Category: Inspirational

‘Hacksaw Ridge': Catholic Leaders Speak Out on the Inspirational World War II Drama

andrew-garfield-hacksaw-ridge-ffbThe courage that comes from faith is something all Christians understand — and the courage of conviction is something familiar to all people of good will.

Coming out nationwide on Friday, Nov. 4, World War II drama “Hacksaw Ridge,” directed by Mel Gibson, features a main character who’s a Seventh Day Adventist — indeed, he’d kind of a superhero in Adventist circles — but his strong faith in Christ and reliance on Him in the face of the unimaginable resonates from the days of the Apostles to the modern martyrs all around the world.

Even if you’re not religious, there’s a universal appeal to the idea that a man like Army medic Desmond Doss (played by Andrew Garfield) — whose pacifist beliefs forbid him from holding a gun but compelled him to save the lives of friends and foes alike during a brutal battle on Okinawa — had firm beliefs and stood strong in them in the face of ridicule, abuse and institutional pressure. Any man or woman of principle will one day have to face detractors, and we all could take a lesson from Doss, who had malice toward none and charity to all.

The film may also represent a Hollywood redemption of sorts for Mel Gibson, which I discussed here.

Some Catholic leaders have spoken out about the movie, which I believe may be a serious award contender, for star Garfield if nothing else. Here’s what they had to say:

“’Hacksaw Ridge’ powerfully communicates the horror of war, and yet urges us to strive earnestly for lasting peace. It demonstrates that deeply held religious convictions do not hinder love of country and service to it. Desmond Doss reminded me of what every chaplain does in a conflict: serve as a force multiplier. Do not miss the opportunity to see ‘Hacksaw Ridge.’” The Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, Archbishop for the Military Services, USA

“‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is a WWII movie that will rival ‘Saving Private Ryan’ in graphic realism and powerful personal storytelling, only this story is true, with Desmond Doss keeping his commitment to God. Gripping war scenes, sweet romance and laugh-out-loud funny bits will keep you entertained throughout.” Rick Santorum, former Senator and presidential candidate

“This movie is a reminder that goodness triumphs over evil ALWAYS, and that kindness and good acts are sure to bring about light and hope in the midst of darkness. A must see!” Rev. Jude Ekenedilichukwu Ezuma, Personal Priest Secretary, Office of Daniel Cardinal DiNardo

“When the greatest struggle finally came, he was well prepared because Faith was the strength by which this heroic young man lived. Excellent film — we need more such films of real-life heroes!” Mother Assumpta, OP, Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist

“It’s the true story of a man with conviction, courage and character.” Father David Guffey, C.S.C., head of production at Family Theater Productions

The movie also speaks for itself (note, while all the f-words and blasphemy have been removed from the movie, it’s still rated R, for some profanity and realistic combat violence) …

Click here for a page with additional resources; and here for the official homepage.

Images: Courtesy Lionsgate

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.

Youth Bring Hope to Los Angeles and the Church

rally-crowdThere are plenty of reasons to despair in the modern world — especially in Hollywood — but every now and then, there’s a burst of truth, beauty and goodness.

This morning, Oct. 25, at the USC Galen Center in Los Angeles, thousands of teenagers and schoolchildren gathered for the 4th Annual Christian Service 4LIFE Rally. The program featured Catholic musician Joe Melendrez, warming up the crowd with dancing and religious rap; media evangelist and head of the Word on Fire apostolate, Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop bishop-barronRobert Barron (“Catholicism” and the new “Catholicism: The Pivotal Players”); a shadow play of Jesus’ life; Eucharistic Adoration; a homily from Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez; and a play written and directed by Catholic actor Matthew Marsden, staring Kelly Mohun and Don Forte, on “The Life and Works of Mother Teresa.”

Acting as host was Patrick Coffin, the former host of “Catholic Answers Live” on Immaculate Heart Radio (who’s in the process of launching a new podcast).

The enthusiasm and joy of the schoolchildren was beautiful and filled me with hope. In a world that is increasingly divided and disunified, this morning’s event showcased the beauty of community.

The play about Mother Teresa’s life reminded all of us about the simple call to do small things with great love. Mother Teresa was canonized by the Catholic Church last month and now joins the communion of saints in a special way, interceding on our behalf. She is an example of how we are called to love one another regardless of race, creed or beliefs.

Bishop Barron spoke about one of the newest saints to be canonized – Mexican Saint Jose Sanchez del Rio – who was 14 when he was tortured and martyred for not renouncing Christ. Bishop Barron asked the kids in the audience which ones were 14 years old. Many of them raised their hands in enthusiasm, and you could feel the energy in the room. “What if Christ could harness all of this energy, we would set the world on fire!” Bishop Barron exclaimed.

Dan Selmezcy of Saint Monica Academy in Pasadena choreographed the shadow dance. These images started with theshadowplay2
Annunciation and moved through the life of Jesus and Mary through the Crucifixion, Resurrection and coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven. The dancers beautifully showed the connection between Christ and the dignity of every human person.

In the middle of the program, Archbishop Gomez entered, holding a Monstrance, carrying the Blessed Sacrament for a time of prayer called Adoration, ending with Benediction. The monstrance is what holds the Host, the circular disk that is made into the body of Christ during Mass. Adoration is a time to stop and adore God, to acknowledge that God is, and to ask for His love and mercy. The loud and wild auditorium full of enthusiastic 7th-12th graders quieted down and entered into this time of prayer.

“Prayer is simply a conversation with God — just talking to him,” said Archbishop Gomez. During the Latin chant, “O Salutaris Hostia,” sung by Genevieve Grimm and her choir, there was a palpable prayerfulness that transcended the room. These children experienced something very natural – the desire to pray and be close to God. And yet, something very unusual in the daily life of a student – encountering God with thousands of other young people.

As I looked around, I found such hopefulness. Amidst the temptations to pessimism and the pervasiveness of cynicism, there was such hope in this event. From the young adults leading the events to the schoolchildren who attended, our Church is ever growing and ever full of hope!

The program ended with Thomas Quackenbush, a teacher from St. Monica Academy, leading the crowd in singing O Happy Day!

You may remember the song from the movie “Sister Act”:

What a fitting ending!

Images: Courtesy Laura Zambrana

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.

‘Queen of Katwe': Father David Guffey Looks at the Film — and the Children of Uganda

queen-of-katweDisney’s new film “Queen of Katwe,” in theaters now, shows the gritty reality of life in a Ugandan slum, but does not ask for your pity. Instead, it invites you to be inspired.

“Queen of Katwe” offers an entertaining sports movie (albeit about chess tournaments) that hits all the right story beats about a gifted young woman who, against all odds, rises to greatness. It’s entertaining just on that level.

The film is based on the true story of Phiona Mutesi (played by Medina Malwanga), who grew up in a slum with siblings and her widowed mother, played by Lupita N’yong’o. Like her siblings, Phiona passes her days hawking roasted corn on the streets of Kampala, till one day she discovers a Christian center for kids run by Robert Katende, played by David Oyelowo.

Katende is a mentor who is concerned for the kids in his sports and chess program. Phiona rises among his other students and then beyond, to regional tournaments. The film shows that Katende has a supportive wife and a strong faith, but does so in an organic way that fits within the story as context and background, rather than as a message or a promotion.

On a personal note, two years ago I visited poor neighborhoods outside of Nairobi, Kenya, and I spent some time around Kampala, Uganda. In that time, I met people who worked hard every day to make a living, who had close bonds with family and a deep faith. I met people who, in spite of poverty, lack of civic resources and miserable living conditions, nevertheless had a capacity for hope, joy and generosity. Faith was part of what made this be so.

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Some of the people I met on my trip became my heroes: students hungry for education, mentors gracious in guiding youth, parents sacrificing for their children and communities that celebrate life. “Queen of Katwe” exemplifies the spirit I saw there. Not only that, but the film made me want to be a better person in the world I inhabit.

Note from Social Media Manager Kate O’Hare:

In case you didn’t know, chess players have their own patron, Saint Teresa of Avila!

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Image: Courtesy Walt Disney Pictures

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.

Stephen Colbert Lets His J.R.R. Tolkien Freak Flag Fly

Stephen-Colbert-Catholic-Tolkien“Lord of the Rings” author J.R.R. Tolkien died 43 years ago today, on Sept. 2, 1973. He was a devout Catholic, as his grandson Simon Tolkien recalls:

I vividly remember going to church with him in Bournemouth. He was a devout Roman Catholic and it was soon after the Church had changed the liturgy from Latin to English. My grandfather obviously didn’t agree with this and made all the responses very loudly in Latin while the rest of the congregation answered in English. I found the whole experience quite excruciating, but my grandfather was oblivious. He simply had to do what he believed to be right.

I can’t fault him for that, since I’ve been know to — quietly — pray all the ordinary prayers of the Mass in Latin if everyone else is doing them in English. J.R.R., I feel your pain.

Anyway, he has millions of fans all around the world, but it’s hard to imagine that too many of them are more dedicated and knowledgeable than CBS’ “The Late Show” host, Stephen Colbert, also a Catholic.

In this clip posted on Aug. 4, he gets a “Lord of the Rings” question from the audience:

This is nothing new. From Dec. 2015:

And, back in 2013, when Colbert was still host of “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central, in which he holds a Tolkien geek-off with actor James Franco:

And, by the way, Stephen Colbert — or any of you other big fans out there — according to a story posted yesterday at the Birmingham (U.K.) Mail — get that checkbook ready, because:

Rare first editions of two J. R .R. Tolkien novels are to be put up for auction in September.

The Hobbit, the first novel written by the celebrated children’s author who lived in Birmingham, is in excellent condition and is estimated to fetch £1,000-£1,500, Chiswick Auctions said.

Its sequel, The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, is also up for grabs.

In good condition, the volume is estimated to fetch £2,000-£3,000.

And, in this Aug. 26 story from The Federalist.com, Tolkien is credited with his impact on music:

What would post-1965 rock have been like if the authorized second edition of “The Lord of the Rings” had never been released in paperback? Sure, there’s the obvious stuff that would otherwise have been unlikely, if not impossible, like “Ramble On”—what, I wonder, does Gollum want with the “girl so fair”? Has she got the Ring?—and “Misty Mountain Hop” and “The Battle of Evermore” and so on.

Black Sabbath had a Tolkien phase, and so did Rush. Call me crazy, but I’ve always caught faint whiffs of Bilbo’s walking song and Gandalf’s journey on horseback with Pippin in The Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider” (“And the rooooooad goes on forever”). Tom Bombadil and Galadriel are all over the place in the Grateful Dead.

British author and Catholic convert Joseph Pearce has also delved deeply into the Catholic roots of Tolkien. Click here for an interview, or, if you have more time, get some tea and Lembas bread, and settle in for this lecture on the subject:

May the Force Be With You (oops, sorry, wrong fictional universe) …

Image: Courtesy CBS

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.

A Millennial Priest Shares a Day in His Busy Life

Day-in-the-life-of-a-priestAre all priests extremely holy men who sit around all day being holy and doing holy things?

Maybe saints do that — but I have my doubts about even them. Of course, there’s Christ, who was man and God; and Mary, who was was immaculately conceived without Original Sin.

Christ was undoubtedly holy 24/7; and Mary was about as good as a human being gets. But other than that … we’re all just people — even saints and especially priests.

Meet Father John Muir, a 34-year-old guy (probably 35 now, since this video is from last summer) who digs hip-hop, goes running, tosses a football and skateboards, all while praying and evangelizing and offering Mass and all that stuff. He does it with heart, and he does it with style.

The Church can survive without a lot of things, but without priests, She doesn’t have the Eucharist, and without that, She doesn’t have the physical presence of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ.

Without shepherds, the sheep are left to the mercy of the wolves.

We will never stop needing shepherds, and they don’t just fall out of the sky.

As Father Muir says:

“Come get in the battle. … Priests are real men that God calls. … Man up, get off the couch, and come and be a priest.”

Image: YouTube Screenshot

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.

Netflix’s ‘Beat Bugs': Imparting a Great Musical Legacy to Our Children

beat-bugs-netflix-ffbGreat art is timeless, and corresponds to all beholders, no matter how young.

This is what executive producer Josh Wakely discovered one day while listening to The Beatles on the radio after his first child was born.  As he told Rolling Stone: “I remember hearing ‘All You Need Is Love’ in the car and realizing that it was a perfect song melodically. It had a message of love that resonated with me as a young parent, that it’s a message you can teach children.” The result was Netflix’s “Beat Bugs,” which premiered earlier this month. All episodes are currently available.

Like Wakely, I often ask myself what it is that I would like to pass on to my children? Of course, my Catholic faith is at the very top of the list. But because beauty is a link to the Divine, coming a close second is an appreciation for the arts, all arts, but most especially great music.

“Beat Bugs” imparts a piece of music history to the next generation in a very unique and literal way – and despite what you might think, the songs apply to kids’ life lessons very easily – because of its greatness, and childlike simplicity.

Not everyone might consider The Beatles to be deep-thinking philosophers, but along with their catchy rhythms and soulful melodies, their lyrics often strike a very human chord. That is to say, although simple, the language that floats atop their sonorous music speaks real truth to the human heart.

So, through the eyes of the Beat Bugs – Jay (the only beetle), Crick, Buzz, Walter, and Kumi – children can learn the valuable life lessons found in the Beatles’ legacy. My kids not only learn life-lessons, but they also learn great songs. (They have binge watched the entire season already, and some episodes, once or twice.)

If you break it down, the examples really are abundant. For example, who among us has never felt the need for help, sometimes desperately so? And so, The Beatles song “Help” more than mere practical help. This song speaks with great intensity to the difficulty of our fallen human situation; it seems to cry out of our real need for God and one another’s help to progress through the journey of life. It captures so well, the sometimes-haunting loneliness of just being an individual and trying to navigate the paths of life in one’s own strength.

Now let’s translate this idea for the kids: In “Beat Bugs” episode one, where Jay, the reckless and stubborn beetle, is forced to cry out for help because he is stuck in a jelly jar, he learns that friendships can grow stronger because of our weakness. The message corresponds to even the smallest child.

Beatles fans might laugh, knowing the overly poetic, almost nonsensical lyrics some of these songs contain.  But since the songs are great art it corresponds quite easily – with the help of some very literal references to the lyrics.

In “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds?” for instance, Lucy the dragonfly (that actually has kaleidoscope eyes) teaches Buzz the little bee to use her imagination to fight her nightmares.

In “I Am the Walrus”, Walter Walrus, the slug, learns self-confidence after making an embarrassing first impression on his new bug friends when an egg falls on his head.

A grasshopper offers an unpredictable “Magical Mystery Tour” to the five bug friends, and the list goes on.

Great art attracts the great, is it any wonder that many stars of today are attached to this series, such as P!nk (“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”), Sia (“Blackbird”),  Eddie Vedder (“Magical Mystery Tour”), James Corden (“I’m a Loser”), Aloe Blacc (“Rain”), and many more.  Already “Beat Bugs” have the green light for a second season, to air in November.

Great art also unites us in the common human experience, especially music, as was witnessed on our evening family walk, after watching “Beat Bugs”. We were all singing the familiar tunes, which even my three-year-old boy learned. As the beautiful melodies echoed through the neighborhood, I realized that there were three generations being unified, and I was so proud of my kids for knowing some of timeless favorites, I couldn’t help but sing along.

Season One Special Guests:

  • P!nk: “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”
  • James Corden: “I’m A Loser”
  • Aloe Blacc: “Rain”
  • Robbie Williams: “Good Day Sunshine”
  • Eddie Vedder: “Magical Mystery Tour”
  • Frances: “In My Life”
  • The Shins: “The Word”
  • Wesley Schultz (of the Lumineers): “Honey Pie”
  • Sia: “Blackbird”
  • Glass Onion
  • Carry That Weight

Season Two Special Guests:

  • Rod Stewart: “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”
  • Chris Cornell: “Drive My Car”
  • Regina Spektor: “And Your Bird Can Sing”
  • Jennifer Hudson: “I’ll Follow The Sun”
  • Of Monsters and Men: “Eleanor Rigby”
  • James Bay: “Hey Bulldog”
  • Tori Kelly: “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You”

And here’s a taste of “Beat Bugs”

Image: Courtesy Netflix

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.