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There are almost always a few movies playing that I'd like to see, but I don't have the opportunity to see very many of them. Every once in a while, however, we decide to take everyone to the theater and support a film that affirms positive values. That's what we did last Saturday, when we went to "Act of Valor."
The trailers advertising the movie on TV definitely caught my attention. Let's face it: even if you don't have anything against "chick flicks," explosions and camouflage coupled with words like "honor" and "sacrifice" make for an exciting cinema experience. But what closed the deal for us was an interview I happened to catch with the film's two producers.
"Act of Valor" centers on the heroism of Navy SEALS. The main characters are not played by actors, but by active-duty military personnel. The real deal. The producers recounted that after meeting with Navy Special Ops, it was immediately apparent to them that actors would not be able to portray the story's heroes in a realistic or convincing way. Everything the SEALS do in the movie is based on actual training. This also means that nothing in the film is computer generated or merely a special effect. And because SEALS train with real guns firing real rounds, "Act of Valor" is the first movie made using live ammunition since the 1920s.
Given what I heard about the movie, I expected an evening of less than stellar acting, a weak but manly storyline, romanticized violence, and a predictable -- albeit patriotic -- ending. Instead, we got natural and convincing characters, an engaging story, appropriately horrifying violence, and an ending that affirmed both the cost and the value of self-sacrifice. Of course, we also got live ammo.
But when I think about it, we didn't have to go to the movies to see real bullets, or feel them whiz past us. Honor, valor, self-sacrifice, these things by their very nature draw fire, no matter who or where you are. As Christians, we should expect to face live ammunition every day -- that is if we are sincerely cultivating holiness and virtue, if we are choosing to make our life a living sacrifice of praise. But we should also recognize that the bullets shot at us don't always come from those who oppose us; sometimes it's friendly fire, sometimes it's even self-inflicted.
We live our faith in a culture that is increasingly hostile to it, and us. If we are to serve our mission well, one thing is very clear: we need to do more than just play a role. We must be the real thing, authentic disciples of Jesus Christ. That takes training, and the kind of dedication that doesn't hold back or think twice.
Fidelity to Christ and his Church may require more valor now than it has in quite some time. But the most deadly battlefields in every age have been the ones in our own hearts. It is there we have always needed courage of the boldest order.
Lent is an annual boot camp for the soul. But if we limit our training exercises to things like giving up chocolate, few of us will be prepared for the front lines. Not all of us will be able to jump out of planes at night, snorkel undetected across tropical rivers, disarm our enemies, or rescue victims of abduction. Not many will be called to the spiritual equivalents of these heroic things. But unless all of us take seriously whatever call we have, and learn to live our faith in solidarity and communion with others, we'll be unlikely to advance the mission Jesus set before us. That mission is the salvation of every human soul.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.