Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

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

Media Watch
Summer media picks: British television, a handful of books

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the July 18, 2013 edition of the Inland Register)

Television Update

The second season of the series Call the Midwife recently ended. The Moscow, Idaho Public TV Channel has been repeating season one on Sundays at 8 p.m. I am told the series is available on Netflix and on DVD.

Call the Midwife has been the most popular show on the BBC in Great Britain in years. It is the story of an Anglican community of nuns in East London in the late 1950s. The Sisters run Nonnatus House, where they, alongside lay midwives, serve the medical needs of an impoverished area in East London. The story is told through the eyes of Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine), who in the first episode is a new arrival at Nonnatus House. The voiceover at the beginning of each episode is of Jenny Lee later in life and is done by the great actress Vanessa Redgrave.

The stories mix the lives of the nuns with the young women working with sometimes overwhelming situations in the East London community of Poplar. The well-told accounts of life and death are thought-provoking, moving, and sometimes raise important moral issues and pastoral responses.

The Sisters and the midwives worked with 80-100 births each month. If you haven’t seen Call the Midwife, do check it out.

Book Reviews

Richard Lischer started out as a Lutheran pastor in the Midwest. Eventually he became a professor at the Divinity School at Duke University in North Carolina. His new book, Stations of the Heart: Parting with a Son movingly tells the story of his son Adam’s life and in particular the last three months of his life in 2005. The book is published by Alfred A. Knoff of New York for a list price of $25.

In April of 2005, Richard received a phone call from his 33-year-old son, Adam, that the cancer had returned. The memoir centers on those three fateful months as a father struggles with what is happening and the son finds new strength in Catholicism, which he had chosen recently. Adam’s wife, Jenny, was Catholic and expecting a child in the midst of the three traumatic months.

Adam asks his father about Eucharist. After a theological explanation the son responds: “So, for Protestants – not enough Jesus in the bread and wine; Catholics have too much Jesus in the bread and wine; and Lutherans – just right. When it comes to Jesus, can it ever be wrong to have ‘too much’?”

Adam and Jenny read the Bible each day. They voiced it out loud to each other. The Psalms in particular were very real to them. They lit candles and prayed together and Mass with Eucharist became the center of their lives. At the same time the author as father found it extremely difficult to prayer. A key sentence for Richard was the advice of Georges Bernanos: “If you can’t pray – at least say your prayers.”

Stations of the Heart is a beautiful and emotive story that touches the heart time and time again. It is a form of the stations of the cross found in every Catholic Church.

After Adam’s death, Richard and his wife found hope and help in rereading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison. They connected with Bonheffer’s faithfulness and their son’s.

The book ends with the Baptism of Elizabeth, the child of Adam and Jenny. The baby’s tears in the service had a deep meaning for a grieving grandfather.


Back in early June, Spokane Public Radio sponsored a live taping of their show Movies 101 at the Bing Crosby Theater with a showing of Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. Hundreds of people were there for a very enjoyable evening.

The Cary Grant character in North by Northwest is 20 years or so older than the Eva Marie Saint character, who is some kind of spy. She sends Grant off to the flat cropland of Illinois, where a plane spraying chemicals tries to kill him. It is one of the most famous scenes in motion pictures.

Dan Brown’s new best-seller Inferno (Doubleday, for a list price of $29.95), has Robert Langdon from Harvard, who is a professor of symbology, probably about 20 years older than his sidekick Sienna Brooks, who saves him in several key instances and yet may be a spy, like Eva Marie Saint in Hitchcock’s classic movie.

Graham Greene called some of his early works “entertainments” rather than novels. Brown writes “entertainments” with very short chapters that have twists and turns as Langdon and Brooks are constantly finding secret doors and passages that enable them to avoid at least for a while the “bad guys” who are chasing them through Florence, Venice and Istanbul. The clues are connected to art works and Dante’s famed poem, The Divine Comedy.

You don’t read Dan Brown for great literature, but for action-packed plots that remind you of the movie serials of Saturday afternoon that we saw when we were kids (if you are of a certain age). The Saturday serial always ended with the hero in an impossible situation that made you want to come back the next week to see how the hero got out of it all. And constantly, Langdon and Brooks are in impossible situations that somehow they are eventually able to get out of.

Do you learn something about Dante’s poetry? Yes, and above all you learn a lot about the museums and art and attractions of three of the most exciting cities in the world.

Obviously a movie will be made. Brown does a lot of product placement that distracts from the story. The fairly long section on the trademark of Harris Tweed is over-the-top.

In the end, if you like a thriller that won’t stop for almost 500 pages, you will enjoy Inferno. It’s not meant to be a literary novel. It is an “entertainment.”

Recently Received

Back in May the agnostic professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Bart D. Ehrman, gave an interesting talk at the Fox. Sponsored by Eastern Washington University, he spoke to a packed house. Much of what he emphasized one would study in a biblical course of Scripture and sources.

On the way back to my car, a gentleman started talking with me who identified himself as an atheist. As we talked he felt that Professor Ehrman had toned his teaching down compared to what he has written in books. I am one less wise on that point as I am not familiar with his CDs and books. But the whole area of the writings on atheism is certainly front and center in recent years, particularly with writers like Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris.

Two well-known Gonzaga professors, Jesuit Fathers Bernard Tyrrell and John Navone, have written a new book titled Atheism Today: A Christian Response. It is published by Ithaca Press of New York for a list price of $22.

In 38 short two-to-three page chapters the co-writers discuss many of the areas, particularly in Christianity, that are often attacked by the new atheists. They bring philosophical and theological knowledge to the endeavor. They explain they are influenced heavily by Jesuit Fathers Bernard Lonergan and Karl Rahner, who both were born in 1904 and died in 1984.

A little background in philosophy or theology would be of help. But this book is trying to reach out to a broad audience.

The Introduction is by Father Patrick J. Hartin, a priest of our diocese who also teaches at Gonzaga University.

(Father Caswell is Inland Register archivist.)

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