Joyful Canonization Countdown: Day 3!

StJohnPaulIIAs we count down to St. John Paul II’s canonization this Sunday, April 27, let’s spread the joy! 

For the next four days, tweet about our new saints-to-be: John Paul II and John XXIII!  Thank God for the many, many ways that these two saints have touched our lives! Tweet why you love St. John Paul using the hashtag: #JPII.  Tweet your gratitude for the marvelous renewal of Vatican II using the hashtag: #JohnXXIII 

Visit the official sites for the canonizations:

  1. http://2popesaints.org/EN/Home (in English)
  2. On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/2popesaints (Italian)
  3. The official, multi-lingual Twitter account: https://twitter.com/2popesaints

Very shortly, you’ll be able to download our new digital magazine that celebrates the wisdom of our new saints: Trusting the Lord When Life’s Not Easy. 

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These last three days before the canonization of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII, I wanted to celebrate not only by praying a special Divine Mercy Novena, but also by sharing three significant ways that St. John Paul touched—and changed—my life.

My first “up close” encounter with Pope John Paul II began was when I was twelve years old, when the Pope came to visit Boston in 1979. I had witnessed his election on TV and was curious about this Pope who was so interesting to watch. Our parish was sending a bus downtown to Boston, and I was hoping to go, as an older brother and sister were going. But my mom wouldn’t let me go because I was “too young.” (My mom had too many of us kids at home to take all of us herself.)

I was so disappointed that I decided that I wouldn’t miss a minute of his visit. So I took over the television—an unheard-of phenomenon in my house, since I’m in the middle of a large family. I borrowed a tape recorder (an old one with the top-loading lid and the built-in microphone). I piled the chair with books, balanced the tape recorder on the top of the pile right next to the TV speaker, and taped the Pope’s every word during his entire U.S. visit.

Out of all his homilies, I loved the one he gave on Boston Common. What I remember best was the passion and joy with which he proclaimed, invited, and encouraged us: “Follow Christ!” Here is the excerpt I remember the best:

The Gospels preserve for us a striking account of a conversation Jesus had with a young man. We read there that the young man put to Christ one of the fundamental questions that youth everywhere ask: “What must I do…?” (Mk 10:17), and he received a precise and penetrating answer. “Then, Jesus looked at him with love and told him… Come and follow me” (Mk 10 :21)…

Everywhere young people are asking important questions—questions on the meaning of life, on the right way to live, on the true scale of values… This questioning tells the world that you, young people, carry within yourselves a special openness with regard to what is good and what is true. And in this openness to truth, to goodness and to beauty, each one of you can find yourself; indeed, in this openness you can all experience in some measure what the young man in the Gospel experienced: “Jesus looked at him with love” (Mk 10 :21).

To each one of you I say therefore: heed the call of Christ when you hear him saying to you: “Follow me!” Walk in my path! Stand by my side! Remain in my love ! There is a choice to be made : a choice for Christ and his way of life, and his commandment of love. (From http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/homilies/1979/documents/hf_jp-ii_hom_19791001_usa-boston_en.html)

Three years later, I entered the high school program of the Daughters of St. Paul to begin my preparation to become a religious sister. Are the two events connected? Definitely, although it has taken me years to recognize just how much our new saint’s spiritual leadership brought me closer to Christ.

Praying through Holy Week

MotherhouseIt’s a particular blessing for me to be living the holiest days of the year at our motherhouse in Boston, MA. Subjects for my meditation and prayer in these past three days:

  • The abundant love of God poured out in Christ–and the power of his love to change our lives
  • Christ’s Way of Love is the way I am called to live…and my love isn’t authentic until it’s poured out like his
  • Jesus’s words especially, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (and the entire Psalm 31 which he was quoting and is the responsorial  psalm for Good Friday)
  • Karl Rahner’s beautiful book, Watch and Pray with Me
  • The “Face of Christ, Face of Man,” Stations of the Cross prayed on Good Friday with Pope Francis (written by H.E. Msgr. Giancarlo Maria Bregantini)
  • The Divine Mercy Novena

Of course, I’m including you in my intentions during these holy days!

One final note, if you’re looking for a movie that can lead to meditation on the heavenly life we’re called to live in Christ, check out Heaven Is for Real, which opened this week. It’s doing pretty well at the box office so far, but it’d be great if it came out even stronger! My full review is in the previous post and it’s also up on our Pauline site.  If you want to listen to a quick review,  here’s my five-minute review on this weekend’s Salt + Light Radio Hour.

 

Heaven Is for Real Movie Commentary: Invitation to Deeper Faith

Summary:
Heaven Is for Real gets off to a slow start, but ultimately engages and inspires us as we witness an ordinary, devout Christian family who together deepen their faith. Sentimental but not hokey, this appealing family film based on the popular book will probably be appreciated more by the adults in the family. 

 

An Inspiring Family Film

Todd Burpa (portrayed by the amazingly talented Greg Kinnear) is the hard-working husband, father, and preacher who lives with his family in rural Imperial, Nebraska. Struggling to make ends meet, Todd has a close relationship with his four-year-old son Colton (captivatingly portrayed by Connor Corum). The film begins by immersing us in the life of a small-town farming community where, the small, off-key church choir fits in a living room, the preacher is also your garage-door-installing handyman, and when money is short, people pay each other in goods.

The film picks up its pace when Colton unexpectedly becomes ill and almost dies. After recovering, Colton starts to drop hints about his unusual experience. An attentive father, Todd realizes that something extraordinary has happened to his son. As he gently prompts Colton to reveal what happened to him, Todd is stunned by the detail, conviction, and utter simplicity of his son’s unfolding account. In struggling to understand what’s happened to his son, Todd’s own faith is challenged.

The rest of the film revolves around Todd’s response to his son’s experience, as well as that of his wife and Colton’s big sister. As news leaks out about what happened, the mixed reaction of the community—from making fun to outright rejection—becomes an external reflection of Todd’s inner struggle.

Those who haven’t read the book might think that this film is a preachy answer to whether or not four-year-old Colton visited heaven. But it’s so much more than that. Although the film affirms the existence of heaven through the very real and lived faith of the Burpa family, the film’s central question isn’t whether or not heaven is real. Instead, the film revolves around the nature of faith as the protagonist journeys towards a more mature faith—faith amid suffering.

I found the portrayal of Colton’s mother Sonja (acted by Kelly Reilly) disappointingly distant from the central theme. Although the relationship between Todd and his wife was realistic, it didn’t go deep enough when Todd starting going through his crisis. Instead of a welcome feminine “take” on maturing faith, Sonja’s role was definitely smaller and even a bit superficial, especially in the lack of a strong dialogue between Todd and Sonja. Nevertheless, the film portrays Todd’s need for his wife’s support in the maturing of his faith. In putting such an importance on the sharing of faith—both with family and with community—Heaven Is for Real offers a welcome improvement from the often individualistic approach to faith.

The “preachiness factor” is strong in the beginning of the film, but wanes as the story takes hold. Well-lensed and acted, this is a film the entire family can watch together, although perhaps the younger folks might not appreciate the slow start and focus on Todd’s interior journey. Heaven Is for Real could make a great discussion-starter about the nature of faith, miracles, and how living with eternity in mind can—and should—shape our daily lives.

HeavenisforrealposterMaturing Faith in Heaven Is for Real

This is a great film to see together as a family because it is a realistic portrayal of a family who undergo a crisis that matures their faith. Each character offers something to the perspective of faith, with Todd and Colton being central to the story.

What I find refreshing about this film is that Todd’s struggle with faith is not whether he will reject his faith or not, but rather what Todd will do in the darkness of his faith: will he embrace the darkness and grow in faith, allowing his pain and uncertainty to mature him into a better pastor, husband, and father? Or will he allow the darkness and suffering to push him towards a false “safety” in his faith, preaching the platitudes that his congregation wants, but that are not true to his deeper experience?

Although we might find Todd’s struggle to be somewhat ambiguous, we might also find the film’s ending only partially satisfying. Yet, the film’s lack of clarity offers many entryways for a discussion about faith. Because it doesn’t clearly define what faith is, and Todd’s crisis and maturing to deeper faith is somewhat unclear, the film can prompt us to reflect about faith from several angles:

  • Living with the awareness of eternity
  • Contemplating God’s providence when we suffer
  • Acknowledging the miraculous in everyday life

Below are some suggestions for viewing Heaven Is for Real in the light of Scripture and as a window to the soul of humanity. You may wish to use this film as part of your prayer, as Cinema Divina. (To find out more about cinema divina, read this fantastic introduction by Sr. Rose Pacatte, fsp.)

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Cinema Divina with Heaven Is for Real 

Suggested Scripture passage to accompany your viewing: Hebrews 12:1-14

“Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Heb. 12:1-2).

  • Themes and questions for reflection:   
  • Faith
  • Miracles
  • Eternity
  • Heaven
  • Faith in Daily Life
  • God’s Presence in Suffering
  • Family
  • Loyalty
  • Grief/Healing
  • Accompaniment as Pastoring/Evangelization
  • Role of a Pastor in the Church Community

Questions for personal reflection and/or sharing: 

  • How does this film define faith? How would you define faith? (For deeper reflection, see #s152-165 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.)
  • How would you describe Todd’s central crisis of faith? What was key—the transformation point—in which his faith matured?
  • A key visual image in the film is the doorway—starting with the opening of the garage door to a panoramic view of the fields. Did you notice the doorways in the important moments of the film? What might the doorways represent?
  • As believers, we have no trouble accepting Scriptural miracles, but what about miracles today? What is the greatest miracle you have ever witnessed? How has witnessing that miracle strengthened your faith?
  • What words would you use to describe heaven? Did you find your ideas of heaven changing after watching this film? How would you describe heaven, in light of the film and the Scripture passage above? (See #s1023-1029 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church for additional insight.)
  • How was Todd an effective pastor and evangelizer? What can you “take away” from his example to imitate in your own life?
  • The Burpa family is a wonderful witness to wholesome family life. Crisis in families can divide family members or unite them. What were some of the strengths of the Burpa family—how were they able to help each other in crisis?

Closing Prayer: Act of Faith, such as the Apostles’ Creed.

Spiritual Perspective on the Film NOAH

noah-movie-poster-cast

A bleak film with bold artistic choices, Noah has proven controversial to people of faith who have screened it. And perhaps deservedly so, since the artistic choices seem less about delving deeply into the scriptural story and more about creating a riveting story for the screen. Rather than an official review, I’d like to offer a few personal reflections that are more of a spiritual commentary.

(You can listen to my short, 5-minute take on Salt + Light Radio.)

The Film vs. the Bible

Noah is a profound film that takes seriously the story and themes that it explores. I suspect that the wide range of opinions about this film has a lot to do with personal taste—for example, whether you like how this film relies heavily on elements from the post-apocalyptic and science fiction genres. I find it important make the distinction that Noah is not a “biblical” adaptation of Genesis that is faithful to the details. Nevertheless, the film resonates with several biblical themes, and these aspects of the film offer material for reflection for the mature Christian.

Three things struck me almost immediately about the film:
1) Many of the essentials of the Genesis account of creation are taken for granted as really having happened: God as Creator, God creating the human person in God’s image, God giving humanity the care of the earth, the reality of evil. In this film, sin has serious consequences. The re-tellings of the story of creation include the fall of Adam and Eve in a way that highlights their fall from grace. Noah takes the sinfulness of humanity seriously, and with its post-apocalyptic approach, can serve as a warning to people today that our sins—personal and societal—are destructive not just in the hereafter, but here and now.

2) Noah is an extremely dark film—visually, narratively, and in the portrayal of its characters. Of course, the main event in the movie is catastrophically tragic. This dismal darkness “floods” the rest of the film as well. Humanity is not only destroying itself through pride, violence, and greed, but has corrupted the earth into a desolate wasteland. (For Noah to build the ark, God has to miraculously provide trees.) The innocent animals that are miraculously drawn to the ark are not portrayed in their natural beauty, but arrive in hordes which are impressive but not necessarily beautiful. As the flood begins, the filmmakers add an especially sinister storyline that builds to an almost unbearable tension between Noah and his family, and within Noah himself. Although the film ends with a note of hope, it wasn’t enough to dispel the overall darkness that burdens the film’s vision of God, the human person, and of Noah.

3) Apart from its acceptance of God as the Almighty Creator, the film is mainly a humanist account of the biblical story of Noah, with some random “magical” touches thrown in. For me, in the film Noah’s faith lacked a vertical dimension: he doesn’t seem to have a real relationship with God. In the film, God “speaks” to Noah in a dream through images, leaving Noah to have to search for his grandfather to discover what God wants him to do about the flooding of the world. This is quite different from Genesis, in which “Noah walks with God,” an image that implies a close relationship (see Gen. 6:9). And God tells Noah directly what he wants him to do (Gen 6–7), which also implies a real relationship.

Despite a great performance by Russell Crowe, this cinematic Noah doesn’t seem to represent well the Noah in Genesis—a faith-filled man who struggled with the problem of evil and the consequences of sin, but in the context of his relationship with God and his knowledge of God’s saving will. Thus Noah’s central struggle for the second half of the film wasn’t credible. He changes radically from seeking to follow God’s mysterious will into judgmental fanaticism. This change doesn’t seem true to his character in the film, nor to the biblical figure or account. (I can’t be more specific without giving further spoilers.) The absence of a loving God—who is so grieved over the corruption, destruction, and suffering of the people in the world that he wants to renew creation, giving the world and humanity a fresh start—is another reason why this film does not fully reflect the Genesis account. We may not understand why God sent a flood, but Genesis makes it clear that God wants to bring about a rebirth of new life.

Vision of the Person/Vision of God

A couple of themes that the film delves into deserve special attention, especially the view of the human person, and the view of God that the film offers.

* The vision of the human person is particularly troublesome in the film, but it can also provide an opening point for conversation and even challenge false assumptions.
All the characters accept (and many repeat) the truth that the human person is made in the image of God. But they don’t agree on what that means. Several characters offer a definition of what it means to be human. While none offer compelling answers, this question, “What does it mean to be made in the image of God?” is a great way to start a conversation.

Any of us who have confronted evil within ourselves or in the world will be interested in the film’s central question: is humanity irredeemable? The main ways humanity is shown to have become corrupt is by destroying the earth and not reverencing animal life. Yet, the film is mostly silent about the reverence due to human life, making it seem as if even Noah values animal and plant life over human life. (When we look closely at the story of Noah in Genesis, killing another human being is a very serious sin—see Gen. 9:6).

Because God sends a flood, the prevailing judgment for most of the film seems to be a dismal picture of a humanity so twisted by evil as to be beyond hope. Nevertheless, the ending of the film offers hope—and a clear affirmation that God wants to bless humanity, as sinful as we are (Noah and his family included). Of course, the scriptural answer to this question of judgment reaches beyond a simple “yes” or “no.” The most important truth about us as human beings is not whether we are flawed or sinful, but that we are loved. Even in our sinfulness, God wants to save us.

* I find the vision of God in the film quite problematic. The God who “walks with Noah,” who wants to save, is absent from the film until almost the very end. Immature faith often makes sense of painful situations by blaming God, when in many cases the cause of our pain and tragedy is the sinfulness of humanity. According to the film, humanity had pretty much destroyed the earth and people were dying of starvation. In such a post-apocalyptic world, the consequences of humanity’s misuse of the earth might also include a massive flood. Some might even argue that a flood could be a mercifully quick way for people to die who would have otherwise starved to death or been terrorized for months as they killed each other off. For most of the film, we are left with a sense of a God who wants to destroy all life on earth—the aspect of Noah’s story that is indeed deeply disturbing. But the image of God weeping over humanity’s pain is almost entirely missing from the film—it is represented briefly by Noah’s wife and adopted daughter.

Hope in Darkness

We may never understand how God could send a flood, or allow it to destroy so many lives. Yet the story of Noah both in Genesis and in this film can help us to try to make sense of the catastrophes we face. Stories of a huge flood destroying all life on earth are represented in many ancient cultures. But several things make the story in Genesis quite different from other early stories of a flood:

  • God wants to save Noah and his family, who are good yet sinful. Noah is portrayed as having a real relationship with God, who lived as God intended
  • God knows that Noah is human and imperfect, but he saves Noah and his family anyway—humanity is not irredeemable but precious in God’s eyes.
  • God wants to give humankind a new beginning, free from evil.
  • God’s fidelity lasts beyond sin, beyond any destruction that we can cause through our evil choices.
  • God wants to always bring us to new life. God is justice, but God is also mercy.

There are certainly many other aspects of the film that could lead to fruitful discussion: the portrayal of the Watchers (fallen angels?), the horror of evil, justice as seen through God’s eyes, how this film speaks to the urgent need today to protect the earth and all life, and the story of Noah and the flood as an image of Baptism. Due to the darkness of themes, violence, and dreary portrayals, this is certainly not a film for children. And I don’t recommend this film as an entryway to faith, nor would I particularly encourage believers to see the film because it’s a biblical story.

However, Noah’s solid cinematic values, with its convincing performances, an engaging pace, remarkable sequences, and a well-structured storyline, make it a powerful exploration of sin. Noah is worth a thoughtful viewing from mature Christian film buffs, especially those who like to explore theme and artistry in film.

For me, the bleak picture of humanity and the focus on humanity’s sinfulness is not that spiritually helpful. Noah offers us a warning of the consequences of sinful choices, but the films I find more helpful are ones that both startle me with their incisive judgment of evil, while at the same time surprise me with the beauty and goodness with which I am called to live, a beauty and goodness that reflect God. Perhaps this void, this shocking absence of beauty is where Noah really fails. When I become disheartened in my struggles against sin, drowning in the darkness isn’t helpful. Instead, looking towards the light and reaching towards the loving face of a God who sends rainbows as well as rain, is what helps to transform my struggle with sin into a moment of grace.

Other thoughtful commentaries you may wish to read: a statement from Signis, the international association of Catholic media persons in TV, Cinema and Radio, Father Robert Barron’s perspective on the film as a post-modern midrash, and Stephen D. Greydanus’s comments and theological reflection.

 

Prayer for Writing

WritingPostcardOne of the sisters shared with me an early version of the prayer, “Before Writing,” which our Founder wrote for our Pauline prayer book. I always start every writing session with a prayer, and this beautiful prayer is my new favorite. I thought I’d share it with you:

Before Writing

by Blessed James Alberione

O Jesus, Divine Master, I offer you my pen [keyboard] and this work of my apostolate* with the intentions with which you preached your Gospel. May all be only and always for the glory of God and peace to men[all]. That everyone may know you, O Jesus Truth! That everyone may docilely [wholeheartedly] follow you, O Jesus Way! That all hearts may love you, O Jesus Life!

Give me a clear intelligence, grace in writing, an upright heart. May my pen repeat your Word; may St. Paul the writer guide me; may every edition be modelled on the Divine Book. 

O Mary, Mother, Teacher and Queen, who has given to the world the Divine Word Incarnate, look down lovingly upon me and bless this little apostolate which I shall carry out with you and for you.

*The term “apostolate” means “mission.”

Pauline Apps Featured on Chronicle (WCVB)

Local TV show Chronicle did a segment on apps that are produced locally (here in New England) on Wednesday night, and we were one of the app producers featured! If you didn’t see it Wednesday night, they’ve posted “There’s An App for That!” up online in four segments. It won’t stay up long, so if you’re interested in seeing it, you should check it out soon!

Here’s a screenshot of all our current apps. Most are available on iTunes and Google Play.

AppsScreenShotsmall