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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Out of the Furnace

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Woody Harrelson and Christian Bale star in a scene from the movie "Out of the Furnace."
Director and co-writer Scott Cooper's often bleak, sometimes touching drama "Out of the Furnace" (Relativity) is a grim journey into hardscrabble, rust-belt America. Religion in general, and Catholicism in particular, are shown to offer a ray of hope to the good characters who must live within this impoverished landscape. But late plot developments involving vigilantism are treated equivocally at best in Cooper and Brad Ingelsby's script—and thus require mature interpretation.

Set in the decaying mill town of Braddock, Pa., this is the story of two brothers: stalwart steel worker Russell Baze (Christian Bale) and his younger sibling Rodney (Casey Affleck), a directionless Iraq War vet. Together they endure a series of personal misfortunes, ranging from their bedridden father Rodney Sr.'s (Bingo O'Malley) lingering illness and young Rodney's repeated tours of duty overseas to Russell's run-in with the law and the subsequent departure of his live-in girlfriend Lena (Zoe Saldana).

These afflictions culminate when Rodney tries to make a living as a bare-knuckle boxer. Despite the warnings of local bookie John Petty (Willem Dafoe), who organizes the spectacle in Braddock, Rodney wants a shot at the bigger purses on offer in the Ramapo Mountains of New Jersey. But that means getting mixed up with vicious backwoods fight promoter Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson).

With naive Rodney discovering, too late, that he's out of his depth, it's up to Russell and their Uncle Red (Sam Shepard)—effectively the family patriarch -- to try to rescue him.

Though their presence is welcome, the religious details in the background of these downbeat proceedings are somewhat confused. Rodney Sr. has a statue of the Madonna by his bedside, and Red is shown praying the rosary. Yet when Russell goes to church, which he does more than once, the setting seems more Protestant than Catholic.

Perhaps this is merely a bid not to appear too sectarian. At any rate, the implicit message is that faith is a source of at least some minimal sustenance in an otherwise comfortless environment.

Scriptural values are left in the dust, however, as one of the main characters takes justice into his own hands. Though this is hardly presented as a good thing, there is also no clear-cut condemnation of it. So adult viewers will need to bring a well-formed conscience and seasoned judgment to bear on a conclusion as bleak as what has gone before.

The film contains much harsh violence, with some gore, revenge and narcotics themes, cohabitation, several uses of profanity and pervasive rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L—limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.



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Alphonsus Liguori: 
		<p>Moral theology, Vatican II said, should be more thoroughly nourished by Scripture, and show the nobility of the Christian vocation of the faithful and their obligation to bring forth fruit in charity for the life of the world. Alphonsus, declared patron of moral theologians by Pius XII in 1950, would rejoice in that statement.</p>
		<p>In his day, Alphonsus fought for the liberation of moral theology from the rigidity of Jansenism. His moral theology, which went through 60 editions in the century following him, concentrated on the practical and concrete problems of pastors and confessors. If a certain legalism and minimalism crept into moral theology, it should not be attributed to this model of moderation and gentleness.</p>
		<p>At the University of Naples he received, at the age of 16, a doctorate in both canon and civil law by acclamation, but she oon gave up the practice of law for apostolic activity. He was ordained a priest and concentrated his pastoral efforts on popular (parish) missions, hearing confessions, forming Christian groups. </p>
		<p>He founded the Redemptorist congregation in 1732. It was an association of priests and brothers living a common life, dedicated to the imitation of Christ, and working mainly in popular missions for peasants in rural areas. Almost as an omen of what was to come later, he found himself deserted, after a while, by all his original companions except one lay brother. But the congregation managed to survive and was formally approved 17 years later, though its troubles were not over. </p>
		<p>Alphonsus’ great pastoral reforms were in the pulpit and confessional—replacing the pompous oratory of the time with simplicity, and the rigorism of Jansenism with kindness. His great fame as a writer has somewhat eclipsed the fact that for 26 years he traveled up and down the Kingdom of Naples, preaching popular missions. </p>
		<p>He was made bishop (after trying to reject the honor) at 66 and at once instituted a thorough reform of his diocese. </p>
		<p>His greatest sorrow came toward the end of his life. The Redemptorists, precariously continuing after the suppression of the Jesuits in 1773, had difficulty in getting their Rule approved by the Kingdom of Naples. Alphonsus acceded to the condition that they possess no property in common, but a royal official, with the connivance of a high Redemptorist official, changed the Rule substantially. Alphonsus, old, crippled and with very bad sight, signed the document, unaware that he had been betrayed. The Redemptorists in the Papal States then put themselves under the pope, who withdrew those in Naples from the jurisdiction of Alphonsus. It was only after his death that the branches were united. </p>
		<p>At 71 he was afflicted with rheumatic pains which left incurable bending of his neck; until it was straightened a little, the pressure of his chin caused a raw wound on his chest. He suffered a final 18 months of “dark night” scruples, fears, temptations against every article of faith and every virtue, interspersed with intervals of light and relief, when ecstasies were frequent. </p>
		<p>Alphonsus is best known for his moral theology, but he also wrote well in the field of spiritual and dogmatic theology. His <i>Glories of Mary</i> is one of the great works on that subject, and his book <i>Visits to the Blessed Sacrament</i> went through 40 editions in his lifetime, greatly influencing the practice of this devotion in the Church.</p>
American Catholic Blog Those who want to participate more fully in salvation history are comforted by the fact that Jesus wants to walk with us in our suffering and wants to break bread to give us strength on our way.

 
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