Judas and Holy Week

betrayalCertain elements of the Passion narrative push forward in relief for me as I mull over a story I’m writing (Saint Judas).

In listening to the Passion narrative from the Gospel of Saint Matthew on Palm Sunday, my ears tripped over the strangeness of the way Jesus addresses Judas at the time of the arrest in the garden:

Jesus answered him, “Friend, do what you have come for.” (Matthew 26:50)

I wondered why Jesus chose, at this moment, to address Judas as friend.

So I looked a bit deeper. In Saint Jerome’s Vulgate, the Latin word is indeed amice:

Jesus said to him, “Friend, why are you here?”

Iesus autem dixit illi: “Amice, ad quod venisti!”

The footnotes in the Navarre Bible Commentary on this passage gave me ample material for meditation:

Jesus again demonstrates that he is giving himself up of his own free will. He could have asked his Father to send angels to defend him, but he does not do so. He knows why this is all happening and he wants to make it quite clear that in the last analysis it is not force which puts him to death but his own love and his desire to fulfil his Father’s will.

His opponents fail to grasp Jesus’ supernatural way of doing things; he had done his best to teach them but their hardness of heart came in the way and prevented them from accepting his teaching.

To effect his betrayal Judas uses a sign of friendship and trust. Although he knows what Judas is about, Jesus treats him with great gentleness: he gives him a chance to open his heart and repent. This is a lesson to show us that we should respect even people who harm us and should treat them with a refined charity.

I might have expected Jesus to be turned over to the authorities by one of the Pharisees or Saducees, rather than one of the Twelve. But from another point of view, it is fitting that one of the Twelve would be involved. The behavior of Judas brings into sharpest relief the drama taking place: not simply an arrest, but a betrayal. This is the pattern of all sin: The stubborn and cruel rejection of a Heart opened to us in trust and love. In Judas, we can discern our own refusals to accept God as He is and our own hypocrisies writ large: a cautionary tale, an anti-Annunciation.

Bishop Robert Barron put it well in one of his Holy Week meditations:

Those of us who regularly gather around the table of intimacy with Christ and yet engage consistently in the works of darkness are meant to see ourselves in the betrayer.

What sets us apart from Judas is not our worthiness but our capacity to hope.

May the meditation on the character of Judas this week lead us to emulate Peter, who, when confronted with his own weakness and betrayal, does not spiral into a paralyzing despair. When brought to the end of his own devices, Peter holds fast to hope and finds the grace to receive what is on offer.

Related posts:

https://doxaweb.blog/2005/08/02/for-everything-there-is-a-season/

https://doxaweb.blog/2019/04/23/requesting-prayers-for-writing-project/

https://doxaweb.blog/2019/04/30/saint-judas/

Act One @ 20

I’m in Los Angeles this week, to attend a celebration marking the 20th anniversary of the Act One program:

ActOneEmailLogoAct One is a Christian community of entertainment industry professionals who train and equip storytellers to create works of truth, goodness and beauty.

The celebration is happening today (Saturday, August  17) at First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood.

Here’s a summary of what will be happening:

As part of our year of twentieth-anniversary celebrations, ACT ONE is hosting a day of thoughtful consideration of what we, as a community have learned. We are calling it, “Towards an Authentic Christian Cinema”.

Our speakers and topics for the day will include:

“Religious Metaphors in Art and Movies”

by Enzo Salveggi

Enzo Selvaggi leads a team of designers, artists, and craftsmen to create singular, compelling liturgical space and sacred art through the firm he founded in 2008, Heritage Liturgical. Through acclaimed murals, award-winning mosaics, exquisite hand-carved statuary, authentic french paneling,  decorative finishes and effects, and fine art both new and antique, artisans at Heritage employ the grammar of traditional art to create spaces of aesthetic value and spiritual meaning. American-born, Selvaggi grew up in Italy and continued his university education in the Tuscan hills, where his connection to art and architecture blossomed. Tapping into his traditional European education, Selvaggi weaves the ancient canons of composition with the dynamism and breadth of contemporary styles and techniques.

“Towards a Christian Aesthetic of Cinema”

by Dr. Zach Cheney

Zach Cheney is an assistant professor of Screen Studies in the Department of Cinematic Arts at Azusa Pacific University. He is also a graduate of Covenant College (Lookout Mountain, GA), Covenant Theological Seminary (St. Louis, MO), and San Francisco State University. He has presented at numerous academic conferences on film and media, as well as published an essay on Alfred Hitchcock in the anthology Faith and Spirituality: Masters of World Cinema, Vol. III, published by Cambridge Scholars Press in 2015. His current undertakings include expanding his dissertation into a book manuscript along with a book-length project addressing film and media studies within a biblical-theological framework.

And much more including Dr. Barbara Nicolosi on Flannery O’Connor and Haunting Moments as well as writer/producer, Thomas Bernardo, from the hit show, “Bosch,” on the topic of “Making Television Through A Christian Lens.”

We will also have panels discussing successful writers groups and how to get your indie projects off the ground.

Plus a lot more surprises throughout the day!

Reconnect with your Act One classmates, meet lots of new friends from the other groups, and thank the faculty who have served throughout these last two decades.


SCHEDULE FOR THE DAY

  • 9:00 am – Welcome/Opening Remarks (James Duke)
  • 9:15 am – “Towards a Christian Aesthetic of Cinema” (Dr. Zach Cheney)
  • 10:00 am – “Religious Metaphors in Art and Movies” (Enzo Salveggi)
  • 10:45 am – Break
  • 11:00 am – “A Tribute to David, Ava, and Jack” (Charles Slocum)
  • 11:15 am – “Act One…The Next Twenty Years” (James Duke)
  • 11:30 am –  “Writing Groups That Work and Last” (Panel Discussion)
  • 12:15 pm – Lunch
  • 1:30 pm – “Making Television: A Christian Lens” (Thomas Bernardo)
  • 2:15 pm – “Just Get it Done: Getting Your Indie Project Off the Ground” (Panel Discussion)
  • 3:00 pm – “Flannery “OConnor Meets Sergei Eisenstein: Moment Centered Cinema” (Dr. Barbara Nicolosi)
  • 3:45 pm – Time of Prayer & Celebration
  • 4:30 pm – Event Concludes

You can still register at the door for the conference, though it’s too late to sign up for lunch. 🙂

Here are two video interviews about the history of Act One with founder Barbara Nicolosi:

Saint Judas

After seeing this story out of Buffalo, New York in yesterday’s news, it seems to me that I need to get my novel and screenplay about seminary life (Saint Judas) written at the first opportunity. As it turns out, life is sometimes more outlandish than fiction.

What I learned from my seminary experience was basically this:

1) it was an institution riddled with people who didn’t know who they were

2) since they didn’t know who they were, they were insecure and shifty; in a word: they lacked integrity

3) these people would say one thing and do another, thus fostering a climate of distrust

4) at that point, Satan could schedule a long vacation… he had other people to carry out his charism of sowing division

In shorthand: identity issues led to integrity issues, and integrity issues led to trust issues. It’s as old as Genesis 3.

Below is a playlist of songs that represent different moments in the screenplay I’m assembling.

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requesting prayers for a writing project

This summer, I am at long last drafting a novel that I have been brooding over for seventeen years, since I completed the 2002 Act One writing program in Chicago. Once I have the story in novel form, I hope to adapt it into a screenplay.

The screenplay is set in an arena I know intimately – namely, an American Catholic seminary in the 1990s. Given recent developments in the scandals in the Church, the story seems especially timely. This is not a documentary, or a scandal script, per se, but really intended as a theological thriller in the vein of Charles Williams’s novel Descent Into Hell.

As you might imagine, this is rather highly charged material, that has to stare squarely into the face of some very uncomfortable realities. As Flannery O’Connor once wrote in an essay entitled The Church and the Fiction Writer:

A belief in fixed dogma cannot fix what goes on in life or blind the believer to it…. If the Catholic writer hopes to reveal mysteries, he will have to do it by describing truthfully what he sees from where he is. An affirmative vision cannot be demanded of him without limiting his freedom to observe what man has done with the things of God….

It is when the individual’s faith is weak, not when it is strong, that he will be afraid of an honest fictional representation of life; and when there is a tendency to compartmentalize the spiritual and make it resident in a certain type of life only, the supernatural is apt gradually to be lost. Fiction, made according to its own laws, is an antidote to such a tendency, for it renews our knowledge that we live in the mystery from which we draw our abstractions. The Catholic fiction writer, as fiction writer, will look for the will of God first in the laws and limitations of his art and will hope that if he obeys these, other blessings will be added to his work. The happiest of these, and the one he may at present least expect, will be the satisfied Catholic reader.

I’ve hesitated for a long time to move forward with the project. Only recently have I felt ready (personally) to address this subject in a way that I hope will be redemptive for the audience. At least I know that the story, as it is unfolding, has been redemptive for me.

I plan to first draft the project as a novel, and then work on its adaptation for the screen. (I understand that Graham Greene took this approach with The Third Man).

I’d be grateful if you’d consider keeping this in your prayers. The operative title for the project is Saint Judas.

Pre-work reading includes:

The Third Man – Graham Greene
Goodbye, Good Men – Michael Rose
Ungodly Rage – Donna Steichen
Trojan Horse in the City of God – Dietrich von Hildebrand
Descent into Hell – Charles Williams
The Chocolate War – Robert Cormier
The Power and the Glory – Graham Greene
Story – Robert McKee

epiphanies and propaganda

I’ve just uploaded a talk from Act One’s October 2008 Story Symposium:

“Story as Epiphany” by Chris Riley

After Chris spends about 20 minutes unpacking the notion of epiphanies in movie storytelling, and asking questions about the difference between epiphanies and moments of propaganda, he opened the discussion to the panel.

As a teaser, here’s what panelist Dr. Peter Kreeft had to offer to the conversation:

In an epiphany, you see something new. You don’t just get soothed by something you’ve known before, and you don’t just get argued into something which grates on you. In an epiphany, you see something new and yet it’s old. You always knew it, but you didn’t know that you knew it until this moment, so it’s coming from inside you…. If you’re inside your art, instead of manipulating it from outside, however gently, you can appeal to that inner force in the audience: deep calls unto deep. Because in some mysterious way, your heart and the audience’s heart are much closer than anything else in you to the audience, including the mind.

You can listen to the entire presentation below.