A wonderful Catholic film
I just saw Tender Mercies, a film from the early 80s starring Robert Duvall. I snagged the movie because Duvall was in it, and was lauded for his performance. Bobby D is in my opinion the last great actor around.
I can't imagine this film being made today, which is one way of saying it's terrific. Even more than unmakeable today, it is a meditative reflection on how love can heal. The movie is more a vignette or something like a short story. It doesn't attempt more than it can pull off. A simple story, without too much dramatic tension, that eases into you like the warm old Country music that provides its Sitz im Leben.
A love story with no sexual situations. A marriage without any hint of premarital relations. Romance without saccharin cliches. Typically we would think, oh it must be campy or corny or sentimental. (Sentimental being the worst of course, for, as I never tire of saying, as Flanner O'Connor noted, sentimentalism leads to the gas chamber.) Not at all.
Robert Duvall is an ex-Country singer and alchoholic who ends up in a motel/gas station in the middle of nowhere Texas, left all alone. He begins working for the owner, a young widow, kicks the drinking, and soon marries her. He becomes close to her only son, whose father died at 18 in Vietnam. Eventually, Duvall is pulled back into his former life, but I won't spoil the rest of it for you.
I say "Catholic" film for a reason. Although Robert Duvall's character and his new wife go to a Baptist church, and the sincere religiosity of the film never explicitly ventures beyond the fact of "being baptized," whether the writers/directors intended or not, because the film is honest and sincere and beautiful and human, the Catholic Thing is in abundance. Country music becomes a kind of sacramental vehicle in this film, as does the middle-Texas landscape, and the homeliness of the rural motel/gas-station. The obligations and demands of love, and the web of relations it entails, also underscores a Catholic ethos.
It is an interesting question: what exactly does "Catholic" mean? I would resist any minimal institutional identification of the term. Now, I do not agree with those who would seperate the visible and invisible churches, or who claim that Christ proclaimed the Kingdom, and what happened was the Church, etc. I do believe that the Catholic Church is the Mystical Body as God intended it, nor do I hold that there is (very properly understood) life outside her. However, I do think that her influence extends beyond her visible/institutional borders. To be really Christian at all means to be Catholic and a part of the Totus Christus. Not that God is limited in his grace to this either; as St. Thomas points out, he can even give the charismatic gifts (like prophecy for instance) to those who do not have charity (i.e. only have unformed faith).
Nonetheless, if Christianity is sincerely practiced and believed anywhere, I hold that it will always and inevitably become more and more Catholic in its ethos. By Catholic there, I mean a certain kind of understanding and vision of the world as fundamentally good and wedded to Christ toward an eternal destiny, as a part of creation always intended for theosis; a view of matter as dignified and intrinsically part of the plan of the Kingdom; an understanding of Divine-human interaction that emphasizes the importance of mediation and sacrament, culminating in what von Balthasar called the concrete universal and analogy of being, Jesus Christ himself; along with an integral vision of the goodness of creation, the correlative understanding of grace as a kind of relation with nature/creation that has for its best analogue the relation of spouses in marriage; an understanding of poverty and emptiness and self-gift as most exemplary image of Divinity (God's own inner life), and therefore the noblest rule and ideal for society and human action, as well as the common good of the universe.
Not that institution is unimportant, but I think in the realities of humanity and culture, the institution can often be a stumbling-block and a scandal, and is also more of a work-in-progress. Which does not mean it is dispensible. Only that it is human. In a similar way, in canon law we have rules for everything, but also admit exceptions and dispensations for everything. Blame prime matter, or just sin, but that's the human reality. No law can be truly univeral in application, as St. Thomas noted. So the reality may in fact be that the Baptist living next door is a far more authentic Catholic (and really, not just metaphorically) than many Catholics at the parish, etc.
I think if one tries hard enough, you can see these above-mentioned truths anywhere in real Christianity, whether Baptist or Eastern-Orthodox, or wherever. Indeed, the model I am proposing is more like a spectrum or continuum, and does alow for possibilities of visible discontinuity, even on the Catholic side. But for those with eyes to see, something like Tender Mercies does contain in germ form all those above points. Another way to frame the criterion is that anything fully and sincerely human will always/already be fully and sincerely Catholic and oriented to participation in the Divine Life. As St. Irenaeus said, "The Glory of God is man fully alive; and the life of man is the vision of God."
Easier to see in middle Texas with old-time Country music and actors like Robert Duvall; granted.