Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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Letters to the Editor
(From the April 8, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)
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May I offer the following rejoinder to Father Caswell’s review of Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ? (“Media Watch: Extreme violence distances audience of ‘The Passion of the Christ,’" IR 3/18/04).
Admittedly the film does show considerable violence, but the violence is not necessarily excessive. Nor is it in the least gratuitous, if one considers, in fairness, Gib-son’s avowed purpose in making The Passion. In several interviews he has said that he wished to show how sin does violence to our relationship with God; how our Lord, through his love, paid a terrible price for restoring that relationship; and how each of us, in viewing the film, ought to become more aware of our own individual complicity in Christ’s Passion and death and thereby be moved to thank him anew for his sacrifice, and to try to lead a holier life.
Unfortunately, many liberal Catholics, laity and clergy alike, have been influenced in recent decades by what historically has been the liberal Protestant approach to evangelization, emphasizing the teachings of Jesus (Sermon on the Mount, parables, etc.), as well as his Resurrection and its aftermath, while tending to ignore, or at least downplay, the power and significance of Christ’s suffering, crucifixion, and death. One is reminded of Peter remonstrating with our Lord when Jesus told him that he (Jesus) must suffer and die. We know that our Lord corrected him, in rather blunt words. The Son of Man came to suffer and to do his Father’s will, whether Peter wished him to or not.
Put another way, there can be no Easter Sunday without the bloody preceding events of Good Friday. Isn’t that, after all, why we have crucifixes in our churches, rather that simply crosses?
Gibson also indicated his desire to create, as closely as possible, a realistic “you-are-there” experience for the viewers of his film, to “push” them to the very edge without having them actually get up and walk out of the theater. How many of those who have deplored Gibson’s so-called “excessive” use of violence stayed in the theater to the end?
Most, I presume. How many, too, are sufficiently trained in human anatomy to know what Our Lord could or could not endure for our salvation? Perhaps Father Caswell is. I, for one, am not.
The film, to me, was a courageous testament to Gibson’s religious faith, and a call to me to renew my commitment to be a better follower of Our Lord.
I agreed with Bishop William S. Skylstad’s positive assessment of the motion picture The Passion of the Christ. On the other hand, I strongly disagreed with Father Tom Caswell’s critical review of the same movie. (Editor's note: Both articles were printed in the March 18 edition of the Inland Register.)
First of all, I recommend that before and after seeing the movie the viewer read the four Gospel accounts of the true Passion of Christ, which can be found in the bible. Not only that, I also suggest the filmgoer read First Peter 2:21-24, Psalm 22, and Isaiah 52:13-53:12. I believe the movie watcher will discover that the motion picture is extremely accurate to what is written in the holy Scriptures.
The movie actually begins with the words from Isaiah 53:5; and there have been reports of healings taking place during the filming and the viewing of The Passion.
Furthermore, the acting in the movie was superb. Especially noteworthy was Jim Caviezel’s portrayal of Jesus. The cinematography was spectacular and the soundtrack was breathtaking. Exhilarating and thought-provoking describes the film editing. Mel Gibson deserves an Academy Award for Best Director as well as one for Best Picture.
As for me, Father Caswell’s personal opinion of the motion picture notwithstanding, I was deeply touched and deeply moved by The Passion of the Christ. I highly recommend it!
Bishop Skylstad’s experience of the film The Passion of the Christ is most similar to mine, and of course I enjoyed his comments because I can agree with almost all of them (“From the Bishop,” IR 3/18/04).
The one point he made with which I differ somewhat was that the scourging scenes may have been drawn out. In reality, Christ’s last 12 hours lasted a full 12 hours. As Bishop Skylstad says, the history of Christian persecution is proof enough that the callous and sadistic behavior of the Roman soldiers was probably portrayed accurately, including their obviously giddy intoxication.
As an audience member, I feel like I actually get off the hook too easy. The audience can escape some of the horror with cozy flashbacks and the condensation of time sequences. Jesus actually endured the full 12 hours with no such luxury. Why is it so hard for all of us to look at a portrayal of only a few horrific minutes, whereas Christ endured so much?
Father Tom Caswell, on the other hand, summed up his feelings about the movie with the statement that in the end he was not moved by the film because the extreme violence distanced him from the Christ, who was lost in the blood and gore (“Media Watch: Extreme violence distances audience of ‘The Passion of The Christ,’” IR 3/18/04). I have to agree that it was easier to link with the Lord’s delightful personality during the earlier scenes and the flashbacks.
However, I cannot agree with Father Caswell that the violence was over-the-top. He made the point that in the real world, on the basis of what we are shown, “Jesus would be dead before he is asked to carry his cross.” After pondering this perspective, I came to the realization that this may be true, except that Jesus is not of this world. Satan tried to convince Jesus that no man could carry the sins of the world alone, and he was right. However (fortunately for all of us), Jesus is both man and God, so that is how he could pull it all off, including suffering and surviving the brutal scourging. Perhaps it is in this very “distancing” that Isaiah 53 is best fulfilled.
Father Jan Larson’s view was similar to Father Caswell’s, in that he is also offended by the violence (“Issues in Liturgy: Discovering the real passion of the Christ,” IR 3/18/04). He wonders why Catholics and Protestants who generally oppose violent movies are accepting of The Passion. I suppose it is because this movie is telling the historical truth as opposed to cinematic hype. However, the vast majority of people seem to agree that this movie should be for mature audiences only. Father Larson stated that the violence as found in the Gospels was exaggerated. But was it really? When we recite the Creed, do the words “he suffered, died, and was buried” roll off of our tongues too quickly? I do not find the Gospels to be lacking in material, and quite frankly I don’t think the movie was all that “fleshed out.” It was actually condensed.
Yes, we are always surrounded by suffering humanity, and indeed, we are all responsible to see Christ in these people. But such a witness does not negate the value of contemplating the life of Jesus Christ. As a nurse, I see a lot of human suffering, and as such I am also qualified to tell you that the swollen torso, and the water and blood which gushed forth from Christ’s pierced side, have legitimate medical explanations which arise from the brutality to which his flesh was truly inflicted.
Watching The Passion of the Christ is efficacious in much the same way as contemplating the rosary and the Stations of the Cross. One thing (among many) the screen has given to me that I have never had before is the experience of hearing the Aramaic and Latin dialogue, which I have longed for. My one and only complaint against the movie is that the subtitles are distracting. After repeated viewing, I am finally learning to ignore them.
Anti-Semitism? Jesus himself addresses this issue quite definitively. “No one takes my life from me ... I lay it down….”
Was the Resurrection scene too short? Like everyone else, I wanted the movie to keep going for several more hours. However, I think Mel Gibson’s goal was to dramatize the Stations, and that is exactly what he did. In all fairness, The Passion presents exactly as promised: The Passion.
It is as it was.
Support for seminary campaign
My family has decided to support the new seminary. It is very important to have the Catholic priesthood continue.
Having said that, I have some concerns that I wish to express.
• I believe it’s important for the seminarians to live like other people in their community. Struggle is part
of life. Struggle sensitizes a person to others’ needs. We don’t need a privileged class. We need true servants. We need
priests who share our struggle and understand it.
I’ve shared my thoughts. Let’s proceed prayerfully. May God’s wisdom direct our decisions.
Lately I read, “Standing is a sign of reverence.” Standing always was a sign of respect: and respect for the office, rather than the holder of the office. If you want to show reverence, bend the knee.
Just exactly who is honored by having the entire congregation – er, assembly – standing until every communicant gets back to his pew? The individuals tramping the aisles, of course.
Consider: the priest, having received Our Savior, genuflects. Why? My conscience tells me: On your knees, sinner; this is the Redeemer who was nailed to a cross so you can get to heaven. Show him some reverence.
Once upon a time we sang, “Behold Your King, Before Him Lowly Bend.” But since he now is considered as simply our Brother, sure, why not proudly stand? After all, this is the Age of Man!