Saturday, October 1, 2016

Everything in its own good time

Upon a friend's recommendation, yesterday for the first time I saw "The Island", a 2006 Russian movie by Sergey Korsakov,  presented in full length on YouTube with English subtitles. From watching and reflecting I have learned two things: the film has almost cult status in Catholic spirituality circles and my reading of this lovely and profound film is very different from some other people's, and people whom I very much respect.

To explain what I mean by the second point, I would just say that most aficionados are captivated by the mysticism of it all, when from my reading, at least, I think the point is another about the Christian life this side of Heaven in all its splendor. What is here so richly proffered should really bring us all to our senses (if I can be so blunt); it breaks through the complacency of the common fare too often served up as Catholicism today.

The film is really an icon of Mother Church in all her dimensions. For us Roman Catholics, it can teach the sense of Purgatory and of our need to do penance in this world for the temporal punishment we have incurred for our sins committed and forgiven by God, through the ministry of His Church in the Sacrament of Penance. For himself and for the life of the world, the elder does not tire of beseeching the Lord for forgiveness and remission of the punishment he so deserves; he prays constantly that he might be able to stand before his Judge when released from this vale of tears.

Cinematographically and with effect, the sins of monastic life are laid bare: the petty jealousies among monks, the vanity of the superior, the false consolation to be found and cast out, in a pair of boots or a blanket; even the pretension by his superior of offering the elder a special wood coffin as an act of piety is soundly rejected.

More interesting for me in the film are the elders encounters with lay people: the young woman pregnant out of wedlock, who seeks a blessing for an abortion, and receives a sharp reprimand from the elder and the menace of everlasting hell-fire; by him she is lovingly challenged to accept fully with love and hopeful joy the baby boy in her womb; the faithful widow, who is assured that the husband she thought dead so many long years is alive and waiting for her to come and close his eyes. The elder rebuffs her reticence to sell all and go to find him in Paris; he calls forth from her that unconditional love she was spared from practicing in her presumed widowhood. The elder heals the leg of the boy whose doting mother had carried him to the monastery in search of bodily healing; he takes the boy from her when she chooses leaving the monastery to get back to her job rather than staying the night to enable her child to receive Holy Communion the next morning to seal his healing. He drives the demon from the admiral's daughter and sends her to confession and Communion. The elder challenges her father to come to faith in the living God, the elder receiving recompense and release from this life in knowing that in the person of the admiral there stood before him the skipper of the boat he had thought to have murdered out of slavish fear.

My four years in Ukraine and the intimate contact with the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church gave me an edge that I would not have had, had I watched the film earlier. Everything in its own time. One of the beauties of the Byzantine liturgy and prayer culture are the established forms. The only spontaneous prayer in the film was the one the elder solicited from the boy, encouraging him to ask the Lord for healing. All else were Psalms, Scripture passages, and parts of the Church's treasury of prayers. We need to return to depending upon Mother Church to provide us with words, maybe even Latin words, as most of the elder's praying was in Church Slavonic, another ancient liturgical language.

In the grime of all the coal dust and the ragged clothing of the elder, there is to be found what is starkly essential. In the bluntness of it all, the Genesis account of Cain and Abel strikes and challenges with an eloquence not found on lecture podiums or from pulpits. "The Island" is essential as our Catholic Faith is meant to be. It is lived out at home, in one on one encounters; it is something vibrant and alive, to be treasured in every way, shape and form.

I think we should turn ourselves over to St. Faustina and to the Divine Mercy Chaplet. In that simple repetition we may gain a needed sense of the Divine Presence and our hearts, please God, could turn to sincere repentance and contrition.



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