Great American’s Fr. Randy Mattox on Catholic Storytelling

Great American’s Fr. Randy Mattox on Catholic Storytelling May 27, 2024

Catholic priest Father Randy Mattox over a screenshot of his videos for Great American Community

Father Randy Mattox has carved himself an interesting niche with the Great American Media family of channels, doing Bible commentary on the Great American Community app, and co-hosting Zoom chats for the Great American Book Club.

He even did a cameo in The Engagement Plot, a 2022 UPtv movie produced by Brian Bird (When Calls the Heart).

Father Mattox has yet to appear in a movie for the Great American Family channel, but give him time.

Who Is Father Mattox?

A Georgia native and a convert from the Episcopalian Church, Father Mattox offers weekly Scripture reflections for the Great American Community audience. Click here to see his recent reflection on Pentecost, at GreatAmericanCommunity.com. And click here to find the Book Club.

And here’s a clip of another reflection, from GAC’s Facebook page:

When he’s not talking on camera, Father Mattox is a diocesan priest for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, and the pastor of St. Anna Catholic Church in Monroe, Georgia.

He’s also the Catholic voice in the ear of Bill Abbott, former head of the Hallmark Channel and currently the CEO of Great American Media.

A Bit on Bill Abbott and Great American Media

I recently had a chat with Abbott, which you can find here. Below is an excerpt, about what Abbott did after leaving Hallmark Channel parent Crown Media:

In 2021, Abbott cofounded Great American Media. He and his partners acquired and reshaped existing cable channels into what are now Great American Family, the recently rebranded Great American Faith & Living, Great American Adventures, and the direct-to-consumer app Great American Community.

The company also partnered with Sony Entertainment to rebrand its Pure Flix streaming service as Great American Pure Flix. It offers the same faith-focused programming it always has, plus much of Great American’s output.

In our conversation, I asked Abbott whether Catholicism would be part of the “faith” mix on GAM channels, and he said,

It’s interesting that you say that. One of our fans, and he’s a personal advisor to me really, is Father Randy, who does our book club, and he’s made the same note. And it’s a good note.

Abbott is a graduate of the College of the Holy Cross, a Jesuit liberal-arts college in Worcester, Massachusetts (the HC in Abbott’s X and Instagram handle, billabbottHC, stands not for Hallmark Channel, but for Holy Cross).

I’m not sure whether Abbott is Catholic, but he definitely has a familiarity with the Faith. But, while GAM’s partnership with Sony’s Pure Flix streaming service provided a head start in streaming, it also brought along that channel’s heavily Evangelical audience (because of its heavily Evangelical content).

So, introducing a more Catholic sensibility might rock the boat with existing subscribers.

Talking to Father Mattox About the Catholic Way of Doing Faith-Based Storytelling

So, I caught up with Father Mattox to see what he thought expressions of faith, especially Catholicism, in TV movies and series. Here’s some of what he had to say.

On the mandate to put faith out into the world:

We need to push back in some way. We need to have a place where we can express faith in culture. That’s the other thing, wanting to affect culture again, not just find a place in culture that’s safe, but to affect culture.

Certainly, as Christians, that’s what we’re supposed to do. We’re supposed to be a light to the world. We’re supposed to influence the world, not just let the world change us — certainly not to change us, and not just to live in a detente with the world, but to have something to say. It’s important.

Of course, there’s always a chance to say that deliberately at church, at Mass in the homily, absolutely. And people go out. But in this particular way, I think it’s just reminding people that faith is a normal part of life. That’s nothing to be afraid of.

Bill is on track with that. I don’t think he wants to get too far ahead of himself with that. But, at the same time, he definitely wants an environment where the message of faith is at home and comfortable, and we don’t have to hide it.

On finding a home for Catholicism amid the Evangelical content:

[Abbott] has invited help in terms of just venturing into the faith waters. What does that mean? Sometimes he’ll call me about something, saying, “Is this a safe product to have?”

Or, there was a movie on Pure Flix, it wasn’t a bad movie, but it was very Evangelical, and I was just like, “We can do better about this.” I emailed him. So, we had a little session with the programming team on it, and I was able to give what my hope of faith content was.

It’s not preachy; it’s not contrived; it’s not forced. It’s just organic, natural kind of stuff. … I just hear all from a Evangelical perspective, which is fine. I’m not saying, don’t do that. I’m not saying, do less of that. I’m just saying, there’s a Catholic voice, too. And it is important in the faith thing. …

That’s why I tell Bill, “It doesn’t have to be looking to try to influence people to go to Mass or something like that. It’s just good, positive images of faith, and certainly, of the Catholic Church.” We need that. Culturally, we need more positive images.

On the difference in the Catholic way of storytelling, as opposed to the Evangelical one:

A lot of the Evangelical stuff is kind of formulaic. You can recognize it. There’s a certain way of talking and Bible-quoting that is consistent. So, it almost feels like it’s this layer imposed on life, which consistent theologically with the whole salvation by being covered in the Blood.

Catholic storytelling, from my point of view, and how I understand it, is, you’re basically just taking life, and it’s a more internal discovery of God. It’s not a religiosity that’s placed on you, but it’s discovering, in the relationship and certainly the Passion.

The Paschal mystery is an essential part of it, how people come into contact with their own difficulties and their own sinfulness and weaknesses.

That’s kind of how I feel like life is in general. Life has this Paschal dimension of suffering, death and resurrection — death, meaning dying to self, not necessarily physical death. So, that whole Paschal drama, to me, is what good Catholic storytelling is.

It doesn’t have to be so heavy, but it’s just basic storytelling. You have a crisis. Then, how do you let go of your previous expectations because of the crisis, in order to move forward in life? It’s just basic human storytelling, because that’s how God created us to grow.

So, Jesus is the perfect example of growing into eternal life, which is the ultimate story.

On how good faith-based storytelling is not afraid of the grit and grime of real life:

I crave stories that show people in real-life situations, where they really do wrestle with moral choices and come to accept the right choice, and that really does change their life.

They find a peace and a rest in making the right choice, rather than just the society that we have now, where people just say, “Well, let’s just redefine everything so that we’re comfortable.”

I would love to see stories written where people take these hard choices of life, whatever they may be. It’s tough to make this moral choice, but then they do. They realize how much better and freeing and life-giving that is.

That’s the resolution; that’s the resurrection.

I can take all the rough and gritty. If you need to sanitize that a little bit, you can, but it still has to have that dynamic element of suffering, death and resurrection.

It just has that richness of story that is Catholic without saying it’s Catholic, so it’s not beating you over the head. It’s the whole show, don’t tell, kind of thing.

That’s the heart of the human journey. You can call it what you want, but it’s still the universal Catholic faith and its core.

And, in case you missed it, here’s my whole conversation with Abbott:

Image: Father Randy Mattox/Great American Community

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About Kate O'Hare
Based in Los Angeles, Kate O'Hare is a veteran entertainment journalist, Social Media Content Manager for Family Theater Productions and a rookie screenwriter. You can read more about the author here.
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