Friday, July 21, 2006

Narnia for Catholics

Many of us, if we reflect, can count at least 2 or 3 turning points or significant moments in our lives, where, in hindsight, we realize that we are different because of them.

One of those moments came for me on a busy street across from Disneyland in 1979. I was with a campus ministry group from Loyola Marymount University and had just finished having dinner together with the famed Bob (“Be Not Afraid”) Dufford, S.J., and Dan (“Here, I Am Lord”) Schutte, members of the then fabled Saint Louis Jesuits. Our little group from campus ministry had been recruited to be the local backup choir for their performance at the Los Angeles Archdiocesan CCD Congress at the Anaheim Convention Center.

All of that has nothing to do with the actual point of this article save to illustrate how vivid that moment is still after more than a quarter of a century. Inspired by the fantastical evening glow of Disneyland just across the street, I commented to Bob Dufford how much I loved Disneyland and fantasy as only Disney could present it.

He remarked that, speaking of fantasy, I should read the “Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis. I confessed to never hearing of them, but the mere mention of the title seemed to “tug” at me the way Peter, Edmund, Susan, & Lucy were “tugged” into Narnia right off the bench of a train station (you’ll have to read the books). I found the set of seven books the next day at a vendor’s stand at the conference. I’ve never been the same.

Though always deeply Catholic, I have to say that my “conscious” spiritual journey and growth in the faith began the minute I opened the first page to the first novel in the series, “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe”. I couldn’t get enough.

The Chronicles of Narnia is a complete retelling, an epic parable, of God’s saving plan from the fall, through the crucifixion and resurrection, and all the way to “The Final Battle” (which is the title of the last book). Written during World War II for his nieces and nephews, the Chronicles vie with Lord of the Rings (Lewis and Tolkien were personal friends) as perhaps the greatest allegories ever written.

Over the years there have been several attempts to bring the Chronicles to the screen, but the story, characters, and setting are so fantastic that nothing could ever come close until movie-making technology could catch up with the imagination of C.S. Lewis. It never quite will. But the upcoming Disney release of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe will get close.

What’s so exciting and delightful is to see how, Hollywood, despite its post-Chrisitan self and its own brand of “Turkish Delight”, cannot help but be tugged through the wardrobe and into Narnia. Hollywood and Disney find themselves face to face with the irresistible Christian story. Jesus still teaches us and reaches us through parables.

Perhaps the spirit of Walt Disney, and all the wonderfully good things he did for children these many decades, still does live. It’s no secret that the Disney machine has acutely strayed from its wholesome roots in recent years. But “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe” will be the biggest, most profitable, most popular movie ever to come out of the Disney studio. And it’s only the first of seven books. Wow, have they got a franchise here! There’s no way they are going to turn away from the success that the movies made from these stories will bring so I expect that all seven stories will be brought to the screen and will replace Star Wars as the greatest stories ever told on the silver screen.

Meanwhile, there is a terribly great opportunity for us at hand. Reading the Chronicles of Narnia prepared me to read the Bible and for the full import of the teachings of my Faith. Read the books. Read them with and to your children. Use all the great study guides and commentaries that are now available about them. “To teach as Jesus did”, this is what C.S. Lewis is doing here, teaching the truth through story.

I’ll never know for sure, but I do believe that I am the Catholic that I am today because someone once told me to read the Chronicles of Narnia.
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