Posted by: Christine Johnson | December 21, 2005

It’s a Wonderful Life

It’s a Wonderful Life is my favorite movie. I love to watch it, even if it’s not near Christmas, because it teaches a really important lesson to us. Clarence puts it well at the end: No man is a failure who has friends. But more than that, I have started to see it as teaching a great truth that the Catholic Church teaches: each of us has a vocation and living out that vocation makes life wonderful. And it’s not just wonderful for the person who has been living out the vocation, but for those around him, as well.

George, for example, is frustrated by his dreams going unfulfilled. He grew up dreaming of leaving Bedford Falls for more exotic locations. He wanted to go to college, see the world, build things, do important things. His father, Peter, reveals what becomes his life lesson: what is done in the “shabby little office” of the building and loan is important. It’s more important than George will know until he sees what life would have been like for his home town had he never been born. Yes, this has become fodder for sitcoms galore and been done quite a few times (with a twist, actually, in Family Man – another of my favorite movies), but it is such an important lesson that, when done properly, we mustn’t miss it!

George’s journey begins small when Clarence comes to show him why George must not despair. The little sleepy town of Bedford Falls has changed – Mr. Potter took over everything and cares not for a moral place for families to live. (Recall that he didn’t care if families were evicted at the beginning of the movie.) The bottom line rules his life, and so people living in Pottersville are hardened, much like he is except without his money for creature comforts. They drink and party a lot at Nick’s, instead of gathering for quiet celebrations at Martini’s before they head home for Christmas. It is at Nick’s that George sees the first direct result of his life.

Mr. Gower, in a daze after his son died unexpectedly, accidentally poisons a child. George prevented that, never told anyone, thereby giving Mr. Gower a chance at redemption. George believes in that redemption for others. He wants them to have second chances, which we see throughout the movie. But in this alternate universe where George never was, no one gave Gower that chance and he has been reduced to a drunken beggar.

Soon, we learn that no one lives in the old Granville house that George and Mary and their children lived in. It’s broken down, much like the town seems to be, and George runs to try to find his mother. She, a widow who lost her only child at the tender age of nine, is bitter and cold to the man who is now a stranger to her. Heartbroken George finds that his beloved Uncle Billy had a breakdown after Peter Bailey died and the building and loan closed down. Trying to find a friend at the non-existent Bailey Park, George discovers his brother’s headstone, and the ever-widening circle of his influence starts to become more clear: Harry Bailey died, and so did the hundreds of men on the two transports that he was supposed to save during the war.

Though this might seem like the biggest impact, George suddenly realizes that he must seek out Mary, his wife, to see what happened to her. Because it was God’s plan that George marry her, she never does marry. She has no children. She is an “old maid” and is terrified to be chased down the street by a stranger claiming to be her husband and the father of her four non-existent children.

It is at this point that George breaks, understanding that his vocation – husband to Mary Hatch, father to Pete, Janie, Tommy, and Zu Zu, chairman of the Bailey Building & Loan – is an important one. He understands that God’s plan is perfect, even if it’s never said that way.

Knowing Your Vocation Makes Life Wonderful!

When he returns, he doesn’t care what happens to him, as long as his loved ones are safe, which they were not without him. His life is wonderful, after all, because he has been living God’s plan for his life – living his vocation.

A lot of people mistakenly believe that a vocation means religious life, but that’s not true. God has a special vocation for each of us, and we each build something big and important when we live that vocation – God’s Kingdom. For me, my vocation is wife and mother. For someone else, it might be to be a doctor or nurse. For yet another person, it might be the single life. When we find that vocation in our lives, and we strive to live it, we have a wonderful life.

It’s like the Little Flower said: I can do no great things for God, but I can do small things with great love.

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