Award Shows: Hollywood's Favorite Pulpit

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I skipped the Oscars last night. But a quick look at all the post-Oscar news showed how little I actually missed. First, the good: Leonardo Dicaprio finally won an Oscar! I’m also happy that Inside Out won Best Animated Movie and that Mad Max Fury Road won so many awards.

But I have some things I need to get off my chest.

Why is it that so many of the movies nominated for Oscars are ones that aren’t seen by the mass population? I mean, I loved Mad Max Fury Road, I seriously wish Star Wars: The Force Awakens won something. I mean, it’s pretty much a given that the winner for Best Animated Feature will be a movie that everyone has seen, but the awards for sound editing and sound mixing feel like table scraps compared to important awards such as Best Screenplay and Cinematography.

I’ll admit that Star Wars: The Force Awakens doesn’t have the most original story, but you’d think the Academy would give some recognition to the highest grossing film of 2015. Besides that, Star Wars has something the other films nominated didn’t: a black man in a leading role.

I was glad that Chris Rock sort-of kind-of addressed the #OscarsSoWhite issue, but addressing the issue racism in Hollywood wasn’t going to go away just because Chris Rock decided to stick with hosting the Oscars. In fact, there was a really bad joke done at the expense of Asians that used Asian kids that dressed up as the bankers from the financial firm that tabulates all the Oscar votes.

It calls to mind a certain song:

Which reminds me…

The Oscars can be really preachy sometimes. I’m not just talking about actors constantly bringing up the issue of under-representation in the film industry. I’m talking about how Sam Smith included the LGBT community in his acceptance speech because he wanted to be the first openly gay Oscar winner. I’m talking about Leonardo Dicaprio raising awareness about climate change in his acceptance speech.

To quote a catchphrase amongst the secular community: Keep it in church! (or at the very least an op-ed in The New York Times)

Then again, maybe these award ceremonies are, in a strange way, the Church of Hollywood. I mean think about it. They dress to the nines and gather together for a very long ceremony, set aside time to honor the dead, and talk about the important issues going on alongside congratulating themselves for creating things that the rest of the world doesn’t really care about.

And at the same time, the people behind the film Spotlight call out the Catholic Church on the sex scandals that inspired the movie in the first place. It’s like they have no idea that the Catholic Church is actually making efforts to fix this scandal. And Mark Ruffalo, I love you, I really do, but combined with the fact that you support Planned Parenthood, you are quickly becoming my least favorite Avenger.

Oh, and you shouldn’t be so ignorant about Pope Francis. It was through him that Leo won that Oscar, you know! I mean, I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that Dicaprio finally won an Oscar after meeting Pope Francis. Because let’s be honest, the only way you can top meeting the Pope is by winning an Academy Award.

If you ask me, I think I’d stick to my cult classics and independent films. When does Jane Wants A Boyfriend come out again?!

The Cassock and Collar Make the Man

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One wonderful thing about growing up Catholic is that I always smile and feel excited whenever I see a priest or a nun in full uniform. I understand why plainclothes nuns exist and in my college, some of the priests wore casual clothes along with their collars. But the feeling’s not the same. Whenever I see a Missionary of Charity, in their signature blue and white habits, I automatically think of Mother Teresa and think These women are so awesome to be following in her footsteps. Whenever I see a priest in a cassock, I think Wow that cassock is badass! 

So Tom Chiarella of Esquire Magazine’s experiment of dressing up as different men, priest included, definitely caught my eye. The first one he dressed up as was a priest. It was interesting to me that he chose the cassock to “look like the Jesuit priests who taught me to write.” I’m assuming he had a Catholic school education up to a certain point. I also like that he respected the uniform of the priest enough to not wear a crucifix or carry a Rosary or act like a priest when he was never ordained as such.

But what really struck at me was this (emphasis mine):

No one asked my name. No one called me Father Tom. But that’s what the uniform made me. People want to believe.

Especially people in need. All day long, I was faced with homeless men, homeless families, crouched in the street. Sometimes they reached up to me, touched my wrist. Twice I was asked for a blessing that I could not give. Not in the way they wanted. I started wishing that I were capable of performing a service for the world. And I found I could not do nothing. The uniform comes with some responsibility; otherwise, it is just a party costume. I started kneeling down, holding out a ten-dollar bill, and saying, “I’m not a priest. But I feel you.” And I couldn’t do it once without doing it a couple dozen times. Chicago is a big city, with a lot of souls stuck in its doorways. It still makes me sadder than I could have imagined.

It’s easy to put on a cassock. And it’s really not easy to wear one at all.

I think, if anything else, this is evidence of what the life of a priest is like and why the church doesn’t call for married priests. Being a priest isn’t a job you clock in and out of. It’s a lifestyle that demands that the man who wears the collar and uniform to completely surrender himself to serving others, whether as a diocesan priest or as a member of a religious order.

When I was going on vocation retreats, a book called To Save a Thousand Souls caught my eye and a dear friend let me keep a copy. When I read that book, the lifestyle of a priest was laid open to me. Priests have to be able to manage a parish (if they’re diocesan) or have some kind of full-time job that requires a lot of responsibility. They also have to celebrate Mass, be ready to go to hospitals when necessary, celebrate weddings and funerals, give advice, hear Confessions, stand up for the teachings of the Church and, oh yeah, keep their own souls intact in the process.

Most priests may not be able to have families the way that ordinary men and women do, but they make a family in a completely different way. One priest that comes to mind is my dear friend Fr. Keon, who was a professor at my alma mater. He passed away a few years ago, but his life was an amazing one. Most of his life as a priest was spent teaching and serving the University of St. Thomas as a member of the Basilians. He taught philosophy and participated in many on-campus activities such as attending plays and going out to the movies with students. When I met him, he was retired, spending his days in the cafeteria talking to students, telling tall tales and making everyone laugh.

When Fr. Keon passed away, generations of students came to his memorial service. Everyone had stories to tell, memories to share about the time they spent with this priest. It’s hard to say that Fr. Keon never had a family when hundreds of alumni, young and old, were all there celebrating his life and at the same time missing him.

The life of a priest is one with great power and great responsibility. Each priest has the potential of being a hero to the Church and to the world, filled with lost souls. My hope is that people will come to understand that and pray for them always.