Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Looking for the King

During one of the days wherein I was in intense pain along with having a sinus infection, I stayed in bed and read. I normally don't read books in one day. I haven't since the time of Redwall back in, well, '96. Needless, to say I haven't put myself in the situation where I have the time to finish a book so quickly. Well, in that period of convalescence I had just so the opportunity. The book I chose for this wonderful feat, Looking for the King by David Downing. The book intrigued me because in included in its cast of characters CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien, both whom I admire as Christians and writers but most especially as Christian writers.

Downing is something of a Lewis scholar. He has spent much of his published time on the life and work of CS Lewis. The thing about Lewis is that to get in touch with him requires that one get in touch with and get to know his friends, the Inklings, most notably Tolkien and a hitherto mysterious man, Charles Williams. Being so familiar with their works Downing used both actual quotes from them within the book as well as giving a very life like caricature of those men.

Really that is the charm of the book. I found the plot is pedestrian though enjoyable. It's somewhat predictable and lacks a real spark. The villain is not developed enough to really have much effect on the reader. He is too clouded in mystery to really care what happens to him, good, bad, or nothing at all. The protagonists are likable, and as an American, I found them relatable.

For none of these reasons could I put the book down, rather, I felt that through this book I was getting to know Lewis, and Tolkien, and Williams, in their wisdom, in their humor, in their quirkiness. I couldn't wait for the next passage with one of them in it because some sort of gem would hidden within Downing's lines. I felt like I was in the pub joking with them, sitting in on an actual lecture of theirs, walking along the Thames with them.

If your a fan of any of the aforementioned men, I would suggest reading this just for the sheer delight of meeting them in their own context and milieu instead of merely on the pages of Mere Christianity or The Hobbit.

I wrote this review of Looking for the King for the free Catholic book review program, created by Aquinas and More Catholic Goods, your source for Baptism Gifts and First Communion Gifts. Tiber River is the first Catholic book review site, started in 2000 to help you make informed decisions about Catholic book purchases. 
I receive free product samples as compensation for writing reviews for Tiber River.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Graceful Freedom

The topic of freedom and grace remains one of the most difficult discussions in Christian theology. When John Paul II writes about it, at the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart: what is the heart made for, how can it love, what model does it take? In the post Christian west, we are told that salvation is liberation, and liberation is at the service of the individual. But if freedom and grace are only ordered to the self, then it becomes clear that human dignity means nothing more than autonomy, and salvation is reduced to selfishness. If, however, human freedom exists to be at the service of others, then human beings 'become like God' when they empty themselves for the sake of everybody else. In light of this truth, JP II knew that it was counter-productive to present a God of triumph when, in fact, the mystery of the Christian God is that He Himself is a God of surrender. "In his intimate life, God 'is love,' the essential love shared by the three divine Persons: personal love is the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of the Father and the Son. Therefore he 'searches even the depths of God,' as uncreated Love-Gift. It can be said that in the Holy Spirit the intimate life of the Triune God becomes totally gift, an exchange of mutual love between the divine Persons and that through the Holy Spirit God exists in the mode of gift." (Dominum et Vivificatem, 10.)

In the Holy Spirit, God exists in the mode of gift. God exists in the mode of gift. God exists in the mode of gift! While all the power and progress of this world promises to move mankind toward some infinite pleasure or individual indulgences, Christianity, alone of all the world’s religions and philosophies, presents a man's end as the God Who IS Gift. Who IS selflessness. And when choosing to make this fundamental reality of His existence known to men, He became a man and died, thus fully inaugurating a new law of Gift (or, in Latin, gratia, grace). JP II phrases it this way: "Christ is the centre of the economy of salvation, the recapitulation of the Old and New Testaments, of the promises of the Law and of their fulfillment in the Gospel; he is the living and eternal link between the Old and the New Covenants…Jesus himself is the living "fulfillment" of the Law." (Veritatis Splendor, 16.) This new law of gift is the great revolution of our religion. Its not just about helping people or 'making the world a better place': it’s about making heaven a better place, or rather, making both heaven and earth a place where the King of Gift can actually be given something Himself. For grace (gift) is, after all, how Christians have access to the God who exists in the mode of Gift (grace).

Anyone familiar with Pauline theology or the evangelical applications thereof will know that this is no new theme in Christianity. In her most recent century, fundamentalists and street preachers commonly talked about it within the context of conversion. JP II's himself approaches the topic of grace from the same angle; "The Apostle Paul invites us to consider in the perspective of the history of salvation, which reaches its fulfillment in Christ, the relationship between the (Old) Law and grace (the New Law). He recognizes the pedagogic function of the Law, which, by enabling sinful man to take stock of his own powerlessness and by stripping him of the presumption of his self-sufficiency, leads him to ask for and to receive 'life in the Spirit.'" (Veritatis Splendor, 23) Once we 'take stock' of our own powerlessness, however, we are invited into a new freedom where we extend ourselves beyond the limits of our own person by giving of ourselves for the sake of the Other (‘the Other’=Christ and other humans). Therefore, JP II points out that "Perfection demands that maturity in self-giving to which human freedom is called....Human freedom and God's law are not in opposition; on the contrary, they appeal one to the other. The follower of Christ knows that his vocation is to freedom." (Veritatis Splendor, 17.) No longer are we slaves to the things of this world, to sex, to food, to cloths, to the news, to politics, to even culture itself. All of these things are created good, culture included, but JP II knows that it is important that "man does not become the prisoner of any of his cultures, but asserts his personal dignity by living in accordance with the profound truth of his being." And the truth of man's being is the truth of gift (grace).

Man's graceful freedom can only come through the gospel of Christianity. This gospel is itself Christ's gift: it is not an imposition or a burden. As JP II puts it; "On her part, the Church addresses people with full respect for their freedom. Her mission does not restrict freedom but rather promotes it. The Church proposes; she imposes nothing." (Redemptoris Missio, 39) To accept Christ's word in freedom is to become free to live for others and the Other, for a destiny far greater than the autonomous self could ever provide. "Hence, human activity cannot be judged as morally good merely because it is a means for attaining one or another of its goals, or simply because the subject's intention is good. Activity is morally good when it attests to and expresses the voluntary ordering of the person to his ultimate end and the conformity of a concrete action with the human good as it is acknowledged in its truth by reason." (Veritatis Splendor, 72.)

GKC was fond of saying that you cannot argue with a man unless you can sympathize with his perspective. It’s not simply a matter of understanding his view, but truly feeling the pain he feels. In our day and time, there are many who feel that ‘the Church’ (it matters little whether they mean Roman Catholicism or merely the body of Christians) stands as an institution in contrast with individual freedom. The fact of the matter is that Christianity does, in a very real way, stand in contrast with (if not opposition to) our contemporary conception of freedom. If by ‘freedom’ we mean ‘privacy,’ than Christianity accepts it as only a condition of worldly existence, and a rather negative one at that. In heaven, there will be no privacy for there will be no ability to hold back a part of yourself from anyone else. It would be foolishness to stand before the pearly gates and say to God and the angelic court, the Saints and the Martyrs: “I will share anything with you except this small part. I need it for myself and would feel insecure were I forced to give it away.” Heaven knows nothing of such privacy. The Church admits of the right to privacy as she admits to the right to property: as a temporal affair. That is to say, she concedes to it as temporary, something that will disappear with the coming of the Kingdom. And she prays earnestly, each day, that the Kingdom come sooner rather than later.

In his writing, John Paul II certainly sympathizes with this situation in which Christianity and the world’s opposing ideas of freedom war for men’s hearts. However, he never let this sympathy (which is an emotion) interfere with his love (which is an action). He was willing to admit that complex modern realities, tied into the perennial scandals of humanity-this-side-of-heaven, leave Christianity an easy target of ridicule and suspicion. The question is whether or not we can separate the teachings of Christ from the communion of love he personally established, a communion called the Church. As he says in Veritatis Splendor, "At times, in the discussions about new and complex moral problems, it can seem that Christian morality is in itself too demanding, difficult to understand and almost impossible to practice. This is untrue, since Christian morality consists, in the simplicity of the Gospel, in following Jesus Christ, in abandoning oneself to him, in letting oneself be transformed by his grace and renewed by his mercy, gifts which come to us in the living communion of his Church." (119) In this self-abandonment, the human person breaths again, living not just for herself, but gracefully for the Other.

How Not to Say Mass

Over the past semester, I have done a lot of reading for my classes, more than in previous semesters. I decided, it being my last semester I would be more diligent. Go out with a bang.

How Not to Say Mass by Fr. Denis Smolarski, SJ was a recommended reading book for our mass practicum class. I found the title intriguing and the length short so I dove in on a journey through the liturgical mind of Jesuit mathematician.

Fr. Smolarski wrote the book as a response to the abuses of the liturgy after Vatican II. Indeed, he had a very noble aim. His goal was simple: let's not get overly creative and stick to what's there, in the Missal and in the GIRM and (here's the kicker) in the minds of liturgists.

I don't usually post ecclesio-political opinions on here, but I began to be worried. He seemed to quote only a few sources, none of whom I had heard in my albeit meager study of theology. His aim was very helpful. Stick to the principles and you'll be okay. Indeed, that is great advice, unless you are sticking to weak or biased principles. Now, I must say on the whole his principles are sound. He directs the priest to follow what is in the Missal, the old WDTPRS saying, "Say the black and do the red." Not only that but that the black should be said in such a way as to convey well the meanings of the words and the actions should be done in such a way to be in accord with the solemnity of the celebration of the sacred liturgy.

He honestly rails on priests who have done things I wish to not even think about. He is not supporting or condoning celebrating the liturgy in the ever ethereal 'spirit of Vatican II.' He is a fan of Vatican II. He shares with the reader his great delight at the reforms of Vatican II. However, he veers away from reason into bias at this point.

He operates under a hermeneutic of rupture, as Pope Benedict calls it. He attaches himself so much to the missal of Paul VI that he denies the validity or power of any of the previous forms of the Roman liturgy. He treats them as passe and incongruous with the Twenty-first Century. This is both illogical and poor theology. Before I continue with reasons why, I will grant him a small concession: Summorum Pontificum, which made it abundantly clear than the extraordinary form can and should inform the ordinary form and vice versa, was written after the publish date of 2002.

It is illogical and untheological because to show rupture from the previous iterations of the Roman liturgical form is to put into question their validity. He, in no uncertain terms, calls the Ordinary Form the highest yet of the evolution of the Roman liturgy, which isn't even in accord with Vatican II.

It does have some good things to say, but it is in need of revision. Read at your own theological risk.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Epic Hope

I once wrote a reflection on the over-use of the word ‘epic.’ When I apply this term to the life and teaching of John Paul the Great, however, I do so in absolute confidence. There is really no other way to describe the hope of a smiling actor from impoverished Poland when he rose up against such towering forces of evil. Amidst the burning death of the holocaust, Karol Wojtyla wrote plays that burned with a brighter hope that outlasted the fires of Auschwitz. It was that same hope that brought color to his priesthood during the dreary years of Stalinist Poland. When he became Pope John Paul II, its luminosity acted as his spotlight on the world-stage. And though they've never been televised or presented from pulpit or balcony, these encyclicals of JP II bring the drama of this hope to the largest audience, to generations yet unborn. That the unborn found one of their greatest advocates in the great Pope, no one would doubt. The fact of the matter is that he acknowledged their plight and considered it part and parcel of the scourge of contemporary culture: what JP II called the 'culture of death.' To fight this death, he constantly exhorted us to ‘be not afraid!,” "For the mission of the Church is always oriented and directed with unfailing hope towards the future." (Salvorum Apostoli, 31)

His use of such dramatic language shows that he had none of the blind optimism of the students and idealists: he was too much the professor. He had none of the platforms or campaign promises of the politicians: he was too pious a priest. Finally, and most powerfully, his warnings contain none of the dire pessimism of (false) prophets and preachers: he was too secure in sanctity to give up on humanity. "There is no justification then for despair or pessimism or inertia...(individual responsibility) is what is demanded by the present moment and above all by the very dignity of the human person, the indestructible image of God the Creator, which is identical in each one of us." (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 47) This hope stands like light against a shadow precisely because JP II realized just how dark is the shadow that remains over our world. "In general, taking into account the various factors, one cannot deny that the present situation of the world, from the point of view of development, offers a rather negative impression...There are many millions who are deprived of hope due to the fact that, in many parts of the world, their situation has noticeably worsened. Before these tragedies of total indigence and need, in which so many of our brothers and sisters are living, it is the Lord Jesus himself who comes to question us (cf. Mt 25:31-46).” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 13)

I said last time that JP II seems caught up in the drama of the relationship between God and man. It is in the midst of this drama that he finds our source for hope. Any realistic look at the "wages of sin" reveals, not simply fallen creatures, but a frustrated creation and a sorrowful Creator. "The Sacred Book speaks to us of a Father who feels compassion for man, as though sharing his pain. In a word, this inscrutable and indescribable fatherly "pain" will bring about above all the wonderful economy of redemptive love in Jesus Christ, so that through the mysterium pietatis love can reveal itself in the history of man as stronger than sin. So that the "gift" may prevail!" (Dominum et Vivificatem, 39) In other words, redemption is at the service of gift. Hope is at the service of love! 

His own life had taught JP II that is was not enough that Hitler be defeated, that abortion be repealed, that the poor be fed and that sins be repented of. The greatness of all of these epic and edifying goals can only be measured in relation to our conversion toward God. Often we may think of hope and love as autonomous actions (I converted to Christ, so now I can love my family), but JP II saw conversion and love as part of the same movement. "Conversion is the most concrete expression of the working of love and of the presence of mercy in the human world. The true and proper meaning of mercy does not consist only in looking, however penetratingly and compassionately, at moral, physical or material evil: mercy is manifested in its true and proper aspect when it restores to value, promotes and draws good from all the forms of evil existing in the world and in man." (Dives in Misericordia, 6) It is this "restoration of value" that JP II saw as the true goal of Christianity. Don't become confused by the ethical connotation of the word 'value': JP II is not talking about a 'return to family values' or a spread of 'Christian values.' He means that human beings should find life as valuable and fulfilling, love as strong and solid as silver or gold, and a God with an infinite value and meaning.

When life fails to attain to this value, contemporary man finds himself adrift in a world of selfishness and cut off from his fellow creatures (i.e. separated from other humans, the environment, the community, the angels and saints, etc.) Yet, even here, in the midst of all the distractions of our noisy, overpaid and oversexed culture, JP II saw the glimmerings of hope. "From the depth of anguish, fear and escapist phenomena like drugs, typical of the contemporary world, the idea is slowly emerging that the good to which we are all called and the happiness to which we aspire cannot be obtained without an effort and commitment on the part of all, nobody excluded, and the consequent renouncing of personal selfishness." (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 26) Emerging from these depths of pain and loneliness, man is given the opportunity to probe even greater depths. "Faced with the mystery of sin, we have to search 'the depths of God' to their very depth. It is not enough to search the human conscience, the intimate mystery of man, but we have to penetrate the inner mystery of God, those 'depths of God' that are summarized thus: to the Father-in the Son- through the Holy Spirit." (Dominum et Vivificatem, 32) According to JP II, this is "the deep that calls to deep, in the roar of many waters" from Psalm 42. In the very depths of God is where the sufferings of humanity crosses over from shame to joy in the almost-instantaneous embrace of conversion. In JP II's thought, this conversion results in a "Mature humanity" that has “full use of the gift of freedom received from the Creator when he called to existence the man made 'in his image, after his likeness.' This gift finds its full realization in the unreserved giving of the whole of one's human person, in a spirit of the love of a spouse, to Christ." (Redemptor Hominis, 21) Thus, hope finds its fulfillment in more than just 'religious love' or 'spiritual love' but in a real human love, a ‘spousal love,’ which has been transformed into a Divine love. Further exploration of JP II's use of this spousal mystery is so broad a topic that I must leave it until my next reflection.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Avengers Have Nothing on Jesus Christ

I am a comic book geek. I might not be as geeky say as guys/girls who blog about comic books (I thought about doing that by the way, it would be called Catholic Comicie, no?), but I'm still pretty geeky. I was very much looking forward to watching the film version of Earth's Mightiest Heroes, the Avengers. Marvel had hyped this film up over years of prequels that were created prior to the film itself, a brilliant advertising move. Get'em hooked and then create a super-team. Anyway, Joss Whedon, the idol of many comic fanboys, directed the film so it promised to be done well, achieving where other comic book films fell, mainly in being worth watching. 

Anyway, so when it came out I was on my retreat in preparation for Holy Orders, and although I am a geek, I am also a follower of Christ Jesus. Jesus came before Tony Stark, Thor, and Samuel L. Jackson's eyepatch. In case you were wondering, I had a great retreat the Lord worked a lot in my heart and thought the great wisdom of Archbishop Alfred Hughes better prepared me for the sacrament I will soon receive. Much of the retreat got me naturally thinking about Jesus, His person and His redemptive act.

Today, I finally got to see the movie, in 3D even. It was very enjoyable and exactly what I imagined it would be. There was a great plot line and fantastic actions scenes. The interaction between the characters was classic Marvel, Stan Lee style with 21st century language.

About half way through the movie, you realize that the Avengers have to save the world from Loki and his army, which is many movies and comic book plots. What was different though was my reaction. I began to reflect, in an action movie that doesn't evoke reflection (it wasn't directed by Christopher Nolan). The plot is set for the Avengers to be the only hope for the world. Well, I realized, we've already been saved, once and for all, but the death and Resurrection of the Son of God who became man for our sake, Jesus Christ.

After the movie, I began to reflect on that passage from Hebrews that talks about the once for all sacrifice of Christ. It starts by talking about the priests in the temple. They offer sacrifice daily and yearly for their own sins and for the sins of the people. Their sacrifice needs to be repeated whereas Christ's was once for all. It dawned on me. We treat superheroes like priests. They are there to save us, but their offering needs to be repeated (in trilogy form). They will never fight a fight to end all fights and defeat the archnemesis of all, namely death and sin.

Our desire for heroes is rooted in our desire for saving, which has been fulfilled offered in the eternal salvation offered by Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Excitingly Manly

I'm reading the encyclicals of JP II, all of them, back to back, and IT IS THRILLING! Not just interesting. Not just instructive. Not just edifying. Thrilling like a roller coaster is thrilling. Think of the experience of being on a roller coaster. There are the 'dull' moments, usually associated with the loading of the cars or with the slow making-the-way-up to the first or second drop, but after that it is all rush and wind and screaming. Well, that's what reading a JP II encyclical is like. There are sections that are tedious or difficult to follow. They usually concern the setting of the historical context; "In 1890, my venerable successor Leo XIII wrote that..." and you can usually forgive the JP II because 1) like a good actor, he is trying to set the scene and 2) like a good Christian, he is trying to give credit where credit is due. So he lulls us into his pleasant nostalgia of papal documents that we've never heard of or historical situations that we could care less about. And then, with something like a whoop or holler, he brings us to the top of the track, shows us the horizon, and sends us flying on our way right into the heart of the abyss.

And at the heart of every JP II encyclical is the topic of God and man. The sheer substance of his discourse is their relationship, a relationship more dramatic, more mesmorizing and more unexpected than any relationship in any other writing. The trouble is that most contemporary authors ignore this relationship, or if they do write about it, they bring with them all sorts of hang ups, be they intellectual or emotional. The topic of God becomes so specialized, that reading about God and man becomes like an instruction manuel or, worse still, a cheap romance novel (The atheist authors tend to be the worse about this sort of thing, which is why I don't read them much: its not just that they're wrong, but that they're terribly boring). To return to my first statement, it might not be difficult for you to believe that a theologian could find JP II thrilling precisely because I'm already acquainted with his particular language or 'jargon.' That idea is not exactly what I meant to communicate with my first statement, however. What I meant to say is that I, as a human being, as one of the actors in the great drama between God and man, I find these encyclicals thrilling. And you will too.
I know full and well that, in your life time, you've probably read as many papal encyclicals as you have tax forms, looking forward to both exercises with equal anticipation. Therefore, I only ask that you hear me out as I lay before you some of the thrills I have experienced.

1) The Incarnation in JP II's words: "God entered the history of humanity and, as a man, became an actor in that history, one of the thousands of millions of human beings but at the same time Unique!" (Redemptor Hominis)
God as an actor!? Wouldn't that infer that Jesus was just 'playing around' with us during the Incarantion? No! JP II means to shock us with this language (a language, I might add, that we was borrowing from an equally mind-blowing theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar). God's becoming an actor in human history in no way demeans us, making the world nothing more than a stage, not because the world can't be demeaned, but because God won't be. Therefore, if he became an actor in the drama of human history, as a human, than that means our 'roles' have now been elevated to that of leads! Human beings are now the principle characters in the drama of creation, precisely because God took center stage as one of us. Thus, JP II concludes; "Through the Incarnation God gave human life the dimension that he intended man to have from his first beginning; he has granted that dimension de-finitively---in the way that is peculiar to him alone, in keeping with his eternal love and mercy, with the full freedom of God."

2) 'Justice' in JP II's words; "Although justice is an authentic virtue in man, and in God signifies transcendent perfection, nevertheless love is "greater" than justice: greater in the sense that it is primary and fundamental. Love, so to speak, conditions justice and, in the final analysis, justice serves love." (Dives in Misericordia) Many people think that Christian love 'defeats' justice or 'overrides it.' JP II's words make it clear that justice is not abolished by love, but 're-orders' itself toward love. That is why the Christian must always strive for justice (overcome racism, fight abortion, end wars, etc.) at the service of love (have blacks and whites live together in love, mothers love their children, brothers live in peace with each other, etc). Read in this light, the great tragedy of injustice in NOT what it does to us and how it scars us, but rather what it prevents us from being able to do: love each other. Thus, JP II concludes; "Love, by its very nature, excludes hatred and ill - will towards the one to whom He once gave the gift of Himself: Nihil odisti eorum quae fecisti, 'you hold nothing of what you have made in abhorrence.'"

I give these two examples of the thrill of JP II because they demonstrate perfectly just what type of excitment lies in store for the reader. Many of us feel like we know the gospel. We've heard that Christian thing before. We've gone to Church, gone to Catholic school, watched the movies, sat through CCD, stood through Christmas mass, slept through can't tell me anything new. JP II laughs at you! He says, "Ha!, You think you know Christianity? You think you know about Jesus?" And then he takes you on a theological roller coaster ride that is radically different, more inviting, more intimadating and ultimately more exhilrating than the grand majority of 'religious writings' in book stores. He does it all with that signature smirk. But you must be willing to talk with him. Over the next couple of blogs, I plan on sharing more tidbits from these writings of the late, great Holy Father. See them as a chance to take a look at Christianity from the perspective of a man who fought Hitler with plays, fought Stalin with poetry and fought the devil with the sloppy wet kisses he planted on the foreheads of thousands during the course of his pontificate. I think you will find, as I have, a new approach to the gospel, one that is faithful to its Founder because it is obcessed with His personhood and humanity.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Left Hungry

Everybody has an opinion on the Hunger Games series, which is quite appropriate since the series seems to have little opinion of itself. Just as people are always quick to praise the exulted quiet man, be he hero or villian, the great mass of readers (yes, there are still enough of us to compose a 'great mass') will say as much as they can about the popular book that has little to say on its own. There was that author that commented he had stopped reading his fan mail and book reviews because he was tired of people telling him what he had said. He explained that he never meant to say half the things they said he said. Suzanne Collins might voice a similar complaint, but the irony is that, even if she doesn't deserve all the attention she is getting, she does deserve all of the comments. That is because the Hunger Games begins and ends on an empty stomach. Should the fans be blamed if they are forced to stuff their mouths with commentary (if not, like the characters of the book, with food) because not enough was served them by the author?

The test by which any science fiction or fantasy must be judged is how realistically it portrays humanity. Tolkien was fond of pointing out that the suspension of disbelief should not be shyed away from, but embraced but it is embraced on certain terms. I can believe in human beings being tempted by an all-powerful ring because I have seen human's tempted. The fact that I will never (God willing) come across an all powerful ring is a minor detail in comparison to the fact that I will (devil willing) come across powerful temptation. I can believe in an evil galactic Empire that existed a long time ago in a galaxy far far way because I have studied evil european Empires that existed a short time ago. It is the humanity of science fiction and fantasy that must ring true precisely because we do not rely upon the believability of the technology or the magic. Nevertheless, this technology and magic must be consistent with human nature. I accept the idea of an 'Eldar Wand' or a 'Death Star' because I know humans are always trying to build more awful and more deadly weapons. However, I also know that these weapons rarely work to benefit those who build them. The reason why the stories that contain these menaces are received with such relish is because, deep down inside, we all know that those who live by the sword will perish by the sword.

It is the lack of this lesson, or the confusion with which it is presented, that makes the Hunger Games less than satisfying. The story has a lot of potential. It begins with a simple and powerful conflict: a progressing post-Apocolyptic society, an evil Capitol, hungry slaves, illegal black-market deals, a young warrior, and an oppressive gladiator style competition (and thats just the first 50 pages). However, written in typical 'page-turning' fashion, the reader is given little chance to dwell on these facts. The bad guys get things going too fast, and the narrator is too worried about mere survival, for full rumination on the subject of human dignity, the greater good or the nature of self sacrifice. In a world where injustice draws names out of a hat and the good guys shoot first and do not even ask questions later, virtue and vice become matters of reflex, not matters of choice. Good and evil seem to be little more than instinctual. Life is a game. The driving force is hunger. If there is any greater depth to life in Panem, Katniss Everdeen never discovers it.

There are many powerful points in the plot, too many to mention because the author overloads the story with them. If the reader comprehends their significance, its only because she has taken the time to dismiss the urge to flip the page. That is to say, she has chosen to make a choice that none of the characters make: the choice to reflect in order to grow. As long as the action keeps coming, this is no problem to the stream-of-conscious plot (though it should present problems to the conscience). But when the series draws to its conclusion, and Plutarch Heavensbee smugly suggests that victory over the Capitol may or may not change anything after all, the honest reader wants to throw the book across the room. Or when the love triangle resolves itself because one of the guy's philosophy on total war shoots him in the foot. Or when Katniss ends up as a recovering morphine addict thanks to her 17 visits to the hospital over the course of 18 months. Without giving too much more away, I think that these examples suffice to show how the ending is less than thrilling. The fact that the first book showed so much potential only makes it worse. Here was a popular teen phenomenon that addressed such relevant points as solidarity, first-world vs third-world poverty, human rights, and a bitting critique of the media's role in undermining human value. Even the love triangle was intriguing: ever-faithful Peeta vs. edgy, sexy Gale. There is so much here that could have challenged us. Instead, it merely charged us up for a less-than-satisfying conclusion. 

I really wanted to like these books. I really wanted to tell you to read them and like them too. Instead, I find myself warning you: if you do read them, don't get your hopes up. Katniss Everdeen may be a girl on fire, but she is no phoenix. When the blaze of the games is over, she does not rise from the ashes. Redemption and resurrection have little place in this novel. It is never Easter season in Panem: yet one more reason to be glad that the place is fictional.