Taking up the challenge!

TCA1 - cropped Salt and Light Producers Cheridan Sanders and Sebastian Gomes review the script of an episode of The Church Alive, a series dedicated to Vatican II and the New Evangelization.  The 13-part series, was filmed at the CBC studios in downtown Toronto.

Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI was the last Bishop of Rome to participate in the Second Vatican Council during the 1960’s.  Fifty years after that historic event, the Catholic Church is undertaking a universal initiative called the “new evangelization.”  In September, 2012, only five months before his resignation, Pope Benedict told a group of visiting bishops to the Vatican that the new evangelization “started precisely with the Second Vatican Council.”  The two cannot be separated and any serious work of the new evangelization has to find its roots in the documents of Vatican II.  Salt and Light accepted this challenge produced The Church Alive, a series based on the themes of the council.  Episodes include: Catholic Education, Economics, Religious Liberty, the Media, and Ecology. This show is now available on DVD and is a great resource for teach for all who want to learn more about the Council.

Saint John XXIII – Six maxims of perfection


Sebastian Gomes and I recently came across a diary entry of Saint Pope John XXIII entitled “Six maxims of perfection” in his autobiography Journal of a Soul. Some of you may recall that from the age of fourteen until his death at the age of eighty-two, Pope John XXIII kept a journal where he recorded his growth in holiness. Elected Pope at the age of seventy-eight, he impressed the world with the breadth of his mind but also with his simplicity and his will to be at the service of others. In the Ep 1. of The Church Alive What is the New Evangelization? we feature Good Pope John and we thought you’d find his thoughts as inspiring and delightful as we did.

1. Desire only to be virtuous and holy, and so be pleasing to God.

2. Direct all things, thoughts as well as actions, to the increase, the service and the glory of Holy Church.

3. Recognize that I have been set here by God, and therefore remain perfectly serene about all that happens, not only as regards myself but also with regard to the Church, continuing to work and suffer with Christ, for her good.

4. Entrust myself at all times to Divine Providence.

5. Always acknowledge my own nothingness.

6. Always arrange my day in an intelligent and orderly manner.

The Church Alive visits the Big Apple

team with Dolan

Thought we’d dig this one out of our photo archives for you. It’s a snapshot of our visit to the Archdiocese of New York during our filming for The Church Alive series and Go and Teach documentary.This photo was taken after a fantastic interview with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who is featured in both shows.

Left to Right: Sebastian Gomes, Cheridan Sanders, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

Photo credit: David LeRoss

Know the Scriptures, know Christ

At Salt and Light, we make a concerted effort to keep alive the memory of the Second Vatican Council. It’s not, as some might think, because we appreciate history. It’s because we look to the future.

Those Catholics who are familiar with the history and context of Vatican II and with the sixteen official documents it produced can appreciate the courage and wisdom of the Council Fathers to construct a road map for our times on essential issues like the Church in the modern world (Gaudium et Spes) and the role of the Laity in the life of the church (Apostolicam Actuositatem).

But, interestingly enough, a strong argument can be made, and is made, for the primacy of another Council document that at first may not appear to be particularly novel.  It’s the document on Divine Revelation, the word of God (Dei Verbum).

Today access to the Scriptures is taken for granted. We even hear Pope Francis regularly instructing the faithful to carry a little book of the Gospels around, “in your purse, in your pocket, and read a passage from the Gospel during the day.” (Morning homily, Sept. 1, 2014)

But widespread reading and study of the Scriptures is a modern phenomenon. It was indeed a development when in 1965 the Council Fathers urged all Christians:

“…to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the “excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:8). “For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” Therefore, they should gladly put themselves in touch with the sacred text itself, whether it be through the liturgy, rich in the divine word, or through devotional reading, or through instructions suitable for the purpose and other aids…” (Dei Verbum, 25)

This document on Divine Revelation is not merely one element of the ecclesial vision of Vatican II. It is a cornerstone, precisely because it is a perpetual starting point; with the Scriptures a church can always be built.

At the same time, there is the great challenge today of educating Christians about the Scriptures. Valid questions from our contemporaries can be asked of any of us: how well do you know the Scriptures? What does it mean to know the Scriptures? How do you interpret the vicissitudes of history in light of the Scriptures? What do the Scriptures say in the context of our world today? How are they unique from other religious texts or holy books?

In our educational series The Church Alive, the Scriptures are brought to life in the context of our ongoing discussion on the New Evangelization. The accompanying study guide contains thirteen in-depth biblical reflections for personal use or group study sessions. It was natural for us to include this most essential element in the project. As the Bishops at the 2012 Synod on the New Evangelization wrote:

“Frequent reading of the Sacred Scriptures… is not only necessary for knowing the very content of the Gospel, which is the person of Jesus in the context of salvation history. Reading the Scriptures also helps us to discover opportunities to encounter Jesus, truly evangelical approaches rooted in the fundamental dimensions of human life: the family, work, friendship, various forms of poverty and the trials of life.” (Message to the People of God, 4)

Today there are all kinds of programs and self-help initiatives designed to help people live more deeply meaningful or happy lives. In the Church we are encouraged to practice spiritual exercises, to participate in the sacraments and pray on a daily basis.  An informed and educated frequent reading of the Scriptures should be near the top of that list.  And remember, there are two moments of encounter with the Real Presence at Mass: in the Eucharist, and in the word of God.

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.

An honest look at politics inside and outside the church

Does our religious perspective inform our political perspective, or is it the other way around?  On episode six of The Church Alive: Politics, Cheridan and Sebastian take a closer look at this timely question.  What has become apparent in our culture is the degree to which some Catholics are willing to ignore – or even subvert – the Gospel for the sake of a purely political or worldly point of view.  If the New Evangelization is going to succeed, that has to change.  In this excerpt from an extensive interview with the Editor in Chief of America Magazine, Fr. Matt Malone, SJ sheds some light on the meaning of a truly “orthodox” faith.  In this regard, it seems that a profound reordering of heart and mind – what the church calls conversion – is the necessary prerequisite for bringing the truth about Jesus into the modern world.

Find out more about The Church Alive click here

 

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.”

[Read more...]

What is a Catholic education anyway?

STUDENTS ATTEND CLASS AT SETON HALL UNIVERSITY IN NEW JERSEY

Regardless of background, ethnicity or faith tradition, almost everyone in our society today would argue that education is important.  We all acknowledge that becoming an “educated” person is worthwhile.  We spend a huge portion of our earnings and savings (or all of them and more!) on achieving that goal.  But, what does it mean to be an educated person?

This is an especially important question for those seeking a “Catholic” education.  What does a “Catholic education” look like in 2014?  What is its goal?  How is it unique?

There has been a trend, of sorts, developing in the area of Catholic institutions across North America and particularly in the United States whereby a school tries to be more Catholic by becoming more isolated or removed.  An attitude of protectionism from the disintegrating culture drives these initiatives.  Granted, there aren’t many of them, but there are enough to draw attention and sway popular opinion towards a presumption that the attitude behind them is, in fact, that of the mainline Catholic Church.

In his address during the plenary session of the Congregation for Catholic Education in February of this year, Pope Francis warned that this kind of isolationism is not the answer to the problems facing our societies today, but rather, Catholic institutions must “know how to enter, with courage, into the Areopagus of contemporary cultures and to initiate dialogue, aware of the gift they are able to offer to all.”  He went on to say that “education in our times is guided by a changing generation, and that, therefore, every educator – and the Church as a whole is an educating mother – is required to change, in the sense of knowing how to communicate with the young.”

When the topic of education arises, especially regarding Catholic education, it is important to be aware of these two approaches: the isolationist and the dialogical-adaptive.  Catholics must ask themselves – not least because we are frequently being asked by others – what is a Catholic education?  It is clear how Pope Francis would answer the question.

This question is also the theme of one episode of Salt and Light’s series The Church Alive.  In the episode, we go to the foundation of the Church’s teaching on education and discuss how it must adapt to the modern world in order to effect change.  This program is essential for educators at the high school and university levels, and for adult faith formation groups at parishes.

Purchase The Church Alive at the Salt and Light store

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!