All posts tagged: love

Amor Ergo Sum: Sacramental Personhood

  It wasn’t until I was older that I came to appreciate the caricature of society that was presented in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Augustus Gloop is the first to go, loving chocolate so much that, rather than him drinking the chocolate, it “drinks” him as he falls into the river of chocolate. Then comes Violet Beauregarde, chewing any gum she can find and turning into a violet blueberry after eating one of Wonka’s new gums. Then Veruca Salt’s insatiable desire for the golden egg and other things lead her to end up where all the bad eggs go. Finally Mike Teevee ends up being what he loves the most, “on” TV. In short, all of these characters were identified by what they loved (chocolate, gum, possessions, and television). These character traits, which were so fundamental to their identity, were also the things that were, ironically, their downfall. Luckily, it is not always the case that the things we love will have a detrimental effect on us, but this caricature points to an …

Holy Thursday: When Love Enters a Cosmos Turned in on Itself

When pure love, divine love, agape, enters a world turned in on itself, a world whose operating system is self-love, closed off by fear from any other possibility, such pure love is neither fully received nor fully reciprocated. In such a fallen and rebellious cosmos, that pure love, divine love, encountering indifference, denial, and rejection, is not welcomed with humility and delight, but is refracted in suffering. Such pure love can be expressed fully in a sinful and contorted world only as sacrifice. For rational creatures whose will is wounded—that is, for us—real love, pure love, agape, will always involve some kind of dying. St. John tells us that as Jesus initiated his Last Supper with his disciples, he was fully aware of what he was doing, fully aware of what this meal anticipated and made sacramentally present, fully aware of it was going to cost him. Further, the Evangelist links this full knowledge with a fullness of love, the real impetus of his action, commenting that Jesus loved his own—and loved them perfectly, or …

Active Love Is a Harsh and Fearful Thing

In the second grade, my mother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I replied with what I saw as the two most appealing occupations—I would either become a veterinarian or a saint. While many Catholic parents’ eyes might begin to brim with tears at such a declaration, my knowing mother asked a prescient follow-up question. Do you know that you have to die before being canonized a saint? With the swift and definitive logic of an eight-year old, I promptly concluded that sainthood was not the professional trajectory for me. I set my sights instead on a future concerned with animal health. The subsequent parental encouragement that everyone was called to sainthood over their lifetime, no matter their job, did not sway my decision. If I could not get the credit for being a saint, what was the point? This story makes great Catholic cocktail party fodder. Everyone smiles and chuckles at my former precociousness. I feel great satisfaction in having a good anecdote in my back pocket for just …

Can We Feast Unless We Fast?

Halfway through Willa Cather’s novel Shadows on the Rock, the protagonist Monsieur Auclair, a French apothecary living in Quebec, meets an old friend Fr. Hector. Though a relatively minor character in the overall novel, Fr. Hector’s appearance teaches something essential to the Christian life. Fr. Hector is cultured and intelligent, “fond of the decencies and elegancies of life,” but has spent the last few years in the middle of the Canadian wilderness. When he returns to his friend, he is overjoyed. “Only solitary men know the full joys of friendship,” he responds. Upon receiving the gift of a dinner, he says, “If one had not been through little experiences of that kind [he almost starved to death], one would not know how to enjoy a dinner such as this.” The wilderness has taught Fr. Hector something, and it is one of the lessons that the Church attempts to teach us with her weekly and seasonal penances. Yet we have forgotten this wisdom. This is not only evinced by the near total lack of meaningful penitential …

From Duet to Duel

SPOILER ALERT: This review does indeed contain spoilers. Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s film Phantom Thread catalogs what happens when love warps from infatuation and inspiration into competition and resentment. Its enthralling characters, enticing setting, masterful acting, and strenuous plot make for a well-deserved Best Picture nomination, if not a provocative discussion-piece for couples in relationship counseling. A man of unyielding boundaries living in the ironclad social system of 1950’s London, Reynolds Woodcock (Best Actor nominee Daniel Day-Lewis) personifies luxury.[1] He is a couturier of royal proportions, charming, and desiring companionship. But as a self-described “confirmed bachelor,” Reynolds refuses to be pinned down although he is only ever surrounded by women. His closest confidante and business partner is his sister, the hilarious and somewhat terrifying Cyril (Best Supporting Actress nominee Lesley Manville), who inevitably shoos away every woman futilely waiting for Reynolds to return their affections. The film’s Gothic set design accentuates the austere tenor at The House of Woodcock and supplements the film’s most sumptuous asset: its costumes. Head designer (and Oscar nominee) Mark Bridges’ …

Death Clarifies What We Love

Christmas Morning, 2017 There is a kind of theology that is not written in words, but written in lives. It is a type of religious reflection, not the reflection on religion of lettered men and women, but the reflection of religion through the performance of active love. If both are indispensable to the Christian tradition, it is also clear that they are neither equivalent nor, perhaps, equally important. It is the latter task: the daily, difficult, and often unremarkable practice of being in the world as a Christian that is the material of Christian life. Rosemary Therese was that kind of Christian. The oldest daughter of a Polish father and an Irish mother, she grew up in an age when that arrangement was not yet unremarkable nor, amidst cultural and financial pressures, unremarked upon. By certain lights her life was a humble one. As the oldest child, she was not to go to college, but to care for her parents, which she did until the end of their lives. (She once told me she thought …

An Accidental Allegory of the Sheep and the Goats

SPOILER ALERT: This review does indeed contain spoilers. The Shape of Water is a strange fairy tale about a mute cleaning lady named Elisa who falls in love with an anthropomorphic river creature. Despite the film’s oddity, and partly because of it, the selfless Elisa shines as a witness of how ordinary acts of charity can lead to unexpected happiness, or, dare I say (?) beatitude, after the pattern described by Christ in the judgment of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25. Elisa is a thirty-something mute woman working maintenance at a government research facility in the 1960’s. One day in a lab where Elisa is cleaning, a new specimen arrives: an Amazonian water creature that looks part human, part fish, and part Pokémon. The scientists in the lab see him as an object of study. His primary captor, Richard Strickland, sees him as an object of disdain. Elisa, his eventual lover, sees him as a creature desperately in need of help. Elisa, One of the Sheep When Elisa encounters the creature for the …

The Blessing of Marital Monotony

To be entirely romantic a thing must be irrevocable. —G.K. Chesterton When I am shopping for an anniversary card, I am almost always drawn to the cheesy ones that feature elderly couples on the front. You know the type: An aged man and woman seated on a park bench and leaning into one another, or maybe it is a B&W shot from behind as the pair stroll side by side down a country lane. I have been buying cards like that for Nancy since we were first married—maybe even before we were married if memory serves—because I have always believed they capture something essential about the Catholic nuptial vocation. Namely this: That the absolute core of sacramental marriage is the vow. “Growing old together” is not just a heartwarming Hallmark sentiment. It is the very foundation of a sanctifying, and thus successful, marriage commitment. Note that I did not say anything about “happy” marriage, although unqualified permanence certainly makes such happiness possible. If either party to a marital union reserves the right, either openly or …

And the Nominees Are . . . Manchester By the Sea

Editors’ Note: In anticipation of the 89th Academy Awards on February 26, we present a series exploring the philosophical and theological elements in each of the nine films nominated for Best Picture. Caveat: this review contains spoilers. When life is defined by the worst mistake you’ve ever made, how do you go on living? Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan poses this heart-wrenching question and several others like it in Manchester By the Sea, the story of Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), an isolated janitor living in Boston who must return to his hometown after his beloved brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) passes away unexpectedly, and, even more unexpectedly, names Lee the legal guardian of sixteen-year-old Patrick (Lucas Hedges), Joe’s only son and Lee’s only nephew. When Lee learns that Joe has not only named him Patrick’s guardian but has also provided funds for him to return to Manchester permanently, he recoils, making every attempt to find another way to provide for his nephew’s care. At first, this seems like the reaction of a selfish, irresponsible man who doesn’t want to be saddled with the burden of an unexpected, …

And the Nominees Are . . . Lion

Editors’ Note: In anticipation of the 89th Academy Awards on February 26, we present a series exploring the philosophical and theological elements in each of the nine films nominated for Best Picture. This post contains no spoilers. So they were there even before I had learnt them, but were not in my memory. . . . They were already in the memory, but so remote and pushed into the background, as if in most secret caverns, that unless they were dug out by someone drawing attention to them, perhaps I could not have thought of them. (Confessions Book X, 17) In book ten of his Confessions, St. Augustine writes of memory as a re-learning, a re-discovering. Deep in our memory there are visions of truth that we re-learn as life prompts their recall. Garth Davis’ Lion dives into the intimate quest of a human severed from his origins. How do the memories of who he once was and those who loved him reach through the rupture between them? And how must he respond once those memories reach him? Based on a true story, …