Half of America is single. The hook-up culture and age of technology have greatly changed the way people date; the script for traditional dating is often considered unpopular and “outdated.” Despite all of this, people still desire authentic, meaningful relationships. This illustration of the typical modern dating scene is explored in a film called The Dating Project, a new documentary that follows five single men and women, ages 18-40, as they navigate the dating landscape on their search for lasting relationships. (The film’s executive producer is Steve McEveety, who also produced The Passion of the Christ and Braveheart). I found the film to be honest and, at times, humorous. All the main characters are unscripted, and I felt their stories accurately portrayed the frustrations many of us have experienced in today’s confusing dating world.
The Dating Project was inspired by Boston College professor Dr. Kerry Cronin’s infamous “dating assignment,” which Dr. Cronin developed after learning her students didn’t know how to ask someone else out on a date. In the assignment, each student must ask another person on a “Level 1 Date” following a certain set of rules. While some critics call Dr. Cronin’s dating rules old-fashioned, her rules actually encourage getting to know a person for who they are—without sexual expectations. The goal of a Level 1 date is purely for information gathering. Dr. Cronin outlines specific rules for this first date:
These rules emphasize that dating should be about getting to know a person, appreciating his or her qualities and determining whether they are the type of person you would like to eventually explore a long-term romantic partnership with. When we lose sight of this, we are only seeing men and women as commodities – mere sources of pleasure or satisfaction for ourselves in the short term. We are called, instead, to recognize that all people are made in the image and likeness of God—which is difficult to do when you think of only how another person can benefit you. We have to be mindful of not falling into what Pope Francis calls a “throwaway culture” when it comes to relationships. We aren’t shopping for a product on Amazon, after all.
By the conclusion of the documentary, we see the five individuals who serve as the focus of the film progress in their confidence when it comes to dating and relationships. The college students who participated in the dating assignment remarked that asking someone out on a date in person was a much better feeling than a hookup. They said they would continue this way of dating in the future. I was most impressed with the change in the 40-year-old man. He led a more non-committal lifestyle when it came to relationships and by the end, I could tell the questions the directors asked him, such as, “If the woman of your dreams walked up to you, what would you say?”, had made an impression on him. He thought more deeply about how he viewed women as daughters of God, he could imagine himself in a long-term relationship, and he felt like dating within the parameters of the assignment allowed him to avoid temptations more easily.
As children of God, we are called to a higher standard than what our culture provides. We need to step up as Catholic men and women and change the dating narrative. We must be courageous! As Pope Saint John Paul II says in his letter to families, “Do not be afraid of the risks! God’s strength is always far more powerful than your difficulties!”
I recently watched a movie that’s been on my Hulu queue for some time--a 1966, mostly black and white film by the Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky on the 15th century medieval Russian artist named Andrei Rublev. Sound exciting? Maybe not to all… but it was on the Vatican’s recommended Best Films list, so I thought it was one probably worth seeing.
Of all the magnificent works of Christian art and architecture, I believe the Russian monk and artist Andrei Rublev’s (c. ~1360–1430) icon of the Holy Trinity still stands out. For how influential the icon has been for generations of artists and theologians, it doesn’t look like much. You may have seen the icon but never heard of the Russian monk and artist, Rublev, of whom little information is known (especially after he took his vow of silence!). Those who have seen the icon may never have recognized the Trinity present in the domestic scene of three people sitting around a table. Rublev’s icon is both simple and complex.
Even though the Catechism tells us the, “mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life” (CCC 234), we may still find it difficult to imagine what difference the Trinity makes in our daily life and actions.
The Sunday after Pentecost (this May 22) celebrates the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, or Trinity Sunday for short. I’m not giving a movie review or a systematic take on the Trinity, but Andrei Rublev did serve as a reminder of the great mystery and gift of God revealed in the three persons of the Trinity- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Rublev’s work is not simply a masterpiece of medieval Russian iconography, but also represents one of the most profound and concise theological reflections on the Trinity in history. Known by most non-Western Christians as The Hospitality of Abraham, the three persons seated around a table depicts the Old Testament scene of three angels visiting Abraham at the Oaks of Mamre (Genesis 18:1-15) that Christian tradition sees prefiguring the Trinity fully revealed at the coming of Christ and the sending the Holy Spirit.
Andrei Tarkovsky produced Andrei Rublev and loosely based it on the life of the artist and his conviction of “Christianity as an axiom of Russia’s historical identity.” Tarkovsky’s hauntingly beautiful film, set in 15th century Russia, is not really a biography, but an exploration of the human longing for transcendence and freedom in God through faith and art in a world often characterized by the chaos and violence of sin. When first released, various scenes were censored or cut out entirely by government officials of the atheistic and authoritarian Soviet Union, whose oppressive ideology the film subtly criticized. Tarkovsky believed his Trinitarian faith led him to take risks for truth, not remain comfortably passive. It was for this reason that he produced such a compelling film.
For Rublev and Tarkovsky, the Trinity wasn’t just an abstract idea, but a power and a presence at work in the world and in every human heart. Their work highlights their belief that when we suppress God in our lives, we are cut off from the source of true freedom, beauty, creativity, and peace. Instead, the Trinitarian character of our faith should empower us to bring these qualities into every aspect of our lives- from art to politics, medicine and healthcare, business, and everything else.
Maybe the most “practical” truth about our belief in the Trinity is how it changes the way we look at things, especially our relationship with God, others, and ourselves. Tarkovsky’s movie is in black and white… until towards the end when it shows Rublev’s icons. The Trinity icon is the last, and it stands out in vivid color. Artists like Rublev and Tarkovsky don’t show us what God actually looks like, but they do depict the realities of everyday as they look like through the eyes of faith.
The community of love between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a model of mutual affection and other-centeredness that we can apply to our relationships with friends, family members, and those we encounter. For example, in our political views, are we seeking power and influence over others, or striving for cooperation in achieving the common good? The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work together in their respective functions of creating, redeeming, and sanctifying the world. Do our actions and lifestyles imitate this self-giving? By contemplating Trinitarian works of art like those of Rublev and Tarkovsky, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity helps our everyday thoughts and actions beautify and bless the world around us.
After the extraordinary visit of Pope Francis to the United States, I have a renewed vision of the world around me. I see things in ways that I had not experienced before. The Lord’s call for compassion and mercy, especially on the eve of the Jubilee of Mercy, is heightened. I hear that call so much more clearly now.
My experience in youth and young adult ministry trained me to hear God’s voice speaking through popular culture so that I could help connect the Catholic faith to teenagers and young adults. As such, movies and television have become an important part of my ministry, as well as a guilty pleasure, especially when I need to process, reflect, and rest.
This week, I took time to catch up on the new season of Doctor Who, the long-running BBC show about an alien time traveler named The Doctor, who often saves the day using his clever wit and a sonic screwdriver (a futuristic Swiss Army knife).
In this week’s episode (to which I will offer a few spoilers, so be warned), the Doctor comes across an innocent young boy caught in the middle of a desert wasteland and surrounded by “hand mines”. The boy calls for help and the Doctor shows up to offer his assistance. As the Doctor starts to rescue the child, he asks the boy his name, to which he responds, “Davros.” What make this devastating is that “Davros” is the name of the Doctor’s longtime arch-nemesis who would grow up to create the race of killer robotic aliens known as the Daleks. The Doctor is faced with a dilemma: Does he save the child and, in so doing, allow the child to grow up to become a villain that would destroy so many, or does he abandon the child, which might possibly save countless lives? At first, the Doctor leaves – choosing the latter option.
Years later, the Doctor finds himself in the presence of the adult Davros who has exterminated entire races throughout his adult life. Davros is bitter and broken. He is dying and asks the Doctor for one final moment, presumably to exact revenge for leaving him to die as a young boy. Davros asks why he willingly came, to which the Doctor responds, “I came because you’re sick and you asked.”
Davros replies with bitterness, “Compassion? Always!” the Doctor answers. “I’m helping a little boy I abandoned many years ago.” To this, Davros laughs and mocks him, saying, “Your compassion is your downfall”and proceeds to trap the Doctor.
Without going into too many intricate details of the plot, let’s just say that the Doctor’s companions rush to save him. Upon encountering one of Davros’ creations (the Daleks), the Doctor discovers that –despite the rage and revenge of this alien race, they also understand the concept of mercy.
As the Doctor ponders this concept of mercy and wonders how this “design flaw”came to be in a heartless race of robotic aliens, he has an idea. He goes back in time to the young Davros whom he had once abandoned. Only a moment after he had initially left, as the boy stands crying for help, the Doctor reappears on the scene and offers mercy to his future enemy. The young boy asks “Are you the enemy?” The Doctor answers him, “Friends, enemies, I’m not sure if any of that matters as long as there is mercy. Always mercy.” It seems, in the end, the “design flaw”of the Daleks resulted from young Davros experiencing mercy from the Doctor (and if this all sounds confusing, it’s because it’s a time travel television show).
Pope Francis spoke at great length about compassion and mercy during his visit, too. It was an undercurrent of each of his talks or homilies. He stressed the need to be compassionate with family members, to show mercy to those in prison and to the homeless, to those who disagree with us and stand on the other side of issues and causes. As we continue to process Pope Francis’visit to Cuba and the United States, and as we move into the Jubilee of Mercy, this quote from Doctor Who will continue to resonate with me: “Friends, enemies, I’m not sure if any of that matters as long as there is mercy. Always mercy.”It is a truth that didn’t originate from a science fiction show or even the Holy Father.
It is a truth grounded in Christ, who told his disciples on the mountain: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy”(Mt 5:7) May we, too, be merciful –even to those we may not like or agree with –for God is so gracious in his mercy towards us.