By the grace of God, many people come to miraculous conversion to the Gospel. One such person is actor Shia LaBeouf. As a child actor, LaBeouf grew up in film and television and is best known for his roles in the Transformers movies and the fourth Indiana Jones film.
In recent years, LaBeouf became a kind of meme, with his increasingly unpredictable and outrageous behavior confounding people. His strange “motivational speech” made the rounds of the internet as well as the stunt where wore a bag on his head to a red carpet event. But these were overshadowed by legal issues of assault accusations and arrests.
LaBeouf saw many of his roles dry up, though he would turn up in small but moving films like The Peanut Butter Falcon. With his career on the wane, he came into contact with a director who was developing a movie about St. Padre Pio. Looking to simply to land a prestigious acting gig, LaBeouf agreed to research the part by spending time with the Franciscan Capuchin friars. Little did he know that this was the path that would change his life.
The conversion of any soul is a miracle. It is not more or less miraculous because that person is a celebrity. However, because the person is in the spotlight, it presents an opportunity to bring a wider spotlight on God’s grace and the beauty of the Church.
Any conversion story is a story of God’s saving power. We can learn from any conversion story that we encounter. Here are a few things that I have been able to glean from Mr. LeBeouf’s journey.
The first thing I noticed was how God comes to us in our brokenness. LaBeouf talked about how is life had it a kind of rock bottom. He said in an interview with Bishop Robert Barron, “I had a gun on the table. I was outta here. 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.”
I love this description because it is very concrete and earthy. He was so lost that he was forced to face the emptiness inside himself.
The second thing I noticed was how God reaches us however He can. LaBeouf did not seek God as his way out His despair. As written above, he was looking for a job to bring him back to the A-List. God used that as an opportunity to bring LaBeouf into greater friendship.
This brings me to the third thing that struck me: the power of love and friendship. The more time LaBeouf spent with the friars the more he found himself changed. He said that he was surrounded by people who didn’t want anything from him. He was not a means to their own agenda. They folded him into their fellowship and embraced him in their friendship.
I am someone who has been incredibly blessed with deep and abiding friendships that have endured for decades. Someone pointed out how there are so many people in this world who have never experienced this. It sounded like the unconditional friendship of the friars was something he had never experienced. As a Hollywood celebrity there are a lot of people who cling to you as a means to live off of your borrowed glory. But the friars were only interested in LaBeouf’s well-being. It does not seem that his conversion was a condition of their care.
The fourth thing that I noticed was the effect of the Gospel. LaBeouf says that he read the Gospel of Matthew for the first time and he encountered the real Jesus, no the one that has been filtered down through popular culture. He encountered a strong, masculine presence that showed him an idealized manhood while at the same time encounter a universal savior.
The fifth and final reflection is on the richness of the Catholic faith. In his discussion with Bishop Barren, together they noted that the Catholic Church is a truly universal religion in that it appeals to all aspects of the human person. The Church appeals to reason, emotion, beauty, tradition, charity, and every other ennobling aspect of the person.
LaBeouf spoke beautifully about the immersive nature of the mass and how it drew him up to God. He found himself taken up by the mysterious nature of the liturgy that put him in contact with the mysterious Divine in the transubstantiation of the Eucharist.
There are many other aspects of LaBeouf’s story to reflect on. I highly recommend watching his full interview with Bishop Barren. As with any new convert, we should continue to pray for him that the fire he feels now will remain a sustained flame and not burn itself out.
But for now, let us give glory to God.
” I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.” (Luke 15:7)
Copyright 2022, WL Grayson
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