Monday, July 23, 2012

THE B-LIST: ACT NATURALLY (PART 3)

Okay, so we’ve spent the last few posts discussing some upcoming low budget horror movies made by Protestants, how such efforts naturally end up concentrating more on the sermon than on the story, and the possible reasons why there are so few equivalent films being produced by Catholics. But just because there aren’t very many of these kind of Catholic “soul winners” out there doesn’t mean you can’t find them if you’re willing to look hard enough. But don’t bother browsing the shelves of your local video store or checking the listings for the nearby multiplex hoping to run across one. Instead, search around websites like YouTube and that’s where you’ll locate a number of short films made by Catholic filmmakers. Most such efforts are dramatic or documentary in nature, but dig deep enough and you’ll see that there are a small handful of Catholic shorts containing elements of some of our favorite genres. Take the following for example.

ZOMBIES VS JESUS - Spirit Juice Studios has produced a number of shorts over the past few years, but none more suited to this blog than their most recent, Zombies Vs Jesus. In this tale “a young man awakens on a Sunday morning to discover that his family has turned into zombies. In a panic, he and a friend seek refuge in the one place they believe they will be safe: the town's Catholic church. There they discover the truth about what they have encountered.”

CAPTAIN CATHOLIC – For anyone out there who ever saw the old Bibleman television series and wondered why there wasn’t a Catholic version (Hey, I’m sure somebody had to right?), then look no further than Tony DeGennaro’s Captain Catholic. “YES folks, it's CAPTAIN CATHOLIC - former Swiss Guard from the Vatican. Cleverly disguised as annoying and klutzy Theology Major, Tony DeGennaro, no one would ever suspect the absent-minded and overly-perky geek of being associated with his mysterious true identity. With the God-given mystical ability of sin sense, Captain Catholic is in fact able to sense sin, at which time he must don his Vatican Flag-covered cape in order to protect and keep a watchful eye over the kind citizens of Scranton, Pennsylvania.”

LORD OF THE WORLD – What do you get when you have a love of early 20th Century Catholic fiction and about $25 in spare change? Well, if you’re YouTube user RomneyGack, you go out and make your very own homemade version of Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson’s Lord of the World, the 1907 apocalyptic novel detailing the rise of the Antichrist and the final battle between good and evil.

MASS HYSTERIA – Okay, so “pay attention at Mass” isn’t the heaviest message around, but it can still be a fun one as this short demonstrates.

You know, when you think about it, the short feature format is kind of appropriate for Catholic filmmakers with a message to pass on. After all, the theme of this series of posts has been that the films being produced reflect the forms of worship familiar to their makers, so naturally the Catholic movies would be shorter than their Protestant counterparts what with most Catholic homilies being typically briefer than Protestant sermons. In fact, it was only a couple of years ago that Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, the current secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, suggested that a typical homily should run no longer than 8 minutes in length. I know, I know, that probably sounds horrifying to some Protestants (though possibly to others it may sound like paradise), but all we’re really doing is worshiping in the same way Christians have for over two centuries.

St. Justin Martyr, writing somewhere around the year 155, described early Christian worship this way. “On the day we call the day of the sun, all who dwell in the city or country gather in the same place. The memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read, as much as time permits. When the reader has finished, he who presides over those gathered admonishes and challenges them to imitate these beautiful things. Then we all rise together and offer prayers* for ourselves… And for all others, wherever they may be, so that we may be found righteous by our life and actions, and faithful to the commandments, so as to obtain eternal salvation. When the prayers are concluded we exchange the kiss. Then someone brings bread and a cup of water and wine mixed together to him who presides over the brethren. He takes them and offers praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and for a considerable time he gives thanks (in Greek: eucharistian) that we have been judged worthy of these gifts. When he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all present give voice to an acclamation by saying: 'Amen.' When he who presides has given thanks and the people have responded, those whom we call deacons give to those present the "eucharisted" bread, wine and water and take them to those who are absent.” Now if that isn’t describing the Mass, I don’t know what is. Who knows, maybe the early Christians decided to start keeping the Liturgy of the Word short after that guy dozed off during one of St. Paul’s marathon expositions and fell out a window to his death (Acts 20:9). But whatever the reason, modern Catholics still follow their lead, revering Sacred Scripture and devoting part of Sunday worship to its study, but giving the most focus to the Eucharist. Which, you know, considering what we believe about the Eucharist, isn’t that bad a thing.

Anyway, I hope everybody has enjoyed our brief detour into the wacky world of low budget religious filmmaking. If I run across any more like these (and rest assured, there’ll always be more), I’ll be happy to pass them along. Until then, I’m sure there’ll be plenty of secular made silliness to keep us occupied.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

The whole 8 minutes thing...*big sigh*. I think the thing to remember is that for most of Christian history, long sermons were the norm. Most Patristic sermons were long. Outside Mass, the Franciscans & other friars preached for hours. St. Francis de Sales offered advice to a new bishop to never preach for less that 45 min. Those long sermons were reeeeeeallly serious interpretations of Scripture, and the congregations were ordinary sinners. But today, those sermons preached to ordinary people are now considered graduate school level.

I'm not arguing you're wrong about the centrality of the Eucharist. But not only do most Protestants know the content of the Bible far better than we do, but the average illiterate fishmonger in Hippo or Ars knew the interpretation of Scripture far better than we do. And that's directly related to the length of the homily, because it is not possible to do what they did in 8 minutes. Are there other factors? Sure. But short homilies aren't something we should congradulate ourselves on because they're part of a tremendous loss in Catholic preaching & spiritual formation of the laity.

Xena Catolica

EegahInc said...

Hi Xena,

Rereading my post I can see where it comes across as congratulatory, which wasn't really what I was going for. I was just pointing out that the short homily is the way things are, not necessarily how they should be in every case. Just goes to show I could still use an editor from time to time.

However, let me play devil's advocate (yeah, I know, but I didn't invent our euphemisms) for a moment and defend short homilies, at least in some instances. Like most Church geeks, I love browsing the Early Church Fathers, but for every St. Francis de Sales whose lengthy homilies we are blessed to still be able to read, I'm fairly certain that there are an untold number of priests from the past 2000 years whose longer homilies we'll never see collected, and for good reason. And I can say this with some confidence because I've seen it play out plenty of times over my lifetime, especially during the years I spent as a Protestant. I can't tell you the number of times I listened to a pastor continuously repeat themselves and ramble off topic until you're not even sure what the point was to begin with, mercilessly stretching a ten minute sermon out to forty minutes just so everyone would know they heard some preaching on that Sunday.

In my experience (which of course is not all encompassing)not every priest has preaching as a forte. They can be excellent pastors, great managers, and wonderful confessors, yet still be lacking in oratorial skills. For those guys, I'd say 8 to 10 minutes is plenty. In contrast, the new guys at my parish average about 20 to 25 minutes, always bring in doctrinal issues, and yet nobody complains because they're pretty good speakers. I'd say in the end there's no reason to set a definitive time limit. I would think it's up to the priests to be honest with themselves about their skills at sermonizing and tailor their homilies according to their strengths. I'm just a guy in the pews though, so I could be way off.

Rocket Scientist said...

Until I saw the DVD Suing the Devil, thoroughly enjoyed, I was unaware of this sub-genre and so enjoyed these postings even more than usual.

At home we have an enormous library of old hymnals, books of collected sermons, church history, apologetics, etc. so I've read many a long rambling sermon. I attribute the modern practice of short sermons more to the shorter attention-spans of the pew-sitters. And as opposed to most pundits, I don't necessarily see this as a bad thing. Why say something in 40 minutes and risk getting lost when you could say it in 5? Our scholarly Monsignor is a master at this, staying theologically sound and pastorally kindly while managing somehow to give a gentle fire-and-brimstone sermon that sticks with you - in 10 minutes. And it leaves us hungering for more. He also recommends books. And out on the net we have the library of the whole world at our fingertips. That's especially true for old books which are now copyright-free and frequently available as free e-books. A good teacher doesn't necessarily explain everything, but leaves you longing for more detail and thinking about it long after getting home from Mass.

EegahInc said...

"I attribute the modern practice of short sermons more to the shorter attention-spans of the pew-sitters."

I'm prety sure that's where Archbishop Eterovic was coming from when he suggested the 8 minute homily. Like I said, personally I believe the length of the homily should depend on the priest. An obvious solution would be to have everyone attending or listening to a Catholic Bible study outside of mass (I'm a big fan of the St. Irenaeus Ministries podcast at http://siministries.org/Podcast) so that everything didn't depend on the homily. I know that's not likely, but a guy can dream can't he?

Anonymous said...

Hi. Less caffeine this time. Yes, I agree that the length of homilies should vary with the skill & judgement of the preacher. I recently returned from a big conference on preaching, which is one reason ya hit a nerve.

And you're not the only one who thinks we need good preaching AND Bible study--the Holy Father said so very clearly in "Verbum Domini" in 2010. All the laity are to study the Bible and pray lectio divina, "in full communion with the Church". Everybody, not just the Bible nerds. In the same document, he also called for preachers to learn the Patristic method of interpretation--without calling for a return to Patristic length or style of preaching. It's huge, so references if you want 'em.

If you're interested, Mark Shea's "Making Senses Out of Scripture" is a pretty good intro. to the Patristic method written for non-specialists.

Xena Catolica

EegahInc said...

"I recently returned from a big conference on preaching, which is one reason ya hit a nerve."

Sorry about that. And again, it's not like your point was wrong. I've read a couple of the Pope's books where he's touched on the Patristic method briefly, but I've never studied it in depth. Thanks for the recommend.

Phil said...

Perhaps we might change the words of Archbishop Eterovic to "A typical homily should feel like 8 minutes in length".

A lot of regular, five to ten minute-homilies I heard felt quite a bit longer and I was happy when it was over.

I think a problem, at least here in germany, is that people do not learn decent rhetoric anymore. Thats typical for a society proud to be mediocre; politicians giving great speeches are suspected to be populistic (as long as they are not simply using profanities, then they are "courageous" or something like that). Something similar might be the reason for bad homilies: Nowadays, people would like to convince other people by presenting good facts, good points. But sorry, that is not what convinces people, at least not on an emotional level (which is also important in faith).
So, my solution is: rhetoric-courses in school, in college, in the seminary so that the priests are real preachers again. And bring back the pulpit, while you're at it.

EegahInc said...

The pulpit! My parish only has an ambo, of course, and until the latest batch of priests showed up you practically had to chain someone to it to get them to stay behind it. I don't know, maybe they just get too lonely up there and feel the need to wander up and down the Nave. Plus, it was probably hard for one of our former priests to make sure his puppets could be seen from such a long distance. (To be fair, though, the homilies he delivered without his puppets were pretty good.)