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  A Christian Faith Magazine April 2004, Volume 9, Issue 9  
The Passion
Fr. Paul N. Check
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The Passion of the Christ
Photo © Copyright Newmarket
Film Group

I recently attended a screening of Mel Gibson's new movie entitled, The Passion of the Christ, after it is released on Ash Wednesday (Feb 25), I will look forward to seeing it again. I found The Passion to be not only a very fine film, but more importantly a reverent and moving depiction of the central mystery of the our faith: the sacrifice of Christ for the salvation of the world. Indeed, I think the film is really very Catholic as it strives to visually present the last twelve hours of Our lord's life, that which is otherwise only accessible to us through reading or listening to the Gospel or through prayer. The movie struck me as faithful to the New Testament and to the teachings of the Church, and it avoided either a sensational or sentimental approach to Our Lord' s physical and spiritual sufferings.

Contrary to some things I had read beforehand, I found the treatment of the Jewish people to be even-handed and without embellishment of what the Gospel records. I was left with the impression that hardness of heart and sin are the culprits for Jesus' death, not a particular ethnic group. The film is surely violent, as some have noted. We see the awful brutality that Christ endured at the Scourging, along the Via Crucis, and at the Crucifixion. But along with the violent images comes the heroism of Christ, who is resolved to fulfill His Father's will despite the terrible cost. To see His suffering so frankly portrayed is indeed a severe mercy. Because of that, it can lead to deeper contrition and gratitude in the heart of the viewer for what we have received through no merit of our own. As the Writer Flannery O'Connor said, "The truth is something that we can only be returned to at great cost." To see plainly the physical and spiritual anguish of Christ is to see plainly the effects of our own disobedience as well as the love and mercy of God.

Jesus on the cross

Two things stood out for me. One was the Eucharist. Through flashbacks, the Last Supper and the Crucifixion are placed alongside each other such that the message is clear: the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross and the Eucharist are one. To receive Holy Communion is to receive Christ Himself, and therefore how vital it is that we receive Him only when we are in a state of grace (without mortal sin). The Eucharist is Christ's body... and so it is our greatest gift.

The second was Mary's role in the Passion of her Son. She suffers bitterly for what she sees and feels. Her own purity of heart does not preserve her from suffering but rather intensifies it. And yet, she is also heroic. At one point, Mary even says to Jesus as He carries the Cross, "I am here". She does not lose either her hope or her composure. Her trust in her Son makes firm her conviction that evil will not have the last word, no matter how grim things appear. Mary portrays what is best and most noble about humanity by responding to Love with love.

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