After experiencing the movie “For Greater Glory” last weekend, I was compelled to write. I hope this serves as a useful movie review, and then some (y aún más) – for I knew upon leaving the theatre that the experience demanded reflection.
Practical bits first.
This movie is rated R for a reason – the violence depicted is very real – so you’ll want to leave the children at home. Also, it is nearly 3 hours long, so go into the film prepared. For those of a more tender sentimentality, I would suggest bringing tissues. I personally have not cried so much since I went to see The Passion of the Christ.
I cannot claim to be a movie buff, but in my humble opinion the acting, music, and screenplay were superb. It was quite long – but then again, it was quite a story. The true story, as outlined on the film’s website, is this:
“What price would you pay for freedom? In the exhilarating action epic FOR GREATER GLORY an impassioned group of men and women each make the decision to risk it all for family, faith and the very future of their country, as the film’s adventure unfolds against the long-hidden, true story of the 1920s Cristero War, the daring people’s revolt that rocked 20th Century North America.”
The film profoundly affected me. It is one of those few films I could say I experienced, rather than watched. The issues addressed in the film and the wonderfully dynamic and human portrayal of the real people and events drew me in to the story in a way that demanded my own participation.
The film opens with a beautiful solemn song, sung in Spanish with English subtitles, that frames the whole story. “Between heaven and earth/Between light and dark/Between faith and sin/Lies only my heart/Lies God and only my heart.” The story takes place in this tension of living between, between our free will and our search for the will of God. Hence why I was so drawn in – for don’t we all live there?
Throughout the film I was faced with the characters’ inner conflicts. When peaceful resistance fails to change the unjust laws being carried out against the Chruch, should violence be used to defend the religious freedom that is being violently taken away? How can the 6th commandment – thou shalt not kill – be reconciled with the reality of a persecution so heinous and unjust that self-preservation and defense of the innocent demand action? I have faced these hard questions time and time again when someone questions me about our Church’s history and involvement in wars.
And then there’s the central theme of the film – defending the freedom of religion against a government’s intervention into the realm of faith. As I experienced the story unfold, I knew that many people watching in the US would not be able to help but draw parallels with what is going on in our modern era, this time north of the Rio Grande. Was the timely release of this film planned, or just providential? How do the things being said of religious freedom today compare with the murderous, painfully evident censorship of the faith of our Mexican brothers and sisters in 1920s? However you interpret such questions, the film demands that you consider the issue.
But the film did offer me one answer. Through General Gorostieta, the leader of the Cristeros army, we learn that honor, reason, and careful thought must be fiercely upheld against the quick temper of our passions that tempt us to pursue blind revenge for the injustice. As I listened to the General’s speech to the Cristeros, I thought of those times I have winced at the biting words of well meaning Catholics and Christians, who in defending our position on the HHS mandate have crossed the fine line between standing for the issue and attacking the person who stands on the other side. My resolve was strengthened that we must always strive for honor when defending the faith – for every time we let a snide remark slip, or let our passions blind us, we do disservice to the cause and make hypocrites of ourselves.
The most profound answer to this persecution of religious freedom and the faithful, and the clearest answer to how to live in this tension of “between,” comes in the form of a child – Blessed José Sánchez del Rio. This young boy is the heart of the film, epitomizing the heart of the Cristero movement. I did not know going into the film that I was about to meet a young saint – but the crux of the film is truly the story of his sainthood.
James Martin, SJ, writes on the effect of using movies as a medium to teach about the saints:
“In their occasional depictions of the life of the saints, movies can serve the same purpose that murals or frescoes did in prior centuries: painting the story of the saint in broad strokes, amplifying some details, avoiding others, and in general communicating the essence of the life.” (My Life with the Saints p 30-31).
The “essence” of Blessed José’s life is the driving force of the film. I don’t want to reveal too much – but surely the mighty voice of God once again breaks through to us in this child, showing us the way to heaven. In For Greater Glory, Joselíto is the “greatest.” As Christ tells us in Matthew 18:1-5:
“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children,you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.”
That was my ultimate experience of the film – I have “received” a new friend, a new young advocate and example in the multitude of heavenly saints. Little José found his way deep into my heart, and I know he has much to teach me.
My ending prayer and thought for you is this: may you receive this holy child in Christ’s name, and thus receive anew the mystery of a child-like love that is stronger than death, the mystery of a faith unshaken and clear in the midst of excruciating suffering, the Pascal mystery of the Cross of Christ.
Viva Cristo Rey – qué viva.