Recent News

Jesus on Screen

Some famous actors have played our Lord on film, as well as some you’ve probably never heard of. It’s unclear how many portrayals of Christ there have been – hundreds probably. I’m aware  of several dozen: from Robert Henderson-Bland in the Silent Era epic, From the Manger to the Cross (1912), to Joaquin Phoenix in Mary Magdalene, a 2018 film that has been shown overseas but not yet in the U.S., in part because it was a Harvey Weinstein project and also, perhaps, because it reflects a sensibility about Jesus similar to Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988).

I mention Messrs. Henderson-Bland and Phoenix because every film about the life of Jesus – or, as in The Passion of the Christ (2004), an aspect of His life – succeeds or fails largely because of the performance of the actor portraying Him.

In George Stevens’ The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), Jesus is played by Max von Sydow, a now eminent actor and familiar face in movies, who was then mostly unknown to American audiences – except to arthouse film buffs enamored of the work of Ingmar Bergman. It was von Sydow’s first English-language film, and Stevens hired him because he wanted an actor whose image (in the senses both of visage and reputation) was unfamiliar and unsullied. He probably also admired von Sydow’s Scandinavian placidity and icy blue eyes.

Click here to read the rest of Mr. Miner’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

Faith, Reason, Life

Today’s 46th March for Life in Washington is not a Catholic thing. It’s been gratifying over the years to see the growing numbers of Evangelicals, mainstream Protestants, Jews – you gotta love the blowing of the shofar from the stage just before marchers set out – Mormons, Muslims, and others. All of whom have come to realize that killing the smallest and most vulnerable of our human kind is not humane, and no favor to women, tens of millions of whom are targeted around the world while still in the womb for the mere fact of being female.

But the March – and the pro-life cause – are not even, strictly speaking, religious things. Seeing “Atheists for Life” walking around the National Mall always boosts your spirits, but it’s also a sharp reminder. We do not oppose abortion because it bumps up against some religious dogma. If that were the case – as defenders of abortion often, and wrongly, claim – it would be difficult in pluralistic modern democracies like ours to avoid the false charge that we’re trying to “impose our religion” on others. To the contrary, we’re trying to keep people from practicing an unreasonable, false, and murderous form of idolatry.

 

Because it’s reason, not revelation, that tells us that – if we believe killing is wrong – then killing children in the womb is wrong. And with each year, the scientific support for that moral stand becomes ever clearer. When Roe v. Wade came down in 1973, we had nothing like the medical evidence we have today. We now know, for example, that a child’s heart begins to beat about four weeks after conception – and much else is going on that makes it clear that this growing, living thing is human (with its own unique DNA) and from the start male or female.  It’s simply rational to say: Whoever would end that life, even in its earliest development, is making a grave moral mistake.

Click here to read the rest of Dr. Royal’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

The Idol of Our Age

In times like these, when so much is deeply unsettled in both the Church and the world, there are few reliable guides to our predicament. But one has just appeared: Daniel Mahoney’s brief but powerful book: The Idol of Our Age: How the Religion of Humanity Subverts Christianity.

A few decades back, American evangelicals used to denounce secular humanism, rightly – but without knowing what it was other than a denial of religion. During the same period, St. John Paul II tried to recover an authentic Christian humanism, i.e., a rich “anthropology” in which the human person is only rightly understood in relation to God.

A Christian humanism is necessary because unless we properly value life in this world, religion can become distorted, a kind of Puritanism that denies our nature as creatures with bodies, minds, and spirits.

A Christian humanism is necessary, however, because without God, we close in on ourselves. The sciences discover truths about our world, but cannot say anything about why we’re here, what our lives mean, or where we go after death.

Click here to read the rest of Dr. Royal’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

Old Man Driving: A Review of Eastwood’s “The Mule”

Clint Eastwood is not a Catholic (not even especially religious), although his Gran Torino (2008) – in which he was both star and director – was a very Catholic film: Catholic characters in a tale of Christ-like self-sacrifice. Eastwood’s latest film, The Mule, is another contemporary tale about self-sacrifice, although with only the slightest hint of Christian sensibility.

Earl Stone (Mr. Eastwood) is 90 and has made his living and reputation raising daylilies, which he did with passionate expertise. But he ignored his (now ex-) wife Mary (Dianne Wiest in a fine performance), his estranged daughter Lily (Alison Eastwood, Clint’s real-life daughter), and his granddaughter Ginny (Taissa Farmiga, the 21-years-younger sister of Vera). Mary says Earl loved the lilies, and “the flowers deserved it. But so did your family.”

 

As was the case with Walt Kowalski in Gran Torino, Stone is basically a bitter, bigoted old man, whose unpleasantness is almost entirely of his own making, although Earl snarls less than Walt. If either character has a redeeming quality, it’s that he’s a combat veteran. At this point in his career, Mr. Eastwood has no trouble playing with conviction a guy who has seen enough of life not to fear death very much, and who, therefore, is willing to take risks.

Click here to read the rest of Mr. Miner’s review at The Catholic Thing . . .

Some Impractical, Imprudent (Possibly Impudent) New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions almost always fail. If they didn’t, year after year, we’d see constant improvement in the world, in people around us, in our own selves. Sadly, we don’t.  Steps forward – if any – are usually offset by steps backward or sideways, or To put this theologically, redemption – even humble change of heart or habit – is a gratuitous gift, the secularized notion of progress mostly an illusion. Yes, your new Smartphone has more features than the old one, and your doctor may have some better ways to treat you in 2019. But don’t confuse these technical advances with greater humanity – we abort a million babies a year without batting an eye and euthanasia is just getting started – let alone holiness (which, in the end, is what matters).mere marching in place.

Still, it may not hurt to lay out some public desiderata anno Domini 2019, fully aware that they will likely never come to pass. But also with the hope that at least identifying what we need may help us to orient ourselves in coming days.

First Resolution: In 2019 we should never lose sight of the fact that the world, especially our American world, has gone mad. The world first went mad in the Garden of Eden, but it sometimes slows down to catch its breath. We’re now going full tilt.

Click here to read the rest of Dr. Royal’s resolutions at The Catholic Thing . . .

Vermeer’s Catholic “Allegory”

The Dutch painter Johannes (often Jan) Vermeer (1632-1675) was born in Delft and was baptized in a Dutch Reformed church there. When he was 21, he married Catharina Bolenes, the Catholic daughter of a well-connected Delft woman, who was very much involved in a “hidden” Jesuit church (schuilkerk) next door. (It was illegal then to celebrate Mass in the Netherlands, although the Dutch were then – as now – more tolerant than some other Protestant countries. Back when that was a virtue.)

It’s assumed Vermeer embraced Catholicism before the wedding.

But he was not thereafter merely Catholic-in-marriage-only. The faith mattered greatly to him, and this can be seen clearly in one of the canvases he painted between 1670 and 1672,  Allegory of the Catholic Faith (the image above) or, as Protestant sources often refer to it, simply Allegory of Faith.

Thank goodness New York’s Metropolitan Museum, which owns the painting and features it in a new show, “In Praise of Painting” (on display until October 4, 2020), has the integrity to call it by the name the artist intended.

Click here to read the rest of Mr. Miner’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

Instant Family: a Review

No one is sure what F. Scott Fitzgerald meant when he scribbled a note in his unfinished last manuscript that: “There are no second acts in American lives.” The critic Edmund Wilson, who cobbled together what Fitzgerald left behind as The Last Tycoon, never – as far as I know – explained what he thought the author meant, but it has ever since been taken as an expression of the star-making machinery in American life (the novel’s hero is named Stahr), especially in Hollywood, where people rise quickly from obscurity directly to fame and sometimes death. Monroe Stahr was based on Hollywood’s ultimate wunderkind, Irving Thalberg, the MGM producer who died at the age of 37. (Fitzgerald was 44 when he died.)

Mark Wahlberg is 47 – and may he live a hundred years! Mr. Wahlberg may be taken as a man according to the Fitzgerald formula: from a troubled youth of drugs (cocaine) and crime (attempted murder) to early success as a rap performer (Marky Mark) and underwear model (Calvin Klein) to movie stardom (47 films and counting) – all this failure and success before he was 25. He is also a devout, albeit liberal, Catholic. This may explain how he survived such a bad beginning.

How devout is he? Well, that’s between him and God, of course, but he recently described his thoroughly monkish daily routine, which begins at 2:30 AM, followed by half-an-hour of prayer, a couple of sessions of exercise, and – according to most sources – daily Mass. He goes to bed at 7:30 in the evening. As is often the case with people serious about fitness, he eats seven times a day – all according to schedule.

As his film career has progressed, his roles have come to be defined by mayhem and comedy: from The Departed to Shooter and from Daddy’s Home to, most recently, Instant Family.

Click here to read the rest of Mr. Miner’s review at The Catholic Thing . . .

C.S. Lewis’ “The Four Loves” -and Counting?

Probably the greatest discovery a Catholic, young or old, can make is how rich the Church’s tradition is, in terms of both pure thought and practical wisdom. If (taking your cues from mass media and entertainment) you think Catholicism is just a jumble of outdated rules and awful scandals, a quick look into Augustine and Aquinas and Pascal and Newman, Dante and Michelangelo and Mozart, should put that nonsense to rest.

Yes, but we know so much more than all that, someone might argue. Just look at the advances we’ve made in science, and technology, particularly medicine and psychology. All that old stuff was fine in its time, but we have much more knowledge available to help us deal with the human condition.

True, if you have a toothache or a heart problem, you’d rather be treated by a modern dentist or cardiologist than anyone in the past. But as our tradition and all good thinking tells us, in other matters, you have to be able to make careful distinctions between good and bad – and good and evil – if you want to understand anything at all.

Because it’s on the most important questions of all that we’ve gone not forward, but woefully, heedlessly, backwards. Take, as the key instance, questions about love.

Click here to read the rest of Dr. Royal’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

All Seven

If we lived just five or ten years between birth, maturity, and death, we might more easily – assuming proper faith formation – hold to the high moral requirements of Christianity. But living 80 or 90 years – all those days and hours – makes it hard not to sin and then, as the Protestants like to say, backslide. The Catholic Church has a remedy for that: Confession.

Consider Christ’s words about forgiveness to Peter (Matthew 18:21-35). The future first pope asked, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” And you know what Jesus replied: not seven times but seventy times seven. (He says a lot more in the parable that follows, and it’s really, really chilling.)

Now Biblical scholars tell us that the Lord isn’t being specific doing math here: He’s not saying we ought to forgive a sinning brother 490 times. He is saying that forgiveness, which ultimately comes from the Father, is all but limitless. Although, again, what follows in the Lord’s oration is a portent about Purgatory, if not of Hell itself.

From this we may conclude that when a man heads to the Sacrament of Penance to confess the same sin for the 491st time. . . it’s okay! Praise the Lord!, as our Protestant friends would say.

Click here to read the rest of Mr. Miner’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

Before 1066 and All That

As a brief respite from the turmoil in Church and State these days, I’ve been indulging myself with a very pleasant read through Alfred Duggan’s novel (1960) The Cunning of the Dove – a fictional re-creation of the turmoil in Church and State in the days of King Edward the Confessor (1042-1066). Some things, it seems, never really change.

Duggan was a friend of Evelyn Waugh’s, a conservative Catholic, a powerful yet graceful writer who deserves to be better known for a series of novels set in the Middle Ages. As Waugh wrote of him: “This century has been prolific in historical novels, many garish, some scholarly. I know of none which give the same sense of intimacy as Alfred’s – as though he were describing personal experiences and observations.”

There’s probably no more realistic and insightful account of the life of a saintly king. Saintly rulers are a great rarity: after St. Edward there’s St. Louis and – who? Duggan’s novel raises a question: Can a saintly man also be a good ruler? To run the worldly city well requires worldly – not merely heavenly – virtues. Hence his title, which shuffles the Gospel verse so that the innocent dove (Edward) is as cunning as the serpent.

A hard truth, one that a Christian instinctively resists.

Click here to read the rest of Dr. Royal’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .