating discussion take place between Vision and Ultron, in which Ultron tells the Vision why he cannot believe what has happened:

“Stark wanted a saviour; instead he got a slave.”  This was perhaps the greatest question posed to Jesus when he walked the earth preaching and teaching and giving us the Gospel:  how could a carpenter’s son, a man who was a descendant of slaves be a Saviour?  How could such a man be the son of God?  Ultimately Jesus taught us through his willingness to suffer and die that there is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends and this is why we should be surprised by the joy of the Gospel.

The Vision genuinely seems to care for Ultron, constantly trying to reassure him of why he is trying to save humanity:  “Humans are odd, they think that order and chaos are opposing forces, and are constantly trying to control that which cannot be.  But there is grace in their failings, I think you missed that.”  Ultron responds, “They’re doomed.”  And he replies, “Yes…but a thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts.  It’s a privilege to be among them.”

What wonderful wisdom as to how life should be lived!  There is grace in our failings; the moments we fall short of the glory of God are the moments where we have an opportunity to learn from our mistakes and do better the next time.  We are mortal; our lives on this planet are brief and we all have some work to carry out in building up the kingdom of God.  It’s a privilege:  we must ask ourselves what we are doing so that should Christ come walking by us; will we have made him feel welcome?  He was willing to suffer and die for us, what are we willing to do for him?

I really loved watching this film and loved how it caused me to ask questions of myself and how I am living out the Gospel VisionconceptartAvengersAgeofUltronPTMarvelStudiosmessage.  The end gave me great cause for hope as we see that after Ultron has been vanquished and the Vision remains, Tony Stark achieves some degree of peace and wellbeing and takes his place in the world.  The closing message is positive:  good has triumphed over evil for now for this man.  But there are many more people in the world and the work must go on.  It is only when we are willing to stand together as those heroes were that we can help each other find that which weighs us down and causes our pain, to vanquish the foe and be reconciled with God, with the world and with ourselves.  There are many threads running through the great story of this world and there will indeed be troubling times, but when faced with this I will echo the words of the Vision:

“Yes, but a thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts.  It’s a privilege to be among them.”

A New Day for Northern Ireland

Sunrise

Like many people all across Northern Ireland last night I sat up watching the returns come back in for the General Election polls, specifically with regard to the candidates for the eighteen constituencies in Northern Ireland. As an SDLP voter I was eager to see how the three sitting MPs Dr Alasdair McDonnell, Mark Durkan and Margaret Ritchie would fare. I was also eager to see how the party would do in areas where it needed to get new votes, and I was sitting in anticipation to see how fresh faces such as Justin McNulty would do. I have to admit that as the night went on and the three party members were returned to their seats and did so with dignity and humility I felt something stir in me which I can’t put words to. For the sake of argument let’s just call it hope. Combined with the coverage on BBC where the absolutely indomitable Claire Hanna took charge of the live discussion and SDLP Youth members were flat out representing the party on social media I was able to lay down my head (albeit at a rather late hour) safe in the knowledge that the party stalwarts were ready to go back to Westminster to represent the people of Northern Ireland and fresh faced candidates were still fighting the corner at a grassroots level.

Then when I got up this morning and turned on the television coverage I noticed a new shift on a more national level; the vision that there would be a hung parliament had not in fact come to pass and David Cameron’s Conservative Party would be returned to Downing Street with a strong majority. Since then former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Labour leader Ed Miliband and UKIP leader Nigel Farage have all quit. And all this signals a brand new challenge for the people of Northern Ireland and this includes specifically the Members of Parliament for Northern Ireland’s eighteen constituencies.

Now I am no political strategist. I’m a constituent and an idealist. But it seems to me that this election was absolutely steeped in uncertainty and what would happen from 8th May onwards was equally uncertain. But here we are and it is from here that we shall move forwards. The question is; do we want to move forwards together? The fact of the matter is that Tory governments of the past generally have not favoured Northern Ireland and this one may be no different. I could be wrong, but from my spectator’s view the treatment given to Northern Ireland from the British government is similar to how we would walk a pet dog who just happens to be on a retractable lead: they are cude and all, and we can let them run off a bit should we wish to but we can just as easily hit the button and remind them of the fact that we are the ones who are very much in control.

But the fact is we don’t actually have to give them that control. The Troubles of Northern Ireland’s past proved many things and one of which is that we are a resilient people. We are fighters and should never be counted out. Here we are in 2015 having emerged from a major conflict, battered and bruised and probably more than a little embittered but standing strong none the less. We have a working Executive in Stormont which is dysfunctional at times and also more than a little embittered but it too is working none the less. Yes our parties disagree more often than agree and yet here we are having managed to bring a stable police force to Northern Ireland, a wonderful health care system, we have a phenomenal tourist industry as well a blossoming entertainment industry with television and filmmaking on the rise. We are a hotspot for culture and the arts and have a vast diversity of nationalities coming to make their home right here in Northern Ireland. We should be proud of how far we have come.

Now an opportunity presents itself to take the next step forward. And I believe this next step is indeed a step into the unknown which is in itself a risk, but is filled with opportunity. It’s true that a number of Unionist candidates were elected on the basis of a unionist pact. I disagree with the idea of this pact but the candidates were elected fair and square. But what if we were to arrange a new pact, a Northern Ireland pact as it were? Imagine it if our eighteen Members of Parliament were all to go to Westminster and give a united show of strength that the people of Northern Ireland will not stand idly by and watch the Tory government pull apart a beloved health care system; that we will not sit in silence as the most vulnerable in our society are denied a voice, and we will not tolerate the abominable welfare cuts this government seems to take delight in imposing on us. The only power they have over us is the power we give to them. In the Northern Ireland Executive we have achieved much for the common good of all the people such as the recent bill to end the lamentable “industry” of human trafficking in our land. This was only achieved through working together. We can do the same thing in Westminster.

But for this to take place some things will need to change which will not be easily achieved. For instance a policy of abstention is unacceptable. The people of Northern Ireland deserve better than politicians who do not take up their seats which they have won fairly. I know this is done out of an ideological standpoint and I respect that, but let’s fight one fight at a time. Double jobbing is simply counterproductive. An elected member cannot serve both Westminster and Stormont effectively. It is unfair on the public and the politician and we can only fight one fight at a time. The culture of “whataboutery” has to come to an end. Every time I hear or see a debate on a particular issue I want the debate to stay focussed and not drift into who did what forty years ago. This too is a counterproductive road to take. Yes we need to sort out our past, but we can only fight one fight at a time.

Ultimately there is more in Northern Ireland which unites us than divides us. Our common humanity unites us for a start. A new day has come and if we can begin to look at each other as humans and recognise the innate worth and dignity of those we meet then we will discover than we can in fact work together and that the arguments that divide us are in fact worth putting on hold until we can build up a healthy relationship amongst ourselves. This is ultimately a fight worth fighting. It is not worth fighting because it will give a show of strength to a Tory government even though it will. It is not worth fighting because it will be healthier for our local economy even though it will. It is not worth fighting because it ultimately will help us address the issues of the past even though it will do this too. No, it is a fight worth fighting because the deepest desire of every human heart is simply to belong; to have a place to call home and to live out one’s life in purpose and peace. This is the fight I want to be a part of. And on this Victory in Europe anniversary day surely the lesson of World War II is that when a people are willing to set aside their differences and work for a common cause great things can be achieved which will be remembered for many years to come. One fight at a time and we will be a better Northern Ireland and ultimately a better people.  We can fight for our humanity.

Why I am Proud to Support the SDLP

I was always told on Election Day, “You don’t tell people who you voted for!”  When I was growing up I was always fairly aware of the world of politics that seemed to be going on around me.  I suppose it was mostly because I spent a great deal of my time listening to, and relistening to John McBlain’s Spittin’ Tapes.  To me, figures such as John Hume, Rev Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams were characters of comedy as opposed to political powerhouses.  But if nothing else it gave me grounding in whom some of the players in the Northern Ireland political scene were.  I knew that DUP stood for the Democratic Unionist Party, and that Sinn Fein was a republican party…though what these titles meant precisely was beyond me!  However where I was a bit confused was when it came to the SDLP.

To me the acronym of SDLP always stood for South Down Labour Party.  I was under the impression that the area of South Down was the birthplace and home for the SDLP!  I have since learned that this is not entirely the case but remain convinced that South Down has and will remain a home away from home for the Social Democratic and Labour Party.

My first experience of meeting the sitting Member of Parliament for my home constituency, Margaret Ritchie was actually only little over a year ago.  Over the last number of years I had become interested in the whole area of politics which was founded in my continued interest in the life of Robert F Kennedy (https://dominicoreilly25.wordpress.com/2014/06/04/the-legacy-of-bobby-kennedy-and-why-it-matters-now/).  I believe society can be made better, not just once in a lifetime, but constantly.  It occurred to me that the SDLP was the party that ran most close to the values I adhered to; not necessarily in perfect harmony but close enough!

I couldn’t bring myself to vote for Sinn Fein; they didn’t even take up their seats in Westminster and their track record on abortion was something I could not bring myself to put a cross beside.  The unionist parties may have run close to my views on life but I did not and still do not feel that they would work for the common good of those who identify as Irish and would want to see a united Ireland some day.  So could I join or let alone vote for the SDLP?  Well I don’t believe in being complacent when it comes to politics.  I contacted Margaret’s office and emailed a few questions through to her about the party.  I expected to get the answers emailed back to me and instead got a message saying that we should meet instead.  Immediately my interest was grabbed; here was a politician that was inviting me to actually meet up with them to discuss my interest and questions.

My initial visit to the office in Downpatrick was one in which I was greeted immensely warmly by Margaret’s staff.  The atmosphere was warm and congenial.  As I sat down to chat with my Member of Parliament she actually asked me a few questions about how my Dad was getting on as she had known him for a few years through his work for various charities etc.  We chatted for a good hour or two over a cup of tea (absolutely vital to any political discussion) and I walked away feeling that I had been listened to and the contributions I had to offer were worthwhile.  This was and remains immensely important to me as a voter.

We are living in a time when we could accomplish great social change and yet we have become so apathetic to the whole thing that we allow it to wash over us.  Our young people do not care for politics now.  They do not see politics as being something which affects them in any way whenever really politics affects them in every way.  We need our politicians to stand up and prove to us that we can count on them, that they will speak truth to power.  I believe in the SDLP, and I am in awe of the great work the party has done over the years.  Where is the zeal for being a force for great change?  We need to be willing to stand up, stand firm and be counted.  We need to dissent from the status quo in a healthy and reasoned way.

Robert_F_Kennedy_cropAs my hero Robert F Kennedy once said:

‘The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic towards common problems and their fellow man alike, timid and fearful in the face of new ideas and bold projects. Rather it will belong to those who can blend passion, reason and courage in a personal commitment to the ideals and great enterprises of (American) society. It will belong to those who see that wisdom can only emerge from the clash of contending views, the passionate expression of deep and hostile beliefs. Plato said: “A life without criticism is not worth living.”’       

I’m proud to tell people that I vote for the SDLP.  I know there will be many from my part of the community that will disagree with me, and that is where healthy discussion comes in, because exercising your democratic right which others have fought and died for does not extend to simply the polling booth on voting day.  We need to be having the conversations with each other on a local level and bringing these issues to our politicians.  That is what the SDLP has done for me; to know that your voice is counted and more importantly that it is worthwhile is vital to all of us.  Is the party perfect?  Absolutely not and never will be.  I could criticise and say I would love to see a great deal more passion etc from our politicians, but frankly all I’d be saying is I want to see more Robert F Kennedy in 1968 style politicians.

This year the General Election will take place the day after my birthday and so when I step into the polling station it will be with a sense of looking ahead to the future.  What sort of society do I want to have played a role in shaping for those who come after me?  Do I want to see a lasting peace process where the rights of all are respected and upheld from the moment of conception to the point of natural death?  Yes.  Do I want to see a land where the identity of the Irish people is respected and upheld through culture, the arts and leisure?  Yes.  Do I want to see an Ireland where we cherish those not just in the cities but in the rural communities?  Yes.  Do I want to see my politicians really doing their bit to end poverty and human trafficking?  Yes.  Working to protect the environment?  Yes.  Ensuring those in need have adequate housing?  Yes!  Justice for those who rightly cry out for it?  Yes!  The best education for the children who will grow up in this society and a good, true and beautiful society for those who will grow old in it?  Yes absolutely.  These are not just silly pipe dreams, but real attainable goals.

So on the 7th May I will proudly walk into the polling station, submit my necessary documents and then exercise my democratic right as a free Irish man by putting an X beside the name of Margaret Ritchie.  In doing so I believe I will have played my part in returning the best voice for all of South Down to Westminster.  Margaret has served the people of South Down for many years, working in the background with the late great Eddie McGrady and now as our Member of Parliament, and for these reasons I am immensely grateful to her and am proud to support her and proud to support the SDLP.

Margaret

What Do I Want the Future to Be?

Bone clocksI’ve been thinking about the future a lot recently.  I don’t know if it’s a case of the literature I’ve been reading, the fact that another General Election is fast approaching or if it’s simply a case that we have just celebrated the high point of the Christian calendar in Easter Sunday.  Whatever the case the future is something which is playing on my mind quite a bit and what this future will look like.

In my previous post I began with a quote from the Jim Carrey film The Cable Guy to illustrate how technology has evolved in the recent past and how it almost exactly mirrors the vision dreamed up by someone in 1996.  But isn’t it interesting to look at how our idea of what the future will look like has shifted considerably over the years, even in the last few years alone?

Look back to the days of the early to mid twentieth century where in Hollywood cinema this vision existed of the world of the future in which society would have continued to evolve, we’d be flying hover cars on the moon or something to that effect and if any aliens showed up humanity would utterly annihilate them.  Meanwhile in Europe an altogether different view was coming to the fore with writers such as George Orwell (1984), Pierre Boulle (The Planet of the Apes) and Franz Kafka (The Trial) were presenting works which showed the future as being not some beautiful harmonious utopia but rather a place in which you either had to conform to the regime or face the consequences of your actions.  The works were shocking then, and frankly still are.  There’s a great paradox here of looking to the past for a vision of the future which we may have already passed by and seeing how the two stack up together.  Did the future live up to the expectations of the past?  Did we learn from the mistakes committed by heinous warmongers of the past?

Well if we look at the idea of war for just a moment, I don’t believe we’ve learned too much.  Or if we have it’s that if we want to wipe out an entire group of people we no longer need an army, but rather an innocent youngster flying a drone thousands of miles away from the target.  A far cry from the Art of War, but no less cost effective.  It’s shocking to believe that even in war times there is a profit to be had.  Back in the early thirties filmmaker Charlie Chaplin was crafting some of the finest pieces of cinema to ever grace the silver screen.  However in 1940 he created the now infamous The Great Dictator.  This was to be Chaplin’s first audibly speaking role in his films and such an impact he made.  The closing scene of the film show the Jewish barber character who has impersonated the dictator Adenoid Hynkel making a speech in which he cries out for universal brotherhood and peace.  It is a deeply impassioned scene and one I return to often when I feel in need of a bit of inspiration.  Was this achieved?  Our world has experienced almost constant states of war in the years since then, with another constant fear under the surface about where world leaders will go next in their quest to be the new superpower.  A frightening prospect brought to life in the Stanley Kubrick classic Doctor Strangelove (Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb).

The more I look at mass media and particularly to cinema I see less and less productions which give a view of the future as being something which shall be peaceful, utopian and advanced.  But rather a frankly frightening world where we will have reverted back to a not-quite-primeval state, but not a kick in the ass off it either.  Technology can only advance so far, and the world’s resources can only last for a limited time.  We are burning a hole in the ozone, we are melting the world’s polar ice caps.  We are killing species after species and don’t seem to care that insects that pollinate (such as bees) are dying at an alarming rate.  As long as we keep feeding the machine of consumerism, keep calm and carry on then apparently everything will be fine.

If we look at something like V for Vendetta is it not just possible that the world we see could actually be rather close to the one we are living through at present?  Look to the works of David Mitchell (not the comedian!) and see his vision of the future which is one we seem to be hurtling towards at a break neck speed.

So what’s the answer?

There is a million dollar question if ever there was one.  I don’t know what the answer is frankly.  Because when I think of the future and frankly see it as being more akin to the one presented by authors such as David Mitchell it gives me great cause for concern.  For instance in the year 2037 I shall be 50 years of age.  Even typing those numbers 2037 seems a bit strange and even impossible.  What way will our society have advanced by that stage?  Will our technology continue to hurtle forward into the absolute unknown and finally crash as all things that hurtle at such speeds inevitably do so?  Will some madman (or woman) finally have pushed The Button and ended us all?  I haven’t a clue.

So what do I do to cope with these fears?  I carry out small acts of kindness.  I try and make someone’s day a bit brighter and a bit kinder.  I try my best to live up to the challenge set out by Bobby Kennedy in 1968 when he echoed the words of the ancient Greeks: To tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.  And I believe that’s what we’ve all got to do.  And that may be all we can do.  I leave it to the brighter minds to determine how best to deal with capitalism and the seemingly unimportant fact that the top 10 richest people in the world have more wealth than the poorest 5 billion combined.

There is peace on earth.  It mightn’t be of a universal kind imagined by Charlie Chaplin but as long as there are good, true and beautiful people who are willing to fight for the cause that is worth fighting then I think we’ll be doing alright.  As long as children are given the chance to be children and not have their innocence stolen away then I think they will turn out alright.  And as long as we let the message go forward that every person who exists is loved, is willed and is needed then the world should be just fine.  But we absolutely must do our bit.  It’ll do no good waiting for someone else to take up the reins.

Tacitus said of Rome: “They made a desert and they called it peace.”  When I look back at the age of 50 or whatever I don’t want to see barren lands, I don’t want to see poverty or war.  And frankly I will fight with every fibre of my being to ensure this does not happen.  Where I am now,  I am.  Where we are, we are.  Where we are headed is yet unknown.  It could turn out to be a desert called peace, but likewise it could be something rather beautiful.  So I shall hold on to hope, and I hope you do the same.

AMDG

Why We Cannot be Anonymous Catholics – The Catholic and Social Media

anonymous_mask

Why We Cannot Be Anonymous Catholics.

“The future is now! Soon every American home will integrate their television, phone and computer. You’ll be able to visit the Louvre on one channel, or watch female wrestling on another. You can do your shopping at home, or play Mortal Kombat with a friend from Vietnam. There’s no end to the possibilities!”  These infamous movie lines were spoken way back in the 1996 dark comedy The Cable Guy.  They are lines I always think back on and wonder did the screenwriter have any idea just how quickly it would all come to pass?  In fact we have far surpassed that which was to be achieved.  The speed in which technology is advancing is astounding and one of the biggest products of this advancing is that of social media.  The idea behind social media is relatively simple:  we are all connected.  But just how connected are we?  Just how much can we be connected via Facebook or Twitter?  How effective can we be online and does our faith have any relevance in the virtual world?

Somebody once gave me sound advice regarding faith and the virtual world: don’t engage in debates with somebody online.  Admittedly there was a time not that long ago when I was quite the keyboard warrior who would engage with just about every debate I saw going online.  What was lacking?  I can only surmise that it was the human experience.

If we engage in contentious dialogue with somebody in person, even if it is a heated discussion we do not lose the human experience because we are truly present to that person.  We can make eye contact with them, we can tell if they are lying to us and they can do likewise.  And perhaps most importantly, we can or at least should be able to know when to stop, when we have gone too far.  If we have respect for the person we are debating with we will care enough for them to know that there are things which quite frankly we should not say.  Word spoken aloud cannot be rescinded.  It is here that I recall most particularly the words of Saint Paul in his second letter to Timothy:

“Turn away from the passions of youth, concentrate on uprightness, faith, love and peace, in union with all those who call on the Lord with a pure heart.  Avoid these foolish and undisciplined speculations, understanding that they only give rise to quarrels; and a servant of the Lord must not engage in quarrels, but must be kind to everyone, a good teacher, and patient.  He must be gentle when he corrects people who oppose him, in the hope that God may give them a change of mind so that they recognise the truth and come to their senses, escaping the trap of the devil who made them his captives and subjected them to his will.” (2 Timothy 2:22 – 26)

Saint Paul certainly cannot be accused of being soft with his words; he who openly persecuted Christians and famously converted.  Truly there is no such thing as a quiet convert.  But we also see this need for tolerance in the example given to us by Jesus himself while being questioned by Pontius Pilate:

“Jesus replied, ‘Mine is not a kingdom of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my men would have fought to prevent my being surrendered to the Jews. As it is, my kingdom does not belong here.’” (John 18:36)

He endures his questioning without complaint or resistance and does so with compassion.  This is how we must engage with others and this is not the example I see when I see religious debate online.  Social media now allows us to engage with each other online in a very immediate way.

But there are three words that send shivers up my spine when I see them online:  Posted by Anonymous.  Anonymous discussion is the strangest thing and incredibly dangerous.  If online discussion is lacking in the human experience then it at the very least has a name attached to it.  There is at least some knowledge of who we are engaging with.  This is not the case with Anonymous discussion.  We could be saying anything to absolutely anyone and absolutely none of us are called to be Anonymous.  As the prophet Isaiah spoke:

“And now, thus says Yahweh, he who created you, Jacob, who formed you, Israel: Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name, you are mine.” (Is 43:1)

If God has called us by name why then would we deny it?  Particularly those who are called to serve Him in priestly ministry?  So often now I read on one incredibly questionable blog in particular comments made by those who post anonymously but use a signature “PP D+C”.  These posters end up fighting with each other.  And I ask myself: is this really a priest of my diocese and if so why are they not using their name?  Why discuss such matters as their own Bishop or their own priestly celibacy in such an open but equally secretive way?  It seems to fly in the face of what priesthood actually involves.  If this is not a priest of the diocese then it is someone who has a rather sinister agenda.  For these reasons I will not engage in discussion with such Anonymous posters.  If we care so deeply about a particular issue then we should not be afraid of speaking our minds openly, honestly and with compassion for those we engage with.

None of us are Anonymous to God; whether we be lay, religious or Bishop.  Therefore if we are going to engage in the whole myriad of debates about matters such as abortion, the sale of church lands or criticism of diocesan Bishops etc then we need to ask ourselves three questions;

1: Whose side am I on?

2: Am I willing to be open, honest and compassionate about this?

3:  Am I willing to entertain the possibility that I could be wrong?

These are questions which our priests perhaps need to be most honest in examining as they have a particular responsibility for the faithful and to their Bishop and we the lay faithful need to know just who is a priest and who is not.  And their Bishop needs to know what priests are posting online.  We need to know each other by name.  The Church is a serious business and if we are to truly be an effective church, a caring Church and a Christ-centred Church then we need to be willing to stand up and be counted.  And if it takes courage to be open about who we are then likewise those who cover their faces with scarves and slander anonymously is an act of sheer cowardice.  Jesus calls each of us to be fully in the world, just as He was.  Just like Jesus we may have to suffer for this.  But as He tells us in Saint John’s Gospel in his great priestly prayer:

“Listen; the time will come – indeed it has come already – when you are going to be scattered, each going his own way and leaving me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.  I have told you all this so that you may find peace in me. In the world you will have hardship, but be brave: I have already conquered the world.” (John 16:32 – 33)

AMDG

The Legacy of Bobby Kennedy and Why It Matters Now

Robert_F_Kennedy_cropToday marks the forty sixth anniversary of the shooting of Robert F Kennedy, just a few moments after he had won the California primaries for nomination as Democratic candidate for the Presidency of the United States.  Whether Kennedy would have received the nomination or even the Presidency is unknown and perhaps that is for the best.  However I get asked a lot about why Robert Kennedy means so much to me so I have decided to pen a few thoughts!

Some eight years ago as I began university a friend suggested we hit the cinema.  What else would you expect of film students after all? Someone suggested going to see a film that was just released called Bobby and the matter was settled.  At the time I knew next to nothing of the late Robert F Kennedy save that he was the younger brother of President John F Kennedy.  Throughout the film I was enthralled by the apparent effect Bobby had on the lives of the American people.  As the film closed I was reduced to tears as I listened to the words of his Mindless Menace of Violence speech and to this day the film still has that effect on me.  Since then I have attempted to learn as much about Bobby as possible and see how his legacy endures even now.

What I have learned is that the man Bobby offers just as much forty six years since he was assassinated as he did while alive and there is much we here in Ireland can learn from him.

Consider the night Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated.  This took place only a few months before RFK’s own assassination.  All over America news filtered through that this great voice of peace had been silenced and his apparent prophecy the previous afternoon that he had been to the mountaintop and seen the promised land of peace and equality for his people, but that he may not necessarily get there with them had indeed come to pass.  As it did so riots broke out all through the land.  Meanwhile Bobby landed in Indianapolis to attend a political rally in a black neighborhood.  The authorities urged him to cancel it.  The situation was precarious.  How would such a crowd react to a white man breaking the news to them?  Bobby bravely took to the microphone and delivered an unprepared speech, filled with total understanding for how the people felt.  He said:

“In this difficult day…it is perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in…we can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization – black people against black, white against white, filled with hatred for one another.  Or we can make an effort as Martin Luther King did to understand and to comprehend, and to replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love.”

Strong words and perhaps words that we may in this day and this place wish to take to heart.  In all the bloodstained years of our land, what have we actually learned?  Does the polarization of our side against theirs not still linger on?  The number of “peace walls” continues to grow and so does our separation.  Where is our bravery to take a chance and have a bit of faith in those around us?

Consider this, the night of the assassination there were riots in over one hundred and ten cities across America.  In Indianapolis the people did as Bobby urged them.  They returned home, they prayed for King, and they prayed for their country’s compassion and understanding.

The day after King’s death, Bobby gave his Mindless Menace of Violence speech which has a haunting presence today:

“What has violence ever accomplished?  What has it ever created?  No martyr’s cause has ever been stilled by an assassin’s bullet…no wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders, and an uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of reason…Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land.  Of course we cannot vanquish it with a program, nor with a resolution.  But we can perhaps remember that those who live with us are our brothers, that they seek as do we, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfilment they can.”

I ask: what did years of violence in our land accomplish?  What did the riots of recent times accomplish?  What did marching past a Catholic church accomplish?  I look at my country and I do indeed see great signs of hope, but I also see great fear.  A subtle fear which does not address the issue that there is still great violence, there is still civil disorder and this same “spirit” remains.  Have we actually become a nation which has adopted the old adage “Don’t mention the war” with a new addendum “or take accountability for your role in it?”

As Tacitus said of Rome, “They made a desert, and called it Peace”.  Only when we have reduced this land to total rubble and eliminate all life from it can there be a total peace.  What is wrong with an imperfect peace?  With a human peace?

Bobby played his own role in the ongoing Peace Process of Northern Ireland.  His brother and daughter, Edward and Kerry played active roles in the process, as did many American politicians influenced by his life.  And to sum up how Bobby impacted and continues to impact my own life and thinking is impossible in these few short words, but his words which probably impact me the greatest are the following:

“Every time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance…”

I hope that I can be a ripple of hope.  I pray that our people and those in positions of governance can be ripples of hope in ways however small and seemingly insignificant.  That we would openly try not to bind up the wounds of the past but to heal them.  To tear down the walls of oppression and segregation and to act to improve the lot of those around us; the poor, the marginalised, the disenfranchised, the dissenters and even the extremists.

Extremism is all around us and this is a real cause for concern.  There are some who call George Galloway MP “radical”, but I can’t help but think we are in need of something radical right now.  William Wilberforce was called radical.  Martin Luther King was considered dangerous.  Dorothy Day was thought of as a mere troublemaker and Robert F Kennedy himself was referred to as ruthless.

Kennedy would later say “We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community, men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear – only a common desire to retreat from each other – only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force. For all this there are no final answers.”

The time has come to be passionate radical advocates.  What should we advocate?  That all are created equal and that we should afford every person the same level of dignity, care and love we desire.  All of us.

In short, that we would as Bobby pleaded so often his people try:

“To tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.”

Rest in Peace Robert Kennedy (1925 – 1968)

Like Old Friends Do!

So it’s been some time since I last dipped my toe into this wonderful world of blogging but thought to myself recently after meeting up with some friends to put something together regarding friendship; both friendship with others and the specifically the friendship offered to us by Jesus.

It says it in John’s Gospel “you did not choose me, no I chose you” (Jn 15:15).  Well then we are already well past our first step.  Jesus has already chosen us!  So, the question then, is what is our first step?

The first step towards friendship must surely be to think like a friend.  Let me ask you to consider for a moment,what are the characteristics of friendship?  Not what makes a friend, but what do you need for friendship?

You’ve maybe thought or indeed written down some of the things we love about friendship.  And when you begin to have friendship in mind, you begin to have friendship in life.  When you begin to show an interest in other people’s needs, and feelings, you begin to build a friendship with them.  It all sounds so simple and silly, but it can be a lot more difficult than we think.  If you read any of the Gospels and read the stories of Jesus, you will see how people came to Him…it always began with a personal invitation from Him.  They saw that he was interested in them, desired their friendship and they came to Him.  You know the way the planets in our solar system all revolve around the sun?  Sometimes we can think we are the sun and think that everything has to be centred on us.  Now, it’s only natural to want to be noticed, to be heard, to be loved.  But when our only concern is for ourselves, naturally we forget about others.  So we begin by thinking like a friend.

Next comes actually behaving like a friend.  Let me ask, did Jesus behave like a friend?  To total strangers?  Of course he did.  There are two stories here which show Jesus acting like a friend.  The first is in Mark’s Gospel, where he encounters a leper (Mk 1:40 -45), and the leper approaches Jesus and says to him “Sir, if you want to, you can cure me”.  And Jesus responds “Of course I want to…” its almost as though He were saying to the leper “My friend, why would I not want to cure you?”  He cures him and tells the man “mind you say nothing to anyone”.  Why does Jesus said this?  Was it because he didn’t want the Pharisees to know about the work he was doing? Or was it because knowing the man was well was enough for him?  You see, we must behave like friends.  Our actions must be for the good of those around us.  Next, we must feel like a friend.  What do I mean by that?  Well, what we have to do is to be able to express our own friendship to others.

For me this is illustrated most beautifully in John’s Gospel where we read:

John 1:35-42

On the following day as John stood there again with two of his disciples, Jesus passed, and John stared hard at him and said, ‘Look, there is the lamb of God.’ Hearing this, the two disciples followed Jesus. Jesus turned round, saw them following and said, ‘What do you want?’ They answered, ‘Rabbi,’ – which means Teacher – ’where do you live?’ ‘Come and see’ he replied; so they went and saw where he lived, and stayed with him the rest of that day. It was about the tenth hour. One of these two who became followers of Jesus after hearing what John had said was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. Early next morning, Andrew met his brother and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ – which means the Christ – and he took Simon to Jesus. Jesus looked hard at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John; you are to be called Cephas’ – meaning Rock.

However there is another way of illustrating this Christian friendship:

The Message:

Jesus the Friend and the Lord of the Rings:

Is friendship easy?  Is it easy to be friends with someone?  I love movies.  I love taking a movie, and picking it apart and seeing all the different things that are going on with it.  There’s a really great movie about friendship…and it’s the Lord of the Rings trilogy, specifically The Return of the King.  Throughout the trilogy we see the fellowship of the ring accompany Frodo on his way to Mordor to destroy the Ring.  Along the way they get separated, but even in their separation their priority is to help Frodo in whatever way they can. But who is the true symbol of enduring friendship in this series of films?  For me it is Sam.  Samwise the Brave as he is called.  Now towards the end of Return of the King, Frodo and Sam have made it into Mordor and they have braved danger countless times.  Frodo sees his goal, and collapses under the weight of the Ring.  Sam reminds Frodo about the great things in their home, such as the taste of strawberries, and the orchard being in blossom, but Frodo cannot remember any of these things.  All he knows now is the Ring, and the weight of it.  How does Sam respond? “Then let us be rid of it! I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you!” and then we cut to Aragorn, Gandalf and the battle against the armies of Sauron.  Aragorn shouts the war cry followed by the others “For Frodo!”…these scenes show friendship in two very crucial ways.  First off there’s Sam who has followed Frodo through the entire saga, and finally at the end, Frodo cannot go on, it’s too much for him, and Sam carries him because he knows how important the destruction of the Ring is, not just for Middle Earth but for his friend.  Imagine the cost of destroying the Ring and losing your best friend!  Secondly, we see Aragorn and the armies of Middle Earth charging on Mordor, now do they acclaim “For Middle Earth!”? Do they acclaim “For the destruction of the Ring!”? No…it’s for Frodo.  Frodo has fought the battle up to now, he has carried the Ring (which was effectively the most difficult thing to do) and now he needs his friends to help.  Was it easy to be a friend of Frodo?  Like would it be easy to be friends with someone who may need you to die in battle for them at any given moment?  Course not!  But that’s the way it is with real friendship.  It will not be easy; in fact it will be incredibly difficult at times.  But we stand there with each other, together.  In the end that’s all we have…each other.  So treat your friends with loyalty.  What we give to others is brought back to us in return.  Does Sam carrying Jesus remind you of anyone?  What about Simon of Cyrene?  Simon couldn’t carry the cross for Jesus, but he could support him as he carried it to Golgotha…we need to support our friends in the good times, but also in the tough times.

Reflecting on the Weekend

This time four years ago, I was living and studying in Belfast.  Some mates and I were planning a friend’s surprise birthday party, a house party.  We were very lucky in that we had a great wee community built up together, everyone ran about together, incredibly lucky, so we always knew it would be a good night, plus you never actually knew who was going to turn up, could always be sure of a surprise.  Anyway, I had a dream a few days before the party that I won the lottery.  In the dream, I could see myself so clearly sitting there at the party, the people around me, with the television on.  As I looked down at my ticket I could see the numbers so clearly and saw them come up on the screen.  As the numbers were finished being called out, we all cheered, they congratulated me, and we laughed so much.  I woke up.  However, I don’t know about you, but when I have a really good dream I find it difficult to remember it when I get up again the next day.  But this time when I woke up, I could remember every bit of the dream…including the numbers.  I could even remember what I was wearing.  So as soon as I got up I went down the street and got my lottery ticket…the day of the party rolled around.  We gathered and I wore exactly what I had been wearing in the dream.  It was so weird, so surreal.  And the lottery program came on.  We were all laughing about it, and having the craic, and the first number comes out…and I had it.  Well as you can imagine I was shaken…genuinely believed, it was going to turn out that I had it all.  As it happened that was the only number I got!  So as the numbers ended I ripped up the ticket, and fell back laughing my head off, with all my mates.  They cheered, congratulated me, and we fell about laughing.  The result was the same, but the steps to get there had changed in the shift from dream to reality.  I didn’t have millions of pounds, still don’t.  But I had that moment, and still do.  I cherish it.

What is this to do with anything? Well what I’m trying to get at is, don’t give up on your dreams.  Dream big!  Don’t be like the cynics who think it’s silly to have dreams, to have aspirations, to have desires and wants.  Back in 1940, nothing was certain…people were so afraid and confused about what way things would end up.  A people were persecuted because they did not fit with a madman’s view of a perfect world and so he tried to wipe them out.  At this time many people were signing up the join the “war effort”.  There was a filmmaker at the time called Charlie Chaplin who made silent pictures.  He decided that it was time the world heard his voice, that he had something to say about War and it would be his contribution.  The speech became quite famous as did the film and about 2 years ago, a man took the speech and added new film footage to it.  Millions of people have watched this, have a look…there is so much in that speech that makes it just as relevant today as it was over 70 years ago! 

There’s this view that today’s society is a bad one…that it’s an awful time to be alive, it’s a time of uncertainty once again, economic collapse and all that…but believe it or not…there is Peace on Earth.  Maybe not collectively, maybe not as much in all parts of the world, but as long as there are people who are willing to stand up and say, I believe in goodness.  I believe in the goodness and humanity of every human person.  Look, every single human was created in the image and likeness of God.  Even Adolf Hitler…even Saddam Hussein…even Joseph Stalin.  We think of these men, and what do you think of?  Evil, badness, killing, wrongdoing, etc.  (Notice how it’s all men?)  But these men all started out as cute babies…they were children who played games…they were young people like yourselves…they had dreams, but somewhere along the line, they went down a different path.  Some people say, one of the things that spurred Hitler on was because someone laughed at his artwork…They began doing things that were not right.  They hurt, and killed many people…so many people…but let’s look at this, Judas had his role to play in salvation…God had a dream for these men, none of us know what that dream was, but they decided to follow their own way, not God’s. 

The last weekend past I attended a retreat of Youth 2000 in Newbridge County Kildare, and it was there on Saturday I first heard about the great tragedy that occured in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday.  My prayers instantly turned towards all who had been affected by this great tragedy.

Automatically the questions began to be raised about what factors played a role in this shooting.  Many of which we will never know the truth of.  There is now much discussion on gun sales, mental health and much much more.  The gunman Adam Lanza is now making headlines for all the reasons none of us would ever want to. He has joined the ranks of many others who actions have hurt and killed countless people.

 

So what is our response?  How do we react to this? I personally like to remember the words of Bobby Kennedy the night Dr Martin Luther King was gunned down.  Kennedy who would later be assassinated himself had the following to say:

“We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization — black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion, and love.”

Do we need restriction of gun sales? Personally I believe so. Why would we as civilians need to use these weapons? An intruder breaks into our home and we have a gun to hand, do we kill them?  Do we have this power to make such a decision of who lives and dies?

The answer for me, is a shift in attitude in all societies. We need to move beyond one which says you strike me, and I will strike back harder.  Every human being is (I believe) made in the image and likeness of God. We are each of us brothers and sisters. You do not hurt your brother.  You do not hurt your sister. 

Only when we recognize the inherent dignity of every human person will we discover the truth of what Jesus spoke when he said “the kingdom of God is among you!” in Luke’s Gospel.  Can you imagine the look on the apostles faces?  The kingdom of God is among you…he doesn’t say the kingdom is in you yet, it isn’t here, or there, but rather, among you.  What I think he is saying is that the kingdom of God is found when you look for it.  Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it?  Christ loves us with this unconditional love, everything is offered freely, so there are no limitations, simply: if you work for the Kingdom of God then you make the dream of the kingdom a reality. 

Christ never stops loving us.  Even young Adam Lanza who murdered his own mother, twenty beautiful young children, and six teachers of the school. God never stopped loving him.  This is a monumentally hard truth to accept but as a Christian I believe it to be so. But Lanza made his own decision and murdered 27 people. The families are now the ones left behind to pick up the pieces and so I pray for them, that God has welcomed them each into his loving embrace for all eternity, and I also pray for Lanza’s soul. 

Dream big. Love big.  Teach your children to dream.  Teach them love.  Teach them that they are loved beyond measure.  Teach them that the ways of violence are not the way forward in our world.  Do this, and you will be working to make the dream of God’s kingdom a reality.  Nothing will be lost in translation…you may take a few twists and turns along the way, but the answer will be found in the attempt.

To be a Human is to be a Hero

Stories are important, its one of the things I love about our “Irish-ness”, is that we are so imbued with this great sense of story that when we hear a good story it really rings true to us and stirs something in our hearts, and awakens something in us that we had never even considered before and we are changed.  This sense of storytelling forms part of the Irish identity and always has done and please God always will do, so there will be any number of stories in these blogs.

There was once upon a time a man who lived in a single room in Galway town.  One night the man had a dream about a box of treasure hidden in the floors of a room in a building in DublinCity.  The man gathered his belongings together and made the long journey to the capital.  He asked around about the building from his dream and some locals kindly directed him to the building he described.  The room was exactly as he had dreamt.  He searched and searched but found no treasure there.  He sank to his knees disheartened.  The owner of the building asked him why he was so depressed.  The man told him of his dream.  The building owner laughed and replied “Sure pay no attention to dreams! Sure the other night I dreamt of a box of treasure hidden in the walls of a single room in Galway!”  Amazed the man collected his things and returned to his home.  He searched and found a box of treasure hidden in his walls to keep him satisfied for the rest of his life.  He was astounded.  He had had the treasure all along, but had to go on a long journey before he could find it.  Believe it or not, but each of us is on such a journey, searching for treasure.  The real question though, it’s not how close am I to finding my treasure but what is the treasure?  To find our treasure we also have to go on a long journey, not the sort of journey where you physically have to pick yourself up and go, necessarily, but it’s something we’re going to have to dig very deep to find.  That’s what these few days are all about.  It’s about picking up a spade and digging to find where is this treasure exactly?  But to find the treasure we must find out more about this treasure…about Jesus.  Hopefully in these blogs this will come out.

Image

I love cinema.  For me, movies are our generation’s way of storytelling.  For thousands of years we have been attracted by a good story.  And now, movies are the new way of telling a story.  Would you agree?  Look at the 5 most successful movies in 2011:

  1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 – brought in $1.2billion alone, and the series collectively has brought in $7.6billion…
  2. Transformers: Dark of the Moon – $1.07 billion
  3. Pirates of the Caribbean On Stranger Tides – $1.02 billion
  4. Kung Fu Panda 2- $616million
  5. Thor – $448 million

Now over the last decade or so, we see films like the Spiderman series, X-Men, Lord of the Rings trilogy, Harry Potter series, Pirates of the Caribbean, Narnia and the incredible resurgence of Batman…why is this?  Back in the 1930’s the two types of films being churned out by Hollywood were gangster films, and monster movies.  The 1940’s were all about War films.  The late 60’s and 70’s were all about glam and rock and roll.  What could you say about the current era of cinema?  What is it about? Well, I think…we are living in an age of superheroes.  I think in our current time, we have seen technology advance so quickly and we can do almost anything!  But look at this, in the 20th century and into the 21st we witnessed two world wars, a number of other wars, the 9/11 attacks which shook the world, an economic collapse…all of this…and yet somehow humanity prevails and the things that make us truly human have prevailed.  Our sense of love, compassion, forgiveness and many more remain.

            When I first saw the film The Human Experience (watch the trailer here at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctyX5ItSQEI) it just blew me away.  Made me consider my life in a way I had not done before.  The film wants to explore what it actually means to be a human, right?  And for me, what I think is that to be a human is to be a hero.  What does it mean to be a hero?  Is it something as simple as saving a life?  That would be pretty heroic…but the problem with heroism is that it changes, with every culture, with every time.

            Our generation is particularly blessed.  We live in an age where we do not need to worry about the threat of war the way our parents or grandparents had to.  We live in an incredibly technological age where at the touch of a button we can connect with people all over the world.  What constitutes heroism for you?  In today’s society, where generally speaking, we have peace, what makes someone’s actions heroic?  Let me tell you about one of my heroes.  Someone who is in my mind, a true hero.  This is a man called William Wilberforce.  Wilberforce was a politician in the 18th/19th century who campaigned for the abolition of the slave trade.  Now at the time slavery was considered as an acceptable thing.  William Wilberforce was the trailblazer who stood up and said no, this is not right.  Men do not belong to each other as property, we belong to God!  So thanks to his example, and those who followed him, the slave trade is no more.  This story is greatly associated with the hymn Amazing Grace, the words of which were composed by John Newton a former slave ship owner who repented and became a radical preacher.  

Other people’s lives are made better, because of his example, because he continues to inspire! Right to this very day!  

We still talk about William Wilberforce.  When the issue of human trafficking is debated Wilberforce’s name usually crops up. Movies are even today being made about him, Amazing Grace (2006) is one I cannot recommend more highly, and we even remember him when we sing a specific song.  The point is these heroes in our lives are not necessarily people you have heard of.

So to be heroic doesn’t necessarily mean to be well known…take a moment now and watch the last scene from Disney’s Hercules, where Hercules speaks to Meg “People always do crazy things when they’re in love” right up to the end of the film.  It should last approximately three minutes. 

“A true hero is not measured by the size of his strength but by the strength of his heart.  Now at last, my son, you can come home”…and what does Hercules do?  Does he accept his role with the gods on Olympus?  No, he stays with Meg and says “I finally know where I belong”.  He was home all along…to be a true hero is to follow your heart’s desire.  To follow your dreams.  It doesn’t mean you will necessarily get what you want, but as long as you are in the attempt then you are a Hero!  Now Jesus doesn’t say that this is going to be an easy thing to do…if it’s worth following then of course there will be difficulties.  Was there ever a time when you felt like a hero?  You see I think the times when we feel like heroes are those moments when we follow that instinct that what we are doing is the right thing.  Now the result isn’t necessarily going to be what happened with Hercules in that you will have your image placed in the stars, look at Jesus’ resurrection as told in John’s Gospel,

 

John 20:1-9

“It was very early on the first day of the week and still dark, when Mary of Magdala came to the tomb. She saw that the stone had been moved away from the tomb and came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved. ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb’ she said ‘and we don’t know where they have put him.’

So Peter set out with the other disciple to go to the tomb. They ran together, but the other disciple, running faster than Peter, reached the tomb first; he bent down and saw the linen cloths lying on the ground, but did not go in. Simon Peter who was following now came up, went right into the tomb, saw the linen cloths on the ground, and also the cloth that had been over his head; this was not with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in; he saw and he believed. Till this moment they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”

Image

There can be no doubt; the resurrection is the single greatest moment ever.  Look at the above image of the resurrection by the artist Sieger Koder…this depicts the Gospel you have just read.  Does it look like Mary Magdalene was expecting the resurrection?  No, look at how downcast she appears.  She goes expecting to anoint Jesus’ body, instead finds the tomb empty…look how her right hand reaches out to touch the name of Jesus, hoping that even to touch his name can bring her a bit closer to Him…see the tears running down her cheek?  I think it’s a bit like when someone we care about passes away and we still reach out to touch their photo, or just look lovingly at their picture.  Mary Magdalene went down before dawn, imagine how still and unsettling it must have been.  Then when she returns with Peter and the other disciple, they find the burial cloth on the ground, and here’s the really crucial bit for me, this line: “saw the linen cloths on the ground, and also the cloth that had been over his head; this was not with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself.”  Does this sound like an action that just happened?  Accidentally?  No…it’s a very deliberate, intended action.  Now this says something very important to me, which is the Resurrection, the single greatest moment in history, THE moment of heroism, does not occur with explosions and trumpet blasts and all that pomp, but is a gentle unfolding…little by little.  And when the disciples enter the tomb, they believe…the treasure was there all along…it just took the journey to discover it.

This is what I meant when I said we are all treasure seekers.  We are each, whether you know it or not searching for your hearts desire.  And I could write for hours about how you’re going to find it, your teachers/lecturers could chat with you about how you’re going to find it, your family can talk about it, the priest may even talk about it, but the one voice you cannot block out is God’s.  And you will find that it is in the small everyday actions that you do with great love for those around you that you will find your heroism.  Seek Jesus.  Come to know Him.  Be like Mary Magdalene, be willing to set out in the dark and look with love for your hearts desire, and you WILL find it.  I guarantee it.

Dipping my toe into the Blog

As I began my time of employment in catechesis I was asked how I would feel about compiling a possible list of films to be distributed among primary school teachers that would be suitable for children of those ages, which could be watched and then discussed by the pupils to show how God can work even through the modern medium of film.  I thought back to a philosophy essay I had composed a year previous and how in discussing the beautiful papal encyclical Fides et Ratio I had found myself incorporating discussion of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy and the movie Beauty and the Beast.  Needless to say the response to these points was not exactly what I had hoped for (perhaps at the time it was for the best!)  However it proved a clear point to me; that my time spent in studying the aesthetics and practicalities of filmmaking had not been fruitless, and that it may actually be possible to find a blend for my incredible love of the movies and my love of Jesus Christ.

I honestly believe filmmaking presents catechists with an incredible opportunity to present scriptural material, and lessons for living to people of all ages.  This can range from any type of film, whether it is a children’s fairytale such as Disney’s Cinderella, to a sweeping epic such as Braveheart, and even to gut-wrenching horror films such as The Exorcist.  If we as Christians are to preach a message that tells of the universality of the Kingdom of God, that all are welcomed, even those we personally cannot stand, then we must be ready to look at the message presented by all.  Whether they are Catholic, Anglican, Buddhist, agnostic or militant atheist.  In these blogs I will draw on my own experience of Christian living, my passion for filmmaking, and the Word of God to present a number of films which I feel greatly reflect a strong Christian message.  There will be a number of surprises, and a number of films which I believe will challenge us to see the presence of God in those unexpected places.  This will present a challenge to the reader: step outside your comfort zone.  I would hope that each film presented will include an outline of the film itself, the themes which I feel are the most clear throughout the film and where in the Christian calendar such a film would be particularly appropriate, a reflection on how these themes are presented in the film, a reference to a piece of scripture the viewer may find of interest and a brief prayer for the viewer.

However, I beg of you to be patient with me.  I am not a scholar.  I am not a Saint.  I am simply a man who knows what he likes.  Perhaps God has given me an opportunity to connect a few dots with these movies and present a glimpse of a possible bigger picture (though what could be bigger than the latest epic to hit the silver screen The Hobbit?)  These writings which I compose are simply my own thoughts and reflections on what I see, and while scattered as they inevitably are I can only hope I am able to present what I see in a way that is clear and will hopefully make some degree of sense.

In the Gospel of Saint John, Mary of Magdala sets out in the dark to anoint what she believes will be the dead body of Jesus.  Imagine how shocked she was to discover that the stone was cracked open, the body gone, and then realizing he is in fact not dead! He is Risen! Death is conquered and God’s love has prevailed! I invite you to travel with me, to reflect upon a number of films ranging from a whole spectrum of genres and eras, to set out in the dark like Mary of Magdala, to challenge ourselves to find Jesus in the most unexpected of places and remember, God is the ultimate Director…and he has the whole world in his hands.    So I invite you to sit back, get the popcorn ready, and as my Father always reminded me before he began any story, when you are sitting comfortably I shall begin…