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Movie review: 'Winchester'

There are many interesting things to know about the life of arms heiress Sarah Winchester (c. 1840-1922). For one, she was fabulously wealthy. For another, she believed she was cursed.
 
To stave off the effects of the latter condition, moreover, Sarah was apparently under the delusion that she must maintain constant construction on the San Jose, California, house in which she lived — something she proceeded to do for nearly four decades and only stopped doing because she died.
 
The architectural curiosity resulting from her mania, dubbed the Winchester Mystery House, has since become a popular tourist attraction. All very intriguing.
 
How, then, one wonders, can a horror movie riffing on these historical circumstances turn out to be such a bore — all the more so, given that the formidable Helen Mirren stars as Sarah? Yet such is the painful truth about "Winchester" (CBS Films), a dud if ever there was one.
 
Perhaps it's the scattershot approach adopted by co-directors and brothers Michael and Peter Spierig. Seemingly in an effort to try a little bit of everything, they mash up the haunted house, angry ghost and possessed kid subgenres, all to no avail. There's a lot going on but none of it works.
 
Witnessing all the mayhem is Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke), a man with a turbulent past of his own. Commissioned by the board of directors of the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. to assess their majority shareholder's state of mental health, Eric has become one of Sarah's rare houseguests.
 
Of course, his initial outlook on the situation is one of resolute scientific skepticism. But, by the time he finds himself barricaded in an attic trying to protect Sarah from the rampaging specter of a Confederate soldier who has been dead for 20 years, he seems to have changed his point of view.
 
Sarah's claim about that curse, which also takes in her family — here represented by her niece (Sarah Snook) and young grandnephew (Finn Scicluna-O'Prey) — now appears, to Eric at least, well-founded in eerie fact.
 
The script's peaceable theme — the spirits bugging Sarah were all killed by Winchester guns, and she tries to calm them by communicating her sincere remorse — is certainly in keeping with Gospel values. Aspects of Eric's lifestyle, by contrast, though only hinted at, are clearly contrary to Scriptural norms of behavior.
 
A troubled widower, he has developed a laudanum addiction and enjoys consorting with ladies of the evening. Precisely what he gets up to with the streetwalkers we see hanging around his house in one scene — either individually or collectively — is, thankfully, kept decently obscure.
 
Such potentially sordid details, however, together with some of the elements listed below, makes "Winchester" strictly grownup fare.
 
The film contains occult themes, gunplay and other stylized violence with little gore, drug use, implications of promiscuity and possible group sex involving prostitutes, a couple of profanities, a milder oath and at least one crass term. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
 

Movie review: 'Black Panther'

Step aside, Huey Newton, there's a new "Black Panther" (Disney) in town.
 
Director and co-writer Ryan Coogler's adaptation of a series of Marvel Comics — Stan Lee and Jack Kirby first launched the character of the title in 1966 — is sprawling, energetic, lightened by some clever humor but, ultimately, overlong.
 
Though the mayhem on screen, which ranges from hand-to-hand combat to a high-flying, high-tech dogfight, is treated with restraint, touches of vulgarity may give some parents of older teens pause. Weighing on the other side of the scale, however, is the racial empowerment that drives the narrative and the significant themes the film tackles in a thoughtful way.
 
The primary setting of "Black Panther" is the imaginary — and secret — African kingdom of Wakanda. As straightforward exposition at the start of the movie explains, Wakanda's inhabitants have, over the centuries, made use of a super-powerful mineral, vibranium, to achieve both prosperity and a range of technological wonders unknown to the outside world.
 
When Wakanda's young prince, T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) assumes the throne, and thereby becomes the Black Panther, he intends to continue the policy of his late father, King T'Chaka (John Kani), by keeping Wakanda concealed from foreigners. But he faces two principal challenges.
 
One involves South African arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis). Klaue has managed to infiltrate Wakanda and steal a stock of vibranium, which he aims to sell to the highest bidder.
 
The other concerns the ongoing consequences of a long-ago family conflict (involving Michael B. Jordan) that has the potential to dethrone T'Challa and destabilize Wakanda.
 
In tackling these problems, T'Challa is aided by his tech-savvy sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright). Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), the woman he would like to make his queen, Okoye (Danai Gurira), the leader of his army's band of fierce female warriors, and, eventually, by Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman), a CIA agent out to foil Klaue.
 
Real-world preoccupations are incorporated into this sci-fi-tinged action adventure. The Wakandans, for instance, debate whether they should put their own security at risk in order to assist downtrodden people of color in other nations.
 
Plot developments also present characters with moral choices. Faced with the kind of evil embodied by Klaue — an unreconstructed apartheid-era Afrikaans of the nastiest stripe — should one pursue vengeance or accept justice? The divergent paths of violent revolution and peaceful reform are also contrasted.
 
Ceremonies and customs drawn, however indirectly, from indigenous African religions are showcased. But they are contained within the picture's framework of fantasy and will probably not cause mature adolescents any spiritual confusion.
 
The film contains nonscriptural religious ideas and practices, much stylized violence with minimal gore, several crude and at least one crass term and an obscene gesture. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
 

Movie review: 'Peter Rabbit'

That rustling sound you hear is famed children's author Beatrix Potter spinning in her grave, distressed at what has been done to her beloved characters in "Peter Rabbit" (Columbia).
 
Potter (1866-1943) wrote gentle morality fables about anthropomorphic animals, which she illustrated herself. Her 23 pocket-sized books, starting with "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" (1902), have become one of the top-selling series of all time.
 
Now her most famous character, the mischievous Peter Rabbit, has been transformed into a fast-talking juvenile delinquent, a hipster dude rather too fond of rude jokes and possessing a nasty murderous streak.
 
Director Will Gluck ("Annie"), who co-wrote the screenplay with Ron Lieber, mixes live-action with animation for this adventure comedy. While the interplay of human actors with CGI critters is remarkable, the film's manic pace and reliance on cheap gags set a discordant tone at odds with Potter's elegant style.
 
The film picks up where Potter's first volume leaves off. Peter (voice of James Corden) is now the leader of his family, which includes his younger sisters, triplets Flopsy (voice of Margot Robbie), Mopsy (voice of Elizabeth Debicki), and Cottontail (voice of Daisy Ridley).
 
We know from Potter's story how their father died. Deep in the verdant English countryside, he wandered into a fenced-in garden and was caught by the owner, Mr. McGregor, who turned him into a pie supper.
 
Let that be a lesson to you, Mother warns her brood. But Peter disobeys and barely escapes with his life.
 
In the movie, their mother also has died, and Peter is obsessed with Mr. McGregor (Sam Neill), seeking revenge and his vegetables. He enlists his sisters and his cousin, Benjamin Bunny (voice of Colin Moody), on daily raids into the garden.
 
During one ambush, Mr. McGregor has a fatal heart attack, collapsing in front of Peter. The young bunny is elated, as are his family and friends. All are invited to overrun the garden and Mr. McGregor's cottage, both of which are thoroughly trashed.
 
Fans of the Potter books will spot Pigling Bland (voice of Ewen Leslie), Jemima Puddle-Duck (voice of Rose Byrne), and Miss Tiggy-Winkle (voice of Sia), among other familiar characters.
 
The animals' idyll is short-lived, as soon a new McGregor arrives, great-nephew Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson). He's a city boy from London who hates the country (and all four-legged creatures) and plans to put the homestead up for sale.
 
Until, that is, he meets his comely neighbor, Bea (Rose Byrne). She's a kind and sweet friend to Peter and his family, whom she paints in her spare time (for Bea read Beatrix, of course). She tries to soften Thomas' strong feelings and eventually captures his heart.
 
Peter will have none of this, and plots Thomas' murder as the bunnies declare war.
 
Thankfully, the film's resolution does impart some of the lessons of Potter's books, including the importance of family, honesty and forgiveness. But the filmmakers cannot resist the ill-mannered behavior, low-brow jokes, and noisy eruptions that seem to be staples in children's films today.
 
Suffice it to say, Potter would recoil at Peter's attempt to thrust a carrot up Mr. McGregor's bare buttocks, not to mention a comic remark about Benjamin Bunny's nipples.
 
The film contains a vengeance theme, a glimpse of partial rear nudity, some rude humor and action sequences. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
 

Book review: 'Holy Desperation: Praying As If Your Life Depended on It'

“Holy Desperation: Praying As If Your Life Depended on It.” By Heather King.  Chicago: Loyola Press, 2017. 224 pages. Paperback: $10.84; Kindle: $9.99; Nook:  $10.49.
 
Like Heather King’s previous books, the most accurate word to describe this one is “honest” – sometimes brutally so. However, it is that very quality that makes “Holy Desperation: Praying As If Your Life Depended on It” so powerful. It is the honesty of a soul who has gone about as far down into the abyss as one can go, only to be overwhelmed and lifted out of those depths by the unconditional love of a forgiving God. Such an experience leaves a person changed forever.
 
As I read through the 13 chapters of this book, I thought how much the tone of King’s words echoed those of St. Paul, for it is obvious that she too is on fire with the love of God. By telling her story – without pulling any punches -- “Holy Desperation” ultimately becomes a book of hope for those who thought they had none left.
 
Although it is a reverent book, it is not a pious one, at least not in the ordinary sense of that word. The author makes no attempt to cover up the grittiness and messiness of life that brings people to God, nor does she say that, in order to approach the Almighty, one has to have on, as it were, one’s “Sunday best.” God, who knows us as we truly are, simply asks us to show up. “Come, all you who have missed the mark, who are dying for lack of meaning, all you who are sick and anxious and lonely and afraid unto death,” she says.  “Come…you who are caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s while your siblings play golf. … Come, you who live in chronic physical pain, you who are perpetually broke…you who live a life of hidden, silent martyrdom that not one other person sees or cares about.”
 
“Come close. Come as close as you can.”
 
It was just for these that Christ came into the world, she continues, for the sick, the wounded and the rejected. “Christ, with his special heart for the mentally and emotionally ill, constantly cast out demons from the people who came to him,” she writes. All that God requires of us is to acknowledge our own neediness and admit to our own demons.
 
That, however, is the hard part, and one that most of us do not come to easily. For King, who was battling her own demon of alcoholism, it came at the end of a very dark road. Then, what seemed like despair became instead the most sincere prayer of all. “The essence of prayer consists in doing what most of us have never done before and that no human being does unless we are utterly, completely out of ideas,” she admits, “and that is to acknowledge defeat and ask for help. Kneeling, our heads are close to our hearts. Kneeling, we feel our exhaustion. Kneeling, we’re the height of children.”
 
 
 
The balance of the book consists of lessons learned, experiences shared and encouragement to continue no matter where in our journey of life we happen to be. There is a chapter devoted to the traditional prayers of the Church, which the author loves and prays on a daily basis, but we are also invited to join King’s own prayers, which are as honest and sincere as everything else in the book. “Heavenly Father, help me believe that I am loved in spite of my ongoing incompetence, littleness and brokenness,” she prays near the beginning. “Help me remember that our brokenness is why you came. Help me not be afraid to come close to you, in any way, at any minute of the day or night.”
 
This book is highly recommended.
 
Author biography
 
Heather King is an essayist, memoirist, blogger and former lawyer. She struggled with alcoholism for many years, got sober in 1987 and converted to Catholicism in 1996.
 
She has written several books including “Stripped,” “Parched,” “Redeemed,” “Shirt of Flame,” “Poor Baby” and “Stumble.” A contributor to the Catholic magazine Magnificat, her column "The Crux" appears in Angelus, the publication of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
 
She currently lives in Los Angeles.
 

Recognizing the feast of ashes, boredom and dull moments

“Lent comes providentially to reawaken us, to shake us from our lethargy.”
—Pope Francis

 
Many people have morning rituals. Mine include stretching, prayer, a good cup of tea and catching up with on-line news I missed during the night. As might be expected from a person of varied interests — and a grandmother — I am often distracted by other interesting tidbits, like the recent story, ‘The scary truth about what’s hurting our kids.”
 
As a grandparent, I just had to read it. It was worth the time and underscored the damage social media and an obsession with mobile devices causes to children’s mental health.
 
The article notes that, among other things, children suffer from an absence of dull moments and are being deprived of the important fundamentals of a healthy childhood, including opportunities for boredom.
 
As most wise grandparents will share, boredom is a nurturer for children, giving them a much-needed absence of stimulation, a blessed silence, moments when they can hear the whirring of their own minds in creative endeavors, an opportunity for them to hear the whisperings of God instead of the noise of everything else.
 
Children, like adults, need time to think.
 
When my husband was a child, before the advent of taking “time out” in some specially designated place in the house after a childish transgression, my mother-in- law, Muriel, wise as she was, doled out the punishment of pulling weeds. No sitting in the corner for my husband or his siblings. They could reflect on their wrong doings and make themselves useful at the same time.
 
I often wondered if Muriel took her cue from Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, whom she greatly admired, and who once said, “We can think of Lent as a time to eradicate evil or cultivate virtue, a time to pull up weeds or to plant good seeds. Which is better is clear, for the Christian ideal is always positive rather than negative.”
 
Muriel, who was no shrinking violet, would no doubt have reminded Bishop Sheen that you can’t plant the good seeds until you pull the weeds.
 
For today’s adults, who are continually lulled into a spiritual malaise by the white noise of a world where the absence of anything is considered deprivation, a time of emptiness devoid of worldly distractions is a feast for the spiritual life.
 
And so we come to the wisdom of Ash Wednesday and the days of Lent, time set aside in the liturgical year to focus interiorly on our relationship with God, and subsequently, our relationship with others. It is a time to strengthen both, realizing that our relationship with God is meaningless if some good for the other does not flow from it.
 
Too often, it seems we approach Lent with a serious solemnity, brought about by our sense of suffering through sacrifice. I am guilty of it, as much as at other times I am guilty of having no feelings about Lent whatsoever. I simply go through the motions, wear ashes and purple and convince myself that I am doing Lent because I am making sacrifices.
 
I have actually learned to do Lent better by watching my grandchildren in those rare dull moments when they are not distracted by toys or technology, when they have been sent outside because they are bored and are soon excitedly gathering stones and pine cones, examining bugs or catching toads and crickets, pulling apart fallen seed packets and planting seeds with great expectations that they will return in a few days to find new seedlings growing. And at the end of their unexpected adventure they run to you and say, “Look what I found!”
 
That is how I wish to approach Lent, when making sacrifice is a time of discovery, and when an examination of conscience leading to change is an experience of joy.
I want to keep in mind the thoughts of Thomas Merton who wrote, “Even the darkest moments of the liturgy are filled with joy, and Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten fast, is a day of happiness, a Christian feast.”
 
— Mary Morrell
 

Movie review: 'Darkest Hour'

The spotlight shines brightly on British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in "Darkest Hour" (Focus), a historical drama about political leadership and backroom intrigue during a pivotal moment of World War II.
 
Churchill (1874-1965) was 65 years old and, it was thought, in the twilight of his political career when he was tapped to lead a wartime coalition government in May 1940. The war was going badly for the Allies, and Nazi Germany was marching into Belgium and France, threatening an invasion of Britain.
 
It was truly the country's darkest hour, and director Joe Wright ("Atonement"), working from a screenplay by Anthony McCarten, offers a thrilling take on Churchill's first three weeks in power.
 
The film is in some respects a companion piece to the 2017 film "Dunkirk," taking place at the same time. While "Dunkirk" neglected politics in favor of personal stories, "Darkest Hour" goes behind the scenes, revealing how Churchill rallied a skeptical cabinet to fight the enemy rather than sue for peace and arranged the miraculous evacuation of nearly 350,000 soldiers stranded on the French beach.
 
Beneath some remarkable facial prosthetics and layers of padding, Gary Oldman disappears into the role of Churchill, capturing the gait, cadence and charisma of the man. This is a warts-and-all portrayal of a decidedly quirky individual who loved his cigars and booze, was often rude and sarcastic but who in private had moments of self-doubt.
 
At his side was his stalwart wife, Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas), proud that her husband was finally getting his chance to lead, however late in life.
 
"When youth departs, may wisdom prove enough," Churchill says, as he accepts the offer of King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) to form a government. "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat."
 
Churchill succeeds the feckless Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup), whose policy of appeasement with Nazi Germany has left Britain woefully unprepared for war. But Chamberlain enjoys the king's favor as does the politically ambitious Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane). The trio schemes to disgrace Churchill and put Halifax in power.
 
As Europe is overrun, Churchill is pressured to sue for peace. The idea of bowing to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis is anathema to his lifelong belief in justice and liberty.
 
"You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth!" he roars at Halifax.
 
"Darkest Hour" proceeds at a breakneck pace as Churchill gradually convinces his colleagues to fight and rallies the nation. Although some liberties are taken with the facts (including a marvelous moment when Churchill interacts with ordinary people on the subway, which never happened), the film offers an important history lesson for young and old about a time when statesmanship mattered most.
 
Churchill's greatest asset was his voice, which he used to great effect on the radio and in Parliament to inspire the nation. As he composed his stirring speeches, Churchill was aided by his secretary, Elizabeth Layton (Lily James), and his most faithful ally, the secretary of state for war — and future prime minister — Anthony Eden (Samuel West).
 
"We shall never surrender!" Churchill tells his parliamentary colleagues, forcing Halifax to admit, "He just mobilized the English language and sent it into battle."
 
And the rest, as they say, is history.
 
The film contains brief scenes of wartime violence and some mature themes. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
 

Movie review: 'Phantom Thread'

All rustling silk, organza, lace and tulle in the first half and a bizarre portrayal of marriage in the second half, "Phantom Thread" (Focus) is a bumpy trip through high fashion and passive-aggressive sniping in 1950s London.
 
Director-writer Paul Thomas Anderson may be trying to make a statement about necessary sacrifices to make the man-woman dynamic function property, but despite the lush, appealing visuals, he's come up with an ugly denouement straight out of a cheap horror film.
 
Daniel Day-Lewis is Reynolds Woodcock, sort of a Yves St. Laurent-type dressmaker in a five-story townhouse, making gowns -- elegant, structured creations of the Grace Kelly era -- for pampered wealthy ladies and the occasional European royal.
 
His sister, Cyril (Leslie Manville), runs the business, leaving the temperamental Woodcock free to sketch designs and pursue romances -- at least that's what obliquely implied -- with a string of live-in women. He uses the devoted, priggish Cyril to cast them aside when he grows tired of their emotional neediness.
 
One day on a country drive and a stop at a hotel restaurant, Woodcock encounters waitress Alma (Vicky Krieps), a slim young expatriate with a nonspecific European accent. After a bit of flirting, he knows he's found himself his next muse and model.
 
Woodcock is immensely selfish and considers his doting late mother as the lone perfect woman he'd known.
 
He accepts affection, but only on his own terms. His way of showing it, such as he's capable, consists of doing fittings so his designs will be realized. It's not a balanced partnership by any means.
 
Woodcock has a devoted staff of seamstresses and no shortage of clients attending his fashion shows, but muses are difficult to fit into his existence. Affection and sex don't mean as much to him as the power he exerts on others.
 
He shortly finds Alma annoying, particularly for her habit of making too much noise at breakfast and is perpetually on some sort of slow burn over slights real and imagined. Alma, who accepts this soul-deadening arrangement and eventually marries Woodcock, nonetheless develops a long-term plan to keep him for herself in spite of all the snippy abuse.
 
This is where the story takes a disturbing turn. Alma, who likes to cook and prepare drinks, figures out a way to add poisonous mushrooms to her cuisine. Not enough to kill, but enough to inflict severe illness, which creates Woodcock's instant dependency.
 
Does anyone get suspicious in the least? Nope. There's an ineffectual doctor, but anyone waiting for a police inspector to turn up is waiting in vain.
 
Anderson suggests that the solution to a toxic relationship is real toxins. It's a problematic, immoral turn without any indication of justice, restricting the film's audience to adults capable of mature discernment. There are no stitches in time here.
 
The film contains an aberrant view of marriage and frequent rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
 

Movie review: 'Hostiles'

"Hostiles" (Entertainment Studios) works from the premise that not only were white soldiers in the 1890s aware of their complicity in the decades-long genocide of Native Americans, they could feel immense, paralyzing guilt about their actions.
 
The end result is more than a bit anachronistic -- white supremacist beliefs at the time were the norm, and the all-consuming energy required for daily life in the untamed American West allowed little time for reflection -- but director-writer Scott Cooper wishes to make a strong moral case.
 
So he opens with a quote from British novelist T.H. Lawrence, who wrote in 1923 about James Fenimore Cooper's 19th-century novel "The Deerslayer:” "The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer. It has never yet melted."
 
Times were tough, hearts were hard and disputes were settled at the point of a gun. Sounds like the opening of most episodes of the TV western "Gunsmoke."
 
Except that there's no Marshal Dillon here to set matters right. Cooper's protagonist, taciturn Capt. Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale), is wracked with anguish about the slaughter he's undertaken as well as the violence inflicted on virtually anyone he's worked with during his Army postings. He's killed, and seen his men killed by, the Native Americans they've been separating from their ancestral lands and way of life and putting them on impoverished reservations in the name of manifest destiny.
 
Blocker, despite his emotional damage, is an educated sort who reads Julius Caesar's writings in the original Latin. He thinks of his task as somehow noble, but nearly rebels when he's ordered to escort a dying Native American chief, Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family from New Mexico to Montana.
 
Along the way, he picks up Rosalee (Rosamund Pike) the lone survivor from a massacre of her family by rampaging Comanches. She's catatonic from losing her husband and young children but somehow restores her bearings to regard Yellow Hawk's family with compassion. At another stop, they pick up convicted criminal Philip (Ben Foster), who will face a military execution at the end of the journey.
 
Master Sgt. Metz (Rory Cochrane) brags of having made his first kill at age 14 during the Civil War, but he, too, succumbs to the accumulation of grief.
 
To survive on this sad, loping journey requires everyone to find common ground so they can repel the ongoing threat of Comanche raiders. This dips into the ancient racial trope of "good" and "bad" Native Americans, and also creates, as the lone form of suspense, the question of who will die along the way.
 
The story would undoubtedly have worked better if only a couple of the principal characters were deeply depressed. But Cooper gives everyone an overwhelmingly sensitive conscience and a sense of how they'll be regarded by history. The result is an unrelentingly unsentimental road trip that can be appreciated by an adult audience aware of how many times Cooper wants to just wear them down.
 
The violence and racism are matter-of-factly and realistically portrayed. There's no mythology here, and also no joy. Any character, if exceedingly fortunate, becomes merely a survivor.
 
The film contains gun and physical violence, fleeting gore and some racist dialogue. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church at 25

Pope John Paul II called the Extraordinary Synod of 1985 to assess what had gone right and what had gone wrong in two decades of implementing the Second Vatican Council. In Vaticanese, it was styled “extraordinary” because it fell outside the normal sequence of synods. But Synod 1985 also was extraordinary in the ordinary sense of the word. 
               
It occasioned an almighty row over a book-length interview, The Ratzinger Report, that pretty well set the terms of debate in the synod hall. It was the synod that came up with an interpretive key that linked the 16 documents of Vatican II, through the image of the Church as a communio, a communion of disciples in mission; thus Synod 1985 accelerated the Church’s transition to the Church of the New Evangelization. And it gave us the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
               
At a press conference shortly after the synod, Bishop James Malone of Youngstown, then president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, was asked about the new catechism the synod fathers recommended. Don’t worry, Bishop Malone, replied, you’ll never live to see it. The bishop was, of course, wrong about that, and John Paul II promulgated the Catechism of the Catholic Church on Oct. 11, 1992.
               
For those expecting a Q&A format like the old Baltimore Catechism, the Catechism of the Catholic Church was a surprise. While divided into 2,865 bite-size sections, the catechism is a discursive exposition of Catholic faith in full. Its structure, which mirrors the Catechism of the Council of Trent, reaches back to the early Church and the patristic catechumenate. Thus the catechism’s four parts reflect the four pillars of Christian initiation: the “Profession of Faith” (the Creed); the “Celebration of the Christian Mystery” (the Sacraments); “Life in Christ” (Christian Morality); and “Christian Prayer.”
     
Each of these four parts is then subdivided. Part One begins with a reflection on revelation and our response to it before examining the 12 articles of the Apostles Creed, the baptismal creed of the ancient Roman Church. Part Two is structured around the seven sacraments. Part Three vastly enriches the Tridentine pattern by beginning with the Beatitudes and our vocation to beatitude or happiness, which sets the framework for the exposition of the Ten Commandments. Part Four begins with a meditation on Jesus and the Samaritan woman, explaining the Lord’s “thirst” for souls as the beginning of prayer, before illustrating Christian prayer through the seven petitions of the Lord’s Prayer.
               
Thus Parts One and Two of the catechism illuminate God’s action in seeking us out; the catechism’s very first section speaks of the divine invitation to communion, while the sacraments are described at the beginning of Part Two as the extension of Christ’s earthly life in us: as Pope Leo the Great put it, “what was visible in our Savior has passed over into His mysteries.”
 
Parts Three and Four then outline our response to God’s action through the moral life and prayer. Part Three is a rebuff to those rigorists and laxists who continue to misconstrue Christian morality as a form of legalism: The moral law is important, the catechism insists, because these are the guideposts provided by revelation and reason for the pilgrimage to beatitude and happiness, the goals of the moral life.
 
Part Four speaks forcefully of “the battle of prayer,” the fight “against ourselves and against the wiles of the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from union with God.”
               
The Catechism of the Catholic Church has made a considerable difference throughout the past 25 years, because it was one crucial answer to the question posed to me in 1996 by a great first-generation Christian, Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria. Speaking of one problem Synod 1985 was called to address, the cardinal asked, “How can [anyone] join a group of permanently confused people who don’t know where they’re going?”
 
And while there’s still considerable work to be done to deepen the reform and renewal of catechetics, the mere fact of the catechism helped end the silly season in religious education while establishing a compelling, and in many cases quite beautifully written, benchmark and pattern for the future.
               
If you’ve not read the catechism, this silver jubilee is a good occasion to do so. Then share it with a friend.
 
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies, Ethics and Public Policy Center.

-- Originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of
Vermont Catholic magazine.
 

Getting organized for love

By Sister Constance Veit
 
I began the new year with 8,000 college students at the Student Leadership Summit of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. It was an inspiring event that enabled us Little Sisters to engage with hundreds of enthusiastic young people on fire for their Catholic faith.
 
As exciting as the whole event was, the most moving moment for me was completely
unexpected. During Eucharistic adoration, Jesus Christ present in the monstrance started moving through the crowd, carried by a team of bishops and priests. An entourage of altar servers led the procession with candles and incense.
 
What caught my eye was one of the white robed altar servers walking backwards, swinging a thurible from which billowed sweetly scented smoke, his attention firmly fixed on Christ in the Eucharist. The only thing that kept him from stumbling into the crowd of young people was a second altar server who kept his hand firmly planted on the first man’s shoulder to direct his every move.
 
It was a highly choreographed and striking scene — this entourage of clergy and altar servers walking together in perfect unity, leading one another, supporting one another’s efforts to carry Christ. I was profoundly struck by this “holy teamwork,” which must have required significant practice and single-minded focus.
 
This Eucharistic procession was a fitting metaphor for the ideals of solidarity and union of hearts and minds in continuing our Lord’s mission on Earth. Imagine the wonderful things we could do for Jesus if each Catholic apostolate, religious community or lay movement were this well ordered and united around a common purpose.
 
In his encyclical on love, Pope Benedict XVI said, “As a community, the Church must practice love. Love thus needs to be organized if it is to be an ordered service to the community.”
 
As we head into Lent, we first celebrate the World Day of the Sick on Feb. 11. Just as the procession I witnessed at the Student Leadership Summit kept Our Eucharistic Lord at the center as it moved through the crowd of young people — a veritable field hospital of souls — Catholic health care is called to place the human person at the center of all its activities, projects and goals.
 
In his message for this year’s World Day of the Sick Pope Francis wrote, “Wise organization and charity demand that the sick person be respected in his or her dignity and constantly kept at the center of the therapeutic process.”
 
Our Holy Father continued, “Jesus bestowed upon the Church His healing power. … The Church’s mission is a response to Jesus’ gift, for she knows that she must bring to the sick the Lord’s own gaze, full of tenderness and compassion. Health care ministry will always be a necessary and fundamental task to be carried out with renewed enthusiasm by all, from parish communities to the largest healthcare institutions.”
 
Pope Francis recognized the invaluable contribution of families: “The care given within families is an extraordinary witness of love for the human person; it needs to be fittingly acknowledged and supported by suitable policies.”
 
He also speaks of healthcare as a shared ministry: “Doctors and nurses, priests, consecrated men and women, volunteers, families and all those who care for the sick, take part in this ecclesial mission. It is a shared responsibility that enriches the value of the daily service given by each.”
 
As we observe the World Day of the Sick and then begin our Lenten practices of prayer, penance and almsgiving, let’s resolve to keep Jesus Christ and the human person at the center of our spiritual efforts and works of mercy.
 
And let’s endeavor to give the world a striking witness of the unity of Christ’s disciples. May the world be able to say of us, “The believers are of one heart and mind … sharing everything they have” (Acts 4:32).
 
May our united efforts to serve the poor, the sick and the most vulnerable
among us lead others to believe in the power of God’s love at work in the world.
 
— Sister Constance Veit is director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor.
 
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