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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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Joseph Calasanz: 
		<p>From Aragon, where he was born in 1556, to Rome, where he died 92 years later, fortune alternately smiled and frowned on the work of Joseph Calasanz. A priest with university training in canon law and theology, respected for his wisdom and administrative expertise, he put aside his career because he was deeply concerned with the need for education of poor children.</p>
		<p>When he was unable to get other institutes to undertake this apostolate at Rome, he and several companions personally provided a free school for deprived children. So overwhelming was the response that there was a constant need for larger facilities to house their effort. Soon Pope Clement VIII gave support to the school, and this aid continued under Pope Paul V. Other schools were opened; other men were attracted to the work and in 1621 the community (for so the teachers lived) was recognized as a religious community, the Clerks Regular of Religious Schools (Piarists or Scolopi). Not long after, Joseph was appointed superior for life.</p>
		<p>A combination of various prejudices and political ambition and maneuvering caused the institute much turmoil. Some did not favor educating the poor, for education would leave the poor dissatisfied with their lowly tasks for society! Others were shocked that some of the Piarists were sent for instruction to Galileo (a friend of Joseph) as superior, thus dividing the members into opposite camps. Repeatedly investigated by papal commissions, Joseph was demoted; when the struggle within the institute persisted, the Piarists were suppressed. Only after Joseph’s death were they formally recognized as a religious community.</p>
American Catholic Blog The Church’s motherhood is a spiritual reality that profoundly affects the lives of believers. In fact, the famous convert to Catholicism Cardinal John Henry Newman once said that it was through his reading and encounter with the Church of the Fathers that “I found my spiritual Mother.”

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