I Am The Handmaid of the Lord: Blessed Virgin Mary

The CGB Saints posts are back!  The last Saints post I did was on Saint Rose of Lima and now that I’m off from school until February, why not kick off 2016 with the triumphant return of CGB Saints posts?!  🙂

I decided to reopen this segment with a Super Saiyan Saint, the Queen of Heaven and Earth herself…

virgin-mary-pics-0917

Once upon a time, in the Galilean town of Nazareth, there was a girl named Mary.  She was the only child of Anne and Joachim.  We can assume that she lived the typical life of a Nazarene girl.  She said her prayers every night, carried water from the local well, tended to her father’s animals, helped her mother clean up after dinner, and so on.  When we meet Mary in the New Testament, she is betrothed to Joseph, the carpenter who everyone respected.  By all accounts, everything was going well in Mary’s life.  Her parents adored her, her fiancée was a hard-working gentleman, and she had a squeaky-clean reputation among her fellow Nazarenes as being Anne and Joachim’s sweet, polite daughter.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my twenty-four years of life, it’s that God likes to make a grand entrance on our lives when everything is a little too steady and certain.

Meet Gabriel the Archangel.  He is the messenger chosen by God to deliver a very important message to the Nazarene girl.  This is how I imagine that conversation went:
GOD: Everything is in motion, Gabriel.  Mary’s engaged to Joseph, she’s just the right age–she is ready.
GABRIEL: Okay, my Lord, do you believe she will accept?
GOD: (smiles) Go to Nazareth, Gabriel.  It is time.

Mary is home alone.  Anne and Joachim have gone into town to run some errands.  Luckily, Joseph is just down the road if Mary needs anything.
She wipes the last dirty dish with an old rag.  She looks up at the window, relishing the warmth of the sunlight as it pours onto the walls of her humble abode.  She turns around and freezes.
“Rejoice, O highly favored daughter!  The Lord is with you.  Blessed are you among women.” Gabriel announces.  A trembling Mary stares at the mighty angel.  An angel?  Here in Nazareth?  What does he trying to tell me? she wonders.
Sensing her troubled thoughts, Gabriel lowers himself just inches above the ground, “Do not fear, Mary.  You have found favor with God.  You shall conceive and bear a son and give him the name JESUS.  He will be called Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father.  He will rule over the house of Jacob forever and His reign will be without end.”
Mary shakes her head in disbelief, “How can this be since I do not know man?”
Gabriel smiles gently, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; hence, the holy offspring to be born will be called Son of God.  Know that Elizabeth your kinswoman [cousin] has conceived a son in her old age; she who was thought to be sterile is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible with God.”
Mary is assumed to have been thirteen or fourteen when the Annunciation took place.   She was old enough to have an understanding of what was being asked of her, but was also still a young girl with her whole life ahead of her.  To have an angel basically tell her that God has chosen her to carry His child had the potential of derailing her life plans.  Would her parents believe her?  Would Joseph stand by her and take her as his wife?  How would the other Nazarenes react?
There were no crisis pregnancy centers in Mary’s day.  Outreach efforts to pregnant teenagers was nonexistent.  Everyone would assume that Mary had relations with another man and she could find herself in the town square, having stones hurled at her from angry townspeople.
Mary may be the mother of God, but she was still human.  It is possible that these consequences raised her levels of anxiety.
However, Mary also knew of God from her parents.  She had learned that God was wise and righteous.  Within her heart, Mary had the grace to realize that to find favor with God meant that whatever He wanted her to do, He would help her accomplish it.  She had a feeling that God did not want to destroy her, but to invite her to take part in something greater than herself.
This is the best explanation as to why Mary, a teenage girl, would so readily say to Gabriel, “I am the handmaid of the Lord.  Let it be done unto me according to Your word.” Gabriel left her, his task complete.

Shortly after accepting her mission, Mary took a trip to the town of Judah.  Mind you, there was no Uber ride service in her day.  Also, Elizabeth and Zechariah had no way of knowing that Mary was on her way.  To quote my mentor Fr. Dave, “She couldn’t send a text.  She couldn’t send an email or a message on Facebook.  She couldn’t call Elizabeth and say, ‘Oh, hey, cousin, I’ve heard that you’re pregnant.  I’m on my way!'”
It is not clear how long it took Mary to get from Nazareth to the city of Judah.   It has been approximated that the journey was about 130 km or 80 miles.
What matters is that she got there and so begins the Visitation, the event in which Mary meets with her cousin Elizabeth, who is six months pregnant with a son.  When Elizabeth saw Mary, she exclaimed, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  In that moment, the child in Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy.  The unborn child, who we know to be John the Baptist, knew that the Son of God was in their midst.
Mary stayed with Elizabeth until John was born.  By this time, Mary was three months along in her own pregnancy.  She returned home to her mother, her father, and Joseph.

Yes, Joseph did learn of Mary’s pregnancy.  While I do go into detail about this in my Saint Joseph post last year, I will briefly summarize Joseph’s turmoil.
As we can imagine, the circumstances of Mary’s pregnancy were hard for even Joseph, a man of steadfast devotion, to believe.   He loved Mary and figured that the best way to protect her would be to divorce her quietly.
One night, as Joseph slept, an angel appeared to him in a dream.  This angel told the carpenter, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”  If there’s one thing Joseph knew for sure, it is that when an angel tells you something is true, then it’s best to take their word for it.
Joseph and Mary were wed soon after.  For all everyone knew, the child in her womb was his and all seemed well.
Roman Emperor Augustus issued a decree that forced Joseph to return to Bethlehem, his hometown, in order to register for a Roman census.  By this point, it has been five months since Mary visited Elizabeth and she is beginning to show.  Joseph and Mary set off for Bethlehem, with Joseph leading his family on foot while Mary sat on their donkey (which can’t be comfortable for a pregnant woman).   According to Fr. Oscar Lukefahr, author of “Christ’s Mother and Ours: a Catholic Guide to Mary” it was a three day journey, approximately 70-80 miles. 

Mary lifted her veil to her face, trying to keep the wind and rainwater from her eyes.  As they entered into Bethlehem, mild discomfort turned to pain.  The time for Mary’s child to be brought into the world was drawing near.
Joseph sprinted to every house, the mud sticking to his sandals.  “Help, help!  Please, we need shelter!” he pleaded to every person who opened their door.
No one would take them in.  All doors were closed to the Holy Family.
An inn keeper offered to let them stay in the manger where the animals resided.  As Mary’s contractions grew stronger, Joseph rushed his wife into the manger.
On that cold winter’s night, the Son of God was born.

While Mary’s story certainly doesn’t end here, the purpose of this piece was to humanize this woman who fearlessly accepted a great calling from God.  Mary was not afraid to be inconvenienced, to have her typical Nazarene life turned upside down.  She knew the risks that would come with her “Yes.”  She knew that her world would never be the same.
If she could do it all over again, Mary would say “Yes” in a heartbeat.

Saint Mary of Nazareth, pray for us.

CGB Review of American Hustle (2013)

I loved Silver Lining Playbook and I despised Joy, so I had no idea what to expect from this David O. Russell flick.

This is my review of American Hustle!

american_hustle_movie-1920x1080

Between this and Joy, I’m starting to see a pattern with David O. Russell films: His movies can be hard to summarize.  Alas, I will do the best I can to provide a summary.
American Hustle is the wild story of Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser, two con artists who are forced by F.B.I agent Richie DiMaso to set up elaborate sting operations on corrupt politicians, which include Camden, New Jersey, Mayor Carmine Polito.  While that’s going on, Irving must balance his tumultuous romance with Sydney and his troubled marriage to Rosalyn, an unstable woman who may have Histrionic personality disorder (“a mental condition in which people act in a very emotional and dramatic way that draws attention to themselves…” https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001531.htm).

I remember coming home one night and my parents were watching this movie.  “How’s the movie?” I asked.  My mom gave it a thumbs down while my dad had fallen asleep.
After watching this flick, I can see why.

The Hits
This is what film reviewers called “an actor’s piece.”  It’s the kind of the film that is made specifically to showcase an ensemble cast of A-list actors.  I kept watching this flick for the performances.  I commend Christian Bale for putting on all that weight and he sells the character of Irving as a scheming, self-preserving con man.
Jennifer Lawrence’s Rosalyn is the only character I cared about.  With a believable Boston accent, Jennifer Lawrence portrays Rosalyn as an endearing basket case.  She is manic without becoming annoying, immature without coming off as too childish, and incredibly sympathetic.  Honestly, I wish the movie was told from her perspective.  I could watch her confrontation with Amy Adams’ Sydney over and over again.
The costumes, hair styles and make-up in this movie all resemble the craziness of the late 70’s and early 80’s.   If there’s one thing David O. Russell does really well, it is dressing his actors in a way that captures the mood of the era that his movie is set in.
Finally, I would like to point out that David O. Russell does handle his unlikable characters correctly.  Basically an unlikable character is made easy to root for if:
A. They get their comeuppance
B. They are forced to rise above their flaws.
C. Their reasons for being scum is well explained.
American Hustles takes Option C by writing Irving and Sydney as survivalists.  These characters are con artists because they have both grown up knowing the world to be a cruel and corrupt place where survival is the only option.

The Misses
It’s pretty obvious that Amy Adams doesn’t curse often in real life.  Granted, cussing excessively isn’t exactly a desired talent, but if you are making a movie and you want your actors to use choice language, make sure that they’re convincing at it.  Also, and I don’t mean to pick on the talented Ms. Adams, but was her character written to be British or American?  She keeps changing her accent sporadically.  This makes sense when she is pretending to be Lady Edith Greensly, but when she keeps changing accents during an intense argument with Irving, it comes off as odd.
Oh, Bradley Cooper, I don’t like picking on you (I’ve done it three times now with Aloha, Burnt and Joy), but am I the only one who feels that Bradley Cooper didn’t have much to work with in this film?  Irving, Sydney and Rosalyn are fleshed-out, but Richie (Cooper) and Carmine (Renner) are only identifiable by their hairstyles and not by their personalities.
It has been said that you can make a good story about anything.  However, to pull this off, good writing is a requirement.  American Hustle is a case of great actors trying to make do with a scrambled story.  Just like Joy, American Hustle is the equivalent of walking in on an intense conversation between strangers and having absolutely no idea what’s being said.  I was totally lost during the first five minutes of American Hustle and that’s because it throws us into a convoluted argument between characters we’ve just met.  A storyteller doesn’t have to spell out every minute detail, but there need to be some clarity about what’s going on and what’s at stake.  I couldn’t be engaged in the story because it’s poorly structured with gigantic leaps in time and too many characters.  By the second act, scenes either go on for an eternity or move so quickly that you’ll miss something if you blink.

If you enjoy movies that showcase a large cast of A-list actors, then you might like American Hustle.  However, personally, I could only be invested for so long before the scattered story became difficult to follow and I just stop caring.

Saint Matthew, pray for us.

CGB Review of War Room (2015)

Hmm, a Christian film about trying to save one’s marriage with prayer.  Hey, Kendrick brothers, you’ve made this movie before: It’s called Fireproof…
And it was way better than this flick.

This is my review of War Room!

war-room

War Room is the latest film from Alex and Stephen Kendrick, the same guys behind Flywheel (2003), Facing the Giants (2006), Fireproof (2008) and Courageous (2011). The best way to summarize this film is it’s basically Fireproof from the wife’s point of view and with an old lady thrown into the mix.

The last Kendrick brothers movie that I reviewed here on CGB was Courageous, which was made to be a pro-fatherhood film, but sadly, ended up being a poorly-paced, unfocused narrative.

Let’s see how War Room holds up!

The Hits
This is one of the very few Christian films that attempts to tackle spiritual warfare.  Given that Satan’s influence is considered taboo, I do commend this film for taking on the fight against the devil.  There’s a great scene where Elizabeth is confronting the devil, telling him to leave her family alone and that God is in charge of her household.  I was actually invested in this one sequence.
Unlike Courageous, the pacing in this film is much better.  Hence they’ve learned something since Courageous.  There’s still some filler here and there, but those are few and far between.  Scenes don’t drag on, the plot stays focused for the most part, and the acting is actually pretty good.  So War Room is a slight improvement in terms of the technical aspects.  Also, while I did find Miss Clara’s character to be a bit abrupt and intrusive, I can tell you that feisty old ladies have earned the right to have no filter.  🙂

The Misses
I hate to say it, but a lot of secular critics were right when they said, “The message of this movie is that if your spouse doesn’t treat you right, it’s because you’re not praying hard enough.”  Yep, that is exactly how the first hour of this movie plays out.   There’s even one scene where after Elizabeth vents about her husband Tony, Miss Clara snaps, “Everything you’ve said about your husband is negative!”  Well, yeah, because the first act shows Tony berating Elizabeth in front of their daughter Danielle and then making hurtful remarks to Danielle about how she’s too old to be jump-roping (she’s part of a jump-roping team).  He also scolds Elizabeth for taking money out of their account to help her (off-screen) financially-troubled sister and tells her that their money is his money.
To understand why this movie is frustrating, let’s first look at why Fireproof worked.  The script had both spouses biting at each other’s ankles, not one unreasonably cruel spouse constantly tearing the other submissive spouse.  Caleb and Catherine both gave each other grief and, while Caleb had to do a lot of the work to save their marriage, Catherine was also challenged to forgive her husband.  I’ve never been married, but even I know that marriage is a team effort.  It takes two to tango, after all.
So why does War Room fail at where Fireproof succeeded?  Because the husband Tony is verbally and even financially abusive towards Elizabeth.  Their daughter Danielle is also a victim of Tony’s emotional abuse.  By the way he treats them, it comes across that Tony flat-out hates his own family.  Elizabeth doesn’t do anything to get him worked up.   Also, I did cringe when Elizabeth tells her gal pals, “I just don’t know how to submit to him…” Yeah, it’s generally a bad idea to have a female character say something like this.
Look, Kendrick brothers and every other Christian filmmaker, I can totally get on board with using cinema to combat the alarmingly high divorce rate in this country, but if you’re going to make movies about defending the indissolubility of marriage, please learn the difference between a flawed spouse and an abusive one.  I get that we’re trying to teach our generation to fight for their marriages and not throw in the towel, which is a noble cause, but when it is presented incorrectly, it can come across that Christian films are advocating staying in toxic relationships.

I do commend this film for taking on spiritual warfare and for its message of the power of prayer.  However, its mishandling of a dysfunctional relationship is troubling enough to keep me from recommending War Room.
If I ever have a daughter and she wanted to watch this movie, I would say “absolutely not, Gemma or Gianna or Scholastica Ecclesia” or whatever I name her.
In all seriousness, keep your daughters away from this movie.

Saint Monica of Hippo, pray for us.