Noah – Film Review

On Wednesday evening myself and another seminarian went to see “Noah”.

I want to begin with some disclaimers.

First: the film is NOT Gnostic at all.  There is some Kaballah influence, but that is different from Gnosticism.  This “oh my the movie is secretly gnostic so we must not see it!” movement that is the fad for all of 3 or 4 days is overreaction and, in my sense, unfounded.  However, some and others have done the work for me in this regard so I will not repeat hear why the film is NOT Gnostic except for one thing.

During the telling of the creation story, Adam and Eve appear clothed in light. This should not be surprising considering that Aranofsky has fooled around with the image before in films such as The Fountain.  But it is actually also quite Patristic.  If one would read the Church Fathers, there is a common theme that Adam and Eve existed in “spiritual bodies” and that the fall created “bodies of flesh”.  This is not gnostic.  This is patristic because it is taking seriously the idea that the fall has an effect on both man and all of creation.  Prior to the fall, the soul was in control of the body.  After the fall, the body has tended to control the soul.  Furthermore, there is precedence for this spiritualized view of the body in something called the RESURRECTION.  To talk of spiritualized bodies is not to neglect the body, but to find the body as it was meant to be.  The bodies we have are corrupted and must die because they are of the flesh so that we can receive our glorified bodies; so sayeth St Paul.  Light therefore becomes the image of this spiritualization of the body.  But if you watch the film closely, you see that both Adam and Eve have bodies. Nothing Gnostic about that. It’s purely biblical.

Second: Rock Creatures.  Everyone for some reason is lamenting this and I cannot figure it out for the life of me.  In the story of the angels, Aranofsky clearly speaks about the fall of angels.  They disobeyed God’s will because they saw the frailty of man.  Make no mistake, this is a rebellion, just not in the form that we tend to accept – and what we accept is apocryphal at best anyways. But this is besides the point. I think the Rock Watchers make perfect sense.  First, it could be a reference to the Nephilim, but it is also an allusion to the watchers of the apocryphal book of Enoch.  Aranofsky is borrowing from one tradition that states that these are the fallen angels. Now you might ask “why the heck are fallen angels rock creatures?!”  But let us ask ourselves the question: what is the most lifeless, most mundane, most earthy thing you can think of? The fall of the angels means that they take on the weight of the flesh of sin and it is embodied in the symbol of rock.  Even their mode of existing is slow, dull, boring.  Now, this is not to say I don’t have issues with the redemption of the watchers, but that is beside the point.  I think if we can have an open enough mind, we can appreciate the value of these creatures.

Third: this film is not some pseudo-pro-environmentalist propaganda film.  Those who think so I think need to re-think their Christian cosmology.  When sin happens, it affects the whole world.  It brings about destruction to the earth as well as to man and animals too.  Aranofsky is simply giving a very real expression to the reality of sin. In fact, I think you could argue that Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is far more critical of technicalization and domination than this film is.  And if you feel that this is too much, then perhaps one needs to re-think their view of creation.  I am no pseudo-environmentalist, but I am also a person who does not see dominion as domination.  The film rightly critiques such a view and if we fail to hear the critique then I think the film is making a valid point against us and the Christian West.

With all those preambles, let me get to the brunt of the film.  It is semi-spoilery, but it is tough to speak about the film without some of the more essential parts.

The first point I want to make is that I believe that the covering of Noah’s shame is actually the interpretive key to what Aranofsky is trying to do in this film.  I think he sees the story of Noah and asks himself “why the heck did he see the need to get drunk after the flood?”  That which precedes the scene is the answer to that question.  I know that Aranofsky asks himself “what is the world like that God would want to grieve in His heart that He created man”, but I think he is also asking himself “what is it in the heart of Noah that drives him to drink?”  

The whole film is quite unique.  You can tell that Aranofsky is trying to create something that is both familiar and different at the same time.  He is trying to draw you into the myth.  But this is perhaps where my biggest issue with the film arises: it is attempting to be mythical while at the same time being post-modern.  I feel like there are two worlds at play in the film and it creates a sense of fuzziness when watching the film. You feel like you should be watching either myth or the absurdity of post-modernity.  The issue is that neither genre really fits with the other.  This is why I left the theater unsure as what to think about the film.  It left me dazed and confused, but the more I think about it, I think that this is the real issue.  By combining post-modern angst with myth he is actually undermining the power of myth.  There are films that are mythic by focusing on that post-modern angst, that tendency to nihilism.   The Dark Knight trilogy is such a series of film that becomes myth precisely because it is not myth, precisely because it is the expression of the human understanding about reality, about how things are.  But this film cannot allow that separation to exist and so puts them together, but it is like mixing oil with water: you clearly see one from the other.  Hence the beginning is definitely more myth oriented, while the scenes on the ark are like any post-modern film that deals with existential crises.  It is not to say that biblical figures do not struggle.  Of course they do.  They are human like us.  Even Jesus struggled in the Garden of Gethsemane.  But we have to be careful about reading post-modern angst onto mythical figures and stories that can undermine the deeper themes about God and man.  Struggle need not be angst.  What Aranofsky does with Noah is what Kierkegaard does with Abraham, and I think in both cases it is a bit of a reach.  This mixture leads to the ultimate improbability of the magicalness of the world.  Post-modernity is like Tubal-Cain: miracles just don’t happen.  So to thrust this post-modern vision – which denies mediation – into a world of myth and of connection with God – which accepts mediation tout-court – then what you get is a bit of a philosophical mess on your hands that the film struggles to string together and leaves the viewer wondering what to make of it all.  Symbol can only be communicated if the form is appreciable by the viewer, something the film waffles with.

I have struggled to understand why Noah needs to be through such angst in the film and have such pessimism about humanity.  But I do not think his pessimism is a far reach.  I think Aranofsky is trying to demonstrate the reaches of sin.  Even though Noah is righteous he too falls sway to sin and in his case, sin takes advantage of his righteousness.  This is why Noah kills in the film (something I think that stretches the biblical narrative a bit too far: how can a man have such care for an animal and yet such disregard for human life?).  I also see in Noah a figure of utter obedience – again the Kierkegaardian twinge of the film manifests itself. Even if something seems completely contrary to him, he does it because it is the will of God.

Anthony Hopkins as Methuselah is a waste of time.

I loved the city that descends from Cain.  I do wonder if it is perhaps a bit too large for the biblical period, and I wonder about it’s plausibility of being so technologically advanced, but I think the symbol of this civilization is wonderful.  You get a sense of sin in its starkest reality, you are horrified by it, and you start to understand why it must end: if this is the way the world is going to be, it is better that the world not-be.  

I loved the telling of the stories of creation and the fall.  I think it works well and tries very hard to demonstrate visually something that is difficult to demonstrate in any case.  In this regard the shedding of the serpents skin took me some time to understand, for the snake’s skin becomes a motif in the film.  But I realized that it is a shedding of its glorified form: the devil has left His home with God and has decided to try and take man with him.  If there is one thing I think the film does very well, it grasps the oral sense of the Genesis accounts (which is what came before they were written down).  We have these stories written because they were first told and handed onto their descendants and the film catches this beautifully.  These stories are told because they are the source of their identity as human beings.

The film deals with so many themes.  As one friend pointed out to me and I would rightly agree, the film re-introduces the theme of the justice of God.  In fact, some people criticize the film for not having God be so merciful.  But we do forget God’s justice and that we have a responsibility because we too have a freedom, and freedom demands responsibility for our actions.  But mercy does play in this as well, and the film, as the same friend pointed out to me, is incredibly pro-life.

One of the more profounder themes of the film, as expressed by Emma Watson’s character towards the end of the film, is the notion of freedom.  How free is the creation?  What is under our control?  What belongs to God to do?  How do these two freedoms relate.  These are deep philosophical questions that I think the film deals incredibly well with and resolves quite nicely, especially with regards to seeking out God’s will.

However, and this is my last thought about the scene on the ark, I was troubled by the deterioration of Noah’s character.  It did play into the pagan notion that to know the face of God is madness, because Noah devolves into a quasi-psychotic character on the boat and his sense that he has to kill the whole human race.  The ark is a place of hopelessness at times, and that is disturbing because the whole thrust of the story is one of hope and covenant.  In short, I think Aranofsky does fail in placing the right emphasis on the right elements and thus allows the film to devolve into a typical pessimism about man that is akin to Joss Whedon.  However, with that said, I did like the opaque nature of coming to know God’s will in the film.  The dream sequences were bang on, but the fact that Noah wasn’t quite sure at all points as to what he was to do was absolutely perfect.  This is something that is quite common in the biblical narrative: a sense on uncertainty or doubt about what God’s will is.  Perhaps he is putting that post-modern spin on it and I think the struggles of both Noah and Tubal-Cain are struggles we can all find some resemblance to, but the fact that he is demonstrating the struggle is positive for we have a tendency in our piety to presume that because God has asked us of something means that we do no struggle, doubt, question, or even get it wrong.  

Finally, I loved how present God is in the film.  It is a deeper presence, a more personal presence, a real presence.  Here one has to wonder how an atheist could possibly get the interaction between God and the world so right.  God is never seen, but He is always there.  In fact, the parts of the film in which God is the most hidden are the greatest scenes of His presence.  And the use of the name “The Creator” can work and not work.  I think they used it because they wanted to express the fact that the more European sounding word – God – was not used back then.  However, it should be equally noted that the notion of God as sole creator without the presence of any other gods is something the Jews only come to terms with after the Babylonian exile.  To lament them not using the word God is to lament that the Jewish or Greek texts of the Bible don’t use that word either.  So we need to get over that and ourselves.

So what is my overall take?  Writing this review has been helpful in processing the film and helping me put my thoughts in order.  I realize, too, after writing this, how there are more things I want to write on it.  When I first left the theater, I was dazed, confused, and frankly didn’t know what to think.  But now I feel I have a better grasp on things and I do believe I like it.  Is it pessimistic?  Yes.  Is it misanthropic? Yes. Is it post-modern? Yes.  But I think it is a good attempt at trying to tell the story of Noah.  I think it could have been done better, but it also could have been a lot worse.  It is not the best Bible movie made due to my critique about the intertwining of myth and post-modernity, but I think it attempts to be a reasonably faithful telling of the story as Aranofsky sees it.  

If you have an imagination, an open mind, a willing to see themes as they are meant to be portrayed by the author, I think it will bring good fruit to you.  At the very least, you will want to go home and read the story of Noah all over again, as I did tonight, with the sense of the story being much more alive to me than it had in times past.  Because of this, I think the movie succeeds in making its story heard and is, for that reason, worth seeing.  Below are some further critiques that contain spoilers.  

Critiques (Spoilers):

I do still struggle with the redemption of the angels.  However, I am not going to get too hung up about this because I am asking an atheist director to take a Christian perspective on something and that is not fair to him.  I accept what he did, I just don’t agree with it.

I think it odd that only one son would have a wife in entering the ark.  I think Aranofsky loses some of the symbolism of the number 8 (Jesus was risen on the 8th day which is the day of a new creation, it is also the first day of the week, which can be seen to connect with the act of creation itself).  Furthermore, the whole issue of incest could occur.  I think Aranofsky tries to fix that by having the twin girls, but I also don’t understand why Ham walks off into the sunset all by himself with no wife at his side.

The battle scene was stupid.  Also: where did the Watchers get their sudden speed?  Why does everything have to be a big war?

I don’t like the idea of Noah killing.

Aranofsky’s cosmology of sin is betrayed by the innocence of the animals.  Everything is affected negatively by sin…except the animals.  Either he is arguing that animals have their own freedom – and I don’t think he is – or it just wasn’t very well thought out in this regard due, perhaps (I am grasping in this regard), to his inability to understand the hierarchy of creation.

I think, again, that Aranofsky is interpreting the figure of Ham by what later happens in Genesis and presumes that there must have been a build up to a falling out between him and his father.  I also don’t like how Ham ate meat, but I did love what they intended to show with the eating of meat.  It is not a vegetarian propaganda, but it is trying to show that the eating of meat – which was forbidden for a while in Genesis – is connected with our being fleshy bodies.  To eat the blood of another has adverse effects and I think the film does a good job at portraying this.  

 

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The Pope and Totalitarianism

I do not know about everyone else, but I was rather turned off by the press coverage given to the fact that Pope Francis had renewed his passport.  I understand the noteworthy item of that – he is doing this in lieu of his Vatican passport – but really it is not all that interesting and really isn’t worth my time.

In fact, a lot of the press thrown the way of Pope Francis is not worth our time.  

“Pope hugs child; Pope phones woman who carried child to term”.  These are all evangelical moves that are worthy of praise, but are they worthy of the media attention they are given?  

This is not to say I am a critic of the Pope.  I am not.  I love this Pope, especially with deep sense of poverty.  I am a critic of the media, and I am a critic of our society.  And as someone who critiques the world around me, I have noticed a disturbing trend that perhaps ought not to be so disturbing: we love totalitarianism.

Deep down, the love of the media and popular culture with this Pope is based around some faulty inclination that this Pope will ‘modernize’ the Church, that it will allow for gay marriage, for a contraceptive mentality, etc.  We as Catholics know that this is not possible because such positions are not for the Church to change: the Church is the servant of Christ, not His Master.

But try as we might to get this across to those in popular culture, they still think it will happen.  Such mentalities are disturbing because it demonstrates what our political landscape is like.  Whether we like it or not, we no longer are truly democratic.  Democracy is founded on reasoned discussion and debate, to informing ourselves in making our choices.  This is not the governmental system in which we live anymore.  It is not longer about debate, discussion, and dialogue, but rather about popular opinion.  And, because the opinion is popular – and for no other reason than that – it ought to be law in the land and the government ought to do everything in its power to push for such opinions to be law.

The same holds true for the view of many with regards to the Pope.  They think “He will change things, with one swift stroke of the pen, he can act in an autocratic function and change the Church forever”.  This is not only a faulty view of the Church – the magisterium serves the Church who, in turn, is a servant of Jesus Christ – but a demonstration of a deep desire for autocracy.  The Russian spirit is alive in the heart of every human being.  In fact, history demonstrates that when dissatisfaction occurs within a nation, the tendency is always towards an autocratic form of government – either extreme left or extreme right.  The media, the culture with which we are surrounded, is increasingly desiring such an autocracy and it is due to a fundamental dissatisfaction with the world.

This is the reign of sin.  We never are able to take transcendence seriously and seriously consider the possibility that the universe is not all there is.  History constantly reminds us that sin is the governing force of our world, and sin wants to put the power into the hands of man which ultimately expresses itself in the universal figure of the dictator. The dictator, the emperor, becomes the divinity of this world.  And thus our political aspirations and desires are not really political problems; rather, they are a manifestation of a religious question that is at the heart of humanity: what is man and what is his purpose in this world?

We thus ought not to be shocked by the media’s love-fest with Pope Francis.  It is true, his style is different, but people see a different style as a different doctrine.  It is not.  The Church is not run by an autocrat, but rather a steward of the mysteries of God.  As steward, the Church is not the possession of the Pope, nor is she the possession of the entire body.  The Church is the body of Christ!  The Church belongs to Jesus Christ and Him alone.  We are but His humble servants and He, as the Divine King, will rule the Church by always respecting the freedom of His Body and her members.  And you will find no form of government in this world that is as democratic as the Church because you will find no nation, no body, no state as respectful of human freedom as Christ does with His Body the Church. 

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Refuse Jesus Nothing

I know.  It’s been a while.  Mea Culpa.

There has been a need for me to distance for a bit from writing on my blog.  Life gets busy, and new challenges have been thrown my way.  I am currently not only working on my MDiv, but my MTh as well.  Seminary commitments as well as parish commitments – not to mention attempting to stay in touch with friends both within and outside Edmonton: all of these contribute to a busyness of life that can be difficult to balance.  But I love to blog and do want to do it more than I have, but I am trying to remain faithful to my most fundamental duties in seminary life.  So if time allows, I blog.  If not, then so be it.

This past weekend, we had our monthly recollection at the seminary.  This is a monthly period of 24 hours in which we attempt to embrace silence, to be alone with the Lord, to pray, and, frankly, to sleep.  This weekend we had the theme of discernment.  On Friday night, one of the formation team members gave a very good talk on Ignatian discernment.  He discussed the nature of discernment for St Ignatius, the concepts of desolation and consolation, and, unexpectedly, had a very good talk on how to deal with inordinate attachments.  On Saturday, we had a talk by one of the other Deacons, giving a sort of testimony about how his discernment process worked, and we ended off the day with a holy hour and evening prayer.

I do not know why, but that recollection had a very positive effect on me.  I do not recall anything from the talks striking my heart like a bolt of lightning, nor do I remember God moving me to embrace something new in my life.  In short, there was no emotional thrust to my recollection.  Yet, when I went to the Holy Hour that evening and picked up Mother Teresa’s: Come Be My Light which I have begun to read again.  It is my fifth time reading it and every time I read it it gives me new insights that speak deeply to my heart.

In the part of the book I’m reading, it is speaking about Mother’s desire to make a vow to God in which, under the pain of mortal sin, she will refuse God nothing.  This means, of course, that she is first seeking out God’s will in all she does and knows that God is always providential, is always looking out for her and caring for her in His loving guidance of her life.

Again, I do not know why – I do not find that anything that had happened that day lead up to this passage speaking to me – but that passage struck to the core of my heart.  Perhaps it was not so much the day itself, but the entire year in the seminary.  Do I refuse anything to Jesus?  When He asks of me, what do I do?  Do I accept it or do I run away?  If I believe He is asking something of me, do I enter into discernment with it, or do I just depend on my own mind and skills to figure out if it is God asking something of me?

To refuse Jesus nothing is perhaps the most difficult thing for the Christian to do.  Too many of us, and frankly, all of us, find a variety of occasions to refuse Him.  We want to watch this TV show instead of praying in this instant when He is calling me, or we want to go on Facebook instead of the call to do our homework, or whatever else it is.  That is the old man in us, the old man who is trying to persevere in his selfish pursuits.  But what struck me in that time of prayer – and it became for me one of the more fruitful Holy Hours I have had in a long time – is that we are refusing the call of love.  Christ’s call to us sometimes stings, and it stings to the core.  Sometimes, for example, the call to prayer is a call for us to enter into a loving dialogue with Him.  He is proposing to share His love with us, but it is in a moment when we would rather be doing something else.  The call, in the moment, stings.  It is the call of the Cross.  But it is on the Cross that He reveals His love for us.  To refuse the call thus becomes a refusal in that moment to embrace the Cross.  What makes someone like Mother Teresa different than us is that she never refused the Cross because she knew in the depth of her heart it was always the call of divine love.

This became a challenge to me and it should become a challenge to us.  There are those moments each day – if we are attune enough to God – in which He is calling us.  But it will often be in those moments when the call stings.  Why should I respond when it everything is comfortable?  But He is calling precisely because we are comfortable.  The Cross is the form of Christian life because it is the form of Christ’s life.  This means that when things are at their most calm is often when Christ will propose His love to us.  And we so often run away!  But this is the thing that struck me: whatever it is – and Christ does not always call when we are comfortable – Christ’s call is an act of providential love.  He is calling us to Himself in special ways at different moments because He wants to share His love with us.  So if we are feeling a nudge to prayer, but our desire is to do it after we watch our TV show, we need to ask ourselves: what is my true attachment?  Is it the love of Christ or the love of TV?  When we begin to attune ourselves to Christ’s love, we will soon experience His special calls to intimacy with Him not as a Cross, but as a form of resurrected love that has been through the trials of self-denial in the Cross.

So let us find that one moment when He calls and respond.  It is a call of love, it is a call of election.  It is a call that favours us.  So we should not run away.  We should embrace it as a call of love that cares.  We must simply pray over this fact: He is calling me because He loves ME, personally, intimately, and that He desires and, in a way, needs my response of love!  What a gift!  What a grace!  Let us respond to love.

in Christ

-Deacon Harrison

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The Urge for Success

In a previous blog post, I spoke about why Breaking Bad has had such a success in our culture because it spoke to our modern tendency towards ‘success’.  Being home I have become more conscious of the depth such a principle has within our culture.  Sitting around the living room, hearing the TV in the background, the pursuit of success is not simply one driving theme among many but is, in fact, the driving theme of contemporary man.  

It is intriguing that the word success emerges with modernity.  The word itself begins to emerge – at least textually – in 1535.  It is a word that, initially, results based.  Whatever the outcome of an activity, good or bad, it was deemed to be “successful”.  The idea, too, of the ‘succession of time’ also emerges in this period.  This second part is more anecdotal in that the modern sense of time which is more mechanistic demonstrates that said mechanistic view has not always existed.  The word ‘success’ slowly grew to exclude negative results so that only activity that produced positive results was considered to be ‘successful’.

This very brief etymological excursus is mentioned because words are important.  The way a word is used demonstrates something about the people who are using said words, what their values are, what is important for them, etc.  And the fact that the word develops with modern and post-modern culture is, to me, no accident.  It is, in fact, a ‘symptom’ of that culture.  The more man become self-involved, self-absorbed and more autonomous – at least in a perceived sense – the more success becomes a dominant factor.  This factor that success is the dominating ethos and moral category is easy to demonstrate from everyday events.

Look, first, to reality tv shows, especially those that deal with more mundane things like food, housing, decorating.  Every single production that emerges within these shows – whether it is the made over restaurant, the need to get a bigger house in order to manifest one’s own personal success, etc. – is deemed ‘successful’ because these products are a manifestation of an achieved lifestyle goal.  Success is the goal of life, and it is determined by how well you manifest that success to others.  The janitor is doomed to being unsuccessful in the modern world.  

This really is a shift and is perhaps why the Christian message has such a difficult time gaining hold in the world.  This inability of the Gospel to speak to the culture is because of the foolishness of the Cross.  The cross is the real ‘anti-sign’ in the modern world because it is the sign of being unsuccessful.  The Cross equates to humiliation, death.  Life with the Cross is no longer acknowledged as ‘man-made’ but is a manifestation that life is gifted by God – an element that can only be seen with the lens of the Resurrection. The Cross is irrational in the modern world because ‘success’ is the new rationality.  

This is why – while embracing all that is good in the world – the Church and her members, as they become more identified with the Cross, will become more of a counter-sign, a counter-rationality, a warring faction set against the world.  Success and the Cross cannot meet.  They are antithetical, and we can judge the modern age as the rejection of the Cross.  The emerging post-modern world is the place where the Cross will have its great impact.  There, in the darkness of individualized existence, the Christian and the men of his age will share in this dark existence (one need only look to the apocalyptic turn of all media as a sign of post-modern darkness).  In that darkness, the Christian will shine as one who is dark with the light of hope.  The world is entering into a universal Holy Saturday where the greatest hopelessness will emerge because ‘success’ will be seen to be infantile, purposeless, and pointless.  People will experience in the depths of their souls a sense of the meaninglessness of things.  The Christian will experience this too.  Yet the distinguishing mark of the Christian will be the hope in the midst of the darkness.  The Christian man will know all that is part of the existential condition of his secular brethren, but he will still have faith in the darkness because of the fact that Christ Himself descended into that darkness.  They know that Christ is with them.  This is the emergence of the Cross, the emergence of the true form of the Church and of Christian existence.  It is in this that the Church will have her evangelical vitality.  The difficulty will be for the Christian to embrace this existential darkness as the form of their existence for the sake of their brothers who live in it and know no way out. 

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Quote of the Day

We know that the faithful attach great importance to it, and that both they and their ordained ministers suffer because of homilies: the laity from having to listen to them and the clergy from having to preach them!

 

-Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium

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The Importance of Youthfulness (No Matter Your Age)

When we contemplate the life of Christ, we tend to focus on one of three elements of His life: His nativity, His life in ministry, and His life as it is now at the right hand of the Father.  But we forget one of the essential points of His life: the years of His youthfulness.  Except for the scene of finding Jesus in the temple, the period of Jesus’ youth is hidden from us in the accounts of the Gospel.

But we must, regardless of the silence of the Scriptures, take Jesus’ youthful years seriously.  I take for this principle the fact that if the Word is united with a humanity exactly like our save for sin, then each moment of the life of Christ can reveal to us not only something about the relationship between the Son and the Father, but it also is an affirmation of the various periods of human life by God Himself.  The unity between the Word and His humanity in His conception demonstrates the value of human life prior to birth.  The unity of the Word to His humanity in the infancy is a statement by God that the years of infancy are important to God and that they reveal something to us about the Son as well as our relationship with the Father.  So too is it with the years of Jesus’ youth, the years between the finding in the Temple and the beginning of His ministry.

We can contemplate what youthfulness means.  Often we will identify it with “finding oneself”, with “rebellion”, with “having fun”, with “making mistakes”, etc.  But if we truly desire to value youthfulness, we need to look to Jesus as the One Who gives us the standard of youthfulness.  And what is the primary characteristic of the life of Jesus’ youth?  It is one of hiddenness.  

Hiddenness may seem anti-youthful to us.  But it really is the core of youthfulness because it is a necessary part of the radical response of love that is engendered by enthusiasm.*  The enthusiasm of Jesus is manifested in the life of His ministry.  He is constantly setting His face towards Jerusalem (Lk 9:51).  In Mark’s Gospel, there is an intensity to the action of Jesus that permeates every verse.  Jesus foretells His death and then rebukes Peter for trying to move Him off of His course (Matthew 16:21-18).  There are many other passages that manifest this enthusiastic youthfulness of Jesus, but the key here is that the enthusiasm of Jesus – which is the key characteristic of youthfulness – is possible only by first living the intensity of a hidden life of preparation to fulfill His mission.

This is important for every Christian.  Youthfulness is not something we ought to lose.  Youthfulness, as we see with Jesus, is connected with our mission in life.  And our mission is lived out in the enthusiasm of one won over by a love so intense that one is willing to give over their entire self to that love immediately, without question.  That is what happens in the life of Jesus.  In the life of Jesus, He is constantly aware of the love of His Father and it is in His actions that He constantly responds to that love with an abandonment and intensity that has yet to be duplicated on this earth.  The only visible sign of this is in the life of the saints.  Look, for example, to Bl. Teresa of Calcutta or St Francis of Assisi.  They had a determination to their life that we wish we would have.  They lived out the vocation that they were called to live with such intensity.  But for both – and this, indeed, is a common theme in the life of the saints to such a point that we must see it as essential for our life in becoming saints – they were first enveloped in a life of hidden pursuit of God.  They had, in fact, quite ordinary lives prior to their mission.  They lived that ordinariness with such intensity either for the good or for the ill.

Youthfulness, then, is important.  And it should never be lost.  It is, in fact, central to Christian life, and to lose it is to become tepid, lukewarm.  The youthfulness of faith is not the youthfulness of the world.  The youthfulness of the world wants the immaturity and image of youthfulness, but not its intensity – those who tend this way live lives that are lukewarm and passionless at best.  No.  Christian youthfulness is quiet but inflamed with a passionate heart that desires to give itself entirely over out of love for Jesus Christ.  Christian youthfulness is lived out whether one is 16 or 76.  It depends not on age, but rather on the intensity of love.  It is this love, so common to youthfulness and so central to the life of Jesus that defines who we are as Christians.

We must be wary in losing this youthfulness.  To lose it is a dangerous thing.  We must heed the warning of Bernanos:

“The mature man is that legendary animal whom the moralist has thought up to help him make his deductions.  This mature man does not exist, for there is no neutral stage between youth and age.  He who cannot give more than he receives is already starting to decay.  Even a careless observer can see that a miser at twenty is already an old man.”

Let us not become old men.  Let us have the youthfulness of the Christian.  Let us burst forth to give  and to give until it hurts.  One of the great elements of youthfulness is its spontaneity.  One of the great dangers of being an “old man” as Bernanos means it is to be a rationalist who carefully controls the world around him.  Thus Pope Francis, though an old man, is actually one who has the youthfulness of the Christian spirit.  This is why he attracts so many people to him.  And that youthfulness means that one need to try things out of that devotion of love.  It means to be willing to make mistakes and to be ok with failure.  Whatever was tried, it was tried sincerely out of love.  The “old man” will look at that failure and reduce the love that is within and say “well, that failed, so we need to be more disciplined in our approach, more careful in how we respond in love”.  But that is not love.  Love is spontaneous and total.  It is enthusiastic – literally “possessed by God”.  This is the love of Jesus Christ because He was possessed by the love of His Father through the Holy Spirit.  We too can be possessed by the Father, indeed, we are possessed by His love.  So we need to respond and be willing to make a mess, to make mistakes, to throw ourselves at the foot of divine love.  Youthfulness is ok with making mistakes.  It will either try again, or it will try something new.  But it will always respond in love.  Let us not lose our youthfulness.  Let us love.

 

*I am aware that Ronald Knox has written a book which is rather scathing of the whole concept of enthusiasm, specifically as it results in many religious movements of the 17th – 19th century.  However, I think that if Knox were to read of the enthusiasm I speak of here, he would not object.  However, if he were to object, then I believe I would have to contradict his rejection of enthusiasm as anti-incarnational.

 

in Christ through Mary

-Deacon Harrison

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How Come No One Preaches On The Resurrection of the Body?

I have a bone to pick with Catholic preachers.  Too often focus is given to Heaven as our goal in life.  While there is a truth to that, it is not “the final expression”.  Rather, the final expression of Christian life will not be eternity in Heaven but rather eternity in our resurrected bodies in a new heavens and a new earth in which sin and death no longer hold sway in the world.  

But not only is this avoided, it is actually preached against by many preachers.  I myself have heard a variety of different attitudes: some believe we will become angels while others believe that we will be “resurrected to heaven”.  I have heard it all.  And I am fed up.  It is time that Catholics take seriously the Resurrection of the Body.

Why do Catholics believe in the resurrection of the body?  We believe in it because Christ Himself was raised from the dead.  In Him – the perfect union of God and man – we see what our humanity is called to be.  In the Resurrected Christ we see a humanity that is transformed.  There is something difficult to grasp about Him – hence why many do not recognize Him or struggle to continue to recognize Him (John 20:14, John 21:13, Luke 24:13-35, etc).  But there is something glorious about the resurrected body and we will have this same body (cf: 1 Cor 15:42-44, 53).  

This idea is not only in scripture.  Look to the creeds of the Church!  Do we not proclaim “I believe in the resurrection of the body”.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls this the “culmination” of the Christian Creed!  In short – the full life of man will be expressed not just in the living of our souls in all eternity, but rather in the raised body united with the soul.  Anything short of this is heresy and reeks of Gnosticism.

Why is the resurrection of the body so important?  Well, we must remember the fundamental fact of Genesis 1-2: God created the whole cosmos and He “saw that it was good”.  This includes the material as well as the spiritual.  For God to not redeem that which is material means that something of what He has created ultimately isn’t worth saving.  But the Christian message – through the fact of Christ’s Resurrection – goes flat up against such a worldview.  It says that the entirety of humanity and creation is worthy of saving and it says this through Christ’s resurrection.  

So then what happens in the interim?  The separation of the soul from the body is not the final word, it is not the final action.  It is an interim reality that is unnatural and is to be remedied in the general resurrection.  Thus heaven as we understand it – as the place where Christ reigns and where our soul will dwell – is only a temporary solution.  A new reality will occur when Christ comes again.  Why would God destroy the earth that He has created?  He will not, He will bring it to the perfection.

What does this all mean for us? 

First, look to Jesus in John’s Gospel.  When He encounters Thomas His identity is based in His wounds.  Jesus is strange and mysterious to the apostles – but they are able to recognize the wounds as His glory, as the proof that He is Who He says to be.  

This speaks to us with regards to the wounds of sin.  In confession we encounter the healing mercy of Jesus Christ that removes the effect of sin on our souls.  We may too bear the wounds of our sin – but they will no longer be signs of our weakness, but rather they will mediate the glory of Christ to the world.  My sins will become the basis of Christ’s glory for the mercy and love of God is so powerful that it can even be glorified in that which is not God: in sin.  This does not give us license to sin, but rather demonstrates that God’s glory does not depend on us and that, indeed, He is powerful enough to manifest His glory in the most broken of human vessels.  Our wounds will be our identity.

Secondly, this means that we do not go around the world to save souls.  We are not our souls.  That is a Gnostic reduction and contrary to the entirety of the Christian tradition.  We are here to save persons: a person in the realm of Christian revelation is a totality of body and soul.  So we need to get away from the idea of “saving souls”.  While the intention is right, it does not speak to the fullness of the glory of God’s redemptive activity and we are watering down the effect of God’s love and mercy.  We are here to save persons, persons who are embodied.

Thirdly: our bodies are a good thing and the created order is good.  While it may be the place where the effects of sin reign most supreme – this is where Paul would distinguish between flesh and body – it is ultimately good.  In fact, the body and the material world is the place where we act, where our freedom is exercised.  Thus the created world becomes a place that God works.  Matter is good and we need not avoid it.  Yet the fact that the major effect of original sin – concupiscence – and the fact that it dwells in the body must also give us a sober attitude towards the world.  It means not avoiding and denying it completely, but it also means that we must constantly offer our bodies to the duties of the soul.  The body is not the prominent element of man – though some such as Christopher West tend to make such an argument.  It is secondary to the soul.  But secondary does not mean it is not important.  Anyways, the body is meant to submit itself to the soul: that is the proper order of things, just as the humanity of Christ constantly submits itself – through His human will – to His divine nature.  That is the order of things: the physical world is most itself when it is given to the glorification of God.

There are many other implications of this, but my desire was to just point out a few of the more salient features of this essential doctrine.  We cannot deny the Resurrection of the Body.  It is a fact.  Next time you hear in your parish ideas that may deny or at least avoid the fact of the resurrection of the body, point your priest to the Catechism, specifically sections 988-1019.  It is a great resource into this essential mystery of Christianity.

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