There Be Dragons

For some, it will not be possible to separate the movie There Be Dragons from their views about Opus Dei, as it tells the story of that organization’s founder, St. Josemaría Escrivá. The majority of viewers, though — whose only awareness of Opus Dei is the absurd fictional albino killer monk in Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code — will find an inspiring and moving, if at times melodramatic and muddy, film about forgiveness and the choices people make in tough times.

It will be hard to walk away from There Be Dragons without admiring Josemaria. Much of the credit for this compelling portrayal of the future saint goes to British actor Charlie Cox, known for his starring roles in Stardust and Stone of Destiny — the latter a delightful film and one of my favorites of the last few years. (I interviewed Cox about the movie several weeks ago and you can read that conversation here .) It would have been easy to portray Josemaria as either too pious or too worldly, but Cox and writer/director Roland Joffé strike the right balance, giving the character both human vulnerability and the sense of someone following a divine calling.

But, ultimately, the film isn’t even centered on Josemaria.

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Gaga and Judas

The video for Lady Gaga’s song “Judas” has premiered, ending weeks of speculation stirred up by several religious spokespeople who denounced it before seeing it. The video is set in a motorcycle gang; Jesus is the leader, Judas a thuggish member and Gaga is torn by her attraction to both. As a quick first reaction, I find it moving, both artistically and spiritually. What has always fascinated and frustrated me is the disconnect between the Gaga haters and what I, and some of my friends, see in her work. Many of my religious young adult friends love Gaga; most of the rest don’t have any serious problem with her. They understand what she’s trying to do, even if it isn’t their taste. This is true across Catholics, mainline Protestants and evangelicals. So, what is it about Gaga that excites one devout person and intimidates another?

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The Eternal Temple in the Eternal City

There was tenderness and reverence in his voice as Thomas S. Monson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), said the Mormon temple being built in Rome, Italy, “uniquely, is being built in one of the most historic locations in the world, a city where the ancient apostles Peter and Paul preached the gospel of Christ and where each was martyred.”

Monson, considered a prophet by Mormons, addressed millions of members around the world in a biannual satellite broadcast in April. Recalling the Rome groundbreaking on an overcast day in October 2010, attended by Italian senator Lucio Malan and Rome’s vice-mayor Giuseppe Ciardi along with many Italian members of the LDS church, he said that as the choir sang, “one felt as though heaven and earth were joined in a glorious hymn of praise and gratitude to Almighty God. Tears could not be restrained.”

Why was this occasion so special in the heart of the Church’s leader? What is it about a temple — any Mormon temple and specifically the Rome temple — that causes Mormons from around the world to celebrate its construction?

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