Sunday, May 12, 2019

Tolkien (2019): A Review

This past Saturday I went to see the new Tolkien film directed by Dome Karukoski and produced by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Allow me to preface this by saying that I was obsessed with the Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings films when I was in high school and college. Those films, while flawed, were my gateway to the majestic world of Middle Earth and all of its beautiful characters. Since then, I have grown to see the superiority of the books, and I count them among my top ten favorite literary works. And while I am hardly a Tolkien scholar, I hold him in high regard and admire him not only as a great writer and linguist but also as an ardent Roman Catholic. In sum, I went into this film expecting to be greatly disappointed.

I was wrong.

 I enjoyed many aspects of the film immensely. The cinematography was wonderful, and the incorporation of the many fantastical elements through phantom-like appearances of knights on horseback, dragons, and so forth, combined with a gorgeous soundtrack by Thomas Newman, transported me to the world of Faerie in a wonderful way.

Another one of the strengths of the film was the camaraderie amongst Tolkien and his classmates. During his time at Saint Edward's School, Tolkien and several classmates formed an unofficial society titled the "Tea Club, Barrovian Society," also known as the T.C.B.S. According to the film, the group would meet at the tea shoppe, Barrow Stores, and discuss art and literature and critique one another's work (a precursor of the future Inklings). Their friendship and their love of art bore a wonderful resemblance to the poetry club established in the well-known Robin Williams' film, Dead Poets' Society.

SPOILERS BEGIN

Favorite moments? 1) One of the early scenes when the two Tolkien brothers are play-acting with their mother, Mabel; 2) the TCBS scenes when they are kids walking through the streets shouting their battle cry; 3) Edith dancing amongst the trees (this scene was far too short; I needed more of this magic in my life); 4) all the little scenes of Tolkien sketching his creatures from his imagination -- I love that the director pointed to the fact that Tolkien was an artist as well as an author; 5) the opera scene with Edith. These are just a few of the delightful moments and they exceeded my expectations in many respects!

SPOILERS END

My chief criticism is the lack of attention to Tolkien's faith, which was heavily influential on his life, both circumstantially and personally, and on his literary works. For those who may not know, Tolkien's father died when Tolkien was about three. Five years later, his mother Mable Tolkien, raised Baptist, converted to Roman Catholicism, resulting in her family withholding all financial assistance. This left the Tolkien family completely destitute save for the charity of the Catholic Church. Tragically Tolkien's mother passed away from acute diabetes in 1904 (Tolkien was about 12). Before her death, Mabel entrusted the care and upbringing of her sons to her friend, Father Francis Morgan of the Birmingham Oratory.

These events left a deep impression on Tolkien as evidenced by the quote written about nine years after his mother's death: "My own dear mother was a martyr indeed, and it is not to everybody that God grants so easy a way to his great gifts as he did to Hilary and myself, giving us a mother who killed herself with labour and trouble to ensure us keeping the faith."

SPOILERS BEGIN

There is a moment in the film where Father Morgan criticizes Tolkien's romantic pursuit of his childhood friend, Edith, because she is not a Catholic. This comment falls short because it has been poorly contextualized. What could have been a moment of heightened drama for Tolkien, both in regards to his relationship with the priest and in regards to his relationship with his faith as a practicing Catholic, falls flat.

END SPOILERS

The director and writers chose to focus more on the friendships established in the TCBS; while there was plenty of material here as well, nevertheless, I think the lack of attention to his Catholic faith was a missed opportunity for a great subplot.

In conclusion, I enjoyed the film considerably. If I were to rate it in comparison to Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings films and The Hobbit Trilogy, I would agree with the Prancing Pony Podcast hosts, Alan and Shawn, placing it slightly higher than An Unexpected Journey.  I heartily recommend going to see the film if you are a Tolkien fan!

In the meantime, I will be listening to this Thomas Newman soundtrack ad nauseum.

P.S. You don't have to take my word for it: best-selling author and die-hard Tolkien fan Neil Gaiman also recommends the film!


Friday, February 8, 2019

Lettie Hempstock & Tom Bombadil



In Neil Gaiman's adult fairy tale, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, an ordinary little boy encounters a girl and her family who identify themselves as the Hempstocks.

The little girl, Lettie Hempstock, lives on a nearby ramshackle farm with her mother and grandmother. At first glance, Lettie and her family seem like humble, simple folk, wise and warm and generous. In a brief exchange at the beginning of the story, Lettie reveals that she and her family are not at all what they seem:

"Once you've been around for a bit, you get to know stuff."

I kicked a stone. "By 'a bit' do you mean 'a really long time'?"

She nodded.

"How old are you, really?" I asked.

"Eleven."

I thought for a bit. Then I asked, "How long have you been eleven for?"

She smiled at me.

-- Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane: Chapter 3.

After a few more similar cryptic exchanges between the little boy and the Hempstock family, it is readily apparent that the Hempstocks are not only much older than they look, but perhaps even of another world.

Nevertheless, like most families there is tension amongst the family members. While the mother and grandmother choose to observe the world from a distance, Lettie's modus operandi is to to take action. She sees the evil forces threatening the little boy and his family, and chooses to combat them, at great risk to herself and others.

As I was reading this passage I could not help but think of the similarity between Neil Gaiman's  Hempstock family and Tom Bombadil from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. When the hobbits first encounter Bombadil in the Old Forest, he seems like a jolly, carefree fellow. He is described as "Master of Wood, Water, and Hill", at home among the birds and the beasts as he leads a quiet, pleasant life by the river with his beautiful wife, Goldberry.

However, similar to the Hempstocks, it becomes clear that Bombadil knows more than he lets on. Behind his jolly visage there are hints of great age, knowledge, and even power. Bombadil tells Frodo and his companions that he was present when the Elves first came West, and Lord Elrond of Rivendell later confirms that Bombadil was considered old during the Elder Days (a.k.a. the First Age of Middle Earth. The Lord of the Rings takes place during the Third Age, making Bombadil thousands of years old).

What is truly remarkable about Bombadil is his indifference to and even authority over the One Ring. He is not the least bit affected or tempted by its power, and seems more concerned about tending his own lands than in the Ring. In addition, he can see Frodo when Frodo puts the Ring on, and he can wear the Ring himself with no effect, even making the Ring disappear and reappear at will.

Nevertheless, similar to the older generations of the Hempstock family, Bombadil prefers to remain aloof from the plight of those around him, even though he realizes the gravity of the situation which threatens Middle Earth. While Bombadil rescues the hobbits first from the cantankerous Old Man Willow and later from the malevolent Barrow-wights, he does not involve himself in Frodo and Gandalf's quest beyond this point.

What are we to make of this type of lifestyle? In a modern western culture where the trite adage "With great power comes great responsibility," is upheld, the Bombadil option is a difficult mode of existence to understand or accept.

However, when Tolkien was asked about Tom Bombadil's role (or lack thereof) in The Lord of the Rings, he responded:

"The story is cast in terms of a good side, and a bad side, beauty against ruthless ugliness, tyranny against kingship, moderated freedom with consent against compulsion that has long lost any object save mere power, and so on; but both sides in some degree, conservative or destructive, want a measure of control. But if you have, as it were, taken 'a vow of poverty,' renounced control, and take your delight in things for themselves without reference to yourself, watching, observing, and to some extent knowing, then the questions of the rights and wrongs of power and control might become utterly meaningless to you, and the means of power quite valueless...  

It is a natural pacifist view, which always arises in the mind when there is a war ... the view of Rivendell seems to be that it is an excellent thing to have represented, but that there are in fact things with which it cannot cope; and upon which its existence nonetheless depends. Ultimately, only the victory of the West will allow Bombadil to continue, or even to survive. Nothing would be left for him in the world of Sauron."

Perhaps the roles of the characters of Bombadil in The Lord of the Rings and the Hempstocks in The Ocean at the End of the Lane may be likened to the need for the contemplative as well as the active roles in our communities. The historian or the theologian is just as significant as the soldier. The librarian is just as essential as the policeman. The cloistered nun reciting prayers on her beads in a chapel, walled from the world, is just as essential as the parish priest ministering at the sick bed, on the battlefield, and in the sanctuary. We need the preservers of culture just as much as we need the defenders.

Monday, January 21, 2019

January: Drawing Close to Those on the Other Side

January is a tough month for my family, in both the ecclesial and in the biological sense.

Yesterday was the anniversary of my maternal grandfather's death. My Grandpa was a great grandpa, my confirmation sponsor, and a good pal. He could strike up a conversation with anyone, but he kept it real. He was one of the hardest working people I have ever known. He loved Johnny Cash, Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, and Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings movies. He used to heckle me about my (first) crush on Legolas (my tastes have matured since then, LOL) and about how that guy never seemed to run out of arrows (he had a fair point). He loved animals, cats and dogs alike. He loved ice cream and walks on the beach. He loved music, and while he wasn't a huge fan of classical music he certainly appreciated it, and he loved to hear me play the pipe organ. Bach's Prelude & Fugue in A Minor, BWV 543, and Durufle's Prelude & Fugue on the name of Alain were the last pieces I played for him. My favorite memories are playing Phantom of the Opera or Rigoletto for him on the piano in the living room, or sipping coffee with him in the early morning at the kitchen table in my grandparents' house. We are different people, but he was salty, and I have gotten far saltier in my old maidenhood, and I think he would enjoy that.

Yesterday was also the Feast of Saint Agnes, Virgin & Martyr. I went to Mass, and afterwards I reflected upon how, at the reception of Holy Communion, our departed loved ones are closest to us, how the veil between this world and the next becomes transparent and our souls are almost touching. And so I prayed for him and for all those in our families who have gone ahead of us. I prayed for their eternal rest and peace, and I asked for their prayers for those of us still fighting the fight here on earth.

And it made me think of those of our family, sometimes in the biological and always in the ecclesial sense, that we never had the chance to meet in this life -- namely the unborn, who are numbered among the Church Triumphant (meaning they are automatically considered saints according to Church teaching). I am talking not only of siblings lost through miscarriage but also the friends, family members, class mates, team mates, (the list is endless really) lost through abortion.

Today is the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and it is a difficult day to mark. But it is also a day of hope. For as we fight for the rights of the unborn of all those who are vulnerable, we remember that the unborn, now numbered among the Church Triumphant, are also fighting for us through intercessory prayer. And so, we greet the anniversary of Roe v. Wade with a unique and strange attitude, for in the words of T.S. Eliot, we "rejoice and mourn at once."

Halfway through Eliot's play, Murder in the Cathedral, the poet reflects through the voice of Saint Thomas Becket on the extraordinary juxtaposition of Christmas Day and the Feast of Saint Stephen, Martyr.  He writes:

"Is it an accident, do you think, that the day of the first martyr follows immediately the day of the Birth of Christ? By no means. Just as we rejoice and mourn at once, in the Birth and in the Passion of Our Lord; so also, in a smaller figure, we both rejoice and mourn in the death of martyrs. We mourn, for the sins of the world that has martyred them; we rejoice, that another soul is numbered among the Saints in Heaven, for the glory of God and for the salvation of men."

May we remember to draw close through prayer to those who are on the other side of the veil: our family, our friends, the holy men and women and children who have gone on ahead of us. And we remember that they, too, are drawing close and praying for us. We do not fight our battles alone.


Friday, January 4, 2019

Resurgam Reassessment 2019


Hello, friends!

Happy New Year! Last year I made a resolution to attempt to resurrect this little blog. While I wish I had managed a post per month, I managed about 9 posts this past year, which is a far cry from anything I managed on here in the past few years.

My second resolution for 2018 was to read 12 books and, thanks to the help of my friends and the book club I joined back in September, I have been able to accomplish this goal. I used to read for pleasure quite a bit in high school, and unfortunately during my college and graduate studies reading was no longer a means of leisure and enjoyment and so I fell out of practice. It has been refreshing to cultivate the habit once again. I am a much slower reader than I used to be, but I have found that in many respects I prefer this method. I like to take my time with a book as I get to know the author's style and the characters, and I like to ruminate on the stories with which I choose to engage.

Book List for 2018

Catherine of Siena by Sigrid Undset
That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis (The Space Trilogy, Book III)
An Immovable Feast: How I Gave Up Spirituality for a Life of Religious Abundance by Tyler Blanski
Made for Love: Same-Sex Attraction & the Catholic Church by Fr. Mike Schmitz
Compassionate Blood by St. Catherine of Siena, ed. by Fr. Romanus Cessario, O.P.
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
A Bloody Habit by Eleanor Bourg Nicholson
Flannery O'Connor: Spiritual Writings, ed. by Robert Ellsberg
An American Childhood by Annie Dillard
My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
The Grace of Enough by Haley Stewart
A Christmas Memory, One Christmas, & The Thanksgiving Visitor by Truman Capote
The Reed of God by Caryll Houselander

Some of my favorites this year were:

1) Catherine of Siena, a biography about the life of the Italian saint by Sigrid Undset, an author who is not only a brilliant historian but also has a beautiful and honest understanding of the Catholic faith.

2) The Brothers Karamazov, which is very long but incredibly worthwhile and proved to be a perfect companion as we walk through this difficult time of scandal in the Church hierarchy.

3) An Immovable Feast was a delightful tale of the conversion of Tyler Blanski, a spiritual-but-not-religious man who eventually found his way to the Catholic faith via Anglican seminary. His conversion story was a joy to read, not only because of the content but also because of the style. His way with words is absolutely beautiful, and he is a die-hard romantic in the Chestertonian fairy tale sense -- like I said, a true joy to read!

4) My Name is Asher Lev is a heavier, darker novel but intriguing and beautiful as it tells the story of a Hasidic Jewish boy who aspires to become a painter in spite of the misgivings and occasional animosity of his parents and community. This book was probably the most thought-provoking of the books I read this year, and turned out to be quite a page turner at the end!

And last but not least:

 5) The Reed of God by Caryll Houselander, which is a beautiful series of reflections on the life of the Blessed Mother, and was a perfect meditation during the preparatory season of Advent. Disclaimer: I read most of it during the second half of Advent into the Twelve Days of Christmas. As a church musician, Advent is not an easy season for me to keep. I will have to be more intentional about it next year!

My resolutions for the new year: 1) to blog once a month, or to at least produce twelve blogposts this year; 2) to read at least nineteen books; 3) to cultivate the habit of practicing regularly at least three days a week, and to learn one organ piece by J.S. Bach, Dietrich Buxtehude, and Louis Vierne. It's difficult to make time to learn new music as a music director (odd I know, but true), but I miss it and I notice my skills are getting rusty!

It is the time of new beginnings: a blank canvas, filled with possibilities. To quote Bilbo Baggins, "Only one way to go: forward. On we go!"


Sunday, December 30, 2018

Vocation, Self-Gift, and George Bailey

The concept of vocation is one that is often discussed in Catholic youth and young adult programs. Yet I remember as a teenager and a young adult that, while I appreciated the amount of attention the subject received, I still found these talks stressful and frustrating. I am a very methodical person, and I wanted a clear, cut-and-dry method of knowing to what vocation you were called, but there simply wasn't one. I went on retreats, spent time before the Blessed Sacrament, listened to plenty of conference speakers, read plenty of books on the lives of the saints, and hoped that God would make it crystal-clear what I was supposed to do with my life. Yet my path remained shrouded in mist. And so I finished high school and followed the typical middle-class child's career path, going first to college and then graduate school. This path, for lack of a better term, "felt" right, and so I didn't worry about it too much.

During my senior year of college I attended a lecture by actress-turned-Benedictine nun, Mother Dolores Hart. About five years later I read her autobiography. This book has proved life-changing for me in its insight into the concepts of discerning one's vocation and the cultivation of the interior life. One of the passages that truly stood out to me was a conversation between Dolores and the Reverend Mother:

"'You will find the will of God when you find what it is in your own heart that you know you must do. Don't look for God in some abstraction. The answer comes from within yourself, Dolores. What is it that you want?'

My [Dolores'] answer didn't come in a lightning bolt. I simply knew at that moment what Reverend Mother was trying to tell me when she insisted that I say what I wanted to do. If I was honest about my answer, I would give God a point of departure with which He could work." 

-- Mother Dolores Hart, OSB, The Ear of the Heart.

Mother Dolores Hart, OSB
Though I did not fully understand the words of Reverend Mother, the passage reminded me of the "Climb Every Mountain" scene from The Sound of Music. Something I began to realize was that, whatever God called me to do with my life, He actually did NOT want me to be miserable. I think people are afraid that God is going to call them to something that will make them miserable, when in fact God wants them to find meaning and joy and purpose in their life just as much they do. This doesn't mean that their life won't be difficult, or that their vocation won't involve sacrifice. It will involve tremendous sacrifice, but sacrifice that will in the end bring joy and fulfillment as each person works to bring about God's kingdom here on earth.

Here are a few more things I have learned recently from my own personal experience and from Dolores' reflections that I have found helpful and would like to reiterate here in the hopes that you might find them helpful if the idea of vocation has you frustrated and/or puzzled.

Listening to God

You need to set aside time to listen to God. God can't speak to you if you don't make time for stillness and prayer, and I am not talking about just going to Mass. I'm talking about spending time in the quiet before the Blessed Sacrament, or in the solitary beauty of nature, like a forest or a cemetery. Make time to actually be still and listen.

Don't Assume God Is Out to Get You

If God seems to be silent, or you are unsure what you're supposed to be doing at this point, be attentive but do not be anxious. God isn't playing games with you. He wants you to find your vocation even more than you want to find it. But He may be waiting for the right time. He doesn't want you to rush ahead, to actively pursue that vocation until it's time for you to do so. If this is the case, then look at your life and fulfill your present responsibilities, whether you are a student or you are in the workforce. In the meantime, what can you do right now to help prepare yourself for your vocation? Do you have a daily prayer life? Do you receive the sacraments frequently?

Self-Gift

Pay attention to yourself and your tendencies. Your vocation is something that draws you out of yourself, out of your comfort zone and out of your selfish tendencies. Your vocation will challenge you to become a better person by calling you to service of others, whether it is your community (religious/parish/other) or your children and your spouse. It will not give you immediate gratification. In fact, it may make your life more difficult, more stressful, even less happy, but in the long term it will give you something far greater: a sense of purpose, meaning, and fulfillment.


One of the best examples of this aspect of vocation is the character George Bailey from the classic film It's a Wonderful Life. George is an ambitious man who has dreamed since childhood of leaving his home to have a brilliant career filled with travel, success, and adventure. Yet he ends up staying in Bedford Falls, becoming a husband, father, and the head of the floundering Bailey Brothers' Building and Loan. Although he doesn't get the life he wanted or imagined, what George actually accomplishes in the tiny town of Bedford Falls is far more noble as he stands in the gap and shields the townsfolk from the greed and cruelty of Mr. Potter. We see George's frustration, yet we see him choose the path of virtuous self-denial again and again. And although he doesn't get to build bridges, he builds something far greater: a safe, loving community where poor families have dignity and opportunity. Although he doesn't get to travel and he doesn't make a great salary, he gets to see the small businesses thrive and to watch the success of his friends and neighbors, thanks to his financial assistance and his resistance to Potter. George sacrifices himself in every sense (physical, financial, professional, personal) and chooses the higher and the harder path, yet his life has far more meaning and fulfillment than had he left town and pursued his original ambitions.

Conclusion

Someone once asked a friend of mine, "Why would God give me something and then demand that of me?" To which my friend responded, "God gave the martyrs their very lives, and yet He demanded that of them."

God does not deal in halves. He gave all that we might have eternal life. Why shouldn't He demand our all in return? God can demand anything and everything of us -- our health, our sexuality, our talents, and, in the case of the martyrs, our very lifeblood. We owe all to Him (a terrifying and thrilling notion, to be sure).

A vocation may not necessarily require a bloody martyrdom, but it will in the end, demand the gift of your entire self. Yet you will find that is something to which you actually can give your entire self, and in this self-gift you will find meaning and fulfillment -- to paraphrase the poetess Elizabeth Barrett Browning, a vocation might be likened to "a gauntlet with a gift in it."

May we have the courage to take up the gauntlet. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Achieving Old Maidenhood: A Tribute to My Piano Teacher

I lost one of my childhood mentors this passed November, namely my high school piano teacher, Miss Elizabeth Pastor, who at the time was professor of piano at Ashland University. She had a profound influence upon my decision to pursue an academic degree and a career in music, and, while we did not keep in touch after I went to college, I thought of her often with great fondness and I often reflect upon her influence upon me.

Miss Pastor made me realize how important music was in my life, and she pushed me to work towards a higher level of performance than I had previously thought I was capable of. It was because of her teaching that I chose first to minor in music (I began university majoring in English) and later chose music as my major, though as a student of organ rather than piano. 


In addition to her piano instruction, Miss Pastor inspired me with her vivacious personality and her generous spirit. She was the person I want to be when I grow up: a strong, independent, and creative woman with a deep heart. She was fiercely independent, and while she had received offers of marriage multiple times "from four good men," she confessed that she could never give up her freedom. She loved cats and had at least three -- I specifically remember her beautiful calico cat, Cleopatra. And she loved art, especially modern. Her house (which I believe she had designed herself) was a veritable museum, full of conversation pieces. There was a life-sized Tin Man and a giant dancing ladybug in her backyard, and a life-sized ostrich sculpture behind her piano, where Cleopatra liked to perch and watch as she taught our lessons.



When she saw potential in a student, “she dug right in and helped them pursue and develop it.” I worked hard to earn her praise, and when I got it, there was nothing like it. She was often brutally honest, but she had no time for half-assed work. She also gave me my first classical music CD, a recording of Vivaldi's Four Seasons that, to this day, is my favorite recording of the work. She wanted us to pursue music at the college level if that was our ambition, but she was not a die-hard romantic. She would ask us how we intended to make a living after college, and wanted to make sure we had considered the practical side of the equation, and the risks involved in the music field. Although she was not a fan of the pipe organ, I like to think she was happy for me when I changed my major to music. I dedicated my dissertation to her as well as my parents and my first organ teacher, Dr. Paul M. Weber.

My Alma Mater, the Cleveland Institute of Music, where Miss Pastor had previously served as a piano instructor and a chamber music coach, recently sent out a moving tribute to her. The Dean wrote, "She is remembered fondly by generations of students influenced by her artistry, her teaching and her experience, both in piano and chamber music. She seemed to know every important artist of the day; perhaps in a foreshadowing of her career, as a child, her enthusiastic applause caught Rachmaninoff's attention after a recital, and he stopped to shake her hand before he left the stage." 

Miss Pastor was a woman who, to quote Miss Lavender from Chapter 23 of L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Avonlea, "achieved old maidenhood." To quote Anne Shirley, "You are one of those who have achieved it... and you've done it so beautifully that if every old maid were like you they would come into the fashion, I think." 

If you wish to read more about her, here is a link to her obituary in our local newspaper from this past November. 

Rest in peace, Miss Pastor. I miss you, and I thank God that He led me to you to help me find my own path as a church musician.

P.S. I think you would be please to know that I have adopted two fur-babies of my own, namely my kitties, Dobby and Dart. You would love them, I am sure. 

Thank you for everything.


Edit: Here is a small tribute put together by her friends and colleagues from Ashland University.


Friday, August 3, 2018

Celebrating The Boy Who Lived in 2018


In this hobbit hole, we celebrate Harry Potter's birthday, even if it's just me, which was the case this year. And so I stopped at one of my favorite cafés, picked up an almond croissant, lit a few Gryffindor themed candles, and wished Harry many happy returns of the day.

I was a late bloomer when it came to the Harry Potter fandom (well meaning but cautious parents). I was respectful of my parents' wishes, but I was resolved at a young age that someday I would read them and evaluate them for myself, and eventually I did just that... though it wasn't until I was in grad school (2012-2014ish).

Was it worth the wait?

Absolutely. I think J.K. Rowling has created a beautiful series that merits a place alongside the novels of Roald Dahl, Madeleine L'Engle, and Lois Lowry.  They are filled with Catholic themes and universal truths about love, sacrifice, and friendship. Indeed, I am not sure Rowling herself realizes how great the series actually is, as meager publications like Harry Potter & the Cursed Child appear on the literary scene (I do think the Fantastic Beasts franchise has been successful thus far, but it is still in the early stages, so we'll see...). 

But I digress. Ever since I have come to know them, I have resolved to preach the truth and beauty of the original series through subtle nods to the fandom in my home, my workplace, and not-so-subtle nods on social media. (Side note: I am convinced the devil hates Harry Potter, too, because he knows it's a great story and he'll do whatever it takes to subvert the message and keep kids from reading these books). 

Here are eight reasons why I love Harry Potter and why I believe it should be part of every kid's literary arsenal: 

#1. The core of the entire series is the triumph of sacrificial love, particularly as exemplified in a mother's love for her child.

#2. The beauty and joy of true friendship as seen in that of Harry, Hermione, and Ron, as well as their classmates.

#3. The beauty and joy of family, specifically the Weasleys, who are a fantastic example of the Church's concept of creating a domestic church community within the home. Haley Stewart over at Carrots for Michaelmas argues that the Weasley family is probably Catholic, and while I think this is a bit of a stretch, I have to admit that all the signs are there! 

#4. The absolute rejection of the pursuit of power.

#5. The beginning of a healthy conversation for young readers on grief and how to cope with the death of a loved one, first with Harry's parents, then with the death of Sirius.

#6. The need for compassion, empathy, and forgiveness, especially when dealing with complicated characters such as Severus Snape and the Malfoy family. It is essential to help young readers understand that no one is totally wicked, and that when people hurt others, it is often because they themselves have been left hurt or unloved. 

#7. Mister Rogers Moments (for lack of a better term) like this conversation between Professor McGonagall and Neville Longbottom: "It's high time your grandmother learned to be proud of the grandson she's got, rather than the one she thinks she ought to have." Kids need to know that they are loved just as they are, regardless of their abilities, their looks, other people's expectations, and so forth.

#8. That time in Book Seven where J.K. Rowling dropped a truth bomb about the dignity of the human person via Kingsley Shacklebolt: "I'd say that it's one short step from 'Wizards first' to 'Purebloods first,' then to Death Eaters ... We're all human, aren't we? Every human life is worth the same, and worth saving."

Here's to you, Harry and companions. Thank you for being there for us through thick and thin, and for reminding us, when things grow dark, to turn on the light.