Posts Tagged ‘Of Gods and Men’

Did God Finally Get a Thumbs Up from Roger Ebert? Or Is It the Other Way Around?

Friday, April 5th, 2013

Of the many fine essays that the late Roger Ebert wrote, three have interested me in particular.

The first was his 2013 post How I am a Roman Catholic, written only about a month prior to his death. The second was his 2009 post How I Believe in God. The third was his 2009 extended essay My Name is Roger and I’m an Alcoholic.

In all of these essays, Mr. Ebert refused to commit to belief in God, but he also refused to finalize his view. He as well rejected the label of atheist or agnostic. Despite Mr. Ebert’s lack of belief in God, he stated firmly instead that he was Catholic.

On several occasions, Mr. Ebert would mention how much he learned from his grade school nuns about trying to believe, and about asking God for help to do so. His recollections reminded me of the particularly striking statement by my seventh grade teacher, Sister M. Danile, OSF, then a Rochester Franciscan, who quoted Revelation 3:16 (not John 3:16) to us:

Because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.

Revelation 3:16, New American Bible, USCCB website, accessed 4/5/13

Sr. Danile, who had tough love totally down, was also perhaps, retrospectively, among the most contemplative and deeply loving of my grade school teachers at St. Priscilla School in Chicago. [I have earlier written about my music teacher, Sr. Catherine Cecile Dwerlkotte].

By these words I mean, having been a teacher myself, that I have reflected on Sr. Danile’s pedagogy many a time over the past decades, and have concluded that Sr. Danile could only have said the tough and yet humorous things she said to us–and she said them by design–because she loved us students very deeply and completely and had obviously thought and prayed about what she taught us. I am sure that she spiritually struggled for us. I remember her as a living Beatitude: as pure of heart. Often I pray for her, in thankfulness for her witness.

So one day Sr. Danile made a special point of letting us know that we were put on earth to decide about God, and to commit one way or another. We could not be lukewarm, because Jesus Himself, as meek and gentle as He could be, would spit us out.

What a hard saying! But Sr. Danile specialized in delivering the hard sayings.

Perhaps Roger Ebert did not have the benefit of a Sr. Danile. While on a day to day basis Mr. Ebert did not fail to quickly give movies either a thumbs up or down, until quite near his own end he appeared to keep giving God a thumbs sideways.

Mr. Ebert surprised many by his March, 2013 blog which upheld the rights of a child conceived in rape. This conclusion followed his deep sense of fairness.

His reviews (e.g., Of Gods and Men, For Greater Glory) indicated that he saw Christian martyrdom as a waste. There was something about the sacrificial in Catholicism that challenged him deeply.

Roger Ebert shared very honestly (and simply) that he didn’t believe in God. He tried. He looked up at the stars, and wondered. But he couldn’t commit, at least as of March, 2013.

Mr. Ebert tried to come to terms with God. We should pray for him, and none but God can judge him. All of us depend on God’s mercy.

Like some contemporary Christians, Mr. Ebert apparently had little use for Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI, or, more correctly, he only felt an affinity for Blessed John XXIII. In those places where Mr. Ebert very publicly rejected Catholic teaching, and there were several, I do differ with him.

But I have a theory that Roger Ebert didn’t want to give God a thumbs up until he had lived through the whole movie. Like St. Thomas the Apostle, another very visual man, Mr. Ebert may have had to see it all for himself first. This is in keeping with the famous line of St. Paul in I Corinthians 13:12

At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.

I Corinthians 13:12, New American Bible, USCCB website, accessed 4/5/13

St. Thomas Aquinas posited that we have a natural desire for the Beatific Vision, a desire to see God, called by Aquinas the desire for aliqua contemplatio divinorum. [Please see a related in-depth reflection on this natural desire by the Epistole blog here.] Roger Ebert seemed to have this desire. He stated that often he loved the questions.

But Roger Ebert’s statements also came dangerously close to the parodies of diffident believers in C.S. Lewis’s masterful short fantasy, The Great Divorce, each of whom condemned themselves for eternity. Several of Lewis’s parodied spirits thought the decision about God was all about them, and not about them asking God instead to reach out to help them.

Another way of putting C.S. Lewis’s point in The Great Divorce is that we are called to accept that God is our judge, and that we are not God’s judge: more directly, to accept that God is God, and that we are not.

None of us, except his dear family and loved ones, are privy to the final weeks and days of Roger Ebert. None of us will know, unless revealed to us by God, what goes on in another’s soul in the final hour of death. One very nice thing about gradual death is that as our strength goes, so often we come closer to the point of surrender to the Divine. I’ve read that Mr. Ebert’s last gesture was a smile. This seems to be a very consoling sign.

But it also would be just like Roger Ebert to have the surprise, thriller ending. I hope he didn’t cut it too close. I hope that the Devil was not in the side view mirror, for as we all know, objects there are actually closer than they appear.

Sr. Danile taught me years ago that it is God, and not us, who gives the final thumbs up. The very next year, Sr. M. Martin, OSF, exhorted us not to be a “doubting Thomas.” Easier said than done! Lord, help my unbelief. . .

Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

John 20:29, New American Bible, USCCB website, access 4/5/13

Some think there is no place in the Roman Catholic Church for those who, like Mr. Ebert, accept the Church in general, but openly do not accept God, or do not accept his or that Church teaching. But we might reflect that the Church is called Holy Mother Church for a reason: this Mother, wed to Christ, holds her arms ever open offering life, love, and salvation.

We, however, must ultimately–and thus for eternity–decide whether to accept the love of the Church and the love of God.

May Roger Ebert’s soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Now showing in the US: Of Gods and Men

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

The acclaimed French film, Of Gods and Men (Des hommes et des dieux), is now (mid-March, 2011) showing in the US.

Fair use of scaled down version of film poster, Copyright © 2010 by Mars Distribution, from Wikipedia

For more on the history of the film, see my previous post, the film’s Wikipedia entry, and for theater showings, see its official website.

The film is out on DVD and Blu-Ray as of 7/6/11.

This film challenges the presuppositions of its viewers. In particular, Roger Ebert’s review of the film questioned whether the monks made the right decision by remaining at the monastery “in the face of quite probable death. . . . It is egotism to believe their help must take place in this specific monastery.”

Apparently, Ebert’s paradigm of truth is politics, and his model of priest is social worker. Ebert may not be aware that Trappists take a vow of stability, to remain in one place. This vow forces them to confront the Incarnation of Christ in their own vocation–a confrontation dramatized so prominently in the film.

If all Christians who remained in place after threats of violence followed instead Ebert’s preference, the Coptic Christians in Egypt should have stayed home at Christmas, Christians should leave Iraq and most of the Middle East, and the late Shahbaz Bhatti should have held his tongue about Pakistan’s unjust blasphemy laws. Following Ebert’s logic, Christians under threat should depopulate their homelands. No one should live out their religious freedom if under serious threat, but each should go someplace else safe instead, and somehow then “help many.” It is interesting that on this count Ebert’s view, based upon his “realistic terms,” echoes that of the Islamists.

To both Ebert and the Islamists, Trappist spiritual stability poses a challenge. The calling of a Trappist monk is to incarnate the Word of Christ at a particular time, at a particular place. This the film Of Gods and Men reveals beautifully.

© Copyright 2011, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Film Preview: Of Gods and Men

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Now showing in the UK in early December, 2010, and unfortunately not to show in the US until late Spring, 2011, director Xavier Beauvois’ film Of Gods and Men (Des Hommes et Des Dieux), won the Grand Prix at the 2010 Cannes film festival, and has been viewed by millions in France.

Of Gods and Men tells the story of a small group of Cistercian monks in Algeria in the 1990s who must make a decision whether to remain in their monastery and risk being killed by terrorists, or to leave for safety in France.

The following links offer several previews of the film:

indiemoviesonline.com review, with embedded trailer.

Cineuropa listing with alternate trailer.

imdb.com listing.

The List review with embedded trailer.

YouTube site with several different film clips.

The Wikipedia listing.

France has picked this film as its national entry into the Oscar competition.

As the film draws closer to the US release, I’ll post further information.

© Copyright 2010, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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