Book presents film scenes as teachable moments


By Joseph Ryan

Catholic News Service

BEAR, Del. — Patrick Donovan enjoys using memorable moments from movies to engage young people in conversations about their faith.

The head of Catholic Youth Ministry for the Diocese of Wilmington is so interested in the movie-faith connection that he’s written a book, “Using the Remote to Channel Jesus: 50 Movie Clips for Ministry,” to help youth ministers and catechists find film scenes that dramatize moments of grace and inspiration.

As his book, published by St. Mary’s Press, demonstrates, movie scenes can help reveal the story of the Christian faith to the book’s target audience — sixth- through 12th-graders — in a variety of ways.

The dark comedy “Throw Momma From the Train,” for example, might not sound like an obvious film for a teachable moment, but Donovan included it for a scene he recommends for students preparing for confirmation.

In the film, Danny DeVito’s character invites Billy Crystal’s character to see his coin collection.

“I don’t want to see it,” Crystal says.

“Come on,” DeVito urges, “I’ve never shown it to anyone.” He then shows his friend a quarter, another quarter, three nickels and a penny.

“Why do you have these?” Crystal’s character asks. “The reason people collect coins is because they’re worth something.”

“Oh, they are worth something,” DeVito responds. “This is the quarter my daddy let me keep when we went to see Peter, Paul and Mary. This is a nickel he let me keep when we got a hot dog at Coney Island.”

The scene is not unlike the way the church prepares young people for confirmation, Donovan says. Just as the coin collection means little without its context, to someone outside the confirmation experience “the water, the flame, the laying on of hands means absolutely nothing. But once you’re invited into the experience, it changes everything.”

That is why movies can be so powerful with teenagers, Donovan told The Dialog, Wilmington diocesan newspaper. “If you invite them into the experience it can change their perspective.”

For each film clip mentioned in the book, Donovan includes conversation starters for teachers on the scene’s subject, along with prayer services and activities for a class.

The shortest movie clip he recommends is about prayer. The 1993 film “Shadowlands” is about writer (“The Chronicles of Narnia”) and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis. It includes a moment in which a friend tells Lewis, played by Anthony Hopkins, that because his ailing wife is getting better, “I know how hard you’ve been praying. Now God is hearing your prayer.”

Lewis’ response is, “That’s not why I pray. I pray because I can’t help myself. … I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God; it changes me.”

“Boom, there’s 13 seconds about the power of prayer,” Donovan said.

He had hoped to include in the book a DVD of his recommended scenes, but one studio wanted $3,000 per minute used from the movie “Field of Dreams,” so “we scrapped that part of the deal.”

Donovan does not include any scenes from R-rated films in his book. All the clips he mentions come from movies rated either A-I (general patronage), A-II (adults and adolescents) or A-III (adults) by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film & Broadcasting, and the selected scenes are appropriate for their grade level, he said.

Teachers, Donovan said, need to know the context of the scenes. “It is a huge mistake for anybody to use this resource and not have seen the entire movie,” he said. He doesn’t recommend that classes watch the entire film, however.

“We don’t have the kids’ attention span for that long,” he said. “So use the scene and make sure you’re using a scene that will invite them into the experience.”

Donovan, 39, took care that his selections of teachable movie scenes come from films that are appropriate, “so if students go home and watch the movie, great, because they’re going to get a positive experience.”

Donovan, who with his wife Maureen has four children under 5, also hopes to write a book one day called “Movies I Want My Kids to See.” Some of his favorite children’s films are “The Love Bug,” “Follow Me, Boys!”, “Candleshoe” and “The Lion King.”

He urges parents “to know what your kids are watching, to watch what your kids are watching (with them when possible) and to talk about it.”

“Any study of school violence, any study of bullying, any study of premarital sex will tell you young people are affected by their environment, by what they’re seeing in school, on television, in movies,” Donovan said. “We can’t abdicate our responsibility as parents to the big screen or small screen or computer screen.”- – –

Editor’s Note: “Using the Remote to Channel Jesus: 50 Movie Clips for Ministry” is available for $24.95 from St. Mary’s Press online at or by calling (800) 533-8095.