The Truth about Philomena
My wife and I went to see the movie “Philomena”. The movie is about Philomena Lee who was sent to a Catholic Abbey in Ireland as a teenager after she got pregnant. As was the norm in those days, she was forced to sign away her rights to the child. After caring for him for the first three years of the boy’s life while she worked in the laundry at the Abbey, he was given up for adoption. After keeping this a secret for 50 years, through the help of a journalist, she set out to find her lost son. It’s a movie worth watching.
It’s easy to leave the cinema thinking very negatively about the Catholic Church. I left feeling angry at the way Philomena was treated by the church and sad that Philomena had to carry this shame for so many years because of her religious beliefs.
But after reflecting on this movie, my conclusion is that the movie is not about the failings of the Church or a condemnation of the Catholic faith. The world in the 1950s was very different to the world of today. A teenage mum would not have any future if it was not for the Church to take her in and care for her. Moral and religious views in the 1950s were more conservative than the views of today. We cannot judge the church and society portrayed in the movie with 21st century lens.
However the movie highlights two important truths that are true in the mid 20th century as well as in the 21st century.
1. The bonds that a mother has for a child will always be strong.
Of course there are exceptions to this as we see some mums prepared to break their relationships with their kids for a variety of reasons. But generally a bond that a mum has for her children, both born and unborn, will always be there. This is what the real Philomena had to say.
“Stephen’s movie about my story is meant to be a testament to good things, not an attack. It is a testament to the undying bond that’s exists between mothers and their children, something that I’ve found time and distance have no bearing on. It is a testament to the willingness to never give up on keeping that bond alive, even if all odds are pointing you against it. It is also a testament to the fact that no matter how old we grow, there is always a chance we will meet someone, however different from us, that might impact our views on humanity and help guide us on a new, if perhaps unforeseen, path.”
Philomena’s meeting the journalist gave her some hope of finding her lost son. A mum will always grab at straws if there is a small chance that it would lead to her renewing her bonds of love that she has for a child.
2. Forgiveness is a powerful thing that frees a person from the pain of the past.
Towards the end of the movie, Philomena could say to Sister Hildergarde the most powerful words a person can ever say to someone who has hurt them, “I forgive you”.
Philomena was prepared to forgive the church and yet still keep her faith in God. Its so easy to give up on God or blame God for all the things that have gone wrong in our lives. But we need to realise that humanity will always let us down and hurt us. The church is made up of broken humanity and we can never expect the church to be perfect whilst it is still in this fallen world. The only source of perfection is Christ Himself.
Instead of judging the church for all its faults it committed in the 1950s or the 2010s, lets learn from Philomena that our faith in God empowers us to forgive as it frees us to move on with our life and our faith.