Prayer Book for Evangelizers of the New Evangelization

CovLiveChristGiveChristThis is a wonderful day because I can finally share with you something that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time: a prayer resource specifically for those who evangelize and/or work in the media or the arts. Drawing abundantly from the prayerbook of the Pauline Family–which is a private edition, intended only for members of the Pauline Family–Live Christ! Give Christ! Prayers for the New Evangelization is an inspiring prayer book with wonderful prayers by Blessed James Alberione and others from our Pauline tradition, as well as from contemporary Paulines. The title captures our spirituality (inasmuch as any 4 words can capture a spirituality)–that our communicating Christ flows from our dynamic relationship with him. It’s a really moving collection of prayers that can inspire a deeper living in, through, for and with Christ, as well as a spirit of evangelization that encourages us to testify to Christ not just with our words and media work, but with our whole lives.

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know some of the characteristics of our Pauline prayer and life:

  • Trinitarian (the Most Holy Trinity gives us the basis for our communication spirituality)
  • Eucharistic
  • Scriptural
  • evangelizing
  • ongoing conversion
  • Jesus Way, Truth, and Life
  • Marian (Mary, Queen of Apostles, consecration to Mary, etc.)
  • St. Paul as mystic and apostle
  • reading the signs of the times
  • holistic (bring the whole person to the whole Christ)
  • searching for the seeds of the Gospel in popular culture
  • continual search for how to express the compelling beauty of the Gospel for people today
  • praying for evangelizers, media professionals and artists
  • praying for all those who use the media
  • reparation for the abuse or misuse of the media

This prayer book includes prayers that focus on all of these aspects! I cannot wait to begin praying with it myself.

Although I was blessed to be a small part of this project–the editor included a number of prayers that I wrote and asked for my input on this manuscript when it was in development, I’m sharing my enthusiasm because of the wonderful prayers that are new to me, that all media professionals, artists, and Catholics involved in evangelization in any way will find helpful for their prayer and work. As soon as I received my copy, it traveled to our chapel with me, where I can personally pray with it. I was going to share a couple of favorite prayers with you, but as I flipped through the pages, I could not choose…they are each so beautiful.

For more information, the tip sheet is included below.

Tip Sheet- Live Christ! Give Christ!

A Nun’s Take on The Avengers: Age of Ultron–a Big Film

AvengersPosterYou can listen to my 8 minute radio segment on Avengers: Age of Ultron on the Salt + Light Radio Hour here. 

Before I Begin: A Note About Comic Books Movies & Violence

While I don’t know the comic-book world all that well, I have come to enjoy many of the super-hero movies that have come out over the past 20 years. However, the reality that violence is almost always the solution to the problems in super-hero stories is problematic. And while this might be okay or reasonable to a certain degree, especially because comic book stories often represent the struggle between good and evil, the extent to which comic book stories and films use violence has become more and more problematic for me, especially when I look at the tendency to use violence in so many of our culture’s stories today. The use of violence in films deserves another blog post—or series of blogposts, so I’ll put it aside for now, simply noting that Avengers: Age of Ultron is more violent than the first Avengers film, and for the most part it is the stylized comic book violence that most fans of the genre are familiar with.

Plot in One Sentence–No Spoilers Here!

The plot becomes quite convoluted, so without giving away any plot spoilers, here’s a summing up of the basic storyline: Artificial Intelligence made from human and alien ingenuity and materials, which is originally intended to protect humanity and bring about peace,  becomes the super villain Ultron who wants to destroy humanity.

Artistic Achievement vs. Over the Top

Artistically, this film is amazing because it takes on so much and carries most of it off. Director Joss Whedon, who wrote the screenplay with others, is one of my favorite filmmakers because he is brilliant in creating great story, great action, and great character development, all woven together. Considering that the story includes not just the six Avenger characters in the first film (Iron Man, Hulk, Black Widow, Captain America, Thor, and Hawkeye), but several new major characters, it’s quite amazing that we get a good sense of each character, the story makes sense overall, and there are a couple of really profound moments of character revelation. This film has nail-biting action scenes, strong moments for each of the major characters, and deeper character arc moments—as many of the Avengers must confront their deepest fears and make a choice to be “better than” the evil they are fighting. I also really loved the fact that this is also a pro-life film—a film on the side of life, that the Avengers unequivocally affirm that human life is precious, gracious, and valuable.

As with any comic book movie, but more so in this one, the plot and action sequences are over the top. (And for the most part, deeply enjoyable as well.) In places, though, I found it bloated with too much action and too many plot details that in the end don’t matter that much (but also don’t make that much sense—at least not in first viewing.) In trying to reach for so much, the filmmakers cannot possibly develop it all well (even in 141 minutes). In places the film felt stilted, underdeveloped, or just spent too much time on stuff I didn’t really care about. While some character revelations worked really well, in at least two cases, I found the Avenger characters much less likable. I think Whedon was trying to show us how vulnerable the Avenger super-heroes are, having them struggle with their inner darkness, but in several cases there was no resolution to the struggle.

Without giving away any spoilers, I will also add that a new character takes the lead mid-film in choosing the path that the Avengers will take. Not only did this new character feel problematic to me, the fact that this new character takes the lead undercuts the character development of the original Avengers—both individually and as a group—to the point that both their growth and the storyline felt a bit thwarted, and the ending of the film felt much less satisfying. (As a writer, I’d say a supporting character took over the protagonist’s role, which is a weakness in the plot.)

Also, this is a much bleaker film than the first Avengers film, which I enjoyed tremendously. While Avengers: Age of Ultron is nowhere near the dark tones of something like The Dark Knight, its bleak view of humanity, of the Avengers themselves, and of the future was disappointing—a disappointment that I especially felt in the themes and philosophical dialogues in the film.

Raising the Big Questions

I loved the fact that the script of the film brings in big questions: what is a person? Is humanity evil? Can humanity be saved, and if so, how? And even, who is God? I found the questions about evil and personhood and technology and humanity’s salvation interestingly examined, using dialogue and story questions that are inherent to the story. But I found the religious references a bit disturbing, as they were usually in support of the super-villain.

The film makes lots of references to faith—a quick shot of Pope Francis when Ultron is reviewing the state of humanity, a reference made in very poor taste to robots multiplying as fast as Catholic rabbits (which I winced at). The film also makes many direct biblical references, some to the Old Testament, interpreting the passages to see God as destroyer of humanity. Ultron makes a number of references to the Church: “On this rock I will build my church,” he says as he sets up his headquarters to destroy humanity in an abandoned church building. Probably the most disturbing reference of all was to the revelation of God to Moses at the burning bush (as a character seems to claim to be God). Taken all together, the way these references are used make the Avengers seem rather unfriendly to people of faith.

Everyone will interpret the philosophical or religious “message” of the film for themselves a bit differently, but I think one could make the case that the film is getting across two points:

1) Humanity is deeply flawed, and as long a we make technology our god, we are doomed. While I think this is overly simplistic to interpret the entire film this way, this is certainly supported by the story and dialogue. And it makes this film a great vehicle for beginning a dialogue about the nature of the human person and humanity’s ultimate destiny.

2) Avengers: The Age of Ultron raises and seems to answer the question of whether humanity is doomed—with the answer being that we are doomed, no matter what we do. (The dualism referred to in the film doesn’t actually refer to good and evil equal…but order and chaos, but still gives preference to inevitability of humanity’s doom.) A distorted biblical religion is portrayed as a destructive force on humanity’s path. Father Robert Barron’s commentary saw the philosophy spouted in this film aligning with the thought of Nietzsche, and his points are convincing, especially because of the ending of the film.

Even though in the end the Avengers, with their unwavering commitment to life, are victorious against Ultron, the entire film has resonated with the final conversation with Ultron, which states that humanity is beautiful but doomed anyway.

A Film Deserving Thoughtful “Unpacking”

Avengers: Age of Ultron is a big film worth viewing, not just because it’s a huge commercial success and appealing to people, but also because it addresses big questions. I really appreciate the way Whedon uses excellent storytelling and interesting characters to raise big questions and delve deep into philosophical and religious themes. This is a good film to go to with someone and really pay attention so that afterwards you can engage with these deeper questions. (On the car ride home, we talked nonstop about the film; a few days later, I stayed up past midnight talking about the film with one of my nephews.) For families interested in going, the PG-13 rating feels about right depending on your teen’s maturity, as the best scenario for a teenager to see the film would be with a parent so they can unpack the perspectives offered by the film on the meaning of life and biblical faith.

For more

…on the deeper message of the film in a religious context, check out: Paul Asay’s Patheos review at Watching God, and Kevin Nye’s perspective on Avengers: Age of Ultron as a poignant conversation on fear and how it affects us as a culture and spiritually.

Join in our Novena to Mary Queen of Apostles

I’m re-posting this from my Co-Author Your Life with God Blog, in case you would like to join in the novena and add your prayer intentions!

queenofapostles
Today, we begin the novena to Mary, Queen of Apostles. This feast day is celebrated on May 23rd this year–the Saturday before Pentecost, when Mary gathered the apostles in prayer to await the coming of the Holy Spirit. Of course, when the Holy Spirit descended, the Apostles received very special graces to go forth and carry out their mission!  It’s a very special feast day for my community as communicators of the Gospel, because Mary is the ultimate Communicator of the Word of God. 

Our Pauline website has an explanation of what the title means. In the images of Mary, Queen of Apostles, Mary is holding Jesus out–as if to give him away. Blessed James Alberione describes the meaning of this gesture very specifically: “In the ‘Hail, Holy Queen,’ the Church describes her [Mary] to us with very beautiful titles, but the most beautiful is the one we see portrayed in the new painting of the Queen of the Apostles, in which the Madonna does not clasp Jesus to her heart, but holds him out to the Apostles, as her most sweet fruit, in order that they, in turn, will hold him out to humanity.”

For our purpose as discerners, Mary is also known as the “Spouse of the Spirit” because she so closely listened to, treasured, and responded to the invitations of the Spirit.

I invite each of you to send in your prayer intentions–you can email me if you want to remain anonymous, or send me a message on Twitter. (@SisterMPaul) If you add it in as a comment below, I will cut and paste all the prayer intentions (including the initials of those who wish to be anonymous), and we can all pray for each other on our discernment journeys.

I will post up a short prayer each day of the novena, so that if you check in over the next nine days, we can unite not just in intention, but also focus our prayers. The prayer below is an excerpt from our Founder’s prayer of entrusting to Mary–his own version of Consecration to Mary. It’s a beautiful prayer to begin our novena:

Receive me, Mary, Mother, Teacher and Queen,
among those whom you love, nourish, sanctify and guide,
in the school of Jesus Christ, the Divine Master.
You identify in God’s mind those whom he calls,
and for them you have special prayers, grace, light and consolations.
My Master Jesus Christ entrusted himself wholly to you,
from the Incarnation to the Ascension.
For me this is doctrine, example and an ineffable gift.
I too place myself entirely into your hands.
Obtain for me the grace to know, imitate and love always more
the Divine Master, Way and Truth and Life.

                                                                                                                – Blessed James Alberione

49th World Communications Day Mass–Come Celebrate with Us!

For any media professionals in the Boston area, come celebrate the 49th World Communications Day with us! For lots more information, visit: www.pauline.org/WCDMass

WCDMass_invitation copy

 

We are looking forward to developing other events that explore our Pauline spirituality of communication with those for whom we pray–those who work in the media. If you are interested in finding out more, drop me an email, or join us for the Mass!

10 Reasons To Watch #MediaApostle Documentary

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that Blessed James Alberione is a huge hero of mine. As the Founder of the Pauline Family (including my congregation, the Daughters of Saint Paul), Alberione has always been a dynamic visionary whose holiness, profound spirituality, commitment to evangelization, wisdom, and leadership have guided me on my spiritual and apostolic journey. If you engage with media on any level, Alberione will probably become your hero, too, once you get to know him. Why?

Because he’s the first priest to so clearly see how the media are tremendous gifts for bringing the world to Christ and Christ to the world that he actually did something about it: he founded two religious congregations dedicated exclusively to communicating Christ.

Because his spirituality is not abstract or esoteric, but for real people living real lives today. 

And because this is how three recent Popes have talked about him:

* Blessed Paul VI: “A marvel of our times”

* St. John Paul II: “The first saint of the new evangelization”

* Pope Francis: “That great apostle of communications” 

If you engage with media of any kind as a producer, writer, graphic designer, artist, marketing, cinematographer, filmmaker, publisher…Blessed James Alberione is definitely someone you want to know!

whole_person

Media Apostle: The Father James Alberione Story was eight years in the making, and I was privileged to consult with the filmmakers at several points–both in the early writing stage and later editing stages. I have already seen it numerous times, yet each time I’ve been inspired anew.

Here are 10 reasons I love this film and why you will want to watch it!

10. You want to know the fascinating story of this unlikely teen, kicked out of the seminary for excessive use of the media who then turned his life around, put the media at the service of the Church, and who will someday be a household name for every Catholic

9. You can choose between the two versions of the film, depending on how much time you have and how much depth you want to go into. (Better yet, watch the 50-minute version first, then fill in the details with the 90-minute Director’s Cut!)

8. Catch the vision of how the Church views media from the expert who pioneered the Church’s embrace of media as gifts from God

7. Be inspired how to prioritize your relationship with God in a hectic, media-saturated life by this busy, frail priest who founded 10 institutes and oversaw a burgeoning international press, yet prayed up to six hours a day

6. Discover Alberione’s secret of how holiness & media go together, in his spirituality for today that is holistic and engaged with our times

5. See and feel the support of today’s members of the Pauline Family, who, in the film, share how Alberione’s legacy continues to shape their lives and the world

4. Those of us living in our media world need this introduction to his profound media spirituality: from a man of action who was also a mystic!

3. Blessed James Alberione’s Christ-centered, Marian-enlivened, Pauline spirituality is especially geared to communicators, and is centered on God’s greatest communication with us: the Eucharist

2. Alberione’s approach to media–engage the whole person!is the perfect approach for those of us who produce media today. Watching this film can help us become better followers of Christ, and more professional media artists.

1. Come to know and claim Blessed James Alberione as your saint, who promised to pray for you when you use the media.

 

You can watch the film now!    www.MediaApostle.com

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Awesome #MediaApostle Documentary Releasing Today

first_apostle

Today my favorite film of 2015 releases: the long-awaited documentary: Media Apostle: The Father James Alberione Story.

Media Apostle will always hold a special place in my heart because it captures so well the engima of the media saint and founder of the Daughters of St. Paul, Blessed James Alberione. If you are looking for a spirituality that can nurture you in our media world, you will definitely want to see this film! If you know nothing about Alberione, watch the 50-minute version. If you know the outline of his life, watch the Director’s Cut, which is an intriguing 90 minutes!

I’ll post more about the film on Monday–how fun it was to work on it, the new insights about media spirituality that I received while reading the script and consulting on the various “cuts” of the film–but I didn’t want to wait to get the word out! You can visit MediaApostle to find out more about Bl. James Alberione, or to rent or buy the film.

Top 5 Saint Movies of All Time–Your Easter Watch List!

Top5SaintMovies

This Easter, I wanted to take a closer look at feature films on the lives  of the saints, which I do on this week’s Easter Salt + Light Radio Hour. As a subgenre of the biopic, often made with great intentions but not-as-great artistry, saint feature films are fascinating to study—mostly because the saints themselves are such fascinating people. But even Catholic film critics and film buffs are not always fond of saints movies, calling them overly sentimental (one film reviewer called them “goopy”!), or preachy. Either way, movies about the saints are commonly heavy-handed, often lacking in artistry and production values.

For the past decade or so, the secular industry has developed a growing interest in making religious films, due to the success of The Passion of the Christ. Choices range from the recent spate of epic biblical films (Noah, Exodus, etc.) to the new twelve-part miniseries, A.D. The Bible Continues, which begins its broadcast Easter Sunday night at 9 PM on NBC, to evangelical low-budget films (Heaven Is For Real, Moms’ Night Out, Do You Believe), to the made-for-Italian-TV saint movies produced by RAI and Luxvide. Now Warner Brothers is getting into the picture, announcing the development of a new film on Saint Paul starring Hugh Jackman.

A great saint movie is all too rare—and it’s one of my hopes that someday one of the feature scripts that I’ve written on the life of a saint will be artistically produced. What do I look for in a saint movie? I want to be inspired, to experience a little bit of their holiness, their struggle, and the mystery of God; gain some insight into growing in holiness. To experience the saint’s life, I look for three elements:

  1. A sense of their humanity—someone I can identify with
  2. A sense of their virtue and holiness, and their motivation—what makes them tick, make their choices. Some element of mystery should remain, but since each of us is called to “echo” God in this world in our own unique way, it’s helpful to see how each saint is unique, but also their holiness has common threads.
  3. Artistry—which includes respect for film, cinematic and genre conventions, great acting, great writing, and authenticity in the sense of historical accuracy. In other words, I’m looking for a film that sweeps me up into the saint-protagonist’s character, story, and world, so that I truly experience their life—or a part of their life.

In today’s Salt + Light Radio Hour, Deacon Pedro Guevara-Mann specifically points to #3 as his main criteria: he wants a saint movie to be a great movie, with a compelling protagonist who has a great character arc, a powerful storyline that is well-written and well-produced. Only one film on my top five list truly fulfills all three criteria for me. But some worthy efforts have been made over the years that still give us some saint films worth watching, films that portray inspiring lives of the saints that can move us.

Before we get to the list, I want to point out that movie preferences are very individual, especially when dealing with faith. I left out biblical films, and also some significant films that are well worth watching, including three on the Vatican’s “Some Important Films” list that the Pontifical Commission for Social Communication released in 1995. For example, Monsieur Vincent, academy-award winning French film with English subtitles made in 1947 offers an intriguing but austere portrait of Saint Vincent de Paul. As much as I admire Saint Vincent de Paul and enjoyed the film and lead actor’s powerful performance, the film felt incomplete to me, and some of the cinematic conventions distracted me. For many, this is a great film but my heart was not deeply touched. (I reserve the right to change my mind when I have the opportunity to view it a second time—something I plan to do in the near future.)

The film Therese directed in 1986, also in French with English subtitles, also failed to touch me deeply, although it too is on the Vatican’s film list. Other wonderful films—such as The Mission, which is based in a historical situation, add too many fictional elements to be considered a biopic—although I found this film an inspiring masterpiece. Here a few films that deserve honorable mention and viewing (in chronological order):

  • The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928, silent film, directed by Carl Theodore Dreyer, starring Maria Falconetti)Monsieur Vincent (1947, starring Pierre Fresnay)
  • Song of Bernadette (1943, starring Jennifer Jones)
  • Joan of Arc (1948, starring Ingrid Bergman)
  • Vision (2009, German & Latin with English subtitles): the life of St. Hildegarde of Bingen
  • Padre Hurtado: Chronicles of a Holy Man (1990 miniseries): the life of St. Albert Hurtado, SJ
  • Of Gods and Men (2010, in French and Arabic with English subtitles): the Trappist monks threatened by terrorism who stayed in Algeria have not been declared “martyrs” by the Church and therefore ineligible as a “saint” movie
  • For Greater Glory (2012) A chronicle of the Cristeros War (1926-1929) when the people of Mexico rebelled against the atheistic Mexican government’s persecution of the Catholic Church.

So, here’s my Top 5 Saint Films that I recommend for viewing during the Easter season, when we celebrate the salvation and new life that our Risen Lord brought for us—a new life illustrated best by the lives of the saints. (All of these films, with the exception of a couple of the honorable mentions, are available at the Pauline Books & Media Center nearest you or online at: www.pauline.org.)

5. Tie: RAI/LuxVide’s: St. John Bosco, St. Rita, John XXIII, and St. Philip Neri.

Popular RAI LuxVideo Saint Movies

Popular RAI LuxVideo Saint Movies

Because I haven’t seen all of the RAI/Luxvide films of the saints, I decided to give this spot to the four most popular. Each made-for-TV film is inspiring. They also do a good job of being accurate in their interpretation of the saint’s life, e.g., St. John Bosco uses some of his own words. The production quality varies between each production, and in my experience, the films lack in artistry (probably due to their relatively low budget). They are occasionally–or often–a bit overly pious, preachy, and sentimental. Each film depends a great deal on the actor chosen as the saint—the main actor or actress has to carry the film with an amazing performance. Many of the films are quite long, which gives the producers the opportunity to provide an in-depth look at saint’s life. I tend to prefer watching the original Italian language version, with English subtitles. Each of these DVDs is available at Pauline Books & Media.

Romero_(1989,_film_poster)4. Romero (1989)

It’s hard to be impartial about this movie, as it transformed my love for watching film into a desire to write films. One of the reasons I was so inspired by this film and consider it one of my favorite movies is because of its unique focus on Romero’s transformation from a prayerful scholar to a fearless shepherd who stands up for his flock. Ultimately, he lays down his life for the people of El Salvador. Raul Julia’s brilliant performance as Romero makes this film a joy to watch repeatedly. Thematically, Romero is a wonderful exploration of responding to God’s grace, the charism of what it means to be a shepherd, and seeing the faith incarnated in the life of the Church in El Salvador—as well as in the archbishop who leads the Church. Archbishop Oscar Romero will be beatified on May 23, 2015—I highly recommend this film for teens and older.

EDITH-M3. Seventh Chamber of Edith Stein (1995) Italian with English or Spanish subtitles

An unconventional European expressionist film, Seventh Chamber of Edith Stein is an indie film with superb acting by Maia Morgenstern (the same actress who plays Jesus’ Mother in The Passion of the Christ), and exceptional directing by Marta Meszaros. Starting with Edith’s baptism, this film takes us through Edith’s spiritual journey—through the “interior castle” of her soul to the “seventh room,” which Teresa of Avila explains is the innermost room where one is espoused to God. The expressionism of this film—unfamiliar to many Americans—means it may not necessarily be entertaining to watch, but rather an experience to undergo. Seventh Chamber includes some abstract, dreamlike sequences that express the emotion of Edith’s journey. These, along with difficult shots (such as a tree blocking our view of Edith as she goes in to visit her mother), invite the viewer into Edith’s experience of facing obstacles and suffering. As a Jewish convert to Catholicism who then enters the Carmelites, Edith faced rejection from her family, from her academic community, and the persecution of the Nazis. When finally sent to the concentration camp of Auschwitz, she offers her life for the salvation of her people. A hugely rewarding film to watch and talk about, Seventh Chamber is riveting and extremely rich in word and image, allowing us to enter into the depth and height of Edith’s experiences. A great exploration of the film can be found online here.

TeresadeJesus2. Teresa de Jesus (mini-series: 8 episodes; 1984) Spanish with English subtitles

Brilliant mini-series about the life of the famous reforming Carmelite, St. Teresa of Avila, portrayed by Concha Velasca. If you are interested in Carmelite spirituality, St. Teresa of Avila, or female saints, this is a must-see. The mini-series is long enough to give a sense of the times in which she lived, the interior journey that she made, a profound look at her spirituality and her rapport with her sisters. This is a compelling portrait of one of the few female Doctors of the Church, a practical woman who was also one of the greatest mystics of all time. While I have not seen this miniseries in over a decade, certain scenes still haunt me.

And finally, the best saint film ever made…

ManforAll1. Man for All Seasons (1966)

This is the one film that, for me, satisfies all the requirements to be a great saint movie. Directed by Fred Zinneman and written by Robert Bolt, Man for All Seasons won 6 Oscars and stands the test of time, even though it takes time to immerse us in the world of sixteenth century England. The witty dialogue of the film is occasionally taken directly from St. Thomas More’s own words—as quoted in his son-in-law’s biography and historical accounts of St. Thomas More’s trial. Superb performance by Paul Scofield, who reveals the humanity of a great intellectual and loving father, but also allows the radiance of his relationship with Christ to shine through. Every time I see this film, I find myself fascinated and drawn to this remarkable and holy man, inspired to live with the same integrity and fidelity to Christ.

You can listen here to this week’s Salt + Light Radio Hour where Deacon Pedro and I discuss the Top 5 Saints Movie list, as well as touch upon the Year of Consecrated Life, and what it’s like to live Holy Week in the convent for the first time.

Have a very Blessed Easter!