Names on Walls

Memorial Day reminds us of those who died while serving in the country’s armed forces. Do we take it personally or is it just a holiday that gives us a long weekend?

On a visit to Arlington National Cemetery, I noticed the monument to those who died on the Battleship Maine. Do you “Remember the Maine” that battle cry that rallied us into the Spanish-American War? No visitor stopped to touch the wall, make rubbings, or even read the names. Will the same come true for the Vietnam Memorial?

I made my first contact with war when I was about three and a half. The family gathered around the most magical piece of furniture in the house, the Philco radio. President Roosevelt announced that we were at war. As I grew, the war became part of the family’s life with Ration Books and War Bonds, the collection of tinfoil, scrap metal, newspapers, and bacon fat. Four uncles and many family friends entered military service. One never came back.

Uncle Eddie had arrived in England only eighteen days earlier. On a training mission, he and his crew flew their B-24 Liberator bomber over the Irish Sea. Upon their return to base, the plane exploded. The grateful citizens of Birkenhead, England—south of Liverpool—carved Eddie’s name and the names of his companions on a memorial. My Aunt wrote that flowers decorate that monument all these years later.

In 1944, The Selective Service System drafted my thirty-four-year-old father into the Navy. We walked him to the Green Line Bus and waved goodbye. He called that night to say that he had been assigned to the USMC Reserves. Eventually, he participated in the invasion and occupation of Okinawa.

I vividly remember a day in September of 1945, when Dad, Mom, and my younger brother met me outside Our Lady of Perpetual Help School. When we had walked home, Dad opened his duffle bag and handed my brother and me Marine fatigue hats and knapsacks. We wore them beyond the point of utility. These battle mementos and endless viewings of John Wayne movies convinced us that we, like Dad would join the Marines.

Growing up, we dressed in parts of our father’s uniforms and joined the neighborhood boys in war games. The only kids excluded from our melees were the young baby boomers and girls.

As the years passed, my younger and youngest brothers joined the Marines. Although my youngest brother and a girl who lived down the block never played our war games, they both saw action in Vietnam. As part of a recon unit, my brother dropped out of helicopters with a massive radio on his back. He has the scars to prove it. The girl joined the Army. Captain Eleanor G. Alexander R. N. died in a plane crash with other nurses and a group of Vietnamese children. You can find her name on The Vietnam Memorial.

I met Rich Roughgarden at Notre Dame. He illuminated his architectural drawings much like an ancient monastic scribe. They were works of art, science, and social commentary. Shortly after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Rich took me along on a road trip east. I visited friends in Brooklyn and attended the Notre Dame-Syracuse game in the old Yankee Stadium. Rich and I lost track of each other, but years later, I noticed his obituary in the Notre Dame Magazine. He served in an engineering unit and died in an accident. His name is on the Wall.

Many served and continued to serve. I know three who died in accidents. Like many, they never fired a shot in anger, but they stood between us and the shooters. They and those who fell in the service of their country remain forever young. Take a moment to remember what they did for us. They deserve our thanks and prayers.

Feast of Pontius Pilate, by E. Ann McIntyre

JC_PP_Front_Cover_Red

Who would have thought that any of the Gospel villains would merit a feast on the liturgical calendar or have churches erected in their memory? Believe it or not, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church considers Pontius Pilate and his wife, Claudia to be saints. A clear case for Claudia begins in the scriptures where she urges Pontius to have nothing to do with the trial of Jesus, but where does the road begin for Pilate’s conversion?

 

The canonical and apocryphal gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the writings of Flavius Josephus, the letters of Pontius Pilate, the Report of Pilate to Emperor Tiberius, concerning Jesus Christ, and other documents provide the substance from which the fertile imagination of Ann McIntyre traces Pilate’s spiritual journey.

 

As in her previous novel Lazarus of Bethany, the author inserts backstory—logical links that fill gaps in the scriptural accounts. The upper room used during the Last Supper becomes the Jerusalem home of Zebedee and his sons. McIntyre more completely develops scriptural characters including Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. The Centurion seeking a cure for his servant as Jesus enters Capernaum becomes the same Centurion at the execution and resurrection of Jesus. She expands the role of Cornelius, visited by Peter in the Acts of the Apostles.

 

Emperor Tiberius reluctantly posts Pilate as Prefect of Judea, Samaria, and Idumea, placing him on notice that any failure in his management could result in his execution. The enmity of Tiberius comes despite his family connection to Claudia. Pressure on Pilate increases with the constant complaints to Rome by Chief Priest Caiaphas. The condemnation and execution of Jesus place Pilate in a no-win situation. Leniency would allow Caiaphas to say that Pilate “is no friend to Caesar,” but the crucifixion of Jesus also blackens Pilate’s record with Tiberius. As Pilate dispatches a report of the execution, a letter from Tiberius arrives, asking for Jesus to become his personal healer.

 

McIntyre adds a spiritual dimension to her description of the treatment of Jesus before and during his execution—details that enrich meditation, especially during Holy Week.  She nicely exposes Caiaphas’ bribes to cover-up Jesus’ resurrection and seamlessly links the several appearances of Jesus after his resurrection, inserting visits with Claudia and Pilate. Pilate waffles in his belief until disaster strikes.

 

Pilate’s slaughter of Samaritan’s insurgents gives the Governor of Syria the opportunity to replace him with his own man from North Africa. According to the Acts of Pilate, the Emperor orders Pilate to kill himself. Some accounts say that Christ appears to Pilate saving his life and confirming his conversion.

 

Although historical fiction, at times The Feast of Pontius Pilate reads like an action-adventure thriller. The story flows logically as narrations switch between Pilate and Jesus. Pilate’s conversion certainly fits within the Year of Mercy theme. If Pontius Pilate could receive forgiveness and mercy, we can hope for the same.

 

Into the Way of Peace, by Karen Kelly Boyce

Into the Way of Peace blends the mystical with the mysterious.

While a blizzard swirls around an inner city church, a desperate few pass within. Some seek shelter from the storm. Others desire consolation because of life’s overwhelming burdens. One young man hopes to escape a police manhunt.

Fr. D’Angelico welcomes each guest to worship before the Blessed Sacrament. He has served at Holy Rosary Church for fifty years, as curate, pastor and now a retired resident. In his younger days, he had fallen victim to the “heresy of good works.” At that time, he had believed that the success of his ministry depended solely on him. Now, aged, arthritic and terminally ill, he has learned through prayer that Jesus alone brings in the harvest.

The Lord has given this faithful servant the gift of reading souls. This night, Fr. D’Angelico’s special charism tells him that seven souls will kneel before the Blessed Sacrament and receive a life-altering visit from Jesus, himself.

Frankie the Bottle, an alcoholic, seeks a warm place to crash. He drinks to forget that his carelessness killed his wife and daughter. Two professional men enter, full of emotion and conflict—their wealth and position are the consequence of choosing the expedient rather than what they know to be right. Two women mourn for estranged children who will never speak to them again. A Polish Catholic survivor of Auschwitz, who has lived for others without appreciation, could do much more in life if she only recognized her unique but underutilized charism. Bobby, rich and spoiled—a prodigal son—desperately needs to accept God’s love.

Fr. D’Angelico and the seven souls interact throughout this interlocking collection of short stories. Some souls consider the monstrance and the host an idolatrous perversion of Christianity. Nevertheless, both the Eucharist and the Scriptures make a powerful impression on each as they deal with the hopelessness of their situations.

Karen Kelly Boyce has the knack of stitching together the earthy and the heavenly so that her gripping stories both startle and edify the reader. Many know her for her delightful Sisters of the Last Straw series, her darker novels like In the Midst of Wolves, or her inspirational Down Right Good and A Bend in the Road. Into the Way of Peace finds itself in good company.

Lazarus of Bethany: A Novel, By E. Ann McIntyre

Fictionalized representations of biblical characters often miss the mark. Nevertheless, the Bible serves as a vast treasury of plots and characters, including intriguing hints of narratives read between the lines. One of the most fascinating but little-known characters in the New Testament is Lazarus of Bethany—The Friend of the Lord.

The scriptures do not tell us how Jesus of Nazareth became a friend of Lazarus and his sisters, Martha, and Mary who lived on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Ann McIntyre’s novel offers an imaginative but scripturally consistent backstory that links Jesus and Lazarus from their teen years through the passion and death of Jesus and beyond. The author builds on the scriptural foundation with material gathered outside of the scriptures that support the notion that Lazarus, although at first reluctant, served as an apostle of Christianity.

The author explains:

Outside the Gospels, there are stories that Lazarus lived in Kiton [now Laranca] Cyprus, and that he was named its first Bishop by St. Paul and St. Barnabas. The Church of St. Lazarus is there and is said to house his second grave. Other stories have the Bethany siblings living their mission in southern France. They miraculously arrived there after a forced journey by boat. There are a number of churches built there in their honor, including another burial site for Lazarus.  The Gospel does not tell us what happened to Lazarus after Jesus brought him back to life. We have no idea how the miracle affected Lazarus. He remains a silent witness to his friend who loved him. This story is a fictional offering about Lazarus of Bethany and his relationship with Jesus of Nazareth. It is a story about two boys who lived in an occupied state, in a troubled land, and grew into manhood together.  It is a story of two men, two deaths, two resurrections, and the enemies of the truth who sought to destroy them both. It is a story of doubt, and the journey to faith, of fear, and the journey to courage, of bitterness and the journey to forgiveness.  

The author addresses other poorly explained issues in the Gospels such as the relationship between Jesus and his brothers and sisters, the family connection to Zebedee the fisherman and his sons James and John, and the unusual link between the early Christian community and Pontius Pilate.

Although a compelling work of historical fiction, Lazarus of Bethany offers an inspirational message. It shows Lazarus, Martha, and Mary as close personal friends to Jesus. Lazarus, a priest in the Temple of Jerusalem, experiences conflict as Jesus gradually reveals that God is his father. Lazarus, of all people, had an early exposure to Jesus as a dear friend and extraordinary person, but Lazarus resisted Jesus and only reluctantly became a disciple. Martha and Mary knew that Jesus had the power to heal and raise the dead. When Lazarus died, they blamed Jesus. Their reaction resembles that of so many who lose a close relative or friend, especially when prayers had been offered to save that person’s life. Mary’s passionate washing of the feet of Jesus represents the fervent love that many devoted Christians offer to God.

On two counts, the cleverness of the novel and the spiritual benefits of the Lazarus story make Lazarus of Bethany a rewarding read, especially during Lent and the Easter season.

Louis Everly reminds us in Joy: Meditations on the Joyful Heritage of Christianity, his inspirational book on the Easter season that Catholics dutifully sacrifice throughout the fifty days of Lent but forget to celebrate the fifty days between Easter and Pentecost. They pray the Stations of the Cross but neglect the Stations of Joy. There’s no better guide to both the Lenten and Easter events than Lazarus of Bethany, a childhood friend of Jesus.

Down Right Good, by Karen Kelly Boyce

Down right good

This story of social media with training wheels follows ten-year-old Angie’s Saturday deliveries of newspapers and baked goods. Each customer along Angie’s route receives her gifts and shares conversations, usually revealing vexing problems. Angie gathers problems at each stop, not as burdens but with an intention of finding solutions.

Angie’s Down syndrome limits her vocabulary but diminishes neither her insight nor her ability to “tell it like it is.” At least one of her customers regularly shouts at Angie, warning her that she never wants to see her again, but actually would miss Angie if she didn’t return the next week. Each customer owns a puzzle piece. Angie finds ways of bringing them together to form a wondrous mosaic.

Many of the chapters of Down Right Good stand on their own as powerful short stories, but Karen Kelly Boyce cleverly links them into a magnificent whole. Angie’s childlike ministrations heal her community so that strangers, tepid neighbors and alienated family members come to live as a caring community, willing to accept and forgive even the worst offenders among them.

If Angie is the “angel” of the story, there must be a villain. As in her novel In the Midst of Wolves, Boyce describes the far reaching effects of child abuse that plague Angie on her errands of mercy. The author not only decries the evil, but she provides an example of a solution to this pervasive problem.

Pope Francis has called for a Year of Mercy, beginning on 8 December 2015. Down Right Good exemplifies the spirit of “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Angie acts as a “missionary of mercy.” Her impact brings her community a sense of acceptance and forgiveness for transgressions past and present.