We’ve just celebrated the Paschal Triduum and now enter the octave of Easter. These days we’ve participated in the most solemn liturgies of the Church’s year. We reflect on the love that brought about our redemption through the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
But what does it mean to live Easter grace in our everyday lives? How often do we think about our own baptism into the Body of Christ and what that baptism means as we make decisions and act according to those decisions day-to-day? How does our faith manifest itself as we go about the normal business of living?
I’ve seen two films recently that tell the real-life stories of two amazing followers of Christ. One is a Hollywood-produced film, “I Can Only Imagine” and the other is a documentary, “The Heart of Nuba.” The protagonists of both films are examples of those who have embraced Easter grace and allow it to flow through their lives.
“I Can Only Imagine”
This film tells the story of Bart Millard, lead vocalist of the Christian band, MercyMe. Bart (J. Michael Finley) was abused by his father, Arthur (Dennis Quaid) as a child and fled home as a teenager in order to survive. Becoming part of MercyMe, Bart and his band mates suffered what every band does as they try to attract a recording contract by touring, singing in front of whomever will listen. When they get no bites from prospective labels, the manager tells Bart that he needs to confront his personal demons to find the music in his soul, music that will really touch the hearts of people.
So, Bart heads home to find his Dad a different person. Bart, however, is not ready to forgive just because Arthur has been listening to some preachers on the radio. It’s only when he discovers that Arthur has cancer that Bart embarks on his journey of forgiveness. In the movie, Arthur tells Bart, “If God can forgive everyone else, why can’t he forgive me, too?”
Forgiveness didn’t come easy for Bart, just as it does not come easy for any of us. It’s the nature of the Cross. The story of the Cross, however, did not end on Good Friday. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead on Easter means life and salvation for all of us, even for people like Bart’s Dad, if we embrace love and forgiveness. And because Jesus rose from the dead, our faith is not in vain and God grants us the grace we need to journey the difficult path to forgiveness, just as Bart did.
You may have heard the song that came out of Bart’s journey, “I Can Only Imagine.” If you haven’t, click on the video above and let yourself be inspired. Bart wrote this after his Dad died and the song’s vision of heaven has inspired millions, catapulting the song to triple platinum status. It remains the highest selling Christian song of all time. The Paschal Mystery means life from death, good from bad, peace from forgiveness.
“The Heart of Nuba”
This documentary produced in 2016 is only now getting theatrical release, showing in New York beginning on April 6th. It tells the story of Dr. Tom Catena, an all-American football player at Brown University turned solitary physician to people of the war-torn Nuba Mountains region of Sudan.
When the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, began bombing his own people in the Nuba Mountains in 2011, most foreign aid workers left the region. Dr. Tom, as he is known by the Nuba people, decided to stay, being the only doctor for Mother of Mercy hospital, serving the one million people of the region. A volunteer with the Catholic Medical Mission Board, Catena had been volunteering his services in Africa for many years and in the Sudan since 2008.
Dr. Tom begins everyday in the hospital’s chapel, praying the Rosary. Then he sees an average of 500 patients a day, many of them injuries sustained in the daily bombings carried out by al-Bashir. On the days when he does surgery, he sometimes performs up to 15 surgeries during the day. He’s on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Dr. Tom Catena from "The Heart of Nuba" (Shriver Productions)
Dr. Tom’s efforts on behalf of the people of the Nuba Mountains, aided by this documentary, have come to the attention of world leaders. In 2017, Dr. Tom received the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity in honor of his tireless humanitarian work. Yet, Dr. Tom remains a humble servant, only doing what he believes his conscience demands of him. As the son of a vibrant Catholic family, his faith gives him hope that the situation of the Nuba people will change and the strength to serve them day-by-day. In one interview, a local Nuban calls him Jesus Christ. Just as Jesus went about healing, so does Dr. Tom. It’s a label I’m sure Dr. Tom would be uncomfortable with.
A cease-fire has been in effect in Sudan for a year now, partly because of the influence of this film, but Dr. Tom knows that it could crumble at any moment. Omar al-Bashir is the only sitting president indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court. It is the hope of “The Heart of Nuba” director, Ken Carlson, that the film will bring the plight of the Nuba people to the consciousness of the world community so that change can be effected.
Easter is a time of year when we reflect on the redemption won for us by the death and resurrection of Christ. We each choose how to thank God for this great gift by the way we live as disciples of Jesus. Both Bart Millard and Tom Catena are sinners just like you and me, redeemed by the love of Christ. They have taken that love and made it supreme in their lives. We are called to do the same. By witnessing their stories in “I Can Only Imagine” and “The Heart of Nuba” may we be inspired to live our own Christian discipleship to a fuller degree each and every day. In this we are not alone. Jesus Christ, crucified for us and risen from the dead, remains with us. Always.
To find out more about “The Heart of Nuba,” and where it will be playing in theaters, visit their website: theheartofnuba.com.
To see New York Times reporter, Nicholas Kristof’s piece on the Nuba Mountains featuring Dr. Tom Catena, click here.