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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

The Tree of Life

By
Sr. Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.
Source: AmericanCatholic.org

When director/writer Terrence Malick’s new film opens we hear the quiet voice of 1950’s wife and mother Mrs. Obrien (Jessica Chastain): “The nuns always taught us that there is the way of nature and the way of grace; it is up to us to choose.”

Actually, it’s not that simple, as we discern during the roll out of Malick’s cinematic epic overflowing with color, sights, sounds, and realize we are witnessing the artist’s rendition of God’s creative act. We move through the ages and see aggression played out between dinosaurs. Then we are with the O’Brien’s in a small Texas town where their three sons are born, baptized and confirmed in their parish church.

Mr. O’Brien (Brad Pitt) is an inventor, disappointed that his creations do not succeed. He takes out his frustrations on his wife and children, especially Jack (Hunter McCracken as a child; Sean Penn later). Mrs. O’Brien is kind and protective of her children.

The threads the film weaves together often comes in pairs: nature and grace; nature and nurture; stern, intimidating father and sweet, strong mother; the astonishing beauty of God’s creation entwined with cement and steel, creations of humans.

We realize that the tapestry shows how twisted life can be – and that grace builds on nature if we nurture it. Scriptural allusions and motifs are abundant. Think the Garden of Eden and the river that ran through it, the narrow gate, and life after death.

To me, the film seemed deeply personal, almost autobiographical, though the production notes provided to film critics do not mention this. I felt the tense family dynamic, I could feel the hot, dry summer breezes that blew through the home in days before air conditioning; I, too, wandered the streets in the summer with my siblings and friends, looking for something to do.

“The Tree of Life” is a man’s story, however, and it seemed a man’s world. I felt like an onlooker, just as I did when I tried to figure out the behavior and thinking of my own three brothers in the 1950s.

“The Tree of Life” is about mystery and about grace, about certainty and the questions, and about the complexity of human freedom in relation to the Creator, to creation, and to one another.

You always have to take your time with a Terrence Malick film, and he has only made five in his forty-year career. If he finds an image that attracts him, he stays with it, and seems unable to edit it out. He asks us to marvel with him, as he did in “The Thin Red Line” (1998; a film about World War II), or more recently “The New World” (2005): Who are we to You, God? Who are you to us? What does this life, this creation mean?

“The Tree of Life” requires intentionality on the part of the audience: this is a film you choose because you are ready to slow down and journey with the filmmaker, to find God in the darkness of the theater and let the light of grace wash over you. This is a film that commands a big screen because the ideas and images – and the questions - are so huge.




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Cyril of Alexandria: Saints are not born with halos around their heads. Cyril, recognized as a great teacher of the Church, began his career as archbishop of Alexandria, Egypt, with impulsive, often violent, actions. He pillaged and closed the churches of the Novatian heretics (who required those who denied the faith to be rebaptized), participated in the deposing of St. John Chrysostom (September 13) and confiscated Jewish property, expelling the Jews from Alexandria in retaliation for their attacks on Christians. 
<p>Cyril’s importance for theology and Church history lies in his championing the cause of orthodoxy against the heresy of Nestorius, who taught that in Christ there were two persons, one human and one divine.</p><p>The controversy centered around the two natures in Christ. Nestorius would not agree to the title “God-bearer” for Mary (January 1). He preferred “Christ-bearer,” saying there are two distinct persons in Christ (divine and human) joined only by a moral union. He said Mary was not the mother of God but only of the man Christ, whose humanity was only a temple of God. Nestorianism implied that the humanity of Christ was a mere disguise. </p><p>Presiding as the pope’s representative at the Council of Ephesus (431), Cyril condemned Nestorianism and proclaimed Mary truly the “God-bearer” (the mother of the one Person who is truly God and truly human). In the confusion that followed, Cyril was deposed and imprisoned for three months, after which he was welcomed back to Alexandria as a second Athanasius (the champion against Arianism). </p><p>Besides needing to soften some of his opposition to those who had sided with Nestorius, Cyril had difficulties with some of his own allies, who thought he had gone too far, sacrificing not only language but orthodoxy. Until his death, his policy of moderation kept his extreme partisans under control. On his deathbed, despite pressure, he refused to condemn the teacher of Nestorius.</p> American Catholic Blog Father, I have come to the understanding that Jesus asks very little from us, only that we accept him as our friend and love him and care for one another. How simple! And yet how difficult! Please give me grace not to disappoint him, who has given his all for me. I ask this in Jesus's name, Amen.

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