Rebecca Christian hopes that life after graduation for her means a career in film.
But she knows that it will also mean using film for the greater glory of God.
The 20-year-old screenwriting and theology student at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles interns at two Catholic-based film production companies, Origin Entertainment and Family Theater Productions. Rebecca chronicles her experiences in the film industry on her blog Catholic in Film School and discusses fashion, modesty and sundry “girly stuff” on her other blog, Modestia.
She spoke recently with Register correspondent Celeste Behe.
Were you raised in the Catholic faith?
I definitely grew up as a cultural Catholic. We attended Mass every Sunday; I went to Catholic school; I received a rosary at my first Communion, etc. I understood as a child that faith was at the center of a person. I knew that it affected how we treated others. I watched my mother buy food for homeless people and perform many random acts of kindness. As a black Catholic growing up in a poor community, I also saw that the faith was something people truly leaned on to help them through tough times.
But I never really had a personal relationship with God. I don’t think there was necessarily anything lacking in my formation. You just can’t really tell someone to love God.
As a young teenager you fell into agnosticism. What caused you to abandon the faith?
It was in my sophomore year, at the age of 15, that I fully rejected Christ. I’d been comparing the creation story in Genesis with the creation accounts of other cultures, in addition to studying the “mistakes” of the Bible and portions of Scripture that just did not seem to make sense. I began to view Scripture as a historical text rather than as the inspired word of God. In my mind, if the Bible could be negated, there was no proof that Christ was God.
In what way did your rejection of the faith affect your conduct?
Well, given that I no longer was a Christian, I did not need to pray, pay attention at Mass, or abide by the “rules” that I had been taught at a young age. I had my first boyfriend that year, engaged in a bit of partying, etc. I wasn’t respectful of my body at all, and I thank the Blessed Mother now for watching over me during that period of time, as I refrained from doing drugs and somehow by the grace of God did not lose my virginity. But I mastered the art of lying to keep up appearances, so no one in my family knew about any of this.
Naturally, after a few months of being a pagan, I fell into a serious depression. This my mother did notice, and some of my friends were really worried, so I quietly backed away from some of my destructive behaviors.
At that time, I was in confirmation class with a teacher who was incredibly religious. I remember seeing him at Mass once with his wife. She was ill, and he was very careful to tend to her and make sure that she was comfortable during the entire liturgy. I was fascinated. I don’t think I had ever before seen a husband care for his wife in such a public manner as that.
I wasn’t ready to get back into a relationship with God just yet, but the seeds were being planted.
Was there a specific incident that triggered your renewed interest in the faith?
My conversion came on an afternoon in the spring of my sophomore year [of high school]. In short, I was just really tired — tired of being depressed, tired of fighting my mother, tired of being apprehensive about the future, and tired of doubting God. That afternoon I counted all the trophies and awards I had earned playing basketball. I had over 40 of them, but broke down crying when I realized that all those pieces of plastic, wood and embossed paper could not fulfill me. On top of a pile of papers in my bedroom was a silver crucifix that my mother had found in her room and given me a few days earlier. I had just thrown it on my desk, but that afternoon I suddenly noticed it shining in the light from my window. I started praying, asking God to come to me if he was real. After that, I started reading everything I could about the Catholic faith, and praying on a regular basis.
This was the turning point in my journey. But, despite daily prayer and regular Mass attendance, I still wasn’t 100% on board with the Church. I was pro-choice, and I had a real problem with the all-male priesthood. The Eucharist made no sense whatsoever, and I could not get past what seemed to me a lot of old white guys trying to tell me what to do.
How did you overcome these obstacles?
Well, during my junior year of high school, I started writing an opinion column for one of the two black newspapers in my city. As my understanding of the world and the needs of my community matured, I began to recognize the absence of faith in the world and the need for Christ in the solutions to our social problems. My fascination with Mary and the saints grew. I continued to study the faith on my own and eventually was confirmed near the end of my junior year.
My mother gave me a diamond ring for Valentine’s Day my senior year in high school. I showed my gift to some new Catholic friends, and we talked about what purity rings symbolized for us. With the support of those new friends, plus continued study and a deeper grasp of social justice issues, I reformed my views and became fully aligned with the Church.
What would you say has been the biggest challenge to your faith?
It’s my incessant need for everything to make perfect sense. I used to go to confession and confess the same sins repeatedly because I just couldn’t truly fathom God’s love and forgiveness.
But I have been challenged in more ways than one. Some of my professors — not necessarily at LMU, as I have attended multiple junior colleges and summer programs — have disputed the priesthood, the Scriptures, and Christianity in general. That was hurtful when I first began at school because I had just come out of the darkness of doubt.
On the other hand, I’ve also had professors ask me what I’m really doing to serve the Kingdom of God. I’ve learned about peace and justice and action since beginning here at LMU. I can honestly say that the Jesuits have influenced me to do something about a problem or injustice that I see, not just look at it and hope that God will fix it. Our Protestant brethren would call that a challenge to “dead faith.” But I think it’s more than a challenge; it’s like an earthquake under the feet of spiritual complacency.
A recurring theme on your blog is your struggle to “stay Catholic in an industry that hates religion.” So, what’s a nice Catholic girl like you doing in film school?
The fact of the matter is that Catholic students are going to face ridicule no matter what they study. But I almost think that students studying art are at an advantage for defending and promoting the faith. Take for an example a biology student trying to explain intelligent design versus a film student who can make an animated short film about the subject. The filmmaker can use metaphors and special effects in such a way that you don’t even know you just watched a film made in honor of the Creator.
You’ve talked about the consequences of getting “out of whack with God.” Can you share your own experience?
I went through a string of romantic encounters my freshman year in college, not in an unchaste way, but I definitely was not praying about and discerning these relationships in a holy manner. I was out of step with God by not submitting my will to his, and eventually those relationships were broken in a way I wish they had not been.
And I seriously cannot write if I don’t receive the sacraments on a regular basis. I do believe that in some way God is guiding my work, given that I can’t accomplish anything if I miss Mass.
Your Modestia blog is a wonderful resource for women who want to be “modest and fab, too.” Have you always felt strongly about the importance of modesty?
Modesty became important to me a few years ago. As a young adult in college, with one foot in the “real world,” I have come to realize that from the moment I wake up in the morning I am representing Christ and his Church. I’ve had non-Christians question me, and sometimes out-and-out grill me, on why I behave and dress as I do. Encounters like these have taught me that it is important to be a witness in every aspect of my life, even in my physical appearance. Plus, my devotion to the Blessed Mother and saints like Thérèse of Lisieux has grown over the years, and I cannot recall ever seeing a statue of Mary in a miniskirt.
Do you have any advice for committed young Catholics who are considering a career in the entertainment industry?
Don’t walk into a classroom and yell, “FYI everybody, I’m an orthodox Catholic. Viva il Papa!” It’s just not necessary if you live true to your faith. Work hard; I can’t emphasize this enough. Make sure you take care of yourself physically, and above all else, it is vital that you maintain your spiritual health. Go to Mass, go to confession, and find yourself some friends that will support you, because believe me, the road will get tough. I am blessed to have fallen into a strong community of Spirit-filled Catholics who work within the industry. I also hang out with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal every month. With companions like these, how could I not be profoundly affected? My friends have been incredibly important to the constant deepening of my faith. And my faith affects everything that I do.
Celeste Behe writes from