Echoes. Lessons from the conversion of Shia LaBeouf. Published on 08/31/2022
The Lessons of Shia LaBeouf’s Conversion
Father Roger J. Landry
It was then that the director Abel Ferrara, who was participating with him in a virtual support group, asked him, in view of a film he was about to shoot, if he had ever heard of by Padre Pio.
Father Roger J.
On August 25, Bishop Robert Barron released a video interview with actor Shia LaBeouf, in which LaBeouf not only announced his conversion to the Catholic faith, but fascinatingly describes the stages of what he calls his “salvific journey. “.
LaBeouf has appeared in 40 films, four TV movies, 77 episodes for various shows, and three video games. Winner of several acting awards, the 36-year-old is best known for his lead role as Sam Witwicky in the “Transformers” series.
But stardom aside, he’s lived a troubled life. He appeared nude in 10 films, most featuring graphic sex scenes, an indication of his loss of shame and self-esteem. He struggled with alcohol addiction, plagiarized a screenplay, was charged with disorderly conduct, harassment, criminal trespassing, public intoxication, obstruction, assault and theft, and was accused by one girlfriend of physical abuse and by another of sexual abuse, assault and inflicting emotional distress.
In the interview with Bishop Barron, LaBeouf confessed, “My life was on fire. I was coming out of hell. … I didn’t want to be an actor anymore and my life was a complete mess. I had hurt a lot of people.” News had come out that “I abused women and shot dogs and willingly gave women STDs. It’s disgusting, it’s depraved and my mom is embarrassed beyond belief. imagination.” This led him to contemplate suicide. “I had a gun on the table. … I didn’t want to be alive anymore. … [There was] a shame like I’ve never felt before, the kind of shame where you forget how to breathe.”
It was then that the director Abel Ferrara, who was participating with him in a virtual support group, asked him, in view of a film he was about to shoot, if he had ever heard of by Padre Pio. He hadn’t – and because at the time he was ‘nuclear’ and no one wanted to work with him, he thought Ferrara’s question was his ‘chance to get back to work’.
To prepare for the role, he had to learn about the Catholic faith and the Capuchin order to which Saint Pio belonged. He traveled to San Lorenzo Seminary in Santa Ynez, California, where he met and befriended the Capuchins. As an “immersive” actor who tries to immerse himself in the lives of the characters he plays, he also needed help learning to say the traditional Latin Mass, which was central to the life of Saint Pio. This brought him to Christ the King Church in Oakland. In order for him to have a better systematic understanding of the Catholic faith, the Capuchins also arranged for him to be catechized by a nun.
Over the course of several months, this intense study, LaBeouf said, “stops being prep for a movie and starts being something beyond all of that.” He began to feel an overwhelming urge to “let go” and “truly surrender” to God, which he did with courage and zeal. He later marvels at how, when he was at his lowest point, his ego led him to jump at the possibility of a film role focused on Padre Pio. “It was like someone framed me,” he said. Now he worships this Trickster.
We can learn a lot from his conversion story, especially the things God used to pull him out of a self-proclaimed hellish life, from being “really good at attacking Catholicism because it made me feel superior” to being pretty humble to repent, believe in, and live the gospel.
Since many today are not only those who follow the downward paths traveled by LaBeouf before his conversion, but also those who admire his work and are dumbfounded by his conversion, it is good that the Church knows what has attracted and could attract others.
LaBeouf was first drawn to the fact that Catholic life is “total immersion.” It involves reason, will and feelings. As an actor, he ironically hates anything resembling acting – his bar mitzvah at age 13 was, he says, like acting – and he refused to fake a Padre Pio accent. . He sought integrity and, to his surprise, found it in Catholic life.
Second, he craved a sense of connection and found it with the Capuchins. Their welcoming, down-to-earth, and heartfelt fellowship — not to mention their laughs, ice cream, and chats — drew him in.
Third, he was captivated by the Mass, especially the traditional Latin Mass, which he needed to learn – and immerse himself in – for the film. For him, pretending to celebrate and attend made him feel like a “secret” was being shared with him. It enveloped him in a sense of the reality of God and the sacred. His first experiences of the Mass in English were, he laments, like someone “trying to sell me an idea,” where the preaching was not worthy of the dignity of what the Mass is. , but was instead an invitation “to let your hair down just before you ask me to fully believe that we are about to go through the death of Christ.” When he discovered he had been clandestinely baptized while he was a child by a Catholic uncle and had been able to begin receiving Holy Communion, he said he could almost feel its physical effect and regeneration.
Fourth, he was moved by the fact that great converts had gone before him. He spoke of the impact of St. Augustine and St. Francis of Assisi, but especially Capuchin Friar Jim Townsend, a con man who murdered his pregnant wife and spent 20 years in prison but converted and ended up spend 39 years as a Capuchin. He “gave me permission as a sinner,” LaBeouf said, and if after all Townsend had done such a man could live by faith, there was hope for him too.
Fifth, he had to learn to pray. It used to be that praying was like “memorizing someone else’s words”. But when a Capuchin friar and Bishop Barron explained how to manage calm and move from silence to thoughts and acts of love, it all started to click.
Sixth, he yearned to meet a male Jesus. “My view of Christ at this point,” he said, “was almost like what I was reading about a Buddhist, a very gentle, fragile, all-loving, all-listening [man] without ferocity, without romance. This impression was reinforced by “the art I had seen,” which featured “very soft, more feminized” depictions of Jesus. Reading the Gospel, under the guidance of the strong paternal influence of a Capuchin, he came to understand the difference between weakness and meekness, and to grasp how meekness, as Jesus showed throughout throughout his life, is a pinnacle of strength.
Seventh, he needed to discover a “purpose” in life, what Catholics would ordinarily call a vocation. A Capuchin taught him that discernment comes through discovering the talents God has given you and determining how you can use them to help others. LaBeouf thought his only talent was “bleeding in front of people”, something featured in many of his films. He finally realized how fitting this skill set was to portray the most famous Branded in the modern world!
Eighth, he had to learn the redemptive meaning of suffering. He thought that the suffering he had endured and caused so far was “unnecessary.” A Capuchin helped him see how “suffering is actually a gift” – a realization that even led LaBeouf to thank the woman who accused him of sexual abuse, who he says, ” saved his life”, by the shame he had to endure because of his accusations and the pain he had caused.
All of these lessons were incorporated, ninth, into Saint Pio, whom LaBeouf came to know as “one of the most revered and beloved saints who ever graced the earth.” Immersing himself in his life in the midst of his Capuchin companions, trying to imitate the way he celebrated Mass, prayed, sought and dispensed God’s mercy, faced suffering and rejection, prayed from the dawn at dusk, virilely challenged others to holiness, and lived his Capuchin vocation with immense faith, hope and charity, was for LaBeouf a formidable school which, too, “saved my life”.
As we give thanks to God for LaBeouf’s conversion and pray for his continued growth in the virtues of Catholic life, we also pray that his conversion may bring many more to the Catholic faith and help all in the church to recognize the enduring appeal of the faith and the practices that make that beauty shine.
– Father Landry is a priest from the Diocese of Fall River who is national chaplain for Aid to the Church in Need USA, papal missionary of mercy and missionary of the Eucharist for the American bishops.
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