Thursday, May 24, 2012

Receive the Holy Spirit

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Eclesalia Informativo
May 23, 2012

John 20:19-23

Little by little, we are learning to live without interiority. We no longer need to be in contact with the best that's within us. It's enough for us to be entertained. We are content to function without a soul and nourish ourselves only with bread. We don't want to expose ourselves to seek the truth. Come Holy Spirit and free us from the inner void.

We now know how to live without roots or goals. It's enough for us to let ourselves be programmed from outside. We move and stir ceaselessly, but we don't know what we want or where we're going. We are better and better informed, but we feel more lost than ever. Come Holy Spirit and free us from disorientation.

The great questions of existence hardly interest us. We aren't worried about being without light to face life. We have become more skeptical, but also more fragile and insecure. We want to be intelligent and lucid. Why don't we find calm and peace? Why does sadness visit us so often? Come Holy Spirit and free us from inner darkness.

We want to live more, live better, live longer, but live what? We want to feel well, feel better, but feel what? We seek to enjoy life intensely, get the most out of it, but we are not just content with having a good time. We do whatever we please. There are hardly any prohibitions or forbidden grounds. Why do we want something different? Come Holy Spirit and teach us to live.

We want to be free and independent, and we find ourselves ever more alone. We need to live and we shut ourselves in our little world, which is sometimes very boring. We need to feel loved and we don't know how to create lively and friendly contacts. We call sex, "love", and pleasure, "happiness", but who will quench our thirst? Come Holy Spirit and teach us to love.

There's no place in our life for God. His presence has been repressed or has atrophied within us. Full of inner noise, we can no longer hear His voice. Turned upside down by thousands of wants and feelings, we don't manage to perceive His nearness. We know how to talk to everyone except Him. We have learned to live with our backs turned to the Mystery. Come Holy Spirit and teach us to believe.

Believers and non-believers, believing little or wrongly, so we all make our pilgrimage often through life. In the Christian Feast of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is saying to all of us what he once said to His disciples, as He breathed His breath upon them, "Receive the Holy Spirit." That Spirit that sustains our poor lives and encourages our weak faith can penetrate us through ways it alone knows.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Culture Alert: "Elefante Blanco"

You probably think that if we are talking about a movie about Catholic priests right now, we should be talking about For Greater Glory, the big budget film with the superstar cast about the Cristero War in Mexico and the brutal persecution of Catholics by President Plutarco Elias Calles and the martyrdom of priests in the 1920s.

Nope. That film, which has been touted in all the major Catholic media for weeks, has already gotten enough publicity. American bishops from coast to coast are plugging it in conjunction with their campaign to avoid having to provide contraceptive coverage to employees working for major Catholic institutions, to avoid recognizing the civil rights of gay individuals to marry and receive the same benefits as heterosexual couples -- all of the issues that they are lumping under the rubric of "religious freedom" and exalting the film for demonstrating the importance of fighting for that "freedom". Religious freedom was a real issue in Mexico in the 1920s; it is hardly the same in the United States in 2012. Even the film's stars have contributed to the spin, with Eduardo Verastegui, the hunky Latino actor who plays Catholic martyr Anacleto Gonzalez Flores, opining to Catholic News Service that "I don't see any difference between Plutarco Elias Calles and President Obama or Henry VIII" (seriously??).

The film we want to plug here is Elefante Blanco, a much lower budget flick by Argentinian director Pablo Trapero. The film follows the story of two priests, Father Julian (Ricardo Darín) and Father Nicolas (Jérémie Renier), who are working in the shantytown that has come up around an abandoned hospital construction project (the "white elephant") on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. They are joined by an atheist social worker (Martina Gusman) who also provides a bit of a love interest for the younger priest, Fr. Nicolas.

Trapero drew his inspiration for this film from the life of the Tercermundialista priest, Fr. Carlos Mugica, to whom he dedicated the project, who was committed to the poor and assassinated in 1974 by Alianza Anticomunista Argentina, a right-wing death squad. In an interview with, Trapero says: "We talk about what was known as the "Movimiento de Sacerdotes para el Tercer Mundo" ["Movement of Priests for the Third World"]. And how that changed over the years, in Argentina, into what we know today as the "curas villeros" ["shantytown priests"]. Father Mugica is an inevitable reference point in the struggle and the commitment of the priests in the shantytowns. So it was very hard to build a fictional story about the reality of those priests without mentioning Mugica's case. But we see that there is a much larger working group, lots of people involved in this work daily without being priests, such as social workers, NGOs, etc..."

Elefante Blanco touches on many themes: how the government and the institutional church are caring for -- or neglecting, as the case may be -- the poor, what is the appropriate role for a priest, how much can one work with gangs and drug traffickers in situations like this, and, finally, what it means to give one's life out of love. This is the preferential option for the poor at its grittiest level.

Elefante Blanco was well-received at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival this week. It has also received substantial critical acclaim in Argentina, where it premiered on May 17th. We can't wait until it comes to the United States.