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David Bruce
The Third Miracle is about the journey of a priest through doubt and apostasy to faith.
-Review by David Bruce

THE THIRD MIRACLE

1999

This page was created on December 30, 1999,
and was last updated on May 22, 2005

Directed by Agnieszka Holland
Writing credits: Richard Vetere (novel), John Romano and Richard Vetere (screenplay).

Ed Harris as Frank Shore
Anne Heche as Roxane
Armin Mueller-Stahl as Archbishop Werner
Michael Rispoli as John Leone
Charles Haid as Bishop Cahill
James Gallanders as Brother Gregory
Jean-Louis Roux as Cardinal Sarrazin
Ken James as Father Paul Panak
Caterina Scorsone as Maria Witkowski
Barbara Sukowa as Helen

Produced by Ashok Amritraj (executive), Francis Coppola (executive), Fred Fuchs, Steven Haft, Elie Samaha (executive)
Original music by Jan A.P. Kaczmarek
Cinematography by Jerzy Zielinski

Rated R for some language, sex-related and violent images, and brief drug use.
MIRACLES HAPPEN
SYNOPSIS:

Frank Moore, a disillusioned Catholic priest, known in ecclesiastical circles as "The Miracle Killer" is summoned to an urgent meeting with his bishop... A marble statue in the courtyard of a convent in a Chicago suburb, is crying tears of blood and the local priest is requesting consideration for sainthood for Helen O'Regan, a deeply devout Catholic woman who had lived in the convent until her death, whom the community believe responsible for the healing "tears".

Struggling with his faith and unwilling to again pay the emotional toll of an investigation proving fraud, Frank is nevertheless persuaded to investigate Helen's life. His first interview, with Helen's daughter, Roxanne, increases his inner turmoil as he finds himself very attracted to the girl.

As the days pass, Frank begins to believe in miracles, reviving his lagging faith while internally a battle rages as he struggles to choose between the cause of Helen and his feelings for Roxanne.

When Frank's findings ultimately cause the Vatican to send a tribunal to Chicago, he must represent his case to the skeptical Archbishop Werner, "The Devil's Advocate".

In a stunning finale, the Church is persuaded to accept Helen's petition and Frank's faith is fully restored.

REVIEW BY DAVID BRUCE

The film begins very much like Stigmata with a statue of Mary weeping blood, a miracle that has no logical explanation, and a priest, who in the middle of a crisis of faith, is sent to investigate. The similarities stop there. This is not a thriller, rather, it is a well thought out drama.

The film concerns the spiritual journey of a Catholic priest, Father Frank Morris (Ed Harris). He is a postulator investigating whether the late Helen O'Regan should be cannonized for sainthood. Father Morris is still suffering from a previous case where he proved a candidate unsuitable and thereby causing a crisis of faith for many in a local church parish. Father Morris is a skeptic who comes face to face with miracles associated with Helen that seem to be very real. Her spirit allegedly causes a statue of the Virgin Mary to cry tears of blood which can heal people.

The real story is Father Frank's faith journey through doubt, apostasy and back to faith. As his journey begins he has all but lost his faith. The journey is one of restoration and redemption. He promotes Helen's sainthood and in doing so faces fierce opposition from certain church officials. His struggle grows when he succumbs to temptation and enters a sexual relationship with Helen's estranged daughter, Roxanne (Anne Heche). But out of this trial, emerges a man of even stronger faith.

THE OTHER SIDE OF FAITH-
DOUBT

SPIRITUAL DIRECTION

The film makes a very positive case for the other side of faith - doubt. Doubt has its work in all of our lives.
It forces us to deal with our own inner struggles and face the brutal truths that lead us into a life of faith and hope beyond ourselves.


In my office at work are several images that portray this battle of the soul none of us can escape. One is a painting of a blacksmith forging an iron tool. The book of Malachi in the Old Testament says it plain enough: "For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal or like a strong soap that whitens clothes. He will sit and judge like a refiner of silver, watching closely as the dross is burned away. He will purify them..., refining them like gold or silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord." This process of purifying and refining is the point of the spiritual struggle. We are changed by God's refining fire in ways that we cannot change ourselves.

I chose the blacksmith image for my new office in my new job after a time in the wilderness and trial by fire in my own life. I had lost everything that identified me. My role as parent was challenged when our family went through a very frightening ordeal with one of our children. My vocation was lost to me when I endured a very confusing and painful time in ministry. My home was lost to me when I chose to leave and carve out life anew anywhere but there. I felt only fear and experienced only darkness.

One day when I thought that things couldn't grow worse - they did. In panic, I gathered my kids in the van and headed for anywhere safe. I had no idea where that was but I found myself instinctively returning to the last home I knew with my parents where we were all together and seemingly happy - La Quinta - in the desert south of Palm Springs. I had been five years old then but the pull to return was strong.

I found a state park just as night was falling. It hit me as soon as we settled in for the night, the reality of my actions. I was camping out in a van with my children the night before Easter Sunday. There was no plan for life beyond that moment. I was as devastated and alone as I have ever felt. I struggled with God all night like Jacob. I fell off to sleep in the wee hours only to wake to a rising sun. Somehow the darkness in my life seemed lifted. I hadn't changed but the struggle had changed me. Doing life review, being honest with God, letting my anger and pain out had made possible the light that was now streaming into our van - to stream into my mind and heart. I almost felt light-hearted. The kids and I skipped rocks on the still waters of the reservoir we had slept by. We drove up into the canyons, climbed a mountain and had our own Easter service. All I knew then was all I needed to know. I had to return home and to my husband - home to the valley I said I would never see again.

Coming down off the mountain range, the Grapevine, which separates the Los Angeles basin from the great Central Valley of California the eye can see for a hundred miles. I was looking down on my future, the land I swore I would never see again. At just that moment, I sensed God's presence in waves of love. This was what the song was all about - that Amazing Love. All around me, over me, like a might river washing through me. With his right hand I sensed a stern, "go home and stop this nonsense." With the other hand covering me with such tender, compassionate, passionate love I felt like I was melting. Amazing Grace -when you least deserve it, you experience it.

I returned home. Nothing had changed but me. I was not imposing my agenda on God anymore. He had my complete attention. I was willing to scrub toilets for him. I was only content to be loved by him and love him back. I was so grateful to be home - grateful to be fully alive again.

It wasn't long after this that I had a dream about the chaplain at the local hospital. I knew him but didn't see him often. However, I couldn't get him off my mind. I started to wonder if he was alright. He filled my thoughts continually. I decided to go and see him. I met with him at the hospital. I asked him how he was.
"Fine."
"Are you sure? Your wife ok? Your kids ok?"
"Yes, Yes. Well, there is something. I have resigned."
"Oh, how nice for you."
I ended our time together by offering a prayer for his future and that was all I thought of that.

That night the dream returned. I woke up in the morning with a big lightbulb over my head. "Oh, I get it now." I ran to the phone. "Luther, could I apply for that job?"
"Well, I don't see why not."
And he told me how to go about applying. I had no idea whether that job was for me. I had always put chaplaincy at the bottom of my pick list when it came to ministry. I didn't like hospitals. I had grown up under my grandmother's tutelage. Her adage was that "I was born healthy and it was up to me to stay that way." I did as I was told in that regard. But I had been through the fire. I was ready to listen now. I was ready for what God wanted. I was not telling God what to do with my life. T.S. Eliot wrote, "What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from." There had been an end - sure - and it had hurt like crazy but if that emptying process was to make way for the new then I wouldn't trade it for all the pain in the world. This was a new start, a new beginning. I applied for the position as chaplain at Emanuel Medical Center in Turlock. Two months later I started my new position, my new vocation, my new life.

One of the first orders of business was to find a fire image that would remind me, and others, that without the refining fire of God to burn off the doubts and fears, we would never live the live of faith and fulfill our purpose. And so the blacksmith looks down on me and reminds me that without the refining process of our doubts and fears we will never enter fully into all God has for us.

I have never been so content and fulfilled in ministry or my life as I have been as chaplain. God knows us better than we know ourselves. I found myself only when I was lost to myself.

Robert Frost says it best in his recently discovered poem, Directives:
"And if you're lost enough to find yourself by now
pull in your ladder road behind you
And put a sign up CLOSED to all but me
Then make yourself at home."

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