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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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Junipero Serra: In 1776, when the American Revolution was beginning in the east, another part of the future United States was being born in California. That year a gray-robed Franciscan founded Mission San Juan Capistrano, now famous for its annually returning swallows. San Juan was the seventh of nine missions established under the direction of this indomitable Spaniard. 
<p>Born on Spain’s island of Mallorca, Serra entered the Franciscan Order, taking the name of St. Francis’ childlike companion, Brother Juniper. Until he was 35, he spent most of his time in the classroom—first as a student of theology and then as a professor. He also became famous for his preaching. Suddenly he gave it all up and followed the yearning that had begun years before when he heard about the missionary work of St. Francis Solanus in South America. Junipero’s desire was to convert native peoples in the New World. </p><p>Arriving by ship at Vera Cruz, Mexico, he and a companion walked the 250 miles to Mexico City. On the way Junipero’s left leg became infected by an insect bite and would remain a cross—sometimes life-threatening—for the rest of his life. For 18 years he worked in central Mexico and in the Baja Peninsula. He became president of the missions there. </p><p>Enter politics: the threat of a Russian invasion south from Alaska. Charles III of Spain ordered an expedition to beat Russia to the territory. So the last two <i>conquistadors</i>—one military, one spiritual—began their quest. José de Galvez persuaded Junipero to set out with him for present-day Monterey, California. The first mission founded after the 900-mile journey north was San Diego (1769). That year a shortage of food almost canceled the expedition. Vowing to stay with the local people, Junipero and another friar began a novena in preparation for St. Joseph’s day, March 19, the scheduled day of departure. On that day, the relief ship arrived. </p><p>Other missions followed: Monterey/Carmel (1770); San Antonio and San Gabriel (1771); San Luís Obispo (1772); San Francisco and San Juan Capistrano (1776); Santa Clara (1777); San Buenaventura (1782). Twelve more were founded after Serra’s death. </p><p>Junipero made the long trip to Mexico City to settle great differences with the military commander. He arrived at the point of death. The outcome was substantially what Junipero sought: the famous “Regulation” protecting the Indians and the missions. It was the basis for the first significant legislation in California, a “Bill of Rights” for Native Americans. </p><p>Because the Native Americans were living a nonhuman life from the Spanish point of view, the friars were made their legal guardians. The Native Americans were kept at the mission after Baptism lest they be corrupted in their former haunts—a move that has brought cries of “injustice” from some moderns. </p><p>Junipero’s missionary life was a long battle with cold and hunger, with unsympathetic military commanders and even with danger of death from non-Christian native peoples. Through it all his unquenchable zeal was fed by prayer each night, often from midnight till dawn. He baptized over 6,000 people and confirmed 5,000. His travels would have circled the globe. He brought the Native Americans not only the gift of faith but also a decent standard of living. He won their love, as witnessed especially by their grief at his death. He is buried at Mission San Carlo Borromeo, Carmel, and was beatified in 1988. Pope Francis canonized him in Washington, D.C., on September 23, 2015.</p> American Catholic Blog Hope and faith can outshine the darkness of evil. However dense the darkness may appear, our hope for the triumph of the light is stronger still. Though violence continues to stain us with blood, the shadows of death can be dissipated with one act of light.

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