Beliefnet
Reprinted with permission of Catholic World Report.

Feb. 01--Sometimes in my prayer, particularly during Lent, I meditate on the Passion. This can lead to an intense dialogue with our Lord, but that conversation is private. Some great saints have given us glimpses into their interior life, even their meditations on the Passion, with edifying results. But I am not a great saint. On the contrary; I am a great sinner. So I have no desire to publicize the accusations I must make against myself, when I reflect on how Jesus suffered for me. Nor do I wish to intrude on the privacy of your intimate prayer life. Some great artists, too, have deepened my reflections, with a poem or a painting or a cantata that offers a new insight into Christ's redemptive suffering. But before bringing any new author's work to my meditation, I ask myself: Is this a sure and certain spiritual guide? Will this work deepen my prayer, without distracting me? In the case of a film these questions are particularly crucial, because the face of a particular actor, or the background of a particular scene, can become etched in the memory, making it difficult to imagine the person or the event in any other way. So when my friends-virtually without exception-began voicing their enthusiasm for Mel Gibson's cinematic portrayal of the Passion, I began to ask: Can I be confident in Gibson's artistic judgment? My answer is No. VISCERAL REACTIONS My misgivings have absolutely nothing to do with the allegations that Gibson's movie is tinged by anti-Semitism. That is an old canard, raised regularly by people who would like to censor the Gospels themselves. Rather I am concerned by the reports that Gibson-whose cinematic career has featured far more than its share of celluloid blood and gore-takes pride in a graphic portrayal of our Lord's physical suffering. This unflinching focus on the brutality of the Crucifixion is guaranteed to stir up a strong emotional reaction. But the graphic display of violence can have a destructive effect on viewers who are unbalanced or immature. The Passion of the Christ has won strong endorsements from the serious, adult Christians who have been handpicked to attend advance screenings. But theatre audiences will also include impressionable youngsters, and teenagers who have been formed by Hollywood to revel in the display of gore. I worry how this film might affect them-and how their inappropriate reactions, in turn, might affect the serious Christians in the audiences.
A depiction of Christ in agony will certainly rouse the emotions of even a lukewarm Christian, and many of my friends believe that this film could be a powerful tool of evangelization. But even powerful emotions fade quickly. Faith is formed in the cool light of reason, not the glare and heat of the emotions. Finally, an emphasis on Christ's physical suffering might distract us from his moral suffering, caused by the betrayals, large and small, of sinners like you and me. We did not hammer the nails or swing the whips; that bloody work was done by soldiers who, our Lord reminds us, "know not what they do." You and I do know. Aren't our sins more painful than the lashes? A BLOODLESS SACRIFICE The physical violence of the Passion was an undeniable reality. Jesus was mercilessly tortured. I know that. But I hesitate to dwell on it. Is this cowardice? I hope not. I notice that God, in his wisdom, arranged the affairs of that day so that 11 of the 12 apostles did not witness the violence. And the Gospels, our sure guide, are sparing in details. There is a reason, I believe, for this decorous treatment of the Passion in Scripture. An individual's pain is a personal, even an intimate affair, which should not be exposed to public view. It is obscene to probe the details of another person's anguish, just as it is obscene to air the details of an act of love. And as we look toward Calvary, where history's greatest suffering was poured out in history's greatest act of love, we might do well to avert our eyes-not in denial of what assuredly took place, but in recognition that we are not prepared to bear it. Enthusiasts say that Gibson's film enables us to participate in Christ's Passion. No! That is presumptuous. The viewer who watches a movie, from the comfort of a theater seat, is not experiencing the pain that he sees depicted. And keep in mind that what appears on the screen is not really the Passion; what the viewer actually sees is a cast of actors, playing roles.

But we can participate in the reality of Christ's Sacrifice-every day, if we wish. And I cannot help but notice that there is no gore, no physical violence, in the sacrament that Jesus gave us, saying, "Do this in memory of me."

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