Monday, November 30, 2009

A Small Screen Gem For Every Catholic's DVD Library

Kappler:  "I own Rome; not you, not the Pope.  Just because you wear a frock--it won't protect you. Remember your gunrunner priest?"

O'Flaherty:  "I do remember him.  And so does every person in Italy who understands the meaning of freedom."

I literally just finished watching The Scarlet and the Black, the 1983 television movie based on a true story starring Gregory Peck as Msgr. Hugh O'Flaherty, a golfer, a boxer, a vatican diplomat and social butterfly, who managed to save thousands of escaped P.O.W.s during the Nazi occupation of Italy. The movie also stars Christopher Plummer as SS Colonel Herbert Kappler who became obsessed with capturing Msgr. O'Flaherty, but could never seem to catch him.

This is the only WWII film I've ever seen that really depicts the war from the point of view of the Church.  I came away from this film with a much clearer understanding of the kind of pressure that Pope Pius XII was under from all sides.  Hitler didn't just want to destroy the Church; he wanted to capture her, so he could install his own people and use her to further propagate heresy and advance his own agenda.  At the same time, the people were crying out to the Church to do something, and were openly critical of the Holy Father for not being as aggressive with the Nazis as they'd have liked him to be.  The Scarlet and the Black attempts (and in my opinion succeeds )to show the kinds of complex problems the Catholic Church faced during a time of great horror, particularly why she didn't race into action with guns blazing like so many think should have happened.

All in all, this is a film that all Catholics need to see.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Here I Am, Lord; Send Me

I almost never get the chance to read all of the forwards that my many friends send me, generally because I don't have much time to go through them all. Occasionally, though, I take a break from my busy mornings and open one or two intriguing subjects that I've never seen before, and more often than not it was totally worth the few minutes of my time. Today I opened one of those emails which contained the following story, said to have been written by a Metro Denver Hospice Physician:

I was driving home from a meeting this evening about 5, stuck in traffic on Colorado Blvd., and the car started to choke and splutter and die - I barely managed to coast into a gas station, glad only that I would not be blocking traffic and would have a somewhat warm spot to wait for the tow truck. It wouldn't even turn over. Before I could make the call, I saw a woman walking out of the quickie mart building, and it looked like she slipped on some ice and fell into a gas pump, so I got out to see if she was okay.

When I got there, it looked more like she had been overcome by sobs than that she had fallen; she was a young woman who looked really haggard with dark circles under her eyes. She dropped something as I helped her up, and I picked it up to give it to her. It was a nickel.

At that moment, everything came into focus for me: the crying woman, the ancient Suburban crammed full of stuff with 3 kids in the back (1 in a car seat), and the gas pump reading $4.95.

I asked her if she was okay and if she needed help, and she just kept saying 'I don't want my kids to see me crying,' so we stood on the other side of the pump from her car. She said she was driving to California and that things were very hard for her right now. So I asked, 'And you were praying?' That made her back away from me a little, but I assured her I was not a crazy person and said, 'He heard you, and He sent me.'

I took out my card and swiped it through the card reader on the pump so she could fill up her car completely, and while it was fueling, walked to the next door McDonald's and bought 2 big bags of food, some gift certificates for more, and a big cup of coffee. She gave the food to the kids in the car, who attacked it like wolves, and we stood by the pump eating fries and talking a little.

She told me her name, and that she lived in Kansas City. Her boyfriend left 2 months ago and she had not been able to make ends meet. She knew she wouldn't have money to pay rent Jan. 1, and in desperation had finally called her parents, with whom she had not spoken in about 5 years. They lived in California and said she could come live with them and try to get on her feet there.

So she packed up everything she owned in the car. She told the kids they were going to California for Christmas, but not that they were going to live there. I gave her my gloves, a little hug and said a quick prayer with her for safety on the road. As I was walking over to my car, she said, 'So, are you like an angel or something?'

This definitely made me cry. I said, 'Sweetie, at this time of year angels are really busy, so sometimes God uses regular people.'

I've been reflecting on this story for the last hour. The first thought that occured to me was that when you are working for the Lord, He always puts you right where He wants you to be.

My second thought was, "How many times have I been so self-absorbed that I missed an opportunity like this?"

It's not that we are mean-spirited egoists, constantly wrapped up in our own lives; it's just that sometimes, when something bad happens to us, some of us might dwell on our own situation. While this is understandable, the fact is, the more we dwell on our own lives, the less we are able to love others. This man knew his situation was under control. What would have been the sense in dwelling on it?  Had he been doing anything but simply waiting, he might not have been able to see this woman's situation for what it was, and completely missed the opportunity to literally save her life. 

We may not be able to whip out a credit card, but if we're paying attention (getting back to my first thought), we have many opportunities every day to love one another as Christ intends.  We can't be anything for someone else when we're only thinking of ourselves.

At the end of this story as it was sent to me, the physician's car starts right up and he drives home without incident; but where does his gratitude lie? "It was so incredible to be a part of someone else's miracle." This is true humility--the ability to not think of yourself at all. Something tells me he would have said the same thing if he rode home in the front seat of a towtruck.

As we enter into the holiday season, may we all have the kind of faith that makes us forget all about us, so we can be ready for our Lord when He decides to send us.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Teacher of Faith and Science

Today's feast day takes me back.  I still remember the Masses, balloon launches, parades, assemblies and blessings in which we participated back when I was a gradeschooler at St. Albert the Great in North Royalton, OH.  November 15 was a big deal at my grade school.

I don't think I realized until much later, though, just what a big deal St. Albert the Great was.  Here was the son of a nobleman who fell in love with his Lord early in life, and dispite his family's discouragement, sought out a religious life.  He didn't just dedicate himself to learning--he saw learning as a means to knowing God, and the better we know someone, the more deeply we can love that someone.

It's thanks to St. Albert that we have St. Thomas Aquinas.  No wonder he was declared a Doctor of the Church.

I found the following thought at EWTN's website that says it better than I ever could:   "St. Albert the Great was convinced that all creation spoke of God and that the tiniest piece of scientific knowledge told us something about Him. Besides the Bible, God has given us the book of creation revealing something of His wisdom and power. In creation, Albert saw the hand of God."  (read more about Albert the Great here.)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Peace Must Be Our Daily Prayer

…was the message of St. Catherine of Siena as portrayed by Sr. Nancy Murray, O.P., Monday evening at St. Nicholas Parish in Struthers, Ohio.

I’ve been a moderate devotee of St. Catherine of Siena for some time now, having read several of her letters and working (slowly) through her “Dialogue”. There’s a lot of material there, and I’m taking my time digesting it. Through Sr. Nancy Murray’s portrayal, though, everything I’ve already read about her came to life.

I’ve spent the last day and a half digesting what I experienced. Catherine of Siena, like all of the saints, is truly timeless. Here is a woman, the youngest of 25 children (and she’s a twin), who learned through her desire for solitude in this enormous family what it meant to really love her neighbor. By becoming the servant to her enormous family in exchange for a tiny cell to which she could retreat and pray, she learned how to achieve solitude even in her crowded home, within the "cell" within her.

If you have an opportunity to see this one-woman show, You will not be disappointed.
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