Monday, February 28, 2005


...About Nothing. That pretty much defines the Oscar telecast last night. The stars looked lovely, but, in the end, the real "Stars" of Oscar night are appropriately the movies being celebrated. And hence the problem last night. Everybody all dressed up with nothing to celebrate.

The stars of the various nominated projects all made valiant efforts to gush about how honored they were to be part of such "important" movies, but most of them were long-ago bored with feigning awe at the brilliance, daring and genius of the gloomy and mediocre films that got them all on the red carpet this year. Laura Linney looked positively comatose as she answered for the 87 gazillionth time, how pleased she was to be part of a portrait of such "an original man" as the (perverted) sex researcher Kinsey. Cate Blanchett's eyes also crossed as she rehearsed once again what a challenge it was to recreate the (acerbic, sharp-edged) Kate Hepburn. Mike Leigh yawned out the obvious truth that his movie, Vera Drake was intended to be a warning that if we make abortion illegal, people like his character would be doing abortions again in back alleys. (What the hell is a back alley, anyway? Why is that worse than the Planned Parenthood facility sitting prominently on Vermont? I want to know...)

Chris Rock's jokes were so lame, it was quite clear that without the F-word, this comic doesn't have much else. He wasn't funny, and it wasn't clear that he had even seen any of the nominated films. And did he mean to subvert the whole evening by showing the interviews with all the black movie-goers who hadn't seen any of the nominated films? It was my favorite part of the evening.

Friday, February 25, 2005


I've gotten several emails about a recent episode of the new NBC sit-com Committed, which seems to be trying to carve an audience for itself out of the niche group of Satan worshippers. ("How's that workin' out for ya?") I didn't catch the show myself, so I can't comment, but, in the interests of stopping more people from sending me "Did you hear about this?!" emails, here's the story... (Someone forwarded me the following piece without any heading as to where it came from.)

During the February 22 episode of the NBC-TV sitcom, “Committed,” two non-Catholics are mistakenly given Holy Communion at a Catholic funeral Mass. Nate, who is Jewish, and Bowie, a Protestant, don’t know what to do with the Eucharist, so they make several failed attempts to get rid of it. For example, they try slipping it into the pocket of a priest, dropping it on a tray of cheese and crackers, etc.

At one point, the priest, who is portrayed as not knowing the difference between the Host and a cracker, goes to grab the “cracker” from a tray of appetizers; he initially balks when he discovers that it is the last one. Then he changes his mind, saying, “Oh, what the hell.” By far the most offensive scene occurs when Nate and Bowie accidentally flush what they think is the Host down the toilet.

If you saw the show, feel free to let the NBC Executive in charge of it, Jamie French, know what you think:

Here's a good piece on Critic who is a Christian, and friend to COTM, Jeffrey Overstreet. Jeffrey has a lot of grace and goodness about him - he impresses me always for being able to disagree without calling the other side "stupid." I am glad Jeff is on our side. (Even though I know the notion of "sides" is what gets Jeffrey all riled up.) There are a lot of good points in the piece - lots of springboard for discussion. For example this snip:

...The divide we have created between the sacred and secular is crap," he says. "To say there is that divide is to say God can't be there, he can only be here. God likes to work everywhere. It's not just Christians who are missing out, either."

agree with that, as long as we remember that the same can be said of Satan.

A good read. Check it out.

I am a guest on an upcoming episode of PAX's Faith Under Fire. Here's a Newsday column about the show - they liked our segment.

Putting Faith in the Hot Seat

When it comes to religion, this show spews 21st century fire and brimstone


February 25, 2005

FAITH UNDER FIRE. PAX TV's religious talk-debate series starts a fresh run
of episodes with an hour devoted to "culture wars," including a segment on
Hollywood's alleged bias against people of faith. Tomorrow night at 10 on

Would Jesus order a burger at Wendy's or stick with the green salad? Is God
a capitalist? Is hell metaphoric or real?

On PAX TV's "Faith Under Fire," questions such as these are debated like
there's no tomorrow. It's a show where clergymen get hot under the collar.
It's "Crossfire" (rest in peace) with a dash of hellfire.

If your notion of religious broadcasting is PBS' "Religion & Ethics
Newsweekly," where correspondents take a "60 Minutes"-like approach to
stories, or ABC Family's "The 700 Club," where everybody testifies and
fellowships, "Faith Under Fire" may be a revelation. If you love to argue
about God and religion, it may be TV heaven.

The host-anchor is Lee Strobel, a Yale-educated journalist who once covered
legal issues for the Chicago Tribune. Since he found Jesus in 1981, he's
become a pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago and is
the author of a string of bestsellers, among them "The Case for Faith: A
Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity."

On TV, Strobel is not a neutral host, but his approach nonetheless is more
akin to Ted Koppel's than Bill O'Reilly's. He doesn't bully and he doesn't
pull rank. He encourages passionate argument, but he tries to make sure his
guests get their fair share of air time, and he doesn't let them talk or
shout over each other for too long at a stretch.

"Faith Under Fire" is at its best when the issue at hand is really
significant - the morality of stem-cell research as opposed to, for
instance, Madonna's embrace of kaballah - and when Strobel has guests who
represent distinct opposing viewpoints articulately.

Saturday's season premiere is thus a little disappointing. The topic,
"culture wars," couldn't be timelier or more ripe for debate, but the guest
array unfortunately runs a gamut of A to about C.

The opening question: Are the news media biased against traditional
religious values? Strobel and his guests, MSNBC talk-show host Joe
Scarborough and radio talker-author Hugh Hewitt, answer yes, yes and yes.
They make blanket statements about the hostility of network news
organizations and major-market newspapers to religion, suggesting that if
those journalistic enterprises were really in synch with America's faith and
spirituality, there'd be as much coverage of those topics daily as there is
of sports or business.

If the producers of "Faith Under Fire" had included a representative of the
allegedly godless news media on the panel, that person might have pointed
out there would be many more shows like Strobel's and the aforementioned
"Religion & Ethics Newsweekly" if they didn't play to relatively tiny
audiences. Not even Fox News Channel, the cable news network apparently
favored by the religious right, devotes a significant amount of time to

Should there be more? Absolutely, but Strobel and his guests are so busy
ganging up on the media - parts of it, that is - that they don't really open
the issue up.

Scarborough and Hewitt do disagree on one point. When Scarborough brings up
the topic of abortion and suggests that public opinion would shift
overwhelmingly to the "anti" column if only a popular magazine such as "60
Minutes" would show the procedure, Hewitt counters that the tide already has
turned against Roe vs. Wade and that such a telecast would only hurt the
anti-abortion cause.

Saturday's segment about Hollywood's animus toward religious Americans is
more satisfying. Here, again, there's nobody speaking directly for TV and
movie-makers (philosophical "Deadwood" mastermind David Milch or "Joan of
Arcadia" creator Barbara Hall would have been great). But writers Barbara
Nicolosi and Davin Seay, professing Christians, are lively and don't walk in

Nicolosi, who runs a workshop in Hollywood for screenwriters, says she would
"like to see a Christian on screen once in a while that I actually recognize
as someone that I know." She insists that faith is misrepresented in movies
and TV shows because the people who make it by and large have none.

Seay, whose published work ranges from novelizations of "Touched by an
Angel" episodes to a biography of singer Al Green, says it's naive to think
there's some kind of anti-religious Hollywood "cabal." It's just people
trying to make a buck in a business where nobody's sure what works.

He also argues that there's more moral content in TV and movies than
Christians give credit. "I think there's more discussion of what the truth
is and how we deal with the truth in a single episode of 'The Simpsons'
than, say, 50 hours of a TBN praise-athon."

What makes Strobel's show intriguing and valuable, even in a lesser outing
like tomorrow's, is that it treats faith as something to be examined and
challenged, again and again, rather than as a bunker to hide in.

Copyright (c) 2005, Newsday, Inc.

Thursday, February 24, 2005


Thanks to the initiative of Act One alumn Lori Deason, we are starting up our weekend Before Act One workshops. These are intense (in the full Act One sense of that term...) two day events that cover the essentials of getting started in film and television writing.

We will hold, at least, three of these this year in San Antonio in April, in Seattle and in Fort Lauderdale. Click here for more information about attending.

If you have access to a place (ie. church or school hall, conference room, classroom, any place that can fit about fifty people and a large screen), and would be willing to help us with some local promotion, we would be happy to bring Before Act One to your town. Email if you're interested.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005


[NOTE FROM BARB: I know some of the folks behind this new project. I am happy to help them get the word out. Here's their press release...]

Art Within, the nation’s premiere arts and media group, is pleased to announce the launch of the Art Within Hothouse at The Art Within Hothouse is a unique online script database devoted to the blending of faith and scriptwriting, and is a valuable networking tool to bring together writers and producers from all over North America.

“I’ve always envisioned launching a website for writers and producers that is something like a cross between Amazon and E-bay,” said Art Within’s Artistic Director Bryan Coley. “The site will grow to include an inventory of writers and their works that is searchable like Amazon, and will hopefully make a connection between someone who has a product and someone searching for that product, similar to E-bay.”

Registration for the Art Within Hothouse is free, and registered writers and producers may use the website to read descriptions and reviews of scripts and perform advanced searches based on keywords, cast size, and other criteria. Similar to Amazon, the site will allow producers or fellow artists to actually evaluate scripts online through written comments, making a producer’s search for a quality writer much simpler.

Art Within’s creative team will also evaluate scripts, lending its “stamp of approval” to recommended works. Finally, writers and producers will be able to write extensive profiles on themselves so this on-line “watering hole” has names and faces associated with it.

Since 1995, Art Within has been dedicated to integrating faith and art to impact contemporary culture. Working through the vehicles of theater and film, Art Within focuses on nurturing scriptwriters and screenwriters with a faith perspective and helping producers find high-quality new scripts through Art Within’s development process.

During the past ten years, Art Within has launched a resident theater company, a literary wing, a creative team to partner with writers, a script development process, and an annual writers and producers symposium and showcase. Over the next five years, Art Within will commission 25 new scripts for the stage and screen, with the goal of serving as a distribution network for more than 50 producing organizations.

For more information about the Art Within Hothouse, or to schedule an interview with Art Within Artistic Director Bryan Coley, contact Laura Swickard McGowan at (847) 328-8009.

Laura Swickard McGowan
Laura McGowan Communications
P (847) 328-8009

Tuesday, February 22, 2005


A new book has just been released by Alba House called The Theology of The Passion of the Christ. What sets this book apart from the other 72 books about the movie is that this one has a preface written by, well, moi. (I always revert to Miss Piggy when I'm feeling impressed with myself...)

The book was writter by Dr. Monica Miller and is a thorough and serious consideration of the movie's theology. I found this book refreshing to read because it discusses the theological and Scriptural roots of many of the creative decisions Mel made in his film. It's about time some one stopped hurling accusations and took the film seriously as a work of sacred art and hence, a "source of theology." (Ref. JPII, Letter to Artists)

...when we have images of completely naked Jesus up and down the walls of one of our Cathedrals? A reader sent me a copy of the following article about a controversy going on in a church in New Zealand. The writer pointed out that the artist behind these pieces is not Catholic, and wanted to know how it was possible that a Catholic artist couldn't be found for this commission. I would say, that a Catholic artist was not solicited, because they wanted someone who would not be troubled by any devotional connection to the theological truth behind the Stations. Just guessing here.

Read it and weep.

16 February 2005


Bold naked images of Jesus in new relief sculptures installed in Christchurch's Catholic Cathedral have attracted angry protests from parishioners.

About 20 parishioners holding placards reading "ugly" and "pornographic"
protested outside the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament on the weekend.

The sculptures, by Christchurch artist Llew Summers, mark the 14 stations of the cross and were dedicated to celebrate the cathedral's 100th anniversary. The stations of the cross depict the last hours of Jesus Christ's life.

Parishioner Monica Reedy said there was a groundswell of concerned parishioners who felt the art depicting a naked Jesus was "inappropriate". "I don't think the committee understands the passion we have as parishioners and as art critics in our own right. We should have been involved (in the decision) step by step." said Reedy. "(The works) look like Neanderthal man."

[NOTE FROM BARB: Ref: Sensuus Fideii]

Modern art was inappropriate in a neo-classical building, Reedy said. She described the new stations of the cross as a sad milestone in the church's history which damaged the essence of the church. "Can you imagine that they would be allowed to do that in any sophisticated and intact building in Europe?"

Summers, who is not a Catholic, welcomed the protests, saying they encouraged discussion around the artwork. "There is almost no naked Christs in the world. It's a truth that you are bringing to it," he said. There was a lot of celebration of the female body, but very little of the male body, he said. "I'm interested in the glorification of humanity, not the evilness of humanity."

[NOTE FROM BARB: Somehow, the Stations of the Cross seem to be a better natural vehicle for the evil of humanity than its glorification. There are other places where we all, you know, come off better...]

Cathedral Trust committee member Professor John Simpson said the committee had carefully considered the selection of Summers for the difficult task of exploring "the drama, the poetry and the absolute pathos" of the last few hours of Christ's life. It was too soon to condemn the value of the artwork, he said.

"There are bound to be some who are uplifted by the work and some who consider it unworthy. We believed that his understanding of the matter of the passion of Christ was such that we would end up with something unique," Simpson said.

Michelangelo's sculpture of David was attacked and damaged in its early
days but now it was considered a great work, he said.

[NOTE FROM BARB AGAIN: Um, but not because of its nudity. It was attacked because it made a political statement about the times. Idiot.]

He was upset that people were unhappy with the stations of the cross and would be happy to speak to them about his own understanding of the sculptures.

Christchurch poet Bernadette Hall said the artwork was historically accurate because crucifixion was traditionally reserved for slaves who were stripped to humiliate them.

[NOTE FROM BARB: Um...and since when is a poet an authority on ancient Roman execution techniques? Just checkin'... See, I'm going to go with the Gospel account here, which mentions the stripping of Christ on Calvary. The, um, eye-witnesses seem pretty clear on that.]

"They really bring out the humanity of Jesus Christ. For me, personally, it
is quite a relief to see the human figure of Christ. It was very brave and
extraordinarily honest."

[WARNING FROM BARB! WARNING! Use of the word "brave" to describe art always means it's yucky! Warning!...]

Reedy understood the intention of the artist was to emphasise Christ's naked vulnerability but even so, she said, it was not necessary. The committee did not consult widely enough within the diocese, she said. "I wonder who they have their mandate from."

Cathedral administrator Monsignor Barry Jones said the protesters were a
minority in the parish. "They (the sculptures) are just so unusual. When I first saw them I did not know what to make of them."

[NOTE FROM BARB: That's because what's left of your shame reflex was trying to make you revolted, Monsignor. But you keep on fighting that...]

The more I see them the more they grow on me. I think we need to spend time with them," he said.

This is all so screwed up. The purpose of the Stations of the Cross are to lead the faithful into a climate of prayer. Having Jesus' penis exposed does nothing to lead people into prayer. (How much do you want to bet the artist is gay?)

Art has a historical context. Uncivilized men tromping around naked would probably not be put off by the sight of one more penis. We, however, are. And I'm going to go with clothing be a generally good part of civilization. This means that only Neanderthals will possibly be able to achieve a prayerful state staring at these images. The rest of us will be alternately distracted, shamed, disgusted or turned on.


I have to admit, this piece over at Mere Comments resonated uncomfortably with me. Here's the lead...

I have never been enthusiastic about film reviews as a regular feature in Touchstone. Assertions that they are necessary to engage the culture leave me cold. Reading pert and urbane reviews in culture-sensitive Christian magazines has very frequently left me with the lingering question if the reviewer, whether he found the movie good or bad by his customary criteria, ever felt—I have never seen it admitted—that he had been defiled by what he had seen, so that the confessional might be the next stop, and that there might be along with this the embryo of a resolution that one really should stop looking at these things.

I say this as a frequent viewer of films who is growing increasingly uneasy about the practice. The fulminations of the church fathers against the theatre and “spectacles,” and the difficulties the churches seem historically to have had with plays and players keep coming to mind. Troubling memories of my own exposure to the world of the theatre (of which television and the movies are an extension) as a pit musician haunt me a bit. There is something wrong with this world. It exists in a sex-charged, antinomian atmosphere, not good for marriages, not good for families, encouraging by its very nature narcissism and sexual infidelity with its endemic and unwholesome emphasis on stardom and romantic love. It is not innocent, and I wonder if it can be. I cannot forget the numerous performances of Camelot for which I have played. “I Loved You Once in Silence” and King Arthur’s sad epilog notwithstanding, the end of it all was still that it was in some way worth it. But it’s not.

I have felt this same kind of lingering doubt after many movies, especially in this past year of thematic and methodological cesspools that I had to sit through as a critic. Examples...

In the movie Closer I sat through the Internet sex scene between the two men feeling waves of disgust and horror wash over me. Frankly, I didn't even follow some of the perversions the two men were describing, and I kind of wish maybe I had been kept in the dark....or rather, kept in the light. The scene in which Julia Roberts gets particularly potty mouthed about her sexual experiences left me feeling shame for her, and for myself for having heard something that, beyond the fact that it (ie. adultery) is innately evil, in its nature (ie. sex) is properly intimate and private. Over and over in movies, I feel a sensation of being violated by having to watch things that I have no right to watch.

I felt the same way about the gross sex scenes and references in Sideways.

I'm contending here that losing one's innocence is not a good thing. We're not supposed to be wide-eyed idiots, scandalized by the darkness in the human heart, but we are supposed to have a fundamental lightness of heart, a sense of joy and beauty. I think exposure to this kind of movie robs that.

The worst effect of many of this year's movies is that they are pervaded with cynicism.

"People are basically pigs, and men are the piggiest of all." (Sideways, Closer)

"No one is really good." (Million Dollar Baby,Closer)

"Virtue is a sham because nothing is objectively wrong." ( Vera Drake, Kinsey, Million Dollar Baby)

"Heroism is in fulfilling your own dreams. Personal morality has nothing to do with heroism." (The Aviator, Million Dollar Baby, The Sea Inside, Ray)

"Anyone who claims to love virtue is just a hypocrite waiting to be unmasked." (Saved, Closer)

"Religion is irrelevant at best and a sham at worst." (The Sea Inside, Million Dollar Baby)

"Everything is rotten through - church, state, family, art, and hence nothing can be relied on as a source of guidance and direction." (All of them.)

This latter idea becomes particularly insidious when paired up with the accompanying prevaling cynicism, "Your own being is false and in denial." It makes us a generation without a compass. It makes us depressed and indifferent and suspicious and isolated. And did I say depressed?

We Christians have to be aware of the lies of the age in order to address them. But it certainly is possible that we can be poisoned slowly by the secular air until we start to look at our own creed as just another coping device.

Monday, February 21, 2005



A Counterfeit -- a Plated Person --
I would not be --

Whatever strata of Iniquity
My Nature underlie --

Truth is good Health -- and Safety, and the Sky.

How meagre, what an Exile -- is a Lie,
And Vocal -- when we die --

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 21, 2005 - Here is the text of John Paul II's new apostolic letter on the media, "The Rapid Development," published today by the Holy See.

* * *


1. The rapid development of technology in the area of the media is surely one of the signs of progress in today's society. In view of these innovations in continuous evolution, the words found in the Decree of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, "Inter Mirifica," promulgated by my venerable predecessor, the servant of God Paul VI, December 4, 1963, appear even more pertinent: "Man's genius has with God's help produced marvelous technical inventions from creation, especially in our times. The Church, our mother, is particularly interested in those which directly touch man's spirit and which have opened up new avenues of easy communication of all kinds of news, of ideas and orientations."[1]

I. Fruitful Progress in the Wake of the Decree "Inter Mirifica"

2. More than forty years after the publication of that document, it appears appropriate to reflect on the "challenges" which the communications media constitute for the Church, which Paul VI said "would feel guilty before the Lord if she did not utilize these powerful means."[2] In fact, the Church is not only called upon to use the mass media to spread the Gospel but, today more than ever, to integrate the message of salvation into the "new culture" that these powerful means of communication create and amplify. It tells us that the use of the techniques and the technologies of contemporary communications is an integral part of its mission in the third millennium.

Moved by this awareness, the Christian community has taken significant steps in the use of the means of communication for religious information, for evangelization and catechesis, for the formation of pastoral workers in this area, and for the education to a mature responsibility of the users and the recipients of the various communications media.

3. Many challenges face the new evangelization in a world rich with communicative potential like our own. Because of this, I wanted to underline in the Encyclical "Redemptoris Missio" that the first Areopagus of modern times is the world of communications, which is capable of unifying humanity and transforming it into -- as it is commonly referred to -- "a global village." The communications media have acquired such importance as to be the principal means of guidance and inspiration for many people in their personal, familial, and social behavior. We are dealing with a complex problem, because the culture itself, prescinding from its content, arises from the very existence of new ways to communicate with hitherto unknown techniques and vocabulary.

Ours is an age of global communication in which countless moments of human existence are either spent with, or at least confronted by, the different processes of the mass media. I limit myself to mentioning the formation of personality and conscience, the interpretation and structuring of affective relationships, the coming together of the educative and formative phases, the elaboration and diffusion of cultural phenomena, and the development of social, political and economic life.

The mass media can and must promote justice and solidarity according to an organic and correct vision of human development, by reporting events accurately and truthfully, analyzing situations and problems completely, and providing a forum for different opinions. An authentically ethical approach to using the powerful communication media must be situated within the context of a mature exercise of freedom and responsibility, founded upon the supreme criteria of truth and justice.

II. Gospel Reflection and Missionary Commitment

4. The world of mass media also has need of Christ's redemption. To analyze with the eyes of faith the processes and value of communications, the deeper appreciation of Sacred Scripture can undoubtedly help as a "great code" of communication of a message which is not ephemeral, but fundamental for its saving value.

Salvation History recounts and documents the communication of God with man, a communication which uses all forms and ways of communicating. The human being is created in the image and likeness of God in order to embrace divine revelation and to enter into loving dialogue with Him. Because of sin, this capacity for dialogue at both the personal and social level has been altered, and humanity has had to suffer, and will continue to suffer, the bitter experience of incomprehension and separation. God, however, did not abandon the human race, but sent his own Son (Cf. Mk 12:1-11). In the Word made flesh communication itself takes on its most profound saving meaning: thus, in the Holy Spirit, the human being is given the capacity to receive salvation, and to proclaim and give witness to it before the world.

5. The communication between God and humanity has thus reached its perfection in the Word made flesh. The act of love by which God reveals himself, united to the response of faith by humanity, generates a fruitful dialogue. Precisely for this reason, making our own in a certain sense the request of the disciples, "teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1), we can ask the Lord to help us to understand how to communicate with God and with other human beings through the marvelous communications media. In light of so decisive and definitive a communication, the media provide a providential opportunity to reach people everywhere, overcoming barriers of time, of space and of language; presenting the content of faith in the most varied ways imaginable; and offering to all who search the possibility of entering into dialogue with the mystery of God, revealed fully in Christ Jesus.

The Incarnate Word has left us an example of how to communicate with the Father and with humanity, whether in moments of silence and recollection, or in preaching in every place and in every way. He explains the Scriptures, expresses himself in parables, dialogues within the intimacy of the home, speaks in the squares, along the streets, on the shores of the lake and on the mountaintops. The personal encounter with him does not leave one indifferent, but stimulates imitation: "What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops," (Mt 10:27).

There is, however, a culminating moment in which communication becomes full communion: the Eucharistic encounter. By recognizing Jesus in the "breaking of the bread," (cf. Luke 24:30-31), believers feel themselves urged on to announce his death and resurrection, and to become joyful and courageous witnesses of his Kingdom (cf. Luke 24:35).

6. Thanks to the Redemption, the communicative capacity of believers is healed and renewed. The encounter with Christ makes them new creatures, and permits them to become part of that people which he, dying on the Cross, has won through his blood, and introduces them into the intimate life of the Trinity, which is continuous and circular communication of perfect and infinite love among the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Communication permeates the essential dimensions of the Church which is called to announce to all the joyful message of salvation. For this reason, the Church takes advantage of the opportunities offered by the communications media as pathways providentially given by God to intensify communion and to render more penetrating the proclamation of His word.[3] The media permit the manifestation of the universal character of the People of God, favoring a more intense and immediate exchange among local Churches, and nourishing mutual awareness and cooperation.

We give thanks to God for the presence of these powerful media which, if used by believers with the genius of faith and in docility to the light of the Holy Spirit, can facilitate the communication of the Gospel and render the bonds of communion among ecclesial communities more effective.

III. A Change of Mentality and Pastoral Renewal

7. In the communications media the Church finds a precious aid for spreading the Gospel and religious values, for promoting dialogue, ecumenical and inter-religious cooperation, and also for defending those solid principles which are indispensable for building a society which respects the dignity of the human person and is attentive to the common good. The Church willingly employs these media to furnish information about itself and to expand the boundaries of evangelization, of catechesis and of formation, considering their use as a response to the command of the Lord: "Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15).

This is certainly not an easy mission in an age such as ours, in which there exists the conviction that the time of certainties is irretrievably past. Many people, in fact, believe that humanity must learn to live in a climate governed by an absence of meaning, by the provisional and by the fleeting.[4] In this context, the communications media can be used "to proclaim the Gospel or to reduce it to silence within men's hearts."[5] This poses a serious challenge for believers, especially for parents, families and all those responsible for the formation of children and young people. Those individuals in the Church community particularly gifted with talent to work in the media should be encouraged with pastoral prudence and wisdom, so that they may become professionals capable of dialoguing with the vast world of the mass media.

8. The appreciation of the media is not reserved only to those already adept in the field, but to the entire Church Community. If, as has already been noted, the communications media take into account different aspects of the expression of faith, Christians must take into account the media culture in which they live: from the Liturgy, the fullest and fundamental expression of communication with God and with one another, to Catechesis, which cannot prescind from the fact of being directed to people immersed in the language and the culture of the day.

The current phenomenon of communications impels the Church towards a sort of pastoral and cultural revision, so as to deal adequately with the times in which we live. Pastors, above all, must assume this responsibility. Everything possible must be done so that the Gospel might permeate society, stimulating people to listen to and embrace its message.[6] Consecrated persons belonging to institutions having the charism of using the mass media have a particular responsibility in this regard. Spiritually and professionally formed towards this end, these institutions, "should willingly lend their help, wherever pastorally appropriate […] in order to offset the inappropriate use of the media and to promote higher quality programmes, the contents of which will be respectful of the moral law and rich in human and Christian values."[7]

9. Such is the importance of the mass media that fifteen years ago I considered it inopportune to leave their use completely up to the initiatives of individuals or small groups, and suggested that they be decisively inserted into pastoral programs.[8] New technologies, in particular, create further opportunities for communication understood as a service to the pastoral government and organization of the different tasks of the Christian community. One clear example today is how the Internet not only provides resources for more information, but habituates persons to interactive communication.[9] Many Christians are already creatively using this instrument, exploring its potential to assist in the tasks of evangelization and education, as well as of internal communication, administration and governance. However, alongside the Internet, other new means of communication, as well as traditional ones, should be used. Daily and weekly newspapers, publications of all types, and Catholic television and radio still remain highly useful means within a complete panorama of Church communications.

While the content being communicated must obviously be adapted to the needs of different groups, the goal must always be to make people aware of the ethical and moral dimension of the information.[10] In the same way, it is important to assure that media professionals receive the necessary formation and pastoral attention to confront the particular tensions and ethical dilemmas that arise in their daily work. Often these men and women "sincerely desire to know and practice what is ethically and morally just," and look to the Church for guidance and support.[11]

IV. The Mass Media, the Crossroads of the Great Social Questions

10. The Church, which in light of the message of salvation entrusted to it by the Lord is also a teacher of humanity, recognizes the duty to offer its own contribution for a better understanding of outlooks and responsibilities connected with current developments in communications. Especially because these influence the consciences of individuals, form their mentality and determine their view of things, it is important to stress in a forceful and clear way that the mass media constitute a patrimony to safeguard and promote. The communications media must enter into the framework of organically structured rights and duties, be it from the point of view of formation and ethical responsibility, or from reference to laws and institutional codes.

The positive development of the media at the service of the common good is a responsibility of each and every one.[12] Because of the close connections the media have with economics, politics and culture, there is required a management system capable of safeguarding the centrality and dignity of the person, the primacy of the family as the basic unit of society and the proper relationship among them.

11. We are faced with three fundamental options: formation, participation and dialogue.

In the first place, a vast work of formation is needed to assure that the mass media be known and used intelligently and appropriately. The new vocabulary they introduce into society modifies both learning processes and the quality of human relations, so that, without proper formation, these media run the risk of manipulating and heavily conditioning, rather than serving people. This is especially true for young people, who show a natural propensity towards technological innovations, and as such are in even greater need of education in the responsible and critical use of the media.

In the second place, I would like to recall our attention to the subject of media access, and of co-responsible participation in their administration. If the communications media are a good destined for all humanity, then ever-new means must be found -- including recourse to opportune legislative measures -- to make possible a true participation in their management by all. The culture of co-responsibility must be nurtured.

Finally, there cannot be forgotten the great possibilities of mass media in promoting dialogue, becoming vehicles for reciprocal knowledge, of solidarity and of peace. They become a powerful resource for good if used to foster understanding between peoples; a destructive "weapon" if used to foster injustice and conflicts. My venerable predecessor, Blessed John XXIII, already prophetically warned humanity of such potential risks in the Encyclical, "Pacem in Terris."[13]

12. The reflection upon the role "of public opinion in the Church," and "of the Church in public opinion" aroused great interest. In a meeting with the editors of Catholic publications, my venerable predecessor, Pius XII, stated that something would be missing from the life of the Church were it not for public opinion. This same idea has since been repeated on other occasions[14], and in the Code of Canon Law there is recognized, under certain conditions, the right to the expression of one's own opinion.[15] While it is true that the truths of the faith are not open to arbitrary interpretations, and that respect for the rights of others places intrinsic limits upon the expression of one's judgments, it is no less true that there is still room among Catholics for an exchange of opinions in a dialogue which is respectful of justice and prudence.

Communication both within the Church community, and between the Church and the world at large, requires openness and a new approach towards facing questions regarding the world of media. This communication must tend towards a constructive dialogue, so as to promote a correctly-informed and discerning public opinion within the Christian community. The Church, like other institutions and groups, has the need and the right to make its activities known. However, when circumstances require, it must be able to guarantee an adequate confidentiality, without thereby prejudicing a timely and sufficient communication about Church events. This is one of the areas in which collaboration between the lay faithful and Pastors is most needed, as the Council appropriately emphasized, "A great many wonderful things are to be hoped for from this familiar dialogue between the laity and their spiritual leaders: in the laity a strengthened sense of personal responsibility; a renewed enthusiasm; a more ready application of their talents to the projects of their spiritual leaders. The latter, on the other hand, aided by the experience of the laity, can more clearly and more incisively come to decisions regarding both spiritual and temporal matters. In this way, the whole Church, strengthened by each one of its members, may more effectively fulfill its mission for the life of the world."[16]

V. To Communicate with the Power of the Holy Spirit

13. The great challenge of our time for believers and for all people of good will is that of maintaining truthful and free communication which will help consolidate integral progress in the world. Everyone should know how to foster an attentive discernment and constant vigilance, developing a healthy critical capacity regarding the persuasive force of the communications media.

Also in this field, believers in Christ know that they can count upon the help of the Holy Spirit. Such help is all the more necessary when one considers how greatly the obstacles intrinsic to communication can be increased by ideologies, by the desire for profit or for power, and by rivalries and conflicts between individuals and groups, and also because of human weakness and social troubles. The modern technologies increase to a remarkable extent the speed, quantity and accessibility of communication, but they above all do not favor that delicate exchange which takes place between mind and mind, between heart and heart, and which should characterize any communication at the service of solidarity and love.

Throughout the history of salvation, Christ presents himself to us as the "communicator" of the Father: "God, in these last days, has spoken to us through his Son" (Hebrews 1:2). The eternal Word made flesh, in communicating Himself, always shows respect for those who listen, teaches understanding of their situation and needs, is moved to compassion for their suffering and to a resolute determination to say to them only what they need to hear without imposition or compromise, deceit or manipulation. Jesus teaches that communication is a moral act, "A good person brings forth good out of a store of goodness, but an evil person brings forth evil out of a store of evil. I tell you, on the Day of Judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak. By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matthew 12:35-37).

14. The apostle Paul has a clear message for those engaged in communications (politicians, professional communicators, spectators), "Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, for we are members one of another. … No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear" (Ephesians 4:25,29).

To those working in communication, especially to believers involved in this important field of society, I extend the invitation which, from the beginning of my ministry as Pastor of the Universal Church, I have wished to express to the entire world "Do not be afraid!"

Do not be afraid of new technologies! These rank "among the marvelous things" -- "inter mirifica" -- which God has placed at our disposal to discover, to use and to make known the truth, also the truth about our dignity and about our destiny as his children, heirs of his eternal Kingdom.

Do not be afraid of being opposed by the world! Jesus has assured us, "I have conquered the world!" (John 16:33).

Do not be afraid even of your own weakness and inadequacy! The Divine Master has said, "I am with you always, until the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20). Communicate the message of Christ's hope, grace and love, keeping always alive, in this passing world, the eternal perspective of heaven, a perspective which no communications medium can ever directly communicate, "What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9).

To Mary, who gave us the Word of life, and who kept his unchanging words in her heart, do I entrust the journey of the Church in today's world. May the Blessed Virgin help us to communicate by every means the beauty and joy of life in Christ our Savior.

To all I give my Apostolic Blessing!

From the Vatican, 24 January 2005, the Feast of Saint Francis de Sales, Patron Saint of Journalists.


Sunday, February 20, 2005


Saw the new "film" Constantine Thursday. It is so bad, I can't bring myself to waste any of the precious minutes I have back here in CT with my family for the weekend.

It has the story of a video game. Bad, bad acting. Stupid script. Indecipherable theme. Some theological errors.

Some cool looking images -- all of them of fairly revolting things, but hey, they're well-executed. The basic idea is that devils are bad and God is mostly indifferent unless He isn't, but even the angels can sin in this universe...and then, of course they become humans with stumps where their wings were. Give me that old time religion...

I saw it with a 20-something guy, and he assured me it was really bad. Just so you know it isn't a matter of personal taste.

[in Gregorian chant...] P-AH-AH-AH-AH-AH-AH-SS-SS-SS, AH-SS-SS-SS-SS, AH-AH-AH-SS-SS

I'm 41 today. I woke up thanking God for letting me make it this far, and wondering what the next 41 years will bring. Eve Tushnet had something a neat self-study posted last week. I thought it was a cool reflection, because I believe that the passions of our heart determine our choices - which then define us. Here are some of mine...

Dying on Jesus' side
Emily Dickinson, especially #664
A Pillar of Iron, and most everything written by Taylor Caldwell
knowing my duty; doing it
Brideshead Revisited, Ivan Denisovitch
Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest and As You Like It
birth order psychology - I'm second
the battle of Gettysburg
"Friendship is the kiss of Christ." (St. Aelred of Rivaulx)
Euclid's Prop 47
Giant,Rear Window, In the Bedroom, Top Hat, Badlands, What's Up Doc?, A Man for All Seasons, On the Waterfront, GWTW
my own writing
The Wizard of ID
Joseph the Dreamer; Joseph the Just Man
Yaz and the Bosox
anything filled with cream
Helen Keller
"A person is a person - no matter how small." (Horton Hears a Who)
Anne of Green Gables
wedding cake
Women's tennis
Newport, RI - Bury me between Bellevue Ave and Ocean Drive
Anne of Green Gables
did I say cats already?
Van Gogh
the olympics
Least Want to Be Stranded on a Desert Island with: William Jefferson Clinton, Derek Jeter, Barbara Boxer, Al Franken, Bill Buckner, Eminem, that Jamaican psychic lady

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


I'd call if I had your number, but this will have to do.... Thanks so very much! They are lovely! And glads too!

So, this morning at the monastery, an old guy limped in to the pew in front of me. He was really tall and this made his halting steps even more waveryish. He was leaning on one of those aluminum canes with the four points on the ground, and as he slowly made his way into the pew, exhaling heavily, my meditation switched from the day's readings, to how many years I have left before that's me.

At the offertory, after Father made his usual three or four thinly veiled liberal diatribes disguised as prayers (this morning we prayed to be "good stewards of the environment" and to repent of "our national aggressiveness"...) the people and the cloistered nuns took their turns calling out other intentions. "We pray to the Lord." I love this part of the Mass because it is such a messy mix of the sublimely transcendant, "We pray that the world will experience a spiritual renewal," to the mundanely personal, "Let us pray for my son who is taking his driver's test today." "Lord, hear our prayer." As an old nun told me once, "it's not small if it's your everything."

Anyway, the prayers moved their way around the chapel, with everybody asking for their stuff, and then the old decrepit man in front of me called out in a surprisingly clear voice, "Let us pray together a prayer of gratitude to God."

And I was feeling sorry for him when he walked in! Yeah, no whining out of me today...

Monday, February 14, 2005


I caught the movie Hitch this weekend with three or four hundred other Angelenos. We all enjoyed the film. It's a lot of fun, and includes some positive story choices that would surprise anyone who doesn't read this blog. [ahem.]

Namely, Hitch continues and expands the Gen-X friendly theme that sex is easy but relationship is really hard - and it's the relationship that we should all want. A few outstanding differences in this romantic comedy that separate this new theme from the romantic comedies of the 80's and 90's.

1) The two leads do not have sex during the movie. They actually spend a night together, but it is about caring and sharing and tenderness, and is sex-free.

2) The two supporting characters in the main sub-plot also do not have sex. Their relationship is about friendship and wonder and kindness and caring, that matures into unconditional love. In the end, they get married.

3) The one couple that does have sex outside of marriage in the film suffers disastrous consequences. The woman is full of remorse and self-loathing. The guy is labelled "a pig" by the ultra-sympathetic hero played by Will Smith. The charge against "the pig" is that he "hits and splits" in his relationships.

4) The movie has some wonderful things to say about the differences between the sexes as being charming and delightful. (Which is a hige leap forward from the movies of the last two decades which, in the shadow of the feminist movement, has only been able to assert over and over that "men are pigs." I read a quote recently by Phyllis Schlafly to the effect that, "The reason liberal women think all men are pigs, is because liberal men are." So funny!)

5) Finally, this film indicates that romance is not a series of techniques to get what you want, but is a dying to self to bring gifts to another. Lovely.

So, essentially, we seem to be working our way back to about 1840 here. Wonder how far back we'll go...

Anyway, except for some unfortunate choices in language, Hitch is a lot of fun and popularizes goodness. If you like romantic comedies, go see it.


Crumbling is not an instant's Act
(or) A fundamental pause

Dilapidation's processes are organized Decays.

'Tis first a Cobweb on the Soul -
A Cuticle of Dust -
A Borer in the Axis -
An Elemental Rust --

Ruin is formal --
(The) Devil's work (is)
Consecutive and slow --

Fail in an instant, no man did
Slipping -- is Crash's law.

P.S. from Barb: Love this poem. I added some helpers in spacing and parenthesis for those who don't speak Dickinson.

Friday, February 11, 2005


Joan of Arcadia was so great tonight, I actually cried and squealed with glee all within its 47 minutes. It had Barbara Hall stamped all over and, sure enough, it was her episode. Nobody writes like Barbara. (Except maybe her sister, Karen!...They are like literary freaks of nature.) I just wish Barb could do the David E. Kelley thing and write every episode.

There were so many good lines I lost count. All I can say is, if you missed it, you missed something wonderful. The above title line was God explaining why love is so complicated and leads people to do ungodly things.

I remember tonight why I'm in Hollywood. To help more people do what Joan of Arcadia did tonight.

A reader of this blog, Nick, sent me a long detailed and different reading of the Eastwood film now up for Oscar glory. Nick saw a different film than I did, but some of his points are well-taken.

He said I could post his message.

Hi Barb--

The Gospel can be spread in so many ways, and great art is art that can be discovered, rediscovered, and reinterpreted.

I found this to be the case with ... *sigh*... Million Dollar Baby. Believe me, I'm shocked as I write this. When I saw the film a few nights ago (being completely spoiled in advance, and knowing where the film was headed), I was on the fast track in searching for clues for Eastwood/FX Toole's/Haggis' agenda. I didn't expect to be spiritually blown away.

I agree that this is film that can have a pro-euthenasia agenda at the story-level. I will also agree that the film, when taken at merely the story-level, is clumsily put together, with unrealistic characters and circumstances. However, when I caught this film, I was struck with an altogether more positive Catholic-Christian interpretation, that works solely at the allegorical level.

It is at this level that is so deep, so profound, so touching, that it all but overshadows and answers the whole euthenasia angle. This isn't at all like The Cider House Rules--which built its case up so that it can make a forceful argument towards the "goodness of abortion." M$B is, IMO, far more concerned with deeper issues.

For me, the key scene was in the beginning, where Frankie debates Fr. Horvac on the nature of the Trinity. If we're to believe that a movie such as this that there are no wasted scenes, then at the story-level, this scene is a contradiction. It has no reason to be there. It goes on too long. Fr. Horvac's explanation is actually shaky and not entirely correct. But the one thing that's important is that the Trinity is three distinct persons, and yet they're all one.

In much the same way, I found Million Dollar Baby to be about three distinct relationships, and yet they are all related: Frankie/Maggie, Fr. Horvac/Frankie, and Scrap/Danger. The first two relationships are meticulously crafted and are similar in many ways, and the third relationship provides a noted point of contrast.

When I saw Fr. Horvac throw the f-bomb, it was a hint to me that this was not merely a priest, but a mirror image of Frankie himself. Fr Horvac belittles Frankie's faith in much the same manner where Frankie himself belittles Maggie's boxing skills. Over and again, both ways.

Fr Horvac derides Frankie for going to Mass for twenty-three years but never really knowing the basics out of a first-grade education. In the same way, Maggie has practiced boxing for many years but Frankie derides her for never getting the basics right.

Fr. Horvac (if he was a pre-Vatican II priest) would read in a foreign language and provide confession/absolution for those who would venture out into the world. Frankie reads in a foreign language (Gaelic) and cleans up his boxers before they venture back into the ring. Scrap reiterates in his narration, that boxing is a metaphor for life.

Fr. Horvac goes from being antagonistic to Frankie to finally sitting with him and giving him counsel, due to Frankie's continued badgering. Frankie goes from being antagonistic to Maggie to finally training him (due to Maggie's continued badgering). In the counseling scene, Fr. Horvac warns Frankie sternly to not assist in Maggie's final wishes--stating that they would lead to spiritual death. In the scene right before, Frankie is stern not to assist in Maggie's final wishes, because it would lead to death. Scrap, in narration, indicates that in boxing, sometimes when one feels pain, he steps into it.

The contrast to all this is the relationship between Scrap and Danger. Danger is completely useless in the gym, and oblivious to this fact. Yet, Scrap keeps him around, even not collecting any of his dues. Danger actually foretells Maggie's fall more vividly than anything else in the film--he is beaten up and disappears. Maggie is beaten badly, and later, Frankie disappears. But... here's the interesting thing: it is Danger who provides FX Toole's/Haggis'/Eastwood's answer to the euthenasia scene--he reappears after Eastwood disappears. He states that every winner loses once in a while, and thus keeps on going. Scrap reiterates this very line, word-for-word. Whenever a line is repeated like that, that is what the filmmakers are really trying to say.

How does this relate to Maggie (who's dead) and Frankie (who's lost and can never come back, according to the priest)? It certainly doesn't make sense on the story-level. At the deeper level, it makes a world of difference. Maggie is an archetype of a fulfillment of God's will for us, whether we are looking for it or not. Maggie pursues Frankie, calls him "the boss" in that he would always have final say, but it is Frankie's destiny to help train Maggie, in much the same manner that sometimes God's plans for us are sometimes what we don't want to do, but He's persistant, and we can't ignore that. Fr. Horvac is an archetype of the LAW. Scrap is an archetype of GRACE. And Frankie is us--world-weary, seen it all, takes a chance on God's will for him, it goes wonderful (actually TOO wonderful--Maggie's quick turnaround and consecutive knockouts are a sign that this isn't a story to be taken for real), until that dream has ran its course (in Frankie's eyes), and he let his dream, his fulfillment of God's plan for him, die (instead of what he should have done, kept it alive). And while, by the standards of the Law, Frankie is estranged, by the merits of Grace, Frankie still has a chance of coming back, just as Danger did.

I found that Scrap showed up at inopportune moments, sometimes hanging in the shadows. Certainly there was absolutely no reason that Scrap was hanging around the hospital when Frankie arrives, unseen by anyone else, and so easily puts Maggie to death (too easily--another sign this is not to be taken at face value). Certainly Scrap does not approve (look at his eyes). And yet Scrap is the most giving character in the film. When I listened to the narration, I realized that there was absolutely no way that the whole narration would be in that letter to Frankie's estranged daughter--too much of it has nothing to do with her, or Frankie, but about boxing (and life). The narration of the letter to Frankie's daughter actually starts when that very scene begins. And he doesn't do it to share how great Frankie is, but because he cannot help it--he loves, he wants to see them reunited. This is entirely consistent with his character throughout the film, always giving, always there, giving little hints to Frankie, never caring for himself (like buying new socks).

Anyway, I'm sure I've taken up too much of your time. I know that the analogy isn't perfect, but it surprised me how much meat there is beneath the surface. Thank you for listening.

God Bless,

Nick Alexander

[FROM BARB: I will respond to Nick hopefully later today. Thanks, Nick, for your analysis.]

Whether they get Christ or not, Hollywood gets the Christ-figure. There are tons of wonderful films that are story-metaphors, ur...parables, for the Redemption, that would make great companions to your Lenten journey.

The formula of the Christ-figure film is always that "a stranger" comes in to live with a people not his own, and makes them his own. There is always a journey for the character either actually, or implied. At some point in the film, it always comes down to that he sees a sacrifice needs to be made, and that he could just walk away to save himself. Then, he or she gives his life (in some way) for his new people. This aspect of the stranger giving his life for his new friends is what separates the Christ-figure film from just other stories of heroic leader figures who die.

Here are a few sugestions of films that you might watch these next 40 days as part of your Lenten reflection. In no particular order...

1. (especially with kids) The Iron Giant
2. The Mission
3. Babette's Feast
4. Ghandi
5. High Noon
6. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
7. The Bridge on the River Kwai
8. One Against the Wind
9. (shudder) The Lord of the Rings trilogy
10. Mary Poppins
11. Glory
12. We Were Soldiers
13. Romero
14. Shane
15. Dead Man Walking
16. The Passion of Joan of Arc
17. Metropolis
18. The Great Escape
19. Cries and Whispers
20. Mrs. Brown
21. The Good Earth
22. Good-bye Mr. Chips
23. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (with reservations…)
24. The Miracle Worker
25. Shawshank Redemption

I'm sure you all can add many more. Please do.

Last chance to vote for Church of the Masses in the 2005 Catholic Blog Awards! We were running a strong first in the "Best Social Commentary" category, but overnight, the forces of Southern appeal have mounted a last minute offensive. It's down to 10 votes...

How was it P. Diddy put it, "Vote or Die." (Is he still alive, btw?)

Thursday, February 10, 2005


I’m shocked! Shocked to read the latest statistics compiled by the Culture of Life Foundation about the devastating physical toll taken on the troops of the Sexual Revolution. Is it possible General Paul VI, overthrown in a sneering coup in the first wave of the uprising, could have been right after all in his admonition advocating the radical practice of “periodic continence.”

Read it and weep, O revolutionaries.

”…we must accept that there are certain limits, beyond which it is wrong to go, to the power of man over his own body and its natural functions—limits, let it be said, which no one, whether as a private individual or as a public authority, can lawfully exceed. These limits are expressly imposed because of the reverence due to the whole human organism and its natural functions.” (Paul VI, Of Human Life)

Here’s a snip of the Culture of Life report…

The high toll of the sexual revolution on the lives of Americans was made apparent in a recently published study showing 1.3 percent of all American deaths to be caused by sexual behavior. The study, from the current edition of the medical journal Sexually Transmitted Infections, examined data from 1998 to determine the overall health burden caused by sexual activity in the US and found that women "bear a disproportionately high proportion" of the cost that comes with sexual liberation.

The study, authored by three researchers from the Centers for Disease Control, examined "adverse health outcomes" that result from sexual activity including both sexually transmitted diseases, viruses and infections, infertility and abortions. More men then women died in 1998 as a result of sexual behavior - 19,634 men compared to 10,148 women. But almost all of the deaths in men were caused by HIV. "If HIV related mortality were excluded, more than 80% of sexual behaviour related mortality would be among . . . women." The study found that 5,914 women died of non-HIV related sexual behavior; for men the number was number 1,413.

While HIV killed 4,234 women, it was cervical cancer that was leading cause of death for women claiming 4,921 lives. Cervical cancer is caused primarily by the human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted disease. That it causes more deaths than HIV is notable due to the politically charged nature of HPV. Because condoms do not protect against HPV, a fact acknowledged by the American Cancer Society, pro-family organizations have pointed to it as proof that sexual health can be insured only by abstinence until a monogamous marriage. Planned Parenthood Federation of America has in the past accused such organizations of engaging in "an alarmist and misleading public policy and media campaign."

Beyond death the report also examines the overall health effects of sexual behavior. It found that in the course of one year, 7.5 percent of Americans suffered from almost 20 million incidences of negative health effects brought on by sexual behavior. Of such cases women suffered a disproportionate 62 percent including 2.5 million cases of gonorrhea and 2.6 million cases of trichomoniasis.

Thanks to (my new obsession) Dawn Patrol for the heads-up.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Got Lent?

Penance. Just Do It.

Almsgiving. Reach out and touch someone.

Ashes. A little dab'll do ya.

Abstinence. Where's the beef?

Temptation. It's everywhere you want to be.

Confession. The quicker picker upper.

Repentance. Because you're worth it.

Prayer. Can you hear me now? Good...

The Rosary. You give us 22 minutes. We'll give you the world.

The Cross. Drivers wanted.

Sacrifice. When You Care Enough to Send the Very Best.

Retreat. The antidote to civilization.

Hell. Snap. Cackle. Pop.

Christianity. We try harder.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005


Act One is connected to a large group of Christians who work in entertainment and media in the UK. Their group is called Artisan, and they publish a small magazine in addition to hosting think-tanky and spirituality events. Towards building bridges and a better network between Christians in the media here and across the pond, they will be hosting a big prayer event in NYC in March.

I can't go because we will be having a Board meeting that day -- but I really wish I could! Lots of very cool folks will be there. If you know anybody in media and entertainment, in the tri-State area, give them a heads up about this event. Here's a press release. (Feel free to cut and paste it in your own site or mail list. Thanks!)

New York City - Saturday, March 5th, 2005

For People Involved inthe Media, Arts, Entrtainment and Fashion Industries

For seven years, hundreds of people involved in these industries have been meeting inLondon to worship God and pray together as professionals in these most vital and demanding fields. Now, in collaboration with many Arts and Media organizations and churches in New York and Los Angeles, Artisan will bring together hundreds of people from these industries to pray for one another, and for the transformation of the media, arts, entertainment and fashion industries to which we belong.

A team of 30 professionals from these industries in London will be coming over, including a band who will help animate the event. If you are an actor, director, writer, model, filmmaker, photographer, journalist, producer or work in any of the myriad levels of these industries, we invite you to come and be part of our prayer, fellowship and reflection.

Where: Glad Tidings Tabernacle
325 West 33rd St. (on 33rd bt. 8th and 9th Aves)

When: Saturday, March 5th
4:30pm - 7:30pm

For more info:

(The event is free of charge. A collection will be taken to help cover costs and support arts media ministries in NYC.)

Sponsored by: Artisan, The Haven, Paradox, International Arts Movement,MFC, Glad Tidings, the CCC, Redeemer Presbyterian, Morning STar International, TRIBE, 211, All Angels Church, St. Georges, and others.


There are four days left to vote for the second annual St. Blog's Awards. Astoundingly, this humble blog is the frontrunner in the category for "Best Social Commentary." What a rush! We're running a distant second to Amy the Great in the "Best Blog By a Woman" Category.

Do your digital duty! Make your voice heard! Go here to let us feel the love!

Monday, February 07, 2005


"If these two were tired of having sex with each other, what hope is there
for the rest of us?
Tina Fey, about the Brad Pitt-Jennifer Aniston Separation on Saturday Night


I generally post my list of top ten movies of the year about now. The problem is, I can't find ten movies from 2004 worth being on my list. In a discussion with some friends last night, we all ended up shrugging that 2004's cinematic offerings were just pathetically thin. So, I put ten in quotes above, because my top ten is really a top six.

1. (Best Movie of the Year) The Passion of the Christ
I'm going to go with the global audience here, and with my own experience of this movie. It moved me like no other movie I have ever seen. And it did it with very little dialogue, without stars, without a conventional narrative structure or character development, and even without my native language. I don't see any point in trying to step out of my Christianity to evaluate this movie, to try and see it the way a pagan would. I have written and spoken much about the high level of art in this film. The editing and imagery, production design, scope and overall vision of the project -- to realize the Stations of the Cross in the art form of today -- is breathtaking.

I do want to add the qualification that the film seems to me to be in another category than just plain old "That's Entertainment!" It isn't trying to entertain, but rather to lead to compunction. It was very successful with millions of people in this, which signals a remarkable achievement in creative control. TPOTC isn't a perfect film by any means, but it absolutely works, and works for good. That the project is devoid of the hip cynicism that needs to be predicable of critically - acclaimed movies, should not, in my view, be a strike against it. The reason that so many critics hated it, its voice of authority (ref. "and not like the scribes"), is one of its strongest points as a project.

2. (Most Entertaining/Best Crafted/Unqualifiedly Good (as in Good, True and Beautiful) Movie of the Year) The Incredibles
I'm not even sure where to start with this film. From a craft standpoint, I found it astounding. It absolutely sets a new standard for multi-level entertainment in that, up to now, most good kids movies have needed to have a few gags in there for Mom and Dad. This film has a mature narrative thread and theme for the adults while also having lots of stuff for the kids. I kept looking around in the theater to see if the kids were getting bored, but they were riveted. I loved the expressions of delight on everybody's faces at the theater.

One of the things the industry is always clamoring for is a project that is "fresh." My young students always want to know what that means. Now, I have a movie to show them to demonstrate what "fresh" means: The Incredibles. If the Academy was at all honest, The Incredibles would cross over from the fake new "Best Animated" category (this year there were only three animated films as I recall, and all of them are nominated...) and nominate this film for Best Picture.

3. Finding Neverland
I found this film lovely to look at. I enjoyed the simple grace of its pacing -- it was nice to watch a movie without having to worry about some studio imposed decapitation happening at one of the turning points just because some executive somewhere thought the story needed some livening up. (For the record, killing never livens up anything.) The production design was rich, the central perfomances by Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet were top-notch, the filmmaking was refreshingly subtle -- which means that I wasn't distratcted off the story once to think of the director. In too many of this years films -- Million Dollar Vegetable,Twisted Ways,The Debauchediator, C-losers, Garden Without Flowers State -- watching them held the nauseating feeling that the director was screaming out from behind trees and porches, "Look at me! Think of me!! I'm a GENIUS, yes, yes, yes I am!"

The script for Finding Neverland was very good. It was actually underwritten in places, but overall, I would much rather have a film leave more for the actors to do - and subsequently the audience.

4. Spiderman 2
This film was just exhilerating to watch. The characters are noble and well-drawn, and even the two villains, Doc Ock and Peter's friend - whose name escapes me - are non-scapegoated, complicated beings. The characters in this series are all balances of good stuff and shadow stuff - the villains have the shadows sides winning and the heros have the good sides winning, but the audience stays interested because the struggles could clearly go either way in every case.

I did think the Peter Parker as indecisive sub-plot, repeated on itself a couple times, but the main story was so much fun that I could forgive the fact that I was getting tired of watching Peter trying to decide if he really wanted his "great responsibility."

I found this film very clever, and even better, not cynical in its cleverness. And best of all, it has something important to say about life and love and human nature. I know that cynicism is a necessary moment before we all shake off the Sexual Regurgitation, but, honestly, I am sick of cinemtaic cynicism. This film was well-conceived and well-executed. It was surprising, in that, even five minutes before it ended, I didn't know where it was going to end up. I like that. (Especially when you have bad films like Million Dollar Baby taking 30 minutes to hook up the two main characters, which we knew was going to happen the first time we saw them together...Oh, am I picking on that film again? 'scuse.

This was the first Harry Potter movie that felt to me like it owned its cinematic skin. The previous two felt like such nervous adaptations, that they couldn't let the screen do anything that hadn't appeared in the book. Director Cuaron deserves lots of kudos for this piece. It had a suspenseful pace, while being lovely to look at, and really served to take the franchise characters to the next level. There were a lot of subtleties in this tellling -- the director really left the audience to see as much as they could see. I've seen it three times now (twice on airplanes...), but I found it delightful each time.

7. - 10. Nuthin. I haven't seen Ray or Hotel Rwanda yet, so maybe I will add them when I do. But for now, I can't add anything else from this dreadful movie year to my list.


Each Life Converges to some Centre --
Expressed -- or still --
Exists in every Human Nature
A Goal --

Embodied scarcely to itself -- it may be --
Too fair
For Credibility's presumption
To mar --

Adored with caution -- as a Brittle Heaven --
To reach
Were hopeless, as the Rainbow's Raiment
To touch --

Yet persevered toward -- sure -- for the Distance --
How high --
Unto the Saint's slow diligence --
The Sky --

Ungained -- it may be -- by a Life's low Venture --
But then --
Eternity enable the endeavoring

Sunday, February 06, 2005


...twice! Thanks to those of you who nominated Church of the Masses in the category for "Best Blog By a Woman" (AKA "Amy Welborn's Award") and, then, in the new category "Best Social Commentary".

Go here to vote! Remember Blogmericans, voting is your right and your responsibility! Come on - show us you care!

Saturday, February 05, 2005


I knew Catholic Exchange was running one of my columns when I opened my email and found ten messages with "Patron of the Arts" in the subject line. This column was part of a series I wrote on the Church and the arts for the Register, and which has gotten a lot of feedback. Judging by all the poor sheep bleating agreement, it's clear the piece touched a nerve.

Here's a snip...

It has to be said. Much of the art we are making as a Church is painfully embarrassing. It has the opposite effect that it should. There is a problem when the Church is roughing up music that would be better suited to an episode of Barney, while Nora Jones trills songs that sting people to the heart. It is not a diminution of the liturgy to evaluate it from the standard of what Hollywood calls “good production value.” The sad truth is, on a weekly basis, most parishes offer their long-suffering sheep all the beauty and excellence of a high school talent show.

Go here to read the whole piece.

Then, come back here and read the following feedback messages people have been sending me.


Dear Barbara Nicolosi,

Thank you for the insightful article that I read on Catholic Exchange entitled "Patron of the Arts". Our parish recently built a new church (oops, "worship space") that is so flat, beige and dull that the visual sense begins to be lulled to sleep upon entering. It is architectural vanilla pudding. This "elegant simplicity" was ostensibly for budgetary reasons, but we also managed to purchase several large bronze statues that could not have been cheap.

I happen to have a Masters Degree in Fine Art (I'm a painter) and I found the statues to be of a quality that you might expect from an undergraduate, not a professional artist. There is little thought for, or apparent knowledge of, anatomy. The faces tend to be somewhat mask-like and a couple are positively creepy. I have no idea whether the artist was Catholic, or even Christian.

One figure of Jesus appears to scowl from a hooded robe, his gnarled hands parting the garment and revealing what I assume is meant to be his Sacred Heart which is inexplicably overflowing with naked figures remeniscent of the holocaust. Many parishoners were actively repulsed by this artwork, and said so before it was purchased. Their objections were met with a shaking of the head that seemed to say "This sort of thing is best left to those with a more mature understanding of art. After all, shouldn't art challenge as well as inspire?". A number of parishoners have (privately) dubbed it the "Darth Jesus" or "The Scary Heart" statue.

I have just opened my own art gallery locally that will be dedicated to helping revive the lost knowledge and techniques of the old masters. I am thinking of approaching our parish art and environment committee and offering to paint the Stations of the Cross for free. I could partially make up for the lost income by selling prints of the artwork.

Please pray that I will be able, with the help of the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Mother, to establish a small beach-head for beautiful and meaningful art in this area.

Thanks again for saying aloud what so many have felt for so long. God bless your work.

Pax Christi - T.J.


Miss Nicolosi -

Just a quick note about your article reprinted on the Catholic Exchange website today.

It was dead on.

Thank you for that bit of inspiration.

- A Seminarian in FL


Dear Ms. Nicolosi,

I have enjoyed reading and reflecting upon your column on the Catholic
Exchange Website for some time. Just recently, I read your article "Patron
of the Arts?" and was compelled to write you a quick note of gratitude and
also encouragement.

I am a trained vocalist having sung many forms of music in my life
classical, theater, pop and jazz. As a member of the Catholic church it has
been my joy to lend my voice as cantor and choir member. My husband is a
professional photographer, and he is amazed at what is considered "art"
these days! Like you, we long for the church to recapture the rich heritage
of mystery, beauty and inspiration which true art lifts within the human



Barbara Nicolosi:

I feel that you're expecting too much from the parish you attended with the bad music. If it's a small church with a small budget, then they must work with what they have. If you're used to a big parish where they pay the musicians, then you cannot expect them to measure up to that standard.

More than that, though, the parish community is what makes the beauty of the liturgy. As someone who has been part of several rural parishes in Kansas, I know what I'm talking about. For a while, I was that organist stumbling around trying to accompany the singing. What I gave them was better than nothing, though, and that is what they would have had if I hadn't been there.

[NOTE FROM BARB: Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm....]

Rather than tearing apart the local musicians who are trying to help out, why doesn't your family volunteer to help?

[NOTE FROM BARB: See the next column in the series.]

You shouldn't do it with an attitude that "we're here to change everything and fix it," but with an attitude of humbly trying to do what can be done to bring people into worship. Is there a liturgy committee that they can volunteer for? Do any of them play instruments? Can one of them volunteer to be in charge of the lectors or the music?

A parish is a community of believers who worship together and celebrate the Eucharist together, not a group of people who go to hear music and be entertained. The more that people step up to the plate and volunteer their talents, the more the parish will move toward a more beautiful worship. In some parishes, that may simply mean singing out more, but if you have the talent, why not do more?

Out here in the real world, away from Catholic academia, we do what we can with what we have. If you get involved, you will find you love us even if we can't sing to save our souls.

Thanks for your writing. It's interesting reading.


Friday, February 04, 2005


Tonight, Act One is having a blessing ceremony at our new offices. Together with our local friends, alumni, faculty, mentors and Board members, we will take time to thank God for bringing this weird little program to this new level (and I mean more than our higher altitude here under the Hollywood sign...). We will also ask Jesus to come and make His home among us. That this new place will be a source of only good things for the Church and the world.

I'm going to append the blessing service here in the hopes that the Act Oners out there far away, and also any others of you who read this blog, will join us in a prayer of gratitude and blessing.

Act One Office Blessing Ceremony
February 4, 2005

Presiding: Rev. Scott Erdman and Rev. Willy Raymond, csc
Fr. Willy: (Greeting)

Part I – Reflection on the Word
Rev. Scott: Peace be with this place and with all of you.
All respond: And also with you.
Rev. Scott: Blessed be the name of the Lord.
All respond: Who made heaven and earth.
Rev. Scott: When the Word became flesh, he made his home with us. Let us now pray that he will enter this place and bless it with his presence.
(pause for a moment of silent prayer)
Rev. Scott: May Christ always be here among the staff and students and faculty and guests of Act One; may he nurture your love for each other, share in your joys, comfort you in your sorrows.
Inspired by his teachings and example, seek to make this new office, before all else, a dwelling place of love, diffusing far and wide the goodness of Christ.
All: Amen.

First Scripture reading: Col 3: 13-17 (Fr. Willy)
A reading from the letter of Paul to the Colossians

You are God's chosen race, his saints; He loves you, and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience.

Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins. The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same. Over all these clothes, to keep them together and complete them, put on love.

And may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts, because it is for this that you were called together as parts of one body.

Always be thankful.

Let the message of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you. Teach each other, and advise each other, in all wisdom. With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms and hymns and inspired songs to God;

And never say or do anything except in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
The word of the Lord.

All Respond: Thanks be to God.

Psalm Response: Psalm 126, 127 - Todd Coleman

Todd: If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do the laborers toil. If the Lord does not guard the city, in vain do the guards keep watch.

All Repeat: If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do the laborers toil. If the Lord does not guard the city, in vain do the guards keep watch.

Todd: When the Lord delivered us and brought us back to the city of Zion, we were like men dreaming.

All: If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do the laborers toil.

Todd: Our mouths were filled with laughter; our tongues sang for joy. Then it was said among the nations, "The Lord had done great things for them."

All: If the Lord does not guard the city, in vain do the guards keep watch.

Todd: The Lord has done great things for us; Our hearts are filled with joy.

All: If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do the laborers toil.

Todd: O Lord, bless your people again, and let us be like streams in the Southern desert.

All: If the Lord does not guard the city, in vain do the guards keep watch.

Todd: Those who have sown in tears will reap with cries of joy.
Those who go forth weeping, carrying sacks of seed,
Will return with cries of joy, carrying their bundled sheaves.

All: If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do the laborers toil. If the Lord does not guard the city, in vain do the guards keep watch.

Gospel Reading: (John 17:1, 11-21) - Rev. Scott

A reading from the Gospel According to John

And Jesus lifting up his eyes to heaven, said, “Holy Father, keep these through your name which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in your name. Those whom you have given me I have kept. None of them is lost, except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I come to you, and I say these things in the world, that they may have my joy made full in themselves. I have given them your word. The world hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that you would take them from the world, but that you would keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in your truth. Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, even so I have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. Not for these only do I pray, but for those also who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that you sent me.

Rev. Scott: The Gospel of the Lord

All: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ.

(Scott will share a message at this moment.)

Part II, Intercessory Prayer and blessing

Fr. Willy: Let us now join raise our hearts and minds in prayer for all of the people who make up the Act One community. For the alumni and faculty, for the staff and mentors, for donors and friends and future students.
Heavenly Father, because of your constant care for Act One, we are gathered here on this night in celebration and wonder. You have gifted the members of this community in many ways – with talent and artistry, with passion and commitment, with favor in the sight of the Church and Hollywood. But we know that the greatest gift you have given us, is the spirit of prayer. With confidence now, we turn to you to raise up our gratitude, our needs and our dreams for the future.

Appointed Prayer Leaders:
1. Thank God for blessing Act One to this point. Prayer for the ministry of Act One to continue to grow and expand. Prayer for the new Executive program.
2. Prayer for our alumni.
3. Prayer for our future students.
4. Prayer for our faculty and mentors.
5. Prayer for our donors.
6. Prayer for our staff, Advisory Boards and Board of Directors.
7. Prayer for Hollywood.
8. Prayer for the global audience.

Fr. Willy: And now, using the words our Savior gave us, let us unite all our praises and intercessions with one voice.

All: Our Father, who art in heaven…

Fr. Willy: (taking the water) This water is a reminder of our baptism, and a symbol of the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit. May it be a sign now of the blessing of God on this place. That God may drive out all the powers of darkness and make these offices a holy place of service and peace. As we sprinkle these rooms, we pray that each drop represents another life that will be touched or renewed or deepened through the work of Act One.
(Scott and Fr. Willy sprinkle the offices.)


Rev. Scott: Good and gracious God, let your light continue to shine through this Act One community of yours. May this office be a place that is always pleasing to you. Prosper the work of our hands, our minds and our hearts. Protect our families and help us to dream vivid and holy dreams for the future of Hollywood. We offer ourselves, our hopes, all of our talents and skills for your greater glory. And we ask only, that we may love you more and more.
We make this prayer, with confidence, in the name of Jesus your Son.
All. Amen.

Thursday, February 03, 2005


Act One: Writing for Hollywood Awards $40,000
Annual Screenwriting Fellowship

Hollywood, CA - February 1, 2005 - Act One: Writing for Hollywood, a five year-old program training and encouraging faith-friendly screenwriters is proud to announce Haynes Brooke as the first recipient of the Bishop Norman McFarland Writing Fellowship.

The Executive Director of Act One, Barbara Nicolosi explains that "the goal of the Fellowship is to produce a commercial film or television project of great merit and worth. We are also looking to give a creative opportunity to an up and coming screenwriter who combines professional skill with personal integrity, and a profound commitment to Christ." Now in its sixth year, Act One’s rigorous screenwriting program, combines mentorships with industry professionals with studies in the craft and artistry of movies and television, as well as in ethics and spirituality. Over three hundred writers have completed the month-long intensives in Los Angeles, New York and Washington, DC.

The McFarland Fellowship is the gift of Retired Bishop Norman McFarland, of the Catholic Diocese of Orange. He agreed to the fellowship being named in his honor as a reaffirmation "of the Church's continuing encouragement and support of artists in all arenas during its 2,000 years of history."

Haynes Brook is a Los Angeles screenwriter, actor, and playwright who has had several of his plays staged at Tim Robbins' Actor's Gang theater company. Instant Films produced his ten-minute short "Naomi's Underwear" and he's written and directed the half-hour comedy short "The Seven-Level Secret."

Haynes will be introduced and awarded the first installment of his Fellowship on the evening of Friday the 4th of February, 2005 at the 7:30 Open House of Act One's new offices, fittingly located just below the Hollywood sign at 2690 Beachwood Drive, Lower Floor, Hollywood, CA 90068.

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