February 5, 2008


Hello! My name is Sr. Helena Burns, fsp, the new movie reviewer for "The Catholic New World." I'm a member of the Daughters of St. Paul, an international congregation of women religious dedicated to communicating God's love and God's Word through the media. Not only do we produce and distribute Catholic media through Pauline Books & Media (www.pauline.org), but we seek to respond to Pope John Paul II's call to be an "active, listening presence," in "the 'new culture' that these powerful means of communication create" (Dawn of a New Era, no. 8, Rapid Development, no. 2). In other words, all of us, as contemporary Catholic Christians, are both members of the media culture and missionaries to it.

Our postmodern world has been called "post-literate," meaning that the printed word is less influential now than other forms of communication. (Novelists and poets were revered figures as recently as the 1960's. Can you name America's current poet laureate?) Statistics also bear this out: people are reading less, especially teens and young adults, in favor of more audio-visual media. "New media" don't replace old media (film didn't replace theater, TV didn't replace radio, etc.), they just take their place alongside them, but each media's slice of the pie gets thinner. One form of media that has remained strong as a cultural influence is film. Although many of us may not be able quote literature (and be understood even if we did), we're all instantly familiar with these movie quotes (even if we can't name or haven't seen the movie) because they have become our shared common parlance: "I'll make him an offer he can't refuse." "Go ahead, make my day." "You can't handle the truth." "You had me at hello." "Vote for Pedro."

A movement called "media literacy," afoot since the mid-twentieth century, seeks to equip children and adults with skills to access, analyze, create and evaluate all forms of media. Respect for human dignity and the opinions of others form the basis of media literacy's approach to conversation and dialogue. Although a non-religious movement, Catholics have been heavily involved since its inception. (See www.medialit.org and www.paulineCMS.org.) Media literacy says: "Let's not media-bash, let's media-engage!" The "media literacy" approach is the approach I will be using in my movie reviews, as well as seeking excellence in filmmaking.

Parents and grandparents! The media literacy approach is perfect for you who have the mammoth task of parenting not only in reality, but also in virtual reality! Hollywood spends lots of money to bring up the issues you need to talk about with your children/grandchildren in order to pass on your values. They've done half the work for you! At any given time, we can find in theaters and on DVD a smorgasbord of topics:  life-affirming --"Juno," the future—"I Am Legend," severe disability—"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," women and Islam—"Persepolis," etc.

When children are small and have only limited discernment, it is the responsibility of parents and caregivers to control their media access—however it's never too early to begin communicating about and with media with your kids. As they get older, you won't be able to control their use of media. Just as you want to help your children learn to make their own good choices in other areas, the same goes for media. "Control is for the moment, communication is for a lifetime," award-winning media educator, Sr. Rose Pacatte, fsp, reminds us.

When I talk to parents who have opted to "throw out their TVs," they very honestly share with me that it hasn't always gone well for them. Their kids are out of the loop at school and with friends, and some get into media addictions later on, because they weren't prepared with skills to navigate media and make good choices. Also, if we want our children to be witnesses of Jesus Christ to their peers, they'll need to speak the "language" of their peers. Jesus told us to be "in the world but not of it," and He told us: "Do not be afraid! I have overcome the world."

Our Catholic Faith is the first and best lens through which to encounter media. The more we understand God's Revelation that come to us through Nature, Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and everyday life, the more we'll be able to nuance our media discernment without being either reactionary or laissez-faire, and the more we'll be able to model media discernment to young people. Let's pray for the gift of wisdom to apply faith and reason to all our media experiences.

Sr. Helena has a B.A. in philosophy/theology from St. John's University, NYC, and studied screenwriting at UCLA and Act One, Hollywood.  




1 comment:

  1. What wonderful news, S. Helena! Excellent introductory article. I'm sure that Chicago Catholics will be looking forward to each edition of Catholic New World with renewed enthusiasm. Blessings on this new aspect of your ministry!