In our first year, we have been fortunate to review a number of books and films, either directly or tangentially related to Pope Francis and his message. Dan Amiri has done the heavy lifting in this area, while Pedro Gabriel has offered his reflections on two very interesting films. Today, we’d like to highlight them again.
Dan Amiri reviews Wim Wenders’ film on Pope Francis. In his review, Amiri asks whether the doctrinal debates gripping Catholic social media are really just a “first-world problem”? Amiri highlights Wenders’ success in capturing the real Francis, a Pope for the fringes. Excerpt:
“Francis is ‘for’ these vast majority of fringe Catholics who may have appeared to have been neglected in the past. Even if this is not the reality, even if previous Popes have taken seriously the plight of the poor and the enslaved (and they have), Francis has lived out his mission in a unique way.
Being the first Pope from the Southern Hemisphere, from the Americas, and from the Jesuit order cements Francis’ unique standing on behalf of a new subset of Catholics. From the very first moment of the new papacy, Francis understood this aspect of his ministry, joking that the Conclave went searching to the ‘ends of the earth’ to find a new pope.”
Pedro Gabriel reviews the movie Silence and discusses how it can help us better understand the concepts of strength and weakness from a Catholic point of view:
“The 2016 Martin Scorcese Silence movie, a beautiful depiction of the early missionary work (and persecution) of Japanese Catholics, unfortunately got tangled up in polemics about whether it promoted apostasy as a justifiable choice in the face of persecution. I have to side with critical sources who claim it justifies an intrinsically evil act like apostasy (and therefore, cannot be endorsed on those grounds,) but I also think the movie can teach us very important lessons that got overshadowed by these polemics (which account for only about 15 seconds of the movie.)
In fact, this movie had a profound effect on me. It impressed me so much that it filled my thoughts for over a week (something a movie rarely does.) And it made me feel an urge to be a better Catholic. Just because of this, we can see that reality is really nuanced and complex: this movie can actually help someone grow in the faith, if we do not throw out the baby with the bathwater.”
In his preface to Stephen Walford’s Pope Francis, the Family, and Divorce, Pope Francis writes, “I feel certain that this book will be helpful to families. I pray for this.”
Dan Amiri reviews Walford’s book and explains how Walford expertly defends Amoris Laetita against Francis’ critics and advances his teachings on the family.
“The goal of the book, as Walford states in his interview with Mike Lewis for Where Peter Is, is to defend Francis’ work, but also “offer help to those brothers and sisters in second, civil marriages that they can advance on the path of spiritual renewal.” With all the noise and media attention that has surrounded the more provocative passages of Amoris Laetitia, it must never be forgotten that people are truly suffering. Walford writes in the book’s first chapter:
<<The Lord’s arms are always open to all the divorced and remarried, and thus I hope they too can find in this book an invitation to seek the Lord’s forgiveness and mercy, and a gradual path back to a beautiful friendship with him. There is nothing more precious than that!>>
I echo Walford and the Pope in saying that I hope that his book will be a true help to these Christians as they return to the fullness of the faith.”
Dan Amiri shows how Ross Douthat’s recent book uses terms like “civil war” to describe the debate occurring within the Church today, way overstating the negative impacts of Amoris Laetitia. No surprise then that Douthat also misrepresents the position of Francis and gives no in-depth treatment to his nuanced theology.
“Whether it’s because Douthat is primarily a political commentator writing on the Church–a potential weakness he concedes at the very beginning of his book–or because Douthat’s conservative bent has blinded him to the distinctions that can be found in the Church anywhere to the left of himself, I cannot say. The fact is that Douthat mischaracterizes the debate over Amoris Laetitia as one between two dominant sides, a right side and a left side, a conservative side and a progressive side. In Douthat’s mind, one side is correct, the other is wrong. The winner of this debate will be determined by a political calculus that has long-reaching doctrinal ramifications for the Church, which, in turn, have the potential of tearing the Church apart.”
Pedro Gabriel tries something different in this article: by reviewing one of his favorite movies, he tries to shed some light on Pope Francis’ pontificate, namely its approach to human frailty.
“In a world where we deal with suffering by denying truth… in a world where we go so far as redesigning the whole fabric of society so that every single uncomfortable reality is violently repressed… in a world where we create “safe spaces” to protect us from contrary opinions and facts… in a world where we use shallow entertainments to alienate people from the meaninglessness of their current lives… in a world where every single right is subordinated to the avoidance of suffering… this is a truly revolutionary message.
To hide truth is not to deal with suffering. Rather, it’s repressing suffering. It’s concealing suffering behind a mask of pseudo-happiness.
But in our fight against this relativistic world we may risk falling into the opposite end. We may start to present truth irrespectively of the suffering that it may cause. Or we may start to use truth as a weapon. Or as a banner that we proudly wave in rebellion against the status quo.
In this sense, this movie shines precisely because it achieves the balance this unbalanced world of ours seems unable to reach”
Daniel Amiri reviews Philip Lawler’s Lost Shepherd.
While Lawler highlights the ways in which the papacy of Francis has led to confusion, he ascribes sinister motives and consequences to this confusion.
In contrast, Daniel Amiri shows how Francis’ mission to reach out to the “outermost fringes” of society has revealed the confusion pervasive in our sinful society.
“Somehow, in some way, the Church absolutely must speak to the faithful even here. It cannot merely hide behind doctrine.”
Mike Lewis is a writer and graphic designer from Maryland, having worked for many years in Catholic publishing. He’s a husband, father of four, and a lifelong Catholic. He’s active in his parish and community. He is a founding editor for Where Peter Is.