Over 60,000 people have seen and shared Fr. Barron’s short film, “Heroic Priesthood”, created in partnership with Spirit Juice Studios. Today we share a fun behind-the-scenes video of the filming along with some reflections by Fr. Steve Grunow, the CEO of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.
In 2014 Father Barron approached me and asked me if Word on Fire could create a film about an annual basketball tournament hosted by Mundelein Seminary. The tournament brings together seminarians from around the country together for a weekend of friendly competition, fellowship, prayer, all culminating in the celebration of the Eucharist. “What kind of film do you have in mind?” I inquired. Father Barron told me that I should take care of those details.
Creating a film is not an easy task. Gathering those with the necessary technical expertise is but one of many challenges in a production. The greatest challenges by far are arriving at an ethos and constructing a narrative. A film is not simply the result of cameras and sound equipment directed dumbly towards the action, it is a deliberate and intentional act to tell a story through a visual medium. What is the story and why is it worth telling? Further, can it be told in a manner that does it justice? The task at hand was not just to film a basketball tournament but also to discern the story for which that tournament would serve as the setting.
Word on Fire partnered with Spirit Juice Studios for the creation of a film about the Mundelein Seminary basketball tournament. As conversations about the project intensified it became clear that the film that would be produced would not simply be about a basketball, but about the Catholic priesthood, indeed a particular vision of the Catholic priesthood that was heroic in its intensity and athletic in its form. This ethos and narrative emerged out of conversations with the seminarians themselves, three of which who were chosen as routes of access into the story. These young men were committed to a way of life that demanded of them a total gift of self that would most assuredly make them curiosities to the cultural mainstream. The heroism that they evidenced was not a result of mighty deeds, but of a willingness to make of their lives a sacrifice for what they believed was a good more important than self-interest. The athleticism that the seminarians exemplified was not simply a matter of physical prowess, but of a willingness to hone body, mind and soul for mission. The basketball tournament was a metaphor for the reality of the identity of a priest and for his mission on behalf of Christ and his Church. These young men were not aspiring to desk jobs or lucrative careers, they were identifying their willingness to make their lives a sacrifice for Jesus Christ.
This sacrifice was born of the love they had for Christ and for his Church, a love that they expressed not as merely idealism, but as a living relationship. This relationship had changed their lives for the better and for the sake of that gift, they were willing to make their lives a gift so that others might have, what they, though unworthy themselves, had received from the Lord.
When Father Barron is pressed to answer the question as to whom is the target audience for his films, he usually responds that what Word on Fire produces is for the benefit of all. The film about the Mundelein Seminary basketball tournament is indeed for all, but it was my intention to specifically target the film to young men from the ages of 14 to 25. Thus, the film is not meant as an academic, theological expository analysis of the Catholic priesthood. Nor is the film an exercise in sociological analysis. Further, those who would apply a hermeneutic of suspicion to the film seeing in it positioning statements for this or that cause have lost the plot and imposed their own in its place.
The film is the story of three young men who are seminarians, who love to play basketball, and are ready and willing to make an extraordinary commitment to Christ and his Church. It’s their story and their experience. I felt that the demographic of young men ages 14 to 25, many of whom, are living on the margins of the Church’s life and yet are also searching for a mission in life would find something of importance in the witness of the seminarians. Perhaps, the seminarians could be a point of reference for their own aspirations. But also, because the film evokes curiosity to consider deeper questions about the types of possibilities that exist for all of us, they might come to consider their lives in different terms from a culture that prioritizes the attainment of the material and self-centeredness as the conditions for creating their purpose in life. The film discloses a different story than the one that is currently culturally ascendant. We are not just made for ourselves, but for God, who reveals in Christ, that we come to their fullest realization when we are willing to make ourselves a sacrifice for the sake of love.
It is that sacrifice that when it manifests itself in world appears as a revelation heroic in its form and athletic in its intensity.
In his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis wrote about the Gospel communicating a “joy that fills the hearts and lives of all” and invited Christians “to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by joy”. Take a look at this behind the scenes video created by Spirit Juice Studios that captures the sheer joy that characterized the production of the “Heroic Priesthood” film from start to finish. In the midst of a cold winter, you can catch a glimpse of the springtime of the new evangelization.
Watch the full “Heroic Priesthood” film below and be sure to visit HeroicPriesthood.com to learn more and purchase DVD copies of the film to pass out to young men.