Wednesday, October 28, 2015
I thought it was one of the most beautiful films I had ever seen.
While moviegoers and critics focused on the special effects, I saw the story of a man's struggle with faith. Father Karras, who after years of counseling others through their pain, couldn't find his way out of the pain in his own life. This was a man who had given his life to God, and instead of receiving the accolades he deserved as a top psychiatrist, he watched helplessly - cash poor and working in another city - as his elderly mother declined in health. He was reminded that if he had dedicated himself to the secular world, he would have been able to afford better care for her. Instead, he had to find out from others that she had died in her home, undiscovered for days.
He lost his faith.
This is reality. There are uglies in each of our lives, and following Jesus won't make them go away.
Even as he walks into the room to assist Father Merrin with the exorcism, we still don't know if he believes, but when the moment comes to save the girl, Father Karras makes the ultimate sacrifice and gives his life for hers.
There are moments in the film that give me chills. The first is when Chris Mac Neil pulls out the Ouija board. What many think of as a simple parlor game is an entryway for evil. Evil needs a doorway. An entrance. An invitation. And evil disguises itself as fun things. Pleasurable things. The character Regan thinks she is playing with a child-friendly spirit called Mr. Howdy. That's creepy.
When I moved to Los Angeles, it was the thing to go to tarot card readers and to have sessions with mediums. There was one medium who met with a group of us. I thought, "Another out-of-work actress." She allegedly channeled some spirit, and when she spoke of the current generation being born, she described them with pleasure. I remember I got a chill, thinking that what she described as beautiful, I thought was horrible - selfish hedonists without moral sense. Years later, her "prediction" came true, and I wonder if there was really something in the room that night. I was lucky. And stupid.
The next is that famous image of the child Regan clawing at the sky while a statue representing evil looks on. Take off the blinders and look around. When you meet people who actively embrace sinful living, there isn't a lot of joy. There may be temporary satisfaction as the desire of the moment is met, but they are generally unhappy and in pain. As they claw their way through what the world has to offer in their search for meaning and joy, the devil looks on. I doubt that anything filled with hate can feel pleasure or satisfaction, but he must be feeling triumph, because God wants every soul, and anything the devil can do to keep that soul from finding God is a success.
The image on the front of the movie box (see above) brings me joy. Father Merrin, knowing what he will face, stands before the house and prepares to enter anyway. I've listened to many talks by exorcists, and these are men on the front line who stare evil right in the face. Full possession is rare, but they still deal with manifestations in their deliverance ministry. They see evil. They hear the taunts of Satan and his demons. Over and over I've heard them tell their fellow priests that there is nothing to be afraid of. These are the marines of the religious world (with all due deference to the Franciscans. They'll know what I mean.)
We all struggle with faith. It's hard to stay focused on God when there are difficulties, such as financial problems, illnesses and relationship problems. The character of Father Karras gives an example of one man, facing the ultimate test, who finds the strength to choose God. That's a beautiful story.