From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch: Community, working together, sacrifice and love of neighbor all part of ‘Harry Potter’ legacy

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Dec. 6, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)

In July of 2000 I had the opportunity of joining Father Jim Kuhns of Our Lady of Fatima Parish, Spokane, at an ecumenical gathering at Durham Castle in northern England. On his birthday Father Kuhns Jim received permission to celebrate the Roman Catholic Mass in the Norman Chapel, which dated back to the 1200s.

The Mass was very moving for many — if not all — of us. I later heard that this was the first Roman Catholic Mass offered in the Norman Chapel since the Reformation.

While we were in Durham producers from Warner Bros. were there, scouting sites for the upcoming movie Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. They seriously considered the Norman Chapel, but in the end used the grand staircase in the Great Hall and the cloisters area attached to the beautiful Durham Cathedral.

Watching Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone brought wonderful memories back to me. I have never read the Potter books and am one less wise on the Potter phenomenon. However, I can report that Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is a very fine movie. I thoroughly enjoyed the mythic journey of a poor and mistreated orphan who takes on the forces of evil and triumphs.

Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is brought as a child to a related family in Surrey to be raised. He is mistreated dramatically. When we meet him at age 11 he is discouraged by his plight. Eventually a series of owls bring him invitations to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. His uncle keeps trying to destroy the invitations but the birds keep coming until they surround the house in a scene reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.

With the help of the giant Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), Harry makes it to the famous nine and three-quarters platform at King’s Cross railway station in London. Next to all the trains headed for Scotland he gets on the Hogwarts Express that goes straight through to his new school.

At the Hogwarts School Harry teams up with two delightful pals, Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) as he joins Gryffindor House. Gryffindor House is one of four dorms at the school that have various competitions. A highlight of the competitions is the game Quidditch, which is a sort of airborne combination of soccer and basketball with elements of rugby and cricket thrown in. Harry plays a key role in the game for his team, since he seems to be such a natural flying on a broomstick.

The headmaster of Hogwarts is Dumbledore (Richard Harris). He is a rather kind mentor. Minerva McGonagall (Maggie Smith) is the Deputy Headmistress who can turn easily into a cat and watches out for her charges at Gryffindor House. The villains of the piece are Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) and a student named Draco (Tom Felton).

There is a series of events, from meeting the three-headed dog to the walk in the forbidden forest to the dramatic giant chess match, that provide lots of action as our three young students face the reality of the death of Harry’s parents and the continuing search for the magic sorcerer’s stone.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is a compelling story that deserves its popularity. Author J.K. Rowling, who is said to have been a single mother on public assistance when she wrote this story, has done more for reading and storytelling than any other living person. She creates a world that appeals to the child in all of us. She plays on themes from the great Arthurian legends. She stresses the importance of community and working together. As in many great stories she singles out sacrifice for another and love of neighbor.

Director Chris Columbus gives us a two-and-a-half-hour film that seems to fly by. The productions values are very high. Many of the great castles and historic schools of England play a part in this monumental movie.

The three young actors who play Harry, Hermione, and Ron are extraordinarily fine. They are up against some of Britain’s greatest adult actors, and they hold their own. Daniel Radcliffe makes a delightful Harry. His smile wins your heart time and time again. Emma Watson is terrific as Hermione. She is brash, gutsy, and a friend in need. Rupert Grint as Ron is a Mickey Rooney look-alike who lights up the screen.

Among the great adult actors, Richard Harris, Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith, and Alan Rickman stand out. It is particularly great to see Richard Harris not overact in a movie where the acting does have to be fairly broad. Coltrane is lovable as the giant gamekeeper. Maggie Smith is wonderful as usual. Alan Rickman continues his tradition of being a great villain.

Child or adult, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is an adventure you don’t want to miss.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is rated PG (parental guidance suggested). The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops rate the film A-II — for adults and adolescents).


In September Barbara Wodynski, the Religious Education Coordinator at St. Rose of Lima Parish in Cheney, handed me the book Lying Awake, by Mark Salzman. She simply said, “Read this. It will only take a couple of hours.” Well, I took it to the Priests’ Assembly in Nelson, B.C. I fell in love with the book and read it very slowly. Just recently I read it again.

Lying Awake, published last year by Alfred A. Knopf, New York, is the powerful story of a Carmelite nun by the name of Sister John of the Cross. In spare and perfect language Salzman tells the story of a bruised woman who grows into a great writer of mystical experiences.

In 1969 a young woman who becomes Sister John of the Cross enters the monastery of St. Joseph, near Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. We follow her journey into the life of a Carmelite Sister through 28 years of darkness and desert, and joy and light. Along the way we meet some pretty extraordinary women, from Mother Emmanuel and Sister Anne to a new postulant, Claire Bours, who in 1997 is assigned to novice mistress, Sister John.

The main question of the narrative centers on Sister John’s journey to heights of mystical experience. Are her experiences directly from God, or are they the result of a particular type of epilepsy? Should she submit to an operation that will help cure her health problem, and yet probably bring her religious experiences to an end?

One time during a visit to a doctor, long after she has entered the convent, Sister John reflects on her habit. In the convent the habit eliminates distractions; in the outside world it creates them. She considers the irony that the habits originally adopted were to make nuns of the Middle Ages inconspicuous with clothes that were favored by poor widows. As Sister John looks around the waiting room she reflects that a true habit now would be a jogging outfit worn over tennis shoes.

At a meeting of the Sisters there is a discussion on whether three kinds of juices for breakfast take up too much room in the refrigerator. Should the Sisters revert to one choice as a matter of poverty? One Sister teases the group that whoever happens to prefer the one juice chosen would be denied the opportunity to practice poverty. The Sisters vote to keep the present number of juices.

Midway through the book there is a fascinating flashback to the the time Sister John was in the seventh grade. She tells the story of a Sister Priscilla, who becomes the model and mentor for her own eventual vocation. There are lots of hills and valleys before she knocks of the door of Carmel. Salzman clearly reminds us how often we powerfully influence others almost without knowing it.

The humor within the monastery is infectious. One day the mailman delivered a letter address to “St. Joseph’s Disgraced Carmelites.” Once the story got out the superior nearly had to declare a day off because everyone was laughing so hard.

Another day, a Sister Angelica spilled some dishwashing liquid on the toaster and shorted it out. During the Chapter of Faults she gravely announced, “I wish to proclaim myself for wasting Joy and blowing a fuse.”

Mark Salzman has written an extraordinary book that transcends the monastery to the lives of his 21st-century readers. The story of ordinary people seeking to come to an extraordinarily gracious God is life-giving to his readers. If I could be so bold I really believe Lying Awake is a book that can be read as part of prayer. It is spiritual reading that lifts the heart to a loving God.

Lying Awake has recently been published at $14 in softcover by Vintage books.

(Father Caswell is pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Cheney, and Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of Spokane.)

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