Life-Long Process

November 28 2022 | by

RECENTLY Shia LaBeouf, a well-known movie actor in the United States, became a Catholic. Some people took umbrage at that because LaBeouf is going to trial in April 2023 on charges of serious misconduct, including allegations of assault and abuse of women. Instead of being offended at his conversion, Saint Anthony would have rejoiced. Anthony’s goal was to bring sinners to conversion. Didn’t Jesus say, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Luke 5:32).

Interestingly, the Franciscan saint Padre Pio converted LaBeouf. Did this happen because LaBeouf went to hear Pio preach out of curiosity as did a band of robbers who came to hear Anthony? This incident is related in section 14 of the Rigaldina, an early biography privately translated by Paul Spilsbury.

No, not at all, because LeBeouf was born in 1986, eighteen years after Pio’s death. Maybe he was reading about Saint Pio? Or saw a movie?

Both and more.


Immersion actor


Shia LaBeouf stars as Padre Pio in a movie of that name. The movie premiered in September at the Venice Film Festival. LaBeouf calls himself an “immersion actor.” By his definition this means that he “immerses” himself in the character he’s portraying. LaBeouf studied biographies of Padre Pio. He looked at movies about him. He read his writings. He went to live with Capuchin friars (Padre Pio was a Capuchin). He attended the Latin Mass which was the Mass Pio offered. He learned to offer the Mass as Pio did. This “immersion” brought about something LaBeouf never anticipated. Padre Pio converted him just like Anthony converted the robbers who had come to hear the celebrity of their day.

On Bishop Robert Barron’s You Tube channel, LaBeouf shared his conversion journey.

LaBeouf was a rising child actor who made the transition into adult roles, garnering praise all along the way. Eventually, however, “The one-time happy-go-lucky star of Even StevensHoles, and Transformers had, in recent years, torched his reputation with a series of volatile incidents and allegations – drunken, disorderly conduct; petty theft and battery; abusive behavior; DUI,” writes Mark Antonio Wright in the National Review. No one wanted to hire him. No one wanted to talk to him, not even his mother, LaBeouf told the Bishop. The shame and guilt he experienced were overwhelming.




“I had a gun on the table. I was outta here,” LaBeouf revealed. “I didn’t want to be alive anymore when all this happened. Shame like I had never experienced before – the kind of shame that you forget how to breathe. You don’t know where to go. You can’t go outside and get like, a taco.”

Padre Pio also experienced rejection and disgrace, not from what he actually did, but from the Church’s suspicions of his motives and mystical experiences. “During the years 1931-33 the Holy See, behind the false accusations and slanders stemming from certain quarters of San Giovanni Rotondo and Manfredonia, prohibited Padre Pio from going down into the church. No longer did we see him on the altar, nor in the confessional, and not even in the choir loft,” writes Cleonice Morcaldi, one of Padre Pio’s spiritual daughters, in part 6 of her Diario. In the movie, LaBeouf, as Pio, prays with deep feeling, “I know You will give me what I need… Grant me courage. I know You will provide.”

LaBeouf, as Pio, voices another prayer, this one of gratitude. “You chose souls, but despite my unworthiness, You chose me.” LaBeouf speaks this with such conviction that it seems obvious he’s speaking about himself. In the interview, he stated, “It was seeing other people who have sinned beyond anything I could ever conceptualize also being found in Christ that made me feel like, ‘Oh, that gives me hope… I started hearing experiences of other depraved people who had found their way in this, and it made me feel like I had permission.”


Infinite mercy


Anthony was painfully aware that people need to know that God is calling them to turn their lives around. They need no one’s permission. God is waiting for them.

The Assidua, the first biography of the saint written by an anonymous contemporary Franciscan friar, emphasizes Anthony’s ability to convert sinners, among them usurers, prostitutes, and heretics. To the medieval mind, these individuals were just as heinous as murderers and thieves.

Anthony’s sermon notes contain several strong references to usurers and misers, comparing them, for example, to fearsome denizens of the deep or to dung beetles whose treasure is manure.

He generally lumped prostitutes with others engaged in sexual immorality, yet he had great compassion for these women. Anthony knew that many of them felt forced into prostitution because of money debts owed to usurers and misers.

To all, Anthony offers hope after admonishment. “Strong is the wine of earthly cupidity, whereby worldly people are made drunk, and run from sin to sin. Stronger is the devil’s pride, he who is king over all the children of pride [Job 41,25]. Stronger is the temptation of the flesh, and of lust. But the truth of Christ is stronger than all of things, and is victorious over all of these.”  (Sermons for Sundays and Festivals IV, p. 208; translated by Paul Spilsbury; Edizioni Messaggero Padova).


Eternal life


Anthony dealt differently with heretics. Recognizing their sincerity in following erroneous religious thought, he confronted them with truth. By setting forth the full teaching of Christ, he caused some heretics to question the patchwork faith they’d created.

In medieval society, no one needed to condemn murder or robbery. Everyone knew the Ten Commandments. Everyone knew thieves and murderers were locked out of the kingdom of God. The robbers and murderers who came to hear Anthony knew that they were on their way to hell. Anthony had to remind them that they could turn away from the wide road to eternal punishment and walk instead on the narrow road to eternal reward.

To become a Catholic, Shia LaBeouf would have had to study the faith perhaps even more than he did to prepare for his movie role. He’d have to go to confession and receive the sacraments, not just once, but for the rest of his life. Conversion isn’t a movie role. It’s lifelong, as one of the robbers revealed to a Franciscan friar in 1292. The robber was completing his twelfth pilgrimage to Rome, the penance which Anthony had given him. Now he hoped to receive the reward Anthony had promised: eternal life. May Shia LaBeouf and all the rest of us achieve the same reward.

Updated on November 28 2022