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The Passion: A Review

y Fr. Robert J. Carr

If I were to sum up Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ in one word it would be 'Profound'.

The movie which opened Ash Wednesday in 4000 theaters nationwide is clearly the best presentation of the last twenty-four hours of Jesus' life that I have ever seen. The reason is that it seeks not to inspire as much as to make one an eyewitness to the events. This is more inspiring. Suddenly, the Gospel account becomes exactly that, an account in two realities and three dimensions.

Gibson bases his drama partially on the Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ by Anne Catherine Emmerich. This is a collection of visions where the eighteenth century mystic, stigmatist and visionary offers, in a sense, a third person omniscient point of view regarding the last day of Jesus' life. The movie stays true to the gospel narrative. However, it adds a layer of intention that brings the reader right to the whole political and religious drama that is Christ's Crucifixion. It is a bloody account, yet, from the Catholic point of view, Jesus' spilled blood is at the center of our theology.

Contrary to media whipped fears of anti-Semitism, I found it was the Romans, particularly the soldiers, who would have endured my wrath if I did not understand Jesus' dying for my sins. Yet, what was indeed even painful for me was not so much watching Our Lord's tortuous death, but the knowledge that he went through this for both my sins and the sins of the whole world. Two soldiers are particularly vicious yet, the understanding he even died for them dwarfs my puny efforts at forgiveness even more.

The mob mentality plays well especially from Jesus' arrest to condemnation. Here we see the people whipped into a frenzy calling for loyalty to Caesar over Jesus. Gibson adds another touch of realism in portraying Barrabas as a despicable character in a play to get the people to release the innocent Jesus. This attempt to placate the people results in what appears as the worst of all murders happily released from prison.

Here at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston, the center of the priest abuse crisis, we have endured the mob mentality outside our doors every Sunday for over two years. This harassment by as many as five hundred protesters demonstrating the crowd dynamics of political motivation, human passion and even rejection of Christ played in the background of my mind as I viewed the film. How easily can a mob can be convinced of its own righteousness even against the innocent seeking only to worship God. Yet, realizing that Jesus died for even these provides the further reflection of the vocation of our Christian response as opposed to the temptation of our just anger.

As I write this, another demonstration is yet again planned outside our Cathedral on Sunday morning. Protesters will then march to the Massachusetts State House. They plan to demand that Governor Mitt Romney call for a task force to find 'pervert' priests.

Since the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision for gay marriage, protesters actions are seen as simply efforts to silence the Catholic Church on this issue of gay marriage. Indeed, one of their more vocal members--a lesbian advocate of gay marriage and professor of Women's Studies at U Mass Boston further raises the eyebrows of anyone attempting to take this group seriously. This threatened mob to come Sunday in Boston will speak volumes to us of the mobs Gibson portrays that sought to silence Jesus Christ. The response is for us to seek a deeper church-wide metanoia, to pray that this all glorifies God and for us to allow the Lord to handle those who's motivations are not pure.

The movie is best described as a meditation in which one can see that he has contributed to every stripe, to every twinge of pain, to every writhing action unto the death of Our Saving Lord. Yet, one also sees that human forum to which all of us belong. The righteous Caiphas (Mattia Sbragia) remains unable to comprehend Jesus (James Caviezel) in any form but blasphemer. The troubled Pilate (Hristo Shopov) plays political games while seeking advice from his wife. The suffering Mary (Maia Morgenstern) watches her only son's torture in service to her beloved Lord. Finally, there is the personified evil found mostly in the form of an androgynous hooded figure (Rosalinda Celentano) woven throughout the film.

I did find the Way Of The Cross seemed drawn out a bit too long. However, the compassionate Joseph of Arimithea forced to assist Jesus, added another element of realism not found in more pious versions.

The movie is profound, a must see for any faithful Catholic. It is violent, as was Jesus' death. Yet, it is powerful as the cinema of metanoia, the call to repentance from sins. I highly recommend it for any Christian seeking to deepen his faith in the love of the Living God.


Holy Cross Cathedral MA, US
Fr. Robert J. Carr - Parochial Vicar, 617 542-5682



Gibson, Passion, Christ,

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