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Archive for the ‘Notable Individuals’ Category

There are places I remember,
All my life, though some have changed.
Some forever not for better,
Some have gone and some remain.
– “In My Life” by Lennon/McCarthy

The football stadium in Bristol was just as I remembered, built of stone and shaped like a castle. In the cool autumn night, students and people from the surrounding community quickly filled its seats.

Thirty-one years ago I ran out onto this field with my teammates, full of spirit and focused on a single purpose – defeat our opponent by playing hard and by the rules.

Last Friday night I walked onto the field again, pitch pipe in hand, ready to begin the game by singing the National Anthem. I was happy to be back, despite burdensome thoughts of work, family and bills.

stonecastle.gifMy football games were played in simpler days when I thought there was a clear contrast between black and white. Today is more complicated, grayer, hazier, with many more teams competing against each other. Who is the opponent today? Is it Evil? The company? Apathy?

Students start cheering, the band warms up on the sidelines. For a moment, I’m back in high school, the coach’s commands ringing in my ears. I am ready to play.

In the film Patton, General George Patton is riding in a Jeep on the way to the front. The sergeant behind the wheel ably navigates the rocky road and directs the car towards the passage ahead.

The general yells “Turn right.” His lieutenant assures him that the driver knows the route, as he was at the battlefield yesterday. “No,” the general commands, “turn right.” Despite his officer’s objections, they turn right and come to rest overlooking a great plain, a wide open area with no tanks, soldiers or armaments.

The general pauses and listens to the earth, to the sky, to the memories in his head. “The battlefield was here. The brave Carthaginians were attacked by three Roman legions….Two thousand years ago and I was here.”

Full of purpose and convinced that he has led many earlier lives as a brave soldier, Patton turns away to concentrate on the battle at hand.

The cold metal kneelers at the Grotto are tough on my knees, but I don’t care. I’m back at Notre Dame for a football weekend. In the quiet of the night, the campus feels like it did when I was a student.

The triangular water fountain, the hundreds of burning candles, the simple lights on Bernadette and the Blessed Virgin – all of these elements unite to remind me of confusing times.

Where should I go when I graduate? Should I return to Tennessee even though my parents are back in Illinois? What career path should I follow? Please, Holy Mary, give me guidance and peace as I decide what to do.

Tonight my children are kneeling beside me, offering their own prayers to Mary, and I see that my prayers have been answered.

In the film Everything is Illuminated, Alex thinks his grandfather is not right because he acts “like he is dreaming all of the time.”

Alex works for Heritage Tours, the family business that helps Jewish individuals find traces of their lost families in the Ukraine. Alex is a premium dancer and digs American culture, especially the Shaq and Michael Jackson.Illumination

Today they are helping Jonathan Safran Foer (Elijah Wood), an American who wants to find the town where his grandfather lived.

Suddenly they stop beside a massive field of yellow sunflowers. Alex saunters up to the elderly woman washing clothes on the porch. “We are looking for the town of Trachimbrod.”

“I have waited for a long time,” she says. “You are here. I am it.”

They follow her to the clearing by the river, down to the memorial slab surrounded by stones. The Jewish town of Trachimbrod is no more, defiled and destroyed by the Nazis during World War II.

Yet that place still has meaning for Jonathan, who collects items related to his family. He picks up a handful of dirt and neatly places it in a plastic bag. Once he returns to America, he will place this dirt on his grandfather’s grave.

The past is always inside us, providing a deeper sense of who we are. Returning to a special place will often give us a view into that past and into ourselves. By looking deeper and deeper, we will find not only ourselves, but also the real presence of God.

The task, then, is to live one’s life inside out, reflecting the good inside to all those around us. This is the good that is illuminated when we visit the special places in our lives.

Where is your special place?

CF
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First published in the October 6, 2006 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2006 Christopher Fenoglio

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The updraft blew hard against my face. The big sky of Montana and the far off horizon stretched before me. It was time for flight.

Clothed in blue pajamas with Mom’s best red towel secured around my neck by a rubber band, I leapt off Bootsie’s doghouse. The exhilaration of flying brought a smile to my five-year-old face. For a brief moment, I was Superman.

Is this a familiar scene from your childhood? I don’t think I’m the only one who dreamt of being a super hero. Millions of readers purchased enough Superman comic books to launch an industry.

Superman ReturnsAs Paul Levitz, president and publisher of DC Comics says, “Superman is the mythology of a hero. This is what a hero does and what you can do if you choose to be a hero.”

In reality, we all have a little of the shy, bumbling Clark Kent in each of us even though we still want to be Superman. This recognition of our own humanity, while also aspiring to be greater than ourselves, is an appropriate mindset for being a good Christian.

And there are plenty of references to Christ in Superman Returns, the latest film in the 68-year history of the character.

• We hear the fatherly voice of Jor-el (Marlon Brando) remind his son: “They can be a great people, Kal-el, if they wish to be. They only lack the light to show them the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you, my only son.”

• After Superman (Brandon Routh) saves Metropolis from destruction with every ounce of his strength, he falls back to Earth, his arms spread wide like a crucified savior.

• When a sliver of deadly Kryptonite is removed, Superman rises from near death to soar into the heavens and bask in the glow of the energizing sun. Subtle, it’s not.

What is different in this film, however, is watching Superman deal with an issue that he can’t fix with his super strength or x-ray vision. He finds that Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has moved on to a new relationship and has become the mother of a five-year-old. Time waits for no man, not even the Man of Steel.

Much of the tension between Superman and Lois is reflected in the title of her Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman,” which she wrote during his five-year absence searching the galaxy for remnants of Krypton.

Left on Earth without even a goodbye, Lois writes the editorial to close that chapter in her life, only to have it blown back open when Superman saves her life, again.

The film does not show us the editorial. But knowing Lois, the fiery reporter who would risk anything to get the latest news story, she might have written something like this:

“Each of us, man, woman and child, has the power within ourselves to fight corruption, dismiss hatred and help build a caring community that fosters truth and justice among all citizens.”

On the surface, this is an admirable sentiment that empowers everyone to build a good society in which to live. It makes sense in Metropolis and it makes sense in America. We built our country on the democratic principles of liberty and freedom for all.

But it’s not enough.

In Superman’s world, the citizens of Metropolis can’t build a caring community by themselves. Every night Superman flies high above the Earth and hears the cries of the oppressed – people who need his presence in their lives to save them from the evils of the world.

In our world, we can’t succeed without the redemptive grace of Jesus Christ our Savior. We need His words to guide us and His daily presence in the Eucharist to nourish us. We need His life as our ideal, that we should always aspire to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34).

July 25 is the traditional feast day of St. Christopher, but it was dropped from the calendar in 1969 when the church simplified the list of celebrated feast days to include those “who are truly of universal importance.” Unfortunately for St. Christopher, July 25 is also the feast of St. James the Apostle. Since few historical facts are known about St. Christopher, he was left off the revised calendar, though he was never “de-classified” as a saint.

Legend says that Christopher was a giant man who carried a child across a raging river. As he made the journey, his small burden became heavier and heavier. With every ounce of super strength that he had, Christopher completed the journey, discovering that he had carried the Christ child, who bore the weight of the world.

We should all be “Christ bearers,” living our lives with an understanding of our human failings but with the aspirations of being more like Jesus Christ.

In Baptism we received a white garment to signify the start of a new life by “putting on Christ.” Whether secured by a rubber band around our necks or wrapped around our entire being, this garment can be the cape we need to navigate this world and soar to new heights.

CF
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First published in the July 14, 2006 issue of The Tennessee Register
© 2006 Christopher Fenoglio.

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Enraged after miles of horn blasts, hand gestures and angry yells, the driver steered his Tahoe onto the left shoulder to pass his competitor. The other driver swerved sharply to avoid it, causing a chain reaction. Chalk up another Nashville accident caused by road rage.

Across town, driving home alone after a busy day at the office, I stopped short of the intersection. Two city buses were in lanes one and three, their doors open and blocking the middle lane, their drivers busy chatting to each other. “Okay, let’s move *#$&^#&$* and get going,” I yelled.

The expletives hung in the air of my sealed, air-conditioned car, echoing in my ears. “Wow,” I thought, “where did that come from?”

Where does our anger come from? We’ve been taught that anger is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, yet Jesus was justified for getting angry at the salesmen in the Temple. When is anger an acceptable emotion to protect yourself or a loved one? Why is the line between acceptable anger and rage so gray?

CrashCrash, the 2005 Academy award-winning Best Picture, explores the issues of anger, racial prejudice, rage, paranoia and compassion in an intricate film presentation (with heavy doses of earthy street language). Starring an ensemble cast that includes Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and others, the film chronicles 36 hours in Los Angeles when individual lives from different races, cultures and economic backgrounds become intertwined through a series of related events. Some of the personal collisions are dramatic, some humorous, some tragic; all of them generate a great deal of personal reflection.

We meet two young African-American men on a sidewalk discussing whether their waitress had ignored them over higher-tipping white customers. One has a chip on his shoulder, the other carries at St. Christopher statue in his pocket.

Next we see the upper middle class housewife who instinctively grabs her DA husband’s arm as they pass the two black men. This angers the men, who pull out pistols and highjack their car.

At home, the husband meets with his election campaign staff, trying to spin the story so that he can still attract “the black vote.” His wife worries that the Mexican repairman installing new locks on all their doors will sell the keys to his friends. When she announces loudly to her husband that she wants the locks changed again in the morning, the repairman drops all the new keys on her kitchen counter.

The repairman goes home to find his five-year-old daughter lying under the bed because she heard a gunshot, reminding her of the bullet that came through her window at their old house in the “bad neighborhood.” Her father’s reassuring words help her feel safe and protected.

Across town, driving home from an awards dinner, an African-American TV director and wife are stopped by two LA policemen. The older cop, hardened by years of work in the city, aggressively questions the couple. He then takes advantage of his authority by thoroughly searching the wife for hidden weapons. When her husband does not speak out in protest, she accuses him of catering to the white society so to not risk his career.

The husband later succumbs to the stresses of his work and attacks the two blacks who try to highjack his car. Cornered in a cul-de-sac, there’s a showdown with a policeman he’s met before.

Meanwhile, the locksmith replaces the locks at a grocery store owned by a Persian family. The owner, whose paranoia is evident through his broken English, believes the repairman is trying to cheat him. He ignores the recommendation of a new door.

When the store is later trashed by neighborhood thugs, the owner’s anger motivates himself to seek revenge. He grabs his new gun and parks outside the repairman’s home, waiting for his arrival.

Across town, a black detective visits his mother after worried calls about his younger brother. Prior arrests, juvenile detentions, career ambitions and bouts with drugs cloud the lives of this family. Later, while investigating a crime scene, the detective finds a St. Christopher statue.

Cathy Schulman, co-producer of the film, hopes that viewers will finish the film with lots of questions, such as “Was this film about me? Was this about the person next to me? Was this about the person I don’t even want to know?”

When life is comfortable, it’s easy to be a Christian. We can plan nice things to do for each other and enjoy the outcomes. But when the veneer of our normal life is ripped off during a tragic event or confrontation with another, how do we respond? Do we still treat our neighbors as members of the same body of Christ or do we respond with anger and mistrust?

Know this, my dear brothers: everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, for the wrath of a man does not accomplish the righteousness of God. (James 1:20)

So now when I drive home after a long day at work, I take my time, often driving without the radio on, giving myself time to calm down from the stresses of the day. In this frame of mine, I am much more tolerant of other drivers and chatty bus drivers.

The film’s slogan states that “Moving at the speed of life, we are bound to collide with each other.” What can each of us do to soften the blow from these collisions?

CF
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First published in the April 21, 2006 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2006 Christopher Fenoglio.

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With his red cape rustling in the hot Gulf air, Superman flies low over the collapsed levees. His mighty arms carry a 300-foot-wide, 30-foot tall steel wall, which he carefully slides down into the gaping hole in the levee, turning back the waters.

He welds it shut with his heat vision and proceeds to repair the other retaining walls. Then with one giant inhalation into his super chest, he takes in the floodwaters and spews them back into the Gulf, leaving the city to dry out.

Superman always responds to disasters with courage and determination, for he cares for the people of Earth, his foster home, whose yellow sun gives him his super powers.

Suddenly the phone rings and my short daydream from reality is over.

Images of submerged cars, flooded homes and helpless refugees stream across the television screen. Press conferences and body counts continue. Unfortunately, there is no Superman who can save the day for the thousands left dead or homeless in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

There’s also no movie script that can match the devastation and personal tragedies we’ve seen in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Even our wonderment of computer-generated landscapes in fantasy films cannot measure up to the horror we feel when viewing real images of this natural disaster’s aftermath.

Not that Hollywood hasn’t tried.

Some of the biggest blockbuster films use natural disasters as a plot device, such as The Poseidon Adventure (1972), Earthquake (1974), Twister (1996) and Volcano (1997).

But the scenes from New Orleans, Biloxi and Mobile are so much more terrible than what we, or Hollywood, could ever imagine. The pain and suffering of the citizens in this area are real; making the disaster films just a weak imitation of this real-life disaster.

However, there are examples of cinematic courage and helping others that can inspire as we each decide how best to help the victims of Katrina.

In The Poseidon Adventure, Gene Hackman portrays Reverend Frank Scott who leads a group of survivors in the capsized ship. After scaling the ballroom’s 30-foot Christmas tree to the balcony, the survivors climb up to the bottom of the ship where the hull is thinnest. When an open steam pipe blocks their way, Reverend Scott jumps to the handle and turns it off, saving the group, while sacrificing his own life.

VolcanoIn Volcano, Tommy Lee Jones plays Mike Roark, the “hard-boiled head of the Office of Emergency Management” in Los Angeles. To minimize the damage from a volcano that has sprouted from the La Brea Tar Pits, Roark and geologist Dr. Amy Barnes (Ann Hecht) convince city workers to first blow up the street in order to create a trench to the ocean. Then they rig explosives to tip over a building and guide the lava to the trench. But as the explosives ignite, Roark has to run and save a young boy who has wandered into the area.

Entertaining? Yes. Inspiring? Well, the real life images on television are more inspiring. These are true heroic efforts, without special effects or choreographed turns to the camera.

KatrinaWe watched Coast Guardsmen connected to a tether, lowered down to rooftops to hoist flood victims to safety. Then we saw National Guardsmen working 18 hours a day under the threat of bullets to hand out water, food and clothing. We also read about heroic efforts to evacuate hundreds of patients and thousands of employees from New Orleans area hospitals.

But there is always room for more heroes. You can be a part of the relief efforts and experience your own “heroic moment.” Perhaps you can…

• Donate blood or contribute money to the Red Cross.
• Fill up special trucks collecting food and clothing for the victims.
• Contribute money to the Catholic Charities USA’s efforts at special collections this weekend.
• Contact Catholic Charities if you have room to house evacuees from the region.
• Pray for the victims, the workers and the entire country during this emergency.

Though none of us can fly like Superman and completely save the day, we can each do our part to help our brothers and sisters in need. That’s a scene all of us should reenact in the movie of our lives.

CF

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First published in the September 9, 2005 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2005 Christopher Fenoglio.

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Like many of our readers, I watched countless hours of TV during the past couple of weeks.

First with the vigil for Pope John Paul II, the magnificent funeral services and finally the thrilling announcement of the selection of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – Pope Benedict XVI.

It has been a great opportunity to learn more of our Church’s history and the personal stories of the men who lead it.

What I didn’t see in any of the listings, however, were classic films about the pope. While the current events from Rome were certainly more interesting than an old movie, there are some memorable depictions of popes in Hollywood films.

For instance, Pope Julius II is characterized as a driven, warrior pope in the film The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965). Portrayed by Rex Harrison, the pope convinces Michelangelo (Charlton Heston) to create new frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, despite the latter’s insistence that he only a sculptor.

The pope watches as scenes and figures from the Old Testament, first in charcoal outlines and then in bright-colored oil paints atop wet plaster, march across the same chapel ceiling under which the cardinals sat to elect Pope Benedict XVI.

Michelangelo labors on his masterpiece for nearly four years, during which a battle of wills develops between the pope and the artist. One pushes the other to finish his work, the other holds true to his art and his love of God.

When the ceiling was complete, Pope Julius is humbled by the work, saying, “I planned a ceiling, he planned a miracle.”

Shoes of the FishermanAnother pope is humbled by his unlikely election in the film The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968). Anthony Quinn is the Russian Archbishop Kiril Lakota, imprisoned in a Siberian labor camp for more than twenty years. After being released, he is sent to Rome by the Russian Premier (Sir Laurence Olivier) to gain support against the nuclear threat of China.

Once in Rome, Kiril is named a cardinal and impresses many with his social ideals that “life is a gift of God. We should manufacture the authentic Christian revolution…work for all…bread for all…dignity for all men.”

In the midst of a Pontifical Commission examining the writings of Kiril’s unorthodox Jesuit friend, they learn that the Pope has passed away. During the conclave, when voting becomes deadlocked, Kiril is nominated and is quickly elected.

Despite his self-doubts, the new Pope is thrown into a battle of political superpowers and has to find a way to bring peace to a world on the edge of a nuclear nightmare.

A lighter, sentimental film is Saving Grace (1985), starring Tom Conti as the pope who feels he has lost touch with real people. He longs for the opportunity to do something that really matters and brings unity to the people.

He gets his chance when he is accidentally locked out of the Vatican and travels to a small Italian village (obviously before CNN and cell phones!). After befriending a few considered insignificant by the townspeople, he works to rebuild an aqueduct to bring water, and hope, to the village. In the end, he is satisfied that he is in the right place to carry out God’s plan.

Listening to God and understanding His plan for each of us is one of the messages in The Accidental Pope (2001). In this novel, cardinals descend upon Rome following the death of Pope John Paul II. During the conclave a cardinal talks about his classmate Bill, an ex-priest and widower who supports his four children with a fishing boat off the Massachusetts coast. Just like the Church threatened by the waves of relativism, the boat carrying Bill’s friends is battered by a raging storm. Yet Bill keeps his head, calms his friends and steers the boat to smoother waters.

Either as a joke or a tribute to the cardinal’s “parable,” a majority vote for Bill, who humbly but surprisingly accepts the office. The uneven writing includes lighthearted moments when the first American pope helps his son find a place in the Vatican to skateboard and listens to his daughter talk about the cute Swiss guards. During his years as Pope, Bill deals directly with many of the issues facing the Church today, though the solutions are a little too tidy to be realistic.

Today’s Church faces a new century with issues that are neither tidy nor easily condensed into a screenplay. As the world greets Pope Benedict XVI, we watch and welcome his guidance for us all.

CF

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First published in the April 22, 2005 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2005 Christopher Fenoglio.
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Purchase from Amazon.com:
> The Shoes of the Fisherman

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“Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, you do to me.” – Matthew 25:40
Movies about superheroes are popular again. Spider-man, the X-Men, the Incredible Hulk and Catwoman all used special powers in their fight against bad guys, while at the same time attracting millions of ticket buyers, more or less, to the theaters.

But with the summer blockbuster Batman Begins, we get a hero with no super powers or mutations who must rely on his own courage and well developed skills to rid his city of the evil and corrupt.

This is a hero we can relate to, more or less.

Granted, Bruce Wayne had billions of dollars and a multi-national corporation’s research and development department at his disposal. Yet with all his gizmos, gadgets and a gargantuan batmobile, underneath his black mask he is the most human of all superheroes.

At an early age, Bruce’s parents instilled in him the values that would form the foundation of justice and fairness in his crime fighting days. His parents loved Gotham City and worked hard to provide for its citizens, whether sponsoring a fundraiser for the poor or funding a new water system to improve everyone’s quality of life.

Tragically, Bruce’s life comes crashing down when his parents are gunned down in a dark alley holdup. Shaken and riddled with the guilt of causing the killings, Bruce drifts through school into adulthood and comes close to ruining his life at the trial of his parents’ murderer.

BatmanThere he meets up again with Rachel Dawes, his childhood friend, now an assistant district attorney who has done something with her life.

“Bruce,” she says to her listless friend, “you are a great guy. But it’s not who you are underneath, but what you do that defines you.”

This becomes the pivotal moment in his life as he chooses to fight instead of sitting comfortably at home. He leaves Gotham City and devotes his life to understanding the criminal element of the world. Living in poverty among hardened criminals, he learns their ways and later fights for his life in a Far East prison. He learns about the desperate, the deranged and the corrupt, and vows to develop the skills and weapons to defeat all of them.

But the journey is a difficult one, physically and mentally. Christian Bale, the actor who plays Bruce Wayne / Batman, says the man behind the mask faces daily contradictions. “He is in a constant battle with himself internally,” writes Bale in the film’s production notes. “He must continually assess his actions and control his demons, overcoming the pull toward self-destruction and the negative emotions that will destroy his life if he allows them to.”

This is the same struggle, to a lesser degree, that we Christians face in this world. Do we stay within our own comfort zone, never looking at the needy except through a television screen? Are we truly compassionate to others, or do we say “I’m so glad my life is not as bad as hers,” like just another reality TV show?

Unlike the fictional Bruce Wayne’s life, our lives almost never mean a battle between good and evil in a life or death situation. It’s usually about deciding whether to do what’s right or do nothing at all.

Despite his sorrow and guilt, Bruce Wayne used his mind, his body and all he had to help make his city a better place in which to live. It was his wholehearted response to a bad situation that made him a superhero. Can we make the same response?

In Nashville, there are dozens of charitable organizations that need our time, talent and treasure in order to provide needed services to those less fortunate.

The Assumption / St. Vincent Outreach program needs helping hands to sort donated clothing, oversee its distribution, stock the food pantry and more. Contact DeeDee Searcy at (615) 242-1554 to volunteer.

The Nutrition Program for Metro Nashville Social Services needs volunteers to deliver meals to the hungry. A route usually has eight stops within Davidson County and takes no more than one and one-half hours to complete. If you are interested, call Darla Bennings at (615) 880-2292.

More than 150 Nashville churches produce the Room at the Inn program between November and March. The program provides transportation to the church, a hot meal, fellowship and a warm bed to sleep. In the morning, breakfast, a sack lunch and transportation back to the downtown campus are provided. Contact your church office to help or find a program near you.

There are many other volunteer opportunities in our community, so look for the one that needs you the most and be a superhero today.

CF

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First published in the August 12, 2005 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2005 Christopher Fenoglio.

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