Archive for the ‘Shoes of the Fisherman’ Category

Ever since the Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres in France was completed in the early 13th century, sunlight streams through its windows and bathes the worshippers at Mass in glorious technicolor.

Each of the three stained glass rose windows tells a different story. The one on the north transept shows the Glorification of the Virgin. The one on the south portrays the Glorification of Christ, while the one on the west front depicts The Last Judgment.

For the first visitors to the Cathedral, the windows were an artistic portrayal of inspirational stories, whose messages of sacrifice, good works, repentance and love enriched their lives outside of the church.

These windows (and the beautiful examples in our local churches) continue to inspire us to this day.

But thanks to modern technology, we have many more media formats in the 21st century through which inspiration touches our lives. Readers of this column know that one of our favorite formats is film.

Robert K. Johnston writes in his book Reel Spirituality that “film has the power to disturb and to enlighten, to make us more aware of both who we are and what our relationship with others could be. It can even usher us into the presence of the holy.”

Some films were created specifically to be inspirational stories of faith:

> A young French shepherd girl holds fast to what she saw, heard and believes, despite the ridicule of her family and the townspeople. (Song of Bernadette)

> An Olympic runner refuses to run on Sunday, but runs on another day, saying “I believe God made me for a purpose…but he also made me fast. When I run, I feel his pleasure. (Chariots of Fire)

> A non-Italian cardinal is elected pope and takes drastic measures to feed the starving people of the world and diffuse the growing threat of nuclear war between two superpowers (The Shoes of the Fisherman)

> A widow and her son offer gentle help and heartfelt words to a recovering alcoholic country music singer, helping him reclaim his life and advance his career. (Tender Mercies)

Other films, while not specifically stories of faith, have scenes that mirror the choices we have to make every day.

> When it is clear that Lord Voldemort has returned, Professor Dumbledore tells Harry that “dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must make the choice between what is right and what is easy.” (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)

> In the heat of battle, Luke Skywalker realizes that his anger serves the wrong purpose. He regains his peaceful composure, throws away his light saber, and tells the Emperor “I’ll never turn to the Dark Side…I’m a Jedi, like my father.” (Star Wars VI – Return of the Jedi)

Movies can also be metaphors for classic themes (good vs. evil, individual vs. establishment) or for contemporary issues. Consider a film currently in theaters Evan Almighty, starring Steve Carrell.

In this film, Carrell reprises his weatherman role from Bruce Almighty and wins election to Congress. But his wife and three sons recognize Congressman Evan as the same old Dad, who brings work home and never has time for them. Late one night, Evan learns that his wife has prayed that they grow closer as a family. Evan also decides to pray, asking God for help to fulfill his campaign promise to “change the world.”

God listens and asks Evan to build an ark in the middle of his subdivision. God makes the clear distinction that he is not answering Evan’s prayer by changing the world, but that he is giving Evan the opportunity (along with a large supply of gopher wood and the necessary hand tools) to change the world himself.

evan-almighty.gifStill, it’s up to Evan to make the right choice and do what is necessary, even at the risk of losing his job, his family and the respect of his community.

The film becomes a metaphor for the internal conflicts we experience when making a choice in our lives. Do we follow God’s way or the path we want? Evan Almighty also explores the themes of man’s improper use of the Earth’s resources, the misuse of legislative power for personal financial gain, and the influence that Biblical stories should have on our lives and the operations of our government.

Films can inspire us to lead better lives, to respect others and make good choices that affect the lives of our family, friends and even our planet.

In The Lord of the Rings films, we see Frodo’s courage and hear from Galadriel that “even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”

Imagine what we could do for our planet if we combine that sentiment with the suggested energy-saving measures in Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.

We truly could change the world.

First published in the July 13, 2007 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2007 Christopher Fenoglio
Purchase from Amazon.com:
> The Song of Bernadette

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Like many of our readers, I watched countless hours of TV during the past couple of weeks.

First with the vigil for Pope John Paul II, the magnificent funeral services and finally the thrilling announcement of the selection of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – Pope Benedict XVI.

It has been a great opportunity to learn more of our Church’s history and the personal stories of the men who lead it.

What I didn’t see in any of the listings, however, were classic films about the pope. While the current events from Rome were certainly more interesting than an old movie, there are some memorable depictions of popes in Hollywood films.

For instance, Pope Julius II is characterized as a driven, warrior pope in the film The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965). Portrayed by Rex Harrison, the pope convinces Michelangelo (Charlton Heston) to create new frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, despite the latter’s insistence that he only a sculptor.

The pope watches as scenes and figures from the Old Testament, first in charcoal outlines and then in bright-colored oil paints atop wet plaster, march across the same chapel ceiling under which the cardinals sat to elect Pope Benedict XVI.

Michelangelo labors on his masterpiece for nearly four years, during which a battle of wills develops between the pope and the artist. One pushes the other to finish his work, the other holds true to his art and his love of God.

When the ceiling was complete, Pope Julius is humbled by the work, saying, “I planned a ceiling, he planned a miracle.”

Shoes of the FishermanAnother pope is humbled by his unlikely election in the film The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968). Anthony Quinn is the Russian Archbishop Kiril Lakota, imprisoned in a Siberian labor camp for more than twenty years. After being released, he is sent to Rome by the Russian Premier (Sir Laurence Olivier) to gain support against the nuclear threat of China.

Once in Rome, Kiril is named a cardinal and impresses many with his social ideals that “life is a gift of God. We should manufacture the authentic Christian revolution…work for all…bread for all…dignity for all men.”

In the midst of a Pontifical Commission examining the writings of Kiril’s unorthodox Jesuit friend, they learn that the Pope has passed away. During the conclave, when voting becomes deadlocked, Kiril is nominated and is quickly elected.

Despite his self-doubts, the new Pope is thrown into a battle of political superpowers and has to find a way to bring peace to a world on the edge of a nuclear nightmare.

A lighter, sentimental film is Saving Grace (1985), starring Tom Conti as the pope who feels he has lost touch with real people. He longs for the opportunity to do something that really matters and brings unity to the people.

He gets his chance when he is accidentally locked out of the Vatican and travels to a small Italian village (obviously before CNN and cell phones!). After befriending a few considered insignificant by the townspeople, he works to rebuild an aqueduct to bring water, and hope, to the village. In the end, he is satisfied that he is in the right place to carry out God’s plan.

Listening to God and understanding His plan for each of us is one of the messages in The Accidental Pope (2001). In this novel, cardinals descend upon Rome following the death of Pope John Paul II. During the conclave a cardinal talks about his classmate Bill, an ex-priest and widower who supports his four children with a fishing boat off the Massachusetts coast. Just like the Church threatened by the waves of relativism, the boat carrying Bill’s friends is battered by a raging storm. Yet Bill keeps his head, calms his friends and steers the boat to smoother waters.

Either as a joke or a tribute to the cardinal’s “parable,” a majority vote for Bill, who humbly but surprisingly accepts the office. The uneven writing includes lighthearted moments when the first American pope helps his son find a place in the Vatican to skateboard and listens to his daughter talk about the cute Swiss guards. During his years as Pope, Bill deals directly with many of the issues facing the Church today, though the solutions are a little too tidy to be realistic.

Today’s Church faces a new century with issues that are neither tidy nor easily condensed into a screenplay. As the world greets Pope Benedict XVI, we watch and welcome his guidance for us all.


First published in the April 22, 2005 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2005 Christopher Fenoglio.
Purchase from Amazon.com:
> The Shoes of the Fisherman

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