Thoughts about The Passion

Thoughts about The Passion

First off, let me say that I am looking forward to seeing The Passion of the Christ when it comes out on Ash Wednesday. Based on what people I respect have said after seeing it, I think that for me it will be a moving spiritual event, like a two-hour retreat.

Okay, that said, let me tell you about my reservations about how people are reacting to it. For one thing, there’s the celebrity worship factor. I have seen in a number of places around the Net, people who turn dewy-eyed at the mention of Mel Gibson or Jim Caviezel. Many people just love Mel, they liked his movies, and the fact that he’s some kind of traditional Catholic (although whether he’s actually in communion with Rome remains in doubt) is icing on the cake. I have to wonder if the reaction would be the same if some liberal Catholic, say Martin Sheen, made the same movie. What if the director was some dumpy foreigner with crooked teeth and weird accent? How much of the automatic adulation is due to Mel’s star power?

Second, I think some of the reflexive approval is the pent-up desire by many Christians for something in the mass culture that we can call our own. We desperately want a victory in the culture wars. We want something that validates our beliefs. In a way The Lord of the Rings does that, but it’s a tainted victory, since there are many people, including the filmmakers, who claim it for themselves because they don’t truly understand it. Yet there’s no mistaking the pedigree of The Passion. But is it wise to seek the approval of the culture? Does it really mean anything that a movie, however spiritual, gets good box office?

Again, I am not making any judgment about the movie, just some of the reaction to it’s impending release. I am not conceding anything to the run-of-the-mill critics of the movie, including Bill Cork. I don’t think it’s anti-Semitic or inappropriate, because people I know who have seen it and whose theological judgment I trust gave it their approval.

I just want to caution people to examine their own motives, to realize that most of them have not seen the movie, and that they should go to the theater with an open mind, willing to accept or reject it own its own merits, and not treat it as if it were handed down from on high, or transmitted to us as a new revelation. Let’s not replace sola scriptura with sola cinema. I think if you follow those guidelines, you may appreciate it even more, not less.

(Of course, I have to say that I expect my remarks here to be misintrepreted to mean I am against the movie, even though I have written several times in this blog entry that I do look forward to seeing it and think it will be a good movie.)

Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
12 comments
  • That’s part of my point, Colleen. I don’t like the idea that celebrities are anybody’s role model. If you think about it, the idea of “celebrity” is only about 100 years old. Before that, who did we ask kids to emulate as role models? Their parents, the saints, and maybe even the parish priest or local nuns.

  • There is also the reason that maybe, just maybe as Colleen allued to, this may be a major evangelization tool.  It is not the soft and mushy Jesus that all to many of us got in the 80’s and 90’s.  As has been reported this is the self sacrificing, God Man, that will be presented for all to see.  It has been said that the movie really makes a person think about their personal sin(s) that led to that sacrifice.  Maybe just one but hopefully thousands will be touched to the core in a way thay didn’t expect.  Maybe we will have a theological, spiritual win via a cultural tool.  The Holy Spirit is in charge.  If St. Peter could have taken the crowd gathered back to the cross would the numbers have been greater than 5000 converted.  Hopefully the movie will allow us a glimpse back to being at the foot of the cross and we will allow the Spirit to move us.

  • In the missions it was a loaf of bread in one hand, a Bible in the other.  They were criticized for leading people to Christ through their stomachs…

    Regardless of whether the poor in the mission fields came seeking the “Bread of Life”, or bread simply to live, they were fed both…  now, Africa has an excess of vocations.

    Now, regardless if one sees the movie because they adore the work of Mel Gibson, or think Jim Caviezel is a “hotty”, the same rings true…

    They will get their fix of Mel’s work and Jim as perhaps the best looking portrayal Christ since Jesus him.  But, they will still get their fair share of the Gospel…

    Call it a “contact high” for all extensive purposes.. but it is exposure, and regardless of the motivation for going to see it, regardless of whether Mel is in Communion with the Holy See, if it brings people to Christ…
    then God Bless Mel Gibson for making it!!

  • JAB, Joe,

    The assumption is that a movie is a good tool for evangelization, or I should appropriate. Just because the Passion is acted out, it makes it more meaningful than the Scripture for some people? That seems dangerous to me.

    Okay, it could be a seed-planting device and it would be good if it led to deeper conversations and deeper conversions. But, however good, a movie is a shallow form of communication, and it would be entirely possible for some gum-snapping kid to sit through the whole thing, to laugh at the scourging at the pillar and emerge at the end thinking that the crucifixion was cool.

    I’m not saying that the movie can’t be a good tool, but we have remember that’s all it is. It is not the Presence of Christ, it is not the Word of God. And like any tool it can be used for good or for ill.

    We just have to keep a balanced and detached judgment.

  • Dom,
    We have seen it used for ill over and over again for the past 30 years.  I believe Bernadette of Lourdes, and Our Lady of Fatima were made long before then along with a couple of other films.  Hopefully this will fall in the other category and yes we must be detached and balanced as we approach it.

    I do have to personally witness that the movie of Fatima did more for me and was a nagging call to me in the midst of my fallen away Catholic life at 22 years of age than 10 years of CCD fluff.  It was the thought that God is still calling today and that no one in 10 years had told me that, it was that that God used to remind me that He still loved me and was still calling when I was in my darkest hours. 

    So balanced but ETERNALLY HOPEFUL.

  • Please don’t excommunicate me for saying this but I’m still unable to understand the hoopla this MOVIE is causing.

    (I mean, except for the fact that it’s Hollywood and Hollywood, I suppose, equals hype.)

    Now there’s a raging battle going on over just what the Pope did or did not say about this MOVIE. Does this seem sane to you? It seems crackers to me, to tell the truth. Yet careers, reputations, all sorts of crucial things are apparently on the line here.

    The only thing that even remotely stirred my emotions—and then in a negative way—was learning the MOVIE was premiering on Ash Wednesday. We’re supposed to fast and do penance on Ash Wednesday…not take in a MOVIE.

    I do see the PR value in releasing the MOVIE on Ash Wednesday, of course. Here’s hoping those who make it on opening night forgo the popcorn, at least. wink

  • Compared to personal witness, the Liturgy, reading Scripture, yes, movies are a shallow form of communication for spreading the Gospel. I didn’t say bad. It is just inferior.

    In fact, no piece of art—however great or beautiful—is capable of conveying as much as the simple sharing of the Gospel or the Sacraments. I don’t care if it’s the Sistine Chapel or The Passion, it doesn’t compare to the personal witness of one believer to another.

    Now great art can be used to stimulate ideas and plant seeds, but they are not the primary means of conversion. Jesus didn’t tell the disciples to go out and make great art. He told them to share the Gospel. Sometimes that sharing will take the form of works of art. Most of the time it will be the lived expression of your faith.

    This is exactly what I said would happen above. I am NOT saying that movies are inherently bad or cannot be used as a tool for evangelization.

    But doesn’t anybody else find it odd that so much hope for evangelization is placed in a movie? Is this impulse because it might absolve us of having to do the hard and uncomfortable work of evangelization ourselves? (“Interested in Christianity? Here go see this movie.”) I’m not saying this is the sole motivation of fans. I’m just suggesting people carefully examine themselves.

    See The Passion for it’s personal spiritual value to you, but be wary of investing more in it than you should.

  • Oh for cryin’ out loud. This is exactly what I mean!

    Now we have the big bad wolves, huffin’ and puffin’ and trying to blow a MOVIE down.

    Sillier and sillier.

  • PMC,

    That’s exactly my point. The Passion might be great art, but even great art isn’t a substitute for the Gospels.

    Remember a few years ago when Maria Valtorta’s “Poem of the Man-God” was the hot thing, because it supposedly related the “true” events of Jesus’ life, the rest of the story that wasn’t in the Bible. But what some people forgot was that the Bible is the Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit and all that was handed on for the sake of our salvation. And I even heard a few people say they got MORE out of the books than out of the Bible.

    To me, that’s a problem. No private work of art or literature should ever be held up higher than the real thing. And as good as this movie is, it cannot depict the real thing, but only one man’s idea of what the real thing was.

    I expect the Passion to move me to tears and to cause me to reflect on my own sinfulness and on the great Sacrifice of Jesus. But I won’t confuse it with Scripture or the actual events of the Passion.

  • Chris:

    “but is there a leeeetle possibility that opening on Ash Wednesday might be an inspiration by the Holy Spirit? …to remind people just why they are fasting?”

    Sure, Chris. But then, everything, of course, is ordained by God…even ideas by PR people. I’m serious. And I’m not discounting the possibility that Ash Wednesday opening was piously motivated.

    “But, yes, no popcorn and maybe everyone could leave his/her ashes on for dramatic effect.”

    Gosh I hope NOT! The Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday (Matt. 6:1-6, 16-18) seems to convey that this isn’t such a hot idea.

    I’m inclined, though, to be drawn to your analogy of the stained glass windows.

     

  • Kelly, I agree with Chris- I think opening this movie on Ash Wednesday is simply brilliant.  It connects what we are preparing for with the date we begin preparing. 

    And PMC:  “I think Dom of all the old, tired anti-Catholic diatribes. Has this guy read anything newer than Lorraine Boettner’s Roman Catholicism?

    Shame on TechCentralStation for allowing such obvious and badly researched bigotry to be published on its pages. “Romish”? Would they allow similar epithets used against Jews or blacks on its pages?

    There’s even this old canard: “Prior to the Reformation, ordinary people were not allowed to read the Bible in their own tongue.” This has been so thoroughly debunked that a simple Google search could turn up the truth. There were Bibles written in native tongues. And, yes, ordinary people did not generally own Bibles since printed books were so rare and expensive before the Reformation (and long after).

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    dom@bettnet.com
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    2004-01-20 12:46:29
    2004-01-20 16:46:29
    Yes, Chris, that was the article I was referring to in my first sentence.

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