1). I recently saw "2012" and "The Road." Why do you think people, especially Christians, love these apocalyptic stories?
I'm not sure that Christians love these sorts of stories in any special way; however, we have inherited the Jewish apocalyptic tradition and our history is stuffed full of the faithful believing and acting upon end of the world scenarios. Here's my armchair theorizing. . .movies/stories like "2012" satisfy a couple of human impulses. First, we love the idea of starting over. Everything is so screwed up; everything is beyond repair--let's just wipe it clean and try again. Second, our fav villains are cast as the cause the disasters, so we get to wallow in a little Told Ya So. In Jewish-Christian stories, it's the sinner who brings down God's judgment on the planet. In the eco-theistic stories, it's evil capitalists, polluters, and Christians who cause the apocalypse. One of the many, many things I love about The Road is that McCarthy avoids completely writing about the cause/blame of the world's destruction. This single decision saved the book from being just another disaster story. Third, and this is likely to be controversial, I think we want to be punished. . .not as individuals but as a whole. Strong consciences are very much aware of guilt but survival instincts tend to keep us bobbing and weaving responsibility. Wholesale destruction relieves guilt through punishment but also makes sure everyone else gets punished too. Fourth, and perhaps scariest, these stories have a real wish-fulfillment element to them. Reviews of "Avatar" have pointed out that it is an adolescent suicide note to negligent parents (i.e., corporations, etc.), a sort "you'll be sorry when I'm gone" film that wants us to wallow around in the narrative's pretentious eco-preaching and then do penance by living lives of consumerist self-loathing. For Christians, none of these should matter much. God is in control; we aren't. All things will be well. The secret for us is to make darn sure that our priorities are properly ordered and that we know who we are in Christ. Come the end, that's all that will matter anyway.
2). You said in class at UD once that you aren't really interested in learning the Tridentine Mass. Has living in Rome changed your mind?
Not really. I understand and sympathize with Catholics who love the Extraordinary Form and want to see it used more widely and frequently. If I were a pastor, I'd certainly make every effort to learn the form and celebrate it regularly. As a religious priest serving in an academic setting, there aren't many opportunities for me to preside at Mass in any form. But quite apart from these practical considerations, I cannot find any substantial flaws in the Ordinary Form of the Mass. The current translation is a disaster, and there's ample evidence that the newest translation will have its problems too. . .but at the very least we will have language that doesn't read and sound like people gathering at WalMart to pray that the Eucharist "have an effect in their lives." And for the record, I do not buy for one second the traditionalist pose that the E.F. is the only valid, only real, only True/Good/Holy Mass of the Ages. Like all liturgical texts and practices, the E.F. has a history of origination, development, change, decline, revival, etc. Jesus and the apostles did not write the E.F. at the Last Supper. And neither did they compose the O.F. The O.F. can be celebrated with reverence, great solemnity, and bring God's people closer to Him. I'll end this by saying that I am 100% in favor of celebrating the O.F. ad orientum.
3). Fr. Z. had a poll going about whether or not the Vatican ought to start using that big sedan chair for the Pope during processions into St. Peter's. What do you think?
My immediate reaction upon hearing the suggestion was NO! The last thing any pope, especially this pope, needs is to appear to be even further removed from the people. Then, Fr. Z. posted an article by a security specialist who made a good case not only for security and visibility but also for relieving the Holy Father from that long walk up the aisle, a walk that usually precedes 2 to 3 hour liturgies. I think a good compromise would be for someone to design and build a less throne-like sedan chair. . .something tasteful, elegant, but not quite so garish as we have seen in the past. But even then, as I imagine being at the Vatican and seeing BXVI being carried in, even then I get sort of queasy and wonder if there isn't a better way. If you can't tell, I don't have much taste for the Imperial Papacy and its trappings.