Sunday, June 28, 2009

Movie Review: Year One - PG13

I am not a big fan of Jack Black, but I saw Year one because the previews, particularly Michael Cera, looked funny. I'm glad that I saw it for one reason: so I could warn you about it. It was full of crude toilet humor and sexual references. I'll give you an idea of how bad it was: feces was sampled, and there was an orgy scene. They also mocked eating the forbidden fruit, Cain killing Abel, and when Abraham was going to sacrifice Isaac; that was turned into a running joke on circumcision. Needless to say, I wasn't there when the credits rolled.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


Alphonse is the story of eight lives that intersect because of an attempted abortion. Why "attempted?" Because while there are no angels or demons on either side, there is definitely a monster in the middle: Alphonse.

Rendered "grotesquely abnormal" by his unwitting mother's use of controlled substances, he is both sentient and freakishly coordinated. He is also deeply wounded, twisted by fear and rage after the attempt on his life - and bent on revenge.

But violence begets violence. Alphonse is pursued even as he is pursuing, and haunted by the insistence of his only friend that there is another way...

Thus is the premise for Alphonse: Untimely Ripp'd, the first issue in a five-issue comic miniseries from writer Matthew Lickona and artist Chris Gugliotti. Matthew Lickona is known for his book "Swimming with Scapulars" and I must say I am impressed with the first issue of this graphic novel. Probably isn't for everybody since it is kind of a firm noir graphic novel, but I found the story so far quite interesting and not what you would expect. Available at

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Producer of The Stoning of Soraya M on EWTN

Both Leticia and myself (Christine) have posted on The Stoning of Soraya M, and the Producer, Steven McEveety, will be on The World Over on EWTN tomorrow, Friday 6/26, at 8:00 PM EST.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Team of Researchers Blames Children's Films for Perpetuating "Heteronormativity"

cross-posted from A Catholic View

Researchers at the University of Michigan have concluded that the love stories told in classic Disney and other G-rated children's films – such as the Little Mermaid - are partially to blame for the pervasiveness of what they label "heteronormativity."

"Despite the assumption that children’s media are free of sexual content, our analyses suggest that these media depict a rich and pervasive heterosexual landscape," wrote researchers Emily Kazyak and Karin Martin, in a report published in the latest issue of the Sociologists for Women in Society (SWS) publication Gender & Society.

Kazyak and Martin said they studied the role of heterosexual relationships in several of the highest-grossing G-rated films between 1990-2005.

story here

Review of "My Sister Alicia May"

My Sister Alicia May

Written by Nancy Tupper Ling
Illustrated by Shennen Bersani
Pleasant St. Press 2009
In this view into the daily life of a little girl with Down syndrome, big sister Rachel lovingly describes her six-year-old sister, Alicia May. Alicia May has endearing traits; she bursts through Rachel’s door in the morning with a sunny greeting, she gives great hugs, and she counts the dots on a ladybugs’ backs. Alicia May is good at remembering the names of the neighbors, and loves visiting Rachel’s friend Katie, however, she has temper tantrums when it’s time to leave, which Katie learns to dissipate with a bit of bargaining. Rachel is growing in courage as she learns to defend Alicia May against the cruelty of their schoolmates. She is both proud of Alicia May’s accomplishments and frustrated by her stubbornness.
Sister relationships are complex and beautiful things. When one of the sisters has special needs, the relationship may seem one sided; often the focus is on the special sister, and this is a mixed blessing. The typical sister learns to give more of herself and put up with more than most sisters do, growing emotionally beyond her peers, yet there are days when she runs short of patience for her demanding sister. “My Sister Alicia May” describes this unique relationship with a unique blend of candor and tenderness.
When I read the book to a group of older sisters of little girls with Down syndrome, there were some knowing grins when Alicia May acted up and surprised expressions when author, Nancy Tupper Ling acknowledged their ‘special ness’ as well. As a mother to an Alicia May and her two big sisters, I say it is long overdue praise for the big sisters.
This book will make those who love someone with Down syndrome alternately well up with tears and laugh as they relate to Rachel’s authentic description of her sister. Shennen Bersani’s lavish and vivid illustrations alone are worth the price of the book. Her realistic drawings of the girls portray with tenderness the unique character of our much-loved children.
This book is a must for anyone who loves children with ‘designer genes’.

Review by Leticia Velasquez
This book is available at Pleasant Street Press

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Book Review: "In the Footsteps of Paul"

The “Year of St. Paul” is coming to a quiet conclusion this month. I have to admit, even though I was aware of that fact, I really didn’t pay it that much attention. Recently, however, I had the pleasure of reading “In the Footsteps of Paul: Experience the Journey that Changed the World.” This is a coffee-table book written and photographed by Ken Duncan (Thomas Nelson 2009). As Duncan states, he “tried to follow [St. Paul’s] travels in Acts as closely as [he] could bring them to life on film.” Duncan previously published two similar books on the life of Jesus, “Where Jesus Walked” and “The Passion of the Christ.” Exploring Paul’s life, however, presented a special challenge for him. Unlike Jesus, St. Paul was human, “born with the seed of sin and prone to all the same temptations we face . . .Paul’s adventures are an inspiration to all who are Christians and a challenge to those who are not.”

Duncan’s photos are breathtaking. The colors are intense. One feels as if one could step right into the photos. Duncan takes the reader from Tarsus to Caesarea to Stephen’s gate to Damascus, throughout all of Paul’s travels, and finally ends in Rome. Interspersed with the photos are quotes from the book of Acts as well as insights about St. Paul from well-known Christian writers. Max Luxado writes of St. Paul’s conversion, “Alone in the room with his sins on his conscience and blood on his hands, he asked to be cleansed. The legalist Saul was buried, and the liberator Paul was born. He was never the same afterwards. And neither was the world.” Richard Exley reminds us of the value of offering encouragement: “Sometimes the most significant things we can do for the Kingdom of God is to encourage others. Only God knows how far-reaching our investment in their lives may be. When Barnabas took time to encourage Saul, I doubt that he ever imagined that his kindness would affect believers for twenty centuries to comes, but it did and it does. Never make the mistake of belittling the eternal value of the ministry that you invest in another.” Rick Warren offers the reflection that “Great souls are grown through struggles and storms and seasons of suffering. Be patient with the process.” Henri Nouwen invites us to discover how we can best use our own gifts to be of service to others.

“In the Footsteps of Paul” offers a wonderful introduction into the life and travels of St. Paul. Ken Duncan has put together an inspiring collection of photographs and meaningful reflections.

Reviewed by Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Life is an Adventure ... Even If You Have to Have a Real Adventure to Realize It (Movie Review: UP)

Russell: I remember the boring things better."
Reactions to Pixar's UP fall into two camps. They found it disappointing or boring on some level or really liked it.

Tom and I saw it last night and fell into the latter camp. I am not saying UP is equivalent to Wall-E or The Incredibles but it is an engaging and likable film with a lot of good messages for today.

For those who, like me, have been avoiding any plot points other than those revealed in the trailer, I will keep the synopsis brief. Carl Frederickson is a house-bound widower who wants to honor past dreams by traveling to the wilderness in South America. Russell is a small boy who ascribes to the high goals of being a Senior Wilderness Explorer but has one more badge to get to achieve his goal. Why Carl floats his house with balloons and just how Russell winds up on his porch, I will leave for you to discover. Those who enjoy 1930's style adventure such as that found in serial books or films of the time will readily recognize the impetus that launches Carl and the type of situation our two heroes find themselves immersed in once they land the house. The jungle setting, the heroine in peril, the good hearted native who helps with indepth knowledge of the environment, the mad scientist hidden away from civilization a la Dr. Moreau ... these are all beautifully realized and translated for us in UP.

Underlying the story is a deeper look at modern issues. Is it the small things in life that make it an adventure worth living or must one have a recognizable "Adventure?" Those who are "marginalized by society" are not always those that spring to mind when we hear the phrase. It can also be a very normal old man or little boy whose basic needs are being ignored. Likewise, we see that it is the very sense of community and subsequent responsibility, even when it seems forced upon us, that completes us most and makes us the most free. Some issues are given a shorter shrift but are still there for reflection. For your personal discovery, I merely point to Russell's comment about "wilderness" and the sorts of badges that are being won by the Wilderness Explorers.

Hannah found the movie very sad and, having heard this comment from others, I was braced for something quite tragic. I found no such thing. Not wanting spoilers I will say that what others found sad, I actually found to be inspirational.

For Rose, the movie was ruined by the talking dogs. Keeping in mind the mad scientist/Dr. Moreau-ish theme, this really didn't bother me until a sequence toward the end. Perhaps this is because I found what the dogs were saying to be so authentically the way that we would imagine them thinking. She also found the dog jokes to be repetitive. Perhaps they were. If so, I didn't feel it when watching the movie.

My advice with UP is to come at it with as few preconceptions as possible. If possible, watch it in an audience filled with children, for full impact. And enjoy.

Review of "Behind Bella"

Thousands of ordinary people offered their time to promote the film Bella , and their efforts succeeded in helping the film that won The People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival move past distributors’ lack of trust to get the film to the screen. I was part of that grassroots effort, attending a screening of “Bella” in January 2007 at the Catholic Underground outreach of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in Manhattan. Producer Leo Severino was on hand to ask for the support of the audience, and signed on, writing my first film review on my blog, Causa Nostrae Laetitiae. It was the second review to hit the internet after Robert Novak’s and started me on the path of reviewing and promoting other worthy films. That, I discovered, was the beauty of Bella, you dedicate your talents to God, and He surpasses your generosity in amazing ways. Enjoy my review below.

Behind Bella
2008 Ignatius Press
In the opening scene of “Bella,” there is a gorgeous view of the ocean surf with seagulls crying overhead. Eduardo Verastegui’s resonant accent is heard in a voiceover, saying, “My mother always told me, ‘If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans’”. This quote could well have come from Eduardo’s mother in real life, who while despairing over his wild lifestyle as a pop singer and Soap Opera star in Mexico, said, “my prayers will touch his heart one day, even if my words cannot.” Tim Drake’s book Behind Bella tells the fascinating story of how this mother’s prayer changed not only her son’s life, but also that of thousands of others. The film Bella began and ends with a mother’s tender love.
At seventeen, Eduardo Verastegui left his home on the Mexican-Texas border to find fame and fortune in Mexico City. He sang with a boy band touring sixteen countries, was on various Mexican soap operas, and his fame combined with his mesmerizing blue eyes earned him the nickname “the Brad Pitt of Mexico.” Pursuing the North American market, Eduardo went to Miami to record an English language album when a Hollywood agent told him to audition for the film. “Chasing Papi.” It was about a man exhausted from seeing three women at once, hardly a family oriented film, however Verastegui was about to meet someone who would forever change his life.
God had heard the prayers of his mother, and sent Eduardo an English language coach, Jasmine O’Donnell, who would challenge the quality of the film projects he was doing and his lifestyle, bringing him to a reversion to the Catholicism of his childhood. Fueled with the grace of the sacraments, Verastegui sought to make films, which would positively influence the culture. He changed agents and turned down many offers in Hollywood. ” I promised God that I would never again use my talents in any project that would offend my faith, family, or Latino culture. “Said Verastegui, “Ever since the 1940’s Latinos have been cast as thieves, drunks, or Latin-lovers. I realized for the first time that I might not be a movie star. I thought it was the end of my life’”. Far from the end, it was a new beginning. Soon he would team up with fellow Latino Catholics in the entertainment industry, Leo Severino and Alejandro Monteverde, and it wasn’t long till ‘the three amigos’ found the project they were seeking; a life affirming story about a woman in a crisis pregnancy which would uplift audiences, challenging them to love more deeply, believe more intensely, and forgive more readily.
How does the making of a film become even more compelling as the film itself? When God is the architect of the plans, and the participants consult Him at every turn. Then miracles can and do happen, as Tim Drake faithfully relates in Behind Bella. The compelling narrative describes the beginning of Metanoia Films, through the production of the film and the support Bella garnered from leaders in the political world; such as Governor Jeb and President George Bush and entertainment industry legends Kathie Lee Gifford and Tony Bennett. But the influence of Bella reached far beyond the powerful. Drake describes in tender detail Bella’s life changing effect on the individual viewers. To date, nearly thirty babies were born because their parents were inspired by this film. Many of these precious babies were saved from abortion. Drake calls them “Bella babies.”
“Behind Bella” is a coffee table book with deeply personal photography of the Bella stars in reflective moments, stills from the film, and an array of group photos with celebrities including both Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI. The story of how the film Bella was born is a powerful phenomenon, which Tim Drake has movingly captured for posterity, so that it will continue to inspire artists to offer their talents to promote the Culture of Life.
This review was completed as part of The Catholic Company reviewer program.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

PBS to Begin Phasing Out Religious Programming From Airwaves

cross-posted from A Catholic View

PBS board members, who for 25 years have turned a blind eye to religious programming at some of their member stations' religious programing, have decided to enforce a rule banning the broadcasts -- a move that spells the beginning of the end for religious shows on public television.

Six PBS stations currently broadcast "sectarian" programs produced by local religious groups, including the morning "Mass for Shut-Ins," which is popular among elderly and ailing Catholics who cannot attend the daily service.

Under the terms of a decision reached by the PBS board Tuesday, those stations can retain their current shows. And all stations can air programs and documentaries that cover sacred topics -- even a newsworthy service, like a papal Mass.

But no new religious shows can be offered, and none of the 350 other stations may air any purely spiritual content, a move some groups say is a quiet means of phasing out religion from their airwaves.

Movie Review: Up

But first, the short....

Partly Cloudy starts off with an homage to the opening scene from Dumbo: the air is filled with storks carefully carrying bundles and depositing them on windowsills and doorsteps. Inside the bundles are babies: human, kittens, puppies... After they are taken in by their parents, the storks fly away, back to their clouds where, we discover, the babies are made.

The system works pretty smoothly, except for one poor stork whose cloud specializes in more aggressive baby animals like alligators and sharks. The stork is worse for wear and finally takes off for another, sympathetic cloud.

The first cloud becomes angry, causing a storm. But surely the stork wouldn't just abandon his cloud! Would he?

Like all Pixar shorts, there is no dialogue. But the visual expressions are very well done. Although I wondered if today's kids know the storks-bringing-babies story.

Now to the featured presentation...

Up starts with a Movietone Newsreel detailing the exploits of Explorer and Adventurer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer). A young boy, complete with a leather aviator cap and goggles, watches wide-eyed and breathless. On his way home, dreaming of adventure, he hears a voice coming from an abandoned house, shouting directions to an unseen crew. Cautiously he steps in and meets a young girl, also wearing an aviator cap and goggles, who introduces herself as Ellie (Elie Docter, the daughter of director Pete Docter, who was 7 at the time). Ellie is an irresistible force and the young boy finds himself swept along in her fantasy. When he finally does find his voice, he can only say his name, Carl, and not much else. She dares him to retrieve his balloon; in doing so, he breaks his arm. She climbs up to his window later that day and makes him a member of her Adventurers Club, whose membership pin is a grape soda bottle cap on a pin.

The next several minutes goes through their life from young adults, with all the possibilities of life, to newlyweds, through the tragedy of miscarriage, to Ellie's death. And Carl (Ed Asner) is now sitting in his living room with Ellie's empty chair next to him. His big adventure is walking to the mailbox every day.

And when he does, we see that his house is surrounded by the construction of modern office buildings. Carl isn't about to sell his house, leaving all memories of Ellie behind. The Construction Foreman (John Ratzenberger) is sympathetic, but there's not much he can do. There's a confrontation and (shades of Miracle on 34th Street), Carl ends up bopping someone on the head. The Man in Charge seizes the opportunity to get Carl committed to an old folks' home.

But while Carl is old, he's not witless. He hatches a plot to float his entire home off to South America--specifically to Paradise Valley, where he promised to take Ellie.

And it works. There's only one small hitch: a Wilderness Explorer named Russell (Jordan Nagai), who only has to assist an elderly person to get his "Helping the Elderly" badge. Russell is on Carl's front porch and Carl has no choice but to take him inside.

Russell is bright and eager and annoying. Carl wants to be left alone with his memories. Russell wants to help and, of course, makes the situation worse. But they do make it to Paradise Valley, just not in the spot where Carl wants to be. So they start walking, "towing" the house behind them.

Along the way they meet a strange and exotic bird that Russell decides to name "Kevin." Carl tells Russell Kevin can't join them--but he does. And then they meet a dog, Dug (Bob Peterson) who is wearing a collar that allows him to talk. Despite Carl's protests, Dug joins the group.

Dug is not the only talking dog. One is a particularly nasty Doberman named Alpha (also Bob Peterson) who is leading the search for Kevin.

Will Carl get the house to its ideal spot? Will he warm up to Russell, Kevin, and Dug? And whatever happened to Charles Muntz anyway?

Hubs and I saw this movie in 3D, which brings a nice, realistic feel to the movie. There isn't anything jumping out from the screen at you, so the movie doesn't scream "3D!" The characters are well-developed, especially Carl and Randall, once again proving to me that it's the story, not the effects, that make a movie great. I was teary-eyed at the end.

Fenton's is mentioned and is a real ice cream parlor in Oakland, apparently one of the hang outs of the gang at Pixar. Besides ice cream, Fenton's also has excellent crab salad sandwiches on toasted sourdough, served only on Fridays.

Like Wall*E, stay for the credits.

This movie is rated PG and there are a couple of scenes involving growling dogs, which might be too intense for young or sensitive children, especially in 3D. One little girl behind us started crying.

Overall, positive messages, although Russell's dad is an absentee father. And our family now has several new phrases in our family vocabulary, including "Squirrel!" and the Wilderness Explorer call.

On the March Hare scale: 5 out of 5 Golden Tickets. Basically, I went to work Monday morning and told everyone they had to see it.

crossposted at The Mad Tea Party

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Treasure Chest of Ancient Wisdom: Review of Praying with the Early Christians

Praying the Psalms with the Early Christians
Ancient Songs for Modern Hearts
All the books of Scripture, both Old Testament and New, are inspired by God and useful for instruction, as the apostle says (see 2 Timothy 3:16); but to those who really study it, the Psalter yields special treasure. ... for I think that in the words of this book all human life is covered, with all its states and thoughts, and that nothing further can be found in man. For no matter what you seek, whether it be repentance and confession, or help in trouble and temptation or under persecution, whether you have been set free from plots and snares or, on the contrary, are sad for any reason, or whether, seeing yourself progressing and your enemy cast down, you want to praise and thank and bless the Lord, each of these things the divine psalms show you how to do, and in every case the words you want are written down for you, and you can say them as your own.
St. Athanasius, Letter to Marcellinus
The Book of Psalms has been the prayer book and hymnal of God's people for three thousand years. Christians came to see the psalms as the prayers of Christ, to Christ, and about Christ. Mike Aquilina and Chris Bailey remind us of this. They also have a plan to help us replace the latest meaningless jingle running around our brains with the psalms.

Thirty-four psalms have been chosen as examples to help us learn how to pray, learn, and understand these ancient prayers anew as Christ's voice speaking to us. As always with these two authors, who I admit are among my favorites, the writing speaks simply and directly to our lives, our faith, and to giving us a tool to improve our relationship with God. They are masters at helping us see how the Church Fathers' wisdom still applies to our modern lives. Combining the Fathers with the psalms is a master stroke toward helping us better understand and use these timeless prayers daily.

My one quibble with this book is that I do not agree that there isn't room to include all the psalms. I tend to believe this is a restriction that was set by the publisher. This book is either the good beginning point for a series of books or a brief volume that should have been larger to contain all the psalms. Yes, it shows us how to begin to examine the psalms better. No, it doesn't suffice for our needs as very few people are going to take the trouble to see how Church Fathers have commented on psalms not included for our use. However, that said, this is an excellent resource and you shouldn't let the lack of all the psalms stop you from getting it.

I am going to begin using this as a morning devotional and as a starting point to begin fulfilling a long-held goal to try to memorize parts of my favorite psalms. I'd describe more about the book but think that you will get the flavor better from seeing how they treat a psalm. Here is an excerpt of this highly recommended book. Enjoy!
Psalm 131

David reminds us that humility—even in a king—is the proper attitude before God.

[For this psalm we use Challoner’s revision of the Douay-Rheims Bible, because St. Hilary’s exposition depends on a slightly different translation from the one found in the Revised Standard Version.]

A gradual canticle of David.
Lord, my heart is not exalted:
nor are my eyes lofty.
Neither have I walked in great matters,
nor in wonderful things above me.
If I was not humbly minded, but exalted my soul:
As a child that is weaned is toward his mother,
so reward in my soul.

Let Israel hope in the Lord,
from henceforth now and for ever.

Words to Remember
Lord, my heart is not exalted:
nor are my eyes lofty.

“Strike a Middle Course”
From this short psalm, St. Hilary of Poitiers, a bishop who came from a noble and wealthy family, spins a lesson in humility. Humility by itself is not enough: though we are humble, we must dare to let our souls reach up to what is most exalted.

“O Lord, my heart is not exalted, neither have my eyes been lifted up.”

This psalm, a short one, teaches us the lesson of humility and meekness. . . . Of course we are bound to bear in mind in how great need our faith stands of humility when we hear the prophet thus speaking of it as equivalent to the performance of the highest works: “O Lord, my heart is not exalted.” For a troubled heart is the noblest sacrifice in the eyes of God. The heart, therefore, must not be lifted up by prosperity, but humbly kept within the bounds of meekness through the fear of God.

“Neither have my eyes been lifted up.” The strict sense of the Greek here conveys a different meaning: “have not been lifted up” from one object to look on another. Yet the eyes must be lifted up in obedience to the prophet’s words: “Lift up your eyes and see who has displayed all these things” (see Isaiah 40:26). And the Lord says in the gospel, “Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields, that they are white unto harvest” (see John 4:35). The eyes, then, are to be lifted up: not, however, to transfer their gaze elsewhere, but to remain fixed once for all upon that to which they have been raised.

Then follows: “Neither have I walked amid great things, nor amid wonderful things that are above me.” It is most dangerous to walk amid mean things and not to linger amid wonderful things. God’s utterances are great; he himself is wonderful in the highest: how then can the psalmist pride himself as on a good work for not walking amid great and wonderful things?

It is the addition of the words “that are above me” that shows that the walking is not amid those things which men commonly regard as great and wonderful. For David, prophet and king as he was, once was humble and despised and unworthy to sit at his father’s table; but he found favor with God, he was anointed to be king, he was inspired to prophesy. His kingdom did not make him haughty; he was not moved by hatreds: he loved those that persecuted him, he paid honor to his dead enemies, he spared his incestuous and murderous children. In his capacity of sovereign, he was despised; in that of father he was wounded; in that of prophet he was afflicted; yet he did not call for vengeance as a prophet might, nor exact punishment as a father, nor requite insults as a sovereign. And so he did not walk amid things great and wonderful which were above him.

Let us see what comes next: “If I was not humbly minded but have lifted up my soul.”

What inconsistency on the prophet’s part! He does not lift up his heart: he does lift up his soul. He does not walk amid things great and wonderful that are above him, yet his thoughts are not mean. He is exalted in mind and cast down in heart. He is humble in his own affairs, but he is not humble in his thought.

For his thought reaches to heaven; his soul is lifted up on high. But his heart, out of which proceed, according to the gospel, evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, and railings (see Matthew 15:19), is humble, pressed down beneath the gentle yoke of meekness.

We must strike a middle course, then, between humility and exaltation, so that we may be humble in heart but lifted up in soul and thought.

Then he goes on: “Like a weaned child upon his mother’s breast, so will you reward my soul.”

We are told that when Isaac was weaned, Abraham made a feast because, now that he was weaned, he was on the verge of boyhood and was passing beyond milk food. The apostle feeds all that are imperfect in the faith and still babes in the things of God with the milk of knowledge. Thus, to cease to need milk marks the greatest possible advance. Abraham proclaimed by a joyful feast that his son had come to stronger meat, and the apostle refuses bread to the carnal minded and those that are babes in Christ.

And so the prophet prays that God, because he has not lifted up his heart, nor walked amid things great and wonderful that are above him, because he has not been humble minded but did lift up his soul, may reward his soul, lying like a weaned child upon his mother: that is to say, that he may be deemed worthy of the reward of the perfect, heavenly, and living bread, on the grounds that by reason of his works already recorded, he has now passed beyond the stage of milk.

But he does not demand this living bread from heaven for himself alone; he encourages all mankind to hope for it by saying, “Let Israel hope in the Lord, from henceforth and forevermore.” He sets no temporal limit to our hope; he bids our faithful expectation stretch out into infinity. We are to hope forever and ever, winning the hope of future life through the hope of our present life which we have in Christ Jesus our Lord, who is blessed forever and ever. Amen.

—St. Hilary of Poitiers, Homilies on the Psalms

Questions to Think About
  1. Am I ever tempted to look down on anyone else? How would the truth of who I am before God help me to overcome this temptation?

  2. How can I better remember to focus my attention on heaven rather than on earthly glories?

An Exciting, Enthralling, and Unusual Thriller: Review of The Death of a Pope

It is not often that I receive a book around 1:00 in the afternoon and finish it by 10:00 the next morning. This thriller was compelling enough to keep me reading at every opportunity so that I did precisely that.

Juan Uriarte, a former priest known for his compassion for the marginalized in third world countries, is on trial in London for terrorist activities. The trial is covered by reporter Kate Ramsay who is worried about her career and decides to cover Uriarte and his work in Africa among AIDs victims.

The story moves from London to Rome, Rome to Africa, Africa to Egypt, and onward. As it does, the cost in suffering and lives that is perceived as the result of practicing the Church's policies is hotly debated. Set during Pope John Paul II's last days and during the uncertain times of the papal enclave that followed his death, we also see the unease of conservative and liberal priests as they wonder where the future of the Catholic Church lies. This is not as forced as it might seem since practically all the characters have had something to do with the Catholic Church at some point in their lives. Practically every hot button issue of modern times in the Church is touched upon. More importantly, it is necessary to the plot that the reader has some understanding of these issues.

Gradually, the seemingly disparate threads are brought together by a terrorist plot involving blackmail, subterfuge, and mass murder. The result is a fast paced book that pulls the reader into a world where terrorists are willing to do anything to support their cause.

Although I personally enjoyed it when theological issues were raised, at one point I had to pause and ask myself if this was limiting the book's appeal to a more general audience. It took only a brief reflection to decide that the answer was "no." Indeed, switch the religion from Catholicism to Islam and I'd have been eager to get such an impartial view of both sides for issues in that faith. Likewise, thinking of the many spy thrillers I've read, up to and including the first ever spy novel The Riddle of the Sands, I realized that authors must always educate the audience with special insider knowledge germane to the plot, ranging from yachting to cold war Berlin to the politics of the Catholic Church.

The book is interesting because it works on several levels. At the surface it is a good spy thriller. On a deeper level it presents arguments for both conservative and liberal Catholic social thinking. Most interestingly, the author presents rounded out characters in these discussions so that there usually is no "good" or "bad" guy, but simply people who all have the best motives in mind and who are trying to act truly on those motives to do good. Of course, not everyone has such pure motivations but then again this is a spy thriller.

On a still deeper level, the reader has plenty of food for thought in the basics of good versus evil, on how easy it is to twist facts to serve one's own purposes without even realizing it, on trusting God versus trying to force events, and much more. At the base, one finds the most basic issue of all for contemplation: when does one move from discernment and a relationship with God as a person to thinking about religion and our own agendas as a goal. One realizes that one of the most likable and successful people in the book is a Secret Service agent who doesn't give a flip about faith. However, by being true to his calling and honestly adhering to the truth as he knows it, he is being more faithful to God's will in a very real sense than someone who has agonized about it for a long time.

The book is not perfect. It is written in present tense which annoyed me every time I picked up the book. Luckily I was soon able to ignore that oddity because the story was so compelling that I would forget about it. However, I happen to agree with Orson Scott Card's assessment of such a quirk when he says (not about this book), "This does nothing but add a needless layer of falseness to the story -- when we want to tell something important and true, we always tell it in past tense. That's how English works..." I sincerely hope that this is not a habit of Read's as I plan on seeking out more of his books.

Another imperfection arose when there was a particular conversation between two characters about halfway through which essentially laid out the raison d'etre for all following actions of the suspect. Although I felt proud to have spotted it, it only took a moment's reflection to realize that I am not really clever enough to spot such things until after all is revealed at the end. At that point I am usually resignedly retracing the storyline to see where I was led down a false trail and where the real clues were subtly dropped. I readily admit that this actually may have been due to my too thorough reading of the book jacket which hints of where the action will lead. Such hints on jackets should be banned. However, I also feel that as we are on "high alert" mentally by that part of the book there is a good chance that the conversation is dropped in with a topic that is offbeat enough to draw the reader's notice unnecessarily. That is not to say that such advance certainty of the overall plot ruined the book for me but it did lead to a lessening of suspense somewhat on that point.

Those are minor quibbles as I thoroughly enjoyed this book and can highly recommend it. Take it to the beach, escape from reality a while with it, or add some excitement to your life. Just don't miss it.

This book was provided through The Catholic Company review program. You may purchase The Death of a Pope at The Catholic Company here. Normally I'd say that other reviews may be read at The Catholic Company, but I'm the first as far as I can see ... so check back to see what other opinions come in. Don't forget that The Catholic Company offers many fine Catholic products so check out their website.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Review of "The Rite"

Matt Baglio
2009 Random House
A non-religious man follows a lead into the Vatican, plunging into the antediluvian mystery of Catholicism. No, this is not the opening of a Dan Brown novel; it is the story of AP journalist Matt Baglio is whose book “The Rite” is revisiting the Hollywood stereotypes of demonic possession. In 2004, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith requested that all dioceses appoint an official exorcist. When the Vatican-affiliated Regina Apostolorum College opened a course for the training of exorcists that year, Baglio was intrigued and sensing a story in the making, enrolled himself in the four-month course entitled, “Exorcism and the Prayer of Liberation.” What kind of priest takes the exorcist course; are there any priests out there who still believe in the existence of the devil? He was pondering such questions when he met classmate Fr Gary Thomas, a parish priest from San Jose California. “The Rite” follows Fr Gary’s journey from a priest who hesitantly responds to the request of his bishop to attend the course, to a true believer in the ministry of deliverance who is using this book to awaken interest among the American clergy.

“The Rite” alternates between this compelling story and a thorough description of Church teaching on satanic possession, including; the hierarchy of the spirit world, satanic worship, curses, how a priest discerns between persons who are mentally ill and those who truly need exorcisms. Baglio addresses attempts made by the scientific communities to explain possession in psychological terms. Science dismiss many of the demonic manifestations as multiple personalities, but their explanations falter when confronted with the physical manifestations of demons; the possessed may vomit objects, even live animals which dissolve, and fight with superhuman strength, objects may fall or fly through the air. Readers may read this book seeking sensational stories, and will not be disappointed, yet “The Rite” is far more than a collection of lurid tales. Reading the book will provide a comprehensive understanding of satanic oppression and possession, the effects on the victim, and how accurately such Hollywood films as “The Exorcist” and the “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” portray the gruesome realities of demonic activity. The truth Fr Gary witnesses is more terrifying than such films suggest.

Heartbreaking stories of human suffering caused by possession and curses on innocent victims are what moved Fr Gary from skepticism about exorcism to enthusiastic promotion of its importance. Day after day in the Shrine of San Lorenzo, he witnessed Father Carmine, the exorcist; spend himself for the relief of suffering humanity. In the following passage, Baglio describes Fr Thomas’ epiphany, which immediately followed the most intense exorcism he had witnessed so far, a rare satanic possession.
“For the next few days the experience of having the demon lock eyes with him would continue to dog Father Gary. He wondered what kind of effect such a direct connection would have on him. After his hiking accident, he has often wondered if God had saved him for a reason. Over the years since then, when something would happen in his life, he would think, Well, may this is the reason why. After some time, he stopped worrying about it. However, when he looked back on the series of events that had led him to Rome, there did seem to be a logical sequence at work. His time in the mortuary, his accident, his depression, his belief in healing prayer—had God somehow been grooming him to be an exorcist all along? Ultimately, he couldn’t say; but he know that, as a result of those experience, he would certainly be more motivated to try. And if this was what God wanted him to do, then even if the Devil were somehow watching him, so was God; and that’s all that mattered.”
As a lifelong Catholic, I read the book to see what a Baglio, a non-practicing Catholic, would treat this controversial subject. I wondered whether he would sensationalize the exorcism scenes or dismiss the victims as insane. I was pleasantly surprised to see that he did neither, “The Rite” is an objective look at the ancient rite of exorcism as it exists today, and how a typical American priest is altered through his encounters with the victims of evil spirits. Even more, both the Baglio and Fr Gary are forever changed by the experience, proving that where evil is great; God’s power is still greater.
Recommended for adolescents and up, due to frightening content.

Register Top Ten Movies to See for the Year of the Priest

On June 19, the Vatican will start the yearlong celebration of the Year of the Priest, so naturally, the National Catholic Register, which always engages the media, had some sugggested films. See which ones you have seen, and make a note to rent the ones you have missed.
Here's my to see list:
The Keys of the Kingdom (1944)
On the Waterfront (1954)
Molokai: The Story of Father Damien (1999),
Angels With Dirty Faces (1938)
Of those six films I've seen, my favorites are I Confess for sheer cliffhanging, dark, Hitchcock drama, and The Mission for it's sublime acting(Jeremy Irons and Robert De Niro-as a priest!), sweeping story line, stunning cinematography, and of breathtaking score. Though there's tough competition in The Scarlet and the Black with Christopher Plummer as a Nazi and dashing Gregory Peck as Msgr Flaherty, the Irish priest who was known as the "Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican". But of course, who couldn't use a revisiting of dear Fr O'Malley in Going My Way and The Bells of St Mary's?
If your only memories of a priest portrayed in the movies are the negative or wimpy images which have been produced lately(Mass Appeal-puleeze!, get to the video store and get yourself an armload of these films to share with the kids.
Films with positive portrayals of religious were instrumental in shoring up my childhood faith. I was lucky enough to grow up at the end of the golden era when Hollywood idealized Catholicism (note that most these films are in black and white). While The Singing Nun for example, as per contractual agreement, was not truly based on the life of Soeur Sourire (thank heavens-there's a realistic French film which does this and it was a nightmare) however, it was a wonderful portrayal of the joy of a religious vocation, even as The Nun's Story was a fair portrayal of it's challenges. As a teacher in a convent school this year, I was able to laugh at the over the top yet tender portrayals of the Hayley Mills in The Trouble with Angels ( I just found a DVD of this at Wal-mart in the bargain bin). Don't bother with the sequel, the nuns go Vatican II with guitars and flowers, and the result is pathetic.
What's your favorite portrayal of a priest or nun in Hollywood?
Would you add to this list?
Read the entire article here.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Movie Review: The Taking of Pelham 123 - R

cross-posted from A Catholic View

warning: possible spoilers.

This is a remake of the 70's "Pelham 123" movie; Denzel plays Walter Garber, a dispatcher in the subway control center. He notices unusual activity by the Pelham 123 subway train and soon gets the call from a hijacker/kidnapper named Ryder (Travolta), who has hijacked the train and is holding the passengers hostage. He demands $10 million for their safe release. The mayor (James Gandolfini) is brought in to oversee the negotiations and ultimately approve the payment. It is later revealed that Ryder never intended to release them. They later find out that that the hostage situation is affecting the stock market and commodities, specifically gold, and this was all part of the plan.

The story is interesting and well-told. There is also plenty of action. As you'd expect, Denzel Washington and John Travolta were both very good; I particularly enjoyed the interaction of their characters. Ryder does seem to take a liking to Garber, and will only negotiate with him, but he ultimately gets Garber to confess something he did which turns out to be an integral part of the story. Ryder is a former Catholic.

Content Warnings: Mainly language. It seemed like every other scene had the 'F word'. There was no reason for this; it would have been a better movie without it.
Violence, especially one particularly bloody gunfight toward the end. NOT FOR KIDS.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Book Review: No Price Too High

No Price Too High
A Pentecostal Preacher Becomes Catholic
Then I read 2 Thessalonians 2:15; Paul tells his followers to be careful to observe all the paradosis he had delivered to them. And the word paradosis means traditions. Whether written (as in the Bible) or oral.

Well, that knocked Sola Scriptura (the "Bible alone" theology) right out of the water. The Church has never ever adopted the position that the Bible is our only teaching authority. That's why we realize that Martin Luther didn't attempt to reform the Church; he reinterpreted it. He tried to make changes without authority and didn't go back to the beginning, to what was handed down from the apostles.

In the early days of the Church, Christians weren't running around with Bibles in their hands. All that were available were the Old Testament Scriptures and very few of those. Plus, most people couldn't read anyway. The teachings of the Old Testament had already been interpreted by Jesus and the apostles, and those teachings were handed down orally. The Christian faith was handed down through the traditions of the Church. This only made sense.


By the end of 1998, I had come to understand that the Catholic Church was, indeed, the Church of Jesus Christ. The traditions of the Church were authentic. This was how the Church had evolved, not the way we thought it had evolved. I decided we needed to identify with the Church, but I thought we could do that without becoming a part of the Catholic Church. I wanted to replicate it. I wanted to become like them, not be them. Heck, I didn't want to just throw my church away! Although this was authentic Christian worship, I decided I didn't need to be Catholic in order to worship that way.
All minister Alex Jones wanted to do was to take his Pentecostal flock closer to the authentic roots of Christianity, back to the time when Jesus walked among us. He turned to the Church Fathers’ writing and found himself being inexorably led to the Roman Catholic Church. Time after time he would admit that the Catholic Church got it right and see how he could adapt his own church’s services to serve the new truth he’d discovered. Eventually, he wound up converting, as did his wife, and 55 others of his congregation.

This is an impressive story that takes us inside the Pentecostal movement as we learn Jones’ history. I particularly enjoyed the story as he began researching Church history and was led to realize that conversion was inevitable if he was going to follow God’s will. We also hear what Jones’ wife, Donna, was going through during this time as she was an intelligent, faithful Christian who was anything but ready to become Catholic. In telling his story, Jones also speaks for other Catholic converts, including me, when he says:
I wanted to know why he would call me to his Church so late in life. Why? Why did this happen to me now? Why didn't I see the truth of the Catholic Church when I was in my twenties or thirties? I could have given my entire life to it. And why was I able to see this truth when other Protestant ministers, far more intelligent, far more gifted, far more educated, and far more holy than I am, didn't see it? How had I stumbled upon this -- a man who is very ordinary in every sense of the word? It was so plain to me -- as though it had just peeled back and was revealed to me. I saw the truth so clearly. Why couldn't these intelligent, gifted Protestant pastors see this?


I began to see the breadth and the dimension of those who are converts and those coming into the Church. I began to meet those -- hundreds of them -- who had come into the Church pretty much the same way I did. I began to realize that my conversion was not unique. It was a typical conversion, maybe a bit more public, but it was a typical conversion.

People become Catholic because they have discovered the authenticity of the Catholic faith, generally through three different avenues: they recognize the authority of the Church; they have discovered the Blessed Mother; or they have studied the Church Fathers. The more I traveled, the more people I met, the more I began to realize that God is at work renewing his Church. He is stirring the cradle Catholics, and he is bringing in converts who have a relationship with him, a profound love of God, to build up the faith of the Church, to strengthen it.
Most enjoyable and highly recommended.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Stoning of Soraya M.

"At its heart, this movie is a human drama filled with tension, peril and hope - but it is also a true story that I felt strongly had to be told, a story the whole world needs to know." -- Director, Cyrus Nowrasteh
This is the theme of the- story revealed by an Iranian-French journalist Freidoune Sahebjam (Jim Caviezel) whose car left him stranded in a remote Iranian hamlet burdened with a terrible secret. In Iran under the Ayatollah Khomeini, where fundamentalist selfish men to suppress women, and even use Islam dispose of them when they thwart their desires. Zahra (Shohreh Aghdashloo) exerts great persuasive power to interest Sahebjam in hearing the story, risking repercussions from the village mullah (Ali Pourtash) and mayor, who try to pass her off as insane. Finally, she convinces the journalist to come to her home, and record on his tape recorder the horrendous story of the stoning of her niece Soraya (Mozhan Marno) the day before.
That is how the novel “The Stoning of Soraya M” on which the film is based, came to be.

Soraya is a lovely young mother of four with an abusive adulterous husband Ali (Navid Negahbam) who has his eye on second wife he can’t afford, so he asks Soraya for a divorce. In this poor village, such an arrangement would mean certain starvation, so Soraya refuses. It is in her kindness that Ali spies an opportunity, and soon he is convincing the Mullah to falsely accuse Soraya of adultery. With devastating ease, the men in the story become complicit in murder; each of them has a shameful personal reason to brutalize the innocently beautiful Soraya.

Soraya’s seraphic smile and her tender compassion combined with her aunt’s fierce loyalty are the saving graces of a vicious plot strung taught with anticipation of the impending tragedy. No spoilers here; the title of the film gives away the ending, yet the film, like “The Passion of the Christ” also produced by Steve McVeety, is worth watching for the dignity of screenwriters Cyrus and Betsy Geffen Mowrasteh’s direction, and the commanding performances by mostly unknown actors. Actress Shoreh Aghdashloo, better know to American audiences as the charming Elizabeth from “The Nativity Story”, is Zahra, the pivotal figure of the film who boldly clashes with the somewhat reasonable mayor Ibrahim as he is swept into the insane current of mob violence.

Soaring cinematography, gripping performances, and the distinctive Middle Eastern style musical score of John Debney (composer for the Passion of the Christ) redeem a shameful story of deception and murder, elevating it to soul-searing enlightenment. Your heart will be rent but not destroyed by Soryaya M. The screening audience the theatre charged with renewed determination to fight such abuse of women. Soraya’s tragic story will continue to be repeated until more members of the international community rise up and take decisive action to liberate women from sexual slavery, starvation, and abuse.

Book Review: "So Happy Together"

"So Happy Together"

by MaryAnn McFadden

New York: Hyperion Books, 2009

Claire Nobel is a member of the “sandwich” generation. She is in her forties, responsible for caring for her aging parents as well as being the parent of an adult daughter who is not speaking to her. Having taken care of every one else for most of her life, she is planning on (finally!) claiming her life for herself. She is engaged to be married, planning on pursuing her love of photography at a workshop on Cape Cod, and looking forward to moving across the country. When Claire’s daughter Amy shows up and gives birth unexpectedly, a huge wrench is thrown her plans. Thus begins “So Happy Together” by MaryAnn McFadden, a story many women will be able to appreciate and relate to.

McFadden not only deftly tells the story of Claire, but also that of her parents and her daughter. Three generations dealing with life at three different stages are each forced to discover new truths about themselves and about each other. “So Happy Together” is about the ties that truly bind and what it means to be a family. It is also about finding love at unexpected times and places. As the description on the back of the book states, “when you’re a mother, or a daughter, you’re never truly free.” Nor, perhaps, would we want to be.

The only caveat I would offer for Catholic readers is that Claire's mother Fanny was raised Catholic but now dabbles in Buddhism. Nevertheless, “So Happy Together” is a very pleasant read. I highly recommend it.

- Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Archbishop Chaput gives 'Stoning of Soraya' two thumbs up

cross-posted from A Catholic View

As the movie industry prepares to roll out its summer blockbusters, a sobering film from Steve McEveety explores the gripping story of an Iranian woman who is victimized by her husband. After seeing the movie, Archbishop Charles Chaput gave it his seal of approval and said it should remind people "how vigilant over our own hearts each of us needs to remain if we want to be human."

"The Stoning of Soraya M." is the work of Steve McEveety, perhaps best known among Catholics for the movies "The Passion of the Christ" and "Braveheart." He also co-founded Mpower Pictures, which in 2007 released the extraordinary portrait of a young man’s conversion, "Bella."

I also look forward to seeing Jim Caveziel in 'The Stoning of Soraya'

story here

Monday, June 8, 2009

Irena's Vow

For anyone in the New York area, Bill Donohue of the Catholic League seems to be a big fan of "Irena's Vow".

"Irena’s Vow” is an extraordinary Broadway play that has a special appeal to Catholics and Jews. It is the real-life story of a Polish Catholic housekeeper, Irena Gut Opdyke, who hid twelve Jewish refugees in the house of a German major during the Holocaust. There is no greater testimony to the faith than this heroic venture. It was Irena’s deep love for Catholicism that allowed her to demonstrate her love to these Jewish men and women in need.

Friday, June 5, 2009

"Rosary Stars" star discusses importance of the rosay

from Family Theatre Productions
The congregation of nearly 500 at St. Mary's Cathedral, Peoria, May 3, watch actor J. Omar Castro projected from the DVD of Rosary Stars: Praying the Gospel. Castro also spoke live at the event and led a decade of the Rosary.
Actor reflects on his faith during Rosary Stars screening in Peoria
In a prayerful, ritualized setting, May 3, in St. Mary's Cathedral, Peoria, Ill., actor J. Omar Castro, one of 21 young adult celebrities featured in Rosary Stars: Praying the Gospel, witnessed to the power of the Rosary in his life. Also, segments of the new DVD from Family Theater Productions' were screened. The congregation, which The Catholic Post, the diocesan newspaper, estimated at nearly 500, prayed the Rosary led by Castro.
Castro, who has acted in 9 feature films and 14 episodes of popular TV series, shared, in English and in Spanish, his reliance on the power of Rosary prayer and his "faith-driven focus" in dealing with the challenges of pursuing a career as an actor. Bishop Daniel Jenky, CSC, in liturgical vestments, presided over the event. Father John Phalen, CSC, president of Holy Cross Family Ministries, who also spoke, and Father Willy Raymond, CSC, National Director of Family Theater Productions, attired in their Congregation of Holy Cross habits, processed with the bishop and the rector of the cathedral behind crucifix and candle bearers. At a following reception, Castro signed autographs and posed for photos with many who attended.
For The Catholic Post's report and slide show of the event as well as the audio of Castro's talk,
click here.
View the trailer below

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Catholic New Media Awards nominates Among Women

Formerly the Catholic Blog Awards, the Catholic New Media Awards includes blogs, websites, social networking like Catholic Tweet, and podcasts.
I suggest you get to know Pat Gohn's new podcast Among Women, and give it your vote.
I was interviewed for the May 6 podcast, and considering that Pat interviewed Patrice Fagnant McArthur and me amid restaurant noise, I was very impressed with how professional the podcast sounded. Pat began with short biographies of two women saints, gave a meditation, then introduced our interview. It was spiritual without being preachy and I learned a lot about two new women saints. Pat brings in her years of radio experience in her smooth as silk voice and professional standards, while her theology background lends depth to her insights.
Among Women deserves it's multiple nominations in the Catholic New Media Awards podcast category.