Category Archives: New Media

Former Ignitum Today Writers Who Have Published Books Part I: Shaun McAfee

Pardon us for engaging in a little self-promotion, but Catholic writers from ages 14-45 who are wondering how they can use their talents to bring others closer to God should consider writing for Ignitum Today.  For many of us, writing for this website has been a rewarding way not only to share our faith but to hone our writing and online publishing skills.  This has led some to go places, which meant even more opportunities to share the faith.

One such writer is Shaun McAfee, the author of books such as Filling Our Father’s House, St. Robert Bellarmine, and Reform Yourself!.  Here, he talks to us about how his journey to become a published book author started out with writing for Ignitum Today:

How and why did you get started writing for Ignitum Today?

Shaun McAfee:  “Writing for Ignitum Today (IT) was a smart step in my Catholic writing journey. I wanted to expand my skills and networking; I  wanted to learn from others;  and I thought joining a group-blog would be the best way of doing that. So I scanned some sites I knew but didn’t really know how to get started. Maybe it’s still there, but I noticed one day that the IT site had a link to the effect of “Want to be a writer?” I clicked and submitted my info and was soon contacted by none other than Stacy Trasancos. The rest is history.”

Please tell us the stories behind your book deals.

Shaun McAfee:  “I got my first book contract with Sophia Institute Press. I admit I never that writing a book was the sort of thing I would do—it seemed a pretty lofty goal, and I did not know what topic I could write about.  But in 2014 I got a huge idea to write about the things Catholics can learn from Protestants in evangelization. That book became Filling Our Father’s House and I really felt lucky to have such a strong title with a big time Catholic publisher.

Next, my pastor asked me to write a short book for the 50th anniversary of the founding of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Omaha, NE. That book became St. Robert Bellarmine. I enjoyed writing that one a lot, even though it wasn’t a huge book, and it received some nice and humble praise. Still, I was really motivated to read and write about the other saints that Robert Bellarmine interacted with during the Counter-Reformation. I noticed that 1) nobody really had written a book about the saints of the Counter-Reformation, and 2) the 500-year anniversary of the Reformation was coming, and it was a good time to do something innovative. Again, I never thought I’d be published, let alone by such a magnificent publisher, but Catholic Answers Press said “yes” to my proposal, and after a long winter of writing and a summer of editing, Reform Yourself! was published. I’m in the season of promoting that one, still, but I’m working on some other ideas in the meantime.“

What are your books about?

Shaun McAfee: “Filling Our Father’s House is a practical book that discusses the great things our Protestant brothers and sisters do to increase holiness and become such effective evangelists. It talks about everything from “having a personal relationship” to the importance of small groups and taking the faith to the streets, literally. Next, I wrote a simple book on St. Robert Bellarmine. The book discusses his life and his major works. My most recent book is Reform Yourself! with Catholic Answers Press. This is a highly practical look at the lives of the saints of the Counter-Reformation, and shows readers how to seek true reform, holiness, sanctity, and several other attributes of the Catholic life, deriving each from the lives of these special saints. I also wrote a chapter with my wife in Patrick Madrid’s Surprised by Life and have recently done the same, with my wife, for an upcoming book on Humanae Vitae with Catholic Answers Press. I’ve got some hopeful projects coming in the near future, but those are secret for now.”

Do you think your involvement with Ignitum Today helped you become a  published book author?

Shaun McAfee: “Like I mentioned, choosing to write for IT was a very smart choice. IT provided me with a nice base of support. I had an editor for the first time, I was able to solicit feedback from other writers, I was able to monitor and understand stats, find my own mistakes, respond in a combox, and was also able to learn from the finer points I noticed with the other writers. Things like productivity, interesting topics, word count, endurance, knowing when to leave and when to push myself to the next level—I was able to learn these and so much more from writing at IT. Not to mention, IT gave my writing a humble but promising platform. In the most practical of exercises, IT really gave me the opportunity to decide if I really liked writing or not. I realized at IT that it was really up to me to decide how successful I wanted to be.

Soon, I became an editor at IT, then I was asked to start and edit a blog for Holy Apostles College and Seminary, and then I founded EpicPew.com. Now, I write weekly for the National Catholic Register and contribute frequently to Catholic Answers Magazine and their Magazine Online. Writing for Ignitum Today provided a basis for a skill set that has carried me this far.”

Any advice that you have for young Catholic writers?

Shaun McAfee:  “To all those Catholic writers wondering where they’re headed, or if you have big dreams I offer you this advice: stay productive, stay as humble as possible, and always push yourself to do better. Thanks for the opportunity to share some words. “

Note:  Interested writers may contact contact Jean Seah at jean.elizabeth.seah[at]gmail[dot]com, and provide a writing sample.

The Archived Life: On Scrapbooking, Catholic Liturgy, and Transitional Justice

By guest writer Melvyn Foo.

On all my holidays this year, my routine when I return to our accommodation is the same. I transfer the photos from my camera’s SD card to my laptop, I edit and select them, and then I upload them to Bonjournal1 and complete my travel log.

In the course of this most recent trip, I have come to call this routine ‘reaping the harvest’. By corollary, then, the day’s experiences are the seeds sown, the harvest of which are the memories that I immortalise in the web.

I have been asked repeatedly why I am so obsessive about archiving my life. I sometimes reply, “The unarchived life is not worth living.”

Remove the double negatives, rearrange, and you get something less tongue-in-cheek and more defensible: life is worth archiving.

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Scrapbooking is the epitome of archiving memories. You choose the happy snapshots, you write nice words, and you frame everything in a pretty page – exactly how you would like to remember those moments.

I am not good at scrapbooking. I took a course years ago, and since then, I have concluded that I have no natural talent for it. I take hours to do what the artsy girls can do in minutes (e.g. choosing paper). I work laboriously (e.g. take exact dimensions) to do what they do by sheer guesstimation. I use science (e.g. rule of thirds, triangulation) to do what they do by feel. (I have since learnt that you can’t really plan every detail out, so you just have to make decisions and improvise along the way. This works sometimes, and sometimes it doesn’t. After all, just like jazz, improvisation requires talent, which I lack.)

It does not help that I have color disorder.

Despite my difficulties, I am still drawn to scrapbooking. I have a drawer full of materials, I have a Paper Market membership card (which may have expired), and I scrapbook a cover page for each year’s journal (which comprises largely of blogposts that I compile and print out).

Why? Why is the past – not just knowing what actually happened but remembering what happened – so important?

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An answer may be found in an unlikeliest of places: Catholic liturgy.

In every Mass, Catholics take Jesus’ words literally to “do this,” – i.e. to eat His body and drink His blood – “in remembrance of [Him].”2 This is not just symbolic. The Church holds that the Mass re-presents Jesus’ sacrifice on Golgotha.3 Father Jude had thus alluded in a talk on how there is only one Mass and “one single sacrifice”4 – the one on Golgotha – that we remember and re-present in all our Masses.

This remembrance and re-presentation is called anamnesis, which comprises the heart of the Eucharist.5 The word, sharing a similar etymology with ‘amnesia’, means “a calling to mind, remembrance”.

This word is also used in philosophy and in medicine. In philosophy, it is a Platonic concept which conceives of learning as a rediscovery of knowledge within us from past incarnations. In medicine, it refers to a patient’s medical history which a physician needs to know in order to diagnose and care for that patient.

Regardless of context, the point is the same: when we recall the past, we affect our present and our future. This is the power and the importance of memory.

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Transitional justice is an emerging field which increasingly recognizes the critical importance of memory (alongside the four traditional elements of truth, justice, reparation, and guarantees of non-recurrence). This field studies the various processes by which a community recovers from large-scale human rights abuses. With the hindsight from Rwanda, Timor Leste, the former Yugoslavia, et al., it is now incontrovertible that criminal prosecutions alone, while necessary, are far from sufficient. More is required.

Memorialisation is one such process.

Professor Ariel Dulitzky thus wrote that “[c]ertain standards of the United Nations insist on the duty of remembering, educating about the past and rejecting negations of atrocities. They also highlight the role that archives play in the search of truth and justice, and they are also essential for recovering and building memory.”6

This is not just pure sentimentality. Professor Dulitzky quotes the UN Rapporteur on Truth, Justice, Reparation and Guarantees of Non-recurrence, who says that “[it] does not suffice to acknowledge the suffering and strength of the victims,” and concludes that “ultimately, the challenge for a policy of memory is not building memorials or installing sleepy statues, but creating more fair, egalitarian and democratic societies.”7

Again, the point here is: remembering the past determines the present and charts the course for the future.

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And yet, if all that is required is to recollect objective historical facts, it is surprising that judicial rulings are insufficient. After all, the trial is democracy’s most potent fact-finding procedure. Why is more – in the likes of film, theatre, museums, etc – required?

In 2001, my family and another family got into a bad accident in South Africa. Both families were traveling together in a single vehicle. The tyre burst, the vehicle ran off the road, hit into barbed wire, and flipped a couple of times. We later learnt that the other family’s dad had been thrown out of the vehicle, and the vehicle had crushed his lungs, killing him instantly.

Two years later, they sued my dad, who had been driving the vehicle at the time of the accident. The judgment arising from the suit is reported as Loh Luan Choo Betsy (alias Loh Baby) (administratrix of the estate of Lim Him Long) and others v Foo Wah Jek [2004] SGHC 230; [2005] 1 SLR(R) 64. It is 18 pages long, and it goes through the evidence in detail. It mentions so much.

And yet it mentions so little. It does not mention the red-stained t-shirt that my mum had used to soak up the blood that had welled out when she performed CPR on their dad, which I had included in an essay based on this accident that I wrote in Secondary 4. It also does not mention a detail that I always talk about when I shared about this accident, that is, how fine the sand was, and how it got into my fingernails when I knelt down and clutched at it, praying to the patron saint of hopeless cases St Jude to make this all a dream.

And it does not even ask that most pressing of questions – where was God in all this? The answer becomes more layered as the years pass.

Examining the different processes of truth-finding, history-telling, and formation of collective memory, Professor Chrisje Brants and Professor Katrien Klep conclude: “The legal truth, laid down in the rulings of an international criminal court is, by definition, not open-ended. The verdict of a court is definite and authoritative; in this context, closure, not continued debate about what it has established as the truth, is its one and only purpose – indeed, on this its legitimacy depends. But then, also by definition, its contribution to history-telling, collective memory, and justice for victims is limited indeed.”8

In this regard, the learned writers also point out that “[h]istory and memory change as time goes on, and are never ‘finished.’”9

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Remembering the past, then, is not just a scientific and once-and-for-all endeavor of ascertaining the 5Ws+1H. It is also an art of attributing meaning and finding a narrative in the events that have happened.

Beyond the context of transitional justice, there is a word for this art of dwelling on the past: klexos. And of this artform, the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows echoes: “Maybe we should think of memory itself as a work of art—and a work of art is never finished, only abandoned.”

There are therefore two key elements in klexos: accuracy and meaning.

To speak of accuracy in recording the past is trite. Dates, names, sequence of events – these matter. Research on the fallibility of eye-witness memory highlights the grave consequences when we remember wrongly.

But to think of memory merely as a recording device is misconceived. In Elizabeth Loftus’ TEDtalk on the reliability of memory, she confirms that when we remember, we are not so much playing back what our senses have recorded. Instead, we reconstruct the past.

Beyond the factual data set of what actually happened, we make sense out of our past experiences, we connect the dots, we construct and reconstruct narrative arcs. We infuse an objective timeline with subjective meaning.

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The forms that the archives of our lives can take have evolved with the rise of social media. At the most extreme, Snapchat and Stories inveigh against the very idea of permanence, since the pictures and videos (allegedly) vanish forever after some time. Instagram heralded the prioritization of pictures over words. Twitter limited any expression of thought to 140 characters.

Perhaps it is inaccurate to conceive of these social media initiatives as archival tools, since they seek more to share and to capture the moment rather than to reflect on the past. All through a screen, of course. As one article puts it, “For Generation Z, there is no struggle to make sense of things. There is only the impulse to share.”

But there seems to be a counter-movement arising. Amidst the FLFC-culture of our times, slow journalism is gaining ground. A New Yorker staff writer opined: “We binge on instant knowledge, but we are learning the hazards, and readers are warier than they used to be of nanosecond-interpretations of Supreme Court decisions.” In 2015, The Huffington Post launched Highline,10 a magazine dedicated to running only cover stories based on months of investigations. Even our local newpspaper Today now has a section called the ‘Big Read’,11 which publishes longer and more thoughtful pieces.

While speed, brevity, and the power to grab attention will still remain foremost news values, slow journalism recognizes that readers also hunger for insight, for immersion, and for analysis. And the Web is taking notice.

But prose is not the only or even the best medium to archive, to reflect on, or to just make sense of life.

As a blogger, I am naturally a proponent of longform journaling. But as my Gen Z friend (who studies linguistics) counter-proposes, “Just cuz there r fewer words doesn’t mean we think less.”

Indeed, many of the Gen Z Instagram accounts that I follow are often filled with musings – be it through photos or captions or something in-between like typography – about life. One 20-year-old I know even has a third account (two is common among Gen Z – one ‘main’ account as a curated public persona and one ‘spam’ account for closer friends to follow) dedicated to more introspective posts.

While sheer wit and conviction certainly drive much of the content that Generation Z produces, not everything is simply “big, colorful, and hysterical”. There is depth and maturity too.

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Be it blogging, scrapbooking, or instagramming, a question persists: are we being merely self-indulgent? Archiving the great events or the lives people that have shaped history is uncontroversial. But what of the grain of our own lives, so lost and so insignificant in the sands of time?

Vanity is undoubtedly a temptation, against which the easiest way of resisting is to keep our archives private.

But as Brené Brown says (and the Gen Z instagrammer above quotes), “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”

These words resound with those of us who share regularly: we are honest with ourselves, we share with others, not necessarily in that order. To the extent, therefore, that the sharing of our lives intertwine with our pursuit of authenticity, perhaps we should be willing to endure some pretentiousness as the price of knowing ourselves.

For myself, blogging is many things. It is a way to make myself available to others. When people ask me a question about my life, the lazy (though admittedly lesser) alternative to sharing with them in person is to send them a link. It is also a way to make myself available to myself. It is amazingly convenient to have a compendium of my life to refer to at any time, to frame a more articulate sharing, to recall a personal story for a session, or just to remember what I went through before.

Perhaps, most importantly, it is a way for me to make sense of my world. To echo Gaiman, “All too often I write to find out what I think about a subject, not because I already know.”12

When my dad and I got into another bad accident in August 2014, I wrote about how I had lost faith in miracles. In September, I wrote about how I had to content with finding God in the ordinary, if I could not find Him in the extraordinary. In July 2015, I wrote again, but this time about how the accident formed part of a period of desolation, which was in turn, part of a larger narrative arc of learning to trust God.

The archive of my life thus becomes a lens through which I see the world. And if we can see the world in our grain of sand, we can move from klexos to sonder, to the humility of realizing that every person’s grain of life is as rich and as varied as our own.

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Moving beyond the individual, the wisdom of transitional justice underscores that klexos is not only relevant to individual lives, but to communities as well.

Just three weeks ago, I was surfing through our community’s spiritual bucket list, and I realized that some of us have already checked items off the list. To some extent, 1Cor12’s narrative has been captured in Mere Community. BASIC will be celebrating their 10th anniversary soon, and their ten years of journeying together will be digitally engraved into the blogs and Instagram accounts of their members.

Other memories are worth preserving. Consider, for example, OWL’s formation, journey, and eventual dissolution. There are precious shards here that I would love to see pieced together into a panel of stained glass.

Stained glass, after all, is a common sight in the Church.

In the final analysis, perhaps stained glass should be the ideal that all our archives aspire to. Because all our lives are broken and fragmented, and will remain so, regardless of how we curate or scrapbook our memories. It is only when we let Christ’s light shine through our past, into our present, and to guide our future, does beauty emerge.

Perhaps, then, it is not so much the unarchived, or even the unexamined life, but the un-examen-ed life, that is not worth living.

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1. Bonjournal is a minimalist travel logging app. It has a clean interface and limits the number of pictures per post to three. I have been using it since 2014, and will probably continue to do so.
2. Lk 22:19.
3. See CCC 1366.
4. CCC 1367.
5. See CCC 1106.
6. Ariel Dulitzky, “Memory, an essential element of transitional justice”, 20 April 2014. He was a member of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in 2014.
7. Ibid.
8. Chrisje Brants and Katrien Klep, “Transitional Justice: History-Telling, Collective Memory, and the Victim-Witness”, International Journal of Conflict and Violence Vol. 7(1) 2013, pp.36-49.
9. Ibid.
10. See e.g. “Mothers of ISIS“, a paradigm-shifting angle on ISIS recruitment.
11. See e.g. this article covering the glut of lawyers, providing probably the most comprehensive and insightful analysis on the situation. 
12. Neil Gaiman, “Some Reflections on Myth (with Several Digressions onto Gardening, Comics and Fairy Tales”, in A View from the Cheap Seats.

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This article was originally blogged at Mel.

Melvyn Foo is a Singaporean ex-lawyer. He is supposed to be a young adult, but he is really a lot more young than adult. He committed to God while sitting alone before a small and unadorned tabernacle. Since then, everything has pretty much fallen into place. You can visit his blog at http://melvynfoo.wordpress.com/

A Plan for Studying the Bible

The chaplain of the pilgrimage I joined to the Holy Land repeatedly told our group that after the pilgrimage, we will never read the Gospels the same way again.

I did not realize how true this was until I received an e-mail from the alumni mailing list of the Universidad de Navarra announcing, among others, a new online diploma course on biblical theology. I wanted to enroll immediately; the trip to the Holy Land made me want to delve deeper into the Bible beyond my daily short readings of the New Testament.

I realized, though, that my schedule as a practicing attorney would prevent me from keeping up with the course requirements. In fact, I also realized that I do not need a formal degree in biblical theology. I just wanted to study the Bible more, so as to know God more and thus be able to love Him more. But just the same, I wanted a structured plan for the endeavor.

I then discovered the Bible Courses at the website of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, which was founded and is headed by the famous Dr. Scott Hahn. I found them appropriate for my needs.

At the “Bible Courses” page of the website, there are six courses, each consisting of six lessons: “Covenant Love: Introducing the Biblical World View, From Genesis to Jesus,” “The Lamb’s Supper: The Bible and the Mass,” “Reading the Old Testament in the New: The Gospel of Matthew,” “‘He Must Reign’: The Kingdom of God in Scripture,” and “Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God.”

Each lesson contains an outline, notes, study questions, recommended biblical passages, and suggestions for prayer and reflection. My own approach to using the material consists of reading the lessons and the cited Biblical passages (as well as the citations from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, if any), and then taking down notes guided by the study questions. I also make marginal notes on my copy of the Bible. Finally, I use the lessons and my notes as material for my personal prayer.

The lessons are free, and do not even require a password. The site requests, however, that users register for informational purposes.

One drawback of the Bible Courses is that they do not have an interactive component. The courses are simply guides for self-study. Nothing prevents users, however, from forming their own study groups and online discussion forums to complement the lessons.

I am now on Lesson 2 of the “Covenant Love: Introducing the Biblical World View” course. So far my experience has been rewarding. I am learning how the key to understanding the entire Bible is the covenant between God and His people. I am also learning about the five covenants that God created with His people throughout the Old Testament, and how they are fulfilled in Jesus and His Church. I am amazed as I discover more and more God’s love for humanity, and how all parts of the Bible fit together and make sense.

I recommend the Bible Courses of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology to anyone who wants to delve deeper into the Bible. Each lesson makes me enthusiastic to learn more and enriches my prayer life. The Bible Courses of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology are a valuable resource for anyone who wants to read the Bible so as to know God more, and thus love Him more.

Writers, Keep Writing

I saw a funny meme about writing, which said, “Being a good writer is 3% talent, 97% not being distracted by the internet”:

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Vanity of all vanities

Writing certainly seems like it takes a lot of self-discipline and effort. I type out all my articles and they never get written down so, being at the computer, the above quote is certainly true. It’s a temptation to click over to Facebook, look something up on Google, etc. Sometimes I wonder if all this writing I do as a hobby is worth it. There is so much already written down. There are so many blogs, there are so many books, there are so many websites with so many articles. What is all this effort for? For a few people to click, read and forget it a few minutes later? I’m never going to be a canonized saint (I assume)  or a famous writer to be reread throughout the ages (again, assuming), so it’s just a matter of time before my writings disappear into the enormous abyss of time and space.

“All things are wearisome, too wearisome for words. The eye is not satisfied by seeing nor has the ear enough of hearing. What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun! Even the thing of which we say, ‘See, this is new!’ has already existed in the ages that preceded us.” (Ecclesiastes 1: 8-10)

The power of a story

If you have ever read a story to a group of children like I used to do in my elementary teaching days, especially if it’s a rowdy group of children who don’t ever quiet down, you know the power of a story. All you have to do is open it up, tell it well and show some pictures, and it is as if you have cast a spell on the children. They watch you motionlessly, with their mouths gaping open.

This is especially apparent with small children, but there are many who argue that it also holds true for adults. In fact, God communicates to us using stories. Why would the Holy Spirit and the biblical authors write stories, parables, and narrative all throughout the Bible if God hadn’t inscribed this very fascination for stories within us?

A second Incarnation

I wrote a thesis paper on biblical poetry and it was fascinating to see how many things are written in the tradition of the Church about writing. The Incarnation of God’s Word onto paper is analogous to the Incarnation of Jesus Christ into flesh. That is something very important. Not only that, the way you write it (poetry/narrative, literary genres, etc.) is part of the very message, not just a vehicle of the message. Writing something in poetry is different than writing it in narrative. The way you say it is just as important.

God is pretty serious about writing.

Just do it

It’s tiresome, it may seem futile and it may have all been written before, but if you are doing it for the right reasons and if the Holy Spirit is working with you, it is all worth it. Isn’t all of our work here on Earth a bit tiresome?

“As to more than these, my son, beware. Of the making of many books there is no end, and in much study there is weariness for the flesh. The last word, when all is heard: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this concerns all humankind; because God will bring to judgment every work, with all its hidden qualities, whether good or bad.” (Ecclesiastes 12: 12-14)

I leave you with three poignant quotes about writing from Saint Faustina’s Diary. Writing for her was a divine call, in the midst of much temptation.

“As I write these words, I hear the cry of Satan: ‘She’s writing everything, she’s writing everything, and because of this we are losing so much! Do not write about the goodness of God; He is just!’ And howling with fury, he vanished.” (1338)

“Although I am feeling weak, and my nature is clamoring for rest, I feel the inspiration of grace telling me to take hold of myself and write, write for the comfort of souls, whom I love so much and with whom I will share all eternity. And I desire eternal life for them so ardently that that is why I use all my free moments, no matter how short, for writing in the way that Jesus wishes of me.” (1471)

“Secretary of My most profound mystery, know that yours is an exclusive intimacy with Me. Your task is to write down everything that I make known to you about My mercy, for the benefit those who by reading these things will be comforted in their souls and will have the courage to approach Me. I therefor want you to devote all your free moments to writing.” (1693)

Fuller House and John Paul II

Between the release of the official teaser trailer and the full-blown trailer to Fuller House, the two videos have racked up over 18 million views in the last few weeks.  Very clearly, this show has some major steam behind it.  But it’s not alone in bringing the 90s back.  Fox did a special for the X-Files, and will also bring back Prison Break.  And my wife’s favorite, Gilmore Girls, is getting a series of 90-minute specials on Netflix.  

What’s going on? I would suggest that there’s two things happening.  

First, there’s just plain old nostalgia.  This happens to all of us when we happen to come across an old yearbook or photo album (remember those?!).  It can transport us back to that time and make us yearn for simpler days when our concerns were limited to whether or not we had to go to school and what was on the menu at the cafeteria.

A second dimension to this phenomenon, I think, has its roots deeper in the human person.  This is something John Paul II gets at in his Theology of the Body, when he notes that the shame and guilt that we feel in the personal realm and, especially in the sexual realm, can be seen to be a sort of faint echo of the truth we’re really called to live out.

In other words, through the pain of the modern world and our personal experiences, we come to realize that there must be something better that we are made for.  This, the experience of historical man, points us back to original man, to the way things were “in the beginning.”  But it also points us toward eschatological man, the way things will be in the end.  So in a strange sort of way, when we confront the difficulties, sufferings, and pain of our daily lives, if we meditate on it, we can see through the darkness, and maybe even in the very darkness itself, a way which points us toward the light.

So, back to Fuller House.  Without trying to be either overly-theological or sacrilegious, I think that it’s fair to call this a religious phenomenon.  Here’s how I think it works.

One of the main features of Full House, and a host of other older 90s television hits, was their rather clear presentation of basic moral attitudes.  In other words, they operated in a universe defined by moral clarity.  While there are many tv shows today that try to make a clear distinction between what’s right and wrong, Full House provided not only entertainment, but taught many critical lessons to its viewers.

I, for one, learned not to drive a car into the house and, when I did make  small hole in the wall as a 17 year-old lead-foot driver, I immediately went in the house and owned up to my mistake, just like Stephanie Tanner should have.  But lest you think that Full House only dealt in humor, don’t forget about some of the more serious moral issues they confronted. In a 1994 episode, Under the Influence, DJ and Kimmy go to a party where Kimmy gets drunk and demands to drive home.  Luckily, DJ holds her ground, and in the end the audience learns that Kimmy lost her mother to a drunk driver.  

What Full House had going for it, besides its theme song and memorable plot lines, was a vision of how the difficulties and sorrows of daily experience could function as a sign to point us toward the solution.  Through those troubles, we can reflect on the brokenness of the world, and look forward to a day when things will be right.  Thus what we have is a sort of veiled image of the hopes for eschatological man.  

Is that just old-fashioned, “aw-shucks” morality?  Perhaps.  But in a world where some networks have shows built around teenagers in rehab or cheating spouses, maybe we could use a bit more of the Tanner family in our lives.  Now, the question remains: will it deliver?  I’ll have to watch it and see.  For now, I’m hopeful.

7 Websites Every Catholic Should Visit

There are many great Catholic websites on the web, but have you heard of these seven? 

1. Tiny Saints These pocket size little caricatures are the perfect accessory to any Catholic. They”re hip, they”re cool, and they”re “pretty much the coolest saint charms ever.” Wear as a necklace, put on your keychain, tag on your dog”s collar. Wherever you go carry one of them with you!

2. Pray More Novenas John Paul and Annie Deddens over at praymorenovenas.com were inspired a few years ago to bring novenas right to your inbox. How many times have you begun a novena to miss a day or two? Now, with emails delivered each day of the novena, you are bound to remember. Plus, you are praying with thousands of others. Check out this interview!

3. Eye of the Tiber If you don”t already know about this one, you should. Read it. You will understand why. Here is one of my favorites.

4. Vatican On a more serious note. This site provides a plethora of Catholic information, including the Pope”s homilies, audiences, and encyclicals.

5. DecentFilms I just came across this site and think it”s fabulous. As an avid movie goer, I find this site helpful. However, can we get a review for The Goonies, please?!

6. Zenit A Catholic news source based in Rome, bringing you the latest in news regarding Pope Francis, the Vatican and the Catholic Church.

7. Stuart’s Study Looking for a good book to read? Want to buy a great book for your kid? Look no further, Stuart covers everything from fiction to Theology and offers a thorough and thoughtful perspective.

What is one of YOUR favorite Catholic websites?

Catholic Radio for the New Evangelization

Real Life Radio is a new Catholic media, focusing on relational evangelization. Based in the US, it delivers a range of programs through mobile streaming apps and its online site. Its focus is to reach the disengaged and disconnected Catholics who make an appearance at Mass at least once a year. They want to preach, not to the choir, but to the Narthex.

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Hosts include a smorgasbord of established Catholic authors, bloggers, speakers, and media professionals including Patrick Coffin of Catholic Answers Live, Elizabeth Reardon of Theology is a Verb, Elizabeth Scalia (The Anchoress), Mark Shea, Jeff Young of The Catholic Foodie blog, and Leah Libresco. Shows cover a wide variety of topics including Catholic musicians and artists, genre-spanning books, money management, and travel (The Faithful Traveler Radio Show is a follow up to the EWTN show of the same name).

Leo Brown, founder, GM, and Director of Real Life Radio sites a study from CARA, Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in Apostolate, as a reason and motivation for reaching out to these “Creaster” Catholics (the ones who only come at Christmas and/or Easter): 90% of RCIA converts are gone within their first year in the Church. Brown continues with, “Matthew Kelly, author of Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic, suggests that less than 7% of Catholics who regularly attend Mass are engaged in their faith, and this is after another alarming chart that shows Mass attendance as low as 17% on some weekends in the US.” Brown’s, and Real Life Radio’s solution to this problem is to reach Catholics with the new media in an extremely accessible way and by engaging them with topics of culture, relationships, and topical issues- things they care in their day to day lives about – with an uncompromising Catholic worldview.

Currently, listeners can tune in through Real Life Radio’s website or by downloading their mobile app for iPhone and Android. Looking to the future, Real Life Radio wants to begin to deliver unique and localized content to individual communities through geo-location services in web browsers and mobile devices. “This is all very exciting and emerging”, says Brown. “With this platform we have effectively managed to eliminate the two biggest hurdles to the growth of Catholic media, geography and cost. Typical terrestrial stations can range upwards of tens of millions of dollars; that is, if you can find one available that has any audience potential. Streaming, podcasting and mobile platforming can go anywhere and cost pennies comparatively. This is an amazing opportunity we’ve been given.”

 

 

Pope Francis Remakes the Vatican?

 

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The August 2015 edition of The National Geographic Magazine features a lengthy article on Pope Francis, written by Robert Draper after six months of observing the life of the Holy Father, featuring photographs by Dave Yoder.  Though the article is titled and headlined with one-liners that portray the Pope and Catholic tradition in conflict, the pages themselves tell a different story.  Rather than expose a papacy full of dissent, the author gives the world insight into the beautiful person of the Pope, and the human struggles even he must face as he adjusts to being an international figure.  Though Pope Francis may be doing things a little differently than his immediate predecessors, he is faithfully Catholic in every way.  In spite of a clear desire to depict a trouble-maker in Rome, the author instead found a man who truly lives up to the name he chose, a Pope who wants to renew the Church as the face of love to the world—not a love without morals or caution, but the true love of a parent, who instructs and disciplines when necessary but loves unconditionally.

 The Pope’s Early Ripples

Draper’s attempt to sell a radical Pope Francis began with a full description of all the things he did differently in the first months of his reign.  He stayed in the Vatican’s guest apartment, rode around in a Ford Focus, chose the simple white robes over the scarlet cape, fell to his knees and asked evangelicals to pray for him, and washed the feet of prisoners on Holy Thursday.  He was a radical man with a past history of mixing life up a bit.  He tried to ride the buses and walk the poorer streets of Rome like he used to back in Buenos Aires and it seemed those who knew him from South America expected him to stir the comfortable cardinals in the Vatican with his “very stubborn” enforcement of ideas (p. 38).

Yet, in spite of the ripples Pope Francis certainly created during the early months of his papacy, Draper does not seem to be able to find much else to critique.  Yes, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of one bishop and reappointed another both involved in the priestly sexual scandals, but of course Draper’s mention of these scandals was neither unexpected nor important (p.57).  Towards the end of the article the issue of the Pope’s response to gays came up, but rather than misconstrue his honest answer “Who am I to judge?” Draper augments this response by showing the way Francis responded to a former gay student of his who was hurt by the Pope’s statements on the harmful nature of “gay marriage”, depicting the loving yet unyielding way Pope Francis was sympathetic to his friend’s suffering while not yielding on his position (p.58).

The Pope: Relatable Person

Pope Francis has experienced something during the past couple years that many could never comprehend.  He went from being an archbishop in a South American city—loved by many, different in his techniques, but ultimately unknown by a majority—to becoming the Pope of the Catholic Church, an international figure and leader of billions. Pope_Francis_in_March_2013_(cropped) Over his time in the Vatican, Draper shows the way many of the Pope’s more drastic-seeming decisions were often the result of a man in love with the poor and still trying to reach out to them in the way he used to before he completely realized the way his position both helped and hurt his ability to do so.  By being the Pope, it became possible for him to reach more people across the world, but in turn he had to accept that riding city subways and hiding from cameras no longer fit his position.  Pope Francis misses some of the perks of his anonymity, but he also is embracing the new joys of leading such a large flock from its center.

Pope Francis is a man, a human, who had his ways and preferences before he became the Pope.  To the outside world he may seem sporadic, but to those who help him daily and more intimately, they are beginning to realize he always has a plan, he just does not always share the details before they occur.  He has accepted the spotlight and become a loveable figure, posing for pictures and giving in to the careful watch of the Swiss Guards (p. 51).  He has also helped more people than ever open their minds to what the Catholic Church is saying by focusing on love rather than rules.  The difference between what he is actually doing and how the media portrays him is that he has not forgotten the rules, but rather he is gently enforcing them in a spirit of compassion rather than chastisement.

Pope Francis’s Loving Vision

As the article comes to a close, Draper includes a quote from one of Pope Francis’s friends from Argentina, insisting that Pope Francis “won’t change doctrine” but rather focus on giving the world a vision of the Church that has the human experience of suffering and each man’s relationship with God at the center, rather than man’s corruption and vice (p. 59).  Ultimately, Pope Francis is not “remaking” the Vatican, but rather wrapping it up in new paper to use it to give the gift of God’s love to all the world, regardless of which religion people follow.  In this modern age where lust reigns over true love, comfort over sacrifice, and acceptance over truth, Pope Francis’s efforts to present the Church to the world as a haven of love and honesty are radical, but not because they forsake doctrine.  They are catching attention because many have forgotten that love and truth have always characterized the Catholic Church, it just took a Pope reaching out to people where they are to remind them to look up towards heaven rather than in towards themselves to find their center.

Many will pick up Draper’s article expecting to find the Pope Francis the media claims is forsaking tradition and changing the Church.  But instead they will find the story of a human being in love with the common people, focused on reaching out to them through Christ while reminding them to embrace religion as a love affair rather than a list of rules (just as G.K. Chesterton would say St. Francis himself did).  Pope Francis is not remaking the Vatican, but he is doing his best to help the Vatican remake the world.

To read the full article pick up a copy of The National Geographic Magazine: August 2015 edition where the article runs from pages 30-59.  It can also be read on their website..

 

Review: A.D. The Bible Continues Companion Books

Until the end of July, everyone can watch A.D. The Bible Continues – and what better way to engage the Bible but through a visual representation?

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A.D. The Bible Continues (NBC) is a dramatization of the first ten chapters of Acts, and starts with Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. The episodes are produced by Roma Downey (Touched by an Angel), Mark Burnett, and Richard Bedser, and is a sequel to their 2013 series The Bible.

Sophia Institute Press has published two books alongside this series: A.D. Catholic Viewer’s Guide by Veronica Burchard and Ministers and Martyrs: The Ultimate Catholic Guide to the Apostolic Age by Mike Aquilina.

A.D. Catholic Viewer’s Guide is enjoyable for group and personal study, as well as for watching the program. The book is ordered by the 12 episodes and provides a nice visual breakdown of the timelines, maps, characters, and terms. The reader is also given Scripture selections to help have a fuller understanding and context, which I really appreciated. Reading the text is as important as understanding the text and the history surrounding it, even if the words transcend time.

I really like the discussion questions — to often, we’re not asking the right questions. We’re absorbing and not thinking differently, so as to more fully understand. There are also Catholic take-aways, which is a good jumping off point for engaging the Catechism, if the reader so chooses. There are also prayers to help this guide more pointedly help our spiritual life.

The background reading in this book is provided by Mike Aquilina, the author of the second book – Ministers and Martyrs. If the reader is looking for a more intellectual understanding of Acts and this series, Aquilina is the writer to give it to you. His writing is accessible for people of all backgrounds to understand, and it is important for people to read, especially to understand the Church’s beginning. Aquiline writes, “The God Peter preached was not a solitary being, but an eternal communion. The God revealed on Pentecost was interpersonal. Only of such a deity could the Apostles say: “God is love” (1 John 4:8,16).

It is in the very title of the book that we readers can grasp our true calling as Christians: martyrs and ministers. Aquiline discussing the holiness of these basic roles, and in their simplest form, the kind of death both would experience by witnessing to the faith. We do not live in a country where Christianity is illegal, but we do live in a world where standing with Christ is as unacceptable today as it was in the early Church. Christianity is a radical love story with the most ordinary of people giving their lives to Christ in extraordinary ways.

thumbThe early Church faced many challenges that we continue to face today, including gnosticism, and the separation many of us feel between members of our own faith! Aquilina writes, “Paul considered God’s eternal oneness to be the source and model of the unity of Christians. The Church’s communion is a share in the eternal bond of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Thus, division in the Church is an affront to God. It is a desecration of the divine image.” Just as we must love one another as we love ourselves, as we are made in the image of God.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, in his forward of this book, writes, “It is good for us to go back, often, to study the lives of the early Christians. Their faith had a freshness, a sense of surprises, that we can learn and recover for ourselves. God, after all, is as youthful as ever; Jesus still has the capacity to suddenly astonish people who think they know him well.” These books are treasure troves of information, and worthy reading companions to both the television series and the book of Acts itself.

DISCLAIMER: This set was sent to me by Sophia Institute Press for my honest review. 

The Potentials and Limitations of Internet Evangelization

The existence of this website attests to the Ignitum Today team’s belief in evangelizing power of the Internet. Like all other means of communication, the Internet is useful for transmitting the word of God. The call for Catholics to place Christ at the summit of all human activities covers both offline and online activities.

As an evangelizing medium, the Internet has the following specific strengths:

1. It has a wide reach. It breaks barriers of time and distance, and can transmit a message to a broader audience. Thus, it can help plant the seed of the Gospel in the souls of those who would otherwise not be reached by the traditional means of evangelization, and can serve as a channel of God’s grace to many end-users.

2. It facilitates the mobilization of off-line activities. Rallies and meetings can be organized efficiently through the social networks, and the social networks are also great places to advertise retreats, seminars, and other activities that are beneficial spiritually.

3. Its capacity to connect like-minded people with each other makes the communion of saints more real. This strengthens the faith of believers and assures those who are still considering the Catholic faith that they will never be alone in their journey to God. On a practical level, the Internet is useful for locating churches and Sunday Mass schedules while planning a trip abroad.

4. It can communicate the truths of the Faith in the language of the times. Catholic memes are a clear example. Hipster-Jesus-Twitter

5. It enables quick, up-to-date commentary on current events, thus allowing Catholics to timely communicate the perspective of reason enlightened by Faith on these events.

At the same time, there are things that the Internet cannot do and ways in which the Internet can even hinder evangelization efforts.

1. The Internet cannot, by itself, effect conversions. Conversions are the response of human freedom to God’s grace. All that online evangelization can do is provide a channel for God’s grace, or at least not hinder the working of grace.

2. The Internet is not always conducive to an exposition of the truths of the Faith with the thoroughness they deserve. Not all questions about the Faith can be answered in a short Facebook comment and not all online content allows itself to be read with the degree of reflection needed to grasp the truths of the Faith.

3. Neither is the Internet the best venue for giving and receiving personalized spiritual advice. Evangelizing always involves “shepherding”, that is, personally guiding people according to their specific spiritual needs. This is because God deals with souls individually and not en masse. Facebook threads are not the best places to address the specific concerns of souls – especially their spiritual concerns. Online evangelization can never replace what St. Josemaria Escriva calls “the apostolate of friendship”.

4. In relation to the last item, the Internet is no substitute for the sacraments. One cannot post one’s sins online to obtain absolution – and the Internet is not protected by the sacramental seal, either.

5. Just as the Internet can make the communion of saints more real, it also, unfortunately, showcases the worst behaviour of people, including believers. In one of his hardest-hitting quotes, St. Josemaria Escriva, in #263 of The Furrow, lists some signs of lack of humility. I am sure I have, at one time or another, displayed some of them in my own online behaviour – “always wanting to get your own way”; “arguing when you are not right or – when you are – insisting stubbornly or with bad manners”; “giving your opinion without being asked for it, when charity does not demand you to do so;” “despising the point of view of others”. Indeed, the line between assertiveness and arrogance, between candor and tactlessness, can be blurred online. Because of the anonymity that the Internet provides, as well as the way it facilitates publishing one’s views without thinking first, online discussions on even Catholic topics can degenerate into “ad hominem-fests” that do more harm than good to people following them.

6. Finally, active online evangelization can give one a false sense of effectiveness and can take up time that can be used for more meaningful offline works of charity. One can easily get sucked into never-ending online discussions with like-minded people and feel flattered by the “likes” that one’s comments get, without realizing that the time could have been used by giving a listening ear to someone offline who needs it or saying a decade of the rosary for another person’s conversion.

The key to maximizing the potentials of the Internet as a means of evangelization, and to minimizing the harms inherent in the medium, is to practice prudence. Prudence in Internet evangelization means deciding on and using the best online tools for one’s apostolate (this article may help). It also means balancing one’s time online with offline apostolates that include bringing people to the sacraments. With regard to blog and Facebook comments, it means prayerfully deciding when and how to continue a discussion with a sincere questioner, or to drop a discussion with a troll. It means asking oneself before typing and clicking the “Post” button, “Is my motive to defend Christ and His Church, or to vindicate my bruised ego?”

Finally, online evangelization is no different from offline evangelization in that both are useless without prayer. It is a good habit to pray for those whom we encounter and those who will encounter us online. This will be more effective in bringing them to Christ than the wittiest ripostes we can think of during the heat of online debates.

My Facebook Holiday

facebookOver the Christmas break I decided to take my real first Facebook holiday since joining the social network site back in 2007. I was sensing the need for an electronic rest and so completely switched off Facebook for one month. I am back on Facebook now but the short absence was invaluable and my approach to it is far more casual than it was before the hiatus.

When one first joins Facebook, their ‘friends’ consist of family and actual friends, and from there, depending on how a person chooses to use the site, they move out in concentric circles ‘friending’ more distant contacts, old school mates, former work colleagues, current and past associates and basically anyone else they cross paths with. British Anthropologist Robin Dunbar has proposed that humans can really only comfortably maintain 150 stable relationships; yet the average number of ‘friends’ a person has on Facebook is 388. Plenty of people, myself included, have more than that, which certainly doesn’t mean we are any more likeable or friendly than any other person; it probably just means we use the social media site as more of a networking tool. While I have personally found that the more connections maintained on Facebook the more valuable it becomes, it has also meant that my time tended to become more consumed by the lives of every single person I had ever known.

However, if Facebook is somewhat of a distraction on a desktop computer, that certainly increases when accessed via a smartphone. At any moment, waiting for a train, watching TV or walking down the street, I can read people’s comments, see recently uploaded photos and share my own articles and observations. And whether one likes to admit it or not, the instant gratification of being connected to other people and seeing their likes, comments and thoughts is highly addictive. As human beings we are naturally social animals; we desire to know more about others and for others to know more about us. Facebook feeds that desire. There is literally no end to the amount of time one can spend on Facebook. You can scroll and scroll and scroll but there will always be another post and another photo about someone you know. A recent British survey indicated that 72% of adults were spending their last waking moments in bed updating or checking their friends’ statuses which was often reducing their actual sleep time below what was needed in a healthy individual. And each morning I know my news feed will be brimming over with exactly the information I am interested in based on the various pages I have connected with, so the most appropriate thing to do every morning is of course to check Facebook. If I want news, it’s there, if I want a morning prayer, it’s there, if I want a traffic update, it’s there. Why read traditional news media when I can tap into my chosen mix of information intertwined with the ‘news’ of the people I know? Facebook is a one-stop-shop.

I have a number of friends who each year ‘give up’ Facebook as part of their Lenten penances, but I have never opted to do that because I saw staying on Facebook as a positive way to communicate, stay connected and build relationships. Of course I am aware that a phone call or face-to-face meeting is far more enriching than a pixelated connection. However there is no way that I could reach out in person to the number of people that I could via Facebook, short of quitting my job and becoming a full time socialite. Staying in touch via social media is certainly not the best or only way to communicate, but if over one billion people are on Facebook it seems to me certainly a place to be present.

You might be thinking that after my Facebook holiday I am declaring an end to my Facebook membership altogether but that is not the case. It is true that without Facebook I had more time to think quietly or talk with those around me. I really enjoyed the complete break from knowing who was doing what. Surprisingly I did not really feel the temptation to put up posts about the high price of tomatoes or share that cute video of my daughter spinning in circles but I certainly felt like I was somewhat out of the loop. Until I turned off Facebook, I did not completely realise how much perspective I was gaining from the various views and opinions of the posts that came across my news feed. I also missed out on the daily life stories of my family and close friends, which without Facebook I would not have been able to ‘participate’ in otherwise. I will look forward to the next opportunity to holiday from Facebook, but in the meantime I will do my best to use it well and with a greater degree of reserve.

 

Bernard Toutounji writes at www.foolishwisdom.com