Monday, May 19, 2003

Reforming the Church Means Reforming the Culture

Last week, Mark Shea asked "how we get these eminently practical ideas for reform off the pages of a blog...". I am all in favor of authentic "reform" (eliminating cronyism in the selection of bishops, allowing more consultation of the laity, etc.). But if we think that any sort of tinkering with structures or mechanisms is going to solve the problem, we're deluding ourselves. As I pointed out last year and as Mark points out today, we have the bishops and priests we've got today because that's what many of us wanted. Vatican II was supposed to "open the windows" of the Church so that it could more effectively be a leaven in the world. But the result has been that we, in all too many cases, have simply accomodated ourselves to the dominant Culture.

There used to be, even in the U.S., an identifiable Catholic culture. It wore different ethnic faces, but there was a common thread throughout it all. Can it be said, in any meaningful sense, that there is an identifiable Catholic culture today? I think one would be hard pressed to adduce the evidence.

Movies like "The Song of Bernadette" or "The Scarlet and the Black", which were identifiably Catholic, were made by major studios and put into general release. Books like "The Devil's Advocate" (by Morris West), which dealt with Catholic themes, were best sellers. I would submit that there is nothing comparable going on today.

Why is this important? Because culture is the way our beliefs and ideals are "incarnated" in our lives. Our beliefs and ideals are shaped by our art and literature, and in turn shape them as well. And it seems to me that in the seventies that Catholics in the U.S. simply turned over the Culture to forces at best indifferent to, and at worst hostile to, the Faith.

I am not simply waxing nostalgic here. I know that some of the cultural expressions of the Faith a generation or two ago were mawkish or sentimental. But much of it was also profound and insightful. Books like "The Devil's Advocate" (yes, it's one of my favorites) treated the Faith with complexity and intelligence. Even movies like Otto Preminger's "The Cardinal" dealt with moral dilemmas in a nuanced way. And nothing like this is available today.

I think the only reason that can be given as to why Catholic culture has atrophied is that in large part Catholics stopped wanting it. And in large part our priests and bishops stopped encouraging and promoting it. It doesn't even occur to many Catholics today that the Faith can be interesting and engaging in their movies and literature. And so we have at least one, and possibly two generations of Catholics who do not have a Catholic cultural imagination. And that has profound effects in how they live their faith. Remember: the culture shapes our beliefs and ideals as much as it is shaped by them.

So, to return to Mark's question, how do we reclaim and reform the Culture? Well, by supporting and promoting arts and entertainment that are informed by a truly Catholic vision. One excellent opportunity to do so is by getting the word out about the upcoming movie "Therese : The Story of St. Therese of Lisieux". St. Therese, as the movie's trailers say, is an ordinary girl, who became an extraordinary soul. She is a saint who, I think, still speaks to our world today.

I received this e-mail about the movie today:

"As you may be aware, our friend Leonardo Defilippis has produced a delightful family motion picture called Therese, about the "Little Flower," St. Therese of Lisieux.

His plan is to release it to U.S. theaters in October, around St. Therese's feast day. However, the number of theaters in which it's shown - and thus the impact that St. Therese can have on people's lives through this movie - will largely be determined by the popular interest shown in the film NOW. In other words, the more interest Catholic families demonstrate in the movie at this time, the more widely Hollywood is likely to distribute the film in October. So if you'd like to help, here's what you can do.

Hollywood is monitoring the film's website closely to see how many visits it attracts. The site is exceptional and even contains video clips from the movie. So please visit it often, and also email this article to your friends so they can do so as well. It's important that we Catholics show our support right now for this particular kind of filmmaking.

St. Therese is an incredible patron for our time, and many souls worldwide are likely to be touched by seeing this movie...But its power to inspire the mainstream public will only be realized if Hollywood sees a level of interest in the film that warrants the widest possible theatrical release in October.

...So please, now that God has blessed Leonardo's vibrant apostolate and opened the door to the production of a major motion picture on the life of a Catholic saint, let's do what we can to help promote it. Many more such films will likely follow if this first one generates sufficient interest by the movie going public."

The website for this upcoming film is . The site is beautifully done and shows great promise for the quality of the film. If we want to help bring about the "New Springtime" for the Church, we need to support efforts such as this to take back the Culture. Visit the Therese site often, and spread the word! If we Catholics can't be bothered to leaven the culture, who will?