Seriously… What Should I Do?

October 31, 2010

What with the NBA season all of five days old, no doubt all you b-ball junkies out there have watched, discussed, contemplated, quantified, deep fried and blogged-about the King (LeBron James) and “The Decision” – the now infamous one hour special where he proclaimed that he was leaving the anawim Cleveland Cavaliers to play in South Beach for the Miami Heat.

And now he and the good ol’ folks at Nike have released a new commercial responding to the incredible backlash against LeBron since the deciding day.  In case you haven’t seen it take 90 seconds and watch it.  I’ll be right here.

… checking email…

… playing some dumb Facebook game…

Time’s up.  What did you think?  I’ll tell you what I thought in one word: “wow.”  Or four more: “now that’s a commercial!” Read the rest of this entry »

We Can Be Heroes: A Homily

October 31, 2010

In Luke’s gospel the rich do not come off especially well. The rich young man is told to sell all that he owns and, unable to do so, he goes away very sad. In the Magnificat, Mary looks forward to the day when God will fill the poor with good things and send away the rich with empty hands. Jesus pronounces woes to the rich, he portrays them as fools, calls them callous, and in general finds them incapable of responding to the call of God. Remember the story from luke’s gospel about the two men who die, one named Lazarus is sent immediately to heaven. The other because he was rich and did not care for Lazarus is sent immediately to hell.

Even in today’s story the rich do not have an easy time of it. The crowd grumbles at the rich man Zacchaeus. He, a very wealthy man, is forced to run along side the crowd gathered to see Jesus. His wealth does not get him a luxury skybox but instead he’s forced to climb a rather small tree so he may see Jesus pass by. His wealth offers him no advantages and in the eyes of the crowd his wealth is a tremendous disadvantage. They roll their eyes at him. Read the rest of this entry »

On screen exorcists

October 30, 2010

This Halloween I thought I’d watch a few exorcist movies.  Their popularity in our increasingly secular culture strikes me as an intriguing anomaly.  When I taught freshmen at Marquette High School, the exorcism stories from the Gospels inevitably provoked a barrage of questions.

Exorcist movies intrigue in a way other stories don’t because—in addition to the thrill of being frightened—they provide a backdoor into questions of the supernatural.  I watched The Exorcist and The Exorcism of Emily Rose last week, both based loosely on actual events, and I was struck by the certitude of the unbelievers in both films:  the roomful of psychologists in lab coats who tell The Exorcist’s Chris McNeil (Ellen Burstyn), whose daughter is possessed, that exorcisms sometimes work, just not for the reasons “the Catholics” think they do; and the prosecutor in Emily Rose, Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott), who pronounces the word “miraculous” with scorn.

The confident rejection of the supernatural these skeptics show represents the conventional wisdom of our culture, just as the acceptance of a world filled with spirits represented—and in most parts of the world still represents—the accepted belief in other cultures.  In an interview, Jennifer Carpenter, who plays the possessed girl Emily Rose, said that the movie aimed to send viewers away with “fistfuls of questions.”

Read the rest of this entry »

A holy day of opportunity

October 26, 2010

This year All Saints Day is not a holy day of obligation.  I have to confess, I’m a little sad about that.

I’m sad because, absent the threat of sin, most people won’t go to Mass.

Too cynical a way of putting it?  Maybe.  But am I wrong?

Human nature being fallen, there’s a certain legalistic streak in each one of us, and the most common form of legalism is minimalism.  Ever asked yourself, “How late can I show up at Mass for it still to count?”  Or calculated how many minutes into Mass communion is likely to be so that you can squeeze in one last donut before heading out the door?  Come on, admit it.  I have, too.  (The donut had sprinkles.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Homily for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

October 24, 2010


Since I’ve been ordained a deacon, most of the energy that once went into blog posts now goes into homilies.  Then it occurred to me that I might just post an occasional homily and kill two birds with one stone.  Here’s the one I preached today at St. Paul’s in Cambridge, MA.  It’s written more for listening than for reading, but the basic point survives.  Enjoy…

Can we see the Pharisee in today’s Gospel as a ‘normal’ person with ‘normal’ attitudes?  And, as a result, can we see Christ’s disapproval of the Pharisee’s attitudes as an invitation to a discipleship that goes beyond conventional morality?  This, to my mind, is the imaginative challenge that our Gospel poses.  The problem is that our sensibilities in Christian Culture have been so long tutored by these and similar passages that the Pharisee now seems cartoonish.  We can hardly imagine consciously bragging, comparing, and condemning so openly.  So it’s easy to give ourselves a pass.

In order to help us approach the Pharisee sympathetically, then, I thought I might just share a few findings from mental health professionals on the self-perception of ‘normal’ adults who enjoy moderate to high self-esteem. Read the rest of this entry »

On the Feast of the North American Martyrs

October 19, 2010


One of the notes of great holiness is its ability to inspire art—and not just “preachy” art, that is, art placed at the service of transparently apologetic aims.  The lives of great saints often have a sort of public appeal, such that they can be perceived as beautiful even by those who lie outside the Catholic fold.  I would argue that numbered among these great saints would be the North American Martyrs, the seven French Jesuits and one lay companion who were martyred attempting to evangelize the indigenous peoples of New France.

If an artistic legacy be accepted as a valid criterion for detecting the presence of great sanctity, then I would submit as evidence for my claim Brebeuf and His Brethren, the epic poem written by E. J. Pratt.  Pratt was perhaps the foremost Canadian poet of the early 20th Century.  And, though trained as a Methodist minister in the days before ecumenism was fashionable, Pratt admitted in a radio interview that he considered the North American Martyrs “the most romantic historical thing that Canada had ever encountered.”  Their saga cried out to be turned into poetry. Read the rest of this entry »

Our Broken Social Network

October 19, 2010

The Social Network, directed by David Fincher, written by Aaron Sorkin

This new film has received lots of positive reviews and has sold lots of tickets over the past weeks, but I was unsure just what might be in store as I walked into the theater this weekend. What I found was a brilliant, and oddly moving, tragedy. At first, it seemed to be just the tragedy of one man, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of facebook, but in the end the tragedy seems to be so many-sided, so “social” that I found myself drawn right into the drama. I was asking the question: these people’s lives are so very broken, but in the end, are they all that different from me?

Read the rest of this entry »

God’s Existence and Flying Elephants

October 18, 2010

“I want a candy so good that you can’t even eat it.”

“I want pigs to be able to fly.”

Two good examples brought up in class. 

Their point to me:  just because I really want a God to exist doesn’t mean that he actually exists.  Freud’s point: religion is just wish-fulfillment.

My point to them: we are the only creatures who can wish for things that we know we can never get.   The reading we had done was from Fr. Norris Clarke, SJ about the human yearning for an Infinite Being.  They wanted to know: who really yearns for an Infinite Being except philosophers in their studies?  This proof only works for really smart people. 

On the contrary, everyone wishes for what we can’t have.  Read the rest of this entry »

Baseball and Belief

October 16, 2010

Hello all.

I’m excited and grateful to join this blog – both because it’s a chance to write alongside my brothers, and because it’s a community of believers.  So, putting myself in your shoes, dear reader, I found myself wondering what this new guy might write about. And so I thought I could begin my blogging efforts trying to answer those questions and giving an example of what I mean.

I’m a philosopher by training and interest, but I am a huge sucker for pop-culture (yes, I watch Jersey Shore), good music (Bob Dylan’s Every Grain of Sand is a major touchstone), and sports (no, I am not a Brett Favre fan). But I’m a Catholic – a Jesuit – first and foremost.  And it’s this intermingling of pop-culture and religious tradition that I‘m finding absolutely fascinating right now. Basically all these cultural influences (stuff we’re all exposed to to whatever extent) get run through this Jesuit filter in my heart & head anyway, so I figure I’d try to share that process with you in this blog.

Hope that sounds interesting to you all. Anyway, here’s a first effort at what I just described. Read the rest of this entry »

Prayers for Canada

October 15, 2010

Some links from a Jesuit friend up in Canada.  Seems they need our prayers up there.

On a couple urged to abort their surrogate baby and prostitution laws struck down. Sigh.

New Blogger

October 15, 2010

Please welcome to Whosoever Desires a new blogger, Patrick Gilger. Paddy Gilger, SJ is a Jesuit of the Wisconsin Province studying theology in Bekeley, California. But he wasn’t born in Ireland no matter how many “d’s” you add to his first name. He’s from Minnesota along with about a dozen other states, and has been a Jesuit since 2002. Paddy moved to California after spending three years as the Volunteer Coordinator at Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He’s interested in all music that takes its clue from Bob Dylan, follows too many sporting events too seriously, and recently grew a mustache. He’s very grateful to be so close to ordination and to have the chance to write for this blog.

Please welcome him with all of the witty, quirky and intelligent comments that are typical of this blog.

Moral Opposite Day

October 10, 2010

Do you remember “Opposite Day” from childhood?  “Sure, I’ll give you half my candy bar if you give me your fruit Roll-Up…just kidding: it’s Opposite Day!”

When adults play Opposite Day, the results are far more sinister.  This year the Nobel Prize Committee played Moral Opposite Day by awarding their prize for medicine to Dr. Robert Edwards, the inventor of in vitro fertilization.  A Vatican official quickly condemned the Committee’s actions, and rightly so.

The Church’s objections to in vitro fertilization are perhaps not as well known as they should be:  the procedure turns reproduction into a technical process instead of an act of love and involves the mass-production of embryos, the majority of which will be discarded when they are no longer deemed useful.  Because the procedure’s rate of success is low, a larger number of human embryos are created than what are normally needed, and those that are deemed defective or prove to be “unnecessary” are killed or frozen.

A more thorough and expert discussion of the problems with in vitro fertilization, as well as the morally acceptable alternatives to it, can be found on the USCCB website.  However, even a brief consideration of all that the procedure involves should be sufficient to understand how it results in the reduction of human life to a commodity.  Any time we find ourselves applying the adjective “unnecessary” to a human life, we have already entered a brave new world of moral horror.

Read the rest of this entry »

An interesting discussion on religion and violence

October 7, 2010

To mark the 439th anniversary of the Battle of Lepanto, I thought I’d alert our readers to a discussion taking place on Cynthia R. Nielsen’s interesting blog Per Caritatem on “Violence and Christian Holy Writ.”


I contributed a short piece on Rene Girard based on our own discussions of Girard here on Whosoever Desires.  (My own piece won’t come up for another few weeks, but the others’ contributions are even more interesting.)

Gordon Gekko returns

October 5, 2010

Oliver Stone’s new Wall Street sequel contains moments of gimmicky directorial over-reach, self-congratulation, wild implausibility, and hackneyed sermonizing.

It’s also a brilliant film.

Stone’s style is often a bit too much for me, but his Wall Street films are American classics.  His ambition in both films is tragedy on a Shakespearean scale, and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is worth the risk.  It is a visually beautiful film, from the glittering shots of Manhattan to the Goya masterpiece that hangs over its villain’s fireplace—Saturn Devouring His Son—and its soundtrack is great.

But best of all is Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko, a character on a tragic scale.  When he emerges from prison at the beginning of the film, there’s something in him of King Lear, alone, broke, and abandoned by his family.  As he strides the stage at Fordham University, lecturing on his new book, Is Greed Good?, his hair white and wavy, railing against the real estate bubble, debt, and lack of accountability in the American economy, he has something in him of an Old Testament prophet, an Amos or a Jeremiah.  Gekko’s prophetic aura is heightened by the fact that the movie starts out in the weeks just before the stock market crash of 2008, a crash which he predicts.

If you haven’t seen the movie, stop reading and come back when you have, for the slick-haired Gordon Gekko we came to despise in the first Wall Street is not dead but only dormant.   Read the rest of this entry »