April 2005

Cup of Soup

Sat, Apr 2, 2005

"JP II, We Love You"

Hundreds of thousands chanted that phrase here in Toronto at World Youth Day in 2002, and many were wondering why an old and frail man was receiving such rock star status from modern youth, who by reputation have little concern for faith, the Church, or its stances. Ask anyone who was in the crowd, and a majority will tell you they disagree with the Pope's views on contraception, or women as priests, or a number of issues concerning us today, and yet here they were pouring their hearts out to him.

The simple reason for it is that he cared, he was strong, and he showed that the two are not mutually exclusive.

He cared so deeply and so transparently for everyone, that you could not help but be moved by his love and his personal strength. There were a billion people reaching out to him, and yet he was somehow able to reach out to us all as passionate individuals.

He was a model for personal triumph. He was born in an impoverished family, lost his mother at the age of 9, his brother to scarlet fever a few years later, and then his father during the Nazi occupation. During the war, while his Jewish friends and the Catholic priests in his town were rounded up and sent to Auschwitz, he worked in a quarry crushing rocks with a pick axe, and performed in Polish dramas in secret as an effort to preserve Polish culture during the occupation. When he decided to become a priest, he had to do so in secret and in seclusion, for fear of arrest. Even after his rise to the papacy, he was shot, came under threat from nearly every communist regime, suffered the embarrassment of dealing with cases of molestation in America, and was stricken with Parkinson's disease and ailing joints.

And yet, with such a heavy load of issues he has borne and under ailing health, he arrived in Toronto to meet the youth of the world, and walked down the steps from the plane under his own power, practically with a spring in his step.

It was a very powerful image that said "I have suffered, I have overcome, I am strong, and I am so very happy to see you all."

"The aspiration that humanity nurtures, amid countless injustices and sufferings, is the hope of a new civilization marked by freedom and peace. But for such an undertaking, a new generation of builders is needed. Moved not by fear or violence but by the urgency of genuine love, they must learn to build, brick by brick, the city of God within the city of man." - Pope John Paul II, 1920-2005

Tue, Apr 5, 2005

Solemn Saturday

It's been an emotional weekend, to put it lightly, and this past Saturday had a number of announcements that left me solemn, shocked, or both.

First, Pope John Paul II passed away after many years of ailments. Then, I learned that the father of one of my CWD friends passed away, and then later that another of those friends had lost a niece to as-yet unidentified causes.

Most shocking to myself, I think, was the news that one of my tourmates from my Australian trip in the summer of '03 recently died of leukemia. I had to reread the message several times, unable to believe what was being said. I don't believe I've ever personally known someone that young to pass away; she was only about 21. Our time with her was brief - a mere three weeks - and none of us had any idea at all that she was already falling ill. She was such a sweetheart, and I have to admit that she stirred my fancy a bit. Now, whenever I look back at the pictures of that wonderful trip, there will always be a slight sting at the thought that one of us has so tragically been taken away.

Sat, Apr 9, 2005

Matters Of Faith

John Paul II has been laid to rest, and so now we await the conclave and the election of the 265th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. There is a most serious responsibility weighing on the shoulders of the College of Cardinals in deciding the successor to a Pope that reigned for so long - being the only Pope many people have ever known - and the only Pope since the beginning of the information and media age. As a human being, John Paul II will be remembered as a living saint; a man of incredible love and a proponent of peace. As an official, his legacy will be remembered as one of contradiction, having reached out to nations wide and mending relations and preaching tolerance with other faiths, but administering the internals of the Church with staunch conservatism.

The College of Cardinals must now decide what type of man should follow who is certainly one of the most notable Popes in the Church's 2000-year history. It is generally agreed that the external relations JP II established will need to be continued: maintain congenial relations with the Jews, stabilise relations with Muslims, continue calls for peace and social justice, and attempt to maintain the bond with the youth of the world that JP II mastered so effectively. However, at a time when half the world's Catholics are in the Third World, the ranks of Catholics in Europe and North America are declining, AIDS runs rampant in Africa, and scandals have shook the Church, change is needed to help bring the Church further into the modern world without falling to the materialistic and commercial whimsy of the West or compromising the spiritual truth of Catholicism that stands unchanging for 2000 years and for all time.

Not an easy task by any means. Of course, everyone has their own opinion, and everyone is an amateur theologian, so here is my take on the direction I feel the Church should take over the next Pontificate concerning several issues prominent to the Western World today.

Female Ordination: This, I think, should be the first to go. Denying women the right to become priests is an archaic rule devised when women were considered second-class citizens, and has no religious merit whatsoever.

Celibacy: Fewer and fewer people are joining the priesthood, and the thousand-year-old celibacy rule is one major reason for it. Many people reject the possibility of becoming a priest because they do not want to be forbidden from marrying and raising a family; they fear the lonely life forced upon the priesthood. The rule is self-destructive, terminating a family line that could produce priests for generations. The Church claims that a priest should be "married to the Church", but I don't see how one's love for God can conflict with or be reduced by the love of a spouse and children. Perhaps the Church could continue to require that bishops be celibate and unmarried since their religious responsibilities are much more demanding, but parish priests should be allowed a family life to compliment their religious life.

Scandal: The child molestation cases in America were and are a scar on the Church. Under no circumstances should the Church be viewed as being soft on those accused. However, the concepts of penance and forgiveness are central to the Christian faith and cannot be ignored. Those accused should be handed over to authorities in their respective countries and tried accordingly for their crimes. If found guilty, the Church should excommunicate them for committing such heinous and evil acts while under the pretense of serving God. Excommunication is, of course, reversible, but those convicted should not be admitted back into the priesthood.

Contraception: At a time when overpopulation is a serious problem in the Third World, and AIDS is an epidemic in Africa, I find this rule irresponsible, or at least misguided. The Church does not necessarily need to endorse the use of contraceptives, and can continue to profess that abstination is the best contraception (which, technically, is correct), but to impugn the use of contraceptives can only worsen two of the biggest problems facing the human race on a worldwide scale. Personally, I don't see anything wrong with preventing a pregnancy before it happens; I feel it is being quite responsible. Further, removing contraception from the "blacklist" would strengthen the Church's position on the next topic to address: abortion.

Abortion: This issue, I believe, is the most major controversy that the Church has gotten right. Abortion is the termination of an innocent life, and is contrary to everything for which the Christian faith stands. I find that one of the most frightening aspects of Western culture is the permissive attitude taken toward such a grave and serious act; the taking of a life as a matter of convenience. Pro-choice activists (or anti-life activists, as I like to call them) proclaim their right to choose; to have domain over their own bodies. For one, it is not just their own bodies, it is the body and life of another human being. The Church can respond to those claims that, yes, you can choose: the choice comes in the bedroom. When you make that choice, you must accept the responsibilities that come with it. Relieving the restrictions on contraception can strengthen this position.

All of these issues and many more will be debated for years to come. The selection of a liberal- or conservative-minded Pope will determine how effectively and how swiftly these issues will be addressed.

Fri, Apr 15, 2005

The Beautiful Game

This was me last night:

We had our indoor soccer playoffs yesterday, and we arrived to play our semi-final with only the minimum compliment of ladies, so those two had to play the entire game without substitutions. In the close-quarters indoor game, that's a difficult task. But, we played a smart and careful game and I made some key saves in goal, and came through with a close 3-1 victory, the third goal coming only seconds before the buzzer, putting the game away for good.

We then had to play the Final immediately following, still tired from the first game, against a team that has much improved over the past two years, still with no lady subs until relief arrived halfway through. This game had more offense than the last and kept going back and forth, back and forth, until the buzzer went at an even 5-5 draw.

Then came the dreaded shootout. Officially, a horrible way to end a soccer game, but man was that intense! So much pressure on the keeper (i.e. me) to get in front of those shots, but with such a big net, you end up having to guess a lot of the time. If you wait to see which direction they're shooting, you have no time to dive across to get in the way. It's a balance of quick-feet, keen eye, and lucky charms.

The format goes three shots per side - alternating guys and girls - and then single shots if it remains tied, again alternating gender. We shoot first: Blocked. They follow and miss the right post. We get another shot blocked, and they again shoot just past the right post. Our third shot is stopped, and the cocky-bastard member of our opposing team winds up. The previous two shots just missed the right post, so gambling that I would dive in the same direction, he continues his cocky ways by kicking directly at me, thinking I will jump away.

He gambled wrongly.

I stood my ground and snuggled the ball neatly under my knees. Three shots a piece, and no goals yet. Our fourth shot comes up, and the ball meets the twine. Here comes the moment: if I stop this shot, we win the championship and celebrate; if not, we continue for more nail-biting penalty kicks. The photo above is of Ricardo stopping Cole's penalty kick in the quarter-finals of Euro 2004, which led to Portugal's victory over England and advancement in the tournament, eventually to the Final. At the beckoning of the legendary Eusebio, Ricardo made the save bare-handed. Looking to create my own football glory, I pulled off my gloves and got ready for the final shot...

OK, so it didn't work. The shot went over my head and I deflected it upward with my hands, but I didn't get enough of it to keep it from just getting behind the crossbar. All right, that was a bad idea; gloves back on.

To be honest, I'm not sure how many shots followed; it just kept going, every shot being matched. Each keeper allowed a goal on what I think was the sixth shot, blocking the fifth and seventh. Our captain blasts shot number eight, but the keeper gets in front of it, and we have another do or die moment. If I stop this shot, we continue; otherwise we go home at a loss. Having gone through their entire rotation, up steps their first shooter again: a giant, burly man with a rocket of a shot. I sweat even more profusely.

The man steps forward, and cranks his cannon of a leg. A few members of my team look away, unable to watch for fear of faint. Knowing the speed with which this man shoots, I know I have to commit before he even touches the ball. I hope history repeats itself, and I dive for the lower right corner.

The shot booms, and my outstretched fingers push it away, and I slide beyond the net, gasping in relief.

Kick number nine results in the first goal shot by one of the girls. In co-ed soccer, the quality of the girls on your team often means the difference, and we are about to see if that holds true again. But, they too have a very skilled girl on their team, and she comes up next. She steps up, winds up, and with a flick of the ankle, she pops the shot again toward the bottom right corner. This time, she placed it perfectly.

Fortunately, so did I.

I watch her intently as I see her wind up and bring her leg forward. Then I see the twitch of the ankle, and I know where it's going. I push off with all my strength and dive for the post. Still in mid-air, the palm of my hand connects with the ball and stops it in its tracks.

I love pressure. A giant team bear hug later, and we were off to celebrate our victory over wings and beer.

That's enough drama for me at the moment. The weekend after next comes my ice hockey tournament; I'll save the drama for then.

Sat, Apr 30, 2005

Don't Panic

Since I first encountered it about a decade ago, my favourite book has been The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy by the late great Douglas Adams. Years earlier, I had played the old C64 text adventure video game (which took me two years of off-and-on play to finally complete), and once I had discovered it was derived from a book, which was derived from a radio series, which spawned many incarnations of the story in various media, I eagerly sought them out and enjoyed them all immensely.

For ten years or so, I waited for a feature film version of the story. Yesterday, that wait was finally over, as the movie was finally released. Watching the film required a bit of mental preparation. First of all, every incarnation of the story has been different, and the movie is, well, no different in the fact that it is different. Secondly, the original radio series was three hours long; the movie is just over an hour and a half. With the inclusion of new characters and new plot elements, some of the bits of the other versions of the story are left out, or simply don't work in movie format. It's just life, as they say, and there's no good in being a whiny traditionalist fan that cries about every insignificant detail missing from the script.

With that in mind, I found the movie to be "adequate", in terms of its worthiness to gain entrance into the Hitchhiker collection. It's biggest flaw, I think, is that it is too short. The film needed to be much longer to better explain the finer elements of the story, and, of course, it would allow the inclusion of a few more of those treasured jokes that could not make it to the final cut. As is, the film moves at a breakneck pace, and likely leaves those unfamiliar with the story saying "Huh? Eh?" and so on. For those issues, we can hope the DVD contains much extra footage.

Aside from that, the movie is great. The cast, as expected, are all wonderfully fitting matches for the characters, and add their own unique details. The effects are stunning, the creature work is superb, and the new material is a pleasant addition to the classic tale. Although many of the classic jokes are missing, homage is paid to some of them in ways only longtime fans will notice, like the presence of the scintillating jeweled crabs, and the Marvin robot from the TV series.

I will see the movie again, get the DVD when it becomes available, and continue to enjoy my favourite tale in yet another medium. Oh, and I must pick up one of those plush Marvin dolls.

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