Jesus, Dumbledore, and Death

Viral Catholic has an interesting post critiquing the Harry Potter series’ take on death:

The character whose attitude to death least resembled Jesus’ attitude is Dumbledore. So here is the problem. Knowing what we know about Dumbledore’s manliness regarding death, and his turning his nose down at Voldemort’s running away from death, we can only conclude that if Dumbledore had been in the garden that night of Jesus’ agony, he would have mocked and belittled Jesus the same way he did Voldemort. He would have shook his head in disgust at the sight of Jesus laying there on the ground weeping at the approach of death. “Dont’ you know”, he might of said, “that to the  well organized mind, death is but the next great adventure”?

Personally this seems like an idiosyncratic reading of the series — and reading a bit too much into a few lines.  I read the series very differently: Voldemort’s fear of death has never struck me a natural, human type of fear, but an unhealthy obsession due to his belief that there is nothing else after death. Voldemort believes that this life is all we have and so resorts to grotesque measures to control death and unnaturally prolong his life. Dumbledore recognizes, however, that death has lost its sting — death is not an end, but a transition. This isn’t necessarily flippant; he is certainly serious about the deaths of Cedric and Sirius.

I think we also need to remember that Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is facing not just death but hours of torture and humiliation beforehand. I don’t think Jesus is fearing simple death there, but the whole Passion as it will unfold.

While Dumbledore’s lack of fear regarding death may not resemble Jesus’, it certainly resembles some of the saints, such as St. Francis who welcomed Sister Death at the end of his life, and even St. Lawrence who famously told his executioners, while being roasted on a grill: “Turn me over; I’m done on this side.”

Have I misread the series? Any other Potter fans have a different take?

5 Books for the New Year

Last year I offered five books I had read in the previous year that I recommended for the new year. If doing this two years in a row makes it a blog tradition — well , so be it!

Here are five books that come with my highest recommendation:

  • Doers of the Word: Putting Your Faith Into Practice, by Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan (2009) — In this wonderful little book Archbishop Dolan offers short reflections on Christ, the Church year, the saints, the Church, the Blessed Virgin, and other topics. His short, pithy stories are a great example of his ability to explain the faith clearly and concisely — an ability also reflected in his excellent blog.
  • The Art of Making Money: The Story of a Master Counterfeiter, by Jason Kersten (2010) — OK, this isn’t a Catholic book per se, but it is a fascinating (and true!) tale of a young man from a broken home who finds joy in becoming a craftsman of a dying art: counterfeiting money. In perfectly replicating the new $100 bill he reunites with his estranged father, with terrible consequences for both.
  • Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work, by Matthew B. Crawford (2009) — Crawford offers a profound treatise on how the “useful arts” — work that requires real skill and practice to master — combines the best of both manual and intellectual engagement. This book has made   me want to learn some real manual skills, starting with some basic woodworking.
  • Deep Conversion/Deep Prayer, by Thomas Dubay, SM (2006) — This “required reading” for our Totus Tuus team last summer has helped me deepen my prayer life and better appreciate the deep wisdom of the Church’s spiritual traditions.
  • Mariette in Ecstasy, by Ron Hansen (1992) — This book was recommended to me by a friend and colleague after he saw A Canticle for Leibowitz on last year’s list. Hansen’s portrayal of the disruption of a religious community’s orderly life by a young novice prone to trances and visions is haunting, gripping, and strangely moving.

Five Reading Picks for the New Year

There has been much written in the past few years about the œdeath of the book.  Certainly with the advent of the Kindle and new ways of conveying writing online we are changing the way we read. But I think it’s premature to write the book’s obituary yet. Instead I think we’ll see a shift in the way books are published “ away from large publishing houses to smaller niches publishers. In addition, print-on-demand solutions will allow anyone to publish a book quickly and cheaply.

To ensure that the book has a few more years of life, I’d like to recommend the following books that I read in the past year:

  • A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter J. Miller, Jr. (1960) “ This Hugo award-winning novel traces 1200 years in the life of a monastic order following a devastating nuclear war. The monks seek to preserve scientific and cultural knowledge against a world that has descended into barbarism.
  • Five Loaves and Two Fish, by Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan (1997) “ Cardinal Van Thuan spent 13 years incarcerated by the Communist government of Vietnam before being exiled in 1991. This book is a series of reflections he prepared for the 1997 World Youth Day. It is a simple, profound and moving reflection on suffering and hope.
  • The Clown of God, by Tomie dePaola (1978) “ dePaola retells and lavishly illustrates the story of a poor beggar boy who finds joy and fame in his juggling “ and surprising blessings as well. Sure to delight old and young alike.
  • Eifelheim, by Michael Flynn (2006) “ This science fiction story follows a 14th century German priest as he seeks to communicate with “ and minister to “ a group of aliens who have crashed in the woods outside his tiny village. The priest must ask: œCan an extraterrestrial be a Christian?  and, œWhere is God when tragedy strikes? 
  • From Slave to Priest: A Biography of the Reverend Augustine Tolton, by Sister Caroline Hemesath (reprinted 2006) “ Sr. Hemesath presents the life of Fr. Tolton, the first African-American priest in the United States, in a series of fictionalized vignettes (a sort of œspeculative biography ) from his youth in Quincy to his ministry and untimely death in Chicago.