What The Mission Can Teach Us About Violence

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What if I told you that there was a movie with Robert De Niro, Liam Neeson, and Jeremy Irons; gorgeous scenery and cinematography of the rain forest; some of the best movie music you’ll ever hear; packed with action, violence, and religious intrigue; and best of all, was a thoroughly Catholic movie?

Sounds like a winner right? When’s it come out?

1986, actually. It’s called The Mission, and it’s one of my favorite movies of all time.

Set in 18th century South America, the movie follows the life of a community of Jesuits entrusted with setting up missions for the native peoples, building houses, educating them, and building Christian communities. When political forces try to shut down the missions, the Jesuits are faced with a difficult question: do they leave, as they were told to do, or do they stay with their people? And if they choose to stay, do they accept the slaughter that will come to them, or do they pick up arms and defend the defenseless?

What I love about the movie, and why Tito and I focus on it for our podcast this week, is because it presents two completely valid approaches to violence from a Catholic moral perspective but refrains from telling the viewer which was is correct. As all good movies do, the question is asked but the answer is left up to the viewer. For us, it offers a window not only into our past—in this case, 18th century South American—but more importantly into the nature of violence in any age. As good and faithful people, doing our best to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, how do we respond to the Holocaust? To the Rwandan genocide? To ISIS? To the bully on the playground?

For us, the answers are not as clear as some might have us believe.

As a side note, the friars of my community were on a day of recollection this weekend, which was spiritually and fraternally nourishing (very important) but ministerially hindering. The time away not only kept me from filming a new episode of Catholicism in Focus, but also from writing a blog post about last week’s reflection. At this point, the opportunity has come and gone, so I’m not going to go back and write one, but if you’re interested in watching the video, I have placed it below.

3 Comments on “What The Mission Can Teach Us About Violence

  1. I like DeNiro even more now. Solid film. Solid post. Thank you as always for your solid work and effort .

  2. My favorite scene in The Mission is one most people never see. US audiences tend to jump to their feet after the credits start to roll. There is one brief scene in The Mission, however, which comes after the credits have finished. Cardinal Altamirano looks directly at the camera with a queer (in the old meaning of the word) expression on his face. Some have described his look as “a condemning stare.” I see something different. I see him asking us, “Well, you who want to condemn me? What would you have done differently?”

    (BTW, it was my privilege to work with the Guarani people in Bolivia. They still to this day prize the music introduced to them by the Jesuits. There’s an international baroque music festival every year in the Chiquitania region of Bolivia, and it is not unusual to attend Mass there and see 30 or more kids in the music group, all playing their violins. In the case of the Jesuits and the Guarani, it was mission done right.)

  3. ‘Mission’ was a very good movie. I remember it well. It was a sad commentary on the Church at that time as well.

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