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Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Black Robe

Last Monday, I watched the movie, "The Black Robe" (1991), written and based on the novel by Brian Moore.

This movie just left me cold. Granted, I actually had to divide my attention between this movie and something else I was doing at the same time, but just the same, the ending was not really an ending.

The movie is about a Jesuit priest and his young friend who go to the New World as missionaries to the Algonquit and Huron "indians."

On one hand, the priest, Father Laforgue, is welcomed, but with a strong undercurrent of distrust. In fact, the people call him "demon", and the shaman tries to banish him with dances and incantations. And the very people who promise to help him in the end, betray him; even his own companion.

I could see both sides cling stubbornly to their own ways of life, not willing to look at things from another perspective, not willing to go beyond their boundaries to even understand the other side.

Now, keep in mind, I use this terminology with care, for I myself once had a mind far too open for my own good, and it lead me straight to the demon and away from my Salvation. And yet, I am a person very prone to the legalistic side of things, to a fault.

As I watched this, on one hand I could see and understand why Father Laforgue would not "give" and why the people he was sent to evangelize would also not bend, so to this point the movie gives us valuable insight into human nature in the context of cultural differences.. But on the other hand, I can also understand better the need for proper missionary work; not to compromise one's beliefs, but rather, to be prepared to sit and listen, to understand prior to evangelizing, to remember that before Christ died for us, He became one of us.

What Father didn't do in the movie was to become "one of them." He seemed a sincerely holy man, but as prone to sin as anyone. His humanity was present and admitted in humility throughout the movie. And his love of Christ and desire to bring Christ to the people, likewise was sincere. So I saw no real anti-Christianity in this portrayal of his character. Yet what was missing was an important element; he was not willing to become one of the people. He did not seem interested in understandin them in order to seek to work within their beliefs, find what is common and form a foundation. To find their spirituality and speak truths to them that they could understand from their point of view.

I have a friend who feels very called to the mission fields, and goes every year to a camp on a reservation. She loves the Native American people and feels torn between doing what is exactly correct versus doing what will work to reach the children and families there. She has observed that the people are VERY spiritual; they have no problem believing in Jesus, they have no problem understanding who God is. But they are filled with superstition and attachment to their traditional forms of spirituality, which don't always merge with Christianity.

For most people, conversion is not intellectual; it is an action of the Holy Spirit that does not necessarily involve a great deal of specific knowledge, but rather, a change of heart and response to the very Holy Spirit who calls them. So it is on the reservation. They have to be reached on a very human level, and be allowed to come to God on their own terms. It takes time, and most importantly, it takes having rapport that respects their beliefs first and just welcoms them as friends.

I would love to watch this movie with my friend; I suspect her insights would be amazing, but I can't seem to remember to bring it up!

For those who haven't seen the movie, I don't want to give it away, but truth be told, there is no real climax. When the movie ended, all I could ask was an atheistic, "Is that all there is?"

And perhaps, that's the question that MUST be asked...for that is the very question that has lead ME into a deeper relationship with Christ. And perhaps that's the question that makes us all ask how best to bring Christ into a world that does not know Him and cares nothing to make His acquaintance.

Maybe we all wear black robes.


Angela M. said...

I can use this method with my RCIA people too. I have to constantly remind myself that I have to meet them where THEY are. That does not mean I compromise Catholic teaching but that I try to understand why they believe what they do and I have to do it with love and I have to thirst for souls - NOT because I am right - but because the Catholic church has the fullness of Truth.

Melody said...

Haven't seen the movie. I would like to see a movie based on the North American Martyrs (Sts. Isaac Jogues,

Cathy_of_Alex said...

Adoro: I have not seen this film but it doesn't matter. This is a very good post. You raise a lot of issues that missionaries have struggled with for centuries and still do today.

Laura The Crazy Mama said...

I had those same thoughts when I went to the reservation to be a summer camp helper. It was hard to know that some of the kids receiving their first communion still believed that evil spirits could make your face freeze if you looked out of an open window at night, or that if you whistle while outside at night, the evil spirits would "get you"! It made me feel like things in the missionary field haven't changed much in the past hundreds of years.

Anonymous said...

He is newly arrived - the movie is his journey to the mission where he will spend the rest of his life. It would be unusual for him at that time in history to arrive already aculturated. I enjoyed this movie very much, because it shows the sacrifice that was made by both the missionaries and the converts. By accepting Christianity, the tribes were leaving themselves open to the predations of other tribes. The Jesuit must not only bring Christ to these people, but to love them with a self-sacrificing love, just as Christ loves us. His companion's journey shows how easy it was to join that non-Christian culture - and the Jesuit does not fault him for abandoning him, instead he says that it is right for the young man to go off with the young Indian, since she has lost so much in helping the Jesuit reach his post. To me, the movie is all about sacrifice.