The following feature is published in The Bunclody Union Newsletter this morning, 22 February 2015, the First Sunday in Lent:
‘The Passion of the Christ’ … released during Lent 2004, became the highest-grossing non-English language film ever.
Eleven years ago, I brought my two sons to see The Passion of the Christ (2004), Mel Gibson’s movie that dramatises his interpretation and synthesis of the passion narrative in the Four Gospels.
The Passion of the Christ is an appropriate movie to consider as we prepare for Lent. It largely tells the story of the last 12 hours of Christ’s life, from the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane to (briefly, albeit very briefly) his Resurrection, with flashbacks to his childhood, the Sermon on the Mount, the saving of the women about to be stoned, and the Last Supper, with a constructed dialogue entirely in Aramaic, Latin and Hebrew.
When the movie was released on on Ash Wednesday (25 February) 2004, it stirred considerable controversy, with allegations of anti-Semitism, the amount of graphic, if not exacerbated or gratuitous, violence, particularly during the scourging and crucifixion scenes, and serious questions about its interpretation of the Biblical text, narrative and message.
On the other hand, there were many claims of miraculous savings, forgiveness, new-found faith, and even one report of a man who confessed to murdering his girlfriend although police had decided previously she had died by suicide.
The Passion of the Christ was a box-office success – it grossed more than $370 million in the US, and became the highest-grossing non-English language film ever. As we left the cinema, my then-teenage sons were not so much shocked as stunned. They noticed too how everyone left the cinema in silence.
The success and attention of the movie, apart from the media controversies, raises many questions for us:
● How do we convey and proclaim the message of Christ?
● Are we using means that are out-dated, not speaking to people, who are truly willing to listen and to learn?
● Where did we get the idea that no-one would come to church after confirmation age?
● Where did we get the idea that no-one would come to church and sit in the dark in uncomfortable chairs?
● Where did we get the idea that no-one would hear the Gospel story and still come out wanting to tell others and to share the experience?
Sometimes when movies ridicule the Church, I wonder: do we deserve it?
How many of you have bad experiences of weakly-thought out ideas at school assembly?