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More than shamrocks: The story of the real St. Patrick

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Parades, concerts, shamrocks and the “wearing o’ the green” mark the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, which falls on today. But the real-life fifth century man is even more colorful.

St. Patrick statue at Nativity Catholic Church, Hollywood, Fla. (Photo: James D. Davis)

Ironically, Ireland’s patron saint wasn’t born Irish. Born either in England or Scotland to a church deacon, he was kidnapped as a boy to pirates, who sold him into slavery in Ireland. He grew up a shepherd until he was able to flee and return to his family.

Yet Ireland or God, or both, still had a hold on him: He had a vision in which the Irish were begging him to “come and walk among us again.” He went to France, studied with the Church and was ordained a bishop.

He set up a base in northern Ireland, then gradually won over the fierce Celtic warlords who ruled parts of the island. A popular story has him lighting a bonfire near the hill of Tara, eventually winning over King Laoghaire there. Over the next 40 years, Patrick built churches all over Ireland, baptizing thousands, ordaining priests, converting the sons of local kings.

St. Patrick window in St. Helen Church, Lauderdale Lakes, Fla. (Photo: James D. Davis)

Stories multiplied about him: that he used a three-leafed clover to show the threefold nature of God, that his walking stick grew into a tree, and that he drove all serpents off the island (although none are believed to have ever been there). It’s said also that he performed a thousand miracles during his time in Ireland.

Whatever the truth of such stories, his dedication and legacy of Celtic Christianity are beyond question. One of the most popular saints, he is honored not only in Ireland but also by the Church of England and Eastern Orthodox Christians.

Patrick himself testified his devotion in writings like his chant-like poem “The Breastplate”:

Christ be within me
Christ behind me
Christ before me
Christ beside me
Christ to win me
Christ to comfort and restore me
Christ beneath me
Christ above me
Christ inquired
Christ in danger
Christ in hearts of all that love me
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger

Patrick died on March 17, 461, at Saul, the site of his first church. He is believed to be buried at Down Cathedral in Northern Ireland.


Written by Jim Davis

March 17, 2017 at 5:52 am

Holiday Almanac: Good Friday mourns death of Jesus

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Bas-relief in Angelina's sanctuary, Santa Catarina, Brazil, By Ezequiel Gruber on SXC

Bas-relief in Angelina’s sanctuary, Santa Catarina, Brazil, By Ezequiel Gruber on SXC

Christians today mourn the death of Jesus Christ as Good Friday. Despite his agonizing death on a cross, the holiday is called “Good” because Christians believe Jesus’ death was a sacrifice for all humanity’s sins. ‘‘The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” the New Testament calls him.

In Catholic churches, the traditional Good Friday service includes the Stations of the Cross, a series of meditations based on the 14 recorded events between Jesus’ condemnation in a Roman court and his burial. The Stations are represented with plaques or bas-reliefs around the church auditorium.

Catholics also hold a ‘‘veneration of the cross” ceremony, during which churchgoers approach the altar to kiss the feet of a statue of the crucified Jesus.

Sometimes observed by ecumenical Protestants is Tre Ore, a three-hour service examining each of the ‘‘Seven Last Words” Jesus uttered from the cross. The service is useful for having seven or more ministers take part.

Another type of service is Tenebrae, in which a church is slowly darkened to illustrate Jesus’ death, then relighted to show his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

— James D. Davis


Written by Jim Davis

April 18, 2014 at 8:30 am

T.D. Jakes plans new film festival this month

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Bishop T.D. Jakes pastors the 30,000-member Potter's House in Dallas.

Bishop T.D. Jakes pastors the 30,000-member Potter’s House in Dallas.

More than a half-dozen films with spiritual themes will be screened in Dallas as a new part of megachurch pastor T. D. Jakes’ annual MegaFest.

The International Faith and Family Film Festival is planned for Aug. 29-31 at the Omni Dallas Hotel. Included will be actress Jennifer Hudson, CNN news anchor Soledad O’Brien, and director Randall Wallace of Secretariat fame.

This will be the first time since Jakes started the MegaFest rallies in 2004 that he will emphasize cinema. He says he wants to change perceptions about what constitutes a faith-oriented film.

“Americans are looking for wholesome entertainment that reflects the values they practice and teach their children every day,” Jakes said in a statement. “We’re filling that void.”

The festival will feature films tackling issues such as identity, family and poverty. It will showcase films like Black Nativity from Fox Searchlight, Heaven is for Real from Sony Pictures, and Winnie Mandela, produced by Jakes. Hudson will star in the Mandela movie.

Other films to be screened at the festival include:

  • One Chance, a British romantic comedy that follows the journey of opera singer Paul Potts on his 2007 quest to win Britain’s Got Talent in 2007.
  • The Other Son, about two young men, a Jew and an Arab, who learn they were accidentally switched at birth and raised by families in the opposing communities.
  • Child 31, a documentary on the charity Mary’s Meals, which feeds the poor in India, Kenya and Malawi.
  • Playin’ for Love, a romantic comedy that follows a single mother and a basketball coach at a high school. The film was shot in Miami, with help from the Miami Heat.
  • Grace Unplugged, a coming-of-age musical about a young singer who faces a test of faith and values as she gets her big break.

Also planned is Diversity in Cannes, six short films originally screened at the Festival de Cannes as part of the Beyond Borders Diversity movement. The films were shot in Spain, Italy and Canada.

Besides the screenings, the festival will gather entertainment industry figures for keynote talks and panel dicsussions on various facets of filmmaking.

Among the experts will be Kirstin Wilder, vice president and managing editor of Variety; Mary Claire Kendall, who covers Hollywood for Forbes; Tirrell Whittley, CEO of Liquid Soul Media; Charles King, an agent at William Morris Endeavor; and A. Larry Ross, spokesman for evangelist Billy Graham.

MegaFest has drawn more than 700,000 people in its nine years. Past speakers and performers have included Aretha Franklin, Steve Harvey, Dave Ramsey and Cirque du Soleil.

T.D. Jakes is the founder and senior pastor of The Potter’s House, a 30,000-member church in Dallas. His works include films, TV, radio, and books as well as conferences.

Tickets for the three-day film festival are $99 and include admittance to other MegaFest events, including empowerment sessions for men and women. Discount family and group packages are also available. Registration is available online.

For a complete list of scheduled events, visit the MegaFest website.

James D. Davis

Written by Jim Davis

August 22, 2013 at 8:00 pm

‘Les Miserables’: A parable as old as the Bible

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I just saw “Les Miserables,” and I am delighted to say that the film delivers on the main message of Victor Hugo’s story: Law versus Grace.

The film brings out the historical background of a failed rebellion against a king and his army in France. It paints a Dickensian picture of dirty, desperate peasants and callous aristocrats. And it tells a poignant subplot of a loving father who must accept that his daughter is grown, and release him to the young man she loves.

But most of all, “Les Miz” tells about the duo of Jean Valjean and his antagonist, Inspector Javert: one a repentant criminal, the other a ruthless policeman.

Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is incredulous that the priest he robbed offers him his candlesticks as well.

Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is incredulous that the priest he robbed offers him his candlesticks as well.

The story opens with Valjean ending two decades of hard labor for the crime of stealing bread for his family. Javert tells Valjean he will be on parole forever, and Valjean finds it almost impossible to find work. He turns bitter and brutal, using his strength and wit for no one’s good but his own.

A priest takes him in for the night, but Valjean thanks him by taking off with the silver chalices. Police catch him and return him to the priest, who says he gave the items to Valjean. It’s a vivid picture of Jesus’ instruction that if someone takes your coat, “give him your cloak as well.”

What happens next is what changes Valjean: The priest says his soul has been bought and he is obligated to become a better person. A repentant Valjean takes another identity and founds a humane, well-run factory. He also finds a sick, destitute street woman and takes care of her, then pledges to raise her daughter after her death.

Unfortunately, Javert finds him out and pursues him for jumping parole. Valjean is forced to flee again, this time with his grown adopted daughter.

The antagonists meet again during a the street rebellion, this time with Javert in Valjean’s gunsights. Valjean spares his life, yet Javert insists he will resume his pursuit at the first chance.

The final confrontation ends with a stark difference between the men: Valjean wanting only the safety of his daughter and her lover, Javert driven by his rigid, heartless version of justice. The inspector can no longer deny that his quarry of several decades is a changed man. Yet the law he serves allows for no compassion or leniency. Under this unbearable strain, someone must break.

How remarkable that a popular author — and gifted scriptwriters and filmmakers — should grasp the nature of the gospel, whether they know the source or not. That belief acknowledges the evil nature of humans and the stern demands of divine law. Yet it also states that God designed an end run around his own law: Jesus, in his own death, has paid the penalty, secured forgiveness and provided a way for people to change.

But accepting pardon carries its own price: Once people belong to God, they are responsible to turn their lives around — i.e., repent.

“Les Miserables” works on a human level as well. Many people try to escape their own flawed nature by condemning, pointing the finger, exposing those around them. Others understand flaws, but they can still see how people can change. Which type of person makes the world better? And which type really pleases God?

These are more than heady thoughts. They are soul-searching concepts.

— James D. Davis

Written by Jim Davis

December 26, 2012 at 9:52 pm

Noble figures, doomed cause, forgotten war

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DVD review: For Greater Glory. ARC Entertainment and Dos Corazones Films. 143 minutes. Rated R (violence, some disturbing images).

It may be hard to believe, but Mexico once tried to wipe out Catholicism. That brutal effort, and the ill-fated war it spawned, is the subject of For Greater Glory.

The film, funded by the Knights of Columbus, popped in and out of theaters and quickly vanished this year. That’s a pity, because it was better than that — both for its star power, its production values and the historical lesson about religious freedom.

Enrique Gorostieta (Andy Garcia) molds a band of guerrillas into a rebel army in ‘For Greater Glory.’ (Hana Matsumoto photo, courtesy of ARC Entertainment)

The movie tells of the short, three-year war against the efforts of President Plutarco Elias Calles to wipe out Mexican Catholicism in the 1920s. The anti-clerical brutality gave rise to a guerrilla force known as the Cristeros, or Soldiers of Christ. They posted some early victories, and Calles agreed to allow some freedoms. Many Cristeros, however, refused to accept anything less than victory; thousands were hunted down and killed, and the war itself was largely forgotten.

Shot for a reported $12 million, the film resembles the recent There Be Dragons in sweep and intensity. Part western, part World War I in its look, the film pits legions of rifled soldiers against pistol-packing horsemen.

Calles’ Federales hang priests, burn churches, throw crucifixes onto bonfires, even kill women and children who voice faith in Jesus. The violence is graphic and the body count is high.

Enrique Gorostieta (Andy Garcia), a general turned businessman, tries to ignore the bloodshed but finds it hard to refuse a direct plea from the Cristeros. His wife finally convinces him to do the right thing.

The guerrillas are painted as warrior-saints (some were even canonized by the Vatican): quick with guns and bombs, pious around crosses and images of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Still, the Mexicans in general are portrayed as multifaceted human beings, not the cardboard peasants and banditos of so many other movies.

One oddity: The guerrilla war cry is given as “¡Viva Cristo Rey!” It was actually “¡Viva Cristo Rey! ¡Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!” Maybe the Knights of Columbus wanted the film to appeal to Protestants, who don’t share their devotion to Mary.

Enrique Gorostieta (Andy Garcia) comforts his wife (Eva Longoria) in ‘For Greater Glory.’ (Hana Matsumoto photo, courtesy of ARC Entertainment)

Under Gorostieta’s leadership, the rebellion gains ground, with even women helping smuggle food and ammunition. But high-level politics are against the Cristeros: Both the Vatican and the U.S. government seek an end to the fighting, the latter to keep business deals flowing. For Greater Glory avoids accusing the Vatican, but it makes the American ambassador cynical and callous, even ignoring the sight of corpses hanging on telegraph poles.

Garcia does a decent job as the reluctant commander, starting as a paid consultant, then gradually becoming a believer. Ruben Blades underplays his role as Calles, cultured in manners, casual about the need to slaughter opponents. Eva Longoria has a brief but decent role as Gorostieta’s supportive wife.

Peter O’Toole plays a gentle though rather dotty old priest who sacrifices his life rather than flee Calles’ soldiers. His friendship with a young boy is supposed to lend a softer tone to the film. But given the well-publicized problem of priests and young boys — over the last three decades — this seems like an incredibly tone-deaf element in the plot.

The boy, José Luis Sanchez, is undoubtedly included in the story because he was canonized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church, as were a couple of dozen priests and Cristeros. That seems yet another bit of cynicism: The church seemed to do little to halt the killings, but it honored the victims after their deaths.

The DVD edition adds a lengthy back story on the Cristeros, with impressive sourcing by bishops and historians. Perhaps the DVD will let the Knights of Columbus at least recover production costs. Thus far, the fate of For Greater Glory seems as sad as the events it retells: It has made less than $10 million worldwide.

Commentators have sometimes compared the anti-clerical laws of Mexico and the health regulations of the Obama administration, which is trying to make all insurers — including Catholic colleges, hospitals and dioceses — provide coverage for abortion and birth control. That’s an incredible leap of logic. For Greater Glory works better as a parable on the need for religious freedom. Not to mention the need to dial back violence — not only physical but verbal and legal.

James D. Davis

Written by Jim Davis

September 24, 2012 at 1:19 am

Madea gets in your face yet again

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Film review: ‘Madea’s Witness Protection.’ 114 minutes. Rated PG-13. Lionsgate.

The titled character rants, scolds and chatters her way through another movie in Madea’s Witness Protection, the newest foray of Tyler Perry’s “mad black woman” creation.

Yes, Perry shows his great versatility in playing several roles: Madea, her bumbling brother and her federal prosecutor nephew. But how often can you hear Madea spew dumb stuff, and say it three times or more, without squirming and looking at your watch?

Tyler Perry reprises the titled role in ‘Madea’s Witness Protection.’ (Courtesy Allied Integrated Marketing)

At least Perry makes the setup somewhat believable. George is a simple, honest accountant (Eugene Levy) who finds he’s been set up by a shifty corporation to take the fall in a Ponzi scheme involving hundreds of millions of dollars. He offers to rebuild the money trail, but of course he and his family need a safe house.

Naturally, the federal prosecutor assigned to him is Brian (Tyler Perry as a middle-aged man). And for some reason, the feds are all out of safe houses. So naturally #2, the family has to be put up at the house of his aunt: Madea.

The plot then rolls on three wheels: the effort to nail the real scammers, the need to heal rifts in the family, and Madea’s outsize, overbearing personality — which, however, Perry tries to soften a bit with a grain or two of wisdom.

There are a few other subplots. The son needs some male bonding. The daughter is an insolent brat and needs to value her family. The wife (Denise Richards) tells George that family is more important than the material success he was chasing. Right, right. Family values. We get it.

Not that this is a terrible film. One good thing, as in just about every Tyler Perry film, is the respectful treatment of faith and its adherents. At a church down the street (although Madea doesn’t attend), we hear some evocative spirituals from a gospel choir. We also hear an emotive sermon from the pastor (John Amos). The church folks show a bold, joyous faith and even use Jesus’ name as something besides a swear word.

Another positive of this film is throwing work to actors who haven’t gotten much attention lately. Eugene Levy is a masterful comedian, a cast member of the brilliant Second City Television and its successor, SCTV. Doris Roberts, as his senile mother, is a veteran of the memorable show Everybody Loves Raymond.

We also get a glimpse of two fine 1970s sitcom actors, John Amos as the pastor and Marla Gibbs as a neighbor. And Denise Richards as George’s wife — well, she’s still nice looking and can say a line without embarrassing herself.

Tyler Perry is immensely talented, and a man of good will and great sensitivity. But he just may have put on that lipstick and gray wig and floral housedress once too often.

Interestingly, Perry may have concluded that himself. The screening I attended included a preview of Alex Cross — in which he plays a tough cop.

If you want to look into the movie more, here’s the website.

James D. Davis=

Written by Jim Davis

July 16, 2012 at 2:45 am

Vivid look at Catholic beliefs, but not the people

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TV / video review: “Catholicism.” PBS (check local listings).

Cameras pan through majestic cathedrals; Hispanic children smile and sing; Africans dance in procession and Europeans pace reverently with lighted candles in Catholicism.  The 10-parter fills both the eye and the mind, but not always successfully.

Produced by Word On Fire of Skokie, Ill., the documentary does as good a job as any in recent memory, in showing both the sweep and nuance of the Roman Catholic Church. An obvious motive is to balance the numerous news stories about priests accused of molestation. But Catholicism also introduces viewers to theology and social teachings of the church. Unfortunately, it doesn’t dwell a lot on the believers.

Cover image for "Catholicism," both the book and the video.

Host for the show is Word On Fire founder Father Robert E. Barron, who leads us on a travelogue across several continents. We see not only the usual St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, but also the Cathedral of St. John Lateran there. We also see historic churches in Cologne, Germany, Guadalupe, Mexico, Jerusalem and elsewhere. And we see worshipers in places like Kolkata, Kampala, Lourdes and Sao Paulo. It’s a good illustration of how the church is indeed catholic, or universal.

The good priest explains various concepts, like the existence of God, the liturgy, the reason for worship, and how the Church can be called the “Body of Christ.” I especially liked how he calls for peaceful dialogue. “I think we’ve forgotten how to have a good religious argument that’s not just bland toleration [or] killing each other,” he says.

And yes, he deals with the molestation crisis, confessing that the perpetrators were sinners (how could he say otherwise?). “To say that the Church is holy is not to deny for a minute that it’s filled with sinners,” he says. “But none of this gainsays that the church is . . . a bearer of grace.”

Barron is a good host. He comes off as earnest, engaging, enthusiastic. He gestures with huge hands and speaks conversationally, rather than professorially. It’s a welcome change from the rednecks or ramrods that infect so many TV shows on religion.

So, here’s the church, here’s the people, but what do they say? Very little in this miniseries: Barron is the only talking head. The show mainly forms a set of backdrops for his talks. So many beautiful men, women and children are seen throughout Catholicism. What does the faith mean to them? Some short interviews would have added much to the program.

To its credit, Catholicism is a program that other people besides Catholics could enjoy. The color and polish showcase the beauty that Barron and Word On Fire see in the Church. But part of that beauty is in the people themselves. They should have been allowed to play a bigger part in it.

Perhaps the reason is that the film is meant to be part of a catechesis, or instruction, for adults. It has a companion book of the same title, also by Barron.

Word On Fire also has several materials based on the documentary: study guides, workbooks, even prayer cards for evangelization. They’re promoted on its own site.

James D. Davis

Written by Jim Davis

October 9, 2011 at 10:56 pm

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