Parables, Secular Movies, and the Power of Story

As a busy homeschooling mom of three, I typically catch up on national and world news via Google searches and YouTube videos. Recently, I was watching some news clips on Hurricane Florence, when a series of ads popped up for a well-known Christian movie streaming service.

These streaming services are an attempt to offer a more chaste, “pure” version of secular streaming services. As a subscriber to some of those secular services, I appreciate their efforts, as my husband and I have been finding ourselves having to practice custody of our eyes more and more when watching network TV shows. The idea of having a whole streaming service where those kinds of precautions would be unnecessary? It certainly sounds appealing. I sincerely appreciate the efforts of these Christian streaming services. I think their desire to provide family friendly options for entertainment are laudable.

That being said, I don’t think we should limit ourselves to explicitly Christian movies and TV shows. I think we can find God in secular TV shows and movies, too.

While explicitly Christian (or specifically Catholic Christian) movies can certainly stir my heart to greater love of God, I have also found myself deeply moved by Star Wars movies, superhero TV shows and movies, Downton Abbey, and The Crown.  Good art can lead us to God, even if it doesn’t explicitly mention him.

 

Jesus, himself, knew this. This is the reason why he told so many parables. If you pay attention, you may notice that the parables don’t explicitly mention God. Jesus tells us about the Good Shepherd, the Good Samaritan, the Parable of the Talents, the Parable of the Mustard Seed, the Pearl of Great Price, etc. None of these stories are religious. In fact, the clearly religious character in the Good Samaritan is not even holy.

God is not meant to be kept in a box. He does not always typically work in the way that we would expect (even the Incarnation is certainly not how people expected the Messiah to come). But he always works in a way that is consistent with who he is. God is the creator, and all that he wills is true, good, and beautiful. If we seek what is true, good, and beautiful, we will find God.

I won’t name names, but there was a really cheesy Catholic movie that I loved in high school. This movie moved me to tears more times that I can count. Did it help me to fall more deeply in love with the saints? Yes. Was it a fantastic movie from an artistic standpoint? Probably not. This is often true for explicitly “Christian movies” and TV shows. Without the benefits of a Hollywood budget, it’s harder to produce work of that caliber. God still works through cheesy movies.

God also works through magnificent works of art, even if they aren’t clearly labeled as Christian. I remember watching the newest version of Wonder Woman, and telling my husband at the end of the movie, “Oh my goodness. That makes me want to go out and be a saint!” Like the parables, movies like Wonder Woman tell a good story. Good stories – and good paintings and good music – move us deeply. Their beauty speaks to us in the depths of our hearts. When we fall in love with a character of integrity, courage, and goodness, it makes us desire those qualities for ourselves. If the story is compelling enough, we walk away from it feeling ourselves capable of true greatness.

A few years ago I attended a conference talk, and the speaker jokingly told us to go out and, “Make Catholic all the things!!” The message stuck with me. We are called to claim everything that is true, good, and beautiful for Christ. Did the makers of Wonder Woman set out to make a movie about sainthood? Probably not. But that’s what they did. They told a story that included themes like redemption, sacrificial love, and courage. More importantly, they told their story in a truly beautiful, powerful way.

I certainly recommend indulging in Christian movies and TV shows, if that’s appealing to you. Modern media can sometimes feel like a battle field, and sometimes it’s a relief to just turn on something without having to worry about being faced with a near occasion of sin. That being said, don’t be afraid to seek out and watch good, quality movies that are not explicitly Christian. A movie doesn’t have to talk about Jesus for us to find him in the story. Just like the parable of the Good Shepherd, sometimes the best way for us to come to know who God is, is through the power of a good story. Wrapping our weak minds around omnipotence is difficult. The power of story can help us to better understand what that means.

I remember falling in love with the man who is now my husband. We were in college at the time, and I remember walking around campus and always scanning across the quad or the dining hall or a busy hallway, hoping for a glimpse of his brown, curly head of hair or his favorite red shirt. Often, I would walk across campus and not see him, but sometimes I would spot someone who looked a little bit like him. I would be disappointed that it wasn’t him (and because, obviously, I didn’t think any other guy was as cute as my guy) but just seeing those reminders of him caused my heart to beat a little bit faster. Seeing those reminders of him caused me to look for him even more, to desire more deeply to see him. I didn’t find his friends attractive, but seeing them in class would make me so happy, because I knew that they were men who were close to him.

Our lives are intended to be decades of falling in love with God. We are invited to look for him everywhere we go. We are called to scan the crowds, the movies, the books, the music around us, looking for glimpses of him. We are meant to seek out those who are close to him, and to delight in the ways that they make us feel closer to him.

If our lives are filled with these reminders, then God-willing, we will one day meet him face and face and say with recognition, “Now I see! It was you all along.”

By

Michele Chronister is a wife, and mother to three little girls and one little one in heaven. She received her BA and MA in theology from the University of Notre Dame (’09 and ’11). She is the author of a number of books, including Handbook for Adaptive Catechesis, the co-author of Faith Beginnings – Family Nurturing from Birth Through Preschool, editor of the book Rosaries Aren't Just for Teething, as well as an assortment of Catholic children's books. In addition to writing, she also homeschools her daughters, and is the social media manager for the Office of Natural Family Planning in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. When her oldest was a baby, she realized that their family life had taken on a sort of monastic rhythm – eat, pray, play, sleep. Prompted by this, she started the blog My Domestic Monastery (www.mydomesticmonastery.com), where she shares inspiration for families wanting to grow in holiness.

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