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Movie review: 'Hostiles'

"Hostiles" (Entertainment Studios) works from the premise that not only were white soldiers in the 1890s aware of their complicity in the decades-long genocide of Native Americans, they could feel immense, paralyzing guilt about their actions.
 
The end result is more than a bit anachronistic -- white supremacist beliefs at the time were the norm, and the all-consuming energy required for daily life in the untamed American West allowed little time for reflection -- but director-writer Scott Cooper wishes to make a strong moral case.
 
So he opens with a quote from British novelist T.H. Lawrence, who wrote in 1923 about James Fenimore Cooper's 19th-century novel "The Deerslayer:” "The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer. It has never yet melted."
 
Times were tough, hearts were hard and disputes were settled at the point of a gun. Sounds like the opening of most episodes of the TV western "Gunsmoke."
 
Except that there's no Marshal Dillon here to set matters right. Cooper's protagonist, taciturn Capt. Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale), is wracked with anguish about the slaughter he's undertaken as well as the violence inflicted on virtually anyone he's worked with during his Army postings. He's killed, and seen his men killed by, the Native Americans they've been separating from their ancestral lands and way of life and putting them on impoverished reservations in the name of manifest destiny.
 
Blocker, despite his emotional damage, is an educated sort who reads Julius Caesar's writings in the original Latin. He thinks of his task as somehow noble, but nearly rebels when he's ordered to escort a dying Native American chief, Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family from New Mexico to Montana.
 
Along the way, he picks up Rosalee (Rosamund Pike) the lone survivor from a massacre of her family by rampaging Comanches. She's catatonic from losing her husband and young children but somehow restores her bearings to regard Yellow Hawk's family with compassion. At another stop, they pick up convicted criminal Philip (Ben Foster), who will face a military execution at the end of the journey.
 
Master Sgt. Metz (Rory Cochrane) brags of having made his first kill at age 14 during the Civil War, but he, too, succumbs to the accumulation of grief.
 
To survive on this sad, loping journey requires everyone to find common ground so they can repel the ongoing threat of Comanche raiders. This dips into the ancient racial trope of "good" and "bad" Native Americans, and also creates, as the lone form of suspense, the question of who will die along the way.
 
The story would undoubtedly have worked better if only a couple of the principal characters were deeply depressed. But Cooper gives everyone an overwhelmingly sensitive conscience and a sense of how they'll be regarded by history. The result is an unrelentingly unsentimental road trip that can be appreciated by an adult audience aware of how many times Cooper wants to just wear them down.
 
The violence and racism are matter-of-factly and realistically portrayed. There's no mythology here, and also no joy. Any character, if exceedingly fortunate, becomes merely a survivor.
 
The film contains gun and physical violence, fleeting gore and some racist dialogue. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church at 25

Pope John Paul II called the Extraordinary Synod of 1985 to assess what had gone right and what had gone wrong in two decades of implementing the Second Vatican Council. In Vaticanese, it was styled “extraordinary” because it fell outside the normal sequence of synods. But Synod 1985 also was extraordinary in the ordinary sense of the word. 
               
It occasioned an almighty row over a book-length interview, The Ratzinger Report, that pretty well set the terms of debate in the synod hall. It was the synod that came up with an interpretive key that linked the 16 documents of Vatican II, through the image of the Church as a communio, a communion of disciples in mission; thus Synod 1985 accelerated the Church’s transition to the Church of the New Evangelization. And it gave us the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
               
At a press conference shortly after the synod, Bishop James Malone of Youngstown, then president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, was asked about the new catechism the synod fathers recommended. Don’t worry, Bishop Malone, replied, you’ll never live to see it. The bishop was, of course, wrong about that, and John Paul II promulgated the Catechism of the Catholic Church on Oct. 11, 1992.
               
For those expecting a Q&A format like the old Baltimore Catechism, the Catechism of the Catholic Church was a surprise. While divided into 2,865 bite-size sections, the catechism is a discursive exposition of Catholic faith in full. Its structure, which mirrors the Catechism of the Council of Trent, reaches back to the early Church and the patristic catechumenate. Thus the catechism’s four parts reflect the four pillars of Christian initiation: the “Profession of Faith” (the Creed); the “Celebration of the Christian Mystery” (the Sacraments); “Life in Christ” (Christian Morality); and “Christian Prayer.”
     
Each of these four parts is then subdivided. Part One begins with a reflection on revelation and our response to it before examining the 12 articles of the Apostles Creed, the baptismal creed of the ancient Roman Church. Part Two is structured around the seven sacraments. Part Three vastly enriches the Tridentine pattern by beginning with the Beatitudes and our vocation to beatitude or happiness, which sets the framework for the exposition of the Ten Commandments. Part Four begins with a meditation on Jesus and the Samaritan woman, explaining the Lord’s “thirst” for souls as the beginning of prayer, before illustrating Christian prayer through the seven petitions of the Lord’s Prayer.
               
Thus Parts One and Two of the catechism illuminate God’s action in seeking us out; the catechism’s very first section speaks of the divine invitation to communion, while the sacraments are described at the beginning of Part Two as the extension of Christ’s earthly life in us: as Pope Leo the Great put it, “what was visible in our Savior has passed over into His mysteries.”
 
Parts Three and Four then outline our response to God’s action through the moral life and prayer. Part Three is a rebuff to those rigorists and laxists who continue to misconstrue Christian morality as a form of legalism: The moral law is important, the catechism insists, because these are the guideposts provided by revelation and reason for the pilgrimage to beatitude and happiness, the goals of the moral life.
 
Part Four speaks forcefully of “the battle of prayer,” the fight “against ourselves and against the wiles of the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from union with God.”
               
The Catechism of the Catholic Church has made a considerable difference throughout the past 25 years, because it was one crucial answer to the question posed to me in 1996 by a great first-generation Christian, Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria. Speaking of one problem Synod 1985 was called to address, the cardinal asked, “How can [anyone] join a group of permanently confused people who don’t know where they’re going?”
 
And while there’s still considerable work to be done to deepen the reform and renewal of catechetics, the mere fact of the catechism helped end the silly season in religious education while establishing a compelling, and in many cases quite beautifully written, benchmark and pattern for the future.
               
If you’ve not read the catechism, this silver jubilee is a good occasion to do so. Then share it with a friend.
 
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies, Ethics and Public Policy Center.

-- Originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of
Vermont Catholic magazine.
 

Movie review: 'Paddington 2'

Unlikely as it seems, "Paddington 2" (Warner Bros.), an endearing blend of animation and live action, sends the much-loved bear of its title (voice of Ben Whishaw) to the slammer. More predictably, once imprisoned — in a grim Victorian fortress of a jail — he still manages to exert his trademark charm on all around him.
 
The warm goodness and jaunty joking that pervade writer-director Paul King's follow-up to his 2015 original are only slightly marred by some ridiculous wordplay that may have a few parents frowning momentarily. And the smallest members of the family may be scared by a few action scenes. Otherwise, however, this is an appealing adventure for a broad range of moviegoers.
 
Once again based on the series of books by recently deceased author Michael Bond, to whom the film is dedicated, the proceedings initially find Paddington far from his roots in the Peruvian jungle, having settled into a cozy domestic life with the Browns, the very British human family that adopted him in the first screen outing.
 
Led by dad Hugh Bonneville and mom Sally Hawkins, the Brown household is rounded out by daughter Judy (Madeleine Harris), an aspiring journalist, son Jonathan (Samuel Joslin), who fears his love of steam trains is not cool, and housekeeper Mrs. Bird (Julia Walters). With their affection to bolster him, Paddington leads a contented existence munching on marmalade sandwiches and helping his neighbors in small but thoughtful ways.
 
His happy routine is rudely interrupted, however, when he is accused and convicted of stealing an antique book. Far from purloining the volume, Paddington had earlier taken a job in order to save up enough money to purchase it as a gift for his cherished Aunt Lucy (voice of Imelda Staunton).
 
None-too-subtle clues point to neighborhood fixture Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), an egotistical actor who has recently been reduced to making dog-food commercials, as the real culprit. While Paddington makes friends with his fellow inmates, including the jail's initially ferocious hardened criminal of a cook, Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson), the Browns work to clear his name.
 
Lessons about family loyalty and the importance of looking for the good in everyone are served up along with heavy doses of cartoonish but very enjoyable comedy. The result is a treat as soothing as a good cup of tea on a foggy day in London town.
 
The film contains perilous situations and brief childish anatomical humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
 
 
 

New year, new liturgical seasons

By Josh Perry

As we began Advent, the Church throughout the world ushered in a new liturgical year. We began again the annual observances with which we are very familiar. Advent, a time of hopeful waiting, gives way to the joyous celebrations of Christmas. Soon enough we find ourselves in the Lenten Season, with its disciplines of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. In the midst of spring, we celebrate the Resurrection of
Jesus at Easter, extending our feasting 50 days until Pentecost where we especially celebrate the Holy Spirit in our Church and in our lives. The long span of Ordinary Time follows; it is this time that points us to the life of Jesus Christ in all its aspects — not just His birth, not just His Passion, not just His Resurrection — but all of His life. And the cycle of the year comes — once again — to winter, and we find ourselves entering another Advent. Another Christmas. Another Lent. Another Easter. The cycle continues.
 
The occasion of the new year encourages us to look back on the year just passed and ahead on the year to come. We recall the past year — the joys and sorrows that we faced, the rights and wrongs that we may have done. Many of us then resolve to do something different in the coming year. A little more exercise. A better diet. Being nicer to siblings or children or parents. Maybe we resolve to go to church more, learn more about the faith or go back to confession. One of the most important reflections we can make is on how God was present in our lives in the past year and how might we respond to God’s presence in the year to come.
 
This process of looking back and looking forward is, I believe, essential to our personal growth and our growth as a Church. Without this reflection, the cycle of the liturgical year remains simply that — a cycle. If you “draw” the liturgical year on a piece of paper, you get a circle. But this process of looking back and looking forward — of reflecting on the past and making resolutions for our future — transforms that
circle. The circle becomes a spiral.
 
You see, a spiral is cyclical, but it doesn’t end up in the same spot. We celebrate Advents and Christmases, Lents and Easters year after year, but we are not the same people. Our past has shaped us, and our future might give us reason to hope (at least for a few weeks before we break our resolutions). I am not the same person I was five years ago, 10 years ago. My experiences have shaped me. Herein lies the beauty of observing the liturgical year. Passages from Scripture are repeated every three years both at Christmas and at Easter. The themes and disciplines of Advent and Lent do not change. But you and I have changed. And perhaps we will experience those same stories and experience those same disciplines in a different way, simply because we are different.
 
The upcoming diocesan synod is an extraordinary time for our Catholic Church in Vermont to reflect on its past and look forward to its future. In order for the synod to be fruitful, however, we need to take seriously the call to reflect on past, present and future. We can’t leave all this work simply for other people to do, just as we can’t delegate our own personal reflections over our lives in the new year (and
God forbid we have someone else make New Years resolutions for us!). As a Church, we reflect together with the help of the Holy Spirit. That reflection may lead to difficult conclusions and challenging resolutions ahead — just as our personal reflections might lead to challenging resolutions in our lives. Without these reflections as a Church, however, we can only hope to remain stuck in the same circle.
 
In this new liturgical year — and beyond — my prayer is that all of us are resolved to be involved in the life of our Church. It’s the time to reflect. As Church, where have we been? Where should we be going? And how shall we get there?
 
--Josh Perry is director of worship for the Diocese of Burlington.
--Originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of 
Vermont Catholic magazine.
 

Supporting women means upholding dignity of all life

By Carrie Handy
 
A little-known fact about the women’s movement is that it did not begin with the pro-abortion agenda that characterizes it today. Suffragettes of the early 20th century were concerned primarily with obtaining the right to vote, not the right to abort their children.
 
According to Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, “Early leaders of the women’s suffrage movement in the U.S. believed that the rights of mother and child are inextricably linked and that the right to life and the right to vote are rooted in the inherent dignity of each human person.”
 
Nearly 100 years after women won the right to vote, the movement has transformed from its early focus to one which effectively places women in competition with their children and at odds with their fertility. Modern feminist ideology promotes the dangerous notion that women “need” abortion and contraception as solutions to such problems as poverty, hunger, domestic abuse and single parenthood. Pro-life advocates who work to prioritize the protection of the unborn are sometimes accused of ignoring the social and economic causes that lead women to seek abortions.
 
In fact, to be “pro-life” has always been to be pro- “all life.” Whereas there are some such as Charles Camosy (“Beyond the Abortion Wars”) who describe the unborn as “innocent aggressors,” whose right to life is subordinate to that of their mothers, Catholic moral teaching views the lives of mothers and their unborn children of equal dignity and worth and supports a “both-and” approach to solving the problems that lead to abortion. That is, we work both to protect the unborn and to solve economic and social problems that threaten families.
 
A nationwide movement known as Women Speak for Themselves has emerged whose mission is to challenge the prevailing notion that women “need” access to abortion and contraception, focusing specifically on “how women are disadvantaged respecting dating and marriage, particularly because of contraception and abortion, and about how to reconnect sex with marriage and children for the good of all people.”
 
Inspired by Women Speak for Themselves founder Helen Alvare, who is a nationally known speaker, writer and attorney Joanna Bisceglio of Waterbury was moved to organize a chapter in Vermont. “As a Vermont professional, mother, wife, athlete and a Catholic, I am amazed at the abuse women often put themselves through by not standing up for ourselves and each other in this throwaway culture that devalues women constantly,” Bisceglio explained.  “We women often don’t support each other enough and stand up for how we were made to be treated, in God’s divine image.”
 
She said her goal is to bring women together around topics of mutual concern with the hope that even on those issues about which there is disagreement, they can work toward greater understanding and respect. “I truly believe that what unites us is greater than that which divides us,” she said.
 
The emergence of groups like Women Speak for Themselves is evidence that the false dichotomy underpinning the modern women’s movement is increasingly giving way to a more authentic “both-and” approach to women’s issues that recognizes pro-life and pro-woman goals as mutually supportive, not mutually exclusive. As Catholics, we are called to throw the full weight of our creative and moral energy behind policies and reforms that uphold the dignity of all, born and unborn.
 
The Respect Life Speakers Bureau 2017-2018 features several talks related to this topic.
 
Carrie Handy is the respect life coordinator for the Diocese of Burlington.

Originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.

Movie review: All the Money in the World

By turns suspenseful, darkly comic and stridently moral, this slightly fictionalized account of the famous 1973 kidnapping of John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer), the grandson of his billionaire namesake (Christopher Plummer), makes a strong case that immense wealth not only can't buy happiness, it also imposes depths of misery that few ever know. As scripted by David Scarpa from John Pearson's 1995 book "Painfully Rich," it traces the efforts of the victim's divorced mother (Michelle Williams) and the ex-CIA agent (Mark Wahlberg) aiding her to out-negotiate both the miserly oil tycoon — who refuses to pay the $17 million ransom — and the lad's captors.

The film has mature themes, fleeting gore and frequent rough language.

The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
 

Unwrapping the Good News

“…I proclaim to you good news of great joy…”(Lk 2:10).
 
The angel’s announcement at the birth of Jesus let all who heard it know God had fulfilled His promise: He had become one of us in “all things but sin” to set us free from the tyranny of sin. This is Good News of great joy! This angelic announcement was given to a world not unlike our own, riven with strife, political difficulty, senseless violence, tears and hardship, especially for those on the margins — the poor, the sick and those of low status in Roman society. And it was to these — the poor shepherds — that this announcement of Good News was first given.
 
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. … Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:18-21).
 
As He begins His public ministry, Jesus proclaims that the Good News first foretold by the prophet Isaiah to the people is now fulfilled in their hearing: He is here to offer liberty to captives, glad tidings to the poor and to bring sight to the blind. Who reacted with joy? The captives, those whom Jesus healed and the poor whom we see Jesus encounter throughout the Gospels, embraced Jesus with great joy. Yet not all reacted with joy — the leaders of the people responsible for governing and those responsible for leading them closer to God often reacted with hostility. What is our reaction to this Good News? Do we see that it is Good News? Are we ready to encounter Christ and look more deeply at what this Good News means for our lives — how can we be “set free?” Are we ready to sell all for this “priceless pearl” and bring others to encounter Christ and also be set free?
 
“The Joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.”
 
Pope Francis reminds the world of the Good News as he begins his apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium:” “The Joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness” (EG, 1). This is Good News! For who? For everyone. God heals wounds, fills empty hearts, provides purpose and gives each of us the grace to become that which He called us to be from the beginning. I have seen this repeatedly in my work with those entering the Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults process. This is Good News for everyone: those who are wounded, suffering from addiction, lonely, insecure, purposeless or seeking love. In the silence of our hearts, when we find ourselves alone with God, we realize our complete weakness and how much we need Christ and this Good News! Come Lord Jesus and set us free.
 
How do we unwrap the Good News?
 
The joy and peace of Christ should be tangible wherever the Good News is shared and lived. So as we look around our parishes and communities, we can ask what we see and compare the scene to what Francis describes in the early Church:
 
“In the Acts of the Apostles we read that the first Christians ‘ate their food with glad and generous hearts’ (2:46). Wherever the disciples went, ‘there was great joy’ (8:8); even amid persecution they continued to be ‘filled with joy’ (13:52). The newly baptized eunuch ‘went on his way rejoicing’ (8:39), while Paul’s jailer ‘and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God’ (16:34). Why should we not also enter into this great stream of joy?”(EG, 5)
 
And why was there such joy? The Good News brings great joy! God has become one of us, Emmanuel, God with us. God has come among us: We have a Savior who knows us so completely and loves us absolutely so that we can always trust in His merciful love. He will always come to us when we call, and in that encounter He changes our lives for the better. Good News yesterday, today and forever. May we unwrap this Good News in our hearts and joyfully announce it anew to our communities and the world.

--Originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.

To everything there is a season

There is a story of a pastor who decided to hire a gardener for the poorly kept parish grounds. Year round the gardener worked diligently, mulching, preparing the soil, weeding, planting, pruning and nurturing the plants with great attention, until one day the pastor strolled into the flowering garden with a neighboring priest, anxious to show off the magnificent new creation.
 
Gesturing to the many different plants and flowers, the pastor said, “I praise God for all of His handiwork!” 
 
With clippers in hand, the gardener stepped out from behind a bush and chastised the pastor saying, “Don’t you go giving all the credit to God. Just remember what this place looked like before I got here and God had it all to himself!” 
 
Attention is a sacred gift. “The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself,” wrote Henry Miller.
 
When we give this kind of attention to others, it becomes a gift of love, one that nourishes and nurtures and helps bring a person into full bloom. When we have this kind of love, our world holds all the beauty of a tended garden. When we don’t, life can become a cold, dreary night.
 
There was a time when I felt like my world had become an eternal winter, and I couldn’t see beyond the moment in time when my father died unexpectedly, leaving me alone to care for my mother, who was a hospice patient.
 
But time goes on. Today, it doesn’t seem possible that my father has been gone almost 22 years. Still, each year, as Valentine’s Day approaches, I am reminded of the last Valentine’s Day we spent together, him unconscious in a hospital bed, me in tears hoping that he could at least sense how much I loved him. He died the next day.
 
When I returned home that night and curled up in my dad’s much-loved recliner, I recalled the words of Paul Gallico, the author of “The Snow Goose,” one of my favorite books as a child: “When two people loved each other, they worked together always, two against the world, a little company. Joy was shared, trouble split. You had an ally, somewhere, who was helping.”
 
This was my relationship with my dad. Gallico’s words spoke to me, not only of what is ours when we are loved, when there is someone in our life who gives us the sacred gift of attention but what we don’t have when that someone is gone, no matter what the reason. It is the aloneness of grief, the dark night of loss, the realization that you are now a company of one.
 
A year later, I lost my mom.
 
When we suffer losses such as these, we often look for reasons why. But, in all honesty, no reason could console us or take away the terrible hurt and emptiness we feel. We may cling to our faith in these inconsolable times, but even faith doesn’t erase the pain.
 
I have found that the only way through it all is to consider grief a season of life, a season of loss that ebbs and flows and forever changes who we are. We never learn about it in school, but life will teach us and Scripture can guide us:
“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance. …”
 
The writer of Ecclesiastes understood there is divine wisdom in all of God’s creation, and that we must embrace that wisdom in our own lives as well. The garden in winter is not dead, just dormant, having prepared for this season during the autumn. When the time and conditions are right, new life will spring forth from roots and seeds hidden from our sight.
 
-- Mary Morrell
--This article was originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
 
 

Sacrificial ministry is incomplete without the cross

Caution: This article concerns working with the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill and addicts. If your experience of this kind of ministry is limited to the occasional conference talk on social justice in an air-conditioned building, bolstered by small group discussions followed by a tasty lunch, you won’t appreciate it.
 
If you have hands-on experience with the above-mentioned population, who rejected your good intentions at “helping them,” then you will understand the Gospels in their complexity and entirety.
 
For most Christians, the seminal Gospel passage often quoted regarding social justice and ministry to the poor is Matthew 25:35-40: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’”
 
This Gospel makes clear the various acts to be performed, but the sacrificial act of ministry is not complete without the cross. For ministry to be fruitful the mystery of the cross looms behind every act of charity. An act of love, met with the rejection of the intended recipient, if united with the suffering of Jesus on the cross, can produce spiritual fruit more efficacious than any pious sermon on the preferential option for the poor.
 
Remember what happened to Jesus in John 5:1-16 when He bestowed two healings on the man at the Pool of Bethesda who had been paralyzed for 38 years? The man is healed but nonetheless intentionally betrays Jesus to the authorities for having told him to carry his mat on the Sabbath which led to an intensified persecution of Jesus.
 
Jesus’ act of charity is met with ingratitude, betrayal and suffering. But, did Jesus stop healing the sick? No.
 
So, what do you do when the sandwich you offer the hungry man is thrown with contempt in the garbage? You still feed the hungry. When the water you offer the thirsty one is left behind for alcohol? You still give water to the thirsty. When the clothes you offer the poor family are exchanged for drugs? You still give clothes to the poor. When you offer kindness and compassion to the mentally ill or addicts and they calumniate you? You remain kind and compassionate. But, most importantly, you pray to the Father from the depths of your soul uniting your frustration, hurt feelings and misunderstood intentions to Jesus so that He may elevate those acts of charity to the supernatural heights of mercy which we alone, without the cross, are unable to accomplish.
 
From those heights a shower of grace descends upon the poor, which a mere sandwich, bottle of water, pair of boots or kind smile was unable to achieve by itself. Such is the complexity of social justice and ministry to the poor. Not every recipient of charity is ungrateful, obviously. And many will be kind, pleasant and enjoyable. But don’t let those who betray you and hurt your feelings stop you from performing the good works of the Kingdom.
 
Jesus didn’t stop. And neither did the saints.

--Originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
 
 

Movie review: 'Father Figures'

About the funniest joke in the threadbare comedy "Father Figures" (Warner Bros.) concerns the fact that, in childhood, its two main characters -- now-grown and estranged fraternal twins Kyle (Owen Wilson) and Peter (Ed Helms) Reynolds -- had a pet cat named Chairman Meow.
 
That historical pun aside, though, there's precious little that's revolutionary about the film that surrounds this duo.
 
Reluctantly reunited by the second wedding of their supposedly widowed mother, Helen (Glenn Close), bored-with-his-life proctologist Peter and carefree beach bum Kyle are in for a surprise. The man Helen long ago told them was their deceased father was, it seems, just a friend of hers.
 
So their real dad may, in fact, still be alive -- though Helen's promiscuous past makes it impossible for her to identify for sure which of many candidates he might be. This discovery launches the siblings on a road trip during which they visit a series of contenders, the first being famed football star Terry Bradshaw, playing himself.
 
As Terry and the lads toss the old pigskin around on a Florida beach, director Lawrence Sher's formulaic feature debut quickly sinks into a stupor from which only an energetic turn from Katt Williams as a hitchhiker can it briefly emerge.
 
Predictable developments include, most obviously, the gradual repair of the breach between the temperamentally diverse brothers. But subplots concerning Kyle's money troubles and divorced Peter's efforts to get back on track romantically are equally easy to anticipate.
 
Kyle's interest in serving as Peter's "wingman" by facilitating a casual encounter is symptomatic of the fact that the movie's distasteful premise is matched by a worm's-eye view of human sexuality throughout. The resolving plot twist can, however, be seen as vaguely pro-life.
 
The film contains pervasive sexual and some scatological humor, an incest theme, a premarital bedroom scene, about a dozen uses of profanity, a couple of milder oaths and constant rough and crude language.
 
The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
 
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