five years on: mission, contemplation, and St. Thérèse

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about anniversaries, one of which occurs today: five years since I moved to California.

Back in the summer of 2003, when I decided to move from the Twin Cities to Los Angeles, I chose October 1 as my move date because it was the feast of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. Since she is the patroness of missionaries, I wanted in a particular way to seek her intercession as I moved to the mission fields of Hollywood. She is a great saint to turn to for anyone who would come here, because her “little way” is a perfect antidote to the heady atmosphere of the big, the extraordinary and the exalted.

Five years on, I appreciate her example even more. The experiences I treasure most from these five years have been small and ordinary. The silent moments on the crowded subway… an exhibit of humanity’s many faces… living sculptures in still and unstudied poses. The many encounters with people who, though they work in entertainment, will never be seen on any screen. The quiet hikes in the Verdugo and Santa Monica mountains. The mornings of prayer and study in the basement of Family Theater with the RCIA program. The lapping waves and faint gull cries on the shores of Malibu.

St. Thérèse teaches us authenticity: to love the ordinary, to seek out the hidden, and to expose every small movement of the heart to the heart of God. No façade. No exaggeration. No presumption.

I recently re-read the personal statement I wrote as part of my application to the Act One program… to see how my aspirations at the time match up with what I have actually been doing since:

I think that good film will illuminate human and spiritual values. This is no small challenge in the culture in which we live, and requires, I believe, a contemplative point of view. I believe it is my first task as a screenwriter to be immersed in a life of prayer. This is why I have committed myself to formation in Carmelite spirituality. Without a deep, candid and abiding friendship with the Lord, I have very little to offer; everything must stand the test of confrontation with the face of Christ. Pope John Paul II has a passage in The Gospel of Life in which he discusses the importance of contemplation for the world today. I return to this passage often because it grounds the whole effort to be a witness in the modern world. The Pope writes:

We need first of all to foster, in ourselves and in others, a contemplative outlook. Such an outlook arises from faith in the God of life, who has created every individual as a “wonder” (cf. Ps. 139:14). It is the outlook of those who see life in its deeper meaning, who grasp its utter gratuitousness, its beauty and its invitation to freedom and responsibility. It is the outlook of those who do not presume to take possession of reality but instead accept it as a gift, discovering in all things the reflection of the Creator and seeing in every person his living image (cf. Gen 1:27; Ps. 8:5). This outlook does not give in to discouragement when confronted by those who are sick, suffering, outcast or at death’s door. Instead, in all these situations it feels challenged to find meaning, and precisely in these circumstances it is open to perceiving in the face of every person a call to encounter, dialogue and solidarity.

It is time for all of us to adopt this outlook, and with deep religious awe to rediscover the ability to revere and honour every person, as Paul VI invited us to do in one of his first Christmas messages. Inspired by this contemplative outlook, the new people of the redeemed cannot but respond with songs of joy, praise and thanksgiving for the priceless gift of life, for the mystery of every individual’s call to share through Christ in the life of grace and in an existence of unending communion with God our Creator and Father. (John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, paragraph 83)

This is the task of a lifetime. I would be happy to spend my life as a screenwriter adopting this vision according to my state in life.

I had a good laugh reading this, as I still haven’t completed my first screenplay. What remains, however, is the desire for contemplation, for discovering God’s presence in every corner of life. And St. Thérèse is still showing me the way.

2 thoughts on “five years on: mission, contemplation, and St. Thérèse

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