Sunday, November 22, 2015

Is the Kingdom Here? A Reflection on the Solemnity of Christ the King 2015

At today's Mass we hear about one of the most dramatic encounters in human history: the meeting of Jesus of Nazareth and Pontius Pilate. Pilate is the one doing the interrogating, but at the same time is the one set back on his heels. By John's account, he really doesn't want anything to do with this itinerant preacher. This is an internal religious matter, but the Jewish authorities make it a secular one by reminding the Roman procurator that the Galilean claims to be the King of the Jews, a challenge to both Caesar Tiberius's authority and that of his hand picked puppet Herod. When Pilate questions Jesus as to whether he is indeed a king, Christ makes reference to His Kingdom, which leads to the obvious conclusion that the man standing before his believes Himself to be royal.

But Jesus insists that his Kingdom isn't of this world, and in fact wasn't present in that place. The question was posed to me how that can be since the Kingdom is identifiable with Christ's presence. Since Jesus is present, so must be the Kingdom.

In an objective sense, maybe we could say the Kingdom was present, but in a subjective sense, no. Because the Kingdom is also within a person. It isn't a geographic territory, but a state of being and acting. The Kingdom is present in a person when the spirit of Jesus dwells within. It is a Kingdom of peace and justice. It is a Kingdom of compassion and understanding. It is a Kingdom of self sacrifice and service. It is not a Kingdom built of the foundation of power, wealth and pleasure. The Kingdom was not there because the spirit of these afore mentioned virtues did not dwell in the heart of Pilate, nor in the hearts of his soldiers, the Jewish authorities, and one could even question if these virtues dwelt in the hearts of the disciples at that moment.

The Romans built an empire on brute force, and the Jewish authorities were grasping for whatever security they could, both economic and political, under the conditions of occupation they found themselves under. The disciples, being men of their age, only knew of kingdoms built on accumulation of power, wealth and the enjoyment of earthly pleasures. While they probably understood that Jesus was to be a benevolent monarch, he was going to be a king nonetheless. When things went terribly wrong after the Last Supper they ran away in confusion, doubt and terror. The Kingdom wasn't there, because compassion, understanding, justice and love were absent in the hearts of those surrounding our Lord.

So if we ask if the Kingdom of God is here, on the objective level the answer is yes. The presence of Jesus in the world continues through the presence of the Holy Spirit enlivening the Church, the proclamation of the Word and the True Presence of our Lord in the Eucharist. Yes, the Spirit is within us, making us into the image of Christ through baptism and confirmation.

But is the Kingdom here subjectively? Do we live our lives by the law of love and understanding? Does the spirit of compassion and justice direct our lives? Do we see a life of self sacrificing service in imitation of Jesus as the true road to eternal happiness? It's easy to see the likes of ISIS and determine that the Kingdom is far from them. But we will never defeat ISIS or prevent the rise of some other, even more brutal movement, if we do not make that basic examination of our own hearts.

Is the Kingdom here where I live; in my home, at my work and my school? Am I an agent of the Kingdom, spreading the spirit of love, compassion and justice where I go? Is the Kingdom dwelling in my heart, leading me, guiding me along the right paths, or have I surrendered my soul to the secular kingdom of power, wealth and pleasure?

The Kingdom is here. It is for us to say yes to Jesus our King, and live in the light of His loving, merciful reign everyday, wherever we are.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Our Lady of Providence From the Apostleship of Prayer

This is an especially big feast in Puerto Rico. We'll be having a special Mass at the parish tonight honoring Our Lady of Providence.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

French Flag Facebook

My head spun at the speed with which memes started popping up on Facebook Friday evening after the news of terrorist attacks in Paris began to spread. It seemed like the situation wasn't even resolved and there were all sorts of Eiffel Tower re-imagined as a peace sign and other such shows of support began appearing on my news feed. Then there was the option to superimpose the French tricolor over your profile picture in show of support. All this before the facts were in and the crisis resolved.

We can look at this as an example of  the Global Village in action: wide swaths of humanity joined together in instant virtual solidarity and common concern for our brothers and sisters on the other side of the world. I want to be careful with what I'm about to say here, because I assume every one's sincerity. While this may be true, there is something about it that makes me uncomfortable; like something grave is being trivialized, albeit unintentionally. 

For decades we've grown use to ribbons of various colors denoting one cause or another and now, in the cyber age, we have memes, stickers, stylized profile pictures and many other forms of virtual communication that I've seen but don't know the names for, that we can use to express our emotions and concerns. But then soon enough they are usually gone and we've moved on to the next cause of the month, week or, heavens help us, day. This all goes hand in hand with the 24 hour news cycle that keeps us from really absorbing the events happening in the world around us. We see, we are horrified, we "do something" then we're on our way. 

I'm not knocking this new found custom. I get that we want to feel as if we're involved and express our concern. But again I turn back to the very real danger of superficiality, and of not really talking the time to understand what's going on and how everything is connected on a deeper level.

I didn't change my profile picture to the French flag motif, though I was tempted, because tomorrow I'll just have to change it again to Beirut or Germany or The Philippines. The attack Friday wasn't an isolated incident, but was a part of, as Pope Francis has observed, a "piecemeal World War III" that is only escalating. To confront this reality we are going to need more than clever memes or poignant quotes posted to our wall. It's going to take courage, unity and resolve: as well as understanding the distant roots of this conflict, and that we really are in a struggle for civilization. When Facebook comes up with a handy dandy profile picture filter to express all that, then I'll participate. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Two Very Different Spy Movies: "SPECTRE", "Bridge of Spies" // Movie Reviews


Daniel Craig's tenure as James Bond has been frustratingly uneven. While I stand by my opinion that he is the best Bond since Sean Connery, and possibly even better, the individual movies haven't been as consistent as his legendary predecessor's were. Of the four Craig era films two are among the best in the franchise's fifty plus year history (2012's Skyfall might be the best of all time), one (Quantum of Solace) was a complete disaster, and now the latest, SPECTRE, while not a disaster, is middling at best. 

Craig has complained that he wants out of the role he's grown tired of playing (too bad for us), but I can't say that he comes off here like an actor phoning it in for the paycheck. No, the problem isn't the leading man, or any of his supporting players, who are all given plenty to do and do it well (unlike in many Bond films, 007 here isn't a one man army). The problem is a script that tries to be too clever by half, setting up a backstory between Bond and his villain du jour (Christoph Waltz) that made me think of Austin Powers; and when a Bond movie starts to remind you of it's spoof, something is wrong. I also found myself confused a bit about whether there was a back story concerning Bond and his latest love interest (Léa Seydoux), which made me wonder what creepy direction things might go into, which thankfully they didn't. There is also an attempt to tie all the previous three films together which, while not implausible or even undesirable, comes off as an after thought rather than a strong driving impulse of the native. 

The ever glamorous Monica Bellucci, is well, the ever glamorous Monica Bellucci, in what amounts to an extended cameo. Ralph Fiennes, Naomi Harris and Ben Whishaw show that their respective characters of M, Moneypenny and Q can do more than supply exposition and light hearted sexual tension, and we get the most indestructible adversary since Jaws in the Roger Moore days (Dave Bautista). The ingredients are all there, along with the spectacular action and stunts you expect from a Bond movie. But the plot, motivations and relationships are murky and the running time too long, with gaps in the action that become a drag.

So, SPECTRE is not terrible by any degree, with many things to recommend it, but over all nonessential for any one other than a Bond true believer. My recommendation is to either see it in IMAX (which I did not) to get the full impact of the action set pieces or else wait for the video.

Bridge of Spies

Forty years ago Steven Spielberg was the young hot shot director who was changing how Hollywood made, distributed and marketed movies. He, along with George Lucas are credited, for better or worse, with inventing the big budget summer block buster. He's had his share of Christmas season Oscar bait films over the years as well. But now the Young Turk is an elder statesman, with newbie directors such as J.J. Abrams creating homages to his style like people once affectionately aped Hitchcock or John Ford. 

But even when he was young, Spielberg, like his colleague Lucas, always had one foot in the past while while making the films of tomorrow. They may have used the latest in special effects but their stories often harkened back to the days of movie serials like Buck Rogers, and projected a certain innocents of youth. Spielberg has been criticized, in fact, by the likes of director and Monty Python veteran Terry Gilliam for his overly optimistic take on life, specifically for giving his Holocaust epic Schindler's List a victorious ending when the Sheol is really about humanity's failure. 

Spielberg is a bit of a throw back in other ways as well. You could accuse him of being a typical Hollywood liberal, but typical for 1946 or 1962. His heroes recall the likes of Fredric March's Al Stephenson in The Best Years of Our Lives, or Gregory Peck's Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird. These were men of the Left who believed in fair play, fighting for the underdog and that if the system doesn't work it's not because the system itself is wrong, but because the people running it have forgotten the ideals on which the nation was built. One could argue that this is not the spirit of contemporary liberal or progressive thought. People of the Left today, broadly speaking, see the system as the problem and believe that it needs to be fundamentally transformed. It was flawed from its inception and is irredeemable, so that appealing to original intent or the founding spirit is self defeating. 

Spielberg's latest Oscar season offering is just such a throwback to the earlier form of American progressivism. Bridge of Spies tells the, more or less, true story of  James Donovan (Tom Hanks), a New York insurance lawyer recruited for the unenviable task of defending a captured Soviet spy at the height of the Cold War. He's honest, competent, had experience at the Nuremberg Trials after World War II: just the guy to give the "appearance" that the accused is being given a fair trial. Only Donovan doesn't know that this is a show trial. He thinks that he's really there to win the case. His vigorous defense annoys the judge and brings him under the suspicion of the government. While he doesn't get his client off, he does manage to talk the judge out of giving him the electric chair. Who knows, Donovan reasons, maybe the Russians will capture one of our spies some day and we'll be able to make a swap. And don't you know? that's exactly what happens. 

As I wrote, Donovan's zealous defense of the accused spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) runs him afoul of the CIA who sets a tail on him. He's confronted on the street on a rainy night, invited to a local bar for a drink by an agent (Scott Shepherd) who then attempts to extract information from the lawyer. When Donovan reminds agent Hoffman of lawyer client privilege, he is told to not be such a "boy scout" and remember that there's no rule book to be followed; all's fair in this Cold War game. To wit Donovan asks a seemingly random question about Hoffman's ethnic roots, correctly guessing that he's of German extraction. He continues:

My name's Donovan, Irish, both sides, mother and father. I'm Irish, you're German, but what makes us both Americans? Just one thing, one, one, one: the rule book. We call it the Constitution and we agree to the rules and that's what makes us Americans and it's all that makes us Americans so don't tell me there's no rule book, and don't nod at me like that you son of a bitch.

For Hanks' Donovan the problem isn't that America is inherently unfair or on the wrong side of history, but that people are too quick to forget about the values that make us Americans to begin with. People in times of a national security crisis, like during the Cold War or, as is meant to be implied, in today's post 9/11 world are too quick to trample over the rights enshrined in the Constitution to ensure a measure of perceived security (a similar point is alluded to throughout the new Bond movie as well, which is about the only thing these two spy movies have in common. That and a spectacular scene involving the crash of a spy plane). 

This is arguably a true point, but also terribly old fashioned. As is a scene showing Donovan taking his appeal to overturn Abel's conviction all the way to the Supreme Court. The presentation of the noble lawyer in his formal dress, in the hallowed halls giving a stirring statement on how American reliance on the rule of law is the moral high ground that separates us from our Soviet adversaries is straight out of Frank Capra. I'm not saying that this is a bad thing. Unlike Mr. Gilliam I don't mind a little corn once in a while, especially if I believe it to be true in spite of its corniness.  But it does make me wonder if the message still resonates in the culture, and if the only reason a film like this still gets made in Hollywood is because a director of the clout of Spielberg made it and that there are still enough nostalgic Baby Boomers around to buy tickets. 

We are living in a culture right now where students at major universities are ready to jettison free speech in exchange for something much less earth shaking than national security--their own emotional security. We also have one of the leading presidential candidates of a major party who indeed buys into the idea that the nation is flawed from it's roots, and so calls her founding principles into question. The Constitution is a political and legal document, not a sacred one, true. It can and maybe should be altered. The foundational principle that we are a nation of laws and not men should under gird any amendments or revisions of the law though. Even the Pope, in his address to Congress, referenced how important it is for us to remember the guiding principles that have shaped our nation from the beginning. They always need to be purified, refined, and reexamined, but without them we forget who we are. We are more likely then to be swept away in all sorts of directions we may later regret. 

While the film does dabble in more than a little moral equivalency at times, and calls into question whether we were over reacting to the Soviet threat, its still clear that the U.S.A. wears the White Hat and the Eastern Block, if not a Black Hat, at least a Grey one. Even with these qualifications, Bridge of Spies does present a rather traditional vision of American idealism: that we base our system on the rule of law and not of men or of an individual man or woman. But this is one ideal I'm not sure the emerging generation shares.

The second part of the film deals with the prisoner exchange envisioned by Donovan. Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), pilot of the U2 spy plane is shot down over Russia and captured. Meanwhile an American student (Will Rogers) gets detained in East Berlin just as the wall goes up, and is accused of being a spy. Donovan wants to free both, the CIA is only interested in Powers. So the second half deals less with high minded ideals and more in good old fashioned-make the audience wonder how he's gonna pull this off-suspense. And the suspense is dulled a bit by the fact that we know how it ends, or at least anyone who bothers to check Wikipedia will know how it turns out. 

In the end, a solid, well produced and acted film, as one would expect from a master filmmaker. It's also probably one of the last of its kind, at least for the foreseeable future. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Why We are Fascinated by Artistic Greatness

A good friend of mine, who also happens to be an evangelist for Frank Sinatra, one who is so effective at his mission as to count me as one of his converts, recently mused quite eloquently on Facebook questioning the necessity of yet another book length biography of Ol' Blue Eyes. He was linking to a book review critiquing two new tomes on the late Chairman of the Board timed to coincide with his upcoming centenary of birth on December 12. We have the music, he reasons, which means we have the emotion, the torment and and triumph captured for eternity on sound recordings. Can two more bios capture all this better than the man and his music? Add to this that my friend had a memorable close encounter with Sinatra in a Las Vegas show room, where the singer actually engaged him is a brief, if slightly inebriated tete a tete from the stage. He lived, he loved, he lost, he rose and fell and raged. We know all this. Why ponder the details that aren't greater than the sum of their parts? When you have all this; the memories, the poetry, the pure experience, what can the written page supply that will surpass it? 

Point very well taken, and I can't disagree with it. And yet I felt moved to reply (here only slightly edited):

We read to know that we are not alone, so said CS Lewis, and we read of great people to know that they really do exist. They don't exist on some mythical Olympus, or occupy astral bodies that shape shift. They (are) flesh and blood, touched by the divine spark yet still capable of burning up and burning out. We see (Michelangelo's) Sistine Chapel, watch (Olivier's or Branagh's) Hamlet and listen to (the Sinatra-Count Basie version of Cole Porter's) I've Got You Under My Skin and wonder, "what god wrought this? If not a god but a man, why can't I?" And there in lies the rub.

Many of us are fascinated by those who excel, either in the arts or sports, or in more weightier fields like politics, the military or the sciences, marveling at what these incredible, almost superhuman, men and women were able to accomplish in their lives. For those who achieve greatness in whatever given field, the road is almost invariably paved with hardships, struggles and set backs. For those who are artistically inclined, their ability to see the world in a different way and unlock meaning hidden to the rest of us is quite often also a product of, or at least accompanied by, emotional or mental imbalance. 

There is a great deal of personal pain that gets poured into great art, as well. Paul McCartney, when asked what gave his late writing partner John Lennon's songs such a sharp edge, and didn't he wish he could write similarly, answered that it was all the pain that his friend had experienced in his early life that gave his tunes their sardonic wit. While a great song smith in his own right, and no stranger to hardship himself, he conceded that he would not want to exchange his lot for Lennon's; the art came at too high an emotional cost from his estimation.

Yet many like me are fascinated by not just the art, but also the personalities who produced it and the process they employed. It makes me wonder, "why can't I do these things?" When I read a great writer or look upon a powerful work of visual art, or become enraptured in a piece of music or a fine film, I feel sometimes like the caricature of Antonio Salieri from the film Amadeus, who laments bitterly, to the point of losing his faith, because he has the burning desire and the exquisite taste to be a great composer but nowhere near the ability of his divinely gifted rival Mozart. Then I remember that the real life Salieri was no mean composer himself, and so I can't even compare myself to him. 

We can either despair with a sarcastic laugh, embracing our mediocrity like the mythical Salieri or use these great ones for inspiration; not in imitation so much as to unlock the God given uniqueness within ourselves. As Paul Stanley of Kiss once said, when he was a kid growing up in Queens, New York dreaming of a music career he said to himself, I may not be as good as the Beatles, but if I can hit a musical and cultural nerve like they did, it will be enough. We might say that he understood that success would come if he set out to be the best Paul Stanley he could be, not an imitation McCartney.

And so we look to these great ones for inspiration to help us discover the unique greatness within ourselves. If all it is is idol worship then their greatness will be wasted on us, and we will never discover our own.

This month of November kicked off with the Solemnity of All Saints, a day to remember that all of us, not just a few, are called to heroic holiness. We remember all the unnamed saints praising God around His heavenly throne right now, and that we can, and really should, be one of them. 

For us the Saints are the great "artists" of the faith. They struggled, overcame hardship and intense personal suffering in their lives. Some even suffered from mental or emotional instability. Yet they offer an example to follow, one that will not lead to fame and fortune in this life (though some did experience a measure of popularity in the here and now), but to eternal glory. 

It is true that I will never be another St. John Bosco or Ignatius of Loyola, but that's not the point. I must touch the nerve of holiness that they did and be the Saint God made me to be. They offer the inspiration, they show that it is possible. Now it is for us to trust in God that He can make of us artists of the faith. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

No Joy in Flushing: A Quick World Series Postmortem

This year's was probably the most unique World Series I've ever seen. As we stand today the Kansas City Royals are the champions of Major League Baseball. But the Series could just as easily still be going on, with the Mets either clinging to life or even ahead in wins. I can even imagine a scenario where it could have been the Mets spraying the champaign around their clubhouse in the early AM hours as opposed to the Royals. Three of the Met losses were products of late game collapses fueled by untimely errors (not that they're ever really timely), base running blunders and questionable bullpen management. Two of those losses, including this morning's, were decided in extra frames. Everything went right in their series against the Cubs, but baseball karma was cruel this time around. Someone out here in Chi-Town suggested that maybe the Billy Goat Curse rubbed off on the Metropolitans from their stay in the Friendly Confines, they seemed so snake bit.

But this isn't all about things the Mets did wrong. Kansas City benefitted from timely hitting, heads up base running, taking advantage of errors and forcing them as well. They were the more complete team and deserve the crown.

Oh, but what could have been. I predicted a long series because the Mets have four studs on the mound which can cover a multitude of deficiencies. You had to expect Daniel Murphy to cool (no one can keep that kind of a pace up), but no one really rose up to take his place. Cespedes was invisible at the plate and looked less than focused in the field. But they were finding ways to get the lead, but alas, they too often couldn't hold on to finish off the relentless Royals.

Met fans should be properly disappointed this morning. But not without hope. This is a young team, with a core of young pitching already in the Big Leagues, and a cadre of quality arms down on the farm that will be contributing soon, or else can be used as trade bait to acquire the offensive help needed to round out the team. So don't be too down, February is closer than you think.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Scattered Thoughts on the Synod and Ross Douthat

Synod of Bishops

I haven't written much about the Synod of Bishops that just concluded this past Sunday in Rome. I stayed away, in part, because of a lingering Synod fatigue that I haven't fully recovered from after last year's extraordinary session. I just didn't have the mental energy for it. Now that it's over, I've only been able to find the Synod's final document in Italian, with excerpts in English here and there, so I really don't have a full grasp on what the bishops decided.

And in the end, whatever the bishops "decided" is secondary to what will be suggested (or mandated?) in the post synodal exhortation that the pope will likely publish within the next six months to a year. For all the talk of decentralization it will still come down to the Holy Father as to what direction the Church takes on the pastoral care for families of all shapes and sizes.

I do have some thoughts on the debates that have arisen over following the spirit of the law as opposed to adhering strictly to the letter, which I hope to get into later. All I'll say now is that the impression many people have is that to follow the spirit is to throw away the rule book and make it up as you go along. We may keep the general norms in mind, but by and large the spirit frees us to follow our own conscience, which in the contemporary scene seems to be the equivalent of following one's muse. But when Jesus was confronted with a legalistic question concerning divorce and remarriage he didn't offer a solution that was subjective or open-ended. In appealing to the spirit, in this case the way the Father intended them from the beginning, he spoke of the indissolubility of marriage, something none of his listeners, including the Apostles, were expecting or prepared for. In allowing divorce and remarriage Moses was giving in to the hardness of the people's hearts, and Jesus was calling us back to the spirit of God's plan from the beginning. In light of this, many found, and still find the letter much more forgiving than the spirit.

Ross Douthat and the New Pharisees 

I read the October 17 column by New York Times blogger Ross Douthat, which has caused no little buzz around the Catholic bloggesphere, only after reading several articles in defense of his right to free speech (more on that a bit later). In the given article, is he hard on Pope Francis? Yes, but not as hard as George Will was lately, and Maureen Dowd and Margery Eagan have been concerning previous popes (Dowd found cause to take a few jabs at the reigning pontiff, referring to him as the perfect 19th century pope: generous of spirit but still hopelessly backward when it comes to women). Yet a laundry list of theologians decided to write a letter to the editors of The Times condemning the post and asserting that Douthat shouldn't be allowed to write on the religion he is a practicing member of because he's not a credentialed theologian.

There are good responses, better than I can put it, from Bishop Barron here and from Rebecca Hamilton here.

What I will add is that there are some theologians who will argue that they possess a form of mangisterium similar to, if not equal to, that held by the pope in union with the bishops of the Church. Needless to say that I think this is nothing more than a bucket load of self aggrandizing horse spit. Theologians are at the service of the Church, and in the final analysis it is the hierarchy who passes judgement on the works of a theologian, not the other way around. I understand that, in my case, I may be a baptized Catholic, ordained to the priesthood, sent forth to preach and teach, as well as minister the sacraments, but I am not a trained theologian. I need to measure my words, know my limitations and be open when someone wiser and more learned than myself offers a correction, or even a rebuke.

But we must never forget that the Master chose 12 relatively uneducated men and a hand full of unschooled women (or at least whatever level of education they may have had, none were the equivalent of a what a credentialed theologian would have be in their age) to witness in His name. It was not the learned and wise who recognized the coming of the Messiah, but the old window Anna, who I'm pretty sure never stepped foot inside a classroom at Georgetown or South Bend (Lk 2:36-38).  It was the religious intellectual class who tried to shut up the man born blind when he made the right observations, observations they had no response for (Jn 9:24-36). It strikes me a bit ironic that these fine minds have taken the collective role of the Pharisees who saw their own learning as a pedestal that separated them from the lowly, sinful masses.

The one New Testament Apostle who could pass for a professional theologian was Paul. But he constantly referred to himself as a servant of the Gospel, not it's master. Even he, who took second place to no one, went to Jerusalem to have his preaching examined and approved before continuing with his work. What we all need is a bit of humility, and not judge a person's wisdom by the letters after his or her name.

I have a lot of respect for Ross Douthat, even though I don't agree with the tone and much of the content of the article in question. The pope isn't just another bishop, he is Christ's vicar, and Mr. Douthat at the very least came too close to crossing a line into disrespecting Christ's vicar for my taste. As a Catholic he should show more prudence, but as an American citizen he has every right to express his opinion on whatever topic suits his fancy. As a member of the baptized he has as much of a right to weigh in on the issues facing the Church as anyone, for we are all of us made, by that sacrament, into the image of Christ: priest prophet and king. All of us are called to be these three things, especially prophets, whether we have a credential or not.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Why I'm Not Scared of Halloween

The first time I heard that Halloween was an evil demonic celebration was when I was studying in Mexico in the late '90's. It was by way of an article by an Argentine priest condemning the feast, as not only the work of Satan but as an act of American style cultural imperialism. I would later hear the same argument, minus the demonic angle, condemning sending Christmas cards, and Santa Clause. Now that I work in a predominantly Latino parish every year I must endure the same questions about if it's alright to let children dress up and go trick or treating on October 31. If people only knew how much I'm not scared of Halloween, and how much better the world would be if more Christians (particularly adults) took the same attitude.

I'm not scared of Halloween because I know that it is, from it's origins, a Christian observance. The word Halloween comes to us from 18th century Scotland, where the night before November 1 was referred to as All Hallows Even (All Hallows = All Saints, Even = Eve). So the name itself simply means the Eve of All Saints Day, which is exactly what it is. While the term was being used regularly by the 1740's, there doesn't seem to be any evidence that it was used at all before the 1550's. So it's origins are tied to the Christian observance of All Saints Day.

For a more detailed explanation of the Catholic roots of Halloween go here.

Don't get me wrong, I understand the Celtic pagan influences on the observance. I also understand that various groups, including satanists and wiccans, have adopted the feast and twisted it to their own purposes. What I find more disturbing is how what was always an innocent carnival for children has been turned into an adult affair complete with overly sexualized and ghoulish costumes. But does this mean that Christians should just give up and surrender the day to these unsavory elements? I say no. I say the answer to the problem that is Halloween is to reclaim it and accent it's Catholic roots.

Just as we fight to keep Christ in Christmas and keep the focus on the Resurrection at Easter in the face of the secular distractions associated with those feasts, we should keep the Saints in Halloween. While the Nativity and Easter are more important than All Saints Day, it is a Solemnity and a holy day of obligation. We shouldn't surrender, even it's vigil, to secular tastes. If we are unhappy with the emphasis on the dark side, then it is for us to shine the light on holiness, which is what All Saints Day is about. So if I am going to make any suggestions it would be these 2:

1. Re-establish in our minds the link between Halloween and All Saints Day. These are not two celebrations that just happen to be on successive days. Halloween is not a demonic inversion of All Saints Day, either. It is the Eve, or Vigil of All Saints Day. We will celebrate the Mass for the Solemnity that evening, and any parties celebrated should reflect that fact.

2. Dressing in costumes are good, especially for children. It helps to cultivate their imaginations, and is just plain fun. But either have your child dress like saint or at the very least like something positive and innocent like a historical figure or fictional hero.

What I wouldn't do is just say no to Halloween and not offer an alternative. Their friends will be out that night, and your children will simply sit at home not understanding what the big deal is. Eventually they may come to understand, but we still will have missed an opportunity to catechize and build community spirit.

Worse yet, we will be surrendering to the dominant culture, denying our own heritage while thinking that we are doing the opposite.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Cubs-Mets: Taking Exile in Baseball Switzerland

The first draft of this post assumes you know me and my background, so it might be a little confusing at first. You could put two and two together by reading my profile, but who has time for that? I'm a New Yorker living in Chicago, who loves both places, and while my sports allegiances mainly reflect my East Coast roots, I pull for the adopted home town teams when they aren't playing the Yankees, Giants or Knicks. But what about when they play those other New York teams? In here lies the dilemma. 

For the first time, probably ever, I'm in a no lose sports situation, that simultaneously is no win. That the New York Mets are facing the Chicago Cubs in the NLCS, that begins tomorrow in Queens, is leaving me in a bind. For those who know me, I'm a life long Yankee fan, but I'm also a fan of the game and it's history.

I'm also no Mets hater. When it comes to the team in Flushing I take the attitude Vito Corleone had with The Turk: I wish them luck so long as their interests don't conflict with mine.

And actually this post season my interest in the Mets goes beyond just New York-centric jingoism. I feel good for Terry Collins, the Mets manager. He took the job in 2011 knowing that the organization was in a shambles financially, which meant no big free agent signings to cover for the lack of major league ready prospects down on the farm. The Mets weren't very good between 2011 and '13, it's true, but they always seemed to play hard. It might sound strange to say about a consistently sub .500 team, but they were often fun to watch, and I have to believe that owed to their manager's no nonsense yet enthusiastic style.

Collins, after holding the fort for three seasons, cheerleading a loser, enthusiastically waving the orange and blue in defiance of reality, had to be relieved to see, like most of us did last year, that things were going to finally change for the better. Most experts saw them competing for a wild card berth this year, but beyond all expectations they won the division out right. There were rumors before last season even ended though that now that the Mets were competitive again they were going to shuffle Collins out and bring in a "real" manager. That didn't happen, and now the Mets are back in the LCS quicker than most expected. I'm happy Terry Collins gets to enjoy the rewards after suffering through some very lean seasons, made more agonizing, I must imagine, knowing that losing was a part of the short, and even intermediate, organizational game plan.

As for the Cubs, according to some records, there are possibly fewer than 75 people alive in the world today who were born before the Cubs last won the World Series. This is even more amazing when you consider the blessed event happened in 1908. I'd be surprised if any of them remember it, or if they are still in the mental state to remember something that happened 107 years ago, cared then or now.

Yes, 1908. Teddy Roosevelt was president of the United States, of which there were 47. Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and JFK weren't born yet, and Lyndon Johnson was two months old. Blessed Mother Teresa was also yet to be born. There was still a czar in Russia. St. Pius X was pope, and the Vatican City State was yet to be established. A loaf of bread was .5c, and people still though the moon was made of green cheese (OK, I made that last one up). I could go on, but you get the picture: the North Siders are due.

And the city of Chicago and its environs are electric with anticipation. Like the Mets, everyone thought that the Cubs would be improved this year, but no one thought that they were a serious contender. They are a wild card team, but out of a very tough division that produced three playoff teams, and had a better regular season record then either the Mets or the NL West champion Dodgers.  So the City of Big Shoulders has a reason to celebrate and be confident.

When they won the division series Tuesday the next morning's Tribune published something like a 100 point front page headline normally reserved for for luxury liners hitting icebergs and world wars ending. That night the streets around Wrigley Field were crowded with people waiting to go crazy at the final out, neighborhood bars were filled to overflowing, the stars fell from the sky and the moon turned a blood red. As a jaded Yankees fan I can't help but wonder what they're going to do if they actually win it all? I mean, don't they know it's still a long way to go, and while winning the first round is wonderful, it's not a dancing with wild abandon in the streets with an Old Style in one hand, a Vienna beef frank (NO KETCHUP, EVER!) in the other while kissing a total stranger worthy event? Come on guys and gals, a little decorum! Act like you've been here before!

Well, the truth is they haven't been here very often in the last century plus, and when they have it's ended in bitter disappointment. So while I'm a spoiled Yankee fan, for whom anything short of getting to the World Series is considered a failure, it's actually refreshing to see the enthusiasm, joy and just plain giddiness of the Cub fans, and the affect the team's run has had on the city.

I really do hope all goes well for the Cubbies. I was here for the Bartman "incident," and things got ugly really fast. The city was in a similar state of euphoria at the prospects ending the then 96 year championship drought, and the team's collapse in the 2003 NLCS (not Steve Bartman's fault, by the way) left the eternally optimistic Cub fans uncharacteristically bitter for years afterward. The positive spirit is back, and it's great to see.

So what to do? I have friends who are fans of both teams, in both metropolitan areas. I'm a New Yorker by birth, and a Chicagoan by the grace of God. Any other year, with the Yankees polishing off their golf clubs in October, I'd gladly take a brief joyride on either teams bandwagon. But I just can't get myself to take a side. First, because I feel strongly about both teams, and I hate admit it, I'm not sure its safe to. I have to live here, and I would like to visit New York again in my lifetime.

I could say that I'm rooting for the Chi-York Cubmepolitans, which I know is not going to get me off the hook, either. I'm just going to stay in a neutral country the next week or so, knowing that whoever wins the LCS, I'll have someone to root for in the World Series.