Mr. Peabody & Sherman

Peabody and Sherman is a likable, surreal and often funny animated feature written by Craig Wright and directed by Rob Minkoff, director of the “Stuart Little” films and co-helmer for “The Lion King”. The movie concept is inspired from a recurring segment of the old 1960s US TV show Rocky and Bullwinkle. The characters from the beloved Rocky and Bullwinkle shows of the 1960s mixed arch intelligence with kid confusion to the delight of the Saturday-morning cartoon crowd a generation ago. Mr Peabody is a super-intelligent beagle resident in a spectacular New York apartment who has been granted the right to adopt a human boy, a seven-year-old Sherman. Mr Peabody is a finicky and precise but very caring foster parent, with a slight resemblance to Dr Niles Crane in the 90s TV show Frasier, as played by David Hyde Pierce. He wants to complete young Sherman’s historical education with a time-machine he has invented, allowing them both to visit various important eras

The story is “Modern Family”-friendly in other ways. Mr. Peabody is reimagined as an actual rather than implied father to the young boy Sherman (Max Charles). It’s an adoption situation, one that is suddenly in jeopardy, a theme that drives the film. The explanation of why a canine could adopt a boy in the first place is none too subtle in suggesting contemporary dilemmas.

We get the back story of Sherman found as an abandoned baby by the brilliant beagle along with a laundry list of Mr. Peabody’s many accomplishments: Harvard degree, inventor, business titan, mixologist… Though maybe that last talent is saved for later. It serves as a setup for anyone unfamiliar with the basic conceit — the dog is the superior being — and a mechanism to explain the changes made in moving from short TV segment to main big-screen attraction.

It is the first DreamWorks animated feature to feature characters from the Classic Media library since DreamWorks Animation’s 2012 acquisition of Classic Media, the first animated adaptation of a Jay Ward property, and Minkoff’s first animated film after having co-directed The Lion King for Disney in 1994. The film premiered on February 7, 2014 in the United Kingdom, and was released theatrically on March 7, 2014 in the United States. Grossing a worldwide total of 275 million USD on its 145 million USD budget.

Sts. Marcellinus and Peter – June 02

The Catholic Church, on June 2, remembers two fourth-century martyrs, Saints Marcellinus and Peter, who were highly venerated after the discovery of their tomb and the conversion of their executioner.

Although the biographical details of the two martyrs are largely unknown, it is known that they lived and died during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. In 302, the ruler changed his tolerant stance and pursued a policy intended to eliminate the Church from the empire.

Diocletian and his subordinate ordered the burning of Catholic churches and their sacred texts, as well as the imprisonment and torture of clergy and laypersons. The goal was to force Christians to submit to the Roman pagan religion, including the worship of the emperor himself as divine.

It was at the mid-point of this persecution, around 303, that a Roman exorcist by the name of Peter was imprisoned for his faith. While in prison, tradition holds that Peter freed Paulina, the daughter of the prison-keeper Artemius, from demonic influence by his prayers.

This demonstration of Christ’s power over demons is said to have brought about the conversion of Paulina, Artemius, his wife, and the entire household, all of whom were baptized by the Roman priest Marcellinus.

After this, both Marcellinus and Peter were called before a judge who was determined to enforce the emperor’s decree against the Church. When Marcellinus testified courageously to his faith in Christ, he was beaten, stripped of his clothes, and deprived of food in a dark cell filled with broken glass shards.

Peter, too, was returned to his confinement. But neither man would deny Christ, and both preferred death over submission to the cult of pagan worship.

It was arranged for the two men to be executed secretly, in order to prevent the faithful from gathering in prayer and veneration at the place of their burial. Their executioner forced them to clear away a tangle of thorns and briars, which the two men did cheerfully, accepting their death with joy.

Both men were beheaded in the forest and buried in the clearing they had made. The location of the saints’ bodies remained unknown for some time, until a devout woman named Lucilla received a revelation informing her where the priest and exorcist lay.

With the assistance of another woman, Firmina, Lucilla recovered the two saints’ bodies and had them re-interred in the Roman Catacombs. Sts. Marcellinus and Peter are among the saints named in the Western Church’s most traditional Eucharistic prayer, the Roman Canon.

Pope St. Damasus I, who was himself a great devotee of the Church’s saints during his life, composed an epitaph to mark the tombs of the two martyrs. The source of his knowledge, he said, was the executioner himself, who had subsequently repented and joined the Catholic Church.

Blessed Virgin Mother Mary, Mother of the Church

The Roman Catholic Church observes today, June 1, the Memorial of Mary, Mother of the Church in celebration of the Blessed Mother’s important role as the Mother of the Church and as a way to foster Marian piety and the maternal sense of the Church.

On March 3, 2018, Pope Francis approved and announced the new celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church.  It is a universal, required Memorial to be celebrated every year on the Monday after Pentecost.

“This celebration will help us to remember that growth in the Christian life must be anchored to the Mystery of the Cross, to the oblation of Christ in the Eucharistic Banquet, and to the Mother of the Redeemer and Mother of the Redeemed,” Cardinal Sarah said.

“The joyous veneration given to the Mother of God by the contemporary Church, in light of reflection on the mystery of Christ and on his nature, cannot ignore the figure of a woman, the Virgin Mary, who is both the Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church,” he added.

The church has always respected and honoured Mary.  Believers have called upon Mary to intercede with her Son, Jesus, since she has always been close to Him.  It is the teaching of the Catholic Church that Mary was assumed into heaven with both her body and soul and is ever at Jesus’ side, and she presents her motherly concerns for all who believe in her Son. 

We are blessed to be able to celebrate this new memorial on the day after Pentecost.  How fitting is it that on the day after the celebration of the beginning of the church and the descent of the Holy Spirit, that we gather and ask Mary to continue to guide us, the church, in fulfilling our role of proclaiming the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, using words.  Mary is a great example of one who did just that. We only have four times in the Gospel where Mary speaks, but her actions model what it means to be the first disciple of the Lord Jesus.  We can learn from the four occasions of her speaking out. 

 The first time Mary is quoted is during the Annunciation when she says, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  Let it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1: 38).  In this she humbly submits to GOD’s will of being the Mother of the Saviour.  She does not fully understand what it entails, but she is willing to do what GOD is asking of her.

The Visitation is the second time Mary’s voice is heard.  After a short dialogue between herself and her aging cousin, Elizabeth, Mary then proclaims the beautiful prayer called the Magnificat.  In the prayer she exclaims, “My soul proclaims the glory of the Lord and my spirit rejoice in GOD my saviour. . .” (Luke 1: 46-55).  She declares how great is GOD and she gives thanks for all that GOD is doing in her life.  She also demonstrates her gratitude to GOD and her profound sense of humility by staying and helping Elizabeth for three months.  She who is to be the Mother of the GOD-Man, Jesus, focuses not on herself but on assisting someone who needs her help.

The next time we hear Mary speak is when her youthful Son stays in the Temple in Jerusalem while Mary and Joseph look for Him for three days.  Her words to Jesus are:  “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety” (Luke 2: 48).  She demonstrates her loving concern for Jesus and willingness to help Him look intently on what He needs to focus.

Mary’s last quoted words in the New Testament are at the wedding feast at Cana.  There she simply mentions that there is no more wine.  She then speaks to the servants saying, “Do whatever he tells you”   She knows that Jesus will assist and that the servers need to do what is asked of them by Jesus” (John 2: 5).

Mary’s words and her actions throughout the life of her Son, Jesus, demonstrate her connection with Jesus and with those to whom He ministers.  She is filled with humility and loving actions.  These virtues continue to be manifested throughout the New Testament as we hear in today’s readings.  And they do not stop there.  Mary is still interceding for the Body of Jesus – her Son and all who are joined to Him.  Thus we can call upon Mary as the Mother of Church as we celebrate today.

The Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, has been added to the General Roman Calendar, the Roman Missal, and the Liturgy of the Hours.

Feast of the Pentecost

The word Pentecost in Greek means “50th day.” Fifty days after Easter Sunday, we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and their followers, and the beginning of their Earthly ministry to make disciples of all nations.

The timing of these feasts is also where we get the concept of the Novena – nine days of prayer – because in Acts 1, Mother Mary and the Apostles prayed together “continuously” for nine days after the Ascension leading up to Pentecost. Traditionally, the Church prays the Novena to the Holy Spirit in the days before Pentecost.

The name of the day itself is derived from the Greek word “pentecoste,” meaning 50th. There is a parallel Jewish holiday, Shavuot, which falls 50 days after Passover. Shavuot is sometimes called the festival of weeks, referring to the seven weeks since Passover.

Originally a harvest feast, Shavuot now commemorates the sealing of the Old Covenant on Mount Sinai, when the Lord revealed the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai. Every year, the Jewish people renew their acceptance of the gift of the Torah on this feast. 

In the Christian tradition, Pentecost is the celebration of the person of the Holy Spirit coming upon the Apostles, Mary, and the first followers of Jesus, who were gathered together in the Upper Room.

The symbols of Pentecost are wind, fire and a dove.

The first symbol—wind—is taken from the noise the apostles heard as the Spirit descended upon them (Acts 2:2).

After the wind, flames appeared and rested upon the heads of each of the apostles (Acts 2:3).

A dove serves as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. There is no mention of a dove in Acts, but we associate a dove with the Holy Spirit because of the story about Jesus’ baptism: “After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened for him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him” (Matthew 3:16).

A “strong, driving” wind filled the room where they were gathered, and tongues of fire came to rest on their heads, allowing them to speak in different languages so that they could understand each other. It was such a strange phenomenon that some people thought the Christians were just drunk – but Peter pointed out that it was only the morning, and said the phenomenon was caused by the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit also gave the apostles the other gifts and fruits necessary to fulfill the great commission – to go out and preach the Gospel to all nations. It fulfills the New Testament promise from Christ (Luke 24:46-49) that the Apostles would be “clothed with power” before they would be sent out to spread the Gospel.

The main event of Pentecost (the strong driving wind and tongues of fire) takes place in Acts 2:13, though the events immediately following (Peter’s homily, the baptism of thousands) continue through verse 41.

It was right after Pentecost that Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, preached his first homily to Jews and other non-believers, in which he opened the scriptures of the Old Testament, showing how the prophet Joel prophesied events and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

He also told the people that the Jesus they crucified is the Lord and was raised from the dead, which “cut them to the heart.” When they asked what they should do, Peter exhorted them to repent of their sins and to be baptised. According to the account in Acts, about 3,000 people were baptised following Peter’s sermon.

Christ had promised His Apostles that He would send His Holy Spirit, and, on Pentecost, they were granted the gifts of the Spirit. The Apostles began to preach the Gospel in all of the languages that the Jews who were gathered there spoke, and about 3,000 people were converted and baptized that day.

That is why Pentecost is often called “the birthday of the Church.” On this day, with the descent of the Holy Spirit, Christ’s mission is completed, and the New Covenant is inaugurated. It’s interesting to note that St. Peter, the first pope, was already the leader and spokesman for the Apostles on Pentecost Sunday, Acts 2:14.

Typically, priests will wear red vestments on Pentecost, symbolic of the burning fire of God’s love and the tongues of fire that descended on the apostles.

However, in some parts of the world, Pentecost is also referred to as “WhitSunday”, or White Sunday, referring to the white vestments that are typically worn in Britain and Ireland. The white is symbolic of the dove of the Holy Spirit, and typical of the vestments that catechumens desiring baptism wear on that day.

In Italy it was customary to scatter rose leaves from the ceiling of the churches to recall the miracle of the fiery tongues; hence in Sicily and elsewhere in Italy Whitsunday is called Pascha rosatum. The Italian name Pascha rossa comes from the red colours of the vestments used on Whitsunday. In France it was customary to blow trumpets during Divine service, to recall the sound of the mighty wind which accompanied the Descent of the Holy Ghost. In England the gentry amused themselves with horse races. The Whitsun Ales or merrymakings are almost wholly obsolete in England. At these ales the Whitsun plays were performed. At Vespers of Pentecost in the Oriental Churches the extraordinary service of genuflexion, accompanied by long poetical prayers and psalms, takes place. On Pentecost the Russians carry flowers and green branches in their hands.

In years past, Pentecost was celebrated with greater solemnity than it is today. In fact, the entire period between Easter and Pentecost Sunday was known as Pentecost and it still is called Pentecost in the Eastern churches, both Catholic and Orthodox. In more recent times, parishes celebrated the approach of Pentecost with the public recitation of the Novena to the Holy Spirit.

Feast Day of St. Joan of Arc – May 30

Today is the feast of St. Joan of Arc, the patroness of France. Joan was born to a peasant family in Champagne, France in the early 15th century.

From a young age she heard the voices of St. Michael, St. Catherine, and St. Margaret speaking to her. Then, in 1428, when she was 13 years old, she received a vision telling her to go to the King of France and help him reconquer his kingdom from the invading forces of England and Burgundy.

Overcoming opposition and convincing members of the court and of the Church, she was given a small army. She charged into battle bearing a banner which bore the names “Jesus” and “Mary” as well as a symbol of the Holy Spirit.

Due to her leadership and trust in God, she was able to raise the siege of Orleans in 1429. Joan and her army went on to win a series of battles. Because of her efforts, the king was able to enter Rheims. He was crowned with Joan at his side.

Eventually, Joan was captured by the forces of Burgundy in May of 1430. When her own king and army did nothing to save her, she was sold to the English. She was imprisoned for a time and then put on trial. Bishop Peter Cauchon of Beauvais presided over her trial. His hope was that in being harsh with Joan, the English would help him become archbishop.

Joan was condemned to death on counts of heresy, witchcraft, and adultery. On May 30, 1431, she was burned at the stake in Rouen, France. She was 19 years old.

Thirty years after her death, her case was retried and she was exonerated. In 1920, she was canonized by Pope Benedict XV. She is the patroness of France, captives, soldiers, and those ridiculed for their piety.

Praying the Rosary

It is believed that our blessed Lady appeared to St Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans), in 1214 in Prouille, France, to give him the Rosary. Actually, no trace of this story can be found until about two hundred fifty years after Dominic died; but it is certain that the development and promotion of the Rosary owe a great deal to the Dominican Order.

The custom of using knotted prayer ropes to count one’s prayers was known among the early Desert Fathers, ancient hermit monks. Devout laity learned this custom and practiced it with various prayers.  During the Middle Ages the Rosary as we know it took shape. One inspiration for it was the Divine Office, the daily worship of the Catholic Church in which the one hundred fifty psalms are chanted in daily prayer services over the course of a week. The fifteen decades of the Rosary, each consisting of ten Hail Mary’s (one hundred fifty Hail Mary’s for the one hundred fifty psalms), were inspired by the Office and gave the laity a structured form of prayer for each day. As the monks meditated on the psalms and scripture readings of each Office, the laity joined their vocal prayer (Our Father and Hail Mary) to meditation on the Mysteries of the Rosary, fifteen events in the lives of the Lord Jesus and our blessed Lady.

The Rosary grew to be enormously popular. Its most popular form was the Dominican Rosary (with the fifteen Mysteries), but the Franciscans had their own form (the Seraphic Rosary or Franciscan Crown, with seven decades of meditation on the seven joys of our blessed Lady, and two additional Hail Mary’s to bring the total number to seventy-two: the traditional number of years our blessed Lady lived here on earth).

In 1571 Europe was threatened by an invasion of the Mediterranean by the fleet of the Ottoman Empire, seeking to expand the Islamic dominion to Europe. Christianity had been shattered by the Protestant Reformation and it was with great difficulty that the Pope, St Pius V, cobbled together a coalition of different countries and their navies. A glorious victory was won by the Christian forces on October 7th, 1571, which Pius attributed to the Faithful praying the Rosary throughout the Catholic countries. He established October 7th as the Feast of Our Lady of Victory (later rechristened The Feast of the Holy Rosary).

Pope Leo XIII (reigned 1879-1903) wrote no fewer than twelve encyclicals and five apostolic letters on the Rosary. Pope St. John XXIII (1958-1963) requested the Faithful of the whole Catholic world to pray the Rosary for his upcoming Vatican Council II. The devotion of the Holy Father, St John Paul II (1978-2005), to the Rosary was legendary; he was very frequently seen with his Rosary in his hands. Even if he were not actually praying the Rosary, just the act of picking up and holding his rosary beads was a prelude to prayer, to contemplation for him, and he sought to live always in the Presence of God.

The Holy Rosary has occupied a unique place in Catholic spirituality. Kings, Queens and peasants have been devoted to it; families made it their daily common prayer; it was part of the Religious habit of many communities, including the Dominicans and the Franciscans.

Thomas Merton, an American Trappist monk and well known spiritual writer, kept a Journal, and this Journal has been published in seven or eight volumes. It’s an interesting mix of observations on daily life and spiritual reflections. At one point he was hospitalized in a Catholic hospital and found the experience of the chapel interesting: the Sisters, staff and patients had frequent devotions – litanies, novenas, etc. These things a monastery does not have; the focus is on the Mass, the Divine Office, and on contemplative prayer. But Father Merton, reflecting on his experience of the hospital chapel, saw the benefit of the devotions for others, although the devotions did not belong in a monastery; but he closed out his reflection by saying, emphatically, “I would never do without the Rosary.”

Which, coming from an author who was an authority on the contemplative life, I found very interesting. Clearly, Father Thomas Merton found the holy Rosary a great help to his contemplative life.

One moving example of the place of the Rosary in Catholic life comes from Japan. Foreign missionaries had been expelled from Japan and the Christian religion was outlawed throughout the country by 1620, with severe persecution and even martyrdom. Only in 1865 was Japan reopened to foreign influences, and the Paris Foreign Mission Society built a Catholic church. One surprising day, a few Japanese from a nearby village visited the church and one timid lady spoke to a Priest; from her he learned of the existence of what, upon his investigating, proved to be underground communities of Faithful Catholics. The Holy Rosary had nourished their faith literally for centuries, and after 250 years they were found still faithful, although some remote communities had changed over those centuries and chose to continue apart from the Church, following what they regarded as the religion of their ancestors.

The Rosary has been an important sacramental that has enriched the faith of Catholics for centuries.

It is a timeless aid to contemplation that marks the special rhythm of human life on a beaded rope that can serve as a lifeline to individual salvation.

But what makes the Rosary an aid to salvation is the fact of its deep and powerful connection to the Bible and the Divine mysteries that are tied to Jesus’ redemptive stay on earth.

As author Father Oscar Lukefahr has written, “the mysteries of the rosary translate the Bible into prayer.” The Rosary then binds Catholics to the historical life of Christ and foreshadows their eternal destiny and union with Christ in heaven.

The Rosary is primarily a Christ-centered prayer in which Catholics pray to the Son through His Mother.  In the words of the Hail Mary, it is Christ, as Luke reported, who is the ultimate object both of the announcement and of the greeting of the Mother of John the Baptist: Blessed is the fruit of your womb.

While traditionalists have always come to the prompt aid of the Rosary, one of its best defenses has come from Garry Wills’ 2005 book, The Rosary: Prayer Comes Round. Wills, who is known for his heterodox views on Catholic morality and papal history, has written a splendid apologia for the time-honored religious tradition that surprises because of its truly traditional point of view and the author’s deep-felt devotion. The Rosary is a marvelously written exercise in love and respect for one of the Church’s oldest traditions. Wills clearly demonstrates that the Rosary is deeply grounded in Scripture and serves as an excellent way for Catholics to participate in the life of Christ.

As many post-conciliar Catholics have ignored the Rosary’s saving powers, countless have sought inner fulfillment in the Eastern methods of meditation, such as transcendental meditation, yoga and mysticism. The bookstore shelves bristle and groan with a plethora of titles that promise inner peace through meditation.

The Rosary is relevant for these times, a way for Catholics to satisfy their need to meditate, contemplate, and find the inner calm with Christ that the Eastern methods only promise.

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