For Your Lenten Friday Night at the Movies VI

10.000 feet still? What the heck just happened! Ladies and gentlemen, don’t be alarmed. The last time I spoke to you I had said that we would be cruising at 10,000 feet again this week. Instead Webster and I had to land this puppy due to a fire warning light on our starboard engine.

How’d you like the landing? Webster and I really get a kick out of carrier landings (and take-offs too)! YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE-HAW! Oh, and one of the ground crew took a video of our landing too.  Check it out!

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Wow, look at that horizon move.  Ain’t this grand! What’s that? Pass the Dramamine?! You mean you’re not interested in tonight’s meal selection? But Webster checked with the galley here on the good ship Abraham Lincoln and they have prepared a cornucopia of Lenten feast selections for the crew (and now us too)!  Seriously, the whole mess is opened for us with everything from Grilled Swordfish Steaks to Fish Tacos, and all points in between. Webster and I are on flight status so we can’t imbibe, but we hear the slop-shute is open to the rest of you.

As the crack ground crew chases electrons to track down the gremlin that set off that fire warning light, the other aviators on Ol’ Abe have set up a screen in the ready room so we can all enjoy tonight’s movie selection together.  Guess what? It has a Navy captain and a nun as the lead characters! How appropriate! Yep, The Sound of Music. Webster is giving me some guff because he knows I never saw this movie until 2002 (hush—wait until he finds out I’ve never seen A Man For All Seasons!) Anyway, here is the trailer, and thanks again for flying YIM Catholic Airlines!

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Because It Allows Me to See Everything Differently, Even “Avatar” in IMAX 3-D

Saturday was a day of contrasts. I ate lunch in Boston’s North End with Z and other friends from Communion and Liberation (CL). Over pasta with salmon, we discussed CL and its “main instrument,” the School of Community. In the evening, I had a dinner date with my sweetheart: a vegetarian meal on Long Wharf followed by Avatar in IMAX 3-D at the Boston Aquarium. I came home exhausted.

First, about the exhaustion. I had left Z’s North End home invigorated, ambling up Prince Street to my car with renewed appreciation for the charism offered by Father Giussani, founder of CL. Fr. James Martin, in his book My Life with the Saints, so instrumental in my conversion, notes that Ignatius of Loyola became a priest because of contrasts: He realized that when he read accounts of war, he felt sapped, but when he read Scripture or the lives of the saints, he felt renewed. And so was I renewed, weaving through the Saturday afternoon crowd on Prince Street while looking around for an Italian mother leaning out a second-floor window shouting, “Anthony!”

After the full-metal barrage of the 162-minute Avatar, by contrast, it was all I could do to drive safely home—over the Tobin Bridge, up Route 1, and out onto 128, thinking all the while about the film, trying to “judge my experience,” in the parlance of CL. This is the beautiful thing about Catholicism in general and CL in particular: Together (especially together) they are an invitation to see life through new eyes, though not exactly eyes of the Na’vi. (For the three of you in America who have not seen the film: refer to poster.)

I had a snap reaction to the film: It offers nature worship and romantic love as the highest values, while reveling in technology (those special effects!). Avatar’s idea of crucifixion is being confined to a wheelchair, like the main human character. Its idea of resurrection is for a paralyzed man to lie down in a tomb-like bed of electrodes and come back to life in the body of an ersatz Na’vi, by some sort of electronic mind transfer. Avatar posits an Earth that is dying and a distant planet, Pandora, where there is some sort of vague hope, although in the end that hope comes true for one and only one character, the protagonist. Director James Cameron (“The Terminator,” “Titanic”) does not exactly espouse a Catholic world view.

And yet . . . In an effort to “judge” the film, which boils down to looking for the presence of Christ in it, I realized that, for all its pantheism and enthrallment to technology, Avatar’s main character, the protagonist, is motivated by an unquenchable desire. At first, paralyzed from the waist down, he wants only to walk, and a hard-ass army officer has promised him the needed operation if he agrees to use his ersatz Na’vi figure as a sort of undercover elf. (The three of you who haven’t seen the film—are you getting confused yet?) But Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) discovers a deeper desire once he encounters the Na’vi people, and it is that desire that drives the narrative. Without that desire, no story, no humanity—just a lot of special effects and the inevitable climactic megamilitary blow-out, complete with hard-ass officer making like The Terminator for one last showdown.

It is the desire in our hearts for the divine that drives our narrative, that is the most indelible feature of our human nature. That desire is finally satisfied only in one place—not on another planet or through any kind of science-driven “resurrection”—but in Jesus Christ. That’s my take on Avatar—and why I found it not only sense-numbing and exhausting but also compelling.

My friend Z is always full of surprises. Having already worked out this post in my mind, I sent him an e-mail about having seen Avatar. His “judgment” was much more basic and beautiful. Z wrote:

Wonderful Avatar . . . However I just prefer the old movie style where the American army are the good people.

For Your Lenten Friday Night at the Movies V

This is your co-pilot once again.  It is a beautiful afternoon up here in the cockpit.  Cruising now at only 10,000 feet.  We’re safe from small arms fire, but still within range of SAM’s (Surface to Air missles). Oh I don’t want to alarm you or anything, but as we get closer to the end of Lent, the cross-country flight will draw to a close and we’ll be back to flying sorties over enemy territory. Close Air Support, etc. Ten thousand feet is getting down to where Webster and I usually live. We’ll cruise at this altitude next Friday too.

Today is the Solemnity of St. Joseph, so Webster has ordered Surf and Turf for this evening’s dinner. Yep, New York Strip grilled to order (don’t ask how we pulled that off) and grilled gumbo shrimp to boot. That will go well behind that Cheeseburger and Cherry Coke lunch we had up here in the cockpit. Caesar salad and your favorite beverages will be on the side.

And for our in-flight entertainment? Becket starring Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton in this fully restored masterpiece. Ever had a buddy who was an enabler, you know, aided and abetted your carousing, etc? If you were King of England, wouldn’t it be cool to appoint your pal the Archbishop of Canterbury? Think of the wacky stunts you could pull if your confessor was your best buddy! That’s what Henry II thought when he appointed Becket as Archbishop. A stunning story of “be careful what you wish for” from both sides of the friendship spectrum.

Enjoy the show, and thanks again for flying with us!

P.S. I Think you can watch the whole thing at You Tube.

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For Your Lenten Friday Night at the Movies IV

This is your trusty co-pilot checking in again. We are continuing our slow descent and are currently at 17,000 feet with good visibility, but with reports of some heavy weather up ahead. So for your safety, please keep your seat belt fastened when you aren’t moving about the cabin. [Read more...]

For Your Lenten Friday Night at the Movies III

Ladies and gentlemen, this is your co-pilot speaking.  The weather is great from what we can see here in the cockpit, and we are cruising at 24,000 feet now.  Your pilot Webster has asked me to kindly inform you that we have reached the half-way point of our Lenten journey. For dinner tonight, we will be serving penne pasta with smoked salmon and fresh peas along with freshly baked rolls. Just an hour and a half to wait, so hang in there!

Our inflight entertainment this evening is Joan of Arc starring Ingrid Bergman. And I have a confession to make, I have never seen this classic in its entirety. I just never got around to it. It won two Oscars in 1948 for best cinematography and best costumes. We hope you enjoy the show and thanks again for flying YIM Catholic Airlines.

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For Your Lenten Friday Night at the Movies II

Ladies and gentlemen, this is your co-pilot once again. We have now descended to 31,000 ft. It’s way before dinner, but seeing how you have been so patient on this flight, your pilot Webster and I thought we would give you a sneak preview of our after dinner entertainment for this evening. By the way, smoked talapia is on the menu tonight, so hold your appetites until then!

This scene is the final one from tonight’s selection, Chariots of Fire, which won the Academy Award for best picture in 1981. This scene includes a rousing rendition of William Blake’s Jerusalem and features Eric Lidell winning the 400-meter sprint, against all odds.

So again, sit back and enjoy the ride and thank you for flying YIM Catholic Airlines!

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For Your Lenten Friday Night at the Movies

This is your co-pilot speaking. It’s been kinda quiet here at YIM Catholic today. Well, that’s because it’s Lent and Webster and I are cruising at 38,000 feet.  Oh, not literally, but figuratively for the next 38 days. But we haven’t flown the coop completely. We’re still around, but when you are on a long cross-country flight (like the 40 days of Lent) you have to be gentle with the controls so as not to upset the passengers. [Read more...]

Because of “Brother Sun, Sister Moon”

Posted by Webster 
A column today at The Catholic Thing about Franco Zeffirelli’s “Jesus of Nazareth” calls it “the best TV miniseries ever.” You can debate that—easily—but here’s something I’ll take to the bank: “Jesus of Nazareth” is not even Zeffirelli’s best religious work. That would be “Brother Sun, Sister Moon,” his 1972 film about Sts. Francis and Clare of Assisi.

I have seen “BSSM” about two dozen times, although I have to admit there were mitigating circumstances.

In 1976, I was one of a group that bought a movie theater in Beverly, Massachusetts. It’s still in operation today, although I am no longer actively involved. Our strategy was to show double features of “Films Worth Seeing More than Once”—back in the long-forgotten days before widespread cable use, videos, and DVDs. With another fellow, I was responsible for booking the film program and, being two young romantics, we thought it might be nice to begin by showing Zeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet” (1968). Yes, that was the year I turned 17.

But what movie to pair with “R&J;”? We cast around and finally landed on a title neither of us had ever heard of, and only because it was also by Zeffirelli and, from the publicity, seemed to be a compatible romance. Graham Faulkner and Judi Bowker? Probably another pair of performers like Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey of “R&J;” playing young people in love—and to music by hippie folk minstrel Donovan! Sure, book it, why not?

And so, because the “feature” always played last in our double billings, our theatrical adventure on Cabot Street began officially with a film about young people in love—with God, with Jesus Christ. Lo and behold, “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” became one of our most popular offerings, long after we had stopped playing “Romeo & Juliet”!

It’s not stretching things to say that, as I watched this film over and again—sometimes from the back of the auditorium where I welcomed guests, sometimes from the front row where my daughters Martha and Marian sat for every film, sometimes from the projection booth where my license hung framed on the wall—a calling to the Catholic faith was repeated over and over.

I think what stunned me about the film was that it captured the blessedness of poverty, as lived by Francis and, to a lesser extent in the film, Clare. The clip below is one of my favorite scenes, showing Francis, after the Christ of San Damiano has told him to “rebuild my church,” together with one of his old carousing buddies, Bernardo, on the cusp of his own conversion. The characters who are shown helping—some dimwitted, some handicapped, some aged beyond any apparent usefulness—are worth the price of admission. And the eyes of Francis (Faulkner) as he turns to greet Bernardo? It would be contradictory and also completely sincere to say that, every time I watched the film, I coveted that gaze.

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