Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Our Catholic Lens

Saoirse Ronan in the film BROOKLYN.
I have recently connected with other Catholic media professionals in Hollywood and become utterly convinced that we, Catholics, see popular culture from a very different perspective than the rest of the world. The reason is our sense of sacramentality. You know, our faith is very concrete, tangible and earthy. God’s actual grace, His very self-communication, comes to us through very ordinary, material means, such as fire, water, oil, incense, artistic images, the Word, sounds, and even the theatricality of worship. The liturgy is lush with symbolism and signs that convey deep meaning and the very presence of God. Because of this sense of God being experienced and known through the concrete, material world-- this incarnational view of God becoming man and redeeming humanity-- we can then see the symbols and images of popular culture as a place where God is at work.

The symbols in some popular movies make it clear that as Catholics we can offer a sacramental lens to the overall meaning of the story, perhaps unbeknownst to the director and actors. In the movie Brooklyn (2015), Eilis[i] Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) receives written letters from her sister and mother in Ireland, whom she left behind to pursue a better life in Brooklyn, New York in the 1950s. Those letters are her connection to those she loves as she struggles with her loneliness and sadness in the bustling urban activity so unlike her rural Irish hometown.

From the slideshow "So You Want to
Be a Film Critic?" by Sr. Rose Pacatte, FSP.

Click to view slideshow.

The written word transcends time in this story and offers a sense of belonging, communion and hope. Is that not also what the Word of God in the Scriptures provides for each of us? Reading the Word of God stirs in us a longing for a life beyond this world, a desire to be connected with God, the Creator of all. The Bible is “God’s letter to his children,” as Alberione [ii] would say. It is interesting that the priest in the film is the conduit for the ongoing connection to Ireland, yet at the same time he is the one helping Eilis to become settled into her new life in Brooklyn. People are sometimes “letters” of God to us, since they are often the means through which we receive the grace and mercy of God.
 Booklyn the Movie
Learn more about the film Brooklyn.
There is the call to “focus” our sacramental lens upon the culture so that we can bring a Catholic understanding to not only the obviously religious artifacts, but even ones whose more profound meanings might be hidden from the casual viewer. Let us hone our Catholic cultural imaginations to see God at work in the world around us and point out the deep human desires that ultimately lead one to God, who is Being Itself—the One, the True and the Beautiful.

To be continued….

[i] the name "Eilis" is the Irish Gaelic form of Elizabeth or Alice.
[ii] Blessed James Alberione, the Founder of the Pauline Family which includes five religious congregations, four lay institutions and one association. This blog, written for everyone, focuses specifically on the Pauline charism and its application in the apostolate of the laity.   

Sr. Nancy Usselmann is a Daughter of St. Paul, a congregation of women religious dedicated to evangelization in and through the media, and a Media Literacy Education Specialist. She has degrees in Communications Arts and a Masters in Theology and Arts. For over 25 years, Sr. Nancy has given numerous media mindfulness workshops, presentations and film retreats around the country to youth, young adults, catechists, seminarians, teachers and media professionals helping them to create the dialogue between faith and media. Sr. Nancy is currently Manager of the Pauline Books & Media center in Redwood City, CA and recently appointed Director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Culver City, CA


Easter Almuena said...

Sr. Nancy, I had the pleasure of sharing a bit of Catholic Imaginings with a certain group. (Thank you for the talk you gave to the future Pauline Cooperators in Hawaii.) It was received with a smile, which perhaps indicated that it tapped into the curiosity and playfulness of a child. I believe that a sense of childlikeness through Catholic Imaginings brings into play a dynamic participation of recognizing and interacting with the Divine. I can see that in that moment, the being becomes drawn to or immersed in the grace of the sacramentality of the image. Because the child is engaged as a participant and not just a viewer, it looks for more opportunities to commune with God in this way. The child also will not be reluctant to share the experience with others, bringing us to a broader sense of communion.

M-L Handal, NYC said...

Thank you, Sr. Nancy, for your thought-provoking presentation about the unique role of sacramentals in our Catholic traditions. It does give us a special capability to connect with the popular culture! I look forward to your next installment.

Sr Nancy said...

Thank you, Marie!