I am not sure when I stopped breathing during 12 Years a Slave but it was early on. This was the second movie I had seen this weekend and, like Philomena, the religious folks come out looking hideous. What happens when we think we understand Scripture and yet that could not be further than the truth?
Today’s gospel has John the Baptist clearly knowing his role–he came baptizing with water so that the Lamb of God would be revealed. John testifies that the Son of God has arrived. In the end, John pays greatly for his role in announcing the Kingdom of God. John, however, did what was asked of him, difficult as it was. The protagonists in the movies underwent great hardships too, but remained faithful to God.
Both films were amazing. The protagonists suffered greatly at the name of organized religion and from those who did not know their role, who abused their power, and who misunderstood Scripture. Today’s psalmist sings, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined his ear to me and heard my cry. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.” I think in the end both protagonists can sing a new song of praise but the painful journey to that place seemed unbearable to me. As I watched them suffer, my heart broke. So much wrong was done to them and I know that God suffered with them.
Both films are based on fact–on real people–which is why I think they were harder to watch for me. Philomena’s story is heart-breaking on many levels and the abuses of the Catholic Church are painful for me to witness. Solomon’s 12-year journey is gut-wrenching. I honestly did stop breathing until I started to weep right at the end. I do not think I exhaled until the tears finally came. Faith played a strong role for both Philomena and Solomon and in the end, their resilience was buoyed by their belief in something bigger than themselves. There are powerful scenes of redemption in both films.
I wondered though what they thought as they waited patiently for the Lord to hear their cry and then act. Each time there was a roadblock or a setback, what ran through their minds? Each cruelty endured must have cast doubt. Was the Lord inclining an ear? Philomena again and again sings praise to God. In the end, we see beautiful and heart-stopping acts of forgiveness. We see that God rescued them and placed their feet on solid ground. Solomon especially is a broken man but they both allow their testimonies to be made public so that, as in the first reading today from Isaiah, they would be light for the nations. Their stories, as painful as they are, must be told. As difficult as they are, we must, like the Lord, incline our ears and hear their cries.