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What if I told you that there was a movie with Robert De Niro, Liam Neeson, and Jeremy Irons; gorgeous scenery and cinematography of the rain forest; some of the best movie music you’ll ever hear; packed with action, violence, and religious intrigue; and best of all, was a thoroughly Catholic movie?

Sounds like a winner right? When’s it come out?

1986, actually. It’s called The Mission, and it’s one of my favorite movies of all time.

Set in 18th century South America, the movie follows the life of a community of Jesuits entrusted with setting up missions for the native peoples, building houses, educating them, and building Christian communities. When political forces try to shut down the missions, the Jesuits are faced with a difficult question: do they leave, as they were told to do, or do they stay with their people? And if they choose to stay, do they accept the slaughter that will come to them, or do they pick up arms and defend the defenseless?

What I love about the movie, and why Tito and I focus on it for our podcast this week, is because it presents two completely valid approaches to violence from a Catholic moral perspective but refrains from telling the viewer which was is correct. As all good movies do, the question is asked but the answer is left up to the viewer. For us, it offers a window not only into our past—in this case, 18th century South American—but more importantly into the nature of violence in any age. As good and faithful people, doing our best to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, how do we respond to the Holocaust? To the Rwandan genocide? To ISIS? To the bully on the playground?

For us, the answers are not as clear as some might have us believe.


As a side note, the friars of my community were on a day of recollection this weekend, which was spiritually and fraternally nourishing (very important) but ministerially hindering. The time away not only kept me from filming a new episode of Catholicism in Focus, but also from writing a blog post about last week’s reflection. At this point, the opportunity has come and gone, so I’m not going to go back and write one, but if you’re interested in watching the video, I have placed it below.

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After a heavy conversation about death last week, Tito and I keep it light with a conversation about our favorite television shows, books, and movies. By no means an exhaustive list, we did our best to touch a few things that we like in entertainment and offer a few examples of each.

Hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving this week!

In the 19th century, of the (many) reasons that Catholics faced discrimination from their Protestant counterparts was over the issue of sex. While many Protestants had been swept up in the Victorian-era repression of sex, believing that sex was merely a means to an end and should be avoided except for the procreation of children, that all sexual desire should be suppressed, Catholics took a slightly different approach. Not only did we emphasize the importance of pleasure in sex, we freely talked about it, with Church leaders routinely commenting on sex in homilies or letters to the faithful. For those who thought that what happened in the bedroom was private and was no one’s business in the Church (even God’s?), the Catholic Church was a strange and promiscuous institution that one should be wary of.

Funny how the more things change the more things stay the same. Today, we’re still looked upon as strange by the outside world, but instead of being promiscuous and free we’re now seen as repressed and stuck up. And while our teachings have stayed the same all of these years, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that few people actually understand what’s at the root of these teachings. Why do we say what we do? What is at stake in terms of our definition of the human person? How does sexual activity require responsibility, morality, and (dare I say) even some virtue? Even for married couples, even for those in the privacy of their own bedrooms, the Church stands firm in believing that everything we do should reflect our faith. Marriage does not give someone the free pass to do anything they want just as a driver’s license doesn’t give someone free rein of the highway.

Obviously, there are many ways to exercise this and some may faithfully approach sex without coming to the same conclusions that we do. In fact, even within the Catholic Church, among the faithful and clergy alike, there is great debate surrounding our sexual teaching. To say that simply because someone disagrees with the official magisterium of the Church means that they are not taking this sacred act seriously would be a serious overgeneralization. There are many faithful ways to view the same issue.

What I present to you this week, then, is not meant to be dogmatic teaching inherent to the very nature of being a Christian. What I present is an attempt to understand the logic behind the Church’s teaching. Not everyone will accept this, I accept, but that is not my hope in taking on this topic. In a world so divided on such a controversial issue, my only hope is that people may come to a greater knowledge of why our teachings are the way they are so to engage them more critically in prayer and conversation. We’ve gotten a bad rap on this issue for centuries, and while some of it is certainly deserved, I think the vast majority of it springs from misunderstanding.

Heaven is one of the most imaginative topics of our Christian faith. Because we have very few actual descriptions of it in scripture, and because no one has come back to tell us exactly what it’s like, much of our what we hold to be true about the afterlife comes form art and entertainment. In some ways, this can be a great thing, giving us vivid depictions for what we cannot rationalize ourselves; in other ways, though, this can be a negative thing, filling our minds with very un-theological beliefs about a very theological topic.

This week, I address one such un-theological belief that encountered in my conversation with a stranger and offer what I hope to be a better way of approaching life.

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Death is not the subject of polite conversations. Even the word “death” seems impolite. Instead, we use euphemisms like “passed away” or “gone to a better place” to hide from the subject, avoiding any substantial acknowledgment of the reality. When dealing with children, the topic is sometimes avoided altogether, hiding the death of a pet by replacing it with a new one or just telling the child that “grandma isn’t here anymore” without explaining where grandma is or what happened to her.

This… does not set people up for a healthy relationship with the inevitable reality of life. Like it or not, people die. Our loved ones will not always be with us.

Already in my short ministerial life as a friar, I have found that death and funerals are all the more tragic because it is a reality that catches people off guard. Having suppressed feelings inside or ignored the possibility, most people are completely unprepared for what will happen to us all and our loved ones. In what seems to be the makings of a childhood fable, we don’t do any work along the way and are left with tremendous stress having to deal with it all at once.

Luckily, for such an avoided conversation topic, art and entertainment love to include death as a key dramatic feature. Killing off a beloved character—even the family pet—is commonplace (and soooo cruel!) Even in children’s entertainment, death is far from an untouchable topic: Disney and Pixar seem to kill off a parent in every movie.

And people watch these movies. They read these books. They don’t turn away from them or criticize them.

Which, to me, proves once again how art and entertainment are windows into a deeper reality. Movies, television shows, and books offer us opportunities to gradually encounter death and tragedy throughout our lives without actually experiencing them, forcing us to reflect on their significance, deal with our feelings, and hopefully prepare for the inevitable. As much as we may want to avoid the topic in conversations, movies bring our thoughts and feelings to the fore and force us to reckon with them.

To me, this can only be a good thing, and my hope is that people take advantage of this opportunity. Especially when dealing with children, we need to have serious conversations about the meaning of life, one’s primal fears of death, and ultimately, the power of Christ to conquer death. I say it all of the time in my talks, I think death is the most important topic that a Christian could ever talk about. If we are going to be true followers of Christ, the one who laid down his life for a friend and asks us to do the same, we need to get a little more comfortable talking about it. We may not have any innate skills for doing so, and our culture may actually act against this need, but art and entertainment offer us that opportunity to begin the conversation.