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Everyone loves St. Francis. Really. Everyone. Throughout history he has been lauded by Catholics and Protestants, Muslims and people of good faith, environmentalists and hippies, even a 19th century business tycoon. His appeal is far and wide, and the images depicting him are as diverse as any saint.

Meaning… that when people try to make movies about him—and they do—they are going to be all over the map.

In honor of St. Francis week, Br. Tito and I watched two famous Franciscan movies (Brother Sun, Sister Moon and Francesco) to see how popular media has portrayed Francis is the past. Admittedly a bit underwhelmed, we spend the second half of the podcast imagining our own Franciscan movie.

It began with a small beggar, a little man with no academic training, no worldly power, no discernible skill beyond his peers. St. Francis of Assisi simply wanted to imitate Christ in humility and peace, and tell the world to do the same.

800 years later, we can look back and see that his example changed the Church and world. Not only did he create the largest religious order in Church history (something that inevitably had its affect on the day-to-day life of the Church), the brothers that did join were extraordinary in their own right. In honor of Francis week, I’ve come up with 22 contributions that the Franciscans have provided to the world. You’ve probably heard some of them, but I’m guessing you’ll be surprised by a few of them!

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Well look who’s behind this week! My apologies for just posting this week’s podcast now, on Thursday afternoon, when it was released on Tuesday (as normal!) Better late than never!

This week Br. Tito and I look at one of the most ambitious films I’ve ever seen, Gangs of New York. Set in New York the middle of the 19th century, it is a world unlike anything I could have imagined. The entire time watching I just couldn’t get it through my head that this was New York City, that this was America. It was so medieval, so barbaric, so utterly racist. The natives hated the Irish, the Irish hated black people, black people hated the politicians, and the politicians pretended to love whoever they needed to love to get elected. It’s a movie dealing with xenophobia, racism, police brutality, voter suppression, and political corruption.

Which… frankly… sounds pretty familiar. In a strange turn of events, what Br. Tito and I found was that, despite taking place in a world so unfamiliar to ours, the themes were entirely relevant. Hopefully we can all learn from our history so that we stop repeating it.

The Bible is a complicated book. Written and compiled over a period of 1000 years, more than 2000 years ago, it was original written in other languages, within other cultures. To understand it’s “purpose,” you’re going to need to study it.

But the Bible is more than just an academic endeavor. It is a holy book. It is the Word of God. It’s an encounter with the living God in our midst. Along with studying Scripture, me must pray with it.

But how? In the first video above, I suggest two ways to pray with Scripture that you can practice on your own. In the second video, I offer a guided meditation to guide you along.

Are You Envious Because I Am Generous?

The following is a homily for the twenty fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A. The readings can be found here.

If you could do me a favor and remind me to never to go into business with Jesus, that would be great. Can you imagine an employer doing this today? Of course the ones who worked all day were upset: this is an instant lawsuit. “We’re out working here all day in the heat and you give us the same amount of money as someone who worked for an hour??” God does say in the first reading “my ways are not your ways…” and we can clearly see that. This is not how you run a good business.

Sadly, I’m guessing that all of us can relate to these workers.I know that I do! I’ve lived this experience over and over in my life. When I was in high school, I worked in a restaurant bussing tables. I would work as hard as I could, trying to be clean and efficient, set the table as fast as I could so that customers didn’t have to wait, but you don’t get paid by the table. You get paid by the hour, and so some bussers would take their good old time, do half the work as me, and get paid the same amount.
in high school and college, I had to do group projects. The absolute worst, right? Of course, I did 80% of the work while the others did almost nothing, and at the end of the day, we all got the same grade. Ridiculous! Frankly, it still goes on in my friar life. I’ve had days where I’m working from sunrise to sunset, working my butt off, and I get an unexpected call to visit a sick person in the hospital on the other side of the county… only to find out that the hospital called the others priests and they just didn’t pick up the phone. Why am I doing your work for you?

Hearing this passage today, it’s hard to make sense of what Jesus is saying. It just seems like an injustice to us. So what do we make of it?

Obviously, this is not a business manual, it is a parable. And the focus of the story isn’t the workers who who labored all day, it’s the business owner. It’s important to remember in stories like these that they are told to a specific people for a specific lesson. They use langue they can understand—work, farming, family life—not to actually give practical advice, but to reach something much deeper. In this case, Jesus is speaking to the disciples not Pharisees; this is an internal message to those who already believe. Matthew’s Gospel as a whole was written as a catechism for a largely Jewish community of Christians, not Gentiles; again, an internal message to people who would have been very familiar with God for a long time.

And what is that message? Put simply, that Gentile Christian converts are just as important to God as the Jewish ones.

You see, for thousands of years, the Jewish people had remained faithful to God. They were there from the beginning of the day, sweating and straining in the heat, all because God offered them a just wage. He made a covenant with them: obey my laws, serve me, and I will grant you salvation. Seems like an incredible deal, right? But then, after two or three thousand years, along come these Gentiles, these Johnny-come-latelys, relaxing all day, having lunch in the comfort of their homes while the other workers were eating, showing up at 5 o’clock just before the end of the day, accepting the faith just before they thought the end of the world is coming… and what do they get? The exact same wage the first workers got. The exact same salvation the Jews got.

Jesus tells this parable, Matthew makes it a focal point for his Gospel, because there were Jewish Christians in the community that were grumbling about the new converts. Why, when we’ve been here the whole time, do we get the same reward as those people who just showed up?! They are envious. Even though they get a just wage, even though they get exactly what they wanted, they look at their fellow Christians with disdain and resentment, as their enemy. All they’re focused on is what they don’t have, what they think they deserve, and they’re missing the true wonder of God: God is generous beyond belief.

This is a God who, first, let’s remember, gives a just wage to those who have nothing, who called them and saved them even when they didn’t deserve it. This is a God who doesn’t just send his servants, not just an angel to send a message—he could be at home sipping lemonade, relaxing on the couch—no, he goes himself to get the workers, the living God comes to us in human flesh—He has a personal connection and responsibility to his workers. And then, he doesn’t do what is expected, what is calculated, but gives what is extraordinary—above and beyond what is just. This is a tremendously gracious God, a generous God, caring deeply about his people and showering gifts on them that they do not deserve.

The only reason that the first workers can complain, the only way you or I  feel cheated in these situations, is because we compare ourselves to others. Think about it. The Jews, the first workers, were given an incredible gift. Before anyone else, they were blessed with the assurance of salvation, with meaningful work. While others wandered through life not knowing God, not knowing the meaning of it all, being “unemployed” and unsure how they would make it, they were blessed with exactly what they needed. The fact that others now get what they need doesn’t take away from the original blessing.

I honestly liked working in a restaurant, I liked working hard. If given the option to be lazy, I wouldn’t have taken it because it was fulfilling work, and I was paid well to do it. I got to do what I liked AND I got paid? Incredible.

Generally speaking, I have always liked school, put in a lot of effort, and have gotten good grades. Group project or not, that’s what I wanted, and that’s what I got. You’re telling me that I only have to do 80% of the work and still get a good grade? How is that not a blessing!

And I can’t even imagine ignoring a sick call. I want to work. I love to minister, to celebrate the sacraments. I want to be incredibly busy, to work so hard that at the end of the day I collapse in my bed absolutely exhausted. I get to anoint someone who is sick, comfort them in their last moments of life? That’s amazing.

In all of these cases, everyone got just want they needed, not what they thought they deserved. None of us are cheated, we’re not owed any more. Had there been no other workers all day, they would have went away happy with a full day’s work. They would have felt blessed to have the opportunity to work when others were unemployed. It is only when they see someone being more generous to another person that they complain. If we have what we want, if we have agree to what is good and just, then in a sense, it doesn’t matter how others live or what agreements they make, we have what is good for us.

If I opened up my wallet and gave you a $20 bill—assuming I had a $20 bill—you would be happy, would you not? Free money is always good. You would see that as a generous gift, something you did not deserve and yet got anyway. But what if, right after that, I turned the person sitting next to you and have them $1000? All of the sudden, you feel cheated. All of the sudden you feel envious. All of the sudden that gift of $20 doesn’t seem so generous anymore and I have to ask… WHY? What has changed about your $20? What has caused you to go from being overjoyed with your gift to angry and feeling cheated?

As much as we may identify with the first workers, there is something absolutely ridiculous about them. The only way that this makes of envy is when we forget that those other workers are on the same team. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, sons and daughters of the same God. The only way that envy makes sense is if we care more about this life than we do about heaven. The only way that envy makes sense is if we forget that everything we have is already a gift.

God is offering you blessings, love, salvation. That is incredible. Don’t be envious when he also offers it to others and might ask less of them. Maybe they can’t handle as much as you. Maybe they are weaker than you. Maybe, in someone else’s story, you’re the one who showed up late and God more than another person. Maybe it’s not even about you or them, but about the generosity of God. Are you envious because God is generous? I hope not. Because this generosity applies to us all. No matter how much anyone else has, no matter who much you think you should have, remember this: you don’t even deserve what you do have. The point is not that some people have greater gifts from God than you… it’s that everything you have is gift, and it is all you need. Be content with what you have, and be thankful for God’s generosity. God’s ways truly are not our ways, and that is reason for thanks.

Is the Novus Ordo Even Valid?

There is a certain segment of the Catholic population that has nothing but negative things to say about Vatican II. Personally, I think that this group is extremely small and isolated, their voices amplified by the internet far beyond their actual relevance, but that’s me. The internet definitely has a way of building silos and organizing fringe ideas, so maybe that’s the case. In any event, regardless of its actual size, opposition to Vatican II is a prevalent topic online that needs addressing.

On Monday, I did a general video defending the very idea of Vatican II, calling for people to stop with their logical fallacies and to see that the problems of our world have complex causes beyond our control. Today, I’d like to look at a specific issue that needs addressing: the reform of the liturgy. While I’ve addressed the specifics of the reform before, there are some that believe in the idea of a reform is flawed because of a strict interpretation of Pope Pius V’s words back in 1570.

If this video seems oddly specific and completely unnecessary, it’s because it is. The very fact that I made a video addressing this topic is absurd. And yet, such is the world we live in. If we don’t want fringe groups to take over, we must speak the truth and respond to their ridiculous claims so that, as a well-informed Church, no one will be left confused or led astray.

 

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Bill Murray is charming in whatever he does. It’s no wonder, then, that even when he plays a low-life sleaze, Hollywood is going to try to make him out to be a saint, and many will believe them. That’s what happened in St. Vincent, and it almost worked on Br. Tito and I.

In this week’s podcast, we look at what the movie presents as the path to sainthood, and discuss how it aligns with our own notions.

Archbishop Viganò is at it again. In an interview published today, the former nuncio to the United States claims that all of the problems of the 1960s revolutions have a single cause: Vatican II.

Yes. The Women’s Liberation Movement was Vatican II’s fault. Blame the Gay Rights Movement on us. Vietnam protests? Sexual Revolution? Civil Rights marches? All the Church’s doing.

It’s a bit of a far-fetched argument, even for him, but he is by no means the first person to make such claims. In fact, I hear these sorts of things online so often that I actually filmed a video two weeks ago on this very topic, ready to be released today. Is it a direct response to Viganò? Only if you follow the logic that what comes after was caused by what came before… which I’ll address in the video.

Be sure to watch to the end as I do offer my own take on what has caused the problems in the Church and what we can do to fix them.

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Most movies are underwhelming to me. Remakes. Weak adaptations. Shallow concepts. Cheap CGI. The movie industry realizes that people are far more likely to spend money on what is familiar than what is innovative, and so it often chooses not to take a risk. Let’s just do Rocky 34 instead of coming up with something new!

Arrival is an exception to this trend. One YouTube video essay that I like called it the “response to bad movies” and I can’t agree more. It is unlike most movies you will ever see, captivating and beautiful, challenging the viewer’s expectations by turning the world on it’s side (even the shape and position of the alien space ships, long and upright, undermine our expectations!) The movie messes with time and language to create something that is in one sense overwhelming complex and confusing while watching, and yet elegantly simple at its core. Like the picture of a puzzle, unclear and allusive when just a pile of pieces, it is not until the final piece is put into place that the individual pieces have any meaning… but without those individual pieces, there would be no whole.

If you haven’t seen it yet, I cannot recommend it enough to you. At this point in time, Arrival is my favorite movie. I’ve seen it half-a-dozen times (twice in theatres, in fact) and it never ceases to move me. I get chills even thinking about it now. Because so much of the movie rests on how the movie ends, it might be good to watch it first before listening to the podcast, but that’s up to you. Just know that we hold nothing back in this episode, and spoilers are plentiful!

Do I HAVE to Work?

I hope that all of you had a restful Labor Day (those who were able to take a break from your labors) and are happy to be back at work today. For some, I know, the idea of work and happiness are diametrically opposed, and many would prefer that every day was a day off.

As fun as that would be at first, I’m not so sure many of us would last long before we grew entirely restless. As strange as it sounds, work is actually a good thing that we need. In this week’s video, I discuss the Catholic view of work and why it is so important to our human existence.

For years, I’ve produced the “Catholicism in Focus” series as a way to catechize. I focus on the teachings of the Church and try to get beneath a surface level understanding of faith. My hope is that it has brought many people closer to an adult faith.

But it seems that I have missed a step along the way. Catechesis is great, and necessary, but many people are not ready for a series like that. They haven’t met Jesus, haven’t laid the foundation of faith, have no reason to care about catechesis. They need evangelization.

And so I thought, what if I made a “Catholicism In Focus” style series focused more on the essence of the faith? Not the teachings, per se, but the reason for the teachings, the faith. For me, there are questions that every Christian should be able to answer, questions upon everything rests, that I think go untested. Can people actually explain Christianity to another? Can they give a testimony of faith? Can they share the kerygma?

In this series, simply called “Kerygma,” I hope to explore these sorts of questions and to offer easily attainable and shareable answers. But as I say in this first video, my goal is not so much to give the answer for people to memorize as it is to get people thinking for themselves how they would answer. If put on the spot, how would you answer?

In this first video, I begin with the question of Christianity in general. What is it at its core?