Father Steve Lape does more than just preach about the importance of looking for Jesus in everyday life. Once a month, he helps Auburn-area Catholics hone their skills by finding Jesus and faith themes in secular movies.
Father Lape, parochial vicar at St. Mary’s Parish in Auburn, began organizing monthly Faith and Film nights at the parish in November 2002. At each gathering, parishioners watch a movie then discuss the faith themes found in it. There’s a twist, Father Lape said: The movies he chooses are almost never overtly religious.
“The whole idea is to try to train people’s minds to see Jesus in the everyday world,” he said.
Father Lape is a self-described movie junkie who has a bachelor’s degree in communications from Pittsford’s St. John Fisher College. While attending St. Augustine’s Seminary in Toronto, he noticed that after double-feature nights at the movies, people often hung around to discuss what they’d just seen. He was intrigued by the discussions, and carried the idea with him to Church of the Good Shepherd in Henrietta, starting a film club there when he became the parish’s priest intern in 1999. Father Lape has also held movie discussions at the Borromeo Prayer Center in Greece and at events for Odyssey, a diocesan young-adult program. It was no surprise that he hoped to start a film-discussion series at St. Mary’s after he became the parish’s parochial vicar in June 2002.
Father Lape said he tries to choose a movie he thinks will hold the group’s attention while challenging members to open their minds and think in ways they’re not used to. He also looks at the amount of sex, violence and inappropriate language in a given movie before deciding whether to show it. The relative absence of these factors helped Father Lape choose the 1993 film “Shadowlands” as the featured movie for the July installment of the series.
“It’s not an explicit movie in any way. It wasn’t filled with things like language or violence or sex. We’re so glutted with a lot of the explicit stuff, it’s like an oasis in the desert” to run across a movie without those things, he said.
Set in the 1930s, the film stars Anthony Hopkins as author C. S. Lewis and Debra Winger as an American fan who travels to Oxford College to see him. A tragic love story ensues. Father Lape said he chose the movie not only for its absence of crudeness but also for the abundance of faith themes it contains, including those of “life, death and suffering, and why things happen the way they do.”
Thirty-two people gathered July 28 in St. Mary’s newly named Schrader Hall — formerly known as Lyceum Hall — to view and discuss “Shadowlands.” The gathering was one of the best Faith and Film evenings so far, Father Lape said, drawing by far the biggest crowd to date. During the movie, tears, runny noses and crumpled tissues filled the room, and it was “bursting at the seams” with lively and exciting discussion after the film ended, Father Lape said.
The discussion is what St. Mary’s parishioners Gary and Rose Marie LaLonde enjoy most about the Faith and Film series. The couple has attended the movie discussions since Father Lape started them, and had previously attended several of the discussions he’d held in the Rochester area. Gary likes the way the discussion usually fleshes out the ideas and themes in the film and the way everyone brings a different perspective to the group. The other group members often bring up points he hadn’t previously thought about, he said.
“The films can really touch your heart. They’re a great way of reflecting on the great issues of life, like love and death,” he said.
“Everyone sees the same movie, but everyone picks up something different. You can learn from it,” Rose Marie added.
Father Lape agreed that the discussion is usually the most exciting and rewarding part of the evening.
“It’s a high-energy (discussion) with a lot of different viewpoints going around, so all of us can enrich one another with our viewpoints. It’s exciting to hear the various comments,” he said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The next installment of the Faith and Film series will be held Aug. 20 at 6:30 p.m. in St. Mary’s Schrader Hall, 17 Clark St., Auburn. To RSVP, call the parish office at 315/252-9545.