Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



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: Spring brings flowering of books for young and old

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the April 10, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

Book Reviews

Children’s author April Bolton, with help from illustrator Brent Beck, has written a charming book about difficult but important religious realities. The book is titled Seven Lonely Places-Seven Warm Places: The Vices and Virtues for Children.

For third graders and up, Bolton, who writes in The Cincinnati Post, has taken on the monumental task of translating the “seven deadly sins,” the four cardinal virtues and the three theological virtues into meaningful concepts for children.

And she has succeeded. The colorful drawings by Brent Beck graphically fit the themes raised in the text.

For example, under Gluttony, a young boy is in a cookie and cake bakery eating everything he can get his hands on. The straightforward text says, “Gluttony is a big wide hole that you can’t fill up. Gluttony makes you look at the box of chocolate chip cookies and think, ‘Yes, yes, yes... they must all go not beside me, not next to me, but inside me. The whole world belongs inside me.’”

The cardinal virtues come alive in a positive, hopeful and challenging way. For example, Justice is shown with a group of young people sharing a peanut butter sandwich. The text is to the point when it says, “Justice divides your peanut butter sandwich into a zillion parts for the children who don’t have any lunch. Justice is the place where you see everyone must have what they need.”

Seven Lonely Places would be excellent for children preparing for First Reconciliation. It helps us return to traditions that meant a great deal for Christians of the medieval period. With a parent available to talk with a child, Seven Lonely Places provides an open door to a rich area of potential darkness and hopeful strengths.

Seven Lonely Places, Seven Warm Places: The Vices and Virtues for Children by April Bolton is published in hardcover at $19.95 by St. Anthony Messenger Press, Cincinnati (2003).

*****

A beautiful and powerful book has been reprinted this year by Penguin Books. The book is Letter to a Priest, by the great spiritual writer Simone Weil. It was first written in the fall of 1942 when Weil was in New York City waiting to join the Free French movement. She died a year later at the young age of 34.

Simone Weil had a life-long struggle with religious concepts. She wrote this Letter to a Priest to outline 35 key questions she had about Catholicism. She asks the nameless French priest living in New York to respond to her inquiry.

To our knowledge she never got a response. And I can well understand why. She raises questions that challenge to the core. She breaks open the Christian teaching in a new and challenging way. She raises all kinds of questions that many of us have not faced before.

Simone Weil was born a Jew. But she has real trouble with Judaism. To my mind, she downplays the Old Testament in a minimalist way that is far from reality.

It is said she never was baptized. But she certainly challenged many priests of her time.

Lionel Blue in a recent essay on Weil (The Tablet, February 22, 2003) tells of the Communist Trotsky staying at her apartment one night. Trotsky, who is visually portrayed in the recent film Frida, was so worn out from Weil’s questions that he later remarked it was the worst night of his life.

The good news is Simone Weil faces the complicated questions of Christianity head-on. She certainly believes she has something to say. She says it in a straightforward manner. She certainly believes she is right. And that is what makes her so enjoyable to read. She forces you to think about questions you would never ask. She forces you to go places you rather not go. That is why Letter to a Priest is such a gift for us today, 60 years later.

Letter to a Priest is republished in softcover at $12 by Penguin Books (2003).

*****

Theater Review

On Monday, March 10, I had the good fortune to see the opening preview of the Seattle Repertory Theatre’s production of Romeo and Juliet. The price was a low $20 as computers were in the back of the theater with production people working on the minor quirks still in the production.

Romeo and Juliet is on at the Rep through April 20. If you are in Seattle before then, do not miss it. Shakespeare’s words come alive with special meaning in the real world we are going through right now.

The sets alone are worth the price of admission. The costumes are incredible. Add to that, actors who make the Shakespearean language seem like friends talking to each other today. I have occasionally nodded off in Shakespearean plays. This one is so alive and meaningful you feel like you have had loads of caffeine. You will not nod off, even if Shakespeare is not your favorite author.

Director Sharon Ott, who is also the Artistic Director of the Rep, is to be congratulated for presenting a memorable Romeo and Juliet that entertains, instructs, challenges, and is a work of beauty. So what, you know the story! This production of Romeo and Juliet touches the heart, hits the gut, and stays with the intellect for days.

Romeo and Juliet proves that the classics can touch us deeply, hundreds of years after they were first written. This play is outstanding.

(Father Caswell is pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Cheney, and Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of Spokane. His reviews also appear in the Cheney Free Press.)


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