Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I Ain't Afraid O' No Ghosts: Reviewing "Holy Ghosts"

What many of the faithful thought was lost after these reforms [the Second Vatican Council, 1962-65] was a sense of the supernatural--of an unseen, invisible world, the world of spirit. This is not to say that spiritual matters were abandoned. Far from it, but as the Church shifted its focus in the latter years of the twentieth century, did belief in angelic and demonic forces have a place in the modern world any more? Did miracles really happen or could science explain them away? Or, for that matter, was heaven a real place or a state of mind? As these issues were debated over the next few decades, the idea of a spirit world for many people began to lose power. And, many critics believed, so did God.
In a sense, this is the true heart of Holy Ghosts by Gary Jansen. While on the surface it is the story of a decades-long haunting, underneath Jansen begins wondering whatever happened to what everyone used to "know" about the supernatural world existing alongside our own tangible one.

Jansen begins as a hard-headed skeptic who was trained in ignoring the odd noises and quirks of his childhood home. Doorbells that rang with no one there, the sound of smashing glass in the middle of the living room where there was no glass to be smashed, and creaking stairs that sounded as if someone were walking on them when no one was there ... these were all standard occurences as he grew up; as the family gave reasonable explanations, he accepted them and learned to do likewise. However, when he is living in that same house as a married man with a child, the oddities grow worse and eventually neither Jansen nor his wife can ignore them any more.
The lamp was off in the toy room, which was just beyond our dining room, but there was a soft blue glow from the computer screen illuminating the wall I stood up and slowly walked across the floor, and the church bells had been replaced by the sound of drums. And it was getting louder. I stepped inside the toy room, where there was music coming out of the speakers. iTunes was on, and metallic guitars were pumping to the beat. It took me a brief moment, but the song registered in my head. It was "Hells Bells" by AC/DC. I remembered leaving the computer on before I stared reading but I was positive there wasn't any music playing. The vocals kicked in and, as I stood there listening to the sound, I felt the electric surge that I had mostly only felt in Eddie's room roll over me as lead singer Brian Johnson intoned, "I'll give you black sensations up and down your spine. If you're into evil then you're a friend of mine."

"You've got to be s******g me," I said to myself. "There is no way this is happening." I switched off iTunes, shut down the computer, waked upstairs, and got into bed with Grace. Eddie was sleeping soundly next to her. I put my arm over the both of them and, for the first time since all of this began, I felt afraid.
There are more things revealed in that house than are dreamt of in their philosophy, until Jansen begins wondering what the Catholic Church teaches about angels, demons, ghosts, and spirits. He is surprised to learn that the Church takes these things seriously and does not treat them as products of imagination. As we watch Jansen strive to understand and rid his home of the often terrifying ghosts, we also travel with him on the journey of discovering what it means to acknowledge the unseen world of the supernatural.

I truly enjoyed this book, although I used very bad judgment in reading it before bedtime. I don't think it would have bothered me as much as it did, except for the fact that I have had two experiences with ghosts or spirits myself. This confirms one of Jansen's comments on the accompanying publicity materials, which is that it is very common for him to share his story only to have the listener pipe up with an experience of their own. Like synesthesia, this is something that people rarely speak of, but may experience a lot more than we are led to understand. Reading this made me think of my own experiences again and that was an uncomfortable thing indeed.

Jansen offers his story with no apologies for taking a rather unorthodox route in dealing with the problem. He lets us see his indecision, his questions, and the reason he ultimately chooses the path they took. A more orthodox Catholic, what Jansen might call a "good Catholic" probably would have gone to a priest at some point and asked for a rite of exorcism or some other sort of aid. It is difficult to say what one would do in such a situation until one is faced with it. Theories are very fine until one imagines facing a priest and talking about ghosts. So much depends on the personalities of the people and their preconceptions (yes, even priests have preconceptions.) I think that Jansen made the best decisions he could with the information he had at the time and, ultimately, that is what we all do when dealing with crisis situations, for better or worse. (For those who have come to me with "pastoral concerns": I don't advise taking Gary's route and would have gone to my local priest or some other Church official who would have done an exorcism or whatever was called for.)

My only quibble with the book is that occasionally Jansen uses language which, frankly, surprised me not so much because it was just this side of swearing, but because it felt at odds with the rest of the flow of the book. It was as if he were trying to push for "edgy" language, but honestly that was not needed. The story itself, told in all honesty, is edgy enough without those lapses which always took me out of the book and stopped me for a second before I would plunge back in.

Jansen's honest tale is one that I highly recommend. What I appreciate most is the way that he used his supernatural encounters as a springboard to look for what the Catholic faith teaches and for a way to incorporate it into his everyday life. This is how Catholics should live, no matter what we encounter, and Jansen gives us a fine example of it. As he points out, the Church is reacquainting us with some of the things that were inadvertently ignored or misplaced in the reforms after the Second Vatican Council. If we believe in God, then the Bible has much more to say about other supernatural beings. It is something worth pondering and Holy Ghosts is a well told tale that is a good reminder of those truths.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Book Review: "Where do Priests Come From?"

Where Do Priests Come From?

by Elizabeth Ficocelli
Waterford, MI: Bezalel Books, 2010

From a child's perspective, priests can sometimes seem very mysterious. After all, they dress differently and live differently and do different things than all of the other people in their lives. It can be hard to imagine that they were once little boys. Elizabeth Ficocelli has written a charming, informative book "Where do Priests Come From" which attempts to answer many of the questions children might have about priests and the lives they lead.

Ficocelli talks about how priests are called by God to the priesthood, how they may have dreamed of being an astronaut or a doctor or a fire-fighter, but one day they heard a quiet voice in the hearts inviting them to become a priest and they said "Yes." She discusses the discernment process and the time in seminary. She mentions the different types of priests and the vows they take. She mentions the long list of ways that they minister to other people, but also emphasizes that they are still people who also have a need to relax and enjoy hobbies. They also sometimes make mistakes and need to go to confession (this was the fact that my own two sons were most surprised by!)

This book is intended for young boys to encourage them to think about becoming a priest. As such, it is a great vocation tool. Ficocelli has done a wonderful job with this book. One can only hope that there will be a companion volume for girls: "Where Do Sisters Come From?"

Reviewed by Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

This Just In: The Faithful Traveler, season 1

I well remember how enjoyable I found The Faithful Traveler dvd featuring the Miraculous Medal Shrine in Philadelphia. A good part of that enjoyment came from Diana von Glahn's sparking personality and the thoroughness of information.

I easily understood why EWTN snapped up the concept and had The Faithful Traveler produce an entire season of travel for them. Sadly, I do not have cable so was not able to watch it.

Happily, I have just received the dvd for the first season. Though I haven't had a chance to dip in yet, I am eagerly anticipating finding out more about wonderful Catholic places to visit in the U.S. If you are interested and missed the EWTN showings, or just want your own copy to watch again, check out the Faithful Traveler website.

Book Review: "Revenge of Innocents" by Nancy Taylor Rosenberg

Probation officer Carolyn Sullivan is back.   She's been promoted to manager of the department, she is busy planning her wedding to Marcus,  and her children are doing well.  Life is good, until  her best friend and co-worker Veronica is found dead.  Initially it is considered a suicide, but Carolyn doesn't believe that.  She postpones her wedding to investigate Veronica's death.   It is soon apparent it was a murder.     It is also connected to two other deaths, as well as as two young girls who were molested, including Veronica's daughter Jude.

I like the way that Ms. Rosenberg throws suspicion on  someone other than the real killer, but this time I found it quite tiresome the way a key victim and witness kept lying and changing her story.  As usual, Ms.  Rosenberg does a masterful job of tying all the pieces together to reveal the true killer and the motives.  Unfortunately, she chooses to leave some loose ends in the story.

There is some more discussion of Carolyn's Catholic faith.  She is trying to receive the sacraments more frequently because she is feeling guilty about killing a bad guy (this was in "Sullivan's Justice"), even though it was in self defense.  When a witness is badly injured by being hit by a car, Carolyn's first reaction is to call a priest to give her the sacrament of the sick.  Unfortunately, Carolyn is both divorced and now living with Marcus.

In addition to the subject of two girls being molested, content warnings include an intimate scene with Carolyn and Marcus, and language throughout.

Monday, August 23, 2010

"Parenting with Grace" by the Popcaks: A Book Review

Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising Almost Perfect Kids, 2nd Edition, by Gregory K. Popcak, PhD., and Lisa Popcak, and a foreward by Dr. Bill and Martha Sears, is an authoritatively written text outlining everything the authors believe a family should do in order to bring up their children in a Catholic way.

The Popcaks offer practical solutions to many of the difficult situations faced by parents, including sleep problems, tantrums, dating, and technology, within the framework of the Catholic faith. Every chapter has quizzes for parents to see how they are doing in a certain area, as well as suggestions for how to improve.

Integrating The Theology of the Body and the philosophy of attachment parenting into every chapter, the Popcaks make a good case for their method of parenting. They show us why Catholicism can and should be a part of how we parent, and how it should set us apart as a special breed. They argue that, because Catholics believe in learning by natural law, science and the Catholic way should work hand-in-hand to show us what is the best way to raise our kids, from breastfeeding in infancy to sending our teenagers off to college.

After outlining the basics of Catholic parenting, the Popcaks go into great detail on each stage of development: infancy, toddlerhood, early childhood, school-age childhood, and the teenage years. They talk about faith development, sibling rivalry, childhood fears, dealing with technology, and working parents. I thought it was amazing that they were able to touch on so many various topics. This book is in touch with the modern parent and issues of today, and yet the authors are not afraid to put forth opinions that many will disagree with.

The Popcaks never say any of this will be easy. Their suggestions for improvement are rather methodical and specific. While most of what they say resonates with my own family values, I think that it would be difficult for many families to follow their instructions on improving family life. However, I do think their methods would work for parents that are set on fixing the things that have not been working in their family.

Be forewarned that their point of view is Conservative Catholic; if you are not looking for this then you will not appreciate the book. If you disagree with the attachment parenting espoused by Dr. Bill and Martha Sears, which includes co-sleeping, breastfeeding, and carrying your baby in a sling, you might have a difficult time with the book; or, you might start to see these practices in a different light.

The book end with chapters devoted to natural family planning, motherhood, fatherhood, marriage, and family maintenance. Appendixes include “The Natural Institution of the Family” by Herbert Ratner, M.D., and “Ten Reasons We Can’t Spank: A Catholic Examination of Corporal Punishment”.

I highly recommend this book for all Catholic families with kids of all ages.
This review was written as part of the Catholic books reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Parenting With Grace, 2nd Edition.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Movie Review: Nanny McPhee Returns - PG

Isabel Green is trying to raise 3 children and run the family farm while her husband is away at war.  She even has to resist her brother's pressuring her to sell the farm.  Things get even worse when two spoiled cousins come to stay with them.  Things do get better when Nanny McPhee arrives.  She teaches the children 5 lessons:  to get along, to help each other, to have faith, etc.  

I enjoyed the transformations that took place, particularly among the children.  At first they laugh off Nanny McPhee's rule:  When you need her, even if you don't want her, she will be there.  When you don't need her, even if you want her, she will go.   The children do learn her lessons and are transformed by them.  Even Isabel's brother Phil seems to soften his attitude. 

Aside fom some crude humor, no content warnings.  

Overall, a very good family movie with positive messages for kids.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Book Review: "Saint Francis"

Saint Francis (Christian Encounters Series)
by Robert West
Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010

St. Francis, who lived and preached in the 13th century, is one of Christianity’s most beloved saints. Like many saints, however, time has served to separate him from the actual life he lived. In many minds, he is known only as the lover of animals. He is usually seen with birds, often as a statue in a garden. While St. Francis certainly had that side to him, he was much more than that. “Saint Francis” by Robert West, a book in the Christian Encounters series by Thomas Nelson, sets out to show Francis in all his complexity. He was a saint, yes, but like all saints, he was also very human.

This is a no-holds-barred biography of Francis. West does not gloss over Francis’ wild youth. In fact, he makes much of it in order to contrast it with the man he later became. Yet, the charisma that would make Francis such a compelling preacher and leader was already at root in the boy and young man. Francis was meant to be a leader.

West discusses Francis’s conversion and does his utmost to make his love of “Lady Poverty” understandable to the modern mind. He shows the battles Francis had with his own bodily desires and the lengths he would go to in order to overcome them. He wanted nothing to come between him and God. West also examines his relationship with the men that would come to join him as well as his relationship with St. Clare, who also gave up everything to follow him.

Francis’ life was certainly not without its challenges. His way of life was so austere that many begged him to relax his rules for those who followed him, but he would not relent. As a result, there was infighting among the brothers, especially when Francis was not physically present. It took considerable effort for his order to be recognized by the Pope. His dream of converting the Muslim Sultan during the crusades did not go the way he had hoped.

Yet, Francis is most known for his miracles, his communing with nature, and the stigmata he bore on his body. West examines some of the legends that grew up around the life of Francis, and despite a healthy skepticism, is willing to admit that at least some of them were possible.

West’s “Saint Francis” is a highly readable well-researched biography. It serves as a valuable introduction to the life of the man behind the statues.

Reviewed by Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Book Review: "Christmas is About Jesus"

Christmas is About Jesus: An Advent Devotional
by Mukkove Johnson
Tate Publishing, 2009

It might seem a bit early to be thinking about Christmas, but Advent will be here before we know it, along with all the hustle and bustle that goes along with that time of year. “Christmas is About Jesus” is a lovely little book that will help children (and their parents) focus on the true meaning of Christmas. Each day from December 1st through the 24th features a Scripture verse and a reflection on a symbol of Christmas and how that symbol reminds us of Jesus. Some of the symbols covered include snowflakes, candy canes, ornaments, St. Nicholas, Christmas trees, Christmas lights, cookies, songs, and stars. As the days get closer to Christmas, the devotions focus on those who were at the first Christmas – the wise men, shepherds, Mary, and the most important one of all, Jesus.

The book is attractively designed and easy to use. It could be used at home or as part of a religious education class. The reflections could be used alone or combined with a craft for a longer lesson. “Christmas is About Jesus” will help keep minds focused on Jesus during the Advent season.

Reviewed by Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur

Review of "Be an Amazing Catechist Inspire the Faith of Children"

by Lisa Mladinich
Our Sunday Visitor

Lisa Mladinich’s new book “Be an Amazing Catechist: Inspire the Faith of Children” is an extraordinary booklet filled with colorful illustrations and photos interwoven with helpful tidbits, relevant biblical quotes and various references and websites. In fact, it has everything a Catholic catechist would need all in one book. Chapters include topics such as “Sharpen Your Knowledge,” “Mine for Gold,” “Run a Tight Ship,” “Sense and Sensibilities,” “Use that Bible,” and many more. The author includes a chapter on teaching kids with disabilities (written by Mary Lou Rosien) and another chapter which talks about utilizing puppets (Mladinich is also the creator and performer of original catechetical puppet scripts available at new.catholicmom.com/kids/puppet-ministry).

“The call to be an amazing catechist is really a call to conversion,” the author writes. This beautiful quote sums up this “amazing” book for catechists. Prayer is a common thread in all of the chapters and an essential element of being a catechist.

“Teaching is a great way to learn,” is quoted at the beginning of the book and, as a homeschooling mother, I agree wholeheartedly with this philosophy. I love this book and will be using it not only in homeschooling, but also in my parish’s children’s liturgy program.

“Be An Amazing Catechist: Inspire the Faith of Children” is ideal for use by all catechists: whether you’re a novice teacher with no experience or whether you’re an experienced educator. This booklet may be small, but it is huge in information and packed with many, many ideas for teaching the faith to children of all ages. I highly recommend this remarkable book to anyone who teaches the faith to children: homeschoolers; parish CCD teachers, experienced educators and anyone interested in teaching the faith to children.

Copyright 2010 Ellen Gable Hrkach

Monday, August 16, 2010

Archbishop Chaput: Violence in movies only appropriate when it 'teaches us not to be violent'

At a recent film event in Denver that explored the topic of violence in movies, Archbishop Charles Chaput weighed in on the issue, telling CNA that he believes violence to be appropriate in film only if it's the kind “that teaches us not to be violent.”

Along with a local film critic and actor, the Denver archbishop discussed the theme of violence in motion pictures at an event on August 12 titled, “Blood on Our Hands: Morality and Violence in Movies.” The discussion, held on the campus of the University of Colorado at Denver, was part of the Colorado Cinema Salon, a new program presented by the Denver Film Society and hosted by renowned film critic Robert Denerstein.

The event opened with a 10 minute reel of graphically violent scenes from movies such as "Psycho," "Scarface," "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," "Hostel," "The Silence of the Lambs," "Saving Private Ryan" and "The Godfather."

"Letters to God" DVD giveaway winners

Congratulations to the winners of the DVD giveaway:

Deacond Nate of the Diocese of Saginaw
Brandon from Florida
Omar of Guiding Light Youth Miniistries in California
Ron from California
Kay from Oklahoma

You will be receiving your DVDs shortly, enjoy!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Movie Review: The Expendables - R

I was really looking forward to seeing The Expendables because of the cast:  Stallone, Lundgren, Ausin, and Li.   Arnold Schwarzeneger made a cameo.  Quite frankly, the whole cast looked past their prime.  Their target was a General and a CIA man who took over a small island to run their drug business.   The plot evolved into rescuing the General's daughter.   There wasn't much of a story, or dialogue for that matter.    Even the action and explosions were not enough to break the boredom.


Book Review: "Sullivan's Evidence" by Nancy Taylor Rosenberg

The head of the forensics lab, Abernathy, is found guilty of tampering with evidence. Some of his cases begin to fall apart, and their convictions are overturned. Probation officer Carolyn Sullivan is back in this story, which centers on the search for Carl Holden, a murderer/rapist who is released after Abernathy's conviction.  Holden may be involved with several recent murders.  While  Carolyn helps the police search for connections between the murders,  she also tries to care for her chidren and make time for her  new relationship with Marcus, whom she just met.  

As the  investigation proceeds, the police look more closely at Marcus, but Carolyn trusts him and is certain they are wrong.  The more immediate danger is from Holden, who threatens her family.

Content warnings include one attempted rape scene, and harsh language throughout.

As she did with "Sullivan's Justice", Ms. Rosenberg does a masterful job of tying together seemingly disparate events to build the suspense to a rapid conclusion.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Dawn Eden releases free copy of Theology of the Body thesis on CNA

Responding to the recent call of Cardinal Justin Rigali to spread the message of the Theology of the Body – Pope John Paul II's teachings on human sexuality – noted author Dawn Eden has made a free copy of her master's thesis, including a new preface and supporting material, available exclusively on CNA.

At the first annual Theology of the Body Congress in Pennsylvania, Cardinal Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia, exhorted the faithful to promote the work of the late Pontiff, describing his teaching on sexuality as the modern “curriculum of the Culture of Life.”

In support of Cardinal Rigali’s exhortation, Eden responded, “I have decided to make my master’s thesis available free of charge to all.”

Patron Saint of Television

Today is the Feast of St. Clare, the Patron Saint of Television.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Book Review: The Notre Dame Book of Prayer

The Notre Dame Book of Prayer
Edited by Heidi Schlumpf
Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2010

For over one hundred years, the Campus Ministry Office at Notre Dame has offered prayer books to incoming first-year students. "The Notre Dame Book of Prayer" is an attempt to share that gift with the larger Notre Dame community and the world in general. The ties to Notre Dame are quickly relevant with references to places on campus abounding. However, if one can get beyond that, there is truly a treasuretrove of prayers in this book.

The prayers are divided into sections. Among these are: "In the Beginning," "Bless Us, O Lord," "Work of Human Hands," "To Everything There is a Season," and "It is Finished." While there are many prayers one might expect, there are many unexpected prayers such as a "Runner's Prayer before Beginning a Race," "Prayer for Parenting a Special-Needs Child," "Prayer for Conflict with a Coworker or Friend," "Blessing for Women in Transition," "Menopause Prayer," and a "Prayer after Suicide."

One prayer that spoke to me was "Give Me Someone;"

when I am famished,
give me someone who needs food;
when I am thirsty,
give me someone who needs water;
when I am cold,
give me someone to warm;
when I am hurting,
give me someone to console;
when my cross becomes heavy,
give me another's cross to share;
when I am poor,
lead someone needy to me;
when I have no time,
give me someone to help for a moment;
when I am humiliated,
give me someone to praise;
when I am discouraged,
send someone to encourage;
when I need another's understanding,
give me someone who needs mine;
when I need somebody to take care of me,
send me someone to care for;
when I think of myself,
turn my thoughts toward another.

"The Notre Dame Book of Prayer" would make a great addition to any Catholic's prayer collection.

Reviewed by Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur

Monday, August 9, 2010

Book Review: "Sullivan's Justice" by Nancy Taylor Rosenberg

Carolyn Sullivan is a probation officer in Ventura. CA.  Her brother Neil, who has a drug habit that Carolyn doesn't know about,  becomes a murder suspect when he finds his girlfriend Laurel dead in his pool.  As the investigation proceeds, Laurel's murder is connected to several other recent murders.  

There are  two keys to the investigation: Melody, Neil's ex-girlfriend Melody, who may be able to clear him but refuses to do so;  the second is Raphael Moreno,a very dangerous prison inmate who has refused to speak to anyone so far, but may know how whether the murders are really connected.   Carolyn's priority is to get Moreno to talk and try to clear Neil.  As Carolyn gets closer to the truth,  she finds herself and her family in increasing danger. 

Ms. Rosenberg does an excellent job of concealing the real motive for the murders  by hiding it in plain sight, so to speak.  She also does a  a fine job of defining the main characters using brief stories from their past.  The suspense builds rapidly, particularly in the 2nd half, as the "pieces of the puzzle"  are neatly woven together. 

There are several content warnings.  There are a couple of intimate scenes that are more descriptive than necessary. There are also a few cases of objectionable language.

Confuzzlement* Abounds: Reviewing Mary and Max

Rose plucked this off the video rental shelf, saying she watched it after it showed up in her Netflix movie recommendation. She described it as being about a penpal friendship developed between an 8-year-old lonely Australian girl and a 40-year-old lonely New York man. They correspond for 20 years and we see how their lives are changed.

I would tell you more of the plot but that sums it up well enough. It probably is best categorized as a black comedy. There is plenty of humor, some of it rather subtle, although the movie often surprises with how serious some of the subject matter is and the depth to which the filmmaker is willing to explore it. This is all aided by the fact that Mary and Max are each, in their own way, complete innocents who write exactly what they are thinking, whether it will hurt or confuse the other person or not. This results in confuzzlement* not only for the main characters but also for the viewer at times. At one point I realized I was hanging on for dear life to the idea that the story would take a turn for the better. In fact, just like real life, the movie takes us through the comic and tragic which often are intertwined ... and does it brilliantly.

Although animated, this is not (repeat: NOT) a film for children. It is a stop-motion, claymation depiction of a story intended for adult audiences.

It also is the film that made me realize if the definition of an extrovert is someone who must discuss ideas aloud to understand them, then I am an extrovert. I was really not sure what I thought of this movie until after the entire family's animated discussion which followed for the rest of the evening. That conversation greatly clarified my thoughts, especially as everyone had been struck by different points.

At one point I asked, "Is it a movie to recommend to others?" Tom instantly responded, "It is a move that must be seen by anyone who values a richly told story." He is right. It is a film for those who are interested in richly told stories that are not afraid to explore the heights and depths that imperfection, perception, and sheer humanity bring to our lives and the lives of those we touch (even if simply through letters). In fact, I imagine that at some point I will be watching this again to see more of the details and subtleties I missed the first time around. First though, I must have time to let this sink in more fully. It's that kind of a movie.

*Confuzzlement: confusion + puzzlement. Watch the movie. You'll see where it comes from. It is now a new household term for us.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Book Review: "The Bible's Best Love Stories"

"The Bible's Best Love Stories"
by Allan F. Wright
Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press

When one mentions love stories, I’d be willing to bet that the first thing that comes to mind is not the Bible. One tends to think of romantic movies or novels. Perhaps one might think of couples one knows whose love stands out in the crowd. Yet, God is the author of love and the Bible, as the word of God, is a wonderful place to look for examples of love and role models for our own relationships. In “The Bible’s Best Love Stories,” Allan F. Wright examines some of the very human love stories contained in the pages of scripture. These stories do not show an idealistic portrayal of love. Rather they show the full range of deep emotions and all the challenges along the way. Wright does not only study the portrayal of romantic relationships, but also the love of good friends and familial relationships.

Wright begins his examination, as one might expect, with the relationship between Adam and Eve, “the world’s first lovers.” Before the first sin, they had the beauty of the ideal relationship; it was a union of the whole person – body and soul. They loved each other as God loved them. But then, they thought they knew better than God and sin came into the world. Their relationship, which had been so perfect, now was one of shame and blame. Things would never be the same for them, or us, again. We will come up short, yet we are all called to still strive for that original self-giving love that existed before sin.

Wright then turns his attention to other famous pairs of the Old Testament: Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Rachel, Abigail and David, Tobiah and Sarah, and the unnamed lovers in the “Song of Solomon.” He also explores the familial love of Joseph and his brothers and Ruth and Naomi and the bonds of friendship that existed between David and Jonathan. The New Testament features fewer romantic relationships, but Wright looks at Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, and Priscilla and Aquila. Some of Jesus’ friendships are highlighted, such as those with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, as well as his bond with Peter. His relationship with the “sinful woman’ is also examined. The relationship between Saint Paul and Barnabas, and that which existed among Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John are also looked at. While some of these stories are relatively familiar, Wright looks at them with fresh eyes, pointing out things we may have missed in the relationships and holding up certain aspects for special attention.

The Bible illustrates all the different types of love. It shows that loving anyone will require commitment and sacrifice. There is no such thing as an easy love, although some days will certainly be easier than others. Love will sometimes need to be waited for, but trust in God is paramount. Wright has done a beautiful job portraying these stories with understanding and wisdom. For each story, he offers a prayer, a relevant quote, reflection questions, and an idea for putting love into action in one’s own life. These additions help make this book ideal for a bible study or for private reflection.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on The Bible's Best Love Stories

Reviewed by Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur

Thursday, August 5, 2010

DVD giveaway

This is our first DVD giveaway at CMR.
 "Letters to God" is out on DVD and you can enter to win one of five free copies by sending me your address at marysjoys@yahoo.com
Here is my review at US Catholic.
All entries for this contest must be received no later than Tuesday August 10,
good luck!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Movie Review: Inception - PG13

Dom Cobb (DiCaprio) is a unique sort of thief.  He is able to steal people's innermost secrets by accessing their dreams.  But, this latest caper is not a theft exactly.  He and his team are hired to plant a thought deep in someone's subconscious.  It is very dangerous for them to go that deep into someone's subconscious.  Add to that the fact that they try a dream within a dream, which is also risky, and the story gets complicated.  Sometimes it is actually hard to tell if the scene is a dream or reality. It is a complex plot that requires you to put on your thinking cap.  And by the way, Cobb also has a dream of his own, which further complicates things.

As far as the actors, Dicaprio was good, but  I think Joseph Gordon-Levitt stole the show as Arthur, Cobb's partner and teammate.  Ellen Page (from Juno) was also very good as the architect of the dream they use to accomplish the assignment.

Plenty of action, and the  special effects are fabulous (remember, anything can happen in a dream :)  I was particularly impressed with the suspense of the plot.  I was truly on the edge of my seat.  The only content warning I have is some fighting and violence.  One challenge they have to overcome are "projections", which is what dreamers use to fight people who invade their dreams.

Two words:  See it!
Two more words: Pay attention!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Discover a Modern Day Hero of Divine Love

Most of the saints we learn about and love lived a long time ago. As much as we can study their lives and, when available, read their writings, it can be difficult to imagine them as living, breathing human beings who struggled with life. That is one reason why it is so amazing to watch “St. Gianna Beretta Molla: A Modern Day Hero of Divine Love,” a new DVD about a saint who lived in our own time. The DVD is a visual delight, featuring photos and home movies of St. Gianna, who lived from 1922 to 1962. One gets to see her getting married and playing with her children and living out her career as a doctor. Viewers see her laughing and smiling and loving life. This is a real woman. She is someone like us. Sadly, one also has the opportunity to get a glimpse of the outpouring of mourners at her funeral. She was truly loved in her community and admired for her sanctity.

Here we get to know a woman like so many of us who struggled to balance work and family. She was highly intelligent, excelling in her studies. She also loved music and art and being in the mountains. She loved her family above all else, but saw her career as a physician as a calling from God. Not only did she run her own practice, she was an active volunteer and sought to bring medical care to those who needed it, especially mothers and children. She would tell other doctors that “when you have finished your earthly profession, if you have done this well, you will enjoy divine life ‘because I was sick and you healed me.’”

St. Gianna was raised in a Christ-centered family and sought to raise her children the same way. Her life was one of service and was deeply rooted in prayer. She attended daily Mass as often as possible and prayed her rosary daily. She was always ready to encourage others in their relationship with God. She was a woman who viewed life as a gift from God and trusted in the power of prayer. Totally pro-life, her ultimate sacrifice was to give birth to her last child, even though she was advised against it and knew it might result in her own death. After giving birth, she bravely bore her final suffering with grace and prayer. She died on April 28, 1962 at the age of 39. Beatified in 1994 and canonized in 2004, Pope John Paul II held St. Gianna up as a role model for mothers, physicians, and the pro-life cause.

Watching “St. Gianna Beretta Molla: A Modern Day Hero of Divine Love” is an opportunity to discover a wonderful woman devoted to God who can serve as a model for all of us struggling with life as mothers.

To order this DVD produced by Catholic Action for Faith and Family, please visit www.stgiannaphysicians.org.