The Bishop’s Wife: Cathedral Construction, Bottomless Bottles of Port, and the Holy Spirit (or, Be Careful What You Pray For!)

A Holiday Classic

A Holiday Classic

There are so many films that I consider “must-watch” material during the holidays.  Recently, I have developed a real soft spot for The Bishop’s Wife (1947 version), starring Cary Grant, David Niven and Loretta Young (an early supporter of Family Theater).

The Bishop’s Wife is about a protestant bishop who thinks he is praying for the funds to finish his cathedral but eventually finds that his prayer was for something much more important.  Bishop Henry Brougham, in his efforts to appease the big money donors and get his cathedral built, has neglected his faith, his wife, Julia (Loretta Young) and his daughter (Karolyn Grimes, who played “Zuzu” in It’s a Wonderful Life).  His prayer is answered with a visit from an angel named Dudley. Dudley helps Henry to see all of the things he is missing in his life and the effect that all of his misguided attention towards the cathedral is having on the people around him; his family, friends and colleagues (the pastor of Henry’s old church).  The gag though, is that only Henry knows that Dudley is an angel – which gives the film a slapstick sort of tool.  In the end, Henry realizes that he was never praying for a solution to the cathedral’s financial problems, but for guidance – which he receives.  [Spoiler Alert] We are treated to a very happy Hollywood holiday ending, to be sure.

The real magic in this film is the transformation that occurs in the ancillary characters as a result of Dudley’s interaction.  The first to experience the Angel’e effects are the Bishop’s staff.  He takes the time to talk to them and compliment them, in contrast to the Bishop interacts with them as minimally as possible.   Agnes Hamilton, plays an old grouch who envisions the cathedral as a monument to her long dead husband. She withholds her donation and so also holds up other large donations to the cathedral fund until Henry acquiesces to her demands.  Then she meets Dudley.  He helps her to see more clearly why she is the way she is, and helps to melt her icy façade.

The ultimate transformation is Professor Wutheridge  (Monty Wooley), “The Professor,”  a  bitter old man who misses both Henry and Julia – two dear old friends.  The Professor has no faith to speak of and considers his Christmas tree to be a bit of nostalgia.  But that is the only spark that the Spirit needs to start a conversion – in this case, through Dudley and Julia, the bishop’s wife.  The final scene of the film has Dudley watching intently as the professor enters Dudley’s church for services, though the old scholar is not sure why he is doing so.

This shows how the Spirit works: rarely works with only one  person’s influence at a time.    Rather the Spirit takes a multi-fronted approach to the business of saving souls.  In this movie, the Spirit affected every character that Dudley interacts with, from a bunch of school kids having a snowball fight, to the owner of a French restaurant, to Henry and his family.  But I think the most profound moment of the film is the Professor walking into that church, to the point where one might think that this was the true reason for Dudley being there in the first place!  A man of little or no faith at the outset of the film comes to his faith through the Spirit working through him and his friends.  Perhaps it is the change in Henry or Julia that sparks this conversion, but in the long run, it was the beckoning of the Spirit through Dudley that brings this wise old professor to God.  So, as we enter this beautiful season of Christmas my advice would be to be careful what you pray for…you might just get it!

How about you, what is you favorite holiday film?

The Spirit often uses many people and events at the same time to reach a person's heart

The Spirit often uses many people and events at the same time to reach a person’s heart

Ida: A Film about Discovery and Claiming Your Faith

IdaIda is a film about discovery and claiming your faith. Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, Ida tells the story of a Polish orphan who has been raised by nuns after the death of her parents toward the end of the Second World War, and goes on to explore her relationship with a newly-discovered aunt.  The film is set in 1962, a couple of weeks before Ida is to take her final vows.  The Mother Superior informs Ida of an aunt living in Poland, whom the Sisters feel that Ida should try to contact, though they themselves have been trying for years and have been met only with the aunt’s disinterest.  Ida meets her aunt, Wanda, and learns that she was born a Jew.  Wanda reluctantly agrees to accompany Ida on a journey to find out where her father and mother – Wanda’s sister – died.  Wanda, a hard-drinking, hard-living ex-Soviet judge, takes this journey for reasons we learn later in the film.  Ida is beautifully shot in black and white in the 4×3 format.  It looks as if it might have actually been produced in 1962, and every scene is composed almost as if it is a still photograph.  The framing of a lot of shots is very top-heavy and helps to add to the tension in the film.

The journey Ida takes with Wanda is more about finding out who she is than it is about finding the place where her parents died.  Along the way, they pick up a young saxophonist (Lis), and it is evident that there is an attraction between the innocent Ida and the worldly musician.  She tries very hard to cling to her vows, though you get a sense that there is a yearning to explore her own sexuality.   She struggles with what she has learned and with what her heart feels, as any seventeen year old would in that position.  Wanda has no such reservations about who she is, and perhaps it is Ida’s perception of her aunt that helps her to cling to the faith she has been brought up with; as a matter of fact, Ida’s Jewish roots do not figure in her journey, which comes to be more about the question of whether or not she will return to the convent.   Read More »

God the Artist: Reflections from the Director’s Chair.

Fr. David in the Director's Chair

Fr. David in the Director’s Chair

This month Family Theater Productions released Family Dinner, a short film for teens and families.  At the very same time were filming two more movies and these last weeks I have been directing short films for a project at Family Theater Productions.

When I am on a film set, I appreciate all the more what goes into creating the scripted television shows or films that I watch.   Everything you see and hear has been selected and placed in the frame by professionals.  The people on camera in each scene were selected to serve the story, even the background people who sit at  restaurant tables or pass by on the street.  Assistant Directors instructed them where to move.  The light in each shot has been crafted.  In exterior shots they may use the sun, but block out direct light, or bounce (reflecting) rays off a surface to fill a shadow.  The lighting crew working with the director of photography and the director, paint the scene with light creating night or day, warm or cool environments, shadows and highlights.   Sound and music are added in the post-production process to bring depth and emotion to the visual images.DSC01593

It occurred to me that God is the ultimate artist, the great director, who authors the story of the kingdom unfolding around us.  God has placed each of us in a carefully selected location, a dynamic studio with colors, shapes, natural elements and human creations.  God creates the greatest sets, magnificent cities, sylvan wilderness, seas and prairies.  God is our gaffer (lighting expert) providing the light, sun in the day and stars in the night.  God casts the people who enter my life, all of them: the co-stars, the featured and even the background.  As they play some role in my life, I know that each of them lives out their own arc in the Kingdom of God and that I play some role in their story too.  The hum of the city, the chatter of people, the beat of  songs forms the soundtracks of life.  It is all there by the creation of God for some purpose.  We add to it with the choices we make.

We are cast and crew for the Gospel, called to collaborate by bringing using our talents and energies to serve the story of God.   The great challenge is to discern what our purpose, our role truly is and then live it well.   Come Holy Spirit.

I believe in Providence.  That is the idea that God is actively at work in each of our lives in hard times and in times of comfort and joy.  God is ever advancing the great story of the kingdom of love, truth, beauty, hope and faith.

What story are you living now?  May the Holy Spirit help you discern the roles you are called to play, give you appreciation for the artistry of God around you, and lead you to participate in the great story of the Kingdom of God unfolding in our midst.



Mary of Nazareth: A Beautiful Reflection of the Blessed Mother

We were asked to be a part of the blog tour/rosary crawl, along with many other inspiring bloggers, for the release of Mary of Nazareth on DVD and we were happy to say “yes”!  See the recap of the #RosaryCrawl HERE.

As part of the tour I am excited to share a clip from the film.  This scene is of the Crucifixion and Death of our Lord.

“And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do’ …

It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last” (Lk 23:33-46). 

“‘Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures’ (1 Cor 15:3)” (CCC, 619).

Our Father, 10 Hail Marys (contemplating the mystery), Glory be to the Father.

MON_pieta_webWhat struck me in this scene was, at the moment before Christ’s death, the screenwriter gave Mary the line of “I am the servant of the Lord.  Let what you have said, happen to me.”  The screenwriter gave her this same line at the moment before the conception of Christ in her womb.  The screenwriter was clearly linking these two moments for the audience.  Why?  This moment during the Annunciation is known as Mary’s “fiat”…her “yes” to God.  It was this moment that she accepted the gift of Christ, reversing the “no” of the first sin of Adam and Eve, giving us the hope of redemption.  By reminding us of this, the screenwriter is reminding us that this moment, the moment of Christ’s death, is the moment when that hope of redemption becomes a reality.

MON DVD fr willy  webBy saying “yes”, not only did Mary accept the joys of being the Mother of Christ, but she also accepted the sorrows that came with it…including witnessing his suffering and his death.  She did not run.  She was there through it all.  Before he died, Christ gave his mother to us.   And she is with us through our joys and sorrows too.

Mary of Nazareth is a wonderful film for the whole family that beautifully tells the story of Christ through the eyes of his Mother.  The film is a great meditation on the mysteries of the Rosary.  And since October is the Month of the Rosary…what would be a better way to celebrate than to watch this film?  We would like to help you do that!  Thanks to the wonderful folks at Ignatius Press and Carmel Communications, we have a DVD of Mary of Nazareth to give away.  Leave us a comment here or on this post on our facebook page by Thursday (October30th ) and we will randomly draw a name to receive this DVD as a special gift.

We are the final posting on this blog tour. Even after this blog tour has ended, please continue to spread the word of the Mary of Nazareth film.


“The Fault in Our Stars”: Love, Death… & Faith?

fault-in-our-stars-landscape-poster webWARNING – this blog contains many plot spoilers! Now out on DVD, The Fault in Our Stars, known as TFOS by its fans, is a best-selling book adapted to film that has been proclaimed by many to be this generation’s Love Story. Don’t tell this to the movie’s creator or cast who have publicly cringed from the comparison. However, like that film, TFOS is about a young couple who fall in love against the odds, only to have their love tested by terminal illness, all in a tragic tale designed to have the audience leave the theater in tears. Both even have a signature line. In Love Story, the line is, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”, and (maybe as the biggest indicator of the difference in generations) it has been swapped with “Okay”. Yes, you read it correctly – “Okay”. In this movie, “Okay” takes on a special meaning– and it actually plays surprisingly well, but you sort of need to see it to believe it.  Read More »

“The Maze Runner”: Intense Action but a Family Film Puzzle

the-maze-runner webYou may have noticed, September is a strange time for movies. All the big action blockbusters opened in the summer, and all the horror films won’t come out until October when it’s close to Halloween. That leaves September as a no-man’s land somewhere in between, and that is the feel of The Maze Runner. Based on a book with the same name, The Maze Runner is part thriller and part action movie, but it also stars teen-age protagonists (or at least ones from teen oriented TV and films), so it seems aimed at a youth or family audience. However, it falls in between all of these genres – except, it is definitely not a family movie. It has scenes and themes far too intense for children and probably most pre-teens. That said, it is an engaging, entertaining story, and though it suffers from a number of flaws, it is a fun film for an older teen to young adult audience. Read More »