“A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once. It seems to me most strange that men should fear, seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.”
A profoundly Catholic movie, Angels With Dirty Faces (1938) is usually not perceived as such. The tale of two slum kids, Jerry Connolly, Pat O’Brien, and Rocky Sullivan, James Cagney, who attempt to steal fountain pens from a train. Sullivan, who can’t run as fast as his friend, is caught after the robbery. Connolly wants to share in the blame for the theft, but Sullivan tells him not to be a sucker and takes all the blame. Sentenced to a brutal reform school he embarks on a life of crime while his friend becomes a priest, assigned to the same slum parish which he and Sullivan attended as boys.
The priest and the gangster renew their friendship with Sullivan quickly becoming the idol of the slum boys that Connolly is trying to keep from a life of crime. Connolly embarks on a crusade against the local gangsters, including Sullivan. Sullivan murders his partner Jim Frazier, Humphrey Bogart, and Mac Keefer, George Bancroft, to save Connelly who they were planning to have killed to stop his anti-crime crusade.
Sullivan, who tells the authorities all he knows about the local criminal operations, is tried for these murders and sentenced to death.
The ending of the film is a powerful look at courage and redemption:
Father Jerry: We haven’t got a lot of time.
I want to ask one last favor.
Rocky: There’s not much left that I can do, kid.
Father Jerry: Yes, there is, Rocky.
Perhaps more than you could do
under any other circumstances.
If you have the courage for it,
and I know you have.
Rocky: Walking in there?
That’s not gonna take much.
Father Jerry: I know that, Rocky.
Rocky: It’s like a barber chair.
They’re gonna ask, “Anything to say?”
I’ll say, “Sure, give me a haircut, a shave
and one of those new electric massages.”
Father Jerry: But you’re not afraid, Rocky?
Rocky: No. They’d like me to be.
But I’m afraid I can’t oblige them, kid.
You know, Jerry, I think to be afraid,
you gotta have a heart.
I don’t think I got one.
I had that cut out of me a long time ago.
Rocky: Suppose I asked you to have the heart, huh?
To be scared.
Rocky: What do you mean?
Father Jerry: Suppose the guards dragged you out of here
screaming for mercy. Suppose you went to the chair yellow.
I was always afraid of dying. Always. It was my fear that made me learn everything I could about my airplane and my emergency equipment, and kept me flying respectful of my machine and always alert in the cockpit.
I am a day late on this, but 66 years and one day ago Captain Chuck Yeager, a double ace in World War II, flying the experimental X-1, broke the sound barrier. Two days before the flight Yeager broke two ribs and was in such pain that he could not close the cabin door without assistance. Needless to say he did not report his injury to anyone in authority who could scrub him from the flight. George Welch, also a World War II ace, may have broke the sound barrier on October 1, 1947, flying in an XP-86, but his speed could not be verified.
This, indeed, is probably one of the Enemy’s motives for creating a dangerous world – a world in which moral issues really come to the point. He sees as well as you do that courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty, or mercy, which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful till it became risky.
CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
Paul has mentioned here the wonderful post by Pat Archbold in which he longs for John Wayne, a death bed Catholic convert, Catholicism as opposed to what he calls the Woody Allen Catholicism adopted by too many Catholics in the past half century:
I agree. The Catholicism that Pat longs for is the Catholicism that has existed throughout almost all the history of the Church. Some reminders:
1. John Sobieski- After defeating the Turks at Vienna in 1683 he sent the green flag of Islam to the Pope with this message: “Venimus, Vidimus, Deus vincit”! (We came, we saw, God conquered!)
2. The Martyrs of Otranto-Twelve years before Christopher Columbus discovered a New World, 800 men and boys of Otranto laid down their lives for Christ. The city of Otranto, at the heel of the boot of Italy, was seized by the Turks under Gedik Ahmed Pasha, grand vizier of the Ottoman Empire. Archbishop Stefano Argercolo de Pendinellis was murdered in his cathedral by the Turks and the garrison commander was sawn in half. Following a massacre of most of the population the Turks offered some 800 men and boys the choice between conversion to Islam or death. Led by an elderly tailor, Antonio Pezzulla, the men and boys chose death rather than apostacy, and were beheaded on the hill of Minvera outside the town on August 14, 1480, their families forced by the Turks to help in the executions.
The witness of the martyrs of Otranto was truly remarkable. Not priests or soldiers, they were just plain, ordinary folk. They had every earthly reason to attempt to save their lives, but with supernatural courage they went to their deaths for a love that passes understanding. The old tailor spoke for them all when he addressed them after the Turks had given them their grim choice:
My brothers, until today we have fought in defense of our country, to save our lives, and for our lords; now it is time that we fight to save our souls for our Lord, so that having died on the cross for us, it is good that we should die for him, standing firm and constant in the faith, and with this earthly death we shall win eternal life and the glory of martyrs.
The martyrs in response cried out that they were willing to die a thousand times for Christ.
3. Archbishop John Hughes-After the anti-Catholic riots in Philadelphia in 1844 he called on the mayor of New York, an anti-Catholic bigot, and informed him that if a single Catholic church were touched in New York, New York would be a second Moscow. (The reference was to the burning of Moscow in 1812 during Napoleon’s occupation of the city.) Not a Catholic church was touched. On another occasion when a threat was made to burn Saint Patrick’s cathedral the Archbishop had it guarded within hours by 4,000 armed Catholics. No wonder his enemies and friends nicknamed him “Dagger John”!
4. Father Joe Lacy-On June 6, 1944 at 7:30 AM, LCA 1377 landed the Rangers on Omaha Dog Green Beach, the first landing craft to land on that section of Omaha Beach. Father Lacy was the last man out just before an artillery shell hit the fantail. Everything was chaos with the beach being swept by German artillery and small arms fire. Wounded men were everywhere, both on the beach and in the water feebly trying to get to the beach. Father Lacy did not hesistate. With no thought for his own safety he waded into the water to pull men out of the ocean and onto the beach. He began treating the wounded on the beach and administering the Last Rites to those beyond human assistance. On a day when courage was not in short supply men took notice of this small fat priest who was doing his best under fire to save as many lives as he could. While his battalion led the way off Omaha Beach, Father Lacy continued to tend their wounded and the wounded of other units. For his actions that day Father Lacy was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest decoration for valor, after the Medal of Honor, in the United States Army.
5. Don John of Austria and his Men-Before the battle of Lepanto Don John of Austria went about the ships of his fleet and said this to his crews: ‘My children, we are here to conquer or die. In death or in victory, you will win immortality.’ The chaplains of the fleet preached sermons on the theme: “No Heaven For Cowards”. Many of the men were clutching rosaries just before the battle. Admiral Andrea Doria went into the fight with an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe aboard his ship. Back in Europe countless Catholics were praying rosaries at the request of Saint Pope Pius V for the success of the Christian fleet.
At the hour of the battle, and this fact is very well attested, the Pope was talking to some cardinals in Rome. He abruptly ceased the conversation, opened a window and looked heavenward. He then turned to the cardinals and said: “It is not now a time to talk any more upon business; but to give thanks to God for the victory he has granted to the arms of the Christians.” So that Catholics would never forget Lepanto and the intercession of Mary, he instituted the feast of Our Lady of Victory. To aid in this remembrance G. K. Chesterton in 1911 wrote his epic poem Lepanto:
(I originally posted this on September 28, 2009 and it has always been one of my favorites. I am reposting it now since I assume many current readers of the blog have not read it, and, with the recent death of my son, Larry, it now has a special meaning for me.)
In 1957 comedian Red Skelton was on top of the world. His weekly comedy show on CBS was doing well. He had curtailed the drinking which had almost derailed his career. Not too shabby for a man who had started out as a circus and rodeo clown and who was now often called the clown prince of American comedy. He and his wife Georgia had two beautiful kids: Richard and Valentina Maria. Then the worst thing in the world for any parent entered into the lives of Red and Georgia Skelton: Richard was diagnosed with leukemia. Unlike today, a diagnosis of leukemia in a child in 1957 was tantamount to saying that Richard was going to die soon. Red immediately took a leave of absence from his show. CBS was very understanding and a series of guest hosts, including a very young Johnny Carson, filled in for Skelton during the 1957-1958 season.
Red and his wife made two decisions. First, they decided not to reveal to their son how ill he was; if worse came to worst they wanted him to enjoy the time he had left. The boy’s leukemia was temporarily in remission and outwardly he appeared healthy. When the boy saw “The Last Days of Pompeii” on TV and was fascinated by it, his mom and dad made their second decision. They were going to take him and his sister to Europe so the boy could see Pompeii and other parts of Europe and the world, and to allow the parents to consult with foreign physicians and also to conduct a pilgrimage for their son. The Skeltons were Protestants, indeed, Red was an active Mason, but they had chosen to educate their kids at a Catholic school and Richard was very religious, his room filled with religious pictures and statues. Like many Christians of whatever denomination, in their hour of utmost need the Skeltons decided to seek aid of the Catholic Church.
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
Remember these men who, sadly, are no longer with us: Matt McQuinn, Jonathan Blunk, and Alex Teves. One of the prime duties of any man is to defend those he loves, and these gentlemen lived up to that responsibility at the cost of their lives:
They took bullets for their beloveds.
Three young men are being hailed as heroes for their old-fashioned chivalry and courage under fire in saving the lives of their girlfriends.
While using their bodies as shields, Matt McQuinn, 27, Jonathan Blunk, 26, and Alex Teves, 24, were killed in the worst mass shooting in US history.
Nine others were also murdered when deranged gunman James Holmes unloaded a fusillade of bullets into the packed Century 16 theater early Friday in Aurora, Colo.
McQuinn dived in front of his girlfriend, Samantha Yowler, also 27, when the gunfire erupted. She was shot in the knee. McQuinn was fatally struck three times.
Jonathan Blunk threw his date, Jansen Young, 21, to the floor, pushing her under the seat.
“Stay down!” he told her, moments before he was shot to death.
“He took a bullet for me,” Young told NBC’s “Today” show.
“He always talked about if he were going to die, he wanted to die a hero,” Blunk’s estranged wife, Chantel Blunk, told NBC News.
Teves, of Phoenix, used his body to cover girlfriend Amanda Lindgren, Teves’ grandmother Rae Iacovelli told The Post.
“He shielded her. He got down on the floor and covered her up,” said Iacovelli, who lives in Barneget, NJ. “She was pulled out from under him. I don’t know who pulled her out.”
This fall all of the hopes and dreams of those who have detested Middle American values stands in the balance. Those values are best exemplified in religious beliefs shared by many faith traditions. However, Catholics, Evangelicals, Orthodox Christians and Orthodox Jews are those to which the angry Professional Left, to use Robert Gibbs (President Obama’s Press Secretary’s) term, will most turn their anger. Some may say this seems a little far-fetched, after all aren’t some of those people from the “Professional Left” religious themselves? Yes, some on the “Professional Left” are religious, but they often go to great pains to say they are not affiliated with any faith tradition. They often classify themselves as “spiritual.”
During the 2008 Presidential Campaign, then Senator Obama made by his own admission his biggest gaffe. The future President, speaking in San Francisco, called those middle Americans of western Pennsylvania, “bitter clingers.” In his own words, the future President described western Pennsylvania residents as hard working salt of the earth folks who clung to “their guns and religion,” presumably because they weren’t enlightened enough to understand the modern world.
The proposed mosque set to be built near Ground Zero, site of the September 11, 2001 attacks has brought a sweeping condemnation from both rank and file conservatives and the Conservative Intelligentsia. Now that President Barack Obama has weighed in the matter, seemingly supporting the effort, one can only imagine how this will be used in the fall elections. However, a rift has appeared to have been opened concerning the views of the rank and file conservatives and the Conservative Intelligentsia following the ruling of Judge Vaughn Walker over same-sex marriage. Many of the conservative intelligentsia, along with the establishment wing of the Republican Party has either been silent or voiced the view that the wished the whole gay marriage issue would simply go away. This has led to bewilderment from some conservative voices.
The best Catholic tie in with the efforts to build a mosque on Ground Zero came from the famed conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, who is Jewish. In his opposition to the mosque being built near Ground Zero, he correctly pointed out that Pope John Paul II ordered Carmelite nuns, who were living right next to Auschwitz, to move closer to a nearby town, since the site had become a rallying point for Jewish identity. Krauthammer correctly pointed out that Christians had been murdered there too and the nuns were doing the heroic deed of praying for the souls of those who were viciously murdered. However, Krauthammer pointed out that the late Polish pontiff felt that it created the wrong perception.
A few short years ago the mere suggestion that the Son of God, His Apostles and Saints would face arrest for hate speech would have seemed absolutely ludicrous. However, events have spiraled out of control across the western world. In his opinion that strikes down California’s recently voter approved marriage law, Judge Vaughn Walker wrote that those who speak in the name of religion to put across their views that same sex marriage is wrong are “harmful to gays and lesbians.”
Across Europe and Canada, faithful Christians speaking out for traditional marriage face the threat of being hauled off to court for citing the teachings of the Catholic Church and various Evangelical Churches. Where will this all end? Some see a great persecution coming against the Christian faithful. Though possible, one need remember that the Christian faith always grew when persecuted.
The Catholic Church has long taught that some individuals have an inclination toward same sex attraction; they are to be loved as all people are to be loved. The Church teaches that these feelings are not to be acted upon. The Church goes on to teach that all individuals are given a cross to carry in this world and for those who are same sex attracted; this is their cross. An organization exists for those who are same sex attracted called COURAGE. It has many chapters and members.
Recently a profile was done in The New York Times on same sex attracted Eve Tushnet, the Ivy League educated Catholic daughter of Harvard Law professors. She has chronicled her growth in Catholicism and the logic of the Church’s teachings on sexuality. For years the Catholic Church took some heat from some quarters of Christianity for not stating that anyone who is same sex attracted would be going to hell. The Church now is facing a maelstrom of vitriol from those who claim the Church hates homosexuals.
Many who disagree with the Church tend to forget that homosexuality was much more common and approved of by the Roman government in the early Christian era than it is even in 2010. Many in the upper echelons of Greek and Roman culture experimented with all sorts of sexual practices. It would have been far easier for Jesus, the apostles, saints and popes to approve of this conduct than it would to disapprove of it. Christianity might have grown at a faster pace. However, there was a reason for this swimming against the tide, and the faithful accepted it.
“Our wholehearted paternal sympathy goes out to those who must pay so dearly for their loyalty to Christ and the Church; but directly the highest interests are at stake, with the alternative of spiritual loss, there is but one alternative left, that of heroism.” Pius XI from Mit Brennender Sorge
We Americans tend to be an outspoken lot. We give voice to our opinions freely and many of us enjoy raucous debate, as can be seen on most American blog sites, including this one. We are fortunate to live in a free society where there is no penalty for expressing ourselves. But what if we didn’t live in a free society? What if we lived in a vicious dictatorship where dissent is a one way trip to a concentration camp and then to an unmarked grave? How many of us would then have the courage to speak out, especially if almost everyone else were keeping their heads down and not saying anything? For many people throughout history this has not been a game of what if.
Born in Ohlau in the province of Silesia in Germany on December 3, 1875, Bernard Lichtenberg studied theology at the seminary in Innsbruck, Austria and was ordained a priest in 1899. He served as a priest in Berlin, becoming the parish priest of the Sacred Heart parish in the Berlin suburb of Charlottenburg in 1913. Ever an energetic priest, he laid the foundations for five parishes and a monastery in Berlin. Somehow he also found the time to be active in the Catholic Centre Party, and was for a time a member of the Berlin regional parliament after World War I. He also carried out missionary and charitable works among the poor of Berlin.
He was made a canon of the Cathedral Chapter by the first Bishop of the newly created diocese of Berlin, Christian Schreiber, in 1931. In 1932 he became pastor of Saint Hedwig’s Cathedral in Berlin. He also attracted the ire of the Nazis by his support of the pacifist Peace League of German Catholics, and was denounced by Hitler’s propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels in the Nazi paper Der Angriff.
After the Nazis came to power in 1933, Father Lichtenberg attempted unsuccessfully to convince Cardinal Bertram, the president of the German Bishop’s conference, to protest against the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses. In 1935 he protested to Herman Goering against the treatment of the Jews. Goering denied everything and demanded that Lichtenberg be taken into “protective custody” for spreading lies about the German state.
In 1937 Father Lichtenberg helped to distribute clandestinely throughout Germany copies of the blistering condemnation of the Nazis by Pius XI, Mit Brennender Sorge. After Kristallnacht, a Nazi led pogrom throughout Germany against the Jews, he said from the pulpit of Saint Hedwig’s: ‘we know what happened yesterday. We do not know what tomorrow holds. However, we have experienced what happened today. Outside, the synagogue burns. That is also a house of God.’ From that time forward, Father Lichtenberg prayed publicly during evening prayers, in the heart of Nazi Germany, for the Jews and Christians of Jewish descent.