Category Archives: Life

The Spiritual Art of Planning

(This photo is not to do with planning… We had the Frassati Society a couple of days ago – a fantastic evening which seems to be going from strength to strength.)

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Nowadays, a lot of my life involves scheduling, planning, organising, juggling. Doodle polls are becoming a very dear friend in the uphill struggle of conquering multiple jam-packed diaries to schedule a meeting. Maybe (although I’m not too sure) I have a charism for administration – (is it possible to have a charism for something you don’t enjoy all that much?!) I admit, though, that drawing order out of chaos is satisfying. When days are ordered well and events are well-organised so that their fruit-bearing potential is maximised, you come to appreciate the art of planning. I call it an ‘art’ because it requires creativity, flexibility, dynamism. At the same time, it requires us not to micro-manage so as to suffocate life. I wouldn’t say that I am that great at it, but I am learning more every day.

Why would I say it is a ‘spiritual’ art? Well, I think it flows from Baptism. We know that we have a priestly, prophetic, and kingly aspect to our Christian lives.

In the priestly aspect, we offer up our sacrifices, the small sufferings of our day.

In the prophetic aspect, we speak words of encouragement or teaching to others.

In the kingly aspect, we order our lives towards God’s will.

I think each of these is an art. But the third aspect is what I’m interested in here. We each have a little ‘kingdom’ which is our own life. (And if you are a mum or a dad, the ‘kingdoms’ of your children’s lives overlap with yours, too.) Governing our kingdom most importantly involves governing our hearts – learning wisdom, growing in virtue, being aware of and mastering our passions, deepening our interior life, increasing our self-control.

Governing our outward lives is part of this. How we spend and order our time, how we order our homes and our lives, is intimately linked with virtue and interior life. Who doesn’t feel more at peace when there is order in their life – both exterior and interior? Pope Francis has recently called for us all on the ‘digital continent’ to “slow down!” and in my own life I find it easier to live with “deliberateness and calm” as he puts it, when everything is ordered, when there is space to think, and time to rest. Much of this comes down to planning, in today’s frenetic world.

I’ve found that catechists are among the busiest people I know. I know some absolutely brilliant catechists who are forever saying ‘yes’. They are able to because, thanks to a strong prayer life, their spiritual reserves run deep, and, coupled with the art of planning, they squeeze a lot into their lives.

And yet, we must not forget that our task to order our lives flows from our Baptism. Only someone who is truly rooted in God, knows that, but for Him who is the Source of all this new spiritual life gushing forth, nothing would be possible. The best organisational skills in the world could not produce fruit from a life that was not deeply sunk into Christ. Living from the grace of our Baptism, however, we can learn these skills to make the most of the created goods God has given us – not least, our time.


Warming Hearts in the Family of the Church

family love

Pope Francis spoke recently on priestly formation. This is off-topic for this blog, but a lot of what he said has meaning for all of us in the Church. Pope Francis painted a picture of a seminary that has become a cold, loveless place. Instead, the Holy Father said, the task should be to “form hearts”. 

Hearts cannot be formed without love, without warmth, without family spirit. How important this is for the whole Church. At times, the Church – our parishes – can be cold places. Any place that is merely a service-provider will inevitably be cold. Only when a church is a place where people want to be, not to get something, but to be themselves and with others, will the heart of the parish be love, a place that can start “forming hearts”.

This Christmas, I spent quite a long time at home with my family. A lot of us were there for several days together, and it was an extremely joyful time. Long hours were spent in front of the fire, not doing very much, simply being together. There was lots of laughter, jokes about each of our own weirdnesses, funny games, endless chatting and sharing our thoughts, and love and forgiveness. I found myself asking, “Why isn’t the Church more like this?” It seems obvious – the Church is the “gathering together” of everyone into the Father’s house. It should be the place, par excellence, where we want to hang out, rejuvenate ourselves, before going back out into the mission. It should be the place where we joyfully spend time together, not out of duty, but because we love and energise each other. This seems to be a reality within new movements (e.g. Youth 2000, Communion & Liberation, Neo-Catechumenal Way) and in good university chaplaincies (I feel blessed that my own faith was nourished in a brilliant chaplaincy). Our joyful family life (where we are blessed to experience this) should be a reflection of the warmth and joy in the heart of the communion of the Church. But often this community in the Church is a rare exception rather than the rule.

Then I asked myself, “How can the Church be more like this?” Clearly, it is down to each of us. Pope Francis has been asking us endlessly to “warm hearts”, and there are a million ways we can each do this, according to our own charisms. One thing we can do is encourage “family spirit” especially among our peers in our parish communities. Make time to meet someone for a coffee if they are going through a hard time. Be interested in people’s lives, pray for their worries, go out of our way to tend to their concerns.

Above all, we need to care for our priests. I am sure crisis in the priesthood is down to loneliness. How can it be good if one of our “Fathers” spends most of his days alone? Who can exist without love, let alone give of themselves? (Blessed John Paul II said in Redemptor Hominis, 10, “Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it.”) Priests especially should be surrounded by love, drawn into our families, have a special place in our daily prayers. 

The renewal of the Church will come from “raising the spiritual temperature” of our parishes with acts of love. As we know, St John the Apostle repeated often, “Little children, love one another.”

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another.” (1 Jn 4:7-11)


Advent & Books

Visitation

I hope you’re getting into the swing of Advent (which is, let’s face it, close to impossible when most people’s Christmas jumpers seem to appear around December 1st). But anyway, we ARE still waiting, and the spirituality of Advent is a wonderful teacher to us when we have things in our life that we are waiting for – perhaps to hear about a university or a job; or if we’re unclear about the way ahead; or if God seems to be ‘slow’ giving us light about a particular situation. Advent teaches us faithfulness and patience. Not to jump ahead of God and decide what we hope his answer will be. It teaches us to adhere to Him, fully.

This particular idea for Advent is a bit late now to do in your own parish, but I recommend remembering it for next year… Our parish priest had the wonderful idea of choosing an “Advent book” for the parish. Then, he went out (or more likely, went onto Amazon) and bought 400 copies of the book, and gave them out at Masses on the First Sunday of Advent, for a “donation only”. The book he chose was Archbishop Timothy Dolan’s Come Lord Jesus. If the only way people will read a Catholic book is to give them out for free, what a great thing to do!

51Kz4+b6MqL._SX342_This Advent, I’ve finally got round to reading Pope Benedict’s The Infancy Narratives – a year late, but never mind. In fact, it was my last parish priest who gave one to each catechist last Christmas. Unsurprisingly, this book is a complete joy to read – I think sometimes I could actually read Pope Benedict all day. Somehow, when he’s explaining the ins and outs of a particular exegetical conundrum, the light he sheds on the problem is unmistakable. Suddenly it seems very clear and almost radiant. I think you can tell when a person’s insight comes from both their scholarship and their sanctity, wrapped up into one package. And it is pretty rare, if you ask me.

The final book is a little different and not very Adventy. Last month my book club read Unapologetic – Why, despite everything, Christianity can still make surprising emotional sense, by Francis Spufford. I have to say, before reading it, I was somewhat dubious to say the least. I mean, why emotional sense? It sounded a bit subjective. And yes, it errs on the side of subjectivity. Spufford claims he only “thinks” God exists, and that his ideas are based on his feelings. The feelings come first. No one can know for sure either way. (Which of course depends what he means by “for sure”.) But, all this aside, and some of the unorthodox Christian premises aside, I do think this book is worth reading. For one, what the author does extremely well, is to be 100%, utterly, painfully honest. (Perhaps too honest.) He is honest about the human condition in a way that we often fail to do as Christians who present the faith to others. We can sometimes be too quick to teach doctrines without looking at the real, experienced life of the people we are speaking to. It is easy to teach and explain doctrines, and not easy to get to grips with the gritty messiness of people’s lives, and to see how God might be at work in their life, or how he might truly transform it. The strength of Spufford’s book, I think, is to say that it is precisely the chaos and the pain that God has come into that causes Christianity to make emotional sense. In other words, other readings of reality – atheism being one of them – don’t come to grips with real life – in the way that Christianity does. Contrary to the atheist slogans on the side of the bus, for most people real life is not “enjoyable”.

This is a challenge for us as Christians, and especially for catechists, those of us who teach the faith. Let us not teach the faith in a way that is utterly divorced from lived experience. Let us be honest about the wretchedness of life for many people (including our own – we all have grey days) – and show that it is precisely this that Christ comes into and transforms.

To finish off, I thought you might like this – Spufford’s stereotyping of believers: “…believers are people who try to insert Jee-zus into conversations at parties; who put themselves down, with writhings of unease, for perfectly normal human behaviour; who are constantly trying to create a solemn hush that invites a fart, a hiccup, a bit of subversion. Believers are people who, on the rare occasions when you have to listen to them, like at a funeral or a wedding, seize the opportunity to pour the liquidised content of a primary-school nativity plan in your earhole… Believers are the people touting a solution without a problem, and an embarrassing solution too, a really damp-palmed, wide-smiling, can’t-dance solution. In an anorak.”

This is a great book to read if you’re at the interface between Catholicism and the trenchant cynicism of our post-modern culture. (All of us, then!)


Some Quick Takes…

Sunny Portsmouth

Sunny Portsmouth

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A quick Sunday night post… After a celebration-filled, sunny and super-contented weekend with family… Couldn’t we all do with a few more of those?!

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Happy Pro-Life Story: This is a real heartwarmer.

Adoption isn’t a quick and easy process, however, so let’s keep everyone concerned in our prayers.

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Faith in the Family: I am proud to say that this wonderful new booklet, produced by CTS, was compiled in my wonderful, old parish. It is based on a very popular series of around 25 sessions for parents which ran each year at Holy Ghost for many years. These sessions were basic catechesis for parents; each one included practical tips for passing on the faith in the home. The book was authored by Anne Burke-Gaffney, one of a team of amazing catechists, with whom I was privileged to work at Holy Ghost. Surely one of the best parishes in the UK 🙂

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Welcoming Lumen Fidei: Here is a message from our Bishop, welcoming the new encyclical, Lumen Fidei.

It’s a good and helpful read – I hope you get to enjoy it 🙂


Thinking in fours…

Clinique

Can I ask your prayers please for all those in my year at Maryvale writing our Masters dissertations, due on July 1st? It’s a hectic old time! I spent a wonderful weekend with the Dominican Sisters in Lymington working on my dissertation last week. My head is so filled with the ‘four dimensions of Christian life’ I am thinking in fours. Ratzinger noted that the four dimensions could be linked with the four senses of Sacred Scripture, and I spent the whole weekend looking for the four dimensions in the divine pedagogy, from Creation to the end of time. It made me start looking for four dimensions in everything (I think I was going a little mad)… In the evening I discovered even my skincare regime has four dimensions! (take-the-day-off, cleanser, gentle exfoliator, moisturiser… thank you Clinique) OK I am quite mad… roll on July!

In the meantime, here is a great video with Sherry Weddell:


Friendship, Interior Life, Apostolate

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A pretty bluebell forest in my new neck of the woods 🙂 Sadly only had phone camera with me

We’re approaching the height of Confirmation season. One of the things our Bishop is telling all the Confirmation candidates (spoiler alert to anyone in our diocese) is that they need good, Catholic friends. How true this is for Every Single One Of Us! In my own life, Catholic friends have been a source of joy, fun, consolation, laughter, inspiration, spiritual growth. Whatever state of life we are in – married or single – we need our friends. I’ve discovered, as friends get married and begin families, they need friends in new and different ways. Friends who are very different from you and who inspire you to try harder or challenge you to see beyond your own viewpoint and ways of doing things (sometimes learned the hard way). Friends who don’t really get your line of work and so will take you out of yourself by doing or talking about something completely different. Friends who do share your work and will help you laugh about it. Friends you’ve known so long you can happily curl up on the sofa with, each with your own book. Friends are the remedy and the consolation for much in our life. I do think that the need for good friendships for own interior growth cannot be underestimated. There is a wonderful chapter about this in this fabulous book – for all you ladies out there.

Of course, it is rare (especially as you grow older, don’t you think?) for friendships just to happen, with very little effort. Some friendships just click – you both adore each other – and not very much work is involved at all – or at least it doesn’t feel like work. When I was younger, I only bothered with these kind of friendships and pretty much ignored everyone else. (Yes, how obnoxious.) Now I am older, I am valuing friendships all over the place. Do you know why? Hopefully because I’m a little maturer. But also because, over the last four or five years, I’ve realised the potential within friendship for our apostolate.

Each of us, if we’re baptised, has an apostolate – whether it’s active or kinda dusty. Each of us, through our union with Christ as his disciples, are called to be busy and active in bringing others to him. All the people we are in contact with in our daily life. All of them. The lady on the desk at the gym. The lovely lady who shows me new eye makeup at the Clinique counter. My driving instructor. The people I went walking with in the bluebell forest at the weekend. (Just a quick scan through my past week…) Building up friendships is the absolute best way to bring others to him. It creates the foundation which, once developed, can be the basis for evangelisation. Our friendship is the first stage Sherry Weddell talks about in her book.

This is the obvious kind of apostolate. The less obvious kind is with our Catholic friends who are maybe a little less strong in their faith. Jesus uses our friendships here, too, if we pray for our friends and about them. What would he have us do? How can we help them grow deeper in their faith? After all, the more passionate disciples he has, the more the new evangelisation can spread.

I admit it, I prefer this kind of apostolate to the previous one, and some things I’ve tried here include: inviting someone to a talk, a retreat, a course (discern what they’re ready for); invite someone to be a catechist-helper on a programme (not teaching, but helping with a small group – it is the best way to ensure they get the catechesis they never had themselves as a teen); invite friends round for dinner – a mixture of on-fire Catholics and on-the-edge ones; let friends know you really need some help with cooking food/giving lifts/registering people for your Catholic event; invite them on a hike with your Catholic friends; start a reading group (you want to be careful here – inviting Sunday-Mass-going-only-Catholics to study Church documents with you is not going to cut it; however, there are some interesting, less threatening books that gently introduce people to the faith – Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning; Walter Ciszek’s With God in Russia (oh dear, notice the concentration camp theme); Jacque Philippe’s Interior Freedom). Above all, pray and offer small mortifications for them – this is the most effective thing we can do in our apostolate.

Just because we’re catechists doesn’t mean we’re not called to be evangelists too 😉 In every sphere of our lives… using all our creativity, imagination, effort…

Friendship is a wonderful gift. As we grow into our catechising-evangelising lives, we realise that some of our best friends are those we have brought to the faith or catechised, or both… And we have received much, much more grace than the little drop of water we have poured in.


Pope Francis, we love you already!

pope

People, I’M BACK!

Two exciting things happened recently… Not only did we get a new Pope in the person of Pope Francis (whom I LOVE already), I also got wifi up and running in my new, Portsmouth flat, which I’ve survived without for around three weeks now. So I can blog and tell you how much I love our new Holy Father.

The number of images and words we’ve seen about him over the last 24 hours truly boggles the mind. So, I’m giving you my favourite quote and my favourite picture.

First, the quotation:

We need to come out of ourselves and head for the periphery. We need to avoid the spiritual sickness of a Church that is wrapped up in its own world: when a Church becomes like this, it grows sick. It is true that going out onto the street implies the risk of accidents happening, as they would to any ordinary man or woman. But is the Church stays wrapped up in itself, it will age. And if I had to choose between a wounded Church that goes out onto the streets and a sick withdrawn Church, I would definitely choose the first one. (Cardinal Bergoglio 2012 – Pope Francis)

Yes yes yes! I cannot tell you how much I love this. Who will draw people in unless we do?

And the picture: he chose to travel with the other cardinals on the coach – and not even in the front seat!

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I am so excited about what the Lord wishes to teach his Church in the person of this holy, humble, evangelistic man.

And, did I mention? My bishop’s on Twitter! The first UK bishop I believe… Follow him: @bishopegan – you won’t regret it 😉


Understanding with the Mind and Heart of the Church

First of all, readers, I apologise for the sporadic nature of my posting of late… You would not believe it, but I am still in the throes of moving, so life is currently filled with the joys of commuting/hotels/living out of a suitcase/being permanently surrounded by boxes… As soon as I am fully installed in the wonderful city of Portsmouth, a proper service will resume, I promise…

I don’t think there was a single Catholic who was not thrown by the Holy Father’s news this week. Once I’d finally stopped pretending the text message from my dad didn’t exist, sitting there on my desk, intrusively telling me something I did not want to believe, on that jam-packed Monday morning, I began to let the news sink in.

The range of reactions from many ordinary Catholics was very interesting and got me thinking. Here is one reaction I kept hearing in many forms: ‘I can’t believe he’s doing it. The previous Pope carried on, didn’t he?’ It’s a reaction which reveals our longing for constancy and certainty, tossed around as we are by the wind and waves of secularism and post-modern fragmentation of our world. 

Then, on the train on one of my many commutes, I read an article in a women’s magazine entitled, ‘Generation Cancellation’, on how (and this is true, in my experience) we, as modern women, are flaky when it comes to keeping engagements and cancel way too easily. It regaled readers with a checklist of (morally minimal) cancellation protocol: “Sometimes the day comes and we’re so hungover or wrung-out from work that a coffee-and-cake date with a friend feels less like a treat, and more like yet another chore on the endless to-do list.” The article promised “the definitive guide to cancelling – without losing all your friends in the process.”

Now, moral dubiousness of this article aside, it is terribly revealing of our modern mindset: we are part of a society that loves to bail out. I am sure we stick at things far less than previous generations would.

And so, to people saturated more in the mindset of the world than of the Church, perhaps it seems like this is what Pope Benedict has done. And let’s face it, the majority of ‘Catholics in the pews’ do have minds conformed to the world, not to the Word of God revealed in the Church.

Therefore, how we catechise on our Holy Father’s abdication is crucial.

Pope Benedict’s abdication could not be further from our flaky failure to turn up to something we said we’d be at, to do the thing we’d promised someone we’d do. No – Pope Benedict XVI has given us two great gifts:

  • He’s shown us, contrary to the encouragements of the world, not to go for the easy option, our own will; the measure of holiness – without exception – is to do the will of God (think of his beautiful words, “After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God…” – these touched my heart enormously)
  • And he’s shown us a powerful witness of the true, authentic meaning of “letting go” (not because it’s too hard, or I can’t be bothered anymore, but because it is God’s will). A man with the most important job in the world is letting it go. As I read in an email a friend sent me this week: “In our modern age, that is almost unthinkable. We are used to climbing the ladder and enjoying the view. We’re taught to work for the best office in the building and the best seat at the table. We strive to get, to own, to possess, to control. We’re used to holding on.”

For those who struggle to understand, or whose understanding has been marred by a secular worldview, this event in the life of the Church calls us to a deeper spirituality, to think with the mind and heart of the Church about what Pope Benedict’s action means, and how it models for us authentic holiness, at odds with the ‘easy options’ presented us by the world.

Today, I stumbled across these words from Pope Benedict himself in Deus Caritas Est, which couldn’t explain it better:

“There are times when the burden of need and our own limitations might tempt us to become discouraged. But precisely then are we helped by the knowledge that, in the end, we are only instruments in the Lord’s hands; and this knowledge frees us from the presumption of thinking that we alone are personally responsible for building a better world. In all humility we will do what we can, and in all humility we will entrust the rest to the Lord. It is God who governs the world, not we. We offer him our service only to the extent that we can, and for as long as he grants us the strength. To do all we can with what strength we have, however, is the task which keep the good servant of Jesus Christ always at work: “The love of Christ urges us on” (2 Cor. 5:14)” Deus Caritas Est, 35


London, I will miss you

Don’t ask me what that big thing is…

If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. Ever heard that before?!

I have to say, I never thought that now, at 27, I would be leaving London and moving to Portsmouth. It’s the kind of thing you do when you’re older, right?! It would definitely – and I mean, definitely – not have been in my plans. Nothing against Portsmouth, I am sure it is lovely, I just love London.

But, while not in my plan, it appears to be in God’s!

Next week I am leaving London and moving to Portsmouth. I am going to work for the Bishop, a wonderful man, as his Personal Assistant. I really do feel excited and blessed to be undertaking this role and cannot wait to see what God has in store.

When God springs a new plan on you, it is really a test of your openness and docility to his will. I admit, I have not been the most gracious recipient of his plan the last few weeks mainly because I am not known to fare very well outside London, despite growing up in the Cotswolds. As soon as I moved to London I felt this was the place I was made for, I love the fast-paced way of life. (My brother will regale you with stories of a family holiday where we went kayaking on a blustery, expansive lake in the Lake District – as the wind and rain got stronger and he heroically tried to paddle to land, I didn’t do too well in my efforts not to panic and may have cried something like, “All I want is to be safely on the Tube with my caramel macchiato…”)

I have to keep reminding myself – Portsmouth is a city. They probably do sell caramel macchiato.

And hey, it’s home to water-sports! Maybe I could take up kayaking properly…

So, after listing to God all the reasons I should not leave London, after telling him how very much I love the King’s Road and all my lovely friends and not needing a car, I am happy to say that my yes to this surprising new plan is getting stronger each day.

For one thing, there is so much more space in Portsmouth. I noticed in all the gyms I searched for, the machines are spaced way apart. Which means you don’t get splattered with other people’s sweat like you do in London gyms. Hooray! All kinds of positives.

So, dear readers, I hope you will accompany me on my new adventures in Portsmouth (for my American readers, it’s a naval city on the south coast, birthplace of Charles Dickens (my favourite novelist), and home to water-sports – that’s about all I know).

And no, I won’t be working directly in catechesis 😦 This is a bit of a sacrifice, but I trust God’s plan, and hope I can still do some kind of catechesis. Every parish needs catechists, right?! And we will see where things go…


January Quick Takes…

London's little sprinkling of snow...

London’s little sprinkling of snow…

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I had the wonderful opportunity recently to venerate the relics of St John Bosco in Westminster Cathedral. It was quite a quick, early Saturday morning visit with a few others from the Youth 2000 leadership team. St John Bosco is one of our patron Saints which is why we decided to make the visit together. For me, St John Bosco has the added significance of being a good patron for catechists. He is the patron, for example, of the wonderful Franciscan University catechetics conference. I was so inspired in the summer by Fr Louis Molinelli SDB, a Salesian who gave a brilliant presentation at Franciscan on the use of St John Bosco’s preventive system, an inspiring pastoral method of evangelising young souls. These are principles I have tried to encourage our own Confirmation catechists and youth leaders to foster in the way that we pastor and relate to our young people. So, kneeling beside St John Bosco’s relics, I had the young people of Youth 2000 in my heart as well as the young people in our sacramental programmes. He had a wonderful gift I pray we could see in today’s youth ministers – let’s pray for God to raise up more evangelists of the young in our own day!

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Wow – so, who’s seen Les Miserables?! I would go so far as to say – “life-changing”! It was absolutely sensational, wasn’t it?! Here is the human person, presented in his relation to God, raw and real, not distorted through a post-modern twisting of human nature. The film very beautifully portrays the moving themes of this rich story: ultimately, a story of redemption, the strength of love and mercy over justice and law, the story of grace and of having the humility to receive it. The emotional power of the film (the bitter plight of poverty, the agony of love, the pathos of the cruel treatment of the downtrodden) means that you leave the cinema emotionally exhausted but revitalised by a true, beautiful vision of what being human means.

There are many, many images here that can be used for catechesis: in particular, the unexpected and freely given gift of mercy to Jean Valjean at the beginning which renews his dignity and gives him a new beginning, which he later extends to Javert, but who is unable to accept it.

Overall, it’s wonderful that we have a film whose worldview includes the existence of God, the soul, and Heaven. I’m happy that millions of people will spend 3 hours watching a film with this presupposition. The more this seeps into culture and people’s mindsets, the better… After all, they were made for him 🙂

Here’s Fr Robert Barron’s commentary… (spoilers alert!)

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Finally, I’ve just discovered this awesomeness: check it out!