Paul the Apostle VS Feel-Good Christian Movies

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My husband and I had the chance to go see the new movie “Paul: Apostle of Christ” during Holy Week, which brings to life the account of the Acts of the Apostles. Just as my husband and I were wondering if we had gone into the right theater, they started playing some trailers for these inspirational Christian movies, and we figured we were in the right place.

Sometimes, you do want to watch a good uplifting movie. These movies can give you hope for tough times, like “Fireproof” for a difficult marriage or “The Shack” for the challenge of forgiveness. But the trailer for the new “God’s Not Dead” movie had me feeling a little awkward. My husband and I watched the first God’s Not Dead movie a few years back and thought it brought up some good points and had a good message, but the end of the movie was so cheesy: everyone smiled big, hugged each other, and then they all went to a Christian concert together. While I have not seen the new movie, “God’s Not Dead: A Light In Darkness” has the premise of a difficult situation for a pastor, yet the trailer hints to the same kind of cheesy ending where it all works out in the end and everyone is happy.

In contrast, “Paul: Apostle of Christ” ends with Christians being sent into the Coliseum with tigers and Paul being beheaded (spoiler alert, but not really).
Well, in the very end Paul goes to heaven, and that’s the ending I want to focus on. Not every person who gives their life to Christ gets a happy ending in the sense of comfort and likeability. The happy ending is life in Christ for all eternity. But sometimes that means in this life you are accused, insulted, outcast, burned alive, or fed to lions.

Suffering is a fact of life, but it’s also the way to be united to Christ and we can’t get to heaven without it. As St. Rose of Lima wrote: “Our Lord and Savior lifted up his voice and said with incomparable majesty: ‘Let all men know that grace comes after tribulation. Let them know that without the burden of afflictions it is impossible to reach the height of grace. Let them know that the gifts of grace increase as the struggles increase. Let men take care not to stray and be deceived. This is the only true stairway to paradise, and without the cross they can find no road to climb to heaven.’ “

There is a dangerous message floating around some churches that preach the gospel of prosperity. They say if you give your life to Christ, everything will work out. You’ll have a nice car and a good spouse and a comfortable income to support your family on, they say. They quote the Scripture, “All things work for the good of those who love him.” (Romans 8:28) Only they forget the verse in the paragraph before that says, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.” (Romans 8:18)   All things work for the ultimate good, that is, heaven - not money or power or popularity. And all things work through suffering.

Because if we look at the history of the Church, suffering has been the lot of everyone. Pick one saint who had it easy. Can’t think of one? Neither can I. If they came from wealth or a life of comfort, they gave it all up.

The Easter season is a great time to reflect on the Christians in the early Church, and how the Church grew.  There was opposition from every side – even Paul himself murdered Christians until his conversion. For years Christianity was outlawed and punishable by death, but not even threat of death could stop the conversion of Christians.  In fact, the more the Christians suffered, the faster the Church grew.

During persecution by the Roman Empire, the Church grew 40% per decade.

There were about 1,000 Christians in 40 AD, but by the year 300 AD that number had grown to 6 million. By the mid 4th century, that number was 33 million Christians in an empire of 60 million people. All this was right up to the time that Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in 312.

Author Mike Aquilina argues that Christian evangelization was messier when it was legal than when it was illegal and bloodier. As Christianity became legal, it was more complicated to separate matters of Church and empire, and it was also easier to be a Christian. This meant Christians became comfortable and evangelization efforts lessened. I think today, we are in a similar state of comfortable Christianity. We have had the religious freedom to go to Mass and even have several Mass times to choose from. We have not had to hide or suffer blatant persecution.

Now, though, the culture is increasingly hostile to Christian values. If I have learned anything from history, it’s that our time has come to be uncomfortable in our faith and suffer for it. It may be to die to self by practicing NFP while everyone around you is contracepting, or it may be having to switch schools because of the sex-ed. Right now we are teaching our young children that we only say “Oh, my God” when we are praying. So as Christians we even talk differently than other people. We may have to lose friends and some of us might even face legal action for standing up for our beliefs. But the sufferings of this present world will not compare to the glory of eternal life.

I encourage everyone to go see the movie “Paul: Apostle of Christ” for the witness of St. Paul, St. Luke, and the early Church. It’s a good reminder to take up our cross, because as St. Rose of Lima said, our sufferings are the only true staircase to paradise.

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