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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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Augustine of Canterbury: In the year 596, some 40 monks set out from Rome to evangelize the Anglo-Saxons in England. Leading the group was Augustine, the prior of their monastery in Rome. Hardly had he and his men reached Gaul (France) when they heard stories of the ferocity of the Anglo-Saxons and of the treacherous waters of the English Channel. Augustine returned to Rome and to the pope who had sent them—St. Gregory the Great (September 3 )—only to be assured by him that their fears were groundless. 
<p>Augustine again set out. This time the group crossed the English Channel and landed in the territory of Kent, ruled by King Ethelbert, a pagan married to a Christian, Bertha. Ethelbert received them kindly, set up a residence for them in Canterbury and within the year, on Pentecost Sunday, 597, was himself baptized. After being consecrated a bishop in France, Augustine returned to Canterbury, where he founded his see. He constructed a church and monastery near where the present cathedral, begun in 1070, now stands. As the faith spread, additional sees were established at London and Rochester. </p><p>Work was sometimes slow and Augustine did not always meet with success. Attempts to reconcile the Anglo-Saxon Christians with the original Briton Christians (who had been driven into western England by Anglo-Saxon invaders) ended in dismal failure. Augustine failed to convince the Britons to give up certain Celtic customs at variance with Rome and to forget their bitterness, helping him evangelize their Anglo-Saxon conquerors </p><p>Laboring patiently, Augustine wisely heeded the missionary principles—quite enlightened for the times—suggested by Pope Gregory the Great: purify rather than destroy pagan temples and customs; let pagan rites and festivals be transformed into Christian feasts; retain local customs as far as possible. The limited success Augustine achieved in England before his death in 605, a short eight years after he arrived in England, would eventually bear fruit long after in the conversion of England. Augustine of Canterbury can truly be called the “Apostle of England.”</p> American Catholic Blog When we go through pain it is easy to feel abandoned or forgotten, but suffering doesn’t mean God doesn’t love us, He does. Even Jesus suffered, and He was completely without sin.

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