The fact that Pope Francis hasn’t watched TV since 1990 made the news yesterday. According to Catholic News Agency, he said it stems from “a promise I made to the Virgin of Carmel on the night of July 15, 1990.” It sounds like there’s a backstory there that, for now, remains untold. Since he’s a sports lover, maybe he gave up TV as a sacrifice for a higher purpose?
Some may applaud the Pope’s decision because they see television as a cultural wasteland anyway. While it certainly can be that, it doesn’t have to be. The reason The Christophers’ founder Father James Keller started the Christopher Awards, for instance, is because he understood that the arts, media, and popular culture had the power to influence millions of people. When we’re exposed to books, films, and TV programs that shine a light on our struggles as well as virtues like faith, courage, hope and love, we’re subtly nudged toward becoming better people.
Far be it from me to encourage the Pope to turn his back on a promise he made to the Virgin Mary, but in case he ever finds himself in a Vatican common room with priests and cardinals who are unwinding while watching cable or Netflix, here are a few viewing suggestions:
1. Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader – this game show, hosted by comedian Jeff Foxworthy, just returned to prime time TV. The first contestant was a youth pastor and Foxworthy isn’t shy about bringing God into the conversation in a light and entertaining way. In that sense, it’s one of the most faith-friendly shows on TV right now. Plus, everyone in the common room could play along and see how much they remember from their grammar school days!2. Lost – don’t let the polar bear on the tropical island fool you into thinking this is some freaky sci-fi show. No series in recent memory has done a better job exploring the themes of faith, doubt, sin, redemption, good and evil as “Lost.” Plus, they created a seemingly irredeemable villain in the character of Michael Emerson’s Ben Linus and set him on a believable moral journey. The writers left a lot of plot threads dangling, but this series is ultimately still worth watching for religious audiences. And all six seasons are on DVD and online, so they could do a nightly binge watching session and be done in a month.
3. Any of our Christopher Award-winning TV programs would make great viewing – we’ve got documentaries like PBS’s “Sacred Journeys with Bruce Feiler: Lourdes” in which the best-selling author travels to the French Catholic shrine with wounded members of the U.S. military looking for physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. And if the pontiff is in a Christmassy mood during Rome’s hot summer days, he could catch Hallmark’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered for Christmas” which explores the challenge of believing in a loving God in a world that’s often full of pain.
So there are three quick suggestions. There’s plenty more worth watching because entertaining, quality television can be found if you know where to look. But I imagine being the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church results in time constraints that force you to be selective with your leisure time. So, yes, Pope Francis should be focused on the bigger problems facing the world today. But he might be happy to learn that there are spiritually edifying programs out there that can actually lead people closer to God.