Top Ten Films for Lent
Lent is a season of drawing into a deeper intimacy with Jesus. Watching sacred films during Lent is one method I use to draw closer to Christ. Here are the films I recommend watching this Lent, which have served that purpose for me:
1. The Passion of the Christ (2004) Oscar-winning actor-director Mel Gibson helms this epic that focuses on the last 12 hours of Jesus’s life — from the betrayal, trial and death of Jesus to his brutal crucifixion and resurrection from the tomb. Starring Jim Caviezel as Jesus, Maia Morgenstern as Jesus’s mother and Monica Bellucci as Mary Magdalene, The Passion is spoken entirely in Latin and Aramaic, and the violent Crucifixion scenes are incredibly graphic. This film moved me to tears and lifted me up spiritually in a way no other movie has.
2. The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) Swedish actor Max Von Sydow made his English-speaking debut in this gargantuan retelling of the life of Christ from Giant director George Stevens. The much-ballyhooed all-star cast includes Charlton Heston as John the Baptist and John Wayne as The Centurion at The Crucifixion. Filmed in Death Valley and in Utah, Nevada and Arizona locations, this dazzling epic garnered five Oscar nominations, including Best Special Effects and Best Score.
3. Into Great Silence (2005) Director Philip Gröning’s study of the Grande Chartreuse monastery introduces a world of austere beauty as it follows the daily activities of the resident monks, whose silence is broken only by prayer and song. With no sound save the natural rhythms of age-old routines, the documentary — a Special Jury Prize winner at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival — captures the simplicity and profundity of lives lived with absolute purpose and presence.
4. St. Anthony (2002) This engaging biopic chronicles the life of St. Anthony of Padua, a disciple of St. Francis of Assisi revered as one of the most-loved saints in all of Catholicism and known in his time as the “Hammer of the Heretics.” Admired for his piety, his miracles and his loving treatment of the less fortunate, the gentle St. Anthony also served as the namesake for the Texan city of San Antonio.
5. Molokai: The Story of Father Damien (2000) In 19th-century Hawaii, lepers are exiled to the island of Molokai and left to fend for themselves without any outside assistance — until a courageous priest named Father Damien (David Wenham) risks his own life to help ease their suffering. Although he’s shunned by his church’s greedy elders, Father Damien inspires others to reach out to the residents of Molokai. Peter O’Toole, Sam Neill and Derek Jacobi co-star in this inspiring biopic.
6. Of Gods and Men (2010) Awarded Grand Prix honors at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, this compelling historical drama relates the ordeal of seven French Trappist monks in the mountains of Algeria who are taken captive by Islamic fundamentalists. Before the monks’ abduction, they have ample reason to believe they may be in danger, but their assumption that there can and must be common ground between Islam and Christianity leads them to remain at the monastery.
7. Peter and Paul (1981) Director Robert Day’s epic TV miniseries follows apostles Peter (Robert Foxworth) and Paul (Anthony Hopkins) as they spread the gospel of nascent Christianity while striving to keep the faith despite violent opposition from without and endless tumult from within. The two disciples unite in their attempts to win converts but pay the ultimate price for their beliefs. Anthony Hopkins does a superb job of playing Paul!
8. Clare and Francis (2007) Both born in Assisi, St. Clare (Maria P. Petruolo) and St. Francis (Ettore Bassi) decide to leave behind their lives of luxury to follow Jesus Christ. This drama follows their attempts to live out the Gospel by working with the poor and establishing their own religious orders. An inspiring story of courage and commitment, this historically accurate epic was shot on location in Italy and features special behind-the-scenes footage.
9. Bernadette (1988) A 15-year-old Sydney Penny takes on the title role in director Jean Delannoy’s thoughtful retelling of the story of Bernadette Soubirous, a 19th century French peasant girl who sees a vision of the Blessed Virgin in the town of Lourdes. Although Bernadette’s claim makes her the target of scorn and persecution by the townsfolk, politicians and skeptical authorities in the Catholic Church, she ultimately becomes canonized.
10. Monsieur Vincent (1947) Tracing the story of 16th-century French priest St. Vincent de Paul (Pierre Fresnay), this compelling biography explores his remarkable mission to promote peace and faith among both peasants and nobles. He faced slavery in Algiers as a boy and the horrific Black Death in Europe as an adult but maintained his compassionate call for harmony. The internationally acclaimed film won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 1948.