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,—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 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.



  • Amanda

    I agree that the movie should have discussed the fact that as faithful Catholics we should not be killing God’s Children merely because they are killing us. When my daughter and I watched it, it gave me an opportunity to discuss how others have dealt with persecution from people who did not like our faith. Specifically St. Perpetua and Felicity. We also talked about how sometimes we have to be careful of adults, because sometimes in their zealousness forget about praying and listening to God.

  • emily_stimpson

    Abadilla, Frank, and Mary, thanks for your respectful disagreement. As for the rest of you, I guess thanks for the laugh of calling me a pacifist liberal…normally I’m called a war-mongering conservative, so the switch was amusing. In two points, I’ve gone back and modified the post, one time for charity’s sake, another time for clarity. Beyond that, we’ll all probably need to respectfully disagree. While I certainly don’t think all war is unjust, I do think glossing over the perils of fighting religious wars is foolish and dangerous. That’s a wrong I think the makers of the movie commit. Other faithful Catholics in this thread and on Facebook (not just trolls, abadilla) agree. I think it’s an issue that needs to be discussed, not automatically dismissed because the movie was pro-Catholic and featured many martyrs.. I’m sorry if my tone didn’t further the discussion, hence the adjustments.

    • Tantumblogo

      Please, not with the ‘now I’m being unfairly characterized’ routine. Who called you a liberal? I did say there was a powerful pacifist trend (Good Lord, I used to know how to spell) in the Church, and I think that colored your impression. Frankly, I was casting about trying to understand why you hated the movie so much, because not only every other Catholic reviewer of the movie I can recall, and even many secular reviewers, were neutral to ravingly positive on the film. I will continue to disagree that the movie “glosses over,” it just may not have been an existentialist, soul-wrenching drama. The movie also plainly showed that some were involved in the rebellion for self-serving ends, and also had several comments directed at the one priest shown taking up arms that pointed up this rare (but hardly unprecedented) behavior.

      A number of points were raised to refute your concerns about the movie. Your brief reply totally ignored those while claiming, in essence, unfair judgment. I maintain that your review shows a more general reservation/antipathy towards the entire Cristero rebellion than to the movie itself, because the movie showed the rebellion really very faithfully. I’m not trying to shroud wave. I’m trying to make my point. There weren’t many souls tortured by their participation, at least not that have made it into the history books. And that’s the point you keep getting back to – that they should have been. Whatevs.

      A point I should have made more clearly – that the Cristeros were in disobedience to their bishops. That claim is very far from the truth. Like on so many issues, the episcopate was divided. Some very plainly supported the Cristeros, especially the Archbishop of Guadalajara. Others were less supportive. There was not a clear order, however, to lay down arms until after the agreement with Calles was signed. An order that, again, had disastrous consequences.

      One last thing (no, really!): your comparison to the early persecutions of the Church is not terribly apropos. At that time, Christians were few in number, always surrounded and outnumbered in a vast sea of pagans. They also lived in a dictatorial, totalitarian state with the world’s most efficient army (yes, I know that army was not at its peak by ~AD 300.) They had no means or ability to fight that regime had they even wanted to. The situation in Mexico was very much different – in this case, a hostile, almost foreign power from Mexico City and the north tried to impose its will on Jalisco, Tabasco, and other very Catholic, very traditional areas of the country. It was very much like an invading, occupying army. The vast majority of the population was Catholic. They had the means, and the will, to resist.

      I think that a case for the Cristero rebellion being a just war can be made very, very easily.

      • emily_stimpson

        So, I actually just took the time to write a long and detailed response…only to lose it all when I tried to adjust a setting. I’m taking that as my cue that I should stay out of the comment boxes. It is a self-defeating exercise. No disrespect meant, just a recognition that if I take the time to respond to every point raised against me by everyone who raises a point, I would soon be homeless for defaulting on my mortgage. So, we’re back to “You’re free to like the movie. I’m free to hate it. I’m free to write my opinions in the blog. You’re free to write them in the comment boxes.” Win win for everyone. Now, I’m off to enjoy my weekend. I hope you enjoy yours. Cheers.

  • abadilla

    BTW Emily, when trolls begin to agree with your assesment of the movie, you should worry more about that than your reaction to the movie.
    BTW, this is the first time I disagree with you on anything you have written. I hope I’m not coming across as rude to you. If so, I’m sorry! :-(

  • abadilla

    Emily wrote, “But the movie itself? As a work of art? As a story? As a morally coherent tale? No, no, no. I do not believe that you liked it. You couldn’t have. It was too head-poundingly awful for anyone other than 12-year-old boys to actually like. And maybe I’m not giving 12-year-old boys enough credit.”
    I frankly do not understand why you object to the movie. I came into this country in 1965. I joined the Mexican Catholic Action in the city of Los Angeles and discovered that the organization came from Mexico in the 1920s as a result of open persecution against the Church. It was at Catholic Action that I learned of the Cristeros and their suffering. It was there that I learned about Plutarco Elías Calles, a Mason, and how much he hated the Church and how openly he persecuted Catholicism in Mexico.
    The movie clearly portrays the maryrdom of several people who today are on their way to their canonization. The scene of the death of Blessed José Luis Sánchez was truly horrific and sad but one could see clearly what the loss of religious freedom means for Catholics. Although Obama is persecuting Catholics and other religions today, he is no Plutarco E. Calles, but the antagonism and hatred of the Church by many in this country is not unlike the hatred and antagonism of the Mexican government in Mexico in the 1920s against the Church.
    True, the movie poses the question, what are we to do in the face of persecution? Do we fight with peaceful means? Do we believe in self-defense and defend the Church the way the Cristeros defended the Church in Mexico in the face of a horrible persecution where men, women and children died for their faith?
    Emily, I wish you would re-examine “For Greater Glory.” I think it is a great movie and should inspire generations of Catholics for whom the faith is simply a backward religion they are not willing to take seriously. The people of Mexico, in a “Catholic” country, did not dream that their government would ever persecute the Church. Well, history tells us a very different story and we, Catholics in this country, should learn from the Mexican experience.

  • Cynthia Hurla

    My comment disappeared for some reason. In summary, I agree with you Emily. New thought: I think of epic movies like Quo Vadis. It told the story in a way that was compelling.

  • Cynthia Hurla

    “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.” Yes, yes, yes. The movie and the acting and the “sophomoric morality” were horrible. Great article, Emily. Thank you.



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