Of Firefly and Morality: An Introduction

Whenever I get into one of those moods where I think “I don’t want to live on this planet anymore,” I start watching my favorite sci-fi space drama. But unlike a lot of nerds, my favorite space drama isn’t Star Wars or Star Trek. It’s Firefly.

I got into Firefly long after it got cancelled. I just got done with Doctor Horrible and started watching Firefly since the main character was played by Nathan Fillion. (It’s also why I got into Castle.) Lucky for me, it was streaming online through Hulu and Netflix and is still streaming to this day. I hope to own the series and the film Serenity on DVD someday as well.

The reason I love the show so much is because it’s a show that puts characters first. The characters of Star Trek and Star Wars are definitely memorable, but at times, they feel more like archetypes or mythological beings than actual people. When I watched Firefly, I felt like I could belong and relate to these characters right away. But I also love Firefly because of all the shows created by Joss Whedon, it’s the series that looks into the ideas of morality the most.

But before I can talk about the show, lemme introduce you to the characters. Spoilers and fangirling ahead. You were warned.

Captain Malcolm Reynolds is a man of very strange morals. On the one hand, he doesn’t want anything to do with God. On the other hand, he gets into situations with a lot of risk and very little to no reward because he thinks it’s the right thing to do. He’s protective of his crew and will gladly ask for their help when necessary. The best example of that is in “War Stories,” when the crew comes to rescue him and Wash from Niska (the villain of the episode) and Mal gets into a fight with one of Niska’s henchmen. Zoe says “This is something the captain’s got to do for himself.” Mal disagrees, shouting, “No, it’s not!” cueing Zoe and the others to open fire. It’s hilarious! I also love his determination. He’ll never go down without a fight. Gotta love that in a Captain.

Zoe Washburne is the second-in-command, the cool, calm, and collected one of the team. She keeps Mal and Jayne from going over the edge and is great strategist in a hard situation. She’s loyal and protective, a true Mama Bear to the crew. What stands out about her is that she is a tower of brute strength in contrast to Whedon’s usual line of small girls with super powers. Plus she came up with the line of “Big Damn Heroes,” which is awesome. “War Stories” is also a great episode that showcases her character. But Zoe’s greatest moment in my opinion wasn’t anything from the show, but in Serenity. I dare not spoil the scene. But say the phrase “I am a leaf on the wind” in front of any Browncoat and I will guarantee you, they will start crying and ask “What’s wrong with you?!”

Wash is the pilot, the comic relief, and Joss’s avatar. His establishing scene in the pilot with the dinosaurs is basically him in a nutshell: hilarious and childlike one minute, but ready for business the next. His devotional love to his wife is heartwarming and endearing. I keep thinking of this lovely scene in “Shindig,” when instead of going out to the fancy party that Mal, Kaylee, and Inara are attending, Wash and Zoe are in their bunk doing what married people do and exchange in a bit of pillow talk. I wish I could’ve seen how they got together since in “Out of Gas,” it’s shown that they weren’t exactly a case of love at first sight. Also, Joss? You’re a bastard. But you already knew that.

Inara Serra is not and never was what you would call a “space hooker.” Fellow Browncoats and I compare her to a geisha: a woman who is trained to be intelligent, sociable, and alluring. She’s fanservice but she’s actually not objectified as often as one might expect. In fact, Mal points out in “Shindig” that he respects her as a person, but he does not like her profession. “Shindig” is my personal favorite episode because it shows the gamut of Inara’s job. (Well, really it’s my favorite because I’m a sucker for costumes, especially period-themed costumes. But I digress.) You see Inara belonging amongst the upper class, entertaining her client beyond just being a mistress, and teaching Mal how to fight with a sword. (Did I mention that I also love the episode because I’m also a sucker for swordfighting?) I also recommend watching “Heart of Gold” but I can never watch it alone. Mostly because I cried my heart out.

Jayne Cobb is the muscle of the team with the most ambiguous morals. Okay, in actuality, he probably has no morals. “Jaynestown” is the best example of that. He’s great in situations where he can work with his hands. He is the personification of the Id, moreso than McCoy because, well, his two loves are weapons and women. But in spite of his moral ambiguity, he wants to be a good man. He prefers to be honest and he’s got a lot of heart. Why else would he wear such a ridiculous hat? (Note to self: My brother needs to crochet that thing.)

Kaylee Frye is adorable. She is basically sunshine and rainbows and strawberries all wrapped up in a lovely mechanic-shaped package. Her love for the ship Serenity is best seen in “Bushwhacked” and “Out of Gas.” Going back to “Shindig,” Kaylee gets her share of fun at the party. First of all, she wears this bright pink layer cake of a dress that most Sweet Lolita cosplayers would give their left arm to have. (Myself included.) Secondly, she gets the attention of most of the men who aren’t on the dance floor just by being herself. She talks about her specialty: mechanics and engines, to the point that the men would prefer her conversation than just having a dance with her. I relate to Kaylee the most in spite of my own lack of mechanical expertise because I relate to her personality and her unrequited crush on Simon. We’ve all been there, girlfriend.

Dr. Simon Tam is a character I admire more than I can relate to. But he is also the character who has the most to lose. He sacrificed his privileged life and his job to protect his sister. He’s also the butt of a lot of jokes, especially in his conflicts with Jayne. His best episode is “Ariel,” but I personally love this scene from “Trash” when he has Jayne on an operating table and intimidates him in the calmest but borderline frightening way possible. Heck, put into a different context, you could probably drop the scene down in a horror movie.

River Tam is my second favorite character on the show. She has 2 of the most memorable lines in the series, she can be crazy one moment and mind-blowingly awesome the next. Watch Serenity to see just how awesome she is or the episode “Objects in Space.” All I can say is that Summer Glau needs to find a show to be in. She has the power to read minds, which can really be a deterrent because she can also feel the pain of those she reads. Interesting little trivia: Summer Glau has a background in ballet, so Summer Glau’s fighting style is best described as being a “dance battler.” Watch her dance, btw. She is amazing.

Last, but not least, we have Shepherd Book, the preacher with a mysterious past. Thank you, Joss Whedon, for not making Book the stereotype I hate the most. (I still can’t forgive you for Caleb though.) The origin of Book gets revealed in the comics and I agree with most of it except for the part that Book wasn’t his real name. I always imagined he was like Jayne, a mercenary who joined up with the Alliance with sort of this bloodthirsty manner, but seeing the consequences of the Alliance caused a crisis of faith and so he chose to become a Shepherd.

Morality is a funny thing in Firefly, and in Joss Whedon’s works overall. Out of all the Whedon oeuvre, Firefly is the one that deals with morality the most. Buffy has mostly a very secular black-and-white sense of morality that gets a lot more confusing later on. Angel has gray morals and has a pessimistic, borderline nihilistic tone about it. Dollhouse has the darkest tone when it comes to morals and the questions that get brought up aren’t exactly answered all that well. But Firefly and Serenity constantly ask questions about morality and ethics and try to define what exactly right and wrong mean. How? Well, keep reading the blog and you’ll find out.

Lenten Meal: A Recipe for Mushroom and Onion Soup

This soup is perfect for a cold winter’s day and really helps if you have sniffles, sinus headache, a cold, and/or cramps.

From my Instagram.

From my Instagram.

Step 1: Boil your favorite noodles or pasta to taste. You can use gluten free pasta, like I did.

Step 2: Chop up one portobello mushroom, one onion, and a few scallions. You can also add a couple cloves of garlic.

Step 3: Cook the vegetables in a separate pan. Stir fry for five minutes or so, then add to the pot.

Step 4: Once the pasta/noodles are al dente, turn off the stove and serve.

Completely optional: Curl up with your favorite episodes of Firefly and pray that the Internet stops fighting over a stupid dress.

God grant me the Serenity…Yeah, that’s it. Just the Serenity.

Of Affliction and Comfort

There’s this misconception that religion and faith are only there so that people can feel mildly better about themselves and their lives and especially about dealing with their loved ones. Naysayers against religion compare faith to a crutch or a drug.

When I woke up this morning, I did not want to get out of bed to pray my daily Lectio Divina. I wanted to stay in my bed and scroll through my Instagram feed, even though I wasn’t even wearing glasses. But fighting against my lazy body, I got out of bed, put on my glasses, and started praying. Why?

To paraphrase a familiar quote, religion has a dual purpose: to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.

My friend Justin AKA “ChurchTriumphant” on YouTube goes more into this in one of his videos:

Or to quote one of my favorite writers

“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”- CS Lewis

Even though I love being Catholic, it’s not always easy. I’m still trying to figure out stuff about the church that I don’t understand. I don’t like debates about politics. And I don’t have a particular group that I can readily identify with beyond my circle of friends. Back in college, I divided my time between two groups: my devout, Catholic friends who introduced me to new prayers, devotions, and saints and my non-Catholic friends whom I talk to about stuff I loved like anime, Harry Potter, shows I watched at the time, etc. Very seldom did I ever find friends that encompassed both.

But maybe that’s sort of the point. No one group of people or even one particular person can satisfy us completely. And whatever we believe in can’t just be a feel-good quick fix. All the best saints struggled with some sort of problem throughout their lives and some of them were priests, sisters, brothers, and even popes. Mother Teresa struggled with a period of darkness where she felt that God was the furthest thing from her heart, to the point of almost being nonexistent. St. Maximillian Kolbe was a war prisoner. Mary, the mother of Jesus, dealt with the loss of both her husband and her child within her lifetime and had to bury both of them. Pope John Paul II had Parkinsons’ disease. Not to mention this often heard quote:

“Jacob was a cheater, Peter had a temper, David had an affair, Noah got drunk, Jonah ran from God, Paul was a murderer, Gideon was insecure, Miriam was a gossip, Martha was a worrier, Thomas was a doubter, Sara was impatient, Elijah was moody, Moses stuttered, Abraham was old,… and Lazarus was dead. God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the CALLED!”

Faith has a way of changing people for the better. And change always requires a period of discomfort.

There is a difference, however, between being pushed out of your comfort zone and going to extremes in the names of whatever you believe in. It’s one thing, for example, for me to, say, go to a convention of 30,000 people and ask one of my favorite actors a question that ended up making him feel uncomfortable just because he asked. It’s another thing to do the stuff  that Renee mentions in one of her Lent-themed videos. Going on extreme diets, fasts, or juice cleansing isn’t as much going out of your comfort zone so much as pushing yourself off of a cliff without a parachute and believing that you’ll land safely in the water from a thirty-story drop.

So where’s the balance? The balance is with God. It goes back to what I said about falling in love with the process. Let God guide you through whatever changes you’re going through or ask God to start a change in you right now. After all, according to science, an object at rest tends to stay at rest and an object in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force.

3 Opportunities for Almsgiving

As I was checking my news feed, I saw a lot of fundraisers going on. Since Lent is the time for almsgiving, I want to promote some stuff going on in the hopes that you might donate to them.

 

  1. One of my favorite singers is having another Kickstarter. Except Audrey Assad isn’t promoting an album, but a film she’s scoring and her husband is creating. I owe this to Audrey Assad, since she was my first concert.
  2. My friend Katrina, whom you may know as The Crescat, needs a new car. Dear Guadalupe Radio Network, can you send whatever donated cars you have her way? I hear she likes Mercedes.
  3. Finally, there’s this very obscure web show called Ordinary, which is a video blog about a priest fresh out of seminary and working his first diocesan job. I haven’t finished the first season yet, but what I saw so far was amazing. Not only does it show that priests are people without resorting to my most hated stereotype of priests in the media, but the characters are all people you’ve probably seen at your parish as well, or at least dramatized versions of them.

 

Anyway, as they say, go fund the thing!

The Five Stages of Grief in Agent Carter

I love shows with well-written characters. What makes Agent Carter amazing was that it wrote amazing characters. The show can get heavy-handed at times about how sexist the 1940s were, but it got better as the show went along. But sexism wasn’t the only theme that Agent Carter had going on. Throughout the show, the characters, both heroes and villains, showed examples of the five stages of grief.

Spoilers for Agent Carter ensue. You were warned.

Denial

The male members of the SSR (Strategic Scientific Reserve) spend most of the season in a constant state of denial over issues in their lives and the denial is partially to blame for their mistreatment of Agent Peggy Carter (played by Hayley Atwell).

Chief Roger Dooley (played by Shea Whigham) has a strained marriage, in part because his wife cheated on him. This makes Dooley vulnerable to a hypnosis that one of the series’ villains puts him under. More on the villains later.

Agent Jack Thompson (played by Chad Michael Murray) is my least favorite character on the show, mostly because he’s a sexist jerk, even if he was a good agent. In “The Iron Ceiling,” however, it was revealed that Thompson has feelings for Peggy and that he made a bad call in relation to an encounter with enemy soldiers in Japan. Even though he received great reward, he felt like it was undeserved, which is why he constantly seeks approval and accolades by his peers. While I gained sympathy for the dog, I do not ship him with Carter.

Daniel Sousa (played by Dollhouse’s Enver Gjokaj) is an injured war veteran who has a crush on Peggy and the guy I ship Carter with. Even though he’s the only one in the SSR that supports Peggy, it’s shown that he has this idealistic, unrealistic view of her in the form of a Madonna-Whore Complex. When he eventually finds out about Peggy working with Howard Stark, he automatically assumes that she’s sleeping with him. Thankfully, he was able to listen to reason.

Anger

The two major villains, Dr. Ivchenko AKA Dr. Fennhoff (played by Ralph Brown) and Dorothy “Dottie” Underwood (played by Bridget Regan), are motivated by anger. Dr. Fennhoff holds a grudge against Howard Stark for creating a gas that ended up killing his brother and comrades in a Russian town called Finow. When Peggy fights Dottie in the season finale, Dottie confesses that she always wanted to be like Peggy. An earlier episode shows Dottie stealing Peggy’s lipstick and imitating a British accent while looking at herself in a mirror. It’s an anger born of envy, but it’s anger nevertheless.

 

Bargaining

Peggy Carter constantly bargains for some kind of approval throughout the series. She wants people to take her seriously. She also tries to cut herself off from her allies in the hopes that they don’t get caught in the crossfire. And when she finds out that one of the items that Howard Stark sent her to retrieve contained a vial of Steve Roger’s blood, she chastises him for lying to her and for planning to use the blood for future projects.

However, throughout the series, Peggy’s bargaining chips slowly get taken away from her. It’s not until she gets to the point that she has nothing left to lose (losing her new apartment, potentially losing contact with her new friend, losing her job at the SSR) that she starts transitioning into the stage of acceptance. Howard Stark’s butler, Jarvis (played by James D’Arcy) points out to Peggy that Captain America relied as much on her as much as she relied on him, so she didn’t have to do everything on her own. And eventually, Peggy’s friend, Angie (played by  Lyndsy Fonesca) covers for Peggy when the SSR comes looking for her.

 

Depression

Howard Stark has 2 major character flaws that make me have this love-hate relationship with him. I hate him for being such a womanizer. (Do you not know of a concept called self-control?) But I also love him because I see so much of Tony Stark in him and his guilt he has over what he created and the consequences from his inventions going wrong tugs at my heart because he has no idea of the awesomeness that his son would become. Creating Captain America wasn’t the only good deed he did. Creating Tony Stark was another one.

Howard Stark is absent for most of the show, but he exhibits signs of depression over Captain America’s death in the season finale. When Doctor Fennhoff hypnotizes Howard Stark into remembering the moment of his greatest guilt, he doesn’t think about Finow, but of the Arctic, where Steve Rogers crashed his plane.

 

Acceptance

Many of the characters eventually get to the stage of acceptance as the series drew closer to its end. Chief Dooley found acceptance in “SNAFU” when he woke up with the 1940s equivalent of a suicide bomb vest, recognized Carter for the valuable agent she was, and chose to save the Agency by throwing himself out of a window. In doing so, he also accepted that he wasn’t going to be able to fix his marriage and asked his agents to apologize to his wife on his behalf.

Thompson accepted his actions in the war by confessing them to Peggy in “The Iron Curtain.” He also eventually accepted Peggy’s worth when Dottie’s true colors were revealed. He was ready to face against Dottie, knowing that he was going to face someone capable of killing him.

In the season finale, there are three major scenes that show Peggy Carter going from bargaining to acceptance.

Peggy gets on the radio at Howard Stark’s private hanger, pleading to Howard Stark to snap out of the hypnosis that Dr. Fennhoff put him under. At this point, Howard Stark believes that he is flying over the Arctic, about to rescue Captain America, when he is really flying to Manhattan, about to unleash a dangerous gas over the city. Tears stream down her face as she leans over the intercom.

Howard, I know you loved him. I loved him, too. But this won’t bring him back. Howard, you are the one person on this earth who believes in me. I cannot lose you. Steve is gone. We have to move on, all of us. As impossible as that may sound, we have to let him go.”

Then, when she arrives at the SSR Headquarters to pick up her paycheck, Peggy is greeted with applause from her coworkers. Men from Washington DC arrive to congratulate Thompson on his investigation and Peggy says that she doesn’t need to take the credit in spite of Sousa stating otherwise. She said “I know my value. Anyone else’s opinion doesn’t really matter.” This prompts Sousa to finally get the courage to ask Peggy out in the season finale and wasn’t deterred when she turned him down.

After settling down in one of Howard Stark’s residences with Angie, Peggy was given Steve Roger’s blood to keep since, according to Jarvis, she’s the only one who would truly know what to do with it. Instead of wearing it around her neck or keeping it in a vault, Peggy goes out to the Brooklyn Bridge and pours the blood into the water as she says “Goodbye, my darling.” I started tearing up at this scene, but I also felt proud at Peggy for finally being able to move on. I know that she’ll find love again, if she so needs to.

Let’s just hope the show gets a second season!

All posters, publicity images, and movie stills are the property of  Marvel Studios and other respective production studios and distributors, and are intended for editorial use only.

Women of Christ Wednesday: Sr. Theresa

 Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP is a former atheist who, thanks to the grace of God, has returned to the faith she was raised in and now tries to help others bring their loved ones back to the faith.

A few years after returning to the Church, she heard God calling her, so she left her job in Silicon Valley to join the Daughters of St. Paul. She now lives in Miami, where she prays, evangelizes, bakes bread, and blogs.

 

What inspired you to write “The Prodigal You Love?”

I remember reading that JK Rowling described the entire Harry Potter series as falling “into her head.” That seemed quite unbelievable (and creepy) to me. But I thought of this because The Prodigal You Love kind of fell into my head also.

However, there is no mystery for me about where the idea for my book came from; it definitely was an inspiration from the Holy Spirit. When I first joined the convent, people would ask me to pray for their loved ones who were away from the Church. This happens to many priests and sisters but I felt like God was tapping me on the shoulder every time it happened. Then one day when I was praying about a class assignment, the book just came to me. The title, even the chapter names just dropped into my head. The actual writing of the book was much more difficult, but the initial idea came so effortlessly and clearly that I knew it was from God.

 

How did you go from Catholic revert into religious life? Tell me your vocation story.

Basically God is the only reason I am here. There is no way I would be in the convent today without his prompting. Since I was an atheist and away from the Church for over ten years, becoming a religious sister was not in my plans. Ever. Even after I returned to the Church it never even crossed my mind until God started to nudge me in this direction.

God began to prod me to discern one day when I was on the subway on my way to work. I saw a nun out of the corner of my eye. I turned and the person I thought was a sister was just an ordinary woman like me making her way to work. This was the first time it happened but it kept happening, over and over again. I would see a veil or a habit in my periphery; I would turn quickly and nothing.

After this happened several times, over the course of a few weeks, I became quite puzzled. It didn’t take very long for me to wonder, “What if God wants me to be a nun!?!” To be totally honest, I was absolutely appalled at the idea and pretty much shook my fist at God and said, “Don’t even think about it.” Thankfully, I had just started seeing a spiritual director who helped me to see that God, who had created my heart, was just asking me to be open to his plan for my happiness.

You already know the end of the story but I can really relate to Jeremiah the prophet who said, “You seduced me, LORD, and I let myself be seduced; you were too strong for me, and you prevailed” (Jer 20:7). That line is also translated, “You duped me Lord, and I let myself be duped.” I can relate to both translations.

 

Describe a typical day in your life. 

There really is no typical day for a Daughter of St. Paul. We are crazy busy and there are always lots of things happening. But our founder, Blessed James Alberione, made sure that amidst the busyness of our apostolic life, which is focused on evangelization through the modern media, we would also become contemplatives. He established the Pauline way to holiness by giving us a half hour of meditation on the Gospel, Mass, morning and evening prayer as well as an hour of adoration every day.

While he was still alive, one of the Daughters of St. Paul came to him and said, “We have so much to do and so little time. Can we decrease the amount that we pray?” Blessed James said to her, “If you think you need less time to pray you need more.” And so he added another half hour of prayer to our day. This time for prayer in my day is like the center of a vortex. Lots of things happen around me but my time with Jesus is the foundation and heart of my life and my apostolic work.

 

What are the pros and cons to living in a convent?

Lots of people idealize life in the convent and wax eloquent on the beauty of religious life. And it is beautiful. But it is also difficult. God calls all kinds of women to the convent and every single one of us would say, if we are being honest, that we sometimes wish he would refrain from calling the people who irritate or bother us. But it is precisely the things that are difficult that will make us holy.

For me, the best thing about living in a convent, despite all the difficulties, is that I am constantly reminded that my life is meant to be centered on Jesus. I am not always focused on Jesus but the very rhythm and nature of our life reminds us that Jesus should be the center and we are constantly being called back to that ideal. This is a blessing.

 

Aside from your book, what would you recommend to people who have friends or family who have fallen away from the Church?

There is so much that I say in The Prodigal You Love that I think is really crucial in relating to loved ones who are away from the Church.But to put the core of my book very simply, I would say that the most important thing that we can do to invite others back to the Church is to focus on our own holiness. It is through a strong, personal relationship with Jesus that we are going to invite others to the same joy and peace that he brings to our lives.

I also would add that many people think that inviting others back to the Church involves so much and is so complicated. I don’t think it needs to be this way. This is why I try to write very succinctly and clearly in my book about the methods we can use to evangelize our loved ones. This is how Jesus evangelized. He invited people by his closeness to the Father and through straightforward invitations. I think a huge number of people could begin to make the journey back to the Church if their friends, family and neighbors would simply have the courage to invite them to Mass or Eucharistic adoration. God’s grace is abundant. This is clear in my story as someone who was a former atheist and is now a nun. I believe that the grace I received is not special; it is available to everyone.

 

Who are your go-to saints?

Mary, St. Paul, St. Thérèse, Padre Pio, St. John the Baptist, Blessed James Alberione, St. Joan of Arc, Servant of God Dorothy Day, Venerable Mother Thecla, St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Hildegard.

 

What advice do you have for women who are discerning religious life?

Visit convents and get to know sisters. I know many young women who spend a lot of time discerning before making this step. I think some are afraid that they will be dragged into the convent and pressured into signing up right away. This should not be what happens. If it is, run away. Any healthy order will allow young women to explore and get to know their sisters before handing an interested woman an application. I never felt an iota of pressure from my sisters to commit to this life, even after spending four years in the convent discerning before making vows. Religious life is about a free choice. But we can’t make a choice about something we don’t know. So visiting is important.

 

Also, one of my sisters, Sr. Marie-Paul Curley has an entire web site devoted to discernment. I suggest that anyone discerning check it out: Co-Author Your Life with God.

The Tale of Three Popes: Pope Francis, Justice, and Temperance

I love Pope Francis. I love Pope Francis so much, I’ve marked my calendar for the day of his visit to the United States. I’m counting down the days until that day comes and still want to go to World Youth Day in Poland.

So far, in the past few years, Pope Francis has shown himself to be a pastoral pope, in the sense that he treats the whole world as a parish. If Pope John Paul II was a pope of fortitude and Pope Benedict was a pope of prudence, Pope Francis is a pope of justice and a man who can inspire us to practice the virtue of temperance.

Justice isn’t always about superheroes and lawyers. According to the Catechism:

Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good. the just man, often mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct toward his neighbor. “You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.” (CCC 1807)

Pope Francis chose his name to remember the poor. He visited towns and countries where poverty is prominent. He is open to meeting anyone who asks and doesn’t care what people think. He’s talks about the current issues, but refuses to get political about them, although that might change when he gets an audience with the US Congress. He advocates for peace during times of war, but acknowledges that the danger does exist. He cares for the world and has compassion for everyone.

So what does Pope Francis have to do with temperance? Well, it’s more that we should practice temperance when it comes to him. The major problem with Pope Francis isn’t with the man himself, but with everyone having an extreme opinion of him. The media spins him to be this borderline liberal while conservatives buy into that lie and say that the apocalypse is coming and the Catholic Church is going to become modernized. According to the Catechism:

Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. the temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion: “Do not follow your inclination and strength, walking according to the desires of your heart.”72 Temperance is often praised in the Old Testament: “Do not follow your base desires, but restrain your appetites.”73 In the New Testament it is called “moderation” or “sobriety.”  (CCC 1809)

Temperance is usually associated with moderation of food and drink, but in the case of Pope Francis, I think we should exercise temperance of the tongue. We need to master our paranoia and fears of the Catholic Church becoming something it’s not. Most of all, we shouldn’t gossip or start creating conspiracy theories.

I think it’s been a long time since the world had a pope who was so bluntly honest about everything. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict both chose their worlds carefully and thoughtfully. Pope Francis is more of an improv actor, speaking in idioms and off-the-cuff remarks. He’s basically like a bartender: open to serve, a great listener, and honest to a fault.

Whenever I hear the panic of Pope Francis having an audience with someone people consider to be scandalous or “not belonging in society,” I recall the Pharisees judging Jesus for hanging out with tax collectors and prostitutes. I remember that instead of choosing the best and brightest of his society, Jesus picked 12 clueless morons with working-class jobs that always argued with each other. Mostly, I recall the parable of the Good Shepherd.

One part of being pope is that the pope is an example of Christ on Earth. And like Jesus, Pope Francis is reaching out to all the lost sheep of the world as a form of justice. However, this justice is not in the form of punishment or condemnation, but of mercy and compassion in the hopes that they will bring themselves to God and that God will change them.

I hope that we can all practice the virtue of temperance in our lives, especially when it comes to our opinions.

Le_Bon_Pasteur_Philippe_de_Champaigne

The Tale of 3 Popes Part 2: Pope Benedict XVI

I think whoever chose Pope Benedict XVI’s Twitter handle was really smart. Pontifex is Latin for “bridge builder” and the best way to describe Pope Benedict is just that: a bridge builder. To the point that, in a metaphorical sense, he became the bridge between the larger than life John Paul II and the magnetic, extroverted Pope Francis. Father Benedict, or “Papa B” as I call him, is a stark contrast to both of them. He’s introverted, book-smart, and wise.

A popular misconception about Father Benedict is that he was “the Vatican’s Rottweiler.” Really, he was, as my friends call him, more of a German Shepherd or a cat. (He owns a cat, incidentally.) Like a German Shepherd, he can look like a guard dog at first, but upon closer inspection, you can find a loyal friend. And like a cat, he has his own way of doing things. He enjoys a good beer with friends, but he enjoys time in the library more. Plus, he knows how to play the piano.

I think I’m biased because I’m introverted and I can recognize other introverts. Even though Father Benedict’s abdication came as a shock, many of my friends pointed out to me that he was planning on retiring long before he was elected pope. So I’m grateful that Fr. Benedict took on the job for as long as he did. It probably took a lot of discernment for him to decide on abdicating, And in a way, I think it also shows how the virtue of prudence works.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Paragraph 1806)

Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; “the prudent man looks where he is going.”65 “Keep sane and sober for your prayers.”66 Prudence is “right reason in action,” writes St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle.67 It is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation. It is called auriga virtutum (the charioteer of the virtues); it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure. It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid.

Father Benedict was being prudent in his decision to retire. We’ll never be certain as to why, but it was prudent that he did. Most papal reigns aren’t as long as John Paul II’s and one major problem of being part of the JP2 generation is that we came to expect popes to stay until death do they part. But the papacy is not a monarchy. It’s a position of servitude. And part of being prudent is knowing your limits. For whatever reason, Father Benedict acknowledged his limits and chose to serve the world through a more behind-the-scenes way.

The funny thing about bridges is that unless you live in New York City or San Francisco, they don’t really stand out. And yet, many people have memories tied to bridges. Bridges are used in movies as a symbol of crossing the threshold. For Fr. Benedict, that threshold was to improve the Mass and share his theological wisdom with the rest of the world.

I still miss ya, Papa B.

The Monster In Me: A Poem

As a child I wanted to explore everything

Wanting to understand all I saw

Following stories of scientists and detectives

My role models were the kinds that wore uniforms and lab coats

But one day I got lost

I followed a rabbit where I shouldn’t have gone

 

All of a sudden, I started falling downward

Down, down, down

In love

In drama

In worlds far beyond my reach

I got lost in the stories

And in the stories I found a monster

The monster lashed out at my own friends

for not acting in a certain way

The monster despised the world I lived in,

preferring the chaos of her wonderland

Illusions became more valuable than gold

And all I could do was write

Write the monster’s laments as if they were my own

How little did I know, how quickly did I grow

 

In a large barren dust bowl,

my monster told me her name

Autism was her species

Aspergers, her claim to fame

She wasn’t the result of faulty software

but built by the creator with a different hardware

She processed my thoughts, filtering them like coffee

Strong and harsh and bitter at times

until I added some milk or some artificial sweet

to make some version of me complete.

I denied this monster’s existence for a long time

Still lost in the harsh blinding sun

Far from what I used to know.

I put her in a drawer,

hoping she’d be forgotten,

falling for the lies of different monsters instead.

These monsters came

in the form of handsome men

And it wasn’t until they were gone

that I realized they never saved me.

 

My monster came back with a vengeance

as I transitioned from high school to college.

We walked on a tightrope

between the dark wonderland we knew

and a land of a thousand stars that shined in the distance

My monster and I fell down again

but landed in a safety net

in the land of a thousand stars

Stars that shone brightly in the dark, black sky

But I loved each new day as much as the night.

I started introducing my monster to my friends

who were surprised she even existed.

Little did either of us know

that this starry paradise had hunters in the foxholes.

 

One night, I was caught in a tidal wave

and found myself naked for all to see

My monster took over and started shrieking

singing out her agony

We drowned in a torrent of negative thoughts

with no one to save us

Nobody helped.

As the tide washed out,

the Queen of Foxhunters took us to court

and commanded my monster to chop off her own head.

Instead, we ran as far as we could

away from the heartless queen and her hunters.

 

We made a plan to work together.

The monster learned to be more like the others

And I hid safely inside a white tent

until a knight in shining armor

came and asked me to dance with him.

My monster was puzzled by this new man

And sometimes she would cover my mouth.

While I worried about why my white knight

seemed to be walking a tightrope of his own.

 

Then all of a sudden

Everything started falling away

Changing too fast for either me or my monster to handle.

The white knight got on his horse and rode off without us

Then we lost a beloved friend

Then we had to leave the starry land

No more games in the clean, white tent.

No solid ground, no safety net.

 

Wandering around, we got stuck in a rut

Lost in a maze with no way out

A little maiden in the maze started stringing us along

But when we came to a dead end,

the maiden became a minotaur

My monster couldn’t handle the minotaur’s strength

With a pierce of a horn, my monster lost

She fell down again

Shattered

Crying

And I limped along with my monster to safety

Not looking back, fearing the minotaur’s chasing.

 

Out of the labyrinth, we got caught in a storm

Constant rain pouring down on us.

But we stayed in the storm and let it wash us clean

It became the source of our growth, the source of our healing

The water healed my monster and stopped the bleeding.

Then the rain was gone and the sun came out.

I saw a reflection of the monster in the water

Except the reflection was that of my face

The monster was inside me all along.

Like a softer Hyde to my little Jekyll

or a female version of that big green thing

The monster’s still in me, being sought by the hunters

Too bad they don’t know I have the strength to protect her

After all, she’s a part of me

 

She’s the armor I wear and the tears that I shed

She’s the sword in my hand and the thoughts in my head

She’s my curiosity, insatiable in her hunger

Devouring knowledge and building new dreams

She’s a part of me without being all of me

And I wouldn’t want it any other way

 

The Tale of Three Popes, Part 1: St. John Paul II

I was born in 1990, which technically counts for me being part of a few generational labels. I consider myself to be a 90s kid, many journalists would call me a millenial, and fellow Catholics would probably count me as being part of the JP2 Generation. I’ve written about my personal experiences about St. John Paul the Great on this blog before and there are a plethora of books and blog posts about how awesome this pope is.

So with all of the post-Oscars buzz, I want to bring attention to one particular aspect of the wonderful pope: the fact that he was an actor.

I always love aspects and quirks of the saints that remind me that they were human. Karol Wojtyla’s love for the theatre tugs at my heart, recalling my brief moments in high school and college when I strutted and fretted about the stage. I once read in one of his biographies that he was helping out with this play with his friends from university and the actor playing the villain became unavailable. Karol volunteered to play the role, knowing all the lines. Oh that I could grab a Tardis and actually watch a performance from this saint.

People often wonder how being in theatre can contribute to jobs outside of the arts. The life of St. John Paul II shows those nay-sayers how.

All the actors and actresses I love have one thing in common: they all have large personalities. There’s a charisma that draws people to actors beyond the polished, camera-ready faces. John Paul II’s charisma was powerful enough to draw the entire world to him and through him, many people were led to God.

Actors also know how to work with difficult people. Long hours of rehearsals can turn most companies into a pot of crabs, with everyone clawing at each other. John Paul II faced Nazis, communists, and his own assassin and shared the unconditional love of God with all of them. But this ability to work with anyone stems from a sense of understanding and empathy. Artists have a way of understanding other artists. John Paul II’s Letter to Artists is still one of my favorite writings from him.

But the best thing about actors is their perseverance and fortitude. For them, the show must go on, no matter what. They’ll go to auditions and callbacks, risking rejection on a constant basis. They deal with long hours with variable amounts of pay. They perform even when there’s an audience of one. When John Paul II’s health became so frail, he kept going, celebrating Mass and greeting the people, even when he couldn’t talk. And when it came time for the curtain to fall, the world was there to throw flowers on the stage, praying for a holy curtain call.

A testament to John Paul II's fortitude "JPII 29-09-2004 portret". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:JPII_29-09-2004_portret.jpg#mediaviewer/File:JPII_29-09-2004_portret.jpg

A testament to John Paul II’s fortitude
Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Whenever I think of St. John Paul II, I am reminded that becoming a saint, following that path to holiness, is worth more than all the Oscars in the world.