In twenty-four hours, almost everything that has needed saying has been said.

The gruesome first-hand reports.  The heartbreaking eulogies.  The inspiring stories of heroism, selflessness, and and just plain common decency.   The kindly offers of thoughts and prayers. The patriotic expressions of solidarity.   The defiant statements that are all variations on the theme of “we will not yield” virtually shouted by the people of Boston, perfectly in keeping with the flinty no-nonsense essentially blue-collar character of the city.  That’s all been done and generally done better than I ever could.

Here’s all I have to add to all those stories:  remember.

Remember the stories themselves of course, but remember every thought and emotion you experienced as you heard or read them.

It won’t make anything better for the Richards family or the Campbell family or the family of an as-yet-unnamed BU student from China.  Their worlds are broken and will never be whole again.  We can comfort, we can support, but we can never make anything better for them.

There’s a lot we can make better.  There’s a lot of good we can do.  It will never make what happened in Copley Square on Monday April 15, 2013 worth it.  But there’s a lot of good we can do.

We can do the good we failed to do after September 11, 2001.

For a few moments there in September and into October 2001, we had it.  Someone came out nowhere and ripped our guts out and we cried out in anguish and anger but we cried out together.  We each turned to the other and said “I’ll get you through this the best I can and you’ll get me through this the best you can.”  No one gave one good damn about whether the person whose shoulder you were leaning on was from a different political affiliation, a different race, a different religion, a different sexual orientation, a different anything.  That was  an American and you needed another American and another American needed you.  We treated each other just a touch more decently.  We didn’t complain as much about traffic.  We said “thank you” at the grocery store  a little more.   We stood in open-mouthed awe of first responders who not only did the most difficult and dangerous work there was to do but after they did it just shrugged and said “What else was I going to do?  This is my job.”  We cried out for justice, but we just wanted a piece of the people who did this to us, no one else.  The world understood and generally supported us.  Just for a second there, we realized that whole magazines about Britney Spears weren’t worth reading and reality shows were garbage and even I figured out that a baseball game was just a freaking game.  We treated each other better because the other, no matter who he or she was, was grieving just like we were.  We saw the pointless crap for what it was because we were thrown headlong into a world in which we had no idea if we’d ever see the people we loved most again when they merely went to work.  Nothing mattered more than telling the people closest to us how important they were to us.  We fell in love with our homes and our country, imperfect though they were,  maybe for the first time.  We wanted to make absolutely sure that cops and firefighters and EMTs knew that we thought they were made of steel, even if we’d sometimes treated them like the enemy in the past.

Every time we felt like being petty or vain or crass or mean-spirited, we remembered everything we saw and heard and read that day and we brought ourselves up short.   We remembered the grief.  We remembered the inspiration afforded us by the brave and the kindly. We remembered our patriotism. We remembered how we seemed to call one another to do a bit better now, to live out the liberty we knew had been attacked, to be better Americans, better people.

And then we didn’t.

We gave into the fear and the blind rage and the prejudice we swore we wouldn’t succumb to because that’s how our enemies behaved and it would never be us.   We came up with the Patriot Act, tolerated warrantless wire-tapping, picked a needless fight with Iraq. The rest of the world saw what we were up to and became alienated.   We were fine with profiling anyone with dark skin and a beard who bought an airline ticket, went absolutely bananas because some Muslims wanted to build a mosque kind of sort somewhat near the World Trade Center.   Even now, we have the NDAA and drones can take out American citizens just like that in the name of combating terrorism.   We went back to being thoroughly uncivil and nasty to each other.   We started caring about utter nonsense all out of proportion just like we had on September 10, 2001.

It’s possible that I’m idealizing the late summer and early fall of 2001.  I’m not saying we had crossed over into Jordan after 9/11 and then gradually crossed back.  But I truly believe for a moment there we were better.  I was there.  We were there.  In the first days and weeks after September 11th, we were responding in as right a way as you can.

In these first hours and days after April 15th, we’re getting it right again.

Open a newspaper, turn on a radio or a television, scroll through your Facebook newsfeed, and you’ll see it.   Marthon runners make it 26 miles and then just keep going to Mass General to give blood, living out in a whole new way Christ’s command in the Gospel to go the extra mile.  First responders act with courage I know the rest of us don’t have because I can barely believe they have it.  Two soldiers home from Afghanistan join in rescue efforts just like they were on regular duty.  People offers of meals and hot showers to people who couldn’t otherwise access them.  Frantic tweets and text messages zoom all over the country  to make sure someone was all right.  Candlelight vigils.  Tributes from everyone from the Chicago Tribune to Jon Stewart, every bit of it well-earned.  Prideful snarls about Boston’s toughness and resiliency, every bit of it iron-clad true.

We’re doing the right things, saying the right things, and reacting the right way.   The world is watching Boston and marveling at it.

Remember this.   Remember your grief and your inspiration and your pride.  Remember how all these stories make you feel and what they make you think.  Not just this week.  Weeks from now.  Months from now.  Years from now.  When the temptation to sink back into fear and hatred returns with a little time.  When we feel like letting ourselves off the hook from the sense of obligation we have now to be better.

Store all this up.  Let a little piece of all of us dwell in this time forever.  It will hurt.  We should let it.  Then we’ll remember.  Then maybe this time we’ll get it right for than just a few weeks.

May we all remember.


If you really want to rehabilitate your image, if you really want your enemies to suddenly start singing your praises even though all they’ve ever done is condemn you, all you need to do is die.

The death of Margaret Thatcher proved that yesterday.

From every corner of the globe, all we’ve heard about for twenty-four hours is the trail-blazing female head of government, the tough old free market advocate and cold warrior, the straight-shooting stateswoman who rose from being a humble grocer’s daughter to Baroness Thatcher.

For the whole of her political life, she was inflexible, arrogant, reactionary, and downright belligerent.  She’s dead now.  Just like that, she’s outspoken, principled, determined, and downright brave.

I’m an Irish Catholic, raised along the lines of powerful Irish Catholic values.  Bearing that in mind, my reaction to Thatcher’s death ought to come as no surprise:

May the Lord have mercy on her soul.

I’m an Irish Catholic.  I don’t wish anyone dead.  I know the comfortable acceptable stereotype says I’m supposed to be tribal and hold grudges in perpetuity over the smallest grievance.  Forgive me if I don’t hold to the script.

Forgive me also if I choose not to participate in the frantic wailing revisionism.  Forgive me if I choose to remember Margaret Thatcher as she was, not as we’ve suddenly decided, out of hypocritical politeness, we’d like her to have been.  Forgive me if I choose not to unsay today what I said yesterday about Margaret Thatcher just because today she is dead.

This is not tribal.  This is not holding a grudge in perpetuity over the smallest grievance.  When it come to the Irish, the grievances against Margaret Thatcher are titanic.

It could be fairly argued that the period of Thatcher’s premiership was the nadir of the euphemistically-named Troubles in the north of Ireland, if not the nadir of the whole Anglo-Irish relationship in the twentieth century.  That has everything to do with her, her policies, and frankly her attitudes, especially as they concerned the Irish.

For all her supposed disdain for the aristocracy, this middle-class woman was an empire lady through and through.  She believed in those good old colony days of a British Empire on which the sun never set.  She adored the Victorian values from the days when Britain was the mightiest nation on Earth.  Her attitude toward the colonized was classic British Empire: you are inferior.  Your culture, your laws, your language, everything about you is inferior to us.  We are civilization’s greatest achievement and you should be thanking your lucky stars that we are permitting you the privilege of being one of us.  If we catch you being anything other than properly grateful, we will treat you like the criminals you are.

That’s exactly the attitude Thatcher had toward Britain’s oldest, last and arguably most brutalized colony.

You saw it in her manic embrace of the Britain’s criminalization policy toward the republican movement in northern Ireland.   Anyone who objects to British rule is a criminal.   Anyone who breaks the Queen’s peace will feel the Queen’s vengeance.  Who gives a damn about their bellyaching about an apartheid system designed with the express purpose of keeping nationalists and republicans in second-class status? The desperation that young men and women might be driven to under those circumstances is irrelevant.  They’re breaking British law.  You don’t try to understand people who break British law.  You don’t try to do anything repair any alleged injustices in that law because there are no injustices.  It’s British law.  British law must be followed.  Anyone who can’t do that needs to be thrown to bloodthirsty interrogators, jury-less courts, and modified rules of evidence.  They need to be treated no better than petty thieves or rapists.  Put them into jail and make them wear convict’s uniforms.  If they protest, beat them down.  If they protest again, beat them down harder.  Let them wear blankets, sleep in their filth, starve themselves.  Do whatever is necessary until the Irish understand that they’re a conquered crushed people who’d better start cringing before their betters.

That was Margaret Thatcher’s attitude toward northern Ireland, or at least her attitude toward the nationalist and republican communities.    The loyalists?  They were just zealous defenders of the realm to her.  Oh, she did some of the song-and-dance about Britain being some poor put-upon referee caught between warring tribes of savages but if they wanted to kill some upstart human rights lawyer, so much the better.  You needed the loyalists to keep those treacherous Fenians in line.

This all might sound like an oversimplification of Thatcher’s northern Ireland policies.  Then again, Thatcher’s policies toward Ireland were very simple.  Sinn Fein and the IRA were the “men of violence” and that was that. Murder is murder as she so  self-righteously asserted.  Nationalists and republicans were enemies of the British Empire.  For Thatcher the empire lady, dealing with enemies was simple.

And as  she ran into people like Bobby Sands and Gerry Adams and Danny Morrison, people who wouldn’t cringe for her, who could outmatch her resolve, it galled her.

She didn’t get it.  She couldn’t figure out what these dirty little terrorists were ready to fight and die for.  All this for Ireland?  Dirty protests and hunger strikes and election campaigns to counteract “Rule Britannia”?  At a meeting with Irish Cardinal Tomas O Fiach during the 1981 hunger strikes, Thatcher browbeat the Cardinal about the north and said she thought the hunger strikers were just trying to prove their manhood.  The idea of principled Irish people with the courage of their convictions was beyond her comprehension.  Courage and principle were British values, alien to the Irish as far as she was concerned.  She asked O Fiach, apparently in all seriousness, why the Irish couldn’t be “friendly” just like the Germans were, even though they had once been enemies of the Crown.  O Fiach told her the Germans could afford to be friendly since the British were no longer in occupation of the Ruhr.  I can only imagine the blank stare His Eminence must have received.

All this is Margaret Thatcher’s legacy in Ireland.  It is a legacy that directly led to a portion of the Anglo-Irish conflict as vicious as any in its 800 year history.  It is a legacy of repression, divisiveness, cruelty, and sheer bloodthirstiness.  For all the niceties being parroted over the last 24 hours, that is her record.  That cannot and should not be rewritten.   That is Margaret Thatcher.

Baroness Thatcher quoted the Prayer of St. Francis as she took office at 10 Downing Street.  The almighty nerve of the woman.  Perhaps she went to her grave genuinely believing she lived that prayer out.  Certainly many others seem to think she did.   Anyone who knows the facts, certainly the facts in Ireland, knows that she sowed hatred instead of love, injury instead of pardon, despair instead of hope, and darkness instead of light.

But may the Lord have mercy on your soul, Margaret Thatcher.

It won’t change what you did.

We know.

The long period of grim fasting and meditation is over.   We can once again embrace joy.  Renewal and rebirth are all around us.

Oh and Lent ended and Easter happened as well.

Those first three sentence of course referred to:


Once again, my favorite holiday has come and this time the Giants run off into the forest and the rest of us follow and try to pull off what they have two out of the last three years.  As I have for the last twenty or so, dating back to when I used to write them long-hand and tape them to the door of my dorm room, I yet again humbly submit my fearless forecastings for the 2013 season, this time with a few sentences of explanation for my predictions.  I invite your comments and by comments I of course mean your outright scorn and derision because as per usual I would feel more secure about these picks if I used tea leaves, astrological charts, or at least used astrological charts while drinking tea.  And as with last year’s picks, I won’t dare try to pick pennant or World Series winners.   In any event, enjoy:


1.  Washington- A 98-win team added a leadoff hitter and this time there’s no cockamamie innings limit on Strasburg.  Let’s see how they do overcoming the heartbreak of last October.

2.  Atlanta- Not one but two Uptons and the best bullpen in baseball.  Just hope that the Uptons don’t live down to their less-than-dialed-in reputations.

3.  Philadelphia- That’s still Halladay, Lee, and Hamels in the rotation and that’s still Papelbon in the bullpen.  But that whole team is another year older and and just as injury-prone and help isn’t coming from the farm like it used to.

4.  New York- Harvey and Wheeler and Niese and d’Arnaud prove that better days are coming.  Marlon Byrd starting in right field proves that they may not be here just yet

5.  Miami-  I never thought I’d say this, but poor Giancarlo Stanton.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  pack the Marlins up, ship them north, and give us the new Montreal Expos.


1.  Cincinnati- I never said the Braves had sole possession of the title of best bullpen in baseball and the Reds have  Cueto and Latos in that rotation.  And they’ve got Phillips and Votto in their lineup and now they’ve added Choo to the top of the lineup and seriously did nobody notice that this team won 97 games last year?

2. St.  Louis- These guys always seem to figure it out somehow and God knows they’ll hit but will they pitch enough? And how soon will they come to regret that contract extension for Adam Wainwright like almost everyone who hands out a pricey contract to a starting pitcher does at some point?

3.  Milwaukee-  Adding Lohse makes them better, but not better enough to challenge the Reds and probably not better enough to overtake to the Cardinals.

4. Pittsburgh- It has to turn around for them some time, and I’m not just saying that because the Dread Pirate Andrew McCutcheon has about the coolest nickname in the game today and and even just having only seen it on television I love that park.  Between McCutcheon and Alvarez and McDonald there’s good stuff here.  It just needs reinforcing.

5. Chicago– Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro…give Theo Epstein more time.  As in more than this year.


1.  San Francisco– I don’t care how much money they’re spending in L.A.– until further notice the group with Matt Cain and Madison Baumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong in the rotation and Buster Posey behind the plate that seemed to figure it out more and more as the year went along last year gets the nod.

2.  Los Angeles– Okay, I care a little how much money they’re spending in L.A.  Kershaw and Kemp and Jansen are reason enough to hope before you even get to Beckett and Crawford and Gonzalez– all of whom are guys being counted on to have big comebacks from last year’s Beantown train wreck

3. Arizona- Upton or no Upton, they still have enough talent between Kennedy and Cahill in the rotation and Montero and Goldschmidt in the lineup to make a go of it, but having to deal with the Giants and the Dodgers will make it tough.

4.  San Diego-  Better than you think, but still only treading water in this division and it’s going to be really tough without Headley

5. Colorado- As usual, they’ll have some guys put up some impressive offensive numbers.  As usual, it won’t be enough.  The finest humidor  in the world wouldn’t be enough to solve their pitching problems.

Wild Card 1: Atlanta

Wild Card 2: Los Angeles


1.  Toronto- It should all work.  Adding Dickey and Johnson and Buehrle should give you a standout rotation.  Adding Reyes and Bonifacio should give you just the table-setters you need for Encarnacion and Bautista.  This team should lead a notoriously tough division.  Ask all those ex-Marlins how well these frantic facelifts go.  Again, it should work and they should win in the 90s- which would be one massive improvement from their 73-89 finish of a year ago.

2.  Tampa Bay- Only the Rays could trade away the likes of Wade Davis and Big Game James Shields and still legitimately look at their rotation as their strength.  They may struggle to score runs but Will Myers will be there sooner rather than later.  And I’ve learned not to bet against Joe Maddon.

3. Baltimore- It’s not that Buck Showalter’s group took a step back.  It’s that a tough division got tougher.  There’s a lot to like about this group, but let’s just see if last year was the first major step to the promised land or an anomaly.

4.  New York- No team with C.C. Sabbathia in its rotation and Robinson Cano in the middle of its lineup is without hope.  But boy are they old and boy are they fragile and boy is no help coming from Columbus or anywhere else any time soon.

5.  Boston- Was it just that they needed to bring in John Farrell and Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino and a bunch of other allegedly swell Joes?  They’ll help and God knows it can’t be any worse than last year was.  But the climb up from the ditch they drove into won’t happen overnight.


1.  Detroit- Verlander, Scherzer, Fielder, Hunter, a healthy Victor Martinez…what’s not to love? Well, the bullpen.  But that can be fixed during the season and if it can’t, if anyone can make it work, Jim Leyland can.

2. Kansas City-  It’s really hard to go from being a 72-90 team to a contender…and these guys may just pull it off.  It doesn’t hurt playing in this division, but  Shields and Davis give them the rotation they need to go along with a lineup that with Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, and Eric Hosmer has talent coming out of its ears.

3.  Chicago- With Sale and Peavy they should be in it, but losing Pierzynski and his 26 home runs doesn’t help and a lot of the other teams in their division got better.

4. Indians-  With the additions of Swisher and Bourn and yes Francona and the dreaded Bullpen Mafia, they could make the NL Central race a four-team scramble.  That starting rotation is still problematic though,  to say the least.

5. Twins- Ron Gardenhire, Justin Morneau, and Joe Mauer all deserve better– and they just might get before season’s end.


1.  I think they’ll ultimately regret it, but for now Hamilton makes what was already a good offense a whole lot better.   Not many teams could so easily endure the loss of a Zack Greinke, but then not many teams have a Jered Weaver.  Oh and that Trout fellow in the outfield seems to have some ability.  Just remember this is a tough division and they didn’t win last year when they were expected to…

2.  Oakland-  If I’ve learned not to bet against Joe Maddon, I’ve really learned not to bet  against Billy Beane or anybody else who manages to scoop up people like Yoenis Cespedes when nobody is looking.   Flash-in-the-pan theories be damned, this group didn’t win 94 wins by accident last year.  That’s a solid little rotation they’ve got and the should hit just enough.

3.  Texas- I think ultimately they did the right thing, but for now they’ll miss Josh Hamilton, although Pierzynski and Berkman will help offset his loss. They’ll be in it and the likes of Jurickson Profar, Mike Olt, and Leonys Martin are coming.

4. Seattle- As a Mets’ fan, I can appreciate the plight of a team trying to turn things around in a tough division and counting on a big contribution from Jason Bay to do it.  For any team with someone like Felix Hernandez in the rotation, all could not possibly be lost, but this may take a while.

5.  Houston- Again speaking as  a Mets’ fan, I thought it was tough enough when they put the Braves in the NL East.  For these poor guys to be thrown to the lions in this division…it’s just going to be tough.  For the foreseeable future.

Wild Card 1: Tampa Bay

Wild Card2 : Oakland

You heard it here first!

Happy Opening Day!

And don’t forget to write your Congressman…make Opening Day a national holiday!

Part of a series on The Irish American Catholic Mets’ Fan on movies based on the Gospel.

I have to begin with my favorite story about this film and one of my favorite stories about film of all time.

The Gospel According to St. Matthew was directed by Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini– who was an avowed Marxist, atheist, and gay.  He dedicated the film, as we find out in the first frame, “to the dear, joyous, familiar memory of Pope John XXIII” who reached out to befriend Pasolini in the interests of greater dialogue with non-believers.

It gets better.

According to legend (like most legends it has multiple versions; by all means, if you know a different one, tell it), Pasolini cast Enrique Irazoqui in the role of Jesus when Irazoqui came to his door collecting for the Italian Communist Party.

Pasolini essentially told the not-quite-twenty Irazoqui “I haven’t got any money for you kid, but how’d you like to be in a movie?”  Irazoqui said he couldn’t possibly accept because he was dedicated to serving the party and if he was cast in the movie, he would be less able to serve the cause.    Pasolini explained to him that by being in this movie, he would be helping the cause.

Signor Pasolini, you tell no lies.

That’s not to say The Gospel According to St. Matthew is in execution The Gospel According to Karl.   Pasolini does not take any socialist liberties with scripture.  In fact,  he takes hardly any liberties at all.  This is a very unadorned straightforward interpretation of Matthew’s Gospel.  It’s practically a word-for-word retelling.  Pasolini seems to figure that if he just tells Jesus’s story flat out, that by itself will go a long way toward furthering his Marxist political agenda.

He’s more or less right.

In Being Catholic Now, Anna Quindlen says she can’t figure out how any kind of conservative movement could ever count the Gospel as central to their beliefs because the Gospel is such a progressive document.  Conservative movements, Christian and otherwise, are a little more complicated than that, but after watching The Gospel According to St. Matthew, I see what she means.  For all its myriad flaws, communism did at least originate as a critique of something that cried out for correction: economic injustice.   Watch this rendition of Matthew’s Gospel and you realize just how central the theme of economic justice is to that book.

One look at the characters populating this film and you understand that they’re not merely poor, they’re just barely surviving.  Those rugged hills all around them look mighty unforgiving and every town from Bethlehem to Jerusalem is a step above a pile of bricks.  Their clothing is simple and drab.  Their faces are decidedly un-Hollywood in their plainness, and the expressions on them are of people who haven’t had anything to be happy about in a long time and aren’t holding their breaths waiting for the next time they’ll be happy.    In case you still don’t get it, they’re underscored at different points by Odetta singing “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child”  and Blind Willie Johnson playing “Dark Was The Night, Cold Was the Ground.”  These are the conquered, the beaten-down, the struggling, the hopeless.

These are the people Christ joins.  He looks like them, lives like them.  He ministers to them.  He heals them.  He comes to bring them the Gospel and by God do these people ever look like the could use good news right about now.

The good newshe brings  is the same good news we’ve known about for 2000 years.  Blessed are the poor in spirit.  Come unto me all you who labor.  My yoke is easy and my burden is light.  The last shall be first and the first shall be last.  It’s right there in your dusty old King James Bible.  In this film, in the mouth of Enrique Irazoqui playing Jesus, they’re not dusty and old any more.  They’re immediate and real, as quietly intense as Irazoqui himself.  Pasololini stays out of his way and the Gospel’s way.  There’s nothing fancy going on here; the Sermon on the Mount is done almost entirely as a close-up of Irazoqui. Just preach, Jesus, just preach.  Preach to the poor and the outcast.  Let them know whose part God really takes in a world of haves and have-nots.  In Pasolini’s world, it’s crystal clear who that is.  Not only is Christ united with the poor, he’s practically hostile to the wealthy.   The forgotten and marginalized get to hear about the poor in spirit and easy yokes and light burdens.  The rich find out it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than to it is for them to reach the kingdom of heaven.  They find out they can’t serve God and mammon.  The powerful are told in no uncertain terms what a bunch of hypocrites they are.  This is the economic justice of the Gospel as Pasolini sees it.  And he hardly changes a syllable of it for this movie. 

So many film renditions of scripture proceed from the idea that scripture needs to be jazzed up.  We need a spectacular wall of water as Charlton Heston marches through the Red Sea.  We need Robert Powell, James Mason, and none other than Laurence Olivier speaking the Gospel in Eton-perfect English accents.  We need Jim Caviezel’s blood and guts spilled all over every frame.  It all assumes that scripture needs help.  The message isn’t nearly enough. 

For Pier Paolo Pasolini, the Gospel is plenty.  The message of hope for those with nothing, the warning that material advantages are spiritual disadvantages for those with everything, that God sees how the goods of this world are distributed and sides with the shut-out, needs no dressing up.  The Gospel According to St. Matthew is the cinematic equivalent of a 95-mile-an-hour fastball right down the middle.  This is the Gospel, Pasolini just exactly as it is.  It says the weak and the suffering are not alone and there’s hope and that privlieged ought not be too comfortable.   Let’s see if you can handle it. 

It took a gay Marxist atheist to do it. 

If that’s not God writing straight with crooked lines I don’t know what is.

Next in the Hooray for Holy-wood series:  Jesus Christ Superstar (1973, directed by Norman Jewison).

Another St. Patrick’s Day has come and gone.  I spent it with my family on Long Island.  Lots of parties, lots of food, lots of singing, lots of my children being spoiled to within an inch of their lives by their grandparents and aunts and uncles and older cousins.   It was great great fun.  Thus it’s all the more peculiar that in the aftermath of March 17th, I find myself possessed of a peculiar thought.

It would be so much easier not to be Irish-American.

I’m not playing the “Let’s See Whose Ethnicity Has Been More Screwed Over in History” game here.  It’s a pointless contest to have.  Still, there are some aspects of being Irish-American that undeniably  make it a chore.  At least if you’re Irish-American and care about it.

It would be nice to just celebrate St. Patrick’s Day the way we’re all supposed to:  packed to the rafters in some in some dive,  starting in with the green beer at 6 in the morning, wearing a plastic green hat and a “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” button (if the button has a message even that classy).  Throw in a leprechaun and that’s all St. Patrick’s Day is to most people.  Thanks to my parents and grandparents, I’ve made the fatal mistake of seeing St. Patrick’s Day as a family holiday, every bit the equal of Christmas or Thanksgiving.    I don’t get to enjoy suffocating in some bar that thinks it’s a pub just because its name begins with an O and an apostrophe.    For me, St. Patrick’s Day is a holiday you go home for, so you can spend it with your brothers, your sister, your sisters-in-law, your aunt, your parents, and their nine, count ’em nine grandchildren, four of which were given to them by you and your wife.  There’s plenty of Guinness and Irish coffee on hand of course, but so is the corned beef, as sacrosanct as a turkey on the fourth Thursday of November.  You have fun but you don’t lose your mind.  The popular idea is that if you’re Irish, St. Patrick’s Day is about getting drunk.  It might be nice to indulge in that.  Unfortunately,  I’m really Irish and not really a convenient stereotype so I know it’s not.

I would love to be able to just point to a cartoon leprechaun and figure this is the sum total of my ethnicity’s cultural contributions to the world.  Then I wouldn’t have to watch people glaze over while I roll on like Old Man River about how Ireland was the last refuge of learning and culture in Europe while the rest of the continent wallowed in the Dark Ages, and how we really do have our very own language that can be extremely difficult to learn, and how your school was dead wrong to include Swift, Shaw, Wilde, and Yeats in that British literature course you took because they were all Irish writers.  I wouldn’t feel the need to pontificate about the Abbey Theatre and how it’s arguably the best thing the Irish ever did for the world.  It would make it so much easier to get along with non-Irish people or at least Irish people who can’t really be bothered to really be Irish.

It would be even easier for me to get along with other people if I could just respond to questions about my heritage the way I’ve seen so many Irish-Americans respond:  with a breezy “oh yeah, I’m not really anything, just Irish.  Pretty boring, huh?”  Every time I’ve heard that type of sentiment uttered the obvious subtext has been “we’re just random Europeans and as such we’re just a bunch of standard issue white people and thus have no non-boring narrative of overcoming adversity and oppression.”    Think of all the fun I could have ogling some gorgeous British royal or other and being breathlessly swept away by all the grandeur and pomp of everything from a wedding to some princess’ s morning sickness.  But no, that would be too easy.  I just  have to be fully educated about Ireland’s 800 of struggling for independence from Britain.  I just have to see the British crown as the symbol of British infamy in Ireland, infamy that includes not one (Cromwell) but two (the Great Hunger) attempts at genocide.  I can’t seem to conveniently forget little things like non-stop cultural imperialism that all but wiped out the Irish language and Irish customs,  multiple plantations of Ireland that took ownership of the land away from the native people,  the Penal Laws that made it a crime to be an Irish Catholic in Ireland,  the Act of Union that attempted to make Ireland cease to exist as a nation, and the repeated attempts of everyone from Wolfe Tone to Pearse and Connolly to Bobby Sands to take Ireland back from the British that were just as repeatedly met with repression, execution, and treating Irish patriots like common criminals.    Let me tell you, it’s made more than one conversation about the Queen and her allegedly heroic stands and equally alleged apologies a bit awkward.  What I wouldn’t give to just glide through life  agog at Pippa Middleton (that’s the sister, right?) under the blissful delusion that I’m some sort of Catholic WASP, untouched by centuries of brutal conquest.

There’s a not a thing wrong with being a WASP of course.  There’s not much wrong with being royal family watcher.  I’m neither.  I know exactly who I am and where I’m from and what that means.  What it means, in part, is that I’ve chosen a path other than the one of least resistance because I know the path of greatest resistance was forced upon people who share my heritage.

Not only does being Irish mean I have to know and explain my people’s unfinished struggle for freedom, it means I now have to identify with everyone else who has gone and is going through the same thing.   If I didn’t care so much about being Irish, I could just pretend that things like colonization and its attendant bigotry was just stuff that happened to other people.  I could cheerfully look down my nose at a Native American who isn’t all that crazy about Columbus Day or an African-American appalled at any part of the Voting Rights Act suddenly being in jeopardy.  Those could just be their problems.    But I just had to be all gung-ho Irish and thus realize that imperialism and discrimination happened to people with last names like mine and if I didn’t want to be an utter hypocrite I had to give a damn about it when it happened to someone else.  Better yet, I’m an Irish-American with a very clear and fond memory of his immigrant grandfather, the one who came here and did every kind of difficult and dangerous job you can think of  from construction to mining in order to support his family.  There goes resenting immigrants  and thinking they’re taking away anything but the most thankless and backbreaking gigs this country has to offer.  I suppose I could still at least be suspicious of Muslim immigrants and see them all as dangerous terrorists who can’t be trusted and who practice a spooky backward religion.  When have the Irish ever been accused or terrorism or had their loyalty questioned just because of who they were?  And since when did any of us practice a religion seen as backward and spooky?

Oh…right.  Moving on then.

I’d love to let myself off the hook.  I’d love to just reduce being Irish being pale and drinking a lot.  It’s always much easier to be a stereotype than to know and embrace what you actually are and take responsibility for it.  I fall far short of doing that perfectly.  I just know I have an obligation to make an effort to do that.  I’m an Irish-American.  I can’t just blow that off.  I can’t pretend it doesn’t make me different.  Not better, not worse, just different. Distinct.   I’m part of an ongoing story of a people that isn’t exactly like anyone else’s.  I also know that story is enough like a lot of other people’s to realize that they’re just as human as I am and that I’d better not expect them to be a stereotype either.

St. Patrick’s Day:  a great day to be Irish.

If you’re going to be Irish, you have to be Irish the other 364 days too.

And if you’re going to be Irish, you have to mean it.

Three balls, two strikes.  Two on, two out.  Down a run.  You know, you just know, another fastball is coming.  You’ve fouled off two in a row.  Not good contact so he probably thinks you can’t catch up to his heat which today has been between 92 and 94 MPH, about right for him.  But you think you have the measure of this guy now.  Sit dead red.

This is all why you will look like an idiot flailing at the 80 MPH garbage he will flip up there and that will just die on you.

That’s the change-up.  Get them used to one thing.  Then show them something else, something so different, so much slower than the fastball, their timing will be a wreck and they won’t figure you out all day.

Which brings me to the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the newly minted Pope Francis I.

Don’t sit dead red on this guy.  Don’t try to tell me you know what’s coming because you don’t.

Everyone thought they knew what was coming with John XXIII.  A nice safe transitional Pope who wouldn’t rock the Bark of St. Peter for the few years the fat  77-year-old geezer would be in there.

John XXIII called Vatican II.  He revolutionized what a Pope and the papacy could be and to say he transfigured the Church is a vast understatement.  It’s why, even though his papacy ended several years before I was born, he’s my favorite Pope, to this day one of the best advertisements for Catholicism, and makes my short list for people from history I would most want to meet.

I thought I had John Paul II down cold.  In his way a media superstar but also an ultratraditionalist who went around scolding (once literally) any priest or theologian who deviated even a little from the Pope’s straight-and-narrow.  The Pope who decided he needed to tell the Jesuits who they needed to have as their General after the great Pedro Arrupe suffered a stroke and could no longer serve in that role, even though Jesuits had always elected their own leaders just like most religious orders.  The archconservative who because of his nightmarish experience with Communism was implacably opposed to anything even the slightest bit left-wing and who maybe because he had lived under a dictatorship could be pretty authoritarian himself.

The archconservative once called labor unions “indispensable” and supported debt relief for Third World nations.  The ultratraditionalist publicly apologized to Jews for the Church’s past anti-Semitism and was the first Pope to publicly pray in a mosque.  Really, what the hell do I know?

I thought I had Benedict XVI down even colder.  When John Paul II scolded those priests and theologians, it was often through the man nicknamed “God’s rotweiler.”   Next to him, John Paul II was positively radical.  He had publicly condemned rock- and-roll, including the Beatles.  From what I could tell from a distance, he seemed like the kind of guy who would have all the warmth and good humor of someone who would publicly condemn rock-and-roll and the Beatles.

Ask anyone who was at Yankee Stadium in the summer of 2008 for the Pope’s Mass how cold and dry Benedict was.  He may have condemned rock-and-roll as devil music but he also condemned child rapers masquerading as priests as “filth”— maybe not enough, but not nothing either.  And then Mr. Traditional did one of the more untraditional things you will ever see by willingly laying down the reigns of power when he felt he no longer merited them.

Seriously, what the hell do I know?

As Catholic, I know that the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit.  That necessarily means the Holy Spirit guides the Pope.  There are plenty, plenty of instances of Popes not listening to that guidance, at least not apparently (I can’t figure out how Popes operate, you think I know what the Holy Spirit is trying to say to anybody?).  But sometimes that guidance manifests itself in ways you don’t expect.

From a secular standpoint, I know that holding any office of that kind of significance has to change you more than you could ever change it.  You’re not same person you were after a few years of being a president or a prime minister that you were before you took the oath.    It stands to reason that must be especially true for popes.

I don’t know how the office will change Pope Francis.  I don’t know what he’ll do as Pope or what he’ll mean for the Church.  I’ve learned at long last not to even try hazarding a guess.  In less than a month, I’ve seen a Pope resign, the first Pope from the Americas take over, and a Jesuit at that.  Your guess is as good as mine.  And your guess isn’t good.

We know the hard questions facing the Church about the poor and abuse scandals and women and the priesthood and birth control and ministry to gays and lesbians and on and on it goes.  We know there are hard questions about Cardinal Bergoglio and what he did and what he may have failed to do about the outrages of a junta.  Those questions, the Church’s, his, deserve answers.  They’re probably coming.

I’ll say this fornow: his profound humility speaks for itself down the whole bus route he used to take to work as a cardinal.  So does his work for the poor and his choice of the name Francis after one of the greatest peaceful warriors for social justice the world has ever seen.  He’s a Jesuit which means he’s part of an order that’s synonymous with titanic intellect and which lives to “find God in all things.”  All of this gives me hope for this papacy and my Church.  It’s cautious perhaps, but I know hope when it arrives and it’s shown up here with me now.

What gives me even more hope is knowing that God’s out pitch seems to be the change-up.

Over the next five weeks of Lent, The Irish American Catholic Mets’ Fan will be discussing  five different movies based on the Gospel.  The first installment will cover the 1961 film, King of Kings.

Holy Redeemer, Word Incarnate, Prince of Peace, and…captain of the Enterprise?

Yes, some five years so before he was Captain Christopher Pike in the original scrapped pilot for Star Trek, Jeffrey Hunter was Jesus, as we discover when he appears a fair amount of the way into the biblical epic King of Kings.  As Christ, Hunter looks a lot like the image of Christ so ingrained in your head thanks to everything from Renaissance painting to that hippie-looking friend of yours you instantly nicknamed Jesus.  The shoulder-length hair, the beard, the gentle eyes that nevertheless seem to penetrate the core of your soul– that’s Jeffrey Hunter in this film and that’s Jesus.  That physical representation is so firmly etched into our imaginations, it seems like we hardly bother to try to imagine him looking any other way.  We know what Jesus looks like and we know how the Gospel story goes:  blah blah angel, yadda yadda Mary, so on so forth  stable, et cetera et cetera  baptism, this and that miracles, yakkity schmakitty Last Supper, whoseywhatsit crucifixtion, yap yap Resurrection, roll credits.

To be honest, having only seen bits and pieces of it around Easter, that’s what I expected from King of Kings:  some straightforward, neat and clean, unchallenging, unimaginative rehashing of the Gospel rather than a retelling of it.   Nothing controversial, nothing that would call overt attention to Christ’s call still-revolutionary acts like loving  your enemies and serving he poor, just something safely pious that years from now they’ll be able to show on AMC during Holy Week.

To a point, that’s exactly what you get with King of  Kings.  When anyone says anything taken directly from the Bible, it’s the King James version: Jesus teaches that you can’t serve “both God and mammon,” not God and money.  For people who were still  many many centuries away from sewers and laundry detergent, those Israeli peasants sure do look good as do the Hollywood-perfect settings in which they live.  Everything is big and sparkling, reminding you that this is very much a biblical epic in the tradition of The Ten Commandments and Ben Hur.  This is a nice safe Sunday school Bible story…to a point.   Watch it from beginning to end and you start to notice a few things.

You notice this isn’t a one-to-one retelling of any particular Gospel.  The action begins with Rome’s conquest of Israel 63 years before Christ’s birth.   We see an occasional miracle, but several, from the wedding feast at Cana to Lazarus are conspicuously absent.  Just before heading to Jerusalem, Jesus stops off in Nazareth  “to spend time with his mother” (as the uncredited Orson Welles solemnly narrates).  The Gospel is added to and  subtracted from as freely as any other movie based on literature.

Characters are either built up beyond any literary basis or inserted into the story whole.  Barabbas (Harry Guardino), the insurrectionist freed rather than Jesus when the mob demands it of Pilate on Good Friday, gets far more than the brief mention he gets near the end of the actual Gospel.  He’s at the center of perhaps the main theme of King of Kings: the question of whether Jesus is a political messiah sent to drive out the Roman overlords or something more…or less if you’re Barabbas, who tries to hijack Jesus’ followers on Palm Sunday as part of a massive uprising against the Romans in Jerusalem    The character Lucius is woven into the story as a Roman version of the Greek chorus, commenting on the story while also standing just barely apart from it.  Lucius serves as a sort of captain of the guard for Pontius Pilate and although a Roman, adopts a vaguely neutral stance in the conflict that arises between John the Baptist and later Jesus and Herod and the Roman authorities.    He’s loyal to the empire (“as you have a duty to your God, so I have one to my emperor” he quite fairly explains to Jesus in a scene in which Jesus comes to visit John the Baptist in prison), but also finds Jesus to be no threat to it.  He refuses to participate in the slaughter of the Holy Innocents after Jesus’ birth explaining that as a Roman soldier he doesn’t go around murdering children (are we talking about the same Rome, Lucius?)   On Good Friday, he serves as a kind of defense attorney for Jesus (people on trial before a Roman governor had access to legal counsel?).   Both characters have screen time comparable to Jesus himself.

For all the hue and cry over the The Passion of the Christ, you can’t help wonder if maybe this movie is where Mel Gibson got his ideas.  The Crucifixtion isn’t especially tough, but plenty of other scenes are.  When the Roman general Pompey makes his way to the doors of the temple in Jerusalem to start plundering, his path is blocked by a line of elderly Jewish priests.  Pompey doesn’t hesitate in ordering them wiped out with spears with a wave of his hand.  Barabbas’ Palm Sunday rising in Jerusalem is put down mercilessly and graphically.   More disturbing than the violence is the dance of Salome, which is so erotic all Brigid Bazlen is missing is the stripper pole and which is also equally creepy when you understand that her seven veils number is being done for her stepfather.   If this is something you can show endlessly on AMC during Holy Week, it shouldn’t come on until after the kids have gone to bed.   It’s not all nice and safe.

That extends to some of the theology Kings of Kings addresses (and the moment it addressed any theology, it addressed more than I expected). The Judas question is actually dealt with beyond just making him a simple villain.   In King of Kings, Judas (Rip Torn) is portrayed as being one of Barabbas’ rebel zealots (which some theologians have postulated he actually was) and plans to use turning Jesus over to the authorities as a means of “forcing his hand” and making him come down on one side or another once and for all.  Preach peace or lead the rebellion.  Love our enemies or drive them out.  Pick one.  The “forcing his hand” theory is one of several that have been kicked around for years about what Judas’ motivation was for doing what he did.    Whether you buy it or not is almost beside the point.  What’s impressive is that King of Kings, made way back in 1961, is willing to look at Judas as being complicated enough to have a well-meaning if misguided reason for selling out Jesus rather than just sticking with the more palatable idea that he was a flat scoundrel looking to make a fast thirty pieces.

If you’re looking for a Gospel story at the Children’s Bible level, it’s not here with King of Kings.  Not entirely anyway.  It looks nice, but it’s not squeaky clean.  There’s plenty of thous and thys and verbs that end in -eth, but it’s not as old-fashioned as you might think and it’s not a verbatim regurgitation of the Good News.  It roughly retells the story while  taking liberties that help to address matters as profound as what everyone from Jesus to Judas to Barabbas to Pilate to Herod was thinking when they each did what they did and what each may have thought of the other.  It’s a poetic interpretation, meaning it’s not exactly faithful to its source material, using it only to tell the story it wants to tell.    The thing that’s most appealing about it is the source material itself and there’s enough of that in there to prove that for all the Hollywood you see and for all the liberties taken, you can’t screw up the Gospel too much.  A huge portion of the Sermon on the Mount is there and everything from the Beattitudes to the urging to pray for those who persecute you was  plenty subversive  and challenging even in 1961 (and now) that this self-consciously handsome movie  can’t disguise it.  Jesus is still gentle and disturbing.  So too, it has to be noted, is the Blessed Mother (Siobhan McKenna)  who never raises her voice above a whisper but shows herself to be iron-tough when he tells Jesus simply “I’m coming with you” when he sets off to Jerusalem and his doom.   It’s an enjoyable and thoughtful interpretation but it’s not quite a holy card.  And that’s what makes it enjoyable and thoughtful.

Next in the Hooray for Holy-wood series:  The Gospel According to Saint Matthew (1964, directed by Paolo Pasolini).