My favorite movie scene of all time is from the film Scent of A Woman. Actor Al Pacino plays a blind, retired Army Colonel who has a monologue defending a young man who he has recently befriended. The whole movie is about how this older man (Pacino) bonds with a young man (Christopher O’Donnell) who is taking care of him for a weekend.
The culmination of the film is this scene back at the private school the young man attends. Before leaving to take care of Pacino, he got in some trouble at school by witnessing some friends pulling a prank on the headmaster. The headmaster heard that the student saw who pulled the prank, so he threatens to expel him from the school if he doesn’t reveal who it was.
In the middle of his passionate speech defending the integrity of his young friend, Pacino’s character says this line: “In my life I always knew the right path. Without exception, I knew. But I never took it. You know why? It was too damn hard.” He continues on explaining why he feels the young man has courage and integrity because he is willing to choose the more difficult path, and not simply tell on his classmates.
This scene always inspires me because it is an honest and passionate defense for righteousness, while also admitting one’s own weakness. In our world we are often inclined toward lesser things which do not make us our best selves. This is usually because we think it’s not really possible to be heroic, virtuous, and holy. As Pacino’s character says it is “too damn hard”.
God knows of all our hardships but he doesn’t lessen the call to perfection (Mt. 5:48). Instead, He tells us the key: we must rely on Him; “without me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5).
Msgr. Luigi Giusanni was an Italian priest who understood this challenge within human beings, particularly modern people. He wrote a series of books with the same title as this article. Through his writing and the movement he started, Communion and Liberation, Giusanni sought to reach postmodern people despite their skepticism and cynicism.
Like Jesus He never gave up on preaching the highest ideals of Christianity. However, he presented them in a way where broken, skeptical people could identify based on their experience. I think we need more of this approach today, and admittedly it is difficult to do. We have to continue to preach the timeless teachings of the faith (which are often contentious), even as we struggle to live them. The crucial point is to preach Jesus Christ as the way. Salvation comes through His power as the Son of God, not from our own fallen human powers.
The story of Christianity is told primarily through saints who were sinners that never gave up. Men and Women who persistently came back to God and desired to live His will. Because of them we can say it is possible to live this way! It is possible to believe in God, practice chastity, love our enemies and worship a tiny white host. It is possible because God has risen and given us His spirit to do the same.
Both Msgr. Giusanni and the Army Colonel display the kind of confidence we are called to live with as Christians. Despite experiencing the brokenness of the world and our own human faults, we must continue to seek the ideal. That is what we really need in times of doubt; we need encouragement telling us not to quit, but rather to seek God and carry on.