The film Cinderella Man is based on a true story about James Braddock, an American boxer who became famous in the aftermath of the Great Depression. Braddock was a virtuous but simple man. He was a devoted husband and loving father. In the film it becomes clear that the source of his strength was through practicing his Catholic faith. He was friends with his priest and his wife is shown going to the local parish church to pray for Jim as he enters into various boxing matches.
The theme of redemptive suffering shared by a family and a community slowly develops. When Jim breaks his hand it looks like his boxing career is over. Through great pain, he fights with his broken hand only to make it worse. Jim has no other way to support his family during the economic turmoil of that time. Eventually, as he continues to lose fights he is mocked and humiliated. People don’t know about his secret injury. At his lowest point, in utter desperation, Jim has to humbly beg for money from his boxing community. In doing this he is able to pay for electricity and keep his kids under his roof.
Finally, Jim unexpectedly gets an opportunity to fight the reigning champion Max Baer. Max Baer is known for the power of his blows which already killed a man in the boxing ring.This is where we see his wife and kids turn to the church and each other for spiritual support. Mae, Jim’s wife, is seen entering a surprisingly packed church. When she sees the priest, he explains that they were all there to pray for Jim. As they listen to the play by play over the radio, Mae seems to suffer every blow that is thrown at Jim.
She, as a baptized Catholic as well as being his spouse, is a co-sufferer which is a hallmark of redemptive suffering and a basic expectation in Holy Matrimony. In the Church and in marriage we should never suffer alone. Unlike most true stories we get to see the victim enter into victory and glory on this side of the veil. After a grueling fight, Braddock is crowned as the new boxing champion.
This is truly a story about the Paschal Mystery re-lived in some lesser way by a simple man of faith. Jim was a father and husband who, through tapping into the power of suffering, allowed his love for his family to be raised to a participation in the love of God. This film illustrates what everyday redemptive suffering looks like. Though James Braddock is not a canonized Saint, he potentially was a holy man.
Jim and Mae discovered that they were capable of cooperating with God’s grace to let their love be transformed into suffering so that they can love their family and friends the way Christ loves us. We always hear about the great saints and the martyrdom that they endured through amazing virtue. These examples build us up and give us a way of imitating Christ. However, we should not wait for extraordinary or prestigious displays of our effort to practice redemptive suffering. It doesn’t matter how valiant it is or how many people can see what we are doing. Simple, small people with insignificant suffering or mild pain can offer it up so that it becomes a spiritually meaningful prayer.
In a touching scene, Mae tells Jim "You are the champion of my heart". Isn't this what we as Christian spouses should say we when we are in the 12th round, battered and bruised by life in the valley of tears yet faithful and present through it all as co-sufferes in Christ?