Look for Helpers, Make Them Headliners


Thanks to the USA Today website and the previous reporting of Entertainment Weekly senior writer Anthony Breznican for perhaps the briefest and most powerful “webinar” to instruct today’s journalists.  It’s a simple lesson from Fred Rogers (1928-2003), the Presbyterian minister who hosted “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” on PBS for decades.

He recalled in an interview that he learned from his family to “always look for the helpers” whenever there is news coverage of a catastrophe. This is timeless, profound advice that has been recalled when terrorist attacks and other tragic events occur. It deserves to be repeated as we watch the inspiring TV images of people helping people during the flooding disasters in Texas and Louisiana.

In this brief video clip, Rogers urges journalists to give plenty of attention to the rescue teams who not only save individual lives, but also convey messages of sacrificial love, bringing hope where there is despair. We can be grateful that many journalists have taken Rogers’ advice in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

This is certainly a time to be grateful to the emergency workers and all good samaritans. And it’s a time to learn from, and vow to nurture, the best side of human nature. May Houston, America’s fourth largest city, and many other towns now in tumult emerge as the latest adult versions of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, where respect and shared dignity clearly elevate minds and hearts. That program was truly made for “mature” audiences.

Many journalists have put into practice the lesson seen in this video clip–the same lesson taught in the Bible when Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Bravo to those professionals who use their media as channels of peace. The creators and audiences of today’s disaster coverage need to keep this lesson in mind long after the floodwaters have subsided.

Parables of surprising goodness shall always be with us, and they deserve to be retold. They awaken us to tangible examples of missionary discipleship and mercy, countering the world’s plentiful alt-narratives of fear, division and disrespect. Whether or not overly politicized and polarizing news stories are “fake,” they risk being fatal to a society when they ignore “the rest of the story”–the realities of love and true community. They devastate an otherwise fertile human ecology in which everything is connected to everything else. They deter communicators and citizens from sharing the bold visions and fruitful relationships Mr. Rogers, our families, and our culture once taught us to be.

Shall we resolve to watch this “webinar “–and this wonderful musical addendum from PBS–whenever disasters or divisions threaten to cut off communication and stifle hope-filled curiosity? After all that we’ve learned, or should be learning, won’t you be my neighbor?







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Proud Daddy, Keep on Browsin’

mary and cardinal 2017

Come Holy Spirit! One of your fruits is joy, and it was joyful to see Mary Schmitt among the CUA students bringing up the Gifts to Cardinal Wuerl at the Mass of the Holy Spirit on August 31. Thank you, Lord, and please bless Mary and all her classmates during the new school year. (And thanks to Catholic TV–and EWTN–for broadcasting this Mass, with live streaming online. Who says there’s nothing good on TV?)

Now a junior at The Catholic University of America, my amazing daughter Mary has been part of the orientation team welcoming new freshmen for the second straight year. Thanks to my dad status, I can go online and get a sneak peak at some of the videos being shown to the newcomers. That’s especially fun when my daughter is in those videos, and I’d like to share that fun with you.

In the first video, you’ll see Mary three times–truly honest and reflective, truly happy and engaged in community. She’s the commentator making me feel guilty that the next “care package” needs to include more goodies. I’ll take the hint! May all college students everywhere experience the gift of true friendship and true hospitality made easier by a shared sense of faith, hope, and love!

Can I share my own joy one more time? Go to my Facebook page and watch the brief, new video from the CUA Alumni Association, posted on Aug. 27. (By the way, in the spirit of true friendship, please become my Facebook friend if you haven’t yet. And maybe follow me on Twitter?) If you can find the two quick scenes in which Mary Schmitt appears, email me at bschmitt@alumni.princeton.edu. If you have spotted her, I will send you a little prize.

Here’s to a great year of learning and wonder, challenge and joy, for all college students!

(This post was updated on August 31.)

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“Holy Darkness”

See this coverage of the total eclipse from WNDU-TV in South Bend

Thanks to WNDU TV in South Bend for this access to shared live coverage from NBC. Thanks to Dan Schutte for his song (“Holy Darkness” copyright 2001, performed in this video), with lyrics including these:

As the watchman waits for morning,
and the bride awaits her groom,
so we wait to hear your footsteps
as we rest beneath your moon.

And thanks to Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ, director of the Vatican Observatory, for comments you can see here.

Last but not least, thanks to John the Evangelist, who wrote, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” This Bible connection to today’s events is found in a prayer-provoking blog post about light and darkness from Jack Wellman in Patheos in 2015. Let’s use this eclipse as a moment of holy darkness for reflection, rest, awe, and appreciation for the amazing Creator of the Universe, who also happens to be Our Father. Saint Francis would sing a song just about now.

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Marriage and Family: The Power Couple

Don’t miss the current episode of “Franciscan University Presents,” which is a most thought-provoking and grace-invoking discussion of the sacrament of marriage.

The guest, Father John Riccardo, sets the stage in the first half hour with a discussion of the challenges of marriage in the context of the spiritual challenges we face in our lives and in human nature. Then, the second half of the program soars with an exploration of how God’s grace can make marriage so holy and healing that calling family “the domestic church” is only a first step in our understanding.

Watch this show with your own family, and you’ll want to have a celebration afterwards. The program airs again on EWTN on August 10 at 4 am (thank God for digital video recording!) and on August 12 at 5 pm.

(By the way? How is the message Franciscan? I would say it’s very incarnational; it focuses on bringing God’s presence personally to the other, namely, in this case, our spouse. And it recognizes the spiritual power we can receive from the Lord through grace when we seek Him with great humility. And it’s a wake-up call that prompts us to be penitent, to seek conversion, when we fall short of welcoming the Lord fully into our marriage and family, which are at the heart of the New Evangelization.)

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Affluenza — The 20th Anniversary

(Originally written for the blog of my Secular Franciscan Order fraternity in Mishawaka, Indiana)
This is the 20th anniversary of the broadcast of a documentary that has lodged itself in my heart and my mind. May I recommend it to you as a powerful reminder of the wisdom that comes to us from St. Francis, as well as Holy Scripture even more directly, and from Pope Francis more recently?
The inspirational one-hour report, called “Affluenza,” was shown on PBS and narrated by an NPR host, so you know this was not a “faith-based initiative” or a TV tract propounding Franciscanism. This was a classic, secular piece of insight from the intersection of faith and reason that passes the test of time. Although there are portions of content to which I might append a modest disagreement or cautionary note, it captures well the insights emerging in some circles in 1997 and which can help inform and reform our sense of mission and charism today.
You can watch the entire program here, thanks to You Tube and this legacy from Bullfrog Films and NPR’s Scott Simon. Please remember the definition of Affluenza it provides: “An unhappy condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the pursuit of more.” Also note the wise words of Richard Harwood, a sagacious social observer, who points out the growing realization that Americans have become too greedy, too materialistic and too self-absorbed.
Was this program a piece of prophecy explaining a lot of what has developed since its debut, especially in our everyday experiences?
There is indeed an unhappy news story that affirmed the relevance of this phenomenon—and its dangers—not too long ago. I will not go into that subject matter, but you can watch a story about it here.
The most important lessons to draw from this program for our Secular Franciscan Order fraternity, I would suggest, are the echoes we hear from those with timeless cures for Affluenza. One film responded quickly, in 1998, with some thoughts worth considering. You can watch “Escape from Affluenza” here.
But we have better resources.
We’ve got St. Francis, in Chapter Two of his Rule for Secular Franciscans, saying this:

“Trusting the Father, Christ chose for Himself and His mother a poor and humble life, even though He valued created things attentively and lovingly. Let the Secular Franciscans seek a proper spirit of detachment from temporal goods by simplifying their own material needs. Let them be mindful that according to the gospel they are stewards of the goods received for the benefit of God’s children.
Thus, in the spirit of the Beatitudes, and as pilgrims and strangers on their way to the home of the Father, they should strive to purify their hearts from every tendency and yearning for possession and power.”

Straight from the Bible, the Affluenza program quotes the Book of Proverbs: “Seek neither poverty nor riches.”
The program could also have chosen to quote the Epistles, where Timothy warns us that the love of money is the root of all evils.
And of course it would have been right on target, but impossibly foresighted, to paraphrase Pope Francis instructing us to be good stewards of creation, to be selfless Good Samaritans subordinating our wealth to the needs of our marginalized brothers and sisters. The 1997 program was a preview of the notion of human ecology, calling us to live lightly on the earth, to trust in God’s providence, and to shun materialism and narcissism as we accompany others.
More than ever, we in the American mainstream are joined with those on the margins—here and around the world—as victims of Affluenza. This documentary did not capture the whole truth; many more considerations should influence our fraternal prayers, activities, and ponderings. But the 20thanniversary of this program reaffirms our commitment to bring the Gospel to Life and Life to the Gospel; our spirit of penitence extends to human flaws overloading our past, present and future. We must remind people of the truths PBS watchers recognized. In the “field hospitals” of our parishes and our personal vocations, we Franciscans can help inoculate others against Affluenza now.
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God’s in the Details — and the Patriotic Songs

(Memorial Day Mass with the Knights of Columbus this morning allowed me to sing more than one verse of two wonderful songs of patriotism–“America the Beautiful” and “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.” When you go more deeply into the songs and their messages, you find God explicitly present. This inspired me to reprint this blog post as published in “OnWord” 2013. Overlook the reference to July 4; it was great today to remember the inspiring lyrics–along with the inspiring men and women of America’s military services–even earlier in the year than I did back then.) 

I was blessed to start out this 4th of July with Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, a Mass celebrated by Bishop Kevin Rhoades to mark the end of the Fortnight for Freedom. Especially in light of the Bishop’s remarks about the need for America to respect religious liberty, it was a powerful after-Mass meditation to think about God’s presence in the patriotic songs we sing on days like today.

I knew about America the Beautiful, Battle Hymn of the Republic, God Bless America, etc., but the hymnal in the pew also contained The Star Spangled Banner, and this one surprised me. Most Americans only know the first stanza, if that. Did you know that the stanza that was third in the hymnal–and fourth in the Wikipedia article about the anthem–is another powerful statement of gratitude to God? Here it is, as provided by Wikipedia:

O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave![12]

GK Chesterton once said that he pitied the atheist who was thankful but had no one to thank. Many expressions of our patriotism are seamlessly connected to religious values. As long as we sing these songs about America, we’ll be remembering and reaffirming the values of past generations who saw a connection between the blessings of this country and the One who blesses.

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Pope Gives a TED Talk


The power of “you” and “you” and “you” must add up to the power of “us” in order to bring hope through solidarity. Bravo, Papa Francesco. I know TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, but here I think of it as a nickname for Theodore–“God’s gift.”

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