Thursday, April 14, 2011

Because My Boys Needed to Know About Hildegard of Bingen

I received a note the other day in my e-mail inbox informing me of a movie that would soon be released on DVD. I noted the title of the film and realized that it was still playing in one of the theaters in our town.

The movie I'm referring to is Visions: From the Life of Hildegard of Bingen.

Now, my plan was to take my wife with me to this film, but she and my daughter were engaged in another endeavor. The showing was at 7:25 PM and knowing the rest of my schedule for the remaining evenings for the week (can you say baseball?) I knew that Tuesday night was the only time I could see the film before it left town (tomorrow, April 15th, where it will be replaced by Of Gods and Men).

So I went downstairs, thinking I would just go alone, when I noticed my two sons watching something inane on Nickelodeon. There are my dates! "Get in the car boys, we're going to go somewhere." I didn't answer any further questions as I hustled them out of the house and into the car.

You see, modern movies made about saints don't come along very often nowadays. And even when they do, the trailers leave you wondering just what you are going to get when you arrive there. See the trailer below and you may get the impression that you are going to see a movie about a progressive, rebel of a nun who "remained true to herself," when in all actuality, she remained true to God and the Church. Have a look,

As you may imagine, since the movie came out a while ago and I live in the Bible-belt, the theater was not exactly filled to capacity. There were 5 of us in there, a couple as well as me and my two boys. So it was practically a private screening. The film is in German, so we got the added benefit of being able to read the movie. My sons, aged 15 and 10 were underwhelmed, but wise enough to keep the grumbling to a minimum. See? The study of the book of Proverbs is paying dividends already.

That was St. Bernard of Clarivaux's brilliant idea, not mine, but I put it into play a few weeks back. In turns out that Bernard played a key role in presenting Hildegard's visions to his friend and former charge, Pope Eugene III.

I enjoyed the movie and the boys learned a lot. They saw that just because one enters a convent, life doesn't somehow just magically get easy. They saw people who acted badly and they asked me some great questions like,

"Dad, why was that priest so mean?," "Dad, do nuns get jealous too?," "Dad, why would someone whip themselves until they bleed or wear an iron belt that hurts them?" And I answered them all to the best of my ability. And I think the film, despite the lure of the title work in the trailer, stayed true to the life of Hildegard and in harmony with what this citation from the Catholic Encyclopedia has to say about her,

Hildegard was a weak and sickly child, and in consequence received but little education at home. Her parents, though much engaged in worldly pursuits, had a religious disposition and had promised the child to the service of God. At the age of eight she was placed under the care of Jutta, sister of Count Meginhard, who lived as a recluse on the Disenberg (or Disibodenberg, Mount of St. Disibod) in the Diocese of Speyer. Here also Hildegard was given but little instruction since she was much afflicted with sickness, being frequently scarcely able to walk and often deprived even of the use of her eyes. She was taught to read and sing the Latin psalms, sufficient for the chanting of the Divine Office, but never learned to write. Eventually she was invested with the habit of St. Benedict and made her religious profession. Jutta died in 1136, and Hildegard was appointed superior.

Numbers of aspirants flocked to the community and she decided to go to another locality, impelled also, as she says, by a Divine command. She chose Rupertsberg near Bingen on the left bank of the Rhine, about fifteen miles from Disenberg. After overcoming many difficulties and obtaining the permission of the lord of the place, Count Bernard of Hildesheim, she settled in her new home with eighteen sisters in 1147 or 1148 (1149 or 1150 according to Delehaye). Probably in 1165 she founded another convent at Eibingen on the right side of the Rhine, where a community had already been established in 1148, which, however, had no success.

She shared her visions, wrote plays, and music too. Like this,

My oldest son lost a baseball game last night. After the coach talked with them, the boys stayed huddled together on the field for a while. They were having a meeting of their own. It broke up, and the entire team ran three laps along the warning track. Afterwards I asked him whose idea that was. "Ours, because we've lost to that team 4 times now." I said "So you guys imposed a penance on yourselves." He said, "Yes, but not like that iron belt that Mother Jutta was wearing." And though I was thankful that he understood now why some would undergo physical mortifications, I reminded him of what St. Hildegard said, which are the words of Christ: "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." Go get 'em next time kiddo.

This film may be playing near you and I recommend that you see it. You may find where it is playing in theaters here. As it is due out on DVD next week (April 19th), it will be available through Netflix and other video outlets shortly. Then my wife and daughter can enjoy this film as well.

St. Hildegard of Bingen, pray for us.

Metacritic gives it the green light. And so does Rotten Tomatoes.