When Louis Stevens becomes Catholic, my generation is going to talk about it. Shia LaBeouf, a self-described “caveman” who has been deemed by Bishop Barron, among others, as one of the best actors of his generation, is portraying St. Padre Pio in a new film. In a recent interview, he told Barron all the ways in which God drew him to Catholicism, many times by the symbols of the religion.
During the interview, LaBeouf recounted a spiritual advisor sharing with him a quote from Heraclitus:
Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn’t even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.
LaBeouf might not prove to keep his newfound Catholicism, but if he does persist, he could be a Heraclitus for all the lost boys of his generation, bringing them home to the One True Church.
In fact, his interview with Barron should be watched by every Church leader as instruction on how to more effectively evangelize this generation, particularly the men. The interview gives great insight into what drew LaBeouf in. And I believe it’s the same attractions he experienced that draw most young people in.
LaBeouf, in his study of St. Padre Pio, saw how important it was for Pio to stay in communion with the Church Christ founded and not break away from it:
When Pio was exiled, he didn’t hit Twitter. He just got quiet…he didn’t get loud. He didn’t do the Martin Luther. He did the St. Francis, which was he quietly got more Christ-like, and cultivated that as opposed to this rebellion. He accepted it. He could have started his own church, started his own order—he had that much following. He could have at that moment walked off into the woods and created a whole new sect of Christianity.
LaBeouf picked up on Pio’s humility and obedience to Truth. Millennials and Gen Z are generations who have disavowed religion but obey “woke” ideology, which is wrong not because it’s not liberalism but because it’s wrong, and prideful. This is where the Church, the source of Truth, can come in and counter the prevailing lies being told to those who have been wrecked by the culture, even those in other sects of Christianity where the culture has seeped in.
Another draw to Catholicism in particular, for LaBeouf, was the Eucharist. He was going to Mass and couldn’t receive Communion but had a deep longing to receive. As a former Protestant, I can relate to this pull. Now that he can receive, he spoke to the power the Eucharist holds: “I start feeling a physical effect from it, a deep reprieve, it starts feeling regenerative. I start enjoying it to such a degree that I don’t want to miss it ever.”
As a young convert, I can attest that the only way to stir up that longing to receive the Eucharist in a worthy manner is to treat it like what it is, and that requires reverence.
Like St. Maximilian Kolbe once said, “When you kneel before an altar, do it in such a way that others may be able to recognize that you know before whom you kneel.” Kneeling and receiving on the tongue within the context of a reverent Mass is what makes the difference for how it’s revealed.
In his conversation with Barron, LaBeouf even refers to the absurdity of irreverent liturgies, arguing against corny homilies given right before the consecration:
All the air goes out of Mass when…the homily gets to be about experience or trying to be relatable….to let your hair down right before you’re asking me to fully believe that we’re about to walk through the death of Christ seems like, huh?
“When Mass is done really well, you feel like a secret is being shared with you.” Perhaps the most revealing part of the interview was LaBeouf’s affinity for the traditional Latin Mass. But a man who is friends with Mel Gibson (who considers himself too “trad” for the trads) is bound to be introduced to the ancient form and develop a liking to what feels other-worldly.
LaBeouf: Latin Mass affects me deeply. Deeply.
Bishop Barron: How come?
LaBeouf: Because it feels like they’re not selling me a car. When I go to some Mass with the guitars and stuff…there’s a lot of what feels like they’re trying to sell me on an idea.…Christ the King, in Oakland, does a Latin Mass, every day of the week, and it feels like it’s not being done to sell me on anything, and it feels almost like I’m being let in on something very special. It activates something in me where it feels like I found something.
LaBeouf has intuitively picked up on the corniness of most Vatican II Masses. Yet, he admits there are reverent Novus Ordo Masses and that the culture of the TLM can feel a bit exclusive. “You don’t want to be exclusive either, which is what Latin Mass feels like sometimes, like I have to know Latin to experience it.”
In the same breath, he still defends its transcendent beauty that doesn’t try to be relevant and “cool”:
However, I would also say there’s a certain language where I don’t need to know the words, which is what I feel like when I watch Pio’s Mass. I know what’s going on. I feel it deeply. It almost feels more powerful than when I know every single word. It takes me out of the realm of the intellectual and it puts me squarely in the realm of the feeling, and the beauty thing that you talk about…Latin Mass puts me squarely in the feeling realm, because I can’t argue the word, because I don’t know the word.
Prior to my own conversion, I was exposed to what I call “suburban Catholicism”: ugly church architecture, modern music, corny homilies—just an utter lack of sublimity and reverence. It is this Catholicism that has contributed—if not directly caused—nearly the entirety of my generation of Catholics to abandon Catholicism. If you want to find the young people who still go to Mass, go to a traditional parish. They’re seeking a place that takes them out of the ordinary world that is starving their soul and into the Divine to feed it.
Like many modern men, LaBeouf was agnostic and hostile to organized religion, specifically Catholicism.
I was good at attacking Catholicism because it made me feel superior. I liked to argue because it made me feel like I was in power. I like to be contrarian. I like to sit with the Bishop and then put you on your heels because that would make me feel powerful, which I find most secular people enjoy, the control of it because so much of life is uncontrollable. To feel in control feels good.
LaBeouf also had an inaccurate sense of who Christ was as a man, or even what it meant to be a man at all, citing that “there’s no puberty ceremony for a young man today.” But what changed his view of Christ was first encountering the grizzle of John the Baptist.
I read the Gospel of Matthew for the first time and things start to strike me, like John the Baptist…. He felt like an old Western character. He felt like a cowboy. He felt rustic and strong and masculine. And my opinion of Christ at this point felt almost like I was reading about a Buddhist, like this very soft, fragile, all-loving, all-listening, but no ferocity, no romance. I hadn’t read the Gospel; I just had this art of a more feminized Jesus. All I knew was this soft, meek Jesus which didn’t fit into my idea of what masculinity would be. It wasn’t appealing to me. And then I read about John the Baptist, and it became appealing.
Part of understanding authentic masculinity was to learn the difference between meek and weak. “Meek and weak are two different things. Meek is to be treasured. Meek is to be valued. Meek is a submissive respect. Weak is having no faith.”
His spiritual advisor defined masculinity by asking him what in nature is masculine. He said a mountain.
He goes, “Do you know why? Because it’s immoveable. The wind is not going to move a mountain.” And then we start talking about my wife and what my wife wants in a man. And being stable, and where that stability comes from for a man, and that it’s not going to be something you will. It’s going to be something you lean on. And that mountain is in that chapel. He brings me back to the Blessed Sacrament, but he does it through this raw-raw cowboy talk. It touched on this thing that I came from, and it accounted for this whole side of Christ I didn’t know yet, and he sort of masculinized the whole thing for me as this warrior’s journey.
LaBeouf then stated his appreciation for freedom with restraint, saying, “Freedom doesn’t feel good with no structure.” If there is any demographic that has been ravaged by unfettered freedom, it’s the young adult male. Slowly, LeBeouf has learned that freedom with no restraint is slavery.
And finally, LaBeouf, like so many millennials sensed his human need for stillness and found it in front of the Blessed Sacrament, but it required him getting out of his ego and away from his smartphone. A cell phone makes it impossible to pray or be present, which means that our generation is basically always available and simultaneously never available. And as LaBeouf verbalized, everything his ego needed was contained in his smartphone. If you think you have everything you need, what use is there for God? He knew nothing of silence or quiet or prayer. He spoke about how the Rosary paused his head: “It’s tactile, it takes me out of the cognitive and puts me in the physical…for some reason that pauses my internal, nonstop chitter-chatter monologuing of what I want and what I need. This animal in me.”
The animal in LaBeouf is the animal of a generation who desires the infinite but has only been fed with the finite. They may have fallen to the edge of the earth, but they will hopefully be brought back with “a twitch upon a thread.” For hope, as LaBeouf is convinced, is “hearing other people’s stories.”