Sunday, December 14, 2014

5 Ways to Find Peace and Joy this Advent and Christmas (Amid Unrealistic Expectations)

In the hustle and bustle of December, our lives (and our Advent) can become filled with a busyness that is often fueled by unrealistic expectations. We can become consumed with the desire to find or make perfect gifts for each of our loved ones. Sometimes we feel pressured to purchase gifts that we can’t afford. Many times, our hearts and minds are so filled with trying to provide a perfect Christmas for our families that the season of Advent — a time meant to be filled with prayerful quiet and joyful anticipation of Christ’s birth — has been completely derailed and lost…
Lost in to-do lists, things-to-clean lists, and cookies-and-treats-to-make lists, presents-to-buy-or-make lists, people-to-visit lists… and a gourmet Christmas feast to pull together list.
Sometimes we recognize all too late, after our children are grown and gone, just how fast the times goes by.  And then, how we wish we would have spent more time relaxing, enjoying, and just being together … rather than being consumed in planning, doing, and fretting over trying to attain some false ideal of perfection. We often recognize too late how we missed the time we had with our children because our minds were filled with lists of “ways we can be loving” that we would get to in a minute … 10 minutes … or tonight … or tomorrow … or next week …
But rarely were our minds quiet enough, or still or at peace enough, to be loving in the only moment we truly have… the present.
In our pursuit of perfection, our joy, peace and the quiet inside our soul is crowded out with expectations, frustrations and feelings of guilt when we can never measure up to our desires. And if we’re not careful, we can miss living our lives because we become so focused on our plan that we continue to miss the moment in front of us –the one we are living now – and the only moment possible to truly love. For moments in the past can never be relived, and moments in the future are so elusive that they are always just one more moment away …
Perhaps, at this moment, we can take the time to pray and ask ourselves if we experience this.
Are we caught up in the pursuit of providing the picture-perfect Christmas – complete with a loving, beautifully dressed family in a gorgeous home with a sumptuous feast? Are we caught up in trying to be the perfect parent, so much so that we can never relax and enjoy our kids? Are we focusing so much on tasks to be done, that we are missing the people whom we are doing all these things for?
Are we missing our idea of a perfect Christmas so much that we can’t be grateful for the Advent and Christmas God He is giving us now? Are we so focused on the lists, that we forget the Reason, the Person of Christ, whom we celebrate?
While our desires may be beautiful, none of these “things” have been promised to us.  Jesus doesn’t even promise us a happy family.  If you are struggling with this, I write more about it here.
While caught up in our busyness, and our idea of how Christmas is supposed to be, we can lose sight of what it actually was! We forget about the poverty the Holy Family faced that first Christmas night — perhaps this is because we envision it to have been like the beautiful masterpieces that depict the Nativity.
Detail of Adoration of the Shepherds. Antonio Balestra.
Detail of Adoration of the Shepherds. Antonio Balestra.
Yet, instead of a warm home and the beautiful cradle that Joseph must have built for Jesus, Joseph and Mary had only a stable and a manger for their newborn Son. In reality, this stable or cave was probably stinky, filthy, and cold.
And instead of being surrounded by loved ones, not one person in Bethlehem recognized or made room in their hearts or homes for the Messiah, Whom they had prayed and longed for for centuries!  (Our Lord often comes to us in ways we fail to see – think of your toddler tearing up something you had been working on for weeks.  Do we recognize Christ in the least of these?)
It wasn’t the religious who came to adore their God , but the poor and homeless shepherds who were deemed outcasts and unworthy to worship at the Temple, who heard the angels’ chorus and worshiped the newborn King of Kings. (The Magi came later.)
Yet, in the midst of these cold, miserable, and harsh conditions, the most incredible and unfathomable Gift was given to us! Our God and King, the creator of the earth and moon and stars — of all that is seen and unseen — became flesh and dwelt among us! Who can ever fathom the extent of His Love for us – a Love that would go to such extremes to “become man in order to make us gods?” (St. Ambrose).
Is there any greater gift that we could have on Christmas than Jesus?  Is all the pressure we place on ourselves really necessary? Does it add to or detract from our recognizing and worshipping Jesus’ birth and His Presence that is still was us today — for He is still Emmanuel.
If you are someone who struggles with this, (like me), here are some ideas for finding balance, peace and joy in these holy days:

1. Make a morning offering.

Find time for at least 10 minutes of adoration, Scripture reading, solitude and listening to God. Begin your day in God, with His Word in your mind and in your heart.

2. Make short acts of adoration, thanksgiving and praise throughout the day.

Call to mind the first Christmas when false expectations and meaningless busyness try to steal away your moments. If we can go to Mass and adoration all the better, but if we can’t we can spiritually unite ourselves and receive spiritual communions throughout the day by offering up prayers of desire and praise.

3. Go to confession.

God’s Mercy, grace and strength is amazing and can help rid these tendencies in us.

4. Ask Mary and Joseph for help…

…to know and love the Father’s will, and His Son, Jesus, as they did.  Recognizing God in His hiddenness — in our family members and in our trials – while keeping and treasuring all these things in our hearts.

5. Be happy!  

A spiritual director once told me the greatest gift we can give our children is for us to be happy!  Ask the Holy Spirit’s help to choose to enjoy, love, and treasure those God has given you to love, in each moment He has given you to live! We can do this by being mindful of the great and unfathomable love of Jesus and all the gifts we have been given.
Finally, here is a beautiful video that illustrates when we put these ways into practice: if we choose to put God first, to adore Him, to look for Him in the most unlikely places, and to enjoy the moment we’ve been given and the people God puts in our path, God can work astoundng miracles!
It depicts the true story of soldiers choosing to celebrate the love and peace of Christmas in the midst of war.  A second video follows it that shares the history of this amazing story.
Let us pray,
Mary and Joseph, help us to live this time of Advent and Christmas in love, peace and joy regardless of our circumstances, busyness and imperfections. We ask you to help us let go of what is unnecessary, and to trust and rejoice in God, our Savior as you did, even when facing severe hardships.  Mary and Joseph, pray for us and hold each one of us and our loved ones close to you.  Guide us and help us to welcome your Son as you welcomed Him — not in a perfect home, but in love, worship and awe, making room for him in our hearts and in the busyness of our lives.  
Copyright 2014 Janet Moore 
Originally posted on 5 Ways to Find Peace and Joy this Advent and Christmas (Amid Unrealistic Expectations)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Our Lady of Guadalupe - Our Loving Mother and Miracle Worker

Happy Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe!!!!

I love this feast!  
I so love our Our Blessed Mother that I long to share her with everyone -- because her love for us is unimaginable -- and she only desires to "show, exalt and make Jesus manifest" (present) to us! 

In 1999, my family and I were blessed to go on a pilgrimage to Mexico City to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and to be present for .John Paul II's Papal visit.  After years of longing for a baby, just over a year later we were blessed with the miracle of our daughter, Marie, who is named after the Mother who interceded for her birth.  

So, just as I was then... 

I am still moved by God's plan to use His Mother to intercede for us and heal us. 

Through her image, she wrought the amazing miracle of converting the hearts of the entire people of Mexico, which included 6 million souls (some number those converted up to 12 million souls) who had been worshipping and making human sacrifices to their Aztec gods.  In her image, she showed herself to be above the sun and moon gods that they worshipped -- for she was clothed with the sun and the moon was under her feet. While greater than their gods, she was not a god -- for she bowed her head in prayer to her unborn child inside her, manifested by the cord that signaled that she was with Child.  

Astoundingly, it seems as if every detail of God's portrait of Mary is filled with meaning, with some so scientifically inexplicable that even scientists call the image "living"! Click here to download a powerpoint presentation that beautifully explains many of these phenomena. 

In fact, in and through these signs, God, through this amazing portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe, has wrought about immeasurable miracles.  At least 6 million and one! 

And, who could not be moved by Mary's words, words of the Mother of God and our mother?

"Juanito, dearest Juan Diego."
"Listen, Juan, my dearest and youngest son, where are you going?"

"Know, know for sure, my dearest, littlest, and youngest son, that I am the perfect and ever Virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the God of truth through Whom everything lives, the Lord of all things near us, the Lord of heaven and earth. I want very much to have a little house built here for me, in which I will show Him, I will exalt Him and make Him manifest. I will give Him to the people in all my personal love, in my compassion, in my help, in my protection: because I am truly your merciful Mother, yours and all the people who live united in this land and of all the other people of different ancestries, my lovers, who love me, those who seek me, those who trust in me. Here I will hear their weeping, their complaints and heal all their sorrows, hardships and sufferings. And to bring about what my compassionate and merciful concern is trying to achieve, you must go to the residence of the Bishop of Mexico and tell him that I sent you here to show him how strongly I wish him to build me a temple here on the plain; you will report to him exactly all you have seen, admired and what you have heard. Know for sure I will appreciate it very much, be grateful and I will reward you. And you? You will deserve very much the reward I will give you for your fatigue, the work and trouble that my mission will cause you. Now my dearest son, you have heard my breath, my word; go now and put forth your best effort."...

"Listen to me, my youngest and dearest son, know for sure that I do not lack servants and messengers to whom I can give the task of carrying out my words, who will carry out my will. But it is very necessary that you plead my cause and, with your help and through your mediation, that my will be fulfilled. My youngest and dearest son, I urge and firmly order you to go to the bishop again tomorrow. Tell him in my name and make him fully understand my intention that he start work on the chapel I'm requesting. Tell him again that I am the ever Virgin, Holy Mary, the Mother of God, who is sending you."...

"That is fine, my youngest and dearest son; you will return here tomorrow so that you may take the sign he asked for. Then, he will believe and no longer doubt or be suspicious of you; and know, my dear son, I shall reward your care, work and fatigue in my behalf. Go now; tomorrow I shall be here waiting for you."...

"What is happening, dearest and youngest of my sons? Where are you going? Where are you headed?"

"Listen, put it into your heart, my youngest and dearest son, that the thing that disturbs you, the thing that afflicts you, is nothing. Do not let your countenance, your heart be disturbed. Do not fear this sickness of your uncle or any other sickness, nor anything that is sharp or hurtful. Am I not here, I, who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need anything more? Let nothing else worry you, disturb you. Do not let your uncle's illness worry you, because he will not die now. You may be certain that he is already well."...

"Go up, my dearest son, to the top of the hill, to where you saw me and received my directions and you will find different kinds of flowers. Cut them, gather them, put them all together, then come down here and bring them before me."...

"My youngest and dearest son, these different kinds of flowers are the proof, the sign that you will take to the Bishop. You will tell him from me that he is to see in them my desire, and therefore he is to carry out my wish, my will. And you, who are my messenger, in you I place my absolute trust. I strictly order you not to unfold your tilma or reveal its contents until you are in his presence. You will relate to him everything very carefully: how I sent you to the top of the hill to cut and gather flowers, all you saw and marveled at in order to convince the Governing Priest so that he will then do what lies within his responsibility so that my house of God which I requested will be made, will be built."

May these words of Mary, and these astounding signs, help each of us come to understand how much we are loved by God, Who never ceases to reach out to us in our need through Our Blessed Mother's loving intercession.  

Just as You, O Lord, saved all those who were destined to be sacrificed to the false Aztec idols, may you save us today from our culture of death, which leads us to sacrifice our souls to the idols of pride, pleasure, power and monetary gain. 

Just as you saved the Aztecs in a way we could have never imagined, we trust You are working to save us in ways we don't understand. 

O Lady of Guadalupe, whose miraculous presence is still with us today, pray for us!!!

© Revised 2017 Janet Moore

Monday, December 8, 2014

In Mary's Immaculate Conception, We See Who We are Called to Be!

Mary revealed herself to us by saying:  "I am the Immaculate Conception"  in Lourdes, France in 1858 -- when the young girl, Bernadette, to whom she had been appearing, asked her who she was. 

I spoke of the Consecrating ourselves to Mary in a previous post.  By contemplating this Consecration, it will help us to understand more fully the Immaculate Conception.

Immaculate Conception, Bartolome Murillo.
Today, I'm sharing another great saint of our times who lived this total Consecration to Jesus through Mary.  It is St. Maximilian Kolbe, the famous martyr of the 20th Century, who offered himself in exchange for another prisoner's life in the German Concentration Camp of Auschwitz during WWII. He is also famous for founding the "Militia Immaculata," which is the "Army of Mary" formed by those who have consecrated themselves to her.  He believed that this Consecration, and the souls formed through Mary's intercession and love, would bring about the salvation of the world.  

He spent his life contemplating Mary as the Immaculate Conception and wrote many amazing things about her, whom he referred to as the Immaculata.  

Here are a few of my favorite quotes:
“Of herself, Mary is nothing, even as all other creatures are; but by God’s gift she is the most perfect of creatures, the most perfect image of God’s divine being in a purely human creature.  She is God’s instrument.  With full consciousness and total willingness she allows God to govern her; she consents to his will, desires only what He desires, and acts according to his will in the most perfect manner, without failing, without ever turning aside from his will. 
She makes perfect use of the powers and privileges God has given her, so as to fulfill always and in everything whatever the Lord wants of her, purely for love of God, One and Three.  This love of God reaches such a peak that it bears the divine fruits proper to God’s own love.  Her love for God brings her to such a union with him that she becomes the Mother of God.  The Father confides to her his Son; the Son descends into her womb, and the Holy Spirit fashions out of her perfectly pure body the very Body of Jesus.” 
“The fruit of the love of His Trinitarian life and of Mary the Immaculata is Christ the God-Man." 
“In the union of the Holy Spirit with Her, love unites not only two beings, but one that is the entire love of the Trinity, the other the entire love of a creature, and in this union heaven and earth are united – the height of love is achieved.”
“We should strive rather that souls may constantly deepen their love for her, that the bond of love between her and these souls may grow ever closer, and these souls may henceforth be one with her, with her alone.  Just as the Immaculata herself belongs to Jesus and to God, so too every soul through her and in her will belong to Jesus and to God in a much more perfect way than would have been possible without her.  Such souls will come to love the Sacred Heart of Jesus much better than they have ever done up to now.  Like Mary herself, they will come to penetrate into the very depths of love, to understand the cross, the Eucharist much better before.  Through her, divine love will set the world on fire and will consume it; then will the “assumption of souls in love” take place.  When, oh when, will the divinization of the world in her and through her come about?" 
“Until the end of time, we must win the universe and each individual soul, now and in the future, for the Blessed Virgin, and through Her, for the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Those souls will reach a much better and more profound love for the Sacred Heart than ever before. Through their love the world will be set on fire and consumed.”  St. Maximilian Kolbe 

In Mary, we see who we are called to be!  

We are called to live in union with God, to be filled with His Grace and bearers of Jesus to the world.  We have been made sinless through the power of Jesus' sacrifice; and we, too, are meant to reign in heaven with Our God for all eternity. 

May we seek to live according to our profound and inherent dignity and call.

And may we reflect upon Mary's unique and singular grace and her part in the plan of our salvation in these days of Advent and always, drawing ever closer to her, our Mother.  And may we consider offering ourselves to God through Mary in total Consecration, so to become a member of her "Militia Immaculata."

O Mary, Conceived without Sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

Copyright 2014 Janet Moore

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Life Changing Advent Traditions

The Advent wreath is one of my favorite traditions and devotions.

I have wonderful memories of each of my children's eyes sparkling in anticipation and love as they were entrusted with lighting the candles.  Often, the traditional prayers for the Advent wreath have been replaced or left unsaid.  In the beginning, we had tried to pray with the prayers provided in Advent wreath prayer leaflets, but soon found that reading from little books of Advent reflections for children, or reading Scripture passages was more helpful.  But, more often than not in the last few years, I have taken to singing the O' Antiphons, popularized in the beautiful hymn, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,"  because the words never cease to stir my soul.  For I, too, long for Emmanuel, God With Us, to be felt among the untold number of souls and broken families who are living in such pain and exile in this world, captive to the sins that the evil one assured them would be their freedom.

Besides the timeless beauty of sharing a meal around the light of the Advent wreath, I am SO EXCITED to share with you a new tradition we just began this year -- we are reading together as a family the book, 33 Days to Morning Glory, by Fr. Michael Gaitley.

The book contains instructions that guide you in understanding the quickest, easiest and surest way to holiness.  It is offering yourself completely to God (specifically to Jesus through Mary) in Consecration.  This book is meant to provide a new, updated version of St. Louis de Montfort's classic, True Devotion to Mary.  St. Louis' book changed my life and led me to make a solemn Consecration of myself to Jesus through Mary about 2o years ago.  In the years since, I have renewed it again and again, and it has never failed to greatly impact my life.  John Paul II was a big proponent of this devotion.  So much so, that his papal motto was, "Totus Tuus,"  meaning "Totally Yours" in Latin.  This expresses the idea of the soul totally giving everything to our Mother, so she can help not only lead us to Jesus but also form us into Him through her love and intercession.  About 4 or 5 years ago, I began to renew my solemn Act of Consecration each morning, (after I heard that John Paul II had done the same), and I can't begin to express how much my life has opened up and has been transformed.  I highly, highly, highly recommend doing this!  Each time, I have made the Consecration, it is like a new world of grace and opportunities have opened up for me!

33 Days to Morning Glory is a family friendly, engaging and modern way of expressing the content of the classic True Devotion to Mary, (which I didn't think was possible).  So far, we have really enjoyed it (my husband and 14 year old daughter and I).  It is written so that only 1 - 2 pages need to read each day for 33 days.  The 33 day format is a perfect timeline for Advent --(but you can do it at any time of the year).  St. Louis only recommended that you always end (and thus, make your Consecration) on a Marian Feast Day.  The 33 day plan we have undertaken began on November 29 (we actually started on November 30 -- so we'll catch up and do 2 days on one day) so we can end on January 1st -- the feast of Mary, the Holy Mother of God.

I have often wanted to share this devotion with my family.  I'm so excited that it is now possible with this amazing new resource.  I pray that you may be inspired to try out this devotion if you haven't already done so.  This book is probably perfect for middle school age and up. If your kids are still young, I invite you to do this for yourself or together with your spouse if they are willing.  You'll be glad you did.

Copyright 2014 Janet Moore

Thursday, November 27, 2014

My Prayer for a Happy Thanksgiving

I write this to wish each everyone a blessed, holy and happy Thanksgving!

I write this aware of the pain many of us carry in our hearts during this time of Thanksgiving and throughout the Christmas season.

So, aware of this pain and the imperfect circumstances many of us have experienced on Thanksgiving - I still write this to wish you much gladness and gratitude,
even though:

This Thanksgiving, some of us were alone.
Some of us had family members who were missing through death or other circumstances -- and our hearts were broken at their absence. 

Many families are 'broken', divorced and separated - some in outward ways, and some in very hidden ways. 
Many are living in strife.
Some have been abandoned or abused.
Some are caught in the web of sin and addictions.
Some are hungry and living in poverty,
In sickness or close to death.

When our circumstances don't match up to the perfect, beautiful images of Thanksgiving we imagine or once experienced, deep sadness, or even depression can come upon us.  
While our society's images of close knit families enjoying each other and feasting around a a bountiful Thanksgiving meal are beautiful, they can lead us to have unrealistic expectations that were never promised to us by God.  

God never promised us a perfect family.  
God never promised that our lives would be free from pain or hurt, rejection or betrayal. 

Regardless of our current family situations, 
we still are blessed beyond measure in ways that go far beyond the outward circumstances in which we are living. 

Our life is a gift. 

Every breath we take is a gift from God.  
Every beat of our heart is a gift from God. 
Every good thing we have is a gift from God and it is right and just to give Him thanks!  

And this is the secret to happiness -- to be mindful of the gifts God has given us and to offer Him thanks and praise for these amazing things that we often take for granted!

To keep our eyes on Jesus instead of ourselves and our own pain.

I often think of St. Patrick, whose birth name was Maewyn Succat. As a young man he was kidnapped and enslaved for six years in a foreign land. Forced to live without shelter.  He was often alone, starving and perhaps beaten and tortured.
In this deprivation, he turned to God and rejoiced in His wondrous gifts that surrounded him even in such horrific circumstances.  
He didn't live in perfect circumstances -- but his heart was free and thankful.

Two prayers that he prayed during this time never fail to stir my heart, for they stemmed from his prayerful union with God during this time of dire need. 

One has been turned into a song.  
Every time I pray or sing it, I imagine Patrick singing and praying these words of praise to His Creator and constant companion while cold, starving and enslaved.
It reminds me of all we have to be thankful for that goes far beyond our circumstances. 

May it be a gift to you as it is to me.

The Bulwark or Breastplate of St. Patrick

This day God gives me
strength of high heaven
Sun and moon shining,
flame in my hearth.
Flashing of lightning,
wind in its swiftness,
Deeps of the Ocean,
firmess of earth.

This day God sends me,
strength as my guardian,
Might to uphold me,
Wisdom as guide.
Your eyes are watchful, 
your ears are listening,
Your lips are speaking,
Friend at my side.

God's way is my way,
God's shield is round me,
God's host defends me,
Saving from ill.
Angels of heaven, 
drive from me always,
All that would harm me,
Stand by me still.

Rising I thank You, mighty and Strong One,
King of creation, Giver of rest,
Firmly confessing Oneness of Godhead 
Threeness of Persons, Trinity blest. 

There is no greater gift than Jesus becoming man to die for our sins! 

There is no greater gift than Our Savior and God desiring us so much that He found a way to be united to us in the midst of this imperfect world. He hides Himself in the appearance of Bread so He can live inside us, nourishing us and filling us His Grace, with the Father's Love and the Power of the Holy Spirit and all His gifts: joy, peace, patience, gratitude, strength, courage, fear of the Lord, etc. 

All that is good is a gift that He longs to give to us.  It is only contingent upon our acceptance of Him.  

The happiest of men are the ones who are aware and grateful for these gifts and who are living with and in the One who created us, redeemed and cherishes us more deeply than we can ever fathom.

These gifts are deeper, more profound, more healing and fulfilling than any momentary pleasure this world has to offer, and is far stronger than the deepest and darkest of outward circumstances.

To live a life in this awareness and thanksgiving to God is accomplished moment by moment and step by step. 
It is accomplished by turning to Jesus each moment of our day -- whether happy or sad. 
By reading about Him in His Holy Word, seeking Him in prayer and in the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist.  
Praying to Him whether we feel like it or not.

If we take these steps each day to seek Him and welcome Him in our soul, we will never be outdone in our efforts or generosity!
And if we fall, each moment is a new beginning and a new opportunity to start again.

Our circumstances may remain unchanged, but our interior life will become filled with the love, peace and mercy of Christ -- and a deep interior joy that cannot be stripped away from us, regardless of our circumstances, if we remain in Him.

The second prayer is really part of the first:

Christ with me, 
Christ before me, 
Christ behind me,
Christ within me, 
Christ beneath me, 
Christ above me, 
Christ on my right, 
Christ on my left, 
Christ when I lie down, 
Christ when I sit down, 
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, 
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me, 
Christ in the eye that sees me, 
Christ in the ear that hears me. 

May praying these prayers help us to truly see God's nearness and the abundance of His gifts.

May each of our days be filled with thanksgiving, not only through these holy days of Advent and the Christmas season, but always!

Much love to you all!  

A bonus gift that you can listen to at your leisure is a short sermon by a phenomenal priest for Thanksgiving Day:

St. John Clonmel
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Thu, Nov 27                           
New sermon from Rev. C. Jarrod Lies. Recorded on Nov 27, 3:58 PM
2014.11.27 - Thanksgiving Day

(click to listen)

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Lastly, I offer a section of St. Patrick's “Confessio.”  It relates what was taking place in his soul that led him to offer these beautiful prayers to God: 

"There the Lord opened the sense of my unbelief that I might at last remember my sins and then turn with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my low estate, and took pity on my youth and ignorance, and watched over me before I knew Him, and before I was able to distinguish between good and evil, and guarded me, and comforted me as would a father his son. Hence I cannot be silent – and indeed, I ought not to be – about the many blessings and the great grace which the Lord has deigned to bestow upon me in the land of my captivity;…the love of God and His fear increased in me more and more, and the faith grew in me, and the spirit was roused, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers, and in the night nearly the same, so that whilst in the woods and on the mountain, even before the dawn, I was roused to prayer and felt no hurt from it, whether there was snow or ice or rain; nor was there any slothfulness in me, such as I see now, because the spirit was then fervent within me.”

Copyright 2014 Janet Moore

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

For Love of Peeta - A Catholic Commentary on the Mockingjay

I went to see the new movie, Mockingjay Part 1, on opening night.  I came away from it, however, very disturbed.  Before I go into the reasons why, I first want to speak of the series in general terms, sharing why I decided to read the books and watch the movies in the first place.

I must confess the whole idea of children fighting to the death repulsed me, so when I first heard of the popularity of the Hunger Games trilogy, I had no interest in reading the series and I wondered what had happened to peoples' judgment and prudence.

It was a couple years ago, my daughter was a 7th grader when I first heard of the Hunger Games.  The first film was just about to be released, (and I guess I must have been living under a rock until that time), because this was my first exposure to the story.  While being repulsed at its theme, I couldn't deny the wide scope of its audience.  My daughter's English teacher (who taught at a wonderful Catholic school) spoke of it fondly.  Most of my daughter's classmates were in the process of reading it or had already read the series, including the daughters of very wise, deeply committed Catholic moms whom I knew personally.

I became intrigued because of its influence on those around me, but I didn't know how to reconcile the series' theme with the positive reactions of many Catholics whom I knew to be deeply living their faith.  I decided I would cautiously and prayerfully enter into the books' themselves, before making a judgment upon them and writing them off.  However, the dozens of copies offered at our city's libraries had wait lists that were months long... and I wasn't about to give my money to promote such a horrific idea, so I began to viraciously seek out and read critiques and Catholic commentaries about the books instead.

I read many, many commentaries, but one stuck out for me.  I don't remember its author or exactly what he shared, but he convincingly wrote about the series strong Catholic and Christological themes.  Again, I can't remember exactly what was said to convince me to purchase the books, but I'm sure they reflected what I myself learned after reading the series.

It's themes include self sacrificing for the good of others, the treasuring and valuing of human life, and true freedom.

The story begins: Following a tragic civil war, the Capitol insists on remembering its citizen's revolt against the government by forcing their children to compete in an annual fight to the death. In the seventy four years since the Hunger Games inception, no one from the outer districts had ever volunteered to participate, until Katniss offers to take her sister's place in order to save her life.

Against the backdrop of the Capitol's extravagance, its insensitivity and pleasure in seeing the destruction of children, two tributes from district 12, Katniss and Peeta, are forced to compete. Throughout the films and books, these two strive to live through the Hunger Games in a way that exemplified in what Peeta said the night before entering the Games:

"I don't want them to change me... Turn me into something I'm not.  I-I-I just don't want to be another piece in their game... I just keep wishing I could think of a way to show them they don't own me.  You know, if I'm gonna die, I wanna still be me." 

Rather than glorifying the concept of children being put into an arena to fight to the death, the Hunger Games trilogy provides, in fact, an eloquent and moving story that illustrated its horror.  It is a story of good against evil.  The weak, the poor and the oppressed are physically forced into participating in these atrocities. Although their bodies forced to participate, their souls and their free will are not.

This is what was so upsetting about the way the movie ended last night.

Spoiler Alert:

Peeta's character was captured at the end of the 75th Hunger Games (the second movie/ book).  After his capture, he was systemically tortured and injected with drugs which twisted his memories and fears.  The movie ends half way through the last book, with the Capitol being able to twist his memories, his personhood, into something completely other than himself.

Peeta's kindness, his goodness and love for others, especially Katniss, is a shining light in the midst of the terrible darkness of the first two movies/ books.  It is in the last book, his love and his very personhood, becomes so twisted and violently changed, that his love for Katniss has turned into such fierce hatred that he is obsessed with killing her.

This happened in exact contrast to Peeta's deepest desire and his ability to retain his inherent goodness through the first two Games:  although he his body was forced to participate, he had been able to retain his purity and goodness of soul and his free will.

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This is the greatest tragedy that can happen to a soul, a human person.

That an outside force can manipulate and change who you are as a person is the greatest of injustices that could ever occur.

Mockingjay is a very dark, sad and depressing book to read.  While not fun to read, Katniss's deep depression is probably a very accurate and honest portrayal of what a person would experience after witnessing and living through the brutality and murders of other children in the Games, of being hunted like animals, having to kill others in self defense and watch their friends and fellow citizens endure torture and death when they stood up against human injustice, and the resulting deaths of thousands of innocent people in the ensuing revolt against the Capitol.

Again, this is a series meant to illustrate the horror of the Hunger Games through juxtaposing the goodness and love of people being forced to participate in them.

By making the decision to turn the third book into two movies, the redeeming vision of goodness in the midst of evil is horribly suspended.

And in its place, the very disturbing image of Peeta, whose personhood has just been hijacked and who is out of his mind with fear and hatred and violence is the last image audience goers are left with.

The truly good and kind Peeta, whose loving personhood was intact through two Hunger Games, has been turned into a murderous, hate filled and violent tool of the Capitol.  His desire to remain unchanged and not a tool in their game has been devastatingly forced upon him.

For me, this distorted image of Peeta as the take away of the movie, is an injustice to audience members.

To leave audience members with this traumatic imagery -- showing no resolution to its tragedy, is unsettling and disturbing.  Many kids were part of the audience, and I can't help but wonder what nightmares they, or, for that matter, we as adults, experienced following these scenes.

I had just listened to a talk by Pastor Rick Warren before going to the movie.  He spoke about our culture's tendency to gloss over sin and violence that we see on tv and in movies, saying that it doesn't bother us.  He says that it should bother us!  When something sinful or tragic doesn't bother us anymore, it is a sign that our conscience has been hardened.

So what are we to do with this imagery that we are left with?

Does the movie company want us to stay disturbed with it for a year, until part two of the Mockingjay is shown in theaters?  Is that healthy for anyone?

Or, if we aren't disturbed by this imagery, isn't that the exact opposite response of the series' purpose, which highlights the horrific desensitization of a culture who viewed the Hunger Games as mere entertainment?

Isn't that one of the great purposes of the series, to demonstrate that we, as a people, must be disturbed deeply enough that when we witness injustice, we are emboldened to stand up and fight for our inherent dignity and freedom?

So, what are audience members left to do with this?

What is the purpose of breaking up the movie at this point, other than to ensure audience members will shell out millions more to see the ending of the movie?

The book itself, while incorporating this event in the life of Peeta, as a horrible effect of evil men and their attempts to manipulate and twist human goodness, didn't end there.

For those who have read the book, we know that Katniss's love and her steadfast faith in the inherent goodness of Peeta eventually breaks through Peeta's brokenness.

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Although neither he nor Katniss are ever transformed completely back into innocence or wholeness.

The two eventually spend their lives together in quiet simplicity.

Forever marked by the evil and violence that they had been forced to participate in, yet they are able to live together in peace and in love.

Copyright 2014 Janet Moore