Mia (Emma Stone) gives a powerful audition in La La Land. (Summit Entertainment)
Everyone familiar with my courses, lectures, books, and blog posts knows that I’m a movie enthusiast. Next to music, they’re my favorite art form. There is just no more powerful way to tell a story, it seems to me, than through the visual medium of a well-crafted, artfully produced film.
We are wired for stories. We need them, in fact, to understand who we are, where we come from, and where we’re headed. And this is why even secular movies can become the occasion of a sacred experience. As Saint John Paul II wrote, “Even beyond its typically religious expressions, true art has a close affinity with the world of faith, so that, even in situations where culture and the Church are far apart, art remains a kind of bridge to religious experience.”
I just received an email from someone in a quandary about Saint Paul saying we should “live by the Spirit” and “not by the flesh.” She, like many, seemed to think Saint Paul himself divorces flesh and spirit, saying the former is bad and the latter good. She asked specifically how to explain Catholic teaching on the relationship of spirit and flesh to non-Catholics who only believe in the Bible. I sent her the following excerpt from my forthcoming book written specifically for Protestants.
In this Sunday’s first reading, God commands us: “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” To which I want to respond … “Uhhh … okay … but how?” And in this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus says we have to love even our enemies. “Uhhh … okay … but how? I have a hard enough time loving my friends!” Here’s my point: if all we’ve heard is what we’re called to without hearing how we’re called to it, we still have yet to hear the good news of the Gospel. As Saint John Paul II boldly proclaims: “Love and life according to the Gospel cannot be thought of first and foremost as a kind of precept, because what they demand is beyond man’s abilities. They are possible only as a result of a gift of God who heals, restores, and transforms the human heart by his grace.” Living the Gospel, then, is “a possibility opened to man exclusively by grace, by the gift of God, by his love” (Veritatis Splendor 23, 24). At times the demands of the Gospel can feel incredibly burdensome. And yet, Jesus insists that his yoke is “easy” and his burden “light” (Matt 11:30). And Saint John insists that “his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). If they feel burdensome, chances are we’re relying on our own strength to carry them out. Lord, forgive us of the sin of self-reliance. Teach us to rely on you!
[Mike Mangione is a nationally touring musician and popular podcast host. To subscribe to his podcast, Time & the Mystery, on iTunes click here. To learn more about his music, click here.]
Through Mike’s work with theologian/author (and T&M episode 5 guest) Christopher West, he has gotten to know many religious public figures. One whose path continues to cross with Mike’s is Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City. One fall day, while touring through Kansas, Mike sat with the archbishop to learn more about who he is and how he came to be through tragedy, his community and a strong faith. Come, join the table in this episode of Time & The Mystery: Conversations with Archbishop Joseph F Naumann.
David Teniers III’s “St. Valentine Kneeling in Supplication” (circa 1600s).
Amidst the secular spectacle that has become Valentine’s Day, we can forget that it’s actually a Catholic feast day. Here’s a brief look at the history I think you’ll find interesting:
Not surprisingly, the secular version of this holiday is rife with suggestions for how lovers can “spice things up,” which typically means fanning the flames of lustful passion. Here we could make two mistakes as Christians: we could indiscriminately buy into the vision being promoted; or we could condemn any celebration of our passions altogether. Neither one is the truly Christian approach.
It’s so important to realize that the devil doesn’t have his own clay. All he can do is take God’s clay (which is always very good) and twist it, distort it. Erotic passion has, indeed, been twisted and distorted in our fallen world and in our fallen hearts. When left to its own disordered inclination, erotic passion becomes merely a base desire for selfish gratification. Indulging that may bring momentary “release” but it will also leave a wake of destruction in our own lives and the lives of others.
But we mustn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater!