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:


Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Teaching Moment

It's a sad time, a time of Interregnum. But it can also be a good time to teach our children, be they homeschooled or otherwise, about the office of the Pope. As a side benefit, we can learn some things ourselves.

At the blog Shower of Roses you can find an awesome lap book study unit on all things Papal. My kids and I made this lap book and we all learned tons.

I bought and downloaded one of the ebooks books she recommended, Who is the Pope? A Very Short Book for Children by S.G. Mancini and we found it to be extremely helpful in completing the lapbook.

Here's our lapbook as the girls work on it.


Friday, February 22, 2013

Saint Faustina and Jesus, Our Ocean of Mercy

Right after I bought SaintFaustina's diary, somehow, I couldn't get into it. But upon picking it up again, a couple days ago, I began enjoying it right away.
Saint Faustina slips seamlessly from prayer to narration about events in her life and back again to prayer. It's a meditative read. When I first began, I was in a more informational mindset, like how I'd be if I were reading a history book. Her diary is something else. It's really a story of a saint and her deep relationship with Christ.

Here's one of the many beautiful passages from Divine Mercy in My Soul: Diary of SaintMaria Faustina Kowalska.

O Jesus, eternal Truth, strengthen my feeble forces; You can do all things, Lord. I know that without You all my efforts are in vain. O Jesus, do not hide from me, for I cannot live without You. Listen to the cry of my soul. Your mercy has not been exhausted, Lord, so have pity on my misery. Your mercy surpasses the understanding of all Angels and people put together; and so, although it seems to me that You do not hear me, I put my trust in the ocean of Your mercy, and I know that my hope will not be deceived.

Whenever I read this passage, the song "An Ocean of Mercy" by the Catholic rock band The Thirsting runs through me head.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Newest Catholic Metal Compilation

I'm thrilled to tell you about the newest Catholic Metal compilation Praising Him Loudly: Volume2! It contains 17 songs from several Catholic Metal bands.

Catholic heavy metal music? How can that be? Well, I'll tell you. It's music that celebrates Jesus, his holy mother Mary, the Sacraments, and the faith and teachings of the Holy Catholic Church. Oh yeah, and the music happens to be metal.

As I listen to these songs I am struck by the variety of musical expression. Within the umbrella term "metal" are subgenres such as "industrial" and "thrash." I'm not an expert on the finer points of metal music, but I'll tell you something, every song in this compilation has energy and emotion. It's as if each one is a prayer cried out from the very hearts of the musicians.

Head over to and give Praising HimLoudly:Vol.2 a listen. While you're there, check out Praising HimLoudly: Volume 1 and Via Crucis: The Way of the Cross, which is great for a very fervent Stations of the Cross meditation- perfect for Lent!

For that matter, all of these collections are wonderful for Lent, especially if, like me, you want to narrow your music listening down to only Christian music for Lent. That's all I have on my mp3 player right now, and 95% of it is Catholic metal. :)

Amazing Artwork for Praising Him Loudly vol 2

Friday, February 8, 2013


Michelangelo "Crucifix"
Whether it's been a month, a year, or a decade since your last confession, it's probably time to go again. I remember when I returned to the Catholic Church, after having been away for years, I had a lot to confess. It was scary and I was embarrassed, but it felt like a huge weight was taken off me and replaced by such love and forgiveness, I cried.
I found a couple of resources for you to help you make a good examination of conscience. That means to examine your past behaviors and figure out where the sins are hiding, like old dust bunnies wedged in the cracks of your soul.

This Examination of Conscience, from EWTN, focuses on Faith, Hope, and Love.
This one from the Fatima Network focuses on the ten commandments. It also has other goodies such as a prayer before confession.

If you are currently engaging in an ongoing sin, such as having sexual relations with someone other than your spouse, or your marriage isn't valid (maybe because one of you is divorced) then you won't be able to receive absolution or receive Communion. You may want to check out the Pope's (when he was Cardinal Ratzinger) work "Worthiness to Receive Communion."  But do make an appointment to talk to a priest. He can counsel you, talk about annulling a past marriage, etc. While you're there, ask him to bless your Rosary. Then use that Rosary!

To learn more about annulments, check out the little booklet by Jimmy Akin "Annulments: What You Need to Know."

If you're use a Rosary app, such as iRosary, should you ask the priest to bless your iPad?  Hm... I guess it wouldn't hurt to ask.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Get Fit, Spiritually and Physically

I've been trying to get fit, both health wise and spiritually. It occurred to me that one can take the same approach to both goals. Let me explain what I mean.

The Nutrition Diva, on her podcast, gave one tip that basically said to imagine the fit and healthy person you'd like to be. Ask yourself what food and exercises choices she would make, and do those. This way you're making lifestyle changes, not crash dieting. So, you can ask yourself each day, what would a good and holy person do regarding prayer, Mass attendance, Reconciliation, TV viewing, annoying family members, etc.? 

I think concrete goals are more helpful than vague resolutions. "Praying more" or "exercising more" aren't as measurable as "pray the Rosary every Friday" and "go to the gym every Saturday." You can start modest, then add something new at the first of every month.

The Nutrition Diva says that where you're heading is more important than where you are. Good advice for not growing discouraged. My mom always gave us this advice growing up; "You can only get there from here."

You can hear Nutrition Diva at her site:

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Our Purpose in Life: A Catholic Perspective

I hear (and read) friends' questions such as "Who am I and what do I want out of life?" and "What's my purpose? Do I need a purpose?" I guess I've been too busy lately to contemplate these questions, or maybe it's just that I haven't needed to. After all, I know who and what I am, a child of God. But I don't like to see people floundering. I know how that feels.

When I decided to blog about these questions, I was at a loss as to how to answer them in a clear and eloquent way. On my own I came up with this:

My purpose, as a Catholic Christian woman, wife, and homeschooling mom, is plain--to serve God and my family, and to help others in various ways, i.e. praying, volunteering, donating food, clothing, or money to organizations that help the needy.

But not everyone has those particular vocations. What is the basic Catholic answer?

I did an "image" internet search-- "Catholic who am I." (I rarely Google in grammatically correct language.) The results were interesting: a few cards with variations of "I am a Catholic. In case of an emergency, call a priest" (because we need the blessing of the sick and/or Reconciliation), photos of priests holding signs saying "We can't wait for health care that protects life," and a many Rosary pictures, and other things (including some not so nice sentiments).

My favorite was a C.S. Lewis photo with a quote:

“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”

Of course, C.S. Lewis wasn't Catholic, though he was one of the greatest Christian apologists in recent history.

So, the verdict is-- We are called to seek the Sacraments, defend life, pray, and (if C.S. Lewis is correct) do things that are difficult, uncomfortable, or downright unpleasant. Gee, that doesn't square with what the world tells us--"Do whatever makes you feel happy."

I don't know how "happy" I feel when I'm cleaning up a child's throw-up at 2am. I don't always feel like donating money to feed the poor or volunteering my time to organize some homeschooling group. I mean, I get gratification in knowing I was useful in some way, but it's not always a barrel of laughs, or as C.S. Lewis puts it, "a bottle of Port." (What the heck is port?)
And I really don't think it felt pleasant for the martyrs who were shot, burned, beheaded, or ripped apart by lions.

I heard a guy on Catholic radio a couple years ago who reminded us to pray for the Lord's guidance concerning our vocation. To ask Him to make His will our will. I pray that for my children, who are still discovering their calling. I think it's a wise prayer, one that would benefit everyone. The trouble is, many in the world today don't want to surrender to God. That's too bad, because God is pretty dang smart (actually, "smart" doesn't begin to describe His mind) and he loves us more than we can ever comprehend. Look what He's done for us!
Pieter LastmanThe crucifixion, 1616Museum het Rembrandthuis

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Modern Catholic Fairy Tale

I'm participating in a Fairy Tales Retold Reading Challenge at Debz Bookshelf. I've begun the challenge with Catholic author Regina Doman's young adult novel, The Shadow ofthe Bear, a retelling of the story "Snow White and Rose Red." You can read the original Brothers Grimm fairytale at Regina Doman's web site.

The Shadow of the Bear is set in modern day New York City and contains no magic, but it maintains a fairytale-like feel. Here's the official blurb from Amazon.

When Bear, a mysterious young man, lands on Blanche and Rose Brier’s doorstep in New York City, the two sisters have conflicting opinions on whether or not he is dangerous. Even as Blanche learns to trust him, her fears that Bear’s friendship threatens their family prove terrifyingly true. A modern retelling of the classic Brothers Grimm fairytale.

Doman writes for Catholic teens, but this forty-two year old mom enjoyed its gripping suspense and compelling characters. I read it with my eleven-year old twin daughters and they were transfixed. We flew through it in a matter of days. My Daphne got up as 6am just to continue reading! Today we finished it and, because we were on Kindle, immediately got the second book in the series, Black as Night.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Divine Mercy, Dirty Windows, and Spelling

"My daughter, be diligent in writing down every sentence I tell you concerning My mercy, because this is meant for a great number of souls who will profit from it."

~These are words our Lord said to Saint Faustina.

My twin girls and I had the privilege of attending a talk by Joan and Dave Maroney, from the Divine Mercy Ministry. Here's a link to Joan and Dave's website. It was a program geared toward children, but I am certain the adults got much out of it as well. I know I did.

The visuals were stunning--a replica of the Shroud of Turin, slides (many of Saint Faustina), music, and of course a large copy of the Divine Mercy image. Here's the Shroud of Turin website.

I bought a copy of Saint Faustina's diary. Did you know that she wasn't such a good speller? Well, at least I have that quality in common with her. Now I need to acquire the actual saintly aspects.

Here you can see the Divine Mercy window sticker on my patio door. I took this at night from the outside, looking in. Seeing the evidence that I have a spotty window reminds me of something Father Robert Barron said on one of the Catholicism DVD episodes.

When you're driving away from the sun, you don't notice how dirty your window is. When you're driving toward the sun, every speck shows up. (I'm paraphrasing, but you get the point.) It's that way with Jesus. When we're striving to get close to him, we notice our sins more.