As we continue to celebrate the Easter season, we are offered a set of readings that remind us of who we are called to be as a Christian community. Since we all share in the one Spirit of Jesus, we should have much in common. As we continue to grow together, our community should reflect that oneness, and also allow for the differences we each have in our personal journeys.
Christ is Risen! Alleluia! Echoing today’s Psalm, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.” Jesus’ good news is our good news, too. Christ’s victory over death means everlasting life for all of us. Let us rejoice and be glad!
When I saw The Two Towers movie in the theater fifteen years ago, I was beyond aggravated at how the writers portrayed the character of Faramir. I came out of the theater grumbling, huffing and speechless. Do you know what it takes to make a Sicilian girl speechless? (and I don’t mean “keep her hands still”; although that works, too…) It takes a lot. I mean, there are some changes that need to be made for the sake of time, or flow, or whatever, but if you’re going to change someone’s life’s work, it should have legitimate purpose and add to what you’re doing. I could see no benefit to this defamation.
I re-watched the movie recently and wondered if I would react the same as I did all those years ago. I mean, after all, it was a long time ago and back then I was a new mom with wacky hormones, sleep deprived figuring out who I was in my new situation—there were a million reasons for me to over-react to something inconsequential. No. It was every bit as bad as the first time. Not the whole movie, mind you—they did change more than I’d like, but it was still a great movie; very well done. And, I persist that the changes they made to him were consequential.
In the book, Faramir was kind, gentle, and un-tempted by the Ring. Unlike his brother, he didn’t want any part in trying to take it and use it against his enemy. He understood that it was beyond his grasp and had the humility to know his limitations in the face of something more powerful. He acted bravely within the realm in which he could be effective, but wasn’t interested in engaging what didn’t belong to him. He was what a lot of people would call “holy”. He and his men were in constant conflict trying to stave off the evil that was building all around them. Things looked rather hopeless. That would wear on anyone; but he required a high standard of behavior for his men—even to the point that they were not to harm any animal without purpose.
In the movie, however, he encouraged cruelty toward Gollum, tortured and abused him, and took the Ring by force to Rohan. Sure…we know that in the end he made the right decision, but first he was a total jerk. We’re shown in flashback that made us understand that he did it to please his unpleasable father, to avenge his beloved dead brother and to save attempt to Middle-earth. But, that’s not what Faramir was about. He was not selfish enough to risk the fate of the world to make someone love him.
The rationale of the writers to assassinate one of Tolkien’s best creations was to make Faramir “more relatable”. The writers felt that to accomplish it, they would need to make him more like us. The writers felt that we could not relate to someone who makes good decisions even in hard times and expects the people in his service to do the same. They felt that we can’t relate to someone who is kind in the face of terror. That we can’t relate to someone who is not tempted by horrendous evil. Apparently, we are too small to connect with someone who sees the right way to do things, and even if it brings risk of personal failure, holds to it.
This brings up a social reality that I think demands consideration. It’s a cultural truth that in order for us to feel like we can relate to someone, we need to bring them down to our level. We need to find fault, find scandal, find ugliness so that we can see ourselves in them. That’s unfortunate. People even did that to Mother Teresa; there were campaigns to try and discredit and disgrace the one person on earth that almost every human being could agree was truly good.
Here’s a thought…instead of bringing people down to our level, why not stretch ourselves to try and identify with something higher? Something more beautiful, pure and good? That’s what Christianity is all about; it’s what is required of us—that we look to beauty and truth and aspire to them. We look to the perfection of Jesus and aspire to be like him.
This is why Faramir as Tolkien wrote him is both important and relatable. We’re made in the image and likeness of God. Our intended destiny is to be like Faramir—humble enough to accept our limitations, to know our gifts and use them for the benefit and comfort of others even in the face of ugliness, and to be disciplined enough to not be tempted by what would do us and others harm. And, all of us could, and some of us do get to that point without a lot of drama and diversions. The Lord of the Rings movies gave us dozens of characters to whom we could relate that were flawed, broken, weak and ultimately good. Why not give humanity a little credit and let us keep a character who inspires us to be better right from the start?
This Sunday is Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord–the day when we seamlessly move from calling out “Hosanna in the highest!” to “Crucify him!” in just a matter of minutes. It’s the beginning of Holy Week, and sets us up perfectly for our celebration of the Paschal Mystery as we move from the Last Supper to the Resurrection in our Triduum liturgy.
When I was a kid, all I ever wanted to do was grow up so I could make my own decisions and start having some fun, already… geez. Adults had it all. They had money and cars, got to choose what they would be, where they lived, and how they were going to spend their time. Of course, if I had paid even a little bit of attention, I would have seen that my dad’s sometimes two and a half hour commute to and from New York, the work phone calls he got during dinner, and my mom’s exhaustion from dealing with five unruly and needy (and sometimes ungrateful) children, I might have noticed that the adults in my life weren’t really choosing very much in their lives at all. They did what they had to do to make life safe and comfortable for us children, catching only moments where they could actually do what they wanted; and even then, what they “wanted” was limited by what was best for the family.
Before we know it, we will be reading the Passion of Jesus, recounting his death and then celebrating his resurrection at Easter. Just as Jesus prepared to enter Jerusalem for the last time, making these events take place, he stopped at Lazarus’ house to ease the suffering of his friends, Martha and Mary, and to give hope to all of the apostles as their darkest time was approaching.
I have always loved fairy stories. I’m not talking about fairy tales like the Grimm brothers’ stories this time (although I do love them, too), but the old stories about the different kinds of fairies—like Brownies, Sprites, Will ‘o the Wisp, Jenny ‘o the Bog, etc. They are some crazy stories. One of my favorites is about what happens to people when they are put under a fairy spell—you could be walking through a forest, minding your own business and boom! You’ve stepped right in the middle of a fairy ring, and now you’re going to be stuck dancing until your boy gives out and you die. Or, you might be walking through a forest, minding your own business, and find yourself in the middle of a fairy celebration, and now the fairies will sit you down and make you think you’re enjoying a great feast, only to discover that you’re eating acorns, worms, tree bark, leaves and other awful stuff. The poor soul is eating forest garbage while thinking that they are having the meal of their life!
Two lessons can be learned from this: one is that forests are way more dangerous than people generally suppose, and the other is that fairies are nasty tricksters. Sure, they’re cute–Tinkerbell is the epitome of cuteness…but that’s part of fairy trickery! They give the appearance of sweet, innocent, helpless little things, but boy are they sneaky! In the old stories, the magic that the fairies use to make things appear other than as what they are is called, “glamour.” Glamour is a word we’re all familiar with—but we usually use it in relation to fashion. In fashion terms, glamour is all the fancy, sparkly clothes, hair and gobs of makeup that gunk them up to look fabulous. But, once the hair is washed, the makeup is off and the sweatpants are on, the people underneath are themselves again—flawed, blemished and sometimes pretty average-looking.
One of the promises that adults make at their Baptisms, parents and godparents make at their children’s Baptisms, and we all renew at Easter has traditionally (until the last translation came out) read thus; “Do you reject the glamour of evil and refuse to be mastered by sin?,” to which we all respond, “I do.” The glamour of evil. That’s so perfect. Whether its fairies, fashion, or evil, glamour speaks of that which is misleading and misrepresenting. Temptation and the Devil present things not quite as they are. They take a truth and twist it; they take a good bit of creation, and offer it to us broken, corrupt and misused. But, if we refuse to be mastered by sin, we will look at things and see them exactly as they are. You won’t mistake twigs and acorns for a feast, and you won’t mistake something that doesn’t belong to you, or isn’t good for you as something that will fill you.
Throughout Lent, the Elect (adults who were Catechumens and are preparing to make their Baptismal Promises for the first time at the Easter Vigil) stare sin in the face, scrutinize it, see if for what it is and ask God to remove it from them. This coming Sunday is the final of three Scrutinies, when they ask God to take a look at their hearts with them and ask God to remove whatever doesn’t belong there–whatever was disguising itself as useful, but was really preventing them from living fully; maybe some resentment, or judgmental tendencies, or addiction, or envy…We can use the remainder of Lent as a training period for us too—we can use it to get really good at spotting sin, stripping the layers of glamour off until we see it for what it is, and letting God root it out of us. That way, when it’s time for us to renew our Baptismal Promises, we can do it with sincerity, conviction and gusto; knowing that we’re nobody’s fool, but children of the light who make clear, life-giving decisions with purpose and intention. The rest of this Lent, train like a Catechumen.
There are so many great themes in today’s readings: darkness and light, seeing with our hearts instead of our eyes, being blind to the truth that is right in front of our eyes, and God’s constant choice to take seemingly ordinary people and make them great.
Our culture is in somewhat of a crisis these days regarding our concept of what makes a man. And, I’m not talking about who can use which bathroom, or what an individual “identifies” as, but about what makes a man truly manly.
There was a campaign on Facebook a few years ago called “Real Men Don’t Buy Girls.” There are memes of celebrities (a lot of them men) making statements about treating women with dignity. There is a real, felt push-back against the way women are objectified—in the media, our president, in the horrors of human trafficking and prostitution, and in everyday lives like our own. Now, I will own that some of the progress the world has made in seeing women as human beings with intelligence, ability, dignity, grace and value are continually undermined by women offering themselves as objects for ogling and devaluing. But, still…it’s 2017 and the world apparently needs celebrities to us that we shouldn’t purchase other human beings.
Today is the Feast of St. Joseph. After reading today’s Gospel, I’m having a serious case of respect for this guy and his response to God’s call to protect the dignity of his bride and the safety of her son—not his son—hers. When he found out that the girl he was set to marry was already pregnant, and he knew it wasn’t his kid, he had every right to expose her to shame and even to the possibility of stoning. He could have ruined or even taken her life and the life of her child. But, he didn’t. He trusted that what he was told to him in a dream was true—that this was God’s doing and that he had been chosen to protect and care for these two. And he said “Yes.”
Who does that? People go on “reality” TV shows and publicly humiliate and destroy those that they claim to love and yet have no confidence in their ability to be faithful to them. It’s a freak show out there. And, while there was no TV in Jesus’ time, Joseph could have done the equivalent. But, he didn’t.
The model Joseph gives to men of gentleness, faithfulness, trust and responsibility is as much needed now as it was back then. He loved and honored Mary and Jesus. He worked hard to support her and Jesus as best he could (which did not bring them gobs of money or any real material comfort, but he didn’t just sit on his butt and do nothing because the pay scale was beneath him). And the sacrifices that he made for his family echoed out in our Salvation, as well as continuing to be an example for us today. Joseph should be held up by men and women alike: men for a model of how to live respect and uphold the dignity of others (specifically women and children) and women for how they should expect to be treated (not forgetting, of course, that we have our own model in Mary of devotion, gentleness, personal dignity and great love). You can have all the muscles, good looks and stuff in the world–and those things are not bad–but to be honorable, respectful, kind and dignified; that’s truly manly.
I’m just saying…if we looked to Joseph (as an average, run of the mill dude) for how to treat one another, maybe we wouldn’t need celebrities to tell us not to buy girls.
Today’s readings are full of thirsty people. God quenches their thirst in unexpected ways. Sometimes, we distract ourselves from what we’re really thirsty for by focusing on things we want that will never satisfy us. God always gives us what we really need.