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Photo: Frank Capra, 1946

It's a Wonderful Life!

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By Kellie Ross (Dec 24, 2012)
It's a Wonderful Life. That was the title of the movie that our Divine Mercy group here in northern Virginia presented to senior residents at Birmingham Green, a nursing home and assisted-living facility. Most residents had seen it. After all, the film has been around since 1946 and has become a staple of the Christmas season. There was nothing new to be garnered from the vintage film — or was there?

The social event had started rather unremarkably. The volunteer coordinator greeted us, and the children gathered in the dining room to prepare the ice cream sundaes. "Make mine with caramel" a little lady said as she peered up from her walker. "What's the movie?" remarked another. "The children replied, It's a Wonderful Life." With a silent, but steady flow, the chapel began to fill with residents waiting to see the film.

I began to ponder the film as it began. What makes this movie so special and why do I feel compelled to watch it each year, especially around Christmas? For years growing up, I found Christmas to be lonely, full of arguments, and even downright depressing. I was told repeatedly at church, "Rejoice! Rejoice!", but I could find no peace in those words. I was lonely, felt awkward, and thought my difference in this life was of no matter to anyone. Hearing about a man who grows up in a small town wishing to escape to the big world and explore all of its wonders was a bit too close to home for me, so I avoided watching the movie for years.

But on this day, I decided to watch the movie. I wanted to see for myself what the attraction to this film was. For the first part of the movie I made severe judgments regarding George Bailey.

Why was he so angry and inconsiderate to his wife and yet at the same time so compassionate to the community? Why does it seem like evil always triumphs over good? For George's entire life, he saw opportunity pass by as he felt compelled by moral obligation to care for the citizens of Bedford Falls. His sacrifices, however, did not fill him with peace, but rather self-pity and anger about having given up so much. He esteemed himself to have had a greater destiny than to own a savings and loan bank.

He felt his vocation was to do great things, see exotic places, and have the respect of his peers. He measured success in material wealth. Because of his moral decision to help the underprivileged in his community, he led a modest life that embittered him even more deeply to this self-chosen vocation. As financial troubles pressed upon him and there seemed to be no hope, the darkness of despair overcame him and he decided to take his life.

Then I watched as Clarence, a clumsy angel, worked to save George Bailey from suicide. I wondered how many guardian angels have interceded for such souls and how many souls respond to this grace. Clarence granted George the wish of never having been born. George, thinking that this would have made his loved ones happier, witnessed the reality of their sufferings without his presence. George became keenly aware of God's unique plan in his life and how his life affected those around him.

Tears began to flow down my cheeks as I watched the physical anguish caused by him as he sought to be remembered by his loved ones and friends. He saw the greed of one man consume a modest town and become a city of ill repute. He witnessed his friends and clients struggle with poverty, greed, and promiscuity. He saw that without his presence his brother had died and the lives of those serving on a military transport also died because his brother wasn't there to save him. In a moment of grace he saw that every soul counts and to each is given a mission. We may not understand that mission in this life, but make no mistake about it, our lives have a direct impact on the salvation of souls. We truly are one body in Christ.

After experiencing the darkness of Bedford Falls without his life, George pleads with God for a second chance. What I loved about this moment in the film was that he knew that by asking for a second chance his suffering was not going to diminish, but increase. But George loved his family and friends more than himself and to relieve their suffering he begged to be given a second chance at life. All of his life he had given of himself bitterly. Now he was begging for the opportunity to give of himself without cost. To be merciful without end. In essence, to imitate Christ.

I realized after watching the movie that other residents had been tearful as well. They too, saw themselves in George Bailey and they began to understand that when we suffer and focus on ourselves we have no peace, but when we suffer to relieve the burden of another, there is great joy.

In many ways this movie was very religious in nature. It reflects Divine Mercy in its highest form. God is calling all of us back from darkness. Before Jesus became man, the world was in darkness without hope of eternal life.

Kellie Ross is co-founder of the House of Mercy in Manassas, Va., which provides food, clothing, and spiritual education for the needy. The store can be reached at 1-877-BE-MERCY.

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Fr. John Larson, MIC - Dec 30, 2012

I recently learned that the real "Zuzu," Karolyn Grimes, has an interesting story and continues to make appearances. After her short movie career, her life had many difficulties, including the suicide of an 18 year old child. She continues to speak about overcoming hardships and make appearances in connection with the movie. Website: www.zuzu.net

Eustis - Dec 1, 2012

I only got to know of this wonderful movie after i lost my father to suicide in 1985. I too watch this movie every year and tears do stream down my face, without fail. I can pick up watching the last five minutes of the movie and will well up by when the bells ring and George finds the book Clarence left for him.

"No man is a failure who has friends." While this may not have been the intentional theme of the movie it is what i am left with every time. That saying is so profound and is priceless.

There are many other great takeaways from this movie and it will be in my hall of fame forever.