Pastoral Issues

The Passion of the Christ: Some Random Thoughts

by John Pacheco

In the heat of the battle for our culture, the onslaught of the death peddlers seems relentless. Whether they are trafficking spiritual or physical death, a day rarely passes where a cultural institution or foundational moral law is not further undermined or completely obliterated. Liberal dissenters who have wreaked havoc in our seminaries and universities run wild throughout the Church, and the Bishops who are commanded to guard the flock against these ravenous wolves are largely no where to be seen or heard. This has led to the culture itself becoming hostile to Christian morality to the point where moral anarchy is now becoming the rule of the day.

We cry out to heaven for some hope or comfort. Some days, it seems that there is no God and no justice. If we could just have one thing to cheer about - one small victory for our side, for a change - that would be just swell. It would give us a little hope. Yes, just a few drops of water to moisten our parched pallet for the long journey ahead would mean so much. It's along way through this barren cultural wasteland, after all.

Then, virtually out of no where, the only conservative Catholic in Hoarywood comes out with a movie that sends shrieks of horror throughout Church diocesan centers, the ADL, media board rooms, leftist academia, and throughout the rest of the liberal establishment. Charges of "fundamentalist pornography", "Jew baiting", and "opera of pornographic violence" among other slanderers come spewing forth from frothing mouths. The barbarian social left's posterboy, Christopher Hitchens, offered this very balanced and restrained opinion about Mel Gibson and the movie: "Now he has made a film that principally appeals to the gay Christian sado-masochistic community: a niche market that hasn't been sufficiently exploited." Not since the scenes portrayed since The Exorcist have we seen so much opposition to this cinematic exorcism. Indeed, this particular exorcism's power emanates from the movie makers worship of the Almighty Dollar. You see, when Mammon pays homage Gibson's film, to the tune of $300 Million (and counting), the wailing and gnashing of teeth becomes rather deafening. They gotta follow their god, and their god is pointing to Jesus Christ.

The other rather amusing phenomenon involves Hoarywood's recently acquired obsession against violent films. My goodness, how these people can become so sensitized to violence after decades of shoving it down our throats. Be that as it may, the public's bewilderment at this about-face or, more likely, bald-faced hypocrisy, can be answered in one small observation: as long as violence doesn't mean anything, then it's permissible. However, if it goes beyond mindless gratuity and is applied within the context of a Christian worldview, the vultures of righteous indignation need to be called in to peck away.

Notwithstanding all of this, however, in one fell-swoop, Gibson has succeeded in swinging a huge blow to the deconstruction of orthodox Christianity. Because The Passion of the Christ faithfully records the most important historical event in history, all of the pseudo-leftist scholarship among Catholic and non-Catholic academia is simply blown away in two hours. Forty years of theological garbage, which has caused millions to lose their faith, has itself been sent reeling to the ground. In watching the film, I could not help but be reminded of seeing symbolically what Our Lord saw in Luke 10:18: "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven." Yes, indeed, Hoarywood and the media elites have been cast down. From their elevated places on high, the critics were predicting a financial and career-ending disaster for Gibson and Co. Yet, in typical biblical fashion, the elites didn't get what they expected. God had something else planned for them instead: "...He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble." (Luke 1:51-52)

Within the Catholic Church, while individual bishops, cardinals and the Pope were showering the movie with praise and adulation, Bishops' Conferences wrung their hands in confusion and fear, opting, in many cases, for a limp and lukewarm official response. Other bishops and most of the left's theologians, on the other hand, wasted no time in condemning the movie while reminding us peons that the Gospels were not historical. After 2,000 years, not much has changed at all. Jesus is still dividing us with his sword:

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father,  a daughter against her mother,  a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law-- a man's enemies will be the members of his own household. (Mt 10:34-36)

Not only is the movie causing division, it is also paradoxically uniting segments of the population which would otherwise not be so open to unity. Conservative Jews and Muslims, for instance, who would otherwise have little in common, like the film. And Christians of all denominational stripes and colours have launched the film into the stratosphere of the box office heavens. In regards to the overwhelming support from the Christian community, for instance, despite the few yelps from a Fundamentalist here or there, the movie has been a point of rallying among the followers of Jesus Christ. It has been a great way of showing the world that despite our profound differences, we can come together and rally around the central defining event of human history, the passion of Our Lord. And while this convergence around the film has shown the world that Christians are a force to be taken seriously, the film's enduring legacy is to showcase the Catholic understanding of Jesus' suffering and death. This movie will go far in answering and assuaging the traditional fears of Protestants in regards to singularly Catholic beliefs like Mary's maternal role in the suffering of Jesus, the crucifix as a powerful sacramental symbol of redemption and love, and the importance of various oral traditions which the Church has handed down which are not recorded in the bible. These examples and others will surely lead to a more appreciative and understanding view of why Catholics do what they do and believe what they believe.

In one news story, a popular news outlet covered one of the early pre-screening of the film in a large Evangelical Church. The picture showed a huge screen behind the sanctuary and on the screen was the scene from the crucifixion. In looking upon this picture, it was clear that this film was a great grace from God. For under what circumstances would the picture of a huge crucifix be welcomed in an anti-sacramental, iconoclastic Evangelical Church? If one didn't know better or simply had a quick glance at the picture, one would mistakenly believe the Church was Catholic!

For me personally, the Passion of the Christ hit many chords. Although the film had many touching moments, I found myself weeping in two places in particular. One of the most powerful moments in the film occurred where Jesus meets his mother on the Via Delarosa. As she bends down to embrace Him, Our Lord, as if to seek her approval and support, lovingly says "Behold, Mother, I make all things new." This line wrecked me. It was so powerful and so Marian. In a few short words, the Son of Mary reminds us all that His work of redemption did not take place in a vacuum. She was always there with Him - from His conception in her womb, through the thirty years growing up, through to His Ministry and now even to his suffering and death. She was intimately involved with her Son every step of the way, and now it seems fitting that He share His triumph with her. "Behold, Mother, I make all things new" - Behold, Mother, our victory is almost complete.

The other scene that affected me occurred during one of the few flashbacks in Jesus' life. In one scene of the movie, Jesus is building a table that is somewhat higher in elevation than normal. As I watched Him interact and joke around with His mother in this scene, I could not help but notice His profound humanity and the love He had for His mother. When his mother chidingly told him that his rather unique concept in table architecture "would never catch on", I wept. It was a very strange moment in the film to weep - almost bizarre, in fact. It was perhaps the most joyous time in the movie, yet it caused me so much sadness. A sadness caused, perhaps, because of the many Christians who misunderstand our love for her and Our Lord's love for her. Perhaps one day, all Christians will come to realize how the early Apostles regarded her - "Mother". Can there be any more fitting title?

John Pacheco
The Catholic Legate
March 24, 2004