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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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James: This James is the brother of John the Evangelist. The two were called by Jesus as they worked with their father in a fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had already called another pair of brothers from a similar occupation: Peter and Andrew. “He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him” (Mark 1:19-20). 
<p>James was one of the favored three who had the privilege of witnessing the Transfiguration, the raising to life of the daughter of Jairus and the agony in Gethsemani. </p><p>Two incidents in the Gospels describe the temperament of this man and his brother. St. Matthew tells that their mother came (Mark says it was the brothers themselves) to ask that they have the seats of honor (one on the right, one on the left of Jesus) in the kingdom. “Jesus said in reply, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We can’” (Matthew 20:22). Jesus then told them they would indeed drink the cup and share his baptism of pain and death, but that sitting at his right hand or left was not his to give—it “is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father” (Matthew 20:23b). It remained to be seen how long it would take to realize the implications of their confident “We can!” </p><p>The other disciples became indignant at the ambition of James and John. Then Jesus taught them all the lesson of humble service: The purpose of authority is to serve. They are not to impose their will on others, or lord it over them. This is the position of Jesus himself. He was the servant of all; the service imposed on him was the supreme sacrifice of his own life. </p><p>On another occasion, James and John gave evidence that the nickname Jesus gave them—“sons of thunder”—was an apt one. The Samaritans would not welcome Jesus because he was on his way to hated Jerusalem. “When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?’ Jesus turned and rebuked them...” (Luke 9:54-55). </p><p>James was apparently the first of the apostles to be martyred. “About that time King Herod laid hands upon some members of the church to harm them. He had James, the brother of John, killed by the sword, and when he saw that this was pleasing to the Jews he proceeded to arrest Peter also” (Acts 12:1-3a). </p><p>This James, sometimes called James the Greater, is not to be confused with James the Lesser (May 3) or with the author of the Letter of James and the leader of the Jerusalem community.</p> American Catholic Blog Walk the talk. Show, don’t tell. Values are caught, not taught—all variations of one theme: A good example is essential for good parenting.

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