The Crown, the election, and the Solemnity of Christ the King

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The release of the Netflix series, The Crown, coming soon and possibly purposefully after the election was welcomed by those of us all too happy to dip into another country’s removed and far more decorous politics.

I binged through the show at an embarrassing pace. In my defense, my computer, on which I blog and work, died an unceremonious death one day and left my evenings free to read and watch Netflix. But I’m not complaining. It’s sumptuous and beautifully acted and had me reading an unhealthy amount on my phone about the ins and outs of the British royal family.

However much it may stray into fiction, the show gives us an intimate view of the personal lives of the royals. That human and flawed internal life in relation to the external life of the Crown—holy, dignified, and immutable—was incredibly fascinating to me.

Philip kneels before his wife and queen at her coronation and, on camera, looks to the world unremarkably dutiful when it was actually a tense and difficult moment for him.

Elizabeth and Philip seem to ennoble all they touch at home and abroad and yet the peace within their marriage is subject to strains of exhaustion, over-scheduling, and family drama that any married couple might feel.

Elizabeth is expected to and appears to keep calm and carry on through scandals and drama within the government and within her own family, but she relies enormously on moral support from her husband and sister and mother to carry out her duties for the good of her country.

It’s made me reflect on marriage and monarchy as very general concepts but also in the very specificity of my own life. I’m of course the queen of nowhere and no one but my tiny home and family. And yet, the amount that my husband and I are willing to humble ourselves to one another and bear one another’s burdens also has long lasting, though far subtler, reverberations for the whole world. After all, our children carry whatever environment we raise them in, be it imbued with love or fraught with fear, out into the world.

Yesterday was the Feast of Christ the King. The election and all the ugliness it’s brought out has made me feel this urgency in my heart to actually live out in concrete ways the truth that our allegiance lies first with Christ the King rather than any earthly power. So, painful as it is for Philip to kneel before his wife and painful as it might be to sometimes metaphorically kneel to my husband, i.e. bite back my urge to snap at him when I’m upset or tired, it’s actually to the Crown, the heavenly Crown, to the truly holy, dignified, and immutable kingship of Christ, that I kneel.

So if this election’s got you down (and frankly, if you’re like me, would have got you down no matter the outcome), exercise your civic duty by volunteering, donating, and speaking out in constructive ways in the name of the oppressed and vulnerable, rather than just reposting and complaining in your echo chamber. But also worship your true King by loving the people in your own small kingdom well.

The Crown, the election, and the Solemnity of Christ the King

Coffee Table Evangelization: The Catholic Catalogue

I’ve always had this problem where I get really nervous about talking about my faith with non-Catholics but at the same time I can’t keep quiet about it because it is who I am. I think I’ve gotten better with age. There was a point in my life when I stressfully felt like I had to convince people of the truth of my faith. But now, it’s more like this is a beautiful thing that informs every aspect of my life so it’s just bound to spill over into conversation wherever I am whoever I’m with.

Most of my friends growing up were not Catholic, and I remember them saying that they could never be Catholic because of all the things you would have to know.Now I think I understand. Looking from the outside in it does seem like there’s just so much seemingly superfluous stuff: all the patron saints and feast days and icons and statues and priests and nuns in strange clothes and titles of Mary (and what is it with Catholics and Mary anyway?). But at the time, the idea that there was too much to learn left me reeling. It was like saying you could never go to school because there was too much to learn. Or that you could never get married because there too much to get to know about a person. Too much to know and to love.

In college, I read Evelyn Waugh’s words on conversion and I wish I had known them before then, because it put into words those innate feelings I had:

“Conversion is like stepping across the chimney piece out of a Looking-Glass world, where everything is an absurd caricature, into the real world God made; and then begins the delicious process of exploring it limitlessly.”

And then I wish I had The Catholic Catalogue on hand. Not because I think everyone must be Catholic and must be Catholic this instant. (I think everyone should be wherever God wants them to be.) But just in case they were curious about all the seemingly superfluous stuff.

If conversion, as Evelyn Waugh makes it out to be, is the limitless exploration of a new land, The Catholic Catalogue, subtitled A Field Guide to the Daily Acts that Make Up a Catholic Life, is like a guide book for that journey.

Written by a mother-daughter team who runs a website by the same name, the book is organized in different sections titled: Smells and Bells (topics include among others: relics, oils and incense, praying the rosary, and processions), Seasons of the Church Year (describing how to keep and celebrate Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Ordinary Time as well as the various feasts within those seasons), and Seasons of Life (explaining sacraments and different vocations but also giving practical advice for things like naming a child, finding a spiritual director, and choosing a Catholic tattoo).

I think what I love most about this book is that it’s coffee table evangelization. It’s the sort of book that would have piqued my interest as a kid. I have this feeling that a good deal of imaginative, spiritual formation is actually hands off with raising children. (Maybe I think that because it keeps me from stressing about the enormous task of making sure your kids end up decent and faithful people.) It made a big deal in my childhood that there were simply good books around me. So I think exposing the natural curiosity of children to truth and goodness and beauty in indirect ways goes a long way.

The Catholic Catalogue is also perfect for newly (or not so newly) married couples trying intentionally to make their home into a domestic church. It makes for an ideal reference book in creating a rule or rhythm for living out the Christian life that’s tailored to your family’s own particular needs and devotions. The spiritual nourishment it offers makes it a beautiful gift idea for any sacrament in a person’s life.

Basically, if I know you and you have a major Catholic life event coming up, you’re probably going to receive this book from me. You’re welcome in advance.

Coffee Table Evangelization: The Catholic Catalogue

Film Review: About Time

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I’m pretty sure About Time, which follows protagonist, Tim Lake, as he navigates work, love, marriage, and family life with time travel thrown in, will convince any vocational on-the-fencers that they’re called to marriage. I watched the film just weeks before my wedding and it bowled me over into a heap of achingly blissful sobs. How could it not? It movingly and wittily centers on marital and parental love and it was only a matter of time before I’d be eternally vowing myself to a life of that.

Every time I’ve seen it since, it never fails to make me joyously reaffirm my marital vows–the highest of compliments for a film. But it doesn’t just flatly affirm the goodness of love, marriage, and family. It touches on something more nuanced that’s been on my mind ever since I first realized my changed identity as someone’s mother: the relationship of time and family life.

Here are a few things on that theme that stick out to me:

Parents are the keepers of time in their children’s lives

He always seemed to have time on his hands. After giving up teaching university students on his 50th birthday, he was eternally available for a leisurely chat or to let me win at table tennis.
All in all it was a pretty good childhood. Full of repeated rhythms and patterns. By the time I was 21, we were still having tea on the beach every single day. Skimming stones and eating sandwiches, summer and winter, no matter what the weather…And every Friday night a film, no matter what the weather.

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These are some of the first lines of the film which opens in the loveliest way–placing us in the midst of a happy, idiosyncratic, imperfect, but love-filled family (in idyllic Cornwall to boot). When I begin watching this film I always think, “That’s what I want my family to look like.” But this life of repeated rhythms and patterns doesn’t just happen its own. Rather, it’s a parent’s responsibility to structure their children’s and their own time in a meaningful way.

I don’t think it’s too bold to say that parents are tasked with the reclamation of time as a sacred element of human life. Modern life sets upon us the pressures of instant connectability and a never-ending influx of information. We become sick with the glorification of busyness as work increasingly spills into personal life. Our children’s inner lives begin to dim when every moment of their lives is crammed with activity.

And so within the home, we must reclaim time for contemplation, for leisure, for recreation. And that atmosphere is precisely what the teas and the table tennis matches and the family dinners all create in the film. That’s why Christian parents, in particular, are meant to live out the liturgical year in their home both daily and seasonally.

Children teach us something about the nature of eternity

No one can ever prepare you for what happens when you have a child. When you see the baby in your arms and you know that it’s your job now. No one can prepare you for the love and the fear. No one can prepare you for the love from the people you love can feel for them, and nothing can prepare you for the indifference of friends who don’t have babies…Suddenly, time travel seems almost unnecessary, because every detail of life is so delightful.

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I’ve written before about the weird and wonderful stretching of the metaphysical confines of time and space in pregnancy. And equally wild is the baby’s actual arrival. Because you’re going about life linearly hitting different milestones and achievements and then this new, intense human being emerges (out. of. your. body.) and time feels as though it stops and everything is suspended in this new dimension of reality: slow and sweet and grueling and frenetic all at once.

The film does an excellent job of highlighting how having a child is both miraculous and commonplace.

The scene after Tim and Mary’s first child is born is a tender one and I love the choice of Arvo Part’s “Spiegel im Spiegel” playing at that moment. The name of the song translates to “mirror in the mirror” referring to an infinity of images connoting the profound transcendental weight that moments in time carry.

We then follow more commonplace, miraculous moments in Tim and Mary’s new life as parents that show how children only magnify the love of one’s community and offer more opportunities to come together, pause, and celebrate–a foretaste of eternity.

It is the ordinariness in our lives that reveals the extraordinary

We’re all traveling through time together, every day of our lives. All we can do is do our best to relish this remarkable ride.

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Director, Richard Curtis, got the idea for About Time when he was talking to a friend about how they would want to spend the last day of their lives.

“We just want a very normal day at home, giving breakfast to the kids… seeing friends, having dinner with the family,” he explained.

I love that this film is littered with scenes from ordinary life. Going on nervous, thrilling first dates. Waking up in the morning next to your spouse and playfully teasing one another about who is going to get the kids. Listening to your dad read you a favorite passage from Dickens. Coloring monsters with your three-year-old.

Time travel may be the plot device that the film pivots on, but it isn’t really about that. It’s about real time travel. That is, our travels through our days that are made up mostly of small moments in which we may forge love and kinship with one another. These moments make up the framework of our relationships and create a space in which we can delight in one another and be vulnerable with one another.

SPOILER

In one of my favorite scenes near the end of the film after his father has passed away, Tim has one last opportunity to visit him in the past. His father beats him at a game of table tennis and Tim asks him for a kiss goodbye. It’s a moment that moves quickly from hilarity to poignancy. They decide to travel back to a moment from Tim’s childhood where they walk along the beach and skip stones. The two of them have played hundreds of table tennis matches and skipped hundreds of stones together and these repeated ordinary rituals culminate in this last scene revealing an extraordinary love between father and son.

END SPOILER

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Do yourself a favor and watch About Time. Or rewatch it. And think of the remarkable ordinary moments of our days that we all too frequently let slip away unnoticed.

As Mary Oliver says, “Who needs poets if we just offer up to the world our attention.”

P.S. another to reason to watch: to mourn the fact that you don’t live in this house.

Film Review: About Time

Review: Brooklyn and Master of None

 

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Spoiler alert for both Brooklyn and Master of None.

A while ago my sister and I left the babies with our husbands and went to one of those theaters where you can sip mojitos and gorge yourself on fried pickles while you watch your flick of choice. A truly indulgent, wholly recommended experience. We went to see Brooklyn, and even if there hadn’t been alcohol, greasy food, and the plushest of seats, the film would have still stayed with me long after I left the theater.

It’s the love story of an Irish immigrant named Eilis and an Italian-American boy named Tony, and it’s a simple, beautiful ode to the immigrants who built new lives in this country and, in doing so, helped build this country.

A few weeks after I saw the film, I binged the first season of Master of None, Aziz Ansari’s humorous but often dismal show centering on life as a millennial in New York. Watching the two of them side by side was like a comparative cultural study on young romance.

The first striking difference that caught my attention was how the leads meet in each. In Brooklyn, Eilis and Tony meet at a dance for the young Irish community–an event that is a means of providing a wholesome way for young men and women to foster friendships and courtships. There’s a good-natured priest chaperoning and the whole thing is completely devoid of drama. Afterwards, an innocently smitten Tony walks Eilis home and the scene is marked by their sweet conversation as they begin to get to know one another. In Anna Keating’s review over at The Catholic Catalogue, she notes how refreshing it is to witness a relationship unfolding unhampered by charmless technology there to complicate things.

The very first scene of Master of None depicts Ansari’s character, Dev, and a girl named Rachel in the midst of a hookup after having met at a bar earlier that evening. After the condom rips, they both panic and awkwardly sit in silence in the dark on their phones trying to find an Uber to take them to a convenience store where they can buy plan b for Rachel. When Dev insists on paying for the plan b pills, there’s a strange, inverted chivalry that stands in stark contrast to the aforementioned scene in Brooklyn. There’s more awkward silence in the cab and any dialogue they share painfully underscores how little they know or truly want to know one another.

Most excellently portrayed in both Brooklyn and in Master of None is the dilemma of commitment. Rachel reappears in Dev’s life several months after that first night. They eventually do date, have a long-term relationship, move in together, and talk about marriage. However, they’re both deeply fearful of marriage and have many inhibiting assumptions about it: that happy marriages are built on an easy love free of hesitation or fear and that saying yes to marriage means saying yes to a life of predictability and boredom. Ultimately, they are too scared to say no to other life possibilities, and so they are unable to say yes to one another.

In Brooklyn, when tragedy strikes Eilis’ family and she plans to return to Ireland for a short trip, Tony convinces her that they should get married. Despite her hesitations, Eilis happily agrees. When Eilis goes back to Ireland where nobody knows of her American marriage, she discovers that this place which previously didn’t offer her a hopeful future now does. She is forced like Dev and Rachel and all of us to choose between different possible lives. Unlike the characters in Master of None, however, Eilis has the courage to commit. And unlike in Master of None, there’s a lovely quiet implication that a good marriage is not boring and that people have a limitless depth to their being that makes committing yourself to one person an adventure in itself.

I think this excerpt from Carolyn Pirtle’s review of Brooklyn over at Notre Dame’s Church Life Journal sums up well the tensions of having to make these life choices:

“What Brooklyn shows us is that, while it is possible to imagine a plethora of life scenarios in which one might be equally happy, it is also possible to choose—and not just possible, but necessary. For if you never say no to anything, you never really say yes to anything either. Saying yes to the one thing may mean saying no to all of the other things, but ultimately, it gives you the freedom to pour your entire self into prolonging that initial yes over the course of a life by affirming it over and over again.

And one more quote that I find apt and would like to share:

“Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might be found more suitable mates. But the real soul-mate is the one you are actually married to.”
-J.R.R. Tolkien

If I had to pick just one, I would whole-heartedly recommend Brooklyn as my movie night pick, but if you’re like me and enjoy thinking about cultural issues and social trends over a bowl of popcorn, I’d recommend both. Happy Monday!

Review: Brooklyn and Master of None

Film Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

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Our movie nights tend to go something like this:

I scroll endlessly on Netflix, adding a bunch of movies to my watch-list that I may at some point be in the mood to watch but am not currently, ask my husband what he wants to watch, am met with feigned indifference hiding a hankering for a foreign art film and, while maybe in the depths of my heart I want to watch something heady as well, my immediate desire is for something light and fluffy, so I suggest a lot of options of that sort and all get shut down. After roughly an hour and half of going back and forth like this, we decide on a tv show which feels less like a commitment than a film even though we usually watch enough episodes to equal a film and a half.

I made my 2016 watch list to help with this indecisiveness. 90% of the films are recommendations from The Catholic Catalogue. Certain people like to tease that I won’t watch a film unless it has the TCC stamp of approval but whatevs. Those ladies know what they’re about.

The other night, on The Catholic Catalogue‘s recommendation, I picked Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and my husband and I both loved it. I think it’s the best possible answer to The Fault in Our Stars.

There may be legitimately good things about The Fault in Our Stars. (Don’t ask me. I read the book to see what the hype was all about and found the writing nearly unbearable to swallow.) However, the reason it succeeds so well is because it feeds adolescent (and not so adolescent) girls’ raging desires for romance. And a youthful romantic story driven by the urgency of death makes it all the more compelling (yolo and all that).

But Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, which also deals with teens and cancer, is all about friendship and maybe that’s why it hasn’t enjoyed the same amount of popularity. (Though I suspect the cult around John Green has something to do with it.)

We worship coupledom as a culture, and, in the microcosm of high school, that worship is intensified. The majority of young people believe that members of the opposite sex cannot have deep platonic friendships, that to have feelings for another person necessitates pursuing a relationship with that person, that they can’t not be in a relationship at all times, and, as depicted by The Fault in Our Stars, that a romantic relationship is the end all be all of life. (Oh and things like this do not help.)

I don’t want to absolutely discredit the teenage experience of romance, but so many young people are pursuing romantic relationships without healthy relationships to look up to and emulate and without genuine guidance from older friends and family members with their best interests at heart. I think that far more needed than sex ed courses focused on instilling a hellish fear of STDs and unplanned pregnancies in teens and supplying them with condoms because our expectations for them are so low is a cultural conversation about friendship and the dignity of the human person that might inspire them to love rather than use one another. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl contributes to such a conversation.

The main character, Greg, has spent his life avoiding real friendships. He refers to his best friend, Earl, as his co-worker since they make films together. He is on good but superficial terms with all the cliques in his high school so as to escape notice. When his mom makes him spend time with Rachel, who has just been diagnosed with leukemia, he is resistant. But he does and they quickly become friends.

Greg’s fears that becoming friends with another person will make him vulnerable are soon realized. Again and again, Rachel challenges Greg’s comfortable invisible existence and shallow ties to other people. The possibility of death forces them to truly get to know one another and for Greg to face the possibility of having his heart broken.

However, with true friendship comes not only vulnerability but a richer experience of life. Greg discovers the joy of helping a friend, who is often weak, exhausted, and discouraged, enjoy what might be the last months of her life. When Earl shares their films with Rachel, Greg is angry that he has betrayed something of theirs that is so personal to her. What he doesn’t expect is how liberating and gratifying it is for someone you care about to appreciate those deepest, most vulnerable aspects of yourself.

Earl, who also becomes Rachel’s friend through Greg, for the first time is able to transcend his objectification of girls (at least momentarily) and see Rachel’s unique dignity. In their film tribute to her, he tells her: “It’s just crazy how patient you’ve been. You know, I know if it was me that had cancer, uh… I’d be upset and angry and trying to beat everybody’s ass half the time. So I’m just, I’m just amazed at how patient you’ve been. You, you make me feel blessed.”

Romantic feeling–and much less, sex–don’t have to be essential elements for a relationship between two persons to involve emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and moral companionship. In fact, for emotionally immature people, sensual romance can cloud their vision and obstruct the path to that companionship. Perhaps Greg and Rachel’s (and Earl’s) friendship doesn’t develop in all those aspects but it does show us that young people have the capacity to pursue deep, meaningful, and life-changing friendships.

Of course I can’t finish this review without these oft-quoted lines from C.S. Lewis:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

Be forewarned that there is crass teenage humor in this film. Nevertheless, it would make for a great youth group or theology of the body club movie night and discussion…or for a stay-at-home-date-night for people like me and my husband who went to public high school and hated being there lololol

Film Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Book Review: Simple Matters (plus my thoughts on minimalism and holiness in the home)

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A certain grumpy baby subjected me to marathon nursing sessions the other day so I took the opportunity to scarf down a book I had borrowed from my sister, Simple Matters, by blogger, Erin Boyle. And I was surprised by how much I loved it. I admit to prejudging the book thinking that it might be another curated minimalistic and unattainable lifestyle on display to make the rest of us feel second-rate at mothering and homemaking. Instead, I found Erin’s practices for simple living to be not only attainable but also deeply thoughtful and, in many ways, cohesive in a Catholic vision of ideal homemaking—which is the vision of a domestic monastery.

Domestic monastery–those words get thrown around often and I always think they sound lovely but am unsure of what a domestic monastery is supposed to look like and what are practical ways for making it happen. Erin’s book offers a way to achieve some aspects of that vision.

Though my lay vocation as a spouse and parent limits me from renouncing the world in the radical way that a cloistered monk or nun might, I can still echo specific vows and practices of monastic life in our homes.

For instance, I can emulate vows of poverty by rejecting consumerism in concrete ways such as questioning how and where the things I buy are made. Consequently, this would keep me from being caught in the cycle of indirect exploitation that I so easily fall into.

“When we make a commitment to using our purchasing power wisely, we set off a chain reaction that affects people we’ve never met and places we’ve never been for the better.”

I can also be a good steward of my home by practicing domestic virtues of thrift, resourcefulness, and organization. To do this, it’s necessary to adopt habits such as the continual evaluation of the things in my home that so often become a part of the visual landscape and unconsciously cause stress. Erin shrewdly points this out: “We’re under the false impression that we’re not in control of our spaces when the opposite is true.” When we strip unnecessary things away, we create an environment of calmness and order, which of course is supposed to be the environment of a monastery–one conducive to prayer and reflection.

While the book deals mainly with decluttering and minimizing what we own, Erin makes it clear that it is equally important to properly value those things we do choose to allow in our home. She tells her readers, “I genuinely like stuff. I appreciate good design. I enjoy keeping a beautiful home filled with beautiful things. Not lots of things. Nice things.”

In the Catholic vision of homemaking, this speaks to me of a sacramental mentality–that material things can hold immaterial import.

Our children’s first education is through their senses in the home. The textures, colors, smells, sounds, and tastes they experience, whether it’s through something as explicitly religious as a home oratory or as simple as freshly laundered linens or candles at the dinner table as Erin and her husband have made a ritual of having, should never be underestimated in their power to instill a sense of wonder in a child.

What I really love about this book is that the author is reasonable. Erin isn’t asking you to konmari-the-shizz-out-of-your-home so that you’re left with nothing and no budget with which to start over. She gives practical tips and exercises for simplifying your life, and she acknowledges that the lifestyle changes she suggests are a gradual process.

The only thing I would have liked to see differently is how these ideas might realistically be put into practice for a larger family, especially since I currently only have one child who is still easily contained. However, one day I hope to have a bunch of little humans and I’d like the reassurance that this whole ordered and simplified life/domestic-monastery-in-practice is, to some extent, feasible.

There’s so much more I could say about this book, but this would probably end up being equal in length to the book itself. And anyway, I should stop writing and go make the author proud by cutting up holey t-shirts to make into reusable kitchen rags.

(Update: Jenny’s got us covered with the large family/minimalism aspirations)

Book Review: Simple Matters (plus my thoughts on minimalism and holiness in the home)