This 96-minute documentary-style film allowed me to encounter the Holy Father’s spirit in a new, refreshing way by showing me how he not only preaches Christ’s love but actually lives the Gospel from his unique, global point-of-view.
Let me begin by stating very clearly that I am not a professional movie critic. I love going to movies, but I usually forget the main character’s name halfway through. And after the movie, I describe him or her based on appearance. That guy with the scars. (The Joker, Tom. C’mon.) That woman with the headband. (Wonder Woman.) I’m only joking a little bit.
Thankfully I didn’t have that problem with this film. In fact, I’d venture to say that A Man of His Word was one of the most impactful and memorable experiences of Church that I’ve had outside of a church. Our Holy Father was on the big screen (and small screens) across the world, preaching the gospel message of love. How incredible is that!?
Framing the Pope against St. Francis of Assisi, a preacher and “doer” of the gospel, the film follows Francis’s impact on the world from the moment of his election through the current day. The Pope shares his passions with the viewer uninterruptedly and directly. Without a reporter between you and the Pope’s message. For an hour-and-a-half, I felt as if I was getting the real Francis, the same way I felt when I saw him in person in Washington, D.C. and Rome. It was a refreshing experience of Francis in a sound-bite, social media driven world.
His messages were familiar. Among other things he emphasized that we must encounter one another to combat loneliness and isolation; we must care for the Earth because it’s our common home; we must serve the poor by becoming poor yourself; and we must love and respect all life, from womb to tomb, no matter one’s sexual orientation, religious persuasion, or cultural heritage. This is the Gospel and it’s unchanging.
But as preacher and doer, Francis lives what he preaches. And that’s where the weight of the film just landed on my soul like a ton of Bibles.
After addressing an issue, the film showed the Successor of Peter doing what he said he would do. Whether he’s defending the rights of the poor, weeping with those in suffering, advocating for the environment, or saying Mass, Francis lives what he believes. It’s the combination of his preaching and doing that gives this film, and this Pope, a refreshing integrity.
The Silence of Suffering
I’ll give an example from the film. When Francis speaks about encountering those in suffering, he says really wonderful things, “The world is mostly deaf… Talk little. Listen a lot.” It sounds really nice, and I think we all know that we’re supposed to do this when we talk with someone who is suffering. But how many of us actually remain silent in the pain? I have a hard time doing it. It’s awkward because I can’t fix the situation. It’s awkward because, well, I have nothing to say… As a man of his word, Francis follows through.
In the aftermath of the tragic typhoon that ravaged the Philippines in January 2015, those people at ground zero of the storm lost everything they had, including family members and friends. Pope Francis planned to visit the destruction and upon arriving, had no words to share except his empathy:
“So many of you have lost everything. I do not know what to tell you. But surely Jesus on the cross knows what to tell you! So many of you have lost members of your family. I can only be silent; I accompany you silently, with my heart.”
As Christ, through His Incarnation and Paschal Mystery, accompanied and sufferd with us in the flesh, we too are to accompany and suffer with those in pain by being there in person for them, even if we have nothing to say.
My Final Thoughts
This Popes integrity is an integrity that should challenge Catholics to become a little poorer, to listen a lot and speak very little, and to open our eyes to the world, asking God where we can bring His love.
A few more things really impressed me about this film and I don’t have space to write about them here. But I still want to share my thoughts with you.
The filmmaker tried to do this weird thing with black and white footage of St. Francis…. It was just bad, and seemed to take away from the power of the film. Most critics seem to agree with me.
I think it would be really awesome if every new encyclical and apostolic exhortation was accompanied by this style of film for three reasons. One, it inserts the profane into the secular in a digestible way. Two, it will challenge leadership to live what it practices. Three, it inspires the modern person by giving them an encounter with Christ.
Another reason this film was so impactful was its use of imagery. If you see it, take note of the sinking ship and the displaced people jumping to safety. These are raw images that we do not see in day-to-day life. But they’re images that the Pope holds in his memory when he preaches about serving the marginalized.
Bring your high schoolers and kids to this film while it’s still out. It’s a great conversation starter.
My American political senses went off a few time during the film. But I have to get over myself. This film is NOT about being a Democrat or a Republican, or anything in between. The Church is bigger than that. Jesus Christ is bigger than that. This film is about being a person of integrity. Do I practice what I preach?
Overall, this film is a familiar Francis, but experienced in a whole new way. I would recommend it to anyone who wants a real look into the heart of the Catholic Church’s leader. Let this film be a moment of inspiration, of mission, and of integrity in your monotonous and narrow day-to-day.
For show times in Austin, Google A Man of His Word.