Fr. Lewis finds writing meditative, yet challenging

TORONTO - For Jesuit Father Scott Lewis, writing is a dominant part of his ministry.

A columnist for The Catholic Register for the past eight years, Lewis is the author of the recently published God’s Word on Sunday: Liturgy Reflections from Year B.

“You have to open yourself up to the Spirit when you go to write,” said Lewis on where he gets his inspiration from when he sits down to write his weekly columns. Drawn from his Register columns, God’s Word on Sunday examines the Sunday readings of the 2011-2012 liturgical calendar, a year that focuses on the Gospel of Mark. It follows on the heels of last year’s book on Year A.

This week's movie releases - Oct 21st 2011

Looking for a movie this weekend? The Mighty Macs, Johnny English Reborn and The Big Year are this week's big releases.

The Mighty Macs

The Mighty Macs

"The Mighty Macs" (Freestyle)

The Mighty Macs is the fact-based story of a women's basketball team from a Catholic college who, through the grit and determination of their rookie coach, got a shot at the national title. This old-fashioned, family-friendly film is "Sister Act" without the singing, "Rocky" with basketballs, and "The Trouble with Angels" with Ellen Bursytn in the Rosalind Russell role of the mother superior.

The year is 1972, the feminist movement is picking up steam, and change is in the air. For Cathy Rush (Carla Gugino), 23 and recently married, this means searching for a role to play beyond that of dutiful housewife to her husband, Ed (David Boreanaz). A star basketball player herself, Cathy missed out on her own chance for glory, as her college eliminated the sport.

Against Ed's wishes, Cathy takes a job at Pennsylvania's Immaculata College (now University), run by the Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The stern mother superior, Mother St. John (Bursytn), has no time for sports; she's trying to keep the school afloat, fighting off appeals from the board and the church to close its doors. Impatient and irritable, she gives Cathy free rein to build a team from scratch. This is Cathy's big chance and, although not a Catholic, she is determined to fit in and succeed, inspiring a ragtag group of girls to become a fighting force by believing in themselves. They practice despite not having a court, with improvised uniforms fashioned from nuns' smocks.

Cathy's faith never wavers, as she hands out "We Will Be #1" buttons all over town. Help arrives in the form of the youngest nun, Sister Sunday (Marley Shelton). Like Cathy, she is struggling with her vocation, trying to find her place in a traditional world. She also shares an interest in basketball. The two bond, and Sister Sunday becomes the assistant coach, drawing out the older nuns to cheer the team on at games. Against all odds, the "Macs" of Immaculata College make their way to their sport's first-ever national championship game. Cathy not only saves herself and her marriage, but the fortunes of the college -- melting the cold heart of Mother St. John in the process.

Directed by newcomer Tim Chambers, "The Mighty Macs" is a feel-good movie offering lessons in friendship, teamwork, trust and perseverance. For the most part, Catholicism is treated with respect, but it serves more as a colorful backdrop than a source for commentary. Sister Sunday provides some harmless comic relief. She lends Cathy a habit so they can qualify for free tickets on United Airlines. ("Second nun flies for free.")

Explaining her call to the religious life, Sister Sunday expresses her love for Jesus. "That whole Cana thing?" she observes, "Jesus just wanted everyone to have a good time."

The entire family will have a good time at "The Mighty Macs." The Catholic News Service classification is A-I -- general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is G -- general audiences. All ages admitted.

The Big Year

The Big Year

"The Big Year" (Fox 2000)

Warm-hearted seriocomedy in which a business tycoon (Steve Martin), a rudderless nuclear power plant worker (Jack Black) and a home contractor (Owen Wilson) vie to win the titular bird-watching competition by spotting the greatest number of different species over the course of a calendar year. As the builder obsessively tries to defend his seemingly insurmountable previous record, the executive and the slacker form an unlikely friendship as well as an alliance intended to best their sometimes unscrupulous rival.

Director David Frankel's mostly agreeable film -- inspired by Mark Obmascik's book of the same name -- affirms the primacy of family life and personal relationships over materialistic or ego-driven goals. Brief nongraphic marital lovemaking, possible cohabitation, a fertility treatment theme, adultery references, at least one use of profanity, an obscene gesture and a few crude and crass terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

Johnny English Reborn

Johnny English Reborn

"Johnny English Reborn" (Universal)

Elaborately constructed spy spoof -- and cleaned-up sequel to the 2003 comedy "Johnny English" -- in which Rowan Atkinson as the titular secret agent overcomes severe odds to discover who was responsible for the assassination of the president of Mozambique. Atkinson and director Oliver Parker put Johnny -- a combination of Atkinson's Mr. Bean and Leslie Nielsen's Frank Drebin of the "Naked Gun" franchise -- through a series of droll set-pieces.

One dubious, and dull, sight gag aside, they also eschew the less-than-family-friendly humor of the original. Some cartoonish violence, a single tasteless visual joke and fleeting mildly crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

Mary Jo Leddy shows us the face of the stranger

TORONTO - Mary Jo Leddy, co-founder of Toronto's Romero House, has discovered a school for Christian living. She has learned to live a Christian life by spending her days and nights among people who have been cut adrift by the violent politics and harsh economics we are usually sheltered from in Canada.

Leddy launched her new book The Other Face of God: When the Stranger Calls Us Home [click here to buy] at Regis College Oct. 20. The book is a spiritual guide to the practical, legal and bureaucratic process of settling refugees in this country. She has spent more than 20 years struggling against what she calls the bureaucratic absurdities and moral blindness of Canada's refugee system.

"Systems supposedly designed to do good develop routines of indifference, procedures for acceptable cruelty," she writes in the 150-page Novalis book.

New magazine brings faith to public square

More than two years in the making, Canada has a new magazine that intends to inject the voice of faith into public debates.

Convivium, which published its preview issue Oct. 18, is modelled on the influential American publication First Things. And just as First Things has been praised as an important vehicle to explore the delicate relationship between religion and society, Convivium publisher Peter Stockland hopes to engage religious-minded Canadians in public debates about the serious moral and cultural issues of our times.

This week's movie releases - Oct 13th 2011



"Footloose" (Paramount)

After a night of dirty dancing by five hard-drinking, drug-taking high school seniors from a small Southern town ends with a fatal car crash, one victim's father (Dennis Quaid), the local Presbyterian minister, spearheads legislation to ban public dancing. But his daughter (Julianne Hough) supports an underground teen revolt, which gains steam with the arrival from Boston of a James Dean-like pouting rebel (Kenny Wormald).

Director Craig Brewer's remake of the 1984 film of the same title retains -- and ramps up -- the problematic message of the original, namely, that teenagers must disobey their parents, break all the rules and follow their dreams no matter the consequences. Negative portrayal of religion; acceptance of teenage drinking, drug use, sexual activity and reckless driving; a brutal assault; and a few instances of crude and crass language.

The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

The Thing

The Thing

"The Thing" (Universal)

Billed as a prequel to John Carpenter's 1982 movie of the same name, itself a remake of a 1951 horror classic, this passable creature feature follows a paleontologist (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to Antarctica where Norwegian researchers have discovered a parasitic alien buried inside a glacier. Dutch director Matthijs van Heijningen makes little attempt to deepen the story's thematic subtext or exploit the inherently menacing atmosphere.

The shortcomings of his adequate but unnecessary homage don't amount to an egregious crime against cinema, good taste or decency. But his focus on the forensic clarity of the visual effects will unsettle many. Frequent intense, gory creature violence, an implied suicide, some profanity, much rough, crude and crass language, a lewd reference to incest.

The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

The Way

The Way

"The Way" (Producers Distribution Agency/ARC)

After his semi-estranged son (Emilio Estevez) dies in a freak storm while hiking the ancient pilgrimage route from France to the Spanish shrine of Santiago de Compostela, a California doctor (Martin Sheen) and self-identified lapsed Catholic resolves to complete the journey as a means of honoring the lad's memory. Along the mountainous path, he meets three fellow sojourners -- a tart-tongued Canadian (Deborah Kara Unger), a merrily gormandizing Dutchman (Yorick van Wageningen) and a garrulous Irish writer (James Nesbitt) -- who together begin to break down both his self-imposed isolation and the mild orneriness by which he enforces it.

Estevez, who also wrote and directed, takes viewers on a reflective, and ultimately rewarding, exploration of elemental themes that challenges materialistic values. But the film's focus, like the varied motivations of the contemporary pilgrims it portrays, is more broadly spiritual than specifically religious, faith being treated, albeit with refreshing respect, as something the characters encounter rather than fully embrace. Brief partial rear nudity, drug use, a couple of instances of profanity and of crass language, references to abortion and sexuality.

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.

Oratorio rises out of composer’s Holocaust obsession

TORONTO - Composer Zane Zalis has a story to tell. Give him 90 minutes, 200 singers and a huge orchestra and Zalis will lead you through an emotional tale of the Holocaust.

I Believe is a 12-part oratorio that marshals enormous, complex orchestral forces but tells its story with popular, musical theatre singers. The work will get its Toronto premiere at Roy Thomson Hall Oct. 25 as a kind of lead-in to the 31st annual Holocaust Education Week, Nov. 1-9.

Zalis, who grew up Ukrainian Catholic but later slid his family over to the Roman rite, intended his oratorio to be educational and accessible to young listeners.

Nuit Blanche project highlights Sisters of St. Joseph’s

TORONTO - The Sisters of St. Joseph are lighting up Nuit Blanche. They are featured in Cloister, a multimedia art installation spotlighting the Sisters’ nearly 160 years of service in Toronto.

“We want to emphasize their amazing contributions to the city. They are amazing leaders and an inspiration to young girls,” said Judy Pregelj, teacher-librarian at St. Joseph’s College School.

“They have a long tradition of helping the poor,” she said, referring to the Sisters of St. Joseph’s outreach to the poor through numerous operations, including the Furniture Bank and Mustard Seed ministry.

Forgotten Rembrandt sparks Christ art exhibit

TORONTO - For many years, a painting of Christ that sat in storage at the Philadelphia Museum of Art was believed to be a Rembrandt copy.

But there was something about the painting that piqued the curiosity of Canadian art expert Lloyd DeWitt, then the associate curator of the museum’s John G. Johnson Collection. DeWitt since June has been the curator of European art at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto 

Typical of the period, the painting was done on oak. That allowed DeWitt to initiate analysis of the painting using a process called dendrochronology, or “tree ring dating.” He made a remarkable discovery.

The story of Dorothy Day, warts and all

Jim Forest’s beautifully written and poignant All is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day reveals the founder of the Catholic Worker movement as no ordinary saint, if her cause for beatification and canonization opened in 2000 proves successful.

The book does not gloss over any of the controversial aspects of her early life. Before becoming Catholic, Day sought an abortion, hoping losing the child would save her love affair with the baby’s father. Afterwards, she returned to their apartment to find the man had left, leaving behind only a letter urging her to forget him and a small amount of money that he had originally intended to pay a bar bill, Forest writes.

Four years later, she was delighted to become pregnant while in another relationship that, because of his atheism and her entering the Catholic Church, she realized she must end.

Canadian patrons help unearth Vatican’s Santa Rosa necropolis

TORONTO - A treasure that was buried for centuries within the Vatican walls will soon be on public display thanks to a triumph of local archeology and Canadian philanthropy.

The Canadian chapter of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums will travel to the Vatican Museums in October to celebrate its role in the restoration of the Santa Rosa necropolis, a Roman cemetery of significant archeological and historical value. The patrons have donated about $1 million to the restoration cause.

Discovered by accident in 2003 when a parking lot was being expanded, the necropolis was a burying ground mainly for slaves, servants and Rome’s lower classes.

Opera star Mark Doss has seen both sides of the good-evil divide

TORONTO - When bass-baritone Mark Doss takes the stage as King Thoas in Iphigenia in Tauris Sept. 22, an altar of sacrifice will stand at the centre of the Four Seasons Centre stage. It will be familiar territory for Doss.

Doss has played Thoas in Christoph Gluck’s most successful opera before. He premiered the role with the San Francisco Opera. The Canadian Opera Company has borrowed the San Francisco Opera production. But Doss’s knowledge of altars and sacrifice goes deeper than the opera roles he has played.

Doss arrived at classical singing by way of the seminary. His love of liturgy and sacred music eventually spilled over and his big voice found a natural home on the operatic stage.

Thirty years later, Doss’s experience of life in the seminary still influences his approach to opera.

“I’m the kind of person who really deals with the words,” said Doss. “It comes from that background — the Gospel as the Word of God, and you see it’s a really powerful thing. So, why go away from something that’s really powerful?”

Project records New Testament in Latin

WASHINGTON - A new initiative got under way this summer for the first audio recording of the New Testament in Latin.

Vatican Press has partnered with Faith Comes By Hearing, a non-profit, donor-driven interdenominational ministry “committed to the mission of reaching poor and illiterate people worldwide with the Word of God in audio” for the audio recording of the Neo-Vulgate, the Catholic Church’s official Latin translation.

Fr. Peter Stravinskas played a key role in spearheading this project.

“I’ve been involved with making available the liturgy in Latin since I was ordained,” said Stravinskas, founder and president of the St. Gregory Foundation for Latin Liturgy based in Pine Beach, N.J. Stravinskas said in the early 1980s he celebrated the only Latin Mass in New York.

In an interview with Catholic News Service, the priest said he learned about Faith Comes by Hearing, which for the past 30 years has made the New Testament available by audio in more than 500 languages. He e-mailed them and said he was impressed with the program but noticed Latin was missing.

Encountering the icon’s mystery, meaning

VANCOUVER - Embracing the Christian life is a sacred mystery and icons possess a mysterious power to draw the spiritual seeker to Christ, says iconographer Matthia Langone.

Icons are artistic “written” images of Jesus, Mary, the saints or angels that offer a living theology and experience of prayer. Iconographers not only offer their creative charism to God, they offer their whole heart, mind and soul.

“It is a transformational experience, a vocation,” said Langone.

She should know. When she encountered Russia’s most prized icons while attending an ordination in Moscow about 15 years ago, she was so struck with the stunning images, the course of her life was changed.