The Miracle Club continues in theaters around the country, and will be released in new cities through Sept. 22 (official site here). No word yet on when it will be available for streaming, but it may be as soon as September. The film also opens in the U.K. and Ireland on Oct. 13.
This summer, Congregation of Holy Cross seminarian Bobby Weltner, C.S.C., interned with us at Family Theater Productions. We asked him to look at the film from a theological perspective.
Here's what he had to say:
What Is The Miracle Club About?
The Miracle Club tells a story set in 1967 Ireland of three women bent on making a pilgrimage to Lourdes in search of miraculous physical healings for themselves and their loved ones. However, as the journey unfolds, the healing that they find is different than the healing that they initially sought.
While the movie does conclude with a glimpse or two of physical healing and hope, the deeper, more significant healing that takes place is that of the spirit.
By the end of the movie, all three women – including their extended circles of friends and family – experience liberation from the binds of their long-held guilt and reconciliation of their fractured relationships. This spiritual healing brings peace and joy far greater than the physical cures they initially sought.
Lourdes and the Sacraments
While the Sacraments (such as Baptism, Eucharist and Confession, or Reconciliation) themselves are not portrayed in The Miracle Club, the graces available to all of us in the Sacraments (e.g., freedom from the weight of sin and restoration of right relationship) are on full display, and these graces are ritually celebrated in the sacramental waters of Lourdes in which the women bathe.
We humans all carry the burdens of sin, guilt and grief. We all desire forgiveness and the renewal of our relationships. But sadly, we too often lack the courage and opportunity to ask for this forgiveness and to achieve such renewal.
Fortunately for Lily (Maggie Smith), Eileen (Kathy Bates), Dolly (Agnes O’Casey), and Chrissie (Laura Linney), human faithfulness, Divine Providence, and a human response to the movements of the Holy Spirit all provide the opportunity for that elusive spiritual healing that we all seek.
How the Women's Trip to Lourdes Affects Them Spiritually
The faithful of Lily, Eileen and Dolly motivates their pilgrimage to Lourdes. Providential timing and events lead to their encounter with Chrissie. And the mysterious workings of the Holy Spirit impel a seemingly agnostic Chrissie to join the other three women on their journey to Lourdes at the last minute.
As the pilgrimage proceeds, the women’s sins, grudges and burdensome feelings of guilt are all laid bare. Bathing in the cold waters of Lourdes, they physically experience the vulnerability that they then so beautifully express through their plain, straightforward confessions of sin (namely, wrongdoings against one another, their children, and the unborn) and guilt.
By sorrowfully binding themselves to these sins through their interpersonal confession of them, these women open themselves up to the healing power of God’s mercy, as experienced through the receptivity and forgiveness that the women offer one another.
Spiritual and Physical Healing in The Miracle Club
And if there is any doubt that this spiritual healing is real and brought about by the agency of God, The Miracle Club concludes with rays of physical healing and hope as well.
In Matthew 9, after Jesus shockingly forgives a paralytic his sins rather than first addressing the more apparent physical ailment, He says to the crowd and the paralytic, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins … Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home,” and the paralytic rises and goes home.
Similarly, Dolly’s previously mute son Daniel now utters his first word – “Home” – while gazing in at Our Lady of Lourdes in his souvenir snow globe; Eileen receives a hopeful prognosis from her newly reconciled friend Chrissie; and Lily, who lacked the strength to walk in France, now leads Chrissie on a hike to her son’s memorial at the water’s edge.
In each case, these smaller physical expressions of healing point to a deeper, more significant spiritual reality. Daniel now feels at “home” with a mother to whom he is reconciled; Eileen finds courage through a newly restored friendship; and Lily finds the strength to walk because she wants to accompany a younger woman she once cast out.
If Only There Had Been the Sacrament of Reconciliation
As a final note and a minor critique from the perspective of a Catholic, the movie does miss an opportunity to shine some more explicit light on the beauty of the Sacraments.
The beauty and significance of sacramentals –- e.g., the healing waters of Lourdes -– are made clear, but the Sacraments themselves are less explicitly instrumental in this film.
During the climactic scene of Dolly’s confession regarding her attempted miscarriage, she initially feels called to confess her sin and guilt to a priest, but instead, her friends sit her down and initiate the healing conversation.
Thus, the healing that takes place in this movie is most explicitly a healing of horizontal relationships with friends and family, but for Catholics, the healing of one’s vertical relationship with God is best experienced through the intimacy and embodiment of God’s love that is present in the Sacraments.
Therefore, it would have been nice to see at least one of the movie’s characters go to Confession, or the movie could have included a brief scene of the Irish community celebrating the Eucharist after the characters’ return from Lourdes.
Either of these would have put a fitting bow on this story of familial reconciliation by witnessing to the reconciliation with God that we, as children of God, all deeply desire as well.
Image: (L-R) Laura Linney, Mark O'Halloran, in 'The Miracle Club'/Sony Pictures Classics
Bobby Weltner, C.S.C., is a seminarian with the Congregation of Holy Cross. He is currently completing his Master of Divinity degree at the University of Notre Dame and interning with the Catholic media company Family Theater Productions in Hollywood.