12 Preachable (or Teachable) Points from the Movie Wildcat

Lovers of literature will want to see one of the latest movies in theaters, Wildcat, a dramatized version of the life of author Flannery O’Connor. O’Connor is well known among readers for her complex stories and personal religiosity. Director Ethan Hawke does not disappoint and fills the biopic with the author’s stories, religious imagery, and spiritual lessons. Wildcat contains many quotable lines worth breaking down to extract lessons about the spiritual life. As a priest, I see them as “preachable” points, but for the lay, perhaps they are twelve teachable points.

Let’s begin.

1. The Vocation of a Writer

“Dear God, I’m discouraged about work. I want to write a novel. Please help me get down to things where you are.” 

“Dear God, please help me eliminate my picky way of doing things…Please give me one good story. Let me be your typewriter.”

There are two scenes in the movie where O’Connor prays in church to be a better writer. This emphasizes two things: the necessity of petitionary prayer and prayer about vocation. Flannery is brought to her knees. She admits who she is in her weaknesses and failures and begs God for His grace. In her prayer, she brings her life and vocation as a writer to the forefront and realizes that God alone can help her to become who she wants to be. She wants to become the typewriter through which God speaks and works. The movie is a reminder to us that in whatever task we face, we can fall to our knees and pray to the good Lord for his help. 

2. What is an Angel?

“I don’t want to be an angel. I don’t know what angels are, but I know what they are not.”

Our culture is obsessed with referring to anybody as an angel. The reality is angels are not what most people believe. A crash course in Thomistic theology or turning to the Catechism of the Catholic Church will help sort this out. Angels are pure spirit. They do not have a body. They have a mission and purpose assigned to them by God. There are twelve different kinds of angels. Angels are not the cute depictions of the artistic imagination nor are human beings angels. This simple quote from Flannery O’Connor in Wildcat becomes an opening to teach about the theology of angels. 

3. We Need Christ

“It’s a church without Christ. Like most of them I know. “

This quote comes from a scene when Flannery O’Connor is explaining the plot of one of her novels she is working on. It’s a simple reminder to ensure that Christ is a part of our lives and our church. It is possible to lose focus or sight of Christ by becoming self-absorbed while on a task or a mission. In all that we do, Christ must be central. Don’t lose Him.

4. Gratitude

“Worst thing in the world is to be an ungrateful person, to have everything but you don’t appreciate it.”

The quote itself is probably enough here as it gets across what needs to be said. Are you a grateful person or an ungrateful person? We have so much, yet we complain and want more. Others have so little and can be grateful for what they have. Gratitude is an area of our life we can always work on. 

5. The Necessity of the Priest 

“I don’t need a doctor. I need a priest.”

If you are sick, you do need a doctor. But if you are sick, you also need a spiritual doctor. A priest can offer the Sacraments of Anointing, Confession, and Eucharist. A priest can pray with a person and offer spiritual counsel and support. We need the medical, but sometimes we need a little heavenly encouragement. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a priest in your time of need or struggle. 

6. The True Presence

“If it is a symbol, to Hell with it.”

Theologically, this is Flannery O’Connor’s most popular saying. She understood the true and real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. The Eucharist is not a symbol, yet unfortunately so many people believe it is only that. She knew it was the Lord—Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. In a time of Eucharistic revival, we need Flannery O’Connor’s stark statement to remind us Who it is we receive in the Blessed Sacrament. 

7. The Cross

“So many believe that faith is an electric blanket. It’s the cross.”

Faith is believing in something not visible to us. We believe without seeing. This quote of O’Connor captures the human demand for faith as a feeling of comfort or pleasure. Flannery O’Connor knew suffering in her life due to her health problems. I’m sure at times this sickness could have forced her to question or struggle with faith. It was in those moments that she knew that faith is the cross, not the comfort. Faith bestows meaning. Faith is believing that God is with us in the struggle and in our carrying of the cross. 

8. An Awareness of Grace

Please grant me grace.”  

“I long for grace. Grace changes us.”

If there is one theme continually being played out in Wildcat, I would propose it is the notion of grace. It is asking God for something, naming the grace one desires, and then seeing how God grants the grace. It makes us better aware of the graces we stand in need of and the graces that we have received. It also reminds us that grace changes us. We all need a little amazing grace. 

9. Talk to the Lord

“If you want to be good at something, you need to pray. You cannot be good without prayer. You have to talk to Him. How do you talk to Him?”  

The first point of this article referred to Flannery praying to God and addressing Him with “Dear God.” In a later scene, there is this comment, “if you want to be good at something, you need to pray.” It makes sense. We cannot do things in this life by ourselves; we need God’s help and inspiration to bring them to fulfillment. Could you do something and be successful without prayer? Yes. But will it be what it could have been with prayer? No. The simple encouragement from the film is to casually converse with God. Talk to Him about what you are experiencing or struggling with, and as you do so, He will answer you and help you through whatever you are facing. 

10. Be a Good Catholic

“How can I be a good Catholic?”  

This is a concern of many people: “I’m a Catholic, but I don’t think I’m a good one” (for various reasons). It could be that I don’t think I’m a good Catholic because I am a sinner. I’m not a good Catholic because I don’t do A, B, or C. When this was brought up in the movie, the answer was simple: give alms, serve others, love, and make sacrifices. Maybe the best thing is not to worry about “if I am a good Catholic,” but simply to work on being a good Catholic every day. Focus on the small things. Be faithful in your life right now. Sooner or later, you will realize, “I am a good Catholic.” I always love that quip about being a “practicing Catholic.” Keep practicing and you’ll get better. 

11. Facing Tomorrow

“With God’s help, I will see tomorrow as a blessing.”

It is easy to be anxious about tomorrow, to plan excessively for and worry over tomorrow. However, Jesus teaches us not to worry about tomorrow. Why? Because He’s already there. He has a plan. He will help us through. Instead of worrying about tomorrow, we can change our mindset and see it as a blessing. If the Lord allows me to see tomorrow, then it is another day to praise Him and see His goodness. Tomorrow is a blessing because we will be doing the Lord’s will. 

12. Don’t be a Hypocrite

“I sell Bibles, but I don’t believe in that crap.”

In one of the short stories that plays out in the movie, a bible peddler makes this statement. He sells bibles but doesn’t believe in what they contain. Is your life fraudulent? Are you a hypocrite? Or are you authentic? Strive to be the latter. Whatever you say or do, let it reflect who you truly are as a Christian believer. 


Wildcat is a creative project, intermixing scenes of O’Connor’s stories within the main story line. Those unfamiliar with O’Connor’s work may find the movie confusing at times. If you are like me (and get confused), a second viewing will make it all make sense, and you will better appreciate the movie. I know I’ve tried reading Flannery O’Connor in the past and have given up on her. Seeing Wildcat has renewed my interest in her literature, and I’ll be picking up a book as soon as it becomes available at the local library.

Author’s Note: To learn where you can see Wildcat in a theater near you, visit: https://wildcat.oscilloscope.net/

Photo from Wildcat. Retrieved from Mockingbird.

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Fr. Edward Looney is a priest in the Diocese of Green Bay, a Marian theologian, author, columnist, media personality, podcaster, film enthusiast, and fellow pilgrim. He is the host of the podcast, Hey Everybody! It’s Fr. Edward. You can follow him on social media at the handle @FrEdwardLooney.

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