Laughing in the Face of Evil

Dearest Person Engaged in Deciphering Written Symbologies,

As I attempted to join the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre this afternoon – yes, one of the REAL equestrian orders recognized by the rightful Pope of Rome, rather than one of these phoney-pony Prot knighthoods – I came across a rather interesting article: it seems as if Planned Parenthood was offering discounts on Black Friday for abortions and emergency contraception. While the source might not be entirely unbiased, I trust that our good friends at the Margaret Sanger Emporium probably are guilty what this article imputes to them. But seriously, if you’re “for” abortion, why not offer discounts? Labor day sales? Lightning deals? Everything must go!

I’m sorry – I realize how delicate and touchy an issue like abortion is. I despise the practice and equate it, unabashedly, with murder. I think it’s telling when even Family Guy, a show not known for prudish tastes, paints abortionists as practicing a dirty profession. But my first reaction to this news was not, maybe as it should have been, a sick feeling in my stomach. Nor some disappointment with humanity or self-righteous feeling. Rather, I laughed.

It’s like a “two-for-one genocide special” or something as absurdly ridiculous, in my eyes. It’s like hearing “In Der Fuhrer’s Face” on the radio – nobody should take it seriously. It’s a joke. In this case, it’s real – sure – but it still strikes me as comical. Maybe it’s just me, but as with St. Laurence….I can’t but stifle a chuckle when somebody tells me something so absurdly evil. Let’s face it: evil is absurd. It gets so stupid it can’t hide itself any longer. It’s not original. Hieronymus Bosch’s little devils stop looking frightening after a while and just get silly.

Somebody’s got to see the humor in it, because, from what I hear, the devil never was one for being able to laugh at himself. He was probably pulled down to hell by his own weighty sense of self-importance, I reckon.

 

Yours in Christ,

Br. JD, OP

 

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Cinema Divinite – Looper

Looper stands in a long history of thought-provoking sci-fi drama. Instead of finding a crutch in trendy CGI

or prop-based visual effects, Looper uses a rather minimal visual background (most of the action in the movie occurs on a farm or in dingy city streets) to achieve a classical sci-fi motive: getting people to question their everyday moral assumptions. “Loopers” are those who sell their future lives to the mob, in exchange for a lucrative pay-off in the present. It is, in a certain sense, an ace deal. The mob, illegally using time travel, send back “hits” to the loopers, living in the past. The loopers act as assassins on the receiving end of time-traveling victims, eliminating the victims and disposing of the bodies, building a perfect future for the mob one body at a time. However, the catch is that their last victim before retirement is their future selves – closing “the loop.” They are then given a golden parachute and sent on their way to an inevitable doom.

 

Apart from all of the moral questions that are involved, it leaves the loopers in a state of a kind-of despair. The point of Looper, like any good sci-fi, is not precisely the morality of the technology itself, but what it tells us about morality and human beings. There’s very little exploration of what time travel should be like or do, and much more about what it means to love and to sacrifice. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the counter-part to Bruce Willis. One – the young, up-start assassin unconcerned about what tomorrow might bring. He is the one who is obligated by his contract to close his own “loop.” The other – a hardened killer who regrets years of wasted opportunities and looks to get back the only thing that mattered to him. He struggles with his own freedom and his feelings of helplessness in the face of a seemingly inevitable future that he strives to overcome.

 

While it may seem that a time travel movie like this should lead us to determinism and fatalism – the idea that all is inevitable and unavoidable - Looper instead endorses the idea that fatalism is, underneath it all, just another free choice. I’m not personally committed to the moral choice made at the end of the movie, but I certainly think that the ride toward that end is believable, human, and worthwhile.

 

My Rating: 8 out of 10.

 

 

[Featured at PreachingFriars.org]

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I didn’t even notice….

Dearest Reader,

I’ve been so busy, I didn’t even see that I was published surreptitiously this past August in Homiletic and Pastoral Review! You can check out my little piece: “Shepherding the Irascible Sheep” about fear and anger in pastoral counseling.

Yours in Christ,

Br. James Dominic, OP

Now, here’s the moment you’ve been waiting for: a gratuitous image of a sheep uttering near-profanity.Image

 

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Cinema Divinite – End of Watch

End of Watch is a “buddy cop” movie, pure and simple. But, unlike the many silly comedies about two friends who are cops, it’s an exploration of what that truly and deeply means – to be friends in the line of fire.

I once took a class in graduate school for philosophy which was entirely concerned with the virtue of courage. We looked not only at classical theories of courage – Aristotle, Aquinas, Confucius, Mencius, etc. – but at the stories and autobiographies of war heroes, policemen, firemen, and others who were identified as courageous. In almost every case, no person who was “brave” in the classical sense identified themselves as such. “I was just doing my job,” or “I just reacted, ” or something similar. They often identified themselves as incredibly scared in the moment, and always tended to say, “I wasn’t a hero – I wasn’t brave.” My own experiences with police or soldiers confirms much of that – it’s not unusual.

Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena) are two such policemen, “beat cops,” working in horrible district of Los Angeles. In the course of ordinary duties of solving domestic disturbances and noise ordinance enforcement, they stumble across the inhumane and horrific actions of a large drug cartel operating in the city. Before they know it, they are swept into circumstances that lead irrevocably in one – and only one – direction. The question is how they will deal with that journey. Most of the movie develops each of these characters and their friendship, highlighting their motivations – no matter how ordinary – and their deep care for each other.

As the dramatic sequence rolls on and more “heroic” events unfold (despite the now-tacky medium of the “found footage” kind), one realizes that Mike and Brian’s courage and friendship are not something that are “made” in these events, but have to do with living out a life where they just choose these things ordinarily, as a matter of course. One doesn’t merely choose to be heroic here-and-now or to do this here-and-now – one chooses to be a kind of man, a kind of man who values family and friends over their own life. Then, in uncomfortable and horrific circumstances, they can almost unthinkingly act in defense of those things that are most important to them.

Ultimately, that’s why friendships are so important to being courageous. Within police or fire departments or on the battlefield, one needs to love something more than yourself and be willing to sacrifice everything for that other person. Without that, there wouldn’t be any point.

Courage can seem a kind of madness – but, then again, so can love.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

[From Preachingfriars.org]

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Long Live the Revolution!

The best treasures in the world are forgotten bookmarks in old books.

I was reading an old (read, 100-year-old) book, a book on the spiritual life. I had just finished the 287th page, but when I turned to the 288th, what should I find but a folded up, ancient, yellowed piece of fragile paper stuck there in between the pages. Knowing the quality of these finds, being a keen lover of both ancient books and bookmarks, I folded it gently open on my desk, under the glare of my desk lamp.

I began to read the words:
“Dear Fellow Workers:
This is our first letter from St. Joseph’s House….”
At those words, I almost fall over – I know what’s coming – I scan down to the bottom of the page:
“Gratefully in Christ,
Dorothy Day”
There, on my desk, is a letter from Dorothy Day herself – specifically, an appeal letter for donations for the Catholic Worker house.

For those who are not familiar, Dorothy Day started the Catholic Worker Movement with her long-time friend Peter Maurin in 1932/33. It’s aims were simple: to advocate a radical Catholic response to the poverty and war of the 1930s. They did so by espousing personalism and pacificism, with their means being voluntary poverty, manual labor, works of mercy, and nonviolence. Their movement attracted numerous followers and its hallmark publication, the Catholic Worker newspaper, boasted hordes of subscribers. They were particularly known, and still are, for their Houses of Hospitality and Farm Communes, which remain places for anyone to come, stay, and work.

The fundamental idea was that true revolution in society, in economics, could only come from a new philosophy – not merely from imposing new social structures of forced charity or any other policy solution alone. As Peter Maurin put it, they aimed to help create a society where it was “easier for people to be good.”

We might criticize the followers of the movement for naive economics, or failed policy options, or any number of other shortcomings (and I myself sympathize will all those). All the houses of the movement, even today, are autonomous – each stands and falls on its own merits. But what they espouse together and what we cannot criticize is their vision – their dream. A dream where society is transformed from within by God’s grace. A vision of a world where we take care of each other in Christian love and kindness.

In the midst of election season, it can be easy to be disillusioned with politics, with economics. It can be easy to become bitter with a flawed and imperfect world. What we can never, ever, ever lose sight of are the Catholic principles that inform our policy choices and voting. It’s why we continue to fight for the poor, for religious freedom, for an end to crimes against life, and for the family. We need to be truly revolutionary – having our sights fixed on that vision, that dream, that Christ and His Church continue to dream. A society of love, in one simple word.

I prefer to think of our Catholic vision as revolutionary not because we will destroy a government or overthrow any kings. It’s not revolutionary because we’ll burn buildings or effigies.  It’s certainly not going to involve killing or death.

Rather, it’s revolutionary because it will not be any of those things.

It will be revolutionary because it is moved

“….by the Love impell’d,
That moves the sun in heav’n and all the stars”
(Dante’s Paradiso, Canto 33)

Servant of God Dorothy Day, pray for us and our nation. 

[From Preachingfriars.org]

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Pastoral Year Update

Dear(est) Reader,

   I apologize for the lack of posts, but so much has happened over the past month and a half that I haven’t had time to stop and update the cyber-world on the goings-on! After finishing my Clinical Pastoral Education this summer in Chicago (at Sts. Mary & Elizabeth Hospital), I just started my pastoral year at Purdue University’s Dominican-run Catholic campus ministry center, St. Thomas Aquinas. I’ve been working there for a while now, since mid-August, as a campus ministry intern. That basically means I do lots of stuff and go to every meeting, while not having much of a clue what’s going on. St. Tom’s in particular is a VERY active campus ministry – Purdue has 12,000 Catholic students and the parish receives a substantial portion of that number attending events. We recently planned a very big Blockbuster Weekend with events galore (we watched the Avengers on the side of a building!), which I had a negligible role in planning and executing (but from which I profited immensely in the cookie and baked goods category). This weekend, we have a Freshmen Retreat for new students and I’ll be preaching at Eucharistic Adoration tonight for the retreat (look for a video here shortly with my preaching!). 

It’s the non-stop life of a friar preacher :)

I DO have a few posts, however, in the works. Keep reading and follow the blog for more updates!

Yours in Christ,

Br. James Dominic, OP

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Sex and Cargo

Dear Readers,

In Japan, there is a very strange institution known as a “Host Club.” I watched an hour-long documentary about some “hosts” the other day which was an eye-opening experience. My only experience prior to watching this documentary was learning about a famous Japanese cartoon/comic called “Ouran High School Host Club” [pictured below]. I wasn’t even convinced, prior to the documentary, that such places really existed!

A host club is a place, usually a bar, where women go to be entertained and be provided company by attractive men, who serve as their “hosts,” pretending to be in love with them. We might want to describe the men as “gigilos” except that their job only peripherally includes sexual services.  In fact, as the video explained to me, the hosts don’t want to do anything sexual, as that would end their business relationship with the women and stop the women from buying more of their services.

What do they claim to provide?

The host club owner answered with one word: dreams.

The host lies about loving their clients so that the girls will get them tips and buy expensive drinks in the bar. They make the girls think that they are in love with them by pretending to have long-term relationships and giving them their cellphone numbers. They spend years with clients, milking them for hundreds of thousands of dollars. A single host can make over $700,000 a year. The hosts sell “romances.” As one host put it, “depending how you define it, money can buy love.”

But the host creates an entirely fake persona to do it. They have no other social life other than the club. They themselves, in the backstage interviews, are all self-confessed emotionally, psychologically, and morally damaged goods. One claimed that he has a psychological impossibility in trusting anybody, but desperately wants to find the right girl and marry – but can’t. Another says he feels constantly schizophrenic because of the lying and doesn’t know what’s real anymore. They live in a dream of fantasy. All try to rationalize their behavior – they have to see it as a good thing to keep going – and go on living in self-imposed delusions. Lots of their backstage time is spent discussing why what they do is worthwhile and trying to engage in communal apologetics for their behavior.

And, maybe surprisingly, most of their clients are prostitutes. They can’t feel loved in the physical intimacy they get in their prostitution, so they look for it in the hosts. They are exactly as messed up as the hosts, seeking intimacy in dreams rather than reality. They know it’s all fake, but live in a dream world. They make millions of dollars as high-price hookers, and they spend it all the next day on host clubs.

If you have ever met anyone involved in prostitution, pornography, or even watched a documentary on the “Bunny Ranch” in Nevada or a biography of Hugh Hefner of Playboy, you see exactly the same pattern. It is the vice of lust in the most obvious expression of its consequences.

Lust is never about sex itself, but about fantasy. Somebody once said, rightly I think, that the primary sex organ is the imagination. People are caught up in a fantasy of someone or something other than what they have. They are looking for intimacy, not just physical release. But, really, sex is like money – an instrumental good. We think people are twisted when they love money for its own end. What people actually want is something like power, or love, or security – and, ultimately, happiness – which they think money can get them. The sad part is that it can’t. At most, money is a means for other material goods and maybe material security/comfort. We can easily see that a life obsessed about money is a life lived for precisely the wrong end. It’s like trying to squeeze blood from a stone – no amount of dollars, by themselves, get anything, let alone happiness.

Sex is just the same; it’s only instrumental. What’s sex an instrument for? The hosts recognize what it’s for: intimacy, love, friendship – cut it however you like. What’s screwed up about these hosts and their clients is that they are trying to find that fulfillment in the sex itself or to create all the external trappings of a relationship. It’s like little kids making a rocket out of cardboard and expecting it to go to the moon.

A host club is cargo-cult sympathetic magic. Cargo cults were what happened when some tribal societies encountered western technology in the 40s, when US bases were built on very isolated tribal islands. The islanders were distraught when the allies left at the end of the war – all of the supplies that had come in for the allies by carrier planes were no longer coming. The islanders started making fake tarmaks, with fake air-traffic towers, and fake airplanes. They even today hold fake military drills on the fake airstrips. All in a hope to get the cargo again. The host club is just the same. The clients and hosts go through all the physical motions of what they think real intimacy looks like: complimenting the other person, spending time with them, and even challenging them to become better people. But it lacks any reality. They think that by making the motions, they can get the cargo – true intimacy and love. But, sadly, they can’t.

All lust is a cargo cult. Sex is an instrument of communication, like money. Money, as we know in modern economics, is a communication device – it transmits implicit information about supply and demand so that people immediately make decisions based on the cost transmitted to them by the price. Sex communicates something else – love, intimacy, unity, and desire to make a home and bring new life into the world. The acts themselves and how they are done reflect very much what they communicate. They are performative – the act itself is a message. Lust is all about wanting the “fulfillment” of the communication in the true relationship, but lying to get it. A person sinning by lust performs a sexual act or engages in a fantasy because they want intimacy or love. They are just trying to get it in the wrong ways. So, instead, they are lying – trying to perform an act that communicates intimacy with a person or image of a person that they never had to build up a real relationship with. They want the rewards without the effort.

It’s the same delusion as a cargo cult.

And, like any lying, it distorts our personality. We become morally dead, psychologically divided, and emotionally schizophrenic. We no longer have a real identity. Our lives become sex without meaning – our lives become a lie.

The Church’s moral teaching on sex is just this: don’t live sex to be a lie, or you will become a lie yourself. Contraception, pornography, masturbation, adultery, sex before marriage, and on and on – all of these are lies when compared to what true sexuality is about. The Church points to the true ends of sex, achieved only in Christian marriage: it achieves love and harmony between spouses, and brings forth new life into their home. Of course there are social implications too (it’s hard to raise children as single parents, etc.), but it’s primarily about living the truth – the truth about our eternal relationship with God, who is Love Himself. But it’s not like marriage alone is an end in itself either – any good married couple knows that. It’s lived for a greater goal, which is precisely why marriage is oriented, at least immediately, toward children. It’s other-centered. And Christian marriage looks ultimately even beyond children – it finds its ultimate Other in God Himself. That’s why the Church has always seen consecrated chastity as a special sign of precisely the point that, through the witness of certain people who can live happy and holy lives “giving up” physical intimacy for love of God alone, our lives are ultimately for Love and not for sex.

Lust, on the other hand, makes our lives about sex, rather than making sex about our lives.

True sexuality is about living the truth of who and what we are, made in the image of God Himself:

we are more than sex because we are more than just cargo. 

Yours in Christ,

Br. James Dominic, OP

[This was reposted from PreachingFriars.org - go there to keep up with the Dominican Brothers' posts on contemporary topics!]

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