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Communication at the Service of an Authentic Culture of Encounter

[Sunday, 1 June 2014]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today we are living in a world which is growing ever “smaller” and where, as a result, it would seem to be easier for all of us to be neighbours. Developments in travel and communications technology are bringing us closer together and making us more connected, even as globalization makes us increasingly interdependent. Nonetheless, divisions, which are sometimes quite deep, continue to exist within our human family. On the global level we see a scandalous gap between the opulence of the wealthy and the utter destitution of the poor. Often we need only walk the streets of a city to see the contrast between people living on the street and the brilliant lights of the store windows. We have become so accustomed to these things that they no longer unsettle us. Our world suffers from many forms of exclusion, marginalization and poverty, to say nothing of conflicts born of a combination of economic, political, ideological, and, sadly, even religious motives.
In a world like this, media can help us to feel closer to one another, creating a sense of the unity of the human family which can in turn inspire solidarity and serious efforts to ensure a more dignified life for all. Good communication helps us to grow closer, to know one another better, and ultimately, to grow in unity. The walls which divide us can be broken down only if we are prepared to listen and learn from one another. We need to resolve our differences through forms of dialogue which help us grow in understanding and mutual respect. A culture of encounter demands that we be ready not only to give, but also to receive. Media can help us greatly in this, especially nowadays, when the networks of human communication have made unprecedented advances. The internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity. This is something truly good, a gift from God.
This is not to say that certain problems do not exist. The speed with which information is communicated exceeds our capacity for reflection and judgement, and this does not make for more balanced and proper forms of self-expression. The variety of opinions being aired can be seen as helpful, but it also enables people to barricade themselves behind sources of information which only confirm their own wishes and ideas, or political and economic interests. The world of communications can help us either to expand our knowledge or to lose our bearings. The desire for digital connectivity can have the effect of isolating us from our neighbours, from those closest to us. We should not overlook the fact that those who for whatever reason lack access to social media run the risk of being left behind.
While these drawbacks are real, they do not justify rejecting social media; rather, they remind us that communication is ultimately a human rather than technological achievement. What is it, then, that helps us, in the digital environment, to grow in humanity and mutual understanding? We need, for example, to recover a certain sense of deliberateness and calm. This calls for time and the ability to be silent and to listen. We need also to be patient if we want to understand those who are different from us. People only express themselves fully when they are not merely tolerated, but know that they are truly accepted. If we are genuinely attentive in listening to others, we will learn to look at the world with different eyes and come to appreciate the richness of human experience as manifested in different cultures and traditions. We will also learn to appreciate more fully the important values inspired by Christianity, such as the vision of the human person, the nature of marriage and the family, the proper distinction between the religious and political spheres, the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, and many others.
How, then, can communication be at the service of an authentic culture of encounter? What does it mean for us, as disciples of the Lord, to encounter others in the light of the Gospel? In spite of our own limitations and sinfulness, how do we draw truly close to one another? These questions are summed up in what a scribe – a communicator – once asked Jesus: “And who is my neighbour?” (Lk 10:29). This question can help us to see communication in terms of “neighbourliness”. We might paraphrase the question in this way: How can we be “neighbourly” in our use of the communications media and in the new environment created by digital technology? I find an answer in the parable of the Good Samaritan, which is also a parable about communication. Those who communicate, in effect, become neighbours. The Good Samaritan not only draws nearer to the man he finds half dead on the side of the road; he takes responsibility for him. Jesus shifts our understanding: it is not just about seeing the other as someone like myself, but of the ability to make myself like the other. Communication is really about realizing that we are all human beings, children of God. I like seeing this power of communication as “neighbourliness”.
Whenever communication is primarily aimed at promoting consumption or manipulating others, we are dealing with a form of violent aggression like that suffered by the man in the parable, who was beaten by robbers and left abandoned on the road. The Levite and the priest do not regard him as a neighbour, but as a stranger to be kept at a distance. In those days, it was rules of ritual purity which conditioned their response. Nowadays there is a danger that certain media so condition our responses that we fail to see our real neighbour.
It is not enough to be passersby on the digital highways, simply “connected”; connections need to grow into true encounters. We cannot live apart, closed in on ourselves. We need to love and to be loved. We need tenderness. Media strategies do not ensure beauty, goodness and truth in communication. The world of media also has to be concerned with humanity, it too is called to show tenderness. The digital world can be an environment rich in humanity; a network not of wires but of people. The impartiality of media is merely an appearance; only those who go out of themselves in their communication can become a true point of reference for others. Personal engagement is the basis of the trustworthiness of a communicator. Christian witness, thanks to the internet, can thereby reach the peripheries of human existence.
As I have frequently observed, if a choice has to be made between a bruised Church which goes out to the streets and a Church suffering from self-absorption, I certainly prefer the first. Those “streets” are the world where people live and where they can be reached, both effectively and affectively. The digital highway is one of them, a street teeming with people who are often hurting, men and women looking for salvation or hope. By means of the internet, the Christian message can reach “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Keeping the doors of our churches open also means keeping them open in the digital environment so that people, whatever their situation in life, can enter, and so that the Gospel can go out to reach everyone. We are called to show that the Church is the home of all. Are we capable of communicating the image of such a Church? Communication is a means of expressing the missionary vocation of the entire Church; today the social networks are one way to experience this call to discover the beauty of faith, the beauty of encountering Christ. In the area of communications too, we need a Church capable of bringing warmth and of stirring hearts.
Effective Christian witness is not about bombarding people with religious messages, but about our willingness to be available to others “by patiently and respectfully engaging their questions and their doubts as they advance in their search for the truth and the meaning of human existence” (BENEDICT XVI, Message for the 47th World Communications Day, 2013). We need but recall the story of the disciples on the way to Emmaus. We have to be able to dialogue with the men and women of today, to understand their expectations, doubts and hopes, and to bring them the Gospel, Jesus Christ himself, God incarnate, who died and rose to free us from sin and death. We are challenged to be people of depth, attentive to what is happening around us and spiritually alert. To dialogue means to believe that the “other” has something worthwhile to say, and to entertain his or her point of view and perspective. Engaging in dialogue does not mean renouncing our own ideas and traditions, but the claim that they alone are valid or absolute.
May the image of the Good Samaritan who tended to the wounds of the injured man by pouring oil and wine over them be our inspiration. Let our communication be a balm which relieves pain and a fine wine which gladdens hearts. May the light we bring to others not be the result of cosmetics or special effects, but rather of our being loving and merciful “neighbours” to those wounded and left on the side of the road. Let us boldly become citizens of the digital world. The Church needs to be concerned for, and present in, the world of communication, in order to dialogue with people today and to help them encounter Christ. She needs to be a Church at the side of others, capable of accompanying everyone along the way. The revolution taking place in communications media and in information technologies represents a great and thrilling challenge; may we respond to that challenge with fresh energy and imagination as we seek to share with others the beauty of God.
From the Vatican, 24 January 2014, the Memorial of Saint Francis de Sales.


Son of God Movie Review by Nic Haros


Son of God Movie Review 

by Nic Haros, Director of Facebook Apostles.
February 28, 2014

Yes.  Now I can say that I’ve actually seen the Son of God movie and I can wholeheartedly recommend it to Catholics, Christians, and non-believers alike.  The scenes and dialogue from the movie (and the emotions it invoked) are still now playing on my mind.  I do have some thoughts on the movie, which I’d like to share. 

In summary, I was awestruck by the performance of Roma Downey (co-producer) as Mary, the Mother of Jesus.  Though missed by most, I think, this movie not only experienced the life of Jesus and His mission on earth, but also shed some light on the story as perceived by Mary.  I will develop that idea in a bit.

First, I’d like to respond to some of thoughts shared by you, Page Fans of Facebook Apostles.  All in all, those who have seen it have had a very good experience watching the film and most have liked it.  Some have “criticized” the movie (falsely, I think) on a number of points.

Most respondents have drawn comparison to other Jesus movies such as the Passion of the Christ and Jesus of Nazareth.  I think such comparisons (favorably and unfavorably) are unfair.  All three are very different movies though the subject matter is the same.  The Jesus of Nazareth movie was, in my opinion, a narrative of the events in the New Testament.  The Passion of the Christ was a cerebral film—it appealed just as much to our psyche as to our emotions.  Son of God, I think, was different.  Of the three movies, SOG presented the most hopeful ending and message.  The joy and peace of living and loving the Beatitudes is made known to following Christians to come and clearly offered a path of redemption by Christ.  The message of this movie was the universal call to all to Evangelize.  Not so with the other two films. Continue reading

Reinvigorating Culture by Russell Kirk

CultureReinvigorating Culture

by Russell Kirk

Anyone who pushes the buttons of a television set nowadays [written in 1994, Ed.] may be tempted to reflect that genuine culture came to an end during the latter half of the twentieth century. The television set is an immense accomplishment of reason and imagination: the victory of technology. But the gross images produced by television are symptoms and causes of our civilization’s decadence: the defeat of humane culture.

The contrast between the success of technology and the failure of social institutions is yet more striking when we look at any large American city. Some time ago I spent a day in Detroit, once styled “the arsenal of democracy,” latterly known as “America’s murder capital.” I have known Detroit ever since I was a small boy, and have observed the stages of the city’s decay over the decades. Except for some financial and political activity, and a little surviving commerce, about the foot of Woodward Avenue near the river, old Detroit is a dangerous wreck. The length of Woodward Avenue, up to Eight Mile Road and beyond, one drives through grim desolation: Beirut in the midst of its troubles might have seemed more cheerful. One passes through Detroit’s “cultural center,” the Institute of Arts on one side of the avenue, the Public Library on the other. Immediately north or south of those splendid buildings, immediately east or west, extends the grimy reality of a broken and dying city. “Culture” has become something locked into an archaic museum.

Detroit’s technology has produced immense wealth in goods—and still does so, if at a diminished rate. Detroit’s society has produced an inhumane quasi-anarchy. Take Detroit as an ugly microcosm of America, and one may perceive the pressing need for a recovery of humane culture.

Our inherited culture is involved in great difficulties. I suppose that most people nowadays will assent to that statement. Forty years ago, not long after the Second World War, I often encountered people who waxed indignant at my venturing to suggest the possibility of cultural decadence among us. It is otherwise now.

Sometimes, true, I come upon men and women who profess to be well satisfied with our world, and with their diversions—rather nasty diversions, not infrequently—therein. Yet these are not tranquil people: instead they bring to mind a poem by Adam Mickiewicz:

Your soul deserves the place to which it came, If having entered Hell, you feel no flame.

As marvelous innovators in the physical sciences, as wondrously efficient creators of technology, we moderns surpass our ancestors. But as for humane culture, we seem bent on destroying our civilization. Can anything be done by way of reinvigoration? Continue reading

YA HEY: Persecution & Salvation for the Coptic Christians in Egypt

I created this music video during the height of the slaughter of Coptic Christians in Egypt during August, 2013.  This film looks at the current persecutions of Christians in light of Catholic Revelation on salvation history and the redeeming merits of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.  Though this film addresses the Coptic Christians in Egypt may it stand as a symbol of hope for all persecuted in the name of Christ.

Justice Jennine Blasts Obama’s Handling of the Middle East


Post-Prosperity II: Why Everybody Watched Bishop Sheen by John Willson

prosperityPost-Prosperity II: Why Everybody Watched Bishop Sheen

by John Willson 


Happiness, says the wicked Ambrose Bierce, is an “agreeable sensation arising from contemplating the misery of another.” (The Devil’s Dictionary, 1911)  There was so much misery in the world (at least misery that most people could agree was misery) from about 1930-1945 that, if Bierce were correct, one would expect to find more expressions of happiness than leap off the pages and images of post-WWII American culture.

The 1950s, so maligned by ignorant generations who didn’t live it, gave us the best picture of the contradictions the ambiguous idea of prosperity offered the world, perhaps in the history of what we still call Western Civilization.  Progressives hated the decade, being so stupid as not to see what Elvis and Marilyn and Arthur Miller and Tennessee and Marlon–and yes, their anti-hero, Tail Gunner Joe, handed them to take apart politically what the American Century had offered.

We were prosperous in that decade, although most of the fashionable economists–J.K. Galbraith, for example, who got rich telling us we were really poor, tried their best to make us unhappy when we thought we were happy.  They parlayed that into what Robert Frost called “pigging together” in the Great Society of the 1960s, which has ensured the decline of our prosperity.

The irony of all this is that the most popular person on the most visible proof of prosperity, television, was a Catholic Bishop.  America’s Bishop, his biographer Thomas Reeves calls him.  Fulton J. Sheen did “Life Is Worth Living” on the Du Mont network and ABC (in fact he made ABC) from February 12, 1952 until October, 1957 when he “retired” from television at the order of Cardinal Spellman of New York. He won an Emmy as TV’s most outstanding personality in 1952 and was heard by more people than any bishop in history, and watched by more people than “I Love Lucy” or “Gunsmoke.”  The idiots who have so far written histories of the 50s often group him with Norman Vincent Peale’s feelgood version of lukewarm dishwater Christianity, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Bishop Sheen brought Thomas Aquinas to the United States in his 1925 book, God and Intelligence (an astonishing book, a critique of all of modern philosophy from the perspective of a Christian Humanist).  He also devastated “Sigmund Fraud” in  Peace of Soul (1949) and wrote the best book ever written on communism (except perhaps for Whittaker Chambers’ Witness), Communism and the Conscience of the West (1948).  Before TV, he had intellectually marginalized the two great evil ideologies of the twentieth century.

Nor did he on television water things down.  He walked onto a spare set, dressed as a bishop, wrote “JMJ” at the top of a folding blackboard, and talked for twenty-seven minutes (he once said that a successful talk is of whatever length but best wrapped up with a two-minute memorized ending) about things that Americans knew in their hearts were important.  “Why Work Is Boring,” for example; or “Fatigue”; or “How to Talk”; or “Women Who Do Not Fail; or “Teen-Agers.”  He never talked politics, except to dissect the evils of ideology–about one in five of his shows, and he never identified himself as a Catholic.  About 70% of his audience was non-Catholic.  It can be well argued that he killed America’s historic anti-Catholicism with kindness.  I, as a 12-17 year old Episcopalian, rarely missed his broadcasts.  I didn’t know it at the time, but he gave me a pretty good grounding in Thomistic philosophy and an effective inoculation against 60s hedonism at exactly the time I was most receptive to things that teen-agers don’t want to hear.

Continue reading


Pope Benedict XVI






“Social Networks: portals of truth and faith; new spaces for evangelization.”

[Sunday, 12 May 2013] 

 Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As the 2013 World Communications Day draws near, I would like to offer you some reflections on an increasingly important reality regarding the way in which people today communicate among themselves. I wish to consider the development of digital social networks which are helping to create a new “agora”, an open public square in which people share ideas, information and opinions, and in which new relationships and forms of community can come into being.

These spaces, when engaged in a wise and balanced way, help to foster forms of dialogue and debate which, if conducted respectfully and with concern for privacy, responsibility and truthfulness, can reinforce the bonds of unity between individuals and effectively promote the harmony of the human family. The exchange of information can become true communication, links ripen into friendships, and connections facilitate communion. If the networks are called to realize this great potential, the people involved in them must make an effort to be authentic since, in these spaces, it is not only ideas and information that are shared, but ultimately our very selves.

The development of social networks calls for commitment: people are engaged in building relationships and making friends, in looking for answers to their questions and being entertained, but also in finding intellectual stimulation and sharing knowledge and know-how. The networks are increasingly becoming part of the very fabric of society, inasmuch as they bring people together on the basis of these fundamental needs. Social networks are thus nourished by aspirations rooted in the human heart.

The culture of social networks and the changes in the means and styles of communication pose demanding challenges to those who want to speak about truth and values. Often, as is also the case with other means of social communication, the significance and effectiveness of the various forms of expression appear to be determined more by their popularity than by their intrinsic importance and value. Popularity, for its part, is often linked to celebrity or to strategies of persuasion rather than to the logic of argumentation. At times the gentle voice of reason can be overwhelmed by the din of excessive information and it fails to attract attention which is given instead to those who express themselves in a more persuasive manner. The social media thus need the commitment of all who are conscious of the value of dialogue, reasoned debate and logical argumentation; of people who strive to cultivate forms of discourse and expression which appeal to the noblest aspirations of those engaged in the communication process. Dialogue and debate can also flourish and grow when we converse with and take seriously people whose ideas are different from our own. “Given the reality of cultural diversity, people need not only to accept the existence of the culture of others, but also to aspire to be enriched by it and to offer to it whatever they possess that is good, true and beautiful” (Address at the Meeting with the World of Culture, Bélem, Lisbon, 12 May 2010).

The challenge facing social networks is how to be truly inclusive: thus they will benefit from the full participation of believers who desire to share the message of Jesus and the values of human dignity which his teaching promotes. Believers are increasingly aware that, unless the Good News is made known also in the digital world, it may be absent in the experience of many people for whom this existential space is important. The digital environment is not a parallel or purely virtual world, but is part of the daily experience of many people, especially the young. Social networks are the result of human interaction, but for their part they also reshape the dynamics of communication which builds relationships: a considered understanding of this environment is therefore the prerequisite for a significant presence there.

The ability to employ the new languages is required, not just to keep up with the times, but precisely in order to enable the infinite richness of the Gospel to find forms of expression capable of reaching the minds and hearts of all. In the digital environment the written word is often accompanied by images and sounds. Effective communication, as in the parables of Jesus, must involve the imagination and the affectivity of those we wish to invite to an encounter with the mystery of God’s love. Besides, we know that Christian tradition has always been rich in signs and symbols: I think for example of the Cross, icons, images of the Virgin Mary, Christmas cribs, stained-glass windows and pictures in our churches. A significant part of mankind’s artistic heritage has been created by artists and musicians who sought to express the truths of the faith. Continue reading

A Patron Saint for the Idiot Box? by Stephen Masty

A Patron Saint for the Idiot Box?

by Stephen Masty

January 7, 2013

One may have had low expectations when his television show began in 1951, to put it mildly.

The former radio broadcaster worked without a teleprompter or cue cards or referring to written notes, with only a blackboard for a prop, alone without guests or so much as a chair, delivering an almost full thirty-minute unscripted monologue at the camera and a studio-audience invisible offstage. Moreover, he was a Roman Catholic priest dressed flamboyantly from black cassock to flowing scarlet cape (only missing were the mitre and crosier). And he talked about God, rather a lot in fact. Other unfashionable topics included philosopher Henri Bergson’s lectures in 1920s Paris, he analysed inductive logic, critiqued polling theory, discussed advances in modern science from biology to psychiatry, went deep into the brainier kind of unpopular literature and much besides. Meanwhile, screened at 8 pm on Tuesdays, he was up against hit programming featuring Frank Sinatra and America’s best-loved television comedian. Must-see entertainment? A good shot at the Nielsen ratings? It would fill the air-time, at least until someone could think up a new game-show.

But any Doubting Thomas was soon eating industrial quantities of crow. Monsignor Fulton Sheen became an overnight sensation; television’s Stupor Mundi, the wonder of the broadcasting world. The background to his phenomenal success prompts unpleasant comparisons with modern American media-culture, but his formula proffers advice.

And what a hit he was! Before fledgling television networks could provide nationwide broadcasting, then-Msgr. Sheen’s weekly program jumped from three to fifteen stations in the first two months (i.e., a 500-percent expansion within eight broadcasts), drew 8,500 fan-letters a week and had four times more requests for studio-audience tickets than there were seats available. Less than a year later he was on the covers of Time and Newsweek magazines and had won an Emmy. His show, ”Life is Worth Living,” became a national obsession that attracted up to 30 million viewers weekly, about one in five Americans. His superstar competitor Milton Berle, who had a running gag about stealing jokes from other comedians, wisecracked that the priest “uses old material too!” In haute media style, Sheen thanked his writers, “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.”

For American “youngsters” still living in their first half-century on earth, the overall phenomenon of early television warrants brief explanation. US television ownership rocketed from 0.4 percent of the population in 1948, to 55.7 percent in 1954 and 83.2 percent four years later. Historians write: “No other household technology, not the telephone or indoor plumbing, had ever spread so rapidly into so many homes.”

Television’s growth was limited initially by how fast metropolitan areas acquired local start-up broadcasting channels, but one must not discount a family’s economic sacrifice. Forbes magazine reports that the average new car or light truck costs about $30,000; in 1950 it was $1,500 or twenty times less. In 1951, a mildly upmarket 17-inch General Electric tabletop television (black-and-white of course) cost $289 or about one-fifth of an average car then, or the equivalent of paying $6,000 for the most basic television set today.

Even amid America’s post-war economic boom a television set was a major expenditure; in order of social and economic magnitude much greater than any purchase today when families enjoy proportionally greater discretionary income, ability to borrow and the inclination to splurge. Yet more than four-fifths of US families bought one within only a decade. It is hard to think of a modern family purchase that would attract as much attention from the neighbours as did buying a television back when Msgr. Sheen appeared on what was called “the small screen.”

Television changed social patterns: people went less often to cinemas and restaurants and instead invited in friends to admire and watch their posh and rare new contraption, often dining off new-made (and rickety) individual folding tables clustered around the set. But most television viewing was a family affair just as listening to radio had been: single people and childless or elderly couples were the last groups to buy televisions in any significant number. The thought of separate televisions in children’s bedrooms would have been considered a bizarre extravagance and anti-social to boot. So Sheen’s audiences were whole families, to a degree that simply does not exist within today’s atomised patterns of broadcasting and viewing.

Now, when modern tablet computers and “smart” telephones sell millions within days of coming to market, the growth in television ownership seems less startling than it really was. The immense social impact appears slightly less odd only because we can see the black-and-white photos of strangely over-dressed families staring at a tiny screen, and individually we still submit to its domination ourselves. Harder to grasp, nowadays, are differences with the style and content of modern telecasting.

The medium was new, so production quality was low and often amateurish. Game-show hosts would lean off camera to whisper with the producer, right in the middle of a broadcast. Sit-coms, already well-established on radio, were often shot in a single one-room set; basically radio with costumes, filmed (not video-taped) usually on one enormous mobile camera bigger than a pair of refrigerators. Wild West dramas were of higher visual calibre, benefitting from already-built town-sized sets, pre-identified scenic locations and vast inventories of costumes and props, thanks to the already-fading B-movie industry (B-movies were screened after the main cinema feature-film in a Saturday matinee). From actors to horse-trainers to stunt-riders to script-writers, those who had made Western movies merely followed their audiences to the smaller screen. Most other telecasting was jerry-built from scratch and showed it.

Unless modern Americans prowl YouTube to watch 1950s television programs, it is hard to fathom the moral component in early telecasting that is rare today. Cowboy dramas all had moral messages: protecting the weak, standing up against the powerfully greedy and unjust, ignoring idle or malicious gossip and overcoming one’s temptations to cowardice, the need for rule of law, an adult’s responsibility to set an example for children, etc. These had their antecedents in Wild West feature-films, of course, but writing them into tight 30-minute weekly plots, in a way that was dramatic and not cloying, took real skill. Sit-coms and other dramas, often well-acted by performers experienced in Hollywood or on Broadway, adhered to a similar if less grandly mythic moral standard.

Lastly, because television was a new medium finding its feet, it was far less anodyne than today and more experimental. Innovative dramas and even operas, by America’s best writers and composers, were aired routinely; material of a high creative standard that is unavailable even from modern public broadcasters.

No matter how quaint it looks in hindsight, into this rather dynamic new medium Msgr. Sheen rolled his chalkboard.


Sheen (1895-1979) was born into the Victorian Age before Teddy Roosevelt charged up San Juan Hill. A former high-school valedictorian ordained in Peoria in 1919, he studied theology in Minnesota and at Catholic University in Washington, D.C, before later earning his doctorate at the Catholic University at Leuven in Belgium while winning important academic awards along the way. Judging by his broadcasts, he was astoundingly well-read in history, literature and science, and he came up with illustrations and examples effortlessly and without notes; from Shakespeare and Dostoevsky, to Marx, Darwin and Herbert Spencer, to Freud and Einstein, to innumerable philosophers, theologians and saints.

Sheen wrote the first of his 73 books in 1925 and in 1930 began a Sunday night radio broadcast, “The Catholic Hour,” which attracted up to 6,000 letters a week from listeners (in days of snail-mail and postage stamps, not user-friendly Facebook and Twitter). In the mid-1940s he conducted America’s first religious broadcast on the new medium of television. Then “Life is Worth Living” aired from 1951 to 1957.

In 1951 he was consecrated as an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of New York. Then in 1958 he became the national director of The Society for the Propagation of the Faith, and hosted The Fulton Sheen Program from 1961 to 1968. He facilitated the celebrity conversions of industrialist Henry Ford II, formerly-agnostic writer Heywood Broun, Congresswoman-turned-diplomat Clare Booth Luce, violinist/composer Fritz Kreisler and actress Virginia Mayo among others, a process said to have taken around 25 hours of individual instruction for each (95% of his private students converted).

Two months before his death in 1979 he was embraced in New York by Pope John Paul II, who said “You have written and spoken well of the Lord Jesus Christ. You are a loyal son of the Church.” In 2012 Pope Benedict XVI praised his “heroic virtues” and entitled him as “The Venerable,” an important step toward beatification.

Even though the times are different and Sheen’s talent was unique, it is worth trying to dissect his stunning popularity and vast moral influence.

In his intentionally elaborate clerical garb he looks camp today, while even in the 1950s only urban Catholic viewers would have recognised his dress from High Mass on Holy Days of Obligation. But it commanded respect and got him attention, until he began with a few inevitable jokes (often self-mocking ones) that established humility, warmth and rapport. These two aspects of his broadcast openings were no accidents; he was a skilful communicator.

Sheen’s delivery was warm but never frivolous, and often even stern. Occasionally he grows melodramatic in a way that startles modern viewers; in a few final moments he raises his arms and stares into the camera, employing an ominous tone reminiscent of Boris Karloff. But it worked for his audiences; or what compensated for moments of ham-acting was his sincerity, his phenomenal “gift of the gab” and his ability to draw his viewers into serious thought with a seemingly natural effortlessness.

Many of his broadcasts featured compelling titles and a shared strategy well-employed ever since, by broadcasters including Oprah Winfrey: Sheen often started with a problem that resonates with us all, for example “How to Improve Your Mind,” “How to Think” or “Wasting Your Life” (although no modern hosts, even Oprah, have the erudition and delivery-skills to work solo; they all require guests that distract and make broadcasts shallow).

But these populist titles seem to account for less than half of Sheen’s output; just as many of his broadcasts seem to have had more cerebral and less immediately personal titles such as “Freedom” or “Anatomy of a Melancholy” or “Education.” A significant number just cut to the quick religiously: “The Devil,” “Our Lady of Fatima” or “The Death of God.” For these it could be that his audience was better educated, more religious or more reflective than are modern viewers, or quite possibly those who were attracted initially to his more personalised topics soon flocked to watch whatever he broadcast. However he began, his broadcasts followed a general formula thereafter.

Oftentimes, in one moment he shares our concerns over some common individual problem (and thus builds honest credibility with his audience), then he explains modern scientific interpretations, and then he concludes with Church teachings that verify personal experience and science but with greater history, depth and impact. It is a rhetorical progression used by Ronald Reagan in almost his every speech, moving from the personal and immediate to identifying and refining the causes of problems, to policy solutions that fit with tradition and finally the path to a happy ending. Each requires a disciplined and nuanced rhetorician.

Along the way Sheen slips in literary examples from books that few of his audience would likely have read, done in ways that are neither preachy nor arrogant nor lacking in quiet authority. In one he segues in and out of Raskolnikov. In another he reworks Shakespeare’s death of Caesar but with Stalin’s top henchmen replacing Brutus and his conspirators. Sheen’s structure can be copied by anyone with forethought, but the illustrative richness demands a well-read speaker who (especially without referring to notes) thinks fast and deep.

Audiences a half-century ago may have enjoyed greater reflective moral capacities than viewers have today, and surely broadcasting was not so thoroughly “dumbed down.” But Sheen’s audiences seemed to suffer no palpable division of class or education; despite the demanding content, his viewers ranged from milkmen to factory-workers, housewives and salesmen and shopkeepers, business executives and college professors. Moreover, the size of his audience implies that it wasn’t just Catholics, or perhaps not even only Christians. The very title of his show, “Life is Worth Living,” cut across all boundaries to strike at the heart of the modern Existential/materialist dilemma of Sartre and Camus. High-brow material or not, his vast audiences rose to the occasion.

Yet it is still remarkable how inflexible Sheen could be, meaning an utter lack of tolerance for sin, sloppy thinking and self-delusion. He was somewhat gentle to the sinner but ruthless against the sin, whether that was selfishness, promiscuity, simple laziness or giving in to social pressure, or falling prey to the larger soul-threatening ideologies such as blind scientism-as-progress, materialism, atheism or communism. He seemed to avoid American party-politics, but no moral issue eluded him and at some point in his every broadcast the gloves came off and he waded in with bare-knuckles boxing. Such tough honesty, combined with blue-chip orthodoxy, wisdom and a central message that never strayed from God’s love and the real option of redemption, drew him tens of millions of viewers every week. He was so sincerely and indefatigably relentless that there can be few other explanations for his sustained popularity.

Could Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s recipe work again? You can answer that better after watching his broadcasts: several hundred on YouTube are collected here, free MP3 downloads here, on EWTN re-broadcast here, or for DVD purchase here.

Would the modern equivalent of Sheen’s audience, now almost sixty million Americans, watch a half-hour talk on the Virgin Mary or some similar topic every week? Fewer than twice that number watch the Super Bowl, and only once a year, while fewer than nine million watch 60 Minutes when there are so many media and viewing choices available..

A modern television hit of such former magnitude seems unlikely no matter the topic (and especially with religion), but so what? Viewer comments on Sheen’s YouTube videos suggest enthusiastic demand from some, and although his topics may no longer have such broad national appeal then modern technology reaches smaller audiences in ways impossible even a decade ago. An audience of more than ten million may not be an excessive estimate, given some of three million home-schooled students and so forth. There may be many more.

The next question is where to find such talent, and his was prodigious. His successor would need to be a gifted talker, better than any televised priest I know; and he or she would need to be far more broadly educated than modern televangelists who cite only the Bible and otherwise rely on bombastic performances or schmaltz – his erudition, even if unfamiliar to his viewership, helped to prove his point. Again so what? Like the original Fulton Sheen, he may also be in Peoria, or she may be teaching in a small college. If imaginative conservatives put more tasty and morally nutritious lectures online, either we find another Fulton Sheen or we find one hundred mini-Sheens who are good for one or two talks apiece.

Thus we begin to better assume the mantle that he dropped in death, and illuminate the path to national rescue and individual salvation for which he worked lifelong.

Stephen Masty, a former speechwriter, lives in the Himalayas.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Surprise Ending by Mark Henninger

December 6, 2012, 7:07 p.m. ET

Alfred Hitchcock’s Surprise Ending

A biographer said that the director, at the end of his life, shunned religion. Not true. I was there.


I remember as a young boy watching the black-and-white “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” on TV and being enthralled from the start by the simple nine-stroke line-drawing caricature of the famed movie director’s rotund profile. The mischievous theme music set the mood as Hitchcock appeared in silhouette from the right edge of the screen, and then walked into the center replacing the caricature. “Good evening.” There followed his droll introductions, so unlike anything else on television.

Such childhood emotions came over me again when in early 1980 I entered his home in Bel Air to see him dozing in a chair in a corner of his living room, dressed in jet-black pajamas.

At the time, I was a graduate student in philosophy at UCLA, and I was (and remain) a Jesuit priest. A fellow priest, Tom Sullivan, who knew Hitchcock, said one Thursday that the next day he was going over to hear Hitchcock’s confession. Tom asked whether on Saturday afternoon I would accompany him to celebrate a Mass in Hitchcock’s house.

I was dumbfounded, but of course said yes. On that Saturday, when we found Hitchcock asleep in the living room, Tom gently shook him. Hitchcock awoke, looked up and kissed Tom’s hand, thanking him.

Tom said, “Hitch, this is Mark Henninger, a young priest from Cleveland.”

“Cleveland?” Hitchcock said. “Disgraceful!”

After we chatted for a while, we all crossed from the living room through a breezeway to his study, and there, with his wife, Alma, we celebrated a quiet Mass. Across from me were the bound volumes of his movie scripts, “The Birds,” “Psycho,” “North by Northwest” and others—a great distraction. Hitchcock had been away from the church for some time, and he answered the responses in Latin the old way. But the most remarkable sight was that after receiving communion, he silently cried, tears rolling down his huge cheeks.


Getty ImagesPortrait of Alfred Hitchcock holding up a clapperboard on the set of the film Psycho.

Tom and I returned a number of times, always on Saturday afternoons, sometimes together, but I remember once going by myself. I’m somewhat tongue-tied around famous people and found it a bit awkward to chitchat with Alfred Hitchcock, but we did, enjoyably, in his living room. At one point he said, “Let’s have Mass.”

He was 81 years old and had difficulty moving, so I helped him get up and assisted him across the breezeway. As we slowly walked, I felt I had to say something to break the silence, and the best I could come up with was, “Well, Mr. Hitchcock, have you seen any good movies lately?” He paused and said emphatically, “No, I haven’t. When I made movies they were about people, not robots. Robots are boring. Come on, let’s have Mass.” He died soon after these visits, and his funeral Mass was at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Beverly Hills.

Alfred Hitchcock has returned to the news lately, thanks to an apparently unflattering portrait of him in a new Hollywood production. Some of his biographers have not been kind, either. Religion, too, is much in the news, also often presented in an unflattering light, because clashing beliefs are at issue in wars and terrorism. The violence provokes some people to reject religion altogether. For many who experience religion only in this way—at second hand, in the media, from afar—such a reaction is to a degree understandable.

What they miss is that religion is an intensely personal affair. St. Augustine wrote: “Magnum mysterium mihi“—I am a great mystery to myself. Why exactly Hitchcock asked Tom Sullivan to visit him is not clear to us and perhaps was not completely clear to him. But something whispered in his heart, and the visits answered a profound human desire, a real human need. Who of us is without such needs and desires?

Some people find these late-in-life turns to religion suspect, a sign of weakness or of one’s “losing it.” But nothing focuses the mind as much as death. There is a long tradition going back to ancient times of memento mori, remember death. Why? I suspect that in facing death one may at last see soberly, whether clearly or not, truths missed for years, what is finally worth one’s attention.

Weighing one’s life with its share of wounds suffered and inflicted in such a perspective, and seeking reconciliation with an experienced and forgiving God, strikes me as profoundly human. Hitchcock’s extraordinary reaction to receiving communion was the face of real humanity and religion, far away from headlines . . . or today’s filmmakers and biographers.

One of Hitchcock’s biographers, Donald Spoto, has written that Hitchcock let it be known that he “rejected suggestions that he allow a priest . . . to come for a visit, or celebrate a quiet, informal ritual at the house for his comfort.” That in the movie director’s final days he deliberately and successfully led outsiders to believe precisely the opposite of what happened is pure Hitchcock.

Fr. Henninger is a Jesuit priest and professor of philosophy at Georgetown University.

A version of this article appeared December 7, 2012, on page A15 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Alfred Hitchcock’s Surprise Ending.

Facebook to charge users to ‘promote’ posts to friends by Jeremy A. Kaplan


Facebook to charge users to ‘promote’ posts to friends


Published October 04, 2012


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    Oct. 4, 2012: Facebook announced an expansion to its “Promoted Posts” program on Wednesday; the site will now let individual users promote stories to their friends. (Facebook)

Facebook wants you to advertise … to your friends.

The world’s largest social network, which announced Thursday that it has crossed the billion-user mark, has struggled to make money from its enormous pool of users. The solution: Turning individual users into advertisers.

“I thought it was a joke at first, to be honest,” explained Cameron Yuill, founder of digital media technology company AdGent. “Now they’re going to charge me $7 to tell my friends something?”

Facebook announced Wednesday that Joe Sixpack will soon be able to ensure that you’re reading his messages, thanks to an expansion of the Promoted Posts program, which lets businesses pay anywhere from a few dollars to a few thousand to ensure that hundreds of thousands of Facebookers see your posts.

“As part of a test starting today, people in the U.S. can promote personal posts to their friends on Facebook,” explained Abhishek Doshi, a software engineer, on Facebook’s website. “When you promote a post — whether it’s wedding photos, a garage sale, or big news — you bump it higher in news feed so your friends and subscribers are more likely to notice it.”

‘[It’s] a new low in the network’s accelerating user experience implosion.’

– Mashable writer Matt Silverman

Some tech experts expressed dismay at the idea, fearing an explosion of unwanted content “pinned” to the top of your Facebook page. Others accused Facebook of taking advantage of a situation that it created.

“[This is] a new low in the network’s accelerating user experience implosion,” wrote Matt Silverman on Mashable. He argued that the algorithm that determines which posts show up at the top of your page also determines which posts rarely make it up there — and the social networking giant is now abusing the algorithm it created, something economists term “artificial scarcity.”

“Essentially, the network is ‘hiding’ your updates from friends, and then turning around to say, ‘Hey, if you want friends to see your updates, you could pay us!’”

“Facebook is rigging the game,” he added.

Other experts said the “big change” was anything but new. Social media sites have been putting your friends to work for years, explained Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Reticle Research.

“The idea of companies deriving revenue by capitalizing on consumers marketing to other friends is nothing new,” Rubin told FoxNews.com. “There’s certainly some risk of members finding promoted posts annoying, but it merely ups the ante for people to think more about how they share,” he said.

Promoted Posts might be the company’s best bet to change the trajectory of its stock, said Yuill. The price of FB sank from an IPO high of $38 to as little as $19; it was trading on Thursday for just under $22.

“This is a simple idea that’s going to be wildly successful,” he told FoxNews.com. “Someone has to pay for the free stuff out there, and if the advertisers aren’t it’s going to be users.”

Facebook said initial testing for the service occurred in New Zealand. Yuill, who is himself from Australia, noted that the choice of venue was an interesting one.

“New Zealand is notoriously tight fisted. If you can get the Kiwis to pay for it, the rest of the world will too!”

What you get for your money remains to be seen, however. Chris Dessi, a social media expert and CEO of Silverback Social, said one recent experiment with promoted posts was far from successful. Sure, it resulted in tremendous traffic — from Indonesia.

“Why would Facebook promote my post to people in Indonesia?,” he wrote on Social Media Today.

“Looking at my demographics today I can see that Indonesia is in fact, the second most popular country to have liked my page after the USA — but did they like the page organically or while I was paying Facebook for advertising to grow my Facebook page likes?”

A Facebook spokeswoman told FoxNews.com Dessi’s experience was with Promoted Posts for businesses — a different software product from the company with a different goal: Likes, rather than eyeballs. For an individual promoting a post on a room for rent or other matter, the goal is to ensure a wider audience.

But how much will these customers be willing to spend to promote that fun run or charity ball? The company did not say how much Promoted Posts for induviduals will cost, but the $7 figure being tossed around may cross the line for some, Yuill noted.

“That’s a lot of money to pay to tell your friends something.”


Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2012/10/04/facebook-to-charge-users-to-promote-posts-to-friends/?intcmp=features#ixzz28U7VXwfQ

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