For all of the causes for concern that are splashed across our screens day after day, I have noticed a trend that is heartening. Over the past several years, entertainment companies and individuals alike are extending themselves to reach the audience that, in years past, has either been too insignificant or not lucrative enough to merit the investment of major motion pictures that land in a public theater. Sure, you might find the occasional sponsored screening of an uplifting story by a group or parish, but rarely (if ever) do these overtly Christian shows make it to the big screen, or gasp, into mainstream media.
On many levels, this makes sense. One thing we can be assured of is the research done by groups creating content and marketing it. If there is a profit to be made, it’ll happen. Traditionally, people have gone to the movies to be entertained. Let’s face it, for a long time, despite the many heroic, sacrificial, and beautiful themes of the Church and the body of believers, the Christian/Catholic genre was unfortunately seen as lacking in this regard.
Sensing a Change
If, however, we were to put our feelers out, we see a growing list of successful movies with an overtly Christian message:
- Soul Surfer (2011)
- Silence (2016)
- The Star (2017)
- The Shack (2017)
- Unplanned (2019)
- Mary Magdalene (2018)
- Paul, Apostle of Christ (2018)
- Breakthrough (2019)
- A Hidden Life (2019)
- Fatima (2020)
- The Chosen Christmas Special (2021)
- Fr. Stu (2022)
The list is not exhaustive, but it does illustrate a growing trend of people willing to spend actual dollars to learn about/support/be entertained or take a chance on the truths that the story-lines of these features have to share.
A Sign of the Times?
Maybe this trend has to do with not being able to put a bow on the realities we see around us. Hard things happen–are happening—to good people, and I believe many are becoming aware that what they wanted to believe would sustain us simply doesn’t. So there is a hunger; there is an earnest seeking for something worth holding onto when the going gets tough, because the going has gotten especially tough.
I want to focus on the most recent film. Fr. Stu was released during Holy Week 2022, highlighting the story of a relatively unknown priest from Montana. Stu had such a spell-binding life and conversion story that director Mark Wahlberg picked it up and funded the project when no one else would.
Fr. Stu // Making Meaning from Suffering
It is in our very nature to be averse to suffering, but nowhere on earth do people spend more money to avoid it or become more uncomfortable with the prospect of experiencing suffering than in the United States. I include myself. Suffering is not pretty, but it can be sanctifying. One thing the movie illustrated about the life of Fr. Stu is that, although his suffering was real and tragic, it was not wasted. His parents, sibling, fellow seminarians, parishioners, and the people he knew (and those of us who learned about him through this movie) all had a front row seat to his mortality and, ultimately, his trust in God’s work in his life.
In many regards, Fr. Stu’s story is a slam-dunk in the realm of Hollywood. He was an unruly, un-churched boxer from a broken family turned priest, amusing and delighting folks everywhere. He represents not the perfect, un-relatable holy figure we sometimes imagine, but rather a messy man grappling with his own life’s lacking direction, surprising those in his path (as well as himself) when he stumbles into his vocation.
Is Fr. Stu Appropriate for Children?
Fr. Stu is rated R and for good reason. Although a compelling story, it is not appropriate for children. The language is coarse to illustrate the downright hostility in Stu’s family related to his father’s extended absences as well as the trauma they experienced through the inexplicable loss of his brother at the will of what they imagined to be a vindictive God. Stu’s revelation that he will begin seminary brings up a lot of anger and grief for his parents in particular. To say the least, they are not keen on the idea. Although lovable, he is about as rough around the edges as the seminary community is prepared for, and often a little extra.
The arts are so often where we turn while we hurting. You've likely heard that sentiment. Music, movies, photographs, poetry, books, paintings–each of these modes of naming and expressing feelings are God-given gifts that people have to share, and in many cases, to make not only meaning, but beauty from suffering.
I absolutely recommend seeing the movie Fr. Stu. It offers a modern-day reminder that God still leads us, that nothing of our experience is wasted when offered back to God. His example may give occasion to consider our own vocation more deeply and stand in awe of the grace of others doing the same.
What is one way God has surprised you in the way that you have been called to follow Him? How might we use the gifts of creativity, or suffering, to honor the Lord?