I don’t know about you, but I’m pumped for The Avengers movie that’s coming out May 4.
I’ve seen every one of the Marvel movies, so the pairing of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Black Widow and Hawkeye is too much for this geek.
Each of the heroes – outside of Thor – is uniquely human and gained their powers through extraordinary circumstances.
Captain America (Steve Rogers) is a shy guy held back by his size and illness. Only through an injection of serum does he become the muscle-bound Captain America. Tony Stark - the genius millionaire behind Iron Man - is often brought down by his penchant for excess and arrogance. Bruce Banner, the man restraining the Hulk, is a scientist trying desperately to suppress the rage that bubbles up within. If he controls the anger, but unleashes the beast within, he's unstoppable.
They’re all flawed, but capable of doing great things when presented the opportunity. They are motivated for good, in the end, by compassion and love. Even the other-worldly Thor is made more heroic the more he embraces the best of humanity. He becomes a more well-rounded person as he, too, learns to love.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how great comic book movies – such as The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 1 and 2, Superman 1 and 2 – are awesome because they get the essence of the characters correct. No one asks to be a superhero, but they accept the call and the responsibility that comes with power.
Heroes inspire the characters that surround them and us, the viewer.
As Catholics, one of the things we’re hearing at Mass lately is how Christ was never who people expected him to be. His humble life as a carpenter’s son threw off expectations. His resurrection stunned even his most ardent followers.
Christ came as an ordinary man, the son of a carpenter, and did extraordinary things. After his death, the church rose up and set off a revolution. We’re here because people did extraordinary things and made extraordinary sacrifices.
Far too often we’re obsessed with our differences. The Avengers undoubtedly will, too, during the movie. If they weren't battling for leadership early, we'd have a pretty short flick on our hands. Like them, it’s when we realize that we’re powerful together that we start accomplishing good.
As Christians, we have been handed thousands of years of tradition to continue and grow. It’s incumbent upon us to change the world for the better and, just like The Avengers, protect it.
It's time to start accepting the hero within and work together.
April 30, 2012 04:51
By Matt Palmer
There's something different about Church of the Nativity in Timonium. It's a community that inspires its laity and, in turn, is inspired by its laity. It's a movement that's changing York Road and beyond. I'm working on a story for CatholicReview.org about ServeFest, which Nativity played a major role in this past weekend.
One of my favorite things about my job is getting to talk to young people involved in their faith and sharing their stories with people in Baltimore and across the world. Teens hit the reset button for me and make me want to re-discover my faith again because of their enthusiasm.
At ServeFest, I talked with four high school students - Katie Leslie, Lauren Becker, Brooke Wareheim and Caitlin O'Connor - who are living proof that young people are making a difference in the church, the community and the world. They're part of a small group at Nativity led by Kristin Costanza. If you watch this video, you'll see how much impact lay ministers can have on young people thanks to authentic leadership.
Witness their testimony in this spotlight video:
April 29, 2012 05:11
By Matt Palmer
What possesses more than 25 teens to spend a Friday night hearing about vocations and participating in an adoration of the Blessed Sacrament?
It's something I explored a year ago during a story on the Adore-A-Thon for the Catholic Review. The question popped up again when Anne Arundel County parishes hosted their fourth annual Adore-A-Thon at Church of the Crucifixion in Glen Burnie, Md April 20-21.
Adoration began at 10:30 p.m. and lasted until 7 a.m. when Fr. Jesse Bolger closed with Benediction. Teens spent about an hour in adoration. During the night, the teens prayed around a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary and participated in praise and worship. The teens also made St. Therese Sacrifice Beads teaching the youth what it means to sacrifice and the graces received. They were also given names of Martyrs (perfect witnesses) and worked in small groups doing skits that were videotaped to show to the group.
While they were there, the teens were given detailed information on a Baltimore seminarian, who they were asked to keep in prayer throughout the night. They also signed a matted photo for Baltimore's incoming Archbishop William E. Lori.
Monsignor Richard Bozzelli was chief celebrant of a Mass that kicked off the event, along with concelebrants Father Anthony Adawu, and Father Bolger. One of the Adore-A-Thon's traditions is to have a vocations panel. This year's included: two priests (Father Bolger and Monsignor Bozzelli), a married couple (Danielle and Phil Turner) and members of three orders of religious sisters.
The teens asked questions of the people living out their vocation during the panel and the religious revealed their own personal journey to serving God.
"It helps a lot because then they see they are so human and not so far removed," said Malene Lauer, one of the event's organizers. "They want to talk about their lives. One talked about when he was engaged. They weren't born a priest."
Fun was sprinkled throughout the night, including a "mini" men-in-black basketball game and a guys vs. girls "Catholicism Jeopardy." The guys won by a point. Father Bolger's brothers, Tommy and Judd, were part of the music of the evening, which included the Clint Felts Band. Check out Father Bolger in the band below.
Lauer said teens are receptive to religion when people are honest and open.
"Some of the adults that hang out with them get them excited about it and try to tell them that it's not just about constant prayer for 24 hours," Lauer said.
Above all, Lauer hopes the teens will continue to listen.
"The planning teams prayer is that these young people will now know discernment of God's Will for their lives and keep praying for all vocations for the Archdiocese of Baltimore," Lauer said.
April 29, 2012 12:50
By Matt Palmer
How's that for a convoluted blog title?
Last week I saw the movie "Dr. Suess' The Lorax," which had all sorts of ridiculous buzz in the run-up to its March release. Of course, in this day and age, you can't have a big movie without people debating about its agenda. There is no hidden agenda with this movie, which is based on Dr. Suess' classic children's book.
It's right up front with what it's trying to accomplish.
Trees are good. Protect them and nature. Sing some catchy tunes along the way. The end.
We see a would-be businessman named the Once-ler possessed by greed and what happens when he puts greed above nature. He cuts down all the trees to make his latest invention. When the last tree is cut down, he's left alone in a tower for decades until a boy comes knocking and looking for a tree.
Ted wants to bring about change and restore environmental care. The movie adds of a layer of corporate greed in a subplot about air control to show how hard it can be to be an environmentalist.
Blessed Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have been outspoken advocates for environmental protection in various ways.
Our Sunday Visitor has released a book compiling Pope Benedict's comments on the environment over the years called, well, "The Environment."
Back in 2009, he said: "I willingly join in spirit all who are grateful to the Lord for the fruits of the earth and the work of human hands, renewing the pressing invitation to respect the natural environment, a precious resource entrusted to our stewardship"
Pope John Paul II said the humanity's future is tied with its current actions back in 1999.
"The world's present and future depend on the safeguarding of creation, because of the endless interdependence between human beings and their environment."
As Earth Day is marked April 22, people will undoubtedly debate about things such as the cause of global warming. But, let's remember that as stewards of the earth, it is our calling to protect God's gifts today and not be the Once-lers. Let's be Ted.
As Seuss writes: “Unless someone like you cares an awful lot, nothing is going to get better.”
April 21, 2012 09:27
By Matt Palmer
"As the pastor said to the cabbage patch, lettuce pray."
Those were the words of Father Matthew Buening, pastor of St. Paul's Parish in Ellicott City, during Masses this weekend. His timing, both comedic and, in the religious setting, couldn't have been better. It caught some people off guard and others giggled. But, it set just the right tone for people to enjoy their weekend Mass more.
The eighth day of Easter is a pretty joyful one for Catholics, although one its older names is "Low Sunday." It's also called "Bright Sunday" or "Holy Humor Sunday." The day allows Christians to revel in the miracle of Christ's resurrection and other smaller ones in our lives.
Father Buening was able to sprinkle humor throughout the Mass and his joy in ministry made me think of Father James Martin, the Jesuit who has become one of the church's most noteworthy representatives in recent years.
Father Martin, a noted author has written a book called "Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life." Father Martin has been to Baltimore several times in recent months and each time he's had the various crowds howling with laughter.
It got me thinking about much of a difference joy makes in the faith of a congregation. When a priest rejoices in his vocation, that's infectious. People see that joy and want more of it. I encourage you to watch the video below of Father Martin taken by Catholic Review assistant managing editor George Matysek Jr. last year. He points out ten reasons for joy in the faith and it's something we can all learn from on this day.
Happy Bright Sunday, everyone.
April 15, 2012 12:16
By Matt Palmer
During an appearance on EWTN's The World Over, the Archdiocese of Baltimore's incoming Archbishop William E. Lori addressed the continuing religious liberty fight.
The World Over's host, Raymond Arroyo, asked the archbishop, who will be installed in Baltimore May 16, if the bishops hope the fight will have some impact in the upcoming November elections
"Yes and that doesn't mean we're entering into the partisan fray," Archbishop Lori said. "What we would like is for everybody who is seeking the approval of the American people to hold office to respect religious liberty. This is about who we are as Americans."
Arroyo mentioned a media narrative of "a war on women," which includes the bishops' stance on contraception.
"Is this really," Arroyo said, "in your estimation, the administration's war on faith?"
"There is a definite push back against religious liberty," the archbishop said. "It's strong, it's powerful, it's well-orchestrated," Archbishop Lori said. "The push back, however, is not because they have a sudden interest in the theology of the church, but rather to advance, I think, a radical agenda."
Be sure to read more about Archbishop Lori's fight for religious freedom on CatholicReview.org.
April 14, 2012 11:34
By Matt Palmer
Alex Libby is picked on relentlessly in "Bully." (Courtesy The Weinstein Company)
Near the end of the documentary“Bully,” a school principal sits down with the parents of a constantly picked on pre-teen. The mother implores the principal to stop the bullies from attacking her son, Alex Libby, on the bus
“I’ve been on those buses,” the principal says in return. “They’re just as good as gold.”
By the time the scene rolls around in the 72-minute movie, you’ll want to yell at the screen, “Wake up!”That’s undoubtedly director Lee Hirsch’s point with “Bully.” Inaction perpetuates the problem of bullying.
In a montage of violence against Alex leading up the parent-principal meeting, we see the boy known as “Fish Face,” punched, slapped, cursed at and stabbed with pencils. His head bounces off the back of a bus seat and it stings for him and us.
Alex, earlier in the movie, is confronted by his mother. Alex has played down the bullying he’s incurred. She tries to tell him that the bullies are not his friends.
Alex responds: “If you say these people aren't my friends, then what friends do I have?" It’s the kind of sad response that will bring you to tears. It’s not the first or last time during the film when that will happen.
Some adults remember their school days more fondly than others. Some who don’t were the objects of scorn, exclusion, taunts and violence. Schools can be a cruel place for the awkward or different. “Bully” shows how bad it can for those who don’t have anyone to fight for them.
The principal in that scene with Alex’s parents is well-meaning. You see her throughout the film try to defend those who can’t do it for themselves. But, she also buries her head in the sand several times, making the bullied feel as responsible as the bullies. She tries to mend fences and not get to the root of the problem.
While Alex’s story tends to get the most attention, there are other teens who get time to talk about their experiences. While it’s hard not to feel bad for them as they struggle with the pain, you never really see their encounters. You follow the crusade of a husband and wife mourning the suicide of their son, Tyler Long. His tragic decision will be the catalyst for their calls to end bullying locally and nationally.
In the case of one teen who has come out as a lesbian, we just see her wander the town with her friends, but never see much else. Perhaps the filmmakers weren’t allowed the access to her surroundings the way they are with Libby. She's clearly troubled and out of place in her rural settings.
Libby’s encounters are so painful that perhaps that’s enough teen-on-teen violence for one film. We see what happens when other teens bullied snap into action. The ramifications of one girl’s decisions are awful to sit through, if only because you realize how young she is to be in such a mess. When you see a girl wave a gun on a bus, threatening her bullies, you wonder how it ever came to this in the first place.
De-humanizing bullying happens every day and if we turn a blind eye to the reality of the situation, as the principal does, real cultural change is not going to happen. "Bully" takes us places we don't want to go, but that's the mark of a truly great documentary.
Children and teens should be able to handle "Bully" in the theaters. Many see and experience what happens in the film every day. Now, they can know they're not alone and that someone's on their side. "Bully" shows it's time to fight back.
April 11, 2012 09:29
By Matt Palmer
Although I saw the controversial new documentary "Bully" last week in Baltimore, I can't review it until Wednesday. But, as someone who covers youths and young adults for CatholicReview.org, I can tell you that I was left with several questions, including the subject line: Will "Bully" make a difference in our society?
As the title of the film suggests, it's meant to explore the impact bullying has on our country's children. Schools all over the country - public, private and Catholic - have some form of bullying happening in classrooms, recess lots, cafeterias, gyms, bleachers, in lines, buses and by the flag pole.
During the last few years, we've heard about young people committing suicide or acts of incredible violence toward others because they were bullied. The mental damage was too great and they couldn't take it anymore. It's prompted celebrities to speak out in various campaigns to stop bullying.
Watching "Bully," I was flooded with memories of my own childhood in Hyattsville. I remember several classmates of mine who were verbally picked on by others. There were the kids with lice, that smelled, that were poor, were 'psycho,' and the "weirdo" who couldn't escape scorn.
I was the short kid and while I got teased from time to time, I never felt physically in danger. I handled myself well enough despite always being the kid put at the front of the line.
But, I remember the hurt in the faces of those who were on the end of far more intense taunts.
As we got older, kids at our school got in fights and that led to our principal, Sister of Notre Dame de Namur Joyce Volpini, to start playing "That's What Friends Are For" over the loud speaker every day until we changed. I'd imagine Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick and Gladys Knight are owed some royalties for the amount of times that was played at St. Jerome back in the 1980s. While she was well-intentioned, she was kind of inadvertently training us to despise that song for decades to come. We heard it... a lot.
When you're in elementary school, you think your classmates will be with you forever. You don't realize how, at least in Catholic schools, you'll go your separate ways. You don't think that someone else will spend the rest of their lives hating the mere mention of your name.
Thanks to Facebook, I've been able to connect with many of my classmates. But, there are some that are not there. Thanks to "Bully," I find myself wondering about the "pyscho," "weirdo," and the lice kid. The things said to them 20-plus years ago kind of haunt me now. Maybe it's because I was recently married and think about the children my wife and I will have down the road.
Watching "Bully," I was reminded that for all the bullying PSAs and celebrity causes, school hallways and classrooms still have the problems of decades ago. It made me sad. Is this what awaits my children?
I'm now back to the start of this blog. Will bullies, the ones who should be changing, see it? Will parents? Will this movie simply be preaching to the concerned choir?
Can "Bully" make a difference?
April 09, 2012 04:10
By Matt Palmer
Anyone who's been on CatholicReview.org lately knows that Tom McCarthy Jr. has been turning out some outstanding slideshows and today's, while brief, is no different. In this exclusive slideshow to The Welcome Matt, we look back at last week's Youth and Young Adult Pilgrimage, as young people pass a large wooden cross, which was carried throughout a four-mile march through Baltimore City. It's lovingly called cross surfing around Baltimore.
Tom, Catholic Review's staff photographer since February, recorded students from Mount de Sales signing as they walked through Baltimore. He used that audio over the images of the cross surfing, which adds a fun layer.
Without further ado, here's the slideshow.
April 06, 2012 07:29
By Matt Palmer
Cardinal Edwin F. O'Brien was among the hundreds of people at the annual Archdiocese of Baltimore Youth and Young Adult Pilgrimage through the streets of Baltimore City March 31. The cardinal, who led his final pilgrimage as the head of the archdiocese, helped carry a large wooden cross for several blocks.
Here's a glimpse into what happened. There will be much more here on CatholicReview.org in the coming days. Be sure to listen to the Cardinal O'Brien's message to young people as well.
April 01, 2012 02:31
By Matt Palmer