A great read for Catholic communicators

My new favorite read: Ex Libris: Fulton Sheen, a book about one of my favorite people written by one of my favorite people!

The past few weeks have been really intense in the carrying out of our mission. Almost immediately after I posted that I would be back to blogging regularly, I was asked to take on an assignment that has basically taken up all my time for the past several weeks. (Which is, of course, not unusual in the world of media!) But now, I am picking back up where I left off several weeks ago, focusing on using God’s gift of creativity to express truth, beauty, and goodness.

The Servant of God, Venerable Fulton Sheen is someone I have greatly admired as a communicator for Christ: he won a television Emmy award for teaching about Christ!

Recently, another Catholic communicator, Emmy-award winning Alexis Walkenstein, published a book introducing the writings, thought, and spirituality of this great man of God. I stole some time this past week to read the entire book and am delighted by the breadth and depth of this easy read.

Alexis focuses on five topics, with excerpts from seven of her favorite books by and about Archbishop Fulton Sheen. She breaks topics into short, 2-3 page chapters. My favorite chapter is “Sanctifying the Moment,” in which Sheen highlights why it is so important for us to live in the present moment:

Every moment brings us more treasures than we can gather. The great value of the Now, spiritually viewed, is that it carries a message God has directed personally to us. Books, sermons, and broadcasts on a religious theme have the appearance of being circular letters, meant for everyone…. But though moral and spiritual appeals carry God’s identical message to all who listen, this is not true of the Now-moment; no one else but I am in exactly these circumstances; no one else has to carry the same burden, whether it be a sickness, the death of a loved one, or some other adversity. Nothing is more individually tailored to our spiritual needs than the Now-moment; for that reason it is an occasion of knowledge that can come to no one else. This moment is my school, my textbook, my lesson…. 

The University of the Moment has been built uniquely for each of us…. originally from Lift Up Your Heart

I think that the Servant of God had such a profound grasp of the present moment not just from his spiritual life and prayer, but also because he was a communicator. As an exceptionally gifted homilist and TV personality, Sheen knew the value of living in the present moment, because he had lots of practice as a homilist and on TV: it is only by being attentive to God’s presence in the moment that we can receive the grace and inspiration of God to communicate as/what God wants us to communicate.

Venerable Fulton J. Sheen was a tremendous gift of God to the people of the 20th century. With his informal language and rigorous logic, he made divine truth accessible to the ordinary person. Author Alexis Walkenstein shows us how Sheen continues to be a tremendous gift of God to the Church in America today, with his unflinching commitment to the Truth, with his intercession for us, and with his in-depth understanding of what it means to be Catholic in America and how to nurture that ability to communicate Christ with not just our words but with who we are.

More to inspire: 

Check out Alexix’s story of how she began to connect with Servant of God Fulton Sheen in this delightful podcast

Read the inspiring story of the miracle approved by the Vatican through Venerable Fulton Sheen’s intercession.

Be a Pop Culture Mystic!

This week, I have the opportunity to interview Daughter of Saint Paul Sister Nancy Usselmann, author of the new book, A Sacred Look: Becoming Cultural MysticsSister Nancy is director for the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Los Angeles, but she is here in Boston for a few weeks to prepare for our annual Christmas concerts, so I am taking advantage of her presence!

In her book, Sr. Nancy encourages us to engage with pop culture by becoming mystics: that is, to use our media experiences to recognize the beauty of God and the needs of humanity expressed by the artists of today’s culture. Much of A Sacred Look offers us a theological foundation for doing just that, and the rest of the book is a wonderful, insightful analysis of some of the most prevalent trends and popular phenomena in pop culture, ranging from TV shows such as Netflix’s controversial 13 Reasons Why, to rap music, sci-fi films, and Oscar-winning films such as The Revenant. You can read her initial interview about becoming cultural mystics here.

My plan is to post the interview up here next week. If you would like us to discuss a particular aspect of pop culture (perhaps a favorite or controversial film, song, or TV show), please feel free to send me a message here, on Facebook or Twitter, or in the  comments below, before Thursday noon (August 22nd), and I’ll see if we can get to it.

If you are in the Boston area, you may want to join Sister Nancy for her author talk/book signing on this Saturday, August 25:

 

A Wrinkle in Time Movie (& Novel) Guides Available Now!

It’s a delight to be able to offer this little Easter gift for my blog readers!

Here are some guides for reflection and discussion for A Wrinkle in Time, available individually or all in one downloadable PDF. Eventually, these guides will move to the website for the Pauline Center for Media Studies, so if you’re interested in discussing the film or the book, or comparing the two, or simply praying with themes (and Scriptures) from the novel, you might want to download them from here today. Enjoy!

A Wrinkle in Time Movie has “wrinkles” but is worth seeing if…

The beloved, classic YA novel A Wrinkle of Time influenced countless young people who read it during their formative years. The 2018 film reminds us of the differences between books and movies—and that one doesn’t always translate well to the other—but it still offers insight into aspects of Madeleine L’Engle’s original story.

The Story

A Wrinkle in Time is the story of young teen Meg Murry, whose parents are brilliant scientists who research the universe in a microcosmic and macrocosmic way. Meg’s father disappeared without a trace four years ago, and while Meg and her family desperately miss him and believe his disappearance has to do with his research, they have to put up with their neighbors’ and classmates’ snide remarks that their father purposely abandoned them.

Meg has an exceptionally brilliant brother she is very close to, five-year-old Charles Wallace. Charles Wallace often seems to know things without being told—including Meg’s often unspoken feelings of inadequacy and her struggle to fit in.

Several strange ladies, “fallen stars” (who are really angel-like figures) befriend Charles Wallace and take him, Meg, and Meg’s new friend from school, Calvin, on an inter-dimensional journey to other planets in the galaxy to find Meg’s father and rescue him.

The above description fits both film and novel, but doesn’t capture the emotional impact that the novel had on countless young people since its publication in 1962. This summary might seem a bit formulaic, but at the time, A Wrinkle in Time defied both categorization and expectations. (Eventually, it would help to define the YA genre, and in my mind it remains one of the first—and the best—YA books read today.)

Christian Themes

The author, Madeleine L’Engle brings a unique Christian sensibility to fantasy in her book, A Wrinkle in Time:

* the sense of wonder at and gratitude for the marvels of the universe

* an attitude of praise toward the Creator of the universe, who has created everyone (and everything) with a purpose to fulfill

* a solidly Christian foundation for the story, especially evident (but unstated?) in its approach to the universe, to life, the dignity of the human person, and to the struggle of good vs. evil

* a fascination with paradox and humility

* a deep respect for the reader: L’Engle is not afraid to challenge the reader’s ability to grasp scientific theory and to stretch our imagination to its limits

* an integrated way of seeing reality, the human person, and spiritual growth

Unfortunately, very little of this is carried through into the film.

The Film

But the film has some strengths and adaptations that make it well worth viewing: Strong acting, inclusive casting, some wonderful lines from the book are included in the dialogue, the fact that it is family-friendy, some delightful touches that nuance certain characters to show that it is their woundedness that gives an entryway to sin. The portrayal of the angelic characters, the Mrs. W’s, totally challenge the traditional image of angels. In the novel and in the film, the angels keep Meg and viewers off-balance and slightly uncomfortable—the way we are supposed to be when in the presence of angels.

Some of the important themes that are explored in the movie are:

* the tyranny of conformity vs. the the gift of individuality

* importance of free will

* the gift (or grace) of our weakness

* forgiveness

* growth in self-confidence and integrity

* the struggle between good and evil/light and darkness

* love, especially under the aspect that love is the strongest power in the universe and is the best way to overcome evil

The film also addresses the wonder of creation, but in this aspect, we see lots of special effects, which are dazzling visually, but less of experience of wonder.

The film got a lot right, and is worth seeing on its own. However, it could have been so much more. As a novel, A Wrinkle in Time is practically perfect; the film’s artistry doesn’t measure up to the book, nor is it a great film on its own.

My second biggest disappointment in the film is that, although the characters are likable, we never get to “feel” with them. Somehow, this movie leaves us on the surface. None of the characters get the just development they deserve. As the protagonist, Meg has a credible character arc, but it never makes us feel with her. (And it’s certainly not the wonderful character arc of the book.)  Too much time is spent on the visual effects, but again, we experience them from the surface. In L’Engle’s book, creation itself is a character, but in the book, it is simply a colorful background. Choices are consistently made that pull us away from the deeper story of the characters. A chase scene that doesn’t even exist in the book was added in…and it doesn’t even make sense. Unfortunately, this emphasis on the special effects means that we don’t have enough time to go deeper into the characters.

The pacing of the plot was uneven. The film jumps between places and flashbacks in time, but too often the jumps didn’t serve the story.

Translation from Novel into Film

CAUTION: BOOK SPOILERS AHEAD

My first disappointment in the film is that so many of the themes inherent in L’Engle’s novel don’t make it into the film. In the novel, L’Engle’s characters directly quote the Bible at least five times: from Isaiah, the Gospel of John, 1 & 2 Corinthians. (I would have to reread the book just for Scripture citations to be sure how many; I probably missed one or two or more!)  I don’t believe that the film used any of those quotes, even though several of them capture these deeper themes so well. By eliminating the reference to these quotes and removing those themes, the filmmakers are removing the major part of the depth and magic of the story.

One of my favorite events which is key in Meg’s character development, is completely left out. Instead, the movie shows her father trying to tesser Meg out and failing, because of Meg’s strength of will (and maybe her temper). From there, the film moves right to the climax of the story. (In the novel, of course Meg has a temper, but after almost dying from her father’s effort to tesser her home, she goes through an inner journey on the planet of Ixchel, which prepares her for the final encounter with It. Her choice to go back to get Charles Wallace comes not from fear, but is a choice of love and trust, even in the blindness of her fear and the knowledge that she isn’t strong enough. By leaving out this journey to Ixchel—one of the most important events of the book and a key event in Meg’s character development—the film reduces the novel’s incredibly rich thesis to a flat journey to self-esteem, with a generic message about the power of love.

My disappointment in the film was made all the greater by the filmmakers claiming to know L’Engle deeply. Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “I wrote A Wrinkle in Time as a hymn of praise to God, so I must let it stand as it is and not be fearful when it is misunderstood.” In taking out many of the specifically Christian elements from the film, the filmmakers also took away the universal elements: the film has a weaker storyline, a generic message that lacks depth and specificity, flat themes, and characters that don’t emotionally engage the audience.

The Foolish and the Weak

The film’s biggest theme — Meg gaining enough self-esteem to learn to trust herself —is a worthy theme that resonates with kids. But in the novel, Meg doesn’t save herself by her own power, just because she believes in herself. Her learning to trust in herself is only a part of one of the book’s main themes: the Christian paradox of weakness and strength, of failure and victory—all of which, of course, refers to the paradox of the cross. This is a far cry from the tagline of the film, “Be a warrior.” I assume that the tagline (and the line repeated in the film) is about being a warrior of love, and having courage. But that is really not the theme–not even of the film.

The novel’s last chapter is titled “The Foolish and the Weak,” and directly quotes 1 Corinthians: “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” Meg doesn’t just learn that the power of this world—the power we can see—is not the greatest power in the universe. She learns that love is. But it’s a mutual love. It is in her faults, in her weakness and neediness, that she “grows into” accepting the truth about herself. And that truth, that humility, enables her to receive the love that transforms her into Love for others—to forgive her father and to rescue Charles Wallace no matter the risk to herself.  It is Meg’s remembering that she is loved by Mrs. Whatsit (an angelic stand-in for God) that enables her to love Charles Wallace who has lost himself, even as he is fighting her. Meg’s greatest adventure in A Wrinkle in Time is not external, but spiritual.

Is A Wrinkle in Time a “Must-See” Film?

This film got a lot wrong, leaving out: some of the best scenes, all of the biblical references apart from Jesus’ name; the Pauline theme of the foolishness of God being wiser than human wisdom; the sense of divine design in the universe—even the lovely example that human life is like a sonnet. (Our lives have a certain structure, but we are free to say whatever we want to say, as long as we stay within that poetic design.) However, in all fairness, perhaps A Wrinkle in Time is just too great of a novel to do a great film adaptation today. Perhaps in the future, the right filmmaker will come along and do this novel justice.

At the same time, the film does a good job visualizing and dramatizing parts of this great story. If you like fantasy, or if you’d like a fun family movie that has a little more depth to it, or if you loved the book but also like film adaptations, you will probably enjoy this movie. If you haven’t read the book, or you haven’t read the book in a while, then I highly recommend reading the book first, or plan to read it soon afterwards. The movie needs the book to complete it. And the story is more timely today than ever. However, if you are a book purist, then I regretfully caution you that you might not enjoy the film.

A Final Note

Madeleine L’Engle is one of my favorite authors—both her fiction (A Wrinkle in Time) and nonfiction (Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art). I suspect this is part of the reason why:

“We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.” – Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

A discussion guide for the film and the novel highlighting some of these themes will be available in shortly—check back here on my blog or email me if you’d like to be notified when you can download it!

New Catholic Books & Media

Today’s post is truly a mix of some great Catholic media–from Catholic YA novels to radio interviews to other resources. But first, a little moment of encouragement!

proofgodisanartistedited

 

 

cover-perfect_blindside

Reviews of the new YA novel, The Perfect Blindside by Leslea Walh, which also won a Catholic Press Award this year:

Author Sarah Reinhardt’s review

Author Stephanie Engleman’s review

Catholic Underground’s review, where The Perfect Blindside is described as fitting into the genre of: Christian YA Adventurous Mystery (I didn’t even know that was a genre, but isn’t that cool?)

 

 

sr-ta-bioSister Theresa Aletheia Noble’s recent interview with Immaculate Heart Radio in Los Angeles, about: 4 Tips for Inviting Loved Ones Back to the Church. (Sr. Theresa Aletheia blogs beautifully at pursuedbytruth on Patheos, and is a frequent contributor at Aleteia.org, where her posts include “5 Warning Signs of a Toxic Faith,” “10 Places To Find Excellent Homilies Online,” and my personal favorite, “The Rock Star All the Nuns Know.”

 

 

 

gouletwayofcrosscoverA lot of Catholic kids’ books are written to appeal to girls. Here’s a really brilliant Way of the Cross written by David Goulet and illustrated by Joe Spicer that is directed to today’s preteen and teenaged boys. (Although I think a lot of girls will like it too.) The artwork isn’t my style–and that’s a good thing–because otherwise probably not one kid would pick it up. But the artwork is Manga-styled, powerful and contemporary. The reflections are short, powerful, and moving–and appropriate for middle graders up to teenagers.

 

A Catholic Writer’s Must-Read List

There are so few great writing resources that offer solid spiritual and artistic foundations that we can turn to when we feel ourselves “lost” or confused at the crossroads between  faith and culture, between the demands of our art and the depth of our spiritual lives. I’ve read a lot of books about writing, and a strong selection of books about the artistic process and spirituality, and I’ve only come up with a handful. These are the resources that I go back to when I need inspiration. Here they are, in no particular order, with links and my highest recommendation for writers and artists!

TitleImages.002


The Soul Tells a Story by Vinita Hampton Wright

The Christian Imagination edited by Leland Ryken

Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle

Letter to Artists by Pope St. John Paul II

Mystery and Manners and The Habit of Being by Flannery O’Connor


Soul of Christ Goes International with Release in India

I know that, as Daughters of Saint Paul, and especially with digital media, we reach people around the world, but it is a special thrill when one of my books is published in another country or in another language! As far as I know, various books have been printed in French (Bread of Life), Spanish (Life for the World), Polish (See Yourself Through God’s Eyes), and our sisters in India have published several of my books in Indian editions. Yesterday, I received word that Soul of Christ: Meditations on a Timeless Prayer has just been released in India! Here is a review from one of our sisters there.

soulofchrist-196x290-IndiaCover

Cover of Indian Edition of “Soul of Christ”

SOUL_CHRIST_FINAL

Cover of American edition of “Soul of Christ”

I’m curious: which cover do you like better?

 

Also, I received e a copy of my book, See Yourself Through God’s Eyes: 52 Meditations To Grow in Self-Esteem, in Polish, after our sisters published it in Poland. If you prefer to read in Polish, or know someone who might be helped by this book, please contact me over email, with who it is for and why that person could use it. (That way if I receive multiple requests, I’ll try to pick who can use it most. Note that I can only mail the book within the U.S.) You can see more about the book in English, with the sample introduction here  and a free sample meditation here. There is also a Reader’s Guide available in English here.

SeeYourselfCoverPolish