24 December 2017

Titian’s “The Holy Family with a Shepherd”. Source: wga.hu.

Let us all rejoice in the Lord, for our Savior has been born in the world.

Today true peace has come down to us from heaven

(Introit, Christmas Mass during the Night).

     An interesting study in contrasts has been unavoidably noticeable in the past week. Perhaps the greatest marketing machine in the West, Hollywood, has released on cue for the Christmas season the latest Star Wars episode, The Last Jedi. The crowds clamoring to view this latest serial will most likely give the franchise, when one factors in not only the film but also all its associated commercial marketing, over a billion dollars worldwide. The crowds of people had no problem waiting in line—many of them overnight—to be the first in the theater and then to relate excitedly to their friends and family the newest plotline with all of its twists and turns. These fans have no problem handing over their cash to receive in return a two-and-a-half hour escape from their daily lives.

     Star Wars marketing is targeted, of course, to children, teenagers, and younger adults primarily, although the appeal and interest of the franchise admittedly cuts across all age groups; many of the older fans saw the first releases when they, in fact, were children and teenagers. What accounts for the tremendous appeal of these films? While there are many studies and heated debates to be had among the Star Wars faithful, at its essence, the story is about good versus evil. People are looking for a hero who faces a series of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Just when it looks like evil and darkness will triumph, suddenly, in an adrenaline-charged moment, everything changes and good wins out over darkness—at least momentarily (until the next sequel). This appeal of good against evil is written, as it were, within our human nature. It is a classic motif retold a million-times over, but now with advanced cinematic technology, this story rises to new and exhilarating heights with each new Star Wars episode released. 

     The contrast, of course, comes with the response of many of the very same people who are a devoted “faithful” in an almost religious way to Star Wars, or whatever Hollywood franchise is the flavor of the month, as opposed to their response to God and His salvation. The real battle between good and evil quite often leaves people today largely uninterested. However, Christmas will always remain the celebration of the world’s greatest and most perfect Hero par excellence, Jesus Christ. He has no equal. The redemption from eternal death and the sin in our lives is the battle over darkness and evil. In fact, every Baptism, contrite Confession, Holy Communion, and every other sacrament received worthily is a triumph of Jesus’ reign over Lucifer, the very prince of darkness.

     The appeal of Jesus Christ is also something inscribed in our human nature because mankind by nature seeks the truth. Jesus is the personification of Truth Himself. He is Goodness, the Way to eternity, and Life Himself. Why do so many people, however, fail to hear His message and follow His lead? While there are many insufficient reasons for disregarding Jesus, for whom we are made, one of the principal reasons has to do with a constant bombardment of noise today that often passes as information or entertainment. In reality, however, this constant stream of noise effectively keeps the mind clouded and undisciplined so that it cannot concentrate on or recognize truth. In effect, we live in an age that repeats Pontius Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” When we cannot find substantive, eternal truths, we will substitute ideas that pass as truths or that may partially contain elements of truth, but we fail to distinguish clearly between what is true and what is false. Unfortunately, we also live in an age when a person who is clear about such matters is shouted down and labeled as “judgmental” and a “hater.” The sole purpose of such labels is to shut down any further discussion, debate, or conversation about anything that is objectively true—especially moral truths which are rejected out-of-hand. Today, very often superficial entertainment in various media (films, video games, etc.) then satisfies momentarily the longing people may be searching for in their lives, but in forms which ultimately cannot satisfy because we desire the fullness of truth found completely only through Jesus Himself and His truth. Life is not ultimately about constantly finding the next entertaining escape from reality. That is the definition of a tragedy. Instead, the fact that the Son of God became man and entered fully into our reality with all of the fallen consequences of sin and the crosses of life, even though He was sinless, shows us what life is truly about: uniting ourselves completely to Jesus Christ and His holy Cross.  

     It is interesting that the same people who embrace the marketing system set up by Hollywood’s latest “it” movie, who are primarily young people, largely have no interest in attending Mass and would certainly not stand in line for hours or overnight for it. People can sit in a movie for well over two hours, but if Mass is one minute over one hour, they complain bitterly. People willingly hand over their cash for their amusing entertainments, but they will not be as generous in general to the Church. Young children and teenagers in particular know the entire plot, subplot, family connections among the characters, and the behind-the-scenes stories of Star Wars and the like, for instance. But, when it comes to lifelong learning of their faith to form them into virtuous persons as a reflection of Jesus Christ, so many people simply say that they do not have the time or the interest. Jesus is simply not as interesting as the latest blockbuster both among many young persons and not-so-young people who ought to know better.

     The drama of Christmas, of course, has no real competition with the latest computer-generated effects and thrills found in a movie theater. Christmas does not have to compete with any film or anything else in our life, for that matter. The reality of Christmas endures now in time and in eternity. Movies, in contrast, come and go; what is impressive and a “must-see” today fades into tomorrow and often into obscurity. However, the effects of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are forever. He offers us an invitation and we are all well-advised to hear His voice. He does not often come in loud, overly dramatic, crashing ways. Like His birth at Christmas and the morning of the Resurrection, Jesus prefers to work quietly. He comes into the recesses of our hearts and minds and calls us to Himself. We only know ourselves, in fact, through His own life. Because Jesus knows this, He wants us all to use our life and the time we are given to know, love, and serve Him a little bit better each day. In many ways that no script in Hollywood could ever provide us, we will encounter His goodness lived in our own life and grow in His virtues and love. We then become part of the conquerors of darkness and evil present around us, even within our own life. Our life in Jesus is a drama greater than any movie, novel, or myth. May we begin anew living that Christmas triumph that Jesus has won for us and offers to us each day until we live in His goodness and peace eternally.

     May you have a most blessed and holy Christmas!

     Fr. Shawn William Cutler


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