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Catholic News Service

Catholic News Service has a rich history of journalistic professionalism and is a leader in the world of Catholic and religious media. With headquarters in Washington, offices in New York and Rome, and correspondents around the world, CNS provides the most comprehensive coverage of the church today. Website URL: http://www.catholicnews.com/

Movie review: 'I Can Only Imagine'

Dennis Quaid brings his formidable talent to bear in the faith-driven drama "I Can Only Imagine" (Lionsgate).
His portrayal of Arthur Millard, the abusive father whose conversion to evangelical Christianity inspired his son, Bart (John Michael Finley), to write the eponymous 2001 song — an unprecedented chart topper that became popular even with nonbelievers — represents the film's principal asset.
A washed-up high school football star whose gridiron career went nowhere, the elder Millard never loses an opportunity to throw cold water on Bart's childhood dreams and nascent creativity. And his mistreatment of the lad involves wielding a belt as well as cruel words, though this is implied and discussed rather than seen.
Yet, as Quaid succeeds in conveying, Arthur also is the victim of his own painful frustrations and sense of failure. His eventual repentance, moreover, is shown to be appropriately hard-won.
Directors and brothers Jon and Andrew Erwin's movie is essentially a biography of Bart, the front man for the group MercyMe.
Besides his turbulent relationship with his dad, the script, which Jon Erwin co-wrote with Brent McCorkle, also traces amiable Bart's on-again, off-again romance with Shannon (Madeline Carroll), his childhood sweetheart. And it chronicles his struggle to achieve musical success under the guidance of his group's dedicated manager, Scott Brickell (Trace Adkins).
As its advertising tagline "The song you know. The story you don't," suggests the prime audience for "I Can Only Imagine" will be religious pop fans who, like Bart, would be star-struck on meeting genre icons Amy Grant (Nicole DuPort) and Michael W. Smith (Jake B. Miller). Indeed, the lead-up to the scene of the title song's premiere performance seems calculated to tantalize those especially devoted to it.
Still, with an inspiring real-life story to tell and a screenplay free of anything at all offensive, the picture offers uplifting entertainment that parents and teens can share without worry.
The film contains mature themes, including marital discord and the physical abuse of a child. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
  • Published in Reviews

Humility, social media and Lent

When I was in college, a classmate posted on Ash Wednesday that she was giving up Facebook for Lent. Thursday, she joined Twitter. This begs the question, What was she hoping to get out of giving up Facebook for Lent?
When I was younger, it seemed like everyone gave up chocolate for Lent. Now the popular thing seems to be giving up your social media platform of choice. Just as we can ask the question, “Why give up Facebook?” we could ask the same of sweets.
Are we giving up those things because we want to lose weight in time for the summer? Are we giving up Facebook or candy because they are the easy and popular thing to do? What’s the point? Lent is a time of growing closer in our relationship with Christ through purification from sin. Giving up candy could be a good way to build up self-discipline in avoiding more serious or debilitating temptations. Giving up social media could help you to reprioritize your relationship with God in your life.
In turning away from sin, we are called to seek virtue. Part of the problem with our societal dependence on — or dare I say, addiction to — social media is that it blinds
us from the virtue we should be seeking, humility.
Social media has a tendency to force us into broadcasting ourselves. Our laptops and cellphones become very expensive self-promoting bullhorns. Humility is the opposite.
It seeks to put others first and ourselves last. For the Christian, it is about putting Christ first.  Humility recognizes that same sinfulness in need of purification during Lent, whereas social media recognizes our accomplishments worth posting for the world to see. While various social media platforms haven’t been around all that long, it’s safe to say they are here to stay. The particular names might rise and fall (Remember Vine and MySpace?), but the phenomenon is permanent. 
So what are we to do? How can we grow in humility in the social media era?  Fleeing social media completely neglects the exhortations of both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. We must figure out how to embrace and use social media for good, for Christ.  How can we still grow in virtue in an ever-developing and changing social media landscape? Here are some ideas to help you get started growing in humility — on and off your favorite electronic device.
Away from your device: Prayer and confession: In seminary, our rector used to ask us, “Are you spending more time on Facebook or in the chapel?” Christ desires to enter into relationship with us; we must spend time with Him in prayer. How do we prioritize our time? Do we spend it all consumed by ourselves on social media? Or do we give time to Christ? Is it easy for us to shout our accomplishments and accolades on social media, but when it comes to confessing our sins, is it too hard? Just as we make a regular habit of checking social media, we should make a regular habit of going to confession to help us grow in humility and holiness.
Serve: Spend time serving those who are in need, those on the “peripheries” as Pope Francis likes to say. Encountering the face of Christ in the poor is a transformative experience. It should teach us to be grateful for things we have, and out of that gratitude should sprout humility. When we encounter those who are poor, yet still full of joy, we realize that our happiness or self-worth should not be tied to how many followers or likes we have.
On your device:  Share: When we encounter greatness, it changes us. Shouldn’t we want to share that with others? The next time you read a great article or watch an informative video, share it so others can appreciate it too. Then your feed won’t be filled exclusively with posts about what great things you have done, but rather what others have done as well.
Compliment: One of the unfortunate side effects of hiding behind a screen is that it can bring out the worst in us. Unfortunately, this vitriol has seeped into the Church as well; such divisive, hate-filled speech does nothing to build up the kingdom of God. What if instead of commenting negatively, we stuck to compliments? How does it make you feel when you put hard work into something and others recognize it with their compliments (and likes)? Shouldn’t we want to return the favor to others? Complimenting others is another way for us to put others first and ourselves last. To use social media in this way helps to build others up instead of tearing them down and bolstering our own egos and in turn helps us to grow in humility
CNS• Father Geoffrey A. Brooke Jr.
Like, comment and share the #EncounterLentAsAFamily posts on @DioBurlington Facebook and Instagram accounts. These daily posts follow the CRS Rice Bowl daily Lenten programming, which can also be found at crsricebowl.org. Each week delivers Catholic social teaching, Stations of the Cross, Scripture readings, reflections from Pope Francis, simple meatless recipes, an encounter with global neighbors and suggestions on how you can help the most vulnerable in our midst.
Originally published in the Spring 2018 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
  • Published in World

Movie review: 'A Wrinkle in Time'

Director Ava DuVernay's youth-oriented fantasy film "A Wrinkle in Time" (Disney) wants to blow your mind.
Whether it succeeds will largely depend on your reaction to the sight of a giant version of Oprah Winfrey who, as a celestial guide called Mrs. Which, dispenses New Age-style bromides while dressed in an outfit suitable for a Valkyrie and sporting a makeup job the late female impersonator Divine might have found a bit garish.
As for more substantial considerations, this adaptation of Madeleine L'Engle's Newbery Medal-winning 1962 novel for young adults is wholesome in some respects, problematic in others. While entirely free of the negative elements that usually debar recommendation for young viewers, the movie's underlying worldview involves an uneasy combination of secularism and magical thinking.
Standing in need of Mrs. Which's help, and that of two of her peers, Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), is troubled middle-school student Meg Murry (Storm Reid). Four years after the unexplained disappearance of her father Alex (Chris Pine), a NASA scientist who, together with his physicist wife, Kate (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), had developed an unorthodox method of time and space travel, Meg is still devastated by his absence.
So it comes as a pleasant surprise when the trio of women magi mysteriously manifest themselves to Meg, her adopted younger brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), an intellectual prodigy, and to her supportive would-be boyfriend Calvin (Levi Miller). With their otherworldly visitors' assistance, the kids set off on a cosmic quest to track pop down and bring him home.
Their journey is often eye-pleasing. From the start, however, Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell's screenplay tries to force or simply assume audience sympathy with the characters, rather than earning it.
The picture's ultimate message, that we should love ourselves even while acknowledging our faults, can be seen as promoting the Christian virtue of humility. And, though one scene incongruously suggests that Mrs. Whatsit, in the course of a shape-shift, engages in a bit of peek-a-boo exhibitionism, the youthful romance at the heart of the story is a model of innocence and positive, if not always convincing, emotional interaction.
Still, very young viewers or for teens who are not well grounded in their faith may lack the discretion to retain the script's acceptable takeaway while jettisoning the metaphysical gobbledygook that surrounds it. A follow-up discussion with parents may, however, help those in the latter group to do so.
The film contains occasional peril and possible momentary off-screen immodesty. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
  • Published in Reviews

Giving up Facebook for Lent

Responding to editors' requests for a regular sampling of current commentary from around the Catholic press, here is a commentary titled: "Giving up Facebook for Lent?" which appeared in the March 4 issue of FaithLife, a biweekly newspaper of the Diocese of Erie, Pennsylvania. It was written by Mary Solberg, editor.
Facebook was founded in 2004, but this is the first year that I've noticed so many people giving it up for Lent.
Like chocolate, a favorite indulgence worldwide, Facebook apparently has risen to the top of the Lenten sacrifice list. A quick search on Google gives you 732,000 results about shutting down Facebook for the 40 days of Lent.
The fact that I Googled this means I'm one of billions of people scrambling for information in the digital universe, where Facebook is its own planet. While not a Facebook junkie, I use it for work, and regularly scroll through friends' and family members' posts.
Unlike those who give an hour-by-hour account of their day, I use the site so I "don't miss anything."
It has become the avenue by which important messages are shared. Just the other day, I ordered Girl Scout cookies on my Facebook page.
Those who've given up Facebook this Lent have inspired me to at least reduce my exposure to it.
I don't want to end up like the 200 people studied by researchers from Vrije University in Amsterdam who get excited every time they see Facebook's logo. Those folks are hooked on Facebook like a gambling addict is on casinos.
I'm more of a practical user. I look forward to seeing photos of my nieces and nephews who live far away, but to do that, I have to sift through posts that fill me with dread.
This uneasy feeling started a couple of years ago when I applauded the work of people fighting against racism. Surprisingly, it ignited a firestorm.
That's when I quit sharing opinions on my personal Facebook page. My heart races when I see venomous language or even nicely stated words designed only to hurt others.
Because Facebook is a kind of necessary evil in our world today, I'm trying to live by what Pope Francis said at the 2016 World Day of Social Communications: "It is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal."
Wise use of social media is the key. Good things can happen when it promotes a great cause, i.e. raising money for a charity or encouraging people to participate in an event that helps others.
Social media enlightens people about important efforts, many of which are sponsored by U.S. Catholic bishops, regarding homelessness, drug addiction, immigration and unchecked violence in our society.
At the end of February, the bishops supported an Internet effort encouraging people to call their legislators about helping Dreamers and reforming immigration laws.
Like dark chocolate, whose bountiful antioxidants improve our health, Facebook has benefits, too.
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The views or positions presented in this or any guest editorial are those of the individual publication and do not necessarily represent the views of Catholic News Service or of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
  • Published in World
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