a question of relevance

Pope John Paul II with crucifixToday’s Gospel reading begins:

Jesus said to his disciples: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!”  (Luke 12:49-50)

I think it’s good to remember that renewal of the world begins with interior transformation. No elected official, political party, or legislation — past, present, or future — has the power to save us. Only Jesus Christ has the power to save; He becomes present to us and renews us in the power of the Holy Spirit. In Him, we become instruments of renewal in the world.

If I could recommend only one book about renewal of life and the renewal of the Church through interior transformation, it would be Fire Within by the late Fr. Thomas Dubay, SM. The book changed my prayer life, and continues to do so. It’s a great summary of the teaching of Saint John of the Cross, Saint Teresa of Avila, and the Gospel on prayer.

I’m posting the first three paragraphs here, in the hope that it will be enough to coax at least a few of you to pick up a copy and read it:

The Son, radiant Image of the Father’s glory, proclaimed that He had come to cast a fire upon the earth and that He longed for it to burst into blaze. It was in the form of fiery tongues that the Holy Spirit of Pentecost descended upon a timorous group of men and women. Their minds and hearts having been enkindled with a burning love and ardent zeal, those who received the Spirit sparked the astonishing transformation of an unbelieving and corrupt civilization into a community of faith and love.

In our day the divine fire has not been extinguished. The consuming conflagration has not been contained. The proven incapacity of committees and clubs, speeches and surveys, electronics and entertainment profoundly and permanently to change vast numbers of people for the better has to be conceded. As the experience of the centuries attests, true transformations in the world and in the Church continue to come about only through the interventions of men and women on fire — that is, through saints. The evidence is overwhelming. It is also widely ignored, for it contains an otherworldly wisdom that this world does not welcome. For some, taking the evidence seriously presents a snag, since it implies striving for this same kind of transformation within oneself as a starting point for improving the world. Indeed, at this very moment, deep and lasting changes in the Church are being brought about by a faithful few who are burning interiorly as a consequence of the deep prayer given by the Holy Spirit, who renews the face of the earth in ways other than our own. These quiet, humble, unassuming individuals seldom write position papers, and they are not likely to appear on controversial television talk shows or to attract front-page headlines. They are not identified with any “ism,” and they care nothing for a life of luxury or notoriety. They do not achieve popular acclaim by opposing ecclesial leadership and rejecting received doctrine. Rather, they are like the saints have always been. The burning ones are the unflickering light of the world, the savory salt of the earth, the lively leaven in the mass.

Thus, contemplative husbands and wives are examples of holiness to their children not unlike a Hedwig or a Thomas More. Prayerful clergy serve to inspire parishioners through soul-stirring homilies, sound guidance in the confessional and comforting concern in times of need. Teachers who are aflame ignite their students by their contagious enthusiasm as well as by the attractiveness of the truth they proclaim. Nurses close to God have a healing influence on both soul and body. In the home, in the marketplace, in the cloister, the love steadily radiating from these simple ones permeates and invigorates the world around us. It is unmistakable evidence of God living in and among us, a clear manifestation to our world that the Incarnation has taken place. Common folk instinctively grasp this, while it easily escapes the more sophisticated, who often fail to comprehend what transcends the tangible order of meetings and strategies and publicity campaigns.

In the words of the Saint Pope John Paul II, our responsibility is simply to “become saints, and do so quickly.”

Act One @ 20

I’m in Los Angeles this week, to attend a celebration marking the 20th anniversary of the Act One program:

ActOneEmailLogoAct One is a Christian community of entertainment industry professionals who train and equip storytellers to create works of truth, goodness and beauty.

The celebration is happening today (Saturday, August  17) at First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood.

Here’s a summary of what will be happening:

As part of our year of twentieth-anniversary celebrations, ACT ONE is hosting a day of thoughtful consideration of what we, as a community have learned. We are calling it, “Towards an Authentic Christian Cinema”.

Our speakers and topics for the day will include:

“Religious Metaphors in Art and Movies”

by Enzo Salveggi

Enzo Selvaggi leads a team of designers, artists, and craftsmen to create singular, compelling liturgical space and sacred art through the firm he founded in 2008, Heritage Liturgical. Through acclaimed murals, award-winning mosaics, exquisite hand-carved statuary, authentic french paneling,  decorative finishes and effects, and fine art both new and antique, artisans at Heritage employ the grammar of traditional art to create spaces of aesthetic value and spiritual meaning. American-born, Selvaggi grew up in Italy and continued his university education in the Tuscan hills, where his connection to art and architecture blossomed. Tapping into his traditional European education, Selvaggi weaves the ancient canons of composition with the dynamism and breadth of contemporary styles and techniques.

“Towards a Christian Aesthetic of Cinema”

by Dr. Zach Cheney

Zach Cheney is an assistant professor of Screen Studies in the Department of Cinematic Arts at Azusa Pacific University. He is also a graduate of Covenant College (Lookout Mountain, GA), Covenant Theological Seminary (St. Louis, MO), and San Francisco State University. He has presented at numerous academic conferences on film and media, as well as published an essay on Alfred Hitchcock in the anthology Faith and Spirituality: Masters of World Cinema, Vol. III, published by Cambridge Scholars Press in 2015. His current undertakings include expanding his dissertation into a book manuscript along with a book-length project addressing film and media studies within a biblical-theological framework.

And much more including Dr. Barbara Nicolosi on Flannery O’Connor and Haunting Moments as well as writer/producer, Thomas Bernardo, from the hit show, “Bosch,” on the topic of “Making Television Through A Christian Lens.”

We will also have panels discussing successful writers groups and how to get your indie projects off the ground.

Plus a lot more surprises throughout the day!

Reconnect with your Act One classmates, meet lots of new friends from the other groups, and thank the faculty who have served throughout these last two decades.


SCHEDULE FOR THE DAY

  • 9:00 am – Welcome/Opening Remarks (James Duke)
  • 9:15 am – “Towards a Christian Aesthetic of Cinema” (Dr. Zach Cheney)
  • 10:00 am – “Religious Metaphors in Art and Movies” (Enzo Salveggi)
  • 10:45 am – Break
  • 11:00 am – “A Tribute to David, Ava, and Jack” (Charles Slocum)
  • 11:15 am – “Act One…The Next Twenty Years” (James Duke)
  • 11:30 am –  “Writing Groups That Work and Last” (Panel Discussion)
  • 12:15 pm – Lunch
  • 1:30 pm – “Making Television: A Christian Lens” (Thomas Bernardo)
  • 2:15 pm – “Just Get it Done: Getting Your Indie Project Off the Ground” (Panel Discussion)
  • 3:00 pm – “Flannery “OConnor Meets Sergei Eisenstein: Moment Centered Cinema” (Dr. Barbara Nicolosi)
  • 3:45 pm – Time of Prayer & Celebration
  • 4:30 pm – Event Concludes

You can still register at the door for the conference, though it’s too late to sign up for lunch. 🙂

Here are two video interviews about the history of Act One with founder Barbara Nicolosi:

a beautiful guide to life in the Spirit

El Greco, Saint John Contemplates the Immaculate Conception, Church of Saint Leocadia and Saint Roman; Museum of Santa Cruz, Toledo.

In honor of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I’m reprinting something from the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. At the beginning of Part Three, Section One (“Man’s Vocation: Life in the Spirit”), the Compendium displays a painting by El Greco, and then provides this gloss:

Mary, the Panhagia (all holy), is the masterpiece of the Holy Spirit (Panhagion). Her existence, from her immaculate conception to her glorious assumption into heaven, is completely sustained by the love of God. The Spirit of the Love of the Father and the Son makes of Mary a new creature, the new Eve. Her heart and mind are intent upon the adoration of and obedience to the heavenly Father. She is his beloved daughter and she is also dedicated to the acceptance and service of the Son, whose mother and disciple she is. Her soul is likewise intent upon her surrender to and cooperation with the Holy Spirit for whom she is a treasured sanctuary.

In this image Mary is surrounded by angels playing musical instruments and making merry, her head crowned with the divine love of the Holy Spirit, symbolized by the dove. Mary is the mother and protector of the Church (at her feet there is a faint glimpse of a sacred edifice). Through her efficacious, motherly intercession with Jesus, she pours out upon the Church the abundance of heavenly graces (symbolized by the tuft of blooming roses).

Below at the left, the apostle John in contemplation of Immaculate Mary represents every one of the faithful who sees in the Blessed Virgin the perfect model and likewise the teacher and guide for living in the Spirit.

The Cistercian abbot Christian (12th century) reflected upon how the apostles shared with Mary their spiritual experiences. Comparing them to the twelve stars which crown the Blessed Virgin, he wrote:

“Frequently they gathered around the most prudent Virgin like disciples around their teacher to learn more fully the truth about what she had done, the truth that they would preach to others at the right moment. Since she was divinely set apart and taught, she showed herself to be a true storehouse of heavenly wisdom since in her daily life she had been close as a singular companion to wisdom itself, namely her Son, and had taken to heart and faithfully kept the things she had seen and heard.” (Sermon I on the Assumption of the Blessed Mary)

I once used this text as the starting point of an RCIA session on the moral life. I’ve posted an audio recording of the session below; the relevant section begins around the 17 minute mark.

 

Conclusion of novena for the John Paul II Institute (August 14)

Screen Shot 2019-08-06 at 4.18.56 PMMany students of the John Paul II Institute in Rome are concerned about a massive re-working of the school’s mission. They initiated a novena of prayer that concludes today, August 14, 2019 (the memorial of Saint Maximilian Kolbe).

Below are the prayers that may be used for the final day of the novena.

Ninth Day: August 14

Beloved John Paul II: in his homily at your funeral, your dear friend and fellow bishop, Cardinal Ratzinger said:

Finally, on a more personal note, I would like to thank God for the gift of having worked for many years with Blessed Pope John Paul II. I had known him earlier and had esteemed him, but for twenty-three years, beginning in 1982 after he called me to Rome to be Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, I was at his side and came to revere him all the more. My own service was sustained by his spiritual depth and by the richness of his insights. His example of prayer continually impressed and edified me: he remained deeply united to God even amid the many demands of his ministry. Then too, there was his witness in suffering: the Lord gradually stripped him of everything, yet he remained ever a “rock”, as Christ desired. His profound humility, grounded in close union with Christ, enabled him to continue to lead the Church and to give to the world a message which became all the more eloquent as his physical strength declined. In this way he lived out in an extraordinary way the vocation of every priest and bishop to become completely one with Jesus, whom he daily receives and offers in the Church.

Prayer to Saint John Paul II:

Blessed are you, beloved Pope John Paul II, because you believed! Continue, we implore you, to sustain from heaven the faith of God’s people, and continue to watch over the John Paul II Institute.

Beloved Saint John Paul II, we thank you for all that you gave us and for all that we continue to receive through your intercession. We thank you for being a witness to the mercy of our heavenly Father, for being a true friend and disciple of Jesus who fully reveals man to man himself, and for being such an eloquent instrument of the Holy Spirit, having entrusted everything to Mary, the spouse of the Holy Spirit – Totus Tuus.

With you, we pray your act of entrustment to Mary…

O Mother, you know the sufferings and hopes of the Church and the world: come to the aid of your children in the daily trials which life brings to each one, and grant that, thanks to the efforts of all, the darkness will not prevail over the light. To you, Dawn of Salvation, we commit our journey through the new Millennium, so that with you as guide all people may know Christ, the light of the world and its only Savior, who reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.

Related stories:

JPII Institute purge a case of Vatican types refusing to be honest, transparent (Catholic World Report, 8/13/19)

“Amoris laetitia” is at the center of the controversy over the John Paul II Theological Institute (Catholic World Report, 8/12/19)

The “renewal” of the JPII Institute is a purge—and everyone knows it (Catholic World Report, 8/12/19) 

Losing a Legacy? Assessing the John Paul II Institute Controversy (National Catholic Register, 8/9/19)

The JPII Institute authorities have been caught off guard (Catholic Herald, 8/8/19)

JPII Institute VP Warns: ‘More Here at Stake Than Just an Institution’s Survival’ (National Catholic Register, 8/7/19)

Amid JPII Institute controversy, Benedict XVI meets with recently dismissed professor (Catholic News Agency, 8/5/19)

We’re not ready to answer questions about JPII Institute shake-up, says Vatican (Catholic Herald, 8/2/19)

The JPII Institute has been plunged into an identity crisis (Catholic Herald, 8/1/19)

The JPII Institute purge is a sign of weakness, not strength (Catholic Herald, 8/1/19)

After John Paul II Institute students publish letter, president defends changes (Catholic News Agency, 7/30/19)

JPII Institute Students Publish Letter Expressing ‘Immense Concern’ Over New Statutes (National Catholic Register, 7/30/19)

26 years of the Splendor of Truth

jp2_and_maryTwenty-six years ago today, Saint Pope John Paul II gave the Church an outstanding gift, his letter on the moral life: Veritatis Splendor.

The letter closed with the following reflection and prayer:

Mary shares our human condition, but in complete openness to the grace of God. Not having known sin, she is able to have compassion on every kind of weakness. She understands sinful man and loves him with a Mother’s love. Precisely for this reason she is on the side of truth and shares the Church’s burden in recalling always and to everyone the demands of morality. Nor does she permit sinful man to be deceived by those who claim to love him by justifying his sin, for she knows that the sacrifice of Christ her Son would thus be emptied of its power. No absolution offered by beguiling doctrines, even in the areas of philosophy and theology, can make man truly happy: only the Cross and the glory of the Risen Christ can grant peace to his conscience and salvation to his life.

O Mary,
Mother of Mercy,
watch over all people,
that the Cross of Christ
may not be emptied of its power,
that man may not stray
from the path of the good
or become blind to sin,
but may put his hope ever more fully in God
who is “rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4).
May he carry out the good works prepared
by God beforehand (cf. Eph 2:10)
and so live completely
“for the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:12).

Given in Rome, at Saint Peter’s, on 6 August, Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, in the year 1993, the fifteenth of my Pontificate.