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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Higher Ground

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

Corrine (Vera Farmiga) grows up in a fundamentalist Christian church and accepts salvation at an early age. She’s a good girl and loves to write. She attracts the attention of  a student musician Ethan (Joshua Leonard), who asks her to write songs with him.

Corrine gets pregnant and she and Ethan marry. Their life is difficult for a long time as they work for enough money to survive with now two daughters. Their faith and church, or home church community, supports them.

Corrine is baptized and shares the joy of her faith with her best friend , the earthy and uninhibited Anika (Dagmara Dominczyk). Anika goes where the shy and modest Corrine has never thought of treading, from talking about sex to speaking in tongues.

Corrine is very attracted to speaking in tongues, but cannot quite make it happen.  She’s actually experiencing a call to move beyond the mere following of rules, conventions and the mores of her faith community, to the next step in communing with God. As she searches for meaning, the framework that held her up falls apart for her. It can no longer satisfy the yearning in her heart for something more than sitting like a lady and making sure her clothing will not tempt men.

Anika’s illness expands Corrine’s inner journey, and represents in her body what may happen to Corrine’s soul if she does not follow the call of grace. Corrine begins to question everything, and this leads to some difficult choices. The film treats fundamentalist Christians with a gentle touch for the most part. Thus, we are able to focus on the path that Corrine walks, seeing the world and God as she does.

“Higher Ground” is based on the book This Dark World : A Memoir of Salvation Found and Lost by Carolyn S. Briggs, who also co-wrote the screenplay. The book was released shortly before the film opened.

I think “Higher Ground”, nominated for the grand Jury prize at Sundance this year, may be on the runway to the Oscars. Farmiga’s directorial debut is as impressive as her acting that seems so effortless.

Anyone who has felt the inner movement of grace to take the next best step in the spiritual life will recognize Corrine’s dilemma and journey of discernment. As a Catholic, Christian I felt the absence of the sacraments for Corrine, and wondered where her journey might lead. The thing is, Corrine knows that God is faithful and that indeed “all is grace.”




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Monica: The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism. 
<p>Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil)  and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted. </p><p>When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan. </p><p>In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste. </p><p>She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death. </p><p>Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his <i>Confessions</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog The Church really is my mother, too. She isn’t a vague maternal force for a generic collection of anonymous people. This Mother truly nurtures us—each one of us. And for those of us who are baptized Christians, the Church has actually given birth to us on a spiritual level.

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