For Your Lenten Friday Night at the Movies

I had this idea last year to feature movies on Friday nights during Lent. I wrote posts as if I were the co-pilot of a plane flying passengers for YIMCatholic airlines. Remember those?

Well this year I’m not the co-pilot any more. But I still want to share movies with you during Lent. I’ve got a neat collection of films for us this season starting with one of my all-time favorites (as long time readers know well). Kenneth Branagh’s version of William Shakespeare’s Henry V.

A long time ago, when England was still Catholic, there was a great king. The Hundred Years War lasted, ahem, a long time. The Battle of Agincourt was a miracle (for the British). And simply the “Best. Speech. Ever.” is right here too!

What’s for dinner tonight? Pescado el Horno, of course. And after dinner,  if you haven’t given up popcorn for Lent, you can enjoy that along with the movie. Here is a taste,

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By order of the king, get thee to the video store, a library, or Netflix!

Because “Atlas Shrugged” is not “the Sermon on the Mount”

On this second day of Lent, I have a couple of videos to share with you. The first is from an interview Ayn Rand did with Mike Wallace back in the days when networks were few.

Ayn Rand, the author, novelist, and philosopher, answers the kinds of tough questions that journalists used to be able to ask, back when the networks were an oligopoly. [Read more…]

Because I’m Billy Jack (Not Francis of Assisi)

A while back, I wrote a post where I said that I became a Catholic because I discovered that Christ, and His Church, wanted 100% of me. My whole heart, soul, mind and strength. The full-spectrum of Frank, warts and all. I needed to change, but I didn’t have to stop being a man.

I’m especially thankful for this, as I don’t fit the mold of modern-day milquetoast Christian guy. Namby-pamby, pacifistic, always gentle and kind. The ancients counseled “Know thyself,” and I know this about myself: I’m more like Billy Jack than I am like St. Francis of Assisi.

Remember Billy Jack? The movie character brought to life by Tom Laughlin?  He made four movies as this character. The first was Born Losers where we meet Billy and his back-story. Fresh out of the Army, Special Forces. A former Green Beret, see? Eager to turn his sword into a ploughshare. “I ain’t a gonna study war no more,” as the ditty goes.

But then some bad guys roll into town on their choppers and start terrorizing the locals. Raping, pillaging, and generally carrying on in a despicable manner, disturbing the peace with impunity. Enter Billy Jack, who moves to protect the weak with his gifts of strength and skill. Does he go over the top with his vigilantism? Of course (it’s a movie, after all)!

The next movie he made was simply titled Billy Jack, and now he is seriously trying to make himself into a pacifist Christian guy, like he believes he is supposed to do. A square peg trying to fit into a round hole. But Billy is a warrior, and though in his heart he deplores violence, sometimes he realizes that is what is called for. Like in this scene below,

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That could easily be me. I’m not saying it’s pretty, but the Marine in me, the berserker, can admit that it is pretty true. The difference between me now, and Billy Jack/former Frank, is that a) I know that standing up to bullies and hooligans is not forbidden “Christian man” behavior, and b) if my switch gets tripped and I go nuclear, as Billy Jack does in the clip above, the confessional is only a few blocks away if my conscience screams, “You went too far!”

I understand the use of deadly force. I understand that it is hard to control violence, and that lines are crossed daily, from the misapplication of force, changing lives for the worse forever. But I’m also a man, a husband, a father, and a warrior. A protector of not only my family, but of the innocent, a champion of the oppressed, a friend to the unloved. This is what I, with the help of the Church, am teaching my two boys. Teaching them what it means to be a strong Christian, a strong Catholic man. And I trust that my daughter will benefit from this too.

There has been lots of press lately about young people taking their own lives when they were bullied to the point of no return. If they weren’t physically assaulted, then they were attacked verbally. I’m left with a question to parents of children everywhere: Where are the Christian kids who aren’t afraid to back up the bullied kids? Who aren’t afraid to befriend them? Who actively rally around them and protect them?

Obviously, it takes fortitude to go against the mainstream, especially in the peer-pressure-cooker pack of the school-age set, both in public and private schools. Sometimes, it takes young men with the mindset of Billy Jack to police the halls of the world and keep the peace. Thankfully, there are Warrior Saints I can share with my children too.

We have to teach our children this fortitude, along with the rest of the Cardinal virtues of justice, temperence, and prudence. These complement and put into action the Theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. Teaching our children only the latter (the Theological virtues), while neglecting the former, will leave them ill-equipped to be faithful examples of lived Christianity in our world today.

We are called to love, and to pray for peace. But we are not to turn our backs on injustice, or flee from standing up for what is right, or run away from defending the weak.

I pray that my children, and yours, will do the right thing: love and protect all of their peers—the popular, the average, and the unpopular, and that they be virtuous in this life. Amen.

Thanks to Pink Floyd (Music for Mondays)

I’m warning you early—this edition of MfM will eat up your entire lunch hour. And if you don’t like rock n’ roll, get out now while there is still time.

Wait a second, I take that back. Stay. Because maybe, just maybe, everything you heard about Pink Floyd, is wrong. That is how it was for me and the Catholic Church for a long time, see? I was listening to people’s opinions instead of checking out the facts for myself. You all know where that led, as this blogs marquee proclaims. Besides, who else will show you Roger Waters, David Gilmore & Co. like this?

So what is it about these drug-crazed hippies that I think you should find appealing? You may be thinking to yourself, Obviously Frank…can’t you tell a bunch of sinners when you see them? [Read more…]

For Your Vatican-Approved Friday Night at the Movies

It’s not often we get a free pass to go to the movies from the Vatican.  But that is what we received earlier this week. And heck, I couldn’t be happier because I love this movie. My mom loves this movie. Come to think of it, my wife, sister, brother, and even my kids love this movie.

Bravo Zulu to the Vatican Film critics. So head to the library, Blockbuster, or boot up your Netflix account and have a blast watching this classic comedy starring the late John Belushi and Dan Akroyd. Here is one of my favorite clips and a little preview clip to boot.

“It’s gotta cop motor, 440 cubic inch plant.  It’s got cop tires, cop suspension, cop shocks. It’s the model made before catalytic converters so it’ll run good on regular gas. Whaddaya say? Is it the new Bluesmobile or what?”

That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout!

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“We’re on a mission from God.”

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Because Lena Horne Found Solace in the Church

Once I read that her funeral was to be held in a Roman Catholic Church, I kept reading obituaries of Lena Horne, hoping to find clues to her own faith journey. Ms. Horne, an African-American who broke racial barriers in the entertainment industry, died last week at age 92. I never did find an article explaining how this amazing civil rights activist and entertainer chose to have her funeral in a Catholic Church, but here is what I could glean. I pray that her enchanting voice is joining the chorus of angels in eternity.
Many clues about Ms. Horne’s faith life came from the most comprehensive obituary I could find, not surprisingly, in the New York Times. Her funeral Mass, attended by hundreds of mourners, was celebrated at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Its former pastor, the Rev. Walter F. Modrys, S.J., met  Ms. Horne at a dinner party when she was in her 70s.

“That was quite intimidating,” he said. “What does a rather ordinary and reserved Catholic priest say to Lena Horne?” They struck up a conversation about “feeling shy in front of people.” One can infer that the two became close, because other reports recount how she took her family to that parish for years on Easter Sundays and how Rev. Modrys attended her 80th birthday celebration at Lincoln Center.

Ms. Horne was born in the Bedford-Stuyvestant section of Brooklyn. Her father was a numbers kingpin and left the family when she was three. What followed was a life of travel with her mother, who was herself an entertainer. Ms. Horne dropped out of high school and joined the chorus line of the Cotton Club in New York. Eventually, she moved to Hollywood and became an international superstar. Among her accolades –  four Grammys and a Tony. She disappeared from the public sphere about 10 years ago.

She long was politically active, particularly in the Civil Rights Movement. This activism began when she refused to sing during World War II for the USO when African-American servicemen were seated behind the German POWs. (The Army then would not integrate the audiences with white and black American soldiers).” She participated in the March on Washington, worked with Eleanor Roosevelt on anti-lynching laws and visited President John Kennedy at the White House a couple of days before his assassination.

A glimpse into her value system came in 2004, after ABC announced that Janet Jackson would play Horne in a TV biography of her life. In the weeks following Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” debacle during the 2004 Super Bowl, however,it was reported that Horne had demanded Jackson be dropped from the project. “ABC executives resisted Horne’s demand,” according to the Associated Press, “but Jackson representatives told the trade newspaper that she left willingly after Horne and her daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley, asked that she not take part.”

So what did I learn from these accounts of her life? Lena Horne used her God-given talents during a difficult time in American history, entertaining us with her beauty and the beauty of her voice and while also raising her voice to fight for social justice. At the end of her days, she found friendship with a Catholic priest and comfort and joy in attending her home parish. I am reminded of what St. Paul said in his first letter to the church in Corinth:


There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service, the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit; to another mighty deeds; to another prophecy; to another discernment of spirits; to another varieties of tongues; to another interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes.

Lena Horne, known best for her signature song Stormy Weather, walked through stormy weather all her days, never forgetting to share her gifts and to fight for justice. Now we pray she has walked into the arms of a loving Father who never abandoned her and never will.

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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…]