Blessed are the selfless, though hidden they may be.
Blessed are the quiet; their thoughts the Lord will see.
Blessed are the pious, who do not seek renown.
Blessed are the few who suffer thorns their earthly crown.
Blessed are the holy ones, who rarer get each year,
For even in the darkest world, their light we will revere.
MPAA rating: PG
After watching The Letters last night, I figured it couldn’t be a coincidence that I happened to watch a movie about Mother Teresa on the one-year anniversary of her canonization as a saint. That’s why I hurried to write a review for today, the anniversary of her death, known in the Catholic Church as her Feast Day. A passion project of director William Riead, The Letters is one of the better faith-based films of recent years, a tribute to a woman of unparalleled holiness.
The Letters takes its inspiration and name from the many letters Mother Teresa wrote to her spiritual confidante Father Celeste Van Exem (Max von Sydow), who describes her story to Rutger Hauer as an investigator into Teresa’s cause for canonization. English actress Juliet Stevenson does a marvelous job (and feigns a convincing accent) as Mother Teresa herself, whose compassion for the poor outside her convent’s gates led her to petition for permission to leave the cloister and serve the unwashed masses of Calcutta, India. Over the years, despite her well-publicized sanctity, she also endured feelings of abandonment by God that have been called a “dark night of the soul,” a cross other saints have carried as well.
The Letters has received mostly negative critical reviews, but I don’t find that surprising, considering how Christian films tend to be more appreciated by their target audience than by secular viewers. Yet The Letters doesn’t seem concerned with proselytizing, just as Mother Teresa didn’t approach the Indian communities to win converts. It’s a testimony of her commitment to God and to helping others, and while some have tried to cast aspersions on her motivations and methods, I find nothing wrong with a wholly positive view of a woman who dedicated her life to serving the poor. Perhaps some people wanted a darker, more challenging view instead of a shiny biopic of a saint at work. After all, most would probably prefer to watch the latest gruesome death on Game of Thrones than the inspiring rescue efforts to aid the Hurricane Harvey victims. Yet positivity and holiness deserve their day, and a movie like The Letters presents them as truly admirable.
That’s not to say that The Letters is perfect. It does have better acting and production values than some Christian films, but the beginning jumps about in time and place a bit confusingly. Plus, the initial confrontations with Indian Muslims urging Teresa to leave seemed rather half-hearted, rarely making it feel that she was actually in danger. Even with these caveats, The Letters is pure inspiration, revealing Mother Teresa’s spiritual turmoil that has only increased Christians’ veneration of her. With so much wrong in the world, sometimes just watching a selfless hero in action, an example to aspire to, is enough to stir the soul and make us want to serve where we can more faithfully.
Rank: List Runner-Up
© 2017 S.G. Liput
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