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Deacons and their wives

October 23rd, 2017 Posted in Uncategorized

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Catholic News Service

           

Here’s one essential acknowledgment for spouses of deacons from Maria Natera: Duty comes first.

“You have to get used to the idea that you sit alone in church,” Natera says. “That was very difficult for me. Sometimes it’s a little lonely in the pew when he isn’t beside me.” Read more »

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Medea’s ‘Boo 2!’ runs out of Halloween comedy and horrror

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Catholic News Service

There’s a brief moment in “Tyler Perry’s Boo 2! A Madea Halloween” in which one desperately hopes that the plot has flickered to life.

On a dark road near an allegedly haunted campground, writer-director Perry’s long-running muumuu-draped moral force, played by Perry in drag, of course, encounters the Grim Reaper, complete with scythe. Finally, she either ponders her own mortality, or “conquers” death with a well-placed punch, right? Read more »

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Jackie Chan out for rogue IRA terrorist in ‘The Foreigner’

October 13th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Jackie Chan takes a sharp turn from his typically genial screen personality to become the vengeful father of a London terrorist victim in “The Foreigner.”

Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan star in a scene from the movie “The Foreigner.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III,adults. (CNS photo/STXfilms)

In this efficiently suspenseful adaptation of Stephen Leather’s pulp thriller “The Chinaman,” director Martin Campbell and screenwriter David Marconi have produced an unembroidered drama about resurgent Irish Republican Army violence and bureaucratic treachery.

There are explosions aplenty as well as displays of military survival skills and quite a few of Chan’s well-timed kicks and punches. None of the protagonist’s bombs are intended to damage anything but property, however.

He’s grieving dad Ngoc Minh Quan, and he’s trying to get the attention of government officials any way he can. As a former American-trained guerrilla during the Vietnam War, moreover, he’s as adept at explosives and trap-setting as any urban terrorist.

Vigilantism is always a troubling theme for believing moviegoers. So, despite his precautions, he also avoids using guns, it’s disturbing that Quan is meant to be cheered in the manner of a cowboy hero as he searches for justice.

Although the story has a modern setting, the source novel, written in 1992, was published five years before the IRA’s cease-fire with the British forces in Northern Ireland. So, while Irish terrorism seems anachronistic here, the idea is that mass killings are everywhere and that a parent’s quest is universal.

On the strength of his personality and the intelligence of the script, Chan also escapes any ugly stereotypes of a wily, inscrutable Asian.

After his daughter Fan (Katie Leung) is murdered in a bombing that kills 19, Quan, who also lost his wife and two other daughters to Thai pirates while escaping China years before, expects to see Fan’s killers arrested through the usual channels. But Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan), a deputy prime minister with substantial political ambitions, is slow to respond and uncooperative once he does.

Quan then attempts to bribe a police inspector, Richard Bromley (Ray Fearon). But when that effort fails, he focuses all his energy on Hennessy, whose old ties to the IRA are as complicated as his relationships with his wife and mistress.

The result is a multilayered story that, although telegraphing many plot points too soon, avoids cynicism and makes for a taut journey, albeit one with a high body count.

The film contains a vigilantism theme, gun and physical violence, fleeting gore, implied sexual activity, a few profanities and frequent rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. Motion Picture Association of America rating is R, restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

     

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Battle of the Sexes’ when male chauvinism loses on court

October 3rd, 2017 Posted in Movies, Uncategorized Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

The early 1970s in all its revanchist sexism, double-knit-fabric garishness and choking cigarette smoke is the setting of the coming-of-age story that is “Battle of the Sexes.”

That the coming of age arrives for Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) when, as a 29-year-old champion tennis player, she achieved her greatest fame by defeating 55-year-old Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) in the gaudiest, most-hyped tennis exhibition match of all time in Houston’s Astrodome, makes this no less poignant.

This lightly fictionalized version of history is ultimately more about King than the past-his-prime Riggs, but the script by Simon Beaufoy, as directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, takes pains to show each character’s harsh isolation and crippling doubts leading up to the match.

Emma Stone and Steve Carell star in a scene from the movie “Battle of the Sexes.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. (CNS/Twentieth Century Fox)

King, married to the bland Larry (Austin Stowell), copes with her realization that she’s attracted to hairdresser Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough) despite the scandal and loss of income that would have meant then. Cut off from equal prize money by the all-male gatekeepers of the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association, she seeks equal pay for women on the small Virginia Slims tour. (A cigarette sponsoring tennis? Welcome to the ’70s!)

Riggs, trapped in a corporate job and a loveless marriage to wealthy socialite Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue) and unsuccessfully struggling with a gambling addiction, is desperately trying to make himself relevant in a sport in which he’d excelled decades before, but he has to settle for hustler stunts such as filling the tennis court with livestock.

He finally sees a lucrative opportunity, the chronic gambler’s vision of the ultimate payoff, by promoting himself as the ultimate male chauvinist pig who takes on women to “prove” male superiority in tennis and other matters.

Riggs isn’t entirely serious, but most of professional tennis, which has long spurned his clowning, is on his side, and he knows it all makes for good TV.

King’s other major rival is Australian Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee), the only player on the women’s tour with a child, and suspicious of King’s sexuality. “That’s what happens on an all-women’s team,” Court tells husband Barry (James Mackay). “Licentiousness, immorality, sin.”

Well, not in this movie, no. Stone makes King both conflicted and a little prim, and Larry, who knows the score and also Billie Jean’s ultimate fixation only on her game, eventually lectures Marilyn with, “I’m her husband and we’re just both a phase.”

Real life is never this neat, of course, but the plot necessarily churns toward the big showdown with all the formula and backstage clichés this requires.

Riggs first takes on Court, and manages to break her confidence as he defeats her before the match with King that drew 90 million TV viewers. King, however, is one tough cookie who polishes her skills while Riggs gulps vitamins and fails to train.

The film contains references to aberrant sexuality and fleeting profanities. 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.

 Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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Ecumenical dialogue: Steps of development

September 29th, 2017 Posted in Uncategorized Tags: ,

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Catholic News Service

Martin Luther’s Reformation may be the only ongoing 500-year-old argument on earth.

The theological split inevitably looks to be permanent. Yet, reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants has taken place, in small steps, beginning in the years after World War II, accelerating with the Second Vatican Council, and culminating with 1999’s Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, which asserted “a common understanding of our justification by God’s grace through faith in Christ.” Read more »

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Starting ministries takes creativity, finding untapped niches and creating community

September 11th, 2017 Posted in Uncategorized

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Catholic News Service

Methods of evangelization often call for creativity and thinking outside of the box. It doesn’t get more simply efficient and memorable than the Catholic Beer Club (www.catholicbeerclub.com).

That wasn’t what Derek Hough and three of his friends quite had in mind when they came up with the idea as students at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, in 2013. Read more »

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Sen. Feinstein questions Catholic judicial nominee: ‘Dogma lives loudly within you’ — Updated

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, spurred outrage about possible religious tests for judicial appointees when she questioned a Catholic judicial nominee Sept. 6 about what impact her faith would have on her interpretation of the law.

Reaction from Catholic leaders to the hearing for Amy Coney Barrett, nominee for a seat on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. was swift, with a leading archbishop calling the Senate hearing “deeply disappointing.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, is seen in Washington Sept. 7. (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

In the hearing, Feinstein not only referred to Barrett’s speeches in the committee hearing, but also to a 1998 article by Barrett, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, about the role of Catholic judges in death penalty cases.

The Marquette Law Review article, co-authored by John H. Garvey, who is now president of The Catholic University of America, concluded that although Catholic judges opposed to the death penalty could always simply recuse themselves under federal law, “litigants and the general public are entitled to impartial justice, which may be something a judge who is heedful of ecclesiastical pronouncements cannot dispense.”

Feinstein did not question Barrett about capital punishment cases, but rather the upholding of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that made abortion legal.

“When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you. And, that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for for years in this country.”

Barrett addressed this issue early in the hearing, answering a question from Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, by saying: “It is never appropriate for a judge to apply their personal convictions, whether it derives from faith or personal conviction.”

Richard Garnett, also a University of Notre Dame law professor, said Feinstein’s line of questioning seemed to say “because you’re a Catholic, you can’t be believed.”

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, said the hearing was “deeply disappointing” since a number of senators failed to “simply consider the professional achievements of a nominee for the federal judiciary” and instead “challenged her fitness to serve due to her Catholic faith.”

In a Sept. 8 statement, the archbishop said the line of questioning Barrett received was “contrary to our Constitution and our best national traditions, which protect the free exercise of one’s faith and reject religious tests for public office, they are offensive to basic human rights.”

Garvey was among the first to respond in print to the hearing.

“I never thought I’d see the day when a coalition of left-wing groups attacked a Republican judicial nominee for opposing the death penalty,” he wrote in a Sept. 7 opinion article for the Washington Examiner.

“Catholic judges are not alone in facing such dilemmas. An observant Quaker would have the same problem. And I like to think that any federal judge would have had moral objections to enforcing the fugitive slave laws Congress passed before the Civil War.”

Garvey and others accused Feinstein of echoing talking points from The Alliance for Justice, a liberal advocacy group that has prepared reports on all of Trump’s judicial nominees.

The Alliance report on Barrett said she “has avoided definitive public statements on Roe v. Wade” but added, referring to the 1998 article as well as other “positions and philosophies,” that she held “the astonishing view that judges should place their religious beliefs ahead of the Constitution when carrying out their duties.”

“Barrett (and I) said no such thing,” Garvey wrote. “We said precisely the opposite.”

“I suspect what really troubled (the senators) is that, as a Catholic, her pro-life views might extend beyond criminal defendants to the unborn. If true, the focus on our law review article is all the more puzzling. After all, our point was that judges should respect the law, even laws they disagree with. And if they can’t enforce them, they should recuse themselves.”

The report also criticizes Barrett for signing a letter, produced by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, that criticized the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate as “morally obtuse.”

Eric Rassbach, the Becket Fund’s deputy general counsel, issued a statement in response: “It’s not something you could sue her over, but Sen. Feinstein would break her oath to defend the Constitution, including the part about no religious tests, if she were to vote against Barrett because of her Catholic religious beliefs.”

Sen. Dick Durbin, D- Illinois, a Georgetown University graduate, added fuel to the fire when, after calling himself “the product of 19 years of Catholic education,” he brought up the use of the term “orthodox Catholic” in Barrett’s law review article. He asked Barrett to define the term and to say if she considered herself an “orthodox” Catholic.

Barrett explained that in the context of the article, the term was “a proxy” for Catholic believers, but she didn’t think it was a term in current use.

She added, “If you’re asking whether I take my faith seriously and am a faithful Catholic, I am. Although I would stress that my present church affiliation or my religious beliefs would not bear in the discharge of my duties as a judge.”

Durbin responded, “I happen to think Pope Francis is a pretty good Catholic.”

“I agree with you,” Barrett responded, smiling.

Archbishop Lori said the questions to Barrett “sadly, harken back to a time in our country when anti-Catholic bigotry did distort our laws and civil order.”

He wondered if the senators’ questions were meant “as a warning shot” for future law students and attorneys not to discuss their faith in a public forum at a time when “we should be encouraging faithful, ethical attorneys to serve in public office, not discouraging them by subjecting them to inappropriate, unnecessary interrogation based on their religious beliefs.”

Meanwhile, Holy Cross Father John I. Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, sent a letter to Feinstein Sept. 9 expressing “my confidence in her competence and character, and deep concern for your line of questioning.

He challenged Feinstein’s stated concern that “dogma lives loudly in (Professor Barrett)” when it pertains to “big issues that large numbers of people have fought for years in this country.” He wrote that “dogma lives loudly” in his heart as well as “in the lives of many Americans, some of whom have given their lives in service to this nation.” He said dogma guided the country’s founders, who believed citizens should practice “their faith freely and without apology.”

“Professor Barrett has made it clear that she would ‘follow unflinchingly’ all legal precedent and, in rare cases in which her conscience would not allow her to do so, she would recuse herself. I can assure that she is a person of integrity who acts in accord with the principles she articulates,” the letter said.

Christopher L. Eisgruber, president of Princeton University, also expressed concern with the line of questioning during Barrett’s hearing.

He wrote in a letter to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary Sept. 8 that he was committed to free speech and that he felt that Barrett’s willingness to write “candidly and intelligently about difficult and sensitive ethical questions” makes her an even stronger candidate for the bench.

Archbishop Lori said the questions to Barrett “sadly, harken back to a time in our country when anti-Catholic bigotry did distort our laws and civil order.”

He wondered if the senators’ questions were meant “as a warning shot” for future law students and attorneys not to discuss their faith in a public forum at a time when “we should be encouraging faithful, ethical attorneys to serve in public office, not discouraging them by subjecting them to inappropriate, unnecessary interrogation based on their religious beliefs.”

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Catholic group presses Trump to end contraceptive mandate

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Frustrated by federal court inaction and the Department of Justice blocking the way, the Catholic Benefits Association has called on President Trump to intervene directly in the legal battle over the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate.

“This is a problem that’s easily remedied,” Douglas C. Wilson, CBA’s chief executive officer, told Catholic News Service. “It was created by Obama’s regulatory administration and it can be undone by the Trump administration just as easily.”

President Donald Trump prepares to sign his Executive Order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty during the National Day of Prayer event at the White House in Washington May 4. (CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters)

In an Aug. 18 letter, Wilson asked the Trump administration, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice to stop defending the mandate in court and agree to a permanent injunction protecting the plaintiffs in all cases. The letter also urged the White House to adopt, unchanged, a proposed HHS regulation, submitted in May, to exempt employers with conscientious objections from having to comply with such mandates.

The mandate requires employers to provide coverage for contraception and abortifacients, opposed by Catholic moral teaching, under penalty of fines.

Wilson said he has not yet received anything other than a pro forma White House acknowledgement of the letter.

Asked about it during an Aug. 24 news conference, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded, “I’m not sure if (Trump is) aware of the complaints or any specific places where that’s being ignored.”

On May 4, Trump, in a Rose Garden ceremony, announced an executive order, “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty.”

“Your long ordeal will soon be over,” he announced to religious groups that included the Little Sisters of the Poor, whose Supreme Court victory in 2016 was widely considered the beginning of the end of the contraception mandate. “We are ending the attacks on your religious freedom.”

The CBA, based in Castle Rock, Colorado, and representing more than 1,000 Catholic health care providers, has been the largest single plaintiff challenging the mandate. The association first sued HHS in March 2014. CBA members “are facing $6 billion in accumulated penalties should this fail to be resolved,” Wilson said.

In July, the CBA filed a motion with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver asking for affirmation of its 2014 injunction blocking implementation of the mandate. But on July 31, Justice Department lawyers opposed the motion and asked that the appeal be kept alive.

“They cited only some unspecified efforts to reach a regulatory resolution outside of the judicial process, but we have no guarantee that such a resolution will be either timely or sufficient,” Wilson’s letter argued.

HHS Secretary Tom Price “believes that the Little Sisters, 80 Catholic bishops, and hundreds of other religious employers should win their lawsuits. The president likewise has promised the religious employers victory. But for whatever reason, the Justice Department keeps defending Obama’s contraception mandate in court,” Eric Kniffin, a CBA lawyer said.

Wilson added, “It seems that this issue never crosses the finish line.”

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‘The Glass Castle’ —From Jeannette with love and squalor

August 11th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Anyone who’s endured the ignominy of grinding poverty with an alcoholic, out-of- work parent understands that there’s nothing ennobling about the experience.

Naomi Watts and Woody Harrelson star in a scene from the movie "The Glass Castle." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults.  (CNS/Lionsgate)

Naomi Watts and Woody Harrelson star in a scene from the movie “The Glass Castle.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS/Lionsgate)

It’s something to endure, to escape if one can, and it leaves deep psychic scars for which later wealth is weak compensation. It’s not an experience to be sentimentalized.

For all its bitterness toward the Catholic Church, Frank McCourt’s childhood memoir “Angela’s Ashes,” in both book and film, got that much right. But “The Glass Castle,” the screen version of Jeannette Walls’ 2005 account of her impoverished youth, tries to put a cheery gloss on everything, as if all the excruciating history was somehow not as bad as it seemed at the time.

Jeannette, at age 3, is grotesquely burned when her clothing catches fire from a gas stove. This is portrayed as a character-builder rather than child neglect.

Walls’ memoir was unsparing with her indignities. They included having to use a ditch as a toilet, the constant presence of rats, and a racist paternal grandmother who molested her brother.

Director Destin Daniel Cretton, who co-wrote the screenplay with Andrew Lanham, avoids all the most wretched material, however, to invoke some kind of rosy Appalachian glow. As if a Christmastime snowfall makes everything so much better because it temporarily covers up the squalor.

Walls (Ella Anderson, mostly, as a child; Brie Larson from high school on) was one of four children of Rex (Woody Harrelson), a wannabe engineer with almost no formal schooling, and Rose Mary (Naomi Watts), a failed artist who never sold a painting.

Like one of playwright Eugene O’Neill’s dreamers, Rex is constantly designing a house for them (the glass castle of the title). But as a result of his boozing, he achieves none of his dreams. He and Rose Mary, though, manage to imbue all their children with vivid imaginations and lots of children’s literature so they can keep reality at bay.

After a peripatetic existence one step ahead of the law and bill collectors, the family ends up in Welch, W.Va., where Rex had grown up. It’s a rock bottom of several magnitudes. But somehow the children are educated, even when they’ve not eaten for several days. Rex’s only stable job is as a coal miner, but that doesn’t last for long.

Rex is sometimes violent. In reality, that’s always bad. In this film, though, it becomes just another of his quirks, and the father-daughter bond never breaks, even when his homespun “wisdom” sounds like something out of a phony Farmer’s Almanac.

Jeannette, with a ferocious love of writing, eventually becomes a famous celebrity gossip columnist in New York City. But even there her parents turn up, homeless and squatting in an abandoned building on the Upper East Side. She feels the need to keep her previous life secret when she becomes engaged to nebbishy David (Max Greenfield), although both she and her siblings do occasionally meet their parents for dinner.

This becomes the central conflict of the story: How does Jeannette deal with an invented reality for herself that omits her childhood poverty and her somewhat hopeless folks? When does she finally incorporate her past into her present?

That’s typically good stuff in either a drama or comedy. Here, though, it just drags on and on, which is typically the problem in a biopic in which nearly all the characters are very much alive and story lines are quietly sanitized.

There are no moral forces at work here. There’s only the feral ability to survive, as well as a depiction of poverty that’s as dishonest and delusional as Jeannette’s father.

The film contains a brief scene of implied child sexual abuse, physical violence and fleeting profanities and rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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‘Kidnap’ presents a long drive in a careening minivan

August 3rd, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

The compact thriller “Kidnap” has Halle Berry’s expressive face going for it, but not a whole lot else. The film is less a story about a mother’s enduring love and sacrifice for her young son than it is a long drive in an amazingly durable minivan.

Sage Correa and Halle Berry star in a scene from the movie "Kidnap." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. . (CNS/Aviron Pictures)

Sage Correa and Halle Berry star in a scene from the movie “Kidnap.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. . (CNS/Aviron Pictures)

Berry is Karla, a divorced waitress who’s mom to 6-year-old Frankie (Sage Correa). She’s about to get into a custody battle with her ex-husband when Frankie is abducted from a park by two cretinous goons, Margo and Terry (Chris McGinn and Lew Temple).

For what purpose Frankie has been snatched is a bit murky. Police in New Orleans issue an Amber Alert, but Karla takes off in pursuit, managing to keep the kidnappers always in view while speeding down highways, occasionally knocking aside bystanders and the odd police officer like so many bowling pins.

Director Luis Prieto and screenwriter Knate Lee have no interest in character development and motivation. There’s a mother and child, the kid is taken, Mama reverts to primeval maternal-warrior instinct, and the race is on.

Karla has a few interactions with the kidnappers, who are adept at lying about whether they’ll take her money instead of her son.

“Wherever you go, I will be right behind you, no matter what,” she vows. Ah. Got it. And so she is, although her chase, when it’s not veering into melodrama, often includes unintentional comedic moments meant to induce audience cheering.

The film contains gun and physical violence, considerable vehicular mayhem as well as profanity and rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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