Category Archives: Christianity

Jesus the Bridegroom

Dear Folks,

We read the story of the wedding at Cana in John 2. We look at the image of marriage throughout the Bible, we see it is often used to illuminate God’s intentions for us. In Isaiah 61 and 62 also in the Book of Hosea, we see married love as an image of God’s love for us. Rabbis, Church fathers and spiritual masters have long seen the Song of Songs as an Image of God’s tender love for us. In the Gospel of John, we remember that John the Baptist’s big job is to introduce Jesus, and he uses two images to describe Him: The Lamb and the Bridegroom (See John 1:29, 36; John 3:29). Both are images of the gift of self. The sacred author will bring these two images together at the end of the Book of Revelation (See Revelation 19:6-9 and 21:9-10).There is a movie with Kirk Cameron called “Fireproof.” It is about a firefighter whose marriage is on the verge of splitting up, and he is ready to give up. Then his father gives him a copy of a book called “The Love Dare” which is a forty-day challenge to build one’s relationship with one’s spouse. This is put out by evangelical Protestants, but there is nothing in them to offend Catholics. The book gives the philosophy and explains the challenge of each day. We are reminded that Christians are not called to follow our hearts but lead our hearts. Love in Christianity is not a feeling, but a decision to seek the good of the other. It is not something that we fall into and out of, but something we nurture and build. Feelings are important, but they can come and go, and often they lead us in the wrong direction.The Love Dare has forty different challenges to be intentional about certain virtues involved in marriage. The first is “Love is patient.” Let’s face it, we all need patience, and we all can grow in our ability to be patient. This is about taking a day to focus on being patient with one’s spouse. The next day is “Love is kind.” While patience is reactive, kindness is proactive. One can take a day and look for opportunities to do nice things for one’s spouse that would make that person happy.In our society, many look at marriage as a lifestyle choice based on personal desire rather than a vocation of service and sacrifice based on natural law. The enemy will always present us with inferior substitutes for God’s gifts, and they will seem more attractive at first, but then betray us. If this can help more people to have more successful and joyful marriages, that would be enough reason for this effort, but there is more. When we say that marriage is a sacrament, that tells us that it illuminates God’s love for us and the response we seek to give to God. As we grow in our ability to love other people in relationships, we can gain insight into living the marriage of the Bride and the Lamb, how we can better love Jesus. With some adaptations, the same program could be an exercise in discipleship. As a husband might be extra attentive to being patient with his wife, so a disciple could be patient with God’s people. Or, perhaps, when things go wrong, be patient with the challenges that God allows us to face.As we think of all the joys and virtues of marriage, knowing that earthly marriages are imperfect, we can reflect on how God’s love for us brings all good things to perfection. Accept no substitutes.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Moving the World

Dear Folks,Today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. In the Gospels, Jesus goes from His baptism to the desert to fight His own temptations, and then begins His ministry.As we consider what it takes to make a more peaceful world, I’ve been thinking about how people are drawn to violence, hostility, and destruction. I can’t help but think that part of the root of this is many people feeling helpless to make a difference. I know what it feels like to think that the world can make a mark on me however and whenever it wants, but I’m helpless to make a mark on the world. That is a terrible feeling and can lead to desperation.Desperation is a dangerous thing; it can lead to acting out in destructive and irrational ways.I know that lifeguards are trained to approach a drowning person prepared for that person to try to grab them and drag them down. I can’t think of a less helpful thing to do than grab and drag down the very person who is in here to save you, but that is the power ofdesperation.This leads me to think that making a more peaceful word includes helping channel people’s energy toward that which truly addresses their legitimate concerns. Besides, we Christians are in the business of changing the world by the power of the Gospel, so it is an issue for us, and I have a few thoughts.First, we need a sense of what it is that we are trying to accomplish. When we encounter something that is wrong, it is easy to say what is wrong, but harder to build a different reality to replace it. It is common to find people doing a lot of complaining andcondemning, but not as much trying to build a new reality. If we can build a vision, explain it vividly, and be ready to talk about the pros and cons of the idea, that can be more compelling. Jesus talked against sin, but He talked wonderfully and powerfully about the Kingdom, and about the challenges of discipleship. Focusing primarily on what is negative can make us negative people, but a people of joy and hope in the midst of calamity can bemuch more inspiring. How can we who believe in the resurrection of Christ not be a people of hope regardless of what happens in the world?Second, we need to have a deep enough commitment for the task. It is my observation that if we want to do good, we shall find that we have to work harder than we thought, for longer than expected, to accomplish less than we hoped. The prize belongs to those who do not then give up. Jesus warned about the cost of discipleship a number of times, and in Luke 14:25-33 He warns about family, possessions and even one’s life. He asks, “Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself onlookers should laugh at him…(vv.28-29).” We must even be ready to work all our lives for something that might not happen until after we are gone. Jesus said, “one sows, another reaps (John 4:37).” Consider those who started the women’s suffrage movement at Seneca Falls in 1848. How many of them did not live to see the passage of the 19th amendment in 1920? And yet, they did not give up. We Christians are called to think in terms of eternity, so the deeper our faith, the more we can outlast the forces of the world.Third, however great the evil we are fighting, we must not use that as license to become evil ourselves. St. Paul encourages “that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked generation, among whom you shine likelights in the world… (Phil 2:15).” A text I would encourage you to memorize is, “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd [cunning] as serpents and simple [innocent] as doves (Matthew 10:16).”We cannot do this on our own strength. If we want to change the world, the first step is to fall more deeply in love with Jesus. Everything follows from that.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Making 2022 a More Peaceful Year

Dear Folks,The Christmas season has just begun, and today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family, and also St. Stephen (Holy Family takes precedence over St. Stephen, but I’m sure he doesn’t mind). The Story of Christmas includes the story of Herod and all the nastiness that he did, so even our season of joy has a reminder that there is great evil in the world and forces that seek to stamp out the light. The story of St. Stephen, the first martyr, reminds us that the Gospel sometimes faces a harsh response. Family often includes conflict, and it has a special poignancy because these are people so special to us. God made us all to be one family, a family united by His peace and love. I want to start out this year returning to a theme that I have touched on before, but I believe that it is worth reemphasizing.There has been so much violence in the news. I’m so tired of hearing about violence, whether it is with a knife, gun, vehicle, fists, it is horrifying that there is so much. Various things have been proposed, and I do believe that law enforcement is essential, but it won’t solve the ultimate problem. We must become a more peaceful people from the inside out. In John 17:20-23, Jesus prays that all may be one, and says that if we are, that will help people believe in the Gospel. We can’t control others, but we can look at our own behavior, and see how we can get closer to the Christian ideal. We remember what the Scriptures teach. “Bless those who curse you; bless and do not curse them (Romans 12:14).” “Do not return evil for evil, or insult for insult; but, on the contrary, a blessing, because to this you were called, that you might inherit a blessing (1 Peter 3:9).”Does this mean being passive in the face of malice? Doormats to bullies? I say no, emphatically no. It does mean trying to respond in a way that has a chance of making the situation better. My whole life’s experience tells me that good intentions are not enough, that we must learn peacemaking as an art. I have found books to be helpful. “Remembering God’s Mercy” by Dawn Eden is about healing painful memories (especially childhood memories), and we must begin to heal if we are to be healers. “No Future Without Forgiveness” by Desmond Tutu is an inspiring call to forgiveness. “The Book of Forgiving” by Desmond and Mpho Tutu, “Don’t Forgive Too Soon” by Matthew Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, and Dennis Linn give practical thoughts on the process of forgiveness. “Verbal Judo” by George Thompson is about de-escalating conflict. “Love Your Enemy” by Arthur C. Brooks is about dialog with those with whom we disagree, and how such people can be gift. “God Help Me, These People are Driving Me Nuts!” By Gregory Popcak talks about seeking win-win solutions rather than working against each other. If you will only read one book from my list, I would encourage “Redeeming Conflict” by Ann Garrido. It is twelve habits (virtues) that transform conflict into a spiritual journey, and I believe would make it more productive. I again emphasize that I don’t speak as one who has mastered this. I have come a long way from where I used to be, but I can see that I have a ways to go.We cannot do it by our own power. We must begin by opening ourselves to Jesus. It is by His transforming power that we became able to love and forgive our enemies and bless those who curse us. If we want a better world, the first step is always falling more deeply in love with Jesus. There’s no better way to start our year.Blessings,Fr. Jim

The Catholic Understanding of Mary

Dear Folks,

Mary is a key figure for Advent. Brant Pitre’s book “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary” is not only for those who love Mary and love the Bible, but for anyone who wonders if there is Biblical basis for all the Catholic teaching on Mary (spoiler alert: yes). He shows very powerfully how the Old Testament and the New Testament are woven together into one large story of salvation. We have (I hope) all been taught that the New Testament is foreshadowed in the Old and the Old is revealed in the New. The foreshadowing is called a “type” and the reality fore-shadowed is called the “antitype.” We see Noah’s flood and the passage through the Red Sea are types of baptism. We read in the blessing of water in the baptismal rite, “The waters of the great flood you made a sign of the waters of Baptism, that make an end of sin and a new beginning of goodness. Through the waters of the Red Sea, you led Israel out of slavery, to be an image of God’s holy people, set free from sin by Baptism. ”“Therefore, just as through one person sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned – for up to the time of the law, sin was in the world, though sin is not accounted when there is no law. But death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin after the pattern of the trespass of Adam, who in the type of the one who was to come (Rom 5:12-14).” St. Paul will go on to contrast the sin of Adam (type) and the gift of Jesus (antitype).We also see that Moses, David and even Joseph were types of Jesus. Eve is a type of Mary. This explains why Jesus called His mother “woman,” which otherwise makes no sense. Eve was called “the woman” in Genesis and didn’t get the name Eve until after the fall. Pitre will explain that Mary is not only the new Eve, but the new ark of the covenant and the new Rachel. He will explain how all this was recognized by the Fathers of the Church in the early centuries. This is not new. He also suggests reading what the Second Vatican Council said about Mary in the Constitution on the Church (See Lumen Gentium 52-68).This, of course, is not just for apologetics or for interesting Bible study. First, it helps us see how God’s big plan of salvation is all woven together. Next, if you read Edward Sri’s “Biblical Walk Through the Mass” you can see that the Bible and the liturgy are woven together in one large reality. Having done that, we will have the practice to be able to see how our story is woven into that very story of salvation history and understand our lives as a journey with God. Second, it helps us appreciate the person of Mary of Nazareth. She is not just a theological football or doctrine of the Church. She is a person, and lives in heaven, enveloped in God’s love. She loves us with a mother’s love and prays for us. This is part of the rich gift that God gives us, drawing us into His family. If there is one thing we should understand in our day and age, it is that family matters. A lot. I remember as an undergraduate talking to someone from the Reformed Bible College about the saints. She said that she didn’t see the need for this because Jesus is enough. I am pleased that even then I thought to say that would be a compelling argument if we believed that God would give us the minimum necessary. I believe He gives us the maximum possible because His love is infinite. This season we see to sharpen our attentiveness to the gifts that God gives. This a place to start. Blessings, Fr. Jim

Rejoice!

Dear Folks,Today is Gaudete Sunday, and Gaudete means “rejoice.” We read from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again, rejoice (Phil 4:4).”So, what does that mean? Does that mean that faithful Christians will always be in a good mood, and that sadness, anger, discouragement, and grief are permanently banished from our lives? Clearly not. Anticipating His crucifixion, Jesus said that “my soul is sorrowful, even unto death (See Matt 26:38).” When His friend Lazarus died, “Jesus wept (John 11:35).” All of Matthew 23 is a testament to Jesus’ capacity for anger and sorrow.So where does that leave us? Let’s consider that moods and feelings are passing states, and they all have their place. Ecclesiastes 3 tells us there is a time for each of them “a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance (Ecclesiastes 3:4).” St. Paul tells us, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).”Christianity does not shield us from the sorrows, angers, and frustrations of life. In fact, we may feel them more keenly, since we have this powerful vision of what Goodness truly is.The story is told of one woman who tearfully told her friend that she never knew her husband drank until one night he came home sober. We do not realize just how bad evil is until we encounter the one who is Goodness Itself. Furthermore, in opening our hearts to the fullness of God’s gifts, we open them to suffering at the same time. Some people protect their hearts by not caring about anything. C. S. Lewis said in “The Four Loves” that “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.” Jesus said, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matt 5:4).”To be a person of joy involves believing that in the midst of sorrows, our life is overall worth doing, and good will conquer evil. Victor Frankl in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning” gives a powerful explanation that when our suffering has meaning, that makes all the difference. (If you haven’t read that book, it is worth taking a look at. I wouldn’t call it fun, but its wisdom is precious.). Our faith puts our suffering in a larger context, in which it has meaning, and cannot destroy our hope. If our hope is based on anything in this world, then we never know if it will be crushed by circumstance. If our faith is in God, then heaven and earth can pass away, but our hope will endure.Our feelings come and go. Even when they seem overwhelming and crushing, we know, we remember, that they will pass. Good and evil are not evenly matched opponents, so when it seems that evil is winning, we know that such a perception comes from only seeing a small part of the picture. As we “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep,” we remain grounded in the confidence that weeping will pass away and the victory of joy iseternal.Blessings and joy,Fr. Jim

Dear Folks,As we continue with the season of hope, I need to point out a very special kind of hope that we all need: the hope that we can make a difference in the world. There was a time when it was believed that history is shaped by large forces way beyond us, and the average person can do nothing to affect the outcome. This has been debunked, and we know that history can be changed by the smallest thing. During the 1960’s there was a naïve hope that we could fix the world easily, because it isn’t hard, and the previous generations weren’t trying. “All you need is love,” was the mantra, and there wasa very superficial understanding of what love meant. Alas, it didn’t work, and by the 1970’s there was a cynicism that the system was deeply corrupt, that heroes were not really heroic, and it was never going to get better. Then “Star Wars” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” burst in on the scene. Whatever critics may have to say about the movies, the feeling of the daring, old-fashioned hero was a breath of fresh air. For our hope to be realistic, I suggest considering these issues: We need focus on being productive. There are some who put a good deal of time into complaining without moving at all toward productive action. As we expel energy, we want to consider the question: how is this helpful? Are we focusing on our own desires or a higher purpose? If we want God to bless our efforts, it is good to be about something larger than ourselves. We see in James 4:1-3 “Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not your passions that make war within your members? You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy, but you cannot obtain; you fight andwage war. You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” In my years of church work, it have heard a lot of conversation about how people want things in the church according to their preferences, but I haven’t heard nearly as much about how we can do church in a way that would be more pleasing to God and more effective in fulfilling our mission. How high are we setting our sights? A big issue is perseverance. If you go through the New Testament looking for how many times it encourages perseverance, you might be surprised how often it comes up. Many start with enthusiasm, but give up when they don’t get results as quickly as they expected. The prize belongs to those who keep going. Critical is learning from our mistakes. In Bill Bennett’s book “Last Best Hope” he describes the decision to make George Washington the head of the continental army. His record was mixed, and there were a number of objections. One of the points mentioned in his favor was that “he was good at learning from his mistakes.” That hit me. I had often thought about the importance of being willing to learn from our mistakes, but this was the first time that I thought about it as a skill that one can get good at. To learn from our mistakes, we need more than a general good intention. Weneed to be able to look at things that go wrong, identify the problems, and strategize a way to do better in the future. This is an art to be acquired. Who me? We read in the Bible many stories of God choosing the most unlikely people. We see Moses asked, “Who am I that I should go to Pharoah and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?(Exodus 3:11).” See also the call of Gideon (Judges 6:15) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:6).”God is calling you to greatness. Yes, you. You might not be able to imagine how, but God has bigger ideas than we do. Blessings, Fr. Jim

Invincible Hope

Dear Folks,Now we begin Advent, the great season of hope, and the world could very much use hope right now. Starting with hope is key. If you don’t have hope that your struggle is worth it, why would you struggle? Would you not just give up? If you don’t have hope that things will make sense, why would you learn? Why would you ponder? Would you not just give up and let the video screen tell you what to think? Without hope, what will move us forward?There are some important things about Christian hope. First, it is based on truth. Many poor people buy lottery tickets because that is the only hope they can find of a better life. That is not a very realistic hope for almost everybody who plays. Many people put their hope on circumstances in the world that we cannot predict or control. “If only my stock would take off;” “If only the next boss does what needs to be done;” “If only I could draw an inside straight this once.” When things don’t happen as they hope, they sometimes give up hope.Christian hope is based on God’s love at work, and that is for everyone. Second, it does not make cheap promises. It does not promise that all our troubles will vanish any time soon. In fact, the New Testament is brimming with warnings that disciples face great difficulties. We are also taught that the cross is the way to glory, so our hope does not depend on world events. Because of that, by God’s grace, nothing that the world can do to us can destroy our hope.During Advent we seek to hone and sharpen our sense of hope through prayer, some reflection, some silence and stillness when we can find it, and remembering the long wait for the coming ofthe Messiah. We are also called to project hope to the world. We can do that with our attitudes:We all know people who can always find something to complain about but are not willing to help change things. Other people are always looking for what is good that is happening, and when bad things happen, they are quick to look for opportunities to make things better, however incrementally. The latter are better at projecting hope. We all fall short, but how can we use this time to get a bit better?It also marks the end of the liturgical year 2021 and begins the year of grace 2022. Last year most of our Sunday Gospels were from the Gospel of Mark, but now we switch to Luke. The Gospel of Luke has several things special about it, and I’ll be talking more about them later. The Gospel of Luke is the only one with the Annunciation, the visitation, the birth in the manger because of no room at the inn, and the visiting shepherds at Christmas. Luke also emphasizesmercy for the repentant sinner, care for the lowly and the needy, and the work of the Holy Spirit. To get the full Lucan experience, one needs to read the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. More later.I hope you have a fruitful Advent.Blessings,Fr. Jim

Subjects of Christ the King

Dear Folks,
This is the Feast of Christ the King. Jesus reigns over all, and His authority is greater than any nation or any government. What does that mean for us?
We are not in the business of imposing our religion on others, even though some may accuse us of it. We are, however, in the business of helping other people, especially those that are most vulnerable and most hurting. This must sometimes include advocacy when human rights and human dignity are under attack. Some say that when we refuse to participate in things that we think are wrong or refuse to support wrong behavior, we are forcing their beliefs on others.
Some say that when we are speaking up for human rights, we are imposing Catholic beliefs. No, we are being good citizens. The conscience formed by Christianity has as much right to be in the public discussion as any other kind of conscience.
The letter to Titus is advice to a bishop, and says, “Remind them to be under control of
magistrates and authorities, to be obedient, to be open to every good enterprise (Titus 3:1).” Historically, the early Christians were good citizens of the countries in which they lived and were careful to obey the laws until the laws required them to be disobedient to God in the slightest way, and then they would refuse even under threat of death. St. Thomas More, when about to be beheaded, said, “I die the king’s good servant, but God’s first.” He followed the law of England to the letter, until it meant disobeying God, and then he would not budge.
Many point to the bad things done by Church leaders in the present and the past. Most of those are done contrary to the teaching of the faith, and that just calls for holding more closely to the faith now.
There have been times when official Catholic practice has involved bad things. This is often because our understanding of what is good and right has been getting refined over time. There was a time it would have been unheard of to suggest that someone has a right to express wrong ideas on matters of importance. The maxim was, “error has no rights” and it seemed intuitively obvious. Only after centuries of reflection did people start to say that even if error has no rights, people who err have rights, and we should counter bad ideas with more good ideas, not legal sanction or punishment. Ironically, the Catholic Church has gone from being accused of stifling
free thought to people clamoring for censorship of many Catholic beliefs for being “hateful” and “(fill-in-the-blank) phobia.”
Some say that, on balance, the Catholic Church has done more harm than good. I would suggest that narrative has been a prejudice that has led to some slanted history. Now we are starting to see that narrative challenged. I would recommend “How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization” to get started.
We are very glad to learn about when the Church stood up for human rights and human dignity in the past, and sad for those who did not speak up when there was need. Let us live so that people can say of us that we were good American citizens, and servants of God first.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

The End

Dear Folks,In the movie, “Avengers: Endgame” Tony Stark states a very simple but profound truth that “part of a journey is the end.” Our reading this Sunday is from the apocalyptic chapter of Mark. Quick review: apocalypse is from the Greek for “removal of the veil,” and revelation is from the Latin. That is why in older Catholic Bibles the Book of Revelation is called Apocalypse. Removal of the veil is what happened in ancient weddings, so the image refers to the wedding of the Bride and the Lamb at the end of Revelation. It also points to removing the veil from the meaning of word events: it may look like evil is winning, but God is at work, and this is leading us to a glorious end. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have apocalyptic chapters (Chapters 24, 13, and 21, respectively). John doesn’t, but he has the Book or Revelation. Mark 13 starts with the prediction of the destruction of the temple (the temple would be destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70), moves into descriptions of tribulations of various kinds, and leads to “’the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory (Mark 13:26).” This refers to the Second Coming at the end of time.When Jesus refers to “the Son of Man” we must remember it is a reference to Daniel 7. Daniel is having a dream, and there is a succession of beasts that rule great kingdoms, and then “As the visions during the night continued, I saw coming with the clouds of heaven One like a son of man. When he reached the Ancient of Days and was presented before him, He received dominion, splendor, and kingship; all nations, peoples and tongues will serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, his kingship, on that shall not be destroyed (Daniel 7:13-14).” Whenever Jesus refers to Himself as the Son of Man (Math 9:6; 26:64; Mark 2:10; 8:31; 14:62; Luke 5:24; 9:22; 22;69), He is referencing this text from Daniel, a text that His audience would have known very well. Referring to Himself as the Son of Man was a bold statement from the beginning, and the closer He comes to the cross, the more open He is about His glory. We see at His trial before the Sanhedrin, “the high priest asked him and said to him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the son of the Blessed One?’ Then Jesus answered, ‘I am, and “you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the power and coming with the clouds of heaven (Mark 14:61-62).”’”When Stephen was being martyred, he said that he saw, “the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55).” The second coming happens to us personally when we reach the end of our earthly life. The early martyrs would often go to the arena singing hymns of praise to God. When the cross gets more up close and personal in our lives, we can witness in a special way to the glory of Christ the King.Many people over the years have attempted to take the apocalyptic literature of the Bible and crack it like a code to figure out when the end of the world will come. This is especially puzzling given how the Scriptures repeatedly tell us we won’t know when (for example,Matthew 24:36-44; Mark 13:32-36, Luke 12:40). The challenge is to be ready, to hold the things of this earth (including our earthly lives) in a loose grip and be ready to face whatever happens.We do not know what the future will bring, but Jesus calls us to be ready, with our eyes on the goal.Blessings,Fr. Jim

Feeding Our Minds

Dear Folks,I had a great vacation, quite low key but wonderful in many ways. Part of my October preparation for Halloween is watching old horror movies. Most of the best ones are from the 1920’s and 1930’s, though there are exceptions, like the 1953 “House of Wax” with Vincent Price.Storytelling is a powerful part of being human. It helps express and form cultures, provides common imagery, captures and forms imaginations, and expresses and shapes our values. Some stories I find especially interesting as delving into the realm of mystery, the edges of our understanding. Horror stories can give us the feeling of being transported into the realm of mystery. Good science fiction can do the same.Bram Stoker published “Dracula” in 1897, and in 1922 there was a German movie “Nosferatu” based on the book. It portrayed the vampire as rat-like, a form of vermin, a plague. Since the memory of the Spanish flu was still fresh, this would have resonated with a lot of people. Many people have not heard of it because Bram Stoker’s widow would not give permission for the movie to be made, and she sued and confiscated copies of the film. It was many years later that a copy was discovered. In the meantime, “Dracula” with Bela Lugosi came out in 1931. When most people think “vampire” the image that pops into their heads is some version of BelaLugosi’s Dracula, and so he has become a cultural icon. This time the vampire was presented as suave, charming, even seductive. This resonates with our understanding that evil is seductiveand that makes it especially dangerous.During the 1970’s there came a trend of “slasher” movies, with less artistry, less ponderingmystery, and a lot more graphic violence. It is in our nature to recoil from violence and greatbodily harm, but with persistent conditioning we can lose that, and that’s not a good thing. Iremember in college, I was once waiting at a bus stop, and three high school kids joined. As wechatted, I mentioned I was going to see a movie.“What’re you going to see?”“I haven’t decided yet.”“You should see Friday the 13th, part three!”“Oh, you’re the ones who keep going to these movies, so they keep making them. I’m notinterested.”“But this is the best one; it’s really funny.”“Funny?”“There’s this one scene where three guys get their head chopped off at the same time!”“And that’s funny?”“You have to be there.”“No, I don’t.” I wound up seeing “The Great Mouse Detective” (with Vincent Price) and it was very good.I remember when the movie “The Passion of the Christ” came out, many voices were decrying how bloody and violent it was. I didn’t notice those particular voices decrying the other hundred gazillion movies that were really bloody and violent, but this one caught their ire. There was also criticism of Christians who have been concerned about violence in film but approved of “The Passion of the Christ.” Were they hypocrites? There is a critical point: During the Passion movie, I think people identify with the sufferer, and it sharpens our horror of violence and cruelty. Many other movies present violence as thrilling, empowering and satisfying, with no sympathy for those who suffer.As we think of the stories we take in, we may ask, what are we feeding our minds? How might they shift our perspective, our sympathies, our values, our thoughts?Blessings,Fr. Jim