…and the Oscar goes to…

Sunday night several hundred million people are expected to watch the 89th annual Academy Awards from Los Angeles. The night has grown into the Hollywood’s version of Super Bowl Sunday. Both the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and the National Football League have pumped millions of dollars into making these competitions cultural events that seem to take on the heft of a religious holiday. Oscar and Super Bowl parties are now common. Fans clamor to have Monday off from work or school to recover from the celebrations.

We will hear from this Sunday’s gospel reading a clear question: “Why are you anxious about clothes?” Oscar’s red carpet was obviously not on the mind of Jesus. Heaven was.

As people busy with raising families, working, serving our communities, and caring for those in need, we grow our discipleship through the love and care we extend to others, yet how often do we keep heaven on our minds? This supernatural completion of our life’s natural trajectory culminates in eternal life with our loving God in the fullness of creation. St. John Paul II taught clearly that heaven, hell, and purgatory are states of being rather than places that are commonly represented in human language.

To develop, then, our understanding about these states of being—or experiences, the Spirit-infused imagination leads us in prayer and reflection to new and richer considerations of what the afterlife could actually be. Our imagination grows richer when it is fed with beauty, art, poetry, literature, music, and yes, movies. Certainly, not all these media and their offerings will lead us to deepen our sense of wonder, worship, and eternal destiny. Yet, many will help. St. Francis de Sales’ words amplify this: “We pray best before beauty.”

With an eye on a few of this year’s Best Picture nominations, important religious themes abound:

Manchester by the Sea exposes the depths of human pain and tragic, life-changing loss that may not be healed until heaven welcomes us. Fences illustrates forgiveness and hope in the face of betrayal. Hidden Figures shows the evil of sexism and racism, and the power of the human spirit to soar despite conventions that quell it. Moonlight also illuminates evil, here in poverty, addiction, homophobia, and violence and offers hope that strong communities and loving friends and mentors can heal even life’s deepest wounds. LaLa Land lyrically lauds how determinative our choices can be, choices that frame and form our life—for good and ill. And, Hacksaw Ridge acclaims faith in the face of war and death.

A trip to the movies can hardly replace our Sunday trek to church, but it can enhance it. How we hear gospel readings, all replete with images, is impacted by the abundance of themes and stories that soften our souls, stretch our hearts, and lift our spirits to the heights of heaven.