“Each of us is a priest of Christ. Me, you. Each and every one of you.”
Oscar-nominated Corpus Christi (for Best International Feature Film) explores what it means to be a priest of Christ. But it does so through the story of an imposter who finds a community in need. The story is inspired by actual events. There are various such accounts for the filmmaker to chose from. The story is told with comedy, but also with darkness and pathos. In doing so, the balance creates an environment to consider our own role in serving Christ.
Twenty year old Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia) has had a spiritual awakening while in a juvenile detention center. He serves as an acolyte for the Father Tomasz who holds services. When he is to be paroled, he wishes he could go to seminary, but none will accept him with his criminal record. He goes to a town where he is to report to a sawmill for work. He wanders into the church and meets Eliza (Eliza Rycembel) a young woman whose mother (Aleksandra Konieczna) seems to run the church. Trying to impress Eliza, Daniel claims to be a priest, and has a clergy collar to prove it.
When the local vicar has a spiritual breakdown and must go for treatment, he convinces Daniel (going by the name Father Tomasz) to fill in for a day or two. It is Daniel’s dream come true. But it turns out to be more than just a day or two. Soon Daniel is having to deal with various spiritual issues that the town is struggling with—especially the grief and anger over several people killed in an auto accident.
He soon becomes an important part of the community. He connects with young people (especially Eliza). He uses the kinds of therapy sessions he experienced in juvie to lead the people through their grief. His preaching brings joy and hope. He reaches out to the woman who many blame for the accident. He goes to the sawmill where he was supposed to work to give a blessing. But that also leads to problems when someone recognizes him.
During a Q&A at the screening I saw at AFI Fest, director Jan Komasa noted that the Catholic Church did not want to cooperate with the film because they thought it made it seem like anyone could act like a priest. I sympathize with that sentiment. Most churches have requirements about who can be ordained. Those standards are important. The fact that Daniel was not ordained could well bring into question the validity of the rites he presided over. But it is also true that Daniel was a gifted young man who brought the healing grace of God into a community that sorely needed it. He was, despite being an imposter, truly the priest of Christ for those people.
The title of the film comes from the Feast of Corpus Christi, which is one of the events Daniel presided over. It becomes a key event in the crisis the town is experiencing. That feast focuses on the real presence of Christ in the elements of the Eucharist. The term translates as “Body of Christ”. In this story we see what it means for the church to be the body of Christ—and for Christians to be Christ’s presence in the world.
Even though I understand the Catholic Church’s opposition to this story, I also support the way this film brings forth an important concept, the priesthood of all believers. Even though we may see the ordained ministry as important, we also need to remember that the ministry of God in the world is not limited to the men and women who have had hands laid on them. The words Father Tomasz (the real one) speaks to his juvenile detention center congregation (the quote that opens this review), is a reminder to us all that we are all, each and every one, priests of Christ to those we meet and serve.
Photos courtesy of Aurum Films