Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 10/02/23

Mother Teresa & Me hits movie theaters as a one-night Fathom Event on Wednesday. The English-language movie, which received the top honor at Rome’s Mirabile Dictu International Film Festival, is written and directed Bollywood filmmaker Kamal Musale (Curry Western) and stars Jacqueline Fritschi-Cornaz (who co-produced the film) as Mother Teresa and British actress Banita Sandhu. For a complete list of theater locations click here.

Synopsis: The film juxtaposes what is basically the origin story of Mother Teresa and her mission in Calcutta with the contemporary tale of Kavita (Sandhu), a young British woman with Indian parents who, while apparently practicing Hindus, nonetheless revere the life and work of Mother Teresa. After being stuck by a car on the streets of London, an injured Kavita is shocked to learn that she is pregnant – causing her to flee to Calcutta to consider her options while, in the process, learning more about the Catholic figure her parents hold in such high regard. The decidedly pro-life film forthrightly confronts the emotional issue of abortion while also touching on Mother Teresa’s reported “dark night of the soul” in which she battled her own doubts about her calling and even her relationship with God.

IMHO: Mother Teresa & Me is an intelligent thought-provoking movie the is pro-faith and pro-life without coming off as judgemental toward people of differing views. Particularly regarding the issue of abortion, the movie portrays Mother Teresa’s honest and sincere stance on the issue as being in sync with her compassion for discarded people during all phases of life. At the same time, it honestly portrays the pressures on women dealing unplanned pregnancies – be it in a religiously traditional society like mid-20th century India or the pressures of more modern western culture where a surprise pregnancy is presented as an unwanted disruption of a life plan and career and the guy involved simply wants the “problem” to go away. In both cases, women don’t feel supported should they choose to give birth the new life. While the movie pushes back against the inclination to condemn anyone for their individual choice, it makes a pretty good case for choosing life.

In my view, it’s a wise choice for writer-director Kamal Musale both dramatically and because, if you really want to preach beyond the proverbial choir on the issue, it’s wise to demonstrate that you have listen to and at least somewhat comprehend some of the issues women face in the real world when a problematic pregnancy arises. Personally, I would like to see a world where there are no abortions because I do view it as the taking of human life but, at the same time, the issue is a complex one that renders the idea of punishment (especially for the woman) as rather simplistic and lacking in compassion.

As I’ve written in this space before, maybe we need to take pro-love approach when it comes to abortion that promotes the choice of life through biological education and emotional and economic support while also recognizing a woman’s jurisdiction over her own body. To do that takes some humility but, in the end, I think it is the more likely to have a positive pro-life impact. I honestly believe that, given the facts and support, most women – who under current circumstances feel pushed toward abortion – would choose life.

Getting back to the movie, Mother Teresa & Me also forthrightly confronts the accusations made against Mother Teresa by critics like the late Christopher Hitchens in his TV documentary Hell’s Angel and his book The Missionary Position. Two criticisms against Mother Teresa enunciated in the film are that she stopped women who had been raped from having abortions and that she didn’t administer painkillers to dying patients supposedly so they’d suffer Jesus during His Crucifixion. While the first allegation certainly sounds consistent with Mother Teresa’s strong opposition to abortion, the latter has been challenged as false and taken out-of-context from a Lancet article that otherwise praised Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity in providing compassionate treatment for the poor, including their “open-door policy, their cleanliness, tending of wounds and loving kindness…the fact that people seldom die on the street is largely thanks to the work of Mother Teresa and her mission” and that most of “the inmates eat heartily and are doing well and about two-thirds of them leave the home on their feet.”

Certainly, Mother Teresa had staunch detractors who seemed to reflexively castigate everything she did. Of course, on the other side, there are Catholics, particularly, who, perhaps because of her canonized status, recoil from any suggestion of human weakness on her part at all, including doubts about God. It seems to me that the truth lies in the conclusion that Mother Teresa was an exceptional human being who struggled with things like doubt. To me that makes her story more compelling, more relatable and more inspirational.

In one memorable scene, an understanding priest to whom she confides her troubling thoughts and depression tells her “Faith might be obscured by the clouds of doubt but it will come back. Be patient, Mother.’ That, I think, is good advice for anyone struggling with depression. I know since I’ve been there. The patience part particularly – as in patience with yourself as well others.

I get the impression from watching this movie that Mother Teresa’s biggest flaw (if I may use that word regarding a saint) is that she tried too hard to be perfect. While striving to be the best person you can be is laudable and a positive trait, like anything, if carried to the extreme it tends to have negative consequences. The quest to perfection is one of those things – giving rise to the age-old pearl of wisdom that “perfection is the enemy of the good.”

The Catholic Church, and other religions, are good at pointing toward unchanging truths regarding basic right and wrong but they also can present the reaching toward unbending ideals in a way that produces counterproductive guilt. Mother Teresa was a human being – and, while a very good person, may have suffered from trying to hard to be a saint – just as Catholics of this generation may suffer from being too hard to be Mother Teresa. The simple truth is none of us are perfect. It’s good to try to be better – but setting your sights on perfection is doomed to failure. And, really, it may just be that our acknowledgement and, yes, acceptance of our own inability to be perfect may be where true compassion stems from. Paradoxically, accepting imperfection in ourselves and others may bring us as individuals – and as a society – a bit step closer toward that elusive thing called perfection.

Arnold Schwarzenegger has certainly accomplished a lot in his life – but few would consider him the epitome of saintly perfection. Yet, in his new booked Be Useful: Seven Tools for Life he offers some sage insight regarding the underrated virtue of balance when, as per The New York Post, he writes “I am not asking you to be Robin Hood or Mother Teresa. I am only asking you to do for others what you are able to do … to be useful as often as you can. In every case, giving more will get you more.”

The Bottom Line: With good performances all around, most notably by Jacqueline Fritschi-Cornaz as Mother Teresa, and an intelligent, nuanced and heartfelt script by Kamal Musale, Mother Teresa & Me is highly recommended.

When Ducks fly. The Blind (described here on Monday as “sort of Duck Dynasty prequel) delivered $5.1 million in ticket sales in just over 1700 theaters to unexpectedly finish in fourth place at the box office over the weekend (including its Thursday previews) while garnering an impressive 99% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.

Zach Dasher, one of the film’s producers and a nephew of Phil Robertson (upon whose inspirational story the film is based), says “The early success of The Blind proves that audiences are hungry for honest and encouraging content,” adding “We want people everywhere to be reminded that there is hope, even when it seems impossible.”

The distribution for The Blind is being handled by Fathom Events under its new specialty distribution model, giving the film a ten-day run rather than the well-known one or two day release model of its previous films.

John W. Kennedy is a writer, producer and media development consultant specializing in television and movie projects that uphold positive timeless values, including trust in God.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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