Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Random Movie Notes for Lent

I have a collection of Lenten Films. I like movies. They're America's only original contribution to the world of art. Say whatever you like about Lang, Fellini, and the rest. Mozart and Wagner don't make opera any less an Italian art form. Movies are American. I'm an American Catholic (defined, in my book, as a Catholic who by providence has been set down in America), and so I use them for Lent.

Christians in earlier centuries had a similar "collection" of passion plays, stations of the cross, and works of art by the great masters. The Stations are actually on a higher plane, since they're public devotions which are blessed and indulgenced by the Church. But they serve the same purpose as the rest, and the same purpose movies can serve. They excite the mind, fire the imagination, and focus the mind's attention in ways other forms of contemplation do not.

One of my films is, of course, Mel Gibson's The Passion of The Christ. Last year I blogged about it a good deal. You can read those past blogs here, and my whole take on the "Anti-Semitism" charge here. You can also, if you want, look at some yapping I did at the film's less intelligent critics here. I'm going to see it again tonight. My parish has rented a theater, and is holding eucharistic adoration and confessions afterwards. That's how the Church ought to use movies.

We could say all this is trite. But I don't think anyone's holding up medieval passion and devotional plays as the equal of Shakespeare. Catholic art, like anything else Catholic, has one goal and one goal only -- to get a soul into heaven by any means necessary. (That's not relativism, because the goal dictates the range of acceptable means). God used some science fiction, a boy's novel, an undergraduate-level knowledge of classical history, and a comic book about the life of John Paul II as part of His plan to get me into the Church. We can get all snooty about the quality of Catholic art, but most of us would be amazed at the condescending things God does just to get us to pay attention to Him.

It's true that if I imagine myself as being holier than I am, I can imagine myself as someone who wouldn't need films to excite my contemplation of God's agony. But that road ultimately goes nowhere. I can imagine myself as someone who's so holy that God wouldn't have had to experience that agony. As Frank Sheed says, imagination is useful only when it's subservient to the intellect. The fact, the proveable fact, is that I am the kind of person who is so out of whack with reality and justice as to require God's own death to be set right again. "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8 (KJV). That's me, not just the Romans. Christ knew me, knows me, from all eternity before time and throughout time. That's why He chose to die for me.

So I gladly watch some movies during Lent. If nothing else, it's a way to do penance for all the scandalous television I watch. If you're similarly minded, here's my list. In addition to The Passion, I also watch Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth, The Song of Bernadette, and Ben Hur. I wish they'd made the second half of that novel into a film, because that's where the redemptive action occurs and Ben Hur finally embraces Christ. But it's a good film to contemplate the meaninglessness of human life without Him. If I can, I also watch Prince of Foxes, a 1949 film starring Tyrone Power and Orson Welles. That's the boy's novel I mentioned earlier. It never hurts to reinforce old lessons.

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