Culture Reviews


Holy unknowns and Scriptural sinners

Catholics have many holy, noble historical figures to admire — biblical figures such as St. Joseph and saints such as St. Thérèse of Lisieux and St. Ignatius of Loyola. But what about those people who perhaps were not so honorable, or those whose contributions have been long forgotten? Two new books familiarize readers with those people and help us understand what they can teach us today. 

Most of us know the stories of holy people such as Sts. Francis of Assisi and Catherine of Siena. St. Gangolf and Blessed Beatrix D’Ornacieux? Not so much. 

Writer Brian O’Neel introduces us to those two, plus 37 other less famous holy people, in his new book “Saint Who? 39 Holy Unknowns” (Servant, $13.99). Each chapter ends with a paragraph explaining why the holy person in question deserves contemporary Catholics’ attention and devotion, as well as a prayer. Gangolf, for example, was a devout eighth-century soldier who had the misfortune of marrying an adulterous woman. Though he could have divorced her, Gangolf forgave her and strove to keep the marriage intact, a lesson for readers facing a similar predicament. 

In “Fools, Liars, Cheaters and Other Bible Heroes” (Franciscan Media, $14.99), Barbara Hosbach profiles 28 flawed biblical figures — 14 from the Old Testament and 14 from the New Testament — and explains how their stories relate to our contemporary lives. There’s Rahab, for example, the Gentile prostitute who lied to her own people and helped the Israelites capture Jericho, all because of her faith and trust in God. 

Most of the people featured in the chapters are far from the scoundrels the book’s title implies, yet Hosbach reminds readers that even the kindest-hearted and best-intentioned among us have weaknesses and imperfections to overcome.


‘The War of the Vendee’

war of vendee

Religious liberty has been at the heart of many a conflict at various times in history. A new film, “The War of the Vendee” (Navis Pictures, $20), highlights such a struggle for religious freedom during the French Revolution.  

The people of the Vendee region of France, where St. Louis de Montfort preached, believe at first that they are insulated from the persecution of the Faith taking place elsewhere in the country, but as priests begin to be arrested and the practice of the Faith is oppressed, they take up arms to defend their way of life against republican forces.  

As with Navis’ earlier film, “St. Bernadette of Lourdes,” the entire cast of “The War of the Vendee” is made up of children and adolescents, in this case more than 250. With such a cast, the inevitable battle scenes could have been difficult to watch, but director Jim Morlino films the fighting with care. Through his direction, the young actors deliver earnest, if not always polished, performances.  

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‘Truth and Life’

One pitfall of listening to “Truth & Life Dramatized Audio Bible: New Testament” (Zondervan/Falcon Picture Group, $49.99) is that you may never read the Bible again without having the voices of famous actors in your head.  

truth and life

The lush, 22-hour production features an international cast of actors performing the entire Revised Standard Version-Catholic Edition of the New Testament, including Julia Ormond as the Blessed Virgin, Michael York as Luke, Blair Underwood as Mark, Sean Astin as Matthew, Kristen Bell as Mary Magdalene and Brian Cox as the Voice of God.  

An original score and sound effects enhance the drama of the Word as it is spoken. When Jesus walks on water in Matthew 14, for example, readers can hear the wind whipping across the Sea of Galilee. As St. Paul writes his letters, readers can hear the sound of a pen making its way across paper. 

The 18-CD audio Bible, which was produced by Carl Amari and Raymond Arroyo, includes a forward by Pope Benedict XVI and was endorsed by the Vatican.