St Josemaria and The King of Staten Island
After deliberating together about how we would spend our evening and ruling out anything that involved donning hazmat suits, standing within 2 metres of anyone or leaving the house, we decided to sit safely in our living room and watch a film.
It’s not easy to find a film that suits everyone and there was every chance that the evening’s entertainment would end up being film ‘choosing’, not film ‘watching’, as had been the case so many evenings before.
Surprisingly, after a relatively short time, we agreed upon a film called ‘The King of Staten Island’. We being me and my husband plus the 23, 20 and 18-year-old kids.
20 minutes in and there was palpable discomfort in the room as the big kids had to squirm through a sex scene with the old folks. Tempted as I was to pause the film and explore Part 3, Section 2, Article 6 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the film continued. To my surprise, what I thought might be a glorification of the hedonic lifestyle, turned out to be a most moving story of grief, brokenness, love and redemption.
In the film Scott Carlin, a 24-year-old high school drop out still lives with his mother as his sister goes off to college. He spends his days hanging with his friends, smoking pot, and practising tattooing in the hopes of opening his own tattoo restaurant (pre-Covid). It transpires that Scott’s father died in the line of duty. This and other events in Scott’s life lead him to believe that he is of little worth; at one point saying to a girl who wants something more serious than casual sex that he is ‘not good enough’.
A little under halfway into the film and it is clear that Scott and his group of friends are not b-b-b-bad to the bone. There is an innocence to them, good by nature but suffering from that old familiar divided will.
Scott’s mother begins dating a firefighter which he finds very difficult knowing that the job took his fathers life, but Scott is largely passive and despite his opposition to this relationship he reluctantly agrees to take this mans children to school. It is in this little routine act of domesticity that we see the potential of who Scott could be.
Like a character in a Flannery O’Connor story, moments of Grace penetrate Scott’s life, amongst them a second chance afforded him when his dropout friends get arrested for holding up a grocery store.
When all seems lost and he finds himself without a home, without family and without friends, he turns up at the fire station – the place that he associates with his father’s death – and seeks refuge. Here he experiences camaraderie and recognition of a job well done. Here, we might say, he is surprised by Joy. Here, he finds love, not romantic or erotic love but love in the truest sense of the word. In one scene we see the man whom Scott resented for taking the place of his father, offer his own back as a canvas on which Scott could practice his tattooing. Scott subsequently pours out his anguish in images across this mans back, an act that must have caused him immense pain, but a sacrifice that he was prepared to make in order to, as Aquinas puts it, ‘will the good of the other’.
In a later scene, Scott (who has been tasked with mundane jobs) is cleaning a fire engine and asks ‘Why do I have to clean this thing anyway? it’s just going to get fire on it’.
I was reminded then of the daily chores we undertake. Every day my husband gets up at 5 am and goes out to work for love of us. I, like mothers and fathers across the globe, get the kids up for school, make their breakfast, wash the dishes, do the laundry, occasionally iron clothes, help the children with homework, cook dinner, hoover the house, walk the dog, clean the bathroom. Last weekend my dearest and oldest friend said to me ‘Why do we bother? as soon as we clean up it’s a mess again 5 minutes later.’
Why do we bother? This is the question that Scott was asking. It is essentially a question about the purpose of life itself. What is the point? Without God, there is no point. This is something acknowledged by honest atheists everywhere. For theists, the point is always ‘to the glory of God’. We bother because it is in the small daily tasks of everyday life that we find meaning and through which we flourish into the people that God is calling us to be. In ‘The Way’ St Josemaria Escriva says:
“Persevere in the exact fulfilment of the obligations of the moment. That work – humble, monotonous, small – is prayer expressed in action which prepares you to receive the grace of that other work – great and broad and deep – of which you dream”
At the end of August I had a serious health scare which, by Gods grace, turned out to be benign. During those frightening weeks I looked at my husband, our children and the home that we have built together and was more aware than ever of how precious life was. I prayed for time; time to be with them, time to raise them, time to hoover the house, read books, go for walks, clean the bathroom, time to love them, time to clean their clothes and help them with their homework. What a privilege all these little things of life are and what an opportunity to glorify God.
In the words of St Josemaria Escriva:
“you must understand now, more clearly, that God is calling you to serve Him in and from the ordinary, material and secular activities of human life. He waits for us every day, in the laboratory, in the operating theatre, in the army barracks, in the university chair, in the factory, in the workshop, in the fields, in the home and in all the immense panorama of work. Understand this well: there is something holy, something divine, hidden in the most ordinary situations, and it is up to each one of you to discover it”.