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‘American Ninja Warrior’: Meet the ‘Papal Ninja’


One of the better reality shows for families is NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior,” and this season, it’s also a great show for Catholics.

Based on a Japanese format, “ANW” pits incredibly fit and dedicated contestants against an elaborately constructed obstacle course that changes each time they compete on it. If they survive the preliminary rounds without fouling or falling, contestants face more rounds, on their way to the finals course — called Mount Midoriyama — in Las Vegas, and a $1 million prize (only for the winner; everyone else goes home empty-handed).

While few people will be in the shape or have the motivation to compete in something as challenging as “ANW,” it teaches lessons about rewards for hard work, courage and perseverance. The way the show is edited, it also emphasizes competitors’ personal lives, especially difficulties they overcome, and their connections with friends and family.

The show has also shown itself to be faith-friendly, with no effort made to downplay the beliefs of Christian competitors.

In the the Los Angeles qualifying rounds — you can watch the whole episode here — which aired on Wednesday, June 1, Californian Sean Bryan, who calls himself the “Papal Ninja,” completed the course and will move on to the next round, the “City Finals.”

On his Facebook page, here’s how he describes himself:

Cal Physics GYMNAST turned NINJA with an MA in Theology. Dominican by education & Salesian at heart. Works to animate the sleeping giant of Catholic laity.

And here’s how he’s described at

Curriculum Team,Development Team,Project Director

Sean is the Lay Mission Project Director and curriculum team member. Sean received his bachelor’s of arts degree at UC Berkeley, where he studies physics and was on the men’s gymnastics team. After graduation, he spent four years in various Salesian ministerial settings while discerning his vocation. In 2015 Sean completed his Master of Arts in Theology with a Salesian Studies concentration at the Dominican School of Phillosophy & Theology. His Masters thesis analyzed the ecclesiology inherent to documents of the Second Vatican Council, and proposes the Scriptural notion of liturgy as an interpretive lens that elucidates the relationship between formal ritual worship and its integrated expression in everyday life. His exploration led to practical applications geared toward the animation of the faithful, including the Lay Mission Project itself.

Sean is also known for his participation in the NBC show American Ninja Warrior, where he has taken on the identity of the Papal Ninja, stealthily accomplishing the mission of the One who sent him on a mission to the secular realm.


He’s also a pretty amazing athlete. Take a look (he’s the second contestant featured, after “Abs McGee,” as the Yahoo! host calls him:

And here’s what “American Ninja Warrior’s” official Twitter had to say:


There’s no way to know how far Bryan can go, but for now, he’s honoring the yellow-and-white Vatican colors. Go Papal Ninja!

Image: Courtesy NBC

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects

The Pope Uses Instagram to Reach Out to Belgium Terror Victims

Franciscus-InstagramPope Emeritus Benedict XVI launched the papacy on Twitter in early December 2012, and starting in March 2013, Pope Francis launched it into the social-media stratosphere.

Curently, @Pontifex boasts over 26M followers on all the various accounts in different languages, with 8.49M on the English account alone.

Then, a couple of days go, the pope — known for taking selfies with fans — has launched an account on the visually oriented Instagram app. The account, under Franciscus — which already has nearly 2M followers — is headlined with this quote:

“I want to walk with you along the way of God’s mercy and tenderness.”

Today (March 21), the the second video was posted (the first depicts the pontiff launching the account on a tablet). It reaches out to the victims of the March 22 Islamist terror attack on an airport and subway in Brussels, Belgium, for which the pope has already offered prayers, saying:

To all, I ask that you persevere in prayer and in asking the Lord in this Holy Week to comfort the hearts of the afflicted and to convert the hearts of those people taken in by cruel fundamentalism.

Click here to watch it.


Right now, Franciscus isn’t following anyone else on Instagram — but it’ll be big news if that happens (especially if it’s FamilyTheaterProds).

Image: Franciscus Official Instagram account

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.

Hey Father, “Wake up. You’re on Candid Camera.”


With more and more Masses being televised and live streamed, some priests and bishops may need reminding that we, the faithful, are watching from the pews if not from our screens.  Bored looks and distracting behaviors may seem invisible in big events, but cameras highlight them.

Last week, I was reminded of this when I tuned in to the live webcast of the ordination of the three new bishops in Los Angeles.   I did not get a ticket to the event so I watched from my computer at Family Theater Productions.  I was struck by the facial expressions and the body language of some of the clergy.

If you have been to an ordination (whether it is a deacon, priest or bishop) you may recall the beautiful part in the middle of the ceremony called the Litany of the Saints. The soon-to-be ordained lay prostrate on the ground facing the altar and the people all kneel. It is powerful to watch fully grown men laying face down in the Church at the foot of the altar.  During this time, the choir chants a series of saints’ name:  e.g. “St. Joseph” and the people respond “Pray for us”.  The community in heaven and on earth together give their prayers together for the soon-to-be ordained and all the people their ministry will affect.

As I looked at the bishops and priests, in the live stream broadcast last week, I was saddened to see how many of the bishops and priests looked bored, uncomfortable, tired and distracted. Now, I am not saying that they were, but just how they looked.

With the new technology of broadcasting Mass on the internet, we get to see everything more closely than even in person. I have a feeling that these priests and bishops would have sat up a little straighter and been much more cognizant of their posture and body language if they could see what I was seeing on camera.   For many people watching on-line, this might be their first experience of Mass this is and we ought to take advantage of the evangelical moment.

I admire the priests in my life and encourage them all to be aware of what their non-verbal language in the sanctuary communicates.  After all, the presider at Mass acts as a model for the laity. Whether it be singing, praying, or listening, the presider is your first cue at how to reverently and joyfully celebrate the Mass-our greatest prayer to God and God’s greatest gift to us.

Thank you to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for live webcasting the ordination of our 3 new bishops.  Please Fathers, mind the camera and the people, who with the saints in heaven, the congregation in the pews and the people on-line who will be watching.

An Artist’s Energy Must be Channeled for Positive Good


A young man painted these pictures and hoped to be accepted in one of the great art schools of his region.

He served in the military, but always carried his paints.


He applied to art schools and was repeatedly rejected.  He was crushed.  He never became an artist.


He was Adolph Hitler.  You know what he became instead.

What if his heart and talents had been channeled into art?  Better a mediocre artist than a monstrous dictator.

Thanks to Daniel Williams and to Phil Rafferty who made me aware of this story.


On April 15, 2013, every Major League Baseball player donned a jersey with the number ’42’ on the back in honor of Jackie Robinson. This past weekend, the movie “42” made its debut in theaters around the country. It out-performed every other film at the box office just as Jackie Robinson out-performed every other rookie in 1947 to be selected ‘Rookie of the Year.’ That was the year too when Robinson singhandedly broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. It’s hard to believe now but until in 1947 MLB was an all white sport. The Brooklyn Dodgers owner, Branch Rickey, gets credit for signing Robinson and sticking by this courageous man when abuse and verbal trash were heaped upon him by fans at home and away.

In this film, writer/director Brian Helgelend presents the rookie season of Jackie Robinson’s brilliant career and that is all. The film is straightforward and a moving tribute to Mr. Robinson’s courage and restraint. Branch Rickey, who owned the Brooklyn Dodgers, said to Robinson, “I know you have the guts to fight back, what I do not know is whether you have the guts not to fight back.”  He means, not to fight back when you are taunted with racial slurs, cursing and trash talking by racist fans, fellow players and managers. Robinson had the guts not to fight back and in so doing paved the way for Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe and black and brown players. Like Gandhi and Martin Luther King’ Jr, he refused to be brought down to the level of his tormentors.

This delightful film is rated PG-13 for the language and racism in portrays in post World War II America. Mrs. Rachel Robinson was at Dodger Stadium Monday night along with Magic Johnson to pay homage to her late husband and a genuine American hero. Young Mr. Chadwick Boseman, who played Jackie Robinson in the film, has a promising career in prospect. But it is hard to imagine his ever having a more noble character to portray on film. Harrison Ford has come a long way since Stars Wars. Both actors give worthy performances that may be noticed by the Oscar voters later this coming year. Both characters are Methodists who take their faith in God seriously. I would want teens and young adults in particular see this very fine film.