Novena to Blessed James Alberione, Day 1

Today (November 17) is the first day of the Novena leading up to the feast day of the Founder of the Pauline Family, Blessed James Alberione, which we celebrate on November 26. If you don’t know about this great media saint (still to be canonized), you are in for a treat!

Two years ago, the novices of the Society of Saint Paul (the brother community to the Daughters of Saint Paul) created a series of images with quotations from Blessed James’ writings and preaching. I thought I’d share one each day of the novena.

This trailer of the inspiring documentary about his life, Media Apostle, is a wonderful short introduction to the visionary, mystic, and saint whom Pope St. John Paul called, “the first saint of the New Evangelization.” 

(You can watch the entire film, Media Apostle, here.)

Blessed James Alberione (1884-1971), the Founder of the Pauline Family (five religious congregations, including the Daughters of Saint Paul, four secular institutes, and the lay association of Pauline Cooperators), was one of the most prophetic figures of the twentieth century. His prayerfulness and his insatiable desire to integrate faith, culture, and the needs of the person transformed this frail Italian priest into a visionary whose tireless and innovative efforts to bring Jesus Master, Way, Truth and Life to all of humanity continues to bear fruit today. The first two religious congregations which Alberione founded–the Society of Saint Paul and the Daughters of Saint Paul–are dedicated to communicating the Gospel through the media. The Pauline Family has thousands of members worldwide, each of whom seek to live Christ as Saint Paul understood, lived, and communicated him.

A prolific writer, preacher, teacher, and founder, Blessed James Alberione lived an extremely active and communicative lifestyle. The spirituality which inspired and sustained him is based on the Gospel and the Letters of Paul, which he summed up once in these simple words:

“The Pauline Family
strives to fully live the Gospel of Jesus Christ,
Way, Truth, and Life,
in the spirit of Saint Paul,
under the gaze of the Queen of Apostles….
The aim is to live in Christ the Master
and in the Church.”

 

The Pauline spirituality is, after the Pauline Family itself, perhaps the greatest treasure which Alberione has left, not only to his spiritual daughters and sons, but to any Christian who seeks to authentically engage with today’s communications culture. His spirituality, intended specifically to support those who live, breathe, and work in the media, is characterized by: Eucharistic prayer, integration (unity of life), and transformation in Christ: “For me, to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21).  The communications spirituality Alberione lived and passed on was definitively validated when he was beatified in 2003 by Pope Saint John Paul II.

 

Putting Family First Is “Incredibles 2” True Strength: Film Commentary

Incredibles 2 may not be quite as strong as the original, but continues the Incredibles’ tradition of being a visually engaging, creative, and highly enjoyable movie that is at its best when the family is together.

What’s the Story?
Fourteen years later after the making of The Incredibles, the sequel picks up right at the point where the first film ended. Despite the “incredible” save of the city by the Incredibles family (secret identity: the Parr family) in the first film, using superheroic ability is still illegal.  Both parents (Mr. Incredible/Bob Parr and Elastigirl/Helen Parr) are out of work. In addition, the Parr family is homeless, as their home was destroyed in their last interaction with super villain Syndrome.

Super-wealthy business tycoon Winston Deaver and his technical-genius sister Evelyn contact Bob and Helen to invite them to help restore public and government confidence in superheroes. Their ultimate goal? Making superheroism legal again. Perhaps unexpectedly, they choose Elastigirl as their lead superhero, which means Bob (Mr. Incredible) is left feeling left behind as the kids’ stay-at-home dad whose self-confidence has been deeply shaken. New villain Screenslaver arrives on the scene to hypnotize/manipulate both the general population and superheroes, so that superheroes will be outlawed once and for all.

Strengths
Once again, writer/director Brad Bird and Pixar/Disney team have made a strong family film that offers exceptional entertainment with “something more” to it. Excellent casting and voice-acting overall, fantastic action scenes—especially as Bob discovers Jack-Jack’s powers—and plenty of laughs will make Incredibles 2 an easy family favorite. (Did you see the Jack-Jack Attack short produced for the original The Incredibles DVD release? Hilarious in its own right, the short is also a great preview/teaser of what I consider the funniest scenes in Incredibles 2—scroll down on Disney’s Incredibles 2 site for a sneak preview of those scenes.)

Weaknesses
The movie runs a bit long—both for the genre and for this particular storyline. A couple of scenes when the family members are apart are not just overly long but repetitive, especially Helen/Elastigirl with the Deavers and Bob griping to himself about their choice of Helen as superhero over him. Character development felt weak overall with continued stereotypes. Helen’s arc is nonexistent and Bob seems to have already forgotten the humility that he learned just a few days before. Apart from Bob, the characters are less vulnerable than in the first movie, and just about everyone in the family makes at least one potentially serious and/or really dumb mistake. But in the end, we are still rooting for this zany, lovable family that needs a second adventure for everyone to realize that they are at their best when they work together as a family.

An “Incredible” Windows to the Soul

Not just as a family but also as a movie, Incredibles 2 is at its best when the family members are interacting together. This theme of family—the love and unity of purpose at work in a family with such gifted and unique members—makes this movie a great watch for kids and families and offers lots of potential for deeper discussion.

Being “different,” or how to be special and use our unique gifts is a theme raised in both Incredibles movies. Every member of the family struggles with how to use their superpowers (except for baby Jack-Jack whose powers explode into the second film). Both Incredibles movies raise the question of what is a hero. Is it just having superpowers (or devices that give you extraordinary power)?

This theme of “superpowers” can be discussed from a human perspective, too. What do we do when we have unusual gifts that prevent us from “fitting in” like everyone else? How do we have a responsibility to use those gifts when they’re not considered acceptable? One theme I would have liked to see better addressed (as it is so well done in The Lego Movie) is how everyone matters, whether or not they have a superpower.

A third angle is to see “superpowers” as a metaphor for the supernatural gifts that we have as Catholics which can make us stand out in today’s society (the sacraments, the Commandments, the Beatitudes, the virtues we are called to live), and how we are called to live these gifts in a culture that doesn’t always respect our Faith and our values.

Most of the characters in the film seem to be explored through stereotypes: the working mother who is finally recognized as heroic, the dad with the fragile ego, the obnoxious little brother who fights unceasingly with his teenaged sister who is selfishly obsessed about one thing. The stereotypes feel a bit stale, perhaps not as funny as they could be, but in the end, the comedy still works because several characters move beyond the limitations of their stereotype.

Bob’s journey is by far my favorite: from a frustrated, clueless stay-at-home dad whose eyes are on the prestigious job he doesn’t have, to becoming a dad who decides to give it his best, even seeking out the help he needs so that he can become the best father for his kids: someone who really listens and attends to the real needs of his children. It’s a great illustration of how hard—and wonderful—good parenting really is, and a wonderful example of the special gifts a father can bring to his children.

A few other themes that the movie “cracks open” a door for discussing but does not directly address are:

  • the tension between men and women (who is better, smarter, etc., especially the scenes between Helen/Elastigirl and Evelyn Deavers when they talk “down” or seem to make fun of men—I’d love to see a Theology of the Body discussion on the complementarity of men and women here!), and
  • the negative influence of technology, in villain Screenslaver’s rant and ability to hypnotize anyone who is looking at a screen (namely, how watching screens instead of engaging with real life and real people can make us “dumber”). This is a great opportunity to think about how much time we spend looking at screens, and how we spend the time we look at screens.

If you haven’t seen the original movie in a while, it is well worth taking the time to watch both films, with their refreshing emphasis on the importance of family. Putting family first and keeping family together are the true strengths of the Incredibles.

Enter Giveaway for Free Books by Sr. Marie Paul!

This evening (Friday, November 16th) at 7 PM EST, as my guest appearance on Salt + Light TV’s Perspectives broadcasts (in Canada and USA) and streams (all over the internet), I’ll be live on Twitter and will host a Q & A on my new Facebook group: Abide in God’s Love. I’d love to talk about answers to your questions on self-esteem! Feel free to send them in here, or even better, join my Facebook group and post them there!

In addition, throughout this weekend (Friday through Sunday) as the program broadcasts, I’m running a drawing for giveaways of my books!

By joining my new Facebook group, you will be entered into a giveaway to win my books! (And it would be really helpful if you invited two of your friends to join the group as well!)

11 winners will be drawn:

  • Grand Prize winner: a collection of all four of my books (See Yourself, Soul of Christ, Saints Alive: the Faith Proclaimed and Saints Alive: the Gospel Witnessed)
  • Two 1st Prize winners: Just a Minute Meditations on Self-Esteem andSaints Alive: the Faith Proclaimed and Saints Alive: the Gospel Witnessed
  • Three 2nd Prize winners: See Yourself Through God’s Eyes (paperback or ebook—your choice)
  • Five 3rd Prize winners: Just a Minute Meditations on Self-Esteem (available in print only)

 

Can Catholics Have Self-Esteem? on Salt + Light TV on Friday (Nov. 16)

On Friday, November 16th, at 7 PM EST, I will be appearing on Salt + Light TV’s Perspectives, for a full-ranging discussion with host Deacon Pedro Guevara-Mann about self-esteem, pride, humility…and how all of those connect with the Gospels. (You can watch the program here online: http://saltandlighttv.org/perspectives/ ) As you probably know, I have been writing and speaking about self-esteem for a number of years. Last month, Pauline Books & Media released my new book of mini-meditations on self-esteem, titled: Just A Minute: Meditations to Grow in Self-Esteem. The classic book—See Yourself Through God’s Eyes: 52 Meditations To Grow in Self-Esteem—has proved so popular that we released it as an audiobook last year (available at Audible.com, iTunes, and on CD as well).

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m going to try to be live on social media during the broadcast (Facebook Page, my Facebook Group and Twitter), in case anyone would like to chat during or follow up after the show. Come and join me!

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Lately, I’ve discovered a few recent gems of Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis about culture and faith—many of them direct addresses to writers, journalists, and artists. Here are a few of my favorite quotes that I am pondering in these days. I have included links to the full articles/texts, which are well worth reading in their entirety:

 

Trust in Christ’s truth, which sets us free!

“As Christian journalists, you are distinguished for your positive attitude towards the person and for your professional ethic. You do not merely do a job, but rather you dedicate yourselves to a task and to a commitment. How easy it is, though, to let oneself be carried along by popular opinion, by a dissatisfaction and a pessimism that paralyses and blinds! “By force of habit we no longer stand up to evil. We ‘let things be’, or as others have decided they ought to be” (Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et exsultate, 137). Let us as for parrhesia, let us ask for the frankness that comes from the Holy Spirit and that helps us to trust in Christ’s truth, which sets us free. Let us scale the wall of sadness and resignation, and help people to open their eyes and ears, and most of all their heart, to take responsibility for each other and to be aware of being sons and daughters of the one Father.”  – To a group of German journalism students, on November 9, 2018)

“Be pioneers empowered by God!”

“Please be pioneers empowered by God (cf. 2 Cor 3:6). But do not give in to the temptation of domesticating these frontiers: it is essential to go out to the frontiers but not to bring frontiers home to touch them up with a little varnish and tame them. Today’s world, subject to rapid changes and convulsed by matters of great importance for the life of faith, calls for a courageous commitment to educate in a convinced and mature faith, to give life meaning and to offer convincing answers to all who are seeking God. It is a question of supporting the Church’s action in all the fields of her mission.” – Address of Pope Francis to the community of writers of La Civilta Cattolic, June 14, 2013 

 

Spread a Eucharistic Culture

“…Spread, through prayer and activity, a “Eucharistic culture” – in other words a way of thinking and working grounded in the Sacrament yet perceptible also beyond the limits of the Church community. In a Europe afflicted by indifference and swept by divisions and forms of rejection, Christians renew before everyone, Sunday after Sunday, the simple and powerful gesture of their faith: they gather in the Lord’s name and acknowledge that they are brothers and sisters. And the miracle is repeated: in the hearing of the word and in the sign of the broken bread, even the smallest and lowliest assembly of believers becomes the body of the Lord, his tabernacle in the world. The celebration of the Eucharist thus becomes a cradle of attitudes that generate a Eucharistic culture, for it impels us to express in our way of life and our thinking the grace of Christ who gave of himself to the full.”  – Pope Francis, to participants in Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses, November 10, 2018

 

The Contemplation of Beauty

“To admire the icons and the great masterpieces of Christian art in general, leads us on an inner way, a way of overcoming ourselves; thus in this purification of vision that is a purification of the heart, it reveals the beautiful to us, or at least a ray of it. In this way we are brought into contact with the power of the truth. I have often affirmed my conviction that the true apology of Christian faith, the most convincing demonstration of its truth against every denial, are the saints, and the beauty that the faith has generated. Today, for faith to grow, we must lead ourselves and the persons we meet to encounter the saints and to enter into contact with the Beautiful.” – Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Message at Rimini, “The Feeling of Things, the Contemplation of Beauty” An exquisite exploration of beauty and how it draws to truth and to the Truth, Christ himself. Essential reading for any artist today. 

 

The Way of Beauty

“One may speak of a via pulchritudinis, a path of beauty which is at the same time an artistic and aesthetic journey, a journey of faith, of theological enquiry. The theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar begins his great work entitled The Glory of the Lord – a Theological Aesthetics with these telling observations: ‘Beauty is the word with which we shall begin. Beauty is the last word that the thinking intellect dares to speak, because it simply forms a halo, an untouchable crown around the double constellation of the true and the good and their inseparable relation to one another.’ He then adds: ‘Beauty is the disinterested one, without which the ancient world refused to understand itself, a word which both imperceptibly and yet unmistakably has bid farewell to our new world, a world of interests, leaving it to its own avarice and sadness. It is no longer loved or fostered even by religion.’ And he concludes: ‘We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past – whether he admits it or not – can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love.’ The way of beauty leads us, then, to grasp the Whole in the fragment, the Infinite in the finite, God in the history of humanity. Simone Weil wrote in this regard: ‘In all that awakens within us the pure and authentic sentiment of beauty, there, truly, is the presence of God. There is a kind of incarnation of God in the world, of which beauty is the sign. Beauty is the experimental proof that incarnation is possible. For this reason all art of the first order is, by its nature, religious.’ Hermann Hesse makes the point even more graphically: ‘Art means: revealing God in everything that exists.’ ”  – Pope Benedict XVI, Meeting with Artists in Sistine Chapel, November 21, 2009

 

Daily Routine: the Hidden Art of the Love Story of Each Person with the Living God and Their Brothers and Sisters

“…The history of the Church is also inseparably the history of culture and art. Works such as the Summa Theologiae by St Thomas Aquinas, the Divine Comedy, Chartres Cathedral, the Sistine Chapel or Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cantatas are unparalleled syntheses of Christian faith and human expression. However, if these are, so to speak, the peaks of such syntheses between faith and culture, their convergence is brought about daily in the life and work of all the baptized, in that hidden art which is the love story of each one with the living God and with his brethren, in the joy and effort of following Jesus Christ in the daily routine of life.”  – Pope Benedict XVI, 25th Anniversary Pontifical Council for Culture, June 15, 2007

Finding God in the Culture

Here a few interesting resources I’ve recently found online:

In last week’s Message to the Information Agency of the Italian Episcopal Conference of Bishops (English translation provided by Zenit.org) Pope Francs reiterates his concerns that journalists focus on the truth, quoting this year’s Message for World Communications Day. At the end of his message, Pope Francis gives a few tips on how journalists and communicators can create “bridges of understanding and dialogue” that can help the truth to emerge:

I hope you will always be ready to listen and to engage in sincere dialogue, to let the truth emerge. I encourage you to focus more and more on the fullness of quality information that can build bridges of understanding and dialogue. Walk, as you have done so far, on the beautiful and tiring paths of thought, of not compromising with anyone. Be free and keep your distance from reductive models. Help to understand the facts in their complexity and their deep meaning.

Perhaps this could become a helpful checklist for the times when we communicate in a tension-filled, potentially divisive situation?

Does my message:

__ give quality information that focuses on context, breadth, and depth (always according to the communication media being used)

__ foster dialogue, that is, build a bridge of understanding between sides, between concerns

__ tirelessly seek the truth, free of compromise

__ free of agenda

__ stay clear of “reductive models” such as taking sides, overpoliticizing, stereotypes, etc.

__ help others to understand the meaning of events, going beyond the facts by giving them a context and a sense of the human complexity of the situation

 

In his homily for the Mass at the closing of the Synod on Young People, Faith, and DIscernment, Pope Francis offers us another tip for those of us who are consciously striving to evangelize: “We are called to carry out God’s work in God’s own way: in closeness, by cleaving to him, in communion with one another, alongside our brothers and sisters. Closeness: that is the secret to communicating the heart of the faith.”

 

This is a fun and fascinating article about the journey of Tim Clemente from cop to FBI agent to Hollywood screenwriter--and how he always puts his faith and family at the heart of his life and career.

 

Paul Asay’s Watching God column on Patheos has had some excellent columns in the past which I have quoted or linked to. In this week’s column, he looks at two new network television shows that explore faith.  Although I do not currently have the opportunity to often watch network TV, I found myself intrigued by his commentaries on both shows and thought you might enjoy it.

 

Finally, in my recent article on the Pauline Media Studies Center blog, I highlight how documentaries have increasing accessibility and value today, and I recommend three good documentaries produced this year.

Photo by Sam McGhee on Unsplash

A film festival for the Synod, and new Catholic games for kids!

At the Synod this week, participants were invited to an international film festival, “Finding Vince 400,” hosted by the Focolare movement celebrating the 400th anniversary of the charism of St. Vincent de Paul, the Catholic Church’s apostle of charity. The film festival ran October 18-21 at the town of Castel Gandolfo, and its goal was to foster a “globalization of charity.” One of the main organizers of the festival is Clarence Gilyard, the well-known actor (perhaps best known for his role in the TV series Walker, Texas Ranger), and devout Catholic. My favorite part of the article published by Crux about the festival is Gilyard’s reflections on how important and influential art is to young people today. Festival organizers hope the festival can become an annual event.

Two new Catholic games have just come out that I’d like to highlight:

Follow JC Go is a new free app for iPhone or Android that encourages young people to go out looking for saints, biblical figures, and Marian devotions, and then interact with them, in ways similar to the popular Pokemon Go! game. Ramon Pane Foundation has already released the app in Spanish,  and it will be available in English and Portuguese in the next few weeks. (Interestingly, Fundacion Ramon Pane, based in Florida, is named after a young Spanish friar who came to the New World with Christopher Columbus on his second voyage in 1494.) Enjoy the game’s “trailer” in Spanish:

 

 

The Adventures of St. John Paul the Great is a 2D platform video game that allows viewers to “play through” the life of St. John Paul the Great! It is available for download here on the website of the Sydney Archdiocese for home or educational use for free on Mac or PC.  Enjoy the promo trailer by game developer Regine Caramancion:

 

Ready Player One: a fun movie that raises questions about VR

Ready Player One is a classic Steven Spielberg movie: a hugely entertaining, action-driven story jam-packed with 1980’s pop culture references, a movie that only raises questions about (rather than offering insight into) the world of virtual reality.

Check out my radio review of Ready Player One on the Salt + Light Radio Hour here.

Ready Player One is set in a dystopian future of 2045 in Columbus, Ohio, where people live in “the Stacks,” or vertical trailer parks, with the situation so dire that most people spend much of their lives in escape in a virtual universe called OASIS. In OASIS, with one’s self-designed virtual identity, it is possible to do or be anything. Although it might seem like play, in OASIS people can earn their livings or lose everything, to the point that they fall so deep into debt that they are sent to a futuristic version of the Victorian workhouse: a cube where you work off a debt that you might never be able to repay.

Young Wade Watts from the Stacks, spends most of his time in OASIS where he is know as Parzival. The creator of OASIS has recently died and left behind three “Easter eggs” (the gaming world reference for a hidden message, taken from the familiar real-world Easter egg hunt). These Easter eggs, found within 3 challenges, are clues that lead the winner to become the new “owner” of OASIS. The rival VR company has hundreds of gamers working on discovering the first egg, but no one has found it. Wade is determined, along with other “gunters” (short for egg hunters) to succeed.

What makes this movie so entertaining is its countless cultural references to the 1980s, the visually dazzling virtual universe, and the very cool adventures in OASIS (an incredible car chase, dancing in the air, etc.).  The seamlessness of going back and forth between the real world and VR shows the master craftsmanship of Spielberg at work: seamless, brilliant, absolutely amazingly well done. Even someone not familiar with video games can easily follow, and we don’t “lose” a sense of Wade’s character, even though much of the time we only see his avatar. One weakness of the movie, however, is that few of the secondary characters are well-developed; instead they are mostly stereotypes, whether avatars or in the real world.

In one way, I expected much more of this movie because I have a special love for Spielberg’s films:

  • Spielberg directed one of the greatest films of all time, Schindler’s List.
  • He has never made a movie without a gripping story.
  • Spielberg knows how to create entertainment that has “something more” to it—perhaps that “something” could simply be described as a human and/or spiritual depth. My favorite example is the adventure film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which, when looked at from the perspective of faith, traces Indy’s journey of coming to faith in recognizable beats.
  • Spielberg’s journey as a filmmaker, from creating pure entertaining flicks to profound films that explore the height and depth of human experience as well as issues that our society needs to reflect on and examine today.

Disappointingly, Ready Player One doesn’t have the depth that it could, even though the topic—virtual reality—is certainly something that we need to explore as a society. But the attentive viewer can take away more than simple enjoyment from the movie because of its accurate portrayal of virtual reality.

A Window to the Soul?

Ready Player One is classic Spielberg because it is high adventure of a Davidic Wade against an internet company Goliath. The shift from Wade’s individual hunt to the building relationships between Wade and his friends is a welcome development: Wade could not and would not succeed without his collaborators. As these relationships continue to develop in the real world, Wade’s friends bring a shift in the motivation to win. Their quest is no longer just a game, but a cause: to prevent the control of OASIS from falling into corporate hands who will take the commercial aspects of OASIS to a new level of exploitation of its “players” for their own profit.

What is really interesting is the movie’s self-contradictory approach to VR, which rather than offering insight or answers, raises questions:

  • By the end, Wade clearly understands (and states) that it is not good to spend “all” your time in VR, especially for the most important relationships in your life.
  • However, the movie spends most of its time in the virtual world which is so much more visually attractive than the real world.
  • Virtual identity and “real world” identity: how the two can enhance, reflect, or deceive.
  • At the end of the movie, Wade calls on all the players to risk their virtual lives to save the freedom of the OASIS. (In essence, to “save” the VR, they have to “die” to it—or leave it.)
  • What is Ready Player One really saying? The movie doesn’t offer any answers, but it is a great launch point for a discussion, especially with young people and gamers:
  • Is virtual reality a good thing or a bad thing for the human person? for society?
  • What is the movie saying about VR? Do you agree? disagree?
  • For a VR universe, is connecting to it in moderation the answer? What is true moderation when it comes to “living in” or “escaping to” a virtual world?
  • How connected do we “need” to be? What are the risks of spending too much time and energy in VR? How is being connected good for the human person?
  • What are the differences between having online and in-person relationships? What are the benefits of each? the cons of each? What kinds of personal relationships do I have, and how can I improve my interactions with those whom I care for?

Ready Player One is a fun adventure that offers an easy “in” for beginning a discussion on Virtual Reality–what it is, how it affects us as persons and as a society, and what we need to put in place or keep in mind when we engage with a fantasy world. (And while you watch, keep a list of 80’s pop culture references—Spielberg’s Easter eggs perhaps?—and compare lists at the end of the movie!)