PARISH BLOG

Reflections and news from our Pastor and Youth Minister

to help you stay connected and go deeper in your faith.



Welcome back to Faith in Film! This week, we're talking about The Big Short, the informative and playful 2016 film about the 2008 Financial Crisis. You know, a lighthearted movie that's fun for the whole family! Kidding, of course. I have to say, though, for someone who was too young to understand what was happening when it went down, this film has taught me a lot!


The film follows 4 groups of people who successfully predicted the collapse of the economy (and made money off of it). They are FrontPoint Capital, led by Mark Baum (Steve Carell), Scion Capital, led by Michael Burry (Christian Bale), Cornwall Capital, led by Charlie Geller, Jamie Shipley, and Ben Rickert (John Magaro, Finn Wittrock, and Brad Pitt), and Deutsche Bank's Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling).


Quite the star-studded cast, right? It's buoyed even more by cameos from Margot Robbie, the late Anthony Bourdain, and Selena Gomez to help explain the complex financial concepts that caused the crisis. This movie does an excellent job of explaining how 20+ years of predatory lending, risky investments, and good old-fashioned greed tanked the economy.


Just like in The Founder (find our review of it at https://bit.ly/3LMUUDB), a central theme here is greed. I'll break it down for you in a rudimentary way, but read me loud and clear: I am not an authority on this subject. If you want the full story, go watch the movie (or read one of the many books written about the crisis)! With that being said, here goes:


Basically, in the 1970s, a guy named Lewis Ranieri devised a way to make money off of other people's mortgages by pooling a bunch of mortgages together and inviting Wall Street firms and private investors to bet that mortgages would continue to be paid on time. It was called a Mortgage-Backed Security (MBS). Because the default rate on mortgage debt at the time was incredibly low, it was a pretty sound investment! "Who doesn't pay their mortgage, right?"


This was all well and good...for a time. These MBS's were given ratings by agencies like S&P and Moody's. In the beginning, they were all rated extremely highly due to the perceived safety of betting on mortgages. After a while, however, Wall Street ran out of mortgages for people to purchase securities on. After all, only so many people have good enough credit and available cash to qualify for mortgages, right? So what did the banks do? They began giving riskier and riskier mortgages.


In the short-term, this didn't cause any major issues. However, it was the first domino to fall in a complex dumpster fire that would eventually cripple the world economy for years. Seriously, these loans were awful. In the film, we see an example of an exotic dancer who has 4 houses and a condo, all under her dog's name. No, that is not a joke.


After a couple of decades, these banks and mortgage brokers got so greedy and so reckless that they were giving these loans to just about anybody who wanted them. "Bad credit score? No worries! Past repossessions or foreclosures? We've got you covered!"


The mortgage brokers got their commission from selling the loans, the banks and firms got more mortgages to package into their MBS's, and the ratings agencies simply went along with it. Remember when I said that the ratings were high at the beginning because of the quality of the mortgages? Well, the ratings didn't go down when the quality of the mortgages did.


The ratings agencies were making tons of money off of this system, too. Why would they do anything to rock the boat? As a result, firms and private investors kept pouring money into these MBS's, completely unaware that they were buying a largely deficient product. The house of cards was about to crumble.


Important note: the majority of these bad mortgages were "adjustable-rate mortgages." To simplify a complex concept, think of them like deals on cable packages. The companies tease you in with a low rate for 6 months, a year, or 2 years, and then the monthly price goes up by quite a bit. The same goes for these adjustable-rate mortgages.


Now we get to the crash itself. In 2007, these adjustable rates kicked in, and hundreds of thousands of people were unable to pay their mortgages. They defaulted on their mortgages...which tanked the value of MBS's...which absolutely killed these Wall Street firms that had been pouring money into this supposedly ironclad investment.


This culminated with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, one of the largest investment firms on Wall Street. It resulted in massive unemployment, billions of dollars of value lost around the world, and the destruction of many people's lives.


Burry, Baum, Geller, Shipley, Rickert, and Vennett saw it coming. They caught onto the fact that these mortgages were incredible risky before they defaulted, because they looked. They peered through the vast pile of money that this fraudulent system was making and saw what was coming.


Now to be fair, they didn't do anything to stop the crisis. They all made incredible amounts of money by betting on these mortgages to default. But they weren't blinded by the status quo, and they looked past the money at the garbage underneath. That wasn't easy to do!


The lesson here is, of course, that profits should never come before people. A large part of Catholic social teaching is centered on this idea, and I strongly recommend checking out the Catechism or the DoCat (from Ignatius Press) to see just how much the Church espouses it!


This financial crisis largely came about because banks gave loans to people they knew could likely never pay them. They absolutely put profits over people, and we all suffered for it. How do we fight it? Be generous with your time, talent, and treasure. Don't buy into the commercial mindset the world has adopted wholesale these days. Remember where true value is derived - from the grace and spark of Almighty God.


Here's hoping we never have another financial crisis like this one! Praying you are all safe and well.


God Bless,


Regis

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Welcome back to Faith in Film! This week, we're tackling Pixar's brilliant 2017 animated film Coco. Have you seen it? It's a beautifully-told story about passion, family, and ancestry. Definitely less serious than some of the other films we've tackled throughout this series! As always, consider this your spoiler warning.


Coco is steeped in Mexican culture, especially revolving around Dia de Muertos, the All Souls' Day-adjacent celebration of family members who have passed on. On this holiday, families set up "altars" (called "ofrendas") for ancestors who have passed away. They're decorated with flowers and photos of the deceased, and food is often left at the altar as a gift.


Coco is set on Dia de Muertos. Our protagonist, a young boy named Miguel, dreams of being a musician, especially after becoming convinced that his long lost great-great grandfather is none other than Ernesto de la Cruz, Mexico's greatest musician. Unfortunately for him, his grandmother, the matriarch of the family, has banned all music in the house after her grandfather left to pursue a music career and never returned.


Miguel believes he can convince his family that music is a good thing if he can just get a chance to play in the talent show in the plaza that evening. The problem is, he doesn't have a guitar. He devises a plan to sneak into de la Cruz's tomb, "borrow" his legendary guitar, and play in the talent show.


He sneaks in, grabs the guitar, gives it a strum, and exits the tomb. Except...nobody in the cemetery can see him. He runs through the cemetery, asking for help and even passing through the bodies of those around him. He finally bumps into a tall woman, relieved that she can feel him...until she turns around and is revealed to be a living skeleton.


This is where we, as Catholics, must be mindful of what we are watching. Coco posits that the souls of the dead return to earth from the land of the dead on Dia de Muertos, collecting the food their families leave at the ofrendas for them (but ONLY if their photo is also placed on the ofrenda). This is the very essence of Faith in Film; to be able to watch and enjoy a film like Coco while refuting its incorrect assertions about the nature of life after death.


Miguel slowly comes to realize that he has passed into this state by defying his family's wishes and strumming de la Cruz's magical guitar. He meets up with some of his deceased family members, and they decide to bring him to the land of the dead to sort it all out.


One more thing to be wary of regarding Coco's portrayal of the afterlife: in this film, one's time in the land of dead (the afterlife) is temporary. It only lasts as long as you're remembered on earth. Once the last person to remember you (or stories about you) dies, you endure a "second death," where your body dissolves into dust and you fade away, similar to the Thanos snap from Infinity War.


Miguel learns that he cannot return home unless he receives his family's blessing. The ancestral matriarch of his family is Mama Jimelda...the wife of the musician who left and disappeared. She gives him her blessing, but adds a condition that Miguel must never play music again. Rather than accept her terms, he runs away from his family and decides to try to get a blessing from Ernesto de la Cruz, his great-great grandfather.


Our hero links up with Hector, a bit of a trickster who says he can get Miguel into de la Cruz's big party. They eventually make it, but some things come to light that flip things upside down. This is a big ole spoiler, so one final warning!


It turns out that Hector was once de la Cruz's partner, and he actually wrote all of the legendary musician's most popular songs. When Hector decided to quit music and return home to his family, de la Cruz poisoned him and took credit for all of his work. The final, massive revelation is that Hector, not de la Cruz, is Miguel's great-great grandfather.


After de la Cruz is exposed as a fraud, Hector collapses to the ground and is wracked with tremors. Miguel's great grandmother, Mama Coco (still living), is beginning to forget Hector in her old age. He's on the verge of experiencing the "second death." He and Mama Jimelda hastily give Miguel their blessing to return to the land of the living.


When Miguel returns to the spot where he first strummed de la Cruz's guitar, he immediately races home to Mama Coco to try to help her remember Hector. It's a real tear-jerker of a scene, as he plays de la Cruz's most famous song, "Remember Me" (which Hector originally wrote as a lullaby for Coco) for her, and she slowly brightens up and begins to sing along. Seriously, I challenge you to watch it without crying.


It's all wrapped up in a nice happy ending, as Miguel's family learns to accept his musical leanings. Hector's memory lives on, and they live happily ever after! It's a joyful, celebratory end to a movie that joyfully celebrates Mexican culture and music.


The central themes of this film are family and the importance of keeping the memory of one's loved ones alive. While it won't stop them from experiencing a "second death" (this is a complete fabrication, as we are promised eternal life after death, not "a slightly longer but still finite" life), it's important!


Our families and their stories shape us into who we are, guide our worldview, and influence our morals and values. The Church has rightly placed significant emphasis on the family throughout the centuries, with Pope Benedict XVI going so far as to call the family "the domestic Church."


How can you make your family a domestic Church? How can you keep the memory of your friends and loved ones who have passed away alive? What stories can you tell? These are the questions that Coco begs of us. While its depiction of the afterlife is flawed, its themes of family and ancestry are rock solid. Never forget those who came before you!


God Bless,


Regis

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When discussing movies that we can view through a Catholic lens, there is perhaps no better fit than The Lord of the Rings. Sure, there are movies that are more clearly Catholic. The Passion of the Christ, for example, is a brutal and moving portrayal of Jesus' passion and death. But there are few pieces of media that blend entertainment and subtle spirituality better than J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy masterpiece (and Peter Jackson's excellent adaptations of it).


First, a couple of disclaimers. Right upfront, I consider Peter Jackson's trilogy of films to be the single greatest piece of entertainment that mankind has wrought, so I'll admit I'm biased. Secondly, these films simply must be viewed as a single work, not as a trilogy of individual movies. Think of them as 3 acts of a play rather than 3 separate movies, and you'll understand this "Faith in Film" post a lot better.


With that out of the way, let's dive in. The Lord of the Rings begins with the Dark Lord, Sauron. He assumes a disguise and shepherds the creation of 19 "Rings of Power." These rings have the ability to prolong life, imbue the wielder with strength, increase wisdom, and a number of other things. 3 were given to the Elves, 7 to the Dwarves, and 9 to humanity.


But they were all them deceived. Sauron forged a Master Ring in secret, one much more powerful than the others. It gave him the ability to control the other rings and enabled him to launch an assault on the free peoples of Middle-Earth, the world in which Lord of the Rings is set. "One Ring to rule them all."


We see all of this in a prologue. Sauron is challenged by a last alliance of men and elves, defeated in legendary fashion, and the Ring passes through a number of hands over the millennia before coming to one Bilbo Baggins, a Hobbit (Halfling) from the Shire. It is in the Shire that our tale begins in earnest...


This Ring is the central part of our story. The MacGuffin, if you will. The first film, in large part, centers on the "good guys" discovering the Ring's origin, learning of its power and danger, and resolving to destroy it. Who are these "good guys," you ask? For the most part, they are the Fellowship of the Ring.


The Fellowship contains 4 Hobbits: Frodo Baggins (Bilbo's nephew and the one who carries the Ring), Samwise Gamgee, Merry Brandybuck, and Peregrin Took (aka Pippin). They are accompanied by Gandalf the Wizard, Legolas the Elven prince, Gimli the Dwarf, Boromir the Prince of Gondor, and Aragorn, Ranger and heir to the throne of Gondor.


They set out on a journey to destroy the ring in Mordor, Sauron's domain. The Ring can only be destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom, the volcano where it was forged. It's also a heavy burden to bear; while it grants its bearer invisibility when worn, it also corrupts their will, bending them towards evil and weighing down their psyche.


There are a variety of obstacles to the Fellowship throughout their journey. Gandalf tragically sacrifices himself to defend the group, the Ring's corrupting influence causes Boromir to try to steal it from Frodo, and the Fellowship eventually splits up at the end of the first film. Frodo (and Sam, who joins him) thinks that they will be safer apart from each other.


We simply don't have time to go through all of the events of the 2nd and 3rd films (if by some miracle you haven't seen them, consider this your official reminder), but they are just littered with Christian symbolism. This is where Tolkien really, really shines from a Catholic perspective.


Gandalf rises from the dead, returned from beyond the grave because he had not yet fulfilled his purpose. Aragorn, a reluctant king, eventually assumes his royal mantle and becomes a just and courageous leader. Heck, there's even special Elven bread that keeps one fed for an entire week with just a single bite. If that doesn't sound like the Eucharist, I don't know what does.


To make a VERY long and incredible story short, our heroes eventually prevail. Frodo and Sam make it to Mount Doom (thanks in no small part to a brilliant diversionary attack from our other heroes), the Ring is destroyed, and peace is restored. Evil is defeated, and the world is truly a better place for their actions.


I cannot say enough about how much I'm compressing this. Seriously, this is the Cliffnotes version of all Cliffnotes versions. With that being said, how do we approach this work as Catholics? First and foremost, we need to appreciate that Tolkien very explicitly did not write The Lord of the Rings as a Christian work.


On the contrary, he detested direct allegories! Rather, this is an example of one's faith being so central to their life that it cannot help but bleed into all other areas. There is no one Christ figure in this tale. Gandalf, Aragorn, Frodo, and Sam all exemplify Christ-like qualities at different points in the story.


The aforementioned reference to the Eucharist, the consistent value of empathy and companionship throughout the films, the resistance to the temptation of the Ring by Frodo and others, and many other themes can clearly be viewed as being "infused" with Tolkien's Catholicism.


This is a lesson we can all learn in our own lives. Should we seek to shove Catholic dogma into all of our conversations, loudly decry every sin we see another commit, or set the daily record for most prayers seen by others? Absolutely not.


Rather, we should seek to have a faith like Tolkien. A faith so central to our lives that it cannot help but affect every part of our being. A faith that shines forth from us so brightly that others cannot help but notice. A faith that is inseparable from our very identity.


THIS is the beauty of Lord of the Rings (aside from its obvious entertainment value). It is the most Catholic non-Catholic work ever made. It draws us closer to Christ without beating us over the head. How can we affect this response in our own lives? How can we cultivate a faith like this?


How can we truly put God at the center of our lives? Perhaps the hymn, "Center of my Life" might have some insight: "O Lord, you are the center of my life. I will always praise you, I will always serve you, I will always keep you in my sight." Seems like a pretty good place to start to me.


God Bless,


Regis

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