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Catholic News Service

Catholic News Service

Catholic News Service has a rich history of journalistic professionalism and is a leader in the world of Catholic and religious media. With headquarters in Washington, offices in New York and Rome, and correspondents around the world, CNS provides the most comprehensive coverage of the church today. Website URL: http://www.catholicnews.com/

Movie review: 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi'

Despite the high price of a movie ticket these days, patrons are unlikely to come away from a showing of the engrossing sci-fi epic "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" (Disney) feeling shortchanged.
 
Vast in scale and operatic in intensity, this 152-minute visit to that galaxy far, far away is both satisfying and, for the most part, family-friendly.
 
With the mayhem inevitable in a movie about a war kept gore-free and only minor blemishes on the dialogue, parents may be more concerned about the nonscriptural notions centering on the famous Force that are here collectively referred to as the "Jedi religion." Teens able to take this fictional faith, a sort of dime-store Taoism, as just one more element in a fantasy world will benefit from lessons about the value of hope and the true nature of heroism.
 
The "Star Wars" saga has often been characterized as the Iliad of contemporary culture. So perhaps it's fitting that the opening of writer-director Rian Johnson's eighth episode of the narrative initiated by George Lucas in 1977 finds Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) imitating Homer's Achilles by holding aloof from the great struggle in which he once took an active part.
 
Rather than sulking in his tent, as Achilles did, Luke is leading a solitary life of self-imposed exile among the small stone huts of a distant planet. (These scenes were shot on the Irish island of Skellig Michael, site of a medieval monastery.) His isolation is interrupted by the arrival of Rey (Daisy Ridley) who has come as a messenger from Luke's twin sister, Leia (the late Carrie Fisher).
 
As the leading general of the embattled Resistance -- the latter-day version of the Rebel Alliance for which Luke once fought -- Leia urgently needs her brother's famed skills as a warrior if the struggle against the fascistic First Order (successor to the evil Galactic Empire), and its malignant leader, Snoke (Andy Serkis), is to continue.
 
Luke refuses to join the conflict. But he does agree to train Rey in the ways of the Force. Rey will need the power of this mysterious spiritual energy, the source of Luke's own prowess, when she eventually confronts Leia's son, Ben Solo, aka Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
 
Originally a good person, Ben has gone over to the side of darkness and now serves as Snoke's chief lieutenant. Even so, he still has some elements of good remaining in him, and his ongoing moral struggle has the potential to sway the outcome of the intergalactic battle.
 
Though it gets off to a slow start, once it hits its stride "The Last Jedi" sweeps viewers along with stirring action and audience-pleasing plot twists. While not as taut as last year's "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," this sprawling installment of the great franchise makes, in the end, for a more memorable experience.
 
The script's portrayal of the Force as capable of endowing those who cultivate it either with goodness or iniquity may strike moviegoers of faith as establishing a false equivalence of power between these two poles of morality. Some may even see in this an implicit denial of the rule of divine providence and God's ultimate supremacy over sin.
 
Yet, in keeping with a Christian worldview, characters do make their ethical choices more or less freely. And the idea that a change in basic identity should be reflected by a change of name echoes a recurring trope in Scripture -- and in the Church's sacramental practice.
 
Audience members young or old are unlikely to spend much time meditating on these aspects of the picture, however. Instead, they'll be content to ride this cinematic whirlwind while it lasts and leave its mythos behind them like so much popcorn on the theater floor.
 
The film contains frequent but bloodless combat violence, a scene of torture, a couple of mild oaths and a few crass terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
 
  • Published in Reviews

'Crown jewel' of national shrine dedicated

The overflowing congregation at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception hardly needed reminding to raise their "eyes to the heavens" during a dedication of the Trinity Dome Mosaic Dec. 8.
 
Before Mass began, all eyes were already on the newly completed gold dome above the front central section of the Upper Church.
 
When it was blessed during Mass, incense rose above the congregation and bright lights were turned on to give a better view of the newly finished dome that includes the words of the Nicene Creed encircling the base and a depiction of the Holy Trinity, Mary, the four Evangelists, angels and more than a dozen saints connected to the United States or the shrine.
 
During the blessing and before and after Mass, phones and cameras were held aloft to capture the completed work more than two years in the making. But it would take more than a few pictures to capture the details in this majestic work of art described as the "crown jewel" of the national shrine during introductory remarks by Msgr. Walter Rossi, the rector.
 
The dome mosaic is composed of more than 14 million pieces of Venetian glass covering more than 18,300 square feet of the dome's surface. Its completion marks the final step in finishing the work of the Upper Church that began in 1955.
 
The dome was dedicated, fittingly, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, reflecting the basilica's namesake. The dedication Mass was celebrated by Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl and Cardinal Kevin J. Farrell, prefect of the Vatican's Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life, who was named by Pope Francis to be his special envoy at the dedication Mass.
 
Other cardinals concelebrating the Mass included Cardinals Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington and Justin Rigali, retired archbishop of Philadelphia, along with Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. They were joined by more than two dozen bishops and 90 priests.
 
Cardinal Wuerl pointed out in his homily that the mosaic tiles in the dome are symbolic of the living body of Christ regularly filling the pews of the shrine and reflecting the Church's diversity.
 
He urged the congregation of families, women religious, students and people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds who filled the pews, the side chapels and stood in the back at the dedication Mass to always look to this "great majestic dome mindful of our prayer to Mary" and ask for her intercession.
 
He said Mary is the model of "what our faith should be" because she believed that nothing was impossible with God.
 
The cardinal said he remembered coming to the shrine when he was a student at The Catholic University of America in the 1960s when the walls were simply brick except for the mosaic image of the Risen Christ at the front of the church.
 
He also noted that the completion of the dome finishes a work that began nearly 100 years ago when the shrine's cornerstone was placed in 1920.
 
As construction began on the National Shrine, as it was then called, Catholics throughout the country were invited to contribute however they could. Some donated pieces of gold jewelry and even precious stones, the cardinal said, which were fashioned into what came to be known as the "first chalice of the National Shrine" and was used at the Dec. 8 mosaic dedication.
 
When Pope Francis was at the shrine in 2015 to celebrate Mass and canonize St. Junipero Serra, he also blessed a piece of the mosaic: the words for the beginning and end of the Nicene Creed: "I believe in one God" and "Amen."
 
At the end of the dedication Mass, Msgr. Rossi thanked the artists and workers, some of whom were seated at the front of the church, for their work on the mosaic, which was done in Italy and shipped in 30,000 sections weighing 24 tons. He pointed out that no one was injured and no damages occurred in the installation.
 
He also thanked the many donors who contributed to the dome work and gave to the shrine's one-time national collection for the project on Mother's Day.
 
"This crown jewel of Mary's shrine is really your work, your gift to the Blessed Mother," he said.
 
 
 
  • Published in Nation

Movie review: 'Let There be Light'

 
"Let There Be Light" (Atlas) is an evangelical Christian drama with a familiar plot: A wayward sinner, in this case a famous atheist, experiences a change of heart.
 
The film is being marketed as a family-friendly event for church groups. The promotion tools include not only a teaching guide with Scripture references but also suggested outlines for sermons. And, in truth, the movie feels as if it had more to do with a religious studies curriculum than with entertainment.
 
Reflecting a small budget, its pacing is torpid, although Kevin Sorbo, the star and director, brings all his charisma to bear as Sol Harkens, a divorced, hard-drinking father bitter about the cancer death of his young son, Davey (Ethan Jones).
 
Sol says he no longer believes in prayer, because "that would mean praying to the very God that killed (Davey)." He's turned his atheism into a best-selling book.
 
Several twists and turns in the dialogue, presumably aimed at conveying cultural and political relevance to a wide audience, come out sounding odd instead.
 
Comedian Bill Maher, for instance, who has long identified as a religious skeptic, is compared to the diminutive mayor of Munchkin City in "The Wizard of Oz." What Maher's stature has to do with the validity or invalidity of his views on religion is not made clear.
 
Sol undergoes a second spiritual crisis after he's injured in a car accident and has a near-death experience during which he temporarily reunites with Davey in a tunnel of light. "Let there be light, Daddy," Davey says. Sol is mystified about this request for a very long time, but eventually figures it out.
 
Which brings us to Pastor Vinny (Michael Franzese). Explaining the Resurrection to Sol, Vinny thinks of himself as a "street guy" who did a 10-year stretch in a federal penitentiary, and "I don't believe things so easily."
 
Vinny then delivers a rough-hewn, "Sopranos"-style sermonette likely to be as quotable, down the years, as the King James Bible: "The empty tomb. What happened to the body?... Jesus gets whacked, right? They stick his body in a tomb, they seal it up tighter than a cement drum. What happens next? Bada bing! The body disappears. ...
 
"Now if he resurrected, that's a miracle. And that's not a little miracle. That's a big mother of a miracle. ...
 
"But nobody ratted out where the body was. Think about that. The disciples, not one of them broke rank. They went to their death sticking to that story. You know why? Because Christ was resurrected. There was no body."
 
Screenwriters Dan Gordon and Sorbo's wife, Sam, who also plays Sol's ex, Katy, clearly know how to put the fun in fundamentalism. Shortly after that, Sol is baptized in a creek, reunites with Katy and searches for a new direction for his life.
 
More unsettling than this straightforward conversion story is later dialogue about Islamic terrorism involving Fox News personality Sean Hannity, who is also the film's executive producer. Appearing on Hannity's radio program is shown as Sol's big break in his newfound evangelization effort.
 
"Are you guys ready for the amount of heat that will be coming your way with this?" Hannity asks. "Your intention is to proselytize. What about diversity? What right do you have to impose your religious values onto somebody else?
 
"What right does ISIS have to cut people's heads off?" Sol responds.
 
Hannity nods. "That's a powerful point."
 
The exchange speaks for itself, and indicates the uneasy blend of sincere religious sentiment and political propagandizing that is "Let There Be Light." More homiletics and less of Hannity would have helped.
 
The film contains mature themes and scenes of excessive alcohol use. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
 
 
  • Published in Reviews

Don't wait to be perfect to answer vocational call, pope says

Men and women contemplating a vocation to the priesthood, consecrated life or marriage should not be afraid because God wants only for them to experience the joy that comes from serving others, Pope Francis said.
 
"Our slowness and our sloth" should not delay a response and Christians need not be "fearful of our limitations and sins, but instead open our hearts to the voice of the Lord," the pope said in his message for the 2018 World Day of Prayer for Vocations.
 
"It will not fill our hearts if we keep standing by the window with the excuse of waiting for the right time, without accepting this very day the risk of making a decision," the pope wrote. "Vocation is today! The Christian mission is now!"
 
The papal message for the day of prayer, which will be observed April 22, was released Dec. 4 at the Vatican. The 2018 theme is "Listening, discerning and living the Lord's call."
 
In his message, Pope Francis said God's call "is not as clear-cut as any of those things we can hear, see or touch in our daily experiences" because God "comes silently and discreetly, without imposing on our freedom."
 
Christians, he said, must learn to listen carefully and "view things with the eyes of faith" in order to listen to his voice which is "drowned out by the many worries and concerns that fill our minds and hearts."
 
"We will never discover the special, personal calling that God has in mind for us if we remain enclosed in ourselves, in our usual way of doing things, in the apathy of those who fritter away their lives in their own little world," the pope said.
 
Listening is increasingly difficult in today's society, which is "over stimulated and bombarded by information" and "prevents us from pausing and enjoying the taste of contemplation" and discerning God's plan, he said.
 
Often stifled by "the temptations of ideology and negativity," he said, Christians need spiritual discernment which allows them to "discover the places, the means and situations through which" God's calls them.
 
"Every Christian ought to grow in the ability to 'read within' his or her life and to understand where and to what he or she is being called by the Lord, in order to carry on His mission," Pope Francis said.
 
He also urged men and women to live out their calling once it is discovered and "become a witness of the Lord here and now," whether in marriage or priesthood or consecrated life.
 
"If (God) lets us realize that he is calling us to consecrate ourselves totally to His kingdom, then we should have no fear!" Pope Francis said.
 
"It is beautiful -- and a great grace," he said, "to be completely and forever consecrated to God and the service of our brothers and sisters."
 
  • Published in World
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