‘Full of Grace’ a shining example of modern Christian art

What happened to Mary after Christ died? And how did Peter deal with being the rock Christ commissioned him to be?

This is precisely the story that is explored in Full of Grace, the tender, contemplative and beautiful new film from writer/director Andrew Hyatt. The story focuses on Mary’s final days on Earth before she is assumed into Heaven, and it intimately captures the relationship between her and her son’s successor, Peter.

Full of Grace is a new kind of Christian film, one that deviates from the typical model of most Christian films. Described by Hyatt as a “cinematic prayer,” the film is perhaps the first of its kind. The first 15 minutes of the film is intentionally paced slowly so as to prepare the audience and put them in the right mind set for viewing the film.

“Everything about the film is intentional,” he said. “This experience requires something of the audience to put in front of the film. The film, like scripture, should speak to you wherever you’re at in your life.”

Hyatt also sought to take these central biblical characters who are often perceived as being perfect and humanize them, making them relatable. Not since Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ have biblical characters been depicted as fallible and as human as they are in Full of Grace.

“One of the things we really wanted to do in the film was put the flesh on the bones of these characters,” Hyatt said. “They were living, breathing people that had the same experience as we do in our faith.”

Noam Jenkins plays a doubtful but faithful Peter, and Bahia Haifi is perfectly cast as a noticeably aging but strikingly wise Mother Mary. The film focuses on the tender relationship between the two.

Writer/director Andrew Hyatt directs actress Bahia Haifi on the set of Full of Grace. (Photo provided)

Haifi’s performance as Mary is the true highlight of the film; the dialogue ebbs and flows throughout the film but always peaks when she speaks. Her humble demeanor and tender disposition is exactly as one would expect her to be in reality, and the wisdom she imparts through the film is hauntingly relevant to any walk of life, especially that of Christians.

Hyatt sought to make a film that didn’t depict the Christian life as being one that’s easy; after all, that hasn’t been his experience. Born in Colorado, he grew up in the Church and went to St. Thomas More Catholic school. However, once he hit college, he dropped his faith completely.

“My faith didn’t have anything interesting to say when put up against the temptation of the world,” Hyatt said.

In 2008, though, Hyatt experienced a conversion, which he vividly remembers. He was in a hotel in Toronto, and he said that “literally, God showed up.” He turned his life over to the Lord at that point, but it wasn’t an easy process.

“It wasn’t like I said ‘yes’ to Christ and then everything was wrapped up with a nice bow,” Hyatt said. “It took a few years of extracting myself from that life.”

After kickstarting his film career with two relatively successful films, Hyatt was approached by Outside Da Box, a Catholic, nonprofit production company, about making Full of Grace.

He initially turned down the project. He never had a desire to make a Christian film, but in getting to know fellow producers T.J. Berden and Eric Groth, he entertained the idea and wrote a draft of the script. He wanted to write a story that hadn’t been told before, he said, but also one that didn’t fall into the stereotype of most Christian films.

“What I could only do was make something that I was interested in,” he said. “I needed to make something that spoke to me and to my experience. My experience is that [faith] is messy and that we have dark times and good times. I could only make something that I felt spoke to that deeper truth.”

Despite writing a draft for the script, Hyatt still wasn’t interested in making the film. He was a young filmmaker full of worldly ambition, and he felt making a Christian film was beneath him.

“I was waiting for bigger, better things that were surely going to come…what a big mistake that was,” he said. God began systematically closing doors in his life until Full of Grace was all he had left to do.

For 18 months, Hyatt had no work. A new father, he and his wife burned through all of their savings until they only had $200 to their name. They had just let go of their lease on their apartment, they had nothing left, when he got a call from Berden and Groth informing him they raised the money for Full of Grace. They asked if he was interested in making the film.

“Had I not had nothing, I’m pretty sure I would’ve said no,”Hyatt said. “But there was literally nothing, so I said OK.”

The fruits of the film speak for themselves.

“Making Full of Grace was the first time on my entire life that I’ve been 100 percent obedient to what God wanted me to do,” Hyatt said. “To see the fruit of God’s work now in the outcome just blows me away. It’s nothing I can take credit for.”

For more information on Full of Grace, visit fullofgracefilm.comFull of Grace will be released on digitally and on DVD on January 5 through Cinedigm.

COMING UP: Collegiality and eucharistic integrity

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

The concept of the “collegiality” of bishops has been sharply contested since the Second Vatican Council debated it in 1962, 1963, and 1964. That discussion was sufficiently contentious that a personal intervention from Pope Paul VI was required to incorporate the concept of episcopal collegiality within the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church in such a way that the pope’s primacy and universal jurisdiction were safeguarded. The debate about collegiality has continued ever since. Now, however, it’s focused more on what kind of collegiality exists within national conferences of bishops. Is it an “affective collegiality” of mutual support and encouragement? Or is episcopal collegiality within bishops’ conferences “effective,” such that a conference has real teaching and legislative authority?  

Whether collegiality is “affective,” “effective,” or some combination of the two, it ought to be clear what truly “collegial” behavior isn’t.   

It isn’t individual bishops attempting end-runs around their national conference, appealing for Roman interventions that would forestall debates that their brother bishops wish to engage. It isn’t bishops trying to browbeat the conference chairman into changing an agenda to suit the tastes of a distinct minority — and misleading their brother bishops as to what they’re about when soliciting support for such a gambit. And it isn’t trying to filibuster a conference meeting so that no action is possible on an agenda item that the great majority of bishops wish to consider and act upon. 

If any of those three maneuvers qualifies as collegial, then “collegiality” has no more meaning than the claim that my poor Baltimore Orioles have a great starting rotation. 

For years now — and by “years,” I mean long before the idea of a “President Biden” entered the stream of national consciousness — the bishops of the United States have been concerned that ours is becoming less of a eucharistic Church than Vatican II called us to be when it taught that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Church’s life. Pope St. John Paul II reaffirmed that conciliar summons when, in his final encyclical, he taught that “the Church draws her life from the Eucharist,” which “recapitulates the heart and mystery of the Church.” Yet all around us we see declining Sunday Mass attendance: a sadness that preceded the pandemic but has been further exacerbated by it.  Moreover, surveys suggest that too many Catholics think of Sunday Mass as essentially a social occasion, rather than an encounter with the living God in which Christ is offered to the Father and is given back to his people in holy communion — a communion in and through the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ, received under the forms of bread and wine.

If the Church lives from the Eucharist and yet the people of the Church don’t participate in the Eucharist as often as they should, or don’t understand what they’re celebrating and receiving when they do, then the Church suffers from a serious eucharistic deficit. Those ordained to leadership in the Church are obliged to do something about that. 

That is why the U.S. bishops have been determined for some time to undertake a comprehensive program of eucharistic education throughout the Church. For the great majority of bishops, that determination has been intensified by the fact that our eucharistic deficit is being compounded by the eucharistic incoherence of public officials who, rejecting authoritative Catholic teaching based on both revelation and reason, nonetheless present themselves for holy communion as if they were in full communion with the Church. The longstanding episcopal failure to address this incoherence exacerbates the eucharistic deficit in American Catholicism by implying that the Church really doesn’t mean what it teaches about the sacred nature of the Eucharist. 

Those suggesting that this is all about “politics” are either ill-informed or deliberately misleading the Church and the gullible parts of the media. Concern for the eucharistic integrity of the Church includes, but goes much deeper than, concerns about the eucharistic incoherence of Catholic public officials who act as if the Church’s settled convictions on the life issues and on worthiness to receive holy communion don’t exist. That is why the U.S. bishops are forging ahead with developing a teaching document that will clarify for the whole Church why we are a Eucharistic community, what the Eucharist truly is, what reception of the Eucharist means, and why everyone in the Church should examine conscience before receiving Christ in the sacrament. 

The wheels of collegiality may grind slowly. In this case, however, they are grinding truly, and for the sake of the Gospel.

George Weigel is an independent columnist whose weekly column is syndicated by the Archdiocese of Denver. The opinions and viewpoints expressed by Mr. Weigel therein are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Archdiocese of Denver or the bishops of Denver.