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Here at Eerdmans, we tend to be fairly inclusive, big-tent people, generally not much inclined to choose sides or pick favorites.
We do, however, have a favorite movie star.
Actor Martin Sheen — besides being a former TV president, Hollywood icon, devoted Catholic, passionate political activist, and all-around classy guy — has also been a generous supporter of several Eerdmans books.
Office legend has it that when he first called several years ago to offer a blurb and left a voicemail message on one of our editors’ phones, star-struck Eerdfolks (including not a few of the female persuasion) lined up to take turns listening to Sheen’s cheerful and instantly recognizable voice on the recorded message. Sadly, the message was lost several years later when Eerdmans moved into its new building.
Given our affection for this likable celebrity, when we found this article by Sr. Rose Pacatte discussing Sheen’s new movie, The Way, which hit theaters last Friday, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to reflect on our very occasional but exceedingly memorable interactions with Martin Sheen (and with Hollywood in general).
The film The Way tells the story of a modern pilgrim trekking through Europe on an 800 km camino — a pilgrimage — to the medieval shrine of Santiago de Compostela, where many believe the relics of St. James the apostle (whose feast day was this past Sunday, for those who mark such things) are buried.
This camino is the same pilgrimage traveled by Catholic priest Kevin Codd in 2003. Codd wrote about his journey in To the Field of Stars: A Pilgrim’s Journey to Santiago de Compostela, for which Sheen graciously provided the following endorsement:
“In this wonderful book Father Codd brilliantly captures for us the essence of pilgrimage. He is a candid and engaging guide to the physical realities involved — the beauty of nature, the aches and pains of weariness, and other pilgrims along the way. More than that, though, he reveals the interior journey, equally difficult and equally rewarding. It is a spiritual and emotional trek on which pilgrims are confronted with their own broken humanity and come face to face with the God they seek.”
— Martin Sheen
Sheen was already a friend to Eerdmans before that blurb came in, though. Several years earlier, he offered the following brief-but-energetic endorsement for Sr. Joan Chittister’s Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope:
“As ever, Joan Chittister’s voice rises up from the struggle to offer a powerful and transforming source of hope!”
— Martin Sheen
And just this summer, Sheen endorsed yet another book from Eerdmans — W. Paul Jones’s A Different Kind of Cell: The Story of a Murderer Who Became a Monk, which was released just last month. In his blurb for that book, Sheen said,
“Clayton Fountain was regarded as a ruthless killer beyond anyone’s power to save. Yet in the stillness of his solitary confinement — entombed alive in a cell of concrete and steel — God was at work redeeming and remaking Clayton Fountain. I am grateful to Father Paul for ministering so compassionately to a man precious only to God — and for sharing his remarkable story with the world.”
— Martin Sheen
A Different Kind of Cell was also a favorite of Sr. Helen Prejean, best known for her book Dead Man Walking. (She was played by Susan Sarandon in the 1995 film adaptation directed by Tim Robbins.) Sr. Helen wrote the forward for Jones’s book, from which we selected the following excerpt for the back cover:
“No one is beyond the mercy of God. No one. The message of this book is that to kill anyone on the assumption that their redemption is impossible is to take the place of God.”
— Sr. Helen Prejean
Even film journalist Sr. Rose Pacatte, whose National Catholic Reporter article first gave us the inside scoop on Sheen’s new movie, has an Eerdmans connection of sorts. She recently contributed an endorsement for Sara Anson Vaux’s book The Ethical Vision of Clint Eastwood (due out later this fall). Here’s an excerpt from her blurb:
“A lavish and articulate hymn of praise to one of Hollywood’s greatest film directors. . . . Without canonizing the humanist Eastwood, Vaux casts her penetrating gaze, informed by theology and cinematic scholarship, on his movies, to reveal intelligence, talent, and the freedom of the artist’s soul. She lets us experience Eastwood’s films anew through the dual lens of ethics and transcendence.”
— Sr. Rose Pacatte
In retrospect, perhaps our list of Martin Sheen encounters isn’t really all that long, even when we pad it with some second and third-degree connections — but we’d be lying if we said we weren’t thrilled by the occasional notice he’s taken of our books. It means a lot to us to know that someone so highly respected and widely appreciated in the big, wide world respects and appreciates the work we do here.
Blessings on your new movie, Mr. Sheen, and thanks for all the voicemails.