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Robert Lazu Kmita | Remnant Columnist, Romania

Just as our bodies need sleep to recover our strength and fulfill our daily duties, our souls also need rest. One of the most pleasant forms of obtaining such rest is through play. When cultivated in a manner appropriate to Christian life, games can not only be refreshing but also educational. Aware of the importance of such forms of relaxation, Saint Thomas Aquinas dedicated an entire article to them in the Summa Theologica (II-II, Q. 168, art. 2). Here, he outlines the three basic rules for the proper formation of Christian discernment regarding games:

“The first and chief is that the pleasure in question should not be sought in indecent or injurious deeds or words. (...) Another thing to be observed is that one lose not the balance of one’s mind altogether. (...) Thirdly, we must be careful, as in all other human actions, to conform ourselves to persons, time, and place, and take due account of other circumstances, so that our fun ‘befit the hour and the man,’ as Tully says.”[i]

Respecting these principles, we can then enjoy the hours of merriment offered by those well-chosen games. Even more so now, during the sacred Christmas holiday season, the winter vacation encourages us to engage in various activities aimed at enhancing our joy. In the following, I suggest a few games – some simpler, others more sophisticated – that truly can provide rest for our souls.

After my article about movies, I have already been warned: it is impossible to encompass in such a piece all those remarkable creations that deserve to be highlighted. That doesn’t stop me from asking you to do so in your comments (hoping that in the future I will also write about all the omitted creations). Inevitably, subjectivity plays an important role in determining the titles worth noting. However, to limit it, I will write about animated cartoons using a concrete criterion, resulting from the answer to the following question: which are those cartoons that both we – the parents – and our seven children have constantly revisited over the years?

The General (1926)

This silent movie is an absolute hidden gem. Probably Buster Keaton’s best film, The General is an action film with cleverly mixed doses of romance and comedy. Set during the American Civil War, the film centers on a train engineer named John Gray (interpreted by Buster Keaton) who tries to enlist in the Confederate Army but is turned down because the military thinks he would be more valuable to the war effort if he keeps his current job as a mechanic. Both his family and his fiancée misunderstand and consider him a coward, refusing to talk to him until he is in uniform. However, the hero will have the chance to prove his bravery and courage when his engine is stolen by some Northern spies, with his fiancée accidentally kidnapped along with the stolen locomotive (which is called “The General”). John Gray will start chasing, first on foot, then with a trolley, and finally with another engine, to free his fiancée – and “The General” (his locomotive).

Was it a gigantic crocodile? Or perhaps a whale? But what if it was a dragon? Or, who knows, maybe a gigantic sea serpent? As you probably anticipated, all these questions with uncertain answers refer to another rare creature described in the pages of the Bible: Leviathan.

Part Two (Part 1 is Here)

An unpleasant surprise. The third appearance

Full of doubts and uncertainties, our hero left the bishop’s residence. In the vicinity of the Tepeyac hill, he disappeared from the eyes of the two discreetly sent servants of Father Zumárraga to follow this peculiar peasant. When he reached the heights, he had the joy of seeing that, as expected, the Lady was there. With a trembling voice, saddened by what seemed to him a new failure, he told her everything. When he finished, to his surprise, the Holy Virgin Mary was serene and smiling. She spoke to him with great gentleness, showing an unwavering confidence that moved him to tears:

“It is very well, my little son. Come back here tomorrow, and you will have the sign you are waiting for. Then he will believe you, and no doubt will remain with you. Remember my words carefully, my child: I will reward you generously for all your troubles, efforts, and problems you have faced because of my request. Now you can go home. Tomorrow I will be here waiting for you.”

On the way back, he felt the pain in his feet and hips due to repeated climbs. But that was still nothing. A cruel blow befell him when he arrived at Uncle Bernardino’s house. During his absence, the old man had suddenly fallen ill. Trembling all over, the old man struggled between life and death. An atrocious form of flu, called by the natives cocolixtle, had taken hold of him, leading him to an unavoidable end. With a heart broken in pain, Juan spent the entire night and almost the entire next day at the bedside of the one who was his last connection to this world. Understanding that no one could change anything, he set out for Tenochtitlan with only one thought: to bring a priest to give his good uncle final sacraments. Only now, from the depths of his memory, came back to him the face of Mary, the Holy Queen of heaven and earth. Full of doubts, he decided to bypass the hill, planning to return to meet the Lady only after his uncle’s situation was resolved. Distraught and saddened, he tried to implement his plan.

No genius, no matter how gifted, no theologian, no matter how wise, no philosopher, no matter how learned, could better capture the essence of Christian faith and the principle of abandoning to the Almighty hands of God the Son, Jesus Christ, and His Pure Mother.

So, he set out on another, longer road that bypassed the Tepeyac hill on the other side. What followed filled him with humility and delight. Knowing the hidden intentions of his heart, the Lady appeared, descending the slope and approaching at an angle that made the encounter inevitable. No sermon, no lesson, no catechesis could summarize the essence of this gesture of the woman who gave birth to the Divine Savior, Jesus Christ. Just as she did with Juan Diego, with an unspeakable love for us, poor sinners, the Holy Virgin Mary is ready to set out, seeking to snatch us from the clutches of our uncertainties and troubles.

Heavenly gifts. The fourth and last appearance

Enveloped in the same radiant garment of divine beauty, she addressed him with a gentleness capable of shattering the hardness of any soul:

“What troubles you, my little son? Where are you going?”

Ashamed and moved to tears, Juan Diego unfolded his story:

“Noble Lady, what I have to tell you will sadden you. Your humble servant, my uncle, is very ill. He is suffering from a severe illness and is on the verge of death. I am hurrying to the Church of Tenochtitlan to summon a priest to confess him and administer the last rites. Once I have done this, I will return here immediately to convey your message. Please forgive me and have patience with me. I will not disappoint you. I promise with all my faith that I will come back here tomorrow with the utmost haste.”

No genius, no matter how gifted, no theologian, no matter how wise, no philosopher, no matter how learned, could better capture the essence of Christian faith and the principle of abandoning to the Almighty hands of God the Son, Jesus Christ, and His Pure Mother:

“My dear son, listen to me well and let my words penetrate deeply into your heart. Do not be troubled and burdened by sorrow. Do not fear any illness or discomfort, nor any unrest or suffering. Am I not here, your Mother? Are you not under my protection? Am I not the fountain of your life? Are you not sheltered by my mantle? Is there something you need? Do not let your uncle’s illness disturb you because he will not die from it. Even at this moment, he is healed.”

Juan Diego climbed. The landscape exceeded all expectations. Castilian roses, along with other wonderful flowers, filled the air with heavenly fragrances, seemingly rising directly from the barren rocks where nothing could grow.

After uttering these words, accompanied by a delicate smile, the Queen of heaven and earth invited him to climb to the place where he had met her in the preceding days.

“There you will find more flowers in bloom. Gather them carefully, arrange them together, and then return to show me the bouquet you have obtained.”

Juan Diego climbed. The landscape exceeded all expectations. Castilian roses, along with other wonderful flowers, filled the air with heavenly fragrances, seemingly rising directly from the barren rocks where nothing could grow. After gathering them, he took the utmost care to fold the hem of his cloak (tilma) that covered his body, descending slowly toward the Holy Mother, who spoke to him thus:

“My dear son, these flowers are the sign you will take to the bishop. Tell him in my name that in them, he will recognize my will and the fact that I desire it to be fulfilled. You will be my ambassador, to whom I grant all my trust. Please do not open your cloak or show its contents to anyone until you are in the presence of the bishop. Then tell him everything: recount how I sent you to the top of the hill where you found these flowers growing abundantly, ready to be picked. Tell him once again all that you have seen and heard, so that he may comply with my wishes and build the church (teocalli) that I have requested to be erected here.”

Roses for the Bishop

He almost floated all his way long. Arriving in front of the bishop’s residence, he knocked on the door. When the exasperated servants saw him, they huffed, letting him wait. They no longer wanted to open for him. When, after more than an hour, they saw that the eccentric peasant did not leave his position in front of the gate, they approached determined to drive him away. Observing that he held something in the folds of his cloak, they tried to see what he was hiding. Eager not to provoke him with a complete refusal, Juan lifted a corner of his mantle, allowing them to catch a glimpse of the beauty of paradise. Contrary and instigated, the servants tried to open by force his entire cloak. Then, a miracle! The unseen flowers transformed into an embroidery sewn inside the miraculous cloak...

The conversion of the Aztecs was triggered with enthusiasm typical of this strong-blooded people. Churches, once empty, became overcrowded with those eager to receive Holy Baptism, entering under the protective mantle of the Virgin Mary.

Shocked by what had happened, they rushed up the stairs leading to the room of Bishop Juan de Zumárraga. Hurriedly, they called for Juan Diego. He entered. Without kneeling, fearing that the miraculous flowers might fall down, he bowed deeply before an illustrious group, visiting courtesy to Bishop Juan de Zumárraga. Among them was none other than Bishop Don Sebastian Ramirez y Fuenleal, the new governor of Mexico. In ways known only to her, the Queen of Heaven and Earth, the Holy Virgin Mary, was bringing her plan to fruition.

After recounting everything that the Holy Lady had commanded him, Juan Diego concluded by telling Bishop Juan de Zumárraga that he had brought the miraculous sign requested. With careful gestures, he opened the cloak. The Castilian roses and other flowers spilled onto the polished floor. Everyone present fell silent. Looking at them, Juan realized that there was something else he was not seeing yet. Without looking at the roses anymore, they gazed with fascinated faces at his chest. Trying to follow where they were looking, he finally understood: an incredible beautifully image representing the Virgin Mary who had appeared on Tepeyac Hill could be seen on the inner side of his cloak. The two bishops – the Primate of Mexico and the Governor of the province – along with their entourage knelt before the miraculously envisioned icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe, supernaturally created by God himself on the cloak of a humble Mexican peasant. From that moment on, this image, not painted by human hands, would be known worldwide as “Our Lady of Guadalupe.”

After long minutes of veneration, Bishop Zumárraga rose and embraced the humblest of the servants of the Virgin, the immortal Juan Diego. Emotionally and happily, he heard His Holiness decree the immediate construction of a chapel dedicated to Our Lady, which would be used until the plans for a magnificent Church were meticulously prepared.

Through the mediation of the residence servants, the news spread like wildfire. The next day, when the icon was carried with great honor to the church in Tenochtitlan, the crowds filled the streets to capacity. The miracle had occurred. The prayers of the holy bishop had been answered. The conversion of the Aztecs was triggered with enthusiasm typical of this strong-blooded people. Churches, once empty, became overcrowded with those eager to receive Holy Baptism, entering under the protective mantle of the Virgin Mary.

The adventure, which began more than 400 years ago, has not ended. It continues today, with Guadalupe becoming one of the largest sanctuaries and pilgrimage sites on the entire earth. Chosen by God to crush the head of the serpent, the Holy Virgin Mary leads right now, in our days, one of the fiercest battles aimed at establishing the triumph of her Immaculate Heart united with the Most Sacred Heart of the Savior Jesus Christ: the fight for Christian families, for the life of babies unborn and those considered unworthy of life.

Stella matutina, ora pro nobis!

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Episode One

In spite of the missionary zeal of the first Franciscan monks who arrived in Mexico at the beginning of the 16th century of the Christian era, few were those who converted to Christianity. The bloodthirsty Aztec gods, dominated by the legendary “feathered serpent,” Quetzalcoatl, were unwilling to lose their influence over the peoples who offered them approximately twenty thousand (20,000!) victims annually. After Captain Hernando Cortés was forced to leave the province, Bishop Juan de Zumárraga sadly witnessed the deterioration of the situation in the new territories.

Compared by Saint John Chrysostom – in a downright poetic manner – to the auroral light of the morning, which heralds the approach of the moment when the sun itself appears to pour forth its light upon the world just emerging from darkness, Saint John the Baptist received, according to the words of Saint Jerome, the “honorable privilege” of preaching the Kingdom of God first. Indeed, the Gospel according to Matthew presents this crucial message as being conveyed for the first time by the greatest of the prophets of the Old Testament:

“And in those days cometh John the Baptist preaching in the desert of Judea. And saying: Do penance: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 3: 1-2).”

Among the biblical prophecies about cosmic events that will occur before the end of times, some mention the darkening of the sun. As expected, this sign is repeatedly mentioned in the Old Testament. The prophet Joel tells us, “the earth hath trembled, the heavens are moved: the sun and moon are darkened, and the stars have withdrawn their shining” (Joel 2:10). In the book of the prophet Ezekiel, God Himself speaks, announcing the consequences of His Providential intervention in history:

“I will cover the heavens, when thou shalt be put out, and I will make the stars thereof dark: I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light” (Ezeckiel 32:7).

If we were to inquire of Saint Bonaventure (1221–1274) about the root of the current crisis in the Church, we might be surprised by his response. The Seraphic Doctor, deeply engaged in issues pertaining to the end of history, condemns the apocalyptic dimension of a strictly rational-speculative theology and its resulting implications. The proliferation of this speculative thinking, influenced by Aristotle and Averroes, had given rise to heretical doctrines such as the eternity of the world and causal fatalism. For Bonaventure, this trend signified the unmistakable indication of the opening of the bottomless pit mentioned in the Book of Revelation (9, 1-2) and the emergence of the smoke of heresies that obscured the “sun” of supernatural faith. A more thorough examination reveals the underlying essence of his apocalyptic warning: the grave distortion of the interpretation of the sacred texts of the Bible. To which, I would say, must be added the spread of those heresies that deny the dogma of biblical inerrancy[i] and the inspiration of all texts recognized as canonical by the Council of Trent (1545–1563).

In the case of all the Sacraments of the Church, according to the Roman Catechism (1566), there is an essential part—described in the terms of the doctrine of Saint Thomas Aquinas through the concepts of “matter” and “form”–and certain ceremonies added to it. If the elimination or improper use of the essential part invalidates the sacrament, the omission of any other part is also strictly prohibited–except in exceptional situations:

“To (the matter and form) are added certain ceremonies. These cannot be omitted without sin, unless in case of necessity; yet, if at any time they be omitted, the Sacrament is not thereby invalidated, since the ceremonies do not pertain to its essence.”[1]

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