Category Archives: heroic virtue

“Humankind cannot bear very much reality” Frank Redman’s ELIJAH

I don’t know exactly where to begin this review, which angle to take. I’m reeling. My wife and teenager have been commending Frank Redman‘s  ELIJAH: A SUSPENSE NOVEL to me for weeks now, and I finally read it. In short, I can say it was amazing, entertaining, chilling, and a punch in the gut in ways for which I was not prepared.  Apparently, I am not alone in this regard.  My wife remarked to me that with the internet’s instant access to so much information, when one writes about a book, a review is not sufficient.  Rather, an encounter would better describe it, where one meets the author, reads the background and influences, and embraces the story and its characters.  It certainly is true for our experience with Frank Redman and ELIJAH.

Frank Redman is a brand new author, whose own journey in the writing profession sounds like something out of a movie.  It’s his debut book, so I was thinking it might be something like early C.S. Lewis with a few twists in the manner of Dean Koontz, but it’s that and more.

By the time I got to the end of ELIJAH, I’d say it’s better than the early C.S. Lewis. This story has the mystique, chilling suspense, and humor of a Christian “Twin Peaks” or a more tightly written THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH.   It takes you into levels of evil that many of us would rather not know at all, but far too many people actually live through. Many writers depict such evil and either glorify it or give it a worldly punishment, but few provide a sense of hope that there is something better, that victims can still find happiness and holiness. Frank Redman is one of those few writers, and ELIJAH  is a book with a message that needs to be read.

St. Augustine says a work of perfect logic may be true but if it’s boring to read, it won’t do any good, and people are more willing to read and believe something that’s eloquent. The same is true of literature and movies: it doesn’t matter how true it is or how artistically “well crafted” it is. If it doesn’t draw people in, nobody will read it. HAMLET may have psychological and moral depth, but it’s basically a story about murder, ghosts and revenge.   ELIJAH has it all.  It immediately drew me in with the supernatural and suspense, has great depth in the character’s dealings with his horrid past, as well as fantastically funny insights with well-crafted characters who open your eyes to the devastating horrors that are hidden in daily life.   The reality of evil is tangible, but it’s tempered with hope and perseverance.


At times, the story of an author can sometimes be as compelling as the book the author wrote. This can be an advantage in attracting readers, as it is what led us to Frank Redman and ELIJAH. My wife and I both became Dean Koontz fans a little over a year ago. She noticed that Koontz has referred a few times to his friend Frank Redman (he dedicated SAINT ODD to him and said Frank’s struggle with brain cancer inspired ASHLEY BELL).

This book is dedicated to Frank Redman, who has more than once reminded me of Odd Thomas

Through a series of events that I’ll leave Frank Redman to tell, he began a mentorship with Dean Koontz.  Koontz had read some of his writing, saw potential, and agreed to mentor Frank. Then, on the same day that I had my descending aorta surgery, Frank was diagnosed with an extremely rare and extremely lethal brain cancer–most people diagnosed with it are only diagnosed with it posthumously, and if they are diagnosed while alive, they die in days or weeks. Frank is still alive nearly 4 years later.  So, with a sense of urgency, I set aside the few dozen “in progress” books I’ve been working on reading for years to read ELIJAH, reading late into the night, and enjoying it more and more with each swipe of the screen.


People don’t want to acknowledge the reality or enormity of Evil in the world.  It’s often hidden, and when it’s revealed, it can be nauseating, horrifying, and seemingly unfathomable.  The desire to stick one’s head in the sand is understandable, but unadvised.  Even less do people want to acknowledge the reality and enormity of God’s grace.  Redman’s ELIJAH addresses both supernatural phenomenon and their implications in our reality, in an engaging, fast-paced, thriller that will leave you reeling and pondering for weeks.

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From the First Epistle of St. Clement of Rome to the Corinthians:
<blockquote>Let our whole body, then, be preserved in, Christ Jesus; and let every one be subject to his neighbour, according to the special gift bestowed upon him. Let the strong not despise the weak, and let the weak show respect unto the strong. Let the rich man provide for the wants of the poor; and let the poor man bless God, because He hath given him one by whom his need may be supplied. Let the wise man display his wisdom, not by [mere] words, but through good deeds. Let the humble not bear testimony to himself, but leave witness to be borne to him by another. Let him that is pure in the flesh not grow proud of it, and boast, knowing that it was another who bestowed on him the gift of continence. Let us consider, then, brethren, of what matter we were made, who and what manner of beings we came into the world, as it were out of a sepulchre, and from utter darkness. He who made us and fashioned us, having prepared His bountiful gifts for us before we were born, introduced us into His world. Since, therefore, we receive all these things from Him, we ought for everything to give Him thanks; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.</blockquote>

Yes! Here, at last, is my understanding of Suffering

For the past couple days, I’ve been listening to the audiobook of Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, OCD’s Practice of the Presence of God.

A forerunner of St. Therese’s Little Way, whose short collection of letters is often identified as a perfect example of Discalced Carmelite spirituality, Br. Lawrence has never been able to be elevated to the altar even as a Servant of God because we know so little of his life.  Like Thomas a Kempis, and the housewife in C. S. Lewis’s Great Divorce, I think his obscurity even in the eyes of the Church is ironically a sign of his great Sanctity.  Br. Lawrence’s 11th letter summarizes exactly my view on the meaning of illness, and what I pray for when asked to pray for someone who is ill:

Eleventh Letter: I do not pray that you may be delivered from your pains; but I pray earnestly that God gives you strength and patience to bear them as long as He pleases. Comfort yourself with Him who holds you fastened to the cross. He will loose you when He thinks fit. Happy are those who suffer with Him. Accustom yourself to suffer in that manner, and seek from Him the strength to endure as much, and as long, as He judges necessary for you.
Worldly people do not comprehend these truths. It is not surprising though, since they suffer like what they are and not like Christians. They see sickness as a pain against nature and not as a favor from God. Seeing it only in that light, they find nothing in it but grief and distress. But those who consider sickness as coming from the hand of God, out of His mercy and as the means He uses for their salvation, commonly find sweetness and consolation in it.
I pray that you see that God is often nearer to us and present within us in sickness than in health. Do not rely completely on another physician because He reserves your cure to Himself. Put all your trust in God. You will soon find the effects in your recovery, which we often delay by putting greater faith in medicine than in God. Whatever remedies you use, they will succeed only so far as He permits. When pains come from God, only He can ultimately cure them. He often sends sickness to the body to cure diseases of the soul. Comfort yourself with the Sovereign Physician of both soul and body.
I expect you will say that I am very much at ease, and that I eat and drink at the table of the Lord. You have reason. But think how painful it would be to the greatest criminal in the world to eat at the king’s table and be served by him, yet have no assurance of pardon? I believe he would feel an anxiety that nothing could calm except his trust in the goodness of his sovereign. So I assure you, that whatever pleasures I taste at the table of my King, my sins, ever present before my eyes, as well as the uncertainty of my pardon, torment me. Though I accept that torment as something pleasing to God.
Be satisfied with the condition in which God places you. However happy you may think me, I envy you. Pain and suffering would be a paradise to me, if I could suffer with my God. The greatest pleasures would be hell if I relished them without Him. My only consolation would be to suffer something for His sake.
I must, in a little time, go to God. What comforts me in this life is that I now see Him by faith. I see Him in such a manner that I sometimes say, I believe no more, but I see. I feel what faith teaches us, and, in that assurance and that practice of faith, I live and die with Him.
Stay with God always for He is the only support and comfort for your affliction. I shall beseech Him to be with you. I present my service.

“Just believe in yourself”

“God just wants me to be happy,” says the contemporary Christian singer about her divorce and remarriage.

“Believe in yourself,” says the new age guru.

“The real Bruce Jenner,” say the headlines.

“Born that way,” says Lady Gaga.

Apparently, Jesus says “Affirm yourself, put down your cross, and follow your heart”?

Oh, no, wait.  That was, “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me.”

“but, Daddy, at school they said, . . .”: Why I homeschool

A few years ago, we tried brick and mortar.  We had our girls in a pretty good Catholic school and our son in a pretty good public school.  At Christmas that year (kindergarten), he started talking about the (alleged) religious symbolism of the candy cane.  We asked if he’s heard it at CCD, Lord’s Brigade, or on EWTN.  He said, “No.  From [my teacher].”  Indeed, our town’s general homeschool community, which my wife follows on Facebook to keep up with events, Is largely made up of secularists who find the local public schools too religious!”

But, still, even if you set aside questions of the moral and psychological dangers, bullying, peer pressure, subversive agendas, disputes about curriculum or teaching models, ability of the school to accommodate learning or physical disabilities, and so forth, those  two years, and the continuing aftermath, have highlighted a dilemma that troubled me my whole life.

My children’s generous uncles and aunts, starting with the Wii that I expected to be a one-time capitulation, have given them a steady stream of video game systems, so each of them now has at least one DS-whatever, and they’re constantly talking about the next thing they want.  I recall when I was laying in the hospital two years ago, watching my daughter play her DS, and thinking–whether I was actually hearing this or hallucinating, I may never know–the nurses, the hospital patieht rep, and others complaining about my kids having so many video games when we always say we’re struggling financially.  We are, and we’ve purchased very few of the games they have, and of course games have horrible resale value.  The point is that they’ve been roped into a materialistic cycle I’d always wanted to avoid.

My son’s hand me down DS broke over Thanksgiving.  His uncle sent him a hand me down Of what .i thought was the latest middle for first communion.  

Today, I took the kids to the park to fly a kite we bought at a dollar store.  We were having a good, old fashioned, inexpensive, fun time, but while I assembled the kite, I heard him talking about how he wants to save up for the latest model, which apparently is literally the “new 3DSXL.”  Within what I thought was reasonable for his fragile psyche, I lost it a bit and got a bit preachy.  We had a moment, hugged it out, but when I tried to talk about living in the moment, he said how at school they always talked about preparing for the future and planning for emergencies.  In his mind, having a second DS in case one breaks qualified as an emergency.   I’d been enjoying those 6 months when he carried around a box of Legos.

But how do you teach your child to be humble, to have poverty of spirit, to put others first, etc., when schools, and ironically Catholic schools especially, teach pride, ambition, and competitiveness?

The Jesuits have always been controversial for their accommodation of local cultures, and for their frequent interference in politics,  but I do not understand how an Order which rarely produces bishops or cardinals and has taken 500 years to produce a Pope because it teaches against pursuing advancement has contributed so much to the competitive approach to education we find in modernity.

When a dress code is not just about teaching modesty and obedience but wearing a “blue blazer with brass buttons,” is that teaching children to follow the examples of John the Baptist, Martin of Tours, Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola, or Pier Giorgio?  Even the Monarchs who’ve been canonized generally dressed below their stations.  

When a school advertises its “high academic standards,” makes students compete for titles like “valedictorian” even to the point of destroying friendships, gives awards for “perfect attendance,” etc., his is that teaching children to live the Beatitudes?   Help that homeless person you pass on the way to school, get a few minutes late, lose perfect attendance and lost the edge on being “#1.”  Besides, helping the homeless is dangerous, might be illegal, and you need to direct them to proper charities.  Is that a message that teaches kids to be Saints..

I know I could do a lot better as a parent, but I also know that what Ai consider better is the opposite of the World.

That’s why I homeschool.

On Riots, Racism, and Standardized Testing: All you need is Love, and that means Christ

Our nation is in turmoil.  Everything distopian novelists and “crazy conspiracy theorists” have written about seems to be coming true.  Early in the Obama administration, for example, people said he’d create a national crisis to declare Martial Law and establish a dictatorship.  Well, the tensions are arising, and Obama  established aprogram under everyone’s noses to begin nationalizing local police forces.  Major cities keep erupting in race riots.  The Supreme Court is likely to overturn every state law on marriage and establish yet another fictious constitutional “Right.” Some people are being driven out of business for expressing thir Christian beliefs while other businesses are denying Christians their services.   Hillary Clinton says if (and when) she’s “elected” President, she wants to force all religions to accept abortion.

All of it just shows society’ need for Christ.   

Attempts to “fix” broken schools with more money and more legislative interference for 50-60 years have only made things worse.  All we have is a “race to nowhere” with high stakes standardized tests that demonstrate nothing about real learning, line the pockets of educational conglomerates, and cause students to burn out, or worse, from the stress.  When I was in elementary school, the teachers would say, discussing the differences between the US and Communist countries, taht Communists made students take tests that determined their entire lives.  When I was a young adult, a teacher friend went through a few years where a faculty member had a heart attack or stroke during standardized testing, because it was so stressful.  

We can’t fix something unless we know why it’s broken, and what’s broken is a lack of transcendent values.   
If the reason people riot is lack of advantage, or discrimination by police, what is served by looting or burning small businesses and charities?  One of the reasons the July 1832 revolt that Hugo immortalized failed was that most of “the people” were mad at the students for stealing their stuff.  But, at least they knew whom they were revolting against (a just, Catholic king who was popular for giving he people more rights than the “Republic” or Napoleon) and why (they believed that secular government could and should end poverty). I saw a meme pointing out how people riot over sports games, and implying that race riots at least have a point.  The way I see it, it’s equally meaningless: unbridled anger, expressed in random violence.  If revolution is ever effective or just–and the Church has always been wary of revolution, even in the case of the Cristeros–it needs to be focused on the right enemy.  

I often refer to Catechism 676, the passage that tells us to beware of any movement that claims to try and solve all the world’s problems through  secular means because that is the “spirit of Antichrist.”  This was the reason the Church condemned Freemasonry.  It’s what Pope Benedict XVI expounded on in _Caritas in Veritate_, saying taht charity must be from love and truth, both of which are personfied in Christ, and that since the Church is the arbiter of Christ’s teachings and the Natural Law, economic justice cannot be divorced from the Church.

Prayer, fasting and forgiveness are the only solutions to these crises.  The more we abandon Christ as a society, the worse thigns will get.  If as 1 Samuel warns us, we choose a “King” over God, the warnings Samuel gave to the Israelites will continue to be proven. 

Cindee-relly

Having discussed people’s criticisms of the recent “revisionist” trends in Disney movies, and how they are celebrating Branagh’s Cinderella for a fairly straight-up remake of the classic Disney animated version, I’d like to express my agreement with “catholic All Year” that _Cinderella_ is probably the best movie I’ve seen since _Les Miserables_.

When I was in graduate school, in my Shakespeare course, we had a unit on “Shakespeare in film,” and one of the things we did was compare the Olivier and Branagh versions of _Henry V_. The professor talked about Branagh’s use of cinematic allusions. She showed us Branagh’s version of Act I, scene 2 and said how it’s an homage to a scene in _Citizen Kane_. She asked us to see if we could catch any other references. I’d seen the film many times before, but I never thought of it till she asked. As soon as the black figure of Henry’s silhouette entered, his cape flowing around him, and he began stalking through the line of soldiers, with Patrick Doyle’s score dramatically thumping, I raised my hand. The professor paused the video, and I said, “Darth Vader!”
Thus, I was pleased to catch at least one self-reference, besides the presence of Derek Jacobi as the king and Doyle as the composer. Without giving away spoilers, it’s in the climax.

Then there are the fairy tale archetypes. Surprisingly, Branagh cuts out the Three tasks, a motif dating back to the Cupid and Psyche archetype from which most European princess fairy tales derive. However, he introduces the hunt for a stag, a common motif in many stories, using it as an opportunity for the characters to meet before the ball. They actually have a sincere conversation, and their love is based on something more than superficial attraction but rather shared values.

This Cinderella is not the animated version, flying to a man for escape–indeed, she’s happy to return to her life of slavery just to know she has a friend. She’s not Rapunzel, falling head over heels for the first man she meets. She’s more like the animated Aurora–indeed, it’s a very similar scene–having a brief but meaningful conversation.

Another element the folklorist in me liked was the part derived from “Beauty and the Beast”–Ella’s request to her father when he leaves on his last business trip.

As far as fitting with 21st century sensibilities while remaining fairly traditional (or, as I noted in my previous post, returning somewhat to what real fairy tales are like), the film does make Lady Tremaine a more sympathetic figure without going all-out _Maleficent_. There is a slight disjoint, though, in the final act. We see her pain watching her new husband ignore her, favoring his daughter over her and even agreeing with his daughter that her stepmother and stepsisters are “trying.” She tells Cinderella how she herself married for love, had her heart broken, and then married for money and lost that. She never really explains, though, why she’s quite so antagonistic to Ella. They say that a well-written and acted villain is the hero of his or her own story. This was supposedly the goal of _Maleficent_, and while it was nice that they kept her evil, one of the film’s few real flaws was *not* falling into “cookie cutter” mode. In general, the characters’ motivations are better developed.

The other element of the film that plays on post-_Shrek_ approaches is the repeated use of the adjective “charming.”
It was fun picking out the who’s-who of Disney movies, Branagh movies and/or movie musicals.

Perhaps the best part of all, though, is how the feminists are ticked off by the film. That alone was reason to pay to see it.
Some are criticizing how “unrealistically thin” her waist is, and how it’s obviously modified with CGI (I think the actual movie is a bit wider than some of the promotional images or trailers).
Cinderella Poster
But you know what else is unrealistic? Anthropomorphic mice and fairy godmothers. Depictions of women’s bodies are a matter for another discussion, but think about this: 

 

 Meanwhile, in the context of the film, I’d say her waist is fine; it’s the rest of her that doesn’t make sense. She’s doing an entire household of manual labor 16+ hours a day, sleeping either in the attic or on the floor in front of the fireplace. She’s fed table scraps and shares them with her mice friends (she is apparently a bit nutty, a trait shared by all our shut-in princesses). She *should* be completely emaciated.
Of course, to the “progressives,” it’s not just her appearance but her behavior they find revolting: she offers up her suffering. She follows her mother’ dying advice to “have courage and be kind.” Normally, I would be suspicious of “kindness” as the standard for virtue, but her understanding of kindness is far more like the virtue of caritas. She understands, like C. S. Lewis’s presentation of Psyche, the Christian values of humility and self-sacrifice. Those who love the philosophy of “no right, no wrong, no rules,” who agree with Satan’s “non serviam,” find Mary’s “fiat mihi” repulsive and oppressive. Christianity is seen as a tool of “oppression” by those who say, with Milton’s Beelzebub, “Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven.” Yet the lie, as Elsa realizes in _Frozen_, is that no one really reigns in Hell–one either becomes a slave, or imprisoned in frozen isolation.
“The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” “Though He was in the form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. . . . ” In the Orwellian society we live in, these teachings are condemned as “evil.” Whether either the writer-director or his character are aware, Cinderella epitomizes Christlike behavior, and this is why those who celebrate _Maleficent_ hate _Cinderella_, and vice versa.

If I were to suggest one thing to movie studios about remakes and adaptations, it would be to have Shakespearians write and/or direct them. The amazing thing about Shakespeare is how open to interpretation his characters are, and Shakespeare adaptations often tell very different stories from the same texts just by switching or deleting certain lines, and by how the characters are acted.