Those Catholic Ads

MARY KOCHAN

There are a couple of advertisements running right now on television that are extraordinary in the Catholicism of their messages, an impression made even more striking by my sometimes seeing them appear very close together.

My point in mentioning these ads is not to endorse the companies. What is pertinent here is that these short TV spots are miniature examples of how to put Catholic doctrine on film without so much as a mention of God or the Church or faith.

The first ad, for a chemical company, focuses attention momentarily on the chemical reactions we see all around us — or actually, that we don't see. We don't see chlorine bonding with sodium to form salt, or hydrogen bonding with oxygen to form water, we just see salt or water. But these examples along with visual reference to the Periodic Table of Elements remind us that an invisible reality underlies everything we see.

We are already in Catholic territory, but then the announcer begins to talk about the "human element," the point being that when we combine human imagination with the natural resources they become what they could never otherwise become. In fact what makes something a "resource" is not that it is sitting, or growing, or floating out there in the environment, but the fact that a human being has come up with a use for it.

And a Catholic can put a finer point on it by noting that it is through man, and him alone, that the material in the universe becomes self-aware and consciously worshipful.

Matthew Tsakanikas put it this way in an as-yet-to-be-published book:

[E]ach person is a summit of creation and a unique and separate universe within his soul. In fact, the spiritual soul of every man (male and female) is the summit and unique reflection of the universe in its many dimensions in addition to being in the image and likeness of God. The spiritual soul of each man enables him to return praise on behalf of all creation to the creator through his worship and praise of the only God.

The devil would like us all to buy into his lie that man is unimportant, that we are "insignificant" because after all, in the great scope of things we are but mere specks amongst a six billion-plus population, living on a mere speck of a planet, which is a mere speck in a solar system, which is a mere speck in a galaxy, which is a mere speck in a universe of billions of galaxies of unknown size, many grander than our own. Being so minute in relation to the universe, how could we possibly be so arrogant as to believe we matter at all? Right? Wrong!

Size doesn't matter. Even God is not "big" as we understand big. After all, spirit has no size or physical properties. Is God insignificant because he doesn't occupy space? He who occupies no space at all, but is beyond time and space, is the reason for this gigantic universe. So which is more important, the universe or the one who holds it in existence?

Similarly, each individual human is more important than this entire physical universe, because humans are the most complex reality within the universe. Our design is more intricate than the gasses that make up Jupiter. Our neuro-complexities have more purpose and design than the balls of gas that orbit the Milky Way's core. Most importantly, we can know the entire giant universe and not one component of this universe — not one star, planet, or galaxy — has any idea that we even exist. The Sun may be a hundred trillion times more massive than I, but it does not know I exist or that it exists. In fact, the only reason the Sun is even viewed as important is because I know it exists and I know its value in sustaining my life. Apart from the existence of human beings, there would be no one to tell the universe how important it is. So who is greater, the complex being known as man, who knows the stars and planets and takes them into his soul by this knowledge, or the planets which don't even know that they or man exist? Don't let size fool you. Every person has immense importance to God, because God has a unique relationship to every being made in his image and likeness and the universe was made for man.

Or as that exquisite chemical company ad puts it: "The human element: Nothing is more fundamental; nothing more elemental."

This language places man in the essential position in the universe which he truly occupies. For human beings are not accidental byproducts of chemical change, but the very purpose for which the elements themselves were created.


The second ad is for an insurance company. It shows people in a teeming city going through their normal routines in the course of a bustling workday. The ad begins by portraying a single act of kind consideration and then focuses on the recipient of this kindness, inspired later to extend consideration to another person. This time the thoughtful act is observed by a third person who is subsequently shown helping a stranger in the street and so it goes. Each time someone either observes or benefits from an act of kindness by another person, he or she passes it on. The moral point could not be more Catholic, showing our interdependency and the way the fabric of the moral order ties us all together.

This ad has received a lot of favorable attention, to the point that people are requesting permission to use it for teaching, in motivational seminars, and even in counseling situations. It has struck a deep chord; people report being moved to tears by it, sending the link to it to friends and family members, running eagerly to watch it whenever they hear the accompanying music.

Some people have commented on how uplifting it is to see the "random acts of kindness" shown in this ad, but there is nothing random about them. Within the story line of the ad these are acts of free human beings who choose purposefully, if spontaneously, to care for others in imitation of or gratitude for the spontaneous kindness of another.

What are we observing here? Certainly hunger for certain truths: that every human being is significant and that we live in a moral order. Also the way art can speak truth to a culture that is in so many ways holding its hands over its ears and responding to the Gospel with "La, la, la; I can't hear you."

The artist then has responsibility to truth and can be held accountable. It may make Hollywood squirm to confront the question, If observing kindness inspires us to be kind, what does observing violence or immorality do to us? The message that art can have baneful as well as good influences upon society has been derided as silly when it has not been dreaded as the ominous mutterings of that perennial Hollywood boogie-man, "censorship." But Madison Avenue cannot afford to pretend to be doing anything other than influencing people. They are, at the end of the day, accountable — at least to accountants. After all, in a moral universe someone balances the books.

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Mary Kochan. "Those Catholic Ads." Catholic Exchange (October 12, 2006).

This article reprinted with permission from Catholic Exchange.

THE AUTHOR

Mary Kochan, Editor-in-Chief of CatholicLane.com, was raised as a third-generation Jehovah’s Witness. She is a member of St. Theresa parish in Douglasville, GA and she is homeschooling two of her grandchildren. Her tapes are available from Saint Joseph Communications.

Copyright © 2006 Catholic Exchange




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