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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Letters to God

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Bailee Madison and Tanner Maguire star in a scene from the movie "Letters to God."
Though its underlying theology is evangelical, Catholic viewers—and Christian believers of every stripe—will welcome the inspirational and touching drama "Letters to God" (Vivendi). That's because director David Nixon's family-friendly tale of courage and conversion celebrates the power of Gospel values to transform lives in a way that transcends denominational divides.

Based on real events, this is the story of Tyler Doherty (ably and endearingly played by Tanner Maguire), a faith-filled 8-year-old boy stricken with brain cancer. Tyler's favored method of praying—and of reflecting on his struggles—is to write letters to the Almighty, describing daily events and asking for favors in the kind of chatty tone one might use with a close friend.

But Tyler doesn't just put pen to paper, he also mails his notes, addressed simply "To God, From Tyler."

Initially, this befuddles Brady McDaniels (Jeffrey S. Johnson), the postman who has just taken over the local route in Tyler's Norman Rockwell-esque hometown. Depressed over his recent divorce—and a potentially disastrous mistake that cost him visiting rights with his young son—war vet Brady leads a squalid, solitary life, drinking to excess by night and barely holding on to his job by day.

Still, Brady's unwilling to trash Tyler's correspondence or even drop the envelopes into the dead letter box. Eventually he tries to leave them in a local church, but he's interrupted by the pastor (L. Derek Leonidoff) who insists that Brady keep the missives, since God must have had a reason for choosing him to receive them in the first place.

As Brady gradually befriends Tyler and his family—which includes widowed, overtaxed mom Maddy (Robyn Lively), devout grandmother Olivia (Maree Cheatham) and teen brother Ben (Michael Christopher Bolten), who's emotionally conflicted over Tyler's illness—he finds the lad's innocent piety and against-the-odds optimism subtly wearing away at his own cynicism.

The only noticeable divergence from Catholic teaching comes late in the script when Tyler's perky best friend Samantha (Bailee Madison) expresses the assurance, rather than the trusting hope, that her acceptance of Jesus into her heart will lead her to eternal life.

There are also hints that Brady and Maddy's friendship may develop into something deeper; Tyler prays, in one of his letters, for God to send his mother someone who will relieve her loneliness. But this remains only a vague possibility by the time the credits roll, so the issue of a morally troublesome second marriage for Brady never really arises.

While the inclusion of the mature subjects listed below make this unsuitable entertainment for the youngest viewers, objectionable material of any kind is entirely absent from this heartwarming look at the infectious faith of a young man who, despite the ravages of a potentially terminal illness, continued to treat God as his pen pal.

The film contains themes of life-threatening illness, divorce and alcoholism. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-II—adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG—parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.


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Bernard of Clairvaux: Man of the century! Woman of the century! You see such terms applied to so many today—“golfer of the century,” “composer of the century,” “right tackle of the century”—that the line no longer has any punch. But Western Europe's “man of the twelfth century,” without doubt or controversy, has to be Bernard of Clairvaux. Adviser of popes, preacher of the Second Crusade, defender of the faith, healer of a schism, reformer of a monastic Order, Scripture scholar, theologian and eloquent preacher: any one of these titles would distinguish an ordinary man. Yet Bernard was all of these—and he still retained a burning desire to return to the hidden monastic life of his younger days. 
<p>In the year 1111, at the age of 20, Bernard left his home to join the monastic community of Citeaux. His five brothers, two uncles and some 30 young friends followed him into the monastery. Within four years a dying community had recovered enough vitality to establish a new house in the nearby valley of Wormwoods, with Bernard as abbot. The zealous young man was quite demanding, though more on himself than others. A slight breakdown of health taught him to be more patient and understanding. The valley was soon renamed Clairvaux, the valley of light. </p><p>His ability as arbitrator and counselor became widely known. More and more he was lured away from the monastery to settle long-standing disputes. On several of these occasions he apparently stepped on some sensitive toes in Rome. Bernard was completely dedicated to the primacy of the Roman See. But to a letter of warning from Rome, he replied that the good fathers in Rome had enough to do to keep the Church in one piece. If any matters arose that warranted their interest, he would be the first to let them know. </p><p>Shortly thereafter it was Bernard who intervened in a full-blown schism and settled it in favor of the Roman pontiff against the antipope. </p><p>The Holy See prevailed on Bernard to preach the Second Crusade throughout Europe. His eloquence was so overwhelming that a great army was assembled and the success of the crusade seemed assured. The ideals of the men and their leaders, however, were not those of Abbot Bernard, and the project ended as a complete military and moral disaster. </p><p>Bernard felt responsible in some way for the degenerative effects of the crusade. This heavy burden possibly hastened his death, which came August 20, 1153.</p> American Catholic Blog One of the things that we need to remember is that we’re preaching Jesus, not the institutional Church. It’s easy to get caught up in the rules and regulations of the institution and forget that we are saved not by the Church but by the person of Jesus or the Church as the body of Christ.

 
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