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The Tree of Life

Sr. Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.

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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John Leonardi: "I am only one person! Why should I do anything? What good would it do?" Today, as in any age, people seem plagued with the dilemma of getting involved. In his own way John Leonardi answered these questions. He chose to become a priest. 
<p>After his ordination, he became very active in the works of the ministry, especially in hospitals and prisons. The example and dedication of his work attracted several young laymen who began to assist him. They later became priests themselves. </p><p>John lived after the Protestant Reformation and the Council of Trent (1545-63). He and his followers projected a new congregation of diocesan priests. For some reason the plan, which was ultimately approved, provoked great political opposition. John was exiled from his home town of Lucca, Italy, for almost the entire remainder of his life. He received encouragement and help from St. Philip Neri, who gave him his lodgings—along with the care of his cat! </p><p>In 1579, John formed the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, and published a compendium of Christian doctrine that remained in use until the 19th century. </p><p>Father Leonardi and his priests became a great power for good in Italy, and their congregation was confirmed by Pope Clement in 1595. He died at the age of 68 from a disease caught when tending those stricken by the plague. </p><p>By the deliberate policy of the founder, the Clerks Regular of the Mother of God have never had more than 15 churches and today form only a very small congregation.</p> American Catholic Blog Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

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