Sunday, October 13, 2019

Which leper are you? (Sunday homily)

Ten lepers were on their way to the Temple. 

The first leper said to the second leper, 
“That Jesus didn’t have much time for us, did he? 
That wasn’t very pastoral!”

“I know,” said the third leper. 
"I wanted to tell him everything he needs to change! 
What about lay involvement?”

The fourth leper said to the fifth leper, 
“Why did she have to bring her kids? 
How was I supposed to talk to Jesus 
with them making all that fuss?” 

The sixth leper said to the seventh leper, 
“I could go back and thank Jesus—
but he knows I’m busy: 
I’m sure Jesus sees the value of sports,
and understands why I need to put my business first.

The seventh leper said to the eighth leper, 
“Look, we’re all OK, but what about that Samaritan! 

Did you see how sloppy his clothes were? 
And what about those tattoos and earrings—
You know he’s one of those types, 
if you know what I mean!”

The eighth leper looked around. 
“It’s not like I’m prejudiced or anything, 
but why don’t they stay with their own kind?

Then the ninth leper spoke up:
“Say . . . where’d that Samaritan go, anyway?”

And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned,
glorifying God in a loud voice;
and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.

Ten lepers walked down the street. Which one are you?

Sunday, October 06, 2019

The vision of chastity will have its time (Sunday homily)

In the first reading, we heard the prophet cry out: “Violence! Ruin!”
With Habbakuk, we ask: Why?
Why can we never see the end of terror and conflict?
Why are people so cruel to one another?
“Write down the vision,” the Lord answers:
“The vision still has its time” to be fulfilled: “Wait for it.”

What’s the vision? Well, it’s God’s Vision—
as opposed to the alternative, which might be called,
“Doing it our way, without God.”

Part of that Vision is not only the dignity of human life,
but also that a moral life means choices that involve sacrifice.
We Catholics seem so far out of step with the world
when we insist on protecting the unborn,
and keeping intimate acts between couples open to the gift of life—
meaning no contraception.
This is a hard sell for many, including many Catholics.

But there’s Vision at work here—wait for it…

If we go out at night, and we gaze at the stars,
are we not filled with awe?
Surely God has some design and purpose in it all.
Who can doubt this?
That Divine purpose is not only written in the stars, 
but even moreso in ourselves.

One reason we Catholics cannot agree
with our culture’s values about human intimacy
is because they deny or at least muddle that higher purpose.

We are made in the image and likeness of God:
and when a man and woman come together,
they are never more like God—because in that very moment,
they do what otherwise only God can do: create new life.

The problem with artificial means of family planning
is they redesign God’s design.

God’s design is that a loving act is also a life-creating act.
Natural Family Planning respects this.
But the whole mindset of contraception and related technologies
is that the life-creating part of us as a problem to be overcome,
rather than a blessing to be embraced with reverence.

As a priest, I am entrusted with an awesome power: 
I offer the Holy Mass.
Through this sinner that I am,
Christ makes his saving sacrifice present,
and nourishes us all with his true and real Body and Blood.

That awesome power and gift is not mine to control or redesign.
I don’t even like to speak of it, but:
obviously I could misuse that power and gift.
I have to be under God’s authority in this or I can do a lot of harm.

Well, as human beings, the life-creating part of us
is likewise an awesome power and gift.
And likewise, we aren’t free to do with that gift just as we may please.

This design, as obvious as it is elegant, 
is why marriage is only a man and a woman; 
because only that union is a true “one flesh” union, 
a union that overflows into new life.

And that is why this union belongs in marriage;
When it is broken away from commitment and total self-gift,
It stops being about life, and it becomes about selfishness, 
Which is the total opposite of love.

That’s the Vision that our world ignores.
But, wait for it, it will have its time.
Our world’s values—how are they working out?
Are our families better off?
Are children better off when their parents never marry?
Is society better off?

I mentioned Natural Family Planning.
One of the striking things is that while it demands more sacrifice,
it also seems to strengthen intimacy.
Divorce is far less common for those who practice NFP.

Many couples in our parish embrace this path, and I commend you.
You have no idea how much you encourage me, and others around you.

Meanwhile, we cannot ignore the direction our society has taken.
After all, who is it that must be the prophet today,
calling people back from a path of ruin, to a path of life?

This is Respect Life Sunday; and we must speak up
against the destruction of the unborn
and we must cry out that we embrace both mother and child.
At the same time, our world desperately needs 
the witness of close family life.

So much of the story of poverty and social disorder 
is really the story of chaos that invades and displaces family life.
How do we combat this disorder? I’m not entirely sure, but:
If you belong to a close family, cherish what you have;
And if you know others who don’t have this gift, 
maybe invite them into your family, 
so they can learn and find courage to make a family of their own.

The world’s vision that offered freedom ends up bringing despair.
We are nothing, and the world will better off without us.

God offers us a different Vision:
We are not only his image at our best,
but even when we’re broken and marred:
God so loves us so much that he gave his only Son.
Life is worth living because even at our worst, we are his beloved.

That’s our Vision. Wait for it. It will have its time.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Do more for the poor (Sunday homily)

This Gospel is pretty clear in what it tells us 
about God’s expectations about how we respond to the needs 
of those who are poor and suffering.

The question of how we care for the poorest and neediest – 
for all the Lazaruses around us – has a pretty wide application. 

Our parish St. Vincent de Paul group 
is sponsoring a food drive, for example. Obvious application.

And in terms of those who are poor and abandoned, 
how can anyone with a conscience 
not see how this applies in the case of legal abortion? 
Of course I mean the unborn child, 
who is completely abandoned. 
So many treat the unborn child 
the way the rich man treated Lazarus – 
as if he didn’t even exist. 

But I also mean the women and others involved.
There is so much cruelty and exploitation at work!
It’s a cruel joke to use the term “choice,” 
because so often, women and girls are pressured, 
and threatened, and manipulated, into getting abortions. 

Thank God for the work of the Elizabeth New Life Center,
And for Rustic Hope, both in our community, 
providing help to women and their children. 
And there are so many more doing the same thing across the nation.

What they do is the exact opposite of what the Gospel describes. 
They are seeking out all the Lazaruses as they can, 
and binding up their wounds, and getting them back on their feet. 

But let me offer another application. Let’s talk about immigration. 
This is a big subject, 
and I’m not going to get into the details of public policy. 
I have my opinions; you have yours. Maybe we agree.
But that isn’t what a homily is for.

Rather, I just want to ask you 
to look at the immigration situation through the lens of this Gospel.
Our bishops have said, repeatedly, 
that it’s absolutely legitimate for countries 
to control their borders and for people to obey the law. 
But what’s also important is to have compassion 
and to respect every person’s dignity, 
including people who are illegal immigrants, who have broken the law.

It’s so frustrating, because obviously there are grave problems 
in the countries where these families are coming from.

Our country can’t solve the world’s problems,
but we aren’t powerless; we can do something.
It would be great if we talked more about that,
Instead of the constant yelling and finger-pointing.
Of course, politicians are going to do what they do!

Your job and mine are to be a Catholic voice; 
and since we’re citizens and we can vote, 
the politicians will listen if enough of us speak up.

Meanwhile, there are people very close to home who need help.
If you go to Sidney, Greeneville, Piqua, Troy or Dayton, 
the realities are very obvious.
But don’t kid yourself; there are people in trouble right here, 
but it may be a little less obvious. 

Once again, our St. Vincent de Paul group fields a lot of requests 
for help with utility bills and rent and groceries –
and our local group RACK does similar things – 
But it’s all mostly hidden.

Groceries, electricity, heat, these help!
Even better, however, is a human connection.
So often these needs happen in situations of chaos,
And there are children involved, and they need more than material things. 
There is a need for compassion and patience and love.
To cite something Pope Francis often talks about:
A need to accompany people in their lives.

So what are our action steps from this homily?
I invite you to support the organizations I’ve mentioned already, 
plus I think of New Choices, a shelter for women in Sidney, 
also the Holy Angels Soup Kitchen, the Bethany Center in Piqua, 
the St. Vincent shelter in Dayton – they can all use help.
Whether with money or time, if you can, think about doing more.

And you should also know, by the way, 
that when you put a contribution in the “for the needy” envelope, 
we help many of these organizations.

And, again, regarding our own community here:
Be a good neighbor. Be the friend someone in trouble can call;
So that your kitchen can be where a neighbor can come to talk.

Recently I took a trip over to Holmes County,
Where there are so many Amish, 
just like there are similar folks who live around Covington.
When they get in trouble, they don’t go to the government.
They take care of each other. 
Here in Russia, we do a lot of that, too.
Let’s do more.

In the prayer I offered near the beginning of Mass, 
we asked that God make us “heirs to the treasures of heaven.”

Don’t forget that God sees whether we go out of our way 
to bring others to share in his treasures. 
You and I aren’t going to solve all the problems; we don’t have to.
God only asks that we remember the Lazaruses around us,
And show them compassion and mercy.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Recent films: I'm 0-for-2 (Review of 'First Reformed')


Last night I watched First Reformed, a 2017 film with Ethan Hawke about a Protestant minister who pastors a dwindling congregation in a very old church in New England.

The winter is bleak and so is everything else. The world is going to hell, and it just so happens that the head of a local manufacturer, who is also a major benefactor of the congregation and everything else in town, is driving the world to hell with copious pollution. And our hero, such as he is, is 47 and apparently has never thought about pollution or climate change or any of the implications of any of it, until he meets a suicidal environmental activist, who actually prepared a "suicide vest," meaning he might well have intended to blow himself up and take something, or someone, else with him.

Our hero is writing a diary. If you look at Wikipedia, you'll see that this story is based on The Diary of a Country Priest, which is a film I'd like to see, but I can't find it anywhere to rent, only to buy. Why change it from Catholic to Protestant? It creates some odd situations. For example, instead of this sad-sack parson being sent here by the bishop, he is sent here by the pastor of a local megachurch. The idea being that First Reformed clapboard church is a wholly owned subsidiary of Abundant Life Megachurch. Possible, but a little strained. If Rev. Toller (Hawke's character) is worth hiring, why have him conduct Sunday services at First Reformed that draw about five people? Why not just use the small church for special events? By the end, the rationale for the change becomes clear, I think.

The bigger question is why Hawke is so messed up. He has serious health issues he doesn't take seriously until the end. Why? Is he depressed? If so, it would most likely be because he lost his own son in the Iraq War, and his marriage fell apart. Sound reasonable, except I have to ask: why did the pastor of the Megachurch fail to know about any of this, or take any interest? He has Hawke taking part in youth group activities; wouldn't you want to be sure this assistant pastor is emotionally healthy?

Hawke unravels through the movie -- that's a perfectly interesting story, but again, I think the way the story is told makes it implausible, as opposed to a parish priest being far, far away from the bishop. Hawke's growing obsession with environmentalism only makes sense as a manifestation of his mental collapse, which is a very interesting commentary on the environmental movement!

Eventually, Hawke has some weird and improper interactions with the activist's widow. Several people have unrealistic overreactions, which are annoying when the story depends on them. Toward the end, Hawke still has the suicide vest -- he took it from the man's house to keep him from using it, and was supposed to destroy it; instead, he finishes it and is going to use it at the big celebration orchestrated by the villain, such as he is, the industrialist. Only he's a really nice industrialist, and you have to wonder if he's even as bad as our mentally unbalanced hero thinks he is. But instead of killing everyone, Hawke wraps barbed wire around his bare torso, then dons vestments, then the widow shows up, she hugs him even though blood is seeping through -- can't she feel the barbs through his clothes? -- and they kiss madly. The End.

What's the point? Which part of Rev. Toller's life drives him mad? Is this a comment on celibacy, inasmuch as he is kind of living a celibate life -- he cruelly rejects the interest of a female coworker -- but when he surrenders to his passion for the widow, he's cured?

The film is pretty enough, if you like that sort of thing. This reminds me of so much literature that you read, you shake your head, and then supercilious people give you the sad side-eye. Could it be that it's just not that good, and you're a sucker for gorgeous mediocrity?

Feel free to defend this movie: it's very possible I really am missing something.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Brad Pitt's 'Ad Astra' -- not per aspera, but ineptia

Yesterday, instead of making another exploration of Ohio, I went to a movie. Ad Astra, with Brad Pitt, looked promising. A space flick? Brad Pitt? What could go wrong? Oh my...


Let me get this out of the way up front: after seeing the movie, I looked up what the reviews said, and many said, well, this isn't really a sci-fi pic, but about relationships. OK, fine; but that isn't why I am ragging this film.

I am trashing this film because it is ridiculous. The plot makes no sense.

If you enjoy me shredding this picture, read on. If you want a "too long, didn't read" summary, here it is:

And I am not talking about minor things. Lots of films have little errors or illogicalities, but I can overlook a certain number of these because they just serve to speed things along or tell the story in a more interesting way. So, for example, at one point the Pitt character sends a message to his father on a ship presumed to be orbiting Neptune. He speaks into a microphone, and then everyone expects an immediate answer. This is dopey, of course.

Even with the special laser referred to in the movie, the message would take four hours to travel that far, and another four hours for any response (assuming dad has the same special laser). But OK, having everyone wait all that time only makes the story a little more tedious. Similar points could be made about the gravity on Mars and our moon apparently being just like earth -- except when it's not, as in the pirates on the moon chasing Pitt and his party as they head for the far side of the moon. But I was thinking, OK, maybe they wear heavy shoes inside to compensate for low gravity, and they don't want to spend time explaining all that.

No, the problems boil down to a very simple matter: the whole story is junk. Here it is: Brad Pitt plays a highly decorated member of U.S. Space Command, who has performed exceptionally in many tasks. His age isn't spelled out in the film, but he would seem to be in his 40s. We meet him as he plummets from a orbital telescope array to earth, and manages to deploy his parachute and land safely. The fall was prompted by sudden explosions, which we learn were caused by some sort of electrical storm emanating from out near Neptune. This phenomenon keeps happening, causing grave damage all over earth, and -- of course -- if it can't be stopped, the planet is doomed.

OK, this itself seems pretty sketchy, although I didn't realize the problem; it was one of the reviewers who pointed this out: how does this ship billions of miles away cause such awful damage, and yet itself isn't wrecked? See that? That's an oops that is completely fatal to the whole story. But wait! There's more!

The higher-ups seek out Pitt because they think his dad (who is on the ship out Neptune way) has gone around the bend, and they hope Pitt can help them convince his father to stop messing with the solar system. This briefing, by the way, is when Pitt finds out his dad is actually alive! He hadn't seen him since he took off on this mission 30 years earlier, and assumed his father was dead. Which raises yet another huge problem: how, exactly, has dad survived all this time while orbiting Neptune? Let's just skip over the problem of oxygen and water, assuming they have the means to recycle all that for decades. And we'll assume the Neptune ship has shielding from radiation that we don't have now. What about food? We'll come back to this in a moment.

So here's what the higher-ups ask Pitt to do. He takes a commercial flight to the moon (that sequence, along with the opening sequence, was fun to watch, especially when we see Applebees and DHL with outlets on the moon!); there he is supposed to go to a base on the dark side, and fly to Mars. On Mars, he will access the special space laser thingabob in order to attempt contact with dad...

Only, why does he need to go to Mars to do this? They can't do this from earth? Even if the message must be sent from Mars, why can't he relay the message from earth to Mars? None of this makes any sense! Why this huge expense and risk? More than that, why the delay? It takes 17 days or so to get to Mars; a lot of catastrophes on earth can happen in that time.

Of course, cutting all that out means we don't get to see the moon pirates come out of nowhere and attempt to kill? Or kidnap? Pitt and his party. Except, Pitt was warned this might happen, so they took along a few extra space Marines. Of course they didn't send enough protection (why not?), so it was all touch-and-go, and Pitt just barely makes it safely to the base. By the way, why -- if the moon is such a dangerous place to travel, with wars and piracy here and there -- aren't people traveling in something better than open buggies? It makes no sense. Moving on...

Now Pitt is on a ship to Mars, only his mission is top secret; so when the captain of the ship slows down to answer a distress call from a ship floating somewhere between Earth and Mars -- why, by the way? Why there? We're told it is some sort of science ship; fine. But what demand of science requires that ship to be soooooo very far away from the nearest civilization? Why would anyone think this was a good idea? Stupid, stupid, stupid...

Oh, it gets worse still! Pitt doesn't want to stop -- "anyone can answer that distress call!" (Really? There's that much traffic between Earth and Mars?) But the captain insists. Then when they stop, the distress call goes away and no one is responding on the science ship. If I recall correctly, there were 20 or so people on board. Hmm, who doesn't like some mystery? So now the trip to the ship-in-distress is more perilous and the two officers on board are now worried (why? Aren't they trained for this sort of thing?) and so Pitt goes with the captain, and the second-in-command remains behind.

We get to the science ship and find...nothing. No one. Creepy. Mystery builds...then Pitt comes face to face with an enraged baboon, doing nasty things to the captain's arm and face. Pitt knocks out (or kills) the baboon, seals up the captain's damaged suit with tape, and as he starts to take him back to the other ship, another baboon -- just as ragey! -- appears! Pitt is able to close the hatch between himself and the space monkey, and decompress the chamber, and we see a sudden explosion of monkey guts all over the other side of the hatch window. (Except that wouldn't happen; the baboon would asphyxiate, not explode.)

Pitt brings the badly injured captain back aboard the original ship, where he dies. And...nothing more about the disabled science ship. Apparently the problem was the baboons getting loose, and apparently, the baboons kill everybody. And this diversion means absolutely nothing to the overall story, other than setting up the scene where they attempt a landing on Mars, only to have another power surge from Neptune mess up the automated landing gizmo, and the second-in-command loses his nerve, forcing Pitt to do the landing manually. Then Pitt tells the badly shaken second-in-command, "I won't report this to Space Command." What??? As if the others on board are all going to keep it secret? As if there won't be a debriefing about what happened? They are all going to lie? To protect this sad-sack lieutenant who lost his nerve twice on this mission? Oh, and here I might mention that Pitt undergoes repeated psychological evaluations with an automated computer program. This seems to be Standard Operating Procedure, given the stresses of service in space. This makes no sense! But I repeat myself.

Hang on, you ain't heard nothing yet...

Now on Mars, and his mission still highly secret, Pitt is greeted by the base commander, played by Ruth Negga, who unfortunately lacks sufficient security clearance; so immediately, some other guy takes over. This matters later. Now Pitt is taken to a soundproof room to send his message. This itself seems ridiculous -- why soundproof? -- but let's hasten to the next utterly absurd part. After his first try sending the pre-approved script, he makes a second attempt, but improvises the message. The folks in the control room show obvious consternation, but they send the message all the same. Their facial reactions suggest they got some sort of response, but won't confirm this for Pitt, who is mysteriously ushered from the room, and told he is no longer needed. He fails his next psych eval -- the idea being that where he had been cool and detached all this time, he feels sudden longing for his father. OK, I'll go with that. That's a nice touch, really (and obviously, this whole father-son thing is the main story here).

What happens next is galactically stupid. Remember the woman who runs the facility, but who lacks security clearance? She seeks out Pitt, who is in a "comfort" room viewing images of daisies trying to calm down, and reveals to him yet more about his father. She has a recorded distress message from the Neptune ship -- lots of garbled screaming -- followed by a yet-more-creepy dad (played by Tommy Lee Jones) explaining that some of the crew mutinied, and he was forced to cut off their life support, and in the process of killing "the guilty," some innocents also died. Then we learn that two of these dead are Negga's parents! What a coincidence!

Negga -- who, remember, lacks sufficient clearance -- reveals to Pitt that a ship is about to launch to Neptune, with the purpose of destroying the ship with Tommy Lee Jones on it. Pitt, of course, is not part of this and -- of course -- not likely to be under any circumstances, but especially now that he's deemed unreliable by Space Command. Pitt says to Negga, "get me on that ship!" (What? How?) The best I can do is get you close to the launch, which she proceeds to do.

Let's stop here: why is she doing this? She just told Pitt that her parents were murdered by his father. Shouldn't he wonder about her motives? But more than that: why in the world would she want Pitt on that ship? Remember, the point of the expedition is to go kill the bad guy. Does she want Pitt to go and save the murderer of her parents? None of this is ever explored. She seems utterly uninterested in what Pitt's plans are, and how they will affect the overall mission.

OK, so she drives him out near the launch, and lets him off near some hatch in the ground, which Pitt opens effortlessly and climbs into; that leads to a large pipe -- but not large enough to walk through easily (why? What is this pipe for? Why wasn't it's entrance locked?) Next he is swimming through dirty water (why is there all this water? On a dry planet?) and he comes up for air just beneath the rocket. We hear the countdown -- 7 minutes and some seconds to go! Pitt climbs up the silo while the rocket warms up; and as the engines fire -- massive fireball! -- Pitt is clinging to the side of the rocket, and manages to open a hatch and slip in. All this happens AFTER the rocket launches! Join me in the refrain: THIS MAKES NO SENSE!

Of course this trips an alarm aboard-ship, and the concerned crew tells ground control about the unsecured latch -- and soon they see Pitt, and they tell ground control that, and ground control tells the crew to neutralize Pitt by any and all means (i.e., they are welcome to kill him). All this is happening while the ship is rocketing out into space! Just before, gravity on Mars looked exactly like Earth's -- now, apparently, Mars has almost no gravity at all.

There are three highly trained members of U.S. Space Command aboard this valuable ship, on a top-secret mission to Neptune, only there was absolutely no security perimeter around this launch; the hatch on this ship is less secure than those on commercial airlines; and now, these highly trained space Marines are completely hapless against Pitt. They all end up dead, and Pitt now flies the ship to Neptune. Cue the refrain: you know it by heart.

There is some business about Pitt inserting a feeding tube for the long voyage, which turns out to be 79 days or something like that. Wait, what? Sure, I buy that they figured out how to travel a whole lot faster; but if Neptune is only 79 days away, why has Tommy Lee Jones and crew been out there, all alone, for 30 years? No one thought to check on him?

Of course, our boy Brad makes it out to Neptune -- no more space monkeys -- only to encounter yet another power surge as he nears dad's ship. The surge seems to do some damage, but it doesn't disable his ship (why not?). I might mention here he's bringing a nuke with him, which is meant to destroy the Neptune ship. What is never explained is how Pitt knows how to arm and detonate the nuke; apparently, there is no secret code required, which secret presumably died with the crew Pitt killed. Or else U.S. Space Command radioed the code to Pitt, because...who the h*** knows?

And, anyway, why a nuke? Wouldn't any explosive do the trick? The plan was to take this bomb aboard the renegade ship. Why? They have lasers that send messages, but they can't shoot anything at the threat? What about a guided missile, fired from thousands of miles away. We had those in the 20th century. What about a drone? I'm betting a drone could have been launched from behind one of Neptune's moons? Does it have moons? Why, yes, it has 14 of them!

Or, here's a crazy idea: why not just knock the ship into Neptune? According to,

Neptune is the third most massive planet. Like the rest of the gas giants, Neptune has no definite surface layer. Instead, the gas transits into a slushy ice and water layer. The water-ammonia ocean serves as the planet's mantle, and contains more than ten times the mass of Earth. Temperatures inside the mantle range from 3,140 degrees Fahrenheit (1,727 degrees Celsius) to 8,540 F (4,727 F). At deep enough depths, the methane may transform into diamond crystals.

Since this ship's unstable antimatter reactor is such a threat to the whole solar system, wouldn't you think blowing it up -- with a nuke! -- would create additional, perhaps unforeseeable risks? Gee, what if you could, instead, shove it into some mass that would absorb the damaging effect, and smother it? Like..."the third most massive planet"? Are you seriously telling me the ship would somehow survive plummeting into Neptune? You know the refrain...

So Pitt gets there, grabs the nuke (about the size of a backpack!), boards a little shuttle that takes him over to the other ship. He carefully pilots the shuttle around the wide rings of Neptune, which are made up of lots and lots of rocks. Remember this detail for later. Only his shuttle can't dock, because of damage to the renegade ship. So Pitt exits the shuttle, opens the hatch, and -- I am not kidding -- pushes away his shuttle! Nope, not going to need that again!

Only he does. We learn shortly that he intends to bring dad home. Whenever needed, Pitt has a tether; he uses one several times. There's no tether on the shuttle? He couldn't go back to his mother ship for one? What exactly is his plan for getting back? Wait till you find out...

He gets on board, everything is eerily silent. He finds the reactor -- apparently it is entirely safe to approach, even though it is wrecking the solar system with unpredictable bursts (yet another reason this whole plan was idiotic, but oh well...). He gets the nuke all ready to go off in three hours, but doesn't turn it on. His plan, it turns out, is to return to the nuke to flip the on switch. Apparently, in the future this can only be done manually, and no one back on Earth thought this might be a flaw in their plan. More to the point: none of the crack scriptwriters thought of it.

Dad shows up. He's calm but a little creepy. To our surprise, he doesn't fight his son, even as he prepares to blow up his life's work. We learn that dad is awfully depressed because his search for life outside the solar system -- the purpose of his mission, and which he was prepared to murder innocents to continue -- was fruitless. He has found only lifeless worlds. Brad talks him into donning a space suit and exit the ship. Brad flips the red switch, and now the bomb starts it's three-hour countdown. (Stupid, stupid.) Somehow they are going to get back to the other ship, and return to earth. Remember, stupid Brad kicked away the shuttle. Their suits do have jet propulsion, however.

Once outside the doomed ship, daddy decides to fire off his propulsion, jeopardizing his son: Brad had carefully attached a tether to both of them, and to the soon-to-be-destroyed ship. The link to the ship is now broken, and both are drifting off in space. Dad says, let me go! Brad has no choice, he cuts him loose, and Tommy Lee Jones floats off.

Questions explode: why did dad stick it out all this time? And, if he is so determined to continue, why does he meekly allow his son to destroy his ship? Or, if he just wants to die, why not pilot the ship into Neptune? I guess this pioneer of space exploration never thought of it!

So now Brad is alone, again. The bomb is ticking as we know. He aims to get back to his ship. He's tumbled through space because of his dad, but he is able to reorient himself and locate his ship; except the rings of Neptune are in his path. Drat! Didn't think of that! So our hero grabs hold of some spinning thingy on the doomed ship, climbs aboard, twiddles some screws or something in the spinning thingy, and pops off a piece of metal! (Some up-and-coming politician back on Earth should open hearings on the gross incompetence of the U.S. Space Command.) Then our hero takes this panel, and uses it as a shield, as he propels himself through the rings of Neptune back to his ship! Yes, this actually works! When he discards his shield, it's got a few pock-marks. Why did he even need a ship at all?

Then he gets back on his ship. By the way, all this in something less than three hours! Then, we learn that his ship's propulsion is somehow diminished, so...he is forced to rely on the nuclear explosion to propel him the 2 billion miles home!


Well, of course, this works! Pitt returns home, and everything is pretty summary; no inkling of any consequences for his crimes which risked a vital mission and caused the deaths of three people; but his ex-wife, who has been lurking in the background throughout the movie, appears. The End.

Now, I want you to go over either to IMBd, or to Rotten Tomatoes, or anyplace you want to scan the various reviews of this movie. When I got home, that's what I did; I wanted to see if any of the people paid to review movies picked up on any of this.

On 80% favorable critics reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes, the "critics' consensus" is 83% fresh! But even the unfavorable critics frontpaged on Rotten Tomatoes ignore the plot fiascoes, complaining instead about wasted performances by almost everyone, plodding pace and the film being boring (all true). Meanwhile, all the professional film-watchers who liked it, loved it, because it was "intelligent" and "beautiful" and "magnificent," with Pitt's performance deemed Oscar-worthy. The film is pretty to look at, and Pitt does turn in a fine performance, but how can they overlook the problems? Are they stupid? Or do they think we are?

The one encouraging thing: most of the viewers' reviews are negative. Way negative, as in:

- "pile of crap"

- "slow and boring"

- "poor science"

- "script was ridiculous."

- "I should have run out of the theater screaming but I fell asleep."

At least we are not stupid. That you can rule out.

(Edited for clarity, 9/25/19)

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Our stewardship and our parish (Sunday homily)

Every year about this time the finance committee and I present to you 
a financial summary for the prior fiscal year, 
and a budget for the coming year. 
That appeared in last weekend’s bulletin. 

This year, the staff and I also included a “year in review” 
that was designed to tell some of the story 
of what we’ve been doing as a parish, 
to make these columns of numbers a little less abstract.

Now, it occurred to me that today’s Gospel – 
about a dishonest steward of all things! – 
maybe isn’t the best lead-in for this talk!

But in my defense, I think I am an honest steward;
In any case, I have no hesitancy whatsoever 
in giving you a full and complete accounting.

Some years, when I’ve given this talk, we faced a deficit, 
and I asked you to step up your giving to close the gap.
Last year, you were very generous, thank you;
Thanks to that – and careful spending by our staff – 
and a very successful festival in 2018 – 
as of June 30, our parish had a surplus.

For the coming year, with only a slight bump in offerings,
we’ll end the coming year with another balanced budget. 

I’m not going to go through this line by line; 
however, as I did last year, I will stay after the 5 pm Mass today,
and the 11 am Mass tomorrow, to answer any questions you may have. 
Note I said any questions; it doesn’t have to be about finances.
Anything you want to ask, just stay in your pew 
and I’ll come back and be happy to talk to you.

Why do I do this every year? 
Some would rather not hear about finances in the homily, 
and I understand.

But first, I want it to be clear that I do pay attention to these things; 
that I respect the fact that you work hard for your money,
and I take seriously my responsibility to spend it carefully and well.

Second, whether you stay after to ask questions or not,
I hope this sends the message that your questions are always welcome.
My phone number and email are in the bulletin. Contact me anytime.
Even if you don’t like my answer 100% of the time,
I will give you an honest and complete answer, and do it promptly.

Let me make a couple more points.

First, if you look at the very bottom of the summary, 
it tells you how much we have in savings. 
That’s important for our parish for the exact same reason 
it’s important for each of us and our own households, 
to have some money put by for a rainy day.
We earn interest on this – not a lot these days, but some! –
And we can access these funds when needed.

Another thing I want you to know.

Between the oversight of the finance committee, 
and the pastoral council, 
and with many controls and procedures that are in place, 
you can have high confidence in how financial matters are handled.

But I am not saying, “trust me”; feel free to verify!
Ask any questions you want, today or another time.
There is nothing to hide!

We all know that so many of our institutions and leaders, 
yes, including in the Church, have greatly disappointed us, 
and there is a loss of confidence. I am painfully aware of that.

Our hardworking staff and I want to be worthy of your trust.
I think you can feel very good about how your dollars are spent at Saint Remy, 
and I hope you will continue your generous support.

And for some here, maybe you’ve given now and then, and you realize,
it’s time to be more regular. That will help!

And for others, maybe you’ve regularly – thank you! – 
But it’s stayed at the exact same level for a lot of years. 
Maybe you can shoulder a little more of the responsibility. 
In the last twelve months, some of us have had great years;
For others, especially some of our farmers, it’s been rough.
Contributing to the mission of our parish isn’t someone else’s job, 
but the responsibility of every one of us.
That helps make us a strong and healthy parish.

Let me cycle back to the readings.
The first reading in particular talks about our duty to help the poor.
Despite the challenges, it remains true 
that you and I are extraordinarily blessed. 

So, for example, our St. Vincent de Paul group is once again 
asking your help to provide food for those with empty pantries.
Be generous, please!

And beyond that, perhaps this coming year, 
you and I can cast our gaze further out, beyond our own families, 
and beyond Russia, and be ready to share our blessings 
to make a difference for others. In a word: let’s do more!

See, I’m not the only steward here! 
Each of us has a stewardship over the many gifts God has given us. 
Not just treasure; time and talents too.

If the Lord could commend a crooked steward – not for dishonesty, 
but for being industrious and creative – 
then think of the praise and blessings Jesus will have for us, 
when you and I readily offer our own personal gifts for his work.