MPAA Rating: R
USCCB Rating: A-III
Reel Rating: 4 out of 5 Reels
Man of God
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
USCCB Rating: Not Rated
Reel Rating: 5 out of 5 Reels
Saints often seem to be aloof figures in the far distant past who are helpful, but not easy to relate to. We see their images on holy cards or medals on necklaces, which can make seem even more set apart from the ordinary. But they were, every one of them, human beings with hopes, desires, and struggles like all of us. Some led lives of great sanctity, seemingly from birth. Others spent most of their time in great and sometimes shocking sin, only to see the light shortly before death. Two excellent films recently released on DVD, Man of God and Father Stu, present the lives of two great souls: Nectarios Kephalas and Stuart Long. They led very different lives, but both came to see suffering as a means of grace, and they brought countless souls to Christ.
Nectarios Kephalas (Aris Servetalis) was a Greek Orthodox bishop in Alexandria around the turn of the last century. He was known for his piety, humility, and even miracle working. He was extremely popular among the common man, no matter his faith. A Muslim peasant stops him on the way to Church. “I was healed!” he exclaims. “Allah heard your prayers.” “No,” Nectarios smiles. “God heard your prayers.” There are even rumors he will be picked as the next Patriarch of the city. These murmerings, unfortunately, create jealously among his peers who falsely accuse him of various “indiscretions.” He is unjustly exiled back to Greece, which is only the start of troubles that would make even Job look upon him with pity.
At first, no one will give him even the smallest position despite his episcopal consecration. Nectarios eventually finds work as the principal of a high school. Like the United States at the time, many male Catholic secondary schools doubled as pre-seminaries for teenagers considering a vocation. Much to the anger of the institution’s president, Nectarious’ holy example leads many students to pursue religious life over a secular career. Once chased out of that institution, he becomes the spiritual mentor for a convent, only to find himself in hot water again as the number of novices increases.
Nectarios’ life is a perfect example of what St. Ignatius of Loyola termed “holy indifference.” This is not apathy towards the needs of the world but willingness to let go of control. When slandered in Egypt, he affirms his innocence but does not resist the transfer. He accepts the hardships as lessons from God. One friend, seeing Nectarios slighted again, comments: “If I were you, I would have lost faith a long time ago.” The holy man shakes his head and replies, “Woe to him whose faith depends on men.” Even when suffering horrible pain from prostate cancer, his prayers are not for his own relief but to make sure his nuns will be protected.
Stuart Long (Mark Walburg) was born only a few years after Nectarios’ death in 1961. Raised in a secular and dysfunctional family, as a young man he was as far from being a saint as one could imagine. Originally an amateur boxer, he gave up his fighting career to pursue acting in the 90s. While waiting for his big break, he runs the meat counter at a grocery store, where he meets Carmen (Teresa Ruiz) and instantly falls in love. She won’t date a non-Catholic, so he instantly joins RCIA – with perhaps limited good intentions.
Shortly after his confirmation, he survives a horrific motorcycle accident, and his previously unenthusiastic faith becomes passionate. So much so, he announces his intentions to become a priest. This too, however, seems destined for failure after he is diagnosed with a rare muscular disease that slowly eats away at his ability to move until inevitable death in a few short years. This is when his real ministry begins.
The greatest strength that writer/director Rosalind Ross brings to Father Stu is its candor. The film could easily be criticized for its constant swearing, but that was the reality of Stuart and his family. His prayers and mannerisms can often seem blasphemous, but if we are honest, most of us have expressed anger and even doubt with God in our prayer, and so have the saints at times.
Gradually, Stu comes to accept his challenges and eventually he recognizes the benefits of condition, which temporarily seemed to put a halt to his priestly ambition. His joy amidst suffering brings hope to others and provides witness to the suffering of Christ for our sins.
Neither Nectorios nor Stuart have been officially canonized as saints, but both offer compelling examples of holiness in the modern world. As a movie, Man of God was a little better, but both are excellent cinematic works, and I look forward to future works by both filmmakers.
Related at CWR:
• “Man of God is a surprising work of cinematic Lenten devotion” (March 12, 2022) by Nick Olszyk
• “Father Stu is a mostly endearing, shaggy redemption story” (April 13, 2022) by Steven D. Greydanus
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