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O Lord God, Holy Trinity and Unity, there are so many different ways in which people are drawn to Your magnificence, wonder, and glory. For one it is two women in a deeply religious country fighting in a street with the towns people around them – a great commotion – a sight that for the person who comes from a secularized apathetic world is a witness of passion and life. For another it is the presence of one sitting with them in their squalor and stench when no one else could bear it, and being looked upon with eyes of love rather than empty pity. For yet another it could be the beauty of a sunset filtered through sand lingering in the air after a sandstorm. There is no one way in which people are drawn to You. Perhaps this is because we who are not simple cannot grasp the simplicity of Your grandeur and so it must come to us as light through a prism. For me it was the ineffability of Your truth. Incomprehensibility beyond all human rationality and yet wholly reasonable. You, O Holy Trinity, are the One to which all these direct our gaze. Is there any mystery greater than Your Three and One? A single deity is easy to accept. The existence of such simply makes sense. But a single deity who is a single person eternal and infinite sounds cold; it does not satisfy the longing of the heart. How easy to reduce such a deity to a lonely monad, experiencing a lack, not whole and complete unto itself and, therefore, needing us. What an abhorrent and pathetic thing – certainly nothing worthy of worship! Like an atheist, I cannot tolerate such a god for such a god would be less then the lack and, therefore, not my heart’s desire. In insanity I would have to say the lack would be worthy of my worship and the desire of my heart. Such illogical nonsense! No I desire love and only a God Who was love complete unto Himself would be worthy of worship and the desire of my heart. But love can never be singular; it can only be multiple. So the One God being love complete unto Himself is Three: Unity in Trinity, Trinity in Unity. A Father wholly given to the Son and a Son wholly given to a Father, a generation in Love overflowing, a commingling in Love enveloping. And this Love is called Holy for it is the perfection and fount of every purity. This Love is called Spirit for it is the spirating breath of the Father through the Son back to Himself. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – three persons, one and the same divinity, union with distinction, but not separation – You deigned to create all things and man for Yourself; not out of need, but out of pure outpouring love nor due to lack, but due to gratuity. Such a God, a Holy Trinity, is glimpsed in the love of presence in squalor and stench, in passion and life, in beauty, and in wondering truth. All glory to You, O Lord, all glory to You, most Holy Trinity in Unity.


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The expression. Shell shocked first came to mind but that’s not right. Boredom? No. Focused attention on self. Self-absorption. Narcissist. What is the emotion? Bleak. Despondent. We so often think we need to create ourselves that we forget we are already created. The existential crisis of post-modernity use to manifest itself through a need to “find yourself.” Go on a journey, start a new life, leave the old behind (it wasn’t you!) and go find yourself. The existential crisis of… what?… post-post-modernity? (so many damned modernities). The existential crisis of this present time is more severe. There isn’t a self to find. Now the existential crisis manifests itself through a need to “make yourself.” I am the painter of my self, my being, my I am and to be. Delusion and lunacy. The world crashes around you and so do you. No meaning, just stuff – and stuff isn’t enough. Tears, rending, and cries of anguish are your salvation.

Self-painting hipster - Eddy Shinjuku

“Self-painting hipster” by Eddy Shinjuku

The above is a meditation on the painting following it. The meditation wasn’t intended to go that way. The image is striking. The stark contrast of facial placidity and wrecking action creates an irresistible pull fixating the viewers gaze. The meditation was intended to follow the path of the immediate contradiction of the image. However, when the question of her expression and emotions came up, it’s course altered.

Holy Saturday is typically thought of as a silent day, a quiet day, inactive. At least that is how I have typically thought of it – the silence of Christ laying in the tomb and the inaction of His followers with no direction. In reality there was a great activity happening – the harrowing of hell. Heaven and hell encounter one another here on earth. It is a constant warfare, never resting until it is finished on the Last Day. More pointedly heaven and hell encounter one another on earth in us. We receive a foretaste of heaven through entering into the heavenly mysteries, the reception of the Holy Spirit in the sacraments, our immersion in Christ and His Paschal Mystery through the sacraments, our unity with divinity and in divinity with humanity. What we begin here yearns for perfection in what awaits us, a perfection which we come to through death. But if this is true for heavenly glory then it is also true of perdition and the road that leads to it. The harrowing of hell is not simply an event of the past; it is an event of the present. If heaven and hell war within us then the harrowing of hell is also the harrowing of our hell, of the demons in us. (“Harrowing” – acutely distressing, painful, ravage, despoil – in short, a deeply painful experience (painful beyond our imagining) that we wish to avoid at all costs. But that’s the thing, it’s so much worse without it.)

It’s a wondrous and amazing thing, the providence of God and sacramentality of all things. In my own life much has been happening. Like Dante, I find myself midway through life awakening in a dark wood. This awakening was soon joined by another, the desire – long asleep, if ever awake – to write. To the library I go! Checking out books on writing, being a writer, and books of writing for you should be taking other writers to model and be inspired by. Happy Providence, to put before me what I did not look for: The Trip to Echo Springs: On Writers and Drinking and How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History’s Greatest Poem. I thought the first would be about some kind of beautiful relationship between works of literature and wonderful mouthwatering drinks. Instead I found myself reading a rather depressing book about six American writers who were all alcoholics and what could be gleaned of alcoholism by looking at their lives and writings. I thought the second would simply be commentary on life’s journey and the journey of the spirit via Dante’s Divine Comedy. I had no idea how autobiographical it would be and the darkness of the one who wrote it. Both speak of the harrowing of hell, the hell of alcoholism, the hell of depression, and the hell of many other things. They all have the same thing in common: they had entered into a dark wood, just as I had. Some got out, some did not, I am making my way. Providence puts before me what will help. But if providence is real then necessarily so too must sacramentality. The books themselves are sacramental, the process of writing is sacramental, and the journey of learning to be a writer is sacramental. Providence puts before us what He does precisely because they are sacramental; and being sacramental they draw us to Him and out of ourselves. They draw us out of the dark wood and back to the way of Life.

We live in a time when we “make” ourself. As Rod Dreher in How Dante Can Save Your Life says, we think of ourselves as being the captain of our own ships. We are the creator of our own stories. The problem is that we no longer recognize we are part of the Story. It is achingly ironic that in a time of being our own creator and forming our own story, of being our independent, sufficient self that we also hear things such as “It takes a village.” But if it’s my story and I’m not part of a greater story then who cares about the village. That’s their problem, not mine. We assert that we make our own way and then hand over wads of money in exchange for self-help books, programs, and psychiatry. We assert we make our own way, but are also obligated to other people’s ways in an indeterminate village. The contemporary mind is a schizophrenic mind. It is a mind given over to the demonic and it needs a harrowing.

schizophrenic mind

Stories, including our own, all tell us the same thing. There is one Story and we are all actors in it. It is the Story of innocence, fall, death, and redemption, the Story of hate and love, and evil and good. It is the Story of God creating man, man falling, God becoming man, God dying for us and our being restored in love to Him. Every religion and every myth has stories which imitate the real Story, every hero’s tale reflects this story. It is a story found in all the literature and movies (great or otherwise) that people flock to by the millions. It is in Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Though I have never read or seen them, I would bet money that in some twisted way it is in Shades of Grey. It is present in every story that attracts people and this is seen in all cultures across human history. So why fight it? Why fight that you are not the maker of yourself, the creator of your story? Why fight death and pain and self-denial when every story you love says that is the way to renewal, growth, strength, and life? On this Holy Saturday let our Lord harrow you.

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Isolation - Denis Klitsie

Isolation – Denise Klitsie

The first reading for the Second Sunday of Lent is the story of Abraham and Isaac. It is an immensely rich story. Often we hear of Abraham’s faith and this was its demonstration par excellence. We also hear of the parallels to Christ and His own sacrifice, which are striking and many. But why was Abraham called by God, the All Sufficient One, to sacrifice his son? It’s easy to get lost in the typology (as important and necessary as it is!), but typology is founded on history. Abraham was not called to sacrifice his son simply so Christians approximately 1,900 years later could recognize Christ hidden in the Scriptures. The connection between Isaac and Jesus is real, but this means nothing for Abraham in the immediacy of the moment. He has been ordered by God to offer his son in sacrifice. Why? A test of faith. Yes, but why this test? Why not another test? Because this would have been the hardest thing for Abraham to do. Not necessarily; this is the answer of a modern who isn’t surrounded by children being offered to pagan idols on high places. No, Abraham was called to sacrifice his son as a test of faith, precisely because the son of the promise is the one thing concerning which Abraham was consistently faithless.

Answering the call

The LORD said to Abram: Go forth from your land, your relatives, and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. All the families of the earth will find blessing in you. (Gen 12:1-3)

The call of Abraham was tied to a promise: “I will make of you a great nation.” Later the Lord God makes clear that this nation will come from Abraham’s own line: “… your own offspring will be your heir.” (Gen 15:4) Even though a son was not promised with the initial call to leave his family and go to an unknown land, the promise of a nation coming from him does strongly imply this. It is on this point that Abraham again and again falls into doubt, even after the Lord God explicitly states that this nation will come from Abraham’s own son.

Abraham and Hagar


The great father in faith who left his family and home at the age of 75 for a foreign land, trusted El Shaddai in all things – all things but one. Before the promise of a son was made explicit he gave Sarah to Pharaoh in Egypt and he made plans to have his servant’s son made his heir; after the promise was made explicit he conceived a son with his wife’s maidservant, Hagar, and once again gave his wife away to another, Abimelech, the king of Gerar. These are not just minor failings in faith. This is repeated faithlessness concerning one particular promise and consisted of willful actions that worked in direct contradiction to the realization of that promise. When one is called to prove their faith it means nothing at all to ask of them what they have been consistently faithful about. If faith is to be tested, it must be shown through obedience concerning that which one has been constantly faithless.

Abraham and Isaac


Does the above painting disturb you? What about the painting above that? They should. Faithlessness is ugly. Deep-seated faithlessness leads people to do horrible things. As for faithfulness, it is more often than not a sign of contradiction to the world, so much so that it is seen as abominable. The world is far more comfortable with the actions of a lack of faith than it is with the actions of faith. It’s all well and good to help the poor, but to become a beggar yourself? It’s all well and good to help those in need, but at the expense of your own financial security? The world doesn’t see this as generosity; it sees it as insane. As much as the world would deplore (for a time) an Asa Hawks, it finds incomprehensible at best, and often more deplorable than Hawks, a Hazel Motes (HERE for reference on Asa Hawks and Hazel Motes). For as perverse and monstrous as we may find the reduction of Hagar to a sex-slave for the sake of producing an heir, from the perspective of the world it’s not that hard to have some understanding toward Abraham and Sarah when one truly takes into account the times and the weight of heredity in the ancient world, and the psychological stress that could accompany that. But to be willing to sacrifice one’s own child? Admittedly, even keeping in mind how widespread and accepted child sacrifice was at that time, it is a challenge to understand this. Abraham’s willingness to kill Isaac is not just disturbing; it is practically unimaginable.

Is it really so unimaginable though?

Gloria Steinem abortion shirt

This picture should disturb you too.

It is the act of faith which the modern world finds incomprehensible at best if not absolutely condemnable. The same people who denigrate Christians for worshipping One who called Abraham to sacrifice his son are, very often, the same people who affirm and even celebrate a woman’s so-called right to choose whether or not she will sacrifice her child to any myriad gods of material pragmatic secularism. In a society truly flipped upside down, it is not uncommon for the woman who chooses life to be looked down upon, abused, or abandoned by family, “friends”, and the world at large. Is the modern who rejects the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob willing to look with eyes open and willing to take their earbuds out that they may listen? How is it they do not hear the cry of the woman who has suffered abortion; of the women who have spoken out concerning their treatment, their life, and their real desires? How is it they do not hear the voices of abortion priestesses speaking of money and quotas? How do they not hear the voices of those who worked in the industry, left, and are sharing their story? But most of all how do they not hear the voices and see the incredible beauty of the women who choose life; of the women who stood alone and stalwart against doctors, social workers, family and friends, and gave life to their little one, loved their little one, and entered into great happiness with their child as they grew. These women acted in faith. By doing so they inserted love into pain, dejection, oppression, and death, and by love begot love. How is it that the modern does not see the love, affirm the love, celebrate the love, and fight for love? Perhaps a reason is that arriving at that love means passing through death. The woman who chooses life and the man, Abraham, who was willing to offer a life in sacrifice have a commonality: the dark journey of faith, the transformation of their self through seeing what is not seen, and entry into a life unimagined.

The modern, however, is not the one who has the greatest difficulty with Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac. It is the modern Christian who has the greatest difficulty with this story, which is why they do not grapple with it. If challenged on the truth of God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son, the Christian often dismisses the challenge by saying, “But God stopped him.” This may be followed by an explanation of what God wanted to teach Abraham and perhaps even a good bit of typology to show it’s proclamation of Christ and our salvation. However, none of this addresses the fact that God allowed him to go right up to taking the knife, and this is accorded to Abraham as good. Let me say that again, it was accorded to Abraham as good that he was willing to carry out this act. If an act is intrinsically evil (and child sacrifice is) how can we speak of one being good and affirm their being rewarded for being willing to carry out such an act? This question should haunt Christians. If we aren’t willing to grapple with the horror of this event, then we will never have anything better than a superficial understanding of test and type, no matter how “theological” that understanding is, nor a profound understanding of the human, divine, and the relation between the two.

Yet just as from the heavens the rain and the snow come down and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth. (Is 55:10-11a)

Abraham and the inhabitants of Canaan around him are the earth, the land; a land that is dry and fruitless. Abraham is accorded good because he allowed the word of God to come upon him and seep into him. What is accorded as good is his willingness to do as the Lord commands, not a willingness to kill his son; for, in fact, he did not have a willingness to kill his son. But it was precisely because he did not have willingness to kill his son that he endured the dark journey of faith. In this way, Abraham also has a commonality with the woman who chooses to kill her child though she does not want to. In Abraham, the two different journeys of the darkness of faith and the darkness of forsakenness meet. He has faith in the One who has always provided for him in great abundance; but can we not also speak of his feeling forsaken by this very same One in knowing that his greatest love will be taken?

The image at the top of this post, “Isolation”, expresses the reality of both journeys. In the midst of the world and everyone going about their lives, the faithful and the forsaken stand alone. Abraham acts in faith: he gathers the supplies for the sacrifice, makes provision for the journey, and is accompanied by two servants. There is nothing unusual in this. He is an inhabitant of Canaan preparing to make a sacrifice. The servants think nothing of it, his wife, Sarah, thinks nothing of it, and his son, Isaac, thinks nothing of it. It is a normal act, not out of the ordinary. Abraham is forsaken: he tells no one the true nature of the sacrifice, he carries an oppressive secret within himself and it pulls him further away from those who are with him. How somber all the actions of preparation must have been. How hard it must have been to move his feet though move them he did. How must he have withdrawn further into himself as they made the journey, becoming more silent with each passing day. Did he walk with his shoulders hunched? Could he look the son whom he loved in his eyes? What great interior tears he must have cried (and physical tears?) as they came closer to doom, the extinguishing of all the dreams and joys bound to his son. Confusion. Exasperation. And no one to lean upon. I cannot imagine the constriction of heart he must have endured. He suffered the darkness of faith while bearing the weight of abandonment.


A parched land in Kochi

The dryness of Abraham’s heart came from his living in a dry land – living in the midst of a people who believed that child sacrifice was good. Even though he did not believe this, he was surrounded by and interacted regularly with those who did. This is the situation of Christians living in the West today. We may disagree with the world in matters of sex, marriage, and children, and be horrified by such hateful acts as abortion, but if we are being honest with ourselves most of us have learned to settle with it. We go about our days giving it hardly any thought, if any at all. We go to sleep without conviction for those suffering violence, for people flogged by gnawing dread, or subjected to the nihilism of a frenzied torpidity.


The world has entered our hearts and rages to unseat the Light within. We are Abraham living in Canaan. He received the Word of God, let his dry heart soak it in, and from it God produced a magnificent and succulent bounty. It was not Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son that was accorded good. The word he received, that he allowed to root and flower within him, was a question: Do you love Me, or do you love what I have promised you? Do you find satisfaction in Me, or do you find satisfaction in what I have given you? Am I alone your heart’s possession? What was accorded good was his “yes”, and through Abraham’s “yes” the Lord reveals the horror of human sacrifice, the horror of the taking of a child’s life by their parent. (The killing of children by their parents still happens and is accepted in some parts of the world, and I am not only talking about abortion.)

The Lord God who gave His Son asks the same question of us. He requires proof of our love just as He required it of Abraham. But never again did he command someone to offer their child in sacrifice; and never again will He make such a command of anyone. What may He command of us in our own time though, in the dry land of our own day aching for the rains of faith?


The lesson Bella taught me.

I will never forget the first time I watched the movie, Bella. I was shaken from the monotony of my thought and notions of right action. He sat in the abortion facility with her. He refused to abandon her no matter her choice. He wanted her to have love and life, but that was only possible if he was that love and life in the midst of her darkness. Love only comes from love, and life only comes from life. What does God require of us. Perhaps…

  • Entering those places of death (called “clinics”) with someone – a family member, friend, co-worker, a stranger God puts in your path – holding their hand being the presence of Christ in their tenebrosity, offering love and life.
  • Embracing her, crying with her, and continuing to be the presence of love and life even if she commits such a horror.
  • Inviting into our home the one we do not know, the stranger – the homeless, the refugee, the immigrant – giving a place of rest and care.

These are radical actions that Christians, who have been given something greater than Abraham was given, are scared to do. These are things for which we will unroll a litany of prudential negation. These actions, however, are nothing more than the exercising of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Faith requires courage. Are Christians a courageous people? Do we have the courage of Abraham, the faith to let God’s Word sink into the depths of our hearts and there produce thriving jubilant life? May Gad grant it be so. Amen.

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Magic is one of those muddled issues for Christians where contradictions and hypocrisy rear their ugly heads. In my previous post, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Hell Burns, magic was placed in the ugly category with nudity, sex, and violence. The reason the category is “ugly” and magic is included in it is that it has to do with questions of material in art – especially film and television – to which there does not seem to be a clear answer. In her review of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the issue of magic receives this treatment. Unlike nudity, sex, and violence, however, the answer concerning magic is not that hard. “As Christians, we know that NO magic is good magic or so-called ‘white magic,’ or ‘natural’ magic like Wicca. Sorcery is not make-believe. It’s real, comes from ‘below,’ and is never to be used, even for ‘the good.'” I say the world needs more magic.


In his book, Looking for God in Harry Potter, John Granger explains that there are two kinds of magic: invocational and incantational. Invocational magic is that which calls upon other “powers”: think the occult and other forms that invoke the assistance of a demon. Incantational magic on the other hand does not call upon anyone, but is a magic in tune with the world. Keeping this real distinction in mind is fundamental for addressing the issue of magic in stories and the spiritual influence of those stories on their audience.

When Harry Potter burst onto the scene there was an outcry among Christians that it was Satanic because of the prevalence of magic – all the main characters and most of the supporting characters were witches and wizards, and students went to a school of “witchcraft and wizardry”. Magic in itself is identified as evil because magic is condemned in Scripture, the books were condemnable due to their use of magic, and allowing children to read the books and watch the movies would endanger them by opening them to the occult. Concerning the debates between Christians who condemn the books and Christians who affirm their good qualities while saying we need to teach our children the dangers of the occult, Sr. Helena says,

I’m somewhere in the middle on this, because HP presents the use of magic BY young people in such a modern and compelling way, that it seems to me extra precautions need to be taken. However, if I were a parent, I would definitely accompany my child through this cultural phenomenon (allowing them to read/watch), not because it’s “inevitable,” but because I would want my kids to be equipped to reach the culture, their peers with the Gospel, and that would mean engaging WITH the culture.

She then goes on to list some of the virtues found in Harry Potter and lessons it teaches. The problem is that there is no need to view the books and movies with suspicion due to magic, nor to turn them into mere tools for engaging the culture. The books can be read for enjoyment, enrichment, and, yes, even growth in our life in Christ. Would such a statement as Sister’s be said of The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia? Many of the Christians who denounce Harry Potter because of its magic are avid readers of both Narnia and the Ring trilogy. Those who affirm Lewis and Tolkien, but reject Rowling as dangerous have never been able to explain why the former are good and the latter is dangerous when magic is so prevalent in all of them. They are not able to do this because they agree with Sister’s statement given above – “that NO magic is good.” But to believe this while upholding Lewis and Tolkien is hypocrisy. Fortunately, Mr. Granger does answer the question and he answers it quite well. Rowling’s work can be enjoyed in the same way as Lewis and Tolkien’s precisely because the magic is incantational, not invocational. So let’s get into why this distinction is so vitally important and truly does make a difference.

First, the difference between incantational and invocational magic is not of the typical categories of white versus black magic. In schemes that use so-called white and black magic, they are of the same type. Invocational and incantational magic are of two completely different types. Second, invocational magic is condemned in Scripture and is intrinsically evil. It calls upon demons so as to work their various machinations. It calls upon persons (not just impersonal powers) beyond our world. It is also important to note that invocational magic is quite “real, comes from ‘below,’ and is never to be used, even for ‘the good.'” In every instance of magic being used in Scripture, it is this type of magic. Incantational magic on the other hand is not condemned in Scripture for a very simple reason – it’s not real. But even if incantational magic were real would it be condemned by Holy Writ? I do not think so for incantational magic is sacramental.

Incantational means literally ‘to sing along with’ or ‘to harmonize.'” (Granger, 5) So what exactly is being sung with or harmonized? Creation. As human beings we already do this. We participate in God’s creative act in multiple and varied ways. We use the stuff of creation to do extraordinary things. Some do this for good and to the glory of God; others abuse the good and act in opposition to God. The determining factor for good or evil is not the creative stuff which we use, but in how we use it and the purpose for which we use it. The thing (creation) in itself is good as God declared it to be. Incantational magic is part of creation. In the various mythologies in which it is present, be it that of Lewis, Tolkien, Rowling, or any other of the fantasies from Christian writers throughout the centuries, magic is done by way of forces already present within creation. Just as we can harness various forces today such as gravity, so too could Gandalf, “a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor,” harness that mythical force in his battle against the Balrog. This is where we begin to touch on the sacramentality of incantational magic.

The world itself is a sacrament. Creation was not just pronounced good; it was also sanctified through the Incarnation and Paschal Mystery. Just as man is made of the stuff of the earth, so too did the Son of God take on the stuff of the earth when he took our humanity onto Himself. The truth, goodness, and beauty of creation point to God, draw us to Him, and become a point of encounter with Him. It only does this though if one looks upon it in wonder. Wonder over the creative work of the Lord is something that we have been losing for centuries in the West. In the materialist worldview, creation has been de-sacramentalized. It is not creation; it is simply something that is, a thing that could have been or not have been, with no purpose, no ordered end, or meaning. In the utilitarian worldview, creation is something to be harnessed and used simply as we see fit. It is a mere tool to be used for whatever ends we desire. At the other extreme, mankind is looked upon as a cancer that needs to be cut from the world. From this perspective, the world itself is seen as something other. One view idolizes man, the other idolizes nature.

We need to regain a sense of wonder, a wonder of the divine, of the work of redemption, and of the work of creation. In a previous post on the importance of the fantastic and grotesque in literature, I spoke of the way in which fantasy literature helps restore “a true sense of the natural wonder of God’s creation.” G.K. Chesterton expresses this well in Orthodoxy when he says, “[Fairy tales] make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.” In addition to these little changes pertaining to material, size, creatures, etc., a strong component of fantasy literature restoring a sense of wonder is the presence of magic. As mentioned above, this magic is part of creation. In his essay, “On Fairy-Stories,” Tolkien says that “it is man who is, in contrast to fairies, supernatural; whereas they are natural, far more natural than he. Such is their doom.” Harry Potter uses incantational magic and its use of such magic inspires the kind of wonder that Chesterton and Tolkien speak of. When watching Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, there is a childlike wonder and happiness one experiences with Harry and Jacob as they are introduced to the magical world, one that is not beyond their own, but is quite naturally part of it. Sr. Helena expresses reservations about magic being done “BY young people in such a modern and compelling way,” but that is exactly the point – it is the connection with the real that elicits wonder in the real.

Narnia lamppost

In addition to fostering a sacramental view of the world, there is also a moral dimension to these stories and magic. In all of them, there is a connection between the world and people. The presence of incantational magic in fantasy literature does not just address the material worldview, but also the utilitarian. The good guys are good, the bad guys are bad, and it is precisely through the various uses of magic and power that this is shown. There are consequences to how and for what purpose magic is used. People’s choices really mean something and carry weight later in the story. There is trial, redemption, rebirth, pain, and all the other joys and sorrows that mark human life. In a materialistic, utilitarian world where aborted babies are sold for profit and research, people are used for immoral experiments, insurance companies offer suicide pills instead of treatment, and men and women sale their bodies for consumerism, perhaps we could do with a little more of the wonder and inspiration of magical stories such as Harry Potter.


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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.


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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.








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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?



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