And the Nominees Are… 12 Years a Slave

Editors’ Note:
In anticipation of the 86th Academy Awards on March 2, we present
a series 
exploring the philosophical and theological elements 
in each
of the nine films nominated for Best Picture. (Caveat: spoilers ahead.)

Jessica KeatingJessica Keating
Program Director, University Life Initiatives
University of Notre Dame

Contact Author

 

Also in this series:
Gravity                                            
Captain Phillips
Her
American Hustle
Nebraska
Dallas Buyers Club
The Wolf of Wall Street
Philomena

12 Years a Slave

Reunited with his family after twelve years of separation, with tears one unmeasured blink from spilling over, Solomon Northup (Best Actor nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor), his voice raised scarcely above a whisper, unevenly but gently trembles, “I apologize for my appearance, but I have had a difficult time these past several years.” One of the final, shattering lines of the film 12 Years a Slave, this dramatic understatement draws the impact of Best Director nominee Steve McQueen’s piercing exploration of the complexities, brutality, and ambiguities of slavery to its apex.

Based on Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoir of the same name, McQueen’s film adaptation of 12 Years a Slave begins in medias res with Solomon (at this point in the film known simply as Platt), slave identification tag hanging around his neck and dripping with sweat as he works the sugar cane fields of Louisiana Judge Turner (Bryan Bratt). 12 Years 4Through a series of flashbacks we learn that Solomon is a free man and accomplished violinist from Saratoga, New York who, in 1841, is lured to Washington, D.C. to play in a traveling circus. After an evening of merriment, he wakes up to find himself lying on a damp stone floor, his limbs circumscribed by irons and chains.

Protesting his imprisonment, Solomon identifies himself: “My name is Solomon Northup. I’m a free man, a resident of Saratoga, New York, the residence of my wife and children who are equally free.” Unable to produce his papers, Solomon’s identity is stripped by the slave pen owner Burch (Christopher Berry), who begins to reconstruct Solomon’s identity: “You ain’t a free man, and you ain’t from Saratoga. You’re from Georgia. You ain’t a free man. You ain’t nothin’ but a Georgia runaway. You’re just a runaway nigger from Georgia.” Burch follows this tirade with the first of many brutal beatings, screaming, “You’re a slave. You’re a Georgia slave,” as Solomon’s blood and flesh sprays in the air.  The psychological and physical attacks on Solomon’s identity continue. In one particular symbolically devastating scene, one of his captors offers him “something proper to wear”—a fresh, clean shirt—but when Solomon protests the confiscation of his torn, soiled and blood-stained tunic because it is from his wife, his jailer shakes the shirt and casually repeats, “Just rags and tatters, rags and tatters.”

From the Washington slave pen Solomon is transported on the waters of the Mississippi in a boat packed with human cargo: men and women whom fellow freeman and kidnapping victim Clemens (Chris Chalk) describes as “niggers, born and bred slaves.” Clemens will later save himself by assuming the identity of another man’s stolen slave. Here we begin to observe layers and shades of ambiguity that pervade the film. Slavery’s perversion leaves no one untouched, though indeed its disfiguring effects penetrate the individuals in this film in complex and varying ways and to varying degrees.

12 Years 2Patsey (Best Supporting Actress nominee Lupita Nyong’o), the young cotton-picking slave referred to by drunken and sadistic plantation owner Edward Epps (Best Supporting Actor nominee Michael Fassbender) as his “Queen of the Fields”, is the object of his sexual appetite and violent predilections, which co-mingle throughout the film. We see Epps lead Patsey out under the dark of night where he rapes her on a wooden worktable. The minimalism of this scene—the absence of sound other than the soft breeze in the trees and the crickets in the field, Epps’s thick breathing, and Patsey’s groans and gasps of pain—captures the depth of the scene’s brutality. The next moment highlights this perversion of intimacy: when Patsey lies unresponsive after Epps is finished raping her, he slaps and chokes her. The scene ends with Patsey lying alone on the table gasping for breath. Near the film’s conclusion, Epps, in a moment that has undertones of sexual impotence, is unable to bring himself to whip his prized possession despite his wife’s (Sarah Paulson) urgings to “strike the life out of her.” Indeed, throughout the film, Mistress Epps has intimately participated in Patsey’s physical disfigurement, hurling a crystal decanter at her head and viciously clawing her face, demanding that her husband “get rid of the black bitch.” 12 Years 1Epps responds to his wife’s demand, “Do not set yourself up against Patsey, my dear. Because I will rid myself of you well before I do away with her.” Now he stands, lash in hand, impotent before the naked back, thick with scars, of his “Queen of the Fields.” So instead, Epps compels Solomon, who has striven to shield Patsey as he is able, to “Give her the whip. Give it all to her.” It is in watching Solomon  “pantomime” his master’s cruelty (he strikes her as meekly as possible) Epps’s desire to viciously attack Patsey is ignited, and while he grunts with vicious pleasure and Patsey shrieks as her skin is rent from her back, Solomon declares, “Sooner or later, somewhere in the course of eternal justice, thou shalt answer for this sin.” The scene with ends with Epps panting in perverse ecstasy, “There is no sin. A man does how he pleases with his property. At this moment, Platt, I’m of great pleasure.”

One cannot watch this scene without feeling the full impact of former overseer Armsby’s (Garet Dillahunt) seemingly earnest observation that “no man of conscience can take the lash to another human day in and day out without shredding at his own self” (Armsby unwittingly bears out the truth of his own words when he betrays Solomon in hopes of advancing himself). Though Epps presents the most obvious instantiation of the shedding of oneself, all of the plantation caste is similarly disfigured by their contact with slavery, though perhaps to lesser degrees. Nor are slaves untouched. The brutalization and physical disfigurement of slaves is patently clear throughout the film, but it is McQueen’s unflinching yet compassionate exploration of the psychological effects of slavery that is particularly eloquent.

Eliza, a fellow slave who weeps like Rachel for her children and refuses to be consoled, articulates the painful reality that, in order to survive, one is forced to compromise one’s very self.  She declares to Solomon, “I have done dishonorable things to survive and for all of them I have ended up here. No better than if I had stood up for myself. God, forgive me. Solomon, let me weep for my children!” But perhaps the most devastating example of psychological disfigurement is presented in the person of Patsey, whose desire to survive is extinguished. 12 Years 3Waking Solomon in the middle of the night, she offers him a token she has spirited from Mistress Epps and begs him: “End my life. Take my body to the margin of the swamp. Take me by the throat, hold me low in the water until I is still and without life. Bury me in the lonely place of dying.”

Together with John Ridley’s psychologically penetrating, Oscar-nominated screenplay, Sean Bobbitt’s stunning cinematography juxtaposes beautiful shots of Spanish moss swaying in the evening breeze with brutality of slavery. These two distinct images come together in the film’s two lynching scenes, as black bodies contort and convulse while Spanish moss hangs gently down the branches; and with brilliant performances by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, and Michael Fassbender (among others), Steve McQueen crafts, both in the film’s cadence and texture, something akin to a narrative poem in its unflinching look at the contours of suffering, ambiguity, and cruelty. Replete with parallelism, haunting imagery, and dramatic irony, this film is no mere moralistic, univocal narrative; rather, it is through the particularity of Solomon Northup that we encounter a world rife with complexities, and it is this commitment to particularity that makes the film less of social commentary on slavery (though it is that) and more of a poetic meditation on world in which the darkness of slavery casts a shadow over every human encounter, every human relationship, every human person.

The Song of the Gospel: Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Carolyn PirtleCarolyn Pirtle, M.M., M.S.M.
Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

Editorial Note: This series is not meant to be a commentary on the practices or ministry of liturgical music per se. Rather, its goal is to examine recent hymn texts in the light of Scripture, in the hopes of bringing to light new ways of reflecting on the Gospel for each Sunday.

Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time; Matthew 6:24-34
Jesus said to his disciples: “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown in the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.”

As the Birds of the Air (Worship, 4th edition #796)

Text: Adam M.L. Tice (b. 1979), ©2009, GIA Publications, Inc.
Reprinted with permission.

As the birds of the air trust in God for their care
Without fear, for they know they will feed,
So in faith we should trust, knowing God will be just,
And provide us with all that we need.

What we need, Jesus knows: things to eat, shelter, clothes,
Human touch, fearless love, and good friends.
When he walked here on earth and took part in our birth,
He relied on the gifts that God sends.

Even still, there remain people lost in their pain:
Needing food, dry with thirst, all alone.
And does God just ignore all the grief of his poor?
Who will hear when we weep, wail, or groan?

And yet, God has supplied enough goods to divide
If we turn from our fear, hate, and greed.
We can answer a prayer with our love, grace, and care,
And through us God can meet ev’ry need.

This week’s hymn text provides a synthesis of scriptural exegesis and instruction. Essentially, it is a sung homily. Bird of the AirThe four verses taken together construct a narrative in which we move from an initial commentary in verse one on how the Gospel instructs us to live—“So in faith we should trust, knowing God will be just / And provide us with all that we need”—to an expanded vision of how our formation in such trust will enable us to move beyond ourselves and become the providential presence of God in the world—“We can answer a prayer with our love, grace, and care, / And through us God can meet ev’ry need.”

The narrative trajectory of this hymn brings to light a particular concern regarding hymn singing. This hymn (and many others) requires that all of the verses be sung in order to carry forward the whole weight of the author’s message. By way of an example, imagine for a moment that this hymn is being sung during the Offertory procession and the Preparation of the Offerings. Midway through the third verse, the priest has finished washing his hands, and is ready to proceed with the liturgy. Field of Lilies-Phil KochThe liturgical musician is faced with the difficult decision of either ending the hymn after the third verse or proceeding with the fourth verse, despite the fact that the hymn would then be delaying the liturgical celebration (even if only by a minute or so). This conundrum is all too common, and when we look at hymn texts like this one, we can see readily that omitting any verse—but especially the last one—would obliterate by truncation the theological message the text endeavors to impart. The third verse in particular would be an awkward ending; the lines “And does God just ignore all the grief of his poor? / Who will hear when we weep, wail, or groan?” don’t leave us with the entire message of the hymn, nor do they encapsulate the message of the Gospel. To end on this verse after hearing the beautiful proclamation from Matthew 6 would be exceedingly detrimental to the assembly’s understanding of the Gospel message in its entirety. Personally, if faced with ending on such a despairing note or delaying the continuation of the Mass for a brief moment, I would opt for the completion of the hymn every single time. For it is almost always the last verse of a hymn that really drives the message home for the assembly, since the last verse traditionally contains the strongest theological language. In many cases the last verse is a doxology in praise of the Triune God, and what could be more beautiful than ending on such a note?

In the case of the hymn text above, the last verse is not a doxology, but it nevertheless fulfills an important function. The last verse beautifully completes the narrative set forth by the verses that precede it. Having been presented in verse one with the exhortation to trust in God as do the birds of the air, we are then shown an example of such trust in verse two through a reflection on life of Jesus Christ, who trusted with childlike confidence in the love and providence of His Father throughout the entirety of His earthly existence. In the third verse, we are presented with the reality that we live in a fallen world, a world in which the material needs of those in poverty often go unmet. Unlike the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, man is often the victim of unjust systems of oppression, in which the powerful of this world deprive the weak of food, clothing, and shelter. New York City Soup KitchenYet the fourth verse demonstrates that, while man can be responsible for the deprivation of others, man can also be the means by which that deprivation is eliminated, and the suffering of others ameliorated. Thus, the narrative of the hymn can only be understood when the hymn is sung in its entirety, and it is a narrative well worth singing. Through lives characterized by trust in God’s providential care, modeled after the example of the childlike trust of Jesus, we can truthfully acknowledge the reality that not everyone in the world has food, clothing, or shelter; and in this state of complete trust we can step beyond our comfort zones into the poverty-stricken places of the world so that we might provide for the needs of others, thereby becoming manifestations of the providential love of God within the world.

And the Nominees Are… Philomena

Editors’ Note:
In anticipation of the 86th Academy Awards on March 2, we present
a series 
exploring the philosophical and theological elements 
in each
of the nine films nominated for Best Picture. (Caveat: spoilers ahead.)

Jane SloanJane Sloan
Master of Theological Studies Candidate,
School of Theology and Ministry, Boston College

Contact Author

 

Also in this series:
Gravity                                            
Captain Phillips
Her
American Hustle
Nebraska
Dallas Buyers Club
The Wolf of Wall Street

12 Years a Slave

 

Philomena

The preview for Philomena promises a feel-good flick with a somber but uplifting underbelly, reminiscent of The Help or Saving Mister Banks.  In this regard, Philomena delivers.  But this angle alone misses the movie’s powerful message of forgiveness. 

After fifty years, Philomena Lee (Oscar-nominated Judi Dench) reveals a great secret—years ago, as an unwed mother in the care of the Roscrea Abbey Sisters of the Sacred Heart, she lost contact with her young son Anthony, who was suddenly adopted.  Fifty years later, after multiple frustrated attempts to locate Anthony via Roscrea Abbey, Philomena reaches out to journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan).  Judi Dence and Steve Coogan in PhilomenaSixsmith, a BBC expat and lapsed Catholic, begrudgingly takes on Philomena’s case as a human-interest story. The odd couple sets out across the pond to locate Philomena’s son.  Hilarity and heartbreak ensue.

As the story unfolds, the endearing contrast between Martin and Philomena’s faith and worldview intensifies. Martin is the clear-thinking man of action.  Philomena loves fairy tales and sacramentals, and sees the best in people to a fault. It seems the real world is revolving around Philomena while she remains detached and somewhat passive, relying on prayer to find her son, rather than action.  Her pious naïveté is, like the stories she loves to read, simple and predictable.  No one, Sixsmith especially, seems to take her faith seriously. The viewer is tempted to find her simplicity endearing, but to pity her faith—consisting of automobile sacramentals, votive candles and plastic Jesus statues—as not quite up to the task of bearing life’s burdens.

But don’t let Philomena Lee fool you.  She is the heroine.

In a surprising series of gut-wrenching twists, Philomena and Martin discover that not only did Anthony once visit Roscrea in search of his mother, but is actually buried on convent grounds. The pair realize with horror that as Philomena made repeated fruitless inquiries there, her son was interred several hundred yards away.  The cold-hearted Sister Hildegarde (Barbara Jefford), the only nun who knew enough history to connect the two, refused to do so.

The climax of the movie occurs in the cloistered area of Roscrea.  Sixsmith has burst in on Sister Hildegarde, upbraiding her for her silence and noncompliance. The elderly nun bites back, equally acerbic. Philomena arrives on the scene; Sixsmith goads her to confront Sister Hidegarde once and for all.  The viewer, too, is eager to see Philomena give the nun a piece of her mind.

And so Philomena steps up and—forgives her?

This seems like the ultimate anticlimax to a viewer who wants to see Philomena take a stand against the woman that prevented the happy reunion of mother and child. Both Sixsmith and the viewer are chomping at the bit to decry the atrocity, the scandal, to seize a chance to wrest righteousness from the grip of Sister Hildegarde and fling it back in her face.  It is easier to identify with Martin’s articulate chastisement than with Philomena’s act of forgiveness.

Philomena 2Philomena’s mercy takes the film in a new direction.  It reveals that Sixsmith and the nun, though worlds apart, are one in the indignance that stifles love. Her words to them implicate the viewer, too.  “You’re so angry.  It must be exhausting.”

Both Martin Sixsmith and Philomena Lee thirst for righteousness. While Martin’s thirst crumbles into righteous indignation, and meets frustrated ends in frequent rants and fits, Philomena’s thirst for righteousness is coupled with the ability to forgive.  Even as she struggles to forgive herself, she treats others with mercy. The heroine of the story is the simple Irish mother, successful in the nearly impossible act of forgiving a deep wound.  The film challenges us to see simplicity in faith as strong and enduring.

Like the tales Philomena herself reads and recounts, Philomena is a simple, yet surprising, story.  It reminds us that forgiveness is possible.  Forgiveness is strong.

And the Nominees Are… The Wolf of Wall Street

Editors’ Note:
In anticipation of the 86th Academy Awards on March 2, we present
a series 
exploring the philosophical and theological elements 
in each
of the nine films nominated for Best Picture. (Caveat: spoilers ahead.)

Carolyn PirtleCarolyn Pirtle
Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

 

Also in this series:
Gravity                                            
Captain Phillips
Her
American Hustle
Nebraska
Dallas Buyers Club
Philomena
12 Years a Slave

 

The Wolf of Wall Street

Best Director nominee Martin Scorsese has built his career creating films that explore the extremities of human existence. In films like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Casino, Gangs of New York, and The Departed, he presents audiences with an up-close and personal look at the seedy underbelly of human existence, and it’s often anyone’s guess as to whether or not his characters will discover their chance for redemption, let alone whether or not they will ultimately take that chance. In The Wolf of Wall Street, Scorsese adds another such film to his list of credits. Clocking in at three hours, this film presents an orgiastic, Bacchanalian portrait of life on Wall Street in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Yet in watching this film, it was my own subtle transformation that disturbed me more than any of the drug-addled debauchery, the amoral exploitation of others for financial gain or sexual pleasure, or the ceaseless stream of obscenities (though I did find each of these particular elements disturbing in varying degrees). Wolf 3Upon reflection, I have come to see my own transformation as a microcosm for that which takes place in the characters throughout the unfolding of the story. Simply put, the longer I stared into the banality of evil, the less appalled I was by it; the less appalled I was by it, the less I even noticed that it was there at all. I found that, by the film’s conclusion, I had been somewhat desensitized in one particular arena more so than others, and this arena provides the point of departure for a meditation on the nature of evil.

To say that profanity abounds throughout this film would be putting it much more delicately than any line of dialogue you’d ever hear one of the film’s characters utter. The f-word alone is used 506 times (yes, someone counted), setting the record for a U.S. feature film. This tally doesn’t include any other four-letter words, nor does it include any derogatory slurs that would never be acceptable in civilized conversation. Full disclosure: as a film and television connoisseur, I have heard my fair share of profanity, and even used it on occasion, so this salty language was nothing new to my ears. For me, this familiarity made profanity the least of all the evils present throughout this film, and ultimately paved the way for my desensitization to it. Despite this, there remained something in its pervasiveness and its twisted diversity that was, in a word, shocking. The film more than earned its R-rating within the first 5 minutes. For those familiar with other Scorsese films, his pervasive use of profanity is nothing new; however, The Wolf of Wall Street is different in its incorporation of such language. Profanity becomes an emblem of the excess pursued and celebrated by the characters in the film, and of their utter disregard for the wellbeing of others. Wolf 5Jordan Belfort (Best Actor nominee Leonardo DiCaprio) is initially shocked by the fact that Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), his first boss and mentor, uses language littered with cursing, and I found myself shocked along with him. But as with any vice, prolonged exposure results in reduced sensitivity, and soon Belfort the student became Belfort the master. In this observation lies the kernel of my own subtle transformation: after three solid hours of hearing nothing but a solid stream of obscenities, I discovered to my surprise that I hardly noticed their presence in the dialogue anymore. I had become desensitized to the profanity that, despite my acquaintance with such language from previous films, had shocked my ears only three hours before. Again, as with any vice, prolonged exposure results in reduced sensitivity, until the presence of evil is not only no longer noticed, but no longer even recognized as evil.

Wolf 2This theme of desensitization holds true for the other vices presented in the film: the characters increase their drug usage to the point of nearly overdosing in order to get the same high they had before; they indulge in increasingly depraved sexual activity to the point of practically assaulting innocent women. Most significantly, they pursue money with all the ferocity of wolves, and as their appetites for wealth grow, so too does their heedlessness of the impact their insatiable greed has on their clients, their families, their friends and colleagues, and even the stock market itself. Appetite becomes passion becomes vice, and as the characters’ depravity grows, their awareness of their depravity diminishes in inverse proportion until they have become completely blinded to it.

In tandem with the theme of desensitization runs the theme that vice begets more vice; evil begets more evil. Two significant moments, each reprised later in the film, demonstrate this clearly. First is the aforementioned interaction between Belfort and his first boss, when Belfort was just starting out as a broker. Over lunch, Hanna scandalizes Belfort by describing the drug use and sexual activity he and other brokers endorse in order to perform at the highest professional level. Belfort seems unsure of these practices, but when Hanna begins beating his chest in rhythm and singing a guttural chant later referred to as the “Money Chant”, Belfort is drawn in (see the end of the trailer above for this moment). By joining Hanna in the chest-beating and the chanting, Belfort begins his official indoctrination into the practices espoused by his mentor, and the circle of evil grows wider. Later, the significance of this moment is brought to light when Belfort and hundreds of his employees are standing in the office, pounding their chests and singing the Money Chant at the top of their lungs. Wolf 1They, too, have been initiated into the doctrine originally preached by Hanna, and drawn into the cycle of evil by the allure of wealth and excess.

The second moment that demonstrates this vicious cycle first takes place when Belfort has gathered his friends with the intention of making them his first salesmen at his fledgling brokerage firm. As they sit around the table, Belfort hands a pen to his friend Brad (Jon Bernthal) and instructs him, “Sell me this pen.” Brad, in turn, tells Belfort to write something on a napkin, to which Belfort replies, “I can’t—I don’t have a pen”, thus demonstrating how to create a false demand when making a sale, and thus beginning the education of his friends into the Machiavellian form of manipulative salesmanship that will enable them to rake in the money by selling unprofitable penny stocks to anonymous and unsuspecting clients. At the film’s conclusion, after having served time in federal prison for securities fraud and money laundering, we see Belfort in Auckland, New Zealand, hosting a seminar that promises to make participants better salespeople. He walks up to a man in the front row, takes a pen from his pocket, and hands it to him, saying, “Sell me this pen.” Dissatisfied with the man’s answer, he moves on to the next person, and the next, and the next, and as the camera pans back, we see an auditorium full of eager would-be millionaires, ready to follow Belfort as faithful disciples so that they, too, can amass an exorbitant amount of wealth for themselves. And the cycle continues.

Wolf 4In the end, it’s not the drug use or the debauchery or even the greed that raise the greatest concerns in The Wolf of Wall Street, although these are certainly causes for concern. Rather, it is the way in which the film convicts us of our own propensities to evil. We see in Jordan Belfort the result of desensitization to and perpetration of the cycle of evil, yet we also realize that we, too, participate in both of these realities, albeit to (hopefully) much lesser degrees. In this way, the film serves as a kind of mirror, such that our tendencies toward excess and vice are revealed to us by our assessment of their presence in others. In gaging our own reactions to the depictions of such evils, we are challenged to ask ourselves why (or if) we are disturbed by them, so that we can then ascertain our own relationship to them. Ultimately, The Wolf of Wall Street has the potential to teach us more about the shadow sides of ourselves than of the characters it portrays, and perhaps this is why it has disturbed so many viewers.

And the Nominees Are… Dallas Buyers Club

Editors’ Note:
In anticipation of the 86th Academy Awards on March 2, we present
a series 
exploring the philosophical and theological elements 
in each
of the nine films nominated for Best Picture. (Caveat: spoilers ahead.)

Stephanie DePrezStephanie DePrez
Theology Department,
Service and Immersion Coordinator

Xavier College Preparatory High School
Palm Desert, California

Contact Author

Also in this series:
Gravity                                            
Captain Phillips
Her
American Hustle
Nebraska
The Wolf of Wall Street
Philomena
12 Years a Slave

Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyer’s Club is not what you expect, because it knows exactly what you expect. Instead, it presents itself as a meditation on homophobia, the relationship between hospitals and pharmaceutical companies, border patrol, and (why not?) the first seeds of the Green movement.

At first glance, this seems like a voyeur’s film: let’s watch Matthew McConaughey parade around as an emaciated jackass, a somewhat crude Hollywood reprieve from the washboard-abs male reflection of Kate Hudson he’s spent the better of his career asserting. Since this is the predisposition of nearly every viewer, the immediate address and repress of this image hits almost like whiplash. The film opens with a shaky view of a rodeo ring, and the grunting of sexual encounter(s) between Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) and two nameless females in a stall where livestock is held. Within the first ten minutes of the film, we are thrown into a life of debauchery—theft, prostitution, illicit drugs, and the one thing that sets this film apart from The Wolf of Wall Street, extreme poverty. It is his poverty that robs Woodroof of farce, and makes his actions throughout the film understandable. They might even be relatable, but most of us will never need to relate to Woodroof, who is diagnosed with AIDS.

Thus we come to two of the main entanglements of the film: homophobia and the Big Bad Drug Companies. Woodroof is the quintessence of “trailer trash.” He spends whatever cash he has as soon as he has it, mostly on prostitutes, liquor, and cocaine. When he’s told he has AIDS, his immediate reaction is riddled with insults and gay slurs, some aimless tossing of medical materials, and a complete fulfillment of his stereotype. He slips into a quick and utterly unsatisfying stretch of “what would you do if you were about to die?” debauchery, which proves fruitless due to his inability to participate in any of the aforementioned activities because he’s destroyed his already-tanking system. His friends abandon him when they hear what he’s got, but not without as many homophonic comments as he’s slung minutes before in the hospital. DBC 1When he returns to his trailer to find it boarded up and spray-painted with slurs, he takes a rifle out of his backseat, shoots a round into the air, and bellows, “I still live here!” which becomes the default anthem of the film. Then he passes out.

Woodroof meets the transgender Rayon (Jared Leto) in the hospital, who’s undergoing a drug trial, which is the catalyst of Woodroof’s personal metanoia. After dodging a series of verbal fly swats from Woodroof, Rayon appears with a deck of cards. Woodroof decides to play.

Dallas Buyers Club enters into multiple territories at once, often throwing several hot-button issues together. Woodroof travels to Mexico to get drugs not approved by the FDA. He has to learn how to skate past border patrol. He and Rayon open a “buyer’s club,” a place where men (and one woman) can get as-yet-FDA-unapproved supplements outside of the hospital, which is detrimentally wedded to a particular drug trial that Woodroof discovers is actually harmful to AIDS patients. DBC 2The newly-purposed “Robin Hood-roof” eventually jet-sets around the world, hitting up Tokyo and Amsterdam to find doctors who will prescribe the unapproved drugs. Armed with new purpose and a second life, Woodroof begins a tirade against the pharmaceutical company, bringing pamphlets for his buyer’s club to AIDS support groups and winning the support of the only female doctor on the hospital’s board (in a feminist subplot that survives only because of Jennifer Garner’s understated and under-championed performance).

The magnificence of Woodroof’s story is that he never makes a decision to help the unfortunate. He never chooses to champion the margins. He simply finds himself there, and does what he’s always done—he fights to live.

The curiosity of this film is that we regard Woodroof with disgust in the beginning and as a hero by the end. The first reaction to pre-AIDS Woodroof that he’s a blue-collar homophobe, as opposed to a victim of poisonous family life, an (assumedly) failed education system, and a bad economy. But by the end, instead of seeing him as a diseased drug dealer, when he returns from fighting the pharmaceutical company in court, he’s greeted as a defender of the weak, for engaging in basically the same fight-to-live tactics he has all along.

So what changes? How is Woodroof saved? DBC 3That comes from Dr. Eve Saks (Garner) who is herself turned from life as a pawn for the FDA. It is her refusal to resign in light of her support of the buyer’s club (“You’re going to have to fire me”) that begins her personal repentance. When she agrees to dinner with Woodroof, a doomed man for whom romance is a long-gone pipe dream, his humanity is confirmed. At the end of the film, Woodroof shares with Saks his real desires for a family and children. The recognition of his true desires is not a result of his diagnosis, his work with AIDS victims, his new-found tolerance, or his fight for organic transparency (as when he barks at Rayon in the grocery store, “If it’s processed, put it back!”). An honest view of his own heart is the result of a true relationship with another human being that is not (and cannot) result in personal gain. It is when the world, in the form of Dr. Saks, confirms Woodroof’s dignity, that he is transformed.

Love One Another Constantly from the Heart: Pondering the Word through Art

Danielle PetersDanielle M. Peters, S.T.D.
Secular Institute of the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary
Post-Doctoral Fellow, Institute for Church Life, University of Notre Dame

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Editorial Note: This post was originally delivered as a homily during Vespers on Thursday, February 20, 2014 (Psalter Week IV). We are grateful for the author’s permission to share it here.

Realize that you were delivered
from the futile way of life your fathers handed on to you,
not by any diminishable sum of silver or gold,
but by Christ’s blood beyond all price:
the blood of a spotless, unblemished lamb
chosen before the world’s foundation
and revealed for your sake in these final days.
It is through him that you are believers in God,
the God who raised him from the dead and gave him glory.
Your faith and hope, then, are centered on God.
By obedience to the truth you have purified yourselves
for a genuine love of your brothers;
therefore, love one another constantly from the heart.
Your rebirth has come,
not from a destructible but from an indestructible seed,
through the living and enduring word of God.
(1 Peter 1:18-23)

We have just heard from the first letter of Peter that we were ransomed with the precious blood of Christ, so that our faith and hope are in God.  As a sign of our gratitude to God’s gift, we are invited to offer our gift to Him in return which in the words of Peter is manifested in a sincere love of each other, a love that comes from the heart.  This reciprocity of gift giving is beautifully portrayed in this meditation picture by Nikolas of Flue[i] which I wish to ponder with you.

Flue image

The image calls to our attention that the Triune God is at the center of all there is. He is made visible in Jesus Christ.

  • The ear points to God Father and Creator:
    • He listens to and answers our prayers
    • He creates all good things.
  • The mouth points to God, the Holy Spirit:
    • God’s breath of life.
    • Creating everything anew.
  • The eye points to God, the Son:
    • In Him we have become God’s children.
    • He is the measure of all things.

Flue image - Creation cropThe countenance of the Trinity, the face not made by human hand, symbolizes the fullness of Love. Starting out on the left, the spike leading from God’s right ear leads to the medallion on the upper left. It depicts:

–       The beginning of creation—God is the Creator of everything.

–       He pours His goodness into empty vessels.

–       There is an abundance,  bread and wine—food and drink for everyone.

–       His loving providence guides everything.

 

Flue image - Incarnation cropThe medallion below it speaks of our gift in return.

–       Our life as a new creation begins with the Incarnation.

–       Staff and purse beneath the Christ-Child are indicative of the wanderer without a home; we are on a journey heavenwards, our eternal home.

 

Flue image - Annunciation crop

The spike pointing to the mouth reveals the action of God the Holy Spirit, and leads to the medallion on the bottom of the image.

–       The Holy Spirit breathes life into the person: we are called to a life with God.

–       This was made possible through Mary’s fiat and is repeated through our yes to God’s plan.

–       His breath effects at once the dignity and vocation of the person, calling us to communion with God.

–       The crutches point to our earthly contingency and call us to a commitment to a healthy lifestyle in order to fulfill our mission while here on earth.

Flue image - Eucharist crop

Our gift in return is depicted in the medallion on the lower right.

–       Our participation in the Eucharist nourishes us on our journey.

–       Communion with Christ makes us Christ-bearers, the most effective way of evangelization.

–       The casket in the background points to the eschatological dimension of our life, our death and eternal life.

Flue image - Crucifixion cropFinally, the spike pointing to the eye refers to God the Son, Jesus Christ.

–       He gives us redemption—we receive life in and for Him.

–       He gives us the new commandment.

–       He is the measuring rod for all we do since He dwells in me.

–       The tunic on the bottom reminds us that Jesus Christ was robbed of his psychological, physical and spiritual dignity for love for us.

Flue image - Judas cropOur gift in return is shown in the top medallion. We see:

–       Jesus Christ and Judas in an act of forgiveness which establishes a new type of interpersonal relationship.

–       We are to aim at unconditional forgiveness and mercy.

–       On the bottom of the image, though barely visible, are chains, symbolizing our being imprisoned, addicted to different kinds of afflictions that hinder us to be free to live in Christ.

 

Flue’s meditation picture reminds us of what we have heard from St. Peter: The Blessed Trinity is the source of all gifts! Creation, Incarnation and Redemption!  Our gifts are possible only in and through the gifts we have received from Him!

Nikolas used this image to meditate on the Our Father—it was his continuous prayer:

… hallowed be thy name in and through creation;

… thy kingdom come thanks to the Nativity;

.. . thy will be done in my daily Annunciation hours;

… give us today our daily bread, the Eucharist;

… and forgive us our fault, when I crucify our Lord;

… as we forgive those who wrong us, Judas in my life.

The Our Father can also be our guideline throughout the day:

  • our morning prayer when we plan ahead, resolve to do all in God’s name,
  • during the day while we work and encounter others,
  • in the evening when we return all in God’s hands and rest in His peace.

As we offer the Lord’s Prayer, may these reflections from Nikolas inspire us to be grateful for God’s gifts to us and to be generous with a whole-hearted self-gift in return.


[i] Nikolas of Flue (1417 –1487), the only canonized Swiss saint to this day, was married to Dorothy with whom he had 10 children. After some twenty years of married life, in 1467 Nicholas received a compelling call to abandon his home and the world and become a hermit to which his wife heroically consented. He survived his final nineteen years entirely without food except for the daily Holy Eucharist.

And the Nominees Are… Nebraska

Editors’ Note:
In anticipation of the 86th Academy Awards on March 2, we present
a series 
exploring the philosophical and theological elements 
in each
of the nine films nominated for Best Picture. (Caveat: spoilers ahead.)

Carolyn PirtleCarolyn Pirtle
Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

 

Also in this series:
Gravity                                            
Captain Phillips
Her
American Hustle
Dallas Buyers Club
The Wolf of Wall Street
Philomena
12 Years a Slave

 

Nebraska

When I mentioned to people that I was going to write about Best Picture nominee Nebraska, the most common response I received was, “Is that the black and white road trip movie?” The short answer is yes. Nebraska is indeed shot in black and white. Phedon Papamichael’s Oscar-nominated cinematography captures how I imagine it would feel to step inside of an Ansel Adams photograph. Stark, yet strikingly beautiful. And yes, Nebraska is also a road trip movie. The starkness of the landscape provides the backdrop for the relatively basic plot: Woody Grant (Bruce Dern in an Oscar-nominated performance), an elderly man living in Billings, Montana, receives a letter from a marketing company located in Lincoln, Nebraska, telling him that he is the (possible) lucky winner of $1,000,000. Woody, distrustful the postal service, has no intention of simply mailing a letter in order to claim his prize; he prefers to pick up his winnings in person. So he sets out on a journey from Montana to Nebraska. On foot. Simple.

We meet Woody in his first attempt to make this journey. Walking alone alongside a busy Billings roadway, he is soon picked up by a policeman and returned home to his wife, Kate (June Squibb, also Oscar-nominated). Upon his return, one immediately gains a sense of her concurrent frustration with and concern for her husband. When Woody announces his windfall and his plan to travel to Nebraska, Kate is understandably dismissive, as is Ross, the elder son in the Grant family. However, when the younger son, David (Will Forte), realizes that Woody cannot be dissuaded, he decides not to join his mother and brother as they ignore his father in the hopes that he’ll eventually give up on his plan. NEBRASKAInstead, David decides to indulge his father’s wishes by offering to drive him to Lincoln. David realizes that his aging father will not be alive (or coherent) for much longer, and although he is fully aware that there is no million dollar prize awaiting Woody in Nebraska, he chooses to put his own life on hold for the sake of his father so that the two of them can go on the fool’s errand together.

Halfway to Nebraska, Woody suffers an injury. Given Woody’s age, his long history of heavy alcohol consumption, and his newly-stitched head wound, David feels that they ought to turn back, but his father’s stubbornness prevails. David compromises by insisting that they stop for a couple of days in Woody and Kate’s hometown of Hawthorne, Nebraska, where they can stay with extended family, and where Kate and Ross will join them to assist with Woody’s recuperation. Hawthorne, Nebraska (a fictional location) barely merits the pejorative descriptor “dot on the map,” and although several of its citizens fulfill the rural yokel stereotype, there are also those who embody the image of small town goodness, the “salt of the earth.” When Woody lets word slip about his newly won wealth (against David’s advice and much to his chagrin), he immediately becomes the talk of the town—a local celebrity—and the true colors of the townsfolk show through in how they react to the news. Some congratulate Woody with genuine and endearing warmth, while others scheme to relieve Woody of his fortune by calling in old debts, claiming to have bailed Woody out in the past when his alcohol abuse threatened him with financial ruin.

Throughout this ordeal, David takes it upon himself to care for his father, but in a way that transcends merely keeping him physically safe. Even as he tries to convince the townspeople that there is no money and that his father is mistaken about having won the million dollars, David makes every effort to defend Woody’s dignity, and in the process, he himself becomes the target of ridicule and threats. Although it’s clear that David and Woody have never been what one could call close in their father-son relationship, this only lends an even greater beauty to David’s sacrifice. David knows that there will be no monetary reward for his efforts (in fact he is losing income by taking time away from work), but in giving of his time and of himself for the sake of his father, David discovers another sort of reward. While in Hawthorne, David learns from others about the man his father was years ago; he discovers new depth of character in Woody and is able to better understand him. Most importantly, one gets the sense that, in defending his father’s dignity, David discovers it all the more fully himself. Nebraska 2It is as though David sees Woody for the first time as a person with a history, a past that has profoundly shaped him into the man he has become. Paradoxically, the more David learns about Woody’s past, the more he realizes that there will be things about his father that he may never know, let alone understand. In this realization, he comes to a new level of appreciation for the mystery that lies at the heart of his father, and he is able to love him more authentically.

There are many familiar elements at work in this film that tempt one to dismiss it as cliché: the road trip, the native son’s return home to a small town after a long absence, the complicated relationships among family and friends. We’ve seen these threads play out in other films before. On the other hand, it’s also tempting to dismiss this film as the token “artsy” inclusion of the Best Picture nominees—to see the starkness of the black and white cinematography as a gimmick, to scoff at the simplicity of the plot and the deliberate slowness of the pacing. But the unique storytelling ability of Best Director nominee Alexander Payne and the vulnerable honesty of his actors’ performances prevent this film from becoming either theatrically cliché or artistically obtuse. Nebraska 3What makes Nebraska so engaging, so different, is the fact that these familiar-feeling elements are fused together in such a way that they lead the characters—and the audience—into unfamiliar territory. The film isn’t simply black and white; it’s shot through with beautiful shadings of gray and silver. And the plot isn’t simply a stock road trip story about a man whose son begrudgingly drives him to Nebraska. It encompasses the complications of familial love and the rediscovery of one’s roots, and ultimately, it presents a beautiful image of how the mystery of the person can become more fully revealed in the presence of self-giving love.

Breaking Open the Word with Rev. Charles B. Gordon, C.S.C.: The Feast of the Presentation and the 5th, 6th, and 7th Sundays in Ordinary Time

FrCharlieGordonCSCRev. Charles B. Gordon, C.S.C.

Co-Director, Garaventa Center

Contact Author

 

Presentation of the Lord 

This Feast of the Presentation of the Lord is a celebration of that extraordinary moment of recognition. It is a moment worth thinking
about, because we are all invited to experience it. Each one of us is called upon to recognize Jesus as Lord. We won’t have that forty-day old baby to gaze at, but the same Holy Spirit who inspired Simeon and Anna is with us — enabling us to recognize Jesus in the Scriptures, in the hungry, in
the stranger, in the prisoner. . . . and in the Eucharist we share.

Presentation

5th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle A)

Gourmets, gourmands, and the chefs who cater to them have discovered that all salt is not the same. Salts mined in different places by different means have distinctive trace elements, moisture content and textures that can enhance the flavor of dishes prepared with them. The idea is to sprinkle a bit of the perfect salt onto a dish immediately before
serving – a bit like the chef on the magazine cover does with his sidewalk.

Remarkably, this brings us back to the Dead Sea, which is the source of some of the finest, most sought after finishing salts of all. So what if we Christians are the finishing salts of the earth? Each
of us a child of God possessed of the same Holy Spirit, but each of us distinctive because of where we have come from and the experiences that
have brought us to this place. God’s loving plan for each of us has brought us into circumstances suited to our particular qualities. Now let’s trust the recipe, and the chef, and glorify God by our lives.

ColoredSalt

6th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle A)

If any rabbi of Jesus’ time was asked, “What must I do to be saved,” he would have answered, “You must love.” Jesus would give the same answer. If the rabbi was asked, “How can I be sure that I am
loving,” he would have answered “You may be sure that you are loving if you keep the law.” Here is where Jesus would answer differently. Jesus
taught that while the law is precious, the only way you can tell if you are loving properly is to examine the quality of your love. It’s not enough to
refrain from murdering your enemy. You’ve got to love that person you’d like to throttle. It’s not enough to bring gifts to the altar. You must first
forgive the person who has injured you.

And Jesus didn’t just tell us what to do. He showed us. Look at a crucifix. That is how it’s done: the mystery of Christ crucified. And we are to pick up our crosses and follow him.

SermonontheMount

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle A)

This is the kind of imitation that is most relevant to our faith. Our imitation is not inferior or fraudulent, because we imitate God as children
of God. As St. Paul reminds us, the Spirit of God dwells in us. This Spirit equips us to be like Christ, not out of flattery, fear, or self-interest, but
out of love for a God who is mother and father to us. And it allows us to see Christ in one another.

LoveYourEnemies

And the Nominees Are… American Hustle

Editors’ Note:
In anticipation of the 86th Academy Awards on March 2, we present
a series 
exploring the philosophical and theological elements 
in each
of the nine films nominated for Best Picture. (Caveat: spoilers ahead.)

Michael Jordan LaskeyMichael Jordan Laskey

Director of Life and Justice Ministries
Diocese of Camden, New Jersey

Contact Author

Also in this series:
Gravity                                            
Captain Phillips
Her
Nebraska
Dallas Buyers Club
The Wolf of Wall Street
Philomena
12 Years a Slave

 American Hustle
The Way We Get By

In American Hustle, the protagonist Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) wonders, “Did you ever have to find a way to survive and you knew your choices were bad, but you had to survive?”

Early in the movie, during a childhood flashback, Irving reminisces about his preferred mode of survival. Irving’s father, the weak-kneed owner of a small glass company, lets manipulative customers take advantage of him. So the preteen Irving takes matters into his own hands: he jogs around the neighborhood and throws bricks through windows to help drum up business.

The scam is how Irving gets by, and he reaches the peak of his con artist career when he meets Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), a game accomplice—and mistress—who charms dozens of targets with a fake British accent. Their short string of success is unraveled by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who catches Irving and Sydney and enlists them to nab politicians and mob bosses in an elaborate sting operation. To avoid jail time for being con artists, Sydney and Irving must con bigger and better than they ever have before.

American Hustle 1Irving is not interested in moral complexity. He will do whatever he thinks it’ll take to provide for himself, for Sydney, for his son, and his alienated wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence). The ends justify the means.

One of those means is working with Richie and Sydney to trick Camden, NJ mayor Carmine Polito into making an illegal deal. Carmine (Jeremy Renner) is a popular, ambitious, and earnest politician who wants to bring more jobs to his declining city. He’s reluctant to get involved in the con artists’ shady dealings, but Irving wins him over and convinces him to take a bribe. That’s just how the game is played, Irving says.

American Hustle 2But the two men are drawn to each other, and they strike up a friendship. As Irving watches Carmine fight for Camden, he begins to question the deception. What will save Irving and Sydney will doom a good man.

Irving’s conscience overpowers his self-interest, and he ends up on Carmine’s doorstep as the movie nears its climax. “I want to face you like a man because I want to be real now,” Irving says as he starts his confession.

What changes Irving’s heart? Relationship. Carmine isn’t just another unwitting, nameless victim; he is Irving’s friend. Irving knows his story—his hopes and dreams, his weakness, his commitment to family and community. Irving admires Carmine, and the con artist cannot bring himself to scam someone he admires.

The transformation isn’t 180 degrees. Irving atones with one final scam, on Carmine’s behalf, which has the added benefit of getting himself and Sydney out of trouble. In Irving we see that great, never-ending cycle of sin, confession, penance, and redemption—a cycle all of us fallen folk truly need to survive.

The Song of the Gospel: Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Carolyn PirtleCarolyn Pirtle, M.M., M.S.M.
Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

Editorial Note: This series is not meant to be a commentary on the practices or ministry of liturgical music per se. Rather, its goal is to examine recent hymn texts in the light of Scripture, in the hopes of bringing to light new ways of reflecting on the Gospel for each Sunday.

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time; Matthew 5:38-48
Jesus said to his disciples: “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on the one who wants to borrow.

“You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

To Love Just Those Who Love You (Worship, 4th edition #743)
Text: Rae E. Whitney (b. 1927), ©1995, Selah Publishing Co., Inc.

Reprinted with permission of GIA Publications.

To love just those who love you is rarely hard to do,
For even unbelievers love those who love them too.
But you must love, said Jesus, those you don’t care about,
And feed them if they’re hungry, though you then go without. 

To laugh with those who please you and share a simple joy
Is diff’rent than enduring the people who annoy.
And those you hate, said Jesus, or wound you deep within,
Are still your Father’s children and must be claimed as kin. 

Since Christ is Truth and Teacher, the Day Star and the Day,
The Life and our Lifegiver, Wayfarer and the Way,
If you would come, said Jesus, and my companion be,
In love and joy and suff’ring, you’ll walk God’s path with me.

The first two verses of this hymn text follows a fairly common structural pattern: the first half of the verse is devoted to scriptural exegesis, the second half is a pedagogical moment in which the exegesis is translated into an applicable form, made relevant for the daily life of the person singing the hymn. The final verse departs from the specificity of the Scripture text, the Person of Jesus Himself provides the content for the exegetical portion, and the whole of the Gospel—including the call to discipleship—provides the content for the pedagogical portion. As we will see with this text, this structure constitutes an incredibly ambitious scope for so few syllables, words, and lines, and at times, the enormity of the task results in a compromise of either the theological or the poetic depth.

Last week’s discussion on the kind of elevated, timeless language often utilized in hymn texts serves as a helpful precursor in beginning to delve into the text above. “To Love Just Those Who Love You” comes across as an example of a hymn text that is too big for its meter; in other words, the theological ideas the author wishes to convey are too expansive for the number of syllables within this metrical framework. The result is that there are some moments of potentially profound theological insight that have been straitjacketed by the number of syllables allowed per line, and the author is forced to use contractions and/or colloquialisms in order to fit the square peg of what she wishes to say theologically into the round hole of the meter of the hymn tune.

Absent the use of quotation marks throughout the hymn, it’s unclear as to whether or not the author wishes us to hear the first two lines of the first two verses as coming from the mouth of Jesus, or if it’s only the third and fourth lines. (The third verse contains no such ambiguity with its commentary on the Person of Jesus in the first two lines.) Regardless, the first two lines of the first two verses are a rephrasing and an expansion of the Gospel text; the entire first verse lies within the parameters of a more literal restatement of Matthew 5:43-48, while the second verse brings a more contemporary interpretation to the Gospel message. AnnoyanceThe author expands the idea of love and compassion beyond that of overcoming hatred for one’s enemies to include even extending love toward those who merely “annoy”, which is, perhaps, even more difficult to do. Loving one’s enemies, given its broad scope, carries a nobility within it; whereas loving the people who annoy pierces to the heart of what is most mundane and real in everyday life. (How difficult is it to say to the person who just cut you off in traffic, “I love you”?) The unexpected use of the word “annoy” places this hymn squarely in a modern context—this is perhaps the only text I’ve come across where this particular word is used. Some might find this linguistic usage jarring, or even, ironically, annoying, yet this bringing of the Gospel message into the mundanity of everyday life fulfills an important catechetical task. The love Christ commands us to extend is not simply intended for one’s enemies. In fact, for those who don’t consider themselves to have any “enemies,” the word—and by extension, the teaching—may be relegated to the world of the abstract. Yet with the second verse, the author expands on Christ’s teaching to make it more applicable to the everyday lives of those who may find themselves in a pew on Sunday morning, who may even find themselves annoyed with those in the pew in front of them for chit-chatting to one another during the parts of the Mass intended for silent prayer or for nodding off during the homily. Moreover, the second half of verse two drives home this point, particularly through the use of the word “kin”, unusual in hymn texts (though not entirely out of place) because of its more archaic usage. In one verse, the author has brought disparate linguistic elements together in order to create a strong theological message. All people—from those we “hate” to those who “wound…deep within,” even to those who simply “annoy”—are all children of God, and for those who call themselves followers of his Son Jesus, such people “must be claimed as kin.”

The final verse provides a departure from the structure of the preceding verses, stepping away from a restatement of the Gospel and even from an expansion on its teaching to a reflection on the Person of Jesus Christ, and how the call to love one’s enemies is encapsulated in His life and in His call to discipleship. Golgatha - Edvard MunchChrist is “Truth… Teacher… Day Star… Day… Life… Lifegiver… Wayfarer… and Way”, who in His life—particularly in His Passion and Death—fulfilled to the end His command to love His enemies, thus showing His followers that such love was possible, even in the most horrific of circumstances. It is this love to which Jesus calls those who would be His “companions”. His love for all led Jesus down the path of “joy and suff’ring,” and in this love, He continues to walk beside His disciples on their pilgrim journey, providing the perfect example of love freely offered to all people, friends and enemies alike. Moreover, Jesus strengthens us, His disciples, with food for the journey in the gift of the Eucharist, and through this Communion, He transforms us into Himself. By receiving in the Eucharist the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Him who is love incarnate, we are then capacitated to follow His example and pour ourselves forth in love for all people, friends and enemies alike.