Thursday, July 29, 2010

Twilight and Mormonism

Life Site News author Kathleen Gilbert has done an enlightening article on the Mormon influence of the "Twilight"series.
When I saw "Eclipse", I caught the mockery of the Catholic Church in the effeminate, velvet robed, vampire bosses who dwelt in a domed sanctuary in the Italian hill country. I was put off by the hyper-sexualized chemistry between Bella and Edward and her utter helplessness in the face of the all powerful vampires. A children's author I know has used the term "kiddie porn" to describe the "Twilight" series, and reading "New Moon", I understood what she meant. These books have a sexual,  addictive quality which  and may be responsible for the popularity of the series among women who are attracted by the so-called moral values of chastity of the books.

Thus this false idea of chastity contributes significantly to the series' "girl porn" effect, despite the lack of actual sex - something that might not be apparent to men, but is all too clear to women. Touted for promoting chastity, the books in fact offer a combo of emotional titillation and steamy sexual near-misses, all bound together with a steady undercurrent of rape fantasy, that is deadly for women. These elements, as in sex-laden romantic novels, are geared toward over-stimulating female emotions and sending women hurtling towards an unhealthy escapism. Instead of the selfish male ideal of regular pornography, i.e., the perfect-bodied female delivering the ultimate sexual climax, women reading Twilight can find themselves craving a different and equally selfish fantasy: the perfectly "intense" male delivering the ultimate emotional climax.
In order to understand the addictive power sexual undercurrents, you have to understand how women are wired emotionally. Stephenie Meyers apparently does, and has captured milions of women's imaginations, and dollars.

"There be Dragons" trailer debuts

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Book Review: St. Gianna Beretta Molla - A Modern Day Hero of Divine Love

St. Gianna Beretta Molla: A Modern Day Hero of Divine Love
by Thomas J. McKenna
San Diego: Catholic Action for Faith and Family, 2008

At the canonization of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, Pope John Paul II stated “The extreme sacrifice she sealed with her life testifies that only those who have the courage to give of themselves totally to God and to others are able to find fulfillment.” St. Gianna, who lived from 1922 to 1962, was a woman of our own time. A physician, she was a working mother who lived a life of service to her family and her community. In the booklet “St. Gianna Beretta Molla: A Modern Day Hero of Divine Love,” Thomas J. McKenna provides a brief biography that will help introduce readers to the life of this modern day saint.

Raised in a devout Catholic family, she was devoted to Christ and the Church from her earliest days. As a teenager, she was deeply affected by attendance at a retreat based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Soon after, she became active in the Catholic Action movement, “a lay spiritual movement that helps its members follow Christ by emphasizing prayer, service, and sacrifice.” She chose to study medicine because she felt it was the best way she could help people in both body and spirit. She would ultimately choose to specialize in pediatrics. She always felt that her role as a doctor was a calling from God.

She was an active woman with many interests, among them painting, music, and mountain trips. In 1955, she married Pietro Molla and devoted herself to Christian marriage and motherhood. She gave birth to three children in quick succession, and then suffered two miscarriages. In September 1961, she was expecting her fourth child when doctors found a large fibroid in her uterus. She was given three choices: remove the tumor, the unborn child, and her uterus (the only sure way to save her life); remove the tumor and the unborn child; or only remove the tumor. Even though she knew it was the riskiest course of action, she chose the last option and instructed her husband that if he was forced to choose between herself and the child, to choose the child. April 21, 1962, Gianna Emanuela was delivered via Cesarean Section. After suffering for a week, St. Gianna died on April 28, 1962 at the age of thirty-nine.

This booklet also contains excerpts from St. Gianna’s own writings which allow readers to get real insight into her thoughts and observations, as well as a collection of prayers to ask for St. Gianna’s intercession.

Brief, easy to read, and full of information, “St. Gianna Beretta Molla: A Modern Day Hero of Divine Love” is a wonderful introduction to the life and spirituality of this saint.

To purchase, please visit: St. Gianna Booklet

Reviewed by Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Movie Review: Salt - PG13

Angelina Jolie is CIA agent Evelyn Salt.  One day, a Russian defector walks into the CIA and identifies Salt as a Russian agent.  I was a bit surprised at how readily the CIA believed him,  because she immediately becomes a fugitive.   Even Ted Winter, her superviso,r is pursuing her.   It is soon revealed that she does indeed  have an assignment, and the two questions are: will she carry out her assignment?  and where do her loyalties lie?   There a couple of unexpected twists that add to the suspense, and there is non-stop action. 

I very much enjoyed the movie, which was excellent, but I am undecided as to the ending.  It is pretty open-ended and inconclusive, but leaves it almost a certainty that there will be a sequel, which is exactly what I'm hoping for :)

Archbishop Fulton Sheen returns to silver screen in new documentary

A documentary on the life of Archbishop Fulton Sheen is being shown in pre-release screenings across the country, as part of an effort to raise awareness of the late archbishop, whose cause for sainthood is currently underway.

The hour-long documentary, entitled, “Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen: Servant of All,” offers both entertainment and a powerful message of evangelization as it follows the life of the famous archbishop (1895-1979). The video includes the testimonies of dozens of individuals who were touched by the life of the archbishop. It also shows footage from his popular television program, “Life is Worth Living.”  In his day, his show was one of the top shows on television. 

Gaining a reputation as both a scholar and a man of God from a young age, Archbishop Sheen committed to praying a daily Holy Hour before the Eucharist after he was ordained a priest in 1919. It was a practice that he maintained for the remaining 60 years of his life, and it was to this daily Holy Hour that he attributed his success in spreading the Gospel.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Fr Euteneuer's take on the Twilight phenomenon

Fr Tom Euteneuer is the President of Human Life International and an exorcist. He has just authored a book on exorcism entitled, "Exorcism and the Church Militant". You can order his book here.
He is very famliar with demonic activity and how we invite it by our choices in entertainment and lifestyle.
His word was the deciding factor when I voiced my oppostion to this dangerous series. (this is a photo I took of him getting ready for his EWTN interview at the March for Life 2010).

Vampire Logic

With the issuing of the third movie in the Twilight series I have to speak out about our culture's twisted fascination with vampires. I don't hesitate to tell people that I am totally disgusted with the new fad sweeping over our youth culture these days. It is not just kids that are taken up with the wiles of the dark world either: many moms of teens are swooning for them too. I think that these seductive creatures are simply the spawn of the Harry Potter culture that has for over a decade now been indoctrinating kids to think that the occult world is normal and that all this evil messaging is harmless when dressed up as entertainment. That's vampire logic - and just what the devil wants us to think.

Gone are the days of Bella Lugosi's Dracula (1931) where good was good and evil was evil. A crucifix would drive Dracula away and then he had to go into his infernal coffin when the first streaks of dawn appeared. He was in every way presented as a creature of evil, dark of heart and dread to encounter. He drank human blood too, a feature that was supposed to strike terror in every person who valued his life's essence. The image of a blood-sucking creature who lives in slime and darkness and will pounce on you to drain out your very essence should terrorize every decent person. This is because vampires used to be images of demons. That's what demons are all about: the vanquishing of all human decency and life. They represent the spiritual vortexes of the demon world that drag down to the depths of hell all who fall prey to their wiles.

But, my, how vampires have come up in the world these days.

Nowadays vampires are divided into good and bad - no longer intrinsically evil. The good ones rescuevulnerable women instead of biting them and, allegedly, drink only animal blood (well, we haven't seen the last Twilight movie yet...). And crucifixes? Don't think you'll see any of those driving away bad guys in these movies. The heroes are the "good" vampires, not the Church or religious faith in Christ.
These super-star vampires also walk around in sunlight and, as a matter of fact, their skin just happens to glisten like diamonds when exposed to direct sunlight. Isn't that wonderful? The glam vamps are gentlemen, chaste and well-intentioned, yet they are always hovering around the edge of "falling" and in seductive situations which cause young people to think that they are capable, like their hero vampire, Edward Cullen, of going just so far and pulling back, out of self-control. That's teaching them to play with fire, not a real chastity message for kids.

The worst part of this fascination with vampires from a faith point of view, however, is its blasphemy of the Eucharist. "Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you," said our Blessed Lord in Chapter 6 of John's Gospel. He is the One who offers His flesh and blood for the life of the world. The vampires eat (bite) the flesh and drink the blood of victims rather than give their own to redeem others. Their bites corrupt and transform their victims into vampires like themselves. They have no life in them. They are the "living dead" by their own estimate.

How sad that this generation has been so taken in by those who represent the very antithesis of the core reality of our Faith - the Eucharist. Vampire logic is anti-Eucharistic logic, and it's very dangerous for our kids. In their obsessive fascination with such darkness, kids (and adults) turn their backs on the One who actually died for them.

To those who say, "Oh, Father, it's only harmless entertainment," I say simply: You've been warned.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Book Review: "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" by Stieg Larsson

Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander are back in the third story of the Millenium trilogy.  Elizabeth is accused of 3 murders.  She is currently in the hospital under guard, and will then be transferred to jail to await trial.  As she recovers, Mikael tries to prove her innocence.  He enlists help from Amansky, his Millenium staff, and a couple of police (the ones he can trust).  It is no understatement that there was, and is, a conspiracy against Lisbeth and it leads higher than anyone expected, to a secret group called "the Section" within the Swedish secret police.  

Lisbeth and Mikael also get some help from Plague and Trinity, a couple of hacker friends of Lisbeth.  Ultimately, to clear her name, she must again face the people and events of her past... for the final time.

Larsson does an excellent job of building suspense.  The "Section" will do anything to stop Mikael and Lisbeth,  but it is evident that this time, Mikael is well prepared because he knows what they're up against.  I love the way that bits of Swedish culture are mentioned throughout the story.  Once again, someone is drinking coffee in almost every scene :)  This was clearly the best of the trilogy.

There are numerous content warnings:  objectionable language (the F word is used throughout),   a few sex scenes are mentioned but not described in any detail and  scenes of violence.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Movie You Might Have Missed: 1

This originally ran as part of a series that I intended to feature 30 films. I was inspired by Good News Film Reviews' list of 50 movies you might have missed. Do go read Scott's recommendations. Specifically, I am skipping mentioning these movies here because you can read them on his list:
Sadly I ran out of steam at about #20.

I revive it here after having a conversation with friends earlier this week where they lamented having a difficult time finding good and unusual movies outside the mainstream. I don't know if this list fits their criteria but I am always surprised when I recommend these movies and no one has heard of them.

And, who knows? I may find my original list and take it all the way to 30!

1. Mostly Martha

Martha is a chef who has a great deal of discipline, an obsession with food although she never seems to eat, and little joy in her life. When her sister dies, Martha is forced into facing unknown situations after her orphaned niece comes to live with her. Then a new chef is added to the staff and Martha's loss of control seems complete. Suddenly Martha's life is no longer under control at all with the expected growth of character resulting.

This is a slow and deliberate movie but the acting and dialogue are great and a lot of the scenes are very funny. Naturally, as this is about a chef, it is a major "foodie" film. Mostly Martha is a German movie with subtitles but don't let that scare you. Actually we liked listening to the German and picking out words that were almost the same as in English ... but that's the kind of thing our family does for fun.

Do not be fooled by the American remake: No Reservations. It completely messes up the last third of the movie.

Paolo's Journey, a catechism video game launched by the Church

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Director of hit movie on Spanish priest says film is causing conversions

The director of “The Last Summit,” the documentary about the life of the Spanish priest and mountaineer, Fr. Pablo Dominguez, gave an interview to CNA’s sister news agency, ACI Prensa, in which he reflected on the reasons for the success of his movie. He confirmed that negotiations are under way for the film to be screened in Latin America, the Caribbean and the United States.

For Cotelo, the overwhelming response of the film's numerous viewers –many of whom are reporting how the movie caused them to have a conversion- “owes itself to the magnetism God has on any person.”

“If Fr. Pablo’s story is attractive,” the filmmaker said, “it's because the love of his life also is. The protagonist in Fr. Pablo’s story, and of the movie, is God. Among all the famous actors and actresses in the world, there isn’t a protagonist more attractive and attracting than God.”

Book Review: "Win it All"

Win It All: The Way to Heaven for Catholic Teens
by Justin Fatica
Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2010

Catholic Evangelist Justin Fatica has made it his life's mission to reach out to teens with an extremely counter-cultural message, that what matters in this life isn't money or fame or popularity, but rather living in order to get to heaven. He puts the focus where it belongs, on loving God and others and aiming for eternal life. What does it mean to "Win it All?" Fatica states "to win it all means to discover what God intends for our lives." He then goes on to set forth eight steps to living the life God wants you to live. Those eight steps are: recognize your importance, discover your mission in life, make your mess your message, keep your passion, remain fearless, commit to loving, never give up, and live every day as if it were your last. Fatica also includes a helpful appendix, "More Helps to Win it All" which features prayers and instructions on how to go to confession.

"Win it All" is definitely geared for teenagers, yet Fatica's message is an important one for people of all ages. As he states, "everyone needs to hear how important, unique and special they are. You need to hear it too: God has made you as a one and only you." We each have a God-given purpose in this world. Fatica also speaks of God's great love. "You all see people with tattoos. You may have one yourself. Well, you have been 'tattoed' with the life of God. It is a permanent mark that will never go away. . . There is nothing you can do or not do that would keep God from loving you." Our job is then to share that love with others.

Fatica offers practical advice. He pulls no punches. He knows that life is hard and that there are challenges and temptations at every turn. Yet, he encourages all of us to keep our eyes on the final destination. We need to make that our priority and live life accordingly.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Reviewing Inception: Putting Together a Dream Team for the Perfect Crime

Something is locked away in an impregnable fortress, something the owner knows by heart. Can this band of thieves replace it with something so similar that he'll never notice the difference?

On one level, this is the ultimate crime caper with the enjoyment of watching the team be assembled, watching the multi-layered plan be put into effect, and the tension of wondering if it will work.

On a completely different level, this movie probes how we know what is true, whether we will settle for what we wish rather than what is real, and our ultimate deep need for facing guilt and true reconciliation.

Somehow Christopher Nolan has managed to combine James Bond style action, a stylish heist movie, the best elements of the Matrix (which this blew out of the water, hands-down), horror movie suspense, a sci-fi world setting, a logic puzzle requiring intense concentration, and the love of a man for his family into a cohesive and satisfying whole. It is a mark of Christopher Nolan's skill that he leads us deeper and deeper into the complex plot without huge chunks of exposition but in such a way that we can keep up while the story flows on.

You can enjoy this on many levels or simply for the top story-telling. The acting was superb from such well known actors as Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe, and Cillian Murphy ... and a new actor to me, Tom Hardy.

I would say more about the plot, but having avoided every review so I could let the movie unfold and take it on the director's terms, I will let you do the same. Do not miss this elegantly told, layered story that succeeds on a personal level which I have not seen from Nolan's movies before.

SPOILERS below the white space:

Just a couple of points:
  • Ariadne - in Greek mythology was the girl who helped Theseus get through the maze so he could overcome the minotaur ... think of the maze she created to get the job. Even at the time I was watching and trying to puzzle why that name was significant, I thought that maze was like the Minotaur's labyrinth.
  • I loved how the different levels echoed the people whose subconscious we were in, such as the rain in the chemist's city, the elegant design of Arthur's hotel (just passing through), the snow-cold fortress of Fischer's heart (thank you, Dad).
  • The parallel sons and fathers were interesting as well, as briefly as we saw them. Cobb's father (Michael Caine) was supportive and taught him everything he knew. Fischer's father was cold and heartless.
  • Although we never saw them use their tokens, I liked how they echoed their makers: point man Arthur's loaded die and architect/maze maker Ariadne's chess piece.
  • Rose told me that Christopher Nolan had to use a pyramid story-telling scheme to keep track of all the levels and the time lines. One reviewer called the story relentlessly true to it's internal logic and this seemed right to us. I can't image how they kept track of all this.
  • I know this is a Nolan trademark but I liked all the repeating lines through the movie that always meant something different depending on the time, place, and character saying them. Just a clever thing that adds emphasis to the depth of the story.
  • ADDED: I am not really a Leonardo DiCaprio fan at all but he is simply wonderful in this role. It made me think back to the first movie I ever saw him in, What's Eating Gilbert Grape. He and Johnny Depp were both very good. Now, flash forward and I am mentally comparing their acting. DiCaprio's work in this film especially makes it clear to me that he is progressing into an actor of depth and that Johnny Depp, as much as I like him, has simply stalled. I am not sure whether he needs to seek different roles and directors in order to further develop his talent or whether he has fewer notes to sound than DiCaprio. Either way, he is not the same caliber of actor and everyone in our family had to admit it (despite the fact that none of the females wanted to do so!).

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Book Review: "The Girl who Played With Fire" by Stieg Larsson

Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist are back in the follow-up to "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo".  In this 2nd of the Millenium Trilogy, we find out much more about Lisbeth's life, both current and past, especially the horrible event of her childhood that she refers to as 'all the evil', and how/why as a child she was institutionalized and declared incompetent.  In this story,  she and Mikael don't have a lot of direct contact, but they are both investigating how Lisbeth came to be the prime suspect in 3 murders.  4 separate investigations are taking place: the police, her former employer Amansky, Mikael and her own.   The investigations lead to her past, which she must once again confront in the horrible conclusion.   

I like the characters, especially Lisbeth, Mikael and Lisbeth's friend Miriam Wu.   The characters are used very effectively to tell the story.  The 4 investigations are woven together very nicely, and Larsson does a particularly good job of building suspense as they progress, using the events of Lisbeth's past to explain the reasons for the 3 murders.  And once again, someone is drinking coffee in almost every scene  :)

To be honest, there are plenty of content warnings.  There are a couple of sex scenes, but no graphic details.  There are several scenes of violence, including a huge man who has no problem beating up a woman.  There is objectionable language, including the F word used several times.  It is clearly adults-only.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Movie Review: The Sorcerer's Apprentice - PG

Balthazar (Nicholas Cage) was one of Merlin's apprentices. So was Horvath (Alfred Molina), but he and Morgana turned against Merlin. For centuries, Morgana has been trapped in a nesting doll with Veronica, a friend of Balthazar. 

Also during these centuries, Balthazar has been looking for the Prime Merlinian, the sorcerer destined to be another Merlin, a great sorcerer.  He finds him, in 20 year-old Dave.  It is noteworthy that he is a physics student, because that factors into the story.  Balthazar begins to train Dave,  and they soon join forces to battle Horvath and his apprentice Drake.  They have to stop Horvath from releasing Morgana,  which will mean the end of the world.

There is plenty of action, and dazzling special effects to showcase the characters'  "magic".  The main characters each manage to stand out in their own way, without overshadowing each other.

There is never a dull moment, and I found no objectionable content.  I took my nephews, ages 10 and 12, and they gave it a thumbs up also.  I highly recommend this!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Book Recommendation: Girls' Night Out

This is not precisely a review as I did not sit down and read this as a regular book. I did, however, do the creative design and layout and in the process wound up reading a good portion. I was delighted with what I read and have just been waiting until it was in print so I could bring to your attention.

This is the sort of book that I wish I'd had around when our own girls were young. I used to give the girls coupons for their birthdays and Christmas. They were good for their choice of activity with either Tom or me or for the entire family. Then I insisted that they use them ... and we had lots of fun with those.

This is a similar concept, but for an older girl who is getting ready to make those great strides toward womanhood. Michaelann Martin takes that same concept of mothers and daughters spending one-on-one time and puts it to good use in helping prepare a girl for her future as a woman of God. She gets creative but allows just the right amount of leeway for you to be creative also. It is a great book (oh, and so well designed!).
Girls' Night Out is divided into ten lessons, accompanied by a date activity that journeys to a tea house, salon, shrine, book store, cafĂ©, jewelry shop, department store, nail spa, community recreation center, a walk in your neighborhood, park, or simple hike, scenic drive, ice cream parlor, restaurant, and other inexpensive places to invest in your relationship with your daughter. This book is perfect for mothers who want to build close bonds with their daughters and are willing to invest special time in their daughter’s preadolescent years not only as a mom but as a special friend, examining their lives in light of God’s Word and the virtues.
Here are a few looks at some inside pages ... click on them to enlarge. You can order the book at Emmaus Road Publishing.

New family-friendly TV movie to air on NBC

A new family movie, “The Jensen Project,” is scheduled to air on NBC TV next Friday, July 16, at 7 p.m. CST as part of an effort to increase appropriate family entertainment.

The Vote With Your Remote movement is bringing the movie to television in response to persistent requests for more family-friendly programming.

The plot of the movie focuses on Claire and Matt Thompson and their teenage son, Brody. The family is involved with a secret community of geniuses known as The Jensen Project, who do research and share it anonymously to help the world. In a suspense-filled storyline, the Thompsons must race against the clock to prevent potentially dangerous technology from falling into the wrong hands. They follow clues and thwart evil schemes, and ultimately grow closer as a family in the process.

Working to publicize “The Jensen Project” is Motive Entertainment, the company that has promoted previous family movies including “Polar Express” and “The Chronicles of Narnia.”

Movie Review: The Karate Kid - PG

Instead of Daniel LaRusso and Mr Miyagi, this remake features Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) and Mr. Han (Jackie Chan).    Dre's mother is transferred to China and Dre is thrust into a whole new world.  It isn't long before he runs into some bullies and gets on their wrong side because he makes friends with Meiying, a nice girl whose parents prefer Cheng, who happens to be the main bully.  Fortunately, Dre also meets Mr. Han, who begins teaching him kung fu.

I liked the uniqueness of the characters, especially Dre.  Jaden Smith has lots of charisma and personality.
The setting (it was filmed in Beijing, China) provided spectacular scenery such as the great wall of China, and added to the realism of the story.

Overall, I thought this version presented the story in a more plausible, realistic manner than the original, with the exception of the eye control stuff.  I found that pretty hard to swallow.   
Although the final fight scene was well choreographed, it did not achieve the same level of drama as the original.

I found no objectionable content.

A good movie worth seeing.  You will definitely be entertained.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Book Review: "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larson

Mikael Blomkvist is a disgraced journalist in exile.  He published an article about criminal financial activity, and ended up being convicted of libel.  During his exile, he is engaged by Henrik Vanger to investigate the 40-year old disappearance of his great niece,  Harriet Vanger.   Henrik is convinced that she was murdered.  He also offers Blomkvist an opportunity to restore his reputation.

Blomkvist begins to connect  Harriet's disappearance to a series of gruesome murders that occurred over many  years.  At about this point, he enlists the help of Lisbeth Salander, an anti-social loner who has tattoos, piercings, and happens to be an expert researcher and hacker. 

Blomkvist and Salander make an intriguing and entertaining team.  Their personalities are both different and complimentary.  They soon develop a sense of trust in each other,  but there are several people who don't want them to pursue the investigation.    They get close to the truth and  find themselves in danger.

The story takes place in Sweden, which gives it unique quality from the many books that are based in the United States.  One quirky fact that amused me is that in most scenes, someone is either making coffee or drinking coffee...I can definitely relate :) 

I truly enjoyed the story. Stieg Larson has a unique but purposeful style of writing that gradually puts the pieces together. 

To be honest, I would call this an adults-only book.  There are 2 scenes of sexual abuse, and 1 scene of torture.  There is also some objectionable language at times.

Vatican paper praises 'Toy Story 3' and its lesson on true friendship

The Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano has offered up praise for Disney-Pixar’s “Toy Story 3” for providing moviegoers with a profound reflection on transcendental human themes and a lesson on true friendship through the experience of the film’s toy stars.

In the film’s third installment, Woody and Buzz Lightyear, together with their friends, are forced to confront their future. Their owner, Andy, has stopped playing with them and at 17 is preparing to head off to college. He must decide whether to donate the toys to a day care center or throw them away.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Vampire$ Book Review: Vampire$, Dallas, and Catholics. Oh My!


  1. God is real AND vampires are too.
  2. A team of mercenaries, with pure hearts, are taking cash for cleaning up vampire infested towns.
  3. The anti-vamp mercs are in league with the Pope and the Vatican, who know and support their efforts.

This was the section of Jesse's SFFaudio Essential review of Vampire$ that made me sit up and take notice. That, and the fact that Jesse rarely is as all-out enthusiastic as he was in this review, made me pick up a copy from the library.

Jack Crow leads a group of hardened mercenaries in hunting the evilest of all prey: vampires. Crow's only ally and employer, is the Vatican, specifically the pope. Most people do not know vampires are more than creatures of fiction so this makes "Team Crow's" job even more difficult, especially when it comes to getting cooperation from law enforcement. They don't let that stop them, however, and just do what a warrior's gotta do, which is to stop Evil in its tracks. That this is a military-style epic tale becomes clear as we see that the vampire hunters' violent, cursing exteriors can't hide their hearts of gold, especially for the other members of the team who are their true family. It is when Felix, a former drug smuggler, is added as an integral member of the team that the book takes off as he struggles with the concept that this may be the destiny he was born for.

The story is told in a clean, spare style which makes it no less riveting. There are plot turns and twists right up to the end of the book  and many of them really surprised me because the style lured me into thinking this would be straight forward story telling. I also appreciated Steakley's sense of humor. For instance his use of rock and roll versus opera was a throwaway bit on the surface but reflected much about the people involved. As well, once I learned that Cat was a joker, I would anticipate his comments as soon as I saw he was going to speak. His puns were corny but used in original ways and that is a rare talent.

My only complaint is that there is one section where we hear an "inside story" about how a vampire takes over prey and establishes a base to work from. This seemed overly long and  the concept and pattern were repeated with far too many examples. As this was a highly sexualized part of the tale, it seemed simply like an excuse to include lascivious details which quickly bored me. However, I must also add that this section was far less explicit than one would find in a comparable work today, or so it seems to me, and I appreciated that.

Highly recommended for those who like vampire tales, mercenaries with hearts of gold, Texas, and old-school use of the Catholic Church in fighting Evil. Not necessarily in that order.

For more about this author and Texas and the Church, just keep reading.

(Warning: this book contains sex,  vampires, and rock and roll ... and all the bad language and violence  which those things imply. Yes, I loved much of it because it felt very  appropriate to the situations, but if you will not:  avoid this  book.)

I found myself surprised and intrigued by even more than the plot twists and turns that add pleasing dimension to the story. Steakley doesn't name names but his descriptions are enough to let you know that he has rooted the story in fact whenever possible. Jack Crow's favorite hotel is the Adolphus in Dallas. The pope's description leaves no one in doubt that we are reading about John Paul II.

For one thing, it looked as if author John Steakley knew Dallas. My first clue was reading his description of the Dallas bishop, when  "Team Crow" goes by the bishop's residence to pick up their package of silver crosses sent straight from Rome.

The silver had arrived from Rome through the local see. The bishop was a new man who knew nothing about Team Crow or, for that matter, his parishioners. Persuaded by his aide that anyone with enough clout to receive a package from the Vatican through diplomatic channels was worth knowing, he grudgingly consented to share his sumptuous evening feast with Crow & Co.

It took less than fifteen minutes in his presence for Team Crow to know all the important facts about this man. He was cold. He was haughty. He was better than his flock, more cultured, more intelligently pious, more .. how shall one put it? More aristocratic.

The bishop was an idiot.

I felt a jolt of recognition. I told Tom briefly about the book, said it was set in Dallas, and copyrighted in 1990. Then I read him the description, and waited. It took only a second and then we both burst out laughing. It was a spot-on description of Bishop Grahmann who was installed in the Dallas diocese early in 1990.

However, that is also a common sort of character to encounter so I chalked it up to coincidence. It was when I saw that a wealthy character was introduced who lived in a secluded part of Inwood Road then I knew no coincidence was involved. John Steakly knew Dallas well because anyone from outside the area would have most probably placed the residence in Highland Park.

I asked Tom if he thought this author might be from Dallas and when I spelled his name, Tom said, "You mean as in Steakley Chevrolet?" (Now defunct but a Dallas staple car dealership for many, many years).

Oh. Right. I knew I had heard that name before.

Further research showed Steakley was from nearby Cleburn, Texas, which anyone who reads the book will recognize as a major setting and one where the police force is highly praised. For any Dallasites reading I will add that John Steakley lives in McKinney now. So he knows whereof he writes about Dallas.

(slight spoilers in this section)
It is not only Dallas that you get the feeling John Steakly understands. There is a dependence on the Catholic Church in the way that vampire tales of old used to convey. Good versus Evil. God versus the Unholy. Love, suffering, sacrifice, and redemption.

In the flicks that  church forgot podcast review of 'Salem's Lot, Peter Laws pointed out that this was one of the first horror movies to devalue the nature of the sacraments into a reflection of personal faith. Actually, to put it as St. Augustine did, a sacrament is "a visible sign of an invisible reality." They have intrinsic value in and of themselves because they  are blessed. (This might make them sound as if they are "magic" but that would be another misunderstanding and is not true ...)

The movie reflects Stephen King's book on this point of personal faith and sacraments. I was not Christian until long afterward but I still remember being vividly impressed by this speech from the book made by the master vampire after he has overpowered the priest, a man of shaky faith further undermined by alcoholism:

The cross--the bread and wine--the confessional--only symbols. Without faith the cross is only wood, the bread baked wheat, the wine sour grapes. If you had cast the cross away, you should have beaten me another night. In a way, I had hoped it might be so. It has been long since I had met a opponent of any real worth. The boy makes ten of you, false priest.

I took this as a statement of fact and it took several years of Catholicism to overcome a tendency to revert to this wrong concept.

There is no such shakiness in this book. The requirement for bullets made from the silver rendered by melting crosses which had to have been blessed by a bishop or higher does not also include that the gunman be a believer. The sacramental value is contained within the ammunition itself.

Furthermore, Steakley had no way of knowing in 1990 that Bishop Grahmann would never work well with his flock and that other major grievances would arise from his tenure. I, myself, had to struggle mightily with forgiveness on several fronts for this man. I will not spoil the moment by telling about the occasion in the story, but Steakley redeems the bishop in a spectacular way that out and out forgives the bishop for his lack of character. Well before that, he gives the bishop humanity which shows after the truth of the situation is understood.

Within the context of the story, this works well in moving the plot along. However, taken from the standpoint of one who was aware of the bishop both as non-Catholic and as a convert, it is a very generous stance. It is a stance of forgiveness and understanding that is far beyond that extended even today by some people toward the bishop. It was a humbling moment, actually, to realize that I am not sure if I'd have had that character show that Father Adam is right when he says, "There is a reason why people become priests, Kirk." It is a thoroughly Catholic understanding of the priesthood.

Those examples are just a few of the ways that Steakley unwaveringly sets the Church as the driving force behind this epic battle between good and evil. Just as those who enjoy horror read Dean Koontz's books with a Catholic focus, so can they enjoy this particular book. He knows whereof he writes about the Church.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Friday, July 2, 2010

Book Review: "Walking Together"

Walking Together: Discovering the Catholic Tradition of Spiritual Friendship
by Mary DeTurris Poust
Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2010

Our world does not seem to allow for deep friendships today. Family and friends are often separated by physical distance. Our lives are so busy that even keeping up with people via electronic means can be a challenge. One is lucky to have one or two close friends. A spiritual friend is an even rarer gift. In "Walking Toegther: Discovering the Catholic Tradition of Spiritual Friendship," Mary DeTurris Poust emphasizes the value of such friendships while acknowledging the difficulty in forming them.

What makes a spiritual friend different from a "regular" friend? They are "two people bound together by a love of God." They walk side by side, with God always in between. "Spiritual friends magnify our virtuous qualities. More casual friends might bring out the worst in us through competitiveness, idle gossip, jealousy. Spiritual friends, however, bring out the best - in inspiring us to live in humility, honesty, charity. Spiritual friends inspire us to move beyond pettiness to a place where our hearts and minds are focused on doing what is right." The goal that both parties are reaching for is life with God in heaven.

Poust profiles some famous spiritual friendships, holding them up as a model for our own lives. The bonds between St. Frances de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein, and St. Francis and St. Clare are all discussed. Poust, who seems to have been extraordinarily blessed in this area, also shares her own experiences of spiritual friendship.

Poust offers some practical advice on how to find and nurture spiritual friends. She also examines spiritual direction, which can sometimes develop into a spiritual friendship. Some time is devoted to spiritual friendships between men and women, both within marriage and outside of it. She acknowledges that there can be challenges in celibate opposite-sex friendships and cautions that the temptations toward infatuation and romantic interest must be overcome in order for a healthy, loving friendship to develop and flourish. If one or both of the parties are married, great care must be taken to make sure that the friendship does not threaten the marriage in any way. Despite these concerns, Poust does feel that male-female spiritual friendships can be a great blessing and she has benefited from them in her own life.

Spiritual friendship is a rare and good gift. It is to be greatly treasured. Hopefully, "Walking Together" will encourage many to pursue them in their own lives.

Reviewed by Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur

Book Review: "Exorcism and the Church Militant" by Fr. Thomas J. Euteneuer

Fr. Euteneuer begins by discussing the need for exorcism and its purpose.  

The need for, and purpose of, exorcism is  most effectively summed up in the following paragraph:  
"The One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church has been commissioned by the Lord Jesus Christ to fulfill a most dramatic mission; it is perhaps the most dangerous and exhilarating of missions ever entrusted to men. It is the mission of saving souls."

Satan used to conceal himself more, but in today's society, he has more visibility in abortion, porn and promiscuity, violence and profanity.  He walks openly and is assisted by the pervasive promotion of things like vampires and the occult.

As disturbing as that reminder is, I really enjoyed the discussion of angels and demons.  Satan, as Lucifer, was a seraphim, the highest level of angel.  Michael is an archangel, a lower level of angel, but with the power of God, any angel can defeat any demon or fallen angel.

Further encouragement is that a demon can only enter a person by invitation; it is up to us.   The caution is that we must avoid anything that might provide that invitation, such as a Ouija board or any occult activity. 

Some of the most important and frequently-discussed topics are:
Discernment: determining if someone needs an exorcism, deliverance prayers, or possibly has a mental disorder.
The difference between an exorcism and a deliverance
The difference between a person being possessed and merely being afflicted with a demon.  (this was referred to as an obsession)

I was expecting a higher-level discussion of exorcism.  The discussion was more in-depth and detailed than I expected, but the format of the book is question-and-answer, which makes it an easy read.

The companion book for this exorcism book is "Demonic Abortion".  It comes out July 7, so I haven't read it yet.  The title is pretty clear.  The desire to kill babies is most certainly demonic.   You can get both books at the site: