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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

There Be Dragons

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Wes Bentley stars in a scene from the movie "There Be Dragons."
What many people think they know about the Catholic spiritual movement Opus Dei likely comes—unfortunately—from the slanderous misrepresentations of it fobbed off on the public by author Dan Brown in his 2003 novel "The Da Vinci Code." Brown's fallacies, moreover, were only perpetuated by the 2006 screen version of his feverish fantasy, helmed by Ron Howard.

A healthy antidote to such sensationalized misconceptions—a murderous albino monk, you say?—comes with the release of "There Be Dragons" (Samuel Goldwyn), a generally powerful, partly fictionalized dramatization of passages in the life of Opus Dei's founder, St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer (1902-75), intensely yet appealingly portrayed by Charlie Cox.

As fictional Spanish-born reporter Robert Torres (Dougray Scott) investigates Escriva's life, he's surprised to discover that his own father Manolo (Wes Bentley)—from whom Robert has long been estranged—was the future religious leader's childhood friend and seminary classmate.

With the tumult of the Spanish Civil War looming, however, the two men took diametrically different paths.

Once ordained, Escriva labored for the establishment of a community dedicated to achieving personal sanctity through everyday work, an organization whose structure—unprecedented in the modern church—would embrace women as well as men, laypeople as well as priests.

Having rejected the faith in favor of a bitterly cynical materialism, meanwhile, Manolo is shown pursuing a duplicitous role in the conflict engulfing his society.

Not the least of the obstacles Escriva confronted in furthering his "Work of God" (the English meaning of the Latin phrase "Opus Dei") was the increasingly violent anti-clericalism of the Loyalist side in the Spanish struggle.

Yet when these leftists begin desecrating churches and murdering priests in cold blood, Escriva remains evenhandedly neutral, sympathizing with his adversaries' motivations and aspirations and urging his handful of early followers to react with Christian forbearance.

This nuanced and charitable approach to the situation belies Escriva's reputation, in some circles, as an unabashed devotee of Franco's fascist vision.

The striking portrait of an anything-but-plaster saint that forms the heart of writer-director Roland Joffe's hybrid tale grippingly conveys its subject's struggle to discern his vocation and to live out the Christian message of peace, even in the most trying circumstances.

But the impact of these fact-based biographical elements is blunted by the fictive framework with which Joffe has chosen to surround them, a storytelling device that turns out to be more burden than enhancement. Thus, imaginary subplots such as the conflict between Robert and Manolo never seem quite convincing, and only serve to distract from a primary story which is both spiritually valuable and ably depicted.

The significance of that central chronicle is such, however, as to make "There Be Dragons" probably acceptable for older teens.

The film contains occasionally bloody action violence, a few sexual references, a couple of crude and a half-dozen crass terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.





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Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi: Mystical ecstasy is the elevation of the spirit to God in such a way that the person is aware of this union with God while both internal and external senses are detached from the sensible world. Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi was so generously given this special gift of God that she is called the "ecstatic saint." 
<p>She was born into a noble family in Florence in 1566. The normal course would have been for Catherine de' Pazzi to have married wealth and enjoyed comfort, but she chose to follow her own path. At nine she learned to meditate from the family confessor. She made her first Communion at the then-early age of 10 and made a vow of virginity one month later. When 16, she entered the Carmelite convent in Florence because she could receive Communion daily there. </p><p>Catherine had taken the name Mary Magdalene and had been a novice for a year when she became critically ill. Death seemed near so her superiors let her make her profession of vows from a cot in the chapel in a private ceremony. Immediately after, she fell into an ecstasy that lasted about two hours. This was repeated after Communion on the following 40 mornings. These ecstasies were rich experiences of union with God and contained marvelous insights into divine truths. </p><p>As a safeguard against deception and to preserve the revelations, her confessor asked Mary Magdalene to dictate her experiences to sister secretaries. Over the next six years, five large volumes were filled. The first three books record ecstasies from May of 1584 through Pentecost week the following year. This week was a preparation for a severe five-year trial. The fourth book records that trial and the fifth is a collection of letters concerning reform and renewal. Another book, <i>Admonitions</i>, is a collection of her sayings arising from her experiences in the formation of women religious. </p><p>The extraordinary was ordinary for this saint. She read the thoughts of others and predicted future events. During her lifetime, she appeared to several persons in distant places and cured a number of sick people. </p><p>It would be easy to dwell on the ecstasies and pretend that Mary Magdalene only had spiritual highs. This is far from true. It seems that God permitted her this special closeness to prepare her for the five years of desolation that followed when she experienced spiritual dryness. She was plunged into a state of darkness in which she saw nothing but what was horrible in herself and all around her. She had violent temptations and endured great physical suffering. She died in 1607 at 41, and was canonized in 1669.</p> American Catholic Blog Lord, keep me in your care. Guard me in my actions. Teach me to love, and help me to turn to you throughout the day. The world is filled with temptations. As I move through my day, keep me close. May those I encounter feel your loving presence. Lord, be the work of my hands and my heart. Amen.

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