Updating Our Image

The other day I was watching television and I saw an incredible commercial promoting vocations. With triumphant music in the background and images of courage and selflessness, the narrator spoke:

There are a few who move toward the sounds of chaos, ready to respond at a moment’s notice. And when the time comes they are the first towards the sounds of tyranny, injustice, and despair. They are forged in the crucible of training.

Which way would you run?

I was amazed at how powerful the commercial’s message was and how it moved me to want to do something important, something radical, something to make the world a better place.

When I thought about it, another commercial came to my mind. Similar to the one before, triumphant music played as a video montage showed people making great sacrifices for others, going where they would never had thought they would go, and doing so in the context of a living fraternity. The narrator spoke:

The call to serve, it has no sound, yet I have heard it. In the whispered retelling of honorable sacrifices made by those who have served before me. The call to serve has no form, yet I have clearly seen it. In the eyes of men and women infinitely more courageous and more driven than most. The call to serve has no weight, yet I have held it in my hands.

I will commit to carry it closely in my heart until my country is safe and the anguish of those less fortunate has been soothed. The call to serve is at once invisible and always present, and for those who choose to answer the call for their fellow man, for themselves, it is the most powerful force on earth.

Given the powerful message of these two commercials, as well as their high production costs, it’s no wonder that the two Orders that produced them have been wildly successful in recent years at recruiting new members; young men sign up in such great number that many are turned way. Clearly, the opportunity to serve others by doing something self-sacrificing and noble, the thrill of doing something radical and counter-cultural, and the sense of belonging in being a part of a life-long fraternity, are things that young men are looking for.

Unfortunately, the two “Orders” that are promoting such a “vocation” are the United States Marine Corps and the United States Navy. In almost all of their commercials, the focus is less on the brutality and violence one would expect and more on the bond of brotherhood, the sense of honor in building something greater than self, the selfless act of protecting those in need, and the ways in which one is challenged to be a better person. These two major branches of the military know how to recruit men to do something dangerous and life-changing, and they’re doing it with OUR message. 

Like all companies, we need to be able to adapt our public image if we are to remain relevant.

Like all companies, we need to be able to adapt our public image if we are to remain relevant.

I have to say that this bothers me a bit. It bothers me, not that the Marines or Navy have creatively tapped into a man’s (or woman’s) inherent desire to be a part of something greater than self, but that we as a church have failed to do so ourselves. Why haven’t we been able to brand ourselves in this way, to market the Church and a vocation within it as an empowering and noble thing to do? Why do does almost every vocation brochure or church pamphlet exclusively show pictures of friars and sisters piously praying the rosary in their habit inside of a quiet church? It’s not a bad image, don’t misinterpret what I’m saying, but it’s only small part of who we (religious and Catholics in general) are, and it leaves so much of what it could mean to be a practicing Catholic, not the least of which is fun.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we hired a professional ad agency to rebrand and re-market the Church for the 21st century?” What would it take to attract the best and brightest, the young professionals and entrepreneurs, the ones with the greatest work ethic and the power to move the Church? This is not naivety I assure you: I know that a simple ad campaign is not the only reason that the armed forces are recruiting men and know that there are serious issues of commitment and secularism in our culture that a new brand image are not going to magically fix. But at the same time, there are good men and women out there with a great sense of belonging, looking for something noble to do, that have been turned off by the Church based on popular depictions alone. When this happens to companies like Walmart, Apple, and McDonald’s, they don’t change their product, they change their image. We have an INCREDIBLE product. Let’s do something about our image.

How cool would it be if we, the Catholic Church, could dedicate the sort of resources that the evangelical churches have into movies and music, but in our case, do it with deeper messages than the “me and Jesus,” overly dramatic and corny conversion story with no artistic value? How about a movie in which the Church, realizing that its charity has enabled dictators to abuse the masses for centuries, goes on strike, shutting down all of its hospitals, soup kitchens, church pantries, and social services? Think of the social/political themes, the moral dilemmas, the conflicts. If we’re feeling a little less ambitious at first, how about just getting some priests, brothers, and sisters in quality secular movies that are more than just caricatures or jokes? A popular character can go a long way to changing public opinion for the better. In terms of music, and I know this sounds crazy, what about a Christian song that uses “we” instead of “me” and focuses on the Jesus suffering in the street not just the Jesus that makes me feel warm inside? Still too ambitious? Heck, I would love to see someone with a Mac and a camera rip off the audio to the Marine commercial and replace the video with pictures or videos from their church. How sweet would that be? (But really, does someone want to help me on a project like that?)

The possibilities are endless and surely better than the ideas I can come up, but the need is real: we as a Church, we as Franciscans, have incredible message to share, and the resources and sense of quality art to package it well. Let’s use them and let’s modernize our message. A pious friar praying the rosary in his habit is a beautiful image, but it cannot be the only image we use if we are to attract people of the 21st century.

The road ahead may be tough, even chaotic:

There are a few who move toward the sounds of chaos, ready to respond at a moment’s notice. And when the time comes they are the first towards the sounds of tyranny, injustice, and despair. They are forged in the crucible of training.

Which way would you run?

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16 Comments on “Updating Our Image

  1. Keep open to the Holy Spirit moving in you, Casey! The Church needs young minds like yours to come up with more ways to reach out to the youth of our world. Many just don’t get it – I believe you’re on to something. We need to be an army for Christ – all of us using the gifts and talents God gave us to make this world a better place – and to make sure that everyone we love (and don’t love) makes it to heaven. We need new ways to reach out to your generation (and mine). Come, Holy Spirit, Come!

  2. Casey, have you read “Franciscan Readings’ edited by Marion A. Habig, OFM? It is a great book of 31 groups of three readings: 1. from the epistles, 2. from the gospels and 3. from a Franciscan source. Each triplet of readings is on a specific topic. The book provides a great short summary of Franciscan spirituality. It was originally published as “Vitam Alere” by Fr. Angelo Orduna. It was originally printed at the Portiuncula in Assisi. “. . . and published ‘pro manuscripto’ by the General Curia of the Order of Friars Minor in Rome in 1977.” The English edition was published in 1979. “This little paper-back book (152 pages) suggests a series of spiritual readings for a period of thirty-one days, three for each day.”

    Unfortunately, it is currently out of print. However, used copies are available from a number of sources including Amazon.com. Amazon’s prices start at $10.89 for copies which are rated, “Very Good.”

  3. Casey, have you read “Franciscan Readings’ edited by Marion A. Habig, OFM? It is a great book of 31 groups of three readings: 1. from the epistles, 2. from the gospels and 3. from a Franciscan source. Each triplet of readings is on a specific topic. The book provides a great short summary of Franciscan spirituality. It was originally published as “Vitam Alere” by Fr. Angelo Orduna. It was originally printed at the Portiuncula in Assisi. “. . . and published ‘pro manuscripto’ by the General Curia of the Order of Friars Minor in Rome in 1977.” The English edition was published in 1979. “This little paper-back book (152 pages) suggests a series of spiritual readings for a period of thirty-one days, three for each day.”

    Unfortunately, it is currently out of print. However, used copies are available from a number of sources including Amazon.com. Amazon’s prices start at $10.89 for copies which are rated, “Very Good.”

    Casey, if you send me your address, I will send you a copy.

    Emil

    • The book was intended for all Franciscans, first, second and third orders regular and secular.

  4. Casey,

    God Bless you in your vocational journey. I have to disagree with you on one point, though. hear me out. The Church does not need gimmicky marketing or flashy graphics to attract vocations and inspire people to serve God. Our traditions have done this quite well for the past two thousand years. Yes, we should use modern media for evangelization.

    The Church is the solid rock. The unchanging shelter in a world torn apart by the seductions of our time. We need to spread the truth. The Church as the bride of Christ doesn’t need “updating” or “rebranding” modernism is a heresy, afterall, as defined by Pope St. Pius X. And a danger to the faith.
    In my experience in ministry the young are increasingly attracted to tradition. There is great interest in the extraordinary form of the mass.

    Again, you may not agree, but at least have a look at this vocational video:
    http://fssp.org/en/olgsvideo.htm

    All the Best!!

    • Thank you for reading and sharing your comments. I have two things in response:

      1) The “gimmicky marketing” and “flashy graphics” you speak of are the very things I am writing against. I’m tired of the cheap images and clichéd dialog of popular “Christian” media. What I’m calling for is a continuation of good, Catholic art that has always existed in the church, by using a contemporary medium.

      2) An attack on Modernity is not an attack on the new or forward thinking. Modernity refers to an overarching philosophical discipline, one that puts the self before God; it is not referring to “new ways of thinking.” That is a misunderstanding of the the texts. We must remember what the Second Vatican Council, the highest form of authority in the church, called for: an attention to the signs of the time.

      Rebranding is not a change in product. Our product is good. What we need to work on is how we “sell” that product.

      • Casey,
        I agree that the Franciscans have a great deal to offer the world, and that there are ways to present these ideas in a modern fashion. Perhaps I can help.
        -Ben

      • Hey Ben,

        Thanks for reading and responding. What sort of skills could you offer and where do you live in the country? Do you live near our friars?

        Casey

  5. Casey,
    I’m a photojournalist working on my Master’s Thesis in Washington DC. Perhaps we could meet for a chat?¿
    -Ben

  6. Casey, there are at least a few orders of Catholic women who are quite successful in recruiting vocations in the US that I think are reasonably modern and not ultra conservative. One of which I am certain is the Dominican Sister of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in Ann Arbor, MI. They are new, and are growing rapidly, annually attracting 300 applicants of which they accept only thirty. The vocations director advises some of the others to seek another community. Perhaps, it is a combination of their wearing a readily recognizable habit and their sole apostolate – teaching – which other communities have de-emphasized. Unfortunately, I can’t think of an order of men who are not ultra conservative who are enjoying such success.

    https://www.sistersofmary.org/mater-eucharistiae-info.html

    The second link is to Mother Assumpta Long’s 45 minute talk to the First Friday Club of Marquette, MI, at which she was introduced by the then bishop of the diocese. Alexander K. Sample. Mother Assumpta tells the story of the community of which she was one of the founders – very interesting.

    • Thank you for your examples Emil. We certainly need more examples of good vocations material, but I think what I’m asking for is a complete overhaul of our media relations. How can we put more effort into music, movies, art, and traditional media?

      • Casey, I agree with the need. We would probably need to engage a media consultant. We definitely need a better message.

        One question about an earlier post – your first 24 hours in Camden: Do the friars usually pray the Dominican rosary or the Franciscan Crown?

      • Emil, I have to say that neither devotion is very popular among our friars, but there are friars that will pray both.

  7. Casey,
    That would be quite nice. Perhaps in the mean time we could communicate via email?
    Send me a note?
    -Ben

  8. Casey, I’m surprised that the rosary is not a popular devotion among the friars. As you probably know, St. Francis was dedicated to the Blessed Mother. In fact, his favorite church or chapel was St Mary of the Angels.

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