Top Ten Movies for Fallen-Away Catholics

Top Ten Movies for Fallen-Away Catholics November 25, 2014

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As I wrote in my last post, many people have shown interest in buying my new book The Prodigal You Love: Inviting Loved Ones Back to the Church for their friends and family who are away from the Church. Even though they are not the intended audience, I do think the content of my book would be helpful to some fallen-away Catholics.

However, as many of you know, a book written by an atheist-turned nun is not going to speak to every fallen-away Catholic out there. So with the help of some of my friends who have also returned to the Church after being away, I wrote a post with the Top Ten Books for Fallen-Away Catholics. Because some folks are just not readers and we are approaching the family movie-watching season, I decided to follow up my previous post with a list of the top ten movies I would recommend seeing with or giving to the fallen-away Catholics you love.

With the help of some of my former fallen-away Catholic friends, here is the list in no particular order:

1. Of Gods and Men: This movie is about a group of Trappist monks who lived  in the Algerian Mountains in harmony with the largely Muslim population of the town. Extremist groups are active in the area and the increasing violence forces the monks to decide whether to leave the people they have served for many years. This movie captures the beauty and radicality of religious life, but without sermons.  As A.O. Scott put it in his New York Times Review: “The theme may be piety, but Mr. Beauvois and his cast do not address it piously.” There is genuine, real character to all of the monks interactions. Holiness and faith is certainly depicted, but not caricatured or simplified.

2.  The Tree of Life: People either love or hate this film so I can’t guarantee your loved ones will like this movie. But I was really wowed by the innovative exploration of the themes of nature and grace in this movie directed by Terrence Malick. It is hard to describe this movie except to say that it is a poem in the form of a film. Everyone experiences the film in different ways because much of it is visual so I believe, if someone is open, it can bring them to contemplate the biggest questions in life, without clear boundaries or answers – something I think many non-practicing Catholics would appreciate. However, at the same time that this film allows for a wide variety of interpretation, it is firmly rooted in the primary dynamics of our faith.

3. Gandhi: This movie was among the top 45 films chosen by the Vatican to celebrate the 100th anniversary of film. I think it is a good choice for fallen-away Catholics because it depicts many Christian values, particularly a vision of justice and peace that is appealing and in line with Catholic teaching. It also shows the life of someone who lived for something beyond himself, and although he was not Catholic, this could actually be a positive because sometimes fallen-away Catholics are more open to stories of spirituality and holiness that are outside their realm of experience. Less baggage.

4. Into Great Silence: I don’t know what it is about movies about monks but secular people like them. I watched Into Great Silence at the very beginning of my conversion and I was really moved by how just watching this film was a prayerful, contemplative experience. If your loved one is into art, the cinematography in this movie is absolutely breathtaking. And if your loved ones is into Eastern meditation practices, movies like this reveal the deep contemplative tradition of the Church of which many people are often unaware.

5. Entertaining Angels: This is another film that would complement Gandhi. It is about Servant of God Dorothy Day and her tireless work for the poor. The movie is not preachy but the religious dimension is real and I think the radical life of Dorothy appeals to those who are on the fringes of the Church. After becoming Catholic, Dorothy Day did not lose her passion or even many of her radical views. She simply centered all that she was on the Gospel. Her story is inspiring and hopeful for many who find themselves on the fringes of the Church.

6. The Island (Ostr0v): This Russian film is not for everyone. I am not sure it would be moving to fallen-away Catholics who are not spiritual at all. But I do think the film has the potential to deeply touch a person. The star of the movie is a Russian rock star who converted to Orthodox Christianity and then moved away from fame to an isolated village. Some say the eccentric monk he plays is very similar to his actual personality. The movie centers on an Eastern Orthodox monk who is a fool for Christ. He is given to strange behavior but is also able to see the future and heal. The film is an intelligent and fascinating exploration of holiness, sin, attachment and forgiveness.

7. The Scarlet and the Black: This is one of my all-time favorite movies. This classic is based on the real story of a priest who saved thousands of Jews and Allied prisoners during the Nazi occupation of Italy. The character of Monsignor O’Flaherty, played  flawlessly by Gregory Peck, is the highlight of the movie. He is humorous, lighthearted and at the same time courageous and bold. The movie does not preach the faith, but the holiness and the selfless actions of the main character do.

8. The Immigrant: This movie starring Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix depicts the unfortunate circumstances that drive Ewa, a young Polish immigrant woman, into prostitution. The movie is set in 1921 but it is a reminder of the difficulties immigrants face in any time. Throughout the film, Ewa calls out to Mary for help and relies on her Catholic faith despite her circumstances. There is a moving scene when Ewa goes to confession that serves as the turning point in the plot. In the end, the least likely people are found to be acting in Christ-like ways and it is a reminder that God can give grace to whomever he pleases in the most unlikely of circumstances.

9. The Mission: This movie with Jeremy Irons and Robert De Niro depicts the life of Jesuit missionaries in South America in the 18th century. About redemption, forgiveness, martyrdom, and grace, this film also touches on the rights of indigenous peoples and justice. If you watch this movie and don’t have something to talk or discuss with someone, then you may have inadvertently closed your eyes during most of the film. The Mission brings up so many theological and spiritual issues but does not tie them in a neat little bow at the end. This is a film that demands reflection and discussion, and both are helpful to engage in with fallen-away Catholics.

10. Les Misérables: Some may wonder why I would recommend a movie based on a story written by a fallen-away Catholic. One could call Victor Hugo the father of the “spiritual but not religious” crowd we see so much of these days. However, Hugo’s own work is evidence to the contrary. His story is drenched in Catholic themes and is a testament to the faith he rejected, (insert prayer for his soul here). Many of you have probably seen the recent movie adaptation of the musical that was released in 2012, but I actually prefer the movie from 1998. The scene when Valjean is returned to the bishop in chains is a poignant depiction of the Father’s forgiveness in the parable of the Prodigal Son. No matter how many times I watch this particular scene, it moves me and it just may move your fallen-away friends and family.

If you have any additions and suggestions, please feel free to add them in the comments!

As Christmas approaches, your fallen-away loved ones are in my prayers and the prayers of all the Daughters of St. Paul.

If you have friends and family who have fallen away from the Church, please consider picking up a copy of my book The Prodigal You Love: Inviting Loved Ones Back to the Church. It will help you journey with and invite your loved ones back to the Church.


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