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“Movie Moments of Grace” Explained at Catholic Media Conference

Washington, September 6th, 2016 (FF). Among the many workshops offered to the attendees of the Catholic Media Conference in St. Louis this summer was one called “Movie Moments of Grace.” This workshop, attended by about 20 of the conference attendees, was subtitled “Mining movies for spiritual surprises” by the workshop leaders Frank and Mary Frost. It provided an effort by the Frosts to give participants a taste of the process they follow five or six times a year in their Washington, DC, parish, Holy Trinity of Georgetown.

Frank Frost led off with a powerpoint presentation describing the how, what, and why of the movie discussion series about to begin its sixth season at Holy Trinity parish. On average it draws about 100 viewers to see a theatrical movie on a Saturday evening, of whom about 80 typically stay to discuss the film after a brief wine and cheese refreshment break. The discussants assemble into four randomly assigned groups guided by trained facilitators.

According to Frost, Movie Moments of Grace (MMG) is a film discussion program based on the natural blend of love for movies and our human inclination for self-reflection. It is a communal process based on the conviction that, through mutual sharing of our reactions and insights into a range of movies, we arrive at an enriched enjoyment of films, create a habit of mind in viewing films more actively, become more discerning consumers of movie entertainment, and arrive at a deeper appreciation of film as an art form that can illuminate the human condition, and lead us to meaningful spiritual insights. This is true of straightforward commercial movies, not just “religious” movies.

Examples of movies the Holy Trinity MMG series has screened in the past five years range from AI Artificial Intelligence, by Steven Spielberg, to the Clint Eastwood favorite Gran Torino, to offbeat hits like Me and Earl and the Dying Girl or Smoke Signals. There are always foreign films in the mix as well, such as the French classic Chocolat, Iranian award-winner A Separation, and the German thriller The Lives of Others. What you won’t find there are “religious” films. When asked why not, Frost explained that the goal of MMG is to discover the hidden wells of spiritual insight in the common entertainment of our culture – in places we do not ordinarily look.

MMG is situated in Jesuit-run Holy Trinity parish as a ministry of the Ignatian Spirituality Committee, under the leadership of Martina O’Shea. This approach believes that the best of films deeply engage us as human beings at an affective level. And in the tradition of Ignatian spirituality, reflection on that affective response can be a rich source of spiritual insight and growth. The heart of any drama is the moral decisions that central characters face. How we react to the responses of those characters can provide grist for helpful reflection on our own behavior and our desire to grow as integrated human beings.

The workshop of only 75 minutes could not provide a true sample experience of an MMG evening, but the Frosts screened a half hour excerpt of the film In America, followed by a mediated discussion in the MMG style. The MMG style is what they describe as “not a teaching moment, but a discovery moment.” The discussion dynamic is horizontal, without an “expert” or teacher, fueled by the unique experience of each discussant in watching the film together. Every participant is encouraged to speak and no one participant is allowed to dominate. In the workshop simulation, participants willingly shifted their chairs, drew into circular formation, and before long were deep into honest exchange from many different perspectives. The conversation became so interesting that everyone spontaneously stayed an extra 15 minutes, using up precious break time between their afternoon workshops.

A number of participants inquired about advice about starting such a program in their own parish. The Frosts are in the process of writing a nuts and bolts how-to paper on just what this might involve.


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