In this series of “Top 5’s” our vice-president and COO Adam Janke will share what he thinks are some of the best Catholic books, podcasts, movies, and tv shows of today and yesterday with commentary on how they can be used to evangelize (if it isn’t already obvious). Disclaimer: our top 5 lists are subjective, fallible, and probably wrong. You’re welcome to tell us why they’re wrong in the comments. However, we do know what we like around here.
In this “top 5” we will exclude those movies that are primarily a retelling of the biblical story of Christmas. The evangelical appeal and nature of movies that simply retell the Christmas story is obvious and we wanted to focus on less obvious examples. Instead, we will focus on movies that have a wider appeal with your family and friends who won’t necessarily watch a movie about the birth of Jesus.
And to add our voice to the ongoing debate: yes, Die Hard is a Christmas movie – but there’s not much there that supports the work of evangelization, so it doesn’t make our list.
5. How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
Dr. Suess’ classic story turned short animated tv special in 1966 is one of many iconic Christmas films enjoyed by millions each year. And like many Christmas stories it doesn’t deal directly with the birth of Jesus, but instead instills a sense of “moral reasons” for the season apart from materialism. In this case the Grinch wants to ruin Whoville’s happiness and make everyone else as miserable as he is. But when the Whos wake up on Christmas morning without all the gifts and trappings of Christmas, they are just as happy as if they had them. While watching with friends and family we can evangelize by talking about why people want to celebrate Christmas without Christ, why being selfless brings us happiness, what we can do during the season to give back to others, the different levels of happiness (pleasure, happiness, and joy), and how true joy is ultimately found only in a relationship with God.
4. The Preacher’s Wife
Based on the 1982 novella by Robert Nathan this Christmas movie is often overlooked and is in some ways reminiscent of It’s a Wonderful Life. This story is comedic gold. Reverend Henry Bigg is a small-time preacher in a poor area of New York City. He’s struggling with a demanding schedule as a pastor, the possibility of losing his church to developers, losing his faith, and being neglectful of his wife and family. That’s when Dudley the … angel? shows up to help the poor man out and take some pressure off the many stresses of his life. As the film continues, the preacher gradually rediscovers the importance of faith and family. When watching with family and friends we can evangelize by talking about the proper biblical order of our own priorities in life. How God comes first, then family, then everything else.
3. A Charlie Brown Christmas
Poor Charlie Brown can never catch a break. That is how I felt in the first few years of working for a Catholic parish. Some of the parishioners I was closer to started lovingly calling me “Charlie Brown.” First the guy gets a rock in his Halloween candy basket, he can’t pick out a good Christmas Tree for the school play, and now no one seems to want to tell him the true meaning of Christmas. Thankfully Linus knows the meaning of Christmas and shares the biblical story of Christmas with the whole gang. In an often overlooked detail you can point out that at the moment Linus says the biblical words “fear not,” he drops his security blanket. Anyone who knows Linus knows that it doesn’t matter how ratty that blanket is, how much he’s made fun of for carrying it, he’s never without it. But Jesus dispels that fear for Linus, and can do the same for each of us.
2. A Muppets Christmas Carol
I will absolutely fight anyone to prove that the best adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is A Muppets Christmas Carol. We watch it every year to see Ebenezer Scrooge find redemption through the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. It has all the charm of a Muppets movie. Michael Caine understood his assignment and played his character with a deadly seriousness alongside the Great Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat. Implicit in the visit of Marley and Marley is the implication that Scrooge is going to end up right alongside them in chains — in Hell — if he keeps living his life only for himself. Although the story doesn’t directly talk about the Gospel, it provides many opportunities to bring up Jesus. Why does Ebenezer fear those chains? Are they real? Do people really go to Heaven and Hell when they die?
1. It’s a Wonderful Life
How could we neglect this movie in our list? It’s a Wonderful Life is correctly ranked the #1 Christmas movie of all time on so many other lists. Frank Capra’s legendary masterpiece is all about George Bailey from Bedford Falls, New York; a man who is contemplating suicide. Guardian Angel Second Class Clarence Odbody shows up to show George how much his life matters and what would happen to all of his friends and family if he never existed. The movie provides an opportunity to talk about the dignity of each person, the value of friendship, the reality of angels as messengers of God, the effects of suicide, and Jesus Christ, the ultimate gift of Christmas.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from your friends at St. Paul Street Evangelization!