Man’s uniqueness

God fashioned man in his own image and likeness; he gave him knowledge of himself; he endowed him with the ability to think which raised him above all living creatures ….

The Rule of St. Basil

The modern objective consciousness will go to any length to prove that it is not unique in the Cosmos, and by this very effort establishes its own uniqueness. Name another entity in the Cosmos which tries to prove it is not unique.

Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos (1983)

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“Return to Me”

Film reviews are not a specialty of mine, but when I come across movies that are edifying to my faith, or at least reasonably respectful towards it, I like to share.

When devout Catholics search for movies to stream, for the most part the best they can hope for is something reasonably good while being reasonably clean. After filtering out smutty movies and bad movies, you’ve narrowed down your range of choices quite a bit.

We came across this movie, saw that it was rated PG and had a decent Rotten Tomatoes rating, and decided to give it a shot. What a pleasant surprise.

It was made in 2000 and has David Duchovny and Minnie Driver in the leading roles. Also of note are Carroll O’Connor and Jim Belushi.

When it opens the heroine, Grace (Driver), is in the hospital awaiting a donor for a heart transplant she needs to stay alive. Eventually she gets a donor and goes into surgery. Her grandfather, played by O’Connor with a very good Irish accent, accompanies her as she is being wheeled down the hall. As they part she implores him, “Grandpa, pray! Pray, OK?”

And Grandpa prays, boy does he pray! He stays up all night in the hospital’s Catholic chapel, lighting candles, praying the rosary, interceding for his granddaughter in any way he can think of. The surprise was not only the prayerfulness of the scene, but Carroll O’Connor — Archie Bunker! — of all people playing the part.

Grandpa is the owner of an Italian restaurant called O’Reilly’s Italian Restaurant. The restaurant features live Italian musicians playing such Italian favorites as “Danny Boy” and “When Irish Eyes are Smiling”. You surmise that he opened an Italian restaurant rather than an Irish one, because one of his best friends is “one of the best Italian cooks in Chicago.” There is a regular poker game after hours in the restaurant, accompanied by wine, beer and cigars, with O’Connor, the Italian cook, one other Italian guy and a Pole. In other words a strong undercurrent of cultural Catholicism.

Other Catholic-friendly aspects to the movie were, first, the family of Grace’s best friend Megan, the wife of Joe, played to perfection by Jim Belushi as a paramedic and all-around decent, Chicago-type regular guy, who at one point offers to beat the snot out of someone who he thinks has played the cad towards Grace. The Catholic-friendly part is that they have five kids, and so evidently are not using a whole lot of birth control, yet are very happily married in a down-to-earth way.

And finally, by the time of the climactic romantic moment between Grace and her love-interest (Duchovny — I’m leaving out any further description of him so as not to spoil the plot), he professes his love and permanent devotion to her, despite her having had heart surgery with a big ugly scar running down the middle of her chest — and without their ever having gone to bed together. At one point his friend teases him about not having slept with her: “She’s playing you, man, she’s one of those types who doesn’t want to play around, she just wants to reel you in!” (or something to that effect). To which he replies, “Yeah, well, you know what? It’s working!”

Right up to the end I found the whole movie very well done. There’s a lot of lighthearted humor, and it handles heart-wrenching sorrows in a way that is realistic, yet without leaving you feeling depressed. The romantic, climactic ending I thought was a bit overwrought, a little too Hallmark-y. But it was easily forgiveable in the light of all the film’s merits.

Worries enough of my own

I didn’t blog much last year. Maybe because I stopped watching the news to preserve my sanity, and without news there’s not much craziness and stupidity to point out and comment on.

I have a friend who’s older than I, who recently fell and broke his elbow and his hip. That’s a tough combination. If it were only his elbow he would be mostly fine while it healed; and if it were only his hip he could get around with a walker. But his elbow had to be replaced, and with the artificial elbow he can’t put any weight on that arm, not only now, but ever. So he has a very hard time getting up out of bed or out of a chair, with only one arm and one leg to lift himself with; and he walks very unsteadily since he can only hold a cane with one hand, rather than using a two-handed walker. So he is constantly in danger of falling, and when he falls he can’t get up.

And yet, he insisted on leaving the rehab place where he had been staying for over a month. I understood they weren’t going to release him until they were sure he could get himself up and move around without danger to himself. In fact he had chosen a date to leave, and then called and told me he would have to delay it a week because they felt he wasn’t ready.

So when he told me he was ready to go and was being released, I assumed he had reached the point where he could move around adequately. Therefore when he asked me for a ride home, I said sure. This was a couple days ago.

When I arrived in his room at the rehab facility, he had me help him stand up, which he was able to do with my help and a cane. A nurse came in and showed me how to fold up his wheelchair. Then he got back in the chair, since they insisted that he use it until he got to the car.

I wheeled him to the car and helped him out of the chair and into the car, which went relatively smoothly. We (my wife and I) got him home, helped him out of the car, and he walked, slowly and carefully, towards his front steps. There were five steps and he just managed to climb them, again with my help. This was a little scary, but I figured he was OK on flat ground, and as long as he didn’t try to go out of the house on his own, he would be OK.

But when he got to the top step, he was out of gas. He couldn’t get his injured leg up to the level of the porch and regain his balance, so he dropped to his knees. I tried to help him up as I had done when he got out of the chair, but this time he couldn’t manage it. I was in the position of having to lift his entire weight with barely any help from him, and he’s not a small guy – about six feet and 200 or so pounds.

I just couldn’t do it. But there he was, kneeling in a precarious position at the top of a flight of five stairs. He wasn’t complaining. After a couple of minutes all he said was, “Do you have any suggestions?”

I said, “Well, I can try to lift you but you need to try to get your legs under you.” I called my wife from inside the house and asked her to stand behind him so he wouldn’t tumble down the stairs. In the event, she helped to lift his weight, and between the three of us we got him to his feet, with cane in hand. What a relief.

He shuffled into the house and got into his wheelchair, but then we discovered the wheelchair would barely fit into his hallway and through his bedroom door. And once he got into the bedroom, he was unable to get up from the wheelchair in order to get into bed. So again I had to heft his bulk out of the chair and onto his feet. At this point he started taking off his pants so he could get into bed, and again he fell down.

Fortunately at this point a neighbor of his had come by, and with his help we got him into bed. But what now? How did he expect to move around and take care of himself in this condition? I don’t live anywhere near him and certainly couldn’t spend entire days helping him shuffle around the house and picking him up when he fell. His neighbor too – who wasn’t that young himself — protested that his back wouldn’t stand that kind of lifting on an ongoing basis, so that if my friend fell again, he was just going to have to call 911.

Basically I felt I had been had. My friend misled me as to his capabilities, and I felt I was leaving him in a desperate situation. I said, “Are you sure you want to do this? I don’t see how it can possibly work.” But he insisted, “I’ll be fine until tomorrow.” The next day he had an in-home appointment for people to come by and assess his situation, see what kind of care and equipment he needed. He planned to stay in bed until then, and hopefully at that point they would send people to assist him with his needs. So we brought him a bottle of water and his urinal bottle from the rehab place so he wouldn’t have to get up to go pee, and a phone in case he needed to call for help, and left him there.

Needless to say we worried about him that night, but the next day heard from a neighbor of his that he was still OK.

Of course this got me thinking about what will become of me in my old age. But I won’t go into that. My point is just that there are enough things to worry about without watching the news. Let the people whose job it is to deal with those things, do the worrying. After all they get paid for it.

Do not worry about tomorrow, for today has worries enough of its own (Mt. 6:34). By the same token, your own life and those of your loved ones have worries enough of their own without filling your head with more things to worry about that you can’t help.

Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Mammon

“Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.”

Goldsmith’s sad paradox is with us yet;
in fact, the situation’s sadder still:
dollars, by nature sterile, now beget;
the human race is eunuched by a pill.

Mark Amorose, from City under Siege: Sonnets and Other Verse (which I highly recommend — $6.99 on Kindle)

Free-floating theology

Many regard as unobjectionable the changes in church discipline to allow civilly divorced Catholics who have remarried to regularly receive communion. It seems to them a reasonable accommodation to the unfortunate reality of widespread divorce. But this change disrupts the logic of penitential preparation, which maintains the truth that union with Christ delivers us from our sins. Under the proposal, marriage is not permanent and a remarried person is not committing adultery. Or adultery is not a serious sin. Or Christians have always misunderstood the gospel, and we need not renounce our sins to unite ourselves with Christ. The logic forces us to affirm at least one of these fundamental changes in Christian doctrine. We can’t evade this unpleasant prospect by saying that “we’re all sinners” or that the Church is not the “Church of the pure,” as Pope Francis has on many occasions.

The proposed pastoral approach does not purport to solve theological problems by clarifying which of the three prongs is being decisively altered. It simply muddies things sufficiently to obscure the contradictions. This evasion of explicit change follows a post–Vatican II pattern, which has been one of ad hoc accommodations to contemporary sensibilities, undertaken in the context of the collapse of an older scholastic theology that supported precise analysis and clear conclusions. The theological culture of today’s Catholic Church lacks rigorous philosophical discipline. A great deal of theology now runs on evocative and free-floating concepts. Pope Francis uses “mercy” in this way.

R. R. Reno, “Sacramental Realism,” First Things, August/September 2018.

The coming festival of our redemption

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AND THERE SHALL COME FORTH A ROD OUT OF THE ROOT OF JESSE: AND A FLOWER SHALL RISE UP OUT OF HIS ROOT. AND THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD SHALL REST UPON HIM: THE SPIRIT OF WISDOM AND OF UNDERSTANDING, THE SPIRIT OF COUNSEL AND OF FORTITUDE, THE SPIRIT OF KNOWLEDGE AND OF GODLINESS.

(Is. 11:1-2.)

May we receive Thy mercy, O Lord, in the midst of Thy temple, that with due reverence we may prepare for the coming festival of our redemption. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.

Postcommunion prayer for First Sunday of Advent, New Roman Missal (Fr. LaSance) (Benziger Brothers, 1956).

A humiliating confession

The Hallmark Channel recently had the top-rated show on a Saturday evening with 4.6 million viewers. The show was the movie “Christmas at Graceland.”

I didn’t see this particular movie but I’ve watched quite a few of the Hallmark Christmas movies over the past few years. Frankly they’re bad. Corny and just bad. Usually not well written and not very well acted, although it’s hard to fault the actors given what they have to work with. You have to laugh at the constantly recurring themes:

A city woman returns to her home town, often called Christmas Village or something; she meets a guy and they butt heads at first, but eventually see the good in each other; the family home is about to be sold but she decides to buy it and move back home; it’s a lifestyle downgrade, but she takes a job at her father’s company or takes over running the family business. Sometimes it takes place in the big city, but it still involves a big city sophisticate of some kind, who realizes she needs to shed her tough outer shell, stop being so ambitious, and let Christmas soften her heart. There’s never a scene that doesn’t include Christmas decorations, whether indoors or outdoors, and no matter what room in the house. And there’s always a climactic kiss near the end.

So why do so many people watch them?

I have a nephew who is a partner in a Big Four accounting firm, and he says he loves them, simply because they’re clean and wholesome and always have a happy ending. I started watching them because my wife enjoyed them and they were fun to watch with her, but I have to admit that I started to enjoy them too. They’re not my favorite thing and they can get monotonous. But my nephew is right, their clean-and-wholesomeness is appealing.

I think the nub of the matter is that they take Christmas seriously. Granted, the vast majority of them make no mention of Jesus. Some do mention God and prayer, and they don’t shy away from explicitly Christian carols like Silent Night and O Holy Night. Characters often wear crosses around their necks. But apart from the religious aspect, they take Christmas seriously in the sense that they don’t treat it ironically. It’s not the generic “Holiday,” nor is it Santa and His Elves Day. They don’t wink at Christmas, as though assuming that sophisticates like us know better than to take it seriously. It’s Christmas straight-up, imbued with power and beauty and goodness, a thing we need deep down in our souls.

A lot of people are tired of the constant barrage of irony and cynicism with regard to Christmas. We’ll put up with corniness because we crave earnestness.