Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Day 8 - Leap Day

We spend so much time thinking about what “I want”.  It’s time to shift the focus on what God wants for us.  Today God has gifted us with an extra day to re-examine our priorities, to stop thinking so much about ourselves, and to start thinking more about others and about the Divine.  Sure, it may just be another Wednesday, but the calendar says that we have an extra day this year to do something special.  Embrace the opportunity of this “Leap Day” to do something new, do something different, and do something that will bring you closer to God.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Day 7 - Thy Will Be Done

We say the Lord’s Prayer so often that we sometimes ignore the words.  Jesus taught us how to pray for a reason, and that’s why we should embrace every single word of this prayer particularly those four words that give us the most trouble:  thy will be done.  It is so hard for us to let go.  So hard to surrender.  So hard to abandon ourselves into the arms of our Father.  Yet that is where we are safe.  That is where we are loved.  Abandoning ourselves to the Father should be so easy, but we make it so incredibly difficult because we don’t like to lose control of our lives.  We like being independent, and selfishness places our will more often than not ahead of the Father’s.  That is when we get in trouble.  Unfortunately, it’s during the most difficult and helpless moments of our lives that we have no problem allowing God to take control.  Why?  Because when we are helpless we realize that only he can help us, only he can save us, and only he can deliver us from evil.  It is so easy to pray “thy will be done” when we are in desperate situations.  How about praying it and meaning it when things appear to be normal?  God’s will is perfect which is why we pray for it to be done.  So this Lent, get out of God’s way and allow him to accomplish his will in you.  

Monday, February 27, 2012

Day 6- Encountering Christ

“Whatever you do for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

How do we treat others who are different from us?  The poor?  The marginalized?  The imprisoned?  The homeless?  How do we treat people that we simply don’t like or rub us the wrong way?  The challenge of this gospel verse is that we must treat everyone with the same level of respect and solemnity that we offer up to Christ.  This is extremely challenging because there is always that co-worker or classmate that we avoid or that family member whose calls we don’t return.  Do we treat others as we would treat our Lord and Savior or, more importantly, do others see the face of Christ when they encounter us? 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Day 5 - The Thing About Noah

"God said to Noah and to his sons with him: "See, I am now establishing my covenant with you.”  (Gen 9:8-9)

This morning I began my day by preaching to the little kids, and I mean little.  The class in charge of our school Mass was the Pre-K 4 children.  I was surrounded by 4 and 5 year olds who had been talking about the story of Noah all week along with the other children from the congregation.  We talked about different details about Noah’s story.  They began to tell me about all the animals that were on the ark:  elephants, hippos, lions, zebras, and, wait for it, tapeworms!  One little kid said tapeworms!  This was not the last I would hear from this 7 or 8 year old.  Later on when talking about the flood and how all the bad people perished, this same little boy raised his hand and very seriously said,  “I don’t get it.  Wouldn’t it have been easier for God to just send his angels down to whip everybody?”  The assembly lost it.  How could I possibly proceed with a homily after that?  Yet, I tried.

Here’s the thing about Noah:  out of all the humans on earth, God chose him and his family.  It was God’s initiative to establish a covenant with Noah.  The children called it a promise this morning.  God’s promise to us was to never again destroy all mortal beings.  He is merciful, and during this Lenten season he has chosen you to enter into a new relationship with him just as he did with Noah.  The floods washed away all the evil from the earth during those 40 days.  Now we have another 40 days to wash away the evil from our hearts so that we can begin anew.

It was not lost on the children that Jesus spent the same number of days in the desert that Noah spent on the ark while the rain was coming down.  Our short gospel today tells us of Jesus being driven into the desert by the Spirit to prepare himself for the mission to come.  Once he emerges from the desert, he brings a simple message which we heard on Ash Wednesday when we received our ashes: “Repent, and believe in the gospel.”  We join Jesus in the desert because we are aware that we are in need not only of repentance, but that we need to truly believe in the life-altering message of the gospel.  We journey for 40 days with our eyes firmly fixed on the celebration of the Easter mysteries where we will encounter new waters.  God has chosen us as he chose Noah to do something extraordinary and to be part of his plan.  It is up to us to respond to this invitation and to take advantage of the opportunity that Lent provides us to flood our hearts with God’s love and to wash away all the evil that keeps us from him.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Father Manny and Laura's Oscar Picks 2012

We interrupt this Lenten blog to share on ongoing conversation I've been having with a former student all week long.  Pretty much for a month leading up to the Academy Awards, all I do on my days off is watch movies.  I love good movies and going into the Oscars well prepared.  Back in 2005, I taught a student who was obsessed with all things movies and the Academy Awards.  Every year around Oscar time, Laura and I check in with each other to discuss movies and who should win Oscars. This year was a particularly good season for movies because let's face it: there have been a lot of bad movies released in recent years (quick! name last year's Oscar winner. Now, the year before! Hard, right?). Since Laura and I have frantically seen nearly all the big Oscar nominated movies in the last month, we decided to share our conversation and picks with all of you.  The following are email exchanges we’ve had over the last week.  Trust me, she is much better at this than I am. Enjoy:

Father Manny:
Ok, when it comes to Best Picture, I saw 7 of the 9 nominees. (Didn't see War Horse or Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.) Let's start off by how terrible Tree of Life was. Moneyball was very good, but not Best Picture material. That leaves 5 movies which in my opinion could've won last year or the year before. The Help was excellent and had some great acting (see below). The Descendants also had great acting and was very moving. Then come 3 movies that were either obsessed with Paris, movie making or the 1920's. Hugo was beautifully filmed by Martin Scorcese and if ever a "children's" film could win the Big Oscar then this is it. The Artist was nothing short of brilliant movie making as you never felt that you were watching a "silent" movie and that's why it will probably win.  It one of those “wow” movies that leaves you thinking how great it is for days.  But for me, the best movie of the year was Midnight in Paris. It's not going to win, but the Parisian world that Woody Allen creates was why we watch movies.  It was quirky, totally original (Hollywood, please stop making sequels and remakes.), and if The Artist was a “wow” movie, Midnight in Paris just leaves you with a smile on your face and a longing to return to the world you have just experienced for two hours.  Both movies are more than worthy of the top prize.
Who should win: Midnight in Paris
Who will win: The Artist

I hate to make this a boring discussion, but I pretty much agree with you entirely.   I’ll start with my “no chance, no way” picks. Being a college student with limited time, I took your advice and didn't even bother with Tree of Life. I thought Extremely Long & Incredibly Close could have been at least a good 30 minutes shorter. I love me some lingered in-depth developments, but I caught myself looking at my watch way too many times. I will say that I probably would have appreciated the film more if I had read the book (Ah, I know! Watching the movie before reading the book! How dare I?!). I thought Moneyball was “cute.” Not taking away from the great performances, it just wasn’t something that really resonated with me after I watched it. It was like The Fighter for me last year. So, in my movie-snob mind, it’s not good enough to win. The Descendants was great. I think what I liked most about this movie was how much it surprised me. Hopefully, George Clooney takes a break from selling out and sticks to making movies like this one. I watched it knowing it was nominated and when it finished the first thing I thought was, “not better than my top 3.” I haven’t seen Hugo yet….but it’s only because I really don’t think it’ll win. The reason I say that is my top three contenders are The Artist, Midnight in Paris (personal favorite of the year), and The Help. I don’t think there is any way I can love any other movie nominated this year more than I loved those three. Seriously, people! If you can only watch some of the best picture nominees before Sunday, let it be one of those. I cannot gush enough about them. The Artist? Everyone’s money is on this movie and it’s clear why. I fell in love with Jean Dujardin’s performance and his giant, expressive, perfect, goober face instantly. Not only that, but the movie is done so well, while I was watching it I kept saying “wow… that’s so great” (I’m a loser like that). Midnight in Paris… I feel like I had a permanent dopey love face during every scene. It was enchantingly clever and full of little (and by little, I mean huge) art references that an art history major, like me, was swooning over scene after scene. As soon as it ended I wanted to see it again and since then, I don’t know how many times I’ve seen it. But, as much as I liked it, I don’t think it’ll win. I’ve been watching the Oscars since forever; these kinds of films get tons of praise, but they never win. Viola Davis killing it in every scene whether or not she has lines, aka: The Help, had my favorite female performance of the year. Can you guess who it was? No, but really, if the fact that this movie has such a beautiful story and that the characters are too good to be true aren’t good enough reasons for you to watch it, then Viola Davis should be. It was beyond what I expected from her (and I expected truckloads). So, here’s my conclusion:
                        I hope will win, but probably won’t - Midnight in Paris
                        If there’s going to be a curveball, it’ll be - The Help
                        If it doesn’t win, I’ll be very surprised - The Artist

Father Manny: 
On to Best Actor and Actress. Best Actor is probably the tightest race in whole award show between Clooney and Jean Dujardin. Clooney was very understated, moving and you felt for this man. Dujardin turned in a gem. I have never seen any of his movies, but I don't know any other actor who could've pulled off his performance in The Artist. As great as Clooney was, Dujardin was better.
Who should AND will win: Jean Dujardin

For Best Actress, the conversation starts and ends with Viola Davis. She was surrounded by great actress (and I think Emma Stone and Bryce Dallas Howard should've received some recognition), but her performance was a triumph (am I getting all the movie critic clichés out there?). The Help was a good movie with extraordinary acting.
Who should AND will win: Viola Davis

Again we agree! Best actor is between George Clooney and Jean Dujardin. Clooney was so great to watch in the Descendants and I would recommend this movie to anyone (of age or with approval from parental figures). But, I would say I’m 90% sure Jean Dujardin will win best actor, and that’s me being modest. Like you said, nobody that I can think of (alive) would be able to pull off what he did. Recently, I’ve heard people say he doesn’t deserve it because it was a “silent film and no lines needed to learned blah blah blah.” False. If you’re saying that it’s either because you haven’t seen the film, you’re delusional, or because you’re just one of those people who like to have an opposing opinion for no reason. Yes, I feel THAT strongly about his performance.

Best actress, as I already stated earlier, should be Viola Davis. She was my favorite. But, if anyone is going to beat her, it’s going to be Queen Meryl Streep. This is actually the only category I’m not overwhelmingly decided on, like I was last year (Natalie Portman, duh). What’s so great about both of their performances was that they weren’t just playing one person, (here’s where I get carried away) they were encompassing the soul and voice of a large group of people. You could feel the sense of responsibility these actresses felt to their characters, their portrayals were flawless (I went there). To be honest, I’m a little torn between the two performances. My gut, however, is telling me Viola Davis for best actress.
Best Actor - Jean Dujardin
Best Actress… Yup! My gut is still telling me - Viola Davis

Father Manny:
Alas we come to the Supporting Actor/Actress categories and I hope we start disagreeing on some of these because we're not giving the people what they want: drama! Anyhow, I must confess that I only saw one of the films in the Supporting Actor category and that was Jonah Hill in "Moneyball". Have not liked any of Jonah Hill's movies, but I have to admit he was great in "Moneyball." All the experts say that Christopher Plummer will win for "Beginners" and that Kenneth Branaugh was good in "My Week with Marilyn" but seriously, were any theaters playing any of these two movies. (What do we gotta do to become Academy members?) Anyhow, based on being denied watching 4 of the 5 performances I'm gonna punt on this one, but I'm rooting for Plummer who after a long and distinguished career (General Chang the Klingon villain on Star Trek VI!!!!) finally deserves an Oscar on surprisingly only his second nomination.

As for Supporting Actress, this is where I will digress from all the pundits and conventional wisdom. Everyone is saying that Octavia Spencer should win for "The Help" and no doubt she gave an excellent performance. The same experts place Melissa McCarthy just behind Spencer for "Bridesmaids." I will go on the record and say that I thoroughly disliked Bridesmaids and yes McCarthy was the only bright spot on a tasteless movie that some thought should have been nominated for Best Picture. I'm not just saying this as a priest who objects to the crude humor. I just didn't find the movie funny and while McCarthy did make me chuckle at times, she was just channeling the Zach Galifianakis role from "The Hangover" only Zach did it better. My pick is an unknown who simply stole my heart and that is Bérénice Bejo for "The Artist." She was perfect in this movie as she made the hero and the audience fall in love with her.
Who should win: Bérénice Bejo
Who will win: Octavia Spencer

Christopher Plummer has to win best supporting actor for Beginners, end of story. Not only does the man deserve to finally receive that recognition, but he was just so… personal. It didn’t feel like a performance, he was so deeply rooted in the character. I didn’t see Warrior, so I can’t really comment on Nick Nolte. As for the others, it comes down to Christopher Plummer just doing better.

My opinions for best supporting actress are a little elaborate, so get comfortable. Last year was so easy, Helena Bonham Carter should’ve beat out Melissa “F-bomb” Leo (still, bitter). This year it’s not that simple. I apologize in advanced for my rambling. This is the first time we disagree. Are you ready? I thought Bridesmaids was hilarious. I’ve watched it multiple times, I quote it often, and I want to be BFFs with Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig. Do I think the movie has a place in the Oscars? No. Maybe it’s just the movie snob in me, but I think that style of comedy—while it has its own merits—doesn’t belong there and that’s why Melissa McCarthy won’t win. Moving on. Jessica Chastain’s (The Help) performance, other than being nominated (which is an honor blah blah blah), is one that is overlooked a lot. I really liked her in this movie and I wish the media would give her more credit for it. But, she’s competing against Octavia Spencer. What makes Octavia Spencer so special, other than how good she was as Minny, is the fact that she’s been in the business for a while and most of her roles have titles like “Nurse #2” or “Pet Psychic.” We all recognize her face and her voice because she’s “inceptioned” herself into our brains with tiny roles in big movies and TV shows. This is first time she’s ever really done something so huge. And, the fact that she did it and did it beautifully is something Academy voters totally fawn over. Who doesn’t love a story of a girl who worked hard without barely any recognition for years until she finally landed that one role that changed her life? And the weight of the role she landed? It’s incredible. I’m not taking away from her performance, it was excellent (she made my eyes well up), but we have to remember that the voters are people and, often, context can be a heavier influence than content. She does deserve it, though. Okay, now for Berenice Bejo (The Artist). The fact that she more than held her own while sharing the screen with Jean Dujardin, is enough reason to shower this woman in praise. My favorite scene in the entire movie is this tiny moment with her half in his coat pretending he’s embracing her. I don’t know why, it’s just her face and body language or something. I’m gonna assume it has everything to do with her acting. That plus how endearing and multitalented she proved herself to be in this role makes me want to watch the movie again right now. I want her to win. It’s definitely between her and Octavia.

Undoubtedly, best supporting actor - Christopher Plummer
Best supporting actress could easily be - Berenice Bejo
But will probably be - Octavia Spencer

Father Manny:  
There you have it.  The student has most definitely schooled the teacher!  Happy Oscars, everyone!