Friday, April 20, 2012

Friday Thoughts - The Basketball and the Cross, an Ankler Adventure

 It has been a great and difficult journey since February 6th. I have experienced great grace from the Lord, some of which I have shared with you. Jesus Christ is none more active than in the suffering of His children. He makes Himself Incarnate in our lives, revealing to us His great love, mercy, and justice. In each moment of our lives, in the most ordinary things, He is revealing Himself to us. That has been my journey as the Ankler.

This latest revelation brings me back to that fateful night two and a half months ago. I was playing a game that I love with people whom I loved. Psychologically I felt safe, unafraid of any harm coming to me. Warming up shooting jumpers, I was working off the rust in my game missing right, left, hitting the rim or the backboard, rarely hearing the sweet sound of swoosh.

Then, my experience of basketball was forever altered. Psychologically I will never feel safe. The rotation of my ankle in a direction the good Lord did not intend marred my hoops experience.

Granted I still enjoy watching the game, especially my New Orleans Hornets. Will I get up and play another day? Probably, but I will be going about things differently. This injury is for me a paradigm shift, an event identified by before and after.

Last night, I was given a gift, a symbol for of this event. No, not the pins that were in my foot. Rather, it was a basketball signed by my fellow hoopsters. It is a symbol that will forever hold this event in my memory.

As I began to reflect on this, the Lord's revelation to me became apparent. Symbols have meaning. They are not empty; nor are they false prophets. This basketball bring me back to that moment of deep pain. It would seem that I am a masochist to graciously and excitedly receive such a gift that will contains memories such as this. It is not just a symbol though of pain; it is also a symbol of the great grace of God that has been poured out to me over these last months.

It is no different for us with regard to the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross is a symbol of extraordinary pain, suffering, hatred, anger, malice and evil. However, it's power lies not in such things, but, rather, in the grace flowing forth from that sacrifice of the High Priest of the Father. The cross is a symbol of our redemption, a reminder of the saving events our lives. It is a scandal for some. It is foolishness for others, but, for those who have received the gift of faith, it is glory and joy, hope and happiness.

Dear reader do not let this symbol pass you by.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Friday Thoughts - Reading Fiction is a Spiritual Exercise

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

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

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

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

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

She seated herself at the only free table, under one of the large windows, and looked out. The view was of Candlemaker Row, a narrow street that descended sharply towards the Grassmarket. There were angled slate roofs, chimney pots, stone gables, and towering above them, like the set of some improbable opera, the Castle. For a few moments she stared at the scene. The fragility of the city touched her, as it always did; made her catch her breath. And she lived in this: that was what never failed to astonish here. I live in the midst of this beauty.
This is Edinburgh Castle, the "Castle" of
which the character above is referring 
McCall Smith lets the reader in on the beauty of Edinburgh, Scotland. It's ancientness captures the mind, the heart, and the imagination. That street used to house candlemakers. I can imagine people coming from all over the city to get their candles only to head down the hill to the open-field market to purchase the food for that day. Now, not only do I have an image implanted in my mind of Scotland, but a better appreciation of the history of my own city.

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

Friday, April 6, 2012

Friday Thoughts - Good Friday

Today we remember the worst day in human history that by the events that took place became the greatest weekend in human history. Man deigned to kill his redeemer. His redeemer humbly offered Himself as sacrifice for the sins of every man who living, dead, and not yet conceived. As St. Paul said, By one act man entered into sin, by one act man entered into salvation.

Today is not like any other day. It sanctifies Friday as a holy day, a day set apart, a day to enter more fully into the cross of Jesus Christ. We fast in order to remember. The pain in our stomachs keeps us from being complacent. We cannot sit in bodily contentment, but rather in yearning and desiring. The physical hunger reveals that we have an even deeper longing, the fulfillment of our salvation, the Resurrection.

Christ said to his disciples in the Gospel of John, It is good you call me teacher. For I am. His greatest lesson is to be learned today. If you are to rise, you must die. In order to receive the fullness of salvation I offer you, you, too, must take up your cross and follow Me.

Do not let this day pass by. Let this be a memorial and remembrance that our lives are gifts the were bestowed upon us this day 2000 years ago. The joy that we have, the sorrow we experience for our sins, the peace in trial, all flow from the side of Cross like a torrent with is as infinite as its source.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Duped By the Hunger Games?

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

Without further ado ....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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