Bone again: MassLive could teach NYTimes how to report on relics

Bone again: MassLive could teach NYTimes how to report on relics

I wrote in this space on Tuesday that the New York Times' coverage of the Archbishop Sheen body battle was missing information on why relics are important to Catholics. By contrast, a recent article by Anne-Gerard Flynn at MassLive.com, although light on theology, captures the sense of the faithful who see in relics a living connection to saints.

Flynn seeks to capture the atmosphere of devotion among those venerating a relic of St. Anthony of Padua on loan to a local parish. She begins with an adept verbal snapshot of one woman paying her respects to the 13th-century Franciscan friar:

Springfield resident Brenda Madison was among the first area residents to venerate the relic of St. Anthony of Padua, and the physical experience of putting her lips to the glass reliquary containing the bone fragment of the saint, born in Portugual in 1195, left her in an emotional state.
"I teared up. I was just so happy. All of these years I have prayed to Anthony, and now I got that close to a part of the saint," said Madison, who attended a brief prayer service, Sept. 6, marking the reception of the relic into the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, at St. Michael's Cathedral.

Flynn is doing something subtle and powerful in the lede as she writes "the physical experience of putting her lips to the glass reliquary ... left [Madison] in an emotional state." Instead of asking an expert in Catholic theology about what it means to venerate a saint, she is trying to capture in words what such veneration means to the believer: physical contact with a person who, although dead to this present world, is alive in heaven.

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5Q+1 interview: Religion writer Bob Smietana on the Godbeat, #RNA2014 and, yes, GetReligion

5Q+1 interview: Religion writer Bob Smietana on the Godbeat, #RNA2014 and, yes, GetReligion

Godbeat pros will convene in Atlanta this week for the Religion Newswriters Association's 65th annual conference.

In advance of the national meeting of religion journalists, RNA President Bob Smietana did a 5Q+1 interview (that's five questions plus a bonus question) with GetReligion. I'll sprinkle a few #RNA2014 tweets between Bob's responses.

Q: For our readers unfamiliar with you, tell us a little about your journalism career and your background in religion writing. And catch us up on how your beloved Red Sox are doing after winning a third World Series title in 10 years last season.

A: I’ve had a pretty fun career. I wrote a weekly religion column in college then decided to go out and save the world by working at nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity. Turns out I was terrible at saving the world.

So, in my mid-30s, I became a writer instead. I started small — my first freelance religion story paid $35 — and then landed a job writing for a small religious magazine in Chicago called the Covenant Companion, where I stayed for eight years. One of my big breaks came in 2001, when I got the chance to spend a summer at Medill, studying religion writing with Roy Larson.

Eventually I became religion writer at The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville, which I loved. Spent six great years there. Now I write about research and church trends for Facts and Trends magazine here in Nashville.

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Forget black masses for a moment: Some journalists need to check facts on the Mass

Forget black masses for a moment: Some journalists need to check facts on the Mass

Truth be told, I have been sitting out the "black mass" media storms. I have no doubt that, for the ancient churches, we are dealing with sacrilege of the highest order. At the same time, I am very close to being a First Amendment absolutist and oppose blasphemy laws.

So why write about the following ABC News report (as run at Yahoo!) about the new brouhaha in Bible belt Oklahoma?

When you read the story, try to forget the whole black mass thing. Instead, focus on the facts in the story's material about the Catholic Mass itself. Just to keep things straight in some of these quotations, a key voice in this story is the leader of the devil-worshiping group, one Adam Daniels of Dakhma of Angra Mainyu.

The first strange reference is actually pretty mundate.

The upcoming event has generated controversy because black masses  mock Christianity and the rituals that make up their services but organizers see it as an integral part of their religion.

Yes, ignore that "Christianity" is singular and, thus, clashes with the plural reference -- "their services" -- a few words later.

Obviously, a black mass is offensive to all Christians, but that's almost beside the point. The dark rite mocks the belief of Catholics, and other ancient Christians, that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ during the Mass. The whole point is to desecrate what has been consecrated. 

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Covering Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam: How peaceful is his 'Peace Train'?

Covering Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam: How peaceful is his 'Peace Train'?

Cat Stevens soothed ears and gained fans with his boyish grin, light humor and lyrical songs like Moonshadow, Wild World and Peace Train. At least until 1977, when he converted, renamed himself Yusuf Islam and dropped out of popular music.

But over the last decade, he's eased back into performance and has just announced a new musical tour, "Peace Train ... Late Again," in North America and Europe. The coverage thus far is not quite a train wreck, but it does miss a chance to examine the freight: the intolerance that once prodded him to recommend Salman Rushdie's death.

Most news media have seemed to rely on the Associated Press story, which deals mostly with Stevens' "unhurried music career." They note his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this spring, as well as his upcoming blues album, his first studio album in five years.

They tend to sidetrack Cat's Islam-carnation, preferring to play up his witty, cheery ballads. The BBC notes that he even popularized a "Christian hymn," Morning Has Broken.

Among the few stories that even hint at controversy is the Washington Post's version of the AP story:

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Concerning Pope Francis, 'trial marriages' and poorly covered media rites

Concerning Pope Francis, 'trial marriages' and poorly covered media rites

When covering major events that are directly linked to the liturgical work and authority of the pope, it never hurts to spend some time reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In this case, let's look at the material found at this reference point: Paragraph 2391 -- IV. Offenses Against the Dignity of Marriage.

Some today claim a “right to a trial marriage” where there is an intention of getting married later. However firm the purpose of those who engage in premature sexual relations may be, “the fact is that such liaisons can scarcely ensure mutual sincerity and fidelity in a relationship between a man and a woman, nor, especially, can they protect it from inconstancy of desires or whim.” 184 Carnal union is morally legitimate only when a definitive community of life between a man and woman has been established. Human love does not tolerate “trial marriages.” It demands a total and definitive gift of persons to one another. 185 (2364)

Now, with that in mind, let's look at some important -- yes, rather picky -- issues of verb tense in the mainstream news coverage of that remarkable wedding rite that took place at the Vatican.

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Tales from the crypt: NYTimes reports on Sheen body battle

Tales from the crypt: NYTimes reports on Sheen body battle

The New York Times took its time getting around to the news that broke Sept. 3 concerning the dispute over the remains of saint-in-the-making Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, but Sharon Otterman's story that went online yesterday is worth the wait.

Otterman, the Times' Metro religion reporter begins with a soft lead before getting to the, ahem, body of the story:

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Peoria, Ill., has already constructed a museum in honor of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, a native son whose Emmy-winning television show during the 1950s brought Catholicism to the American living room. It has documented several potential miracles by him and compiled a dossier on his good works for the Vatican.

It has drawn up blueprints for an elaborate shrine in its main cathedral to house his tomb and sketched out an entire devotional campus it hopes to complete when its campaign to have him declared the first American-born male saint succeeds.

There has been just one snag in the diocese’s carefully laid veneration plans: the matter of Archbishop Sheen’s body.

We are then given some straight-up details: Peoria Bishop Daniel R. Jenky recently announced that the effort to canonize Sheen -- who was nearing beatification -- is being stalled because Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, refused to permit his body to be released from its crypt at St. Patrick's Cathedral.

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Guess who's making headlines in Detroit: Could it be SATAN!?

Guess who's making headlines in Detroit: Could it be SATAN!?

This is the headline atop the latest Satanist feature in the Detroit Free Press:

It's Satanist vs. Satanist in Detroit's newest political tug-of-war

I don't know about you, but I'm clicking that link.

But after doing so, here's my question for the Free Press headline writer: Is this really a political story? As much we might like to condemn all politicians to hell (kidding, mostly), isn't this actually a religion story — or given the subject of the debate, a non-religion story?

Let's start at the top:

A new Satanic religious group that debuted in Detroit this month already has encountered outspoken opposition: other Satanists.
The Rev. Tom Erik Raspotnik, 49, of Oxford decries the Satanic Temple’s atheism and progressive ideals. He said his Temples of Satan honors the deity of Satan, and he and others with him are pro-life and believe in animal sacrifices.
“I would be like a tea party Satanist,” Raspotnik said, adding that he has participated in tea party events, but that people at the events might not have known he worships Satan.

Later, a Norwegian expert on Satanism quoted by the Free Press suggests that the Satanic Temple folks underplay the Satan aspect and focus on atheism and free speech/religion issues.

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Fried-chicken wars: How much should Christianity mix with commerce?

Fried-chicken wars: How much should Christianity mix with commerce?

MICHAEL-ANN ASKS:

Businesses like Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A overtly follow Christian principles and thus promote Christianity. Is it profitable for them to have this ‘brand,’ or do you think the CEOs have some deeper evangelical goal?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

These two remarkable corporations are the largest in the U.S. that operate on an explicitly “Christian” basis, and both have been in the news lately.

The Hobby Lobby craft store chain won U.S. Supreme Court approval June 30 of the religious right to avoid the new federal mandate to fund certain birth control methods the owners consider tantamount to abortion.

Sept. 8 brought the death of S. Truett Cathy, billionaire founder of the Chick-fil-A fast-food empire. His New York Times obituary said that to some he was “a symbol of intolerance” and “hate.” Such journalistic labeling stemmed from Cathy’s son and successor Dan criticizing same-sex marriage on biblical grounds in 2012. Afterward, the firm cut donations to groups that back traditional marriage. No-one claimed Chick-fil-A discriminates against gays in hiring or customer service.

With both companies, Christian commitment is accompanied by prosperity, and the question suggests their religious image may be calculated for “profitable” advantage. 

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In the bloody Middle East, journalists must strive to use accurate labels

In the bloody Middle East, journalists must strive to use accurate labels

At first glance, there would seem to be little connection between the two items that I want to spotlight in this post. The connecting thread is that, every now and then, people in the public square (including journalists) need to be more careful when assigning labels to some of the key players.

So what happened in the Breitbart headline pictured above -- since taken down -- linked to the speech by Sen. Ted Cruz at the recent "In Defense of Christians" conference, an event focusing, in particular, on the brutally oppressed ancient churches of the Holy Land. Surf a few links in this online search to catch up on this media storm on the political and cultural right.

It's a complicated news story, one that hits home for me because of the years I spent in a majority-Arab Eastern Orthodox parish. Trust me when I say that I understand that some Arab Christians are anti-Israel and I have met some who sometimes veer all the way into anti-Semitism. I understand that some focus their anger on Israel, since it's hopeless to curse the radical forms of Islam that have, over decades and centuries, have inflicted so much pain on their families and communities. I understand that some of the Christians who heard Cruz praise Israel, in the bluntest possible terms, were offended. Read the details and make up your own mind.

Now look at that headline. 

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