Former “Bad Boy” Mark Wahlberg Speaking Out for His Catholic Faith

Today, June 5, is the 46th birthday of actor and producer Mark Wahlberg, a Catholic and, like all of us, a work in progress.

In his youth, he committed crimes and acts of violence and served time in jail for them. As a rapper and actor, his music and roles have often employed foul language, overt sexuality and violence. He was also an underwear model.

But if a repentant thief crucified next to Christ could find his way into the kingdom, there is hope for us all.

In recent years, Wahlberg publicly recommitted to his Catholic faith and married longtime girlfriend Rhea Durham — at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Beverly Hills, where he has been a regular Mass attendee. Their children also attend a Catholic school.

While not all of his movies are family fare, he was a star and producer for “Deepwater Horizon,” the film about the 2010 explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and “Patriots Day,” about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Both of these films celebrated the heroism of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.

He’s also spoken out publicly about the difference returning to the Church as made in his life.

From 2012, on Piers Morgan’s now-defunct CNN talk show:

As the Master of Ceremonies for the World Meeting of Families festival in 2015, during Pope Francis’ visit to America …

He also had to make a little apology to Pope Francis for his raunchy movie, “Ted” …

And from 2016, a viral video calling for vocations to the priesthood, and talking about what priests have meant to him …

We all make mistakes, sometimes terrible ones, and when you become a public figure, there’s no escaping your past. But if the best use of fame is to help others, Wahlberg is making good use of his celebrity to show what repentance and redemption can mean.

Happy Birthday, Mark!

Image: Courtesy Amazon Prime

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

5 for First Friday: Family-Friendly Viewing for June — ‘American Girl,’ ‘Funderdome,’ ‘Free Willy’

It’s the First Friday of the month, so we’re spotlighting some family friendly viewing options for June.

“An American Girl Story: Summer Camp, Friends for Life”: An Amazon Original Special premiering on Prime Video on June 8, this “American Girl” story follows the characters Z, Paz and Drew. Their friendship is cemented at S.T.E.A.M. (science, technology, engineering, art, math) camp when they find themselves working together to solve a summer mystery, without the help of smartphones or computers. The story encourages the kind of problem solving and perseverance vital to the academic success of young women in a fun way that will engage girls.

“Steve Harvey’s FUNDERDOME”: Based on the success of “Shark Tank,” ABC is hoping for another hit with this summer series, also from producer Mark Burnett, which helps contestants to chase the American dream. Premiering Sunday, June 11, “FUNDERDOME” is a seed-funding competition show where two hopeful entrepreneurs face off to win over a live studio audience. The prize? Financing of their ideas, products or companies.

In each of the 13 episodes, the audience will represent the “customer” and votes to determine the winner. After each round, and before host Steve Harvey reveals the results of the crowd’s majority vote, the entrepreneurs will be given a choice to cash out and walk away for a lesser amount. But if an entrepreneur cashes out, they forgo the opportunity to win the whole cash prize – a good move if they lost the crowd vote, but a bad move if they would have won it.

“Charlotte’s Web”: Available on Amazon Prime, the 1973 animated classic, based on E.B. White’s children’s book, follows Wilbur the pig, who worries about reaching the end of the season when he knows he’ll likely end up on someone’s dinner table. But a wise and sweet spider named Charlotte promises to spin a web that will save young Wilbur from his otherwise inevitable fate. The 2006 live-action version, starring Dakota Fanning, is also available, on Hulu.

“Free Willy”: In keeping with the animal-lover theme, this 1993 feature film, available on Amazon Prime, follows a young boy in foster care who bonds with an orca in captivity and does everything possible to save the whale and set him free. Its sequels, “Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home” and “Free Willy 3: The Rescue,” are available on Hulu.

“Battle of the Network Stars”: In a revival of the popular competition series that aired in the 1970s and ’80s, MMA fighter Ronda Rousey and NFL star DeMarcus Ware are the captains of rotating teams made up of 100 television stars from 14 different network and cable companies. Premiering June 29 on ABC, the summer series allows offers celebrities competing in events such as swimming, running, basketball-dunking and obstacle courses.

As in the original, the competition is held at Pepperdine University, on the shores of the Pacific Ocean in Malibu, California.

It may be an old concept, but one that families can always enjoy together.

Here’s a peek at the original, including Lynda Carter, the original “Wonder Woman”:

Korbi is a former full-time TV blogger, writing for sites such as E! Online and Yahoo!. She is now a full-time mom of twin boys. In her free time, she moonlights as a Marriage, Family & Individual Therapist.

Image: Courtesy Amazon Prime

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

Protecting Kids (and Their Souls) in a Media/Digital World

While parents are rightly concerned what their kids see on television or hear in school, every laptop, tablet and smartphone opens a door to a digital world where the best and worst of humanity is on view.

There is software to help parents filter what their children can see — click here for a current rundown of top offerings, via PC Magazine — but social media especially opens up risks of trolling and cyberbullying, and may allow child predators to target potential victims.

How is the Church Helping Protect Kids in the Digital World?

This coming October, the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome is host for a congress called “Child Dignity in the Digital World.”

From Vatican Radio:

Spearheaded and hosted by the University’s Center for Child Protection headed by Prof. Hans Zollner SJ, the congress entitled “Child Dignity in the Digital World” will examine new forms of abuse children can be subjected to in the digital world, and discuss the risks and challenges of the digital age and its impact on the dignity of children.

The congress foresees the participation of global scientific and technical experts and decision makers, and aims to promote appropriate action.

The International event will take place from 3 to 6 October in partnership with WePROTECT Global Alliance. At the end of the congress a declaration will be presented to Pope Francis who is scheduled to receive the participants in audience.

Although hazards to children abound online, a lot of responsibility lies with those who create content, and those whose job it is to curate content, including parents and teachers. Even if they’re kept away from a TV screen, in many families, it’s extremely difficult to protect innocent young eyes from images on social media.

What Does Pope Francis Have to Say About Digital Communication?

A lot of what’s televised and posted online does no good for adults, either.

In his recent address for the 51st World Communications Day in January, Pope Francis spoke directly to content creators, appealing to the better angels of their nature:

I would like, then, to contribute to the search for an open and creative style of communication that never seeks to glamorize evil but instead to concentrate on solutions and to inspire a positive and responsible approach on the part of its recipients. I ask everyone to offer the people of our time storylines that are at heart “good news.”

What Can Parents and Parishes Do?

Along with commercial filtering programs, fellow Catholics can help each other find great, faith-affirming family content. Here’s one great resource, “Strong Catholic Family Faith,” formed with the help of experts from the dioceses of Jefferson City, Missouri; San Jose, California; St. Petersburg, Florida; and Joliet, Illinois.

CatholicFamilyFaith.org: As described, “The Strong Catholic Family Faith website has been created to assist parish and school leaders in finding the best and most relevant content and experiences for developing faith-filled Catholic families.  All of these resources have been selected and reviewed by the Project Team and drawn from trusted sources.”

The site offers media resources (including reviews), faith practices, the liturgical calendar, parent and grandparent formation, information on the sacraments, and leadership training and other initiatives for adults and youth.

It’s impressive.

Here’s one of the videos:

Image: Courtesy Pixabay

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

Beloved ‘A Christmas Story’ to Be a Live Musical on Fox

This December, Fox is responding to a live musical version of “Bye Bye Birdie” on NBC (starring Jennifer Lopez) with a musical production based on the 1983 cult classic film “A Christmas Story,” and “A Christmas Story: The Musical,” its 2012 Broadway adaptation.

While it’s not a strictly faith-centric story, “A Christmas Story” — which gets marathon airings each year on TBS — is widely considered a great family film. If you watch it on DVD, though, you may get some strong language that you won’t get in the TBS version.

Here’s what the USCCB had to say about it:

Adapted from Jean Shepherd’s nostalgic piece of whimsy, “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash,” the movie re-creates what it was like to be a boy (Peter Billingsley) yearning for a genuine Red Ryder air rifle for Christmas in the Midwest of the 1940s.  Director Bob Clark gets some good performances from Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon as the understanding parents and the period atmosphere is nicely conveyed win what is essentially a warm celebration of a more innocent, less sophisticated America.  A few vulgar syllables.

Among the executive producers of Fox’s musical version is Marc Platt, who won an Emmy for Fox’s “Grease Live” musical in January 2016, and was an executive producer on the hit movie musical “La La Land.”

Says Warner Horizon Unscripted and Alternative Television president Mike Darnell (who was a driving force behind “American Idol” during his years at Fox), via The Hollywood Reporter:

“I can’t believe how incredibly lucky we are to have Marc Platt producing this iconic Christmas classic. Marc is the defining voice in this genre and it’s amazing to have this caliber of talent leading what is sure to be a new standard in live musical events.”

Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who wrote lyrics to “City of Stars,” the Academy Award-winning  song from “La La Land,” and also scored “A Christmas Story: The Musical,” will add new songs to the live TV version, with Jonathan Tolins and Robert Cary adapting the story.

In the battle of the holiday-themed musicals, “A Christmas Story” follows NBC’s earlier announcement, reported here, of a live TV production of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” airing on Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018.

Image: Adapted from the original movie logo (not the new musical’s logo).

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

John Wayne and Steve McQueen: Finding Faith at the End

Hollywood stars John Wayne and Steve McQueen apparently found new faith — and not a moment too soon.

Friday, May 26, is the birthday of Wayne, born Marion Robert Morrison in Winterset, Iowa, in 1907. He died on June 11, 1979, at the age of 72, from stomach cancer (after surviving lung cancer).

He was baptized a Presbyterian, but he married three Catholic women, and his children and grandchildren were raised Catholic (we know the first wife never remarried after the divorce and continued to pray for Wayne’s conversion).

One grandson, Father Matthew Munoz, is a priest in the Diocese of Orange in Southern California.

Because of his spouses, Wayne moved in Catholic circles and became good friends in Los Angeles with Archbishop Tomas Clavel. But, he still didn’t become Catholic.

But, as told in an article at ChurchPop:

Then, in 1979, as he was dying of cancer and surrounded by his family in his home, he finally decided to join the Catholic Church. He requested for Archbishop Clavel to come to his house, but he was too ill to come, and so another archbishop in the diocese was sent.

Wayne was received into the Catholic Church and then died just two days later.

Why did he wait until his deathbed to convert? His grandson explained that Wayne was regretful about not becoming a Catholic sooner, blaming “a busy life.”

That other archbishop was Archbishop Mark McGrath, C.S.C., of Panama City, Panama, a member of the Holy Cross Order — which also operates Holy Cross Family Ministries and its subsidiary, Family Theater Productions.

I contacted Father Willy Raymond, President of HCFM and former head of FTP, to ask about Wayne, since there is a parking spot for him in the lot at the FTP offices on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.

While Fr. Willy — as he’s widely known from his years in Los Angeles — doesn’t believe that Wayne ever worked for Family Theater Productions or its founder, Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C., but his “The Quiet Man” co-star Maureen O’Hara did (and she also has a parking space, as does fellow Catholic and “Quiet Man” director John Ford).

Fr. Willy wrote back:

I had a long conversation with Maureen O’Hara, who said that she loved John Wayne and loved working with him. He was always a perfect gentleman, always well-prepared.

There was never anything inappropriate in their relationship, but she said one of the great joys of her life was working with John Wayne on “The Quiet Man.”

He added that Wayne’s son, Michael Wayne, was a regular donor to the Angelus Student Film Festival, which FTP used to run, and that he was a member of a Catholic parish in the San Fernando Valley.

Now, although Wayne came into the Catholic Church on his deathbed, he was already a Christian.

The same can’t be said of the late conversion of actor Steve McQueen, who died of malignant mesothelioma in Mexico in 1980 at the age of 50.

As related in the upcoming book, “Steve McQueen: The Salvation of an American Icon,” coming out on June 13, Southern California Evangelical preacher Greg Laurie (co-author with McQueen expert Marshall Terrill) relates that McQueen had a dramatic conversion experience near the end of his life.

From The Christian Post:

The book includes interviews conducted by Terrill and Laurie with people who were close to McQueen and can attest to his spiritual transformation, such as McQueen’s widow, Barbi, the pastor of McQueen’s church, McQueen’s flight instructor and even a metabolic technician who served McQueen in the days leading up to his death.

“There was a statement that McQueen made, which was, ‘My only regret in life was that I was not able to tell others about what Jesus Christ did for me,'” Laurie said, quoting what McQueen had told Pastor Leonard DeWitt of Ventura Missionary Church before he died.

“I thought, that’s a wrong that needs to be righted,” Laurie added.

According to the book, McQueen began asking profound questions about the reliability of the Bible and the nature of Christianity, with the help of his pastor, a flying instructor and a stuntman friend.

McQueen met with renowned evangelist Dr. Billy Graham in his last days. The book relates how his son, Chad McQueen, found his father holding tight to the Bible that Graham had given him, and that it was with him when he died.

Here’s a video of Laurie discussing McQueen’s conversion at an Evangelical event last year:

God works in His own way and in His own time. Of course, it’s better to come to the realization of faith as soon as possible, but the last guest to the banquet is as welcome as the first.

Images: Flickr: Steve Avery (McQueen); Wikimedia Commons; Family Theater Productions/Kate O’Hare

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

‘American Ninja Warrior’: Good for Kids, Good for the Whole Family

Want a show to watch with the whole family, that might inspire kids to get off the couch and away from video games? Try “American Ninja Warrior,” airing this Thursday on NBC.

Once upon a time, there were secular comedies and dramas that the parents and kids sat down and watched together. Everyone was entertained; no one was scandalized. Those shows aren’t entirely gone, but increasingly they’re not scripted anymore.

One of the best unscripted mainstream-TV shows for Catholic families is NBC and Esquire Network’s “American Ninja Warrior.”

This competition series, based on a Japanese format, sees men and women vying together on a series of challenging obstacle courses, in hopes of advancing to the finals in Las Vegas. Along the way, the show profiles the often-inspiring personal lives of the contestants, spotlighting their hard work, dedication and perseverance.

Some of them have families, and they’re seen training with their kids, while many others are coaches for kids.

When contestants are people of faith, that isn’t entirely hidden.

Among them have been rabbinical student Akiva Neuman, the “Rabbi Ninja,” who competed in a kippa and a tzitzit; Christian Michelle Warnky, who stencils Bible verses on her leg; and perennial favorite and top competitor,  the “Ninja Weatherman,” a k a faithful Catholic Joe Moravsky (who’s also in “Team Ninja Warrior,” airing Tuesdays on NBC’s corporate sibling, USA Network).

I did an interview with him last year for the FFM blog. Here’s an excerpt:

I believe there is a link between athletic discipline and Faith. I always trust in God to provide the path for me … and my job is to be open to any changes (even if I might not like them). It’s hard but it’s important.

It says in your Twitter bio that God is #1 — how does that play out in daily life?

“God is #1” is important because it’s a reminder for me (and my fans) to put God first … especially in times of need!

There’s also Sean Bryan, the “Papal Ninja,” who competes for the glory of God and the Catholic Church. We talked to him at an event this past winter, and expect to see that video right around the time of the new-season premiere on Monday, June 12, at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

Here’s a quote from an earlier, extensive interview I did with Bryan, published at my Pax Culturati blog at Patheos:

I see the role of all laypeople as that of a papal ninja.

In an analogical sense, think of what a ninja is: a gifted person who stealthily helps to accomplish the mission of the one who sent him. Laypeople are likewise called by Christ to partake in the secular mission of His Church by using their gifts to “work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven.” As such, I am called to simply be myself, and live out the Gospel faithfully in the “ordinary circumstances” of my life, which in this particular case includes trying my best to witness the faith quite publicly.

Personally, I like being behind the camera (filming and editing), but the words of John the Baptist are encouraging, so long as I take them to heart, “I must decrease, that he may increase” (Jn 3:30).

Paradoxically – which is often the case with our Lord – in this situation my decreasing involves being on broadcast television, and growing beyond the discomfort for the sake of my calling, so that He may increase.

You don’t, though, have to wait until June to see “American Ninja Warrior.” There’s a special episode on Thursday, May 25, as part of a night-long event to benefit “Red Nose Day.”

A fundraising campaign run by the nonprofit Comic Relief, Inc. — a registered U.S. 501(c)(3) public charity — “Red Nose Day” urges people to don red clown noses as part of a variety of events to raise funds to support children in need, both in the U.S. and around the world.

“American Ninja Warrior” is joining in.

From NBC:

In the first celebrity edition of “American Ninja Warrior,” nine brave stars will tackle the course, all in the name of charity.

Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbajabiamila serve as hosts, along with Kristine Leahy who co-hosts. The intrepid celebrity ninjas include Stephen Amell (“Arrow”), Erika Christensen (“Parenthood”), Jeff Dye (“Better Late Than Never”), two-time Olympic gold medalist Ashton Eaton, Nikki Glaser ( “Not Safe with Nikki Glaser”), Derek Hough (“World of Dance”), Natalie Morales (“TODAY” and “Access Hollywood”) former New York Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher (“Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge”) and Mena Suvari (“American Woman”).

Each of the celebrities will be paired with an elite ninja who serves as both coach and cheerleader — helping them prepare mentally and physically for their run.

From the Floating Steps to the Warped Wall, each of the celebs will have to face up to six challenging obstacles that call upon their upper body strength, agility and stamina.

The elite ninja advisers include fan favorites and National “finalists” Kevin Bull (coaching Ashton Eaton); Kacy Catanzaro (coaching Stephen Amell), Drew Drechsel (coaching Nick Swisher), Natalie Duran (coaching Mena Suvari), Daniel Gil (coaching Derek Hough), Jessie Graff (coaching Nikki Glaser), Grant McCartney (coaching Natalie Morales), Meagan Martin (coaching Jeff Dye) and Flip Rodriguez (coaching Erika Christensen).

“American Ninja Warrior” is executive-produced by A. Smith & Co. Productions’ founders Arthur Smith and Kent Weed along with Brian Richardson and Anthony Storm.

Also that night is “Running Wild With Bear Grylls for Red Nose Day,” featuring actress Julia Roberts on a trip to deliver life-saving vaccines in Africa; and “The Red Nose Day Special,” with host Chris Hardwick, featuring comedy, music and films about kids in need.

Before you choose to donate money to Red Nose Day, be aware that there has been controversy over it, especially in the U.K., where it began, concerning whether some of the charities supported were also involved in providing abortions (a charge Comic Relief has largely denied, irritating some political progressives.)

Anytime you’re dealing with a secular charity, it’s always a good idea to dig in a little bit and see exactly where the money goes … so, donor beware.

Images: Courtesy NBC

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.