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Life issues and social justice

As a child in the 1950s, I recall the Church being insular and sharply divided from
the world around us. That began to change as we approached Vatican Council II. We heard words like “ecumenism,” “social justice” and “liturgical renewal.” There was even a daring concept of celebrating the Mass in the vernacular, the language commonly spoken in the location of the Mass.
 
As the council unfolded, laypersons were invited to take on new roles in the Church, both liturgical roles and in various ministries in the Church. Both men and women could now serve in the sanctuary as lectors and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. Mass could be celebrated with the priest facing the people instead of with his back to the congregation.
 
After Vatican II, we saw the Church engaging the world around us in a completely different way.
 
We recognized the need to enter into dialogue with other Christian denominations to explore the possibility of reunification of Christianity. We began to hear about topics like racism, discrimination and social justice. The Church was more open in its criticism of injustice in society.
 
Topics like war, disparate treatment of minorities by the criminal justice system, treatment of undocumented immigrants, the natural environment and a living wage became topics addressed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and local bishops.
 
Yet within the Church, we saw dissent emerge. Some sought to radically change certain moral teachings on issues of sexuality, contraception and abortion. With Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, “Humanae Vitae” (“Of Human Life”), Catholic understanding of sexuality and the teaching on contraception were beautifully affirmed. Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, “Evangelium Vitae” (“Gospel of Life”) again affirmed those teachings and emphasized that moral law given by God cannot change.
 
Human life issues (abortion, assisted suicide, euthanasia and capital punishment) continued to receive prominent attention from the bishops and Catholic laity in local and political arenas.
 
The Church needs to engage society on both human life issues and issues of social justice; it is not one or the other.
 
Catholics know from scripture that the human person is created in the image and likeness of God. Hence, all human beings have an inherent dignity: There is something about each person that is a reflection of God to those around them.
 
Catholics must hold in their heart two great commandments: Love of God above all else and love our neighbors as ourselves. The Church must continue to proclaim that message not merely as an abstract concept, but in concrete terms: Life is sacred. Human beings are to be treated as a precious image and likeness of God; they are to be accorded full human dignity, and this includes just treatment in all particulars of their existence in a just society.
 
As members of the Church and followers of Jesus Christ, we must act to further those teachings and to incorporate them into our own attitudes and behaviors.
 

Worship and social justice

By Steven R. Marchand
 
It has been said that one of most striking characteristics of modernity is the fragmentation of the once-cohesive social fabric that held together political, moral and social communities. Concretely, this view of life results in many either-or ultimatums where a truly Christian view would suggest a both-and response.
 
In Catholicism, we hold many paradoxes together -- such as grace and nature, faith and reason, scripture and tradition, body and soul -- in such a way that each element remains in place in tandem with the other. True Christian teaching keeps us from veering into any kind of extremism.
 
Unfortunately, there crept into the minds of many in the Church in the mid and late 20th century a kind of dualism that pitted the worthy celebration of the liturgy against service to the poor and social activism. If one used resources to beautify the liturgy one was accused of stealing from the poor, and conversely, those laity, priests and religious who sought out the poor and marginalized were accused of abandoning prayer and the worship of God.
 
In reality, however, these two missions of the Church -- worship of God and service in the world -- are two sides of the same coin. It is impossible for the Christian community to worship God at Mass, hear the message of the Gospel and ignore those in need around them.
 
In the Old Testament, the connection between worship and justice is clear. In the Book of Amos we read, “Even though you offer me your burnt offering and cereal offerings, I will not accept them, and the peace offerings of your fatted beasts I will not look upon. Take away from the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:22-24).
 
In the New Testament, St. Paul warns both who would seek to put worship and justice over the other in 1 Corinthians 10-11. He begins by pointing out that it is hypocritical for the community that celebrates the Mass to do so while the poor go hungry. He follows that by stressing the importance of eliminating abuses at the Lord’s Supper and participating in the Eucharist only worthily.
 
In fact, both the worship of God and service to the disadvantaged are aspects of justice and charity. We all have a duty to pray and worship God according to the mind of the Church, to offer to God only the best of what we have in our churches (like music and sacred art) as a matter of rendering to God what is due.
 
These worthy services are for the edification of the whole Christian people, the rich and poor alike. The virtue of religion helps us to grow in our relationship with God through our attention and participation in the liturgy. Our participation in the Eucharist ties us into the redeeming sacrifice of Christ on the Cross for our salvation.
As the Second Vatican Council reminded us, the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the power and life of the Church. The King of Kings deserves all the glory we can render Him as He is made present again on our altars.
 
And serving the Lord at the altar should be part of a seamless life of Christian charity. The spiritual treasure we receive at Mass should inspire and inflame our hearts with charity in service to our neighbor. Indeed, the Christian’s motive for social service and justice is that Christ himself is served when we serve those in need.
 
There is no contradiction then between service at the altar of the Cross and the altar of world, for Christ died that we all might have life and have it to the full.
 
As Catholics, we are all obliged to attend Mass with a pure heart and with great praise. At the end of every Mass, we are equally challenged to bring the
Good News and the love that we have first received from Christ into the world.
 
Let us worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness and remember that we serve the same Christ in both our worship and our service.
 
--Steven R. Marchand, a seminarian for the Diocese of Burlington, is scheduled to be ordained to the transitional diaconate by Bishop James F. Checchio, bishop of Metuchen, on Sept. 28 in Rome at the Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican at the Altar of the Chair.
 

Originally published in Vermont Catholic magazine, Fall 2017.
 

Reflections on fall

The first hard frost changes everything.
 
It tends to come to my garden a bit later than it does to a friend’s garden 10 miles further out, but come it does, and I can see its unmistakable arrival first thing in the morning from my bathroom window. In the night it has formed fanciful patterns on the glass and turned the front yard crystalline white; I know then that the last of the vegetables I was hoping to eke out for another week or so are beyond eking. The frost has had its way, and the season has come to its inevitable close.
 
Later, when the mid-morning sun has dissolved the chill, I go out to survey what is left. Stalks droop and leaves are shriveled; what was once so green has gone a shade of grayish brown. It is a melancholy sight, and both mourning and gratitude get mixed up in my mind – mourning for what is past, but deep gratitude that there was ever a splendid garden there to begin with. 
 
And make no mistake, it was splendid.
 
To the untrained eye, it would seem as if everything is now over and done with, but in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is if I’m to have another cup of coffee, it won’t be inside next to a cozy wood stove but right out here next to the compost pile. The new season is about to begin, and I have work to do.
 
The most important thing any gardener grows in a garden is the soil, and that process has to begin long before the first shoots of spring appear. That’s because it takes time, time for old things to break down and break apart, to return to the soil they originally came from so that new things can grow from them. That’s the brilliance of the compost pile – last year’s tomato vines become the rich humus for next year’s tomatoes. Dead leaves from the now bare trees are shredded to eventually enrich the lettuce patch, and all those dried egg shells contributed by the neighbor’s chickens will show up next summer as deep purple eggplants.
 
Then, having been cleaned and turned and composted, the garden slips into a much- deserved slumber. Frost gives way to snow, with storm after storm laying down nature’s thick blanket, and for at least four months, the garden is silent and asleep.  Nothing is happening.
 
Or so it seems. 
 
The seasoned gardener, however, knows better, which is why January’s seed catalogues fan the flames of both faith and hope. By March, grow lights appear indoors even as temperatures outdoors hover around freezing, and soon tiny plants in converted yogurt cups send out their first hopeful leaves. Outside, the snow that hid the garden so well now melts into the soil, nudging it awake, and vegetable beds, so tired in the fall, are warm and fragrant with earthy possibilities.
 
 
If the first hard frost changes everything, it’s the last hard frost that changes them even more.
 
 

Book review: 'James Martin: Essential Writings'

By Mitch Finley 

"James Martin: Essential Writings," selected and with an introduction by James T. Keane. Orbis Books (Maryknoll, New York, 2017). 245 pp., $22.
 
No matter how many of the bestselling books authored by Jesuit Father James Martin you have read, a great deal of what's in this book -- a volume in the publisher's "Modern Spiritual Masters Series" -- is likely to be unfamiliar. While it includes some brief excerpts from his most popular books ("The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything," "Jesus: A Pilgrimage," "A Jesuit Off-Broadway" and "Between Heaven and Mirth"), most of what you'll find here comes from articles by Father Martin that appeared in various periodicals including America (more than 200 to date), the Tablet, Huffington Post and Portland, the University of Portland's alumni magazine.
 
James T. Keane does the author's many fans a service, then, by presenting them with material they might otherwise never know about.
 
Keane gathers this book's 40-some articles into four categories titled: Motions of the Soul: Spirituality and Prayer; God in All Things: The Divine in Daily Life; The Care of Souls: Solidarity with the Suffering and the Wounded; and More by Deeds than by Words: Models of Holiness. Article titles many readers will find particularly appealing are "Reflections on Chronic Illness and Pain, Among Other Things," "Holy Dirt" (about sacramentals), "Six Stupid Things I Never Want to Do Again," "Don't Be a Jerk," "Lourdes Diary," "Why Stay in a Church So Clearly Flawed" and "The Saint of the Sock Drawer" (about St. Jude).
 
In his introduction, a short biographical essay about Father Martin, editor Keane make a solid case for his comparison of Father Martin to the great 20th-century Trappist monk, author, social critic and poet Thomas Merton. Father Martin most likely dismisses any such comparison. Still, Keane writes: "James Martin, SJ, the Jesuit priest who is perhaps American Catholicism's most prominent public figure, was a lukewarm, non-practicing Catholic on the fast track to executive riches at General Electric."
 
While this is certainly true, one may be justified in observing that there are, undoubtedly, many regular Catholics with similar backgrounds who returned to being Catholic or joined the Church and did not go on to become priests or nuns, but went on to live their faith in admirable, even heroic ways without becoming well known in the pattern of Fathers Merton and Martin. One may hope for a book, one day, that presents the inspiring stories of just such ordinary Catholics.
All the same, "James Martin: Essential Writings" is a solid, inspiring and informative book. Read up!
- - -
Finley is the author of more than 30 books on Catholic themes, including "What Faith is Not" (Sheed & Ward) and a new revised and updated edition of "The Rosary Handbook: A Guide for Newcomers, Old-Timers, and Those In Between" (Word Among Us Press).
 

Book review: 'The Discerning Parent: An Ignatian Guide to Raising Your Teen'

“The Discerning Parent: An Ignatian Guide to Raising Your Teen.”  By Tim and Sue Muldoon. Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2017. 193 pages. Paperback: $13.55; Kindle: $12.87; Nook: $10.99.
 
From both my experience and the experience of other parents like me, it seems there are two times when we actively seek out books on how best to do our job of raising children. The first might be called the pre-emptive consult, when we know a life change is coming and we want to be prepared to meet it. The second is when we are in the midst of a crisis and desperately need some help and support in order to weather it constructively and well.
 
Tim and Sue Muldoon’s latest book, “The Discerning Parent: An Ignatian Guide to Raising Your Teen,” falls into both categories. Not only does it help prepare parents for the exhilarating but sometimes frightening ride called nurturing teenaged children, but also it serves as a reassuring touchstone when things might not be going as well as everyone had hoped.
 
Although the book is filled with sage advice gleaned from both the authors’ personal and professional experience, it is not a “how-to” book in the sense that there are check-off lists of techniques and activities that will “do the trick” in the face of difficulties. Rather, it leads parents on a faith journey that is as much about their own spiritual growth as it is their children’s.
 
For those not as familiar with the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Muldoon’s begin with a definition of discernment.  “Discernment,” they explain, “is a refinement of the practice of listening to God’s music in a world full of noise. We love that image: it suggests that what each of us is doing in discernment is using a tuning fork to ensure that the tune we play is in harmony with the music of God.” That’s because the goal, ultimately, is to not only for parents to find their own rhythm with God, but to help their children do so as well.
 
Because of the nature of the discernment process, it is suggested that the book be reflected on in small “doses,” no more than one or two concepts at a time. This reflection will then naturally lead to thoughtful action or, as the authors put it, “show(ing) your teen what your faith is; don’t just talk about it.” Action will then come back to still more reflection and discussion, which results in further action -- and so the process will continue and grow.
 
The book addresses six areas in the lives of both teens and their parents: the discernment process itself, developing a deep prayer life, establishing a strong and healthy sense of self, growing in responsible freedom, understanding the gifts of the body as means of divine grace and meeting life’s challenges in the company of God.  Each chapter includes quotes from Ignatian Spirituality as well as prayer and questions for reflection.
 
Perhaps one of the most comforting thing parents will take away from this book is the reassurance that “God calls us as we are. We need not be perfect people to be great parents.”  Even if, after all our efforts, our children wander from the faith or seem to move in a very different direction from what we had hoped, we need to remember that it is God who works alongside them in ways we may not yet know.  “God is free to act in our teens’ lives, and our teens are ultimately free to say yes or no to the various ways God is working to invite them,” the Muldoon’s remind us.  “Our role is to be faithful to our vocation as parents: to pray for our children, to educate them, to lead them toward good choices. Perhaps the way they are responding to God is still hidden to us and will reach fruition after we have died. Part of our faith, our discernment, means allowing that relationship to unfold.”
 
Author bio:
 
Tim Muldoon is a theologian and the author and editor of several books on Ignatian spirituality, marriage, and family. A professor for many years, Muldoon has taught at Mount Aloysius College and Boston College and speaks frequently at colleges, universities, schools, parishes, dioceses and retreat centers.
 
Sue Muldoon is a therapist and religious educator who has worked in clinical, collegiate and parish settings. Her work has focused on young adults and children.  They are the parents of three children.
 
 
 

Movie review: 'All Saints'

Sincere but less than slick, the low-key, fact-based drama "All Saints" (Sony) celebrates Christian faith and family life. Believers, accordingly, will likely be inclined to overlook its artistic shortcomings.
 
Director Steve Gomer and screenwriter Steve Armour recount the story of the titular Episcopal parish in Smyrna, Tenn. With its dwindling congregation down to a mere dozen, the church appears to have no future. So its new pastor, Michael Spurlock (John Corbett), arrives with orders from his superior, Bishop Thompson (Gregory Alan Williams), to shut it down and sell off its property.
 
A former salesman taking up his first assignment in ministry, Michael is not disposed to question his instructions, at least at first. But the revitalizing influence of an influx of devoutly Anglican refugees from Southeast Asia -- Nelson Lee plays their leader, Ye Win -- begins to change his outlook.
 
The newcomers are Karen people, the victims of long-standing and bloody persecution by the government of their homeland, Myanmar. Partly in order to aid them, but also with an eye to rescuing All Saints, Michael launches a scheme to transform the fields around the church into a profitable farm.
 
His plan draws the support of his dedicated wife, Aimee (Cara Buono), but the steady opposition of Forrest (Barry Corbin), an ornery veteran parishioner. Other challenges come in the form of a lack of equipment and a potential drought.
 
Through the changing fortunes that follow, Michael demonstrates determination, perseverance and solidarity with the immigrants who now make up the bulk of his flock. Gomer clearly aims to inspire his audience, and "All Saints" -- despite its necessary discussion of the ill-treatment to which the Karen have been subjected -- is generally wholesome and suitable for most age groups.
 
Considered on a purely aesthetic level, however, the picture suffers from a sluggish pace and often awkward tone. Good intentions help to make up for, but cannot entirely mask, these defects. Still, patient patrons will find positive values awaiting them under the sometimes-imperfect surface.
 
The film contains mature themes, including references to atrocities and rape, and a marital bedroom scene.
 
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.
 

Movie review: 'Leap!'

Ballet enthusiasts of all ages should jump at the chance to see the charming animated film "Leap!" (Weinstein).
 
Set in 1880s France, and originally entitled "Ballerina," this French-Canadian movie, produced by L'Atelier Animation and directed with brio by Eric Summer and Eric Warin, is a visual wonder.
 
Streetscapes of Paris are rendered in colorful detail, while precise ballet poses and movements are depicted in a fluid, almost photo-realistic manner. Nor does the inclusion of a couple of mild bathroom jokes seriously detract from a winning tale about friendship, perseverance and helping others in need.
 
The plot centers on two orphans, Felicie (voice of Elle Fanning) and Victor (voice of Nat Wolff). Inspired by a music box left in her crib by the birth mother she never knew, Felicie longs to be a dancer. Victor, on the other hand, wants to be a famous inventor.
 
The buddies plan their getaway from the orphanage. "We arrived at the same time and we'll escape at the same time," says Felicie.
 
Standing in their way are the authorities at their (presumably Catholic) orphanage: the predictably stern Mother Superior (voice of Kate McKinnon) and a gruesome caretaker, Monsieur Luteau (voice of Mel Brooks).
 
But destiny will not be denied and -- with Victor masquerading as a nun -- the merry duo absconds. They make their way to the City of Light where Victor lands a job in the workshop of Gustave Eiffel, who is busy constructing his namesake tower.
 
Meanwhile, Felicie heads to Paris' famed opera house and its ballet school. She meets Odette (voice of Carly Rae Jepsen), a cleaning woman with a secret: She was once a prima ballerina until sidelined by injury.
 
Odette takes pity on the orphan and agrees to train her so she can impress Merante (voice of Terrence Scammell), the demanding instructor of wannabe ballerinas. To succeed, Felicie must outwit Odette's mean boss, Regine Le Haut (also voiced by McKinnon), and Regine's bratty daughter, Camille (voice of Maddie Ziegler).
 
Dozens and dozens of plies and pirouettes later, Felicie faces Camille in the ultimate dance-off for a coveted starring role in "The Nutcracker." Through it all, Felicie is sustained by the voice of her birth mother (McKinnon again) saying in her head: "Don't give up on your dreams. If you never leap you'll never know what it is to fly."
 
The film contains brief scatological humor and a less than flattering representation of women religious. 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.
 
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Movie review: 'Logan Lucky'

Director Steven Soderbergh reinvents his "Ocean's Eleven" trilogy with a backwoods twist in "Logan Lucky" (Bleecker Street), a zany heist caper.
 
Instead of suave leading men like George Clooney and Brad Pitt, who rob casinos with sophistication and flair, Rebecca Blunt's screenplay presents a band of mismatched misfits from West Virginia who turn to crime in the hope of a better life beyond the trailer park.
 
The resulting romp is an amusing bit of fluff, a tasty confection that, like cotton candy and other late summer treats, does not linger long in the memory. It's safest for grownups, but possibly acceptable for mature teens as well.
 
Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) has just lost his job as a coal miner. He adores his daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie), who lives with his mean ex-wife, Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes). With Bobbie Jo planning to relocate out of state, Jimmy is in desperate need of cash to move closer to his daughter.
 
He concocts a scheme to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway in neighboring North Carolina during a NASCAR race. The racetrack sits atop a series of tunnels which Jimmy helped to excavate, and where he observed the elaborate system of pneumatic tubes that funnels cash from the betting windows and concessions above to the vault below.
 
A bit too eagerly, Jimmy's siblings hop on board: his one-armed bartender brother, Clyde (Adam Driver), who makes a mean martini, and his sassy sister, Mellie (Riley Keough), a beautician.
 
All that's needed is a demolition expert to blow a hole in the vault. Enter the aptly named Joe Bang (Daniel Craig, straying very far indeed from his James Bond persona). There's one catch: This lunatic is in prison.
 
No worries: Jimmy and Clyde arrange to spring Joe for the heist and have him back in his cell before the guards miss him.
 
"Logan Lucky" rolls merrily along, introducing more oddball characters than you can wave a racing flag at, including Joe Bang's dimwit born-again brothers, Fish (Jack Quaid) and Sam (Brian Gleeson), and a smarmy race-team owner with the brilliant name of Max Chilblain (Seth MacFarlane).
 
As the climax nears, expect a few curve balls -- as well as curvaceous FBI agent Sarah Grayson (Hilary Swank). She arrives to investigate the so-called "Hillbilly Heist," which also goes by the code name "Ocean's 7-11" (wink, wink).
 
The film contains drug references and occasional profane and crude language. 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.
 
 

Life Issues Forum: Of Strollers And Walkers

By Mary McClusky
 
The parents of a 3-month-old recently wrote to The Washington Post food critic's online chat to ask about dining etiquette in a city where many restaurants are inaccessible to strollers. 
 
The critic responded by complaining about "strollers the size of Zipcars," but then admitted he wasn't the parent of an infant and invited readers to discuss the topic. Reader comments varied and expanded the topic to include people who use walkers. The chat provided much food for thought on the many ways that we can welcome those whom others might consider burdensome while we are out and about at restaurants, churches, parks, on transportation and in public. Our loving welcome may help others soften their hearts and change attitudes toward families with young or elderly members.
 
The first commenter suggested that parents eat at off-peak hours to avoid "consternation" from fellow diners. As hard enough as it is to raise children in a city, are we now asking parents to eat dinner out with children only from 2 to 5 p.m.? Perhaps as fellow diners we could be patient and understanding and help when we see a parent struggling with a stroller or a temperamental child. Or suggest that a restaurant have a secure place to stow strollers and walkers.
 
Recall God's creation of each of us "in His image" (Gn 1:27), meaning that every one of us is made to be in loving relationship with others. Even the smallest community of love, sometimes as small as two people, mirrors the Divine Trinity. Members of a loving community patiently accommodate one another's needs.
 
My parish during high school displayed this loving acceptance each week as everyone kindly greeted my grandmother making her slow but steady way into church with her walker. On the other hand, I've been present at Mass when a priest stopped during a homily and asked a parent to take a slightly noisy child out of the church.
 
How we treat the defenseless and vulnerable among us not only impacts our salvation but also sends a powerful message to those around us. Our acceptance of others can bear witness to their very existence as God's gift. By our attentiveness and loving assistance, we proclaim that the person in front of us, no matter how young, frail or in need of assistance, is an unrepeatable and precious creation from God. And in turn, we grow in character and virtue each time we choose to sacrifice for another.
So, ask yourself, how accessible is my parish to strollers and wheelchairs? Could we install a wheelchair ramp or elevator to be more welcoming to the elderly or disabled? Is there a place to stow walkers or canes safely? Are there diaper-changing tables in women's and men's restrooms? Or accommodations for parents to participate in the Mass as much as possible if their children become distracting?
 
Perhaps I could smile understandingly when I see a mother and her crying child walking down the airplane aisle toward me, instead of silently praying that they're not seated next to me. Or learn to be more grateful for the gift of children and families being present in our celebration of the Eucharist.
 
Through better accommodations -- but more importantly, through open hearts and loving attitudes -- we can build up a culture that truly welcomes every life in all situations, even a situation as seemingly insignificant as accommodating stroller storage in a crowded restaurant.

Mary McClusky is assistant director for Project Rachel Ministry Development at the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. For confidential help after abortion, visit hopeafterabortion.com or esperanzaposaborto.com.
 

 
 

Movie review: 'Annabelle: Creation'

Most of the mayhem wreaked by the figurine-haunting demon at the center of the horror prequel "Annabelle: Creation" (Warner Bros.) is restrained. Yet, as the film progresses, director David F. Sandberg and his collaborators allow their imagery to become briefly but disturbingly graphic.
 
Accordingly, only those grown moviegoers willing to brave flashes of intense gore should say hello to this particular dolly.
 
This also is not a good fit for those insistent on strict logic or those who expect the characters on screen to behave rationally. As for Catholic viewers, they will likely be both annoyed and distracted by the wildly inaccurate, albeit incidental, portrayal of their faith incorporated into the proceedings.
 
In 1950s California, a group of female orphans shepherded by kindly nun Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) have somehow -- by circumstances not specified in returning screenwriter Gary Dauberman's script -- been displaced from their former dwelling. They've been offered refuge, of a sort, at the rambling, spooky home of dollmaker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his invalid wife, Esther (Miranda Otto).
 
The Mullins are still overcome by grief following the death of their young daughter, Bee (Samara Lee), in a tragic car accident a dozen years before. So their hospitality is extended in an effort to brighten the tone of their funereal household. The outcome, of course, is quite the opposite.
 
No sooner has polio-afflicted Janice (Talitha Bateman) been warned by her brooding host to steer clear of Bee's perpetually locked bedroom than she somehow finds herself inside that very chamber, mucking about and stirring up trouble.
Discovering a hidden key to the closet in which the toy of the title has until now been confined, Janice unleashes her, much in the manner of Pandora opening her ill-fated box. Cue a reign of terror for nosy Janice, her BFF, Linda (Lulu Wilson), and the rest.
 
Darwin has clearly had no place in these girls' education. No matter how hair-raising the terrors to which Annabelle and her guiding fiend subject them, they always move toward danger, never away from it. Even allowing for youthful curiosity, this stubborn refusal to learn from experience becomes a tiresome trait.
Even more taxing, however, is a scene in which Sister Charlotte hears Janice's confession of her disastrous trespass, not in the context of a confidential conversation but in what is clearly meant to be a formal sacramental encounter.
 
Thus Janice kicks things off by requesting, "Bless me, Sister, for I have sinned," and Sister Charlotte wraps things up by imposing a penance, though no absolution intervenes.
 
The fact that only bishops and priests can administer the sacrament of reconciliation is hardly a bit of inside-baseball religious arcana. And the mistake is all the more glaring in a movie that clearly wants to position itself, in some vague way at least, as faith-friendly. Equally out of place in that proposed context is the counter-scriptural concept that infernal beings can somehow "steal" human souls.
 
There are some old-fashioned shivers awaiting the restricted audience for which this follow-up to the 2014 original -- itself a spinoff of "The Conjuring" franchise -- can be labeled appropriate. But lapses in reason, believability and even the most rudimentary knowledge of Catholicism may inspire more frowns than frissons.
 
The film contains a distorted presentation of Catholic faith practices, mostly stylized but briefly very bloody violence, numerous gruesome images and at last one mild oath. 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.
 
 
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