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:
Catch ‘Brideshead Revisited’ on DVD (but keep the book handy); a new mystery from James Lee Burke

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Oct. 23, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)

Movie Review

Summer’s period drama Brideshead Revisited should be out on DVD in a couple of months. In a summer of violent comic book action films, a serious movie like Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead may well seem like a better movie than it is.

Waugh’s novel, published in the 1940s, is one of the great Catholic novels of that time. But the film deflates the main character’s journey from agnosticism to Catholicism into a probable continued state of atheism. I can’t help but think that Waugh is turning over in his grave over this adaptation of his wonderful novel.

Brideshead Revisited is the story of Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode) of middle class background who becomes connected to a very wealthy Catholic family. In a sense, Ryder falls in love with the home of the Marchmain family at Brideshead. In reality, the home is Castle Howard of Northern Yorkshire, England.

The film begins and ends during World War II, when the British Army has taken over the palatial home. Ryder looks back across the years when he first met Sabastian (Ben Whiaslaw) at Oxford and his sister Julia (Hayley Atwell) at Brideshead. Reigning over all the family is the dominating mother (Emma Thompson) who, for better or worse, has sought to control the lives of her children. She is a deeply devout Catholic.

Ryder is impressed by the wealth and the lifestyle of his new friends.

In the book, the story of his passive observation and interaction with the family is also the story of his journey to faith. Maybe the film felt that a faith journey was not the makings of box office success. But without Waugh’s faith vision the journey for riches and fame falls flat.

If you see the film for its expansive story, I urge you to later read the novel (or at least the last chapter) to see what the story was really about.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates Brideshead Revisited PG-13, for adult themes. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates the film A-III – for adults.

Book Review

When I was reading James Lee Burke’s new Dave Robicheaux mystery, Swan Peak, late at night in August at St. Gregory Parish in New York, a large cockroach appeared, climbing the wall six inches from my head. I reacted rapidly, grabbing a magazine to swat the critter that I was not familiar with. I was not going to hit him with Burke’s novel. The result was he wasn’t hit hard enough with the magazine and he slipped away behind very heavy furniture.

James Lee Burke returns to western Montana, where he lives much of the year for Swan Peak (hardcover, $25.95, from Simon & Schuster).

Dave is on vacation from New Iberia, La., with his wife, Molly, and his long-time buddy Clete Purcell. Suddenly the time for fishing slips away as he and Clete both get involved in a complicated story involving the death of two college students. There is lots of conflict with the family of Ridley Wellstone, who has bought a huge ranch in the area and has become a sinister force. Also there is an evil Texan prison guard who is looking for a man who escaped from his prison. All these people come together in a dense and violent story.

If you have visited Western Montana, you will know that the beauty of the place comes across in Burke’s wonderful descriptions. You do get a powerful feel for the place that Burke obviously loves.

The pastor at Missoula’s Christ the King Parish, down the street from the University of Montana, sounds very much like the well-known Montana priest who retired from Christ the King in the last few years.

For me, Swan Peak doesn’t have the haunting religious symbolism on forgiveness that is present in Burke’s previous book on Hurricane Katrina, The Tin Roof Slowdown. But what seems consistent is that even the most evil of characters has moments of choosing goodness.

One character, Jimmy Dale, has a beautiful reflection on “fear of death.” Burke writes with overtones of the whiskey priest facing death in Graham Greene’s novel The Power and the Glory: “Tomorrow would be the day that decided the rest of his life, he thought. He could say in all honesty he did not fear death. Once born, you were already inside eternity, not preparing for it. Existence was a deep pasture that had no fence across it. Jimmy Dale’s grandfather, who had been a shaman, had said that embarking upon the Ghost Trail was not a passage as much as a sharpening of his vision. Unfortunately, being unafraid of death was not the same as being brave.”

Recently Received

• Sister Irene Mahoney of the Ursuline Order of nuns has written the dramatic story of eight mission schools founded by her order in Montana in the late 180’s. The title of her book is Lady Blackrobes: Missionaries in the Heart of Indian Country. It is published by Fulcrum Publishing of Golden, Colo., in large-size paperback for $16.95.

The first group of Sisters left Toledo, Ohio, in 1884 for Montana with the hope of bringing Christ to the native population. Sister Irene is proud to tell the story of these idealistic women who endured much to make their vision come true. As she tells the story, the author herself admits it was a “flawed enterprise.”

Most of the missions had been founded by the Jesuits. The poorest mission, St. Labre, is the only one of the eight that survives until today and is known as one of the finest schools for Native Americans in the United States. The Ursulines ended their connection with the school in 1933 and were replaced by the School Sisters of St. Francis.

At the beginning of the 20th century there were 67 Ursuline Sisters serving in the Montana missions.

• Ave Marie Press has a revised edition of Father Henri J.M. Nouwen’s bestselling book Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with Icons. With four color icons, the classic book of spirituality sells for $14.95.

Father Nouwen invites his readers to pray with four Russian icons, with emphasis on seeing or gazing. The four icons are located at the front of the book and may be removed to better pray with them Among the icons is the famous Icon of the Holy Trinity, through which Father Nouwen gives an invitation to the viewer to dwell in the house of love. Throughout the book, Father Nouwen writes in his illuminating style to help each person so more deeply into the icon and thus come closer to the living God.

(Father Caswell is Ecumenical Relations Office and archivist for the Diocese of Spokane, and a frequent contributor to this publication.)

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