When Good Shepherds Let In The Wolves

With what a heavy heart I write this, for I am well accustomed to worldly shepherds letting in wolves, but now the shepherd I once saw as the greatest living Bishop has greatly disappointed me. I wish I could chalk this up to differing tastes in film, but I know there is a far deeper problem here. Many if not most readers of this post will think I am over-reacting – and they may be right. I hope they are right. But even if they are; write this I must — for too much is potentially at stake.

Despite feeling a great hesitancy to watch “Calvary” (which I now know was simply God’s voice), I just decided to do so with my wife, largely on the encouragement of an extremely positive review of it by Archbishop Charles Chaput; the Bishop alluded to in the previous paragraph.

Dear friends, if you came across a platter piled high with a mixture of manure and rat poison, nevertheless interspersed with sprinkles and topped with a cherry, would you devour it? Would you deem this a great feast, and indeed invite your friends in to partake?

This is precisely what Archbishop Chaput, and all the other big Catholic names who positively reviewed this movie, have done. And I write this post because what we have here is no mere isolated event; rather, this is the fundamental problem with so much cinema erroneously lauded by Christians. First, allow me to summarize this particular movie for you – because trust me, you should not watch it.

  • A man tells an innocent priest, Fr. James, in the confessional that he will kill him in one week as vengeance for the abuse crisis. (The remainder of the movie is a cacophony of hideousness that transpires in this week among miscellaneous other parishioners.)
  • Next, there is a conversation in which the two priests flippantly break the seal of the confessional as if we, the audience, are supposed to find this funny. (Later in the movie both of these priests also take the Lord’s Name in vain).
  • Fr. James goes about his duties throughout the week, visiting parishioners and addressing various issues they are involved in. In each, there is incredibly sinful behavior happening, and Fr. James rarely does anything but squint and look serious. There are a few morsels of wisdom he dispenses, yes – that I certainly concede. But there are also instances where he either blatantly sins by omission, or even goes so far as to condone or cooperate with evil. In one case, he advises a young man — who comes to him complaining of sexual frustration — to go move to a city where it is easier to find women with loose morals. In another he refuses to be merciful to a convicted murderer. In another he agrees to get a gun for an old man who wants one in case he wants to kill himself.
  • Interspersed with his parishioner visits are long walks and talks with his grown daughter (he is a widower), whom we are supposed to find very cute. These scenes drag on and accomplish nothing but the reiteration of tired movie cliches. In one scene he dances with her at a bar after she does cocaine (edit: I mis-heard this line — the reference was to her using cocaine “a long time ago.” Nevertheless even that helps illustrate the utterly flippant and casual attitude this movie takes to grave sin.)
  • There is barely any redemption, just sin. And not only sin, but flippancy with respect to sin. We, the audience, are supposed to find the sinfulness of his parishioners very funny, at least in many scenes.  I could list many more instances, but I hope you now get the point.
  • On the eve of the one week mark, he goes to a bar, gets incredibly drunk, shoots a bunch of glass with a handgun, and then gets into a fight. There is no remorse or repentance shown for this in the film (though I suppose we are expected to assume it, this is never an acceptable assumption for a story).
  • Now for the aforementioned allegorical cherry: at the end of the movie, the man from the beginning does indeed kill Fr. James, but Fr. James tries to tell the killer, even in the middle of the killing, that it is not too late to change his mind. The movie ends with a scene of Fr. James’ daughter sitting down to visit the killer in jail, implying forgiveness. A powerful message indeed, but one that could be found in many places that would not require two hours of wallowing in sewage.

You can’t be afraid of getting dirty, Daniel. This is the real world we are dealing with, and deal with it we must — in all its gritty reality,” many will say to me. How true that statement is; and how lamentable it is that so many Catholics suffer from dirt-phobia! Every day my apostolates mire me in the filth, and expose me to things I wish I never had to see or hear. I do it to bring the mercy of Jesus to the peripheries. I don’t roll around in the muck as a hobby — as if it were a good thing in and of itself — nor should anyone, which is precisely what watching movies like this consists in.

Perhaps this is just a lesson for me, above all. As a husband and father, I am the priest, prophet, and king of my household. I failed in that duty tonight by letting filth into it, and the mere fact that it was at the encouragement of a great Bishop is irrelevant. Archbishop Chaput, and for that matter even Pope Francis himself, have about as much authority and ability to do that duty for me as my next door neighbor’s dog does. I am not implying any sort of disobedience or disrespect to their authority as successors to the Apostles; I am simply pointing out that I alone am called to be the head of my family (only vicariously, of course, for Christ) – they are not.

Dear fellow Christian husbands and fathers, take note. The standard against which we are judged is Christ; no one else.

I will not set before my eyes 

whatever is base

-Psalm 101:3

Mother Most Chaste, Pray for us.

St. Joseph, Pray for us.

[Some next-day afterthoughts: I still think Chaput a great Bishop, but I am just saying this was a lapse of judgment on his part. Furthermore, I am not saying that movies cannot deal with filth; they must – we cannot limit ourselves to children’s movies! – and I heartily recommend many movies that do so in an admirable way (e.g. The Passion of the Christ, Beyond the Gates, The 1998 Les Miserables, Deliver us From Evil (2014), and many more). But dealing with filth must be done in moderation, with veiling, and only in so far as it is needed to set the stage for the redemptive act — and obviously it is never licit to have a sex scene of any sort in a movie — see my post on Les Mis for more on that.]