Getting media savvy

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Cheridan and Sebastian practice line-dancing on the set of The Church Alive.

As we’re in the media business, we’re very much aware of how pictures shape perception.  Especially when it comes to telling the story of the Church.  A large part of the New Evangelization is about rethinking how our story is told. Whether we like it or not, much of what we think about ourselves has been conditioned by popular portrayals in the mass media.

That’s not to say that the media has it all wrong, but there are limitations. To illustrate, I share with you the following:

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Cheridan and Sebastian share a laugh on set.

Now if you only saw this image, you might be tempted to think, “look at them laughing all the way having a great time working together”.  This would be partly true, but not the whole story.  As we all know, any worthwhile endeavor is filled with challenges, frustrations, and moments where you just don’t see eye-to-eye.  With that in mind, cynics might zero in on a picture like this…

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Cheridan wonders when Sebastian is going to quit goofing around and get some work done.

Here you might be tempted to think, “This guy obviously doesn’t take stuff seriously”.  But that wouldn’t be accurate because we all know that he is entirely serious (some would say fanatical), when it comes to G.K. Chesterton.

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Sebastian persuades Salt + Light CEO, Fr. Tom Rosica and Cheridan (once again) why its critical to quote G.K. Chesterton at least three times per segment.

All this to say, that it’s important not to rely on just one source’s interpretation of a story, no matter how reliable they seem to be.  Sometimes an image or a soundbite is taken out of context, or is just plain wrong. It’s an idea that we explore at length in our episode on: The Media.  When it comes to portrayals of the Church in the media, the soundbite, caption or snapshot often bear faint resemblance to what’s actually going on.  Clearly, we’re called to engage and find avenues of dialogue, and to utilize the mediums available to us.  But we’re also called to offer a critique of the status quo.  All this and more, on in Episode 2 of the The Church Alive.

Join us.

On Belonging

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Cheridan Sanders interviews a young parishioner at the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels in Chicago, IL.

Why don’t more people attend mass regularly? It’s something I ponder whenever I find myself surrounded by empty pews. Interestingly, the answer came to me when S+L camerman Dave LeRoss, producer Sebastian Gomes, and I were in Chicago filming at the Franciscans of the Eucharist Mission of Our Lady of the Angels*. There I spoke with a young parishioner who dropped by to hang out while we were filming. We got to talking and he was so engaging that I decided to interview him. Kenny said he loved hanging out with the Sisters and participating in various parish activities. His genuine enthusiasm for parish life intrigued me, and it prompted me to ask why. He replied that “they [Kenny and the Sisters] both enjoyed “keeping a low profile” and then very matter-of-fact added: “… I belong here.”

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The Original Dynamic Duo


During my research for the Church Alive series I came across this epic CNS file photo of Pope Paul VI and Cardinal Karol Wojtyla. The photo’s caption reads, “Paul VI, who served in Poland during his early priesthood, held the future Pope John Paul II in high regard.” Not only do they both look like don dadas, but they’re the original dynamic duo when it comes to the Second Vatican Council. Although John XXIII called the Council, Paul VI was the person who actually did all the work. He’s responsible for promulgating the major documents that came out of the Council. Pope John Paul II, moreover, was the person who enacted the Council’s vision throughout his reign as one of the longest serving pontiffs in Church history.

So if you want to know what the New Evangelization is, just take a page out of either one of these men’s lives. I highly recommend Pope Paul VI’s Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi: although this document was penned just under forty years ago, it reads as if it was written yesterday.

And if you really want to up your game, check out the Church Alive series! This is a sure way to level up when it comes to this huge and sometimes intimidating topic. Included in our DVD set is a 75-page study guide which is very handy literally and figuratively: its small and fits in the palm of your hand and it gives you all the goods like bios, resources, synopses, and study questions.

As Robin would say: Holy History, Batman!

 

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Credit: CNS file photo

Do Monkeys Go To Heaven?

Do Monkeys Go To Heaven?

“Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them.” Psalm 111:2

Do Monkeys Go to Heaven?  And by that I don’t mean you and me. Real monkeys, you know the ones that climb in trees or apparently pose for selfies (true story).  Well, that’s the question posed by a new book by Fr. John McCarthy, SJ an expert in boreal forest ecology. The book is a compilation of his musings on everything from Our Lady to monkeys, and everything in between.  Although the title of the book suggests something light and cheeky, I’d liken reading this book to the delight of eating a chocolate cake (only to realize it was actually a bowl of bran).  The ol’ bait and switch, in a good way.  I enjoyed it so much that we’ll feature Fr. John McCarthy and his book Do Monkeys Go to Heaven on an upcoming episode of Catholic Focus, so stay tuned for that!

Even though concerns about the environment are pressing, let’s get real, the minute you pull out a long list of encyclicals one should read (and no, Church nerds I’m not talking to you here) most people’s first reaction is “ain’t nobody got time for that. No matter how much you admire the Popes, or the Church, or monkeys.

And herein lies the rub…

Although these encyclicals are great, can you imagine reading a 32 page blog or 60 000 character tweet?  Consider today’s mediums, the reality is people’s attention spans are growing shorter and shorter.   When it comes to the written medium, it’s a situation of diminishing returns; the more one writes, the less one is inclined to read.  So perhaps, it’s time to the get back the basics. As St. Paul says, there are two books by which we can come to know God, the book of nature and the good book.  And what better way to contemplate the divine than with the rediscovery of awe?  I suspect that’s what Jesus meant when he invited us to become like children; it’s an invitation to childlike curiosity and wonder at the goodness of the created order. It’s only when you see how smart ravens really are, or delight in the superb complexity of a beetle that your imagination gets fired up and you start asking the really important questions – why do we exist, and how did we get here?  It’s then that you intuit that creation is precious and fragile and that our fate as human beings is intricately intertwined with the environment – but enough from me; I’ll leave the last word to the Pixies.

Okay I have to add one more thing: another great resource for those who want to get a crash course in how the new evangelization can be a bridge between the church’s theology of creation and the growing concern for the environment is the Church Alive Series Episode 12. We’ve even short listed the encyclicals, in our super-nifty study guide, just in case you wanted to get into the meaty stuff. We promise you won’t be disappointed!

Fr. Michael McGivney – a model for the New Evangelization

COLORIZED IMAGE OF FATHER MICHAEL J. MCGIVNEY

Today marks the 124th anniversary of the death of Venerable Father Michael J. McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus. This young priest from New Haven, Connecticut remains a compelling model for all as we’re called upon to participate in the New Evangelization. Inspired by the Beatitudes, he was a man ahead of his time. He  worked to restore the dignity of the marginalized, especially widows and orphans. He inspired the men of his parish to see themselves as capable of changing the world for the better. He made parish life  - not just an obligatory pit-stop at the end of the week – but the centre of community life. Under his leadership his flock grew in faith and eventually made an invaluable contribution not only to their neighborhood, but far beyond it.

There’s so much that we can learn from this humble, imaginative priest. When I was working on the The Church Alive series, I found many parallels between today’s vibrant parishes and the approach that Fr. McGivney adopted in his day. In fact, many of the great ideas that we see with regard to the work of the laity and the importance and relevance of Catholic social teaching are exemplified in Fr. McGivney’s parish ministry (long before Vatican II was on the horizon!) What’s particularly noteworthy is that he was born into difficult, turbulent times and yet through God’s grace shone with heroic virtue. And the same can be said of the Knights of Columbus, the lay organization which he founded; these men in as much as they remain faithful to the original charism of Fr. Michael McGivney are a tremendous force for good in the world.

To learn more about Fr. Michael McGivney  check out the Fr. Michael McGivney documentary trailer. Interested in finding out more about the Knights? Watch the 132nd Supreme Convention which took place recently in Orlando, Florida. We’ll rebroadcast our live coverage on August 23, 2014. Here’s the line-up.

And if you’re still trying to wrap your head around what exactly the New Evangelization is, then check out the Church Alive Series. We’ve got a comprehensive study guide to accompany the series for those who’d like to tackle these big issues  in your prayer group or classroom. After all, the Synod on the Family is around the corner, and you’ll want to be up to speed as the Church examines some of the most pressing questions of our times.

CNS photo – Father Michael J. McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus, is depicted in an image from the Knights. Father McGivney’s cause for sainthood took a step forward with a decree in 2005 approved by Pope Benedict XVI, when Father McGivney was given the title “venerable.” Father McGivney founded the fraternal order for Catholic men in 1882 in New Haven, Conn. It has since become the largest lay Catholic organization in the world with more than 1.7 millions members.

Now, that’s a feather in your cap!

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Ever wonder where the idea for feathered caps came from? I recall my mother saying ‘that’s a feather in your cap’ to express an accomplishment. But, whenever she said it the first thing that came to mind was a pirate or buccaneer. Later I learnt these nefarious characters stole the idea from the landed gentry, who (according to Wikipedia) were in turn imitating a sporting practice among Scottish and Welshmen where the person who killed the first fowl plucked out a feather and stuck it in his cap. [Read more...]

Why you should read the working document for the upcoming Synod

Cardinals converse following press conference for release of working document for extraordinary Synod of Bishops on family

You’re probably thinking I need to read a 75 page document about the upcoming Synod as much as I need a hole in the head. But bear with me, reading the full document is worthwhile.

To give you some context – this “Instrumentum Laboris” or working document on the pastoral challenges of the Family is actually a compilation of comments solicited last year from the national bishops conferences around the world.  As you might expect these reports from “the trenches” are an honest, no holds barred assessment of where we’re at. It’s refreshing to read because we’re admitting where we’ve dropped the ball. And make no mistake, with so many Catholics completely oblivious as to why the Church teaches what she does, this one is a no brainer. That said, there’s a sense of relief that comes from naming the problem and having it out there on the table.

As lay people we’re the ones who are charged with going out and transforming the world, but how are we going to live this effectively if we’re not all on the same page, literally. So by reading the working document, you’ll have a good sense of what the bishops are going to have on their minds going into the synod and it will provide context when they come home and start making changes in the coming months and years.

Now don’t get me wrong, the teaching of the Church is not going to change (come on people, in 2000 + years, as if!) – but what is different about this Synod is that its primarily concerned with a pastoral reality which means the implications are about to get real.  We’ll feel them on the ground.

Also, once you’ve read this document you’ll have a snapshot of the universal Church. There are many very good observations and useful clarifications on all the hot-button issues. It’s fascinating to note, that what’s of concern for us here in North America (and possible solutions we might propose) if applied without careful consideration in another context might have disastrous consequences in Asia or Africa. An excellent reminder that although the teachings of the Church are universal there is no one size fits all solution when it comes to the pastoral reality.

It’s clear Pope Francis wants us to move beyond self-referential communities that are absorbed with simply maintaining the status quo.  One way or another we’re all going to have to move out of our comfort zone, which means getting a sense of the bigger picture. And this document helps us to adopt a mindset which calls us to faithfully embrace these uncomfortable realities, facing them head-on.  And as Pope Francis likes to say, Christ knocks on the door – are we going to let him in?

Ok, still not willing to commit?  At least read the summary.

 

 

JP II, We Love You – Parting Words

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PILGRIMS GATHER FOR VIGIL IN ROME ON EVE OF BEATIFICATION OF POPE JOHN PAUL II

Pilgrims attend a prayer vigil at the ancient Circus Maximus in Rome April 30, 2011 the eve of the beatification of Pope John Paul II. Today April 27, 2014, Pope Francis will preside over the celebration which will declare both Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII saints. (CNS photo/Alessia Pierdomenico, Reuters) 

JP II, We Love You – Pope John Paul II prays

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2005 FILE PHOTO OF POPE JOHN PAUL II IN PRAYER

Pope John Paul II prays in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. Paul John Paul died later that year on April 2, 2005. (CNS photo/Reuters) 

JP II, We Love You – The Young Bishop from Krakow

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Bishop Karol Jozef Wojtyla with priests in undated photoKrakow Auxiliary Bishop Karol Jozef Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, is pictured with priests in an undated photo. He was ordained a bishop in 1958 at age 38, then Poland’s youngest bishop. He will be canonized April 27 with Blessed John XXIII. (CNS photo)