Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Peter, James, and...Pauline


Br. Peter Lyne, SSP
You’ll remember that last month, I complained that people are forever getting us mixed up with the Paulists. This evening I returned from a weekend in Staten Island, NY, where I worked with Peter Lyne, one of our Brothers in the Society of St. Paul, to set the record a little straighter. We’re planning two events this spring to introduce people to Blessed James Alberione, SSP, founder of the Pauline Family, and help them come to know our ten institutes and associations better. In the process, we’re hoping to raise a few dollars for the upcoming documentary on Alberione. (See the film preview by scrolling down the right sidebar.)

One event will take place April 3 in New York City with 1,500 officers of the NYPD and their spouses. The other will be a family barbeque on Staten Island on June 25, ending with the sung novena to St. Paul, whose feast occurs a few days later. At each event we will party, of course (!), and will also talk for a few minutes about our charism, that is, the gift of the Holy Spirit given to the Pauline Family for building up the Church, the Body of Christ. Each event will include a showing of the preview and an opportunity for interested people to discover more.

In the course of our planning two days ago, Br. Peter, Irish-American as they come, told me stories about his experience of Pauline religious life (I’ll never tell) and waxed eloquent about what moves him about his consecration. He graciously answered a few of my questions for Pauline Faithways—and those I gladly share:

PF: What motivates you to collaborate as generously as you do on this project, other than the obvious little detail that Fr. Alberione is your founder too?
BPL: It’s very personal. Not only do I consider him our founder, but one of the greatest privileges of my life was the day I met a saint. It was brief; I was a novice. It was like a Dominican meeting Dominic, a Franciscan or Jesuit meeting Francis or Ignatius.
     When we come in the presence of great men and women of the Church, it is a powerful experience. Their sanctity is our spiritual inheritance. The example of how they  pursued holiness remains with us until the day we go home to God. That carries us through everything in life.

PF: So you see in the story of this great man of the Church a chance for people to have the same experience that you had?
BPL: Exactly. We don’t have to be in the presence of the person to have that experience. When any of us view a film, a documentary, or a newscast, even if we’ve never met the people personally, the documentary gives us a sense that we have met them. Their message, their words, their life somehow affect us.

PF: What aspect of the founder’s life or heritage inspires you the most?
BPL: His sense of determination and perseverance. In the midst of certain encounters and of trying to form this apostolic endeavor [of beginning the Pauline Family], the founder was persistent as well as persevering. He might have felt sorrow or disappointment, but his faith and trust in God made him determined to work for the honor and glory of God, the good of the Church, and the good of humanity.

PF: What are your hopes for this film?
BPL: That as many people as possible—Catholic and non-Catholic—will see this and be edified by the saint of the media.
     Everyone is more media savvy than they were thirty or forty years ago. They need to see the Church there too. People usually see the Church as a building, with its schools and institutions, but the Church is so much more than that. They need to learn more about its activity and about the Church’s interest in communication as a vehicle for preaching the Gospel. They need to see that there are congregations that minister by way of communications.
Br. Peter, SSP, Jas. Haynes III, Hibernians, Sgt. Brian
Reilly, Knights of Columbus & NYPD, Maria Haynes
and husband James IV, both Hibernians. I'm the
photographer.

PF: What message would you like to give to prospective or repeat donors of this project?
BPL: So much money is spent on media in all its forms—computers, iPhones, iPads, TVs. Donors would help the Pauline Family to invest in one of the greatest projects of the Pauline Family—this film.
     By involving donors and benefactors in this way, I think that all the members of the Pauline Family deeply and sincerely invite the laity of the Church to join with us arm in arm, hand in hand, side by side. Evangelization is not the work only of priests, brothers, and sisters, ordained and consecrated. Blessed James wanted the laity to be a part of “us.” Together we can do so much!

We’re working within a $100,000 budget and have raised almost $38,000 so far. If you’d like to outshine New York (Is that possible?) and contribute to this documentary before they do, go to http://www.alberionefilm.com/ to send a check or donate securely online. May Blessed James Alberione join his prayers to yours!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Egypt and Media Mindfulness

In last week’s blog post I mused on how vital it is to lock onto the media generated culture in which we live in order to evangelize more effectively, as St. Paul did in his day. I mentioned that the Pauline Center for Media Studies, as well as various media literacy—or as we tend to call it, “media mindfulness”—projects, are innovative ways in which the Daughters of St. Paul engage youth and those who still exert the greatest influence on them: parents and educators. Introducing them to Jesus Christ, supporting their relationship with him as Church, and providing them with tools to live as he lived—all in the languages of the media—require that we and they understand and “speak” those languages fluently.

Part of that is keeping an critical eye and ear on communicators and their messages. All media messages are constructed. That is, none of them ever truly represent reality; rather, they design it. Just snapping a photo, putting a frame around a visual, choosing one word rather than another or one element of a story over another, or juxtaposing sounds and images winnows certain aspects of one reality to create another. Add political, religious, or economic agenda to that, and you have highly constructed communication.

video

Enter Egypt. This month, like people everywhere, we here at 50 St. Paul’s Avenue in Boston held our breath, as we talked about and prayed over the fate of this kingpin in the Arab world. As days turned into weeks, we also noticed something interesting that clearly illustrates the nature of mass media. If we didn’t know better, we would have thought that, judging from the pictures we saw coming out of Cairo, the entire country was contained in Tahrir Square. How about you? What percentage of your exposure to the situation covered anything else?

Not that we were favoring the status quo over there, but did everyone in Egypt want an overthrow of the old guard? How would we have known? Even if a million people spent these historic days protesting, that would have represented only six percent of Cairo’s entire population—not to mention that of the nation. Because it was reasonable to assume that there were plenty of other likeminded individuals lurking in the shadows, the news media could credibly portray a nation in upheaval and actually assist in shaping it!

This question was raised by former President Carter’s national security advisor on the PBS Newshour the day before President Mubarak stepped down. I’ve attached a video of the interview. If you don’t have time to watch the whole 13-minute clip, set the time slider at 9:30 and let it run for the next two minutes. Below I’ve excerpted some pivotal statements in the conversation:
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI:…I'm also perplexed, somewhat, by the reporting we're getting, because what strikes me about the reporting is that it's totally concentrated on one square in a large city of 15 million people, one square.
JIM LEHRER: Yes.
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: And that's all we have seen. And we have seen it now for 10 days.
But what about the rest of the country? Even what about the rest of Cairo? What's happening there?
JIM LEHRER: Yes.
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: I wish our correspondents would talk to some of the other people, because we don't really know what's going on. We have essentially a focus on a narrow, highly congested, combustible situation.
But we don't have a sense of what is really happening elsewhere in the country. In some places, it could be worse. For example, people have talked about Alexandria erupting. But, in many parts of the country, and maybe even in Cairo, it's much less volatile. So, we don't really have a good grasp, visually, and therefore intellectually, of what is really happening.
JIM LEHRER: …I'm going to pick up on a point of Dr. Brzezinski's. …
[T]here is a concern about people who are not in the square who want to go back to work, where they have got their shops open, but there's nobody there to buy anything…. [I]s that the majority, or do you think the majority is ready for -- we don't know, do we?
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: We don't know.
We don’t know. Understandably, the media wants to be where the action is. But for a profession that is presumably committed to communicating in the tradition, say, of Walter Cronkite’s “that’s the way it is,” we get very little apart from the visually and aurally tantalizing. By the way, did you notice something else? According to Dr. Brzezinski, our intellectualization depends heavily on visualization. It wasn’t always like that. I think that this is one way that with John Paul II we can speak of modern culture, for better and for worse, in terms of a new psychology.

Don't miss Angela Santana's insight under "Weekly PauLine" on the sidebar at right. It’s the responsibility and privilege of Catholic and other Christian communicators to produce media messages that do justice to the whole truth about the human person and human society. It’s the responsibility and the privilege of the Daughters of St. Paul to identify together with them the principles to help them do that, and in so far as our resources allow, to base productions of our own on those, as well. In the end it’s the responsibility and privilege of us all to “have the mind of Christ” (1Cor. 2:16) to empower us to bring the Gospel to bear on the culture we all live in.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Athenians, Corinthians, and Mediaspeak

In sharing the Jesus-story is "mediaspeak" of any use? I was thinking about this last Sunday, when I heard Paul the Apostle determined to witness to the crucified Christ.

Some scholars believe that St. Paul had made a pastoral mistake in Athens when he quoted Greek thinkers and poets to get in good with the Athenians (cf. Acts 17:16ff.). They maintain that, learning from this experience, he later cut to the chase in his preaching to the Corinthians, determined to witness to nothing “except Jesus Christ and the fact that he was crucified (1Cor. 2:2).

Other scholars, though, don’t believe that by simply recalling Greek wisdom in Athens Paul was kissing up to the culture. His mistake, one that he obviously avoided at Corinth, was that he did so at the expense of the entire Gospel message. A careful reading of his sermon at the Areopagus, the rocky hill in Athens where open air discussions were held, reveals that he side-stepped the crucifixion, probably for fear of discrediting the Gospel among these sophisticates. He jumped from a reasoned explanation of belief in God, sailed through the judgment of the world, only to land on the resurrection of Christ. It apparently didn’t occur to him that if his listeners couldn’t conceive of Someone saving the world through a form of capital punishment meted out to slaves, they would never wrap their heads around resurrection from such a death! I imagine that as he trudged the 40 plus miles to Corinth after that fiasco, he repeatedly shook his head and muttered, “What was I thinking?”

Once among the sports fans of Corinth, Paul was not above couching his Gospel in a cultural context. This is clear from the way he referenced track meets and boxing as analogies for self-discipline and self-conquest in the life of the spirit (cf. 1Cor. 9:22-27). Even so, he made sure that he offered them something other than yet another path to self-transcendence. “Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified…” (1Cor. 1:22, 23).

So it is with every believer today, everyone committed to Gospel values, every witness to Christ and him crucified and risen. We live, work, and play in a world that seems irreconcilably at odds with the Gospel, with people who have no earthly idea of why we live the way we do. We want to share the life within us, but where to start? Even more, how do we help them ask their questions, or even know that they have questions?

Storytelling is probably one of the best ways to help them see themselves without making them run from us, screaming. Jesus was a Master at it. Media-makers are the storytellers of our day, but whose tale do they tell? All of us, the tellers and the told, can tease the story of the Crucified-Risen One out of the narratives we hear and see in advertising, movies, music, and more, if we become adept at understanding the media and their messages and pass those skills on to our children. The Daughters of St. Paul call it becoming media mindful. It’s an imperative from which no one—bishop, teen, parent, or civil servant—is exempted. Through our prayerful relationship with him who is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1Cor. 1:24), grace infuses those attempts and gives them life.

Since 1936, with its first papal letter about communication, the Church has constantly described the media as gifts of God (Vigilanti cura, n. 4). It’s not uncommon for sincere people to disagree, as they are affronted by the consumerism and hedonism generated by modern media. About three years ago, a diocesan director of faith formation told me that a priest-friend of hers refuses to go on the Internet, because, as he says, he’s heard too many confessions. Now, one of the criticisms leveled against Sigmund Freud is that he studied only sick people, then tacked his conclusions onto everybody else in the world. More than ever before, then, the proliferation of means and messages, as well as the culture engendered by them, calls for discernment, not for trench warfare. As Eric Clapton sings, it’s all in the way that you use them.

In his encyclical, Mission of the Redeemer, John Paul II goes even farther than Eric does. He writes that it’s not enough to simply use the media for the Gospel. To enter as Christ’s disciples into the new Areopagus of communication, he points out that we need to integrate the Gospel into this new culture’s languages, techniques, and psychology (n. 37) taking them on, as it were, like the way God became human. (See also "Weekly PauLine" on the sidebar at right.)

This is the core message of media workshops and presentations that we Paulines and our collaborators give. It’s what we share with educators through the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Culver City, CA. These FSP projects in North America may be operating on a shoestring budget, but they enrich the life and ministry of many. Media certification courses, Movie Bible Nights, film blogs and regular reviews in national and local periodicals, Catholic school book fairs, vocation discernment programs, parent-teacher conferences, and Pauline Books & Media publications are only some of the ways we work with others to Christianize the media generated culture with Gospel values.

“On the whole, I believe that there are seeds of the Gospel in a significant percentage of mainstream film releases. And if we approach films in anticipation of authentic lectio, they can create a spiritual experience—cinema divina indeed” (Sr. Rose Pacatte, FSP, director, Pauline Center for Media Studies). 
“This is a course you can’t afford to miss!  Media needs to be embedded in our evangelization…Teachers know the merits of a lesson plan that instructs through multiple intelligences.  This course unlocks the tools that are embedded in media-rich lesson plans, tools that you can use immediately” (Deacon Bill, Fremont, CA).
“Thank you, Sister, for all your work helping us to connect with God's Beauty” (Randy Heffner).

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Spiritual Off-Roading

Srs. Emi, Roberta, and Joan Paula,
nearly unmindful of the path they're
paving, are in it for the adventure. 
In the high sierra of my native northern California, off-roading is not the foreign concept it appears to be here back East (or “down East,” as Canadians would have it). I hesitate to call it a sport. Without major adaptation, I doubt it would ever qualify for the Olympics. But an exciting adventure it is. You take your Jeep Grand Cherokee with its four-wheel drive, versatile suspension, yada, yada, yada, and you literally head for the hills, veering off I-80 as soon as a foothill beckons. You even thumb your nose at the side roads, and yes, the unpaved ones too. You’ve dressed for the occasion, packed light, and maybe taken a friend. There’s safety in numbers.

It’s not for those who’ve written the driver’s ed manual, quake at the unknown, obsess over scratches, or polish chrome in their sleep. It’s not for the faint of heart.

And neither is consecrated life.

Today is the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, commemorating how the firstborn, 40-day-old Jesus was offered to God in the Temple by Joseph and Mary—foreshadowing his later self-offering and victory—and whose life was symbolically “ransomed” by a pair of doves, the sacrifice of the poor.

In 1997 John Paul II named this the World Day of Consecrated Life. It’s a chance for everyone to think about what he calls the “stupendous gift” of vowed life that God gives to the Church and the world in communal religious life, societies of apostolic life, secular institutes, eremitical life in solitude, and vowed virginity within the secular sphere. “Stupendous” and “gift,” because in an off-roading kind of way, it takes us on the road less traveled and, through no merit of our own, leads us in an adventure unlike any on earth—the radical following of Christ and all the consequences of that choice, here and hereafter.

The candle is the traditional symbol of this feast, which is why, centuries ago, it was named Candlemas Day. Consumed as it sheds brightness and warmth, this small light becomes an apt symbol of Christ’s self-offering and that of every consecrated person. In the Temple, Simeon called Jesus “a revealing light to the Gentiles and the glory of [God’s] people, Israel” (Lk. 2:32).  So this mystery becomes “an eloquent icon of the total offering of one’s life for all those who are called to show forth in the Church and in the world, by means of the evangelical counsels ‘the characteristic features of Jesus—the chaste, poor and obedient one’” (Message of John Paul II). 

Sr. Neville Christine makes her
first profession of vows.


In case you think this has nothing to do with you—single, ordained, married, widowed, or divorced, as you may be—John Paul has a word for you: “The life of special consecration, in its many forms, is at the service of the baptismal consecration of all the faithful. In contemplating the gift of consecrated life, the Church contemplates her own intimate vocation of belonging only to her Lord, desirous of being in his eyes ‘without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and without blemish’” (Eph 5:27). In other words, if you’re chosen to drive the streets and highways of life, you can look at what we’re doing in the reckless abandon of love and know that you will survive and thrive. Just as baptized into Christ as we are, you are just as loved.

With biblical imagery, John Paul reflects that the consecrated life of both women and men is a sign of the Church, Christ’s Bride, tending toward the fulfillment of her union with her Bridegroom. He reminds us that for this we can rely on God’s fidelity and grace to carry us over the terrain and take us where we cannot even imagine: “You have not only a glorious history to remember and to recount, but also a great history still to be accomplished! Look to the future, where the Spirit is sending you in order to do even greater things” (ibid.).

Scroll up this blog until you see "Weekly PauLine" on the right sidebar. Does it remind you of anyone? If you know young people
• who have a sense of what’s right and good and are motivated to do it,
• who value the life of the spirit,
• who possess a tremendous capacity to love, a spirit of self-sacrifice, and a consuming thirst for the salvation of the world,
• in short, who long to be like Jesus,
encourage them to be Pauline sisters, brothers, priests or consecrated laypersons!(http://www.daughtersofstpaul.org/; http://www.vocationoffice.org/) They will be able to spend themselves completely, while their horizons continue to stretch out before them, always broader and more beautiful.