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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

42

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Lucas Black and Chadwick Boseman star in a scene from the movie "42."
To paraphrase the title of an earlier movie about the national pastime, hate strikes out in the historical drama "42" (Warner Bros.). Writer-director Brian Helgeland's uplifting -- if sometimes heavy-handed -- film recounts the 1947 reintegration of professional baseball after decades of segregated play.

As Helgeland's script shows us, this racial breakthrough -- which marked a significant milestone in the onward march of the civil rights movement -- was made possible by the collaborative efforts of Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) and Negro League star Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman).

In the aftermath of World War II, Rickey was determined to add a black player to the roster of "Dem Bums." In Robinson -- whose Dodgers uniform, once he eventually donned it, bore the number of the title -- Rickey found a sportsman with sufficient character to endure all the abuse that would have to be faced to make this change a reality.

Rickey's motivation was in part, of course, financial; in a diverse city like New York, integrated play would lead to an expanded fan base. But, if the narrative here is accurate, both his vision and Robinson's courage also can be attributed to their shared Christian faith.

This bond is first indicated in a humorous way when Rickey, reviewing Robinson's file, observes that everything is going to work out fine since "he's a Methodist, I'm a Methodist, God's a Methodist ... ."

Later, in describing to Robinson the forbearance he will need to demonstrate, Rickey gravely compares it to that of "our Savior." And, while remonstrating with a racist opponent, Rickey reminds him -- albeit somewhat jokingly -- that he will someday stand before God to be judged.

Catholicism is only specifically referred to in passing -- and in a retrospectively curious light. Rickey learns from the commissioner of baseball that his manager, the legendary Leo Durocher (Christopher Meloni), is being suspended from the game for a year. The Catholic Youth Organization, it seems, objects to the flagrantly adulterous affair Durocher has been carrying on with his mistress. The organization's threat of a boycott, so the commissioner assures Rickey, is not to be ignored.

Robinson's marriage, by contrast, is shown to be both a model of success and a crucial source of support in his struggle. As he courts and marries his sweetheart Rachel (Nicole Beharie) -- and as they embark on parenthood together -- she proves a tower of strength to her husband, by turns egging him on and cooling him down.

Swelling music and other atmospherics occasionally convey the impression that Helgeland's picture is too convinced of its own importance. But the proceedings are buoyed by the feisty righteousness with which Ford, in a splendid turn, endows Rickey and by the inspiring example of Robinson's unbreakable determination.

While the elements listed below would normally exclude youthful viewers, the moral impact of Rickey and Robinson's history-altering partnership may make their story acceptable for older teens.

The film contains an adultery theme, racial slurs, fleeting humor implicitly referencing homosexuality, a few uses of profanity, at least one crude term and occasional crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.



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Jacopone da Todi: Jacomo, or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna. 
<p>His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament. She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life. </p><p>He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan Order (once known as the Third Order). Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or "Crazy Jim," by his former associates. The name became dear to him. </p><p>After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Order of Friars Minor(First Order). Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular. </p><p>Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis. They had on their side two cardinals of the Church and Pope Celestine V. These two cardinals, though, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII. At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later. He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping "because Love is not loved." During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, <i>Stabat Mater</i>. </p><p>On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed "Sister Death" with one of his favorite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the Gloria from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death, Brother Jacopone has been venerated as a saint.</p> American Catholic Blog By immersing our lives in the rhythm of the season, charity can flood our souls and fill us with the happiness for which we were created. We awake Christmas morning prepared to celebrate the birth of our Savior not as a memory but as a profound experience of God’s redemptive love.

 
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