Movie Review: Xavier (2007) #AtoZChallenge


This is my entry for “X” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Previous “X” documentaries I’ve reviewed include XXXY.

Title: Xavier
Release Date: September 26, 2006
Director: Jeremy Zipple
Production Company: Fourth Week Films
Summary/Review:

Francis Xavier was born in Navarre (now in northern Spain) as a member of minor noble family.  As the youngest son, he followed his duty to study for the priesthood, with the expectation he could return home and live a leisurely and comfortable life as a prelate.  While studying at the University of Paris, he met an older student, Igatius of Loyola, who had begun to attract attention and followers with his Spiritual Exercises.  Xavier was initially resistant, but eventually joined Ignatius in his devotion and was among the first members of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits).

His first mission was to Goa in India where he attracted people to listen to his instruction by walking the streets and ringing a bell.  He found himself in-between the poor Indians and the Portuguese colonists, the latter who lead lives that were less Christian, in the strictest sense of the word.  His willingness to interact with the lower castes also turned off the Indian Brahmins.  Later he became the first missionary to go to Japan, attempting to win converts by analogy to Buddhist and Shinto beliefs. Xavier hoped to continue his mission to China, but died on the island of Shangchuan, 14km away from the Chinese mainland, while awaiting for a man who promised to take him to mainland China.

Stylistically, this isn’t the best documentary.  There are several dramatic reenactments by actors playing Xavier and his contemporaries that just look cheezy.  Also, it felt like a quarter of the live footage was just shots of churning ocean waves. The filmmaker, Jeremy Zipple, is a Jesuit priest and former editor for America, so one can expect that this story is a bit somewhat biased.  The history of Christian missionaries to non-Western lands is one that often goes hand in hand with brutatlity and colonialism.  Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but a little inspired by Xavier’s attempts at honest cultural exchange and to live a Christian life of humility and poverty.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

Xavier is a name I associate with Catholic schools that play basketball, so pretty much all of this story was new to me.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

Watch The Mission, a classic movie that tells the story of Jesuit missionaries who find themselves caught in between the indigenous South American people they’ve come to teach Christianity, and Spanish imperialists who want to eliminate the indigenous people. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell is a science fiction novel about Jesuits leading a space mission to meet the inhabitants of an alien planet, very much a symbolic story of the missionary experience.

Source: Amazon Prime

Rating: **1/2


2019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films

A: Amy
B: Being Elmo
C: Central Park Five
D: Dear Mr. Watterson
E: The Endless Summer
F: F for Fake
G: Grey Gardens
H: High School
I: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice
J: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
K: Kon-Tiki
L: The Last Waltz
M: Man With a Movie Camera
N: Nanook of the North
O: Obit.
P: Pelotero
Q: Quest: A Portrait of an American Family
R: Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan
S: Soundtrack for a Revolution
T: Titicut Follies
U: Unforgivable Blackness
V: Virunga
W: Waking Sleeping Beauty

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.

All Saints Day


Last year when I went through a liturgical year with posts on my favorite saints, inspired by Fr. James Martin’s book My Life With the Saints, I failed to make a post for All Saints Day.  I spent that day otherwise occupied witnessing the birth of my son Peter (an appropriately saintly name for my now 1-year-old).

To make up for that, I present to you this short Busted Halo feature “The Saints on Halloween” featuring Fr. James Martin.  It’s an enjoyable movie about Halloween, All Saints Day, and saints in general.

Peter & Paul


Since I made it through the cycle of saints last year I haven’t been writing as many Catholic things on this blog, but I do want to touch on the Solemnity of Sts. Peter & Paul even though I wrote about it last year in a hasty manner.

Peter and Paul are cornerstones of the early church so obviously this is an important day to celebrate if it doesn’t get the attention it deserves.  Like Steve Bogner, I relate more to Peter than Paul:”He just seems more accessible, and more like me. Peter has a sort of foot-in-mouth approach that I can empathize with.” Peter is obviously the patron of my son as well.

But today begins the Year of Paul, the 2000th anniversary of the birth of the Apostle of the Gentiles, so I can’t leave him out.  Paul didn’t just make simple mistakes like Peter, he persecuted Christ’s followers, repented of that, and then dedicated the same energy to spreading Christ’s gospel.  Pretty impressive.

Peter and Paul probably didn’t always get along as well as they seem to in the icon where they are embracing, but they both have a lot to teach us.

Here are some other (better) reflections:

Isaac Hecker


This Sunday in New York at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle, the cause for the canonization of Father Hecker was opened at a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Edward Egan. Hecker is the founder of the Paulists Fathers, an order dedicated to missionary work, reconciliation and ecumenicism in North America. The Paulist Fathers originated in Hecker’s belief that Catholicism and the American democratic ideals were in fact compatible. Like many great American Catholics Hecker converted to the faith. Prior to his conversion he was involved in the great philosophical movements of the day such as Transcendentalism and was friends with people like Henry David Thoreau. All these experiences helped inform a uniquely American approach to Catholicism and a lifelong effort as a spiritual seeker.

I’m very excited and inspired that Hecker’s cause for canonization is begun. I am aquainted with Hecker and the Paulist Fathers through my involvement with the Paulist Center community here in Boston. It also starts off the 150th anniversary celebrations of the Paulist Fathers. I was fortunate to hear Jon Fuller, S.J., M.D. speak on Saturday night as he received the Isaac Hecker Award “for his lifelong devotion and dedication to the service of a marginalized population through his work with HIV/AIDS treatment and research.”

To learn more about Fr. Isaac Hecker and his cause for canonization, visit the official Paulist Fathers website.

For more coverage on Sunday’s event, visit the following links:

Francis of Assisi


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The more I learn about Francis of Assisi the more fascinating he is to me. Francis is a popular saint — as exemplified by the many garden statues of Francis with the birds — and one who can be taken for granted. As a child I knew him as gentle man who was kind to animals, something of a medieval environmentalist. In high school we had a blessing of the animals on St. Francis Day on which my fellow students brought their dogs, cats, ferrets, and even a rooster to school for the day and these animals were the centerpiece of a special (outdoor) Mass. My felines were fraidy cats so I did not torment them by bringing them to school which also saved me from having to explain why I was asking for a blessing for my cat Beelzebub.

The Spirit moves in odd ways, so it was seeing the Roberto Rosselini film Flowers of St. Francis at Brattle Theatre a couple of years ago that really made me see Francis in a new light. The film which casts amateurs and real monks as Francis and his followers demonstrates in a series of short stories the piety, the conviction, the dedication of the life of poverty, and the love of God and the outcasts of St. Francis and just how radical he was and continues to be among Christian people.  I read the book The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi during Lent this year.

Reading today’s Gospel, I was struck how Francis, Clare, and the other early Franciscans took to heart Christ’s words. This is almost a blue print for the early Franciscans:

Go on your way;
behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.
Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals;
and greet no one along the way.
Into whatever house you enter, first say,
‘Peace to this household.’
If a peaceful person lives there,
your peace will rest on him;
but if not, it will return to you.
Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you,
for the laborer deserves his payment.
Do not move about from one house to another.
Whatever town you enter and they welcome you,
eat what is set before you,
cure the sick in it and say to them,
‘The Kingdom of God is at hand for you.’
Luke 10:3-9

Learn more about St. Francis of Assisi at:

Note: The image of Francis is from Bellini’s St. Francis in the Desert which I admired on my trip to the Frick museum.

Wenceslaus


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Like a lot of saints, I know Wenceslaus from just scraps of information in popular culture. In this case, a Christmas carol that was one of my favorites growing up. It tells a good story of a man of wealth and privilege providing a feast for a poor peasant. It’s a good story and a lesson worth sharing the complete lyrics:

Good King Wenceslas looked out on the feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shone the moon that night, tho’ the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight gath’ring winter fuel.

 

“Hither, page, and stand by me, if thou know’st it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain;
Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

 

“Bring me flesh, and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither:
Thou and I will see him dine, when we bear them thither.”
Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together;
Through the rude wind’s wild lament and the bitter weather.

 

“Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how, I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, my good page. Tread thou in them boldly:
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage freeze thy blood less coldly.”

 

In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.

I also know that Wenceslaus is the patron saint of Prague, a place I’d much like to visit. But who was the real Wenceslaus? Apparently, the carol is not factually accurate and the song writer Neale used the name as much for meter as for tribue the real man. But Wenceslaus was good, a Prince of Bohemia who ruled with principles at the time of political unrest. For his troubles he was murdered on the way to church by a rival younger brother.

More information:

Januarius


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A quick post about a saint about whom Saint of the Day says “Nothing is known of Januarius’s life.”  A greater mystery is a reliquary of Januarius’s blood in the Naples’ cathedral which is dry most of the time but is said to miraculously liquefy on his feast day each year.  Januarius himself was the Bishop of Benevento martyred by beheading in 305.

My interest in the saint is due to the San Gennaro Festival held in Little Italy in New York when I was a child.  The patron saint of Naples is celebrated with a ten-day street fair which includes a parade of the saint’s statue through the straights.  Attending this festival was a highlight of my childhood, mainly because it was so enormous.  It always felt like a great accomplishment if we could make it the whole way along Mulberry Street past the rides, games, and vendors from Houston to Canal Street.

A nice treat was zeppole, fried dough with confectionery sugar, although you couldn’t eat too many or you would through up.  You couldn’t take them home either, because if you let them sit overnight they would miraculously harden into rock-like pastries.  We called these lead zeppoles.

Anyhow, I’m not sure if there’s a lesson here, but it is fascinating that the life of a 4th century martyr can lead to such a joyous celebration held each year in a city half a world away.

Mother Theresa of Calcutta


Mother Theresa of Calcutta

Mother Theresa may be the most universally admired person of my lifetime for her work in caring for the poor, the sick, and the dying in India and around the world. If ever I felt bad about Catholicism, Christianity, or really the whole of humanity I could look to her as an example of someone who was doing it right.

It’s interesting that by the circumstances of death ten years ago today she’s been inexorably linked with Princess Diana. In fact in the days immediately after Diana’s death some rhetorically asked whether the same media hype would meet the death of Mother Theresa. The answer to that question is that the life of the great humanitarian who lived in poverty was overshadowed by the life of wealth and privilege (although Diana too was charitable in a more comfortable way), and newspapers published photos of the two women together. This seems to emphasize the humility of Theresa’s life. Yet humble as she was, this didn’t not mean she was weak or voiceless.

When I was in college I served on the leadership board of the campus ministry, and during that time the Knights of Columbus wanted to start a chapter at our college. Our chaplain and many students were concerned about K of C’s reputation as partyers and a representative came to talk to us about that. He affirmed that the Knights did indeed enjoy a drink but also were involved in charitable acts. Then he told a story of a $1000-a-plate fund raiser they hosted with Mother Theresa as the keynote speaker. When Theresa rose to spoke she did not thank them but chastised them for spending so much on the dinner. The Knights of Columbus passed around a hat and gathered the equivalent of their dinner for the poor. While this story did not reflect well on this man’s organization, it did impress me that Mother Theresa was not scared to speak truth to power and really cut through a lot of baloney to do what was best for those who have the least.  And teach us about humility in the process.

Recently the release of letters written by Mother Theresa reveal that for much of her life she did not feel the presence of Christ in her life and had grave doubts.  This news is covered well in Whispers in the Loggia, The Christian Science Monitor, The Lesser of Two Weevils and even The Boston Herald (featuring a quote from Father Bob Bowers).  One can imagine that anyone encountering the poverty, suffering, and inhumanity of the Calcutta ghetto could be convinced that there is no God.  Yet, Mother Theresa did not give up and continued to teach the lessons of Christ, leading by example.  This is the virtue of faith and this is the way the reign of God is built on Earth.

Saint of the Day

Augustine


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Augustine of Hippo (354-430) was an influential leader in the early Christian church serving as bishop, evangelist, theologian, and writer of copious works that are still studied to this day. He spent his youth infamously in a hedonistic lifestyle and in active involvement in heretical movements. To the joy of his Christian mother Monica he finally converted to Christianity at the age of 33 and soon would become priest and bishop.

Augustine’s story shows us how Christ reveals himself to an individual over the course of one’s life, sometimes without the person even knowing. The immediate message of Augustine’s life is that is never too late to turn towards God. Augustine wrote of his life and this continuing revelation in his famous work Confessions. His confessional style of writing is widely adopted by other Christians including modern figures such as Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton (all of whom I attempted to read during Lent this year). One lesson I got from Confessions is that Christianity is a relationship, with it’s ups and downs, and the continuing need to open oneself to Christ working in one’s life.

Augustine is also significant because he’s from North Africa on the outskirts of the Roman Empire. The early Christian Church centered on the Holy Land and Europe (even more so in the Middle Ages when Europe was synonymous with Christendom). Augustine demonstrated the true universality of the Church, open to all peoples, even the outsiders. Appropriately, the oldest Catholic church in the United States with a predominately black congregation is named for St. Augustine (which I wrote about in my visit to Washington for the ALA conference in June).

Finishing on a somewhat lighter note, in researching this post I discovered that St. Augustine is the patron saint of brewers. Being very fond of beer I find this patronage working in Augustine’s favor. This Catholic Online article claims that Augustine is the patron of brewers due to his misspent youth. This doesn’t speak to positively though of the fine men and woman who brew beer such as those at Augustiner Bräu, a German beer named for an order of monks named for Augustine of Hippo.

For more on St. Augustine, visit:

Clare


St. Clare of Assisi

In a very powerful scene in Roberto Rosellini’s The Flowers of St. Francis, Clare comes to visit Francis and all the friars are filled with joy about the meeting of these two living saints. It’s a scene in which two people who love each very much come together in the serenity and joy of the greater Love of God that brought them together and changed their lives.  This was my introduction to Saint Clare of Assisi and one that’s stuck with me over the past couple of years as I’ve learned more about this remarkable woman.

Just as it was portrayed in the movie, Clare was a lifelong friend and spiritual guide for Francis, and in many ways they were brother and sister.  With Francis she is the co-founder of the Franciscan movement and would be the first woman to write a Rule for religious women that would be the basis of the order now known as the Poor Clares.

Her spiritual transformation began in her youth when during a time of war she spent time with other women as penitents in Perugia.  Many of the women she knew from this period would later join her order, including her mother and sisters.  Later she would return to Assisi where she would hear Francis preach and through his inspiration would chose to give her life to poverty for God.  At the age of 15 she refused a prosperous marriage and at 18 she ran away from her wealthy home and family to give herself over to the spiritual life. Francis himself helped by cutting her hair and introducing her to a religious order where she traded fine gowns for rough robes of a sister.  Her father and brother were furious and tried to force her back home, but she clung to the rails of the altar in the chapel.

While Francis traveled great distances to spread the Gospel message, Clare never went far from the convent of San Damiano in Assisi for the remainder of her life.  Her relatively sedentary existence would not hinder her influence.  As mentioned above, women flocked to her to join the Poor Clare’s order.    By Francis’ command she became abbess at the age of 21 and remained so until her death.  Yet all the sisters were considered of equal rank and made decisions affecting their lives together.  Instead, Clare lead by the example of her virtue in a live focused on austerity and gospel poverty.  Many men came to consult her as well, including cardinals and even Popes.  Clare also correspond with people such as Agnes of Prague, the Queen of Bohemia who would take vows as a Poor Clare under the inspiration of Clare’s writing.

After Francis’ death Clare would take the lead in persevering on the way of Francis when other Franciscans wished to relax the Rule. Many people of the world and even church leaders thought the life of the Poor Clare’s to be too strict, and Clare had to negotiate up until the day before she died until she received official approval from the Pope for her Rule.

Clare is an inspiration in how she chose poverty in order to become close, her example of leadership, and her steadfast devotion to Christ and the Franciscan movement she helped found.

More information about Clare of Assisi: