I've just been to see 'Philomena' and please, if you intend on seeing this movie, don't read any further… SPOILERS ahead.
For those who haven't heard of it, it's a stunning movie, inspired by a the true story of Philomena Lee, a woman who at 15 was shipped off to one of the Magdalene homes for unwed mothers in Ireland to have her illigitimate baby. He stayed at the home with her, where she was allowed to see him for an hour a day, until he was adopted at age 3 by an American couple.
This movie is a wonderful summary of all that is terrible and all that is wonderful about our faith and it's history. Philomena was treated horrifically by the nuns (Sisters of the Sacred Heart) – she underwent a breach birth without a doctor, was held prisoner for the next four years (girls were not able to leave the convent after their babies were born unless they could pay the nuns 100 pounds (to cover the costs of their care), instead staying on to wash laundry and pay off their debt), she repeatedly visited the convent as a adult to try and track down her son but was told they had no idea where he was and that all records were destroyed in a fire. It becomes clear during the course of the movie that the nuns destroyed the records themselves in a fire to cover up the fact that they were selling these babies for 1000 pounds each to rich Amercian Catholic couples – no doubt with the very best of intentions.
What is also revealed at the end of the movie is that the nuns knew all along where her son was. He too had been visiting the convent over the years searching for his birth mother. He even visited it in his last months of life (after being diagnosed with AIDS) begging to be given her contact details and, after his death he asked to be buried at the convent so that his mother might one day find him. She now visits his grave regularly there. When asked why they had not told her of his wherabouts (literally a few metres from the office she sat in asking about him) she was told that she had sinned (as an unwed mother) and that it was punishment for her offence against God.
So, that is all that is tragic in our past. The Catholic Church does indeed have some shocking things to atone for.
But at the very end of the movie, Philomena also sums up all that is great about our faith. The journalist who accompanies her on her search for her son storms into the convent and lets fly at the nuns. He is full of rage and anger at what she has been through at the hands of these women. Philomena asks him to stop. He turns to her, incredulous, and says, "What? After all they've done, you're just going to do nothing?" She answers him, "No." Then she pauses and turns to the nun who has lied to her for all of these years. The audience of course thinks that she is going to let all of her anger out and tell this nun what she thinks of her. But instead she says, "I forgive you." And walks out.
It's obvious to all watching that Philomena has taken the hardest road. The easiest thing would be to hate these nuns, to scorn the Church and to tell everyone the pain they had caused her. Instead, she is never seen to say a bad word against them. She remains a commited Catholic and instead of hate, she chooses forgiveness. Very powerful stuff. I believe it was her years of commited faith and prayer that allowed her to be the amazing woman she is.
It's also inspired me to think differently about all of those people who use the Church's scandals as an excuse for why they are no longer practicing. Maybe this is just an 'easy' option for them. Next time I meet one I'm going to challenge them to forgive and see what their response is.