I have Hollywood friends who would probably gag if I mentioned that I loved the film, “Philomena.” After all, a movie about an Irish woman trying to find her grown son fifty years after he was sold to an American family by Catholic nuns isn’t as hip or sexy as “American Hustle.” Whatever.
My producer and writer friends would however approve of dame Judi Dench, the brilliant actress who plays Philomena in the new Stephen Frears movie. Based on the true and remarkable story of Philomena Lee’s 50 year-long search for her son captured in Martin Sixsmith’s book, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, I am reminded that truth is stranger than fiction. As a journalist and previous political adviser, Sixsmith assisted Philomena in eventually piecing together her son’s story.
Spoiler alert: Martin discovers that Philomena’s son was adopted and became a high-ranking official in the Reagan administration. He was also gay and died of Aids.
While the story itself is remarkable enough, what pulled the rug out from under me was Philomena’s forgiveness of those who wrenched her son from her for a profit, tormented her for unwed sex and kept her from re-uniting with him despite the fact that both mother and son were searching for each other.
At thirteen years of age, I broke my own mother’s heart by refusing to be confirmed in the Catholic church. I didn’t understand Christianity (or hypocrisy) and wanted nothing to do with religion. I mistakenly thought that Jesus’ command to love one another and turn the other cheek meant we must all lie down and be doormats. I thought that to be a Christian one must be an idiot and that passivity was colluding with evil.
A few critics have claimed “Philomena” an anti-Catholic polemic because it exposes abuses in the church. I don’t see it that way at all. If anything it is a tribute to the Gospels and a profound example of faith and forgiveness.
I don’t think there is anything more difficult than to forgive grave betrayals and transgressions. When the heart has been bludgeoned and the soul violated, it is important to protect ourselves against recurrent hurts. To forgive requires deep maturity and processing of feelings and an ability to almost pity the perpetrator. Forgiveness is an active choice, not a passive one and being Christian a courageous decision vs. allowing oneself to be spineless.
Seeing “Philomena” reminded me today that:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
This is not a simple philosophy and it’s definitely not hip or sexy. It is a counter-narrative yet it is the only true freedom I have known.