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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Stella Days

By
Joseph McAleer
Source: Catholic News Service


Golden Globe-winner Martin Sheen stars in "Stella Days."
Its title notwithstanding, night falls on 1950s Catholic Ireland in "Stella Days" (Tribeca). Director Thaddeus O'Sullivan's adaptation of Michael Doorley's memoir tells the story of a country in transition and one priest's struggle to keep his flock -- and himself -- from spiritual exhaustion.

Antoine O. Flatharta's script does not condemn the church and its role in Irish society outright, but marginalizes it, casting it as a relic of a rose-colored time in recent history. In this sense, "Stella Days" could be regarded as a cinematic stand-in for the real-life Irish church today, fighting to regain trust — and to be recognized as relevant -- in the aftermath of traumatic scandals.

Unfortunately, "Stella Days" does not inspire much confidence in this regard. The aforementioned clergyman, Father Daniel Barry (Martin Sheen), is outwardly sunny and cheerful, but inwardly bored and depressed. Educated in Rome and having spent many years in America, he feels out of place in the remote and impoverished village to which he's been posted.

A telling moment in the film comes at the bedside of a dying old woman. She asks Father Barry where heaven is. He cannot answer. "So we know where we are," she responds, "but we do not know where we are going."

In another sense, though, Father Barry does know where he's going. He's counting on a one-way ticket back to Rome. But his plans are dashed by his superior, Bishop Hegerty (Tom Hickey).

The bishop is obsessed with finances and with the "constant, never-ending battle for the control of hearts and minds," as he misguidedly describes the church's mission. He wants to build a new parish church, and Father Barry must remain and raise the money.

It's a hopeless cause, until Father Barry sees the light — literally.

Electricity has finally arrived in his village, and with it modern conveniences and illumination, as well as new temptations and distractions. Father Barry, a fan of the cinema, thinks a picture house, called "The Stella," is just the ticket to raise money and, at the same time, engage his wandering flock.

Just why the opportunity to see Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr cavorting in the surf in "From Here to Eternity" should bring people flocking back to church is anyone's guess. But films, Father Barry insists, can be a source of entertainment and enlightenment. "The soul is fed by many things," he says.

Leading the opposition, predictably, is the bishop. He finds an ally in Brendan (Stephen Rea), a local politician. "Once you have turned on the filth and immorality, it is hard to turn it off," he predicts. And how.

Undaunted, Father Barry joins forces with Tim (Trystan Gravelle), a new teacher in the parish school. Tim is young, worldly, "with-it." He sets his own rules, casting morality aside as he beds his married landlady, Molly (Marcella Plunkett). Clearly, "Stella Days" pins its hopes for the future on Tim's generation, free of the influence of the once-mighty Catholic Church.

The film also casts new vocations to the priesthood in a questionable light. Father Barry discourages Molly's young son Joey (Joey O'Sullivan), who thinks God is calling him. "I was called, but not by God," he tells Joey. He then recounts his own sad story, which hinges on his having been given away by his parents to the church at the age of 12.

The film contains an unflattering portrayal of the Catholic Church, an adulterous relationship and some rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America.

*****
Joseph McAleer is a guest reviewer for 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.

Divine Science Michael Dennin

 
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