Movie Thoughts: Restless Heart: The Confessions of St. Augustine

Restless Heart: The Confessions of St. Augustine is a 2010 Italian film directed by Christian Duguay and starring Alessandro Preziosi and Franco Nero as young and old Augustine. I watched this film on formed.org. The English version was published by Ignatius Press. They did a pretty good job with the dubbing because I didn’t notice until I saw “English Voice Cast” in the credits. The film is a little over 2 hours long. I could tell this movie had a bigger budget than most Catholic films. The props and special effects were pretty good. The acting was also good in most scenes, though a few scenes could have been better.

Restless Heart tells the story of St. Augustine. As part of showing his life, the movie has several key parts in Augustine’s life where he chose between God and evil. These were the parts I found the most interesting. Early in Augustine’s life, he was a successful lawyer. He didn’t care if the people he defended were guilty or not, he was in it for the money, power, and women that winning in court brought him. After a man he obtained acquittal of attempted murder ended up actually carrying out the murder later, Augustine was shaken and chose God.

Augustine took a break from work and returned home, along with his mistress who he had a child with. For a time he was pleased with family life. Given enough time, he may have married the mistress and lived a simple, yet holy life. Unfortunately, Augustine was tempted by a friend who invited him to apply for a prestigious position in Milan as the emperor’s official orator. Augustine’s dreams of fame and power got the better of him. He chose evil and left family life behind, but it wasn’t over yet.

In Milan, Augustine met another gifted orator, St. Ambrose. Over time, Ambrose’s sermons convinced Augustine that there was some truth to the Christian faith. After his mistress left him he attempted to satisfy his need for love with another mistress, but it didn’t help. He found that only God’s love could satisfy him. This was the critical moment of his life. In early times, he went back and forth for God and against God, but this decision was final. He chose God and never went back. There was much more in the movie, but these were the parts I found most interesting.

Restless Heart was a pretty entertaining movie. It kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time. It was really interesting seeing how Augustine justified his sins and how he wavered between good and evil. One bad thing is that the writers seemed to take some liberties with the history. Some events happened differently in the movie compared to what I read before. I always prefer sticking with history even if it makes the story less entertaining, but they got the overall theme right. Augustine’s life was an internal battle between good and evil in his heart, and the movie captured that perfectly.

The internal battle between good and evil is actually the case for all people, not just Augustine. The battle does not end until we die. Those that let evil win go to hell. Those that have enough good in them go to heaven. That’s why looking at Augustine’s life is so interesting. We get to see how a saint fought this battle and won. In my case, I have found my success at doing good to be dependent on my relationship with God. The closer I am to God, the better I can fight evil. As a result, much of my studies and efforts are on improving my relationship with God. I expect to be working on this the rest of my life. To take a break would let evil slowly intrude on my life again.

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Movie Thoughts: Joseph of Nazareth

Joseph of Nazareth is a 2000 Italian film directed by Raffaele Mertes and Elisabetta Marchetti and starring Tobias Moretti as Joseph and Stefania Rivi as Mary. Despite being made by Italians, it appears the movie was in English. There were no subtitles, and I didn’t see any clear signs of dubbing. I watched this film on the formed.org website. There are many movies about Mary, but not many about Joseph. I thought it would be nice to see things from Joseph’s perspective. Well, there isn’t a whole lot about Joseph in the Bible.

Some saints have written about Joseph based on private revelation, but there’s not a whole lot of official history on Joseph. Making a whole movie about him is understandably difficult. The writers had to fill in a lot of blanks. As a result, many scenes in the movie are more speculative than actual truth. They could be true, but they could easily be fictional.

Joseph of Nazareth covers everything in the Bible: Joseph’s betrothal to Mary, Mary’s acceptance of God’s plan to conceive Jesus in her womb, Joseph’s intention to quietly divorce Mary after finding her with child, Joseph’s acceptance of God’s plan after hearing from the angel, Jesus’ birth in a manger in Bethlehem, the shepherds and Three Kings adoring Jesus and offering gifts, Herod’s effort to kill the Messiah with the massacre of all young males, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus’ flight to Egypt, their return after Herod’s death, the presentation of Jesus in the temple, and the losing of Jesus and later finding of him in the temple.

As far as the speculative or fictional content, Joseph of Nazareth posits that Nazareth was attacked at some point, resulting in the death of Joseph’s wife as well as brothers and sisters. Joseph took on 3 nephews to raise them in place of their parents. These nephews were Jesus’ “brothers” in the Bible, though they all become adults and left before the birth of Jesus. In the story, Joseph is a master carpenter who is employed by King Herod on several occasions. It is during one of these times as Joseph is leaving for Jerusalem that Mary becomes pregnant with Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. When Joseph returns he is understandably upset to find her with child. Another addition to the story is when Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus’ are heading to Egypt only to find Herod’s guards preventing young males from leaving. Mary crosses alone while Joseph, carrying the baby Jesus, secretly crosses the rugged mountains before meeting up with Mary on the other side.

I don’t mind fictional content if it fits with the existing story in the Bible; however, I was disappointed to find some of the content in Joseph of Nazareth to not fit with what we believe in the Catholic faith. In disagreement with common Catholic teaching, the film depicted Mary in labor pains. Catholics believe labor pains are one of the effects of original sin. Because Mary was born without sin, even original sin, we believe she gave birth with no pain. The scene in the film doesn’t agree with this. A related example is the movie showing Jesus crying after birth. Catholics generally believe that since Mary felt no pain, Jesus felt no pain either. He probably wouldn’t be crying. He would be at peace with his mother.

In some cases, Joseph of Nazareth didn’t even agree with the Bible. For example, the Bible speaks of the angel visiting Mary, but in the movie there is no angel. Mary hears the words of the angel but sees nothing. I guess this could be one way to interpret the Bible, but it seems natural that if an angel visited Mary, she would see that angel. Another example is how the movie showed Joseph not being with Mary when she gave birth. If Mary was in labor pains, I don’t think Joseph would have left her side. Also, the movie never shows Joseph showing any affection towards Mary. As far as I remember, he never hugged her or said a comforting word the whole film. The Joseph in the film just doesn’t fit the Joseph in the Bible to me.

Lastly, some scenes in the film don’t seem to fit the historical period either. For example, in a few scenes Mary was depicted as traveling on her own. During that time in history, the roads were not safe. Men didn’t travel alone, let alone women, yet a few scenes showed Mary travelling alone by donkey. At the minimum, she would have had Joseph with her, but probably she would have travelled with a caravan for safety. The movie does show this once when Mary and Joseph are leaving Jerusalem and later realize Jesus is not with them. I can remember two other scenes where Mary travelled alone though, most clearly when she visited Elizabeth.

Despite these inaccuracies, Joseph of Nazareth was an entertaining film. It didn’t cost me anything to watch, so it was worth the time I spent watching. I wish it stuck more to the Bible, Catholic traditions, and historical accuracy, but it was better than nothing. I wouldn’t use the film as a source for studying Joseph though. Documentaries and books would probably do a much better job. I think there are more conclusions that can be drawn about Joseph based on the Bible if combined with logical and historical arguments, but nothing of that sort will be found in a drama film.

Video Game Thoughts: Kirby and the Rainbow Curse

Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is a 2015 platforming game for the Nintendo Wii U by Hal Laboratory and Nintendo. In the story, all the colors in Kirby’s world are sucked away by a mysterious beam that appears out of a hole in the sky. Elline, a paintbrush character, appears to explain that her friend, Claycia, somehow became evil and stole all the color. Kirby has his mission to defeat Claycia and return color to his world. Nintendo always likes to try something new with their games. This game does this in two ways: artstyle and gameplay.

Much like other recent Nintendo games, all the graphics have a theme to them. In Rainbow Curse, the theme is clay. Virtually everything is made out of clay from Kirby himself to the backgrounds to the enemies. It’s a similar idea to Kirby’s Epic Yarn (everything made of yarn) and Yoshi’s Woolly World (everything made of wool). The concept is not original, but I enjoyed seeing how they translated everything into clay. Most objects have a lumpy look to them and the animations are suitably clay-like. Because I’ve already seen this before, it wasn’t all that impressive, but it’s nice when games have a handmade touch to them.

The new thing in gameplay is that the entire game is played with the stylus rather than traditional button controls. Kirby automatically moves slowly until he hits a wall, then reverses direction. Tapping Kirby with the stylus causes him to do a spin attack to defeat enemies or just move faster. Lastly, the player can draw a rainbow rope on the screen with the stylus. If Kirby is nearby he will follow the rope. In this way, the player can draw elaborate paths over the screen to have Kirby collect stars and other collectibles.

There are some unique mechanics created by the touch controls. If the player draws a little loop with the rope, Kirby will gain a short speed increase. The direction the rope is drawn determines the direction Kirby goes when he touches it. The rope can also block bullets, lasers, and other hazards towards Kirby. This added a lot of skill to the controls that I only got the hang of in the last few levels.

The touch controls come with some downsides. Pressing a button is very easy, but drawing is not a universal skill. This meant the developers had to make the game easier than most platformers. While there are some quick parts, most of the game is pretty slow paced, giving the player maximum time to draw a good shape. Along with this, levels have no time limit. The player can many times take as long as they want to explore each level.

When Kirby loses a life, he gets to continue from the last door he exited. Most levels have several of these rooms with an entrance and exit door, meaning the player never has to do too much backtracking if Kirby dies. Also, if Kirby loses a lot of lives in the same level, the game has an option to skip that level without finishing it. The later levels have some annoying instant death scenarios, but they liberally placed extra life power-ups all over to compensate. I didn’t really like that they made the game easier than most platformers, but I agree that it was necessary. The controls would have been too frustrating otherwise.

As far as the traditional platforming, I really enjoyed the environmental mechanics and unique enemies in Kirby and the Rainbow Curse. I had not seen these in other platforming games. I think they did a good job adding new things in each level. The only bad thing here is that there weren’t that many levels to play through. I don’t know if they ran out of time or the budget for this game just wasn’t that much to start with, but there are only 7 “worlds” with 4 levels each. That’s a total of 28 levels in Story Mode. A total of 7 worlds isn’t that bad, but 6 to 8 levels each would be more typical for a platformer. Just beating the game only took me around 10 hours, but there are other optional things to do.

Each level has several collectibles including a cute diary entry from Elline, one of three medals (bronze, silver, gold) depending on how many stars were collected in that level, and five treasure chests that award figurines of characters for close examination or music tracks to listen to in the music player. To get all these collectibles easily adds another 10 hours to the game. In addition, while playing through the story, challenges are unlocked.

Challenge Mode is the second gameplay mode in Rainbow Curse. There are two kinds: One-Minute Challenges and Survival Challenges. One-Minute Challenges contain 4 little puzzle rooms. Solving the puzzle unlocks a treasure chest. Unlike the treasure chests in Story Mode, these ones don’t contain anything. Each One-Minute Challenge has 4 treasure chests with medals awarded depending on how many the player gets.

Survival Challenges are much more difficult. They operate the same as One-Minute Challenges except there are 12 rooms with a treasure chest in each, and if you miss the treasure chest in one room, you don’t even get the chance to visit the later rooms. It’s a long gauntlet where perfect playing is required. There’s a lot of fun to be had here, but I do wish they had translated this work into more Story Mode levels. The Challenge Mode added another 10 hours to the game for a total of 30 hours to do everything in the game. There’s enough gameplay for the lower price Kirby and the Rainbow Curse sold for (around $40), but the length is not on par with most other platformers.

Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is one of my last Wii U games, so playing this game was bittersweet. This feeling kind of hampered my enjoyment of the game. I can see on paper that it’s a good game, but it also reminds me that I am moving on. I won’t be getting the new Switch console, for I am moving away from video games in general. I have a few unfinished games, but most of my free time now is focused on whatever God leads me to do. Right now he is leading me in a different direction, but things could always change in the future.

Movie Thoughts: Miracle of Saint Thérèse

Miracle of Saint Thérèse is a 1959 Franch docudrama film directed by Andre Haquet and starring France Descaut in the title role. It is 92 minutes long (1 hour, 32 minutes). I had some free time during Thanksgiving and decided to watch one of the movies on formed.org, the new Catholic multimedia site. St. Thérèse is one of my favorite saints, so I was excited to see if the movie had any more details about her life.

Miracle of Saint Thérèse is pretty old-fashioned, all black and white with low sound quality. I think it is dubbed from the original French into English as well. Several times the words don’t match up with the actor’s mouths. Also, it is pretty obvious when they mute the sound to add the dubbing. In many scenes there are large periods of complete silence, very different from modern movies. I think the film would have been better with English subtitles rather than dubbed English voices. I prefer a more modern film, but I have patience. It didn’t really bother me.

In Miracle of Saint Thérèse, a narrator sets the tone and gives some background before major events like a documentary. Then the drama takes over with characters acting out the parts. There is more narration in the first half, which speeds through the years quickly, than the second half, which really focuses on the last few years of her life.

I enjoyed the detail in the second half. It was really interesting to see how the Carmelites live. There’s probably been some changes since then, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s very similar today. They have a strict rule to follow. It was especially hard for the fragile St. Thérèse, but no matter how much she suffered, she didn’t give up. In fact, she usually did even more than her sisters in spite of her weakness.

I wish Miracle of Saint Thérèse covered more of her early life. I read her biography on Wikipedia a while back and found the movie covered very little of her childhood. For example, Thérèse was picked on and bullied at school. The movie didn’t show any of her schooling. Also, she had a lot of problems with anxiety after her mother’s death, which the movie depicted as some unexplained illness. The point of the movie, I’m sure, was to help viewers grow in the faith, so it makes sense to focus on the later events of her life. These later years have the most teaching value.

Overall, I had a good time with Miracle of Saint Thérèse. It wasn’t perfect. I would prefer a more recent movie. For foreign films, I always like subtitles more than dubbed voiceover. The movie skipped a lot of St. Thérèse’s early life. These are all very minor though. It was worth the time I spent with it and gave me new appreciation for the saint. It reminded me again why she is one of my favorite saints. Her life helps me stay motivated to get things done even with all the little health problems I have to suffer through.

Book Thoughts: God’s Promises for You: Scripture Selections from Max Lucado

God’s Promises for You: Scripture Selections from Max Lucado is a 2005 book by Christian author Max Lucado. It was published by Hallmark Cards, Inc. My mother let me borrow this book during Lent one year, but I forgot about it. For probably a year, it just collected dust in my bookshelf. This year I decided to treat Advent as a mini-Lent, full of prayer rather than entertainment. That gave me time to finally read this book.

God’s Promises for You has 204 pages split into 10 sections, each with their own theme. Each section has 6-10 promises. The left side of the page has 3-4 Scriptures from the Bible. The right side has a short note by the author. The layout is perfect for a quick daily read in the morning. The notes are all taken from previous books Max Lucado has written, so this book can be seen as a launching point to many of his other books. It includes an Acknowledgements page at the end to help with this.

Max Lucado has some good points in God’s Promises for You. I already know most of it, but there are some things I hadn’t thought about before. The real value in this book for me is the list of Bible passages for each promise. I will be using it as a reference for future study and writing. I grew a little spiritually after reading this book and expect more growth with the future studies it will enable. Any book that helps with my spiritual growth is a good book in my opinion.

I think God’s Promises for You would be a good starter for anyone that has trouble reading the Bible on its own. The Scripture passages are collected under clear themes and each topic has some nice words to explain their significance. It’s a simple book though. Those that are well advanced in their faith may not get a lot out of it. Something else to think about is that this is a Christian book, not Catholic, but the notes are general enough the reader can interpret it in a way that fits their faith whether it is Catholicism or some other Christian faith.

For example, in one part the author wrote about asking for forgiveness from God and then moving on. Since he didn’t go into detail on what asking for forgiveness entails it can fit the Catholic faith. Catholics can interpret that to mean: say a simple act of contrition for venial sin, go to confession for mortal sin. Those of another Christian faith can interpret this note to mean: say a simple prayer asking for Jesus’ mercy and forgiveness. The text is general enough to fit both interpretations. In this way Max Lucado wrote a book that can apply to a lot of people. The downside is that he is unable to go into any real depth. So it’s a good starter, but hopefully leads the reader to further study.

Video Game Thoughts: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask was a 2000 action-adventure game by Nintendo for the Nintendo 64 (N64). When this game came out, I was a big follower of Gamespot, a video game news site. I checked the website daily for news and reviews about all the recent games. When Majora’s Mask came out, they gave it a pretty low score compared to the previous Zelda game, Ocarina of Time. The previous came scored a perfect ten, but Majora’s Mask only got 8.3 out of 10. Back then, Gamespot was my one source. When they said the game was good but not amazing, I decided to skip it. As a kid my allowance was only enough for a few games a year. I only wanted to play the best of the best. I am blessed that these games are still available these days and for very low prices. Because of that, I was able to play it today on the Wii U’s Virtual Console.

Unlike Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask did not have the typical Zelda story. In fact, the character of Zelda only appeared in one very short cutscene towards the beginning of the game. This game wasn’t really about Zelda at all. It was technically a sequel to Ocarina of Time, starring the same hero (Link) in a new adventure. Link somehow ended up in another dimension or alternate reality. He was now in the world of Termina instead of Hyrule.

The premise of the story was that Link was searching for his old friend, Navi the fairy, from his first adventure when he ran into Skull Kid. After Skull Kid stole Link’s Ocarina of Time item, he ran after him and fell into a deep hole, eventually ending up in Termina. Link got his Ocarina of Time back but then found new problem. The Skull Kid had got his hands on Majora’s Mask, a source of great evil in Termina. With its power, the Skull Kid was somehow magically pulling the moon down to one day crash into Termina. If Link didn’t help, Termina and all its inhabitants would be destroyed. Link could have just gone back to Hyrule, but being the hero he was, he couldn’t stand by idly or run away. He accepted the mantle of hero once again.

Death was a big theme in Majora’s Mask, so it tended to be much darker than most other Zelda games. Link encountered all manner of ghosts and people dying. In one poignant scene, Link witnessed a person die right in front of him and was tasked with burying him. Also, the entire world was going to die if Link didn’t help. Sadness was another big theme. Most of the people Link encountered were very sad about something. Someone had left them or hurt them in some way. This gave Link’s actions more impact. I could just feel the joy after helping solve a character’s problems. Sadness was also the main motivation behind the villain’s actions.

Ocarina of Time was much more epic than Majora’s Mask, but what this game lacked in epicness it gained in personality. The characters in this game just had a lot more to say. Most of them had quests Link could complete. This was important because there were only 4 dungeons. That meant Link only got 4 additional heart containers (health) from playing the story. The remaining heart containers required Link to collect a very large 52 heart pieces, one of the largest numbers in series history. Most of the characters had big problems, so the heart piece reward was just the icing on the cake. The joy of making someone happy was more than enough reward.

On the technical side of things, Majora’s Mask borrowed quite a bit from Ocarina of Time. With only a year of development, there was no time to create lots of new graphics. Almost all of the characters were just reused graphics from Ocarina of Time. This was okay because it reinforced the alternate reality theme. There were several new textures in this game though, and they were usually better than those in Ocarina of Time. Sometimes it was a little jarring seeing the older, lower quality textures next to the newer, more detailed textures, but most scenes looked pretty good. The sound effects were almost exactly the same as the previous game, but most of the music was new. Most of the music was subdued in the background, but a few tracks were really interesting. Because so much of the look and feel of the game was the same, Majora’s Mask felt like an expansion pack more than a sequel. It was more of the same for those that enjoyed Ocarina of Time. I think that was the intent because Majora’s Mask was a much harder game. Nintendo assumed the player already had practice from the first game, so they could make this one more difficult.

It was always pretty clear what Link had to do next to advance the story, but sometimes the details of how to accomplish that goal could be hard to figure out. Usually, it required a lot of trial error. For example, in the snowy part of the game, a critical character was hidden in a large snowball, but there were several of these in the game. I had destroyed a few of them and found them to just have extra supplies I didn’t need. When I couldn’t find the critical character I didn’t even think to try breaking all the snowballs. The game taught me not to do that by showing all the snowballs earlier to just have extra supplies and not characters to talk to. I don’t like trial and error stuff like this. I never like just wandering around randomly trying stuff until I figure out what to do. Fortunately, this only happened a few times in the game.

Another difficult part of the game were the dungeon puzzles. I found the first dungeon to be a cinch, but the last three definitely took some time to figure out. They really took advantage of the third dimension, so much that the two dimensional maps were just not good enough to really understand how various rooms connected together. Link couldn’t fly around to inspect a large room from all angles, so I had to make decisions based on incomplete information. In other words, later dungeons required more trial and error. In this case, I liked it because the dungeons in Ocarina of Time were usually too easy. Majora’s Mask had the right amount of difficulty. The sidequests were a different story though.

To really complete every sidequest was a daunting task without a guide. There were just so many sidequests in obscure places or activated in obscure ways it would take significant trial and error to find them all, let alone finish them all. I went through the whole story and beat the game without a guide. I then used the full set of equipment to go back through all the areas, searching for secrets and sidequests. I ended up being able to do about 80% of the game this way. For the remaining 20%, I used a guide. Because I don’t play games as much as in the past, I am okay using a guide to finish the last few things. I figure it’s not much different than the guidance I got from friends when I played N64 games as a kid. I never finished a game all on my own. We always played games collectively, finding new things and reporting them to the group.

Because I didn’t play Majora’s Mask until recently, it didn’t have the huge impact that Ocarina of Time did. I think it did several things better than Ocarina of Time, but the dated graphics and old technology prevented me from really loving this game. When I look at it objectively, Majora’s Mask was better than Ocarina of Time in almost every way. The only big exception was the story. Some people just didn’t like the darker themes in Majora’s Mask. I normally don’t like dark games, but the old graphics prevented the game from really absorbing it, so I wasn’t affected by it. For the low price I paid, Majora’s Mask was more than worth it. I will always have more fond memories of Ocarina of Time, but now I have a few to add from Majora’s Mask.

Video Game Thoughts: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a 2017 action-adventure game by Nintendo that I played on the Wii U. I have greatly enjoyed all of the Legend of Zelda games over the years. I really like the gameplay formula they have. These games tend to focus on story with exploration and puzzles to keep things interesting. Breath of the Wild kept much of this but went in a radical new direction.

For the first time, the world of Hyrule was completely open. Link, the hero, could explore wherever the player wanted, ignoring the story indefinitely if they wanted. The story mostly played out in short scripted sequences every so often, leaving more room for the player to create their own stories in what they chose to do. There was still a core story, a main quest, but this time it was pretty short, maybe 20 hours at the most. The main quest was fun and enjoyable, but it wasn’t the meat of the game. The meat was getting to visit all these amazing lands, defeating enemies, and helping solve the problems of the people that lived there.

In the story, the main characters were still Link, Zelda, and Ganon, but the details were quite different. Usually, the evil Ganon would rise in the lands of Hyrule and it was up to Link, with the help of Zelda, to defeat him. However, when Breath of the Wild started, Ganon had already won 100 years prior. It was a post-apocalyptic world. Link had awakened from a long slumber with the task to defeat Ganon and heal the damage done to the world. Zelda was a much stronger person this time. She ultimately did depend on Link, but she was capable of quite a bit more on her own.

The story wasn’t my favorite part of Breath of the Wild, not because it was bad but because it was such a small part of the game. The vast majority of my time was spent wandering around defeating enemies, finding treasure, and completing side quests. That is what I remember the most. There was a little bit of story interspersed here and there to bring the main quest back to the foreground, but then it was in the background for another 5 hours. That made it hard for me to remember much of it.

I never really felt like I got to know the characters. Unlike Skyward Sword, Link didn’t have any dialog choices. Zelda’s personality was hard to follow since the story sequences were so sporadic. Ganon, in this game, was reduced to a mindless evil monster. The story never moved me like the stories in some of the previous Zelda games. This is just a side effect of a huge open world game though. The main story can never be the main feature; the game world serves that purpose. The game world was perfect in Breath of the Wild.

Breath of the Wild was by far the largest game Nintendo has ever made. The world was absolutely huge. I played around 72 hours to finish the main quest and only fully explored maybe 4 regions out of around 8 regions total. Even then there were side quests I could come back to in those regions along with minibosses I could fight again for more treasure. It was well worth the money just on playtime alone. Playtime is useless if you’re not having fun, but I had tons of fun with this game. The story wasn’t the best, but gameplay more than made up for it.

I have played other open world games, such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, but I enjoyed the minute to minute gameplay in Breath of the Wild much more. Games like Skyrim were more fun to make plans for characters or quests and see them through to their outcome. On the other hand, Breath of the Wild was more fun to just wander around and explore with no plans in mind.

There were good incentives to explore. Some places were just there to appreciate the sights, but most parts of the game were filled with interesting content like treasure chests, new sidequests with useful rewards, or these little Korok creatures that helped Link increase his inventory space. Loading times were very minimal, maybe 30 seconds at the most but typically 10 seconds or less. I was really impressed with the gameplay, in particular the combat. The combat was similar to the previous 3D Zelda games, including Ocarina of Time, but much more polished and fluid in Breath of the Wild. No previous Zelda game gave the player as much control in how to fight monsters.

When facing enemy camps there were at least four options to tackle it. Option 1 was just running in and swinging a sword at everything in sight. Option 2 was using the environment like rolling a boulder or shooting a bomb. Option 3 was stealthily defeating enemies one by one. Option 4 was using Link’s “Magnesis” ability to pick up large metal objects to drop on the enemies. Many times there were other options, but these four options were almost always an option. My strategy was usually sneaking in trying to dispatch a few enemies silently before starting regular combat, but other people always used the environment. Once in combat, there were even more choices to make.

In combat, Link could throw bombs or shoot arrows at enemies or fight in close range. In close range, he could block with a shield and attack when the enemy was temporarily stunned or go the more risky two-hand sword without a shield. Another weapon type was the spear that offered great attacking range at the cost of low damage. There were also special Flurry Attacks that could be performed by dodging or avoiding attacks at the right moment. Some people specialized in dodging. I never got the timing down to do it consistently, but it was really fun when I pulled it off. Weapons could also be thrown for double damage. Some weapons like boomerangs even came back after throwing them. Between weapon type, throwing, blocking, dodging, sneaking, and using the environment, there were many different choices to make during combat. This kept things fresh. I was always learning something new throughout the game.

In addition to combat, this Breath of the Wild was great in the area of collecting interesting items. There were always new weapons, shields, armor, and ingredients to find. Armor was nice because it didn’t break like weapons and shields did. I spent a lot of rupees (in-game money) on the unique armor sets. The game was filled with various ingredients in every area. These could be cooked up to make special dishes. Eating these healed Link and usually also gave him a temporary special effect, such as Cold Resistance for staying warm in the mountains. I had a lot of fun cooking up various ingredients to see what special dish it would make.

One small downside here was that Breath of the Wild didn’t have the option to record the recipe, so I could make more hours later. There was a way to inspect a dish and get the list of ingredients, but once Link had eaten all of that dish, I had to go off of memory if I wanted that same dish again. It would have been much better if the game automatically recorded each recipe. Then hours later when I decided to go back into the mountains, I could look through all the recipes and find one that provided that special effect.

With so many useful items, it could be hard track them down after Link had used them. Well, the game had a really nice tracking system that unlocked just a few hours into the game. Once enabled, Link game could point Link in the direction of almost anything in the game from monsters to specific ingredients to even treasure chests. The only requirement was to take a picture of the object found in the wild. After that, it could be tracked. Many objects were unique — tracking would be useless for them — but it was extremely useful for the vast majority of items. To go along with this, the in-game map gave the player the option to place 100 identifying stamps anywhere they wanted. This empowered the player to create their own custom notes on the map for where minibosses, unopened treasure chests, or rare ingredients were.

The Legend of Zelda games are so good almost everyone has a different favorite game in the series. Breath of the Wild was far better than the earlier games in combat and exploration while being a little weak in story and characters. The other games have had their own positives and negatives, such as Twilight Princess‘s focus on story length at the cost of side quests. Regardless, I have enjoyed them all, including this latest installment. Even though I finished the main quest in Breath of the Wild, I covered less than half of the game. For now I am taking a break from daily playing. At my normal rate of around 3 hours a week, there is enough gameplay for several months. By then, the downloadable content will be out for even more fun. As long as the game continues to be fun, there is no doubt I will enjoy the extra content.

Book Thoughts: Back to Virtue

Back to Virtue was a 1986 Catholic book by Peter Kreeft. It was originally titled For Heaven’s Sake but was republished in 1992 with a new name. Peter Kreeft has a doctor in philosophy, so this book was primarily about making an argument supporting the need for Western civilization to go “back to virtue”. To do this, the book was structured into two parts. The first part (Missing: A Virtuous People) described the overall problem: Western civilization abandoned the idea of virtues, leading to all manner of chaos. Eventually, this would lead to the destruction of humanity by war. To avoid this destruction, people needed to go back to the virtues Christianity had brought forth. The second part of the book (Key: Personal Virtue) detailed the four cardinal virtues (justice, wisdom, courage, moderation), three theological virtues (faith, hope, charity), and the beatitudes that oppose the seven deadly sins. The first part was the most straightforward with the second part being the real meat of the book.

I agreed with pretty much everything Peter Kreeft wrote in Back to Virtue.  It was surprisingly accurate given the date this book was written. Other than a few references to the Cold War, this text could have been written today. While the Cold War is over, I really feel like the Western world is going downhill, and that lack of religion is the reason. It’s possible to be a very good person without religion but very rare. Without having good ideals to live by, most people will be as selfish as they can get away with. Selfish people do not do good.

The role models of the modern world are professional athletes, movie stars, and politicians, but these groups are some of the worst in God’s eyes. They are not good people, so Mr. Kreeft challenged the reader to be that good role model in society. Without Christians leading good, holy lives the author predicted the downfall of modern civilization. I agree Christians need to be holy. I strive my whole life to optimize my life around the faith, so I can serve God and others the best I can. I don’t agree that we can turn civilization back to God though.

My feelings in the salvation of modern civilization is product of the time I have grown up in. I have seen people continually move further away from God. Never has there been a turnaround. I know nothing is impossible for God, but because I have never experienced any large change towards God, I just can’t see it ever happening. Our world is stuck in the gravity of the black hole that is hell. I believe the good actions of Christians can slow this process down but never turn things around. That doesn’t mean we give up though. We do the best we can, as I am, and trust God with the rest.

I focus on the low level, identifying needy people and serving them the best I can. Of course, I am willing to give my thoughts on how to be holy — that’s a big part of this blog — but in general, I don’t believe it will lead a revolution. It would be sad if this world was all there is, but as Catholics, we believe in heaven, eternal life. We have something positive to look forward to. We need to do our best to save our soul and the souls of others, but everything else is up to God.

Back to Virtue had a heavy foundation in philosophy and logic. This made it very dense and slow to read for me. It is a book to be studied, not just read one time and set aside. I always enjoy studying the faith though, so I plan to spend a lot of time rereading each chapter. In reading this book, I realized holiness and ideals can be thought about in more than one way. The Catechism of the Catholic Church focuses more on the Ten Commandments, but a Catholic could also focus on the virtues as their guide for holiness. I will be looking into virtues more. If there is anything fruitful in this study, I will put it online for all.

Book Thoughts: Resisting Happiness

Resisting Happiness was a 2016 book by Matthew Kelly that my parish offered all parishioners after the Christmas services. It’s a nice yearly tradition to get some good reading material for the new year. This is the second Matthew Kelly book I’ve read. The first one was The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic. That book had a lot of good ideas. I ended up writing them all down and implementing the best ones. Resisting Happiness felt very similar. Just like The Four Signs, it was a book about being the best version of yourself. This time it approached the idea from the angle of happiness.

Resisting Happiness had a total of 37 chapters. Each chapter began with a short anecdote from Matthew Kelly’s life. He then extrapolated what he learned from that experience into a Key Point that summarized the essence of the chapter and an Action Step the reader could take to improve themselves. I have already been doing much of what Matthew Kelly suggested, but some of them were interesting questions to answer or things I needed to work on more. I wrote down all the Action Steps, did the short term ones, and made plans for the long term ones.

I already do many of the Action Steps like praying daily and regular Bible reading. I already had plans for some of them like going to confession regularly. Others, like writing a spiritual plan, I already did on my own. However, two new ones I am starting are offering every activity to God for an intention and making a conscious effort to listen to God.

Resisting Happiness taught me that our ordinary life (work, chores, etc.) is pleasing to God just as dedicated prayer is pleasing to him, so our normal activities can be offered to God as a prayer for something in return. My intentions will all be for loved ones both living and dead. I am excited to have another way to give back to others that doesn’t require me to leave the house.

Listening to God is hard for me because I am such a big thinker. I can sit for hours in silence just thinking about random stuff. It’s hard for me to empty my mind and just listen. I am taking what I learned from Fr. Larry Richards’ speech on Prayer to incorporate listening to God into my life. I will be trying my hardest to always ask God what he wants whenever I have a decision to make. Making this a habit will help me feel the presence of God much more.

Overall, I like Matthew Kelly’s message of being the best version of yourself. Before I even read any of these books, I had the idea to improve myself and be a saint. It has been continually reinforced with these books as well as my efforts on this blog. These days I have gotten used to the constant effort of improvement, but it was a major life-changing decision back then. I probably would have resisted had I known what the future had in store for me.

I developed several health problems over a six year period. They were easy to ignore at first, but slowly got worse. I prayed for healing for many years. Then my prayers were answered. For almost four months, I had no symptoms. I felt great. In return for God answering my prayers, I decided to start the path of improvement and become a really good person. Unfortunately, my good health was short-lived. The problems all came back worse than before. Since then I have had ups and downs with my health. Rarely, I have a good day or even a week but never several months.

I am still working on my health, but after working on it so long with no positive results, I don’t have any hope of being healthy again. I continue praying for it, but my hope is only in eternal life not any earthly happiness. So the primary thing holding me back from happiness is my bad health not any lack of action on my part. I did learn some things from this book, but I wasn’t really the target audience. Like most books, it was written for the average person with normal health, the people that have the freedom to do many things. On the other hand, my freedom is limited. I have freedom to do things from home or through the Internet. What I do outside has to be limited due to how much suffering it causes me. I still liked the book despite it not having the answer to my happiness. My happiness depends on God healing me permanently. Based on my past, that will never happen, so I am ever focused on the end of my suffering in heaven. Just because I am home a lot doesn’t mean I can’t improve though.

I still work on it every day. Most of my efforts are on improving my prayer life and sense of God in my life to ward off loneliness and finding ways to serve others from home. I’ve been working on this several years, but I continue to learn new things and start new practices. I continue to become holier and closer to God. All this excites me even more for my eventual peace in heaven. It’s so hard to wait many days. When the going gets tough I refocus on God with prayer and service. I am eager for the time of good health.

Speech Thoughts: Prayer

Prayer was a speech given by Fr. Larry Richards. I saw this priest speak at a men’s conference, and he was very good. He really knew how to grab everyone’s attention. My dad bought a CD containing the audio of this speech. My mom happened to find it while cleaning out all the religious books and let me borrow it. Compared to Fr. Larry’s speech on Confession, this one didn’t have as much new information. The focus was using Jesus example of how to pray (the Our Father prayer) to guide us in the present time.

Fr. Larry explained how Jesus’ use of “Father” as a name for God was unheard of in his time. The priests of the time believed God’s name was so holy it could never be spoken. On the other hand, Jesus made God much more relatable. He is our Father. By comparing God to our biological father, we could understand the kind of relationship we should have with God. We should love him like a parent because we are children compared to him.

The next part of the speech was about “Your will be done”. Fr. Larry explained that we need to listen to God. It’s not just about what we want or even need. It’s what God wants. God knows what our needs are before we even sit down to prayer, so we don’t have to worry about him not meeting our needs. It’s okay to ask for things, but we always need to think about what God wants first. This requires a lot of trust in God.

Fr. Larry did his best to promote mass for the next part. The words, “Give us our daily bread”, are not just about God feeding us. All our physical, mental, and spiritual needs are wrapped up in this sentence. On top of that, “bread” also refers to the Eucharist, so “daily bread” means go to daily mass. I don’t think many people were interested, but I like the idea. Maybe if I can retire someday, though I don’t see that ever happening with how expensive everything is these days.

The last part I remember was about “…as we forgive those who trespass against us”. Fr. Larry gave the Bible reading where Jesus said we would not be forgiven by God if we did not forgive our enemies here on Earth. I’ve done pretty well at this one. Sometimes I do get disappointed or angry with people, but I always forgive them a short while later. For some people, this is the great battle of their life. I am thinking of people that were abused as children or went through a painful divorce. It’s really hard to forgive someone that has caused so much suffering. I am so blessed to have not had to live through such tragic events.

For the last 15 minutes Fr. Larry put his own instructions into practice by leading everyone in prayer. The key thing was to imagine God through the image of Jesus standing in front of us. We could imagine what he looked like from his hair, clothes, skin, eyes, and more. That made it easy to see God is with us at all times and feel close to him. After developing a good image of God through Jesus, the prayer continued with repentance, surrender to God, allowing God to hold us, and praying the Our Father together with Jesus.

It would be too long to go into all the detail, but I got more out of this speech than I expected. I had copied a prayer format from a book by Matthew Kelly. This prayer was a good start, but I soon had a long list of petitions each day. I did do repentance and a tiny bit of listening to God, but the prayer was mostly about my petitions, what I want. I had been meaning to do more listening but wasn’t sure how. This CD came to me at a good time. I was able to combine the two prayer formats to create a new one that has the best of both. I start by surrendering to God, asking forgiveness and listening for his commands. Only then do I go into my petitions. I got rid of the long lists of petitions and now just ask for whatever comes to mind. These are the most important ones.

I am very excited to use this new prayer practice whenever I can. I can’t just drop everything for God, but I will ask God what he wants whenever I have a decision to make. This will mostly be during my free time. Sometimes I will get direction from these prayers and other times I will have to make my own decisions, but I need to involve God. That way at my death I can say: “I did what God wanted. Wherever I have ended up is because of God.” Of course, I can’t listen to temptations and assume they are from God, but if I feel called to do some good action, I can make that decision knowing God wills it to some extent. As long as I involve God in my decisions, he will be happy with my life and have little to worry about. I hope this new prayer practice will allow me to serve others even better. If God has my back, the things I do should be more effective.