Tag Archives: media

The Laity’s Response to the Clergy Sex Scandals

After one sex scandal after another involving clergy has broken out, it has been proposed that since the hierarchy cannot be trusted to weed out corruption from their own ranks, the task of saving the Catholic Church must fall on the laity.

There have been exhortations to the laity to demand accountability – and even resignations – from their bishops, to divert their contributions to the Church from their bishops to more trustworthy channels, and to speak out against misdeeds committed by clergymen.  There have even been calls to include laypersons in committees that will investigate erring priests and bishops.

At the outset, I must clarify that I have nothing against these proposals, lest I be misunderstood because of the inherent limitations of online discourse and the intense justified outrage that the recent scandals have provoked.  However, a lot has been written about the said proposals already, and it is important to discuss other options for the laity helping the Church recover from the clergy sex scandals.

While the laity can indeed play an important role in saving the Church, this idea can be a temptation to hubris if misunderstood, which would in turn result in sterility or worse.  While the proposals mentioned in the first paragraph of this article are good, they can only do so much.

Since the problem of clergy sex scandals is inherently spiritual, the solution to it is spiritual. The clergy sex scandals are, essentially, the failure of the clergy to live consistently with their vocations.

Thus, to respond to these scandals, the laity should examine themselves if they are living unity of life, that is, whether their words, actions, and choices are consistent with their own vocations as lay Christians.  Like, choices of entertainment, for example.

The point is not that the laity’s own failures take erring clergymen off the hook.  Rather, like good soldiers of Christ, the laity should, as good battle strategy, reinforce the Church’s ranks where there are breaches.

Or rather, the laity – like all Christians – must, as Christ said, be the salt of the earth and preserve the world and the Church from corruption.  To do this, they must themselves stay salty and never become insipid.

Furthermore, any reaction of the laity to the clergy sex scandals, to be meaningful and effective, must be realistic. It must take into account the limitations of the laity, as well as the laity’s specific vocation.

While there is room for more participation of the laity in the affairs of the Church, the extent to which the laity can exercise government functions is limited. The laity can never replace the hierarchy in fulfilling the functions of the ministerial priesthood.  Nevertheless, there are things that the laity can do which capitalize on their specific strengths and opportunities.

The clergy sex scandals are merely consequences – disastrous, to be sure – of the world’s inability to understand, appreciate, and practice chastity.  A big part of solving the problem is to preach chastity through word and example.  As St. Josemaria Escriva put it, “There is need for a crusade of manliness and purity to counteract and undo the savage work of those who think that man is a beast.  And that crusade is a matter for you.” (The Way, 121).

It is true that the clergy are primarily responsible for propagating the Church’s teachings on human sexuality from the pulpit. But there are areas where the laity can do it more effectively.

For example, most, if not all, who work in the arts, in the mass media, in fashion, in advertising, and other similar fields, are laity. By raising their professional standards and challenging the dubious mantra that “sex sells”, they can create a moral environment conducive to the practice of virtue for everyone, including priests.

Some of the laity have more opportunities than others to wage the “crusade of manliness and purity” that St. Josemaria Escriva wrote of.  But all of them can wage this crusade.  By the way they speak, act, work, deal with others, and entertain themselves, they can raise the spiritual temperature around them wherever they are.  They can exert a positive influence on those who come in touch with them, and “undo the savage work of those who think that man is a beast.”

To emphasize, this is not to say that more direct actions and reactions to address the clergy sex scandals are unnecessary. Indeed, tough measures must be taken, the truth must be told, justice must be served.

But all Catholics should remember that the clergy sex scandals are also, like other crises in the Church, calls to be holy.  The Church is no stranger to difficult times, and difficult times for the Church have, in the past, raised great saints. There is no reason the current crisis cannot raise great saints, including laity living and working in the middle of the world, sanctifying temporal realities by doing so.


Image: François Brunery, An Eminent Gathering /PD-US

Cardinal Pell’s response to his charges

The sexual abuse crises in Catholic dioceses from the USA to Ireland have created great distress and fomented considerable media attention. It is a sickening tragedy and grave injustice, always and everywhere, when adults in positions of trust take advantage of vulnerable children and young adults under their supervision. However, it is also a tragedy and injustice when the reputations and lives of the innocent are ruined by false allegations, and also when organizations which provide significant support to the community are tainted by scandal, with the ongoing contributions of the majority of their members overlooked.

The Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world, and also in Australia, providing vital healthcare, educational and social services every day. At the same time, the 2016 census found that, for the first time in Australian history, there are now more people identifying as non-religious than Catholic. Meanwhile, the media has fudged the statistics to make levels of historical abuse appear higher than in actual fact. In reality, priests are less likely to commit sexual offenses than the average male (for example, in the USA, 4 percent of priests active between 1950 to 1992 were accused of sexual misconduct, and it is estimated that 10 percent of American males commit sexual abuse; as George Weigel notes, the Church is probably the safest place for a young person today). David Gibson of The Washington Post reasons:

Part of the issue is that the Catholic Church is so tightly organized and keeps such meticulous records – many of which have come to light voluntarily or through court orders – that it can yield a fairly reliable portrait of its personnel and abuse over the decades. Other institutions, and most other religions, are more decentralized and harder to analyze or prosecute.”

The charges against 76-year-old Cardinal George Pell in particular have occasioned significant media frenzy, in Australia and overseas. His case is unique, because he is the highest-ranking Australian Catholic and highest representative of the Universal Church to be charged. Pell was ordained in 1966 and served as the Archbishop of Melbourne (1996–2001) and eighth Archbishop of Sydney (2001–2014) before becoming the first Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy (2014–present), in charge of managing the Vatican’s finances. He is the third most senior official in the Vatican.

Cardinal Pell was not obliged to return to his homeland to face the charges, as the Vatican has no extradition treaty with Australia. However, he said: “Court proceedings now offer me an opportunity to clear my name and then return here, back to Rome to work.” Pell has willingly cooperated with the entire legal process, beginning with an interview with three Victorian police in Rome last October. His legal bills will not be funded by the Archdiocese of Sydney.

On 26 July, Pell appeared in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court for a filing hearing and entered a plea of not guilty, even though he was not obliged to do so, and had to walk through a massive media scrum including reporters who had flown in from other countries. Pell has thus demonstrated his complete willingness to engage with the proceedings against him.

Pell’s forthrightness is unsurprising, given that he established the Melbourne Response in 1996 to handle allegations of clerical abuse, six years before The Boston Globe broke the scandal which became the premise for the 2015 movie Spotlight. The Melbourne Response was the first Catholic redress scheme addressing child abuse. It was only last year that the Australian federal government introduced a national compensation scheme. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has been holding inquiries into various Australian organizations and state institutions, including the Australian Defence Force. Child abuse is a horrible scourge in Australian society, now increasing with technology.

Let us pray not only that the truth will be uncovered and justice be done, but also that the wounds of all involved, and all those affected by the media coverage, will be healed.


Insulting the Saints

But whereunto shall I esteem this generation to be like?
It is like to children sitting in the market place.
Who crying to their companions say:
We have piped to you, and you have not danced:
we have lamented, and you have not mourned.
For John came neither eating nor drinking; and they say: He hath a devil.
The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say:
Behold a man that is a glutton and a wine drinker, a friend of publicans and sinners.
—Matthew 11:16-19

05-10There are critics of Mother Teresa,[1] just as there are critics of Pope John Paul II, and there were critics of St Francis de Sales,[2] as there were critics of Father Damien of Molokai.

And there were critics of Jesus. Should He really have upended all the moneychangers’ tables and caused chaos in the Holy Temple? What was He doing speaking with Samaritans and women? Who was this upstart carpenter’s son to go around lecturing Pharisees and scribes, and making the sacrilegious claim that He was the altogether transcendent Almighty God? Jesus said to them: Amen, amen I say to you, before Abraham was made, I am (John 8:58).

Father Damien de Veuster gave everything of himself for the lepers of Molokai, suffering great loneliness and sorrow in his final leprous years,[3] just as Mother Teresa endured a terrible dark night of the soul amidst her labors. Father Damien did not mince his words; he employed a sharp tongue on those who interfered with his difficult mission.[4] Likewise, Mother Teresa spoke uncomfortable truths about the dignity of all humans from conception to death, even when they discomfited the president of the United States at the National Prayer Breakfast.[5]

When Father Damien died, the Sydney Presbyterian published scurrilous remarks, calling him “a coarse, dirty, headstrong bigot…not a pure man in his relations with women,” whose leprosy was “due to his vices and carelessness.”[6]

The Presbyterian-turned-atheist writer Robert Louis Stevenson was incensed. He had visited Molokai shortly after Father Damien’s death and found the religious sisters serving the hideously maimed lepers with divine joy. Stevenson was “cynical about popular heroes,” but here he found heaven amidst hell:

To the Reverend Sister Marianne, Matron of the Bishop Home, Kalaupapa.
To see the infinite pity of this place,
The mangled limb, the devastated face,
The innocent sufferers smiling at the rod,
A fool were tempted to deny his God.
He sees, and shrinks; but if he look again,
Lo, beauty springing from the breasts of pain!
He marks the sisters on the painful shores,
And even a fool is silent and adores.

In response to the lies about Father Damien, Stevenson wrote a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald, ending thus: “The man who did what Damien did is my father…and the father of all who love goodness: and he was your father too, if God had given you the grace to see it.”[7]

Stevenson acknowledged that Father Damien was not a perfect man; indeed, none of our saints except Mother Mary was immaculate. When the Church canonizes someone, it is not a declaration of perfection; instead, it is the celebration of a frail human submitting to God’s perfect will and letting Him work wonders through our broken human nature, just as He restores creation through Christ’s incarnation.

The legacies of saints are often imperfect; their followers are also fallible humans, and prone to stumbling along the rocky path to Paradise. But God chooses to bring good out of His messed-up creation, turning pain and sorrow into everlasting joy.

These things I command you, that you love one another.
If the world hates you, know ye, that it hath hated Me before you….
Remember My word that I said to you:
The servant is not greater than his master.
If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you:
if they have kept My word, they will keep yours also.
—John 15:17-18,20

The wonder is
Damien clothed himself
in degradation
and announced
the Gospel truth
one radiant June,
from his pulpit;

That Jesus Christ
– Emmanuel –
had visited Molokai
now and forever
as a leper
among lepers.

—Fr William McNichols, “Damien de Veuster”[8]

[1]   Sr Theresa Aletheia Noble, “5 Responses to the Ridiculous Rancor of Some Toward Mother Teresa”, Aleteia <http://aleteia.org/2016/04/05/5-responses-to-the-ridiculous-reasons-some-atheists-hate-mother-teresa/>.

[2]   Douglas Harper, “Saint”, Online Etymology Dictionary <http://etymonline.com/index.php?term=saint>.

[3]   Emily Stimpson, “A saint who could never be tamed”, OSV Newsweekly <https://www.osv.com/OSVNewsweekly/Article/TabId/535/ArtMID/13567/ArticleID/4315/New-saint-could-never-be-tamed.aspx>.

[4]   Ibid.

[5]   Peggy Noonan, “Still, Small Voice”, Catholic Education Resource Center <http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/faith-and-character/faith-and-character/still-small-voice.html>.

[6]   Fr F.E. Burns PE, “The Strange Case of Father Damien and Robert Louis Stevenson”, AD2000 Vol 15 No 8 (September 2002), p. 10. <http://www.rememberingkalaupapa.org/kalaupapa-history/the-strange-case-of-father-damien-and-robert-louis-stevenson/>.

[7]   Ibid.

[8]   <http://puffin.creighton.edu/jesuit/andre/poems/42.html>

Image credit: Edward Clifford, 1868, Honolulu Museum of Art.

Pope Francis is Human

Pope_Francis_in_March_2013_(cropped)Last month I wrote a post analyzing the National Geographic cover story entitled “Pope Francis Remakes the Vatican”.  I read the article skeptically, expecting to come away feeling frustrated with slanted reporting, and still knowing hardly anything about what Pope Francis was actually doing.  Instead, I found myself enjoying the inside look at the Pope shared by author Robert Draper, who stayed in Rome for six months observing the Holy Father’s daily life.  As Pope Francis’s visit to the United States approaches, I would like to briefly share three new things I realized after reading the article.

1. Pope Francis is Human

As obvious as this seems, I never stopped to consider the full implication behind this.  As the Pope, it is easy to expect him to be a saint already, to only speak the truth perfectly, to completely adjust to a different lifestyle without a glitch, to effortlessly guide the entire universal Church without ever having a moment of weakness or difficulty.  But as Draper reviewed some of the radical moments of Pope Francis’s first months, showing how he grew and developed into his position, I realized how hard it must have been for him to transition.  When I looked back at his decisions and seemingly radical choices in light of his humanity, it was easier to see him as a man trying to do his best, but realizing that he no longer had the freedom to reach out in the online casino ways he had previously.

2. Pope Francis is Solidly Catholic

He is not changing doctrine, not redefining what it means to be Catholic, and not trying to soften the rules by bending them.  Pope Francis is reaching out in sympathy to a world which he realizes is hurting, which he knows will not turn to an institution which only seems interested in judging them.  He is not saying or doing anything that the Church has not done all along.  He is proud of the Catholic faith, and when questioned about his strong statements in support of her doctrines—statements the news will not report—he shows compassion but does not waver.

3. Pope Francis is In Love

The Holy Father is in love with the children of God, whether or not they are Catholic.  He is trying to show the world that God is reaching out to them through the Church, not to scold them, but to love them.  Pope Francis wants to be like Mother Teresa on the streets with the poor and heartbroken.  While he has learned that he can no longer be on the streets without celebrity attention, he has also realized that he can use that attention to show the hurting world a different side of the Church.  He can focus on how God’s beloved children are suffering, and show them loving compassion while gently guiding them back to the narrow way, which has been the focus of his papacy.

Though no one knows better than Catholics the danger of believing the media at its word, the constant misrepresentation of the Pope can leave even Catholics a little apprehensive.  Yet after learning the reason and passion behind the Pope’s activity, I know now that I can trust his actions.  He is the shepherd of the Church after all, and following Christ’s example, he is going after the lost sheep who have forgotten that the Shepherd not only loves them, but misses them.  God came for every man, and Pope Francis simply wants to world to remember.

My full analysis of the National Geographic article and more commentary on the spirit behind his actions can be found in my post last month, entitled “Pope Francis Remakes the Vatican?


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.

Real Life Radio Icon

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.”



The Moon, the Stars, and My Smartphone

We recently visited my in-laws, and they sent us home with a treasure from my husband’s childhood – a telescope. We brought it home, and my husband spent a whole evening re-assembling it. The following night, we set up camp in our driveway and managed to see some stars, as well as Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn, through the lens. Saturn, with its distinctive rings, was particulary impressive.

In order to easily name and locate the celestial bodies we wanted to see, we downloaded an app for our smart phones. The app allowed us to span the skies, and would identify whatever we were seeing. We live just outside of an urban area, and there is a considerable amount of light pollution, so we were unfortunately limited in what we were actually able to see with our own eyes. The app told another story. As we spanned the sky, it named all sorts of stars and galaxies that we couldn’t see (because the intensity of the street lights). It even highlighted the Milky Way, showing us how it would look in the night sky in the absence of artificial lights.

It struck me as terribly ironic, that we were equipped with an impressive app and smart phones that would help us locate and name the stars, yet that same technology made it impossible to actually see them. I have visited parts of the country where the light pollution is almost non-existent, and the memory of that has always stayed with me. Unfortunately, that’s not the case where we currently live.

I am a fan of technology, and am IMG_20150709_204615758also aware of the fact that it has its shortcomings. The internet, computers, smartphones, are all wonderful tools, but can be distracting. We lack the focus we once had. With grace and near heroic self-discipline, we can find a balance with technology, and it can be a force for good.

However, there’s another side to technology, one that has spiritual implications. As I gazed through the lens of the telescope, and saw the tiny image of Saturn and its rings, I felt something that I don’t frequently feel. I felt a sense of awe. I was looking at something far greater than myself.

When I was a teenager, our family took a vacation to the mountains of Colorado, and I had a similar experience. Late one night, we drove out of the small town we were staying in, and stepped out of the car. The sky was incredible. There were so many stars, and there was so much light. I remember feeling overwhelmed by how small I felt, and there was something almost scary about it. One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is “Fear of the Lord,” and in that moment, the “fear” being talked about made perfect sense. Something inside us quakes when our littleness is faced with the greatness of God’s creation. The psalmist writes,

“When I see the heavens, the work of your hands, the stars and moons that you have arranged – what is mortal man that you are mindful of him; mortal man that you should care for him?” (Psalm 8:4-5)

The greatest danger of technology lies in its ability to rob us of that sense of awe – to make us feel that we are greater than we are, more in control than we are. If you have ever stood under a night sky like the one I stood under in Colorado, you know that you are very small. If you have ever looked through the lens of a telescope and gazed at the planets, you know that there are things in creation that are much greater than yourself. And yet, it was not for the stars or planets that God became incarnate – but rather for you and me.

That realization means more when we realize how great the other aspects of creation are. We, who seem to be among the smallest and most insignificant, are the greatest in God’s eyes. It was for our sake that He took on flesh.

The temptation is to surround ourselves with light and noise to avoid that moment of feeling our littleness. Yet, without recognizing our absolute littleness, we cannot fully grasp the greatness of God’s love for us.

Truth in Fiction

Teaching always involves a curve ball.

This past fall I taught “Introduction to Moral Theology and Ethics” at The Catholic University of America. For the first class session, I had my students read a casual but thoughtful blogpost titled “The Ethics of Superheroes.”

The blogpost draws on the idea of vocation as calling to argue that all human beings are called to be heroes, not in the same way that Spiderman is Spiderman or Batman is Batman, but in unique ways. I should be HeroSiobhan in my special HeroSiobhan way, not in the Spiderman way—Spiderman has that covered.

I intended the lesson to be lighthearted and engaging, I would draw a connection between the superheroes of fiction and the saints of real life, wrapping up with a conversation about virtue ethics and the role of virtue in the (Christian) moral life.

My lesson plan nearly dissolved when, in the first five minutes of class, my one and only freshman student raised his hand and asserted that we should not look to superheroes as exemplars of anything, including heroism. If we want to know what courage (for instance) looks like, we ought to read biographies of real people. Fiction is not worth our admiration or respect.

After his pronouncement, I took a deep breath and channeled my inner Fr. Jim (the kindest teacher I ever had), affirming that the student had brought an important idea to the table while completely disagreeing with him.

When faced with the real world, fiction can seem very trite.

A few days ago, my husband and I watched Catching Fire, one of the movies in the Hunger Games series. In the film, the people of Panem (a dystopic future semi-America) are waging a revolution against the oppressive Capitol. One scene features hundreds of unarmed revolutionaries storming a hydroelectric plant guarded by gun-wielding “peacekeepers.” The revolutionaries, singing a battle hymn, are mowed down by the peacekeepers but continue their attack, eventually overcoming their adversaries.

The scene is moving. My husband (recalling reading the same scene in the book) commented “I don’t think I realized how brave they had to be. Really seeing that, how they had no weapons, that’s really brave.” Of course, both book and movie are fiction.

I was a bit disturbed by my husband’s comment because earlier in the day I read a National Catholic Register report about the 21 Egyptian Copts executed by ISIS in February. Awaiting their horrible, filmed, murders, these real-life people prayed “Jesus, help me.”

As my student advocated, if I want to know what bravery looks like, I should look to the real Egyptian Copts, praying before their martyrdom; not to the fictional Panem revolutionaries, singing as they fight for freedom.

But as true as the bravery and the sacrifice and the virtue of those real human beings are, there is still something true to be found in fiction.

Here in the U.S. our experience of Lent is so often a matter of abstaining from meat once a week (when meat is a luxury in many world households), or giving up some frivolous (though tempting) indulgence like gossip or television or make-up, or decorating our homes with purple prayer-chains. In the Middle East, Christians are experiencing the reality of the Lenten desert with an intensity that would frighten many of us right out of Christianity. As a liturgical season, Lent is (partially) about the experience of the absence of God, the absence of goodness and light (if you have the opportunity to attend a Tenebrae service this year, I highly advise it). Yet, safe in our Western democracy where violation of religious freedom refers to insurance money rather than beheadings, our experience of the absence of God is a very different thing.

When I think of hunger, starvation, and injustice, it is much easier for me to enter into the world described by Catching Fire than the real world I have seen on the news. My heart is moved to long for bravery and eschew cowardice by the Panem revolutionaries who, knowing they were sacrificing their lives, stormed the hydroelectric plant anyway. Like them, I want to stand for truth and justice and full bellies and freedom.

When I think about the Egyptian Copts, I know that they stand for Jesus, and I want to stand for Jesus, too. But I don’t understand.

Fiction helps us understand human virtue and vice because fiction provides us with the back story. It tells us how and why characters and events are the way they are. Fiction stylizes good and evil, right and wrong, into words or pictures or actions that we can understand.

ISIS I do not understand. These newly heaven-born martyrs I do not understand. How and why are these people and events happening the way they are? I firmly believe in the divine authorship of the world, but in this case I do not understand the plot.

The one small truth fiction can give us that is so often missing or hidden in reality is the why.

My student is right: the best examples of real human heroism are real human beings, especially the saints.

That, however, does not mean that fiction is without truth. We would not think of superheroes as heroes if we did not recognize something good and true and beautiful about their stories. We would not be moved by powerful scenes in movies and books if there was nothing true and noble about the story.

In the great and ever expanding story of salvation history, it is often hard to understand the truth being taught to us small characters. Fiction teaches us that there is a why and that it will be revealed in good time.

The World Doesn’t Need Christian Movies

I remember when I first fell in love with movies. It was 1989, I was four years old and saw The Little Mermaid. While watching those beautiful ocean scenes wash over the big screen in that now-closed Pittsburgh, PA movie theater, something came alive inside of me. I was suddenly attuned to the vastness of the world, to the vastness of God, and all four years of me was irreversibly changed.

That feeling of bigness came over me again a few years later while watching Hook (starring Robin Williams), and then again in 1994 while viewing The Lion King with my friend and our families. It was also while watching The Lion King with that same family that, as the credits rolled, I pointed to the name of the screenwriter and announced, “That’s where my name will be someday!”

For me, movies represent the vastness of life, the common thread that run through all our lives, and the vastness of God. Like Lucy Pevensee being led through the New Narnia (see The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis), movies lead me “further up and further in.” But what the world absolutely does not need is “Christian” movies.

The world needs good movies. Not those movies black people make poking fun at themselves, not those “romances” that are basically big screen pornos, not those little-Christian-films-that-could that make us look like the dullest of pansies to ever barely bloom. The world needs good, artistic, creative films that proliferate faith, hope, and love without downplaying the hardships and without preaching to us.

Now, of course, there are exceptions to each of the stereotypes I mentioned, but that’s the problem. Good pieces of art, good movies should not be the exception, they should be the gold-standard rule. That Catholics, Christians have fallen from grace artistically and creatively is perhaps the greatest travesty of the modern Church. If we cannot master and dominate the present media that the world engages in and is moved by, how can we possibly expect to stir souls, to move minds and hearts?

When was the last time you watched a movie that truly moved you? Moved you to the core of your being? I’ll tell you my very first one: The Lion King. All nine years of me was moved from beginning to end of that movie and in countless ways. I was imbued with a greater understanding of life and purpose. That’s why I decided then and there that I wanted to be a screenwriter – because I wanted to move people. That movie (and many others that have moved me since) is not a “Christian” movie but it is more Christian than most that claim to be. We see sin and pride, grace, redemption, and forgiveness, the hint of an afterlife, being created in the image of a father who loves you without bounds…I could go on. The point is, good art, good movies, are not forthright; they gradually unveil the deeper mysteries they have been hinting at the whole time.

“The glory of God is man fully alive,” said St. Irenaeus. Movies should inspire us to live more fully, to be more alive. No sinner or pagan was converted by being told that his present way of life sucks and that this other, kind of weird-looking alternative lifestyle is way better. Conversion happens when people are affirmed in what they are doing right and gently offered a way to bring fullness to the desires they hold.

Now, you may wish to admonish me at this point and say, “You talk a good game but have no skin in it! You’re the one who wants to be a screenwriter, you go make the movies!” To that I say, you are absolutely right. I’ve been putting this off for too long. I have again begun writing a book and am self-learning the art of writing screenplays so that I may adapt a story into one. But I am not enough on my own. We need hundreds and thousands more like me with the passion and talent to again dominate the modern arts and we need even more people to patronize those arts. I urge you to, today, begin praying for our modern artists, writers, and filmmakers. Answer this call in the way that is appropriate for you but don’t deny your part in it. Four year old me, nine year old me, me now could never forgive myself if I did not, in some small way, live out this calling from God. If you do feel you have a calling to artistry, especially film, check out Act One (I’ve applied to their writing program).

“It is with this in mind that I appeal to you, artists of the written and spoken word, of the theatre and music, of the plastic arts and the most recent technologies in the field of communication. I appeal especially to you, Christian artists: I wish to remind each of you that, beyond functional considerations, the close alliance that has always existed between the Gospel and art means that you are invited to use your creative intuition to enter into the heart of the mystery of the Incarnate God and at the same time into the mystery of man.” – Pope St. John Paul II, Letter to Artists

Patron Comics

patron comics graphic 1

Much has been commented on the evangelizing power of painting, sculpture, music, literature, theater, and film. What about comics?

Anthony James Perez from the Philippines believes comics can be a potent medium to transmit the word of God. Together with a team composed of Gilbert Monsanto (penciller), Raymond Ferrer (inker), Bryan Arfel Magnaye (colorist), Jayboy Acosta (editor and assistant project head) and Michael Anthony Mapa (managing editor), he is currently creating Patron Comics, which he describes as “taking the Gospel and inserting it into the action/fantasy/adventure genre of comics and manga that our youth are reading nowadays.”

“It’s 100% entertainment and 100% catechism,” Perez says. “It’s catechism in 6X9 format, inside a compelling fictional story.”

How does Perez plan to transform a popular entertainment genre into an effective channel of God’s grace?

I interviewed Perez about his project and here is what he has to say:

Where did you get the idea for Patron Comics?

I have always loved telling stories and hearing or reading about them. I have always been receptive to good stories all 33 years of my life. There are a lot of elements in Patron Comics that I got from movies, books, and even video games. But as far as the bulk of the story of this series goes, I used the most touching stories I have encountered from people, stories of friends, stories of people who attended the spiritual retreats I have helped facilitate, stories of ordinary people who have touched my life. So in many ways, Patron Comics story is the story of those whom I have met, weaved together with the Gospel.

What motivated you to start Patron Comics?

We in my pro-life advocacy group called “Filipinos for Life” have always thought of spreading the Gospel through ways that will appeal to the youth. I was thinking along the lines of “How did my teachers teach me?” when I realized one thing: I have had the privilege of receiving excellent Catholic education through the Salesians, and I have watched many exceptional movies and read very engaging and educational books that reinforced the things my teachers taught me. So I thought: what if I can do that through comics? We have good priests and good catechists; all we need now is a good medium to reinforce Catholic teaching among the youth. So I thought of doing comics and met a group of very talented and very Catholic guys who can flesh out a story, and that is how it started.

Without revealing any spoilers, can you give us a teaser of the stories?

In a nutshell, our main characters are involved in battling devils, while waging war against their own personal demons. The battle is very spiritual as much as it is a personal and emotional one. One character has to struggle against same-sex attraction. He works part time as a ferryman at the town’s river. His constant paddling against the current had made him physically strong, but deep inside he’s still a softie. Then there’s this basketball varsity hotshot who was excelling both in sports and academics because he was trying to win his father’s love and attention, but when he didn’t get it, he slid into indifference, and his performance both on and off the court slipped.

Our characters are a team of young Catholics guided towards the path of holiness by their mentor, but they soon realize that becoming saints and carrying their crosses is just as difficult as battling devils and demons.

Who are the target readers?

My target readers are pre-teens, teens, and young adults. I have formatted the book series in such a way that our youngest readers will still learn something from the stories, while our older, more receptive readers will certainly get the deeper, more profound lessons.

When and where will it be available for distribution?

As of this writing, we’re still negotiating with local bookstores as far as retail is concerned, but mainly I am offering the series to our Catholic schools. Those who want to pre-order may contact me at my email: ajuperez@gmail.com.

What works and genres, both religious and secular, influenced the comics?

My education from the Salesians is certainly an influence; the mentor of our team constantly reminds them that the path to holiness is in doing their everyday duties with holy joy and excellence, something taught by St. John Bosco to his students. Holiness through ordinary life was also preached by St. Josemaria Escriva.

I have always been thankful that I am old enough to know the teachings of the Catholic Church and young enough to understand what the youth are into, partly because I am also into the things they are into: comics, cartoons, manga, video games, novels.

How do you intend to strike a balance between making the comics cool and catchy, and maintaining orthodoxy in the content?

The formula is actually simple. Make it cool first and foremost. The coolness factor should always be there. Once you have captive readers, sharing the Gospel is very easy. I got this from St. John Bosco himself. As a young boy he was a very good acrobat, musician, and story teller, and he used his talent to draw listeners towards him that he may share Christ to them.

I had endless back and forth discussions with my editor, Jay, because we had to make sure that the story and the dialogue preached our Catholic values without being preachy.

Do you have any other message for readers?

I would urge all campus ministers, school administrators, our clergy and parents to buy the comic book series for their students and kids. Nowadays we have to be pro-active in educating and forming our Catholic youth. This is a project of the New Evangelization. The team behind this has done their utmost in making sure that the kids get the best Catholic comic book series. The first book to be released this November is the first among several books in a series that will run for several years; how nice it would be if our youth are entertained and the Gospel seeds sown in their hearts during their formative years.

An Interview with Alanna Boudreau

How do you judge good music? What are your standards? When do you know that you’ve encountered an incredible song or artist?

One way I judge music is by its ability to snap me out of whatever I’m doing in the present moment and transport me to a different place, season, state, or memory. Really great music is that which helps us to extend outside of ourselves, to help guide our minds to another person or place.

When I listen to the music of singer-songwriter Alanna Boudreau, the aforementioned takes place in my heart. Her music leads my emotions to joy and nostalgia and longing for Beauty Himself.

Have you gotten to listen to Alanna’s music yet? If not, now is an ideal time. She just released her newest album, Hints and Guesses, and I’d be willing to bet that you’ll fall in love with her creativity, voice, and style.

Alanna is not only an extremely talented musician, but she just has the loveliest soul. I went to college with this woman, and even spent some time with her in South America, and the beauty of her music is just a simple reflection of the beauty of her heart.

I had the privilege of interviewing Alanna recently about her music, her writing process, her inspiration, and her motivation behind writing and singing. All my Pope St. John Paul II, Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis lovers out there will greatly enjoy what she describes as her driving force behind her lyrics.

So sit back with a warm cup of tea, perhaps with a dollop of honey, curl up in a warm blanket on this Fall day, and meet Alanna-Marie Boudreau.

A New Voice for the Church in Africa

A year and a half ago, my husband received a phone call that would change our lives. A priest friend of ours was starting a new project and he was building a team for it. Thus began our partnership with Father Maurice Emelu founder of Gratia Vobis Ministries, and priest of the Catholic Diocese of Orlu in southeast of Nigeria. Father Maurice is a Catholic Speaker and Retreat Preacher. Primarily known as the host of two TV shows on the Global Catholic Television Network EWTN, namely, The Faith With Father Maurice and now this work Word For A Wounded World. Father’s goal is to bring a real life picture of the church in African to the United States, while preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. The diocese that Father hails from is unique in that it has an abundance of vocations. Creating a vocation crisis any bishop would long for – no space for all of the young men.

Seminarians at Seat of Wisdom Major Seminary, Owerri.
Seminarians at Seat of Wisdom Major Seminary, Owerri, Nigeria. Courtesy of Word for a Wounded World.

For months we prepared for such a trip. The never-ending paperwork, and prep cannot begin to give you a clear picture of the world you are about to set foot in. Thanksgiving Day 2013 saw us boarding the twelve and a half hour flight to Lagos Nigeria. We arrived to a warm summer day, and the bustle of a city that 17 million people call home. The frantic pace of traffic and motorcycle-type cabs wiz along bumpy road, horns going non-stop. We would have quickly been lost among the crushing grind of people, had we not had escorts. Fortunately Father Maurice was used to this city, and he laughed at our amazement.

The Crew: Sam and Rachel Zamarron, Father Maurice Emelu, John-Anthony Jimenez, Luis Avila, George Wirnkar. Image courtesy of Word for a Wounded World
The Crew: Sam and Rachel Zamarron, Father Maurice Emelu, John-Anthony Jimenez, Luis Avila, George Wirnkar. Image courtesy of Word for a Wounded World

If I could define the word crazy, it would list four Americans and one priest hauling expensive camera equipments around a third world country, trying to navigate the culture and come back with something to show for it. Still, in the words of Mother Angelica “Unless you are willing to do the ridiculous, God will not do the miraculous. When you have God, you don’t have to know everything about it; you just do it.” And so our tiny team did it. For almost a month we toured five different parishes and countless Catholic places in the countries of Nigeria and Cameroon. Father preached the retreats to the people and my husband Sam led the crew in filming the episodes and special events. Countless local people stepped up and aided us along the way. Even to find the tired American’s some scarce and rarely used coffee.

Filming an interview. Courtesy of Word for a Wounded World
Filming an interview. Courtesy of Word for a Wounded World

Of everything we encountered the way the people celebrated the liturgy was the most touching. Sunday was a long day of celebration – A three hour mass that required the participation of the whole community. Smiling faces of the faithful reflected in outfits of every vibrant color imaginable. The women all wore their finest, the choir sang, the children danced. It was such a joyful celebration unto The Lord.

A Women praying, courtesy of Word for a Wounded World.
A Women praying, courtesy of Word for a Wounded World.

One can’t capture such an experience in words, or even the events we filmed. Still, the series Word for a Wounded World should give you a glimpse of the Catholic culture in Africa. These people share the same goals as us in their desire for peace, for a better life and for just country. It is with great excitement that I asked you to tune into EWTN to catch the series Word for a Wounded World. The countless prayers of so many have come together to bring this series to completion. Word for a Wounded World has been airing on EWTN since September 1st. Check out EWTN on Monday’s at 11:00pm ET and Saturday’s at 4:30am ET. Come experience the church in Africa!

Desperately Seeking Community

Disclaimer: This piece is written in the style of a senior demon, Screwtape, to his nephew a junior demon, Wormwood. This is based on C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, which is well worth a read. 

My dear Wormwood,

You requested some tips on one of my areas of expertise, loneliness.  Lack of companionship, social pain.

I work my way through a society that is apparently well interlinked and connected, yet achieve so much so easily. Around the world there are apparently six degrees of separation — made evident by checking out who is a friend of a friend on Facebook — yet people don’t know their own neighbours or feel any sense of belonging to the community around them.

They are lonely. They don’t connect with others or evangelize; they don’t hear about the enemy or they turn to what we tell them through the media. Through this we can leave them feeling like they are trying to fill that gap without ever filling it, and we can reach everywhere.

Take, for example, young people leaving home. It could be a good social and community time. People could sit around talking about the world until late at night, praying together, discussing life and developing their beliefs. However, we have a way in. Young people have become addicted to social media, if they aren’t on it they are thinking about it and living life for the ‘status update’.

I can be there in a group of young people going out for dinner. They can spend the whole time sitting on their phones or taking ‘selfies’, without meaningful connection. Back in their homes, everyone goes into their rooms and spends time on their own computers and social media, barely seeing those they live with.

This even works, according to plan, with children in families. We can get families to put dinner out and each family member takes their food away to their individual areas to their own media. Thereby, spending the evening in isolation. Media needs to not be a tool, but something people can’t live without.

Modern motherhood itself seems to be lived in isolation. As one of the followers of the enemy says…

We live in isolation. From time immemorial mothers have raised their children in close-knit communities, surrounded by their own mothers and aunts and cousins and nieces and lifelong friends. In traditional human villages, women would gather to wash and cook together, their kids running around freely with friends and relatives… Mothers were never meant to be the sole people in charge of their children’s wellbeing all day, every day. It is utterly unnatural to go for 12 hours without having a face-to-face conversation with another adult.

In isolation we can get mothers to resent their time with their children, to turn away from motherhood because of the seemingly hard road without support. We can scare them off a road to sanctity. This was so much harder to achieve in the past when people did it together in community, sharing in the work, joys and sufferings together.

In society we have worked for increases in divorce, solo parent families, a general decrease in marriage and the family that all leads to loneliness. Everyone experiences it at some point. But we need to leave them feeling an empty loneliness, leave them watching media full of people who look  like they have connection, to feel they are missing out and not filling that gap with the enemy.

And the effects of loneliness? According to some human ‘experts’ it leads to an increase in health risks, suicide and depression. People start to devalue life around them — their own lives and those of the elderly (and young) through euthanasia and future life through abortion.

We need to leave them desperately seeking community.

They need to remain oblivious to the remedies our enemy has provided them with, namely those detestable practices of prayer and the Eucharist. Living in the ‘reality’ not in the ‘digital’. They need to stay away from that dangerous pope of theirs, Francis and his messages such as “It is not enough to be passersby on the digital highways, simply “connected”; connections need to grow into true encounters. We cannot live apart, closed in on ourselves. We need to love and to be loved. We need tenderness.”

What a load of garbage! Also the still infectious John Paul II, who tried to convince them that “God did not create man for life in isolation, but for the formation of social unity, so also ‘it has pleased God to make men holy and save them not merely as individuals, without bond or link between them, but by making them into a single people, a people which acknowledges Him in truth and serves Him in holiness.’ So from the beginning of salvation history He has chosen men not just as individuals but as members of a certain community.”

And they definitely should not watch videos like:

They need to not get involved in parish groups and communities, and invest in social capital such as community organisations or volunteer groups. Never encourage them to genuinely reach out to others, to get out of their bubble and have actual encounters with people.

Do all this, and we shall win many souls for our father below.

Your affectionate uncle,