Category: Film


AMDG

This is the homily I gave yesterday in Sacred Heart Edinburgh for the 14th Sunday, Year C. 

Book_of_eli_posterFour years ago there was a fascinating film released called the Book of Eli (spoiler alerts!).  It was set in a post-apocalyptic America and stars Denzil Washington who is on a special mission taking a valuable parcel to a safe spot on the West Coast of America.  It is a dangerous mission because post-apocalyptic America is lawless, most of the population are dead, no institutions are left standing, there is no law and order – Just groups of violent gangs – killing and robbing…..

It becomes clear that the parcel our hero is carrying is seen as very valuable.  He has to fight off many groups who wish to take it from him, I should warn you that it is quite a violent film.  You are left wondering – what is in this parcel that everyone is trying to get …..  well it is a surprise to find out that is only a book…..  It turns out that in this post-apocalyptic world many libraries have been destroyed and so there is a community that has based itself on a remote Island – where Alcatraz used to be – and the mission of this community is to try to rebuild a library and thus preserve what is left of human knowledge.

Our hero is trying to get the book to this island – then he encounters a gang who realise how precious this book is…. And for the second part of the film they hunt him down…. In one speech the leader played by Gary Oldham says

Don’t you see? It’s not just any book.  It has the power to motivate people. It can give them hope, it can terrify them. It can shape them. Control them. That book is a weapon. Aimed right at the hearts and minds of people,  Just imagine  what I could do with it.

bookofeli011You might have realised by now that the book that he is carrying is the only surviving copy of the Bible….  His mission is to get it to safety.    Another twist is that it comes apparent that our hero is blind – which is a shock when you realise how adept he is at fighting people off.  It becomes clear that he has an incredible sense of hearing and also claims he is being led by the light of his faith…….  Unfortunately towards the end of the film Gary Oldman’s gang catch up with him seriously wounding him and capturing this precious book.  Then the final twist – when the only surviving Bible is delivered to the baddy  – he opens it up to find out that is written in Braille…. He can’t understand it …. Meanwhile the wounded hero has just made it to Alcatraz – aware that he is slowly dying – he waves away treatment because he has an urgent task – and the final scene is him lying down surrounded by secretary’s – as he starts dictating the Book of Genesis …. in his long journey across America he has memorised the whole of the Bible.

This film reminded me how we have lost a sense of the power of the Bible – we take it for granted – for many of us we only expose ourselves to it when we listen at mass – and even then sometimes we are only half-listening.  Gary Oldman’s character is right – the Bible is dangerous when we take it seriously  – The New Testament especially has had a huge impact on shaping the world, even in a secular society – many of our assumptions about justice, about charity, about care, about law – are all hugely formed by the words of the Bible and the New Testament.  It truly has changed societies.

Today’s reading about the Kingship of the Messiah – Zechariah’s prophecy of a king who will bring peace, who will make war obsolete, no need for armies. A king who will ride on a donkey – all of this is turning the logic of the world on its head. Then in the Gospel we hear that the message of this King is only fully accepted by those who become child-like – those who become ego-free, not the childish but those who are child-like. A child who can be blissfully happy in a simple environment, who has a sense of wonder as they discover the world, who has a great openness to life, not preoccupied by status, not worrying about the future – it is only with this childlike openness that we can co-operate with grace, that we can help build this Kingdom.

It is also when we set aside our worries and concerns that we can ‘rest’- Jesus says come to me those of you labour and rest – this isn’t just the rest of sleep – there is a deeper rest than that – there is a recreative rest, have you ever seen a child totally absorbed in play? When we put aside things and get caught up in a great conversation, or absorbed by a fascinating game, or listening to sublime music – it is refreshing, and more than physically resting, it recharges our creative batteries – Jesus wants us to come to him and rest – by savouring his word, by having the courage to go into silent contemplation.

If enough of us take the words of the bible seriously – then they these dreams of a kingdom of peace will become a reality , we will change our lives and become more open. Less interested in ‘Rich Lists’ and ‘Celebrity Culture’ and more in rediscovering wonder and having an open heart. And maybe in a frenetic age – we will rediscover how to rest …. In God’s wisdom and in his love. And that would be worth fighting for ……

Book of Eli on IMDB  (link) 

AMDG            Yesterdays Homily for the feast of the Presentation given in Oxford 

touching-the-void-posterA few years ago I read a book called Touching the Void – it was one of those books that you can’t put down and I thing I read it in three sittings in the space of 24 hours…… it told the story of climber called Joe Simpson and his friend who had a climbing accident in a remote mountain in the Andes…….. After breaking his leg, his friend lowered him down, attached by a rope, in rapidly worsening conditions, till eventually he was lowered off a cliff. Finding themselves at a dangerous impasse, he had to make an excruciating choice, they wither both wait and die, or he cuts the rope abandoning his friend to almost certain death, but probably survives himself.

He cut the Rope.

Amazingly his friend was to survive, and crawl back to the base six days later.…………However  going back to that night when the rope was cut, he fell and landed on a ledge.  When he was sitting on the ledge, alone, forsaken …. and staring death in the face, Joe Simpson decided there was no God.  He encountered  a void……  He would have experienced what St Ignatius would refer to as an acute desolation.   The recently canonised Jesuit Pierre Favre, talks about intense experiences in prayer ‘where God withdraws his presence’. Not permanently ….. but in a way to teach us when we are in danger of taking God for granted.  In the time of the Ezekiel, about 600 years before the birth of Christ – he predicted a chilling prophecy ‘ That the Glory of the Lord would leave the Temple’ .  This would be devastating news for the people, that temple was where humans and God were reconciled;  it was the unique place to encounter God, the one place where sacrifice to God was allowed.  Can you imagine how the People must have felt when Ezekiel prophesied that the Glory of the Lord would leave the temple’.  The temple would soon be destroyed by the Babylonians,  for the Jewish People it was a communal experience of touching the void.

images (1)So we can appreciate today’s readings, and particularly the Joy of the Prophets Simeon and Anna in the light of this experience of desolation.   Firstly we heard the Prophet Malachi in the first reading,  ‘And suddenly there will come to the temple the LORD whom you seek,’  – this prophecy would give great hope….. but none would expect the manner of the Lord’s coming.  And so today we hear how the child Jesus is presented before God in the Temple. We are told that Simeon is awaiting the consolation of the people Israel – and as he holds this child in his arms he believes this promise is finally fulfilled .  With the eyes of a prophet he recognises the presence of the Lord in this small child, and utters the words of that beautiful prayer ‘The Nunc Dimitiss’ which is said by millions of us each night at Compline.  Similarly the prophetess Anna, having spent years of prayer and fasting in the temple in anticipation of this moment, she rejoices in the Lord having returned to the temple.

The return to the temple of the Lord has profound significance for Christians on two levels….. Firstly in the physical, historical presence of the Lord – the presence of God on this planet is transformed.  In the incarnation – God is no longer limited to the Temple…. No longer limited to one city, one place.  Christ’s Body becomes the Temple – so as he dies on the cross, the curtain in the Temple that veils the Holy of Holies mysteriously is torn into two.  Then on the second level – the temple is the place of sacrifice, bulls and goats, doves and incense were offered to be burnt as thanksgiving offerings, guilt offerings, offerings at key moments in life e.g. childbirth.    When the Lord is presented in the Temple he will become the sacrifice that fulfils all other offerings – and we continue this sacrifice every day when we pray the beautiful prayer of the mass.  However in the sacrifice of the mass, the most beautiful prayer we can make, we relive the greatest sacrifice of all, Christ giving his body and blood for the sins of the world.  His sacrifice trumps all else – and this prayer is being offered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week all over the world, in great cathedrals and in simple chapels, in the heart of great cities and on the tops of mountains, in schools and universities and in rainforests.

So as the Lord is presented in the temple – let us renew our devotion to the mass – to Christ’s presence in the Liturgy of the Word and in the Eucharist, and in and amongst each other.  We are not alone – we are not abandoned – sitting on an icy edge of life,  when we gather together for mass, mysteriously we are in the real presence of God – whose grace works quietly and patiently transforming our hearts and our lives.

AMDG

I was blown away by Friday Nights Opening Ceremony.  It was beautiful, absorbing and emotional at times.  More than once it struck me as transcending mere ceremony to having a liturgical quality to it.  Whether it was the children’s choir hymn singing at the start, or the moving memorial to the victims of terrorism in the middle with its reflective change of pace, beautiful rendition of ‘Abide with Me’, or the powerful and symbolic lighting of the Olympic Flame at the end – ‘Easter Vigilesque’ – followed by the angel/bird like cyclist rising towards heaven.  These spiritual elements would have pleased Baron De Coubertin, the Jesuit educated founder of the modern Olympics who once said ‘  I tried from the beginning to awaken religious feelings by the renewal of Olympic movement … The sport-religious thought has entered only slowly into the awareness of the sports men and women … But little by little it will be taken quite seriously by them‘  (click here for reference).  I think that invoking of the power of the transcendent is when the ceremony moved into liturgical territory.

A previous Boyle / Boyce production

The religious elements may be no surprise when we take into account that the  author of the storyline to the opening ceremony was Liverpudlian Catholic writer Frank Cottrell Boyce.  I have been told that Cottrell Boyce is a regular visitor and guest at the Jesuit community here in Edinburgh.  His contribution was less hailed than that of Danny Boyle, the Oscar-winning director of the opening ceremony. Danny Boyle was listed in a recent article of the Tablet on Britain’s most 100 influential Catholics.  Famously Boyle said in an interview, ‘I was meant to be a priest until I was 14, I was going to transfer to a seminary near Wigan. But this priest, Father Conway, took me aside and said, ‘I don’t think you should go’. Whether he was saving me from the priesthood or the priesthood from me, I don’t know. But quite soon after, I started doing drama. And there’s a real connection, I think. All these directors — Martin ScorseseJohn WooM. Night Shyamalan — they were all meant to be priests.’  One of my favourite films of recent years was Boyle’s production of Cottrell Boyce’s book Millions, about a young a 7-year-old English boy who talks to saints and comes upon a lot of money which he wants to distribute to the poor.  Boyle has since admitted to being a ‘spiritual atheist’, but in many of his works it is clear that there is a deep spiritual imagination and creativity at work.

It was nice that Boyle said that he agreed to take on the difficult task of following on from Beijing’s incredible opening ceremony because he was inspired by his dad who has since died.  I still remember him taking his Oscar in a carrier bag to show his dad after sunday mass at his parish social club of St Mary’s Radcliffe.   Much has been written about the influence of ‘Catholic Imagination’ – the idea that God lurks everywhere in creation, and so the move to the transcendent or spiritual from the mundane everyday is natural and smooth and almost imperceptible.  This is in contrast with another view of God being hidden or in conflict with the world, and so the spiritual is introduced in an explicit way, often jarring , like God is being ‘shoehorned’ in, often experienced in evangelical Christianity. I propose that Friday Nights fantastic ceremony was a product of the Catholic imagination of Frank Cottrell Boyce and Danny Boyle.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,438 other followers