I was recently introduced to the blog of Sr. Helena Burns, fsp, Hell Burns (I do love a good sense of humor). Sr. Helena specializes in the theology of the body and reviews films through that lens. I have many of the reviews linked below. Check it out.  Unfortunately, in the final analysis, I do not think Sister and I can be friends; she did call Blade Runner 2049 a “blistering disappointment” after all. Joking aside, Sr. Helena provides much thought-provoking commentary which can be divided into the good, the bad, and the ugly.

the good


The following are links to reviews that I especially liked: Ex Machina, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant, Silver Linings Playbook, Warm Bodies, Here Comes the Boom, The King’s Speech, Sherlock Holmes, and District 9. There were other reviews she wrote that could easily be added to this list, so the list I have included here is an exercise of restraint on my part. It also presents a diversity of movies and her surprise toward some of them. Nothing else to say on my part. Why add to what has already been said well?

the bad


After reading her review, I’m not sure what was blisteringly disappointing about Blade Runner 2049, and the issues raised deserve a little more consideration than they were given. I found the movie to be thoughtful and respectful of the story that came before. A driving question in this film is what makes us human. While the materialist framework for the question was wholly inadequate this did not bother me for two reasons: First, it was expected. Second, the inability of a materialist to truly work with the kind of questions being posed reveals the inadequacy of the position itself, prompting a broader consideration of the question. Regardless of what one thinks of the movie, in an age of writers/directors making prequels and sequels that utterly ignore the story that has been entrusted to them, 2049 is a rare light of filmmaking humility rather than the self-aggrandizing egoism that pocks the Hollywood landscape.

I am completely dumbfounded by the review of Noah. Sister simply gushes over this movie, calling it “the best Bible movie ever made” and “the ultimate example of ‘cinema divina.'”

Jack Black - I can't even

She insists upon this from exercising “a Judeo-Christian read of ‘Noah’. And it almost totally works.” Um, no, it doesn’t. It honestly worries me a little that someone of Sr. Helena’s background has embraced this movie so whole-heartedly. She says, “Sadly, it seems Catholics don’t know their Bible well enough to critique this film.” I wonder, however, if such a statement is a rock which can be thrown back. The film does seriously depart from the Noah story. You see, the (ahem) devil is in the details (the details of the story not the movie). Aronofsky’s handling of the character, Noah, and his relationship with God are abysmal. So important is Noah’s character and relationship to the story that to depart from this anchor is to radically change the story, which is exactly what Aronofsky did so horribly. In her review, Sister hardly addresses the radical change in Noah himself (such as his becoming homicidal) and confuses the mentioning of God throughout the movie for God permeating the movie. It’s one thing to be mentioned a lot; it is another to actually be there. Though “the Creator” was mentioned throughout the film, His presence was certainly lacking. My own review of Noah delves into both of these issues. It also fleshes out that ever-so-important detail that Aronofsky completely rolls over. You can read it HERE.

Other film reviews that make my bad list are AvatarTwilight (as well as Breaking Dawn, Part 2), and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. (An aside concerning Twilight: For anyone who enjoys the vampire mythos, a strong sacramental worldview, and questions that drive into the human and divine, I cannot recommend enough the very fine book, Jennifer the Damned. It was described to me as the antidote to Twilight and it is.)

the ugly


Sr. Helena shines in the good, but it’s in the ugly that I particularly like her. These are the reviews where we wrestle with the truth that one size doesn’t fit all. Is all nudity and sex in films bad? Is all graphic violence bad? If not, when are they good and acceptable, even if they’re not necessary? What about those films with nudity, sex, and violence that don’t seem to fit the conditions of acceptability and yet don’t strike us as morally unacceptable? What of magic? What of guidelines for parents who want to exercise responsible guardianship as the primary educators of their children? None of these questions are easy, and it is some of these questions that I would like to look at in future posts. Sister here doesn’t give many straightforward answers. In my responses, I won’t either. But the question of the portrayal of the body in art – and especially in film and television – is so vitally important today that consideration must be given at the very least. Sister Helena does this from the perspective of the theology of the body. A more fundamental question, however, may be: “Are Christians capable of a right understanding of the theology of the body when they have grown up in a culture that is both hyper-sexualized and prudish?” Capable? Yes. Easily? Not by any stretch of the imagination. And this includes those who specialize in the theology of the body. It is for this reason the questions above are so difficult.

Some reviews that wrestle with these questions that I would like to look at in the future are: The Book of Eli (question of violence), Ex Machina (question of nudity), Game of Thrones (sex, nudity, violence, and magic), and Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince (question of magic). In the meantime, I hope you enjoy perusing Hell Burns.



Today we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God-man, our Savior, the Word-made-flesh. It is a mystery that cannot be explained; one can only stand before it in awe or denial. It is the great provocation only surpassed by His death. This day points us to our salvation and everlasting rest, the satisfaction of our heart residing in the Prince of Peace.


It is, therefore, “the most wonderful time of the year” and “the hap-happiest season of all.” And yet one may say…


Please pardon my irreverence, especially on one of the most holy days of the year. Does this not, however, express what many people feel? Does it not express what many Catholics would not in actuality be able to answer? It’s been a while since I’ve read any news articles or statistics on this, but the “holiday” season also has a reputation for being the loneliest time of year, for being the saddest time of year. So where’s the beef?

In antiphon 3 of morning prayer this day, we proclaim, “A little child is born for us today; little and yet called the mighty God, alleluia.” For the lonely and those weighed by bleak suffocating sorrow, I can see this not meaning a whole heck of a lot. Where is their comfort and joy?

sad christmas

Christ is born! Glorify Him! But today we do not simply celebrate His historical birth 2,000 years ago. The mystery is made present. Today and every day He desires to be born in our hearts. That when He comes again, it is not just we meeting Him, but also He in us meeting Himself. If today I remember that our salvation is born, I must also remember that I am a co-worker with Him in salvation. Today I do not simply remember that God is incarnate, but that He is mystically incarnated in me. So where’s the beef of this Christmas Good News? He is in me. The Light entered the darkness. If the Light is in us are we not also called to do the same?

Every year in December, St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in downtown Indianapolis has the Christkindl Village. There are games for kids, vendors, and of course German food and beer. The beer is provided by a local brewery around the corner and has the parishioners of St. John name their winter ale. This year it is St. John the Evangelager.

Alan Rickman - eye roll

Last night while enjoying food and beer with friends at the Christkindl Village, we had an interruption, a divine interruption. We heard caroling which was the sign that the Eucharistic procession had come to us. It really was an interruption. One moment you’re talking about Star Wars and the next you’re on your knees, adoring our Lord, and joining in the caroling. There is no transition; it is immediate; it is an interruption. It was interesting to see the sudden change among everyone there. Some went to their knees and some stood. There were many who remained sitting – these being non-Catholics who had no idea what was going on. Whether you knew what was happening or not, there was a common reaction: silence. Conversation ceased, phones were not a distraction. For all who were there – Catholics and non-Catholics alike – the space and time had changed. Hearts were quieted. When it was over and we had returned to the ordinary, conversation and life ensued but not quite the same as before.

While Jesus Christ has won the victory, we are still the pilgrim Church on earth. Peace and joy are mixed with sorrow and grief – Blessed are those who mourn! The coming of our Lord in the Eucharist and the peace that followed lifted my heart, yet it also brought my mind to a fresh awareness of the poverty in which we now find ourselves. The Church, in the United States at least, has become whitewashed. (Church Life Journal has a great article on this issue and its remedy in the season of Advent). In truth, we Catholics no longer see the divine; we simply see the world at work in its natural processes. We have desacramentalized the world and given ourselves to a secular materialist worldview. When natural disasters strike, rains do not come, or the fruit of our works, whatever that work may be, do not yield any sort of abundance, we attribute it to mere natural processes and say that life sucks and that life is hard. Hardship, work, obstacles, and disasters have been bled of meaning. And with these blessing, abundance, and leisure have as well. If God is not in the one, He is not in the other. The divine interruption of a Eucharistic procession reminds us that God is present in natural interruptions. The Lord God of hosts is not a clockmaker who simply walks away leaving his work to do as it does. No! He is the divine Lover who bounds from heaven to earth. He does this in His Incarnation, His theophonies, His revelation in the Apostles, prophets, and writings, and He does this in nature. That natural things work by natural processes does not change one iota that God is in them and can direct them as He wills when He wills. As the prophet Haggai says to the Jews returned from their Exile:

So much attempted, so little attained; store you brought into your houses withered at my breath; would you know the reason for it? Says the Lord of hosts. Because to your own houses you run helter-skelter, and my temple in ruins! That is why the skies are forbidden to rain on you, earth to afford its bounty; ban of barrenness lies on plain and hill, wheat and wine and oil and all the earth yields, man and beast and all they toil to win. (Hag 1:9-11)

“Helter-skelter” – is this not our lives? Do we not run helter-skelter with all our various duties, work, obligations, making sure that all our things are in order? Today we are worse than what Haggai speaks of; not only is the Lord’s house in ruins, but our own houses are too for we are too busy trying to put the cries of modern life and work in order. May not our “earthly undertakings hinder us”. (See my previous post).

In answer to that prayer the high school student (not to speak of the high school teacher!) receives a snow day. A divine interruption, to stop, to be still and know that He is God. A day to reorient ourselves, to not be hindered by our earthly undertakings, but to enjoy true leisure and meet our Lord at His coming. But the demon of secular materialism rears its ugly damnable head. In a desacramentalized world we do not see the snow day as a divine interruption. It is viewed as an obstacle of nature to meeting the state mandated required number of days of instruction. That “lost” day, that interruption of work will need to be made up. Now we have a new freedom – a freedom to work! – thanks to technology which eliminates pesky divine interruptions of snow days. Now there are e-learning days on which teachers can post assignments online, students can still have their hours of work, and another mandated day of instruction can be checked off the list. Such a concept is deeply anti-Catholic and completely contrary to a sacramental understanding of the world. In this Advent season let us remember that more often than not it is in the ordinary, the natural, and the mundane through which we are given a divine interruption, not in the extraordinary and miraculous. Let us embrace God in what He gives us, and in a sacramental view of the world see and act upon all things as signs of Him, the divine Lover bounding to us from heaven.

A prefatory note: One may rightly wonder, why now? After six years of a new corrected translation of the Roman Missal isn’t a post like this beating a dead horse? Life just isn’t that simple. Sometimes you realize how wonderful a thing is and it brings you joy; sometimes you realize how much the negligent absence of that thing influenced you and your joy has been mixed with a good dose of pissed. The fact is that the old people of the Church robbed my generation and the succeeding one of much, then in pastoral solicitude scratch their heads at our wanting what was kept from us while telling us we don’t know what we’re talking about and diagnosing us with some sort of neurosis. Bitter? It’s obvious I am, but also hopeful and grateful. So let’s dig in to the season of Advent, its prayers, the translation of those prayers, the effect of translations, and the gratitude that wells in my heart (for it truly does) that we now have this translation, which for all its imperfections is unarguably better than the one of… old? 

Advent night

There’s something about Advent. I am only just realizing this year that it may be my favorite liturgical season. It has such a different feel after the many months of Ordinary Time; the change is striking and immediate. The prayers, the antiphons, and petitions have a different sensation to them. I am convinced that the 2011 ICEL has had a significant impact on coming to this realization for me. The prayers of Advent – now correctly translated – have a richness lost in the 1973 ICEL. For instance, the Collect for the 2nd Sunday of Advent in the previous translation reads:

God of power and mercy,
open our hearts in welcome.
Remove the things that hinder us
from receiving Christ with joy,
so that we may share his wisdom
and become one with him
when he comes in glory,…

The translation we currently have (2011 ICEL) which is a more accurate translation of both the letter and spirit of the Latin reads:

Almighty and merciful God,
may no earthly undertaking hinder those
who set out in haste to meet your Son,
but may our learning of heavenly wisdom
gain us admittance to his company.

The words “set out in haste to meet your Son” first caught my attention. They continue the petition found in the Collect for the 1st Sunday of Advent which asks God to grant us “the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ.” There is a strong persistent impulse in Advent of going forth to meet our Lord, the Love of our heart. In this season we say with the prophet Elijah, “With zeal I have been zealous for the Lord God of hosts.” We are awaiting the advent of the Lord, but we need not wait until He comes again to meet Him. We can meet Him today, now; we can make haste running forth to meet Him. This is not passive, but virile.

Zeal for the Lord does not consist only in running forth to meet Him, but also of what we meet Him with: “righteous deeds” as the Collect for the 1st Sunday of Advent tells us (again, 2011 ICEL). In this past Sunday’s Collect this is expressed through a contrast of undertakings, and this was the second aspect of the prayer that caught my attention. We pray that “no earthly undertaking hinder” us. An earthly undertaking is not necessarily bad. There are a great many earthly undertakings that are important, urgent, beneficial, and done for the glory of God. However, they must be properly ordered. What Martha was doing was important, but Mary chose the better part. During this time of year preparation for Christmas means gift buying, decoration buying, decorating, guests coming over, traveling, larger gatherings with more mouths to feed, in short, a long list of things that put financial strain on most people and add stress to an even greater number of people. In such a condition are we really making haste to meet God’s Son? For my own part, this season also marks the end of the semester and a mountain of grading. Does this valuable earthly undertaking pull me away from running to meet our Lord? Today I ask God in this Collect that the duties of my job may be properly ordered and not be a hinderance to my meeting Jesus Christ.

To rightly order our earthly undertakings and for them not to become a hindrance requires zeal. Our zealousness provides the drive and stamina to turn to the Lord and keep our gaze fixed on Him. This brings us to the second undertaking: “our learning of heavenly wisdom.” It is this undertaking which “gain[s] us admittance to His company,” an undertaking by which we may become His co-heirs. The learning of heavenly wisdom requires first and foremost dedicated prayer, both liturgical and personal. It requires detachment from the world and attachment to divine things. This prayer draws our attention to the necessity of ascesis. (Church Life Journal has a magnificent article on Advent being a time of asceticism and another good article on the positive meaning of asceticism).

All of this comes from the 2011 ICEL. Does the former 1973 ICEL do this? There is no learning of heavenly wisdom. Rather we “share his wisdom.” The difference is subtle, but important. Today we learn so that we may be admitted into His company. The learning is anticipatory to final communion. In the former translation, His wisdom was shared with us a result of that communion “when he comes in glory.” Look at the way the sentences are structured in the two above prayers. The second is clearly preparatory while the first is promise. The former translation also limits our awareness of what hinders us. In the current translation we ask that our earthly undertakings, our earthly work may not hinder us. But in the former, we ask God to “remove the things that hinder us.” This gives a decidedly negative understanding. We ask God to remove our sins, to “lead us not into temptation,” and to remove obstacles. We do not ask Him to remove our earthly undertakings. If you’re asking for that, find a new job! Or a new life for that matter, an earthly undertaking can be maintenance on the house, responsibilities to your spouse and children, school, and other such things. The positive meaning of our various works and the true orientation of all things in life is lost in the 1973 ICEL.

More problematic and that for which I am sore is the lack of a sense of imperative toward the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The prayer of the Church directly affects our understanding of the mysteries of our faith and our response. Advent comes from Latin for “a coming, approach, arrival”. Yes, Advent is a season of preparation for Christmas, the first arrival of our Lord, but the thrust of the season is preparation for His Second Coming.  We do not merely wait for Him though! If you go by the 1973 translations you may very well thing that is what we do. Do good and wait for Him to come. But no, this is not what the Church says to us. She says that we must “resolve to run forth to meet” Him (1st Sunday, 2011 ICEL), not just give an “eager welcome” (1st Sunday, 1973 ICEL). She says we must “set out in haste to meet” our Lord at His coming (2nd Sunday, 2011 ICEL), not merely receive (2nd Sunday, 1973 ICEL, see above). There is an urgency here. We want Him to return. Most people are terrified of the prospect of His returning or give it no mind at all. But Christians should want Him to come, and it should not be a coming that they fear if they “run forth… with righteous deeds,” are not hindered by “earthly undertakings”, and pursue “learning of heavenly wisdom.” I only fear the coming of the One I love if I have not been faithful to Him.

I was raised, “catechized”, formed, studied theology, and began teaching the faith with the 1973 ICEL. My attitude about the Second Coming? Don’t think about it; don’t give it any mind. It’s impossible to know when He will come again so don’t give any thought to it. If we seek Him, live in Him, etc. then we have nothing to worry about when He comes. Live your day for today. It sounds like good advice except that is is not consistent with what the Church exhorts us to. Do not merely live for today and be ready when He arrives. No, live for His arrival anticipated this day. Each day we should run forth to Him, each day we should make haste, and each day we should do so with righteous deeds – the multiplication of our fruits and talents. The first attitude is passive, does not give much thought to our Lord, and is even a little works-centered in that everything is cool as long as I’m doing good. What the Church exhorts us to in the Collects of Advent (current translation) is not passive, very much orients our minds to Jesus Christ, and puts our righteous works in proper order.

Starry night

The picture above reminds me of mystery. There is so much I do not know, so much that is impossible for me to know, to experience, to delight in. God the Creator knows them all and delights in it all. From Him comes the mystery of creation and from Him comes the greater mystery of redemption. The Creator, Redeemer, God Incomprehensible and Ineffable is the One who comes to us, the great Lover coming to His beloved. What wonder and magnificence is in this. It is only in Him that I can know and delight in all that my heart desires and more. Why would I simply make sure my house is in order and wait to receive Him (however joyous and eager that reception may be) when He comes again? Thank you, Lord God, for these prayers which express and embolden my heart , and direct my mind to You and Your coming.

Recently, my wife and I had the great pleasure of going to Rome. The primary reason for the trip was business (she attended a conference at the Urbaniana), but we also made of it a 10th anniversary celebration and a pilgrimage. God gave so much to us leading up to our travels, during our time in Rome, and since coming back; I simply cannot say how great His grace is (for I do not know) and I cannot express the experience of receiving all these graces throughout these many weeks. For this All Souls’ Day, however, there is one particular part of the trip I would like to share: walking through the Capuchin crypt at the Church of the Immaculate Conception just off Piazza Barberini.

A few hundred years ago the Capuchin cemetery was dug up and the remains were used to decorate the crypt under the church. The crypt consists of a passageway with about six rooms along it. Each room has niches made not of stone or wood, but of bones. Within each niche is a full skeleton of a Capuchin friar clothed in the Capuchin habit. The walls and ceilings are decorated with bones in floral patterns. The light fixtures are also made of bone, hanging from the ceiling with a base in the shape of an eight-pointed star signifying our Mother to whom the church is dedicated. Instead of little cherub heads with wings there are skulls with shoulder blades (I think) used as wings.

It all sounds very macabre, especially to American ears. And when we look at pictures such as the ones below, it all looks very macabre to American eyes. It is radically different and expressive of a Catholicism unlike that in the United States. It was precisely for this reason that I absolutely had to see it. It is so thoroughly Catholic, a Catholicism that Americans are unfamiliar with. I want to experience the full breath and depth of Catholic life and devotion, especially what is so very strange or even abhorrent from the perspective of my particular culture.  What I discovered is that it wasn’t macabre at all. Being in the crypt, walking down the passageway and stopping at each room was one of the most moving experiences I had in Rome. It was a journey of prayer, stopping to pray at each room and meditating on the mystery of death and resurrection, meditating on the mystery of our being body and soul and the connection between the two even in their separation.

It was also slightly nauseating, but that’s a good thing. Death is not a comfortable subject for us. We say many beautiful sounding things concerning death, death in Christ, and heavenly glory, but will we find it so beautiful when it’s happening to us? The exposed remains make us confront death, the death of our loved ones, our own impending death, and the mystery of death. Christ is God made man and in Him we are man made divine. The mystery of death is transcendentally divine and putridly human. The Capuchin crypt reminds us of both and honors the dead in doing so.

A happy All Souls’ Day to you all. May the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace, and may perpetual light shine upon them. Amen.








Today most people are celebrating Halloween. It is also the day Protestants celebrate what they call Reformation Day. Even some Catholics are observing this day in honor of Luther’s posting of 95 theses 500 years ago on October 31, 1517. That there are Catholics celebrating this, simply shows how much ignorance there is concerning Luther and the history of the Protestant revolt. Sure there was corruption in the Church at the time (seriously, what else is new; the Evil One does not tire), but to say that Luther reformed the Church is ridiculous. Ten years after the event celebrated today Luther was already writing tracts against other Protestants. There was no clean break from Rome with a Protestant front reformed and united in Christ. Those who broke from unity with the Church of Rome quickly fractured and fell into disunity among themselves. As time progresses the divisions among the various Protestant communities has only increased, and just like the division with Rome these are divisions of faith, of doctrine, not merely divisions of praxis and life. What reform are we celebrating exactly?

Over the centuries the problem has been exacerbated by the parallel march of the so-called modern age with Protestantism. Religion like everything else in life is not insular. Some have claimed the roots of modernism with its extreme individualism come from Luther. I do not think this is the case, but I do think the two are intertwined. The furrows of the modern age were already being plowed and provided a fertile environment for Luther’s novel conception of faith and his novel conception of salvation based on that understanding of faith – an understanding centered on the self, not God, that is reflexive and assertive. (For more on Luther’s novel understanding of faith and its application to salvation I highly recommend Paul Hacker’s Faith in Luther: Martin Luther and the Origin of Anthropocentric Religion). Reciprocally, Luther’s thought acted as fertilizer for the seeds that would eventually sprout and bear the fruits of modern secular thinking.

On this Revolution Day, marking 500 years of division within Western Christendom, divisions that have spread far beyond religion and the continent of Europe, I do not see a reformation. I see a world and Church being tossed in ever more violent storms of ideology and violence, and relentless attacks on what God has hallowed – sex, marriage, the family, priesthood, Church – from both outside and from within the Church Herself. I see a protestantism that has devolved into various political and social ideologies across the spectrum, and many Catholics of similar ilk proclaiming the same while calling it the Good News and clobbering the faithful with tweets, openness, degrees, and even shepherds’ staffs.

In the midst of such a storm and seeming degradation of Religion, on this dark All Hallow’s Eve, I look to the saints of tomorrow’s great feast and find courage in the words of Our Lady to King Alfred on the island of Athelney:

But you and all the kind of Christ

Are ignorant and brave,

And you have wars you hardly win

And souls you hardly save.


I tell you naught for your comfort,

Yea, naught for your desire,

Save that the sky grows darker yet

And the sea rises higher.


Night shall be thrice night over you,

And heaven an iron cope.

Do you have joy without a cause,

Yea, faith without a hope?



Fr. Mike Schmitz has a YouTube video on the question of the existence of ghosts – I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts! Check it out. This is the first time I have watched one of his videos, but I have heard people speak well of him before. The video is sound regarding our faith, but faith isn’t just content; it’s living. In this particular instance, I wonder about his pastoral application of the Church’s teaching as well as his personal understanding of what a ghost is as opposed to the common understanding.

Ghosts are commonly understood as souls who are not at rest and still dwell on earth. The reason for this is typically articulated as “unfinished business”. There is something or someone anchoring them to this world and until it is resolved they cannot find peace. This is usually conceived of in some kind of benevolent form and the ghost is merely attempting to finish the business. The strange happenings in one’s home or life are attempts at communication. Ghost anyone? Sometimes a ghost comes from one dying a violent death. Often times this circumstance is thought to lead to malevolent spirits who terrorize people. Even in these cases the story is fundamentally the same: unfinished business and a desire for peace. Poltergeist anyone?


It took three movies, but the bad man finally finds peace.

In the common conception of ghosts, there is fundamentally no difference between the above and Patrick Swayze.

ghost - patrick swayze

Fr. Mike is clear that there is no such thing as a “ghost” keeping its abode on earth. At the moment of our death, we enter into particular judgment and go to heaven, purgatory, or hell. It is not possible to stay behind. Unfortunately, he then goes on to practically identify the ghostly with manifestations of souls in purgatory. The purpose of the manifestations is to draw our attention to praying for a particular soul or for the souls in purgatory in general. This is a serious problem.

Contra Fr. Mike, I believe that the vast majority of manifestations of “the ghostly” are demonic. Regardless of whether or not I am right, the average Christian, such as myself, is not able to discern the difference and demons are very tricky. People believe in ghosts. Not as Fr. Mike understands ghosts, but according to the common understanding of ghosts. Demons have absolutely no problem whatsoever appearing in this ghostly form and luring people in. It is well documented that demons will even appear as benevolent ghosts to get people to open themselves up to accepting their presence. This acceptance lures them into precisely those things that Fr. Mike says we shouldn’t do and their acceptance opens them to much greater demonic activity of the type that has no semblance of benevolence at all.

The question of ghosts should call us to attention of spiritual warfare. It is on this note that Fr. Mike flounders and because of his misleading puts souls in danger. If we think that we are experiencing the “ghostly” as Fr. Mike puts it, then we need to be on our guard. I do not need to believe a ghostly presence is a soul in purgatory in order to pray for the souls in purgatory. However, if I accept the presence as a soul in purgatory then I certainly will not be on my guard against the demonic.

Bubble Buster

That Letter From Elijah

The Epistle (ancient snail mail for readers who ain’t church geeks) for this Sunday is Romans 12:9-21.  I’ll include the whole text a few paragraphs down, with some commentary, after a short personal confession:

My immediate takeaway is how short I fall of this lesson’s call to humane, common sense, non “religious” (that is, not loaded with ceremonial or otherwise churchy jargon) behavior.

So it burst my personal bubble.  My easing into the morning over coffee stumbled into full blown confession of sin.  How little of the verse I apply, and how poorly I apply those parts at which I do endeavor.

bubblesPic snagged here.

Then I got to thinking about the “bubble” accusation that we all fling around gratuitously these days: White people in suburbs live in a bubble, college students live in a bubble, the mainstream media is a big bubble of the like minded, etc. etc.

View original post 1,024 more words

In my previous post, I took Matthew Walther to task for his incredibly poor attempt to show why Game of Thrones is bad for our souls. To be clear, I do not take issue with his not liking the show or with his thinking it is spiritually dangerous. I know good Catholics, well-educated in the faith who watch the show, and I know good Catholics, well-educated in the faith who think the show immoral. The goodness or evilness of any show or book with widespread mass appeal is certainly a question worth pursuing. Additionally, the point of my response was not to defend Game of Thrones; it was to show that Mr. Walther had utterly failed in his attempt to identify the show as obscene and, therefore, as bad for us. If someone wants to argue for the show’s obscenity, please do, but do so intelligently.

Normally, I ignore such poorly reasoned diatribes. This one, however, kept gnawing at me. Yes, it disturbs me that someone who writes something so thoughtless and devoid of Catholic life apparently has some degree of influence on the thought and attitudes of many Catholics. (I saw the article because a former peer with a master in theology thought it was fit to share on social media. I have since learned that Mr. Walther also writes for the Catholic Herald and the National Catholic Register). However, this disturbance doesn’t explain the reason for my reaction being so visceral. It was personal. His words cut to my heart. His words were an implicit attack on something fundamental to my faith: the mystery of the human and Divine, and the encounter of the two. Literature was a key factor in my truly opening up to this mystery, but literature only became so in the light of Catholic faith. And it was Catholic authors such as G.K. Chesterton, J.R.R. Tolkien and Flannery O’Connor who revealed this to me. When Mr. Walther attacked Faerie and the grotesque in literature, he attacked a key factor in my life of faith. My previous response was superficial. It was a sufficient response because Mr. Walther’s own piece was superficial, no depth was required to answer him. However, the problems his piece implicitly raised concerning a proper understanding of faith and literature merit their own attention. In this post, I aim to provide a starting point for consideration.

Mr. Walther takes issue with the fantasy genre and the grotesque (which he immediately labels as obscene). He bemoans the lack of realism in much literature and film today, and considers dramas that deal with “morals, manners, marriage, and money” to be the stuff of emotionally mature adults, over and against the “nerd” created dramas of dragons, monsters, and magic. Such an attitude takes life out of art and strangles faith.

In her essay, “The Grotesque in Southern Fiction”, Flannery O’Connor speaks of the drive within our society that stories be realistic. The literary critics of her time meant the stories should accurately depict what is typical, the ordinary day-to-day life. Readers should be able to identify with the protagonist from their own ordinary experiences. The literati also said that stories should have social impulses, speaking to our times with its own particular social and psychological questions. There is a place for this. To Kill A Mockingbird and Go Set A Watchman are examples of wonderful literature that meet the critics’ criteria. Flannery O’Connor, however, is not that type of writer. She states that she is often accused of not giving an accurate depiction of life in Georgia. The reason, of course, is that she is not trying to, at least not on the surface of the matter. She depicts a deeper realism in her writing – a realism that is perennial, which goes beyond the mere psychological and particular social conditions of the time. Her realism is the divine penetration of humanity. It is exactly at this point that the grotesque enters into Flannery’s writing. (See my previous post for examples of this). We are fallen and we live in a fallen world. There is a darkness that has entered our hearts and the world. How else is the penetration of the Divine into this darkened world and our darkened hearts to be depicted other than as the quiet whisper that in its omnipotence works through our sin, not despite it? Flannery O’Connor’s stories are the literary illustration of John 1:5, a testament of hope.

Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O’Connor: Story-teller of Divine Hope

(Click HERE for a reading of the complete essay by Ms. O’Connor, herself).

This use of the grotesque in literature is not limited to a specific genre. For instance, it can be used in fantasy, that genre to which Game of Thrones belongs and on which Mr. Walther appears to look down. While the grotesque is capable of fostering an encounter with the Divine, the fantasy genre is capable of unfurling the magic of creation before us. A wonder of the mystery of creation is as important as a proper understanding of the encounter of the human and Divine for a right faith. And this must be an actuality of the heart for right faith to be rightly lived. J.R.R. Tolkien had a breathtaking awareness of the unfathomable depths and richness of creation, and he says much concerning the connection of fairy-stories (of which fantasy is a type) to the mystery of creation in his essay, “On Fairy-stories”. This rather long essay has a plenitude of rich fertile material. There is much in it that relates to a few things Mr. Walther tossed in the air. However, as I stated in my previous post, it is not for us to juggle that for which he is not willing to take responsibility. As tempting as it is to dive into the sea of wonder found in Tolkien’s essay, we must abbreviate our examination of the connection between fantasy and creation.

Often times people think of elves and other such folk as supernatural. This is wrong. In contrast to fairies, it is man who is supernatural; fairies are “far more natural than he. Such is their doom.” And in a fallen world doom it is. The dwindling of Faerie, the diminishing of elves and other such creatures belonging to the fairy realm, is not unusual in fantasy. This is the way in The Lord of the Rings and Hell Boy for example. Their dwindling always corresponds with the increasing of man. In this we see the evidence that Faerie is far more natural than man and man is far more supernatural because in this we see the truth revealed by God in the early chapters of Genesis. After the Fall, man continued to increase and multiply, and progressively became more corrupt and ruined God’s creation in the building and spreading of cities. As we move further from God so to do we move further from creation; as we rebel against our Creator, also do we rebel against the stuff from which we were formed. But this is not natural to us. Despite all we do the inclination of our hearts our primal desire is for communion with God and with all living things in Him. Fantasy assists in achieving the satisfaction of this primal desire by drawing us back to nature, to a world more real than the “real world”. How?

Fantasy is that form of art that expresses the “notions of ‘unreality’” (those imagined things not of our world) with “the inner consistency of reality.” When this is done successfully it has an “arresting strangeness.” The arresting strangeness is fantasy’s advantage and disadvantage. It is disadvantageous because people do not like being arrested. They do not like to be jolted from their stupor and monotony, whether it is the monotony of the same thing every day or the monotony of finding a new thing every day. But it is precisely the arresting strangeness of fantasy that brings us out of our world and brings us into the real world. Indeed, this jolt allows us to escape. Escape is not desertion. It is not a coward’s run from Walther’s tried and true “morals, manners, marriage, and money.” No! It is a recovery of that which was lost, an amazement at that which has been familiar, and this results in conversion, of which, Evelyn Waugh said “is like stepping across the chimney piece out of a Looking-glass World, where everything is an absurd caricature, into the real world God made; and then begins the delicious process of exploring it limitlessly.” This recovery of a true sense of the natural wonder of God’s creation, this stepping out of a Looking-glass World enables us to see the beauty of the world. It also enables us to truly see the ugliness that we have done to it. Fantasy may very well be an escape, but only to open one’s eyes. Articulating this is difficult, so I will simply share my own experience:

There is a factory just south of my alma mater. I do not know what kind of factory, but being in steel country I always assumed it was that. It is quite large and quite ugly. The darkness of night does not hide it for it has many lights throughout, and there is a tall narrow tower at the top of which burns a flame. There was a clear view of it from my dormitory and the residents called the factory “Mordor” and the flame, of course, was the “Eye of Sauron”. The names, however, fall short for the place is in actuality a good deal uglier than Mordor and the flame less interesting and potent than the Eye of Sauron.

I would not have recognized the degree of ugliness if not for the fantasy that came from Tolkien’s mind and his act of “subcreation.” Without him and his work, I would have merely accepted the factory with mild disinterest. That the names fall short, draws our attention to another truth of fantasy: It cannot be more beautiful or more ugly than the world in which we live, but the otherness of it gives us the eyes to see our world. It does this because it is a story that images the Story.

This last point brings us back to the grotesque. The Story, which is the history of the world and its salvation, is quite gruesome, filled with much that is obscene, and quite disheartening. Then there is the unexpected joyous turn. Yet how difficult it is to see that joyous turn today when we are tossed and thrown in the storm of human degradation. It is no accident that the wanderer of the Fairy realm and the grotesque story-teller of Divine Hope were also able to say:

Tolkien on Eurcharist

O'Connor on Eucharist




On July 11, The Week published a piece by Matthew Walther on why Game of Thrones is bad for you. Starting out, one gets the impression that Mr. Walther is an ass. Reading on, one begins to realize that there may be serious deficiencies in his understanding of the Catholic faith and its relation to culture and art, a deficiency that ultimately makes him a liability in the crisis of faith and culture.

He begins by being incredibly insulting to a particular group of people who have done nothing to merit such treatment other than, apparently, offending him with their existence. These would be “nerds” of the D&D and LARP variety. “Two decades ago, watching [Game of Thrones] would have gotten you shoved into a locker.” He isn’t surprised that the show exists or that it has many fans because “nerds have always overindulged – that’s what being a nerd means.” No, what he finds astonishing is that of the show’s 23 million viewers most of them are “adults, seemingly well-socialized, emotionally well-adjusted tax-paying contributors to our GDP.” (I guess nerds aren’t these things). He then asserts, “Popular culture in the English-speaking world is in the grips of a downward nerd-driven death spiral.” As proof of this, his exhibits are comic book movies, the average age of video game players, and that most Americans between the ages of 23-40 have only read Harry Potter and “a fable about talking animals they were assigned in middle school.” (I am in this age range and have no idea what fable he is talking about). Five paragraphs in and he has not yet said why Game of Thrones is bad for us (aside from simply stating that it is “ultra-violent wizard porn – and boring ultra-violent wizard porn at that”), and I’m scratching my head wondering what nerds ever did to him.

Aside from being an ass, there are a great many problems with Mr. Walther’s opinion piece: one is his penchant for throwing things in the air and then walking away. His labeling of Game of Thrones as “boring ultra-violent wizard porn” is just one example. He doesn’t offer any evidence for the veracity of that label. He continues to do this throughout his piece: label, accuse, state, walk away. There are times when it would seem that he offers evidence to support what he says, but all he does is give information without any consideration of its meaning. (We will be looking at one such instance). This makes his piece rather difficult to respond to. He throws many statements in the air leaving the responder to juggle them in a chaotic mess. Well, no one is obligated to reply to every little thing he throws up but isn’t willing to take responsibility for himself. This reply will limit itself to just one accusation and let the others fall.

Mr. Walther wants to convince his audience that Game of Thrones is bad for them, that it is bad for their souls. Halfway through the piece we finally come to his first and only reason given for holding this: “It is obscene.” For evidence, he offers his own thoughts after watching the second to last episode of the sixth season. They are not much. He merely points out many horrible characters and things that they have done: e.g. incest, pushing a boy out of a window, burning a girl in sacrifice to a god, a woman so tall and broad that bestiality jokes are made about her, a drunken abusive king, a man eaten by the dogs he cruelly treated, and a young woman who had been routinely raped by the man who was eventually eaten by his dogs. Of course, these examples are just the tip of the iceberg. In all of this, Mr. Walther says nothing about any of these things. Yes, they are horrible, but he gives no context. Does he offer a complete picture? Are there good characters, admirable characters? What of character development? Is there a purpose? How does all of this play into the overarching story ark? Is there any kind of foiling? What of conversion, redemption, self-knowledge, ascendency? After watching six seasons, he should surely be able to speak of these things, but he doesn’t. He merely lists some horrible people and horrible acts they have done. It seems that the act itself and the horridness itself is enough to make a story obscene and bad for your soul.

In this we find an incredible lack of depth in Mr. Walther’s thinking (or at the very least an incredible lack of skill in arguing). If this is all it takes to make something obscene then Sacred Scripture is obscene. The Holy Page is filled with genocide and other mass killings, child sacrifice, prostitutes, rape (both heterosexual and homosexual), polygamy, fratricide, heads being crushed or driven through, adultery, murder to cover up adultery, betrayal among brothers, slavery, gaining through deception, and all sorts of other uses and abuses. Need I go on? By Mr. Walther’s standard I’d have to conclude that Scripture is obscene and bad for our souls. We would also have to conclude that some of J.R.R. Tolkien’s and Flannery O’Connor’s works are obscene and bad for the soul. The Children of Hurin by J.R.R. Tolkien is filled with death and sorrow culminating in the suicide of the stories protagonist. This dark story includes incest and death at the hands of a friend. Flannery O’Connor’s stories are filled with the grotesque. Characters who are truly vile such as the man who indiscriminately murders an entire family (the little children included) or the man who marries an intellectually disabled young woman only to leave her in a diner far from home, who will be lost, confused, and hardly able to communicate when she wakes and finds herself alone. Then there are the people who could have prevented a man from getting crushed to death by a tractor, but say nothing and simply watch it happen because he didn’t fit in. An argument could probably be made that Flannery’s works are far more disturbing and depressing than Game of Thrones, and, yet, while she is grotesque, she is not obscene. Flannery O’Connor is one of the greatest Catholic authors of the 20th century. Her works are imbued with the mysteries of faith. But by Mr. Walther’s standard I’d have to conclude that her stories are bad for our souls.

Death of Jezebel

Is this gruesome scene from a medieval Bible manuscript or a comic book adaptation of “Game of Thrones”?

Game of Thrones may very well be obscene and bad for us. However, Mr. Walther has utterly failed to show this. He has failed so miserably that an argument for or against the T.V. show cannot be made in response to his article. All one can do is respond to his reasoning… or lack thereof. From reading Mr. Walther, we can’t really know anything about Game of Thrones, but we can know something about The Week: they employ an editor who thinks unreasoned rants are good journalism.

To be continued… HERE