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Why Should Catholics Care About the Oscars?
By David DiCerto
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Tuesday, March 1, 2011
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Why should Catholics care about the Oscars, or, for that matter, movies in general? As a Catholic film critic, it is a question I have been asked. After all, or so the reasoning goes, Hollywood "hates" organized religion—and Catholicism with a particular intensity, right? So why should believers give a hoot about an industry that seems intent on mocking and maligning them? What, to paraphrase the early church father Tertullian, has Hollywood got to do with Jerusalem?

Writing when Greek philosophy was the pop culture of the day, Tertullian famously asked "what Athens has to do with Jerusalem, or the Academy with the church?" (The Academy was an institution of secular learning founded by Plato in 387 B.C.) In other words, what does popular culture have to do with faith?

Two thousand years later, people are still asking the same question.

In 2000, Pope John Paul II stated, "The impact of the media can hardly be exaggerated. For many, the experience of living is, to a great extent, an experience of the media." And for many, a big part of their media diet is movies.

Much more than mere entertainment, motion pictures have a powerful impact on society, shaping ideas and attitudes. They are, according to Pope John Paul, "communicators of culture and values."

The multiplex is now the church of the masses, and movie stars the objects of cultic devotion. Last year, more than a billion movie tickets were purchased. The vast majority of Catholic moviegoers are more familiar with Tom Cruise or Tom Hanks, than "Tom" Aquinas.

In "Behind the Screen," a collection of essays on faith and film, best-selling author James Scott Bell writes, "Movies are part of our cultural syntax. They help shape our language and our conversations."

For Christians concerned with elevating the cultural landscape, he adds, "This is the just the sort of cultural conversation we need to be having, but we can't participate if we are not engaged with culture." As they say, you've got to be in it to win it.

Before St. Ignatius sent his missionaries off to spread the Gospel, he advised them: "Wherever you go, learn the language." In a world where movies are the lingua franca, that means being cinema literate.

In his 1995 World Communications Day address, Pope John Paul encouraged greater cinema literacy among Catholics, particularly parents. No Catholic would argue against the importance of staying informed about political issues, but when it comes to popular culture -- which, for better or worse, exerts arguably greater influence on society -- many Catholics choose to tune out.

Sure, there's a lot wrong with what Hollywood is churning out, a lot for Catholics to be concerned about. All the more reason not to stand on the sidelines.

"Those who would completely withdraw from culture because of its imperfection suffer a decreasing capacity to interact redemptively with that culture," writes Christian screenwriter Brian Godawa in his book "Hollywood Worldviews." "They don't understand the way people around them are thinking because they are not familiar with the "language" those people are speaking or the culture they are consuming."

Which brings us back to the Oscars. Now, I'm not suggesting that every film that was nominated this year or that every film that won the golden statuette Feb. 27 is worth seeing; on the contrary, some are definitely not recommended viewing.

But I do believe that it is in every Catholic's interest to at least be aware of the movies that were in the running, simply because those are the films being talked about around water coolers, soccer fields and dining room tables—those everyday opportunities for evangelization. To that end, Catholics should be able to articulate their thoughts—positive or negative—in the light of Christian truths. It's not enough to say that you found a particular film "offensive" or not, you should be able to intelligently explain why. You should, as St. Ignatius counseled, speak the language.

On the flipside, maybe by tuning in on Oscar night, you also found out about some terrific movies from the past year that were inspiring, artistic, spiritually affirming or just plain entertaining.

If we are to take Christ's command seriously to be the yeast that leavens the whole loaf, we must meet the culture head on. To do that, we must be in the dough (while not of it). Or at least in the know.

What does Hollywood have to do with Jerusalem and the Academy—Awards, that is—with the church? Actually, more than you may think.


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Ignatius of Loyola: The founder of the Jesuits was on his way to military fame and fortune when a cannon ball shattered his leg. Because there were no books of romance on hand during his convalescence, Ignatius whiled away the time reading a life of Christ and lives of the saints. His conscience was deeply touched, and a long, painful turning to Christ began. Having seen the Mother of God in a vision, he made a pilgrimage to her shrine at Montserrat (near Barcelona). He remained for almost a year at nearby Manresa, sometimes with the Dominicans, sometimes in a pauper’s hospice, often in a cave in the hills praying. After a period of great peace of mind, he went through a harrowing trial of scruples. There was no comfort in anything—prayer, fasting, sacraments, penance. At length, his peace of mind returned. 
<p>It was during this year of conversion that Ignatius began to write down material that later became his greatest work, the <em>Spiritual Exercises</em>. </p><p>He finally achieved his purpose of going to the Holy Land, but could not remain, as he planned, because of the hostility of the Turks. He spent the next 11 years in various European universities, studying with great difficulty, beginning almost as a child. Like many others, his orthodoxy was questioned; Ignatius was twice jailed for brief periods. </p><p>In 1534, at the age of 43, he and six others (one of whom was St. Francis Xavier, December 2) vowed to live in poverty and chastity and to go to the Holy Land. If this became impossible, they vowed to offer themselves to the apostolic service of the pope. The latter became the only choice. Four years later Ignatius made the association permanent. The new Society of Jesus was approved by Paul III, and Ignatius was elected to serve as the first general. </p><p>When companions were sent on various missions by the pope, Ignatius remained in Rome, consolidating the new venture, but still finding time to found homes for orphans, catechumens and penitents. He founded the Roman College, intended to be the model of all other colleges of the Society. </p><p>Ignatius was a true mystic. He centered his spiritual life on the essential foundations of Christianity—the Trinity, Christ, the Eucharist. His spirituality is expressed in the Jesuit motto, <i>ad majorem Dei gloriam</i>—“for the greater glory of God.” In his concept, obedience was to be the prominent virtue, to assure the effectiveness and mobility of his men. All activity was to be guided by a true love of the Church and unconditional obedience to the Holy Father, for which reason all professed members took a fourth vow to go wherever the pope should send them for the salvation of souls.</p> American Catholic Blog Jesus’s humanity and His biological need to be fed Himself gives power and personal force to His teaching that when we feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty, we do it to Him.

 
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