Thursday, February 5, 2009

A relevant Saint for our times…

St. Ignatius of Loyola

By Charles R Geter, January 30, 2009

St. Ignatius of Loyola, the author of The Spiritual Exercises, is an extraordinary Saint because he returned to Catholicism like the Prodigal Son. Although he was raised Catholic, Ignatius started living a wild life during his years as a page, and later as a soldier for the Duke of Najera. Eventually he was injured during a siege of his duke's castle, and while he was recovering from some painful surgery, he started reading the lives of the saints, which were the only books available to him. This opened his eyes and he returned zealously to the Catholic faith. He begged his way to Jerusalem and devoted himself to convert non-Christians. Instead of remaining there, Ignatius returned to Europe, founded the Society of Jesus, and wrote down his Spiritual Exercises.

What did St. Ignatius reflect in the character of the times? First, he was a valiant soldier. Robert Gleason, S.J. writes that St. Ignatius was one of those men who was chivalrous and outgoing. He wanted to do something amazing with his life. Probably a Heroic Saint was not what he had in mind before his injury, but after his conversion around age 30, he became zealous for our Lord. The time of St. Ignatius was difficult; Luther and other Protestants revolted against the Catholic Church. The Counter-Reformation was one of the few good side-effects of Luther's disobedience to Church Teaching. St. Ignatius founded the Society of Jesus, and by the time of his death the number of Jesuits was about 1000.

St. Ignatius is a man for our own time primarily because he repented of his sins and listened to what Our Lord wished him to do. For some time after his conversion he lived a very austere life, for the love of God. He especially is a good example for us today because sacrifices are not exactly popular these days, so we can learn the importance of living ascetically through St. Ignatius's example. Another thing St. Ignatius can teach us is not to be content with our own personal mediocrity. He was so enflamed with love for Christ that he founded the Jesuit Order that accomplished much good in education, science, and missionary work. All three of these things are especially important to Christians today. We need Christ to reenter our schools and scientific studies (where people foolishly assert that religion and science are opposed); we need to bring Our Lord to people everywhere, even those who may live down the street. Furthermore, all of us can have trouble (myself included) with being lukewarm, so we need the example of St. Ignatius. He also rejected the temptations of the world, and so people from all ages need the Christ-like example of St. Ignatius who was uncorrupted by material things. Self-reflection and prayer is something that America as a culture is definitely lacking. St. Ignatius's Spiritual Exercises can give us some incredible helps, so that we may reflect on God's goodness and our sinfulness, and subsequently ask Our Lord for mercy. Indeed, St. Ignatius's strengths are juxtaposed to the weaknesses of our generation: he has the virtue of spiritual strength while we often are weak; he lived austerely while we live with excessive pleasures. He was inflamed with love, while our culture is lukewarm, and he faithfully loved God while our culture blasphemes His Holy Name. May St. Ignatius pray for us so we may become more faithful servants of Christ!


I am indebted to Wikipedia's article on St. Ignatius of Loyola

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

An interesting event during the first crusade of St. Louis…

Joinville and the Apostate Christian

By Charles R Geter, December 16, 2008

The time of the Crusades was a time for religious zeal. St. Louis' Crusade was ultimately a military failure, but that is only one aspect of the story. If one looks at the Crusades from their spiritual aspect however, it was not such a failure. If we could be transported back to the 13th Century, probably the most striking thing about the Crusaders is their enthusiasm for doing God's will. They took their mission to win back Jerusalem seriously. We would probably all start thinking "Wow, these guys are hard core! They know what they should be doing, and they are doing it." At the same time, not even the Crusades were immune from selfish people. Some sacked Jerusalem, or forgot about the Holy City and attacked Christian Constantinople. All the same, to acknowledge the evils does not invalidate the good that the best of the Crusaders meant to accomplish.

The Christians were most concerned about their own souls. Of course they were human like the rest of us, and they didn't try to get themselves killed. In fact, many of the crusaders probably would have experienced fears similar to those that all soldiers face. The ideal was to be prepared to give your life for Christ, and so go straight to heaven if you were killed. Consequently, the Crusaders had very little patience for those who left the Christian faith. Such people's souls were in serious trouble.

St. Louis was the heroic type of man that really made the effort to be saintly, and he worried seriously for the souls of sinners. This explains very well why he was so rude to fallen away Christians. When the king and Joinville were imprisoned, a Saracen brought gifts from the children of the sultan of Cairo. This man spoke to King Louis in French! Needless to say, the prisoners were surprised. However, when St. Louis found out that the man was a fallen-away Christian, he would not speak any more to that Saracen. Joinville, as he relates in his Life of St. Louis, spoke to the man, telling him how dangerous it was to be in the state of renouncing Christ, and that he would go to Hell if he died in that state. Despite the words of Joinville, the man readily admitted that he would reconvert, but for the fact that he would be ridiculed back where he lived. Despite Joinville's urgings, the man went away, and Joinville never found out what happened to him.

Now, on the surface it is easy to think "How silly! St. Louis should have been more charitable, and Joinville would have been more effective if he had been more understanding!" However, upon closer inspection, we find that the above argument against St. Louis' mode of action is a modern way of thinking that would not have been apparent to the Crusaders. Moreover, we have this strange idea that charity is never harsh. In fact, charity can be extremely harsh; God is often harsh with us, and yet He loves us. Who knows the best thing to say to the apostate? Only God, and yet, we have to try even if His will does not seem apparent.

Some Catholics of today would be likely to deal with the whole situation in a more touchy-feely manner; "Oh, as long as you're searching for truth, it's fine, whatever". That is NOT the right approach. Some of the more well-versed Catholics would likely say "Look for the truth, and the more you look, the closer you will be drawn back to the Christian faith." In fact, given a little more time with the man, it possibly would have helped to discuss conversion as man searching for God, rather than man afraid of going to Hell.

Two final points: first, hindsight is 20-20. From my desk it is easy to try and think up what I would have said in place of Joinville to the fallen-away Catholic. In the situation St. Louis was in, both he and Joinville at least tried to save the man. Secondly, there is nothing sinful about repenting for fear of Hell. It can still save you. Perhaps they were more concerned with getting through to the man in a short space of time, rather than finessing the argument. Fire and brimstone sermons can often do great things to keep people out of sin. Sometime in the future, that apostate Saracen may have realized his error and returned to Christ's flock. Who can say for sure that he didn't?

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Washington Tales

By Charles R Geter, December 9, 2008

In the latter days of October, the autumnal season,

When the cold betrays the warm with annual treason,

And the moon shines with harvest-tint bright,

I decided I would take me this very night,

To the city of Washington to heartily pray,

For a worthy president from this political fray.

I left by bus from Chicago, my beloved town,

Where the wind blows, and Daley wears the crown.

I kept on trying to be of good cheer,

As the election of November drew near.

We stopped in Pittsburgh, and to my surprise,

I could not find a bus, or even another ride.

I searched for a motel, and discovered a Knights Inn

"Hello?" said I, and wandering through the doors,

I walked up to the receptionist,

Who seemed to be doing some chores.

She nervously told me the inn was "closed",

But I had the gall to inquire,

As to why the good hotel

Was closing its doors this eve.

Before she could explain,

The door behind her opened,

A man well-dressed and trim,

Walked in to shake my hand.

"Good evening, sir!" he spoke,

"What is your name, good man,

And where do you be from?"

With some trepidation I told him from where,

And how and why I'd come.

(I would not have done this,

But he seemed so friendly and charming,

With a twinkle in his eye,

That I simply decided to trust the man,

And give him a reply.)

"Well well" Said he, "what stroke of luck,

That you came to this here inn.

Why, all of my paying renters,

Myself included too

Are going to yon Washington

To watch the votes, like you."

This here news thrilled me,

And I dilated my eyes

To the innkeeper t'was clear

I was happily surprised.

"Sir" I said with hope,

"Could you possibly spare,

Room for another passenger

To make the journey there?"

"Aye!" Said he in his woody voice,

"I meant to ask you first,

If you did want to join us,

And quench your political thirst".

My hopes fulfilled, I thanked the man

And straightway he invited me

Farther inside to the conference room

To meet the political horde.

Suspecting to meet hundreds,

As I entered through the door

Instead there were but eight, maybe,

Certainly no more.

"Well, gentlemen" the owner genteelly said,

"Please meet my goodly friends.

I know that you are a stranger here,

But soon you'll find some good cheer."

First he took me to a strange chap,

Who was wearing a business suit.

"Here my friend, is Banker Neustron,

a capital fellow who rakes in the loot."

"A pleasure to meet you", the banker cried out,

As he took my hand in his clammy grasp.

Although he smote me with his piercing glance,

I looked not away,

Staring him back down, I looked at him askance.

"Nice to meet you", said I (with minimal skill),

My arts of speech never did fit the bill!

Now the good host sped away,

To some other corner of the room.

"See, here is my good friend Boris.

He works long hours in the White House,

Janitor though he be!

He may seem an innocent chap,

But there's no secret intelligence,

As goes on in the house of the Pres,

That escapes his highly attuned ear.

If you need to tell a secret,

Before you utter a peep,

With care watch out for Boris,

Lest your secret words he speak."

I briefly spoke a greeting,

To Boris before we ran off,

He was old, white haired and skinny,

And his leathery skin was tough.

"Next meet Buntry Squibbs,

The proud owner of 'Al's Diner',

Started in the '50s near Philly,

By his industrious father!"

He warmly shook my hand and said,

"Welcome, sir! I am so happy to meet ye!"

I think that wherever my feet my tread

I'll never a kinder or better man see.

We got along excellently well indeed,

But again the host slipped away with speed,

So I followed yet again and again,

Wondering when the bustling would end.

We met a Plumber who plied his trade,

Well enough, for he was very well paid.

Dressed like a plumber he was not at all,

His clothes indeed weren't bought from a stall ,

And he loved always to brag, concerning his riches,

Till I took my leave (with involuntary cringes!)

Despite my efforts to stealthily leave,

The innkeeper refused to give me reprieve,

But rather made me chat and gab,

Although I had no more wish to blab.

In addition there was a poet who must have been crazed,

For he kept inventing verse without any phrase!

"On key, lock trumping Thriller skewed!" he would quote,

And honestly of talent he possessed not a mote!

He was thin and his features were gaunt,

("Money he must have none of," I thought)

But somehow he came to stay in this group,

I never did ask how he found our troupe!

As he peppered my ears with empty phrase,

We were able to escape from his dreamy gaze,

And went on to meet some other fellow,

Whose lips mindless words did not bellow.

A worthy farmer there was as well,

That he worked hard any man could tell,

He seemed a cheerful, down-home sort,

Though severely he could utter a retort.

He never rebuked unless there was a need,

As when some brigands did their dirty deeds.

He freely gave to any who were poor,

At least a bit of food, sometimes more.

To me he looked quite a decent chap,

And though I saw him with a beer from the tap,

He seemed not to have an intemperate trap.

I soon was led to the next gentle lodger,

This one looked akin to the Artful Dodger!

(Although he looked somewhat older

I could not imagine a visage bolder.)

This young man, dressed to the nines in his top hat,

Pilfered my wallet before you could say "Blackjack!"

Though genteelly enough he returned it with ease,

I was utterly amazed, and certainly displeased.

So you might say our meeting was somewhat abrupt,

Since I was loth for him to relieve me of my other stuff.

The host seemed totally to understand,

And quickly introduced me to the man,

"My friend from Chicago, this is Crain"

No sooner did he speak then we set off again.

(No problem, this suited me just fine,

Not at all did I wish to be victim of a crime!)

To the last person in the room we fled,

"And" I thought, "Soon I'll be in bed!"

There ahead was the last person on the list,

And who was it but the dear receptionist?

To my surprise, the girl burst forth in song,

It was a sonorous tune, blessedly not overlong,

She did not notice us, but when she concluded,

I truly said "What grace and beauty exuded,

I simply am in tears, and am utterly smote,

By your Godly anthem, and how you sing a note."

When she heard my words of praise she trilled,

"I am glad that such beauty has you thrilled.

Indeed, I sing to glorify God alone,

But I appreciate your complement and tone."

Then the Owner of the hotel spoke:

"Sir, meet my beloved daughter, Catherine Oak.

She is but the apple of my eye,

And I promise you I never tell a lie.

Now, let me tell you our excellent plan

That we'll follow to get to Washington, Stan.

We leave by bus early on the morrow,

And you need not worry about money to borrow,

We pay for the whole trip. Here's the only rule:

Everyone must tell a story, wise man and fool,

And at least one tale crowed every hour

Until we arrive at the Capitol tower.

I myself will judge you and the rest,

Which of ye shall be the best."

Now this did frustrate me deeply and I cried,

"Sir if I knew that, rather would I have died!

For my attempts to spin a good yarn are in vain,

Truly, for me to try would simply be insane!"

"The choice is yours. A story nimbly or clumsily told,

Or else to venture out now into the freezing cold.

Now I found myself in a bind,

To stay, or leave them all behind?

Leaving in the midst of night seemed crazy,

As my wits were already feeling hazy.

In the end with some reticence I agreed to stay

And the Innkeeper showed me the bed where I was to lay.

I laid my head down on the tender pillow,

And tried my best to forget about tomorrow….

When I awoke, I felt a terrible shock,

The room looked like it received a hard knock!

Only after I rubbed my eyes,

Did I see that it was my own room I spied

Back in Chicago I somehow appeared,

"How can this be?" my thoughts exclaimed,

But ultimately I fixed the blame.

I must have read The Canterbury Tales

One time too much, and my dreams began to sail

Away to Chaucer's medieval trails!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Against Gender-Inclusive Language…

Can "Woman" be included in "Man"?

By Charles R Geter, June 28, 2008

In the book The History of the Franks by St. Gregory of Tours, a certain bishop at one of the councils argued that "woman" could not be included in the term "man". After some persuasion by his fellow bishops he gave up his argument. He raised a question that is useful to explore, and worth examining. Especially in these politically correct days, it is useful to determine whether indeed "woman" is included in "man".

So, what is the problem? Some people have claimed that it is sexist to use the word "man" even in the sense that is used in the Bible, such as (italics added) He said to them, "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men." According to these people, such terminology is thought to be insulting to women because it does not actually include the term "woman." In order to make the translations more generic in gender, the New Revised Standard edition of the Bible uses all-encompassing translations such as 'Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.' I'm not kidding; this is really from the New Revised Standard! So, we need to determine whether "man" does in fact include women, or whether the term "man" is sexist and should be removed when referring to the human race. Should we replace words like "mankind" with "humankind"? Or is gender-inclusive language a step closer to Orwellian Newspeak?

In St. Gregory of Tours' History of the Franks, the bishop who thought that "woman" was not to be included in "man" was rebuked by the other bishops, who cited Scripture in which the inspired word of God uses the term "man" to refer to the entire human race. St. Gregory writes "[F]or the holy book of the Old Testament tells us that in the beginning, when God created man, 'Male and female created he them, and called their name Adam,' which means earthly man; even so He called the woman Eve, yet of both He used the word 'man'. Similarly our Lord Jesus Christ is called the Son of man, although He was the son of a Virgin, that is to say of a woman. When He was about to change the water into wine, He said to her: 'Woman, what have I to do with thee?' and so on". Indeed the examples that Saint Gregory gives are numerous enough, but there is still more evidence that can be gathered for the purpose of resolving this issue fully.

The earliest definition of the word "Man" (or "Mann") actually meant neither man nor woman specifically, but rather a human being or person. In Old English people distinguished between man and woman by the words wer (man) and wif or cwene (woman). The interesting thing about the word "man" is that slowly it has come to be related to the term "male" more and more. In a way, those of us who realize that it is not wrong to say "man" for mankind or all people everywhere are fighting for the older meaning that is right and proper. I know many women who don't see a problem with the word "man" being used to mean "all people". On the other hand, some women, particularly feminists, see it as offensive. It is silly that feminists would force everyone to use all-inclusive words that blur the lines between man and woman.

The reasoning that seems to be the case for "inclusive-language" assumes something that by no means has been proven: that contrast somehow implies inferiority. Proponents of gender-inclusive words argue that the word "wife" should be replaced with "spouse", or "stewardess" with "flight attendant". Even "actress" should be changed to "actor" (for men and women). My problem with these changes is that they over-generalize. If someone says "wife" you know they're speaking about a woman, but "spouse" suggests nothing other than someone who is married. Context will eventually tell you anyway whether the reference is to a man or a woman, so what's the point in hiding information? The overwhelmingly vast majority of people don't hate women. I never think negatively when I here "she's a nice girl" instead of "that's a nice person", but the end goal of feminists or any proponent of gender-inclusivity is an ideal where the lines of gender disappear.

Men and women are different; while the man is called to be the leader in the support of the family, women have the nurturing mentality that is much better at taking care of children, and of raising a family. Women in many ways can be stronger than men; if not in body, then in soul. Most women live to be older than men. They have the babies, and spend time with them at home while the man works. Implying that a housewife is somehow inferior to the working husband is silly: are the leaders of the government "more important" than the citizens? No, their jobs are different, but if everyone were a citizen, government would be chaos. If every citizen were a politician, similar chaos would occur. The citizens and governmental officials complement each other, balancing the country. Members of government run the country like husbands earn the money. Citizens take care of their own affairs, while trusting the government, like housewives spend much of the time teaching their children, while leaving support to the husband. None of this is "sexist". It's just the way we work. Pretending that men and women are the same doesn't solve anything. A woman who acts exactly like a man is just as problematic as a man who acts like a woman. The problem is not what sex they are, but whether they fulfill what God calls them to do. God makes everyone male or female according to what is particularly best for them. When someone acts completely contrary to their sex, it draws attention for a reason; it's unnatural.

A good reason that "woman" is included in the term "man" is that God made Woman out of Adam's rib. So when Eve is called "Woman", at the same time she is a part of Adam, and in that sense both of them can be referred to as man, as in "the human race". They're differences are present, but the fact that men and women both belong to the human race shows that "man" often is not supposed to be taken as "Males only, so back away all you females", but rather, "God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them." Another thing that strikes me about attacks by feminists is this: If traditional Catholics are so anti-woman, how come the next-greatest person in the entire Church after Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself is Mary, a woman? People don't get this. We respect women a whole lot. The Church is the "Bride of Christ". Is the word "bride" demeaning? Of course not! Much of respecting men and women also concerns recognizing and respecting their differences.

Truly the "gender-inclusivity" some strive for is such a silly problem. Of course it's wrong to treat women as inferior to men; to say to them, "I'm more important than you, men are better/greater/more talented than women" is a great injustice. The movement to allow women to vote was a good thing. But at the same time the feminist agenda seems to be "make women into men", and this twisted objective is accompanied with political correctness that is sickening in its restrictions. We can't say someone is a wife. We can't use the term Missus/Mistress. We can't say Chairman. Can't Can't Can't! Indeed if we continue down the road of disposing with all differences between men and women, our society's serious social problems of today will be nothing to the insanity of tomorrow. Purposefully confusing gender leads to chaos. But it's never too late to go back. Prayer can accomplish much. Let us pray that our society will once again recognize and respect the similarities and differences between men and women.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Short Essay on Films

By Charles R Geter, June 6, 2008

I must admit that when I find a good movie, I enjoy it. But during this time in which we live, finding a film that is acceptable for Catholics (or others with Judeo-Christian values) has become difficult. The most obvious problem is that Hollywood has its own ideas about right and wrong, and often those very ideas are upside-down. The strange thing about movies is that they have a compound effect on the audience, and this effect can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the movie. In this short essay, I will attempt to describe the basic components of film, and present an accurate method for judging movies.

Movies are works of art. However, they are unique in the kind of medium they use. In music, sound is the medium; in painting, the canvas is the medium, but in cinematography, the actors, real people, are the medium! Movies have several purposes, all with different levels of importance. The obvious goal of many movies is to entertain. Entertainment is good, but not the highest goal. Most movies don't rely on entertainment by itself, and if they do, the movie is usually a failure. There are many comedies that are spoofs of better movies, and most of them fail because their ultimate aim is too low. Napoleon Dynamite is an example of a movie that is really meant solely for entertainment; although it has an original story, it's sole goal is to make you laugh, and there is no depth to what it is trying to say. Another example is Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. It's a fun movie, but its ultimate message is "It's fun to be a Disney-fied pirate". In the best movies, the entertainment is a means to an end. If a movie's sole object is to entertain, it probably will be enjoyable to a degree, but there will not be much lasting value to it. Basically, entertainment is the frosting on the cake; without it the movie could be bland, but if icing is all there is, there isn't any substance.

However, most movies have another purpose than simply to entertain. The second goal of movies is to instruct. This is where we get into the meat of the film's composition. I'm not referring to the Aesop's Fables method of instruction. In most movies, there is no character who explains the moral at the end of the story. Instruction is what the overall plot of the movie, taken in context, teaches the audience. Depending on the intent of the filmmakers, the moral (or amoral) instruction of the film may be hidden so as not to appear obvious to the audience. For instance, an example of a movie that teaches the audience is Mel Gibson's Braveheart. The story basically transmits the message that there really are things that are worth fighting for, such as freedom from tyranny. Yet, at the same time, the movie at one point teaches that adultery (in the protagonist's specific situation) is acceptable. And, on another note, the "good guy" murders at least one person in revenge for past betrayal. So the overall story may teach something that is good in itself, but there may be smaller lessons that ultimately teach a moral falsehood. A movie may also teach something that is true, but it may focus on the evil without showing anyone good who may be a worthy example. Such movies are problematic because they make evil look stronger than good, and that is a moral falsehood. Of course in this life evil seems very powerful, but to believe that evil is more powerful than good ultimately leads to loss of hope. Because evil deeds are punished in the next life, and good rewarded, a movie, even a tragedy, must have some "good guy". The Horror genre is a good example of this, because, even though the villains are not supposed to be looked on as good, there is something depraved about getting thrills from watching the disgusting violence or ugliness that is the norm in the Horror genre. Then there are some movies that try to teach you what a war feels like. Saving Private Ryan teaches that war is particularly horrible, and yet that some people in war are brave enough to face the terror of it. This is one of those movies that isn't meant to be entertaining; it's meant to show war in as realistic a manner as possible, leaving nothing to the imagination. I still have not come to a conclusion as to whether graphically violent war movies like Saving Private Ryan are morally acceptable, or whether the damage they cause is stronger than any good that may come out of watching them.

The third thing that movies can do is edify. This is by far the scarcest attribute of movies today. Edification (moral or spiritual enlightenment) comes out of movies that deal with Christianity, either in the life of Christ, or the life of some Saint. Most movies that strive to do this have monetary difficulties, because Hollywood is not particularly interested in making edifying films. Unfortunately, films that don't have lots of money behind them may have poorer quality, and often this may hurt the film's ability to edify. Of course, a movie may still be good while limited to a low budget, but it is difficult, because the exterior goodness of the movie quality is often what draws the audience. However, when the director has good tools at his disposal, he can make a movie that is so tremendously edifying that it can blow you away. An example of this is Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Because he had talented people working on the movie, and he had tight control over every aspect of the film, watching the movie feels like praying the Stations of the Cross. There is one difference, though, of which we must be careful. With a movie, all you need to do is watch, but with a Holy Hour, you really have to make the interior effort to pray to Jesus, and listen to Him. Movies like The Passion still is an example of using cinematography for the noblest and highest of causes; to bring others closer to God.

There are other movies that are not specifically Christian, but may still edify through the relation of some element of the plot to a truth in Christianity. Some good examples are The Lord of the Rings films; they are not specifically Christian, and yet they do edify at their best moments, where they really teach truths that correspond to much in Christianity. This, of course, is because Tolkien was a practicing Catholic, so his faith permeates even his fictional stories. No one character actually represents Our Lord in the story, but He can be seen in various characters. In fact, this is particularly realistic, because all of the Saints were imitating Christ, and so each one of us, when we follow Him like the Saints did, can represent His glory in our own little way, like a small mirror reflecting the Sun.

So these three things, entertainment, instruction, and edification, are the important parts of the film. Most movies use at least the first two with varying percentages of entertainment and instruction. Very few get as far as edification. The most aesthetically pleasing part of a film (and this may vary a little with taste) is how the movie is edited, with coloring style, and computer effects (or lack thereof), the script, and the acting. The element that many movie reviewers pay the most attention to is the execution of the idea; that is, "How well is the movie made? Is the acting, script writing, and editing done well?" Most film reviews only are dealing with the most superficial aspects. Analogically, imagine a material excellence of a film to be a window, and the message of the movie to be the outdoors outside the window. If your window is dirty, the beauty of the park outside will be obscured. In the same way, movies that have an edifying message to impart may not succeed because the cinematography, acting, or script might be lacking. What if your window is squeaky clean, but outside the window is some back alley where the drains flow through? In the same way, no matter how technically and materially "good" a movie may be, if it shows something evil or ugly, it is dangerous (and foolish) to expose yourself to it. Secular movie reviewers are very concerned about the cleanness of the glass pane, but few of them care what is on the other side of the window. They think a lot about talent and quality, but little or nothing about morals.

The final issue I would discuss is what the Movie Rating System deals with: content shown on the screen. This is one of those things that often may wreck otherwise good movies in our day. A film may be entertaining and teach a morally sound message, but they may show immoral things that can desensitize the audience. Examples of this are when a movie shows the villain doing very graphically violent deeds, or impure deeds. The movie does portray the actions as evil, but showing such things to people is definitely risky. Impure deeds in a film are never excusable, while violence may be excused at times, like in The Passion of the Christ, which is an extremely violent film, but ultimately good (the violence is not an end in itself).

So, to wrap this up, I would give this advice to all prospective movie-goers who desire to become holy: 1.Make sure the movie has an ultimately good and true message. 2. The movie shouldn't have graphic content that could turn you away from God. 3. The morals in the movie must agree with Catholic morality. Hopefully the Catholic movie-goer would find this information useful, because there really is good out there, it's just hard to find!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

A Book Report on…

Saint Thomas Aquinas: "The Dumb Ox" by G.K. Chesterton

By Charles R. Geter, June 5, 2008

Publication Information: Published by Doubleday, 1956 (written 1933)


In St. Thomas Aquinas, G.K. Chesterton aims to give his readers a sketch of Aquinas, and his aim is for it to "lead those who have hardly even heard of St. Thomas Aquinas to read about him in better books."

Chesterton wrote this biography with the knowledge that many non-Christians would read it, and so he did not try to "heathenize" Aquinas for their comfort, but instead he works to explain the basics of St. Thomas's philosophy, and at the same time he gives an outline of Aquinas that even non-Christians can follow. He compares Aquinas with St. Francis in his first chapter, and in each new chapter he deals with another aspect of St. Thomas's life, whether it be his philosophy, major events in his life, or his personality. The last chapter concerns Martin Luther and how his heretical beliefs were so opposed to the philosophy of Aquinas. In the end, the conclusion of Chesterton is that the philosophical explorations of St. Thomas in the Middle Ages was more advanced than the Renaissance, and most all that followed it. His point is that Aquinas's philosophy was a thrust in an entirely new direction, while the Renaissance was just a revival of an old and dead thing.

G.K. Chesterton is one of the most brilliant and influential Catholic writers of the 20th Century. His biography of St. Thomas Aquinas is exciting to read not solely because of Chesterton's wit and skill with the pen, but also because of the great man about whom he is writing. The excellence of this book is that it gives the reader an especially vivid picture of Aquinas and the basics of his philosophy. The format of this book differs from the usual biography of a Saint; the life of St. Thomas is not laid out here for us in the manner of a set of dates. Rather than bore us with yet another outline of Aquinas' earthly life, Chesterton shows us an outline of his mind. Do not misunderstand me; he does write about the actual man, and not just his philosophy. Imagine a movie where there are 4 separate plots being told, yet by the end all the characters have connected in some way, and the seemingly disjointed plot has developed into a brilliant story. That will give you an idea of how Saint Thomas Aquinas is structured; yet the beauty of his writing is noticeable from the very beginning of the book.

The great thing about this book is that it gives some insight into the philosophy of St. Thomas, but with comparative simplicity, so that you can "get your feet wet" without getting lost. I will admit that while Chesterton's book is not an easy read, it is firmly, almost perfectly ground in the intermediate level. Anyone who is willing to put in a little effort should be able to understand the content of this book, and get something good out of it. One thing that I found interesting was that St. Thomas Aquinas disagreed often with St. Augustine. I never really thought about the idea that one Saint could disagree strongly with another Saint. Come on, they're both in heaven, right? But St. Thomas did in fact disagree with Augustine, whose medieval followers thought that their wisdom came entirely from within, while St. Thomas Aquinas wanted to show that Faith and Reason were both needed. Revelation can guide man, but Reason alone could not do this. What Reason can and should do is prepare men to receive Faith. Reason also should be used to express tenets of the Faith in a scientific manner. And lastly, Reason should be used by Christians to defend their Faith. Chesterton shows with aplomb that St. Thomas Aquinas' philosophy is really the most advanced we know of; that after the Protestant Reformation there was some regression in philosophy, and the prevalent philosophers of the 1900s who suggest that we don't even know if we exist, are really ages behind Aquinas in their thinking. And this needs to be said, because philosophies of the 1900s can be dangerous because of their sheer absurdity. There is so much to this book that you can read it over again and look at it more closely, and get more out of it.

There is something about Chesterton's writing; his witty, yet substantive rebuttals to the attacks on Catholicism (or even traditional morality) are always disarming, and he wields his pen like a swordsman, who is skilled at disarming his foes. But his biography of St. Thomas Aquinas gets deeper than simple rebuttals; his genuine interest of and admiration for Aquinas makes him the perfect candidate to write his biography. I can't help but appreciate that he was able to fit such an amazingly deep and fascinating biography into such a small book. Chesterton's "sketch" is compact, but it is so well written and deep that this is in no way a negative point. The majority of what he leaves out is information that we don't need. What we get is simply an excellent, moving biography of a great Saint. I read once that books are more important for what they don't say than what they do say. And that leads me to think that you should never judge a book by its size either. Some books are huge, but they have nothing to say. Let that never be said about Chesterton's "St. Thomas Aquinas".

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Comparing The Divine Comedy to ancient Greek and Roman Epics, by Charles Geter 02.29.08

The Divine Comedy, (or simply Commedia)
seems drastically different in style than the ancient epics by Homer and Virgil. Yet it is interesting that Dante has constant references to Greco-Roman mythology in his work. Dante drew from much of the classic mythological material, and he refers to them continuously, so much so that knowledge of Ancient Greek and Roman mythology considerably enhances one's enjoyment of the poem. That being said, the layout of the entire work is noticeably different from that of The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Aeneid.

On the surface, the plot of Commedia has little in common with the work of Virgil. However, on closer inspection, we see that both Dante and Virgil's poems follow a single main character through his entire journey. In Aeneid, that character is Aeneas; In Commedia Dante himself is the protagonist. Both of these contrast with The Iliad, which is about a battle between the Trojans and Achaeans, rather than about a single character's journey. Although we do have similarity between the basic structures of Aeneid and Commedia, Dante's passage through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven is drastically distinct from Aeneas wanderings. Dante did not intend the story to be understood only in the literal sense; allegorical meaning permeates the entire poem. In contrast, Virgil's Aeneas journeys through an epic adventure, but rarely does the adventure approach any philosophical dimension. It is more rooted in the romance of the action and adventure.

An interesting similarity between Commedia and Aeneid is that both Aeneas and Dante journey through Hell. Aeneas goes to the underworld to see his father Anchises. Dante is led through Hell by Virgil to see the consequences of Sin. Interestingly, Dante's description of Hell has some similarity to Virgil's description of the underworld. And fittingly, Dante writes that Virgil guides him through Hell and answers any questions he might ask about it. This explains why Dante used Virgil's description as a springboard for his own poem, where he elaborates on The Aeneid's comparatively terse sequence in the underworld. In no way does it imply he is less original. Dante's use of the first person is brilliant, and makes the journey more exciting. Commedia is so interesting to read because of the skill with which Dante blends the elements of pagan mythology with the truth of Christianity. He refers to many epic heroes, and other mythological characters of all kinds, and some of them are placed in various circles of Hell. For instance, a prime example is Odysseus, who is put in Hell because of his plots during the Trojan War (he designed the Trojan Horse, and had other cunning plans). Not all of the mythical Greeks and Romans are placed in Hell; some of the suffering souls allude to various mythological characters as well.

The romantic interests are portrayed in quite differently in Aeneid and Commedia. Aeneas love interest, namely Dido, the queen of Carthage is not virtuous; rather, she is shot with Cupid's arrow, and burns with mad desire for the love of Aeneas. Aeneas stays at Carthage for a year but, as he is warned by Mercury to leave Carthage to found Rome, he leaves, and Dido kills herself. The woman who guides Dante through Heaven in the third part of Commedia is a woman whom Dante loved dearly in real life, named Beatrice. She died rather young, but in the poem she guides Dante through the Spheres of Heaven. Dante loved her intensely in an almost spiritual way, and so she has a character that is really good, as opposed to the selfishness of Dido. In a way this is representative of the difference between the two poems. The Aeneid is more concerned with an epic adventure story, while the Commedia transcends this, instead showing the glory of Heaven.

Commedia is an epic, but in a much different sense than the Greek and Roman epics. This is an epic, but a Christian epic that is concerned with where souls go after death. The allegorical sense of the entire poem is a secondary layer beneath the literal meaning, which gives the poem depth. Homer and Virgil were speaking or writing beautiful poetry, but it was more concerned about the exciting and larger-than-life events of the heroes. Apart from a brief sojourn in the afterlife, Aeneas is concerned about founding Rome, basically living the life of a warrior. Homer in The Iliad shows us the battle between the Trojans and Achaeans (later corresponding to the ancestors of the Romans and Greeks, respectively), and apart from describing souls fleeing their bodies, is not particularly concerned with the afterlife. So overall, the ancient poets were writing epics with heroes, admittedly, but they did not make the afterlife their center in the same way as Dante. Dante planned his entire poem around Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, while giving us deep allegorical undertones. What a memorable combination!