Don’t Kneel Before Zod

Over on Twitter, one of my “tweeps” and I sometimes get into some smackdown talk, thanks to our respective profile pictures.  Sometimes he will use a Shepard Fairey-esque image of British actor Terence Stamp, in his role as General Zod.  Since my profile picture is often one of me in Kryptonian attire, you can imagine the rather nerdy teasing that goes on.

If you’ve seen the classic 1980 film ‘Superman II”, you’ll recall that General Zod wanted everyone to kneel before him, but most particularly the Man of Steel, as the son of the man who had imprisoned Zod in the first place.  Zod eventually gets what he wants, but immediately thereafter receives his comeuppance, in a now-famous scene that made both kids and adults cheer in the movie theatre back in the day.  I’ll refresh your memory if it doesn’t leap immediately to mind.

Stamp’s performance is more reminiscent of the subtlety of Mephistopheles than the brute force of Attila the Hun.  In this incarnation, as opposed to the latest version by actor Michael Shannon in “Man  of Steel”, Zod is so self-possessed, so convinced of his own omnipotence, that to lose control would be as unnecessary a degree of overkill as swatting a fly with a 2×4.  In setting himself up as a kind of god, he brings about his own downfall, because of course he isn’t God – he’s just Zod. And Supes knows that.

Faith in God is a subject that is sometimes touched upon in superhero films, e.g. “Daredevil”, “X-Men 2”, but is more typically ignored.  Truth be told, in general it’s not absolutely necessary for understanding the motivations of the guys and gals in tights, in a way that it would be in a film about, say, the English Civil War.  Yet at the same time, in the real world, even the most devoted fans of this type of storytelling are people, with beliefs which they act upon, just like the rest of us.

Take professional bodybuilder Andy Haman, for example, who a priest friend told me about.  Recently, Mr. Haman dressed up as a superhero and went to visit a hospital for sick children (something which I’m working on organizing, myself.)  He took the time while there to stop and visit the Blessed Sacrament in the hospital chapel.  As you can see, although it does seem rather odd at first to spot Mr. Incredible kneeling in church, in truth he’s out and about performing an act, not of heroic physical strength or of strange, alien powers, but rather of Christian charity, taken straight out of Christ’s words in the Gospel of St. Matthew 25:35-40.

Whether or not the character of Mr. Incredible from “The Incredibles” was actually a Catholic, who knows.  The point is, I like seeing that this particular Mr. Incredible is kneeling to the right person.  Before he heads off to do some good, bringing joy and comfort to kids who often have none, he is putting himself in the right frame of mind to remember that he’s God’s instrument.

I think this is a great example for all of us, superhero or not.  Too many of us are bowing down in worship to acts of selfishness, and to the pursuit of material things which will never make us happy, nor prevent us from having to face our own mortality someday.  I suspect that more of us would be happier, kinder toward others, and more willing to admit to our limitations – our own kryptonite, if you will – if we took the time to simply pause, and reflect on the heroic acts of virtue we may be called upon to perform on a daily basis, with God’s help.  For truly God, and not Zod, is the one to whom we should be kneeling.

Zod Poster

The Distraction of Being Distracted

What a terrific guest post we have today over on the Friends of Little Portion Hermitage site! Dr. Kevin Vost is the author of many books, as well as a guest on Catholic Answers and EWTN’s “Women of Grace” and “The Journey Home” programs.  In today’s post on behalf of FLPH, Kevin discusses the answer to a perennial problem, something that all of us face at one time or another, which is how to pray when we’re distracted by other things.

I’m one of those people who mercifully tends to stay asleep once I actually fall asleep, but it’s the getting there that’s often the problem, because my brain won’t pipe down when I want it to; a similar thing tends to happen with my prayer life.  I often have so many ideas and concerns going at any one time, that when I try to get quiet and focus it’s often extremely difficult.  Even a Holy Hour during Adoration and Benediction can sometimes run the risk of being little more than me trying to make some sort of symmetrical mental list of all the spiritual things that “need” doing, such as people I’ve promised to pray for, debating what I should be asking for, what I should be hearing from God, and so on.

I’m easily distracted, not because I can’t focus but because there’s always so much that needs doing.  And the fact that there is such a level of distraction, is a distraction in and of itself.  One can easily imagine how much I’ve always sympathized with St. Martha.

In his post for us over at FLPH, Kevin looks at how St. Thomas Aquinas would address the problem of having your brain running a mile a minute while you’re trying to pray.  I particularly like this bit of wisdom: if we’re making the effort to focus on God, both in terms of what we have to say and what He’s saying to us, God knows and understands that fact.  We may find the distractions frustrating, but He’s aware that we’re doing our best if we keep trying.  As Kevin notes, many of us are going to find that a blessed relief, i.e., that we can cut ourselves a little bit of slack if we’re making a sincere attempt, despite the screaming kids, the pets pooping all over the floor, the people flipping us the bird in traffic, and so on.  This was a great post for all of us to draw some wisdom from.

Incidentally, if you found your way here today from the link to another article of mine featured on First Things this morning, for which I thank the good people at that excellent publication, I’m going to shamelessly ask for a bit of your time and charity.

My regular readers know we have been asking Catholic writers to donate blog posts to draw attention to the FLPH endeavor. We’re trying to establish a permanent hermitage before our good friend, Brother Rex Anthony Norris, finds himself a hermit without a home, as the place he is renting is going to be sold out from under him very soon.  We gladly accept any an all donations on the FLPH site, and I’d ask you as well to please keep the success of this effort in your prayers, and share this project with anyone you think might be in a position to help.  Thank you!

Detail of "St. Thomas Aquinas Writing with Assistance from Angels" by Guercino (1662) Basilica of San Domenico, Bologna

Detail of “St. Thomas Aquinas Writing with Assistance from Angels” by Guercino (1662)
Basilica of San Domenico, Bologna


Taking the Right Book: Walking with Mary

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’ve been trying to make more time for reading actual books lately, as opposed to having nearly all of my reading material come from an electronic screen.  When I started reading “Walking with Mary” by Edward Sri the other day however, I got a few pages in and immediately stopped, because I realized I wanted to read it somewhere other than on the couch.  I saved it to read on a mini-retreat I had last Saturday at the Priory of the Dominican House of Studies here in D.C.; as you will see at the end of this post, it was providential that I did.

In his book, Dr. Sri examines the life of the Virgin Mary from a Biblical perspective, focusing on the Gospels of St. Luke and St. John, and thereby taking us on a spiritual journey along with her, in order to try to understand both her Son and the working of God’s Will in her and indeed in our own lives a bit better.   From the Annunciation by the Angel Gabriel to the young girl in Nazareth, to the sorrowful mother at the foot of the Cross on Calvary, we are reminded that what we know now, Mary did not know then.  Dr. Sri shows us what a truly great woman of faith Mary was, because she did not know how everything was going to play out, only that God had made a promise: her faith that He would keep His promises kept her going, and can help us to keep going as well.

Dr. Sri takes the time to pause and examine words which, when translated into English, we may not stop to think much about, but which in the original text have a more profound significance.  For example, he explains how at the Annunciation, when Mary gives her “Yes” that God’s Will be done and that she bear the Messiah, the word she uses is not one implying meek resignation, but rather a joyful embrace of what is being asked.  In accepting what God wants her to do, Mary does not simply shrug her shoulders and say, “Sure, okay,” but more like, “Yes! Let’s do this!”

In looking at the life of Christ, Dr. Sri also takes the time to point out some of the thought-provoking parallels that we can pick up by more closely reading and paying attention to the Gospel accounts.  Thus, when Jesus enters the world at the Nativity, he does so in humility, poverty, and suffering, brought about at the hands of the Romans who have not only occupied Israel, but are forcing the heavily pregnant Virgin Mary to travel with St. Joseph to Bethlehem for a census.  Similarly, as Jesus heads to Golgotha, he does so in humility, poverty, and suffering, having been tortured and condemned to death by that same Roman Empire.

Dr. Sri finds many such Biblical bookends for us to consider throughout this very thoroughly-researched, yet highly readable book.  In St. Luke’s Gospel, just as the Infant Jesus is wrapped in linen and laid in a borrowed manger, so Jesus the Man is wrapped in linen and laid in a borrowed tomb.  In St. John’s Gospel, we see that the Virgin Mary is there at the very beginning of Christ’s public ministry, when he performs His first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana, and addresses her for the first time as “Woman”.  She is also there at the very end of that ministry on Calvary, when He addresses her as “Woman” for the last time as He sheds his blood.  The way in which the wheels which she set in motion at Cana by asking Him to step into the public eye for the first time, and at last come to their fulfillment on Calvary, is something I had not deeply considered before.  And Dr. Sri’s thoughts on Mary as the new Eve, alongside the significance of wine in the Bible, which he covers toward the end of the book, were extremely impressive.

I spent Saturday afternoon reading this book in the chapel of the Priory, and after finishing it I made my way to the front door to leave.  As I did so I happened to stop to glance at a table across from the porter’s desk, where there are always brochures and handouts for the taking.  There, I just so happened to find a stack of postcards, announcing that Dr. Sri is going to be leading a Washington Archdiocesan mens’ retreat this coming Sunday, March 22nd.  Clearly in taking this particular book along to Dominican House, if I might paraphrase the old knight in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”, I had chosen wisely.  While I myself am not going to be able to attend this conference with Dr. Sri, those gentlemen reading this post here in the D.C. area certainly can.

Yet regardless of whether you can go along to meet the man or not, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Dr. Sri’s “Walking with Mary”.  If you are seeking some good spiritual reading this Lent, you will not be disappointed. And throughout the year, in the journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem, Dr. Sri’s book would be a wonderful companion as we go through the liturgical seasons, as indeed is the woman who is its subject.

Detail of "The Visitation" by the Master of the Aachen Altarpiece (c. 1480) Aachen Cathedral, Germany

Detail of “The Visitation” by the Master of the Aachen Altarpiece (c. 1480)
Aachen Cathedral, Germany