In Oscar Hijuelos' new book, Mr. Ives' Christmas (HarperCollins, 1995), Hijuelos describes a scene in which Edward Ives dreams of "the Lord's body and His skin....He imagined passing his hand across [Jesus'] brow and feeling healing scabs and blood-damp hair. But thinking those wounds as necessary to the resurrection, when Ives came to where the nails had pierced, he dug deeper into himself." Mr. Ives had been digging into himself for 32 years, ever since his 17-year-old son, Robert, was shot to death on his way home from Mass by another teen-ager. Ives' dream is the fever-break of redemption after years of grief, hatred, and a religiously disciplined love that led him into correspondence with his son's killer. Violence is never a private act.
Dead Man Walking is the fictionalized film adaptation of Sister Helen Prejean's autobiography by the same title (see "The State Takes a Life," January 1994). This story recounts a dangerous walk taken by a Catholic sister and a convicted rapist and murderer on death row in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. Hollywood always does violence well, but rarely does it convey so well the gritty liturgy of Christian faith. In the life of Jesus, the two were seldom far apart.
Susan Sarandon (winner of three Academy Awards and a drama graduate of Catholic University in Washington, D.C.) plays the realistic and complex Sister Helen, a strong woman whose faith determines the parameters of her life. Sister Helen lives and works at Hope House, founded by two Catholic sisters in 1969. With the people of St. Thomas Housing Development, located in a poor area of New Orleans, the sisters provide adult education and other neighborhood ministries.
Prejean's relationship with convicted killer Matthew Poncelet (a composite character created from the first two death row inmates with whom the real Sister Helen became involved, and played powerfully