One of my friends told me about the short series God or the Girl on the A & E Network. All five hours aired over the course of a week, which was unfortunately too fast. This show would have gotten good buildup in Newman Centers across America, which would have led to better ratings for later shows. Instead, now it’s over. I’ve got the episodes, courtesy of TiVo. Most of the reviews have been positive, first giving thanks that this is not a Fox Reality Show. Then they comment on the even-handedness of the documentary, and the novelty of seeing honest, positive, “normal” young men think about such a commitment. Those are fair comments, generally, and it comes off pretty well.
As a Catholic around campus ministry, it’s not a tourist trip for me. I did think about religious life in my 20s, though nowhere near as seriously as these four young men. Every time I looked it would always felt like a fallback plan. That’s no good. These men have been thinking about the Catholic priesthood for a while, and with the help of the Church have reached a serious stage. But they all have hangups. Here are my comments on the men. I’m writing this having seen the first four of five episodes, but I’m not going to spoil results.
- Joe: Living in Ohio, he’s the sixth of eight children. His mother is pretty forceful, and his brothers appear like typical fraternity guys. That makes him a little cowed. He was friendly with a German schoolgirl, and she would have dated him, but he didn’t try. Now, he travels to World Youth Day in Germany, but equivocates again. “I’m not going to be forward like a European guy.” “Then you’re not going to have a woman,” his brother correctly replies. He does have to learn a lot of stuff about women, as he says. Assertiveness is crucial, Joe.
As for the priesthood, in the first half of the series it feels like his fallback plan. He’s been in theological studies for a while, and he’s 28, so time is running out. In a TV moment, he takes a pilgrimage to Niagara Falls, without money. “Trust in the Lord,” he says. As he journeys, he wants to become more aware. As I watch, I hope he finds it, his true vocation, because right now he just treads along. This is a tough call, but I’m betting on seminary.
- Mike: He hails from Scranton, PA, where I’m pretty sure I’ve driven at least one of those roads. He’s torn between his mentor, Father Pauselli, and his attractive girlfriend Aly. Mike’s got a bad concept of chastity: “There’s times I just want to go up to her and hug her and kiss her – and that’s lusting after her. And that’s something, it’s sick, and it’s disgusting.” He might be a youth minister, but he needs to reread his Bible for the Song of Songs. Physical attention is one of the positive expressions of erotic love, and having a serious girlfriend involves experiencing that emotion.
Father Pauselli does not come off as sympathetic; he’s pushing Mike pretty hard. It’s too hard for my tastes, but I don’t know their relationship that well. Also, Mike is waffling pretty seriously. He’s weighing a solid teaching offer, and Aly, against the seminary. Right now, I think he’s too attached to the idea of the job and the girl. There’s still time, but that seems right for him. I think he’ll be a very good teacher and a fine husband.
- Steve: From the Diocese of Arlington in Virginia (my last diocese before Chicago), and a frat boy, he abandoned a lucrative corporate life to become a campus missionary at the University Nebraska. Nebraska might be a sacrifice in and of itself. There was a woman to marry, though she comes after the condo and the job; his story seems to be stewardship against leadership. I really like him. To me, he’s the most thoughtful and decent of the bunch. His work trip to Guatemala makes a big influence. Father George there is a true hero, and Steve’s actions on his way out are beautiful and noble. I’m hoping he takes up the cloth, because I’d like him to become ordained. I’d like him as a priest and a friend. I think he might.
- Dan: He lives in Columbus, Ohio, as a real fraternity boy, a house of professed Catholics called “Fort Zion”. He’s the youngest, at 21, and the cutest. His ex-girlfriend Amber really likes him, but thoughtfully realizes that he’s a ball of motion at this point. Dan dumped her for discernment, “single for a season”, unlike Mike and Aly. Dan has youthful experience, like praying the rosary publicly, and agreeing to build and carry a cross 20 miles. He also has youthful inexperience, as he and his housemates buy the wrong tools and build an excessively heavy cross, making the pain greater. Also, he has trouble in a discussion with a fundamentalist college student.
That’s interesting, because I would call him a fundamentalist. He might be more fundy than Catholic. For him, it’s always that God will provide. The Lord pushes along. There appears to be little depth. It’s all too fun. I don’t like that. Dan comes off pretty badly here. It could be worse, and I commend the editors for giving him positive moments. They could have made him a fool, and he’s not. Just too immature. I think he needs to wait, but I called him “Bishop” when watching one episode with friends. Of the four, I judge him most likely to eventually enter, and most likely to be raised in the hierarchy.
Watching the last episode now, I see that I am completely wrong once, mostly wrong once, and correct twice. It’s a good thing I’m not a vocation director, I think. Overall, I’m glad I found out about it. It’d be nice to see this replayed, or for some rich Catholic to buy a thousand copies and send them to Catholic campus centers. I might even buy one copy. In a world with lots of negative publicity, Catholics like me need to support positive and fair portrayals, through the market and otherwise. Like this post.