The Wettest Movie

I have to revise my opinion of our Franklin-County, Va., moonshine movie.

You know the one I mean: the Shia Labeouf/Jessica Chastain film about Prohibition-Era bootleggers in the world’s “wettest” county.

This southwest-Virginia movie, which was filmed near Atlanta, and claims to take place in the town of Franklin, which is actually found on the other Blackwater River, on the other side of the state. (The Blackwater River we have here in Franklin County looks a lot more like a creek. That is, until it hits the big dam and gets backed-up into forming the Beefeater-drinking sector of Smith Mountain Lake.)

This movie which involves mayhem and bloodshed by people with names we know, whose descendants categorically deny that their forefathers ever did anything so craven.

The movie that develops it storyline quite deftly, but inexplicably wastes a couple of scenes in which none of the characters draw blood from any of the other characters–this movie turns out to have a couple pretty interesting aspects.

1. The relationship of the Bondurant brothers develops believably, and their loyalty to each other wins you over.

2. I think I could happily watch Jessica Chastain do needlepoint for two hours.

3. At the end of the movie, Howard Bondurant goes to work in Martinsville.

The Holy Nation

The Virginia State Capitol, near VCU

Moses asked the people of Israel a question: “What great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today?”

When Moses asked this question, it was rhetorical. The Israelites knew the answer: “There is no such nation! The Lord has chosen us and made us a light to the Gentiles!”

Moses asked this rhetorical question some three and a half millennia ago. What would we say, if he posed the same question to us now?

What would we say if Moses asked us Catholics of Franklin County, Virginia, or the Catholics of whatever city or county: “What nation has so just a law as the Sacred Tradition entrusted to the Catholic Church?”

I guess we would say, “Well, we Catholics are proud, patriotic Americans. We thank God for the American rule of law, and we wouldn’t have things any other way.”

Fair answer. But: Is it enough for us Catholics just to blend in peacefully? Hasn’t the Lord given us something that no one else has–and aren’t we supposed to do something with it?

I don’t mean that we should be presumptuous. In many places, we are surrounded by good and gracious non-Catholic Christians who deserve our admiration. At Francis of Assisi in Rocky Mount, we are no holier a motley crew of sinners than any other church community in these hills.

But, at the same time, we cannot deny our spiritual birthright. Our church is not one ‘denomination’ among many. Our parishes form tiny little branches of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, founded by Christ, governed by the successor of St. Peter, and endowed with a unique inheritance.

Our Catholic inheritance of spiritual, moral, intellectual, and artistic riches outstrips the patrimony of any other group of people on the face of the earth.

Franklin County has its proud heritage. Virginia has its proud heritage. Our Protestant brethren have their proud heritages. But: You could put Ben Franklin himself, with Jubal Early and Robert E. Lee, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, and Billy Graham—you could put them all together in the Virginia State House, or the front steps of Monticello, or in Independence Hall in Philadelphia, or in Westminster Abbey in London or Geneva or wherever—you could sit all those luminaries down in one grand room, and it would be a thoroughly impressive group.

But if St. Francis himself walked in, or St. Therese, or St. Thomas Aquinas, or Michelangelo, the whole group would be eclipsed. If St. Augustine walked in, or St. Paul, or St. Peter or John, or our Lady, all these luminaries would bow their heads in respect.

And then there is the Blessed Sacrament. Franklin County, Va., abounds with wonderful and beautiful things. But there is only one place between Roanoke and Martinsville where you can be in the same room as Jesus Christ Himself. There is only one tabernacle with a sanctuary lamp burning. Our non-Catholic neighbors, good as they are, would be better off if only they knew that Jesus is here with them in the Blessed Sacrament.

So…Are we Catholics humble sinners who presume to be no better than anyone else? Yes. But: If we take stock of all that the Lord has given to us, we have no choice but to shout out like the Israelites: “There is no nation on earth like ours!”

More Sunniness

I should have included Van Gogh’s “Church at Auvers” on Friday. Please forgive me for neglecting it.

…Mount Caradhras rises over the Dimrill Dale in Anduin (Middle Earth). Mount Cahas rises over Franklin County in Virginia.

We cannot be certain of Caradhras’ elevation. Cahas is 3,000 feet above sea level.

When I was a wee seminarian, I visited some classmates out in the windswept wilds of the country. They looked forward to circuit-riding careers. I thought to myself then, “Someday, if it please God, I will be the only priest in some county somewhere.”

As Providence would have it, I will be the only priest in two counties: The magnificent piedmont estates of the Old Dominion named for Benjamin Franklin and Patrick Henry, respectively. US 220 links us with the rest of the world.

Joe Gibbs in Martinsville, Va., last October