The Spirit of St. Louis

Posted on 09. Jul, 2013 by in Priests

The Spirit of St. Louis depicts the late famed aviator Charles Lindbergh as cocky, opinionated, skeptical, and a votary of materialism over any belief in the spiritual. When asked what he believed in before he made his famous US to Paris nonstop flight, he said he believed in his altimeter, pressure gauges, etc.
Nevertheless, one of Lindbergh’s well-wishers is a Catholic priest to whom he had earlier given flying lessons. Their earlier interaction is shown in a flashback where the priest, in modern clerical dress (black pants and roman collar) and Lindbergh are in a dual cockpit biplane, and the priest has a mad grin on his face whenever they are in the air. When he steers the plane too low, or gets it into a stall, he remains remarkably insouciant. In an unfortunate foreshadowing of some other people who claimed religious reasoning for extreme conduct, he is remarkably unconcerned about learning to land. To the priest, flying is an end in itself, he claimed it made him feel closer to God. Safely manoevering the aircraft and walking away afterwards were concerns closer to the heart of Lindbergh, who tells the priest “you made me feel closer to God with that landing”! In the time period immediately before Lindbergh made his famous flight, it is shown that this priest had sent Lindbergh a St. Christopher medal as a gift with a letter prior to Lindbergh’s departure. Though the letter explains the tradition and symbolism of the St. Christopher medal, which, perhaps for Hollywood’s purposes, happens to be larger and more conspicuous than most extant St. Christopher medals, Lindbergh will not wear it and refuses to take it in the plane on the grounds of both refusal to give credence to “superstition” and eschewing extra weight. After all, Lindbergh is not a Catholic.
However, Frank Mahoney, president of Ryan Aeronautical corporation and friend of Lindbergh most likely was Catholic. At least, he is portrayed as a believer in the sacramentals of Catholicism in this movie. After Lindbergh loudly and publicly rejects the St. Christopher medal and all that it stands for, unbeknownst to Lindbergh, Mahoney slips it into the brown paper lunch bag of sandwiches which Lindbergh later takes on the flight.
As the movie would have it, Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic is a journey of personal and spiritual growth as well as a journey in the more conventional sense. When he finds the St. Christopher medal in the lunch bag later, instead of throwing it away again, he hangs it on the instrument panel. And instead of ostensibly doubting the existence of God, he prays “God help me” when he is exhausted and confused at the end of the flight.
I have no idea whether the extreme rationalism depicted as part of his character in the movie is a realistic portrayal of Lindbergh’s actual religious beliefs and sensibilities, or, rather, the lack thereof. By all accounts, Lindbergh was raised Protestant, but became more open-minded towards other religions later in life, to the point of having had invocations from other religious traditions read at his funeral.
It may be that nobody will ever know his position on the moral compass: although Lindbergh publicly denounced aviators who were sexually promiscuous earlier in his career, it has been discovered in later life that he had a number of mistresses with whom he had a number of illegitimate children, and that he went to extreme lengths to hide the truth of his association with them.

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