Thursday, March 26, 2015

Review of the book "Joyful Witness: How to be An Extraordinary Catholic"

by Randy Hain

Americans know a lot about movie stars, musicians and athletes. Often, we know more than we want to know about their lifestyles and relationships. How this type of bad example influences us and our children is well known, yet most of us feel helpless to counteract it. It takes concentrated effort to find good examples to follow, especially if you are attempting to be a good Catholic. Good Catholics rarely make headlines these days. Here is a book which attempts to make edifying examples of holy Catholic lives easier to find. 

Some Catholics think that today’s saints-in-the-making are humorless old fogeys dressed in  grey who never step outside of church. By compiling stories of ordinary Catholics leading extraordinary lives of irresistible joy, Randy Hain, the creator of the website, The Integrated Catholic Life, has done Catholics a great service. He dispels that stereotype by relating thirteen stories about irresistibly joyful Catholic people whom he has met in his daily life, with a vibrancy that leaves the reader feeling inspired, not overwhelmed. 

I read one chapter a day in my prayer time and used the helpful series of questions at the end of each chapter as a tool to challenge myself to conform my own actions and attitudes to that person’s example. Hain makes sure to emphasize the useful advice from each of his story subjects. Advice such as “Receive the Eucharist daily," "be humble," " we must support and pray for our priests," "we must properly catechize ourselves,” are highlighted in bold print and leave no doubt as to why he chose these people as examples to help us in our own walk of faith. Each chapter is headed by a Scripture verse or a paragraph from the Catechism of the Catholic Church which epitomizes that person's life. The people whose stories grace this book range in age from pillars-of-the-Church great-grandmas to exuberant youth leaders, from humble home-schooling moms of many, to prominent successful businessmen. No one is exempt from living a life of joyful witness to Christ according to Randy Hain, and he gives you the education and inspiration to make the journey in your own life. 

Living in the highly secular Northeast, I enjoyed the example of Andy LaVallee, a successful bread distributor in Boston. After a life confession and re dedication of his life to Our Lady while on pilgrimage with Jim Caviezel, Andy began to learn and apply Catholic social teaching to his employees with amazing results. He was inspired by reading of Pope Emeritus Benedict's encyclical, Charity in Truth. Andy says, "The Holy Father was asking us to seek hybrid programs that could develop and help people and business enterprises. This encyclical provided the motivation for my company to transform our biggest department, our distribution program, into something more devout." He changed the title of the job from "driver" to "guardian" and gave the employees who dealt directly with the customers a bigger responsibility, teaching them the concept of servant leadership, encouraging to grow their routes by giving them a share in the new business they created. It lead to increased profits both for the drivers who felt more invested in their work and the company. Another time, after prayer and reflection, Andy rehired an employee whom he fired for insubordination. Andy accompanied this unprecedented action with a memo on forgiveness so that, "my entire company would understand the power of this virtue." Andy's attendance at daily Mass, weekly confession and adoration is the power behind his unique brand of leadership. He shares his story with other business leaders and also with fellow Catholics. 

Joyful Witness would make an excellent book for a study group for Catholics who want to support one another as they grow in faith or for RCIA groups who want to give practical examples to new Catholics of what living a fully Catholic life really means. Blessed Mother Teresa gave away the secret of her success when she said, "Joy is a net with which to catch souls." I give Joyful Witness an enthusiastic thumbs up!

Sunday, March 1, 2015


Premieres on CNN March 1, 9:00 P.M. ET

This CNN series focus on six artifacts from the life and time of Jesus, including the Shroud of Turin, pieces of the True Cross, bones of John the Baptist, a burial box with Jesus' name, and a papyrus 'gospel' that mentions His 'wife'.   I must include the fact that Jesus did NOT have a wife, so I wouldn't give any  credence to that 'gospel at all.  This episode focuses on  the Shroud of Turin.  

I was glad to have the opportunity for this review, because I am an affficianado of relics such as the Shroud, the Cross, etc.  One of my favorite books is 'Relics' by Joan Cruz.  And I do believe the Shroud was the burial cloth of Jesus.

I very much enjoyed the combination of re-enactment of Gospel events and documentary, parts of which are in the Holy Land.  

One point on which I differ with CNN is that I don't look at these artifacts as proving the   existence of Jesus, I believe in Him by virtue of the Gospel and His Resurrection, not because of artifacts.

Although there are points on which I differ, I found Finding Jesus well done and reverent. I look forward to the next episodes.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Movie Review: VeggieTales Noah's Ark

This is a retelling of  the story of Noah's Ark, which most of us have already heard or read. But... this version of it has a pretty cool ark :) has a little train that runs from end to end, a gym, a sauna, etc.   But despite the amenities, there a couple of veggies grumbling about being confined, especially Noah's son, Shem, who is newly married and wants to build a home.

Shem goes so far as to come up with a 'plan B', but in the end the veggies and the animals learn the most important lesson, to trust in God, and his plan.

To be honest, I enjoyed the story more than I thought I would.

This is a very entertaining story for all ages!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Movie Review: Kingsman: The Secret Service - R

The Kingsman is a British secret service organization. The first part of the movie focuses on recruiting a new agent, and the six young people who are being evaluated for the position.  The two finalists are Eggsy and Roxy. (Taron Egerton and Sophie Cookson).  Taron is a natural as Eggsy.  He is perfect for the role.   

The plot of Kingsman is somewhat non-sensical, but take it for what it is...just entertainment.  Valentine (Samuel Jackson) is trying to control the world, and the Kingsman must stop him.

I am not a fan of Samuel Jackson, but I have to admit I am impressed by his versatility as an actor.  The last few roles I've seen him in were quite diverse, and his role as Valentine in Kingsman is pretty unique and entertaining.

What bothered me is the frequent and gratuitous use of the F it's part of a common vocabulary. I found it disturbing and unnecessary.

In addition to language, content warnings include violence and some gore.

Overall, the action was entertaining and the gadgets are pretty cool.

The R rating is appropriate....adults may find it entertaining, but it's not for kids.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Movie Review: 23 Blast

Now on DVD

This is the story of Travis Freeman.  Travis is a promising high school football player who wakes up with a swollen eye, which turns to blindness.  His initial reaction is anger and   frustration, which seems like the same reaction most people would have, but through the support of his parents, his coach, and friends, he perseveres and resumes playing football.

I did find it inspirational, and a good example of how to face adversity, but (and here's the part where I feel foolish) I thought it unrealistic for someone who is blind to play football.  But then..... did I mention this is a TRUE story?....they showed the real Travis playing football! and I realized that we should not place limits on what others can do.  The way that Travis overcame his affliction turned out to be very motivational to me and others...particularly considering that he graduated from a theological seminary and now has more of an opportunity to inspire others.

23Blast turned out to be a blast! :)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Movie Review: The Identical

This is a story of twins, one of whom is adopted as a baby.  The story focuses on Ryan Wade, the son of a preacher (Ray Liotta).   Preacher Wade wants Ryan to follow in his footsteps, but Ryan has musical ambitions, and a great Elvis-like voice.  He continues to pursue his dream, and eventually finds his identity, in more ways than one.

The main themes are being true to yourself and forgiveness.  I was also  impressed with how respectful Wade was toward his parents.  

I found the story very entertaining, and attention-grabbing....I was eager to find out how it turned out and my patience was indeed rewarded with a very fitting and appropriate ending :)

I highly  recommend The Identical!

Acting KUDO's to Ray Liotta for a  great performance, and to the make-up crew for aging him and Ashley Judd over the years.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Movie Review: Unbroken - PG13

This is the true story of Olympian and war hero Louis "Louie" Zamperini who, along with 2 fellow soldiers, survives a plane crash and 47 days in a raft, only to be captured by the Japanese during World War II. They are held in a prison camp run by a cruel commander they refer to as 'The Bird'.  He is cruel to all, but he singles out Louie for punishment because of his notoriety as an Olympian.   But the Bird can't break Louie.  

Louie was a troubled kid who often got into trouble, and fights.  That led to his joining the track team and, eventually, running in the Olympics.

Louie and the others are held for the duration of the war.   The part that most surprised me is the lesson of forgiveness at the end, when Louie forgives his captors (the Bird won't meet with him).

A truly inspirational story about endurance, perseverance and forgiveness.  To keep in mind that it is a true story makes it even  more touching.

I especially like the filming techniques used in the story, such as the view from within the plane while shooting at enemy planes, and the view from a space below the blindfold when they are blindfolded.  

Although there is violence and brutality, there is only an aappropriate amount to support the story, and there is little 'gore'.  I would recommend this story of America's greatest generation.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Movie Review: The Lumo Project

Available on Netflix

This is a new portrayal  of the Gospel of John.  I reviewed the  NIV version, but it is also available in the King James version and a Spanish version.  Although many of us have heard or read most of the Gospel story, the story of Christ, I feel that seeing it told on screen somehow makes it more relevant, more real, to us.

The only aspect I am ambivalent about  is that, although the story is taking place on screen, the whole story is told by a narrator.  I would have preferred to hear the story through the dialogue.  However, I do realize this would have made the story longer.  It is 2 hours 40 minutes, and the narration allows them to tell more of the Gospel story in this time frame.  

The narration also provides some additional description and explanation of the events on the screen.

An authentic and moving portrayal of the Gospel.  I highly recommend it, as it will deepen your understanding of the Gospel.  A great way to begin the Christmas season!

Movie Review: Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I - PG13

As was hinted at the end of part II, Katniss Everdeen is asked to be the 'Mockingjay', the face of the revolution against the tyrannical and corrupt Capitol.  She agrees, with the condition that the victors of the Hunger Games will not be prosecuted.  Katniss makes a couple of messages encoraging and motivating the revolution.    I especially like the haunting tune they come up with to motivate the revolution; it is pretty cool.  Even though Gale is helping her, Katniss is especially concerned about Peeta, who is being held by the Capitol.   

Peeta is shown in several messages that are released by the Capitol, and one of the questions that is present throughout the story is  where does  Peeta stand? he still Peeta or has he been brainwashed?    

I actually enjoyed Mockingjay more than the first two, because there was more emphasis on the story, than the action or fighting, although there is enough of those to support the story.

A well-written and well-acted story that you'll enjoy.  
I am looking forward to Mockingjay part II.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Music Review: The Rosary Mysteries, Meditations and Music

I pray the Rosary daily, and I've heard the Sisters' beautiful music before, so I jumped at the opportunity to review this CD.  And it exceeded my expectations.

After introducing each mystery, a sister reads the relevant bible passage.  What distinguishes this Rosary recording from others, is that she cites the book and verse of the passage in case you wish to make note of it, or read further in the passage.   

I especially like the echo-like sound affect that is used while reading the bible enhances it and makes it sound more powerful and  biblical..

When you finish the rosary, you can enjoy a few beautiful hymns by the sisters....two in English, one in Latin.  

The Rosary + the Sisters' beautiful singing = an awesome CD.

This is one of those recordings that I would classify as a spiritual will bring you closer to the Lord, and I can't recommend it highly enough.