Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Blogger's Choice Awards

Thanks to Elizabeth Miller for nominating us for Best Entertainment Blog at the Blogger's Choice Awards. It's an honor to be appreciated by a great writer and wonderful Catholic. Please go vote for her as the Hottest Mommy blogger. for her blog The Divine Gift of Motherhood.

For those of you who missed "Expelled" get it on DVD

You who believe in scientific inquiry, freedom of speech and just plain straight talkin' owe it to yourselves to watch Ben Stein make monkees of some of the world's leading evolution believers.
Expelled. Get it today in stores, and be enlightened on just how dogmatic scientists can be.
Read my review here.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Do You Believe? Reviewing "My Cousin the Saint"

"Tell me about the miracles," Danny asked, bursting into an eager smile. "What miracles did your cousin perform?"

All right, I can do that. It's just another couple of stories. I started in on them as matter-of-factly as recounting the details of a ball game. Danny was looking at me funny again, like I was missing the point of what I was actually saying.

He leaned in over the table. "Do you believe, Justin?"

Believe in miracles? Me? Am I supposed to? I honestly had never thought of that and told him so.

"Well, I believe," Danny said with an urgency that struck me as entirely genuine. "Goodness, Justin. He's your cousin. You've got to believe!"
Justin Catanoso's discovery that he is actually related to an honest-to-goodness, canonized Catholic saint begins a journey that takes him not only to a discovery of family and heritage, but also on the exploration of a faith that had long fallen by the wayside.

In some ways, Catanoso's story is the dream of every American whose family lost their roots when they came to this country. He receives an email one day from a woman who wonders if they might be related. It turns out that the American branch of the family has long been missing a deep heritage rooted in the Italian countryside. As well, Catanoso discovers that his grandfather's cousin, Padre Gaetano Catanoso, is being considered for canonization. This unbelievable news, prompts a family visit to Italy where they are lovingly embraced by their newly found relatives and where they begin hearing stories about "the saint."
... Don Guiseppe Agostino, a young priest who was supposed to accompany the archbishop that day, received that startling news [that the archbishop had been killed]. Not knowing what else to do, he woke Padre Gaetano, who also lived at the seminary. Noticing Don Agostino's agitation, the older priest responded, "Remain calm. Everything is a mystery. In domino."

Together, they went out on foot to inform Monsignor Montalbetti's mother.

"It is late and you have not retired for the night," said the mother, Carolina Portman, answering her door. "Has something happened?"

Rather than explain, Padre Gaetano bowed his head and said barely above a whisper, "In domino." Clutching her hands to her heart, the woman understood at once. "God is passing through my life," she moaned and invited the priests inside her home. There, in a small chapel, she fell to her knees and, with anguished cries, prayed for nearly an hour. To the young priest with him, Padre Gaetano urged, "Remain still. Don't move. Adore God in this moment and take example from this great mother."

"At times he seemed naive," Don Agostino recalled later, "but instead he had a shrewd depth. So it could be understood that his was a suffered peace, a word matured in silence, a smile born of real passion."

Returning to the seminary in the middle of the night, the two priests roused the others to meet in the chapel, where Padre Gaetano led them in prayer. "He had such a presence," Don Agostino recalled. "That evening remained with me as a vital lesson on the meaning of faith."
Catanoso tells the parallel stories of his immigrant grandfather and his saintly cousin vividly and honestly. In so doing, he skillfully pulls us into the uniquely American immigrant experience of his grandfather finding his vocation as an Italian grocer in New Jersey. We see Padre Gaetano tirelessly work to improve Italian peasant life at a time when it often meant a brutish existence of ignorance and want simply because there were no other options. As Catanoso's Uncle Tony fought in World War II he wound up in Italy and that portion of the American experience is also conveyed skillfully while weaving in Tony's AWOL search for family roots.

This would be enough for most memoirs but it is merely a portion of Catanoso's story. The discovery of extended family and his saintly relative comes at a crucial time for his family as his brother, Alan, begins waging a grim fight against cancer. The many devout Catanosos begin praying to "Uncle Gaetano" for a miracle. We become just as engrossed in the fight for Alan's health. Will a miracle save him?

It is at this point that Justin Catanoso begins grappling with his faith. Raised Catholic, he had fallen away from his faith and did not know what to believe any more. Again, in many ways this parallels many Americans' struggles with faith and with the Catholic Church in particular. What are miracles? What does it mean to be a saint? What does it mean to be related to a saint, if anything? A typically pragmatic and independently minded American, Catanoso honestly recounts his struggles, questions, and doubts. In the process, he interviews Vatican officials, recipients of Padre Gaetano's miracles, believers, and skeptics. As Catanoso uncovers facts and explanations, will he be able to find for himself a real and lasting faith?
"For many people, there comes a time when you just start asking fewer questions because you accept that there are now answers to be had; you have to trust," Father Louie explained. "You search and you search until ultimately, you have to say: 'I believe.' I don't know if that's going to happen to you. You're a pragmatist. You're a rationalist. You're very American. That doesn't mean you're doomed. You have to be true to yourself. You have to be honest. But basically, it all comes down to one thing: Faith is a gift. Are you accepting the gift?"
We become equally engrossed in the search to discover just what a saint shows us as believers. Catanoso's quest becomes ours and, if we are honest, we must contemplate our own faith, belief, and the reality that we are all called to be saints.

On a side note, I found it quite interesting that he got a certain measure of reassurance about the Church from reading "Why I am Catholic" by Garry Wills, since that is a book that many faithful Catholics including myself would avoid due to Wills' criticism of certain tenents of the faith. It is a good lesson that an honest and tenacious seeker can ferret out the information they need in many more places than we could predict.

This is an absolutely fantastic book by a talented, honest, and compelling writer. It is going to be on my list of top books of 2008. Highly recommended.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Audiobook Review: The Standards of Creation

My review can be found at SFFaudio. This is right up there with T.M. Camp's "Assam and Darjeeling" as one of my favorite books of the year. I don't want to give anything away but I believe that Christian sci-fi fans are going to be especially delighted at some of the twists of this story. I know that I was!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Teach Your Children Well ... Reviewing "The Fathers" by Pope Benedict XVI

Finally, [St.] Basil was of course also concerned with that chosen portion of the People of God, the youth, society's future. He addressed a Discourse to them on how to benefit from the pagan culture of that time.

He recognized with great balance and openness that examples of virtue can be found in classical Greek and Latin literature. Such examples of upright living can be helpful to young Christians in search of the truth and the correct way of living.

Therefore, one must take from the texts by classical authors what is suitable and conforms with the truth: thus, with a critical and open approach--it is a question of true and proper "discernment"--young people grow in freedom.

With the famous image of bees that gather from flowers only what they need to make honey, Basil recommends: "Just as bees can take nectar from flowers, unlike other animals which limit themselves to enjoying their scent and color, so also from these writings...once can draw some benefit for the spirit. We must use these books, following in all things the examples of bees. They do not visit every flower without distinction, nor seek to remove all the nectar from the flowers on which they alight, but only draw from them what they need to make honey, and leave the rest. And if we are wise, we will take from those writings what is appropriate for us, and conform to the truth, ignoring the rest."

... Dear brothers and sisters, I think one can say that this Father from long ago also speaks to us and tells us important things.

In the first place, attentive, critical, and creative participation in today's culture.

Then, social responsibility: this is an age in which, in a globalized world, even people who are physically distant are really our neighbors; therefore, friendship with Christ, the God with the human face. ...
One of the things that may surprise the reader of this series of homilies given by Pope Benedict XVI is just how much pertinent information can be packed into a short piece. As one flows into the next we are treated to a history of the growing understanding of the revelation of Jesus Christ. We also watch the struggles taken on for the truth, not simply against pagans, but with those who have developed heretical doctrines.

Each homily, nicely edited to read as an essay, encapsulates the Father's life history, influences, and career. Pope Benedict then focuses on a key area of influence which that particular Father has had on the faith. Most importantly, he shows just how significant this influence can be to modern society and to each of us personally if we reflect upon it. I was reminded of just how little human nature has changed over time as I repeatedly felt the applicability of these teachings to our lives today.

As wall, we are reminded that none of us is perfect and these Church Fathers are noting if not human. Pope Benedict is not shy about pointing out a person's failings, though he always does so with charity and in order to emphasize a topic for our personal reflection.

An interesting item to note is that every single Father strongly emphasizes prayer. Each has his own particular focus or style, but the constant refrain from person to person serves as a strong reminder to us that this is a vital area where we must persevere in order to come into a good and loving relationship with God.
Notwithstanding all the theological richness of his [Origen's] thought, his is never a purely academic approach; it is always founded on the experience of prayer, of contact with God. Indeed, to his mind, knowledge of the Scriptures requires prayer and intimacy with Christ even more than study.

He was convinced that the best way to become acquainted with God is through love, and that there is no authentic scientia Christi without falling in love with him.

In his Letter to Gregory, Origen recommends: "Study first of all the lectio of the divine Scriptures. Study them, I say. for we need to study the divine writings deeply... and while you study these divine works with a believing and God-pleasing intention, knock at that which is closed in them and it shall be opened to you by the porter of whom Jesus says, 'To him the gatekeeper opens.'

"While you attend to this lectio divina, seek aright and with unwavering faith in God the hidden sense which is present in most passages of the divine Scriptures. And do not be content with knocking and seeking, for what is absolutely necessary for understanding divine things is oratio, and in urging us to this the Savior says not only 'knock and it will be opened to you,' and 'seek and you will find,' but also 'ask and it will be given you.'"

The "primordial role" played by Origen in the history of lectio divina instantly flashes before one's eyes. Bishop Ambrose of Milan, who learned from Origen's works to interpret the Scriptures, later introduced them into the West to hand them on to Augustine and to the monastic tradition that followed.
It is a pleasure to see that Pope Benedict doesn't just include the better known Fathers, although he does go into extra depth for some of them such as St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom, and St. Augustine. He is at paints to highlight the richness of the Eastern Church by including such lesser known Fathers as Aphraates "The Sage" and St. Ephrem, the Syrian.

It says much for Pope Benedict's abilities that he was able to synthesize such a vast amount of information about the Fathers the history of the Church, and the application of their teachings to modern life in general and our own lives in particular. What a gift this collection is for those who read it thoughtfully. Each of the essays is fairly short so that they could easily be made part of a daily devotional reading if desired. As well, this book is a nice companion volume to The Apostles, a previous collection of Pope Benedict's homilies.

Highly recommended.

This review was written as part of The Catholic Company product reviewer program. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on The Fathers by Pope Benedict XVI.