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Archive for the ‘C. S. Lewis’ Category

In the Iron Man films, the second of which is currently in theaters, Robert Downey, Jr. portrays Anthony Stark, a brilliant scientist, engineer and narcissistic playboy who succeeds his father as the CEO of the family business.

This business, however, is not a neighborhood hardware store; it’s a multi-billion dollar weapons manufacturer that supplies arms to governments and terrorist groups around the world.

During a Middle East trip to demonstrate his company’s weapons, Tony is injured and captured by terrorists.  Tiny shrapnel from a bomb blast threaten to penetrate his heart, but he is saved by a doctor who implants an industrial-strength magnet in his chest. Tony must keep the magnet powered in order to prevent the shrapnel from moving into his heart and killing him.

Tony builds a crude, metal suit that powers the magnet and allows him to escape the terrorists. Once safely back home in America, he renounces the goals of the family business and pledges to do something more useful with his life.

He perfects another version of the metal suit, equipping it with a supersonic propulsion system, integrated wireless communications and plenty of high-tech weapons to fight the bad guys. He becomes Iron Man, a powerful force for good who succeeds in diminishing hostilities between warring nations. In Stark’s own words, he has “privatized world peace.”

Yet despite the powerful technology that protects his outside, the technology inside him is threatening his life. The mineral that powers the magnet and keeps his heart safe is slowly poisoning his body.

As I watched this movie, my mind wandered to other uses of “iron man” in our culture.

For instance, the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii is the ultimate day-long test of strength and endurance. Competitors must be proficient in three different athletic events as they first swim 2.4 miles in the Pacific Ocean, bicycle 112 miles over mountainous island roads and then finish with a 26.2 mile (full marathon) run. The winner is proclaimed Iron Man of the year.

Whew, that is a lot of exercise for one day. I can’t even find time for a long walk around the neighborhood.

My friend Adele tells me that I need to make time for exercise. “Thirty to sixty minutes a day, four days a week – that’s all you need for a healthy heart and a long life with your family.” I don’t doubt her advice. She’s a nurse who practices what she preaches – she works out most days at the gym.

But I wonder why I can’t exercise on a regular basis. It’s not ignorance – I know the health benefits of regular exercise. It’s not laziness – between work, writing and singing at church, I stay busy. I suppose it’s a matter of commitment – focusing only on the activities that are vital to my health and well being: activities like exercising, praying, thanking God for my blessings, honoring my wife, loving my family, lifting up others with my words and deeds.

It’s not easy to do this day after day. These activities, though very meaningful, become very familiar, mundane and sometimes even boring. It’s also difficult to focus on them in today’s culture when advertisements constantly interrupt my day and try to sell me something new. “New is better!” the ads proclaim.

I don’t need anything new. Everything I need that is good and wholesome is already within my reach. I just need to remind myself what’s most important and concentrate on the present.

Legendary coach John Wooden motivated his players with innumerable life lessons that also applied to the game of basketball. “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can,” he once said.

Coach Wooden was preceded in death by his beloved wife Nell. The day he died, he reportedly asked his son to give him a shave. Asked why, he replied “I always shave before I see Nell.” He was an Iron Man in so many ways.

Baseball players Lou Gehrig and Cal Ripken, Jr. are two more enduring examples. They never stayed home sick; they never took a “mental health day.” They played in every game for more than thirteen years, Cal finishing his streak in the sixteenth year. They played their entire career with just one team, never leaving one to play with another. They were baseball’s Iron Men.

Where did they find the strength to play on, day after day? Where do we find our daily bread to nourish our souls and keep us strong in our relationships and responsibilities?

C.S. Lewis wrote that “Man is like a tin soldier who can only be brought to real life, bit by bit, by the presence of Christ.”

We find that presence in the Eucharist. At Mass we pray for blessings from the Holy Trinity so that we may live strong in our faith and along our daily walk in this world.

Even Tony Stark needed help. With newly-discovered information from his father, Tony created a new, three-sided substance with unlimited power. Once he placed it near his human heart, he was no longer in mortal danger.

If it was only that easy. Live strong, iron men.

CF

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First published in the June 13, 2010 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2010 Christopher Fenoglio

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As a nurse at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, my wife Linda has seen more than her fair share of pain and suffering.

Beautiful, smiling children become sick and travel to the hospital for care and cures. Many leave the hospital after their stays and return home to happy childhoods and long lives. Some, however, succumb to their illnesses and return instead to God’s loving arms.

Their families and caregivers are left on earth to deal with the pain and suffering from their loss.

How could God, the source of all love and goodness, allow this suffering to happen?

It’s a question explored by author C. S. Lewis in his book The Problem of Pain. The problem with understanding pain, writes Lewis, is “how, perceiving a suffering world, and being assured, on quite different grounds, that God is good, we are to conceive that goodness and that suffering without a contradiction.”

Lewis, renowned for his writings on Christian apologetics (the branch of theology concerned with the defense or proof of Christianity), uses logic and intellect to explain that suffering can exist in a world created by a loving God. He writes further: “Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you will find that you have excluded life itself.”

He used the same logical thought process when he turned away from atheism and rediscovered his own Christian faith.

But logic can only explain so much; the heart must also believe. Lewis’s faith is later put to the test when he meets and falls in love with Helen Joy (Davidman) Gresham, a story portrayed in the 1993 film Shadowlands.

Lewis (portrayed by Sir Anthony Hopkins), an Oxford professor and author of best selling books, has created a rather comfortable life for himself. He shares a home with his brother Warnie, is given meals and clean rooms by a housekeeper, is adored by readers around the world and is respected by his students and fellow professors.

He lectures to large crowds about the presence of God in the world and how suffering is just a tool. “Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Suffering is more of an intellectual concept than reality for Lewis. He is very much in control of his life.

Yet he recognizes that he lives in the shadowlands, “wanting to be somewhere else, waiting for something new, looking around the next corner, the next hill.”

That changes when he meets Gresham (Debra Winger), an American poet who wrote letters to Lewis years before they met personally. Divorced from her husband, Gresham and her son Douglas move to London and continue their friendship with Lewis.

Their friendship slowly builds into a real love that delivers great happiness to Lewis. No longer wanting to be somewhere else, he is happy in the here and now.

But with the happiness comes suffering, for Gresham has terminal cancer. During a lovely trip through the country, Lewis and Gresham find happiness in each other’s company. Yet Lewis doesn’t want to talk about her death, fearing the conversation will spoil the moment.

But Gresham presses on. “The pain then is part of the happiness now – that’s the deal.”

Talking about their love and their future, no matter how difficult, makes both the pain and happiness real. By exploring both emotions now while they are together, they reach a love that is deeper than simple happiness. Through the suffering, they find comfort, peace and love.

Through our journeys through Lent, we know from Scriptures that the innocent Christ suffered great physical pain and mental anguish to wipe clean the stain of our sins.

His pain then is part of our happiness now.

In last week’s second reading (1 Peter 2:20b-25), we heard Peter’s words “Beloved, if you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.”

In this week’s gospel (John 14:1-12), Jesus tells his disciples “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Through his suffering, we come to know a love that is much deeper than simple happiness.

As for the children at the hospital, it’s still very difficult to understand why some of them die at an early age. Perhaps all we can do is trust that God is using their short lives to shine light on ours.

Charlie, a special patient who received loving care from Linda, used to divide his meal of white bread and give it away. “One for me, for Mommy, one for Daddy, one for you, one for everyone!” he would say many times. While he now smiles in heaven, his memory remains a joy in our lives.

Our pain then is part of our happiness now.

CF
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First published in the April 18, 2008 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2008 Christopher Fenoglio

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Two weeks ago I was at Wrigley Field in Chicago, watching the Cubs beat the Pirates and step toward the playoffs. As I drove home, I imagined conversations that might be heard if a Chicago sports talk program aired on a religious radio station.

This is Father Michael Patrick O’Connor, talking to you live from our studio and devotional chapel on Waveland Avenue, overlooking the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. Go ahead, caller, you’re on the air.

Caller 1: Hello Father Michael, it’s Cathy from Elgin. I have been a Cub fan all my life, but some of my friends have lost faith in the Cubbies. They think the team will always find some way to lose. What should I tell them?

FMPO’C: Well Cathy, it’s interesting that wrigley-layout.gifyou use the word “faith,” as that is exactly what us Cub fans need right now.

Sure it’s been a long time since the Cubs won the National League pennant in 1945. Whole generations have come and gone since the team last won the World Series in 1908. But we can’t switch allegiances and cheer for an American League team. We must have faith that this could be the year the Cubs win it all.

“Hope springs eternal in the hearts of Cub fans everywhere,” my father used to say. Despite the losing streaks, the lack of clutch hits with men on base and a reliable closer, we still believe in the Cubs. They are the team of our fathers and our fathers’ fathers. They are so much a part of us that cheering for them is like cheering for ourselves. We can overcome; we can grab the brass ring.

Cathy, tell your friends to keep the faith. How about another call?

Caller 2: Hi Father, it’s Andy from Omaha, listening on the Internet. Do you think they should make a movie about the Cubs?

FMPO’C: Yes and hopefully a better one than Rookie of the Year. In that film, Henry Rowengartner (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is a twelve-year-old Little Leaguer who breaks his arm. When the cast is removed, he celebrates by going to Wrigley Field with his friends.

When an opponent hits a home run that lands nearby, Henry follows tradition and throws the ball back onto the field. But since the tendons of his arm healed tighter than before, his throw goes all the way to home plate.

Desperate for good pitching and greater ticket sales, the Cubs sign Rowengartner to a major league contract with funny and predictable results. Some of it is just plain silly, much like the Cubs in the mid 1970s.

A better movie would be like Fever Pitch, except with scenes of Wrigley Field, the Bleacher Bums, and the joy felt by 40,000 fans singing “Go Cubs Go” after every victory.

Millions of fans have loved the Cubs since before the days of Banks, Kessinger, Santo and Williams. Now with Lee, Theriot, Ramirez and Soriano leading the way, there’s bound to be a happy ending. We just don’t know the day or the hour of its arrival.

When we read the Book of Job, we find that Job endured many long years of affliction and disaster. Yet he did not curse God or start cheering for another team. We too must have faith that in God’s time—we will be rewarded for our devotion. So, who’s on line one?

Caller 3: Hey, it’s Steve from Chicago. Do you have a good prayer to get rid of all the curses put on the Cubs over the years?

FMPO’C: I know some people say that the years of last place finishes and excruciating near misses are evidence that the Cubs and their fans are jinxed. I disagree.

Granted, trading Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio was an All-Star mistake, and the College of Coaches was a very bad idea. But those were just poor choices made by human beings. Since God gave us free will, we have to live with the consequences of our bad decisions. That’s baseball; that’s life.

C.S. Lewis writes in The Problem of Pain, “Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you will find that you have excluded life itself.”

Like Job, we are stronger from our suffering. We enjoy every small victory that comes our way, yet still know the pangs of humility. Not many Yankees fans can say that.

As for the Curse of the Goat, the story goes that Billy Sianis, a Greek immigrant and Chicago restaurant owner, brought his pet goat to the 1945 World Series—the last one played at Wrigley Field. When the Andy Frain ushers ejected him from the stadium, he cursed the Cubs. But they were right in kicking him out—goats can really stink by the seventh inning.

Forget about curses and believe in the Cubs with a sincere heart. Lou Piniella will do the rest. Of course, a prayer to St. Sebastian, the patron saint of athletes, can also help. Finally, we have time for one more call.

Caller 4: Hi Father, it’s Rory from South Bend. Do you have any advice for this year’s Notre Dame football team?

FMPO’C: Oh, Rory my son, the lessons of faith are even more important there, but we’ll have to wait until next week. Keep the faith!

CF
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First published in the October 5, 2007 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2007 Christopher Fenoglio.

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It’s a remarkable joy of parenthood to see one’s reflection in the lives of your children. Whether it’s a common habit, a shared outlook on life or similar ways to work out problems, it’s always great to see a little bit of myself in my children.

I was in that frame of mind when I watched The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe last week. To my surprise, I saw some of myself in the Pevensie children as well.

On the surface, Wardrobe is a fanciful tale, full of magical creatures, breathtaking events and grand themes. Underneath, it’s a personal journey of faith that calls for the belief in others and one’s own abilities in order to win the victory at the end.

NarniaIt starts in London during the German bombings of World War II. Like other children of that time, Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter Pevensie are sent to live in the large country manor of the Professor (also known as Digory in the Narnia chronicle The Magician’s Nephew).

In that house, safe and bored, the children stumble upon the entrance to the realm of Narnia, a world under the spell of eternal winter by the evil White Witch.

But with the arrival of the two “sons of Adam” and the two “daughters of Eve,” Narnia begins to believe that an ancient prophecy may be fulfilled. Once we hear that “Aslan is on the move,” the witch’s powers start to weaken. Father Christmas arrives, the frozen waterfall melts, and springtime returns to the land. This good weather sets the stage for the “winner takes all” battle between good and evil.

The action sequences, battle scenes and computer-generated images are superb, but it’s the struggles of the four children and Aslan that really make this a deeply personal and spiritual film.

I know that each time I watch this film, I will see myself in each of the Pevensie children, such as …

Edmund, who feels oppressed by his older brother. In order to feel better about himself, he belittles his younger sister. But it’s not right to make someone else feel small just so you can feel big. Jealousy and revenge are true human emotions, ones that I pray for the strength to overcome. Father, help me to encourage and to love …

Like Susan, the sensible older sister who provides a voice of reason during their adventures. She openly cares for her brothers and sister, yet is faced with her own trials. To face these head on, she practices her archery and encourages Lucy to practice her dagger throwing (to hilarious results!) Susan hones her own abilities to their fullest in order to help others. Father, help me to use my own talents to encourage others and lift them up to new heights …

Like Peter, the oldest in his family, who must care for his siblings in their parents’ absence. When Peter proves he can protect his siblings by defeating the evil wolf Maugrim, he gains confidence in his abilities. Through his bravery and ingenuity, they survive the dangerous trip down the icy river and arrive safely at Aslan’s camp. There he is shown Cair Paravel, where he and his siblings are destined to rule, just as we are destined to sit by God’s side in heaven. Father, help me to accept the responsibilities laid before me and glorify you in all that I do in this world. There is so much on this earth to enjoy and love …

Like Lucy does in Narnia. Her sweet innocent smile of wonderment lights up when she steps into Narnia, seeing the beauty of Narnia despite the evil spell of winter. I want to be more like Lucy and see our world with brand new wonderment and beauty. Father, help me to see all life through the true eyes of a child, unfiltered by the lenses of ambition, greed, materialism and politics.

But of all the characters in Narnia, I wish to be more like Aslan. A soft-spoken creature who could be a mighty, terrible force when necessary, Aslan understands what it means to sacrifice one’s life for others.

When Aslan discovers that the White Witch can rightfully claim Edmunds’ life because of his betrayal, Aslan decides to take Edmund’s place. Surrounded by evil nipping at his heels, Aslan slowly climbs the altar steps. He allows others to deface and berate him, silently letting the evil have its way. For Aslan knows that his sacrifice will not only atone for Edmund’s sins, but will also bring forth a powerful army to defeat the White Witch.

That is what Jesus Christ did for us when he died on the cross for our sins, even though he was blameless. Now his death and his resurrection have produced an army of believers who can defeat the evil in this world. If I can be more like Aslan and sacrifice my life for others, then my life can also help defeat the evil in this world.

Father, with your love as my sword and my shield, I proclaim my love for you and charge into the battle – for Aslan, for Narnia, for You and the people of this world.

CF

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First published in the December 27, 2005 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2005 Christopher Fenoglio.

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