Homer Smith, an unemployed construction worker heading out west, stops at a remote farm in the desert to get water when his car overheats. The farm is being worked by a group of East European Catholic nuns, headed by the strict Mother Maria, who believes that Homer has been sent by God to build a much-needed church in the desert...
—Christopher J. Thompson
Initially deviated by the trouble of adjustments and some local opinions about Mother Maria, Smith finally makes-up his mind to build the Chapel. The movie features how a selfless devotion can inspire a person to find a motive in life and restores faith in the mankind.
When traveling African-American handyman Homer Smith stops by a farm in rural Arizona, he is welcomed by a group of Roman Catholic nuns who have emigrated from Germany. Realizing that the farm needs a lot of work, Homer takes on a number of repair projects for the women, who are led by the headstrong Mother Maria. Impressed by Homer's kindness and strong work ethic, the nuns come to believe that he has been sent by God to help build them a chapel.
A traveling handyman becomes the answer to the prayers of nuns who wish to build a chapel in the desert.
The synopsis below may give away important plot points.
- Lilies Of The Field is the story of a group of Catholic nuns who escape from the Communist held portion of Berlin and come to the United States.
They have a small holding in a southwestern state where they are attempting to set up a school, hospital and chapel to serve the people of the area whose only place of worship is a mobile field chapel serviced by a priest who travels to the many small towns in the area providing masses, christenings and other services.
Homer Smith, played by Poitier, is a black traveling handyman who lives on the road in his station wagon. Smith is a baptist. Smith is hired to do some small jobs for the sisters, and is eventually convinced to "Build a Schapel" for the nuns.
During the course of the movie, Smith and the Mother Superior butt heads again and again over who is building the Chapel, who is providing the materials and drive. Smith is agitated with the stony hard-driving Mother Superior whose unbending nature eventually causes him to leave.
The attitude of the Mother Superior is that "God" is building the chapel for them using Smith as the tool.
Smith returns and begins to take a personal interest in the chapel and is determined to build it unaided. During the course of the movie his determination convinces the members of the community, believer and un-believer to contribute materials and labor to the task.
The chapel is eventually completed, the Mother Superior unbends a little, the community unites and Smith hits the road with their respect and thanks, and a feeling of personal accomplishment.
A movie with subtle depth, great characters and a "watch it again" appeal that is not found in many of the current (1980-to date) movies, and which the bulk of these have failed to deliver.
One of the many high-lights of this film is the Gospel song: Amen sung by Portier and the nuns.
Let's face it. You can watch the fated lovers on the Titanic only so many times.
This movie is timeless in its appeal.
There is a young legend developing on the west side of the mountains. It will, inevitably, grow
with the years. Like all legends, it is composed of falsehood and fact. In this case, the truth is
more compelling than the trappings of imagination with which it has been invested. The man who
has become a legendary figure was, perhaps, of greater stature in simple reality than he will ever be
in the oft-repeated, and expanded, tales which commemorate his deeds. Here, before the whole
matter gets out of hand, is how it was...
His name was Homer Smith.
-The Lilies of the Field
And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they
neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.
But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the
oven, will he not much more clothe you- you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What
will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear?' For it is the gentiles who strive for
all these things. But strive first for the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things
will be given to you as well. 'So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries
of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today.
It's maddening to see so many references to The Lilies of the Field, both book and movie, as "minor." Sure, it's a short book. Yes, the characters and situation are so idealized that it's nearly a fable. No, it does not accurately reflect the state of race relations in America in the early 1960s, nor at any other time anywhere, for that matter. But ask yourself this : how many books have you read in your life that actually made you feel more optimistic about the prospects of the species ? If it's really that easy to create sympathetic characters and write a story that uplifts the spirits, why haven't more authors written them ? Isn't it fair to conclude that the paucity of such stories, and the memorable nature of this one, indicate just how major an occurrence it is when one gets written ?
At any rate, hopefully everyone knows the tale, either from the great film or from a required reading in High School. As the opening lines above indicate, Homer Smith is a nearly mythological figure, a kind of John Henry, Paul Bunyan, or Shane. In an unlikely turn of events, this black Baptist former Army sergeant ends up helping some Catholic nuns, refugees from East Germany, to build a chapel in the New Mexico desert, despite a lack of help, tools, and materials.
Homer Smith brings an invaluable set of qualities to his task, chief among them : self confidence, self reliance, a puritan work ethic, and a healthy amount of pride. Mother Maria Marthe, the Teutonic leader of the tiny band of nuns, brings one great gift, faith :
Faith. It is a word for what is unreasonable. If a man believes in an unreasonable thing, that is
Mother genuinely believes that God will provide, even that Homer has been sent by God, and that He will see to it that the chapel is built. The powerful combination of this mismatched pair's inner strengths serves as an inspiration to the entire community. Hispanic, Anglo, and Black; Catholic and Protestant; wealthy and poor; German, Mexican, and American; they come together to create a unique house of worship. And as the legend of Homer Smith grows in the desert, Mother Maria Marthe says of him :
'That is the chapel of Saint Benedict the Moor. ... That painting of the saint is the work of Sister
Albertine. The model was a man named Schmidt who came to us under the direction of God. He
built this chapel with his two hands under great difficulties. It is all from him.'
She pauses then and her voice drops. 'He was not of our faith, nor of our skin,' she says, 'but he
was a man of greatness, of an utter devotion.'
Just as Homer's devotion to his task and Mother's faith give them a certain greatness, the aspirational beauty of this book gives it too a greatness that defies that parsimonious "minor" classification.