If a poor old man approached you, dragging a seven-foot cross, and asked, “Do you believe?” – what would you say? What would you think?
Recently, I saw the movie Do You Believe? that poses the same question to the viewer. We all say we have faith, but how many of us actually live that faith actively and openly?
At the beginning of the film, a Scripture verse on the screen reads, “Faith without works is useless.” (James 2:20) This message is played out throughout the film among twelve characters in crisis. The effort for many is not easy, by any means, and sometimes the faith is not there at all.
When the old man asks a Protestant minister, “Do you believe?” the minister replies, “I’m a pastor.”
“That’s not what I asked you,” says the old man. “If you really believe what does it mean to you? What are you doing about it?”
Later the pastor gives witness to the old man’s question when he sees a pregnant teen rummaging through the garbage. He then decides to help. For his next sermon, the pastor focuses on this “Do you believe?” theme by giving small wooden crosses to his congregation while also erecting a large cross in his church, splattered with red paint. He says to the congregation, “Redemption and forgiveness intersect at the cross.” Some of them are moved and begin to do acts of charity.
The film shows how easily we are all connected. Each of the stories in the film are masterfully woven together as all of the characters eventually encounter one another. For example, the church caretaker, who despite being very poor and very sick, helps a homeless woman and her young daughter. Then a couple who have mourned the loss of their teenage daughter in a traffic accident for years start working at a soup kitchen where they also meet the same woman and daughter that the church caretaker had helped. Situations don’t work out well for a few of them, tempering our joy with the bittersweet.
While all the people in the film are in crisis and the film doesn’t deal with the commonplace evangelization that most of us deal with in the home, in the marketplace, at school and at work, it is still very amazing to see folks trying to sacrifice and give, instead of the usual movie fare of pursuing pleasure, status and wealth.
The film also prompts all of us to ask ourselves often “What am I doing with my belief?” When an EMT is sued for sharing the Gospel with a dying man, by a pitiless attorney, he plays out the pastor’s words, “I was once asked if you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” This question is one that we should ask ourselves daily.
Do You Believe? is a beautifully made film. The acting is solid with a cast that you might recognize from other tv/films: Mira Sorvino, Sean Astin, Cybill Shepherd, Lee Majors, Ted McGinley. The dialogue is snappy and sometimes very funny. And although it doesn’t have a Catholic sensibility and is painted with a broad brush without a lot of theological dialogue, it is still an excellent film.
Catholic’s possess a more intensive view of conversion. It’s not just a profession of belief and then you are forever changed, your life turns around and everything is fine from then on. For a dying person this would be enough but we Catholics think that for most of us conversion is a more thorough and lifelong process: learning about the Faith at the Rite of Christian Initiation classes, followed by Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Communion. This is followed by regular Mass attendance where we receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist, and periodic reception of the Sacrament of Confession.
I highly recommend this film for anyone, whether they are regular church goers, fallen away Christians, or even neutral or hostile to faith.
These filmmakers also produced God’s Not Dead and I just say, “Keep up the good work!” and pray that other filmmakers follow this lone star. I am still revved up after seeing the movie. It is the breath of spring that we need, and could be an Easter treat instead of just eating ham and chocolate bunnies.