Insights into Film Spotlight with Salt+Light Radio

spotlight (1)This week on the Salt + Light Radio Hour (April 23, 2016), Deacon Pedro and I talk about the movie Spotlight, which won the Oscar for Best Picture this year. Spotlight is the story of how an investigative team of reporters at the Boston Globe uncovered and reported the Catholic clergy sexual abuse scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston and then throughout the United States. I grew up in the Boston Archdiocese and have spent much of my life missioned here, including when the Boston Globe’s stories were running, so I went to the first possible screening that I could.

My full review: Spotlight: An Intense and Powerful Film.

Spotlight is not an easy film to watch because of its subject matter. Rather than take an easy, superficial approach of sensationalism or discrimination, the filmmakers simply allow the reporters’ investigation to unfold onscreen, allowing the moments of suffering, scandal, and truth-telling to resound in the souls of the audience. The film is not perfect, but it is more than just well-crafted; it is a respectful attempt to capture the complexity, drama, and immense impact that the sexual abuse had on the lives of individuals and on the Church. You can find my full review–along with a wonderful reflection from Father Ron Rolheiser on how we as Catholics can best respond to scandal–here.

You can listen to Salt + Light Radio Hour on The Catholic Channel at Sirius XM 129, on Relevant Radio, on Catholic radio stations all over Canada and the USA (here is the list of times and stations and all the ways you can catch the Salt + Light Radio Hour!), on Roku, and online.

Called To Communicate Mercy—But How Do We Do It?

If you live in Boston, come and celebrate with us on April 24, 2016! http://store.pauline.org/landing-pages/world-communications-day-mass

If you live near Boston, come and celebrate with us on April 24, 2016! For more information, visit: http://store.pauline.org/landing-pages/world-communications-day-mass

It’s been a really full late winter/early spring for me! I’ve had to let social media “rest” for a while, and it may still be another month or so before I’m back consistently, but I want to take the opportunity to post when I have a few free minutes.

In January, I looked at Pope Francis’ Message for the 50th World Communications Day (while it’s actually on May 8th, we are celebrating on April 24thcome and join us if you live in the Boston area) from the perspective of listening. But I wanted to take another look at it more closely in light of its theme. It seems to me that, during this Year of Mercy, Pope Francis is looking at communication in its fullest meaning, in all areas of life, and in all the ways by which we communicate, but with a particular focus for us that we, as followers of Christ, are called to communicate mercy. It is, in a very real way, the Pope’s urgent call to all of us to use our power to communicate to:

  • build bridges
  • bring about and restore peace
  • promote mutual understanding
  • heal
  • include
  • speak the truth in a way that never intentionally ruptures relationships—the truth in love.

Pope Francis cautions us about exacerbating misunderstanding, and using inflammatory or judgmental language and gestures in a way that can divide or “stoke the flames of mistrust, fear, and hatred.”

One of the reasons I feel that communication spirituality is so important is how much time each of us spends every day communicating. I often start my workshop on communication spirituality by asking participants to think of all the ways they communicated and used the means of communication by noon of that very day. From listening to the weather on the radio, checking the traffic on a cell phone, greeting a loved one with a morning kiss, checking email as soon as we walk in the door of our office…the list goes on and on: we are constantly communicating! Now, we can also add in the multiple times a day that the average smartphone user checks their social media for updates.

In this year’s Message, Pope Francis takes a 360-degree look at communication that can be applied for all people of good will  and all levels of communication—from digital or technologically-enhanced communication to face-to-face interaction between individuals, to the close communication that happens within the intimacy of the family, to that of leaders whose communication affects groups or culture in important aspects of life, such as politics, institutions, or opinions. Religious leaders are particularly mentioned as having the responsibility to speak the truth in love, communicating mercy but never superiority or judgment of individuals.

Digital technology, especially social networks, are highlighted for their ability to exponentially multiply the effect of communication: “Social networks can facilitate relationships and promote the good of society, but they can also lead to further polarization and division between individuals and groups.” But I think the previous sentence in the Message goes to the heart of communication spirituality in our digital age: “It is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal.”

The Pope concludes this exhortation to us to be authentic communicators by encouraging us to think about communication in terms of closeness. Communication that facilitates mercy is a communication that generates a closeness between individuals and peoples: a closeness that cares, comforts, heals, accompanies, and celebrates that we share a common humanity.

Here’s a link to the entire Message for the 50th World Communications Day. I’d love to hear your insights if you feel to share them!

Celebrate World Communications Day 2016!

May 8, 2016, is the 50th World Communications Day, and if you live in the Boston area, please come and celebrate with us two weeks early, on this coming Sunday, April 24th!

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We invite all Catholics involved in a media-related profession to join us in praise and gratitude for the wonderful gifts God has given humanity to communicate; to celebrate you and the work that you do. If you work in a media-related profession, in the secular world or for a Catholic organization, you are a media professional. If you are a Catholic artist, writer, blogger, musician, radio host, etc., (not necessarily full-time, but it is a part of your life), then you are a media professional.  If you are involved in a media-related field in any way, please join us!


The 50th World Communications Day Mass
Sunday, April 24, 2016 at 2 P.M.
Main Celebrant: Rev. Robert Reed
President/CEO iCatholic Media, Inc., and
Secretary for Catholic Media of the Archdiocese of Boston

at the Daughters of St. Paul Convent Chapel
50 Saint Paul’s Avenue
Jamaica Plain, MA 02130

RSVP appreciated. Email: WCDMass@Paulinemedia.com. For more information.

Mass will be followed by refreshments and a panel discussion of “What is mercy and how do we communicate it?” Panelists include: Jaymie Stuart Wolfe, Christopher Kelly, Sr. Hosea Rupprecht, FSP, and George Martell.

One of the most important aspects of the day is Pope Francis’ Message for World Communications Day, Communication and Mercy–a Fruitful Encounter, which you can find here.

The Young Messiah: Praying with the Movies

A Movie for Lent

I hope you haven’t given up watching movies this Lent, because we’ve been privileged to have some really good movies come out during this Year of Mercy, specifically during Lent! February 19th saw the release of  Risen, the story of Jesus’ Resurrection told from the perspective of a non-believer. On March 16th, another film that I have not yet seen—Miracles from Heaven—will release just in time for Easter. And this week—on Friday, March 11th—The Young Messiah will release in theaters. Based on the fictional novel about the childhood of Jesus by Anne Rice, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, this movie is an imaginative portrayal of the time when the Holy Family returned from Egypt to Nazareth.

The Young Messiah is a beautiful, well-done production of high quality that is enjoyable, fully engaging, and not preachy. It is made for a general audience—it doesn’t presume that the audience s made up of people of faith. So many detailed and excellent reviews have been done about the film (including Sr. Anne Joan Flanagan’s excellent review here, as well as Christianity Today’s interview with director Cyrus Nowrasteh),  that I decided to simply talk about how the film could be a source of prayer.

Imagining the Life of the Christ Child

The Young Messiah is the imaginative portrayal of what it might have been like for the Holy Family as they returned from Egypt to Nazareth. The film is based on Anne Rice’s book, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh, with the script written by Cyrus and Betsy Nowrasteh. Both reverent and entertaining, the film is based on research of the lives of first-century Jews, and has a Catholic sensibility in its approach.

The strength of the film is twofold: the relationships between Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and their extended family; and an exploration of the mystery of the Incarnation in the childhood of Jesus. In particular, the film explores how much the Child Jesus knew and understood his unique identity as the Son of God and Messiah. The very real dilemma of Mary and Joseph of how to raise the Son of God—how to keep him safe, how much to tell him, is portrayed with depth and realism.

Both novel and film had to approach this time in the life of Jesus imaginatively, since the only Scripture we have from this time reports that the Holy Family returned from Egypt and settled in Nazareth (see Matthew 2:21-23). So the events are imagined, although they often foreshadow future events that are in the Gospels, such as the Baptism of Jesus, miraculous healings, the losing and finding of Jesus in the temple, Jesus’ temptations in the desert, the Crucifixion, etc. Although never quoted, for me the theme of the film is the line from Luke’s Gospel: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor” (2:52).

All of these elements, along with the high quality of acting, direction, and cinematography, make The Young Messiah not just a strong film, but a powerful source for reflection and prayer.

Lights and Shadows in the Film

Set in an atmosphere of oppression, much of the film is made up of a series of threatening encounters with the Roman soldiers (one of whom has been assigned to find and kill the young healer whose actions have been noticed). The film includes some beautiful and moving family scenes,  especially a very touching scene between Mary and Joseph, but the overall threat to Jesus overshadows the film too much. In addition, although Mary must have been worried about Jesus, her portrayal here doesn’t reveal her faith. The Mary in this film is not the strong woman of faith in the Gospel who repeatedly gave an unequivocal “yes” to God.

As with any movie, before taking younger children, a parent should see the film first. Although the story takes place when Jesus is a child, The Young Messiah is not a children’s movie. Sensitive children may be disturbed by the depiction of Satan, Herod, or some of the violence in the film (such as the crucifixions, slaughter of the Holy Innocents, and one of the fights). Focusing on the highlighted conflict between the Jewish people and the Roman soldiers with multiple encounters that are laced with threat casts a negative pall over the life of the Child Jesus that may not be helpful for a child. (The PG-13 rating might be a helpful guide in this case.) But for teens and up, The Young Messiah is definitely a movie that can enrich your Lent, especially if you enjoy or would like to explore praying with your imagination.

Believers may want to consider seeing this film on opening weekend to support the film. The film’s  foreshadowing of future events in the life of Christ makes its release date—just two weeks before Holy Week—a timely lead-in to Holy Week.

Scriptural Cinema Novena with The Young Messiah

Whether or not you see the film, you may wish to participate in our Cinema Novena: The Young Messiah, which is a nine-day novena that uses some of the best moments of the film for our reflection in the light of Scripture. You can make this novena to the Holy Family, or to St. Joseph. If you start on March 11th, you will finish the novena on March 19th, the feast of St. Joseph.

 

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FREE! CINEMA NOVENA: THE YOUNG MESSIAH
Nine unique days of prayer, supported by powerful, living depictions of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

Sign up today to Play, Ponder and Pray:

1. a daily film clip from The Young Messiah 

2. a guiding passage from the Bible with a brief, life-oriented reflection question, and

3. a prayer

Risen: Film Commentary

Risen is a drama set in Biblical times centering around the mystery of Jesus’ Resurrection. It is the story of Clavius, a fictional Roman tribune brilliantly portrayed by Joseph Fiennes, who is tasked by Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) first with overseeing Jesus’ Crucifixion, then sealing Jesus’ tomb, and finally hunting for Jesus’ body after the Resurrection to prevent the Jewish disciples proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah. The outer story of Clavius’s search for Christ provides the framework for his inner journey of growing fascination with who Jesus truly is. Risen is a solid, though not flawless, effort at a film about one of the greatest mysteries of our Christian faith.

Risen attempts an epic tone, but the story is too narrowly focused to achieve a truly epic scale, in its relatively brief timeline, lack of complexity, and limited cast of characters. Outwardly, the story is primarily about the hunt for Jesus’ body. But Clavius’s inner journey of how he comes to see Jesus gradually takes main stage as the confusion, rumors, and lies surrounding the Resurrection convince Clavius that the disappearance of Jesus’ body is a mystery he must get to the bottom of.

Risen naturally requires many fictional scenes because the protagonist is fictional and the main plot device of the film—the search for Jesus’ body—is fictional, although somewhat plausible. Biblical events are portrayed with respect and in fidelity to the Bible overall, although taking liberty with certain details.

The acting throughout the film is well-done and makes it stand as one of the better-made Christian films over the past few years. In fact, the film works overall because of the great acting, in particular the intensity of Joseph Fiennes, who carries most of the scenes with his utterly credible, obsessive search for the truth. The film’s portrayals of the biblical characters are well-done, succeeding in their attempts to portray their characters’ Jewishness. Apart from Clavius, Peter is my favorite character in the film, and the portrayal of Stewart Scudamore well represents the blustery, loyal apostle who leaps vividly from the pages of the Gospel.

Going to see this film, well-made on many levels, can definitely support Risen’s filmmakers and encourage others to produce films of faith. Catholics and Christians should definitely consider seeing Risen. 

From here on, my commentary contains a few spoilers. (Scroll down to continue.)

However, the script of Risen is somewhat lacking in subtext and depth. When Jesus finally does appear in the film, his words are frequently not taken from his resurrection appearances nor even from the Scriptures. The disciples of Jesus are mostly limited to the Apostles and Mary Magdalen (we only get a glimpse of the Mother of Jesus at the Crucifixion), and for the most part seem blandly uniform—even naïve—in their joyful faith. Important elements or moments of growth in faith for Clavius were lacking or invisible. Clavius’s journey towards faith is convincing mostly because of Joseph Fiennes’s superb performance. For example, early in the film Clavius shows that he has faith in the Roman gods. The film never addresses how his eventual faith in Jesus is different, since it seems to mostly revolve around seeing Jesus alive—a man whom he helped put to death and seal in a tomb. Clavius’s faith is based on his senses—a point which Jesus makes to him in the film.

The fact that Clavius’s acceptance of faith feels inevitable throughout the film seems to direct Risen as a film more meant for Christian believers than for nonbelievers. However, the ambiguity surrounding where Clavius’s faith will lead him—what consequence it will have on his life—is one of the best moments of the film.

Windows to the Soul

Risen is definitely a film with potential to help viewers raise questions or deepen their faith. While the faith of characters like Peter and Mary Magdalen is assumed, Clavius’ journey towards faith does not feel automated, but a genuine search. Reflecting on Clavius’s nascent faith—his witnessing the risen Jesus—can help us to ask questions about the source of our faith, and how our faith can grow, especially in times of darkness and doubt. What consequence does our faith have in our lives? What does our relationship with Christ mean to us, and how do we witness to Christ with our lives?

Various encounters of the disciples with Jesus after his Resurrection can open the door to beautiful insights and prayer on the related Scripture passages. Personally, I found the portrayal of Peter’s faith, humility, and openness especially inviting in this way.

In many of the scenes with Christ, the apostles physically touch Jesus. This emphasizes the reality of Jesus’ bodily Resurrection, but can also be a doorway into reflecting on the great mystery of the Incarnation.

Risen may not be the masterpiece it tries to be, but it is certainly a solid film on many levels, a movie whose artistry can touch our minds and hearts, and open doors to deepening faith.

Listening: My Lenten Focus

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In addition to making the 7 Qualities of Mercy online mini-retreat for Lent, I have decided to focus my Lent around listening. Pope Francis’s Message for the 50th World Communications Day is what inspired me to choose to focus on listening. Listening is a wonderful quality that is a prerequisite for genuine communication—with God first of all, but also with self and with others.  

But first I want to go back to Pope Benedict’s Message for World Communications Day on May 20, 2012. The theme of this Message was unusual: Silence and Word: Path of Evangelization. Since silence is such an important part of listening, I thought I’d begin with this:

Silence and word: two aspects of communication which need to be kept in balance, to alternate and to be integrated with one another if authentic dialogue and deep closeness between people are to be achieved. When word and silence become mutually exclusive, communication breaks down, either because it gives rise to confusion or because, on the contrary, it creates an atmosphere of coldness; when they complement one another, however, communication acquires value and meaning.

Silence is an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist. In silence, we are better able to listen to and understand ourselves; ideas come to birth and acquire depth; we understand with greater clarity what it is we want to say and what we expect from others; and we choose how to express ourselves. By remaining silent we allow the other person to speak, to express him or herself; and we avoid being tied simply to our own words and ideas without them being adequately tested. In this way, space is created for mutual listening, and deeper human relationships become possible. It is often in silence, for example, that we observe the most authentic communication taking place between people who are in love: gestures, facial expressions and body language are signs by which they reveal themselves to each other. Joy, anxiety, and suffering can all be communicated in silence – indeed it provides them with a particularly powerful mode of expression. Silence, then, gives rise to even more active communication, requiring sensitivity and a capacity to listen that often makes manifest the true measure and nature of the relationships involved. When messages and information are plentiful, silence becomes essential if we are to distinguish what is important from what is insignificant or secondary. Deeper reflection helps us to discover the links between events that at first sight seem unconnected, to make evaluations, to analyze messages; this makes it possible to share thoughtful and relevant opinions, giving rise to an authentic body of shared knowledge. For this to happen, it is necessary to develop an appropriate environment, a kind of ‘eco-system’ that maintains a just equilibrium between silence, words, images and sounds…

As the Cross of Christ demonstrates, God also speaks by his silence. The silence of God, the experience of the distance of the almighty Father, is a decisive stage in the earthly journey of the Son of God, the incarnate Word …. God’s silence prolongs his earlier words. In these moments of darkness, he speaks through the mystery of his silence” (Verbum Domini, 21). The eloquence of God’s love, lived to the point of the supreme gift, speaks in the silence of the Cross…  

If God speaks to us even in silence, we in turn discover in silence the possibility of speaking with God and about God. “We need that silence which becomes contemplation, which introduces us into God’s silence and brings us to the point where the Word, the redeeming Word, is born” (Homily, Eucharistic Celebration with Members of the International Theological Commission, 6 October 2006). In speaking of God’s grandeur, our language will always prove inadequate and must make space for silent contemplation. Out of such contemplation springs forth, with all its inner power, the urgent sense of mission, the compelling obligation to communicate that which we have seen and heard” so that all may be in communion with God (1 Jn 1:3). Silent contemplation immerses us in the source of that Love who directs us towards our neighbours so that we may feel their suffering and offer them the light of Christ, his message of life and his saving gift of the fullness of love…

Word and silence: learning to communicate is learning to listen and contemplate as well as speak.

-Pope Benedict XVI, Message for the 46th World Communications Day

I’d like to allow the beginning of my Lent to be guided by the above reflection and make a Lenten examination of the quality of silence in my life. The series of slides below (put together by one of our sisters several years ago), contains excerpts from Pope Benedict’s Message that might launch me into deeper reflections:

 Then I hope to move on to Pope Francis’s most recent Message for World Communications Day, with its theme of Communication and Mercy: A Fruitful Encounter.  Genuine listening to others is what arouses compassion in me; as I wish to invest the quality of mercy into all my relationships, I think it would be helpful to reflect on Pope Francis’s encouragement to us to listen, perhaps using his words as a way to make another examination of conscience on listening that will be ongoing through Lent:

Communicating means sharing, and sharing demands listening and acceptance. Listening is much more than simply hearing. Hearing is about receiving information, while listening is about communication, and calls for closeness. Listening allows us to get things right, and not simply to be passive onlookers, users or consumers. Listening also means being able to share questions and doubts, to journey side by side, to banish all claims to absolute power and to put our abilities and gifts at the service of the common good.

Listening is never easy. Many times it is easier to play deaf. Listening means paying attention, wanting to understand, to value, to respect and to ponder what the other person says. It involves a sort of martyrdom or self-sacrifice, as we try to imitate Moses before the burning bush: we have to remove our sandals when standing on the “holy ground” of our encounter with the one who speaks to me (cf. Ex 3:5). Knowing how to listen is an immense grace, it is a gift which we need to ask for and then make every effort to practice.

As communicators, we seek to imitate Jesus’ self-emptying or kenosis in our communication. In God’s desire to be close to us, in order to redeem us and heal our broken relationship with God, Jesus emptied himself, taking on our human nature, and giving himself up to a horrific passion and death. Jesus is the full expression of the merciful love of the Father. In every aspect of his person, his life, and his death, Jesus seeks to draw us closer into the embrace of the Trinity.

Pope Francis talks about listening as a form of self-emptying love, similar in a way to Jesus’ kenosis. Listening can be a sort of martyrdom. In truly listening, we imitate Jesus’ self-giving, sacrificial love, by putting ourselves and our agendas aside and becoming deeply receptive to whomever we are listening to. Deep listening enables us to become aware of the sacredness of the other. Even if we are just having an ordinary, everyday conversation, deep listening takes us beyond the surface to glimpse the depth of someone else’s humanity and thus, how beloved they are by God.

Lent is a time to die to ourselves so that we can rise with Christ. Learning to listen better is a concrete way to die to self and to welcome the other in a genuine encounter of love and mercy. When we really hear and understand one another, we are more likely to respond with compassion, gentleness, and mercy.

Above all, as attentive listeners, we can discover God speaking to us:

  • in prayer and in his holy Word
  • within ourselves in the depths of our own hearts
  • and especially in the words and unspoken longings and vulnerabilities of others with whom we relate

In closing his message, Pope Benedict entrusts the work of evangelization through the media to Mary, “whose silence listens to the Word and causes it to blossom.” May our silence and communication this Lent also blossom into expressions of God’s Mercy.

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Join me in making the 7 Qualities of Mercy online mini-retreat for Lent!

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“Catch-Up”: Interview on Soul of Christ book & newest Lenten online retreat for the #YearofMercy!

It’s been a very busy couple of weeks for me, helping to “launch” 7 Qualities of Mercy: Become a More Merciful You online mini-retreat. As Reconciled to You’s Allison Gingras points out in her creative blogpost, making 7 Qualities of Mercy your Lenten Retreat this year is a powerful way to use social media to open you up to God’s presence in your real and online lives. (See her wonderful blogpost, Please Don’t Give Up Social Media for Lent!) 

Here’s a blurb about the retreat, which I had a hand in developing, and many of our sisters and wonderful lay collaborators wrote for (including Allison Gingras).

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I’ll be making this retreat starting Ash Wednesday, and I might be blogging a bit about what are the pros and cons of making an online retreat?

This week, I also had the joy of speaking about my book, Soul of Christ: Meditations on a Timeless Prayer, on Breadbox Media on the show, “A Seeking Heart with Allison Gingras.” Allison is a good friend and a lovely, easy-to-talk-to host. Surprisingly, this show was our first opportunity to really talk about my book, Soul of Christ, so it’s quite conversational and filled with each of our experiences–with the Anima Christi prayer and with Eucharistic adoration. Last year, several sisters in my community used Soul of Christ for Lenten reading, and when I asked for feedback, they told me it was a really good fit for Lent, so the interview is timely. You can listen in to the podcast online or download it here.

CWCOiconFinally, I just had to mention a fantastic opportunity that’s coming up: the Catholic Writers Guild is offering their annual Catholic Writers Conference Online from March 4-6, 2016. The cost is reasonable, and the workshops in the past have been really valuable. You need to register by February 27th. Hope to “see you” there!

I’m about a month away from completing the rough draft of my book, which I’m also blogging at www.CoAuthorYourLifewithGod.com. Once the rough draft is complete, and barring a few weeks of travel in May, I am eager to get back to blogging here weekly. Thanks for your patience with me as I’ve unsuccessfully juggled a few too many weekly commitments!