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
‘St. Peter’s B-List’ is poetry for saints and saints in the making; ‘The Railway Man’ is good, but not great

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the June 19, 2014 edition of the Inland Register)

Book Reviews

Poetry does not easily become clear to me. Occasionally trying to read a poem in The New Yorker I find myself lost and wondering, what was that all about?

But I was impressed in reading the new book from Ave Maria Press, edited by Mary Ann B. Miller and titled St. Peter’s B-List: Contemporary Poems Inspired by the Saints. The list price for the large-sized paperback is $15.95.

The title comes from one of the poems by Jake Oresick, which speaks of famous A-list historic figures at the beginning of the poem but in the last section says:

When it’s my time to go,
I think I’ll find some dark dive –
Dollar drafts, not too loud.
I’d like to sit with
Has-been sitcom stars,
Constantine’s Harem,
Guys who played
Minor league baseball.
I’d like to hear history
Told from the street,
From the boy staring hungrily
Through the
butcher’s window.

In over 200 pages of poems, there are some big-name saints, but many of them are not well known. And then there are lots of poems about ordinary people, such as the couple sitting next to you at Sunday Mass.

There are poems about the real issues of life, particularly the issues found in spirituality and in religion. You also learn a great deal about saints who are little-known but had special gifts.

My favorite was “Then Sings My Soul,” by Paul Mariani. He beautifully tells the story of a friend named Lenny who is dying and is on his last religious retreat with his friends. He combines it with the hymn “How Great Thou Art” and the whole question of each of our deaths. It is a moving poem that touches the heart and the soul.

If you like poetry, especially poetry with religious strains throughout, you will have found a great treasure in Miller’s compendium. If poetry seems beyond you, there is a good chance the poems of St. Peter’s B-List will still speak to you.


Cardinal Walter Kasper, the German cardinal who was in charge of promoting Christian Unity in a Vatican Curial Office from 2001 to 2010, was asked by Pope Francis to speak to the new cardinals in February. His task was to speak to them in reference to the upcoming Synod on the Family this coming fall. For two days Cardinal Kasper presented his viewpoint.

The result is a short paperback book titled The Gospel of The Family, published by Paulist Press for a list price of $9.95.

Cardinal Kasper gives a beautifully layered presentation of the family that would be helpful to anyone in Marriage Encounter or small groups of married couples. It would be excellent for anyone helping couples preparing for marriage.

The breakthrough chapter is Chapter 5, titled “Concerning the Problem of the Divorced and Remarried.” Cardinal Kasper speaks of God’s fidelity and faithfulness belonging together. God is faithful even when we are unfaithful. He says: “Therefore there can be no human situation that is absolutely desperate and hopeless. However far a human being may fall, he or she never falls deeper than God’s mercy can reach.”

The cardinal then poses questions and gives possible answers that he states the Synod will have to give the definitive answer itself.

He emphasizes the pastoral side of response to those who find themselves in the reality of being divorced and remarried.

His first argument centers around the fact that some divorced and remarried persons are subjectively convinced in conscience that their irreparably broken, previous marriage was never valid. His second argument is that it would be mistaken to seek resolution of the problem in a generous expansion of the annulment process. He fears the Church would give the disastrous impression that it is proceeding in a dishonest way by granting what, in reality, are divorces. In this section Kasper argues that spiritual communion is not enough. He does refer to Councils and early Church fathers, especially Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzus and even Augustine, who was strict but included the statement not to have excluded every pastoral solution. Cardinal Kasper argues that there was a pastoral practice in the early Church of tolerance, clemency and forbearance. He says: “... there are good reasons for assuming that this praxis was confirmed by the Council of Nicea (325) against the rigorism of the Novatianists.”

Toward the end of the book Cardinal Kasper gives his nuanced question: “The question that confronts us is this: Is this path beyond rigorism and laxity, the path of conversion, which issues forth in the sacrament of mercy – the sacrament of penance – also the path that we can follow in this matter? Certainly not in every case. But if a divorced and remarried person is truly sorry that he or she failed in the first marriage, if the commitments from the first marriage are clarified and if a return is definitively out of the question, if he or she cannot undo the commitments that were assumed in the second civil marriage without new guilt, if he or she strives to the best of his or her abilities to live out the second civil marriage on the basis of faith and to raise their children in the faith, if he or she longs for the sacraments as a source of strength in his or her situation, do we then have to refuse or can we refuse him or her the sacrament of penance and communion, after a period of reorientation?”

Yes, sentences can be long by English standards, but it is a gift that a key churchman is struggling pastorally with one of the key issues of our time. It is a reminder to pray for those gathering in Rome this fall.

Historical Book

A friend recently gave me a paperback copy of Barbara W. Tuchman’s famed historical work The Guns of August, originally published in 1962. Now, I didn’t read every word, and keeping all the generals straight slipped by me. But I got the general thrust of that fateful month of August 100 years ago.

Tuchman’s research is monumental and her style is straight-forward. On this 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I, here is a book that may be back on a shelf or available at the library that makes this anniversary come alive. This classic Pulitzer prize-winning book explains how the violence all began.

Movie Review

One summer long ago I remember reading The Bridge over the River Kwai and then later seeing the award-winning David Lean film. Now filmmakers from Australia and Britain have come together to give us the film The Railway Man.

The story, directed by Jonathan Teplitzkky, moves back and forth from 1980 Britain to the 1942 fall of Singapore and the building of the Thai-Burma Railway by slave labor. Sometimes the breaks are a little confusing, especially those taking place in the ’80s.

The film begins with Eric Lomax (Colin Firth) meeting Patti (Nicole Kidman) on a British train in first class in 1980. He is a railway enthusiast with lots of timetables. Lomax comes alive and meets Patti at the station of her return train. They eventually marry and Patti discovers Eric has a dark past that haunts him.

Eric was a prisoner of war taken into slave labor by the Japanese in 1942 to build the Burma Railway. Jeremy Irvine does a superb job of playing the younger Lomax, with connections in his looks and style with the older Lomax. He is a signals engineer who, with the help of others, begins to build a radio and secretly tries to map where the men are being held.

He is eventually discovered and tortured by beating, water-boarding and imprisonment in bamboo cages. It is hard to believe he would survive. But he does.

As he struggles with the results of the torture later in life, Patti tries to help him, but he will not talk about it. She gets some information from a colleague, Finlay, played in middle age by Stellan Skarsgård. The eventual result is Eric, with Patti’s support, returns to Thailand to find the Japanese interpreter (Hiroyuki Sanada) who is still alive and guides tourists through the camp (now a museum) where Eric was tortured.

The result is a fight within Eric: between vengeance and some form of reconciliation and forgiveness. This is a powerful section of the film where both actors excel in a strong ethical and human vortex.

I was drawn to the film by its World War II themes that have application today. The film is not a great one, but I would say it is worth seeing. It is choppy in places and moves through key plot points very quickly. But Nicole Kidman in her relatively small part is excellent. Colin Firth is brooding but conveys the pain and suffering of Eric Lomax effectively. The younger Lomax, as played by Jeremy Irvine, does a yeoman’s job in the midst of great suffering. Hiroyuki Sanada, as the older interpreter, is equal to Firth in the powerful ending scenes.

In this season of summer blockbusters, The Railway Man is a serious film well-acted. The film is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America, for violence and adult themes. Catholic News Service has reviewed the film as A-III – for adults.

(Father Caswell is Inland Register archivist.)

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