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Friday, January 20, 2012

Catholics and the Press

It's no secret that the Media hates us but if we are to be's partially our fault

Recently I happened to witness an exchange between a reporter and a Catholic spokesman and was dismayed by the image given to the Reporter about an important Catholic devotion, one that is quite central to our Faith. I also saw others try to explain things to a reporter who had no qualms in asking for details and clarification, citing that this was entirely new to him and he truly wanted to understand.

I believed him.Truth and sincerity were in his expression and body language, conveying slight embarrassment.  I also knew that the people speaking to him had their minds elsewhere and let's face it: it's really hard to explain our beliefs about things we take for granted because they have always been our practice and belief.

It must be terribly confusing for "an outsider", e.g.  the secular press, to come into any religious organization or something associated with a religious organization, and obtain details of an event, people, or person involved in whatever story they happen to be covering.

We bloggers are often the first to condemn the Media (yup, I'm right there in that crowd!) and harp at them for interviewing this or that dissident or mis-informed individual. We're always rolling our eyes and cringing when we hear or read a reporter's summary of our beliefs and practices or how it applies to a situation, and then, if the spokesperson of a particular place is quoted, we either tend to condemn that person as a "dissident" or, more likely, the reporter with some other defamatory label usually lumped in with "The Liberal Media."

I don't think that's really fair. 

Now, don't go off on me in the combox about the general fact that the Media as a whole is, in fact, actually quite liberal. Even most liberals agree with that! And they've got plenty to say about the "conservative" media, too, and I'll stand in line to condemn the "conservative" end, also without qualms.

So let's move past that and actually shine the light on ourselves as Catholics for a moment. It's necessary and we do need to take a good, hard look. 

Like it or not, if something is happening involving a Catholic parish, reporters and big trucks with huge antennae are going to show up and stick microphones in people's faces. We don't have to like that fact; few people do, even those who are trying to get a story into the News in some way. It simply isn't comfortable to be a bug under glass. The only people who are comfortable with it are veteran reporters and news anchors in cozy studios.

Let's look at things from a different perspective

First let's consider the Catholic psyche.

We Catholics often grow up in our faith and we are accustomed to our liturgical worship; it is quiet, it is contained, and it is constant. We don't just have the Mass which is infinite and contains everything in heaven and earth, but we have the Liturgy of the Hours (LOH) seven times per day, or for busy people, the Magnificat magazine (which is often a bridge to the LOH). We have Eucharistic Adoration, Processions (a bit more public than our typical form of prayer!), Rosary, various prayer groups and just a general culture of prayer that is inherent in our religion.

The world does not understand this intense form of prayer because it is not available for public viewing. While it may be emotional, it is hidden and is not open to reveal to observers who expect us to react in a different way. In the world of religion, Catholicism is very introverted for our relationship with Christ is so intense that we have no need to announce to others what we are doing and when.

But the world does not understand this and if we are in crisis or if a group experiences a great event that is somehow related to the Catholic Church, the general public is confused. They confuse our regular prayer cycles and think if it appears we do nothing, we in fact, are doing nothing when the opposite is true.

They are, quite understandably, a bit stymied by the fact that Catholics pray so quietly and in a crisis, we don't "rally" like many do, but we bow our heads and bend our knees and do this privately or in the silence of the Eucharistic Adoration chapel. If we don't have such a chapel, we to to the Sanctuary and we do the same thing with Jesus hidden in the tabernacle.  

Then enter the Press, in some form, mostly secular or participants in a different non-Catholic or non-Christian religion...or no religion at all.  

The Press is supposed to be conditioned to be "unbiased" (Journalism 101) but the reality is they are human beings and as such, they are biased. However, let us, for the sake of the virtue of charity, assume the best of these professionals and hope they really ARE trying to be unbiased, especially when it comes to religion.

Yet, the largely-secular Press, by practice at least, comes into a Catholic parish and is suddenly confronted with all sorts of theological terms: Liturgy, Eucharistic Adoration, Transubstantiation, etc.

Now, think of who is called upon to respond to the Press at a given event:  often it's the Priest, and really, dear Father has his mind on many things. Perhaps his explanation to the media is harried and clipped because while he knows he must give this interview, his heart is with his flock and all that needs to be done to serve them in this given event or crisis. The parish business administrator may be called upon to become the Spokesman and you know what? That person may not even be Catholic as his job calls for knowledge of business, not theology. He may give an explanation of a Catholic practice of which he has rudimentary knowledge and may even admire, but if he doesn't share the Faith or have direct knowledge through shared participation in a given devotion, he may get the explanation wrong.

It's also quite possible that the person giving the interview to the Press has his or her mind on the larger community, and out of lack of faith, fears our beliefs are not palatable to the general public, and further, may not have a succinct explanation of it. The reporters need word bites, not long theological treatises. So the spokesman bungle the explanation, or, more likely, hedges the explanation to make it seem like something other than what it is...maybe something more Protestant or more "generic" to the allegedly larger non-believing crowd.

Inherent Catholic Culture

As it is, what I'll call "orthodox Catholics" who tend to prefer the quiet, unobtrusive liturgical prayer that characterizes our culture are not very likely to step up to the mike and speak for us. It's just not part of our collective Catholic personality to want to be in the spotlight. Those Catholics who do, though, unfortunately tend to be overwhelmingly blustery and condemning.  Or perhaps they step up out of a sense of duty or parish role and do the best they can with what they have and just pray it all goes away quickly.

Now, when it comes to the blustery types, common to what the world wants to call we "conservative Catholics",  if I were a Reporter, I'd run far away, quickly, and never darken the door of that parish ever again. I'd certainly never call up such people for an interview. Who wants to be lectured-to and condemned as "liberal media"? Why even risk that?

We so often see that some of the more "socially-active" parishes have much of the media spotlight, and we know that those same parishes for some reason tend to be missing the proper theology to back up their explanations, too. But because the personality of those parishes is more extroverted, they are also more press-oriented and so the Media, as a whole, will naturally gravitate towards them. If you were a member of the Press, wouldn't you look for comment on a Catholic topic at a place where you were more likely to be well-received?

Heck, I would!  And, having worked with difficult people in many places, yeah, I'd call the nice witness before I'd call the one I knew was going to be a problem to me personally in the fulfillment of my job!

Here's the thing, my dear friends...we need to do a serious examination of conscience in our relationship with the Press and we need to see where we are at fault...and what we can do to change it. And really, it has to start with we bloggers because, at least online, we are the face of the Church. And we're scaring the secular  Media away. That's not going to help our cause.

Here are my suggestions for good Catholic PR: 

* If you are called upon to be a spokesperson for you parish or our Catholic-related event and need to use terms like "Eucharistic Adoration" or "Liturgy of the Hours" or "Vespers", for example, you need to have a concise definition fresh at hand, use the actual terms for our practices, and understand that our terms may be new to the reporter who visits us.

* Don't shy away from theological terms - such terms invite questions and questions invite answers which tend to develop friendly relationships. (Keep an eye on evangelization y'all. Maybe not that reporter, but if he or she gets it right because you took the time, it can go a LONG way!) 

* Be open to the reporter's requests for definition - have it handy! Write it down on a card you can hand out, even!  (Hey! Media-ready flash cards! I get dibs on the copyright and patent on that idea!) 

* Don't try to evangelize the reporter. *cough*  They're used to that and expecting it because of the fact they're visiting a church. If you don't do it, it will throw them off and you're more likely to help them get your comments right because they'll relax and stop worrying about how to politely turn down your invitation to their Bible study!  ;-)

* Be patient with the reporter. They're just trying to get a job done, they were sent to you by someone over their head and may not even want to be there. Give them the benefit of the doubt, be gracious, and know that this is part of your job, too, even if you're "just a volunteer". Or "just a random guy".

* Stop painting the Media as a whole with a broad brush condemning all. "The Media" is made up of human beings and they have editors who make certain demands. It isn't the reporters who are "in your face" who have the final word on a story: it's their editors. And probably other people, too, like investors. I don't know. I'm not a journalist. Thank God! (No offense to Journalists!)


I guess, ultimately, what I'm trying to say is that if we want to change the state of the Media in the United States, we need to learn to be more friendly TO the Media and stop expecting them to acquiesce to us. We complain they seem to have this or that dissident theologian who has long been discredited, but really, if we don't throw out a welcome mat, they're not going to come pounding down our doors and asking us to comment or explain this or that detail.

We don't have to compromise our Faith; we just need to do better at explaining our beliefs. 

What I witnessed recently renewed my hope in the Press, and I think there are many who would really appreciate a good definition of terms, would be happy to have a knowledgeable Catholic on hand for questions and research, and truly, want to do a good, ethical job of getting the story right.

Maybe, for once, we should give them a chance and recognize that we are our own worst enemy and only we have the power to turn the tide in that regard. 

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Fallen Heroes

Over the last few months, when my brother and I have gotten together we've been renting the "Twilight" movies and syncing them with RiffTraxx, which is a humorous voice-over commentary ripping on a given movie. Having heard the "Twilight" riffs were hilarious, we decided it was the ONLY way to watch the series of movies, and of course, we split our sides doing so.

Understand that the viewer controls the volume of the actual movie, and it's important to be able to hear the lines as often the commentary references them. So it was that yes, I watched the Twilight movies (well, through "Eclipse" and observed a few patterns that sadden me.

Initially, I wondered what the draw was on this particular series. While I don't mind the fictional premise, the way it plays out is surprisingly overly-emo and totally...depressing. Yes, really. We got to the end of the second movie and thought it both went on for WAY too long and quite honestly, if I'd been watching it without RiffTraxx I might well have hung myself by the end. (Yes, this is hyperbole!)

Having watched three of them now, though, I considered the patterns. What is the draw of these angst-filled, dark, depressing, overly-emo movies?

The answer came to me at Adoration yesterday and  perhaps more fully this morning at Mass, on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. It seems odd, doesn't it, to have such a weird Epiphany on such a Holy day in such a Holy season, doesn't it? At the same time, that is how Christ comes to us; in the darkness, in our struggles, as we ponder the profoundly wounded part of our human nature; the nature Jesus took on to restore and glorify.

Bella, the protagonist of the Twilight series, is a teenage girl who happens to be "in love with" an animated corpse and his corpse family (Yeah, they're vampires, but they are non-living ergo, they are corpses and not human any longer), and this corpse is "in love" with her, while at the same time, so is a Werewolf. And "poor Bella" is for some inexplicable reason at the center of everything and constantly being rescued by the Vampire and Werewolf families who are always having to protect her...even dying to do so. And they won't let her participate much in her own salvation. She's supposed to just go along for the ride, and while she's unconscious or bleeding again or sleeping because she nearly died of hypothermia out of pure stupidity (as portrayed by the movie), we are subject to long monologues and dialogues and much pontificating over who loves her the most and who is best for her...etc etc etc. It goes on and on and gets to be quite tiresome.

Now..I get it. There's a wounded heroine in Bella that calls to the wounded depths in many of us, which makes sense; we as humanity are wounded. Bella is young, vulnerable, and for some reason, an object of desire. She yearns for eternal love, and this is true of all of us. We were all created to love and to be loved by God for eternity.

Yet as usual, "love" is misunderstood. Too often "love" is shown to be so one-dimensional, something for self-fulfillment, perhaps something that calls for a little sacrifice...but only a little. Nothing too painful but then again, that's ok when there's a weird hero there to save the day.

And what weird heroes start to appear in fiction and even real life when "love" is so badly warped as it is in our society. A vampire as one's true love and hero? A Werewolf to carry and comfort one? How does that work?

Objective Salvation - the Truest Hero

This morning at Mass I pondered the Crucifix and the humility of Christ, who entered the world in the same way He left it: through a cave. He came humbly, born into the filth of animal dung and laid in a container marked with the saliva of camels, sheep, and oxen. He came quietly for no one wanted Him then, He came to die even for those who did not believe and did not care or know that He ever existed, and He left the world as a criminal, accursed.

And yet, Jesus entered human history "in the fullness of time", entered into our suffering in all ways except sin, for it was our sins He came to redeem. It was our suffering He dignified and called us to unite with His own, which He suffered entirely on our behalf. Jesus comes to us silently and does not "rescue" us in Hollywood Drama, but lifts us up to the supernatural level that does not render us dead or mutated, but rather, makes us fully human and fully alive - for eternity.  

The world desires heroes with great film presence and lofty lists of triumphs against dubious enemies. The world desires heroes that transform  us but - into something non-human. The world demeans humanity while it pretends to elevate it. The world wants a hero that will save the "victims" and not require the victim to lift a finger to save herself. And the victim only wants to be saved from a life of mediocrity and elevated to the mere trophy of a hero who really isn't that heroic. And in the case of Twilight, the hero is, respectively, a blood-sucking corpse living eternal death, and an apparently-stinky guy who turns into a large canine at will. The heroes in such fiction are fallen and yes, perhaps there is a draw there, as well, for we have been conditioned to believe man cannot be perfected and cannot be saved.

In so many ways, every day I look around me, observing our culture through our entertainment, world events, daily interactions, and I fear that we, as a culture, throughout the world, have lost hope. It's not just in popular fiction, but in what our culture clearly values. Our "heroes" are actors with addictions and political agendas, and athletes making obnoxious amounts of money while running dog-fighting rings on the side and maybe running over cops just because they can afford the lawyers to get them off the hook for stuff for which a normal citizen would be penalized to the extent of the law and maybe beyond.

Our cultural heroes are all fallen images of the darkest side of human nature. They have no objective morality, nothing that is consistent, nothing that can be measured and nothing anyone would really want to follow...yet they do. The moral relativism of our society reveals a lack of hope.

This morning I gazed upon the crucifix and pondered how it rose out of the wood of the manger, for as the Church Fathers observed and theologians continue to observe, the wood of the manger and wood of the cross are one and the same. They cannot be separated, and our hero has not fallen...He is risen! And when He rose, He descended to the depths of Hell and ascended to open the gates of Heaven, having restored the dignity of human nature, having, freely paid the ransom for we who choose to be victims of sin.

We do not merit so great a Redeemer! 

Jesus does not strut or preen before us, seeking our popular adulation. He simply IS, and He comes to us, truly, substantially, His very Presence, through the Sacraments. He reaches all of our senses and waits for our response. He is a gentleman who, although created us without our permission, will not save us without our cooperation.

In the eyes of Christ, we are no longer victims, but Children of the Father, brothers and sisters, and subject to His Mother who intercedes on our behalf so that we may cooperate with God's grace more completely. That is not to say Jesus did not accomplish all, but rather, that He is more greatly glorified when we reach out to Him and CHOOSE the path of righteousness and holiness. He is glorified more perfectly when we CHOOSE to turn from sin and fight our temptations, growing, deliberately, in virtue. God is glorified when we embrace the virtues He gives us instead of giving into the temptations that seek to destroy us.

God's Grace is freely given, but it's not cheap; it requires our own participation, our own sacrifices, because becoming fully human wasn't one moment in history; it is constant, for all of us. We are pilgrims on this earth, also born into filth and we will never be fully free and fully redeemed until we move from this world and into eternal glory, should we choose to love God with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our strength.

A real hero doesn't leave a wake of victims but elevates and transforms them, making them ever more human and ever more divine, as God always intended.

Thank you, Jesus.

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[AUTHOR'S NOTE:  This is not intended to be a review of Twilight or exploration of all themes within the books or movie. The use of Twilight characters is incidental and used to illustrate a far more important point.]