Films can also inspire deeper dialogue about faith
By Anna Weaver
It might be monks in Algeria showing true abandonment to God in Of Gods and Men or colorful macaws fighting for family and the environment in Rio 2. Whether a movie is explicitly “Catholic” or not, it can be “a very fruitful place to encounter the divine,” said Sister Rose Pacatte, a Daughter of St. Paul and film critic.
Sister Rose sees film as an opportunity for “cinema divina,” the motion picture equivalent of lectio divina, or spiritual reading. Not everyone will take away the same message from a movie, she said. Instead, you “see what part of this movie chooses us and speaks to us in the same way that God would speak to us through the Scriptures.”
Before she began using movies in faith formation classes, Anne Frederick, the Archdiocese of Seattle’s director of religious education, saw firsthand the impact a film could have on one’s spiritual life with her own son. Frederick’s then-teenager was going through some personal struggles when they sat down to watch A Man for All Seasons, the Oscar-winning film about St. Thomas More. The movie and resulting conversation about the meaning of being Catholic influenced Frederick’s son so much that he later took Thomas More as his confirmation name.
Movies can “open up a door for conversations about faith,” Frederick says. To join in that conversation in your own faith life, consider starting with these two film lists.
Seven most-requested movies at the Archdiocese of Seattle’s Library Media Center
Gravity (2013). A spiritually lost astronaut tries to get back to Earth after a catastrophe in space. Her journey speaks to issues of morality, the afterlife and being pro-life.
The Way (2010). A movie about relationships and their challenges. A man travels to France to recover the body of his son who died while walking the Camino de Santiago.
Les Misérables (2012). God and morality are at the center of this epic about one man’s path to redemption.
Edith Stein: The Seventh Chamber (1996). Looks at the life of St. Edith Stein, who died at Auschwitz (see page 5). The film follows her journey through St. Teresa of Ávila’s “seven chambers” conception of faith.
Brave (2012). Animated Disney film about a Scottish princess who refuses to follow the customs of her time. The movie spotlights a mother-daughter relationship and the concepts of destiny and divine providence.
Of Gods and Men (2010). A group of monks debate whether to leave war-torn Algeria for their safety or stay with the village community they’ve become a part of in this critically acclaimed film based on a true story.
For Greater Glory (2012). Focuses on a 1926–29 Mexican civil war over religious freedom, particularly for the Catholic Church.
List provided by Lisa Hillyard at the Library Media Center.
Five secular films with faith messages recommended by Sister Rose Pacatte
The Lives of Others (2006). While the name of God is not in the film, the reality of God is present in the artistry of the film and the narrative about people who are willing to risk their lives for others, asking nothing in return.
Blood Diamond (2006). Highlights the illegal diamond trade that finances revolutions using child soldiers, killing, maiming and rape as weapons. It shows how awareness can lead to actions that are imbued with all the themes of Catholic social teaching.
Rio 2 (2014). A fable about family and standing up to those who carry out illegal logging in the Amazon, endangering the climate and rare species.
Children of Heaven (1997). This exquisite Iranian film about a poor Muslim family in Iraq centers on siblings’ love for each other and their parents.
Life as a House (2001). A story that proves everyone can change, illness can be a gift, and beyond reconciliation there is restitution. It shows that love is hard work but can transcend every suffering, loss and pain.
Find Sister Rose Pacatte’s picks for the top three quintessentially Catholic movies, as well as other top film lists and more about the archdiocese’s Library Media Center in this story.
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