Wednesday, December 24, 2008

FINDING YOURSELF

My friend and fellow blogger Abby Caperton always impresses me with her spiritual insights. She has a knack for expressing profound truths in a simple, relatable way. I someday hope to see Abby's byline on a vast number of print and online publications, but until then you should check out her blog. Here's a brief excerpt from a recent post that might help people thinking about New Year's resolutions change themselves for the better:

EXCERPT:
I’ve recently started going to spiritual direction with Fr. Tom. I love that man. He has a way of helping me see things in a different light, and yesterday was no different.

For the past year of my life, I have been going through a sort of rediscovery and as Fr. Hebert Alphonso says (and I am paraphrasing), revealing my true identity and personal vocation.

You often hear people say, “I’m trying to find myself” and while I think people are sincere in that endeavor, I think they are way off base. From the beginning of time, God knew me. “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine.” Isaiah 43:1. The God who created and formed me knows me and He knows what He has planned for me.

Read that verse again. The word “you” is very important. It’s about you!

God has a unique plan and purpose just for you.

So, how does that negate the worldly view of “finding myself”?

You are not lost. You cannot find what is not lost. God created you to fulfill a specific role in the story of creation. Now, all you have to do is listen to God and allow Him to whisper His grandest plans for your life and then it’s up to you to say yes.

(To read the rest of the post, click here.)
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TonyRossiBlogger@gmail.com

Sunday, December 21, 2008

DONA NOBIS PACEM

One of my all-time favorite television moments comes from a MASH Christmas episode titled "Dear Sis." Father Mulcahy feels depressed because he doesn't think he contributes anything vital to the doctors, nurses and patients at the 4077. Hawkeye's tribute to the priest results in the type of beautiful, transcendent moment rarely seen on TV. Watch below.

Monday, December 15, 2008

JOYFUL CHRISTMAS FOR 4-YEAR-OLD SAVED BY SELFLESS STRANGER

Tisha Young, a mother of three from Texas, and Tami Gappa, whose 4-year-old son, Sam, received a life-saving gift of a kidney from Tisha, tell their inspiring story on Christopher Closeup. The half-hour interview is now available for free download here. It will also.air on Sunday, December 28th, at 7 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. EST on The Catholic Channel, Sirius 159 and XM 117.

Tami, a member of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Dallas, TX recounts how, at nine months, Sam was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a potentially-fatal form of childhood cancer, the treatment for which required several rounds of chemotherapy and numerous surgeries, resulting in him needing a kidney transplant.

Enter Tisha, a virtual stranger, whose sister worked with Tami's husband. Though she had never met Sam or his parents, Tisha explains how having young children herself – one just three weeks older than Sam – the Gappa's plight really "hit home."

Both women credit their faith and families as sources of strength, and say the journey only deepened their respective relationships with God. Though both admit it wasn't all smooth sailing emotionally, Tisha and Tami describe experiencing a similar serenity throughout the ordeal.

Tami recalls how on the same day that Sam was confirmed – in the hospital as he was about to undergo one of his many procedures – Pope Benedict was elected. They chose "Benedict" as his confirmation name. Ironically, St. Benedict turned out to be the patron saint of kidneys.

Tisha, who spent several nights "on my knees" in prayer, said overall the choice was easy, seeing God's hand in her decision, "This is what He wanted me to do." In trying to explain the peace-of-mind she felt, she chuckles confidently, "God's got my back."

Maryknoll Father James Keller founded the Christophers in 1945 with the purpose of encouraging individuals to use their God-given talents to make a positive difference in the world by bringing Gospel values into the mainstream of life.

To learn more about The Christophers visit www.christophers.org

(Photo credit for attached photographs: Ann Beck Photography)

TonyRossiBlogger@gmail.com

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

WITH GREAT BLESSING COMES GREAT RESPONSIBILITY


Grammy Award winning singer/songwriter Amy Grant recently released “The Christmas Collection” which features perennial favorites from her first three holiday albums along with several new songs. I had the opportunity to talk with Amy on “Christopher Closeup” (full interview here) about the album and about the roots of sharing the blessings she’s been given in life. Here’s an excerpt:

TR: I’m always happy to hear a new Christmas song that I think can fit in with the old classics, and I think one song on this album that can do that is “I Need a Silent Night.”…How do you find peace during the holiday season with all you’ve got going on – the tours, the shopping, the usual stuff? How does Amy Grant find a silent night and a prayerful night?

Amy Grant: For the last several years, at least one night after everybody’s asleep, I will go build a fire, turn off all the lights except for the Christmas tree lights, pull out my guitar and sing. I guess all by myself with music and quiet, I’m welcoming the Christ child – just so the season doesn’t come and go and it was all wrapping paper and craziness, and I never really said, “I’m sure glad you came.”

TR: Amy, I want to jump to another project you had done. You wrote a book called “Mosaic: Pieces of My Life So Far.” In the book you mentioned that your grandparents taught you that with “great blessing comes great responsibility.” How did they teach you that?

Amy Grant: At one point in my life, when I was in my early college years, there were 5 generations alive in my family…and the gathering place was my great-grandmother’s farm. And this farmhouse was just the neatest thing...I refer to that because I knew from the time I was a little girl that they had willed that farm to a college, a university in Nashville. They really believed in education. I just grew up knowing that that was the plan. I think that just gave me a feeling in life that we are stewards, and not owners…

I think money is an important thing to give, but so much more than that is our time, our ideas, our encouragement. I’ve got a really good friend who moved to the states from Trinidad. She has a son with cerebral palsy and he’s racked up so many hospital bills. She called me the other day and said, “Amy, I’m not asking you for a handout but could you please get your women friends together and help me brainstorm? If I’m not afraid, I believe we can pay these bills off.”

I’m on the road all of October, November, December. I hung up the phone from my friend Deb and I called my assistant and said, “Would you check the Farmer’s Almanac and see what the weather’s going to be November 7th and 8th” - because usually in Tennessee there’s one little warm patch in November. In two weeks, we pulled together a yard sale. And actually I called the university that my great-grandparents willed their farm to. I said, “Is it okay if we have this yard sale on your campus?” And they said, “Yes.”

We had one day of drop-offs. I had no idea if anyone was going to drop anything off. We set up a hundred tables. We made $25,000 in one day!

And it was just – I said “bring your trash, bring your treasures.” I got on the radio, I got on TV. And I’m telling you the atmosphere at that yard sale – there were people from both sides of the tracks, every nationality from Nashville was there. You know, I look at that and think, ‘How boring if somebody had written a check for $25,000.’ And how exciting (it was) when a few hundred people in a community came together. There was so much love in that yard, it was awesome!

(To hear the full interview with Amy Grant, visit www.christophers.org/closeuppodcast.)

TonyRossiBlogger@gmail.com

Monday, December 8, 2008

THE CATHOLICS NEXT DOOR

I recently won a Sirius satellite radio and free 6 month subscription so I've finally gotten the opportunity to listen to The Catholic Channel. Both times I've turned it on, "The Catholics Next Door" show hosted by Greg and Jennifer Willits has been airing. And it's great! The conversations about life, faith and popular culture are engaging, fun, funny and relatable.

On this morning's show, Greg was feeling a little down because he was left off writer Lisa Hendey's list of the 10 most fascinating Catholics of the year even though his wife Jennifer made the list. Not that this will earn him any accolades, but I will name Greg one of the most fascinating Catholics of the year for one primary reason. While introducing guest Tim Drake from the National Catholic Register on this morning's show, Greg made several references to Tim Drake also being Batman's sidekick Robin. Comic book references on a Catholic talk show hold a lot of weight in my book so props to Greg for going there.

So if you can, check out The Catholic Channel on Sirius 159 or XM 117.

TonyRossiBlogger@gmail.com

Sunday, November 9, 2008

FAITHFULNESS IN LITTLE THINGS

A good quote from Fulton Sheen:

"Faithfulness in great things is not uncommon; faithfulness in little things is rare but most indicative of character. Almost any husband would leap into the sea or rush into a burning building to rescue his perishing wife. But to anticipate the convenience or happiness of the wife in some small matter, the neglect of which would go unnoticed, is a more eloquent proof of tenderness.

Our lives for the most part are made up of little things, and by these our character is to be tested. There are very few who have to take a prominent place in the great conflicts of our age; the vast majority must dwell in humbler scenes and be content to do a more humble work. The conflicts which we have to endure either against evil in our own soul or in the moral circle where our influence would seem to be trivial are in reality the struggle of the battle for life and decency; and true heroism is shown here as well as in those grander scales in which others win the leader's fame or the martyr's crown. Little duties carefully discharged; little temptations earnestly resisted with the strength which God supplies; little sins crucified - these all together help to form that character which is to be described not as popular or glamorous, but as moral and noble."

TonyRossiBlogger@gmail.com

Saturday, November 1, 2008

"THE GREATEST OPPORTUNITY FOR JOY"

Though Matt Maher was raised to believe in God while growing up in Newfoundland, Canada, he notes that music became his religion during his high school years. Matt eventually found his way back to Church and now combines his love for God with a career as a singer/songwriter and worship leader. I recently spoke with Matt on “Christopher Closeup” (full podcast here) about his journey of faith and his Essential Records debut album “Empty and Beautiful.” Here are some excerpts:

TR: The song “Your Grace is Enough” – I know it was inspired by a challenging time in your life where you had to deal with loneliness…How did God help you deal with that?

Matt Maher: I think you deal with it by letting God into it. I think a lot of people in this day and age feel disconnected from each other. They feel lonely at the end of the day. And the only way to (overcome) that is to get re-connected, primarily through God. Only God can meet all your expectations. We all have a desire to be loved deeply and be treasured. Sometimes we end up throwing that on people, and they can’t match our expectations. So sometimes we end up trying to love people out of our need rather than just loving people as a gift which is really how we’re designed. We’re designed to be first loved by God, and then to turn around and give that love away. When we do that, we’re operating in the way that He made us. And when we don’t, that’s when we start to turn to other things. It’s really common for a lot of people in loneliness to get distracted and stay disconnected and never really get those areas of their heart filled.

TR: Can you get to grace being enough on your own or do you think you need some divine intervention to make that happen?

Matt Maher: I think the decision you make is quite simply to surrender. That’s all you can do. It’s in that humble ‘Yes’ to God, it’s in that humble ‘I need you.’ And He is immediately there. In fact so often, He (says), ‘I was already here; I was just waiting for you to say something.’

TR: I like that you use the word surrender because sometimes I read about people who describe those who accept the Christian life…(as) accepting a life that’s kind of boring – don’t do this, don’t do that. For you, the surrender seems to have led to a life of adventure. Is that how you see surrendering?

Matt Maher: Oh absolutely. People who say surrender is boring, I’m like ‘Then you’re obviously not surrendering.’ Surrendering is sometimes a violent process of wrestling and letting go and finding moments of respite. Christianity to me is not about following a set of rules. It is about a proposition so amazing and so outlandish that the world finds it completely unbelievable because it doesn’t make sense. It’s not a fair exchange, it’s not ‘you get what you pay for.’ It’s ‘Here’s the greatest gift you could possibly ever be given and it’s free. And you don’t need to earn it. And it’s freely given.’ That notion is so preposterous to people primarily because the church – we struggle so much with showing that, with living that. A lot of people end up growing up and you have memories of people in your life who are Christians and they seem miserable all the time. And (you think) ‘Why do I want to follow that?’ So for me, I feel a challenge and a call to be radical. But radical in humility and radical in meekness and radical in siding with the marginalized and the downtrodden in the world, people who feel isolated and feel alone – and trying to love them the way that God loves me.

TR: The title track of your album is “Empty and Beautiful” – those are two words you don’t usually see go together…Why do you see a connection between those two?

Matt Maher: The most beautiful act of love in the known universe is Christ giving himself on the cross. And here’s this incredibly violent moment in human history…Yet that act of Christ surrendering Himself on the cross is the greatest act of love displayed in the world. So somehow, this act of being emptied and surrendering everything, somehow God is able to turn it around and make something beautiful out of it. That’s why when you’re Christian, you look at a cross and you see life. It’s so interesting because we lose the shock of the cross in our society…In the early church people started displaying the cross and (the reaction was), ‘That’s a symbol of death and destruction, of emptiness and nothingness.’ But God’s actually taken it and made it a sign for hope…You can’t be filled with the presence of God if you’re full. That’s why if you have everything you need in your life, how could you possibly need God? So when you’re empty and you realize the futility of your emptiness, that becomes the greatest opportunity for joy in your life because you’re ready to be filled.

(To download the full Matt Maher interview on “Christopher Closeup,” visit www.christophers.org/closeuppodcast.)

TonyRossiBlogger@gmail.com

Saturday, October 25, 2008

"ALWAYS REASONS TO FIND THANKFULNESS FOR GOD"

During the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, Laura Wilkinson won the gold medal in platform diving a few months after she had broken her foot in a training accident. She went on to become the only woman in history to win Platform Diving Gold at the Olympics, the World Cup, and the World Championship. Laura credits her success, not just to hard work and dedication, but also to the guidance she’s gotten from her Christian faith – a faith she had drifted away from for a while. Laura recently joined me on “Christopher Closeup” (full podcast here) to discuss her spiritual journey and how she wants to help the next generation of athletes. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:

TR: I know you lost a couple of people close to you (in 1997) and that put you back on the path to finding God…When (those deaths) shook you, how did that affect your approach to diving?

Laura Wilkinson: I was kind of lost after losing them. I withdrew from a lot of people. I was just afraid of losing someone else. My grades started slipping in school and I thought diving is all I’ve got left at this point. I thought it was the only thing I had control of so I wrapped my life in it. Then I started getting disoriented in the air…The one thing that I thought made my life stable was totally slipping away…That’s when I realized what I was missing. I didn’t know what God wanted to do with my life but I knew I needed Him to fix it and…to be the center of it and to put my pieces back together…I actually rededicated my life to Him in the middle of a diving meet. The way it’s intertwined has really made me love the sport because God used it to bring me to my knees and bring me back to Him. He also lifted me back up through it so it’s just made diving that much more special to me.

TR: When you look back on that period now, what difference did not having that focus on God have on you mentally, emotionally or just on your life in general?

Laura Wilkinson: It’s shown me what life is like when the decisions I make (are based) on what I think is best and then it doesn’t turn out that way. But then when I trust God – and sometimes he takes me on a totally different path than what I think I should be doing - but yet things always seem to turn out so well. He just is able to make a beauty out of the messes that I make.

TR: When you won the Olympic gold in 2000 in Sydney, do you have one memory that stands out above all the others?

Laura Wilkinson: The moment that I love the most was before my last dive, I was up on the 10 meter and – I knew that I was diving really well, and I knew because of the crowd that I was in the medal hunt. But I had no idea that I was in first place…I couldn’t see the scoreboard…I just realized in that moment ‘I am standing up here on top of the world living out my dream. Whether I win or lose, I’m in the middle of it.’ The realization that I was getting the opportunity to live that dream out was just the coolest feeling.

TR: I’ve seen people comment that you smile during even the most tense situations. Where does that ability come from?

Laura Wilkinson: Happiness involves our happenings and our circumstances around us, but joy you can have any time because your strength relies on God…He’s given me a passion for the sport and allowed me to do it – and that gives me joy because I’m doing it for Him.

TR: You mentioned that you appreciate God when you’re winning or losing. I imagine when you’re winning the gold, it’s probably easy to thank God. But when the medals don’t come and when disappointment follows, do you have to work harder to remember that God is with you during those times?

Laura Wilkinson: It’s easy to be thankful when things go well and it’s hard to be thankful when things don’t. One of the things I’ve learned in the last 10 years is how to thank God even when things aren’t going well…When things aren’t going my way, I can still find things to thank God for – for my life, for my family, for how big He is and how awesome He is, and for creating this place and all the people in it. There’s always reasons to find thankfulness for God…When you’re able to do that, it melts away all the stuff going on, and your problems seem really small compared to how awesome He is.

TR: On the other side of that coin – when things are going well, do you ever have the temptation to fall back into the old pattern of focusing mainly on yourself?

Laura Wilkinson: Yeah, I think that’s really easy to do. I don’t even think it’s always conscious. When things are going well you don’t talk to God as much because you don’t need Him. I think God does His most powerful work a lot of times when we’re on our knees, when we’re broken. That’s when He molds us the most. But hopefully when you learn how to thank Him when times are rough, you’ll also thank Him when it’s great. I’m learning both, I’m still learning.

TR: I know one of your goals in retirement is to work through The Laura Wilkinson Foundation. What do you want to accomplish with your foundation:

Laura Wilkinson: They’re tearing our pool down on January 4, 2009 so my big goal is to raise money through the foundation to build a new facility for my team and my community because they’ll have nowhere to go. We had eleven divers qualify for the Olympic trials this year; two made the Olympic team. We had two girls win Junior World silver medals last month. We’ve just got this huge legacy of a team and they’re not going to have a pool to train in…I just don’t want o see their dreams die. I want to help them live those out.

(To lownload the free podcast of the full interview with Laura Wilkinson, visit www.christophers.org/closeuppodcast.)

TonyRossiBlogger@gmail.com

Monday, October 13, 2008

THE PERSON WE ALL WANT TO BE

This is a great story from Saturday's Dallas Morning News I felt I had to share. Written by Michael E. Young, it tells about a teen with Down Syndrome who was voted homecoming queen. File this under "the better angels of our nature." (And h/t to Lisa Schiffren at National Review.)

EXCERPT:
Kristin Pass, an 18-year-old senior with Down syndrome, became Aledo High School's homecoming queen Friday to a joyous standing ovation and the flutter of a thousand tissues on a remarkable night for an amazing young woman.

Her grandfather, Dr. David Campbell of Corsicana, escorted her onto the field and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek as Kristin joined eight other young women in the Homecoming Court to await the results of the vote, cast by the 360-plus members of Aledo High's senior class.

"Oh my gosh! I was sitting in the student section and everyone stood up, crying and cheering for Kristin," said longtime friend and fellow senior Meaghan Geary, 17, who first met Kristin in the third grade. "It was great!"

Carolyn Pass stood at the edge of the football field, taking pictures of her daughter and friends' daughters in the court, when the stadium erupted.

"It's just something you can't even imagine," she said. "And afterward, everyone was just running down to her, congratulating her. And the other girls in the court, they're all just beautiful girls, inside and out."

(SNIP)

Kristin pronounced the evening "exciting" and "awesome."

She was so thrilled, her mother said, that she took her crown to bed with her.

"She's real proud of it," her friend Meaghan added.

Kristin and her family, including sister Kendall, now a freshman, moved to Aledo when Kristin was in the third grade. She was embraced by the people in town through good times and bad, including the death of her dad, J.T., two years ago.

"We've always had great experiences here," her mom said. "We've been blessed, and I think Kristin brings a lot of blessings to the people she knows."

Her selection as homecoming queen was a wonderful surprise. But Meaghan seemed to have an inkling that it could happen.

"Everyone loves Kristin," she said, "and I didn't know for sure, but in class everyone was like, 'Who are you voting for?' and everybody was like, 'Vote for Kristin, she's so good.' "

Kristin doesn't care what's on the outside, Meaghan said. She's friends with everyone, and everyone admires that.

"She's the person we all want to be," Meaghan said.

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TonyRossiBlogger@gmail.com

Monday, October 6, 2008

MYSTERY ILLNESS LEADS TO NEW VIEW OF FAITH

During the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, Dolores Hart enjoyed a successful acting career during which she co-starred in movies with Robert Wagner, Anthony Quinn, and Elvis Presley. She even became the first actress to kiss Elvis in a movie. But Hart left that life behind - and even broke off her engagement to the man she loved – in order to follow a higher calling.

She chose to become “Mother” Dolores Hart, a cloistered Benedictine nun at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, CT where she has dedicated her life to serving God for more than 40 years.

You might think that after all that time, there is nothing new Mother Dolores could learn about her faith or relationship with God. But hardship and pain have a way of being great educators.

Ten years ago, shortly after a three hour dental operation, Mother Dolores got up from bed and discovered her feet were tingling so badly, she could hardly put any weight on the floor. She traveled from doctor to doctor seeking an explanation but no one could adequately diagnose her ever-worsening condition. The 120 pound nun eventually lost twenty pounds, grew increasingly weaker, and was confined to a wheelchair.

Even then, the doctors didn’t help. They suggested she receive psychoanalysis because they theorized the whole illness was in her head.

Finally, Mother Dolores found neurologist Dr. Norman Latov. As she recalled on the radio program “Christopher Closeup,” he told her, “Mother, pain is not in your head unless it’s something that is a serious disorder in your head…We’re going to find out what this is about.”

The doctor diagnosed her with peripheral neuropathy. Mother Dolores explained, “It’s one of the most common diseases that most people have never heard of. It’s a neurological disorder that disrupts and damages the body’s ability to communicate with itself. It’s a deterioration of what are called the peripheral nerves, ones that send signals to our feet, our hands, muscles, organs and tissues.”

The neuropathy didn’t just produce a physical challenge but a spiritual one as well. Mother Dolores admitted, “No matter how much you think that you have come to a capacity of understanding your faith and believing in your faith, when a person is struck with a serious disease where you can’t do what you want to do, you can’t go where you want to go, where you can’t feed yourself, you can’t apply your own medical needs…you begin to say, “Where is God?”

This complete reliance on other people taught Mother Dolores a new view of the way God works in our lives – “All of a sudden you find out that God relates to you through persons. Persons do, in the final analysis, become the incarnation. You have to become dependent on the gift of human beings, and you discover that God is an incarnate reality. In the beginning, God was always a pie-in-the-sky reality. Now I had to realize that Jesus was there through the people who were assisting me, caring for me and doing the things that were bringing me through. That metanoia had to take place in me to submit to the gift of others.”

Happily, Dr. Latov has gotten Mother Dolores back on track to the point where she now leads a normal life. Her spiritual transformation, however, may be the most important gift of all.

(To hear more from Mother Dolores Hart - including stories about working with Elvis and the nature of her continuing friendship with her former fiancĂ©e – download the free podcast at www.christophers.org/closeuppodcast.)

TonyRossiBlogger@gmail.com

Sunday, September 28, 2008

THE ROAD OUT OF DARKNESS

I've started reading Michael Novak's new book "No One Sees God: The Dark Night of Atheists and Believers" in which he refutes the claims made by radical atheists that religion is irrational, and addresses his struggles with doubt during his own faith journey. In light of the fact that this week is the feast of St. Therese, I thought I'd share the following passage:

"The kernel of Saint Therese's teaching is often called 'the little way,' meaning that no Christian is too humble or too insignificant to follow it and no thought or action too negligible to infuse with love. In other words, God cherishes not only great actions of love, but also minor, childlike ones. No matter what spiritual darkness you find yourself in, choose as your North Star a tender love of the persons that life's contingencies have put next to you. Do not go looking for more fascinating neighbors to love. Love those right nearest you.

You cannot see God, even if you try. But you can see your neighbor, the tedious one, who grinds on you: Love him, love her. As Jesus loves them. Give them the tender smile of Jesus, even though your own feelings be like the bottom of a birdcage. Do not ask to see Jesus or to feel Him. That is for children. Love Him in the dark. Love for the invisible divine, not for warm and comfortable human consolation. Love for the sake of love, not in order to feel loved in return."

TonyRossiBlogger@gmail.com

Sunday, September 14, 2008

IN EVERY ENDING, THERE'S A NEW BEGINNING

Within a few weeks of her birth in 1990, Shannon Hickey was diagnosed with a life-threatening liver disease. Doctors predicted she wouldn’t live past the age of two.

Shannon’s mother Kelly found support in family friend Father Mychal Judge who called her frequently to pray with her and reassure her that everything would be okay.

Those prayers were answered when Kelly discovered, and then took part in, an innovative medical procedure that allowed her to donate a part of her liver to her seven-month-old daughter. The surgery saved Shannon’s life. Her family gave credit to God and the prayers of Fr. Mychal who remained a “constant” loving presence in their lives.

When Fr. Mychal Judge was killed by falling debris at the World Trade Center on 9/11, Shannon felt devastated. As she recalled during an interview on “Christopher Closeup,” she asked, “How could God let this happen?” Several months later, Shannon found a way to offer tribute to Fr. Mychal’s legacy of caring for the less fortunate.

Every year, Shannon and her family celebrated the anniversary of her liver transplant with a party in their Pennsylvania home. In 2002, eleven-year-old Shannon asked that, instead of presents, guests bring socks that she could donate to the homeless – specifically, those who came to the bread line at New York City’s St. Francis of Assisi Church where Fr. Mychal had lived. Her Mom sent out emails to family and friends explaining what they were doing. Shannon wound up collecting 1,500 pairs of socks.

Along with the socks, Shannon and her family planned to give everyone a copy of Fr. Mychal’s prayer which reads, “Lord, take me where you want me to go / Let me meet who you want me to meet / Tell me what you want me to say / And keep me out of your way.”

The day came for Shannon and her family to distribute the socks to the men and women who come to St. Francis every morning at 7:00am to receive the free sandwich and cup of coffee provided by the Church. Prior to that first time, Shannon admits, “Honestly, I was very scared…I was so used to my little house in Lancaster, Pennsylvania…When we got to New York, there were all these homeless men and women lined up in the street and I was like ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t even anticipate this’…Once we got on the line, every single fear I had literally just disappeared…I talked to one person and I realized that they’re just like me; it’s just different circumstances that got them to where they are now.”

Though Shannon (pictured here with her brother, sister, and a homeless man) had always been committed to her Catholic faith, she experienced a spiritual epiphany that day - “When you look at (the homeless) on the street, they’re sitting there with their heads down. But if you go up to them and say, ‘Good morning,’ all of a sudden their head comes up and their entire face brightens up…I never realized that saying ‘Good morning’ to someone could really make somebody’s day. It made me realize that God’s in every single one of them so why treat them any different than I treat my friends?”

The sock distribution was originally intended to be a one-time event, but God apparently had other plans. After one of the homeless asked Shannon’s grandmother Sharon if she had any underwear to distribute, the family had a new mission. And that’s how “Mychal’s Message” was born. This non-profit serves the poor and homeless primarily in New York and Pennsylvania. The annual underwear distribution – dubbed “Blessed Bloomers” – takes place every September 11th at St. Francis of Assisi Church. “Mychal’s Message” also collect diapers for babies, “prayer bears” for kids, and coats for the homeless.

Another recent project is “Home Sweet Home” in which teens spend the night sleeping in cardboard boxes in the parking lot of St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Lancaster, PA. The experience helps teens better understand the problem of homelessness and raises money to help the less fortunate. (For a full list of projects, visit www.MychalsMessage.org.)

Regarding the philosophy behind her ongoing efforts, Shannon explains, “I am a really big believer in the fact that any single act of kindness will make a difference in one person’s life. That’s how I started out the ministry. I didn’t start out by thinking I was going to change the world because I know I can’t change the world…I know one pair of socks isn’t going to change a person. It’s not going to change their entire life – but it will change their day… That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do – make one difference in one person’s life.”

Through all the work she does, the now 18-year-old college freshman never forgets the inspiration behind it – the loss of her beloved friend Fr. Mychal Judge. Shannon says, “He’s the one who truly made me realize that in every ending, there’s a new beginning.”

(To download the full interview with Shannon Hickey, visit www.christophers.org/closeuppodcast)

TonyRossiBlogger@gmail.com

Monday, September 8, 2008

BONNIE HUNT ROCKS, PART DEUX! - UPDATED

The smart, funny, beautiful and talented Bonnie Hunt premieres her new talk show today. Below is a preview to tickle your funny bone:

UPDATE: Bonnie Hunt's every-woman appeal shines in her new show which debuted this afternoon. Whenever Bonnie is involved in producing a TV series or film, it turns out to be a family affair with both relatives and friends-who-are- like-relatives playing prominent roles. That familial vibe is one of the most appealing parts of her work because it allows viewers to feel like they're one more member of the large and entertaining Hunt clan. Today's launch of "The Bonnie Hunt Show" was no exception with cameos by Bonnie's sister, niece and brother-in-law; and a cute/funny segment in which Bonnie interviewed kids from the grade school where her sister works.

Bonnie's close friends, like frequent collaborator Don Lake who serves as Executive Producer, were also on hand to help steer the show. Her "Jumanji" co-star Robin Williams served as Bonnie's first guest and managed to be funny without crossing the line. Well, not too far over the line at least. The show also featured Joe Mantegna and a new singer/songwriter named Meiko. The set is a dynamite duplex that pays tribute to the entertainers and programs that influenced Bonnie growing up.

This type of show really hinges on the host's personality though, and Bonnie has plenty of that. She seemed the tiniest bit nervous today, but I think her confidence will grow quickly. Her bread-and-butter is funny stories about her family and career. Today for instance, she talked about being on "Larry King" a number of years ago when Larry thought she was Helen Hunt for the majority of the interview. Bonnie just went along with it and never bothered to correct him.

It's that ability to take a bemused approach to life - and to make her audience feel like they're on the journey with her - that will hopefully lead this newbie host to success. To make a small Biblical analogy, Bonnie may be "in" Hollywood but she's not "of" Hollywood. She's just the down-to-earth Chicagoan whose talent and sense of humor led to stardom without creating in her an enormous ego. Ordinary folks can relate to Bonnie Hunt. Give her new show a try.



TonyRossiBlogger@gmail.com

Thursday, August 28, 2008

BONNIE HUNT ROCKS!

Bonnie Hunt, one of my favorite actresses/comedians/talk-show-guests, is starting a talk show of her own in a couple of weeks. She's brought her down-to-earth personality and blue-collar, self-deprecating, Chicago-Catholic wit to numerous TV shows and movies in the past (Jerry Maguire, Cheaper by the Dozen). She also wrote, directed and co-starred in one of the most underappreciated romantic comedies of recent years, "Return To Me." Bonnie is a real gem so I hope she succeeds in this latest endeavor.

You can find out more about the new show here. Also, here's an excerpt from a recent L.A. Times story about her:

EXCERPT:
If Hunt's personality can be captured in the way McLoughlin describes, the new show stands a good chance. By nature, Hunt is about as approachable and down-to-earth as someone with her name on a marquee can be. During our interview she addressed me, diner-waitress-style, as "honey," though we'd never met or spoken before. When one of her producers poked his head in her office to pass along a message, she looked up and deadpanned: "Are you still with the production?" After our talk wrapped up, Hunt walked me down the hall, past an office where executive producer Don Lake was meeting with other top staffers. She introduced me with this line: "He already says we're going to fail."

But for all her gentle wit and affability, she does have strong views, views that have yielded an interesting career, if not always a secure one. She was trained as an oncology nurse (an occupation she returned to after her first sitcom was canceled) and blossomed as a star at Chicago's Second City comedy troupe. But she turned down a shot at instant stardom when producer Lorne Michaels offered her a gig on "Saturday Night Live." Hunt felt the show would have been confining.
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But it's just possible that Hunt was never really meant to thrive in prime time or late night. It may just be that daytime will turn out to be the appropriate venue for her considerable talents. Certainly that's what Telepictures is hoping.

And if it doesn't work out? "That could very well happen," Hunt said. "But I'll be OK.

"If you can maintain your standards and your integrity and you fail, it's OK. It's when you sell out and you fail that you feel pretty sick inside."
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TonyRossiBlogger@gmail.com

Sunday, August 24, 2008

ARE YOU FULL OF YOURSELF?

Though I try not to be, I know I can be full of myself occasionally. That's why this quote from a book I picked up today by Fulton Sheen jumped out at me. It's good advice for people of all faiths:

"Pride is the child of ignorance; humility the offspring of knowledge.

Pround people think themselves to be better than they are, and when criticized, always believe their neighbor is jealous or has a grudge against them. The humble know themselves as they really are for they judge themselves as they judge time - by a standard outside themselves, namely God and His moral law. The psychological reason for the modern fondness for news which deflates others or brings out the evil in their lives is to solace uneasy consciences which are already laden with guilt. By finding others who apparently are (worse) than we, we falsely believe that we are somehow better 'than the rest of men' (Lk 18:11)...

Humble people are not rigid exacters of things to which they have no undoubted right; they are always ready to overlook the faults of others knowing that they have so many themselves. Neither are they greatly provoked at those slights which put vain persons out of patience, knowing that as we show mercy to others so shall we receive mercy from God. Before undertaking a task great or small, before making decisions, before beginning a journey, the humble will acknowledge their dependence on God and will invoke His guidance and His blessing on all their enterprises. Even though they be placed above others by vocation or by the will of the people, they will never cease to recognize that God has made of one blood all the nations that dwell on earth."

TonyRossiBlogger@gmail.com

Monday, August 18, 2008

BREAKTHROUGH

Inspired by musicians like Chris Daughtry and Kelly Clarkson, former "American Idol" contestant Brooke Barrettsmith today releases her powerhouse self-titled debut album. While the songs' themes are definitely Christian (a few more overtly than others), Brooke doesn't hit you over the head with her Bible. Instead, her songwriting skills allow her to share stories and experiences that anyone can relate to. Most of these songs could - and hopefully will - be played on mainstream rock stations.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Brooke on "Christopher Closeup" (full interview here). She has an infectious enthusiasm for her faith that made me smile and that undoubtedly allows people to see a loving God reflected through her. Here are a few excerpts from our chat:

TR: One of the great things about your new CD is that it’s definitely an authentic rock album. And on some of your songs like “Anymore,” you’re not afraid to convey feelings of anger, fear and hurt. Why do you think it’s just as important to acknowledge those darker emotions as it is to convey the healing and redemption brought about by your faith in Jesus?

Brooke Barrettsmith: I think it’s important for everyone to know that keeping that kind of anger, bitterness, and hurt inside is more dangerous than anything...You have to share it in a healthy way. Sometimes…singing a really loud song at the top of your lungs, which is really what I did with “Anymore,” (gets out those) feelings...You can’t let that get unbearable. It’s unhealthy and that’s not what the Lord gave us brothers and sisters in Christ for. He gave us those people in our lives to be able to share, ‘Hey, I’m human, I’m hurting right now, I don’t have my act together all the time.’ I think that vulnerability connects everyone because everyone’s been there.

TR: Well one song I particularly related to myself was “Quiet My Heart” because my brain is always jumping ahead to what I have to do tomorrow or the next day. You’re a performer so your life has got to be a lot busier than mine. How do you find the time to quiet your heart?

Brooke Barrettsmith: It has to be a purposeful thing, definitely, with how busy life’s gotten in the last year. I have to make a point every day when I wake up to spend time with the Lord no matter where I’m at because, if not, my relationship with God - and my quiet time just for my own sanity - gets lost in the bustle. So it has to be a purposeful thing, it has to be a commitment you make to the Lord every day to meet him in that secret place, wherever it is, and just give Him that time, quiet your heart before Him, then face your day and all the worries of the day. Then it won’t seem so bad because God’s already calmed your spirit.

TR: In spite of the efforts you make to stay connected with your faith and with God, do you ever go through spiritually dry periods where, even when you’re trying, it just doesn’t feel like it’s there?

Brooke Barrettsmith: Oh absolutely! I think that it happens to every believer more often than we’d like to admit. There’s a song called “Breakthrough” on my album where I talked about that valley and how I hate being there...No one enjoys feeling distant from God. For me, the way the Lord always brings me back around is just Him pressing on my heart to press into Him and to really dive into His word and just kind of get desperate for Him...Sometimes He allows us to be in that valley so we cherish the times we’re not, and we value that closeness to the Lord when we have it.

TR: Brooke, you mentioned that you had a period in your life when you were not close to the Lord. What happened to get you close?

Brooke Barrettsmith: For me it was an anxiety problem. In high school, I wasn’t really interested in knowing God and having a relationship with Him...I had been a Christian my whole life because my Dad’s my pastor...but I hadn’t really owned Christianity for myself, made myself have my own relationship with God. So He allowed an anxiety problem to creep in and...allowed fear to become more real than I knew God to be. Sometimes he allows those things to happen to get our attention...For me it was anxiety...It manifested as panic attacks and feelings of hopelessness and not making it to tomorrow. That was a crossroad. I could either choose to be on the fence and never fully embrace...a relationship with God – or I could try and see what He has to offer...So I chose the latter because I have wonderful parents who pointed me in the direction of having that relationship with God. And I’ve never been more fulfilled in my whole life since that point. And through…the anxiety, God was able to teach me dependence on Him and slowly take that problem away from me.

(To hear Brooke's full interview - which includes comments about her "American Idol" experience and the message she tries to convey to girls and young women when talking at church groups and conferences - visit www.christophers.org/closeuppodcast.)

TonyRossiBlogger@gmail.com

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

TAKING A BREAK FROM ALL YOUR WORRIES SURE WOULD HELP A LOT

The Anchoress is holding an online retreat at her web site all this week which includes reflections, prayers, and even a great essay on canning your own preserves (which for this born-and-bred, buy-my-jam-in-a-jar city boy holds a certain appealing charm). If you need a spiritual break in your day, be sure to visit the site for daily updates and inspiration. Here are a few excerpts to whet your appetite:

EXCERPTS:
The notion of “God’s will” or “God’s love” is an invitation to surrender. Surrender is not passivity. It is not simply looking at the cards you’ve drawn and announcing, “I got nothing, I’m out.” It’s looking at the cards and saying, like Hamlet, “I will this brother’s wager frankly play” even if the outcome does not look like it can be remotely satisfying from your perspective.
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When we look back on our lives we can see how we planned some things rather early, but due to timing, unexpected roadblocks and the repercussions from other choices we may have made (either without thinking, or because we were caught by surprise, or we’d simply run out of options) those first early plans got pushed aside into the pile of “somedays” where we thrust our dreams and wishes; we don’t forget about the early plans, we simply let them gather dust and languish, until we start believing that they were “silly” ideas, after all - unreasonable plans, best left untouched and unvisited - and we just allow ourselves to be sad about it...I think when we reach that point - when we come to think of time and opportunity as having fully “passed,” and options being “over” - we begin to fade away, because we are no longer using time, but simply existing within it...We live in this illusion called time - and every day within it brings us opportunities, and we make choices about those chances - do we stay or go, do we read or stare, do we pursue a dream or let it lie untried, simply because the chance to pursue it didn’t come when we wanted it to, when we thought it should?
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It’s a lot of work, canning jam. The fruit won’t wait. It will rot if we don’t get to it right away. It’s hot work in a hot summer. It is patiently washing and cutting, boiling and cooking, timing and adding ingredients and constant stirring. Sterile jars, sterile lids, long hours on your feet getting everything immaculately clean, timing everything just right... It would be so much easier not to do this, wouldn’t it?...Impatience fills me, time passes me by. Planning? My whole life is lived out of the daily planner. But what have I done? How exactly have I enjoyed the moments of my own existence? Can I honestly say I am satisfied with its fruit?
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TonyRossiBlogger@gmail.com

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A HERO'S JOURNEY HOME

When Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy was getting ready to leave his parents’ Patchogue, NY home after celebrating Easter with them, his Mom Maureen and Dad Dan asked him to send a text message when he arrived at his base in Hawaii assuring them he got there safe. Maureen and Dan didn’t hear anything for two days so they got worried, especially since Michael often went on dangerous missions in his work as a NAVY SEAL. They called him and discovered he had sent the text but it must not have gone through because of a technical glitch. Dan and Maureen Murphy breathed a sigh of relief, but also learned their son would be deploying on a new mission shortly.

Unfortunately, that mission was Michael’s last.

A few months later, on June 28, 2005, Lt. Michael Murphy was killed in Afghanistan during a fierce gunfight with the Taliban. He died a hero trying to save his men and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery.

Lt. Michael Murphy’s body was recovered on July 4th and soonafter returned to the United States. Though his parents were devastated, they relied on their faith to get them through.

During an interview on the radio program “Personally Speaking,” Dan Murphy tearfully recalled the experience of the return of his son’s body - “The Navy and everyone was there, they had a beautiful ceremony. But…for anyone who may question faith, let me just tell you what happened. Maureen and I were sitting on the tarmac waiting and they brought Michael out on a scissor lift…As it touched the ground, there was a peace and a calm that came over Maureen and I, almost like Michael walked up to us and said, ‘Everything’s okay. I’m fine.’ Maureen and I looked at each other and we both felt the same thing. The chaplain that was there with us said, ‘Is everything okay?’ We told him, ‘We have this peacefulness that came over us almost like Michael walked up to us.’ He said that’s not uncommon for families that come to meet their loved ones when they’re returned - which was just amazing!”

On July 13th, the day of Michael’s funeral, the Murphys would receive one more bit of comfort that they view through the eyes of faith. Maureen’s cell phone rang. When she looked at it, she saw it was a text message. Not just any text message but the one Michael had sent 4 months earlier.

It read simply, “Mama, home safe and sound.”

TonyRossiBlogger@gmail.com

Friday, August 8, 2008

A WINNING AND LOSING PERSPECTIVE

In light of the Olympics starting today, I thought I'd post this suprising story on human nature from The Christophers' "3 Minutes a Day" book:

If you had a choice, would you rather win a silver or a bronze Olympic medal? A study of Olympic medal winners might surprise you.
According to writer Kent Crockett, “Most people would assume the silver medal winners would be happier than the bronze medalists since they received a higher honor, but that wasn’t the case. The bronze medalists were found to be happier than the silver medalists.
“The former Olympians explained how they felt about their medals. The third-place winners were thrilled just to have won a medal. The silver medalists, on the other hand, felt like losers because they didn’t come in first.
“What happens to you is not nearly as important as how you perceive what happens to you.”
Our attitudes make such a difference to our lives. Remember that keeping a positive approach to ourselves and our world can work wonders.

TonyRossiBlogger@gmail.com

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

GET YOUR SNAP ON

Yesterday, Brooke White told me to “get my snap on.”

Okay, she didn’t just say it to me but also to the approximately 17,000 other people who filled the Nassau Coliseum to near-capacity status to enjoy the American Idols concert featuring this year’s top 10. But before I get to that, here's a recap of the concert.

The show started with Chikezie’s rousing three-song set of Donny Hathaway’s “I Believe To My Soul,” Usher’s “Caught Up,” and John Legend’s “So High.” Chikezie worked the stage and the crowd like a seasoned performer and demonstrated a ton of natural charisma. Completely comfortable as a live performer, he got the audience going and demonstrated his serious musical chops.

Next up was Ramiele Malubay who was entertaining and showed off some power vocals on The Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back,” Taylor Dayne’s “Love Will Lead You Back,” and Maroon 5’s “If I Never See Your Face Again.” Though she’s definitely got talent, Ramiele would seem to benefit most from a little more experience. She seemed a little uncomfortable on stage and could benefit from a boost in confidence.

When Aussie-transplant Michael Johns came out singing “We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions,” the crowd exploded and the show reached a new level. Johns’ soulful delivery on all his songs - which also included the re-imagined Dolly Parton classic “It’s All Wrong But It’s All Right” and the song that, as he reminded everyone, got him booted off Idol, “Dream On” – reminded me that this guy is radio ready and should have a successful career ahead of him.

Cowgirl sweetheart Kristy Lee Cook, who’s already got a record deal and a single which comes out on August 11, showed off her country sass during a set that included a couple of lesser known songs that she put her own stamp on – “Squeezin’ the Love Outta You” by Carolyn Dawn Johnson and “Cowgirls” by Kerry Harvick. The livelier numbers were separated by one of Kristy Lee’s favorite songs, “God Bless the USA.” While the song can seem hokey depending on who’s singing it, Kristy Lee’s performance was a sincere tribute to the United States and those who fought and are still fighting on its behalf. Kristy Lee bore what I felt was a lot of unfair criticism during her time on Idol. Her concert performance proved she deserves to be a part of this tour and to have a record deal that will hopefully help her follow in the footsteps of other successful Idol country artists like Kellie Pickler and Carrie Underwood.

Carly Smithson is America’s best Irish import since Guinness. Though she knows how to caress a ballad, she stuck with numbers to show off her powerhouse vocals – Evanescence’s “Bring Me To Life,” Heart’s “Crazy On You” and Cyndi Lauper’s “I Drove All Night.” While Carly sometimes seemed a little serious during Idol, she appears to have reached a point where she now completely enjoys herself onstage thereby making her already impressive voice and performances even better.

My favorite performance on Idol all season was Brooke White’s rendition of The Beatles “Let It Be.” There was something about the feeling she put into that song that made it, at the risk of sounding melodramatic, a transcendent moment. Happily, Brooke recreated that moment at the start of her set as she rose out of the stage playing a grand piano (barefoot of course) and singing this beloved classic. After “Let It Be,” Brooke picked up her guitar and headed to center-stage while mentioning that there was an “incident” with the microphone stand the night before which resulted in her getting smacked in the face with the stand. There were no mishaps this time so Brooke told all of us to “get your snap on” before Feist’s catchy “1, 2, 3, 4.” Though I’d never gotten my snap on before, I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. Brooke’s final song, Coldplay’s “Yellow,” was the capper on a fun set. Other than David Cook, I’d say Brooke has the best rapport with the audience probably because she’s got such a joyful spirit that you can’t help but smile when she’s talking and singing.

That didn’t end Brooke’s time onstage however. As someone who is sincerely socially conscious and would no doubt use her celebrity to help the less fortunate, Brooke made her pitch as spokesperson for Malaria No More’s “Save the World Summer” campaign which aims to raise awareness and money to prevent and end the spread of malaria. This led into a performance of U2’s “Pride in the Name of Love” by the six performers we’d already seen. While group numbers didn’t always work well on TV, this one – accompanied by video of the people in Africa the campaign would help – was both entertaining and effective.

Post-intermission was when screaming young girls (and probably older women too) pushed their vocal chords to the limit. Accompanied by constant squeals of delight from the audience, Jason Castro opened his set playing ukulele and singing the Israel Kamakawiwo'ole version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” He followed with Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” and The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Daydream.” I admit that I wasn’t a big fan of Jason’s while he was on Idol but he won me over with his performances here. He demonstrated a newfound confidence and even some power-vocal ability that I didn’t know he had.

The crowd next erupted for Syesha Mercado who, besides throwing a free Idol T-shirt into the crowd, sang Rihanna’s “Umbrella” followed by Alicia Keys “If I Ain’t Got You” and Beyonce’s “Listen.” Though the Idol judges often criticized Syesha for not being distinct enough or knowing her niche, she seems to have found it here. Freed from the constraints of theme weeks, she found songs she felt comfortable singing and the audience was totally impressed.

Next of course was the moment every girl in the audience was waiting for – the emergence of David Archuleta behind a piano singing and playing Robbie Williams’ “Angels.” Archuleta could have stood onstage for 15 minutes doing nothing but smile and he would have earned a constant stream of applause and screams from the crowd. The fact that he’s got actual musical talent to back up his popularity is a welcome fact. After singing One Republic’s “Apologize” and Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me,” he finished up with Josh Groban’s “When You Say You Love Me.” Groban is the artist Archuleta most reminds me of so if he follows in his footsteps, he’ll be okay.

Appropriately enough, the loudest cheers and stomps of the evening (yes, there was stomping) greeted American Idol winner David Cook who opened with the killer version of Lionel Richie’s “Hello” that first put him on many people’s radars during the course of Idol. Be it through his first post-Idol hit “Time of My Life,” Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” or the Foo Fighters’ “My Hero,” no one seemed more at home onstage in front of thousands of people than Cook. He’s got a swagger that some people interpret as cocky but I think it’s simply confidence because he loves what he’s doing and knows he’s good at it. Nothing wrong with that. In addition to throwing several guitar picks into the audience to the glee of a few fans near the front, Cook also mentioned that he usually dedicates “My Hero” to his brother Adam who’s suffering from brain cancer. This night, however, he said he was changing his dedication to a nameless girl who also faced a heroic struggle. He didn’t share any more of the story so I don’t know if the dedication was for someone he met that day or for the young cancer patient named Lindsey Rose who he’s mentioned before in interviews. Either way, it was a nice gesture. Cook closed his set with his popular version of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.”

Before the evening ended, the top 10 performed Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music” together to give everyone a final opportunity to say good-night to the crowd. It was a fine way to end nearly three hours of pure, unadulterated fun. If you get the chance to see the Idols tour, you should definitely do it. All ages from kids to seniors were represented in the audience so it’s a night out that really can be a family affair.

(Note: Photos above are generic, not from the actual concert)

TonyRossiBlogger@gmail.com

Friday, July 25, 2008

I WANT TO BELIEVE

Though I’m not a fan of the horror or thriller genres in general, I was drawn to “The X Files” during its TV run after reading an interview with the show’s creator Chris Carter. An agnostic, Carter acknowledged that the poster on Fox Mulder’s (David Duchovny) wall featuring a UFO and the words “I Want to Believe” metaphorically represented Carter’s own quest for faith. While Mulder sought proof for the existence of extraterrestrials, Carter wanted to believe in the existence of a transcendent reality and even a benevolent creator. He admitted he could never quite get to that point though.

Amidst the storylines featuring supernatural serial killers, alien conspiracies and monsters of the week, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) often engaged in science versus faith debates with both sides getting a fair hearing. I always admired this about the show because it at least took these matters seriously instead of dismissing them outright or simply looking on faith as craziness.

With the release of “The X Files: I Want to Believe,” Carter’s spiritual quest is brought to the fore once again. The movie picks up 6 years after the series ended. Scully is now a doctor at “Our Lady of Sorrows” hospital while Mulder is still in hiding because he escaped from government custody after a sham trial about his paranormal investigations.

One day, an FBI agent approaches Scully at the hospital and tells her they need Mulder’s insight on an investigation involving a missing agent. It appears that someone is having visions about the crime and the FBI doesn’t know whether they can trust these visions. If Mulder cooperates, all past transgressions will be forgiven. Scully contacts Mulder who, after some initial reluctance, agrees to help.

It turns out that the person having the visions is a Catholic priest named Father Joe (Billy Connolly). It’s also revealed that Father Joe is no ordinary priest; he’s a convicted pedophile priest. “Uh-oh,” I thought, “here comes two hours of pot-shots at the Catholic Church and clergy.” To my complete and utter shock, the film didn’t go in that direction.

Yes, Scully as the resident Catholic expresses some righteous anger at Father Joe for his crimes and fires some verbal shots at his character. But Father Joe is actually portrayed as a struggling, sinful human being instead of a malicious caricature. Of course, there are questions.

Are Father Joe’s visions real or is he just trying to rehabilitate his image? Is it possible that this most heinous of sins – the sexual abuse of children – can ever be forgiven by man or by God? Would God actually use a pedophile to accomplish His divine will?

Jeffrey Overstreet, a non-Catholic Christian who reviewed the film for Christianity Today’s web site, takes offense on behalf of Catholics because of the fact that the priest is a pedophile. Jeffrey writes, “Do American filmmakers really believe that all priests are sexual deviants? Is Hollywood so infected with prejudice that they've come to believe the rare exceptions are the rule?”

I appreciate Jeffrey’s legitimate critique and viewpoint. The portrayal of good and holy priests in modern media is a rarity nowadays. For me though, the character in this film wasn’t offensive because of the well-rounded way he was handled. I give Carter credit for giving more than one dimension.

In my opinion, “I Want to Believe” works better as a spiritual quest than a thriller. While the central mystery is creepy, it didn’t really grab me. Action scenes are at a minimum and there’s one pretty goofy moment in Mulder’s final confrontation with the bad guys that everyone in the theater laughed at.

Carter, who directed the film and co-wrote it with X Files veteran Frank Spotnitz, opts to capitalize mainly on the Mulder-Scully dynamic that kept me watching the TV show even when the storylines started getting weak. And it really is the interaction between the two leads that makes “I Want to Believe” as engaging and even witty as it is.

In an era when atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens show nothing but contempt for faith of any kind, it’s refreshing to witness Chris Carter’s honest search for truth. A recent Entertainment Weekly article describes him as “a former skeptic who’s got more faith that it’s not all meaningless.” That comes through in the movie. So if you’re a spiritual seeker or even a practicing Christian or Catholic, “The X Files: I Want to Believe” should leave you thinking about sin, forgiveness, and the challenge to discern God’s will in our world and in our lives.

TonyRossiBlogger@gmail.com

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A SERVANT'S HEART

NEW YORK, July 9, 2008 – Taught by her mother to approach life with “a servant’s heart,” 23-year-old Texas native, Abby Caperton, talks about crossing borders to help others on Christopher Closeup. The half-hour interview airs in two parts on Sunday, July 20th and Sunday, July 27th, both at 7 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. EST on The Catholic Channel, Sirius 159.

Born and raised in Hereford, TX, Caperton, a lifelong Catholic who currently resides in Lewisville, TX, credits her mother for engendering a sense of responsibility to “give back.”

Those early life lessons lead to her embarking on mission trips to Mexico, Guatemala, and, most recently, Malawi and Mozambique in Africa. She discusses how, despite the suffering that is a grim part of daily life in those countries, it was the faith, hope, love and generosity she experienced firsthand amid the hardships that made the more lasting impression.

Her travels inspired her to encourage others towards service, “(We all) need to be more generous with our giving, with our time, treasure and talent.”

This personal commitment to making a positive difference in the world is, according to Christopher Closeup’s host, Tony Rossi, “at the heart of The Christopher message – that it’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”

For Caperton, her advocacy for greater solidarity with the poor is rooted in her deep devotion to the Eucharist, which she sees as the ultimate source of unity, “not only… with the people that you’re with at Mass, but it’s the people in the next town over, it’s the people in the next continent over, it’s the people in Africa. You’re in unity with everyone in this world whenever you sit at Mass.”

Part Two of the interview also features a discussion with Dr. Derry Connolly, president of John Paul the Great Catholic University.

Podcasts of the interview segments will be available at www.christophers.org/closeuppodcast following the airing of the programs.

Maryknoll Father James Keller founded the Christophers in 1945 with the purpose of encouraging individuals to use their God-given talents to make a positive difference in the world by bringing Gospel values into the mainstream of life.

To learn more about The Christophers visit www.christophers.org

Sunday, July 20, 2008

BREATHING THE FIRE

On Memorial Day 2006, CBS News correspondent Kimberly Dozier and her crew were on patrol with the military in Iraq. A car bomb explosion killed cameraman Paul Douglas, soundman James Brolan, Army Captain Alex Funkhouser, and their Iraqi translator known only as Sam. Kimberly was critically injured herself. She lost more than half her blood because the explosion smashed both her femurs, scorched her muscle and skin from hips to ankles, and lodged some shrapnel near her brain. Though she technically died five times after reaching the hospital, the medical teams were able to save her. Kimberly endured a painful and grueling recovery, and now shares her story in the book “Breathing the Fire: Fighting to Report- and Survive – the War in Iraq.” Here’s an excerpt from my recent “Christopher Closeup” interview with Kimberly during which she discusses the spiritual side of her recovery.

TR: You write in the book about your own background as a Christian. You even considered being a member of the Episcopal clergy for a while. So I’m wondering – when you were recovering in the hospital, did you have any mental conversations with God about what happened or why?

Kimberly Dozier: Absolutely. It came down to, “What am I going to do with this? I’ve had this horrible tragedy happen. I’m still alive. Why’d you leave me here? Obviously I’ve got something else to do. What is it?” And yeah, you have the selfish response (that) you don’t want the responsibility of this when you have lived and the people with you have not. Trying to turn that into something positive, trying to find the right words to say to the family members of those who’ve been lost – that’s a burden I didn’t want. It’s a privilege I didn’t want. You’re thankful and you are saddled with something you never thought you’d have to deal with. Someone explained to me once that grief is a gift, that going through something like this gives you lessons that you then have to pass on. And that’s been one of the hardest parts of this because, what I write about in the book, especially the first few months when I came back to work, so many people came up to me and wanted to talk about horrible things that they’d been through…For a while there, it just got (to be) too much. I couldn’t handle it and I started skulking around back hallways at CBS because I didn’t know how to help these people. That’s part of the reason why I decided, “Okay, I’ll write this darn book. I’ll put it all out there.”

TR: At one point in your book “Breathing the Fire,” you write, “The more horrors I saw overseas, the more my own Christian faith came to the fore.” Some people see suffering and violence, and it moves them away from God. Why did it move you more toward God?

Kimberly Dozier: I guess I’ve never held God responsible for some of the horrors that I see. The things that we are able to do to each other either in the name of government, ideology or God – it is soul shaking. But I guess you take refuge in your faith. You also see the positive things out there, the people who risk their lives to save someone else or risk their lives to protect a community. That restores your faith as much as the horrors you’re seeing shake it…
TR: You said that you dealt with the guilt of surviving and the grief of losing your colleagues. But are you carrying around any anger at the people who did this? Is that something that weighs on your mind or have you moved past that also?

Kimberly Dozier: Both the guilt and the anger you’ve got to leave behind. They’re destructive emotions…In terms of being angry at the men who blew up the car bomb – as I understood from the U.S. military, they were taken down that night. They were in a cell in an apartment block overlooking the bomb scene. That’s how they watched to see us get close enough and then triggered the 500 pound car bomb. I can’t see inside their minds. I hate their methods, but I also know as a reporter on the ground there were things happening like accidental shooting incidents. Up to ten Iraqis a day were being killed, one high-ranking U.S. commander told me, due to accidental shootings at checkpoints. Was one of those men – had he lost his family to something like that? And it was a Sunni Al-Quaeda splinter group that got taken down. Now we are, as part of the awakening, we the coalition are talking to those Sunni groups, (we’ve) won them over, and they’re now our present day allies. So you can’t draw any sorts of absolutes in the Middle East. The lines are always changing.

TR: You write in the book that prayer helped you through a lot of those difficult times when you were recovering. Is it still a help to you now?

Kimberly Dozier: It’s always been a part of my life and always will (be) for our whole family. It’s one of those things, when I go overseas and meet someone who is either a Shiite imam or an Orthodox priest, it’s that bridge that helps us relate and understand. In the Middle East, it’s a community full of people of faith. They respect you and understand you better and vice versa when you are strong in your own faith.

(To listen to the full interview, visit www.christophers.org/closeuppodcast)

TonyRossiBlogger@gmail.com

Thursday, July 10, 2008

JOY & DIGNITY AMID DEMENTIA

Journalist and EWTN television host Colleen Carroll Campbell has written a heartfelt remembrance of her father who died recently after a protracted battle with Alzheimer's. This column is a must read.

EXCERPT:
Dad's diagnosis came on a bleak January afternoon in 1996 during my last
semester of college. In the years that followed, I watched a brilliant man once
heralded for his articulate defense of mentally disabled children become
disabled himself. I grieved as the wordsmith father who had rejoiced at every
article I ever wrote struggled to read my name or sign his own. A paragon of
strength in earlier years, Dad gradually grew weak and dependent before my eyes.

Yet Dad had joy — immense, contagious joy. Everyone he met noticed it — from
the hairdresser he serenaded with Irish songs during their appointments to the
adult day-care aides who marveled at his good humor and quick wit.

Even in his last years, after his condition forced my mother to move him to a
nursing home, Dad provoked smiles with courtly bows and tips of an imaginary
hat to the elderly nuns who stared at him from their wheelchairs. "Great to see
you," he'd say, as he sauntered the halls. "You're the best."

Led into a room full of dementia patients, he would find his way to the corner
where the most distressed one among them was muttering incoherently. Plopping
down next to her, he would whisper, "We're all in God's hands" and stroke her
arm until she grew quiet and calm. "I like to take care of people," he would
tell me, when he could remember what he had just done.

Alzheimer's eventually robbed my father of everything a disease can take from a
man. But it could not steal his joy. Cultivated through a lifetime of putting
people before possessions, principle before prestige and love of God and family
before his own desires, Dad's joy seemed to spring from some inexhaustible
source, from a place the plaques and tangles of Alzheimer's could not reach.
(Full article here.)
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TonyRossiBlogger@gmail.com

Sunday, July 6, 2008

HOPE FOR EVERY PERSON

In addition to a career that’s brought her great success in the Christian and pop music fields, Amy Grant is known as a person who uses her celebrity to help others. From St. Jude Children’s Hospital to Habitat for Humanity to private benefit concerts for people in need, Amy is always giving back for the blessings she’s received.

As she recalled on a recent episode of the radio program “Personally Speaking with Monsignor Jim Lisante,” the influence of her parents shaped her own attitude toward reaching out. Amy said, “Three different times when I was growing up and shortly after I’d left the house, my parents invited young women to come live with them who were struggling. It might have been for a few months or many months. And my parents certainly did not have a flawless life...But they had raised girls and they said ‘this is a safe place.’ Years ago – I probably was in my 30’s – a woman came to my concert, and she was probably in her 40’s, and she said, ‘You probably don’t even remember me. When you were a little girl, I lived with you. I was pregnant and had nowhere to go.’ And she showed me a picture of her son who was maybe seven years younger than me. And I just thought, ‘Way to go, Mom and Dad!’ This woman was supported at a time when she was really lonely and needed support.”

Amy draws great support from her Christian faith which she’s never been shy about professing. How and why has it stayed such a focal point of her life through the challenges she’s faced?

Amy said, “I know beyond a shadow of any doubt that the reason my heart is so full, the reason my life feels directed, the reason I have confidence about tomorrow whether I live or die, the reason I can look at my children and believe they have an amazing future...is because I know what it feels like to be still long enough to know God...The 17th chapter of Acts (says) that every man has an appointed amount of time and was born in an appointed place. It basically says it is God’s purpose to arrange a person’s life with the possibility that they might reach toward Him because He is always near to everyone...I read that today and thought that’s amazing! Even in putting everything in motion, He said I’m always going to be right there and I’m going to construct this person’s life in such a way that there is a possibility that they will reach toward me. That’s hope for every person following everything.”

TonyRossiBlogger@gmail.com

Sunday, June 29, 2008

WRESTLING WITH THE TRUTH THAT SAVES YOU

On a recent episode of “Christopher Closeup,” I had the opportunity to interview Barbara Nicolosi. Barbara is a talented screenwriter, founder of the Act One Screenwriting program, and partner in Origin Entertainment. The interview covered a lot of ground including Barbara’s insights on improving the work of Christians in Hollywood and why films & TV programs shouldn’t shy away from portraying sin in their stories. But the high point came when Barbara and I discussed one of our favorite TV shows, “Battlestar Galactica.” (Okay, it’s actually an obsession for Barbara. And she’ll admit that too.)

For those not familiar with the show’s premise, it deals with the near-obliteration of a human society by the machine-race they created called Cylons. Humanity’s survivors are on a mission to find the mythical planet Earth where they can start life anew while fleeing from the Cylons who are out to kill them and claim Earth for themselves.

Barbara discussed this premise from an artistic and religious viewpoint. Here’s an excerpt:

TR: I’ve been reading your blog “Church of the Masses” for years…I pretty much have a sense of what you like and don’t like…Then in January 2008, I go to your blog and read you geeking out about “Battlestar Galactica.” What happened to tilt the earth off its axis so that you’re now praising a sci-fi show?

Barbara Nicolosi: All my friends think I’ve lost my mind (Laughs). But…when you see powerful, well-done, really-well-executed work that’s hitting at all the different levels of meaning that are possible in the screen artform, you have got to say that this is an achievement. And you have got to say this show does that. The funny thing about the show is that…it’s very sexy in some episodes. But I don’t find it gratuitously so because I think that it’s about a post-religious, licentiate human society that’s grown fat with its own excess. And so I think that in that sense it would be a lie not to show that. It’s an adult show, this is on at 10:00 at night, it’s not for kids…

In the very first episode they ask the question, ‘You human beings talk about…struggling to survive. You never ask the question if you deserve to survive.’ The rest of the series then unfolds over this question of ‘do we deserve to survive because of what we’ve become?’ I think that’s a valid question…(And) the cool thing about the show is it never tells you what to think; it just keeps posing questions that have been raised in this post-9/11 America.

For example, an episode that was just aired recently of Season 4 was about the President and the Admiral – the two leaders in the society – (deciding) they have to break the law a little bit and not be open about what they’re doing because there’s a greater threat out there. Then (the government) starts having a fight…when it comes out – ‘How can we do this? This betrays who we are.’ Well, isn’t that what we’re talking about as a society now? And…I don’t think we’re really talking about it as a society. I think there’s a lot of screaming going on. But Battlestar’s actually trying to dialogue it out.

TR: It almost doesn’t come down on either side as being right. You see both sides.

Barbara Nicolosi: You’re right. In fact I talked to the writers at length, we were picketing together during the strike. And they said that is one of the most paramount points that we discuss as a staff. We’re going to lay out in a fair way both sides of these questions and let the audience have to wrestle with whether they think the choices the characters are making are ultimately moral or immoral. I love that! I’m so sick of having a particular worldview jammed down my throat…and seeing the other side so badly represented. I mean, look at ‘West Wing.’ They never could represent a Republican or a conservative – until the very end of the series – without making them a buffoon or an ignoramus…So it’s just refreshing (on Battlestar) to have two characters that you really love and admire be on opposite sides of something, both making a compelling case for where they’re coming from, and then you have to decide who is right or wrong.

TR: Ron Moore, the executive producer of the show, said about it, “There’s a search for truth that we explore continually.” Looking at things from a religious perspective, is the search for truth in a story enough to make it deserving of being embraced by a Christian audience?

Barbara Nicolosi: I think so. I think that one of the things we’ve been getting wrong in Catholic media is that we try and do all the work for the viewer in terms of stories. A story is a car, for example, that you provide out of respect for your viewer. They’re going to go on a journey in that car. It’s a very respectful thing to set them up on this journey, but they have to do the work otherwise it’s not going to mean anything in their life. So if you make it too easy for them and give them the answers, they’ll forget...We say to our students in Act One all the time, “It isn’t telling people the truth that saves them; it’s getting them to wrestle with the truth that saves them.” It’s the reason that when you end a Flannery O’Connor story, you’re furious at her because you say, “Well what did that mean?!” You always think there were three missing pages where she was supposed to tell you what everything meant. And what you have to do is keep going over it and over it and over it until you figure it out. That’s the process of saving you. But Flannery really respects her audience. Now granted a lot of the audience misses the deeper level. But you know what, the ones who get it – it saves their soul.

TR: Galactica is also one of the only shows that deals with religion and faith in an overt manner. At the beginning I was unsure what to make of it because the seeming bad guys were worshippers of the ‘one true God’ whereas the seeming good guys had multiple gods. How do you think the story represents religion? Is it doing it in a good way?

Barbara Nicolosi: I think it was a stroke of genius to make the humans the pagans/polytheists and make the machines the monotheists. In one sense it could just be that the machines are supposed to represent the fanaticism of the Islamic fascists who took down the towers...But it’s not that because Christianity is also a monotheistic religion. So I think that by twisting it on its head, by making the Cylons monotheists, it made it even safer for the show to talk about issues of faith and how they impact daily life...Having said that, this struggle of the people in the show (asks), ‘Are we missing something when we make decisions that aren’t guided by transcendent faith?’ That’s what the human characters on the show are struggling with.

You have some of them, like the most screwed up one, Starbuck, but she really believes that the gods know her name and that she owes them fealty. Then you have the admiral and his son who are just such agnostics, and now they’re struggling to believe because they don’t know what to do, they have nothing else to lean on. And that’s the question of the show – when you have nothing else to lean on, does it then make sense to reach for the divine or are you just grasping at some kind of straw to save your psychological life? The show hasn’t resolved that yet, but I think it’s setting up to do that very clearly.

(To listen to the full interview, visit www.christophers.org/closeuppodcast)

TonyRossiBlogger@gmail.com