"The Nativity Story" Film Study Guide for Catholics, by Sr. Rose Pacatte, FSP
The film guide starts with a brief introduction to using the medium of film, particularly religious ones, to assist in the faith journey of individuals, groups, and communities. Sister Rose writes about how film is just as powerful of a medium as is literature or art, but elicits an emotional reaction in the viewer and can reach people where other artistic media cannot. She writes how the guide will assist each reader and group leader in using the film to elicit thoughts, feelings, and discussion based on what is seen in the film, and then gives a basic background to the movie, starting with the script, the Biblical story and history, and some of those involved in bringing the story of the Nativity to life.
Part I of the book focuses on studying as an individual. Although this section is only 3 pages long, Sr. Rose has packed it full of thoughtful questions and Scriptures to ponder. This is no lightweight study, as she encourages the individual to study other Biblical mothers aside from Mary, including Eve, Sarah, Rebekah, Leah & Rachel, Ruth, Hannah, Judith, and Esther, to name a few. She then challenges the reader to consider and to journal about these women’s life stories and their families, their environment, their difficulties and triumphs, their supports, and their Godly roles. She then encourages the reader to shift their attention to those in the Bible as portrayed in “The Nativity Story,” and how they showed qualities or dealt with topics such as faith, angels, relationships—with others and with God, and how they may have inspired the viewer. After pondering these issues, Sr. Rose invites the individual to reflect on new insights gained from the study and perhaps new meaning in praying the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary.
Part II of the book focuses on studying “The Nativity Story” as a group. There is a meaty portion here for a group to chew on, starting off by suggesting the leader hand out cards to the group members with different characters of the Nativity, and for each person to concentrate on that person’s experiences in the movie and then discuss what they observed, thought, and felt afterwards. There are five themes that Sr. Rose brings up as presented in the film: Journeying, Seeking, Prayer, Values & Virtues, and Story & Symbols. Within these themes, several in-depth questions are asked for the group to consider and upon which to reflect after they have reviewed the movie, considering Scripture as well as one’s thoughts. She ends the group study with a number of motifs found throughout the film that could spark further discussion.
Part III covers using the film as an approach to a whole community catechesis, or faith-formation for the whole parish. Sr. Rose nicely divides up how this can be done throughout the Advent Season as well as topics that would be appropriate for adults, adolescents, and children to consider. There are reflections, with Scripture, for contemplation on the First Sunday of Advent, Second Sunday of Advent, Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Third Sunday of Advent, Fourth Sunday of Advent, Christmas Vigil Mass, Christmas Mass at Midnight & Dawn, Christmas Mass during the Day, Feast of the Holy Family, Feast of Mary, Mother of God, Second Sunday after Christmas, and Epiphany.
Although this book is short, it does not lack in content. Sr. Rose poses very thought-provoking questions designed for people to look at their spiritual lives individually or as a group or community by relating to the events and those involved in the Nativity Story as seen in the movie (and correlated with Scripture). It is a guide well-worth using for discussion and contemplation about the Incarnation and the events, the emotions, and environment as a whole that surrounded it.
"The Nativity Story" Contemplating Mary's Journey of Faith, edited by Sr. Rose Pacatte, FSP
The first chapter approaches Mary’s Journey of Everyday Life, and is written by Dr. Mayra Fernandez, who was born in the Dominican Republic, then moved to Cuba and then to New York City by age 8. She discussed Mary as being a role model for everyone in her neighborhood, especially in the Latin community; a real and active person choosing to do the right thing. She illustrated how Mary became someone with whom she could relate, a real girl like her who had to make decisions. Using Mary’s example to make hard—but right—choices, she was her inspiration to stay pure until her wedding night, not to abort her baby when she contracted measles, and eventually adopted many other children into her family and will be a missionary to street children in Bolivia.
Dealing with Mary’s Journey of Faith, Selena Liu, a social worker and writer, talks about how faith allowed Mary to accept the intimacy offered when Gabriel approached her with the task of bringing Jesus into the world, with a mutual trust between her and God. In the same way, God asks us to trust Him and gives us “Annunciation” moments that guide our lives and build trust, and we sometimes need the memories of these moments to help us continue with God’s calling. Letting God be in control of situations brings about a lightness despite the seriousness of them and may actually work for other good, giving the example of her car breaking down on the way to an appreciation breakfast that caused her late timing to coincide with one an attempted kidnapping of one of her clients as she encountered the kidnapper and child in front of the building. She encourages us to view God as a Father who carries us on His shoulders, carrying us on an amazing journey.
Sr. Marie Paul Curley, FSP, broaches Mary’s Journey of Surrender asshe focuses on the complete surrender of Mary’s being at the Annunciation. She writes about how surrender seems contradictory to a strong woman of faith, and especially to our modern independent culture. It is difficult in our nature to surrender, especially with the connotation of “giving up” or being a “victim.” Sr. Marie also discussed the difference between “letting go”—giving it up to a free fall—and “surrender”—entrusting it to Someone Else. Surrender is more of an act of trust than it is of being passive, and with God, He is always trustworthy. When Mary says “yes” to God, she entrusts herself and her future to Him, even knowing some of the consequences it may bring. Ultimately, when we surrender, our load lightens and we rejoice in God.
Chapter four covers a physical journey of Mary, that of her travel to her cousin Elizabeth. Sr. Judith Ann Zielinski, OSF, wrote about the visit that Mary took to visit her elderly cousin and how her visit of the location in Israel helped her to realize the mixture of faith and humanity that both Mary and Elizabeth portrayed. She recognized the miraculous pregnancies of both women, and that Mary had gone to visit Elizabeth for support, especially with Mary’s knowledge of what the consequences could be as a result of her Divine pregnancy. Sr. Judith notes the femininity of the site honoring this meeting and of the encounter as a young girl visits her older, matronly cousin as she deals with her emotions of her situation. At the same time, Mary’s Magnificat upon greeting Elizabeth also shows Mary’s deep faith in God and trust that He would once again raise the downtrodden. Considering these aspects of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth helped her to realize the strength, humanity, and humility that she hadn’t seen in Mary the Icon.
Mary’s Journey of the Spirit is contemplated by Sr. Gretchen Hailer, RSHM. When Gabriel visits Mary, though she questions how the miraculous pregnancy will be accomplished, she responds with a confident “yes”—without the counsel of others—that indicates that her faith in God is already deep. Sr. Gretchen writes about the various unique aspects of Mary’s spirituality that we can observe. She had an immediacy in her relationship with God, deeply attached to things of Him. Mary also a unification with those who were marginalized, as seen in her praise in the Magnificat. Pondering things in her heart throughout her pregnancy and presence of Jesus in her life, she became the first disciple, so to speak, and shows us how to follow God through servanthood and community.
Mary’s emotional Journey of Love is addressed in the sixth chapter by Marilyn-Ann Elphick, who writes about the love journey that Mary and Joseph share with each other, from a betrothal that Mary might not have been thrilled about, to an immediate, unexpected, and unique pregnancy that tested Joseph’s faith, and their journey through everything subsequently together. Joseph was a righteous man, who decided to send Mary away quietly so that she wouldn’t be stoned to death—he showed compassion even in the face of adversity. But he—as well as Mary—was open to God and believed the message from the angel in his dream, and thus embarked on a journey of faith and love together, dependent upon God to sustain him through the doubts and difficulties of their lives.
Chapter seven talks about Mary’s physical Journey to Bethlehem. Here, Ms. Scaperlanda writes about how Mary’s travel to Bethlehem must have been all the more difficult being late in pregnancy. However, the transformation into motherhood also has a profound effect—as she experienced with her four pregnancies—and speculated how that could have also been inspiration to Mary as she traveled with the Wonder in her womb. The intimacy of a baby within a mother’s womb provides an inner knowledge of that child that only a mother can know. With these experiences, mothers throughout the world can particularly identify with the maternal traits of Mary, as well as with her suffering, hope, joy, and expectation on her journey.
The eighth chapter deals with Mary’s inevitable Journey through Fear and Doubt. Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouve, FSP, writes about how Mary had to deal with many fears from the moment she accepted God’s call for her to carry the Son of God—especially dealing with the societal and religious consequences, what other people thought and her own family’s doubt about her proclamation. She had to accept God’s truth of her miraculous pregnancy as her own, so she could then be steadfast in her fulfillment to God’s call despite what other people thought. She had to trust God to bring Joseph to the truth even as he doubted her words and was as challenged about the situation as Mary was in relation to the Law. Even after Jesus was born, Mary had to face the fear of Herod’s wrath as he tried to destroy Him, then uncertainty as they arrived in Egypt in escape, and finally in facing Jesus’ crucifixion. Even throughout, Mary offered her gift of Jesus, as we all have a gift to give in ourselves despite the fear and doubt.
Exploring Mary’s Journey of Sorrow, Marilyn Gill writes about her own experience as a young wife, moving to America as a pregnant native Panamanian, and then finding out her daughter that she gave birth to has hydrocephalus. She writes that at this time she contemplated Mary’s sorrows of being pregnant out of wedlock, of traveling on an uncomfortable journey to Bethlehem, and of having less-than-sanitary conditions in which to give birth without help. Ms. Gill illustrated that this medical challenge to her daughter caused her to look to Mary’s example more than ever and look to her for help. Her daughter survived and is a successful adult; however, her life has had other sorrows of losing her husband and a son, both when they were young. Using Mary’s example of surrender to God in the midst of her troubles, however, helped to equip her to deal with such difficulties.
Chapter ten deals with Mary’s Journey into the Unknown, particularly noting her travels to Egypt to escape the wrath of King Herod. Sr. Mary Kathleen Glavich, SND, recounts for us how Mary had already been through quite a bit, and still in Bethlehem after just giving birth, she responds to Joseph’s dream immediately to head down to Egypt without delay—not complaining about another trip, doubting the timing of traveling with a newborn, or consulting the counsel of others. She probably had questions the whole journey to Egypt, her faith being tested again, but she still obeyed with courage and trust—as can we through our “detours” of life.
Finally, the last chapter relates Mary’s Journey with ours. Considering the family’s journey to Egypt, what did they feel, not knowing the end of the story as we do centuries later? How did they manage the long trek alone in the desert to the ancient land of exile of their ancestors? Sr. M. Jean Frisk talks about the questions we may have as we venture into the unknown, especially entering a religious vocation, but with God’s love, we are able to face whatever comes along our journey.
Each of these chapters opens with a Nativity Scripture and scene from the movie, and is followed by thoughtful questions to ponder in response to the journey about which the viewer has read. Each chapter is short enough for a quick read, perhaps as a daily devotional, and encourages each reader to consider Mary in a number of aspects and how we as humans today can also identify with her. This book is an insightful compilation book to read, particularly during the Advent season.