The Catholic Club

I love movies. Even though I don't follow Hollywood or watch the Academy Awards, even though my list of favorite actors is wildly outdated and the names of the most recent crop of stars are mostly unfamiliar to me, I still love to see a story unfold on the screen.

In recent years, there have been more movies with explicitly Christian themes produced by people who claim some connection to faith in Jesus Christ. When they land in theaters, often in limited release, we almost always go to support them.

It's a mixed bag, of course. The budgets aren't usually large enough to hire the best actors or create a compelling spectacle. But sometimes the quality of the story or the creativity of the director's approach can almost make up for it. A few have even achieved box-office success.

Between the post-COVID glut of major productions and a full slate of faith-based films, we've been to the theater more than usual this year. Here are a few observations.

There's a place for limited-budget productions that aren't afraid of controversy. "Nefarious" and "Padre Pio" come to mind here. While some of the choices made in these two films were ill-advised, distracting, or ineffective, both these films explored spiritual realities that are as challenging to understand as they are to convey. We didn't need (or want) the fringe-hosted TV interview sequence to wrap up the main character's encounter with the demonic in "Nefarious." Nor did we need vague political strife or naked bodies in "Padre Pio" to give us a window into the spiritual warfare that occurs around and within us.

With "Sound of Freedom," the message took center stage. That approach often ends up feeling preachy, but in this film, it didn't. There were loose ends in the story that could have been better tied up in the telling, but it did a good job of presenting child sex trafficking in a way that horrified us enough without leaving us hopeless. What it didn't give audiences was a meaningful way to respond. Surely, there must be something we can do beyond getting more people to see the movie or buying a stranger a ticket so they can see it for free.

The film I most looked forward to was "The Miracle Club." While it didn't come from Hollywood's Christian ghetto, the trailer highlighted themes that live at or near the core of our faith: death, pilgrimage, prayer, community, and forgiveness. With a story centered on a pilgrimage to Lourdes and Maggie Smith in a leading role, I was sure it would be a favorite. It wasn't. That's because there's a difference between a Catholic film and a film with Catholic things in it. "The Miracle Club" was the latter. Real faith was largely unexplored and the deeper questions remained unasked. What the story did convey effectively was the poverty of mere cultural Catholicism and the cascading effects of sin and secrecy. In the end, all the characters received something of a miracle, but somehow God was absent. Sadly, a high number of Catholics experience the faith in a limited and impoverished version -- one similar to what is depicted in "The Miracle Club." Yet, there is so much more.

It seems to me that Hollywood has become aware that there is an audience for Christian and/or Catholic films. They've discovered that people like me are likely to buy a ticket to see a movie that affirms the teachings and practices of our faith. But we shouldn't uncritically applaud every film that includes us or addresses the things we care about. Not every theatrical release should be granted the Catholic Club seal of approval. Filmmakers that use Catholicism as a setting without conveying its depth, who present the faith as something other or less than a relationship with God, are missing the mark. And we should say so.

- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and provides freelance editorial services to numerous publishers and authors as the principal of One More Basket. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.