When I was young and writing for television, I used to see a lot of movies. It was part of the job to stay abreast of what was being made, and it was a good method of keeping the writing chops honed. I used to love French films because they didn't usually have a convenient sweet ending that tied up all the loose ends. The boy didn't always get the girl. The business venture did not always work out. Sometimes the hero ended up poor and disheveled at the fag end of his life. Most of the actors and actresses also looked like real people, rather than genetic marvels. The films were, in my estimation, more real, more authentic, than American films and television.
For the most part, we have a formula for American films in which there is usually a feel good "happy ending." There are a few remarkable exceptions to this rule, such as THELMA AND LOUISE and GRAN TORINO, both of which are examples of really fine films that have a considerable edge to them. Even at that, however, the protagonists in both these films "win" in the end, leaving us with a satisfying feeling, albeit tinged with a bit of sadness. Bittersweet.
The American formula for films and television reflects the American ideal of the "right" to pursue happiness. It is what our country was founded upon. While happiness is a good thing, it is a pathetic goal, when you think about it. There is nothing grand in it. On the face of it, it is a narcissistic goal, but it is a goal that many people I've encountered in life have swallowed.
When I was in the Hindu convent, the purpose of life was to get oneself to a state of "realization of God." Taking anyone else along with you wasn't a focus and, although the occasional feeding of the poor was practiced, the goal was a solitary one. It was selfish at its heart, and this is what disenchanted me about the Vedanta philosophy, in the end.
A Mormon relative once said to me that "the purpose of life is to have as many fun experiences as possible," to which I replied that the purpose of life is get yourself, your family and your neighbor to heaven. It just popped out of my mouth, but I now realize that this is the profound difference between Catholicism and many other religions and philosophies.
The Catholic faith is like those French films I enjoyed when young. It is real. It is authentic. It doesn't promote the rainbows and bubble gum Jesus to whom so many people cling. It doesn't promise a happy life or wealth or "prosperity" because Jesus didn't promise those things. He promised the cross and the sword. Later, we enjoy the bliss of living with our heavenly father for eternity, provided that we follow his commandments, especially the two that he most emphasized.
These greatest of commandments points away from oneself and toward God and neighbor, going so far as to decree that we love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves. In an era when conservative Catholics are promoting the idea that we all have the right to pursue success but the poor do not have the right to live as well as others, it is clear that we have lost our way, but what can I do about that, aside from mentioning it in my blog?
My meditation for this Lent will concentrate on what Jesus said are the two most important commandments. I plan to put this scripture passage before my eyes every day during the lectio divina portion of my prayers, and I will endeavor to listen to what the Lord has to say to me about these greatest of all commandments and how I may better practice them in my life.
What will YOU do for lent?
Silver Rose Parnell
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