It doesn't happen too often that we can enjoy a film production that is not only beautiful art, but really entertaining, and profoundly meaningful. Well, I had the privilege of seeing one today at an AMC movie theatre here in Chicago - Therese - you'll find a good review at National Review Online. I don't know why, but I wasn't expecting such a powerful production, but I guess I should have known better, and certainly would have if I'd known it was directed by Leonardo Defilippis, whom I first met at Madonna House I think it was in September 1992 or 1993, when I was delighted to watch his one-man performance of John of the Cross. You can find out more about Leonardo, the many great productions that are the fruit of his foundaional work and that of the company he started - St. Luke Productions - they have a fine repertoire of live plays they are glad to perform for smaller or larger audiences and with more or less elaborate sets. You can even order their audio and video productions online. We have several of both in our lending library at Becket.
The grace of the afternoon is that I didn't go alone but went with another priest and three sisters. We were able to share some of our thoughts and emotions afterwards - I had thoroughly drenched my hankie - this is the kind of movie that can really clear your sinuses, unless something inhibits it. It's only as we were chatting afterwards that I found myself saying to some of the teenage theatre crew that the story might actually leave you cold in the sense that it might seem so foreign to what we have come to know and experience of life today in this culture of ours. This occurred to me because of a comment by the homilist at Mass at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish here in Hyde Park this morning - he said that the movie was a little "sweet", but still had a good message.
As I stood there initiating a chat with the teens, I saw in a flash that I deeply desired to invite them to see it - neither of them had, a boy and a girl - and they seemed indifferent. In the same instant, I realized they might find the film a huge disconnect from the world that they have known until now - both at home and in their society of school, friends, and work, not to mention the marketplace. Then I remembered it - the Martin family was unusual even for its own day. Thérèse's parents Louis and Zélie Martin had an incredibly profound spiritual grasp of their faith, relationship with God, and of their Christian vocation. They very deliberately entered into Marriage, so that they attended with exquisite love and tenderness to their children - 5 girls. That's what I told the teens - this was an incredibly sensitive family - perhaps quite different from what we've known, but very precious all the same. They seemed intrigued.
The movie actually does justice to the kind of home the Martins kept - without the time to also portray the austerity of the era and the relative poverty of the family in comparison to our own lifestyles in the West today - so that in the end, when we watch the movie at face value, we get a fairly good impression of how this family would translate into our own time. That's where the gap can hit pretty hard. We could find - if not a disconnect then perhaps a disturbing realization - that our lives are a far cry from this deeply genuine personal love and attentiveness.
In the real historical life of the Martin family, the relationships between the parents, between the parents and their girls, and of course among the girls, were characterized by such tenderness and chaste affections that we could find them "sweet" or even unreal. Sadly, our "real" world is far from chaste, so far in fact, that we run the risk of becoming jaded, cynical, or at the opposite extreme, so obsessed with pleasures of the flesh as to become almost if not quite incapable of genuine personal intercourse or, if you prefer, authentic personal exchange, honest sharing, trusting openness, and chaste intimacy. This family had all these character strengths, modelled and mentored by the parents; so it is not surprising that all 5 girls took their own vocations seriously and pursued what for each of them was the highest ideal of their spirits - religious life.
Four entered Carmelite Convent of Lisieux and one entered a convent of the Poor Clares - all contemplatives. They wanted to live the life of a spouse of Christ, literally. How could such a thing happen? Were they forced to it by their parents? Not at all. In fact, their parents would have been happy to see them married, as they had done. Simply put, this couple took God so seriously and lived such intense and loving relationships with God and each other as spouses, that their girls learned to discover their own interior life, where God is pleased to dwell with every human being. The art of faith is learning from others, such as parents, how to nurture the desire and gratitude for the gift of faith, and how to discern the presence of God within, and how to respond with honesty, trust, love, and hope.
This is a movie that would be appropriate even for little children, though they may find it long at points - simply because they may be used to much more action-oriented fare - and there are so many touching scenes that they may also want to cuddle up to their parent or older siblings. By all means, plan to have time before and after to set up the viewing and then be able to share all the feelings, thoughts, and questions that it will have evoked. It would also be very wise to pray in advance of planning to go and actually inviting others to go see the movie. This film was made at all points by Christians of deep faith, and I believe that it can easily become a powerful instrument of God's grace, particularly as we entrust ourselves and others to the action of the Holy Spirit in an ongoing way. As the review linked above, this film may be a powerful and very meaningful follow-up for the family to Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ! May you have a blessed viewing!