Tag Archives: Catholicism

Why I enjoyed Netflix’s “The Two Popes”

Two Popes posterNetflix’s new two-hour film The Two Popes starring Jonathan Pryce as Pope Francis and Sir Anthony Hopkins as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is theatre, pure and simple. It falls into one of the most classic sorts of plays, a dialogue between two men with similar positions yet very different experiences. While not all the conversations that make up The Two Popes may have happened, according to an article in America, the story that they tell on the screen is beautifully rendered and exceptionally human in its content.

The film begins with the Papal Conclave of 2005 at the death of Pope, now Saint, John Paul II, when then Cardinal Josef Ratzinger was elected as the new Supreme Pontiff, taking the name Benedict XVI. The conflict between Benedict and the reformist cardinal Jorge Maria Bergoglio, the current pope, is made clear from the first moment. Moreover, the two characters are framed as foils for each other: Benedict is removed from the world while Francis is fully a part of it; Benedict is traditional while Francis is less keen on pomp and grandeur of the Papacy and the Church in general; Benedict says he is disliked when observing how Francis seems to make friends with just about anyone he meets.

It is important to understand that while this film tells a story inspired by the recent events of the lives of two of the most important men in our lifetimes, it is nonetheless a story meant to entertain and give the audience a message of hope for redemption, peace, and a willingness to accept change even if it may not be the change we expected. In that sense The Two Popes has a bit of the same spirit that has enriched many a story down the centuries. There’s a sense in this film that if two people with opposing perspectives sit down and talk about their disagreements, that eventually they’ll reach some sort of common understanding, or at least mutual respect. Both Popes come to respect each other out of a mutual understanding of their imperfect humanity, that both men have made mistakes in their lives, yet they still have striven to do good.

The Two Popes does not hold back on the problems facing the Catholic Church today. It acknowledges the scandals and errors that continue to plague the Church now at the start of the 2020s. Yet it takes those scandals, those errors, those misjudgments, and it uses them to breath even more life into these two characters. I enjoyed this film because it’s a well written bit of theatre, depicted beautifully on the screen. The Two Popes, and in particular Pryce and Hopkins’s performances, do what any good bit of writing is supposed to do: make the audience think.

Optimism and Belief


In my life, there have been two things standing as constants: optimism and belief. I have embraced these two guiding principles, and striven in due course to live a better life as a part of the wider human community through them. For me, my faith as a Catholic and as a Christian is an inherently positive one; it is a faith in Resurrection, in Union with the Divine Essence, in the fulfilment of the circle and restoration of humanity to paradise.

Yet to allow this faith to persist I have found myself inherently optimistic, always expecting the best from people, and looking at even the darkest of situations with the hope that is required to believe in something greater than Reality. True, this is blind faith, something entirely counter to the principles of our scientific age, yet in the end is not blind faith equally necessary in a scientific setting? After all, we have yet to learn all that there is to know about nature, our sciences are as of yet unfinished in amassing the totality of reality. Therefore, if we are to accept science as an effective and prosperous measure of nature, then we must also accept that that measure is man-made and limited in its scope.

I see those things measured by science each and every day, and I am in awe of their wonder. I see how the Sun rises in the east and sets in the west, how the stars circle in the sky as the year passes. I hear the wind bristling through the leaves of the trees, and across the tall grass prairies. I have known what it means to be caught on the beach at high tide, and to be at the mercy of the awesome tempestuous power of lightning. Past generations might well have worshiped these forces of nature, seen them as gods like Zeus, Taranis, or Ukko, yet I see them as terrestrial, as natural, as real. The true force, the veritable essence to be worshiped is far greater than even the rolling thunder or bristling lightning.

In these circumstances I am reminded of the American hymn How Great Thou Art, yet in the smallest of moments too I am reminded of God’s coming to Elijah on the softest breath of wind in the cave. Divinity and the essence that made all that we know and love is so far beyond our own understanding, yet in that realisation I find my peace.

Often it can be said that I find my belief renewed through music, through that purest, most mellifluous of sound. Some of the most sacred moments of my life, the most moving moments in the story of my belief have come in moments of music, from operas like Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte to the Pilgrim’s Chorus in Wagner’s Tannhäuser to great orchestral outbursts of emotion as in Stravinsky’s Firebird and most all of Mahler’s symphonies; yet equally spiritually potent for me are the more recently composed naturalistic Mass settings that I sang with the Rockhurst University Chorus while an undergraduate student there from 2011 to 2015. Music has long been said to be the Voice of the Heavens, and certainly it has appeared to be so to me.

Yet what I find the most fulfilling to my belief in the Divine is humanity. In the Christian tradition we believe that humanity was “Created in the Image and Likeness of God.” For me, this means that our souls particularly were made in the Divine Image, but that our bodies also have Divine inspiration. When I see humanity, with all our faults, all our problems, all our pain and anguish, I can’t help but be swept off my feet in grief. Yet at the end of the day I always remember the old adage echoed by Little Orphan Annie, “Tomorrow will be a brighter day.”

I believe that one day that will come true, that one day all will be sorted out in our capitals, our courts, our executive palaces. I believe that one day we will march through our cities, not in protest or in anger, not out of anguish or to alleviate our suffering, but because we are celebrating that most essential characteristic of our humanity: liberty. I believe that someday all humanity will walk together, singing in unison, a multitude of voices, of languages, of cultures and creeds making one song. I believe in optimism, and I am optimistic about my belief.

The Pope and the President

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Today a rather oddly stacked meeting took place in the splendid halls of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. It was a meeting between two men who could not have possibly been more ideologically or culturally opposed to each other. Yet there they were, Pope Francis and President Trump standing side-by-side. Their meeting was a diplomatic affair, in part to appease the conservative Catholic base that had aided Trump in winning the presidency in November 2016.

I was unsurprised when a few weeks ago the news broke that Trump would be visiting Pope Francis in the Vatican, after all every American president since Eisenhower had made a visit to the Holy See to meet with every pontiff since Pope Saint John XXIII. Yet I found myself hoping, even praying, that Pope Francis would bend traditional diplomatic protocol ever so slightly and arrange for his meeting with the new president not in the splendour of the Apostolic Palace where all the temporal power and wealth of the Church is to be found. Rather, I hoped the Holy Father would invite the President to meet him in one of the Vatican’s charitable centres, perhaps in the homeless shelter that Pope Francis opened in January of this year, or in one of the city-state’s soup kitchens.

If there is one trait that the current United States President does not understand, let alone practice, it is humility. During his visit to the Eternal City he should take the time to visit the Basilica of Saint Lawrence outside the Walls (San Lorenzo fuori le Mura). It was here in the third century that Saint Lawrence, a martyr of the Early Church, was buried. When asked by the Prefect of Rome to hand over all the riches of the Church to the Imperial Treasury, Lawrence responded by gathering all of the poor and destitute who had benefited from the Church’s charity and brought them together to line the street leading to the centre of the old Christian Quarter.

When the Prefect returned, Lawrence announced that he had gathered the riches of the Church together in one place for the Prefect to view. Lawrence then led the Prefect down the street, showing him the great mass of people before him, announcing, “These are the riches of the Church.” For his efforts, Saint Lawrence was grilled alive, yet his message rings just as resoundingly now as it did eighteen centuries ago.

Donald Trump is a fairly successful man. He’s done well for himself crafting a business empire based primarily on his name brand. Yet his brand of gaudy luxury cannot compare to that which is truly worthwhile in life. I have found that as much as wealth, power, and prestige can bring me happiness in the short term, it does not bring me long-term fulfilment. I have found some other qualities, love, charity, compassion, and a general sense of goodwill to be the true key to happiness.

I have seen what power can do to people, and know all to well that I want as little as possible to do with it. All I want in life is to be with the people I love, to see that they fare well, and to ensure that the generations to come have a better life than I could possibly imagine. While having some wealth can certainly contribute to this, enough to ensure that in the confines of our economic system my family will not have to worry, that money ought to always be of secondary importance to all of us. We need money to live, but we should not live for money. Unfortunately for him, and for the rest of us it seems that President Trump has yet to figure that out.

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Odysseus in Ithaca

Kansas City – Let me begin with a brief confession: today was the first time I had gone to Mass since my first Sunday in London exactly 2 months ago! What’s even worse about it is that I’m writing this in my blog even before heading to the confessional to admit my failure at keeping the Sabbath to my parish priest. So, today seemed like a good day to break the drought. Happy Assumption Day!

Assumption of Mary - Reubens.

Happy Assumption Day!

Assumption Day is one of those odd holy days of obligation that usually doesn’t fall on a Sunday. For my non-Catholic readership, a holy day of obligation is a day when all Catholics are required to attend Mass. The big ones are Christmas, Easter, the Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil/Sunday), Pentecost Sunday, Corpus Christi, Palm Sunday, Ash Wednesday, and Annunciation Sunday. Then there are the Marian feasts. Assumption Day (15 August) is the feast which marks the event when the Blessed Virgin Mary was assumed, that is carried up into Heaven following the Ascension of Christ. The other big Marian feast is Immaculate Conception Day, which marks Mary’s being immaculately conceived (that is conceived without sin), which falls in early December.

The reason why Assumption Day is so memorable for me is that it also falls in the middle of a sort of temporal anomaly, not in the Doctor Who or even in the physical sense, but rather in the sense of timekeeping. See, I don’t follow the seasons as they are set down based upon the Equinoxes and Solstices. Rather, I use the older Gaelic calendar, which has the aforementioned solar events placed as the middle of the seasons. So, Winter begins on All Saint’s Day (1 November), Spring on St Bridgid’s Day (1 February), Summer on Bealtaine, May Day, (1 May). However, Autumn is the problem maker. The problem arises when one looks at the traditional Gaelic start of Autumn: Lúnasa (1 August). However, this doesn’t work very well with the social calendar, which in the Anglosphere usually has Autumn beginning with the start of the academic year, which falls usually around the start of September, Labour Day Weekend here in the States. So, to mend this problem in my calendar-keeping, I decided instead of observing the start of Autumn quite early on Lúnasa, or rather late on Labour Day, I’d observe it in the middle: Assumption Day (15 August.) So, Happy Autumn!

All this being said, the coming of Autumn means the coming of another academic year. This, for me, 18th annual instalment of the start of a new school year, comes at quite an interesting time in my life. I’ve had some troubles adjusting to living here in the States again after spending those three weeks living in London. I found it hard to get the will power to leave the house on Sunday mornings and drive the short way up to my parish church for Mass. On top of that, I also find myself quite irked by the politics of this country, and of the Church in this country, after experiencing the British political system firsthand. Let’s face it, I don’t get the reasoning behind all these people screaming and shouting about how they don’t want affordable health care, as our good President has enacted, or how they’re wanting to shut down the government by blocking every possible legislative measure that is proposed by the White House or the Democrats. I mean, seriously people, grow up! It reminds me of a pair of little kids playing in a sandbox, one of the two refusing to give the other the pail and shovel with which to build a sandcastle. It’s bloody infantile!

So, when Assumption Day came around, I found myself resolved to get out of the house and go back to Rockhurst to attend the Noon Mass, as a way to end the streak of skipping, and to give myself a fresh start with the new season. In a way, it was like Odysseus returning to Ithaca. I was leaving all the suitors, all of the emotions, that had kept me away for two months behind, and faced my community once again. True, it was an odd thing seeing these people after having travelled halfway around the world, but there I was.

However, I returned with more experience, more maturity. On the 14th, I had an interview on Skype with one of the Global Ambassador coordinators at ISA, the company who I went over to England with. By the end of that 20 minute conversation, I was one of those very Global Ambassadors working as an intern for ISA! This is a job that I am looking forward to, and one which I know I will love doing.

So then, the proper return to Ithaca will take place on Saturday. To all of my Rockhurst readership, I look forward to seeing you guys soon! The packing has begun, and the great migration up Rockhill Road shall soon commence!