Friday, April 27, 2018

Not the St. Paul I Know and Love: About Paul the Apostle of Christ Movie

Did you ever watch a move made from a  book you loved and feel let down because the filmmakers left out all the things you liked about the story and fecklessly changed many other things? That’s what I felt after going to see "Paul the Apostle of Christ."  They left out all my favorite parts of some of my favorite books.

As a summary, they show early Christians as loving, but avoid showing the sacramental life they must have practiced. Faith is almost reduced to social work. To me the story banalizes St. Paul, St. Luke, and the early Christians.

The Scriptural story about how St. Paul was converted from a persecutor of Christians to a lover of Christ to his martyrdom is riveting. So is the story of how he walked thousands of miles and suffered beatings and deprivations to bring the good news of Christ to the ancient world, and of how he ended up in Rome by shrewdly claiming his rights as a Roman citizen when brought to trial in Israel. 
But the movie--not so riveting. If I could have left without disturbing the person to my right in her recliner seat, I would have walked out soon after the movie started. So I settled for cat naps through the rest of the movie. Those new recliner seats are great.

I was looking for the saints Paul and Luke who I love and couldn't find them in the movie. There is so much real drama in the New Testament, the filmmaker didn't need to concoct what to me is an uninteresting, unbelievable story. Some say you won’t be able to follow the story unless you know the Acts of the Apostles, which isn’t going to be a good thing for most viewers. But then, I know the Acts account well,  and I couldn’t follow their story anyway. 

They didn't quote the Scriptures in any coherent way, even though they claim in interviews to have started with the Scriptures. Part of a sentence of dialogue from Paul will be an authentic quote, and the rest will be made up. The next sentence doesn’t follow from the first, so the true doctrine of Christ doesn’t ever get spoken. 
The tag line was "Love is the only Way.” That is not the message of Christ.  He told us He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that no one comes to the Father except through Him. And even more importantly He said, to show that you belong to Me, keep My commandments. 

There is a lot of complexity to the the Catholic faith, with mysteries such as Baptism, the ordained priesthood, the papacy, and the Eucharist, but our minds are only opened to understanding it all when we realize who Christ is and respond with love to what He did for us. It is trivializing to boil it all down to one simplistic slogan.

Based on one verse in one of St. Paul's letters saying "only Luke is with me,” in the movie Luke comes to Rome to find Paul, who is imprisoned. By a prearrangement, Luke connects with a group of Catholics led by Priscilla and Aquila. 
In the New Testament account, Paul met the couple Priscilla and Aquila in Corinth and lived with them and made tents with them AFTER they had been expelled by Claudius from Rome because Aquila was a Jew and  BEFORE the time Paul was taken to Rome by the authorities.
On Luke's way to meet up with the Catholics, we get to see Christians "burning like candles" to light the streets by Nero's order. It seemed as though the filmmakers had to throw in some shocking violence.
The scriptwriters have Luke writing the Acts of the Apostles while visiting Paul in prison.  Luke is allowed to freely visit Paul after he is found sneaking into the prison and brought to the prison commander, although the script doesn't believably indicate the commander's motivation. 

The central dramatic point seems to be that the Catholics are undecided about whether to flee Rome to avoid the fate of many others who are sent to die in the Coliseum. Priscilla wants to stay because she is helping people. 
The movie reduces Christianity to be kindness and social work. The sacramental Catholicism of the early Church is not shown. The Christians who are hiding out together resemble a group of well-meaning hippies. To my mind, they would have gathered to worship Christ and pray. They would have taken care of each other but wouldn’t have had that as their main focus.  But the movie doesn’t show them worshiping together or remembering Christ’s death in the Mass.

To me St. Paul is a powerfully attractive person because the Lord revealed Himself and all His truth to him at a single stroke.  He became the Apostle to the Gentiles.  In the movie, he is an old man in prison, without enough context. He could have had such great lines, if they used the New Testament, such as the ones he wrote that without the Resurrection our faith is vain. 

Spoiler alerts follow.
Luke is a doctor, so he is called to help the dying daughter of the prison commander. Luke says her lungs are filling up with blood, then he dramatically punctures a hole in her rib cage--with her father’s sword--to allow blood to drain. And then Luke sends the commander to the hideout to get some healing drugs, exposing the Catholics to possible arrest. Then everyone is shown praying for the little girl. She recovers immediately.  Maybe it was the medicine? Her mother and father embrace her with no attempt to avoid the area which Luke had recently opened in the back of chest, so the hole might have healed miraculously. It’s as though the filmmakers are afraid to portray a miracle.  The commander doesn't arrest the hiding Catholics. That's nice.

This would have been a good opportunity to have portrayed a conversion by the father, who had been tediously offering sacrifices to multiple Roman gods to ask for his daughter’s healing.  It would make sense that he would credit her cure to the one God worshiped by Luke, the courageous man who helped him at great risk to the Christians, But no. 

The commander and Paul have a chuckle together in a garden where Paul is now allowed to stroll with Luke before getting his head chopped off. They chuckle because even though the commander had prayed unsuccessfully to the Roman gods to no avail, he tells Paul, I still don't believe in your Nazarene. 
That's okay, it's implied. All you need is love. 

Maybe John Lennon and Yoko Ono were channeling St. Paul? But really, applying simplistic motives to the heroes of our Faith is just not good enough.
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