January 3rd celebrates two important events: the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus and the anniversary of the birth of J.R.R. Tolkien. As a Catholic obvious the former has to take precedence, I mean Jesus is the center of the Catholic faith. However, I think it is ironic, maybe even providential, of the placement of the great English literary figure’s birthday within the season of Christmastide.
Creation Leads to the Creator
The famed creator of Middle Earth himself was a devout Catholic and belief in Jesus Christ permeated his entire life. I admire Tolkien because of his creativity, devotion, and ability to invoke joy into my life simply by reading his works or striking up a conversation with a random stranger about his life!
According to the Baltimore Catechism paragraph 215, Catholics honor saints because
“We honor the saints in heaven because they practiced great virtue when they were on earth, and because in honoring those who are the chosen friends of God we honor God Himself.”
The excitement, peace, and joy I receive when reading, researching, or talking about Middle Earth ultimately is aimed at a higher reality. A deeper reality of full communion with God in Heaven! Tolkien once wrote, “After all, I believe that legends and myths are largely made of ‘truth’.”
All of creation act as signposts pointing to God’s existence.
The same is true for the hidden or not so hidden Easter-eggs contained in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. The date of the formation of the Fellowship—that is, the group of representatives of Middle Earth races—actually is December 25th!
The Little Way of the Hobbit
Much of Tolkien’s theology, whether he would have wanted to admit it or not, reminds me of the spirituality of The Little Way of St. Therese of Lisieux. Her path towards holiness consisted of relying on God’s mercy and forgiveness while seeking ordinary daily actions to show love of God and neighbor.
The French saint wrote, “Miss no single opportunity of making small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.” Whenever I read and reflect upon that quote I am also reminded of the following words of Tolkien, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”
Fantasy and Tolkien geeks now well that the bearer of the One Ring [the embodiment of temptation] was a hobbit. If only one word would suffice to describe a hobbit to individuals not too aware of this fictional Middle Earth race it would be diminutive. Littleness, at least in appearance, is the chief trait of the heroes of The Lord of the Rings.
Even the smallest person can impact the future
Like St. Therese of Lisieux, Tolkien recognizes that the smallest person can have a great impact on human history. The greatest event in human history is the Incarnation—God being man in the person of Jesus Christ in the form of a little baby.
I honor J.R.R. Tolkien today because his “complex”, extensive, and intricate sub-creation of Middle Earth provokes a sense of joy in the little acts done in great love and sacrifice. Ultimately, after reading any of his works, I am reminded to be grateful for creative genius not as a worship of the fantasy author. Instead, I honor him as he points me to the Real and Truth Author of All of Reality!
“At the name of Jesus, every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” –Philippians 2:10-11
Does your life seem confusing? Are you currently in a situation where there is no apparent solution? Sir Isaac Newton once said, “Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.” If that is the case it seems that life is lacking truth lately. Confusion, frustration, anxiety, and anger engulfed me over the course of the past couple weeks.
Anyone who has experienced that over a period of time will start to feel like you may be trapped in an endless loop of the daily grind. The image that immediately comes to mind during confusing times is the lithograph print Relativity [see above] by Dutch artist M.C. Escher.
When life starts to cycle into a twisted journey of never-ending [and never beginning] staircases, the seeds of desolation become sown. Every time doubt and despair grow in my heart I turn to the Blessed Virgin Mary for assistance.
According to the Second Vatican Council’s document Lumen Gentium 56 stated, “”The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience; what the virgin Eve bound through her unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosened by her faith.” While the devotion to Mary Undoer of Knots is founded in the ancient Church, I recently discovered this special appellation for Mary from Pope Francis.
I learned that the pope’s favorite devotion to Mary is to view her as our mother who unties the knots in our spiritual life. I came up with three reasons why I believe this to be true as well.
True model of obedience to God
As an adopted child of God I often struggle with being obedient to the will of my Heavenly Father. It is easy to embrace a “my way of the highway!” type of mentality. Due to original sin humanity suffers from a detachment from God. Mary is a bridge to Jesus—who is the ultimate bridge to God the Father!
The Blessed Virgin’s intrepid, but faithful statement of obedience in Luke 1:38, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” always give me pause. Her statement she compel you to stop and ponder as well. How often do you attempt to push for your will to be done? Do you notice subtle, or maybe overt, signs pointing to God’s will, yet still ignore them? What things could you do differently to unite your will to the Father’s will?
Mary, Mother of God is the true and perfect standard-bearer for what obedience to God’s will looks like.
As a parent, the worst possibly suffering I could ever imagine would involve something happening to my children that was outside of my control and ability to comfort/aid them. Venerable Fulton Sheen always talks of Mary with both charity and clarity. In Mary and the Sword he speaks of the importance for Mary’s suffering before Calvary,
“An unsuffering Madonna to the suffering Christ would be a loveless Madonna. Who is there who loves, who does not want to share the sorrows of the beloved? Since Christ loved mankind so much as to want to die to expiate their guilt, then He should also will that His Mother, who lived only to do His will, should also be wrapped in the swaddling bands of His griefs.”
Having experienced an unimaginable suffering of seeing her only son agonize on the Cross, Mary is the perfect mother for me to seek her aid as another son suffering from desolation and doubts at times.
Mother to all God’s children
Jesus in John 19 entrusted Mary to be the spiritual mother for John — and not only for John but for all of God’s children. According to the Catechism paragraph 963,
Since the Virgin Mary’s role in the mystery of Christ and the Spirit has been treated, it is fitting now to consider her place in the mystery of the Church. “The Virgin Mary . . . is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God and of the redeemer. . . . She is ‘clearly the mother of the members of Christ’ . . . since she has by her charity joined in bringing about the birth of believers in the Church, who are members of its head.”502 “Mary, Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church.”503
Oftentimes when I experienced confusion, sadness, anger, and doubt growing up [and even today] I usually reach out first to my mom in seeking consolation and clarity. The same is true for my spiritual mother—Mary. Her close unity with Jesus Christ combined with her full humanity allows her to be both a trusted and approachable figure to find refuge in.
Mary guides us to Her Son
St. Thomas Aquinas declared, “As mariners are guided into port by the shining of a star, so Christians are guided to heaven by Mary.” Catholics honor Mary because she points us to her Divine Son Jesus!
We relate directly to Mary due to her full humanity. During the stresses of life, reciting of a Hail Mary calms my angst and orients the storm in my soul toward God’s will. Let us close with the prayer to Mary Undoer of Knots in hopes that she guides us away from the knotty snares of the Devil.17
Prayer to Mary Undoer of Knots
Virgin Mary, Mother of fair love, Mother who never refuses to come to the aid of a child in need, Mother whose hands never cease to serve your beloved children because they are moved by the divine love and immense mercy that exists in your heart, cast your compassionate eyes upon me and see the snarl of knots that exist in my life. You know very well how desperate I am, my pain and how I am bound by these knots. Mary, Mother to whom God entrusted the undoing of the knots in the lives of His children, I entrust into your hands the ribbon of my life. No one, not even the evil one himself, can take it away from your precious care. In your hands there is no knot that cannot be undone. Powerful Mother, by your grace and intercessory power with Your Son and My Liberator, Jesus, take into your hands today this knot…I beg you to undo it for the glory of God, once for all, You are my hope. O my Lady, you are the only consolation God gives me, the fortification of my feeble strength, the enrichment of my destitution and with Christ the freedom from my chains. Hear my plea. Keep me, guide me, protect me, o safe refuge! Mary, Undoer of Knots, pray for me
November 1st—the Celebration of the Feast of All Saints—among my favorite feasts in the Church’s liturgical calendar. Only the Feast of the Holy Trinity and the Most Precious Body and Blood eclipses All Saints Day in significance for me personally.
Who are the Saints?
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness. . . . They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus . . . . So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped” (CCC 956).
In other words, the reason we honor the holy men and women in union in Heaven with God is because they draw of closer to unity with God. November 1st is not meant to be a Holy Oscars or a rolling out of a theological red carpet.
The Saints Point Us to God
Saints are witnesses to the faith and reflect the light Holy Trinity. I am reminded St. Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney when he said, “We are all like little mirrors, in which God contemplates Himself. How can you expect that God should recognize His likeness in an impure soul?” This likening of the human soul as a reflection, a mirror of God’s love can be found even earlier in Church tradition. St. Theophilus of Antioch [circa 2nd century A.D.] declared,
A person’s soul should be clean, like a mirror reflecting light. If there is rust on the mirror his face cannot be seen in it. In the same way, no one who has sin within him can see God.
Below I formed a list, a sort of personal litany of saints, and applicable holy writings that have helped me grow in holiness and polish my soul to better reflect the love of the Holy Trinity.
Along with the names of canonized saints who personally influenced me, I outlined several Christian writers who lived fairly recently or are currently alive and are not officially canonized. Nevertheless, the books from the suggested reading still helped me grow in my Catholic faith.
***Note: I added the book(s) that I have actually read that have impacted me and deepened my relationship with God through the saint. This is in no way an exhaustive list –it is merely a list of saints whose writings and/or witness influenced me positively***
November Nourishment for the Soul
Mary- The World’s First Love: Mary, Mother of God by Venerable Fulton Sheen
Athanansius: On the Incarnation; Life of St. Antony
Pope John Paul II: Fides Et Ratio; Redemptoris Misso; Veritatis Splendor
Maria Faustina: Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul
Francis de Sales: Introduction to the Devout Life
Louis de Montfort: True Devotion to Mary
Terersa of Avila: Interior Castle
John of the Cross: Dark Night of the Soul
Therese of Lisieux: The Autobiography of Saint Therese of Lisieux: The Story of a Soul
Luke: Acts of the Apostle; Gospel According to Luke
Josemaria Escriva: The Way
Pope Pius XII: Humani Generis
James: The Letter of St. James
Pope Pius IX
Pope Leo XIII
Francis of Assisi
Ignatius of Loyala
Ambrose: De Incarnationis Dominicæ Sacramento [on the Incarnation and Sacraments]
Thomas Aquinas: The Summa Theologica
G.K. Chesterton: Orthodoxy
S. Lewis: Mere Christianity; Screwtape Letters; Space Trilogy
Bishop Robert Barron: Catholicism
Peter Kreeft, P.H.D.: Socrates Meets Jesus: History’s Greatest Questioner Confronts the Claims of Christ; Prayer for Beginners; Between Heaven and Hell
J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit; The Lord of the Rings
Now these readings aren’t replacement for the Mass. Hopefully you find this list helpful in your spiritual journey!
The film Geostorm debuted in movie theaters across the world in mid-October 2017. Earlier in the month, a trailer for this movie was on and it piqued my interest. That is rare because I normally find weather-related films to be boring! This movie was different.
Relying on a unique story-line, Geostorm featured a future with the possibility of a global network of satellites used to control climate to benefit humanity. The technology gets hijacked and apocalyptic storms ensue as a result.
Along with my interest in the possibility of humanity controlling weather, October is a month culturally dedicated on Halloween. Originating from the Catholic tradition of celebrating the Vigil of All Saints Day, the word Halloween originally referred to All Hallows [holy] Eve. It is a celebration of the officially canonized holy men and women by the Catholic Church who had such a profound and transformative relationship with God that they are believed to be united to Him in Heaven.
Holiness or ghastliness?
Unfortunately, sometimes Halloween gets associated with witches, ghosts, goblins, magic, fortune telling, and other sorts of divination. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church,
All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to “unveil” the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone (CCC 2116).
What exactly does ‘falsely supposed to unveil the future’ mean? A few years ago, a co-worker and I were talking about the weather [go figure]. I do not quite remember how partly cloud with a chance of rain led to the practices of the occult, but my co-worker exclaimed, “You’re Catholic, right? Don’t Catholics avoid tarot reading, and horoscopes?”
After I confirmed this provided the official Church teaching, he quipped, “Well, what about weather forecasting?”
His question caught me off guard. I did not have a good answer for him. After much reflection on this topic, I will share a few reasons why seeking knowledge from the occult is evil, whereas watching the weather channel to plan your weekend is not bad at all.
Old Testament precedent
The evils of summoning knowledge through the occult is found in the Old Testament. 1 Samuel 28 tells of King Saul’s going to the Witch of Endor to seek knowledge as “He [previously] consulted the LORD; but the LORD gave no answer, whether in dreams or by the Urim or through the prophets” (v.6).
Although this chapter sounds like it came from Middle-Earth [Endor reminds of a Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Universe!!], the first king of Israel went down a path seeking information via the wrong way. Listen to this brief exchange between Saul and the conjured spirit of the prophet Samuel:
Samuel then said to Saul, “Why do you disturb me by conjuring me up?” Saul replied: “I am in great distress, for the Philistines are waging war against me and God has turned away from me. Since God no longer answers me through prophets or in dreams, I have called upon you to tell me what I should do.”
e6To this Samuel said: “But why do you ask me, if the LORD has abandoned you for your neighbor?f17The LORD has done to you what he declared through me: he has torn the kingdom from your hand and has given it to your neighbor David.18“Because you disobeyed the LORD’s directive and would not carry out his fierce anger against Amalek, the LORD has done this to you today.g19Moreover, the LORD will deliver Israel, and you as well, into the hands of the Philistines. By tomorrow you and your sons will be with me, and the LORD will have delivered the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines. (1 Samuel 28:15-19).
Saul’s consultation of Samuel the prophet was not inherently evil. In fact, God encouraged Jewish leaders to listen to His messengers. The problem lay in the fact that Saul sought out Samuel through an improper channel and for ulterior motives. He desired power to defeat his enemies.
If I ever encountered that person from the break room, I would let them know that weather forecasting is definitely not evil. Meteorologists predict the weather for the benefit of society not the individual!
Divination—tarot reading, ouija boards, etc— occurs when individuals seek specific knowledge to benefit themselves in a selfish manner. What is more, the word occult comes from the Latin occultus which means “knowledge of the hidden or secret”. Such knowledge is in direct opposition to the knowledge of God taught by the Catholic [Universal] Church!
Predicting the future
A third and final point regarding the deep gulf between weather forecasting and practice of the occult is found in the nature of how one predicts through those means. Meteorology is established and justified via the scientific process. It is verifiable through series of tests and past data. All forms of divination rely on the paranormal. Man becomes a passive receipt of “secret knowledge” as opposed to learning about knowledge the proper way by faith and reason.
St. John Paul II in his encyclical letter Fides Et Ratio tells us, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth…Philosophy and the sciences function within the order of natural reason; while faith, enlightened and guided by the Spirit, recognizes in the message of salvation the “fullness of grace and truth” (cf. Jn 1:14) which God has willed to reveal in history and definitively through his Son, Jesus Christ.”
Relax you can talk about the weather again
Truth is to be for the benefit of all humanity. Because God is our Creator and I am a creature, I am not meant to acquire control of the future of my life—especially through methods of the occult. This would be selfish of me and quite prideful. “Well, what about weather forecasting? Is that wrong too?” I definitively say no.
Weather forecasting benefits the whole of mankind. May we ask for the graces and courage to resist the temptation to control our future!
Since the advent of the Internet an explosion of information has been accessible to a majority of the world. Social media and the invention of the smart phone only continued the ability to learn new information quicker and at an earlier age.
As a dad to four children I am both excited and terrified of the new advancements technology will afford humanity in the next few decades. Technology by itself is neutral. Its implementation can be used for good or evil. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1656, “In our own time, in a world often alien and even hostile to faith, believing families are of primary importance as centers of living, radiant faith. For this reason the Second Vatican Council, using an ancient expression, calls the family the Ecclesia domestica (domestic church).” Faith starts in the home.
During the Baptismal rite, Catholic parents pledge to teach their children in the faith. In the minutes after the ceremony, it is easy for parents to feel empowered and emboldened by the Holy. “Nothing can phase us. We has the power of the Holy Spirit guiding us (and our child)!” I thought as I held my oldest son after his Baptism. I felt invincible as a dad. It took less than a week for the Enemy to take advantage of my pride. Sending us temptation after temptation the Devil seeks to wear us down. His goal is to get us to a state of despair.
Life gets busy, messy, stressful, frustrating, hopeless at times, and tons of other inconveniences bombard us daily. It is definitely easy to lose sight and forget about the Baptismal vows we made before God and the Church. I struggle at least every month. On the worst months, I feel the strain almost daily. Recently, I switched to working the night shift. While this schedule has blessed me with the ability to stay home with the younger kids and take the older children to school, the result is less time as an entire family fully together at once.
Fortunately, the Labor Day Weekend provided our family to spend quality time. My wife suggested that I write about the ways we have developed to maintain our church at home despite our schedule. This post will center on five specific and simple ways to build your domestic church with little time.
St. John Vianney once said, “Prayer is the inner bath of love into which the soul plunges itself.” If we expect our kids to brush their teeth and wash their faces before school, why should we not also expect them (and ourselves) to wash their souls with morning prayer. My parents were not superbly theological in their articulation about the faith.
In hindsight, I realized they actions and prayer life made a big impact on me. Every morning on the drive to school my mom (in elementary school) and my dad (in high school) would lead us in a daily morning prayer consisting of an Our Father, Hail Mary, and various other prayers at times. This simple practice to begin the day was instrumental in build our church at home. My wife and I adopted this practice now.
Playtime can be Prayer Time
According to Genesis 2:3, God rested after completion of creation. Certainly the creator of the Universe would not tire, it is important because God “rested” as a means to show humanity the importance of taking time away from work. Some days I am too tired to play with my kids. But it is an importance duty as a parent. Play is equally as important as working. “Dad! I want you to play a game or outside with me,” my kids constantly tell me.
St. Francis de Sales in Introduction to the Devout Life wrote, “We must needs occasionally relax the mind, and the body requires some recreation also” (Part III, no 31). Throwing the frisbee with my wife the other day and watching my kids play at the playground had a sacramental quality to it. I felt drawn closer into the Mystery of God’s grace as I calmed my anxious mind through the playful activities of the weekend. The Doctor of the Church lists out good and moral playful activities, all still relevant today. Francis charts out the following:
Walking, harmless games, music, instrumental or vocal, field sports, etc., are such entirely lawful recreations that they need no rules beyond those of ordinary discretion, which keep every thing within due limits of time, place, and degree. So again games of skill, which exercise and strengthen body or mind, such as tennis, rackets, running at the ring, chess, and the like, are in themselves both lawful and good.
Look to Your Family’s Patron Saint(s)
Another simple way to grow your church at home is to reflect on your family’s patron saints. Your family’s patrons could be either the saints that you, your spouse, and your are named after or it could be a particular saint you learned about later in life. For example, if your family enjoys camping in the summer look to Saint Pope John Paul II as your role model.
My family’s patron saints are Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, and Gerad of Majella. We also ask for help from the Blessed Virgin Mary and specifically are close to Our Lady Undoer of Knots devotion. Sometimes the “can’t man” or pessimistic attitude invades our house. Mary helps to undo our knots (nots) and turns them into “yeses”.
Celebrate your children’s and spouse’s saints feast days by making food specific to the nationality of that saint. Read a bedtime story about that saint’s life or print off pictures of your patron saint as a coloring activity. If you are super pinched for time that day, simply reflect on the life of that saint throughout the day.
Patience is a Virtue
A fourth reason to develop your domestic church is to exercise the virtue of patience. It is easy to tell yourself to be patient, but it is super challenging to implement on some days! Jesus told his disciples and us in Matthew 7:7, ““Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” If you are running low on patience ask Him. You will receive it. Ask. Ask. Ask. Your children may challenge your belief in that verse, but please know your struggles for the day will day—eventually!
Getting the kids ready for bed is the most challenging part for us. My wife tells me that she constantly prays the Rosary to help prevent her was losing her cool. Mary is an effective intercessor. Mary always will intercede for us and draw us close to Her Son for aid.
The last strategy to implement to similar to the first—end your day with prayer. Nightly prayer as an entire family may not be feasible daily depending on your schedule. Because I work the overnight shift throughout the week, I can only pray with my wife and kids twice a week.
Frequency is not as important as consistency. I aim to consistently pray as a family even though it is only a couple times a week. Praying a decade of the Rosary or listening to the Chaplet of Divine Mercy sung are two ways my family likes to end the day.
Family that Prays Together Stay Together
As corny as the saying is families that nurture a consistent prayer life do stay together. Jesus prayed for unity (John 17:21)—so should you for your family’s sake and for the sake of the Church. Saint John Paul the Great declared, “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.” Serve God, your family, and the world use the time you have to foster the domestic church!
Human beings remain utterly unique among the living entities of God’s created hierarchy. We have bodies like the members of the animal kingdom as well as immortal spirits, the same substance of the angelic beings, which instill life in us. The human soul exists as the spiritual dimension of who we are.
In a positive atmosphere, developing youth get inspired and spurred on to greater achievements by the ideal that they are individually, intrinsically special. Loving caregivers pass this notion onto the next generation. But why is every human person unique? What makes you special?
One of the key elements in the shaping of one’s soul is simply relationships. A soul’s uniqueness lies in its relationships with other people, our brothers and sisters in Christ. The soul, though spiritual and unseen, acts as a crucial part of who we are. The inner movings of the soul affect our entire well-being. Likewise, the actions of the body have an impact on the soul. In this wonderful and intimate association between the body and the soul, the senses of the body have a big role to play.
Senses—Windows into the Soul
The physical senses relay information to us about our surroundings, especially about the people we interact with. We learn about other people through the senses. We see them and how they act. If we’re good friends, we’ll listen to what they have to say. This impacts the shaping of a soul. And the condition of our soul affects how we, in turn, react to those around us.
When a great deal of sin taints the soul, the relationships the soul may have are often damaged. In other words, the standing of one’s soul is going to have an effect on the friendships, bonds, and meetings a person has with others.
Since we gain knowledge via the physical senses, the senses have to filter through a lot of information. Today, much of the information generated by media has become sensualized or sexualized. Again, the senses feed through to the soul. When the senses intake garbage, the soul is on the receiving end of the deal. When you take in impurity, the soul is the eventual dumping ground.
Temple of the Holy Spirit
The soul, intended on a temple and home to God, does not deserve to be a junkyard. Digital imagery, graphics, and movies have been employed to provide porn and suggestive visuals, invading the mind and soul of the viewer. This is certainly one of the most dangerous capabilities of the media—especially movies . But movies, in their frequently damaging portrayals, offer numerous threats to viewers’ mentalities and interpersonal relationships.
Movies are not merely a brilliant product of man’s ingenuity and a splendid medium for artistic expression, but they have the potential to be moving—to touch us emotionally, speaking to us on a deeply personal level. More than this, when built up by relatable characters and a good soundtrack, films have the power of making their way into the fondness of our hearts. Movies and video content are simply more memorable than many other forms of media. They become ingrained upon the minds of their fans. As you can imagine, movies have a significant capacity for influencing people on a cultural level as well as a more subtle and psychological one.
Sexual License in Movies
One of the most commonly addressed dilemmas that the moviegoer faces is indecent exposure, which modern society softens and dubs as “entertainment” or some raunchy excuse of “fine art.” Pornography on the screen deserves neither title. While the problem has been discussed at length in numerous Christian circles, it remains an element of so much of today’s so-called entertainment industry. Thus, it merits mentioning yet again.
Interestingly, it is this very issue – that of sexual indecency – that plagued the art of cinema in its earliest and humblest of beginnings. The reason vivid sexual representation is so dangerous to the soul is that it subjects the eyes to a frame of potential temptation, the mind to a very specific memory. There is no imagination in many of the clips I’m alluding to. What’s there is there. The eyes, the windows to the soul, have just gotten a graphic image slapped against their transparent panes.
As mentioned earlier, when the soul is damaged, its relationships with other souls are also damaged. A saddening yet common real-world example of this is the effect of porn on the male mindset. When a porn addict experiences sexual attraction toward a woman, he begins to see her as a mere icon, an object, a thing of momentary pleasure. This type of content wreaks so much unhappiness and pain in society.
Catholic Impact on Movie Ratings
Catholics who were aware of what early cinematographers were doing realized something had to change. The Catholic Church was key in helping to purge film-making of its obsessive pornography and other suggestive imagery. During 1930s, less than two decades after cinematic theaters’ inception, a portion of the American Catholic population constructed and supported the National Legion of Decency. This group called for the censorship of Hollywood productions. They desired a moral standard for movies. Inevitably, it was these foundational steps taken by American Catholics that paved the way to the MPAA rating system of modern day!
Yet, even with the MPAA system in place, risqué content and outright nudity are common inclusions in today’s cinematic works, and the youth are more than welcome to come experience it. It’s something, like pornography in all its forms, that has to be battled by the entire faithful Christian community.
Watch but do not become the Characters
However, immodest sexuality is only one element which often gets drug into films. Many movie characters, good and bad alike, are portrayed as having rather immoral lifestyles. It’s this inclusion that often makes it possible to bring in some context of a sensual nature. Beyond that, immoral characters produce a toxic atmosphere around themselves. Unfortunately, sometimes these questionable characters appeal to the audience at large.
The personalities and attitudes of fictional characters can begin to affect the mannerisms and mentalities of moviegoers. Just as one’s sight is deeply impacted by sensual depictions, so are many of the senses affected by the on-screen characters and their behavior.
Movies are unique in that they can show a person for who he or she is. It stands as the only art form which captures a genuine living, breathing, talking person. A movie is an expression which falls just short of conversation – conversation with the viewer. But because of its realistic medium, film provides characters that can interact with us, at least in part, like real people.
Be Careful in Your Moviegoing
Similar to how those around us shape who we become, the characters in films and on TV can begin to leave their mark on our own mode of interacting with others. A fictional character can actually have an effect on how we enter into relationships— and how we treat them.
Inevitably, the cinematic entertainment industry provides a general good, but a lot of its fruits must undergo our scrutiny and selection. Not every film deserves to be watched. Not every apple deserves to be eaten. The Catholic wishing to keep a conscious clear and a heart and mind in purity is called to be more judgmental in what he or she views.
John Tuttle is a Catholic man who loves discovering and preserving truth and beauty. His work has been featured by Those Catholic Men, Love Thy Nerd, Movie Babble, Publishous, Tea with Tolkien, Catholic Journal: Reflections on Faith & Culture, and elsewhere. He is the founder of the web publication Of Intellect and Interest. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
In her book, Awakening the Heroes Within, Carol S. Pearson discusses twelve archetypes. According to psychologist Carl Jung, an archetype is a symbol or motif that is repeatedly represented in mythology, art and literature. In all forms of storytelling we see universal characters and situations that are unrelated, yet they share many of the same traits. Similarities between creation and flood stories and hero stories from different cultures around the world come to mind. There’s also the monomyth (or hero’s journey) story template that we see in classical mythology and more recently in books and movies like Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and the original Star Wars trilogy.
According to Jung, archetypes are not only represented in fictional stories though. He believed archetypes are a kind of inherited knowledge that lives in the unconscious mind of all people and that we unknowingly use archetypes to interpret the world and our place in it. Pearson says archetypes are “inner guides” that exemplify “a way of being on the journey” we call life. Note that Pearson isn’t saying archetypes are beings themselves. They are not angels, demons or spirits, but collective knowledge passed on through the generations. Pearson associates archetypes closely with the monomyth which she envisions in three stages: the preparation, journey and return of the hero (Joseph Campbell saw it as departure, initiation and return and I see the saint’s journey as the call, the cross and communion).
A Catholic Perspective on Archetypes and Myths
Though Jung and his followers like Pearson are psychologists, archetypes do not appear to be purely scientific or artistic in nature. Rather, there is a transcendent quality to them.
In book one of his four-book series, Finding True Happiness, Father Robert Spitzer, SJ recognizes Jungian archetypes as one of the four major dimensions of religious intuition and experience. “The archetypal story calls each of us to be a hero [in the cosmic struggle between good and evil,] … to resist the forces of evil and to assist the divine mystery in bringing humanity to its proper and full end.”
In his second book in the series, The Soul’s Upward Yearning, Father Spitzer connects archetypes to myths when he asks, “What is it about these three stories [Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars] that catapults them ahead of other great … [stories]? In a word, they all fit the technical description of myths.” Father Spitzer says myths are not concerned with worldly narratives, but with transcendent and spiritual narratives. “The objective of myths is to express ultimate truth and meaning … ultimate reality. … [M]yths fascinate and captivate not only our imaginations but our very souls.” Mythical stories appeal to our emotions; we feel them.
Great Catholics on Myths
Father Spitzer is in good company in his understanding of myths. While some might fear myths as un-Christian or consider them childish fairy tales, St John Paul II said myths communicate something “more than real” and he called classical myths “more than true” (from The Human Person, by J. Brian Bransfield). Furthermore, JRR Tolkien, a devout Catholic and the author of The Lord of the Rings, said, “[Myths are] the best way–sometimes the only way–of conveying truths that would otherwise remain inexpressible. We have come from God and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God.”
Father Spitzer distinguishes himself from Jung and his followers in their understanding of archetypes in one important way. Whereas Jung believed archetypes derive from a common inherited human memory, Father Spitzer believes archetypes derive from a transcendent reality (the numinous experience, religious intuition, and conscience), i.e., from God. I am in agreement with Father Spitzer.
How Archetypes Affect Our Expectations About Stories
Archetypes might explain why great stories closely follow the monomyth (and the three-act structure we see in stories portrayed in all kinds of media). When people experience a story, they expect it to unfold in a certain way based on the archetypes they know. When stories follow the archetypes, the audience is happy. But when heroes and villains don’t behave the way they’re supposed to and stories don’t follow the patterns we expect, they violate our archetypes. And so these rebellious books and movies collect dust at the bookstore (or in the Amazon warehouse) and bomb at the box office.
The Magician and the Sage
Two archetypes discussed in Pearson’s book are the Magician and the Sage. As I read about these archetypes, I thought of two people. One real, the prophet Elijah, and one fictional, the wizard Gandalf. First, let’s look at the motivations of the Magician and the Sage and then we will review the stories of Elijah and Gandalf through the archetypal lens.
As you read on, please keep in mind that much of what we discuss below is metaphorical. We do not believe people are literally Magicians who cast magic spells, but that the Magician figure in stories represents an archetype or truth which derives from God and which plays out metaphorically at different times in each of our life’s journey.
The Magician Archetype
Pearson says the Magician archetype’s goal is to transform lesser things into greater things. He fears transformation in a negative direction (greater things into lesser things). He responds to problems by transforming or healing them. His task is to align himself with the cosmos and his gift or grace is personal power. The wounded king must be healed by the Magician in order to transform the kingdom.
Magicians typically work as advisers to kings, but when the kingdom is in disarray, they work alone. Magicians seek to connect with others and with the world (they believe everything is interdependent). They know and tell the stories of their culture. They seek to turn negative situations into opportunities for growth and, through compassion and forgiveness, they try to transform negative people and situations into positive ones.
Magicians seek a healthy and balanced body, mind and soul. They invoke the divine help of others, e.g., through the intercession of the saints, and they maintain a close relationship with their deity through prayer and meditation. Magicians seek transformation through ritual, e.g., liturgy. They follow their intuition even when others might think they are crazy. A Magician’s ego, which is necessary for him to achieve his goal, can work for him (in the virtue of fortitude) or against him (in the vice of arrogance).
The Sage Archetype
The Sage archetype’s goal is truth and understanding. He fears deception and illusion. He responds to problems by studying, understanding and transcending them. His task is to attain knowledge, wisdom and enlightenment and his gift or grace is skepticism, wisdom and detachment. The Sage seeks the truth about himself, the world and the universe. His ultimate goal is not just knowledge, but wisdom. He understands that the truth shall set him free.
Sages seek to solve the riddle of existence. They speak in parables and symbols. They know the answers they obtain depend on the questions they ask. The Sage seeks universal truth over subjective truths. They know they must understand themselves and their own biases in order to discover the truth. Sages believe knowing oneself is a journey.
Pearson says Sages understand they can never know everything; this helps them develop humility. The Sage seeks freedom through detachment. Jesuits call it indifference; mystics also call it detachment. Sages believe real freedom and joy lies in turning one’s life over to a transcendent and wiser power than oneself, e.g., God. Suffering opens one up to trust and let go, to stop fighting life and trusting in the process of life, e.g., Divine Providence.
In Part II of this series we will examine the lives of Elijah and Gandalf through the lens of archetypes.
1 Kings 17-21
2 Kings 2
Brown, Raymond E., Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, eds. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1990.
Pearson, Carol S. Awakening the Heroes Within. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.
Spitzer, Robert. Finding True Happiness. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2015.
Spitzer, Robert. The Soul’s Upward Yearning. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2015.
Vawter, Bruce. “Introduction to Prophetic Literature.” In The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 186-200.
Andrew Garofalo lives in Parkland, Florida with his wife Julie and their three children. He has practiced law for 18 years and is currently discerning a vocation to the permanent diaconate. He is a contributor to Those Catholic Men and Voyage Comics & Publishing and the creator of Saint’s Journey Blog. You can find more of his work at www.saintsjourney.com.