For Whose “Greater Glory”?

Okay people, we need to have a little talk. And by “people” I mean all of you who keep saying—on Facebook, on Twitter, on blogs, et.al—how much you “like” the movie For Greater Glory.

After months and months of hearing how I had to see the thing, I finally sat down and watched it.

And…?

And I have concluded a whole lot of you out there don’t know what it means to say you “like” a movie.

Stay your protests a minute and hear me out.

When those among you who claim to “like” For Greater Glory make such statements, I think what you really mean is that you like seeing a movie where the Catholic Church is the good guy and not the big bad boogeyman. I agree. It’s a real nice change. Go team.

Or maybe what you mean is that you like certain scenes in the movie…priests dying for Christ, boys holding fast to the Faith, sinful souls turning to Christ. Or again, maybe it’s seeing religious freedom championed. Or learning more about martyrs. Or seeing Eduardo Verastegui on screen.

Again, on all counts, agreed. All those things are indeed likeable.

But the movie itself? As a work of art? As a story? As a morally coherent tale? That people could like it on those grounds, I have a hard time believing.*

As for why? Well, not simply because of the bad editing, clichéd dialogue, and mediocre acting. Those things are too common to be remarkable. Rather, it was mostly about the storytelling…or lack thereof.

You see, because the movie makers had no idea what story they were telling beyond “The Christeros War,” they ended up telling no story at all. Their vision was so epic, so “from 30,000 feet,” that they ended up with more characters and plotlines than they knew what to do with, leaving no time for character development, let alone for the audience to form an emotional attachment to the people dying left and right on screen. Heck, during the first hour of the movie, I wasn’t even sure who was who. How do you weep over someone’s death when you’re too busy asking the person next to you, “So, who is that again?”

If the producers really wanted to tell the whole kit and caboodle tale of the Christeros war, then they should have made a mini-series, a nice leisurely 12 hour mini-series on the scale of Thornbirds. As it was, it felt like they did just that, only to have someone say at the last minute, “Sorry kids, we only have 143 minutes now. Just give me the highlight real.”

Since we all know a mini-series wasn’t realistic, a better option would have been to pick just one story to tell: the little boy Jose’s, or the gun-toting priest’s, or the pacifist lawyer’s, or the general’s, or the random chick with bullets who kept popping up at key events but then disappeared from the movie three-quarters through.

Not only would telling one story as opposed to 20 have allowed the moviemakers to actually tell a story, it also would have given them the time needed to address the ethical complexities of the Christeros War. As it was, they glossed over the pointed moral problems of priests’ bearing arms, gun fights in churches, disobedience to Church authorities, and the whole idea that it’s okay for Catholics to deprive another person of their right to life in order to defend our right to religious liberty.

‘Cause you know what? It’s not. Those things aren’t okay. They’re actually big bad no-no’s.

Priests who bear arms are not heroes. Christians firing weapons before the Blessed Sacrament is gravely sinful. And when the Church says it’s not okay to be in open rebellion against the government, it’s not okay to be in open rebellion against the government.

Above all, while having the sacraments taken away is a fate worse than death, our death is the death in question, not the death of the person doing the taking. A Catholic should rather die than live without Jesus in the Eucharist. A Catholic should not rather kill someone than live without Jesus in the Eucharist. There is a difference.

That’s not to say that war is always wrong or that there are no cases where taking up arms to defend the persecution of others isn’t at times necessary. It is, however, to say that such decisions come at a cost, and glossing over that cost is as dangerous as it is wrong. And that’s a wrong I’m afraid the makers of For Greater Glory commit in spades.*

Maybe I’m going out on a limb here, but if Christ were standing around watching soldiers shout Viva Christo Rey right before they took aim at other human beings, I don’t think he’d be cheering. I think he’d be weeping.

The early Christians seemed to think the same. Sts. Peter and Paul, Ignatius and Polycarp, Perpetua and Felicity—those who knew Christ best and lived in the times closest to him, didn’t mobilize an army to keep Christians out of the arena. They didn’t run around shouting Vivant Christus Rex. Rather they prayed, they loved, and they imitated Christ in all things, even unto the point of death.

And it worked. It took a while, but it worked. The persecution ended, neither the Faith nor the faithful were compromised, and Christ was glorified.

I know, in times of persecution, such things aren’t always self-evident. For those standing by and watching as priests are killed and churches shuttered, it’s much harder to know what the right response is. Which is why I trust that God shows great mercy to those who make the wrong calls.

That, at least partly, is evident in the fact that the Church has beatified and canonized martyrs who chose the path of peaceful resistance but also provided aid to the Christero rebels. The Church understands the complexities at hand for those on the ground.

And so should we. Looking back we should see how difficult their situation was, and we shouldn’t diminish those difficulties by explaining them away with five-second sound bites. Nor should we glamorize their wrong choices. Not today.

With Catholics in America facing one of the most significant infringements of our religious liberty in this nation’s history, we need more than caricatures, clichés, and cheap propaganda. We need clarity, inspiration, and true guidance. But the former, not the latter is all the makers of For Greater Glory gave us.

With better editing, more powerful story-telling, and above all greater moral clarity, For Greater Glory could have been a good movie. Heck, it could have been a great movie. It could have been a timely and cautionary tale against using violence to defend religious liberty, as well as a reminder to the faithful and unfaithful alike of the ugliness of war, the beauty of faith, and the value of religious freedom.

But it wasn’t. Instead, regardless of how good the movie-makers intentions were, For Greater Glory was just another bad movie in a long line of bad movies being peddled to the Catholic masses—worse even because of its sophomoric morality. And pretending otherwise? Well, that’s not helping anyone, least of all the Church.

*For clarity and charity’s sake, I’ve tweaked one part starred above, and added the paragraph starred above.

Gun-toting priests: Not a good idea.

Emily Stimpson is a Contributing Editor to “Our Sunday Visitor” and the author of “The Catholic Girl’s Survival Guide for the Single Years,” where she dishes on the Church’s teachings about women, marriage, sex, work, beauty, suffering, and more.

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29 thoughts on “For Whose “Greater Glory”?

  1. Randy Gritter says:

    I actually liked the movie. Yes, it was confusing at points but I did connect with many of the characters. Some of them could have been deleted and made the story better.

    I wonder about your complete condemnation or armed revolt. Does that include the American Revolution? Was it sinful for George Washington to take up arms against the British? What about the revolts that brought down communist governments a few years ago? Did you condemn those?

  2. Rich says:

    Truly sorry to see so many people bashing you for you post. I really have nothing to say about it other than pure surprise that you did not have any comments insulting the President in it, or even to suggest that Romney would have made the movie better. Though it was a pleasant surprise not to see you use faith as a political toy, it seems rather odd that you chose to blog about this on Catholic Vote. I guess I have to look to see what you placed in Variety.

    1. abadilla says:

      “Truly sorry to see so many people bashing you for you post.” No one is bashing or insulting Emily for her position on the movie, we are merely disagreeing with her, that’s all.

    2. Actually, the “using your faith as a political toy” quip could be more easily considered bashing than “I strongly disagree with your assessment of this movie and of the Cristero War”.

  3. irishsmile says:

    I am amazed to read that this writer actually teaches/taught at Stubenville! Everyone of my five adult offspring have college degrees… two of them, including my priest son, have advanced degrees. Each and everyone of my children… and my grandchildren appreciated the historicity and the heart of this movie but perhaps because my husband is Hispanic and our children have heard the horrific tales of catholic Masonic/socialist persecution in Mexico, our family is ahead of the Mexican History curve, as opposed to those who live in academic ivory towers.

  4. CHB says:

    I cannot agree with even one point in this biased analysis! This was an historically accurate account of Mexico’s history that people need to know! For another published opinion that evaluates PROS and cons of the movie see http://www.catholicnews.com/data/movies/12mv060.htm

  5. christina says:

    Emily, I appreciate your analysis, but I don’t appreciate your tone. Your article implies that if someone says they liked the movie, then they also approved of ALL the actions of those who fought in the war. You also imply that anyone watching the film would not be able to judge the morally acceptable from the gravely sinful.

    You mention that you think if Jesus was watching he would be weeping. I agree, but that has nothing to do with whether or not the actions of the Cristeros were just or unjust.

    They shouted Viva Cristo Rey because the atheists ordered them to shout “death to Christ the King!” I see no fault in this. Those early martyrs you mentioned did the same thing.

    As for peaceful resistance? Blessed Jose gave his horse to the general…. in battle.

  6. Tantumblogo says:

    This post is less a movie review than an expression of the author’s distaste for the Cristeros. The movie was really quite historically accurate, as such things go.

    It is unfortunate that there is such an all-pervasive passivist trend in the Church today. Many well-intentioned Catholics have come to believe – or been led to believe – that violence associated with the Faith in any way is absolutely unacceptable. That view is historically and theologically wrong. Saint John of Capistrano led a Crusade – personally – against the Turk at Belgrade. I’m glad to know he’s not a hero. Various Popes called for Holy War – Crusade – against constant Muslim aggression. Calling for a holy war, and being the person who pulls the trigger or wields a sword, are not morally different.

    Violence in defense of the Faith is not necessarily a sin. St. Joan of Arc has been mentioned. Why is she a Saint? Because of her deep theological insights? Because of her great works of charity? Or because she saved the Eldest Daughter of the Church from English domination, and thus preserved France from becoming protestant in the 16th Century along with England?

    You have simply come to accept a very pacifist view of the Faith. That view is very widespread. But that does not mean it is right, or that it is sinful, as you say, to take up arms in defense of the Faith.

    It is so very, very easy, to sit in your climate controlled room in front of a computer in a comfortable chair, with everything you possibly need, to judge those who have the most important thing in their life taken from them. The faithful in Mexico had suffered depredation after depredation for decades prior to the start of the rebellion. It wasn’t just the attack on the most important aspect of their life, the Faith, it was an attack on everything. Their women were raped. The faithful were murdered. Their land was stolen. As far as they could tell, the government meant to kill them all if they would not convert. The Church has always taught that using violence to defend one’s life is morally permissible. You completely gloss over all these historical facts. The situation is not nearly so clear as you attempt to present it.

    I’m glad, at least, that you showed some mercy for the Cristeros at the end. You express worry over a potential persecution, or one already underway. Frankly, what is going on now is pathetically small compared to what the Catholics in Mexico endured. And your smug elitism is a bit tired “…….just another bad movie in a long line of bad movies being peddled to the Catholic masses……” (repeated twice, to make sure us brain dead rubes got the message). I got very strongly from the movie that the armed resistance of clergy was morally problematic. Perhaps I had less of a bias going in.

    Finally – to say that the Cristeros disobeyed the episcopate is a gross generalization, and really not very accurate. The episcopate in Mexico was very cagey in how they dealt with the Cristeros – at times signalling support, at times seeming to deny it. Some bishops even sent their seminarians to the Cristeros to continue training and hide them from the government. At the end, after the fatal deal with Calles that led directly to the very sick, very weak, very worldly Church that exists today in Mexico, the bishops did call for all to lay down their arms. Most obeyed, and thousands were summarily executed by the government as a result. Some disobeyed.

    In the end, Mexico, which had 4000 priests and about 10000 religious prior to the murderous persecution in 1925, had fewer than 400 priests and less than a thousand religious by the late 30s. But even worse was the limitations the bishops accepted which were instrumental in removing the Faith as the center of Mexican life. How many souls have been lost because of this? How many deaths are worth the salvation of one soul?

    1. Christopher says:

      Don’t forget Saint Lawrenvce of Brindisi, leading troops with a crucifix in his hand against the Turks. “Forward!” he cried, showing them the crucifix, “Victory is ours.”

      [http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09359a.htm]
      God Bless.

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