Wednesday, July 9, 2008

St. Paul goes to the Movies in the Pauline Year 2008-2009

Painting of St. Paul by El Greco

I recently received two inquiries about major motion pictures that correlate with St. Paul's life, ministry, letters. Folks want to use the films to explore the theology and spirituality of St. Paul during this Pauline Year June 2008 -June 2009, commemorating the birth of St. Paul. I think this is a great idea! In fact, we may choose Pauline theological themes as the framework of the National Film Retreat in 2009.

Here are some suggestions for now, but I hope to amplify this list over the next few months. The first thing to do, is of course, is to identify the key theological themes in St. Paul's life and writings.


These two books explore some films from a Pauline perspective.

St. Paul at the Movies: The Apostles Dialogue with American Culture

by Robert Jewett; paperback, 1993

St. Paul Returns to the Movies: Triumph Over Shame

by Robert Jewett; paperback, 1998


Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM offers many themes in his amazing CD series, The Great Themes of Paul: Life as Participation, from St. Anthony Messenger Press:

I have already listened to this series twice (and some of the CD's even more). It is accessible and explains so very much about Paul.


You might also subscribe to so you can received the Pope’s weekly talk from his Wednesday general audience). Pope Benedict XVI has already started what will be an amazing catechesis/exegesis collection of St. Paul.


Right off I can offer these four themes and if you order Richard Rohr's series and take notes while listening, which I warmly recommend, you can find so many more.

-          Experience of God (Paul’s Encounter with Christ on the Road to Damascus; his mystical experiences; his understanding of redemption)

o   Millions; The Third Miracle; Brideshead Revisited (on DVD but a new film version is coming out this summer); Cry the Beloved Country; The Mission

-          Transformation (Paul’s Transformation – he never speaks of conversion but of transformation in Christ)

o   The Lives of Others – a Stasi agent is transformed by art, and the goodness of others

-          Participation (Body of Christ; love for one another; Agape, Filia, Eros)

o   Mostly Martha, Big Night,  Babette’s Feast; What’s Cooking; Simply Irresistible, Pieces of April; Soul Food; Eat, Drink, Man, Woman: any of the food movies that speak to family, food/meals, community

-          New Creation (The cosmos; the new heaven and the new earth; care for the earth)

o   Contact; An Inconvenient Truth; The Burning Season; WALL-E


Cinema Divina

I suggest using the Cinema Divina approach (based on the ancient practice of lectio divina.) For an article, Cinema Divina for Teachers: Spiritual Development through Contemporary Film (Today's Catholic Teacher, Jan-Feb, 2008) explaining this method, please visit

Theological Reflection

Another approach is that of Theological Reflection (which interfaces well with a media mindfulness approach). For an article, Preaching Goes to the Movies: the Gospel meets popular culture when homilies dare to engage film (National Catholic Reporter, 2004) explaining how to use theological reflection for film viewing, visit :

Pastoral Planning and Preparation

Most of these films are for mature believers who understand that the film is a story about something rather considering it in its parts, which, when taken by themselves, may seem inappropriate to some viewers. Only one or two films above are suitable for adolescents; the rest are for young adults and adults. I strongly recommend that you screen the films ahead of time so that you will know the story, context and content, and be able to connect Pauline and cinematic themes (and decide ifthis is really the best film for your group.)

It is a good idea to create a handout for your event(s) with the name of the film, a brief synopsis of the film (essential information about each film canbe found at - the Internet Movie Database), select quotes from Scriptures that provide a way to have a dialogue about the film and Pauline themes. It is also good to have 3-4 questions to guide the reflection and conversation.

Some words to the wise:

- Don't give in to the temptation to tell the story of the film ahead of time; if anything, read the Scripture quotes before the screening.  The vast majoroty of people dislike having the story told to them in advance. Just watch the film... Let it tell the story.

- You MUST have a license to show films in any other setting than a normal school day and within the curriculum of the school: see  Christian Video Licensing International is the name of the company. This is a fine company that can keep us all legal. Retreats and after school programs require a license. RCIA does not count as school curriculum, for example.

- Be sure to have a break after the screening. Provide refreshments.

- Move the chairs into a circle for the conversation; this provides for a respectful and fair conversation

- Avoid doing all the talking; the role of the leader is to facilitate and draw out the participants.

- To prevent someone from hogging the time and dominating the conversation, be sure to ask everyone to keep their comments to two  minutes at a time - and that you have the stop watch and will use it.

- Let the participants know that there are no right or wrong ways to interpret the film (this doesn't mean there is no right or wrong), therefore, everyone's opinion is valid and deserves respect. The facilitator may want to ask questions to clarify the comments, but respect is paramount.



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