Forever My Girl – More Than a Romantic Comedy

Forever My Girl, released this week on DVD, is a film adaptation of the best-selling novel. Forever My Girl is a sweet, second-chance romance that, despite some genre-typical set-ups and pay-offs, and a too-neat ending, has an endearing warmth and depth.

For my commentary on the Salt + Light Radio Hour (and to find out if Deacon Pedro watches romantic comedies-starting April 28), listen in here.

The storyline starts with an all-too-obvious heartbreak that totally fits the genre: on the day of their wedding, up-and-coming local Southern singer Liam Page abandons his bride Josie to pursue a career in country music. Eight years later, Liam is a famous country music star who, when he hears about the death of his friend, returns to his long-neglected past in his hometown in Louisiana for the funeral. Although he hovers around the edges of the service and burial, not really reconnecting, he ends up extending his visit, perhaps seeking to recover what he lost.

The story continues with obvious ploys which, while predictable for the genre, seem to work for this film:

  • On Liam’s return, Josie knocks him over with a punch
  • Josie is a single mom with a daughter, Billy
  • At first, Billy is a very cute, lovable brat, who keeps Liam at a distance, but she gradually lets down her walls 
  • Josie’s brother Jake taunts Liam with his abandonment and accuses him of being unfit for Josie and Billy
  • Liam’s father provides an explanation of why Liam ran away

Anyone who has watched a few rom-coms has seen all of these before—many of them together in similar films. But a couple earnest, understated choices of the filmmakers make all the difference:

  • When Liam decides to stay in his hometown, he doesn’t try to explain or defend himself to Josie, to Josie’s brother Jake, or to his father (who is also a pastor and is realistically struggling to deal with his disappointment in his son).
  • The film uses one telling detail to show not only that Liam has been unable to forget Josie, but that he is desperate for a connection with her
  • Despite Liam’s inner anguish, he has enough self-respect, courage, and respect for the people he left behind to seek reconciliation by simply being present, with no expectations.
  • Josie’s feisty response to Liam’s reappearance—he never contacted her after abandoning her at the church—rings true and reveals a maturity in her character. It takes time before she decides to see him or spend time with him.
  • While Liam’s father initially struggles with Liam’s return, he both encourages Liam and lets Liam find his own way.
  • Another nice touch in the film is how Liam’s isolation and brokenness is portrayed visually: he is constantly on the outside of the community/family, looking in.
  • Alex Roe’s understated performance as Liam really gives depth to this film. Rather than coming back with a “Here I am!” attitude, he simply accepts the criticism, blame, and doubts he receives. He doesn’t expect anything from the people he hurt and left behind. But he constantly tries to show—with his actions—what his intentions and desires are. His admirable quiet restraint, even humility, in several situations that are emotionally difficult for everyone is quite striking.

 

A Window to the Soul: into the Virtues of Humility, Reconciliation, Forgiveness, Starting Over, Christian Community, Family

Forever My Girl is not an overtly Christian movie (and there are definitely non-Christian ideas and behavior in the film about living together, language, modesty, etc.). Rather, it is a mainstream genre film that contrasts a fame-driven, self-centered lifestyle with an other-centered, Christian lifestyle. Forever My Girl offers a refreshing view of a Christian community that is neither perfect nor hypocritical: real disciples of Christ who struggle to live the healing love of forgiveness Jesus calls us to. In today’s revenge-hungry, self-entitled culture, forgiveness can be unimaginable. But this film—without preaching—shows the power and beauty of these most important Christian virtues: forgiveness and true reconciliation.

For those who love romantic comedies, Forever My Girl is not to be missed. Forever My Girl is also a good choice for a teen or YA “Meeting Jesus at the Movies Night.” The film is rated PG, appropriate for families with older tweens and up (depending on the maturity of the child).

In-Depth Look at Fake News and Journalism for Peace-Pope Francis’ World Communications Day Message

This year’s Message for World Communications Day is so timely that I wanted to highlight/summarize a couple important points from the Message—especially for people who haven’t read it. Three paragraphs impressed me so much that I made a line-by-line meditation on it—and I will share my notes from that with you below.

The theme for 2018 is “The truth will set you free”: Fake news and journalism for peace. In this powerful meditation for all of us living in the digital age (especially for all Christian communicators–which is all of us), Pope Francis highlights the importance of truth: in our lives, in our relationships, in our communication, in our service. The Message first gives a description of fake news, what makes fake news thrive, and how fake news exploits the human person, leading to:

  • the spread of disinformation
  • the spread of hate and arrogance,
  • demonizing others
  • fomenting conflict.

In describing how we can respond to fake news, Pope Francis approaches it from what we Pauline Sisters call a “Media Mindful” perspective:

“Preventing and identifying the way disinformation works also calls for a profound and careful process of discernment. We need to unmask what could be called the ‘snake-tactics’ used by those who disguise themselves in order to strike at any time and place.”

Pope Francis goes on to recount how the “Father of Lies” perpetrated humanity’s first instance of fake news in Genesis 3:

  • pretense of friendship
  • speaking partial truths that distorts the truth and falsifies reality (incomplete, out of context)
  • speaking with the appearance of truth only

Pope Francis concludes, “Trusting in falsehood can have dire consequences. Even a seemingly slight distortion of the truth can have dangerous effects.”

How fake news so easily goes viral brings to my mind a story about St. Philip Neri, who is popularly remembered for his humor and humility, but who was renowned during his lifetime as a wise confessor. The story goes that to a woman who confessed the sin of gossip, St. Philip gave her the penance of walking through the town plucking the feathers of a chicken, and then to return to him. When she returned, the saint told her to now go back and gather up all the feathers. Dismayed, she protested that it was impossible. St. Philip pointed out that it is impossible to take back the harm that our gossip does.

Fake news can take lying and gossiping to a global level. Fake news may be driven by greed and a thirst for power, simple negligence, but it ultimately victimizes individuals by robbing us of our interior freedom. One solution is for everyone to practice a deeper awareness when it comes to our communication and especially our media usage. This is what we try to encourage in schools, parishes, and families, by sharing the practice of Media Mindfulness, which Pope Francis refers to (without using the label):

“Education for truth means teaching people how to discern, evaluate and understand our deepest desires and inclinations, lest we lose sight of what is good and yield to every temptation.”

My favorite two paragraphs of the message I will quote in full, with a few of my personal reflections.

(You can download the four-page line by line reflection here.) 

Pope Francis wraps up with an invitation:

– to all people to listen and engage in sincere dialogue

– to journalists to take up the weighty responsibility of a commitment to truth: to be protectors of the news.

“Informing others means forming others; it means being in touch with people’s lives. That is why ensuring the accuracy of sources and protecting communication are real means of promoting goodness, generating trust, and opening the way to communion and peace.”

Pope Francis concludes with a powerful prayer to Christ, our Truth, that I will be praying daily through this year dedicated to Truth:

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Help us to recognize the evil latent in a communication that does not build communion.
Help us to remove the venom from our judgements.
Help us to speak about others as our brothers and sisters.
You are faithful and trustworthy; may our words be seeds of goodness for the world:
where there is shouting, let us practise listening;
where there is confusion, let us inspire harmony;
where there is ambiguity, let us bring clarity;
where there is exclusion, let us offer solidarity;
where there is sensationalism, let us use sobriety;
where there is superficiality, let us raise real questions;
where there is prejudice, let us awaken trust;
where there is hostility, let us bring respect;
where there is falsehood, let us bring truth.
Amen.

Digital Catholics

Here are a few catch-up notes that are long overdue:

Best new site for Media Literacy from a Catholic perspective! Last week I posted here about the new Pauline Center for Media Literacy weekly movie reviews, which our sisters write from a Catholic perspective. But the site has more than just movie reviews, and we are adding new content all the time. Visit the new site and see how the faith we live by and the culture we live in intersect! www.bemediamindful.org

Media and Your Kids For families with kids, the CNN news site published a helpful article about young children using media: “Kids Under 9 Spending More Than 2 Hours a Day on Screens.” The article is based on a study by Common Sense Media–another favorite media literacy site that is helpful when looking at media for children. Along with this article, CNN published “New Screen Time Rules for Kids by Doctors.” The tips for “healthy digital media use” seem especially helpful, but in brief, here is what doctors recommend:

 

Doctors’ Guidelines for Screen Time for Kids

Screen time, or time spent using digital media for entertainment, should be limited.

AGE RECOMMENDED MOTIVATION
18 months and younger No exposure. Screen time can:
cause disconnect between parents and children (babies deprived of parents’ attention may develop behavioral issues)Prevent healthy brain development for infants because it limits face-to-face contactOverstimulate, which can cause distress and sleep issues
2-5 years 1 hour per day

Only high quality

No advertisements

Children at this age can’t differentiate between real-world and screen-world. In addition to high-quality programs, face-to-face interactivity onscreen (such as Skype or Facetime) is a good choice.
6 & older Limit & Monitor Screen time should never replace healthy activities (sleep, social interaction, physical activity)

Parents need to help children and teens navigate the media environment, just as they teach children how to behave off-line

Designate media-free times together (such as meals)

Designate media-free zones at home (such as bedrooms)

Set up a media plan for the family

Based on article: “New Screen Time Rules for Kids by Doctors” by Hailey Middlebrook, CNN

 

The World Congress for Child Dignity in the Digital World has made many of the speeches of the congress available here on the Congress website. The Centre for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome hosted the congress from October 3-6, 2017 .

Pope Francis offers his insights into his style as a communicator in today’s world: Pope Francis on Why He Gives Interviews. For Pope Francis, a “real meeting,” means “real conversation.” His best tip? He prays to the Holy Spirit ahead of time to inspire him with what to say.

“The truth will set you free” (John 8:32): Fake news and Journalism for Peace is the theme for the next World Communications Day on May 13, 2018. The Vatican’s Secretariat for Communication posted the theme on September 29th (the Feast of the Archangels Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel). The explanation follows:

The theme that the Holy Father Francis has chosen for the 52nd World Day of Social Communications 2018 relates to so-called “fake news”, namely baseless information that contributes to generating and nurturing a strong polarisation of opinions. It involves an often misleading distortion of facts, with possible repercussions at the level of individual and collective behaviour. In a context in which the key companies of the social web and the world of institutions and politics have started to confront this phenomenon, the Church too wishes to offer a contribution, proposing a reflection on the causes, the logic and the consequences of disinformation in the media, and helping to promote professional journalism, which always seeks the truth, and therefore a journalism of peace that promotes understanding between people. https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2017/09/29/170929a.html

 

Online Evening Visit with Jesus At the conclusion of our online Facebook Live Novena to Our Lady of Fatima, Sister Kathryn and I decided that we would like to try to offer a simple Evening Visit with Jesus every night at 8 PM at the Facebook page: Ask a Catholic Nun. We are still getting it off the ground, but it’s a wonderful way to share prayer intentions and feel part of a community that prayers together every evening. I hope you can find the time to join us.

Meet the selfie-snapping Sisters of Snapchat is a fun article interviewing Catholic sisters using social media! Several #MediaNuns are included.

How To Use Social Media To Grow in Holiness

socialmediawordcloud

I have been saving up this reader’s question because I wanted to give it a well-developed answer. I’ve not had the time to develop the answer in a way that I’d hoped, but rather than wait any longer, I thought I would begin an answer and continue unpacking the topic as time goes on.

“Do you have any tips / tools you have found helpful in doing your work online but not getting sucked into the trap of getting into it too much?  There can be a temptation to over-use social media, to go along with the rest of society which seems to be constantly ‘plugged in.’ As a religious, striving for holiness, I do not think this is appropriate.” 

This is a great question for anyone, not just for religious sisters, brothers, and priests. The laity are called to holiness just as clergy and religious are; the laity, too, are called to an interior life that allows focus on one’s relationship with God. While there is nothing inherently wrong in being plugged in, problems arise when being plugged in pulls us away from the rest of our life: when we are spending so much time online that our lifestyle, serenity, and/or in-person relationships start to suffer. Research is beginning to emerge that reveals an addictive quality in using social media, so it is really important to watch our habits—just as it is important to reflect on all our media habits. Personally, I know that frequent social media use can result in feeling fragmented or scattered. Reflecting on a couple of principals may help us in discerning how we can best use social media, according to our vocation to holiness.

1) If we want to engage with people online, we need to truly engage with people by using social media well, especially if it is for the sake of the Gospel! Using Twitter or Snapchat or Vine halfheartedly, without taking the time to interact with others online, or bothering to really learn about how to use it, is not effective and can even be a less-than-positive witness to the Gospel. When we learn how to use a particular platform well, we don’t need to waste time on it trying to take in everything.

2) No one can engage with all social media well all the time, because every platform takes time and energy, and we have limited amounts of both that we can dedicate to social media. Even if we are responsible at work for a range of social media, we will have to choose which to give priority to, according to our purpose, who we want to reach, and how we want to reach them. Setting boundaries in using the internet becomes essential because the internet has so few boundaries.

3) Create a plan for your use of social media with the following 6 questions.

  • How is God is inviting you to use social media?
  • Who are you trying to reach?
  • What are you trying to communicate?
  • Which social media platform(s) are best suited to: your personal communication style, your message, and your audience?
  • How much time can I afford to give to social media: daily? weekly? monthly?
  • When will you give myself a break from social media? (Breaks may be times—such as a day of the week or between 8 PM and 9 AM; or places—such as the dining room table and the bedroom.)

4) Use your social media plan to achieve your goals and to set healthy boundaries for yourself. While the nature of social media often means that there is cross-over between work and personal use, if you use social media for both you may wish to have two social media plans. Either way, setting limits (time, place, platform) and scheduling can be both helpful and essential. Shape your social media use to fulfill your goals.

Examples:

If an author is trying to network with like-minded authors and potential readers, many social media experts recommend Twitter. If we choose Twitter, we need to become active enough on it so we can learn how to reach our audience with our message effectively. No one needs to be on Twitter all day long, but a consistent presence is important. We might want to use a tool to schedule tweets through the day. We may want to set aside three fifteen-minute segments each day to tweet, read your feed, and retweet. We may decide to be on Twitter Monday-Friday, and take off the weekends or Sunday.

If we want to communicate with young people and one of our communication strengths is visual, we may wish to make Instagram or Vine our primary platform, and post once a week, and view twice a week.

If we use social media to support an interest group (such as a bird-watching hobby), we may simply choose the platform that already has an active and inviting group with that interest. Our plan may be to check in with them weekly for an hour. Or we may choose to check in before and after a related event (such as each bird-watching expedition).

5) Reexamine your use of social media regularly, since social media trends and platforms are constantly changing. We may need to do so as often as every six months or maybe every couple of years. We can apply the principles of discernment to help us to grow in balancing our life better by asking several questions:

  • What are the positive effects for my using social media?
  • What are the negative effects of my using social media?
  • How has my use of social media affected the overall balance of my life?
  • What do I have too much of?
  • What do I have too little of?
  • Do I still make the kind of time I need for:
    * My relationship with myself: silence, solitude, and time to think
    * My relationship with my body: relaxing, exercise, sleep, spending time in nature, etc.
    * My relationship with God: daily prayer, meditation and/or time to reflect, confession, Mass, and other forms of communal prayer
    * My relationships with my loved ones: quality time with family and friends
    * My life: being a truly engaged presence in daily life, without constant distractions or feeling scattered
    * My community: offering a contribution to the community (parish, neighborhood, family, etc.)
    * My work: being able to focus and effectively accomplish my responsibilities
  • How much use of the internet and social media feels right for me? Right now, is my use of media right “out of balance”? What do I need to put my life back into balance?

For further reflection, read Pope Benedict XIV’s Message for 46th World Day of Communications:

“I would like to share with you some reflections concerning an aspect of the human process of communication which, despite its importance, is often overlooked and which, at the present time, it would seem especially necessary to recall. It concerns the relationship between silence and word: two aspects of communication which need to be kept in balance, to alternate and to be integrated with one another if authentic dialogue and deep closeness between people are to be achieved. When word and silence become mutually exclusive, communication breaks down, either because it gives rise to confusion or because, on the contrary, it creates an atmosphere of coldness; when they complement one another, however, communication acquires value and meaning.” – Pope Benedict XIV’s Message for 46th World Day of Communications 

Upcoming Los Angeles Media Events

For those in California, especially in the Los Angeles area, the Pauline Center for Media Studies has a couple of excellent upcoming events.

Advanced Certificate in Media Literacy Course for 2016. For more information, and to register, visit: www.media.pauline.org/certificate

Slide2

The National Film Retreat: Cinema and the 7 Qualities of Mercy. For the retreat flyer, click here (or on the image)

National Film Retreat 2016 Square

 

This retreat has some marvelous films–if you can go, I highly recommend it!

* * *

On Monday (July 11), I will begin my eight-day annual retreat, so I will not be blogging for two weeks. However, you will be “with me” on my retreat in a special way–in my prayers!  If you send me your intentions,  I will pray for them specifically and individually during the retreat.

* * *

No one has expressed interest in a free copy copy of my book, See Yourself Through God’s Eyes, available in Polish.

If you live in the USA, know someone who reads Polish who might be interested in my book, please contact me, and I’ll send you the book when I return from retreat.  Here’s more about the book:

SeeYourselfCoverPolish

SYTGE.jpg

For when we struggle with doubts about
our self-worth…

God’s love can transform our relationships with ourselves and others, helping us to grow
in healthy self-esteem!

God’s love for me has become the bedrock
of my identity, my spiritual life,
and a healthier self-esteem.

– Sr. Marie Paul Curley, author

SYTGE4stepmeditationMeditate on God’s Love
in 4 Easy Steps

  1. A story or example from ordinary life that challenges our sense of ourselves.
  2. A passage from the Scriptures in which God speaks heart to heart with us and sheds light on the situation, assumptions, or feelings that the previous story might raise in us. Reading and pondering this short line is the key to making the meditation.
  3. A reflection that allows the Scripture passage to challenge or speak directly to the false assumptions under which we tend to interpret our daily experience, so that we can grow in our trust in God’s love for us.
  4. A short prayer we can repeat often during the day to help us reconnect to God’s love and fidelity.

Your Moview Watchlist for the #YearofMercy

Invitation

Join us in praying our Novena to Saint Paul, which we are praying in reparation for the misuse of the media.

Great Films to Watch for the Year of Mercy

This weekend on my Windows to the Soul segment on the Salt + Light Radio Hour, I talk about three great films with the theme of mercy. Below is a summary of the show and where you can find the complete list of films.

Image Journal is a wonderful magazine and online site that looks at the intersection between art and religion. Every year, their Arts & Faith Community publishes a list of great films according to a certain theme. This year, they focused on the theme of mercy: The Arts & Faith Top 25 Films on Mercy.

I’ve seen about half of these films which range from 1921-2014, and I’ve been planning to see several more, but a couple of the films on the list are new to me. I now have a wonderful selection of films to see throughout the rest of the Year of Mercy.

The top three films are genuine classics from the black and white era, and two of them are in French with English subtitles, but don’t let that prevent you from seeing these wonderful films. I would especially recommend these films to those who are interested in looking more deeply at the theme of mercy for discussion or prayer, and film lovers. Because of the depth of the films, they may not work for children.

MonsieurVincentCoverMonsieur Vincent is a wonderfully-crafted film that was given a special Academy Award. (I recently gave it honorable mention in my list of best saint movies of all time.) Made in 1947 and directed by Maurice Cloche, the film is a bio-pic of the saint of mercy, Saint Vincent de Paul. The film doesn’t cover his whole life, but wisely chooses to focus on St. Vincent de Paul as he was beginning his care for people living in destitution, including those suffering from the feared plague and prisoners. St. Vincent de Paul changed society with his great works of mercy in a time where mercy was so greatly lacking. Actor Pierre Fresnay gives a powerful performance of a man who is so taken up with the needs of others that he is fascinating, admirable, and a bit hard to understand because he seems to have no concern for himself.

As we watch the film, we could use Saint Vincent’s interactions with the wealthy, the fearful, and the indifferent as an examination of conscience, because the people who resist Vincent’s efforts or refuse to help represent the same reasons why we refuse to be merciful. Amazingly, this film lacks the sentimentality that usually ruins saint movies. Vincent is a shining and compelling figure, as he literally seems to become the love of Christ for the underprivileged.

gallery-oxbowincident-3-gallery-imageThe Ox-Bow Incident is a 1943 American Western, directed by William Wellman and starring Henry Fonda and Dana Andrews. It has been described as a Western film noir, but I found it reminded me more of a gentler version of a Flannery O’Connor novel. The basic storyline is about two cowboys who are passing through a small Western town when the news comes that a well-respected farmer has been murdered and his cattle stolen. The townspeople form a posse to catch—and lynch—the guilty party. The two cowboys join in, partly to divert suspicion from themselves as suspects. The film explores the themes of guilt, justice, innocence, the legal system, conscience, our common humanity.

This film contains many points parallel points to Pope Francis’ recent video message about the death penalty, where he says:

“It is an offence to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person; it likewise contradicts God’s plan for individuals and society, and his merciful justice. Nor is it consonant with any just purpose of punishment. It does not render justice to victims, but instead fosters vengeance. The commandment “Thou shalt not kill” has absolute value and applies both to the innocent and to the guilty.” 

In many ways, The Ox-Bow Incident is about the refusal to give mercy; but there are many small moments where mercy is offered. This film is so well-crafted, it deserved an Oscar. (An interesting note: it was nominated for an Oscar for best picture but lost to Casablanca, which is one of my favorite films of all time.)

Film_222w_DiaryCountyPriest_originalThe third movie is the award-winning 1951 Diary of a Country Priest, based on the Georges Bernanos novel with the same name. The screenplay was adapted by the film’s legendary director, Robert Bresson, and is incredibly faithful to the novel. The film stars Claude Laydu in a wonderful performance and is in French with English subtitles. As the title indicates, this is an in-depth look into the daily life of a young, sensitive priest on his first assignment as pastor who, though distressed by the coldness of his parishioners, is willing to make many sacrifices to help them spiritually. The young priest is consistently misunderstood and criticized by all around him, except us privileged viewers who are given access to his daily diary. Laydu’s acting is amazing as a young, idealistic, and holy priest undergoing the dark night of the soul, but all of the characters are well-portrayed. I wish that the character of the priest smiled more in the film. Without giving away any spoilers,  this film is about the little moments of life, the daily choices for grace.

Don’t watch this movie when you’re in a hurry. Understated, subtle, with deeply layered dialogue, the pacing of the film helps us to slow down so we can enter more deeply into the mindset of the parishioners and especially of this young and holy priest whose sole goal is to bring people closer to peace and happiness in Christ. In a couple places, the film could be studied for the priest’s pastoral approach: when to speak, when to be silent, always to speak the truth, to invite others towards Christ rather than threaten, but to be honest about the consequences of bad choices, and above all, to accompany every pastoral effort with prayer.

This is a powerful film portraying the beauty of the constancy of little, sacrificial acts of mercy in daily life. My favorite line of the film is the last line of dialogue of the young priest: “All is grace.”

* * *

There are some other fine movies to watch this summer that include the theme of mercy:

DVDCovers

Risen—the story of a soldier’s journey to faith, released to DVD recently.

The Young Messiah, which was just released to DVD, is the fictional story of Jesus’ childhood the year that the Holy Family returns from Egypt.

Liberating a Continent: John Paul II and the Fall of Communism is a documentary currently broadcasting on PBS (see list of broadcasts here),  will be broadcasting on Salt + Light TV as well, and is already available for purchase online. This documentary is a beautiful tracing of God’s mercy at work in the world through St. John Paul, and behind the Iron Curtain.

Potpourri of Resources on Communication Spirituality

When I’m working on more than two or three articles at a time (not a series), sometimes the writing well within seems to dry up. Each short article becomes progressively harder to write until I find myself on article 4 or 5 staring at a blank screen with no idea what to say. I know that I’m more comfortable writing long-form (books, screenplays, or even a series of articles about the same topic), but one advantage of writing shorter pieces is that I need to fill the well more often. Which means lately, I’ve been finding some interesting and helpful resources that I believe you will enjoy as well!

SrNancyHere is a list of her next articles:

A Sacred Look: Science-Fiction Seeks Redemption

  • A strong theme that frequently comes up in Pope Francis–and which I believe he encourages us to use in the New Evangelization–is “encounter.” I’ve written a little bit about what this means, but recently stumbled across this article in the Houston Catholic Worker that explains what “encounter” and “encuentro” mean to someone from a Latino culture. I found it very helpful to put into words what I was intuiting from reading the Pope’s frequent references to this term.
  • Our sisters in Italy have been publishing short articles on the media and now they’ve put them together on their website in English under the heading: Window on Communication. It’s an excellent series of articles on various topics connecting media and spirituality, written by a wide variety of writers.