I mentioned yesterday that I watched some faith-affirming films last week. I watched three of them that I want to discuss on this blog. The first one was the 2014 romantic comedy Christian Mingle, which I wrote about yesterday. The second is the 1944 movie The Keys of the Kingdom, starring Gregory Peck as a progressive priest. I will write about that movie today, in this post. The third is A Man Called Peter, a 1955 film about the preacher Peter Marshall. I will probably write about that movie next week. I have a book review to write tomorrow, my church write-up to write on Friday, and another book review to write on Monday, so I will most likely write my post on A Man Called Peter on Tuesday.
The Keys of the Kingdom! Like I said, Gregory Peck plays a
progressive priest, Father Francis Chisholm. The movie had familiar
faces: Sir Cedric Hardwicke, who was on the Ten Commandments; Vincent Price, who was also on the Ten Commandments, and many horror movies; Thomas Mitchell, who played Uncle Billy on It’s a Wonderful Life (but he was without the pet bird in Keys of the Kingdom).
Francis Chisholm was a progressive priest. What’s that mean,
exactly? Well, he was somewhat of an inclusivist when it came to
salvation. In a comical scene, he asks if God really values believing
in doctrines, when such a belief is largely a matter of where a person
was born. The priest sternly retorts, “The answer to your question is
Father Chisholm wonders if he can find a place to fit in, and he goes
to China to minister there. There are many events in this movie, and I
won’t discuss all of them here. In this post, I want to focus on
Father Chisholm’s relationship with the Reverend Mother Maria-Veronica.
I will use that as a starting-point for further discussion.
Father Chisholm and the Reverend Mother did not get along at first. A
significant factor was that she and her fellow nuns arrived in China
before Father Chisholm was even expecting them, so Father Chisholm was
greeting them in his dirty clothes! He didn’t make a very good first
impression! They started their relationship off on the wrong foot!
Father Chisholm offers to help the nuns, but the Reverend Mother
continually spurns his offers of help. She and her fellow nuns want to
keep to themselves and contemplate. When Father Chisholm’s atheist
doctor friend Willie Tulloch (Uncle Billy) is on his deathbed and Father
Chisholm refuses to shove religion down his friend’s throat, the
Reverend Mother leaves the room in disgust.
In the course of the movie, we learn of the roots of the Reverend
Mother’s disdain for Father Chisholm. Essentially, she envies him
spiritually. She grew up in a privileged background and was somewhat of
an elitist, so she looked down on the economically impoverished
Chinese. But she hated her elitist attitude, for she thought that she
as a Christian should be better than that. She envied how easy humility
and service came to Father Chisholm. She believed that he was closer
to God than she was, and she resented him for that.
Father Chisholm’s old friend Monsignor Angus (played by Vincent
Price) comes to visit Father Chisholm in China. Angus is rising quite
well in the Catholic hierarchy, and Father Chisholm feels a bit
inadequate in comparison to his friend on account of that. Angus
downgrades the lowly Chinese and suggests that Father Chisholm befriend
the wealthier Chinese, since they can benefit Father Chisholm and the
church. Father Chisholm refuses to do so and criticizes Angus’
After this encounter, the Reverend Mother confesses and apologizes to
Father Chisholm about her elitism and her resentment of him. Perhaps
Monsignor Angus’ attitude reminded her of the attitude that she was
fighting within herself! She tells Father Chisholm that Monsignor Angus
is not worthy to kiss Father Chisholm’s shoes! Father Chisholm tells
her that there is no need for her to apologize. Later in the movie,
Father Chisholm and the Reverend Mother are old, and Father Chisholm is
jealous about Angus becoming a bishop. He feels that Angus has
accomplished something with his life, whereas he has not. The Reverend
Mother replies that Father Chisholm is closer to God than Angus is.
I could identify with the Reverend Mother, in the sense that she was
trying to be a good Christian but realized that she fell short, and she
resented someone because she thought that Christianity came so easy to
him. Later in the movie, she arrives at a greater sense of peace with
herself and with Father Chisholm: she serves however she can, and her
admiration of Father Chisholm no longer entails her beating herself up
for falling short. Father Chisholm’s acceptance of her most likely
played a role in her growth. He did not berate her for her spiritual
shortcomings but was an accepting presence in her life.
Do we see something similar in Christian communities today, or in the
world in general? There are many Christians who look down on others
for their shortcomings, when they themselves have their own share of
shortcomings. The reason for their attitude may be that they try so
hard to be righteous, to walk on the straight and narrow, so they have
disdain for those who do not seem to try as hard, or who fall short.
They are not like Father Chisholm, loving and accepting people where
Conversely, when someone tries to manifest a Father Chisholm-like
attitude, many people may not feel that the person is being real or
authentic. No one is that good, right? There must be some resentment
underneath that Pollyannish attitude! And, in many cases, there may
be! The person is trying his best to manifest a proper attitude,
against emotions inside of himself that rush in the opposite direction.
Hopefully, we can become more loving and accepting of others, where
they are. May God grant me the strength to have that kind of attitude!