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"The Fault in Our Stars" and Pentecost: A Parallelism
"I'm a grenade" scene
"The Fault in Our Stars" Poster
“The Fault in Our Stars,” the title itself is intriguing if not thought-provoking. Reading or even hearing it for the first time, what comes to my mind are horoscopes that somehow speak about a preconceived future depending on the constellation of stars you are born with. Some people uses them to understand another person’s personality and what not; some uses them to somehow help them get through a seemingly “perfect” day; yet for some, they use them simply for the heck of it because “yeah, it’s fun!” It is like one of those fortune cookies that you crack open after a greasy meal in a Chinese restaurant without taking what it says too seriously. Somehow, the movie portrays a little of that description. Nevertheless, it proved me wrong when it started focusing on “what we can do” rather than “what ‘the stars’ – our fate, our ‘preconceived truth’ is directing us to do.” Besides, if there is one truthful fact about the stars, they are inanimate; they are not people like us; they are without a soul. Why should we (humans with souls), therefore, be enslaved by something that is not of our nature?
Coincidentally, this movie premiered on the weekend of Pentecost Sunday. Though a lot of people may not care or may not fully understand what it is all about, I decided to reflect on the movie and the Solemnity of Pentecost as in a parallel with a hope of shedding some light about the matter at hand. It is my hope that people would be able to see both events in a more theological or spiritual way. So here goes (Warning: spoilers ahead):
1. The “Heart of Jesus” and Divine Indwelling. There is that very interesting part of the movie when Patrick, (Mike Birbiglia, Going the Distance) facilitator of a parish cancer support group and a cancer survivor himself, would lay the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at the center of the group circle during their meetings. He would do this each time and would tell the group to their awareness that they are literally at the very center of the heart of Jesus. Personally, it is very striking. At times, we simply discard the reality of Christ’s presence in our lives in whatever circumstances we are in cancer-free or not. As you can see, Jesus is not just an added decoration stitched into our clothing that is life. He is in fact present, alive and is living within us. Once this truth is overlooked, we will see events in our lives both good or bad in the same way Hazel (Shailene Woodley, Divergent) and Augustus “Gus” (Ansel Elgort, Carrie 2013) see their meeting space as a confining, suffocating place where they are defined by their illness … the last place they would like to be.
In the weeks of Easter, we hear Jesus speaking about love and he gives his disciples a defining mandate, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” (Mark 12:31) He speaks of love, the pivotal Christian virtue, and links it with being true to his word. To love Jesus and to keep his word, therefore, go hand in hand as two complementing poles. Jesus' 'word,' of course, is his whole life. It includes all his words and actions and his teaching. If we truly love Jesus, we will 'keep his word,' i.e. we will try to be like him in every way, sharing his vision, his attitudes, his values. Moreover, to receive his word is to receive the Father and the Son, since abiding with the word of the Lord testifies to the reality of divine presence. Indeed, the specifically Christian dimension of love is the intimate communion and indwelling of the Father and the Son with the disciples.
I believe this is what Jesus reminds us in this wonderful feast of Pentecost as what the Heart of Jesus in the movie essentially symbolizes. If we love him because of the countless blessings he has given us by “keeping his words” he will start dwelling within us in the company of his Father and the Holy Spirit, making us the temples of the Triune God. We must always remember that above all the hardships, difficulties, physical infirmities, He is there present in our very life. Hence, contrary to the “faults” in our stars, we can choose to place Jesus at the very “center” of our own circle of trust.
2. On “An Imperial Affliction,” “The Prince of Dawn” and the Paraclete. At the heart of Peter Van Houten’s (Willem Dafoe, The English Patient) book “An Imperial Affliction” are these striking words, “Pain demands to the felt.” These are words that somehow inspire Hazel to live up her seemingly hopeless condition; words that she keeps holding on to like she holds on to dear life. As it is for her, a novelized video game, "The Prince of Dawn" is for Gus. Together they journeyed through life holding to it with their own ways of coping. True indeed, pain demands to be felt but what defines us is not how we feel about it but how we deal with it. Our models for coping are therefore very essential as they motivate us to be strong and steadfast in our own particular circumstances. Hazel could relate to the characters in the novel like Ana while Gus could seemingly escape from reality through a video game free of human emotions. These models, however, are very temporal as they are prone to weaknesses and preconceived end. If one has to endure such pain, one has to depend on someone greater than any conceivable pain.
Going back to Pentecost, abiding with the Word of God, with its consequent communion in the love of the Father and the Son, is made possible when the Holy Spirit comes into the hearts of the disciples. Only through the power of the Holy Spirit will the disciples be empowered to 'keep the word' of Jesus. When Jesus is no longer physically present, God's Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will be with them. 'Advocate' is a translation of the Greek word 'Paraclete' and it carries a range of meanings. It literally means 'one called alongside to help' whenever necessary. In other words, the disciples need not be troubled or afraid because they are never alone. The Holy Spirit, the Advocate, is always with them to defend them, to intercede for them, and to comfort them. Looking for stability in our lives and a perfect model to live life to the fullest, of course we have Jesus, but together with Jesus as He is never absent, the Holy Spirit too is our sure refuge. I must say that the Holy Spirit is the most misunderstood Person of the Blessed Trinity. But dogma aside, we can relate to Him spiritually, emotionally, and sacramentally in the community we call the Church. No other forms of coping could withstand what the Holy Spirit can offer and do for our lives as Christians.
3. Tangible forms of Encouragement and the Holy Spirit’s Gift of Peace. Augustus’ house is all decked out with words of encouragement. A needlepointed pillow in their antique-furnished living room says, “Love is born from hard times.” Encouraging words indeed as they can inspire us and at a certain level lead us to contentment and peace. Augustus’ parents could have placed them all over the house to inspire him that he may see life more positively despite his condition. For his parents, they serve to strengthen and ready themselves for his impending death.
Central to the passage of this Sunday’s Gospel are the words of Jesus concerning peace that he gives to his disciples as he links it with the promised coming of the Holy Spirit. Peace is his farewell and his gift to them. It is 'his' peace, a kind of peace the world cannot give. This world’s peace involves absence from war. But Jesus is talking about an inner peace, the peace of having God with us in our walks through life. Jesus' peace is not just on the surface. It is not just a feeling of pleasure. It is something deep down which can be there even in time of hardship and suffering. It is something that we can find and experience through the Holy Spirit. In other words, the Holy Spirit is not just our means of encouragement but encouragement Himself. No words of encouragement could tap what the Holy Spirit can give us: fortitude, wisdom, piety, etc. More than just happiness, He can give us joy and peace.
As to my take on the movie “The Fault in our Stars,” I come to appreciate life once again and to look at it in a more positive light. To have someone to care for you and love you unselfishly is treasure enough and a good reason to live. No matter what walk of life you are in, life fills us with so much happiness made possible as we place our trust in God. Hazel and Gus find solace in each other’s company and through it understood their existence. Would it be nice had they found each at the center of God’s love?
As we come to the end of Easter Season, Jesus challenges us to keep the Word of God. He asks us to acknowledge the gift of the Holy Spirit who will empower us to do so as well as fill us with joy and inner peace that will calm our anxieties and fears. Let us pray that, we too, may come to face these challenges with an earnest, loving and peaceful hearts:
“Come Holy Spirit
Make our ears to hear
Make our eyes to see
Make our mouths to speak
Make our hearts to seek
Make our hands to reach out
And touch the world with your love. Amen.
Let the Holy Spirit overpower us in all that we do and lead us to the truth for after all William Shakespeare puts it, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves."
Ok? I say, always!