With gratitude - A Priest Views The Passion of Christ


I have been a strong supporter of the film since I first learned of Gibson's project; and late last summer, I had the opportunity to spend a long evening with Jim Caviezel and hear firsthand how the impact of the film and Gibson's purpose had affected him.

Although the film is not yet finished is its final edited form, the work is magnificent. Gibson has not only managed to present the Passion accounts of the four Gospels in a wonderfully integrated way, he has done on film what the great mission preachers of the past were able to do in their sermons: he calls forth from our hearts a response of sincere empathy and enlightened understanding. Watching the film will no doubt occasion many conversions, many returns to the Faith. Many who are searching will begin to find; perhaps even more of those who have lost the Faith or its practice will realize what — and Whom — they have lost. But what about the faithful? How should they respond? I believe that on the part of priests and lay people, who have read, prayed, and pondered the Gospels and meditated on the Passion for many years of their lives, the response should be, "Yes, this is it; this is what I believe, this is what I have always believed. This is what happened." In other words, Pope John Paul II's much reported reaction to the film, "It is as it was," is the truest and most accurate response to Gibson's work. Mel Gibson himself has called his film a work of the Holy Spirit; and that is a statement of simple faith, not of pride. He has brought to film, using his own genius and gifts, what has been "handed on to him," and rediscovered as truth in his own spiritual life. Jim Caviezel, a devout Catholic, has watched the film and said that he didn't see himself as the scenes unfolded. Both are correct; they fade away in the light of the Person whose story is told.

There are many wonderful details in the film that will only be noticed by those who are familiar with the richness of Catholic tradition and, especially, with The Dolorous Passion, Anne Catherine Emmerich's visionary account of Our Lord's sufferings. All of these elements make the movie profoundly Marian and Eucharistic. Gibson shows that Mary's participation in her Son's sufferings is not simply that of a loving mother; it is the sharing of the "New Eve" in the Redemption accomplished by the new Adam. Her faith is so close to sight, her love so rich in pardon and understanding that she becomes a still point of peace even in the midst of the physical and moral violence of her Son's sufferings. Gibson's film will create new and unforgettable images of Mary: Mary who soaks up her Son's blood from the paving stones; Mary who runs to Him as He falls; Mary whose communion with her Son's sacrifice is as obvious as the blood on her lips and cheek at the foot of the Cross. One of the most poignant details for me was the sound of Mary's voice speaking in Aramaic and her Son's replies to her. This is something not to be missed and is one of the extraordinary ways in which the film offers us a new intimacy with Christ in His humanity as well as His divinity.

As the film drew to its end, I could not help but think of the many misunderstandings that have arisen and the enormous outcry and publicity directed against the film and its director. There have been polemics by Catholics and by non-Catholics; the spectre of Anti-Semitism has been raised and religious journalists have questioned whether Mel Gibson should even be considered Catholic. Seeing the film is the only way to know that all these contentions and press furor are futile; the fears are groundless. The film is a work of faith and love, directed by a believing Catholic whose faith has taught him that Christ died and rose for each and every one of us. When the question is asked, "Who killed Jesus?" The answer is simple and direct: I did. My sins nailed Him to the Cross. He died there to redeem me. He laid down His life so that I should find mine. He sacrificed His human life so that I could be divinized. My hands wove the crown; my hands drove the nails. This is the answer of Catholic faith; this is Gibson's answer in his film. This cannot be appreciated by a film critic or summarized by a media spin-doctor on a talk show. It can best be realized perhaps in the short moments of stunned silence between the final curtain and the time you rise and leave the theater.

Should we be surprised that non-Catholics and non-Christians, media pundits, and journalists have decried The Passion? Not at all. We who claim to believe have so often managed to misunderstand what has been given us, to trivialize it, to manipulate its meaning that we should not be surprised at the reaction of those who do not see with the eyes of faith. We have recreated Christ in our own image instead of being renewed in His. We have separated Christ from His Cross and the Cross from Christ in so many churches and in so many ways; we have relativized the Gospels and trivialized the liturgical re-enactment of the Redemption into an entertainment, adaptable to any musical taste. Francis Cardinal George of Chicago said that after seeing the film, his preaching on Christ's passion would be different this year. If you see the film, the way you listen to preaching may well be different, too. Christ became man so that seeing Him, we might "see the Father." This is the mission of the Church, too, as Pope John Paul II has so often reminded us: to show the Face of Christ to the world which cries out for Him. In his film, "The Passion of the Christ," a work of great skill and profound spiritual insight, Mel Gibson has succeeded in creating a true likeness, a vera icona for the men and women of the new millennium.




Rev. John Horgan. "With gratitude - A Priest Views The Passion." Catholic Educator's Resource Center (January, 2004).


Father John Horgan is pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul parish in Vancouver, B.C. He is a fairly regular face on EWTN and is on the Executive Board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2004 Catholic Education Resource Center

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