Busted Halo

Busted Halo contributors examine the spiritual themes of your favorite movies. Join us for a unique look at the intersection of faith and Hollywood.

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February 25th, 2014
Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star in a scene from the movie "Gravity." (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star in a scene from the movie “Gravity.” (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

I’ve got a bone to pick with Gravity, or with its marketing scheme at the very least. The film, a tense walk with Sandra Bullock through the worst space trip since 1979, presents itself as a sci-fi survivalist nightmare (think Open Water in orbit) wherein rookie astronaut Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) and veteran spacewalker Matt Kowalski (George Clooney, absolutely stealing the show) are stranded among the stars and have to struggle to survive and make their way home to Earth. I was expecting a cut-and-dry, “How do we get out of this?” thriller with a sense of imminent peril throughout — a notion only emphasized by the posters, previews, and propaganda with the phrase “Don’t let go.” You can almost hear Bullock’s desperate and terrified Dr. Stone pleading the line, as though it’s the only thing between her and certain death. As the debris flew at Stone and Kowalski at the beginning of the film, sending them spinning off into the black void, I was ecstatic — this was the movie I was ready to see.

What I got for the next 90 minutes …

February 25th, 2014
Amy Adams and Joaquin Phoenix star in the movie "Her." (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

Amy Adams and Joaquin Phoenix star in the movie “Her.” (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

We look at screens. Eyes? Not so much. I’m hardly breaking new ground by critiquing our culture and its propensity for staring at screens, be it as minuscule as the face of the phone in our pockets or as large as the flat screen mounted on our living room wall. We look at screens.

Indeed, many studies have been done, articles written, and news programs aired focusing on the insidious effect technology has had on modern relationships. Technology has isolated us from one another, wrapping us up into cocoons of warm, fuzzy bandwidth, freeing us to present false representations of ourselves that provide barriers to any real connection or intimacy, all from the safety of our solitary rooms.

Spike Jonze’s Her takes a refreshing look at the effect technology has had on relationships by exploring what happens when a human being, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), and an intelligent computer operating system, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), fall in love. Set in the not-too-distant future, the film doesn’t take the expected route of damning technology and its undermining of modern relationships, but instead uses technology as a means of …

February 24th, 2014

deactivated2Well, I did it. I deactivated my Facebook account.

Before I launch into my reasons for leaving, I want to make a few things clear. First, I begrudge no one their enjoyment of Facebook. In fact, for the first two years I was home with our gaggle of pickles, and my superhero husband was slaving away at three jobs while working on his comps and dissertation, Facebook allowed me to intellectually engage with other adults in a way that kept me from going, if you’ll pardon the expression, bat crap crazy. Second, I am not now nor will I ever be holier than thou. This is laughable. A real knee-slapper. Third, I don’t think technology is “evil.” I think technology is (for the most part) morally neutral. It can be used for grave evil. It can also be used for the glory of God.

OK, all that being said, I really did deactivate my Facebook page. Let me tell you, it feels AWESOME. As a pilgrim on her journey to sanctification (a journey wrought with more than its fair share of moral failures and spiritual shortcomings), this seems like the right path for me. It might not be the path …

February 21st, 2014

Ian McKellen stars in the movie "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (CNS/courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Ian McKellen stars in the movie “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.” (CNS/courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is nominated for three Oscars — Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Visual Effects — and anyone who’s seen the film can attest to the fact that it deserves at least the nominations it’s received, particularly the visual effects nod. After all, it’s nothing short of incredible what can be done visually with computer technology these days; a team like those who worked on Desolation of Smaug can create people and places that interact so seamlessly with the live actors and real environments that you’d swear they were really there. These men and women can make a dragon, and a believable one at that, who walks, talks, and spits bursts of flame without seeming the slightest bit asynchronous or removed from the action. If ever there could be magic in the world, I suspect it would look something like this.

But however blissful this “magic” may be for the audience, unfortunately it appears to not extend behind the scenes, at least not in nearly the same capacity. Though some of Desolation of Smaug’s scenes may …

February 21st, 2014

StLidwina-7A life of faith does not mean a life free of suffering. Whether through the lessons of the Cross or the hard knocks that are an inevitable part of existence, it is a given that often we must pass through dark valleys to reach green pastures.

St. Lidwina is an overwhelming example of this. Born in 1380 in Schiedam, a town in what is today the Netherlands, the Dutch saint had a Marian devotion from a young age. She often prayed before her town’s shrine to the Holy Mother for entire nights. On one such evening, she is said to have had a divine revelation of the pain that would become one of the defining characteristics of her life.

Around the time she was 15, Lidwina fell while ice skating with friends. In the process, she broke a rib that would never heal and began the long journey of severe physical hardship that would only end with her death nearly 40 years later. Her injury is the reason we recognize her today as the patron saint of ice skaters.

Her incapacitation included excruciating headaches, nausea and dehydration. Eventually, she developed gangrene, and her ailment spread throughout her entire body. …

February 20th, 2014
Takeaways for our spiritual journey from Disney’s latest animated feature

spiritual-side-of-frozenI finally gave into the hype and watched Disney’s Frozen. Not only were its music and storyline a delight on a cold winter’s day, the film offered moments of deep meaning for me, something characteristic of many Disney stories. Frozen is based loosely on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Snow Queen which, like many fairly tales, have strong spiritual themes. Frozen isn’t explicitly spiritual but it teaches us about the importance of feelings, gifts, and relationships.

The story begins by focusing on young Princess Elsa who has the strange ability to magically create ice and snow with her hands. This ability offers lots of fun for her and her younger sister Anna until Anna gets hurt in their play. Elsa’s parents, the king and queen, see little good in Elsa’s ability and have trolls erase Anna’s memory of her sister’s strange gift. The king has Elsa kept in confinement until she is able to control her ability. He even has her put on gloves. “Conceal it,” he tells her. “Don’t feel it,” she says to herself. “Don’t let it show.”

The trolls clearly see her power as a gift, one that can be used for good, but one …

February 20th, 2014

StBernardMontjoux
One of my favorite movies as a kid was a story set in the Alps. I remember being delighted watching St. Bernard dogs and their owners rescuing people who had gotten into trouble on the treacherous snow-covered heights.

This breed of dog is named after St. Bernard of Montjoux (c. 923 – c. 1008). His family origin is disputed — but his work in the Alps is not. For 40 years, St. Bernard founded schools and churches in the Diocese of Aosta, a region of Italy that borders France and Switzerland. As vicar general of the diocese, he traveled not only throughout the diocese, but as far as Geneva and Novara. He is primarily remembered for establishing two facilities on an ancient path through the Alps, which is perpetually snow-covered. Located at 7,076 and 8,000 feet above sea level these facilities provided shelter and food for Rome-bound French and German pilgrims. Through the centuries, the monks who eventually staffed these two hospices have continued to provide hospitality and, along with their highly-trained dogs, operate search and rescue missions. Pope Pius XI proclaimed St. Bernard the patron saint of skiers and mountain climbers in 1923.

I love watching people ski. Watching …

February 19th, 2014
St. Thérèse is a patroness of Russia, where the 2014 Winter Olympics are taking place in Sochi.

St. Thérèse is a patroness of Russia, where the 2014 Winter Olympics are taking place in Sochi.

When I returned to the Catholic Church after a long time away, I made a general confession and started fresh with a clean slate. Confession of sins to a priest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation is truly good for the soul. Of course, committed Christians should do our best to avoid offending God. Unfortunately, some of us can go too far with vigilant concern for sin in a way that is spiritually and psychologically unhealthy.

I’m referring to the age-old problem of scrupulosity. The OCD Foundation describes this as “a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) involving religious or moral obsessions. Scrupulous individuals are overly concerned that something they thought or did might be a sin or other violation of religious or moral doctrine.”

It’s like being a moral hypochondriac. In Catholics, this problem manifests in people going to confession too frequently. There are also irrational fears that, somehow, one’s confession wasn’t really valid or the Sacrament didn’t quite count because of some imagined technicality. People with Scrup/OCD worry excessively about sinning — whether by having “bad thoughts” or through other human imperfections …

February 18th, 2014

StJulianNorwich-4I’m not a sports fan, but I’m a sucker for the Olympic Games. Except for the artistic events like ice-skating and gymnastics, the Olympics themselves are not thrilling to me; what excites me, instead, is the camaraderie.

On any given day, the media delivers conflict, turmoil and scandal into our homes, but the Olympics offer us something radically different: diversity, overcoming the odds and friendly competition. And wherever we are while watching the Games, we know that folks around the world are sharing a similarly uplifting experience.

So what does this have to do with an obscure mystic from the 14th century? Not much, but it has everything to do with that obscure mystic’s vision.

Julian of Norwich, as we call her, lived as a hermit at St. Julian’s Church in Norwich, England. We actually don’t know her real name or anything about her early years. What we do know of her comes from the tome she penned, Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love, which is said to be the first book in the English language by a woman published.

February 17th, 2014

A medal carrying the name and image of Michael the Archangel. (CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

A medal carrying the name and image of Michael the Archangel. (CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

The Winter Olympics Games put a spotlight on Sochi, Russia, as the host city. The media has largely focused on the venues of events, unfinished hotels, and one athlete using his strength to escape a bathroom in the Olympic Village. If you take a closer look at the city of Sochi itself, you will make the unique discovery of the presence of a particular saint — St. Michael the Archangel.

There are two landmarks carrying the image of Michael, most notably the Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel. It’s the oldest Orthodox church in Sochi and was restored at the beginning of the post-Soviet era in the 1990s. (Sochi’s Wikipedia page identifies Michael as the Patron Saint of Sochi.) Another attraction devoted to St. Michael is an Archangel Column built in memory of Russian soldiers who died in Sochi during the Caucasian War. A bronze statue of Michael the Archangel stands at the top of the column.

St. Michael is traditionally regarded as the defender of the faithful and safeguard and protector from forces of evil. Michael is mentioned throughout scripture and …

February 14th, 2014

February 14th — why is it known as Valentine’s Day? Why do those in love send each other valentines? And what feast does the Catholic Church celebrate on this day? Think you know the answers? Think again, because the truth is a lot more surprising than you’d imagine. Watch friend of Busted Halo, Fr. Jack Collins, CSP, wander the streets of New York asking the city’s star-crossed lovers if they know why we celebrate Valentine’s Day.

Originally published February 13, 2012.

February 13th, 2014
Hugh Jackman and Paul Dano in a scene from the movie “Prisoners.” (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

Hugh Jackman and Paul Dano in a scene from the movie “Prisoners.” (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

This year’s Oscar race has certainly been an interesting one, especially on the spiritual front. The nominees have shown incredible depth and range as far as spiritual themes go, and Prisoners is no exception. The film, now available on DVD, showcases the transformative effects on a man of one tragic event, as we watch Hugh Jackman’s character abandon his morals in pursuit of the people who took his daughter.

“We do it to wage war against God,” one of the kidnappers tells Jackman’s character, Keller Dover, when pressed for their motive, “because losing a child turns good men like you into demons.”

By their own definition, then, it would appear that by the end of the film, the kidnappers win — Dover has been through all kinds of hell (some of which he imposed on himself) as he hunted for his missing daughter. He has allowed irrationality, violence and vengeance to get the better of him and transform him into something that he is not. When we last see Keller Dover in the film, he is not only a demon, but a beaten …

February 11th, 2014

spiritually-unfit-2Who has a Catholic cramp? Maybe a dogmatic double chin? What is the equivalent of spiritual flab? Right now, I am in the midst of some holy heaving, pious panting, and am in great need of a soulful sit-up.

If there were a spiritual Olympics, I am not even sure if I would qualify as an athlete. There is no medal or podium in my near future, as my soul is very much out of shape. (Quick note: to my mother who is almost undoubtedly reading this and now wondering/worried if I have lost my faith or am depressed — the answer is no, but…) I still attend church each Sunday, pray each night before I go to bed — yet I am finding that I’m doing just the bare minimum of “practice” to stay on the team.

It’s been a tough year for me personally and sometimes playing the game and suffering a few crushing defeats makes you just want to sit it out. Or to put it in the context of a spiritualized Winter Olympics: I’ve been riding the two-man luge with Jesus this past year, and we’ve taken some tumbles — several in fact — and I …

February 6th, 2014
Looking back on four years of “La Lupe”

LaLupe100-2When I first started writing for Busted Halo® back in 2010 I was mentally in a place that a lot of young adults find themselves in — unfulfilled, lonely, and unsure how to make life better. I had just left my teaching job to stay at home with our first daughter. While babies are such a gift and being able to stay home was such a blessing, I had NO IDEA what I was doing and was totally unprepared for this drastic change in my life. All I did all day was stare at Olivia and listen to her cry ceaselessly. I just didn’t know any better. I didn’t know that I could get out there and make new friends, find a community, continue living my life. I was spiraling downward quickly. I totally disconnected myself from the world and to be honest, from my own sense of self.

Enter Busted Halo®. Brandon used to work with the Paulist Fathers, and he found out Busted Halo® was looking for some new bloggers and suggested I give it a shot. I sent over a few things and La Lupe was born. I’m not going to say that Busted Halo® gave …

January 30th, 2014

In her poem “Shrinking Women,” Lily Myers confesses that she has unknowingly accepted what society has taught her: to keep her mouth shut, neither letting words out nor calories in. Her preoccupation with carbs, her inability to ask a question in genetics class without first saying, “Sorry” — Myers blames these learned behaviors on her “shrinking” mother and the other mothers that came before her.

When I read this poem, I applauded Lily Myers. It takes a lot of courage and self-reflection to acknowledge our weaknesses. To acknowledge that we have an unhealthy relationship with food. To recognize our need to speak up for ourselves. I agree that girls from a too-early age are taught to care more about their appearance than their abilities. They are taught to be quiet and reserved while boys are encouraged to say and do whatever they want with the utmost confidence.

I am exactly that girl. In high school and college I was scared to death to say anything in class. Whether it was participating in class discussions or asking a question, I never dreamt of raising my hand. I envied those boys in class that just blurted out the first thing …

January 28th, 2014
Thoughts on sexual violence for the Feasts of Saints Agnes and Agatha

agnes1People of God, we need to pray. Hard.

With the joyous signs of Christmas packed away, we find ourselves again in the liturgical season of Ordinary Time. Today we find ourselves between the feasts of two significant early Christian martyrs, St. Agnes (January 21) and St. Agatha (February 5). These young women possessed heroic virtue. These young women laid down their lives for their faith. These young women were survivors of sexual violence.

People of God, in honor of these women, we need to pray.

St. Agnes is a 13-year-old girl born to Christian parents in Rome during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian. Agnes is much sought after by suitors of noble stock. When she refuses their advances because she has promised herself — body and soul — to Jesus, they betray her as a Christian. The Roman Prefect Sempronius orders Agnes to be dragged naked through the streets of Rome to a brothel to await her trial. While imprisoned in the brothel, Agnes prays for the son of the prefect (her imprisoner) who has died and the son is brought back to life. Sempronius recuses himself from her trial and Agnes is sentenced to death and martyred by …

January 24th, 2014
A scene from the movie “Frozen” (CNS photo/Disney)

A scene from the movie “Frozen” (CNS photo/Disney)

Though the Oscar race is going to be tight this year in some categories — will Jennifer Lawrence’s Golden Globes win be echoed? 12 Years A Slave or Gravity for Best Picture? There’s one thing I’m certain we’re going to see. Frozen is going to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. Why? Here are three reasons:

Music

I admit that this is more of a reason why Frozen is probably a shoe-in for the Best Original Song category (which I also suspect it’ll win, though it definitely has stronger competition there.) Still, because Frozen is a musical, it’d be unfair to divorce the film from its music. The original songs in this movie echo Broadway like nothing that has been created for the silver screen in a long time, particularly in animation, not only in tone and style but also in their sheer ability to convey the emotion and drive of the characters. This is no surprise, however, considering the team that came together to create these musical numbers.

The tracks were penned by Robert Lopez, the composer and lyricist behind award-winning Broadway hits like Avenue Q and The Book of

January 23rd, 2014
Using the framework of liberation theology to get my life in order

lovediscernact-2This year as I began to think about New Year’s resolutions, I wasn’t coming up with anything new. I want to stick to an exercise program. I want to be more organized. I want to help people more. I want to eat healthier. I want to be a more loving mother. I want to be a better wife. And I desperately want to work on my spiritual life. Nothing new. Same old, same old.

Why do I want the same things every year? Sure, I could tell myself that none of these resolutions have an end point. I can always grow. I can always be more organized. I could always eat a little better. I could always have a stronger relationship with God. Which is true, but deep down I know this isn’t my problem. My problem comes in giving up. In becoming a passive accepter of the world instead of an active member of it. Sorry, can’t exercise, polar vortex. No time to make something healthy, baby crying, stuff cookie in my mouth for breakfast. I know I need to go to confession, but the girls would never survive those lines.

As I was ticking through all …

January 21st, 2014

SuperPope-1I’ve always loved superheroes. Mostly because my dad would read old Marvel comics to my brothers and me. (We converted my mom to comic nerd-dom later on.) Then when I got older, the deluge of superhero movies began. In fact, my first Hollywood crush was Tobey Maguire from the original Spiderman movies. These movies were special to me and not just because of how dreamy I thought Spidey was. I admired Spiderman because he was so inherently good.

Out of all the superheroes, Spiderman probably has one of the worst lives. Yet, 90% of the time, he acts selflessly, always looking out for those who need his help. He even faces giving up the one he loves most (for her own safety) with courage. To me, that’s the essence of a hero. Not someone glamorous or fancy, but someone who in the face of adversity chooses to prioritize others over themselves.

Flash forward to the popular superhero movies of today. Obviously, they’re having a big moment in pop culture. The movies are a little different from a few years ago. Okay, totally different. They’re slick. They’re glamorous. The heroes may have “problems,” but they’re usually glossed over. Why save the …

January 16th, 2014
Fifty years ago, LBJ challenged us to end poverty. Are we any closer?

Last week marked the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s State of the Union address in which he declared “unconditional war on poverty in America.” He challenged Americans to end the great injustice:

It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won. The richest Nation on earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it. One thousand dollars invested in salvaging an unemployable youth today can return $40,000 or more in his lifetime.

Poverty is a national problem, requiring improved national organization and support. But this attack, to be effective, must also be organized at the state and the local level and must be supported and directed by state and local efforts.

For the war against poverty will not be won here in Washington. It must be won in the field, in every private home, in every public office, from the courthouse to the White House.

To mark the anniversary, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami and Fr. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, penned a letter to Congress “to consider closely any legislation that begins to heal our broken …

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