A Wish List of Catholic Movies
by Peter W. Miller
The Passion of the Christ demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that a film could be successful and profitable, even if running contrary to the prevailing liberal ideological dogmas of the day. It also had the effect of giving traditional Catholics the first compelling reason in years (if not decades) to enter a movie theater. It is my hope that this experience has emboldened Mel Gibson and others like him to make The Passion just the first in a series of projects which Catholics can be proud to support.
As an artistic medium, motion pictures possess a tremendous ability to evoke emotion and inspire virtue. Although in the past there have been a handful of movies sympathetic to the Church or treating favorably certain saints and Catholic events, the full realization of the potential for well-made films to spread the Gospel and demonstrate the truth and glory of the Catholic Faith has scarcely begun.
In a recent interview with Sean Hannity, Mel Gibson mentioned that his next movie will be centered around the story of the Maccabees. Granted that such an effort is going to be less popular with Protestants (coming from "apocryphal" Scripture) and the ADL (for territorial and typological reasons), it is certainly a intriguing time in history which will no doubt result in a worthwhile film.
In case this project doesn't come to fruition or the time comes to create another film, additional ideas will be needed. And so, for some light holiday reading and since Mel Gibson probably hasn't been getting many suggestions lately, I've put together a list of films that I'd like to see made ones that are doubtful to be taken on by anyone but a serious Catholic.
The Life of St. Paul The standard by which missionaries would be measured for centuries to come, the life and work of St. Paul will always be a source of amazement and a compelling demonstration of the power of one man armed with the Truth of Christ. The zeal he displayed as a charismatic Pharisee was dramatically repurposed toward a much nobler cause. He took to heart Our Lord's command to preach to all nations, tirelessly visiting and writing to inhabitants of both small communities and the center of the ancient world.
Many memorable scenes from his life would make for a captivating film: from his condemnation of St. Stephen to his conversion on the road to Damascus; from his first attempts to seek St. Peter after baptism to meeting his fellow apostle years later on the way to Rome as their respective martyrdoms approached; from his being praised as a god in Athens to his being brought in chains to Rome; from his shipwreck on the shores of Malta to his Roman execution. Few individuals have personified the Gospels more than this onetime persecutor of Christians. His words immediately had a profound impact on much of the civilized world, and still do to this day. The life of the man who wrote them will always be an inspiration and challenge to those who follow Christ.
Such an undertaking would certainly not make the ADL's top 10 films of the year. The treachery of the Jews to which Paul first preached who would follow him to various cities fomenting discord and revolt is perhaps considered the original "Jewish conspiracy theory." There is also the controversial matter of the main character starting his career as a fanatical Jewish persecutor of Christians, but only if you are to believe St. Paul at his own words.
From Martyrdom to Triumph The persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire during the first centuries of the Church contain some of the most disturbing examples of organized brutality in recorded history (or at least until the enlightened 20th century). However, the severe campaigns from Nero to Diocletian would also clearly demonstrate for the first time that the Faith would not be brought down by any direct violent assault. The Christian children hewn in lambskins to be chased and mauled by lions for entertainment, the human torches Diocletian would use to light the path to his garden party, the simple servants who chose to face gruesome torture and dismemberment rather than make the slightest gesture in offering to the pagan deities all would play their part in accomplishing a feat no human institution has ever approached. That a handful of scared and hunted men would succeed in building a religion that would grow and thrive despite harsh and constant persecution (and in a few centuries win over the most powerful empire in history) is still an occurrence without parallel and impossible for secularists to explain away as a natural sociological phenomenon.
The 20th century saw a sharp increase in martyrdom which had build building gradually since the Protestant Revolution. As secularists continue to realize the threat Catholics present to their twisted ideology, a flexible and baseless ethical system will certainly find room for the increased persecution of the Church. The early centuries provide the story of the first such triumph of Catholics over a formidable adversary. The lesson may not long from now prove even more relevant.
Girolamo Savonarola Perhaps the only chance this Dominican friar has at something resembling a fair treatment is to have his story retold by a traditionalist Catholic. Secular historians and Italian tour guides regard Savonarola as either an eccentric lunatic or a heartless tyrant. One of the unfortunately untold stories of the Protestant Revolution is the stand taken by Savonarola against a worldly Pope whose actions were disgracing the Church. The excommunication and the underhanded campaign against Savonarola is something truly warranting a papal apology his fall perhaps symbolizing the death of the Medieval Church and the advent of Protestantism and the other rebellions that would follow.
Such a story would be a welcome challenge to the mythology surrounding Martin Luther, who is still regarded as a heroic visionary, singularly able to recognize and confront the excesses gripping churchmen of the day. The true hero of the story was burned at the stake less than a generation earlier. Perhaps the coming chastisement could not have been avoided, but it could also be argued that Luther and others to follow were the just punishment of Church leaders for failing to heed Savonarola's message.
The Battle of Lepanto The significance of this event cannot be overstated. Practically speaking, Western Europe faced the very real prospect of being overrun by Ottoman Turks who held several key advantages in naval military might, including the psychological advantage of having not sustained defeat in battle, as they faced a Christendom at its weakest state in centuries. Under the pastoral direction of Pope St. Pius V, enough of a beleaguered Europe, suffering from political and religious wars and factions, was able to come together to confront this threat. Virtually all European Catholics were praying the Holy Rosary for Our Blessed Mother's protection in a battle with the potential to dramatically change the course of European history.
Every successful war drama focuses on the personal stories of individuals involved. Although this episode involved such historic figures as Pius V, Philip II of Spain and Don Juan of Austria, most of those involved (whether on the galleys themselves or praying at home) were common Catholics with exemplary faith. The young boys and men who returned victorious from battle and the families who greeted them held no doubts as to what their victory was to be attributed. The Christian soldiers did not employ some new military strategy or trickery that allowed them to enjoy such an incredibly decisive victory. They put themselves under the protection of Our Blessed Mother and were not left unaided. As the formulators of the "European Union" have decided that Europe's "Christian roots" don't even warrant mention in their founding documents, a reminder of the simple and powerful faith of their relatively recent ancestors could provide for many a needed reality check.
North American Missionaries & Martyrs That the extraordinarily courageous missionaries and martyrs who would evangelize inhabitants of North American soil are either unknown or regarded as brutal imperialists is perhaps the greatest injustice still successfully promoted by secularist historians. While Catholic schoolchildren are taught to revere former election winners or fed pseudo-messianic accounts of Abraham Lincoln, the names of the Eight North American Martyrs canonized by Pope Pius XI Sts. Isaac Jogues, René Goupil, John Lalande, Jean de Brebeuf, Gabriel Lalemant, Charles Garnier, Noël Chabanel and Anthony Daniel are virtually unknown.
The hardships and tortures willingly undertaken by these men are difficult to believe, much less comprehend. Thousands of miles from home, unarmed and ridiculously outnumbered by a hostile population, and knowing that imprisonment, torture and death were far more likely than seeing the fruits of their labors, these tireless Jesuits would labor with a zeal for souls unmatched since the days of Sts. Peter and Paul. Despite losing several fingers at the hands of Iroquois torturers, St. Isaac Jogues would return to the tribe twice more before he would be ultimately tortured to death. As Catholics, these heroic men would receive the ultimate spiritual joy of sharing in the Passion of Our Lord.
The Virgin of Guadalupe A story near and dear to millions of Catholics in North and South America Our Lady's appearance to St. Juan Diego and the subsequent triumph of Catholicism in Mexico is an obvious candidate for a film. As Aztec rituals and imagery are now considered appropriate for modern cathedrals, religious education conventions and Latin American Masses, the full Satanic brutality of the cult of the Aztecs is perhaps not fully understood. Surprisingly persistent are inane liberal platitudes which paint a picture of a simple and peaceful indigenous tribe subjugated by imperialistic "white men". One visual account of the orgy of human sacrifice to the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli is enough to change how anyone thinks of ancient Azetcs or looks at Mexican pyramids again.
Within fifteen years of Our Lady's appearance on Tepeyac hill, nine million baptisms would mark the creation of Catholic Mexico. The growth of Catholicism and the very real stomping of the serpent under Our Lady's heel provide an appropriate background to the next topic.
The Mexican Cristeros Another story that has been consigned to obscurity by prejudiced historians is the courage of Mexican Catholics shown from the time of the Mexican Revolution to the Cristero uprising in the 1920's. As recounted in various objective accounts of these times, the governmental (i.e., revolutionary) efforts were much more anti-Catholic and much less virtuous than their apologists would have us believe. The story of the Cristeros who, like other noble Catholics before and since, would take up arms in defense of God and Country is an important one to be retold. After years of escalating restrictions on the Church, a policy that resulted in the suspension of public sacraments in the country was the final straw that led to the uprising of tens of thousands of Catholics. On their tongues was a battle cry whose very utterance was punishable by the removal of those same tongues: "Viva Cristo Rey!"
Such a story would no doubt include Blessed Miguel Pro a young priest not considered particularly intelligent or gifted, but found himself in a situation in which he responded heroically. The accounts of his disguises and capers, allowing him to remain one step of the revolutionaries, are as humorous as his execution is inspiring.
Catholic Persecution and Resistance During the French Revolution Dissuading those of inaccurate liberal notions is a common theme running through these descriptions, but none is more nonsensical and frustrating than the adulation toward the perpetuators of the French Revolution. Although a film could not hope to accurately present the myriad of factors that led to the revolutionary years in France, the brutality of the self-appointed architects of "equality" and "liberty" and the courage of those who would find themselves facing this whirlwind cannot be repeated too often. From the sixteen Carmelite sisters of Compiègne who would walk to the gallows in their habits, to the peasants of the Vendée whose example the Mexican Cristeros and Spanish Carlists would follow a century later, the French Revolution had no shortage of Catholic heroes and victims. A just treatment of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette would also be a welcome antidote for the typical revolutionary propaganda.
The Spanish Civil War The third revolutionary story in the list is also the only one with a "happy ending." As recounted in Warren Carroll's The Last Crusade, the story of the failed Communist revolution in Spain has all the elements of an epic film production (and incidentally, is very similar in several regards to the third and final Lord of the Rings film). There were the private flights to obscure islands in the middle of the night and other fortunate occurrences allowing key persons in and out of the country at critical times; the methodical and organized campaign to execute priests and religious to such an extreme extent that the revolutionaries were quickly exposed for what they were; the ongoing siege of revolutionaries on the Alcazar at the top of Toledo where soldiers and their families would defend themselves for seventy days from perimeter attacks, tunneling, bombing, infiltration, hostage threats and a host of other efforts while they waited for reinforcements coming in from several directions; the final, decisive battle at what is now the Valley of the Fallen; and (my personal favorite) the Carlists Catholic traditionalists (although a somewhat different meaning of the term) from Northern Spain, who would march an army of thousands of men, from teenagers to the elderly, into battle armed with rifles and rosaries, and under the banner of the Spanish Monarchy. Although their hopes for the return of a Catholic king to the Spanish throne would go unfulfilled, their participation in battle would prove to be decisive in overcoming the foreign insurgency.
The movie Braveheart is partially credited with the recent resurgence of Scottish nationalism which led to certain social and political developments. What better gift to the people of Spain at a time when a Socialist government is continuing the work of these defeated revolutionaries, than to dramatically remind Spanish citizens of the virtue and heroism of their parents and grandparents?
Vatican II: Behind the Scenes Although debates about what was really meant or intended in the documents of the Second Vatican Council will be with us for awhile, the tactics and strategies employed by the actual attendants of the Council contain more than enough twists and intrigue to fill a feature film. The Rhine Flows into the Tiber provides plenty of information on how those who were prepared in skilled in media relations, oration and political lobbying were able to accomplish much more than those who showed up expecting to do little more than review and vote on various documents. As more than one attendant commented (whether favorably or otherwise), the status certain advisors and theologians had reached by the end of the Council was shocking. Perhaps several key figures representing various roles (e.g., Fr. John Courtney Murray, Cardinal Ottaviani, Ralph Whiltgen, a reporter covering the Council, etc.) could be followed, with the ongoing events seen through their varied perspectives. Given the timing of this Ecumenical Council, both in relation to early 20th century events and the state of information technology, a host of unique factors and considerations presented themselves, and could not be helped but to have an impact on the results.
Campos, Brazil There had to be at least one entry on this list which outlines the struggles and concerns of modern day traditionalists. The life of Archbishop Lefebvre perhaps spans too much time and space. The struggles of a priest refusing to offer the Novus Ordo in his parish may be too specific in focus. But the story of Bishop de Castro Mayer and his fight to preserve the Diocese of Campos, Brazil from Modernism well described and documented by Dr. David Allen White in The Mouth of the Lion would be an excellent choice for such a theme. Such a film could present the rare sight of a bishop who took seriously his vow to protect the Catholic Faith and entrusted souls in his appointed diocese, outline the chief concerns traditionalists have with recent teachings and practices, and show the fate of those who chose to resist the "New Springtime" regime before its failure had become impossible to deny. Of course, given events of recent years, one would certainly need to decide the appropriate point to end such a story as the history of the Campos traditionalists is still being written.
This is by no means meant to be an exhaustive list and there are, without question, numerous other saints and events in the history of the Church whose edifying accounts bring tears to the eyes of any honest man. The restoration of Christendom necessarily involves the replacing of the revolutionary and secularist propaganda with the revealed and witnessed truth. As such, details and lessons from these accounts should be repeated clearly and often in public addresses and private conversations, in correspondence and in articles, in work and in art even in film.