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February 18, 2021
February 14, 2021
(originally published in the Catholic Register: https://www.catholicregister.org/opinion/columnists/item/32673-sr-helena-burns-free-speech-and-the-christian-mandate)
How often have we heard (or declared ourselves): “I can say what I want! Last time I checked this was a free country!” Um, when was the last time you checked? Oh, sure. We have freedom of expression guaranteed by the charter, but ask yourself this question: Have you ever halted recently (say, in the past few years when you wouldn’t have previously) before you said something in person or posted something online and thought: “This isn’t politically correct, I might get serious flak,” and you drastically rephrased it or simply didn’t say or post anything at all? And remember, if it’s Big Tech doing the reproving or censoring, we’re talking about a global reach eclipsing national jurisdictions.
Let’s be clear. Because we are children of God and followers of Jesus, we should always speak the truth, but always the truth in charity. It’s best not to be lazy, labeling or insulting in the way we talk about people or issues. If we are accusatory, inflammatory or demonizing, we should be prepared for a reaction in kind, akin to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Avoiding uncharity in speech or digital expression does not mean we need to water anything down. In fact, if we elevate our speech and other modes of communication, we take the high road and appeal to people’s better angels with the power of persuasion. Should they wish to do an about-face and join us, they won’t have to crawl up from the mire we have bludgeoned them down into, but simply “see the light,” and “agree” with a better way of seeing and doing things. Civility and kindness aren’t weakness. The Bible says: “a gentle tongue can break a bone.” The great evangelizer, St. Francis de Sales was fond of repeating: “You get more flies with honey than with vinegar.” St. Edith Stein also had a wise measuring stick: “Do not accept anything as the truth if it lacks love. Do not accept anything as love if it lacks truth. One without the other becomes a destructive lie.”
In the film “The Giver,” the
history-erasing, baby-eliminating, dystopian governing forces keep the
population in line through something called “preciseness of speech” (think:
Jordan Peterson’s “compelled speech”). If you can control people’s speech, you
can control their thoughts. You can squelch, deform and silence truth. We begin
self-censoring in the privacy of our own home, the privacy of our own brain.
Why? Perhaps at first we want to be nice, we don’t want to offend, but
then—when we realize that even the most obvious of truths offend, and we
witness the recriminations against those who speak these truths—we do so out of
fear. Fear of what? Fear of very real repercussions: losing a social media
account, losing a promotion, losing a job, losing a friend, losing your money (fines), losing your freedom (imprisonment).
We are watching and feeling the screws of censorship and totalitarianism tighten around us as we try to “keep on rockin’ in the free world.” But wait. What does that mean, “free world”? Are parts of the world not free? If so, where, why? Wherever there are dictatorships or ideologies such as Communism that believe 1) human beings are cogs in a machine 2) everything, even basic human rights are “politics,” in order to dismiss equal participation in the conversation by all 3) utopia on this earth is possible through social control—then there will be oppression and revoking of freedoms of all kinds. Just ask Hong Kong.
In my case, as a presenter of John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body,” I know that I will be “caught up with” soon enough—when the powers that be figure out how offensive this “Gospel of the Body” and the science that backs it up really is. (As Jordan Peterson warned: “They’re coming for you next, biologists.”) So what am I doing in preparation for that fateful day? For starters, I have begun substituting Greek letters for similar-looking Roman alphabet letters online to make it harder for bots and algorithms to purge me.
We can’t be cowardly. We must keep on truckin’. We have a divine mandate by our baptism to witness to Jesus Christ and His “words of everlasting life.” “…They ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and released them. The apostles left…rejoicing that they had been counted worthy to suffer disgrace for the Name.” “Rejoicing?!” Well, “there is no other name by which we can be saved.”
So, for Christians, if limiting free speech means not being allowed to lovingly preach, teach and share the whole truth, the full Gospel? Then N/A. These restrictions are not applicable. "Better for us to obey God than men" (Acts 5:29).
January 7, 2021
(originally published in CatholicRegister.org)
haiku I ever wrote was about home. I was in sixth grade French class staring
out the window as usual (zut alors!), and
it came to me wholly formed, in a flash of insight.
Oh, how I do think
of how lovely life would be
if I could go home.
Lest you are thinking I went to a boarding school, I did not. The content and sentiment of the haiku startled even moi-même, because I knew it didn’t mean my home right down the street. The poem was surely a grace from God, whispering to me that I had another home, my real home for which I was longing. It was my first inkling of heaven.
“Home” has been much more than a concept during the 2020 pandemic filled with lockdowns, shutdowns and restricted activities. People got reacquainted, very reacquainted with their living spaces, such as they are, and with their families and roommates, such as they are. My friend--who was paying off her dream condo on Yonge St.--became quite literally a prisoner for months on end in her cozy little nest (due to pre-existing lung conditions). The upshot of “home” for her was that, “when the days of her confinement were over,” she sold the thing and bought a home in Thorold, swearing to never be a cliff dweller again.
As I see it,
everyone has three homes.
1) Our physical home: where we crash at night. Even the home-less might consider the streets their home, or perhaps a piece of hard-earned turf somewhere. This physical, practical place can be palatial or humble, and we might change our address many times throughout life. For some, the family homestead has great significance, having been passed down from generation to generation. Indelible memories and family history are ingrained in every doorway and staircase. I remember when we were kids going on a family vacation each summer, we’d actually wave and say “goodbye house!” as the station wagon pulled away. My mum still lives in this same house she’s lived in for sixty years now. My Dad lived in it even longer, and before him a professor whose grown-up grandchildren (all girls) would periodically visit our house—just the house, mind you—and weep as they remembered their dear Grandpa Morgan. You see, love is the only real thread that keeps any of us attached to anyone or anything.
spiritual home: whose hearts we live in/who lives in our hearts. How often have
you heard a spouse say of their beloved: “she is my home/he is my
home”? And God definitely wants to be enthroned in our hearts, first and
foremost: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone…opens, I will enter
and sup with him” (Revelation 3:20).
3) Our forever home: God. Our third home overlaps with our second home, because heaven starts now if God is in our heart. (Hell can also start now if He isn’t!) Heaven is a place and a Person.
If, as the Bible tells us, “…here we have no lasting city…” (Hebrews 13:14), then why are we so invested in “here”? Why are we so sad to think of leaving this world to be with God forever in paradise? Because our earthly home—with all its warts--is all we know, and the unknown can be terrifying, even if our good God is both the destination and the One making the promises. So, “don’t be such a stranger!” We have our whole lives to get to know God so well that “death will be like moving from one room to another” (Blessed James Alberione).
Jesus Himself had a checkered trajectory when it came to “home.” There was no room…in the inn” (Luke 2:7). Born in a barn (we really shouldn’t use that expression pejoratively); a child refugee; returns to Nazareth; moves to Capernaum; hits the road preaching, teaching and healing, and tells His disciples: “The birds of the sky have nests, the foxes have dens, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58); buried in a borrowed tomb.
Sr. Helena Raphael Burns, fsp, is a Daughter of St. Paul. She holds a Masters in Media Literacy Education and studied screenwriting at UCLA. www.HellBurns.com Twitter: @srhelenaburns
MINTUES B.C.--A NATIVITY PLAY”
Review by Sr. Helena Raphael Burns, fsp
The forty-three minute filmed play, written
and directed by Denise Vi Flaten is an imaginative, lovely drama of Joseph and
Mary just thirty minutes before the Savior is born. The narrator is none other
than Jonathan Roumie (Jesus in “The Chosen”)—however, the narration is more
like a few brief, mostly unnecessary stage directions. Even if it was supposed
to be a fun little device, it doesn’t really work, is disruptive and takes us
out of contemplating the scene before us. Thankfully it isn’t often! There is
one super-ugly and jarring line (is it a joke?) right after Jesus’ birth.
Joseph quotes Isaiah, and Mary blurts out
the exact chapter and verse. What is this, Bible Trivia? But these are
The setting is a stage populated with hay bales and a manger. The loquacious couple “defer to one another out of reverence for Christ”: affectionate ribbing, Scripture references, religious concerns and also solo dialogues with God—which all help us to see from a very human standpoint what the holy pair were going through. Such love and respect between these spouses—a lesson for all married couples. Joseph is a fierce protector of Madonna and Child—feisty and angry and frustrated that he can’t provide more for his wards. There are ample “joys and tears mingled all the while” (a hymn to St. Joseph) with not a few premonitions of the Passion. A few well-placed sound effects are delightful. The actors are quite good.
Inspired by the writings of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, Maria Valtorta and Venerable Mary of Agreda, the vocabulary aims for a first-century feel, but is speckled with a few stray contemporary-sounding expressions. Some, of course, will object to the fact that Valtorta is cited as a source, due to her writings having sketchy, extremely fraught and conditional Church approval. However, I feel we should just look at the play—the final outcome of these inspirations—on its own merits or lack thereof.
Joseph is about ten years older than Mary and a work in progress (he’s rather impatient). But then he effuses about the little Lord about to be miraculously birthed: “My God and my son!” “How will I not die of joy holding God in my arms?”
My favorite moment is when Mary cries and prays to God in her dire straits (the momentousness of what is unfolding). Haven’t we all felt—even though we understand God is with us—fearful and desolate when we are in the depths of suffering, or facing what we know will be a difficult future? Mary and Joseph’s heartfelt prayers give a hint of their rich interior lives. And their conversations (basically what the entire play is made of) are not ordinary. We know they talked, right? What would they have said to each other? I love the conversations of the Holy Family in my favorite Jesus movie (“The Young Messiah”), but they are cursory and minimal. “30 Minutes B.C.” dialogues are a feast. Methinks we should all talk about and to God more like this.
This is an utterly Catholic play, utterly loyal to God and man. Mary is slightly more the protagonist than Joseph. She is as humble as she is strong. I am changed by watching this play. Theology of the Body “feminists” like myself (who appreciate men and believe in our non-identical equality and complementariness) will love what Mary has to say about herself as a woman, how she loves and accepts her nature and embraces her (divine) motherhood, mission and vocation in life, body and soul.
The strength of virginity (in this interpretation, Joseph has also been committed to perpetual virginity his whole life), the strength of parenthood, the strength of human and divine love is central and the narrative’s guiding star.
This depiction will not be everyone’s cup of tea, especially if you prefer the mystery of a “Silent Night,” a church tableau, or a simple, sparkly Christmas card. I approach it as an artistic attempt to fill in the blanks, which I don’t feel like I need (although some earnestly do). The Scriptures are plenty for me. But I can always find something inspiring in almost any Bible film, drama, painting or other artistic representation. Well done, thou good and faithful thespians!