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
New book for preachers is both Catholic and catholic

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the April 17, 2014 edition of the Inland Register)

Movie Review

The recent film Son of God, drawn from the original History Channel series The Bible, has received modest reviews from critics and rather positive response from people who have seen it.

I had not seen the television series. I found the film a basic overview of the life of Christ, from his birth through the Ascension.

Each of us has our own visions of the main characters of the Bible and certain key scenes in Scripture. To try to bring the Scripture to the screen is not an easy task. What parts of the Biblical story do you show and what parts do you leave out in order to fit into a two-hour-plus movie time?

Producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey begin their film with a prologue – Adam and Eve, Noah, and Abraham – that leads us to John the Evangelist introducing and telling the story of Christ.

Jesus is played by the Portuguese actor Diogo Morrgado, who is European in look and comes across often with a smile and what might appear to be a 1960s Godspell look.

The Apostles and the main Jewish and Roman characters are relatively unknown actors. Mary is played as an adult by the producer, Roma Downey (from TV’s Touched by an Angel).

The film eliminates much of the violence found in the Mel Gibson film of 10 years ago. Pilate (Greg Hicks) is portrayed as a vicious Roman official who killed many people. Lines that would possibly lead to an anti-semitic interpretation have been removed.

I’m sure it is artistic license, but I still find the gigantic mountain shown in the film – after Christ is beaten and scourged, he must carry his cross up that mountain – unbelievable. Catholics may well find the Last Supper on the minimal side.

The lush music by Hans Zimmer and associates is at times overwhelming. It reminds one of the music in serious dramas in the 1940s.

Is the film worth seeing? I would say yes, for an overview of the Gospels that for some will be very familiar and for others may open new doors of interest. Some may find it moving. As an educational tool, the film could well be used in classes for teens and adults. Is it a movie whose artistry will be remembered down through the years? I would say that would be unlikely.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film PG (13). Catholic News Service rates Son of God as A-III – for adults.

Book Reviews

William B. Eerdmans Publishing of Grand Rapids, Michigan recently sent us a review copy of a new book for preachers, retreat masters, and teachers of religion. The book is titled Reading for Preaching: the Preacher in Conversation with Storytellers, Biographers, Poets, and Journalists. It is in paperback and has a list price of $14.

The author is Cornelius Plantinga Jr., who once was president of Calvin Theological Seminary. He comes out of the Protestant Reform tradition. But many of his suggestions for books to read are very Catholic in the sense of authorship, and catholic in the sense of universal.

His thesis is that even in this very busy world, there is still a great advantage for the pastoral minister to engage in a wide-reading program.

For example, he has a wonderful section on the German Jewish writer Viktor Klemperer, who wanted to write the definitive work on 18th-century French literature. But living through the rise of Hitler in the 1930s, Klemperer’s diary gave us one of the most celebrated accounts that bears witness to what the Nazis did to the Jews.

From Flannery O’Connor to Mark Twain, and Ron Hansen to Milan Kundera – and the names go on and on. We find connections to the Gospels and to life. Even if a reader took one or two of the author’s suggestions to heart, new vistas of thought and feeling could be opened.


About 14 years ago I had the opportunity to visit the Holy Island of Iona for part of a day. The train trip from Glasgow to Oban, where you caught the ferry to large island of Mull, and then another ferry to the tiny island of Iona was one of the most interesting of my life. The four or six chairs were facing each other and people from Romania, Sweden and England were very open to talk about their lives, including their spiritual lives. It was an incredible experience.

Mystery writer Alexander McCall Smith from Scotland, famous for his series The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, has written a new short novel titled Trains and Lovers.

I thought the novel, published by Anchor Books in paperback for a list price of $15.95, was going to be a mystery, where all loose ends would be tied up at the end.

Well, it is not a mystery in the traditional sense, but rather four persons on a train trip from Edinburgh to London telling stories of love and infatuation that leave much of the story unfinished, in the tradition that life is continuing.

One story revolves around an art internship that leads to one of the young lovers discovering something very significant about a painting scheduled to be sold. Another story centers around a couple who live far out in the center of Australia. And in each of the four stories, there is an important train trip or an event in a train station.

Although the novel was not what I thought it would be, the more I reflected on it and talked with several others who had read it, in the end, I could see that I had enjoyed it.

Book Update

Recently the Morgan Library in New York City had a large display of the hand-written pages of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince. It turns out that Saint-Exupery lived in New York for several years before and during World War II. He had been injured in a plane crash in which he had been the pilot. He also sought United States involvement in the war.

While in the U.S. he wrote The Little Prince. After being called up to return to France and rejoin his French air squadron, Saint-Exupery took the manuscript with its many drawings, placed it in a paper sack, and dropped it off at the front door of an American friend.

The surprise is that this quintessential French book was first published in English in 1943 and was not published in its original French until after the war. Sadly, by that time, Saint-Exupery had failed to return from a flight from Corsica toward occupied France.

I read his book Wind, Sand and Stars in high school. But I don’t believe I ever read this famous children’s book of a pilot down in the African desert meeting a little prince from a very small planet far away.

The original text was twice as long as what we have now. But the beautiful paperback published in 2000 with a new translation by Harcourt for $10 certainly does justice to the text and the wonderful drawings, most in color. There is also of course a French edition which is used widely in French classes.

I enjoyed reading The Little Prince. But I suspect children who can read must enjoy it very much, for it is written for them.

The Morgan Library explained how Saint-Exupery tried 14 times to perfect a sentence that started out as: “What matters is invisible.” The final sentence the author chose for those words was: “Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.” I couldn’t help but think that sentence is one of the keys to our spiritual lives.

Musical Event

A memorable musical event took place at the Fox Theater on the evening of Saturday, March 1 (repeated the next afternoon). The Spokane Civic Theatre joined with the Spokane Symphony and the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox with a fundraiser for all three entities. The Civic’s recent production of Les Miserables was combined with a 33 piece orchestra from the Symphony on the giant Fox stage.

The result was magical. You felt like you were at a moment of history. The richness of the music was magnified by the large orchestra placed behind the actors. And to think that the greater Spokane community could supply so many wonderful singers, from the key roles to the huge number in the ensemble who were doing this as a gift to the community – it was extraordinary. It was better than New York or LA. Anyone who was present at one of the performances will gladly tell you we have so much to be thankful for.

Movie Note

A gentle reader informed me in March in reference to the film 42 (“Media Watch,” IR 5/16/13) that the first African-American baseball player in the major leagues was actually Moses Fleetwood Walker, who played catcher for the Toledo Blue Stockings in 1894. The team was in the American Association, which was then considered a major league.

(Father Caswell is Inland Register archivist.)

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