Saturday, April 26, 2008
Today I was watching Saving Private Ryan, a movie that never fails to move me to tears.
Earlier in the week, I was praying my rosary en route to work, and something from that movie came to mind as I contemplated the heresy of salvation by faith alone (sola fide). The movie popped into my mind, and I considered the scene where Capt. Miller, dying, said to Prvt. Ryan, "Earn This."
I remember, shortly after the movie came out, there was discussion about that scene. What did he MEAN by that? Some thought that it was a terrible thing to say. I didn't take it that way; there was a deeper meaning, which I understood to be a loving challenge.
All week, since class, I've been thinking of that scene and today I was unable to stand it no longer; I watched the movie, while reading about Martin Luther. Watching it not only in light of what I believe, but in light of the heresy to which Luther fled in the face of his own demons.
Today, as I watched that scene, I saw how Capt. Miller lay dying, his expression even almost peaceful. He was resigned, he was committed, and he was obedient. Private Ryan approached him there on that bridge, kneeling near him, watching the "angels on their shoulders" flying overhead, rescuing them from this awful apocylatpic battle.
Captain Miller drew Private Ryan near to him so he could hear, and looking him in the eye, hands shaking, and earnestly entreated him, "Earn this.....Earn This."
He was not condemning. It was a blessing of sorts, a dying man realizing he was losing his life for the right cause, desiring that this "son" of his be saved through his actions and the actions of those who had crossed France to send him home. It was a moment of adoption...a recognition that this was his progeny of sorts, a "sending forth" from the sacrifice of the battlefield, made both for him, and in conjunction with others for even a greater cause.
I won't say the movie was theologically correct, nor, if we really go into depth, would it be so. However, if we take this scene with the premise above, we still see truth.
And I'm not at all surprised that the response of some to Captain Miller's line would cause such angst. Not in light of the world we live in today...a world that denies the need of sacrifice in order to obtain salvation.
Captain Miller began his mission with skepticism as did all those hand-picked for the mission. And yet they left one horror for another, and their presence in Rammala indeed saved the lives of others, including that of the destined Private Ryan.
But Private Ryan was not going to step down because these men had been through so much to save him; he was going to participate not only in his salvation, but the salvation of others. He would not stand by; he was a soldier, and no soldier stands by in a battle. To do so would be a contradiction of his oath, his mission, his very being; it would be a denial of the value of the lives of his own brothers and the freedom he'd sacrificed so much to obtain on behalf of others.
And thus it came, the final scene, where Private Ryan met his Savior, and his Savior said, "Earn this."
It's a heavy cross to carry, and indeed, Private Ryan carried it throughout his life. For we see, in the closing scene, a fade to his advanced age where he visits Captain Miller in Arlington National Cemetary, bringing his family; those who would not exist but for Captain Miller's mission.
He speaks to his very respected, deceased Captain, asking, "Have I earned this? In your eyes...have I earned this?"
A heavy cross to bear, knowing that his life was spared and his family exists, thank to the efforts of this man and those he lead. But it was Captain Miller who gave his fiat; it was Captain Miller who chose his apostles, and many of them, especially Capt. Miller...died...so that he might have life.
From the cross, indeed, Jesus did not say "Earn this." He didn't need to; He had said it before but in different words. And His gift is indeed free, for we can't merit it in any way. However, He invites our participation, and in fact, REQUIRES it, just as Private Ryan realized his participation was required in the final battle that saved his own life.
And this is where theology and the movie part ways; for in the movie, Ryan is given a direct order to stand down but he disobeys. In real life, Jesus gives us the command and loving invitation to follow Him. As such, Capt. Miller cannot truly be a Christ figure but in the most liberal sense of the word. Miller, sadly, is a figure of Luther's misunderstood conept of the Christ who gives freely...but with animosity which comes from his union with the aloof and wrathful God the Father.
Ironic...I never expected to see that.
And yet, the truth wins out, for Ryan carries that Cross through life, "earning", or, perhaps being "justified" in his life through the actions of his life. And in this sense, the movie is indeed secular, for when Jesus Christ told us to "earn this" he did so in a way that had a far more profound meaning. For Captain Miller, it was about a legacy here on earth, and for Private Ryan, that is the cross he carried; the legacy of Capt. Miller. It was Miller's success in life that would give meaning to the life and death of the good Captain. Thus..."Earn This." The words of a dying man, calling his son to nobility, to something greater, pointing to the need for sacrifice of his own will on behalf of another; he who dies for him.
We are all called to sacrifice our wills for another, He who has died for us.
Just as Christ died for us, so that we might have eternal life.
And we are indeed justified not just by faith, but by works, for Jesus demanded that we take up our crosses and follow Him, He demanded that we unite our sufferings to His, and He taught very clearly that our actions could cause us to lose our salvation.
It's not just in the book of James...it's in the Gospels themselves. We are not saved by faith alone...the ONLY place in the Bible where the words "faith alone" appear have the words "not by" directly in front of them. And it's not just a matter of translation...it's a matter of omission, on the part of mentally ill Martin Luther.
We are not saved by faith alone, and we are not saved by works alone...we are saved through faith AND works, and I KNOW that many of our non-Catholic brothers and sisters believe this even though they say differently. For they live it out and live holy lives, more Catholic than many Catholics I know. For the Truth can't be stymied by bad philosophy and theology; the Holy Spirit works within us to direct us all to what is good and true, and draws us into participation in our salvation that we may deny even as we carry it out.
No, from the cross, Jesus did not say, "Earn this" and He does not need our devotion in order to validate His sacrifice. But WE need to complete certain works in order to be justified and be saved. Just as Private Ryan fought in the battle for his company and his life, so we are called to arms by Christ Himself as a participation in the salvation He brought to us through His necessary sacrifice for the atonement for our sins. It is our works that glorify God the most; for through His GRACE there is an interior conversion, and this reveals that sinners can become Saints through our cooperation, or rather...our works in conjunction with His invitation.
God loves us so much that He invites our free will participation...and just as by our cooperation we are saved, so through our lack of cooperation we are lost.
The choice, ultimately, is ours. Jesus already made HIS choice...but His choice cannot change our free will...we have to accept or reject salvation on our own.
We are all soldiers, faced with a choice...die in vain or unite ourselves with the sacrifice being made on our behalf?