Saturday, September 4, 2010

Cinema Catechism - Combining Catechesis with Film

Before He ascended to heaven, Jesus said that the Apostles would receive power from the Holy Spirit and they would be His witnesses to the world. Ten days later, the Holy Spirit descended upon the faithful at Pentecost and the Church was born. In Baptism, we are born into the Church, and in Confirmation, the Holy Spirit descends upon us as it did at Pentecost in order for us to actively participate in the mission of the Church to be a witness of Christ, to spread the Good News, and be a reflection of His Light of Love and Truth to a dark world.

Throughout history, the Church has utilized a variety of methods to fulfill this mission and teach the faith, such as preaching, personal instruction, written materials. Indeed, as we see in the Divine pedagogy of Salvation History, as set out in scripture, the Lord Himself has utilized a variety of teaching methods. Jesus seemed particularly to favor the parable. The Church too recognizes the need to use a variety of methods.

More specifically, from her earliest days, beyond preaching and formal catechesis, the Church has made use of art to instruct the faithful and spread the faith, including icons, sculptures, frescos and paintings, tapestries, stained glass windows, architecture, poems, and music. Looking up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the beautiful innocence depicted in the face of Adam at his creation teaches us something, as does the pained and anguished look on his face as he leaves the Garden after the Fall. To be sure, Michelangelo's home, the Archdiocese of Florence, Italy, has a formal Office of Catechesis through Art.

The 20th century saw the rise of film as an art form. Although the Church did caution against the danger of film being used for improper and immoral purposes, it saw that movies could also be used to advance the faith:
why should not these noble arts strive particularly to this end, that they spread the teaching of God and of His Son, Jesus Christ, "and instill into minds that Christian truth which alone can provide the strength from above to the mass of men, aided by which they may be able with calmness and courage, to overcome the crises and endure the severe trials of the age in which we now live?" (Pope Pius XII, Miranda Prorsus (1957)).
Indeed, some of the earliest films were religious in nature, such as the original versions of Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments. And movies on faith saw something of a heyday in the 1950s and 60s.

While religion (and the Christian faith generally and Catholicism specifically) did kind of die out as a genre in Hollywood films after the 1960s, there was the occasional movie of faith. Recent years, however, have shown a resurgence of faith-related and faith-based films (mostly produced out of Europe), a prime example being The Passion of the Christ, which was not only an astounding success at the box office, it had a deep and profound impact on millions who saw it.

Cinema Catechism is a new venture in religious education which seeks to utilize film, which, as seen with The Passion, can be a form of sacred art, for purposes of catechesis. As Pope John Paul II noted,
I would like to recall here, for example, the numerous film presentations of the life and passion of Jesus and of the lives of the saints, still available in many film libraries, and which are useful, above all, to animate numerous cultural, recreational and catechetical activities undertaken by many dioceses, parishes and religious institutions. From those beginnings a rich body of religious cinema has been produced, with a large number of films that have had significant influence on many people. (Message for World Communications Day 1995)
The movies selected for viewing in Cinema Catechism are of the big-production feature-film type, and ideally are films that people have not yet seen or had an opportunity to see. Film at its best can transcend the screen, and lead us think and ponder and reflect in ways that written or spoken words cannot. Combining the visual with the aural, together with the dramatic telling of a story, engages the learner on multiple levels. Most especially, in a fairly easy and effective way, film can stimulate a person's imagination and interest to then go on to read and learn more about the subject at hand. In viewing these films, our purpose is not mindless entertainment, but religious instruction and reflection in order to grow in the faith.
[T]he cinema is in reality a sort of object lesson which, for good or for evil, teaches the majority of men more effectively than abstract reasoning . . . good motion pictures are capable of exercising a profoundly moral influence upon those who see them. In addition to affording recreation, they are able to arouse noble ideals of life, to communicate valuable conceptions, to impart a better knowledge of the history and the beauties of the Fatherland and of other countries, to present truth and virtue under attractive forms, to create, or at least to favour understanding among nations, social classes, and races, to champion the cause of justice, to give new life to the claims of virtue, and to contribute positively to the genesis of a just social order in the world. (Pope Pius XI, Vigilanti Cura (1936))
The particular inspiration for the idea of Cinema Catechism, combining substantive catechetical instruction and discussion with film, was Jean Delannoy's Bernadette (1988). Prior to watching that movie, back during the Cold War, I was much more interested in Fatima with its dramatic apocalyptic aspects than I was in Lourdes, which did not especially impress me. But I decided to watch the DVD of Bernadette just to learn a little bit about Lourdes and see what all the fuss was about. And it was from watching that film that I was motivated to go and learn more about St. Bernadette and the Lady in White at Massabielle, such that now I have developed quite an affection and devotion for Bernadette (and deepened my love of Mary). Indeed, she is one of the co-patrons I have adopted (together with St. Augustine) for any religious education class I teach.

This then is the intent of Cinema Catechism - an educational endeavor to learn something new, to get a little taste of a given subject in the faith, specifically in order to promote discussion and use the experience as a springboard to encourage one to reflect further and go learn more on his or her own. In this way, we not only grow in the faith ourselves, but in our learning, we better prepare ourselves to spread that faith to the world.

(See also, Inter Mirifica (Vatican II, 1963); Address of Pope Pius XII, The Ideal Film (1955); Pontifical Council for Social Communications, 100 Years of Cinema (1995))

Here is a list of some available faith-related films --

Acts (word-for-word dramatization)
The Agony and the Ecstasy
Saint Anthony: the Miracle Worker of Padua (Daniele Liotti)*
Babette’s Feast
The Bells of St. Mary’s
Ben Hur
Passion of Bernadette*
Beyond the Gates
Black Robe
Constantine and the Cross
The Exorcist
Fiddler on the Roof
The Fourth Wise Man
Francis of Assisi (Bradford Dillman)
Saint Francis (Raoul Bova)*
The Gospel of John (word-for-word dramatization)
The Gospel of Matthew (word-for-word dramatization)
Guadalupe (2006)*
The Hiding Place
Jesus of Nazareth
The Jeweler’s Shop
John XIII*
Joseph of Nazareth
Joyeux Noel
Karol: the Man who Became Pope
Karol: the Pope, the Man
Lilies of the Field
A Man for All Seasons
Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima
Molokai: the Story of Fr. Damien
Monsieur Vincent*
Mother Teresa
Mother Teresa: the Legacy (documentary)
The Ninth Day*
Padre Pio: Miracle Man*
The Passion of the Christ*
St. Patrick – the Irish Legend
Paul VI: The Pope in the Tempest*
St. Peter
Pope John Paul II (Jon Voight)
The Prisoner
Quo Vadis (Polish miniseries)*
Saint Rita*
The Robe
The Scarlet and the Black
Sophie Scholl: The Final Days*
Tender Mercies
The Ten Commandments (1956)
The Ten Commandments (2006)
Thérèse (1986)*
Thérèse: The Story of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (2004)
The 13th Day
A Time for Miracles (Elizabeth Ann Seton)

*foreign language film

1 comment:

She said...

Great explanation of and rationale for this concept. Best of luck - I hope it's a smashing success for you!