Awesome #MediaApostle Documentary Releasing Today

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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!

Gathering Prayers via Social Media

6004-2On her Patheos blog, Pursued by Truth,  Daughter of Saint Paul and author Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP, is asking us to send in the names of loved ones who have left the Church, and to join her in prayer for the names she has and will gather–those who have left the Church–as a special intention to pray for during Holy Week. What a wonderful way to use her blog and social media–to gather the names of people to pray for, and to gather a community of pray-ers!

Visit her blogpost here to send in names, and join us in praying for all those who do not have the joy of believing in a loving God and the saving, healing love of Christ.

In Saturday’s Discover Hope News Notes, I wrote a short article, Three Ways To Make Holy Week Truly Holy. While Holy Week is often one of my favorite weeks of the year, occasionally I find it a bit overwhelming. (We live Holy Week quite intensely in the convent!) This article offers tips for living a true “Holy Week” when it might be harder than usual.

For another practical and inspiring reflection on Holy Week, you may want to check on Sr. Mary Lea’s take on her blog, Crabby Mystic.

 

Lovely Review of Soul of Christ!

SOUL_CHRIST_FINALCatholic Sistas posted a lovely review of my book, Soul of Christ: Meditations on a Timeless Prayer. They also posted their own beautiful line-by-line reflections on this wonderful prayer that is perfect to pray during Holy Week. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this lovely prayer, I’m posting it here. If you are familiar with it, you might find this Holy Week a good opportunity to pray this classic prayer recommended by many saints through the centuries, from Saint Ignatius of Loyola down to Blessed James Alberione:

Soul of Christ

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O Good Jesus, hear me.
Within Your wounds, hide me;
Permit me not to be separated from Thee.
From the malignant enemy defend me;
In the hour of my death call me
and bid me come to Thee,
that with Your saints I may praise Thee
forever and ever. Amen.

Resources on the Identity of the Catholic Communicator

A few articles I’ve run into lately have helped me to reflect further on the challenges we face as Catholic communicators in today’s world: as artist, artisan, evangelizer, apostle, communicator of Christ, entrepreneur. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have!

The Death of the Artist and Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur by William Deresiewicz, posted on the Atlantic’s website, is a thought-provoking article about how the role of the artist has radically changed again in our society…and may now be disappearing. It traces the development of the role of the artist in society, but my favorite part is the author’s perspective on how artists today are being challenged to go wide and not deep, to be entrepreneurs rather than artists. His perspective is either/or; I’m not certain that it needs to be so black and white. Nonetheless, if you have felt challenged as a writer or artist to promote your own work, you will greatly appreciate this article as I did.

I found the article as part of the invitation to the next Thought/Bar Series, presented by the LAFSC in Los Angeles on March 23. If I lived in Los Angeles, I would attend because it looks so intriguing: Risk and Courage: the Filmmaker as Artist and Creative Entrepreneur (RSVP required.)

Another interesting article is by CatholicMom.com’s Lisa Hendey, The Blogosphere as Mission Field: Catholic Women on the Web Transform What Women’s Leadership Means. Lisa explores how she has experienced the “feminine genius” first highlighted by St. John Paul II in the work of several women who are dedicated to the New Evangelization.

Finally, all kinds of lovely resources for Lent have been made available online. One of my favorites is the series of youtube videos put together by my own community for each week of Lent. They combine just a few prayerful lines with religious images that help us reflect on and concretize the week’s spiritual step on the Lenten journey. Here is the video from week 5, available at www.visit.pauline.org/ifollowlight:

Update on #SoulofChrist Book Tour & Other Miscellany

St. Edward's Parish in Newark, CA

St. Edward’s Parish in Newark, CA

Happy Feast of Saint Joseph! (Click here for a quick spiritual take on what we can learn from St. Joseph–after you click, read pages 9-12.)

The first stage of my book tour for Soul of Christ: Meditations on a Timeless Prayer is now completed! Since November, I’ve been making frequent trips around the USA and Canada to our various Pauline Book & Media Centers: Toronto, Chicago, Redwood City, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Saint Louis. I should have kept a running count from my trips of all the people I’ve met who have read, are reading, or will soon read Soul of Christ, but it’s easily in the area of 500-600 people. In addition, I’ve tried to reach out through Catholic radio–and I’ve been impressed with the dedication of the Catholic radio producers that I’ve spoken with! (Spirit Catholic Radio in Nebraska, Radio Maria’s Community in Concert in Toronto, Relevant Radio–both the Morning Air and Wendy Wiese’s On Call shows, Covenant Radio in St. Louis, and Salt + Light Radio).

At Pauline Books & Media in St. Louis, MO

At Pauline Books & Media in St. Louis, MO

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Most of my books on display at PBM in Redwood City, CA

 

 

 

The entire experience has been filled with grace, as I’ve witnessed so many people’s tremendous love for our Eucharistic Lord, and their excitement to deepen their Eucharistic amazement and love with the Anima Christi (Soul of Christ prayer).

The Goodreads Giveaway that I ran for one week back in February also worked out well, even with the confusion of the first three days where people couldn’t find the giveaway–looking for it on the wrong book. In the end, almost 400 people requested the book–and I had the joy of sending out the book to the three people who won! That was exciting, and I can’t wait to hear their feedback.

Leading Eucharistic adoration at the retreat at our PBM Center in Chicago, IL

Leading Eucharistic adoration during the See Yourself Through God’s Eyes Advent Women’s Retreat at our PBM Center in Chicago, IL

For the next three months, I’ll focus on the apostolic writing I’ve let slide during my travels. My inner introvert is very happy about getting back to writing–rather than talking about writing! This also means that I can be more active online–blogging here at least once a week, more present on Twitter, etc. I’ve run into some good articles and resources on various aspects of writing, which I hope to share in the near future.

Soul of Christ Book Tour Continues

I’ve eagerly started and re-started two blog posts for this blog in the past couple of weeks, but with the last stage of my traveling book tour coming up fast, I haven’t completed any of them. Thank you for your patience with me! When I return from my trip in mid-March, I am looking forward to picking up my blog here. I’ve actually been doing quite a bit of reading on communication spirituality, and have lots to share…

Until then, if you are in the St. Louis, MO, area or listen to Relevant Radio, I’d love to connect with you! (I’ll be on Wendy Wiese’s show “On Call” on Relevant Radio on Thursday, March 12th, from 1-1:30 PM CST, talking about media, faith, and families.)

Soul of ChristflyerStLouis