Pop Culture

Meet Pope Francis’ big brother!

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francis and jpii

In 1984, Pope Blessed John Paul II visited a leper colony in South Korea. There he embraced the 800 lepers, kissing them and showing them the love of Christ.

Happy Holidays! (A meme by me to help you remember)

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3annunciation

Soon we will be barraged with rhetoric about the “War on Christmas” because someone wishes us “Happy Holidays.” As Catholics, Christmas does not begin until the Vigil on the 24th of December (Christmas Eve). Before that, we are in the season of Advent. A time of preparation, of supplication, of penance, of prayer. To wish others a Merry Christmas, though well-intentioned, ignores a very important time in our Catholic faith and our spiritual lives. We must prepare ourselves spiritually to receive Jesus Christ, the bearer of the Gospel message. The Christian life is not easy, the message brought by Christ challenges everything about what it means to be human. Even the disciples proclaimed: “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” (John 6:60). If we do not properly prepare ourselves for the Coming of Christ, we will not be ready to receive him into our hearts and lives. We will leave him in the cold, shuttering, alone and rejected. When he comes there will be no room for him just as it was so many years ago when his mother and father were left without a proper place to bring him into the world. Do not be so rushed to usher in Christmas; Christ will come just the same. But, will you be ready for him? If you do not take this Advent season to prepare then perhaps you will be the one who, when his parents knock, tells them “We have no room.”

Wishing others a “Happy Holidays” is not an attack on Christmas at all, but rather, a recognition of the Advent season and other days of observance in preparation for the coming of Christ. Once Christmas arrives, wish one another a Merry Christmas, but until then, let’s not forget the fullness of this holy time of year.

The Four Sundays of Advent
December 8 – Immaculate Conception
December 12 – Our Lady of Guadalupe
December 25 – Birth of Our Lord
December 28 – Holy Innocents
December 29 – Holy Family
January 1 – Mary, Mother of God
January 3 – Holy Name of Jesus
January 6 – Epiphany
January 12 – Baptism of the Lord

For Catholics, until we get to December 24th/25th, we should all wish one another Happy Holidays or Blessed Advent!

God’s Peace be with you all!

Hope in the Young

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I hear, see, read, people bemoaning how “bad” it is getting in our world. I know that evil exists in the world. I know bad things happen. I know there are millions suffering. But, I am hopeful. I am hopeful for humanity because of stories like this. Young men who have barely entered their teens, act with profound love towards a young man who, by many of our throwaway society’s standards, does not deserve a chance. This brought tears to my eyes and I hope it can teach us all a lesson in love and sacrifice.  Click Here to See this Middle School Football Team’s Big Play!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/31/olivet-middle-school-football-play_n_4182924.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000009

It’s just entertainment

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The dangers of “it’s just entertainment.”

I recently participated in a discussion regarding age appropriateness of certain children’s movies based on content. One theme that some persons kept bringing up was that “it’s just entertainment” and that if a parent teaches their children correctly, they don’t need to worry about the content of the cartoon as long as it is viewed solely as entertainment. This response is sad and misguided because it does not take into consideration the influence that “entertainment” can have on us, especially children.

Studies have shown (go do a journal search) that television, movies, video games, and various types of entertainment can, and do, influence the way we think and act. A very simple anecdote would be “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” a book that helped influence public opinion to push for the abolition of slavery in the United States. Entertainment molds our vision of the world, most times without our awareness. This is especially the case when our real-life experience of others, particularly those different from us,  is limited.

The evidence is overwhelming that when people repeatedly witness images and scenarios that reinforce stereotypes of persons or groups of people, they are influenced by those images, whether they realize it or not. Allowing a child to watch a cartoon that promotes a stereotype does actually teach that child to think in terms of the stereotype. The irrational part of the brain can, and does, take over in real life. The research regarding the use of the term “illegal” with regards to immigrants who reside in our nation without proper documentation can help us understand this as well. Study after study shows that using the term “illegal” to refer to persons leads others to view immigrants as “less-than” human. It has a dehumanizing effect. Many people who use the term “illegal” do not themselves wish others ill, do not themselves consciously think of immigrants as subhuman, but the results are clear regardless of intent; immigrants are treated as “less than” by those who use the term or repeatedly hear the term in reference to persons.

It goes beyond stereotypes, though. It also affects our understanding of basic universal principles like: love, truth, justice, forgiveness, happiness, and on, and on. I spent a great deal of time when I was a campus minister trying to help my students realize that love is an act of the will, it is a choice, it is a sacrifice; it is not a feeling, it is not something that we “fall into” or “can’t help.” Though they were taught these errant notions of love in many different way, one very clear culprit was “entertainment.” Almost every favorite movie of my students that had a “love story” was about an emotional and/or sexual attraction and not truly about love. The things we choose to watch for entertainment does influence us, most often more than we realize.

Taking the argument a bit to the extreme let us consider other forms of “entertainment” that was “just entertainment.” Perhaps some would say the Coliseum was just entertainment, even though it led to the death of many human beings. Are strip clubs simply “entertainment?”  Is a song that encourages the abuse of women just entertainment? How about a movie that encourages attacking minorities? What about a song that promotes the over-sexualization of women?

As parents, part of the responsibility for teaching right from wrong is about choosing entertainment that is virtuous and not vicious. The response “it’s just a cartoon; it’s just for entertainment” is insufficient and is irresponsible; in fact, it’s just a copout. If a cartoon has a storyline that promotes the subservience of women, it is not “just entertainment.” If a cartoon has characters that reinforce stereotypes of minorities, it is not “just entertainment.” If a cartoon contains content that leads a child away from truth it is not “just entertainment.” Movies, songs, cartoons, television shows, books are not simply amoral objects that have no consequences on those who consume them. They are creations by persons containing ideologies, values, and principles in their content which is intended to influence the consumer; the most vulnerable of these consumers are children. Dr. Seuss was very clear in his intent for writing his books, he wanted to influence the way children and adults treated one another. Harriet Beecher Stowe was clear in her intent to influence others with her “entertainment.” But so do “white power” bands (promoting white supremacy). The movie “Birth of a Nation” was just “entertainment” but promoted a subhuman vision of Blacks.

We cannot simply say that things are just “entertainment” as if things meant to entertain do not also have consequences on how persons respect the intrinsic dignity of others, and human dignity in general. We must be more intentional in our approach to entertainment for children; if that means we limit the things children encounter via entertainment, then so be it. This is not to advocate sheltering children from the real world; rather, it means that in order to teach children right from wrong, to help them understand good and evil, to witness such things in the world they live, we should engage in the world around us and help them have a greater understanding from real-life experiences and not via a “children’s” cartoon.  

Sad, but true.

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When the Church says “do this, it will be good for you… Don’t do that, it will harm you and others” people protest, get irate and say “how dare you”. But when Oprah, Dr. Phil or the women of The View tell people what to do, it is as if God himself proclaimed such words from a burning bush. People take these celebrities’ uneducated, unsupported opinions over that of the Holy Spirit and the Church. This is a sad, but true, commentary on our contemporary society.

Sigh No More About Love

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Singing, as Augustine is believed to have said, is praying twice. Sometimes I find this hard to believe when I listen to much of the music that is played on the radio lately. My friends know that I am an avid music listener. I listen to all forms and types of music. Some of my favorite artists include: Nat King Cole, Garth Brooks, Mahalia Jackson, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Sam Cooke, Nneka, Def Leppard, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Adele… and the list goes on and on.

It is sad that music that is on the radio these days, with the exception of people like Adele, is shallow, and often, promotes decrepit notions of what love really is, what relationships really are about. I cringe when I hear songs like “The Trouble With Love” by Kelly Clarkson, or Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” because these songs, and others like them, equate love to feelings and emotion. Worse yet, they make love out to be something that has nothing to do with one’s will but rather one’s carnal or desires. Pop culture says that love is something that imposes itself upon a person, as if love is an incurable disease.

And then, I heard about a group called Mumford & Sons. If you have not heard of them, I now introduce you to a phenomenal band. Their music sounds to me like an admixture of folk, rock, Gaelic, Appalachian, and a few other unique-to-them-only symphony. Even greater is the content found within the lyrics. Here is just one excerpt from their song “Sigh No More”:

“Love it will not betray you, dismay or enslave you,
It will set you free
Be more like the man you were made to be.” (Sigh No More, 2010)

This short phrase could, and should, take the listener hours to unpack. As Catholic we know that love is not an emotion or an act of one’s desires. Instead, we know that love is an act of the will, a free choice; to sacrifice oneself for the sake of another. This is the true nature, and the profound depth of the meaning of love. We are made in the Divine Image of God; the Author of Love. This is so, and as such, love does not destroy, it builds up. The more we love, the more we become like the Author of Love, “the man you were made to be.” There is freedom in love. We are reminded that freedom is not license to do as we please, but it is to do good without restraint.

“Freedom is not the liberty to do anything whatsoever. It is the freedom to do good, and in this alone happiness is to be found. The good is thus the goal of freedom.” 

(CDF, Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation)

Love provides such freedom. When we choose, as individuated persons, and as whole communities, to give of ourselves for the good of ourselves and the common good, we open greater freedom to the world. It frees us from selfishness, materialism, individualism, narcissism, hatred, anger, oppression, violence, and the likes.

More on love later, for now, seek out artists like Mumford & Sons who speak the truth about Love!

God’s Peace,

Mark