Sunday, September 8, 2013

Put The Lord First and Everything Becomes Better!

Before Mass this morning, I read today's Gospel reading: which comes from Luke 14. Jesus says this:

If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

I also read that in Jesus' day the word "hate" can be used as a hyperbole to simply mean "to love more than."

Later, sitting in my pew waiting for Mass to begin, I thought about this... (Well, perhaps it was the Holy Spirit who suggested it.)

~If you love God more than your family, you can love your family better than if you loved them more than God.

I have found this to be true. When I put God first in my life, I am able to love my family with more purity and more selflessness. And it feels wonderful!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The bad guys aren’t the only ones who need redemption. We all do.

The title of today's post is a quote by our guest blogger, Declan Finn. Check out his novel,
Codename: Winterborn, available in paperback and on Kindle.

After a small nuclear war in 2090, a third of the world is in ruins, along with the Western half of the United States. Three years later, spy Kevin Anderson and his team are sent to find the nuclear arsenal of the Islamic Republic of France. When his team is betrayed by the politicians who sent them, Kevin is out for blood. Hunted by an army, Kevin must kill the Senators before the next team is sent to their deaths. Without resources, or support, it's almost certainly a suicide mission. But Kevin will gladly make this sacrifice, for his codename is Winterborn.

And now, I give you Declan Finn:

Writing the Catholic “Revenge Novel”

How do you write a Catholic “revenge novel”?  Heck, how do you write a Catholic thriller that doubles as a science fiction novel, including the requisite dystopia?

To full answer the latter question would involve spoilers, so if you’d like the answer, you’d have to read my science fiction novel Codename: Winterborn, which has all of the above elements, as well as a sequence that involves Catholic missionaries riding to the rescue.

First, let’s look at the standard revenge novel. Take someone who has an abundance of combat skills, and then promptly kill off a girlfriend / boyfriend / spouse/ fiancĂ©(e) / best friend / random family member. After that, you have said person go on a murderous rampage, and (usually) a person of the opposite sex to replace the person killed off in chapter two.  This is a pretty standard plot, filled with the usual clichĂ©s.

However, last time I checked, there is no such thing as revenge in Catholic doctrine. At least, not the last time I read the Baltimore Catechism (okay, it may have been more of a scan than a reading). Killing people just to make you feel better isn’t justifiable.  Catholics forgive our enemies and move on, even if our every instinct is to rearrange their dental work with a hammer.

Then again, there is an argument that can be made in Catholicism – via the natural law of Thomas Aquinas – for tyrannicide (killing a tyrant who needs killing).  You could take the example of suggesting that someone should shoot Saddam Hussein, and thus preventing a war, as well as preventing his routine slaughters.

In Codename: Winterborn, intelligence officer Kevin Anderson is sent on a mission to the Islamic Republic of France – yes, France – and his team is betrayed by the politicians on the Senate Intelligence Committee.  And just how do you arrest a senator in the United States? There has been more than sufficient evidence to arrest senators on everything from bribery and corruption to manslaughter, but no one leaves in disgrace, and if anything happens, they get a slap on the wrist. So, what’s a lone spy going to do against 14 senators who have betrayed their country, and who have not only killed his friends, but will probably kill others in the future?

Welcome to a new look at tyrannicide in a democracy – enforcing a new definition of term limits.

Morally ambiguous? Depends on how fine a line you walk. And how much fun you have pushing your main character. Most of my lead characters are highly detailed, and make choices that I don’t see coming. With Kevin Anderson, he has thought out his actions, and has come to the conclusion that the only way to protect the country is to fulfill his oath to defend against enemies both foreign and domestic – and these folks are very domestic.  Rational, reasoned, and his actions fit within his conscience.

Unfortunately, then you get to a sticking point – when does a righteous cause become entangled with a personal vendetta? All the reason in the world can’t separate a person from his own emotions for very long. What happens when Kevin Anderson starts to enjoy his work? Answer: his conscience gut-punches him and leaves him crying into his New England clam chowder (long story).

In short – the key to Catholic “revenge novels” is making it so that the protagonist isn’t an insane, vengeance-driven fruitcake. The lead must be thoughtful, and reasonable, and s/he should take great care that the actions taken aren’t driven solely by revenge. And should the lead fail on the latter, s/he should stand up, dust themselves off, repent, and try harder next time.  The bad guys aren’t the only ones who need redemption. We all do. If everyone could easily be perfect on their own, there would be no need for the crucifixion.

A final element to a “revenge novel” from a Catholic point of view – consequences. We are responsible for our actions, and our actions have consequences. And in the case of Codename: Winterborn, the consequences would spoil the plot.

And the Catholic missionaries in act three are another story.

Declan Finn


Monday, April 15, 2013

A Catholic Revenge Novel! - Guest Post by Declan Finn

Today I have a special treat for you. Author Declan Finn talks about writing his novel A Pius Man: A Holy Thriller. My favorite bit of his guest post is this: "I would write a thriller that was (a) thrilling, (b) factually accurate about the Catholic Church in the Holocaust."

Plus I admire his use of the words "modicum" and "vivisect" within a post containing an Incredible Hulk reference.  But, I'd better not give any more away. Read on!

-“Torquemada Lives!” Writing the “Catholic revenge” novel-

So many lies have been told about the Catholic Church over the years that the easiest way to get revenge on its behalf is to tell the truth.  Anyone with even a modicum of knowledge, who has read or seen a movie based off of Dan Brown’s work, knows that everything in them are lies, including “and” “but” and “is.” And there are “history” books out there that are so full of lies and half-truths, one could glean a better knowledge of history from a James Rollins techno-thriller.
And even though Dan Brown has prompted the writing of a dozen books explaining how and why he’s lying, these books haven’t reached as many people as the supposedly “thrilling” work of fiction.
In graduate school, I was a history major, and I did a paper on Pope Pius XII and his history during the holocaust—essentially: what did he do, what did he know, and when did he know it. I went through the standard procedure: primary documents (papers of the day), and secondary sources (books written later by people who weren't there at the time). Along the way, I came across non-historians, forgeries from convicted criminals, historians who had done jail time for slander, and deliberate liars
One of the most interesting things about this is that one side of the conflict doesn't acknowledge the other. One side takes the opposition's statements and theories, vivisects them with a scalpel, the end result looking like shredded wheat, and the second side acts as though there are no alternate theories, interpretations or evidence.
Anyway, by the time I was finished, it was fairly clear who was right. I had enough primary documents to reach those conclusions. I left motivations alone, because I wasn't going to break out my Ouija board to ask a dead pope what he was thinking at the time. The paper consisted of: “These are the actual events; to the best of our knowledge, this is what happened, and this is how the people reacted to it AT THE TIME.”
Then I came across a novel that used historical events as a background to the primary action. Premise … nothing new, really. Evil Nazi Catholic Church, blah blah, snore … "But, hmm, wait, I know that character's name. It's historical …" Skip to the back of the book to read the author's note. I had assumed that this author had read one side of the argument, and wrote another “evil Catholic Church” story based on that. But, no, I had read all of these books. The author had done his homework, and had completely and utterly screwed up the history. I could have taken it if he had just said “I'm writing fiction, not commenting on a historical debate.” But he took a side and even lied about facts that everyone agreed on.
People not only read this, they believed this. Most readers would have almost no intellectual background to separate the wheat from the chaff (seriously, how many people read about the religious and cultural activities of Europe in World War II?)
My reaction was somewhere akin to that of the eminent physicist and research scientist, Doctor Bruce Banner: Hulk smash.
Fine. Two could play at this game. If people got their history from entertainment, I would take up the strangest project ever imagined. I would write a thriller that was (a) thrilling, (b) factually accurate about the Catholic Church in the Holocaust.
Luckily for me, I've wanted to write for a living since I was sixteen. By the time I had started A Pius Man, I had more or less taught myself keyboarding, and had developed a mental habit of innovation out of the weirdest little things, and the ability to write for thirty hours straight.
I knew a few things from the outset.  The title was obvious to me, and I knew it had to be in Rome, at the Vatican.  It needed a conspiracy—what fiction with the Catholic church in it doesn't have some kind of deep dark conspiracy? (Answer: The Exorcist.) Who's behind it? Well, the standard options are the government, the Church, or intelligence agencies.... I came up with a fun combination of all three.
I threw in some characters I had lying around —the head of Vatican security, a secret service agent auditing security, a Mossad agent, and a wild card. And then toss in a menacing-looking Pope who is somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun, and he must be a Jesuit, because there aren’t that many priests in Opus Dei (seriously, 2% of Opus Dei are priests, making one a bad guy is unlikely).
At the end of the day, A Pius Man is a thriller, a war story, apologetics with bullets, a political techno thriller; there's a shootout down the Spanish Steps, in the Vatican, at an airport, and I slipped in enough history for a journal article. Oh, yeah, I have a love story in there too. Thankfully, I managed to tie the romance subplot into the overall story fairly easily. It even became critical to the book. How can two people falling in love save the world? Well, you'll have to read the book to find that out.
How do you write a novel that is, in essence, “Catholic revenge” on every last one of the liars out there who call themselves good writers? Simple: write an engaging story – in my case, an action novel that slips in facts between the gunshots.  I was lucky enough that the premise of A Pius Man easily lent itself to being made into a thriller. And I am enough of a Catholic nerd that I can slip in apologetics into casual conversation, so writing it into scenes was easy – did I mention my other bachelors degree was in Catholic philosophy?
The book
Declan Finn himself :)

Saturday, March 30, 2013

What Are We Made For?

Think on the Passion of Jesus. The Lord not only came in the flesh to teach us, but laid down his life for us. After he was unjustly condemned, he was beaten, crowned with sharp thorns that tore into his scalp, stripped of his clothing, paraded down the street carrying his own instrument of execution, before having nails pounded through his hands and feet to pin him to a cross. Think about it, the hands that cured people, both physically and spiritually. And His feet, the feet that carried Him as he taught and healed people.

Speaking of feet, think about the night before he died. He knew what was going to happen--how he'd suffer. Did he take the night off? Take some "me time"? No. He washed people's feet. Don't think of your pedicurist or massage therapist whom you tip, I hope. ;)  This was a job for servants or slaves because feet got super dirty back then.
At Holy Thursday Mass, they displayed a picture of this scene. I was struck, really struck, for the first time, by the real meaning of this act. Jesus as servant. The Lord God acting as a servant to humans. It's like the love and service of a parent to a child, but more so.

We are to imitate Christ. Be servants to one another. That's what we are made for.

Many people say, "I just want to be happy" or "I just want my children to be happy." It makes me wonder--"Happy in this world or in Heaven?"
Giotto di Bondone- "Cappella Scrovegni a Padova"

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Probably the Best Film about Jesus

My daughters and I watched The Miracle Maker: The Story of Jesus, a 2000 stop-motion animated film. I heard Steven Greydanus of Decent Films rave about it on the radio. Still, I expected a film that was good as a children's animated Bible story. However, It was amazing, both as a film worth watching by anyone, and as a gospel story. Within a couple of minutes I knew it was a drop-your-knitting-and-pay-full-attention type movie.

We watched a beautiful interaction between the adult Jesus and his mother, as well as a couple flashbacks of his birth and childhood. And we got to know the little girl whom Jesus brought back to life. A majority of the film is from her point of view. The filmmakers brought scripture to life by adding enough detail that the Gospel became three-dimensional.

I only wish they'd put in every Gospel story, but I guess they had to limit the movie length. But they really could have put Mary and John at the foot of the cross and had Jesus say, "Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother." That wouldn't have taken long. But Jesus does declare Simon Peter the rock on which he'll build His church.

The voice actors were brilliant. My kids were shocked when I told them Ralph Fiennes (the actor they know as Voldemort from the Harry Potter films) played Jesus. They marveled how versatile an actor he is. One of my girls did recognize David Thewlis (Remus from the Potter films) as Judas Iscariot. A couple of the other awesome actors were Ken Stott (who played Balin in The Hobbit) as Peter, and Miranda Richardson (who played Lady Van Tassel in Sleepy Hollow) as Mary Magdalene. But you could really forget that these were actors because of the claymation.

Do check out Steven Greydanus's thorough review to read why he gives The Miracle Maker an A+! It really could be the best movie about Jesus and His Passion.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

What is a Cardinal?

In light of recent events, I thought you, dear readers, would be interested in this video I found that explains clearly what a cardinal is,

What is a Cardinal?

It's interesting to note that the church cardinals were called that from before the year 1126, according to The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology. The cardinal bird wasn't called that until 1678. So, it seems that the bird was named after the church's cardinals.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Planet of Snail Review

"Planet of Snail" is one of the most compelling films my daughters and I have seen in a long time. I heard Steven Greydanus (from Decent Films) discuss it on Catholic Answers Live and it intrigued me so much, I put it on my Netflix queue right away.

"Planet of Snail" is a documentary about a Christian Korean couple. Each has a handicap. Young-Chan, a poet, is blind and deaf. His wife, Soon-Ho has dwarfism, due to a spinal condition. They help each other constantly, both in practical matters (such as changing a light bulb) and emotionally.

It's a quiet, subtle film. I expected my twin daughters (age 11) to lose patience with the slow pace, but they were as riveted as I was. We three agree that the movie is a beautiful example of a deeply loving marriage.

It's not rated, but I feel it's suitable for all ages. There's nothing sexual or violent. There was a bit of potty humor when they showed Young-Chan's little clay sculpture of a guy peeing, but it's not a graphic sculpture. My girls said, "Eww!" but I'm sure if one of my nephews had been there, they'd be laughing.

Because of his blind-deafness, and also probably because of his poetic disposition, Young-Chan approaches the world in a very sensual way. Don't confuse what I'm saying with anything creepy. It's very beautiful and pure. I'll give the most extreme example of this. In the park, he was touching a tree and even hugging it. His fingers trailing over the trunk made it seem as if he were reading its braille-like bark. It was rather lovely, though his wife was a bit embarrassed.

I cannot recommend this film enough. I also want to tell you about an app that compliments it. I put it on my iPad, but I think it would work on other touch screen devices. It lets you play around with the braille-like finger language of blind-deaf people. It's different than the finger spelling you might have seen/read in the Helen Keller book/movie. It almost looks as if they're typing on each other's fingers. Anyway, the app is called Love is Touch. Here's the link:  Interestingly, when I go there on my computer, I get inforation about the film as well as the app, but when I go there on my iPad, I see just the app. Anyway, it's worth checking out.

Here's the Planet of Snail trailer: