ROME, FEB. 7, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Every year, millions across the United States of America fervently follow the athletic clash of titans called the Super Bowl. In today’s Super Bowl, however, the winners won’t be limited to either the Indianapolis Colts or the New Orleans Saints. A special victory will go to life, thanks to a singular advertisement that will air during the most watched sporting event of the year.
Created and paid for by Focus on the Family, the commercial features Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow of the Florida Gators, and his mother, Pam Tebow, discussing her difficult choice for life.
While missionaries in the Philippines, Pam Tebow and her husband were advised to terminate her pregnancy after she contracted amoebic dysentery. The cure, said the doctors, would cause serious damage to her unborn child and as a result could possibly cost Pam Tebow her own life. The Tebows refused and 23 years later, the world famous athlete will have a chance to thank his mother for choosing life in front of 100 million spectators.
Like all great victories however, this one has not come easy. Last year the Catholic Vote organization filmed a pro-life video telling the story of Barack Obama and his single mother’s choice for life. Despite having raised the necessary $3 million and produced a highly professional spot, both NBC and CNN refused to air the ad, claiming a policy of not airing advocacy ads.
This year, CBS agreed to air the Tim Tebow ad despite massive pressure. A coordinated campaign organized by the National Organization of Women and NARAL, the National pro-abortion organization, is lobbying CBS to drop the ad. Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL, had some choice comments on the spot (which she hasn’t seen): “CBS has cleared the way to subject nearly 100 million people to Focus on the Family’s extreme agenda by agreeing to air its new pro-life ad during the Super Bowl”; adding, “If that isn’t bad enough, its views on women are just plain insulting and dangerous.”
The good news is that Keenan described the ad as “pro life,” forgetting in her rant her Orwellian newspeak term, “anti-choice.”
The better news is that even the New York Times, not known for pro-life sympathies, published an editorial last week defending the advertisement.
Simultaneously, attorney Gloria Allred demanded the ad be pulled because of “misleading advertising.” Pointing out that abortion is illegal in the Philippines, she claims no doctor would ever tell a woman to have an abortion for fear of losing his license. Besides the Ivory Tower reasoning here, given that the Tebows are citizens of the United States — the country with some of the most permissive abortion laws in the world — all they had to do was get on a plane.
As yet, to its credit, CBS is holding firm, and even those who don’t care for football (myself included) will be tuning in to see this great triumph for life.
But here in Italy the land of Sunday soccer, has anyone taken notice of those fighting the good fight? I asked Legionary of Christ Father Kevin Lixey, director of the Vatican Office of Church and Sport, if the Curia would tear itself from the World Cup preparations to follow the game for life on Sunday.
“It is safe to say that not many Italians nor the Holy Father will be watching the late night Super Bowl,” responded Father Lixey, “nor are they aware of this pro-life spot.” That said, Father Lixey pointed out that “the Holy Father consistently encourages top athletes to live up to their great responsibility of being authentic role models for the many young people who look up to them.”
Father Lixey quoted Benedict XVI’s address to champion swimmers last Aug. 5: “Dear athletes,” the Pope exhorted, “you are models for your peers, and your example can be crucial to them in building their future positively. So be champions in sports and in life!”
Noting that this is not the first time an athlete has used his media “status” to defend life, Father Lixey recalled that in the fall of 2006, an ad against an embryonic stem cell research amendment in the state of Missouri featured such athletes as St. Louis quarterback Kurt Warner and baseballers Mike Sweeney and Jeff Suppan — who incidentally participated in the first Vatican sports seminar in 2005.
As with Tim Tebow, Father Lixey pointed out, “Suppan received criticism for the ‘timing’ of this advertisement, since he was pitching in the World Series for the St. Louis Cardinals.”
The director of the Church and Sports office praised figures like Suppan and Tebow, noting that these are “athletes who are conscious of their leadership role among the youth and are not afraid to step up to the plate to defend life.”
“Super Bowls have become notorious for permissive halftime shows and raunchy beer commercials to the point that some parents would prefer that their children not view it on television at all,” reflected Father Lixey. “While we do not know if the Saints will beat the Colts, one thing is certain: the Tebow ad will certainly be family friendly!”
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Readying the heart
If sacred art could enlighten and inspire the faithful for centuries, why can’t it continue to do so today? Time and again the Church has enjoined art to serve as the “handmaiden of faith,” and to open visual gateways to the sacred. A new book, “The Beauty of Faith: Using Christian Art to Spread the Good News,” proposes to draw on man’s attraction to beauty to renew the ancient alliance between the arts and the Gospel.
Written by Dr. Jem Sullivan, professor and volunteer docent at the National Gallery of Art, this book explores the need and the method of introducing art into the modern visual culture. “Beauty of Faith” was published by Our Sunday Visitor and presented by the U.S. bishops’ conference last week.
I had the opportunity to ask Dr. Sullivan a few questions, starting with her inspiration to write this book.
She responded: “Reading Pope John Paul II’s 1999 ‘Letter to Artists’ profoundly inspired me. As a wife and mother, professor, and catechist, I was struck not only by the Pope’s insight into the relationship of artistic creativity to God, the Divine Artist, but the way in which sacred art serves as a ‘concrete mode of catechesis.’
“I noted that the papacy seems very interested in this question, especially since the synod on the Word of God where the role of art in catechesis was examined.”
“Both Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI have certainly reaffirmed the vital catechetical role of art by reminding us of the unity of Truth, Beauty and Goodness,” observed Sullivan, while pointing out that “the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes the particular vocation of sacred art in ‘evoking and glorifying, in faith and adoration, the transcendent mystery of God — the surpassing invisible beauty of Christ, who reflects the glory of God …’ (CCC 2502).”
In “Beauty of Faith,” the author points out that the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church contains 14 beautiful sacred images that encourage the reader to ponder in visual form the truths of faith being expressed, and invite us to live the faith that we profess in the Creed. In her defense of Christian art, Sullivan calls on the undeniable witness of history in the Church’s 2,000-year heritage of Christian art.
Sullivan suggests an interesting method of approach toward Christian art, drawing from lectio divina: “Pope Benedict XVI has spoken several times of the spiritual practice of lectio divina, and he has encouraged adaptations of this ancient monastic practice of prayerful reading of Scripture to make it more user-friendly, so to speak, for busy people of today.”
“As a catechist this parti
cularly intrigued me,” Sullivan said, “and in my book, I attempt to adapt and apply the spiritual practice of lectio divina to masterpieces of Christian art. This or course, does not diminish the unique revelation of sacred Scripture as the inspired Word of God, but a way of seeing and hearing works of art inspired by lectio divina can help us acquire through beauty a deeper capacity for childlike awe and delight in the face of divine beauty.”
In the book, Sullivan also engages the difficult question of art and young people in our modern visual culture. “The internet and mass entertainment surround us each day with information conveyed through multiple and fast paced images,” she warns. “Today we can truly speak of ‘sensory overload,’ and therefore parents, teachers and those engaged in the spiritual formation of the young often find themselves frustrated as they attempt to compete with popular messages carried through the sheer cascade of images in a visual culture.”
Naturally Sullivan doesn’t think it will be easy to persuade young people to enter into the world of sacred art, but she is hopeful. “The power of true beauty with its ultimate origin in God does in fact, gently over time, attract and capture the religious imaginations of people. I would even suggest that precisely because young people are so inundated with superficial sensory overload, they are searching all the more for true beauty that reflects transcendence. Even as the popular visual culture offers demeaning and dehumanizing images it drives young people and adults to seek out ways to purify the senses.”
Christian art may even be an “antidote,” since it “predisposes people’s hearts and minds to receive in faith the revelation of the Trinitarian God in the person of Jesus Christ, the ‘image of the unseen God.'”
Responding to the recent trend of exploiting the power of religious art by re-interpreting it to proclaim a popular or personal agenda, Sullivan offers a few practical tips for catechists, preachers and parents to help reclaim the true Christian message of a work of art. Starting from the fundamental conviction that “works of sacred art can be properly understood only in the light of the beauty of the Church’s faith,” Sullivan observes that it “makes little sense to interpret Christian art with little reference to the Christian faith that inspired it. Doubt, suspicion, and market-driven intrigue regarding the artists’ original intention may be fashionable for a day; the light of 2,000 years of Christian faith and history offers a more real point of reference for interpreting its meaning.”
She proposes to transform “popular misinterpretations of treasured works of art into powerful ‘teaching moments,’ for the faithful who not only reclaim the true Christian meaning of an artistic masterpiece, but are able through art to enter more deeply into the beauty of the Christian faith itself.”
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On the Net:
Beauty of Faith: https://catalog.osv.com/Catalog.aspx?ProductCode=T264
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Elizabeth Lev teaches Christian art and architecture at Duquesne University’s Italian campus and University of St. Thomas’ Catholic Studies program. She can be reached at email@example.com