from Grant Milburn
"The Passion" opened in New Zealand on Ash Wednesday, as in the US. I got to see the movie on Friday.
Had it not been for the Internet I would hardly have known that there were any accusations of anti-semitism surrounding the movie. Anyway, with conservative Jews supporting the movie, and liberal Christians against it, I could see it was more a question of another skirmish in the "culture wars" than anything else.
In New Zealand, the debate has turned more on the movie's violence. In a report on National Radio generally sympathetic towards the movie, there was an interview with the Chief Censor, who has restricted the movie to those aged 16 and over.
It is very violent, he averred. Ah yes, said the interviewer, but do you distinguish a movie like this from a video "nasty" with no redeeming features. Yes, said the Censor, the religious values and artistic merits of the movie were taken into consideration. Nevertheless, he still considered some of the violence to be "gratuitous", and cited the scene where ravens pluck out the eyes of Dismas, the bad thief.
Well, I take his point. The image of the ravens is not found in the Gospel accounts of the Passion(but does occur in Proverbs 30:17.) Also, film is more vivid, public and popular than the written word. If one tried to put onto the screen in graphic detail everything in the Bible, much of it *would* be sickeningly violent, or even pornographic. You can argue that where the scriptures show reserve and understatement, so should we. That is the case for the opposition. But the liberal concern with violence on screen comes a little late.
The violence shown towards our Lord aroused in me, not the thought:"the Jews did this", but the thought: "My sins did this."
Satan appears,at first glance, in not unattractive disguise. The face is calm and not unpleasant. Evil so often appears plausible at first. Only a single maggot, crawling out of a nostril reveals that all is corruption within, as surely as with the dead sheep, whose rope, once used for security, becomes a rope to hang Judas.
It is significant that the "good" remorse of Peter and the "bad" remorse of Judas are juxtaposed. "I have betrayed him, Mother" confesses the Pope to Mary, as to the Church. His penance leads to restoration. Next we see that Judas' unforgiveable sin is not his betrayal of our Lord: it is his final despair. For a moment, he seems penitent, like Peter: there is hope. But some inner demons, personified by diabolical-looking children drive him out of the city, and to final self-destruction.
Enter Herod, looking so camp, and surrounded by such a retinue of androgynous somethings, that I feared for a moment that the Gay rights movement might join in anti-Passion furor.
Great for a Latin-Masser to hear people speaking Latin as if they had been speaking it all their lives. Does give the story a Universal (Katholikos) quality, doesn't it, folks?
The Passion proceeds, relieved by flash-backs to the First Mass (the unbloody equivalent of what we are seeing), Jesus' preaching and Jesus' childhood. There is even a moment of something like comic relief,as Jesus and Mary discuss tables and chairs in the carpenter's shop. And I almost stood up and cheered when the subtitle "...shed for you and for many" flashed on the screen. At least Gibson doesn't have to rely on ICEL for his translations! "Gibson should have underlined the word 'many'," said some - one at Mass the following Sunday.
Part of the Dies Irae runs: Qui Mariam absolvisti, et latronem exaudidsti, mihi quoque spem deddisti. (Thou who didst absolve Mary [Magdalen], and didst hear [the plea of] the [good ] thief, didst also give hope to me.) All three of us are in the movie so to speak. Gabriel Garnica speaks of Gibson drawing a line in the sand. Well, Jesus draws a line in the sand too, with the stone-toting crowd on the far side, and the Magdalene and oneself, the viewer, on the other side with Jesus. Another reference to our redemption which evangelicals will like comes with the ironic comment of Simon of Cyrene: "I am an innocent man carrying the cross of a condemned man." Yet there is co-operation in the work, to please the Catholic, both men carry the Cross, shoulder to shoulder to the summit of Calvary.
The Stations of the Cross occur in order- save for the eighth. (I guess to have brought in the destruction of Jerusalem in relation to Jesus' death would have complicated the controversy too much. ) I was pleased to see Veronica there: no concessions to the Bible-only crowd at this point.
A great movie- but I was disappointed upon returning to the lobby after the screening. A certain organization called "Why? Ministries International" had left pamphlets on display in the lobby. Entitled "The Passion of the Christ and You" they carried an image on the cover of Jesus from the movie- although there was a disclaimer inside: "This is not an official product of 'The Passion of the Christ.'" Small wonder: the pamphlet did not teach the Catholic faith but the lowest common denominator Protestant evangelism. Well, Gibson is letting various groups piggy-back on his movie- he has spent the last few months garnering support from various protestant groups. Obviously there is a calculated risk involved- that given the low state of evangelism in the Catholic Church today, it is the heretics who will reap the souls inspired by the movie to "come to Jesus." I know there are in existence Catholic materials relating to the movie, but in this case the heretics beat the papists to the multiplex. Why am I not surprised?
from Paul Harvey, Radio commentator and creator of The Rest of the Story (sent in by a reader)
I really did not know what to expect. I was thrilled to have been invited to a private viewing of Mel Gibson's film "The Passion," but I had also read all the cautious articles and spin. I grew up in a Jewish town and owe much of my own faith journey to the influence. I have a life long, deeply held aversion to anything that might even indirectly encourage any form of anti-Semitic thought, language or actions.
I arrived at the private viewing for "The Passion," held in Washington, DC and greeted some familiar faces. The environment was typically Washingtonian, with people greeting you with a smile but seeming to look beyond you, having an agenda beyond the words. The film was very briefly introduced, without fanfare, and then the room darkened. >From the gripping opening scene in the Garden of Gethsemane, to the very human and tender portrayal of the earthly ministry of Jesus, through the betrayal, the arrest, the scourging, the way of the cross, the encounter with the thieves, the surrender on the Cross, until the final scene in the empty tomb, this was not simply a movie; it was an encounter, unlike anything I have ever experienced.
In addition to being a masterpiece of film-making and an artistic triumph, "The Passion" evoked more deep reflection, sorrow and emotional reaction within me than anything since my wedding, my ordination or the birth of my children. Frankly, I will never be the same. When the film concluded, this "invitation only" gathering of "movers and shakers" in Washington, DC were shaking indeed, but this time from sobbing. I am not sure there was a dry eye in the place. The crowd that had been glad-handing before the film was now eerily silent. No one could speak because words were woefully inadequate. We had experienced a kind of art that is a rarity in life, the kind that makes heaven touch earth.
One scene in the film has now been forever etched in my mind. A brutalized, wounded Jesus was soon to fall again under the weight of the cross. His mother had made her way along the Via Delorosa. As she ran to him, she flashed back to a memory of Jesus as a child, falling in the dirt road outside of their home. Just as she reached to protect him from the fall, she was now reaching to touch his wounded adult face. Jesus looked at her with intensely probing and passionately loving eyes (and at all of us through the screen) and said "Behold I make all things new." These are words taken from the last Book of the New Testament, the Book of Revelations. Suddenly, the purpose of the pain was so clear and the wounds, that earlier in the film had been so difficult to see in His face, His back, indeed all over His body, became intensely beautiful. They had been borne voluntarily for love.
At the end of the film, after we had all had a chance to recover, a question and answer period ensued. The unanimous praise for the film, from a rather diverse crowd, was as astounding as the compliments were effusive. The questions included the one question that seems to follow this film, even though it has not yet even been released. "Why is this film considered by some to be 'anti-Semitic?" Frankly, having now experienced (you do not "view" this film) "the Passion" it is a question that is impossible to answer. A law professor whom I admire sat in front of me. He raised his hand and responded "After watching this film, I do not understand how anyone can insinuate that it even remotely presents that the Jews killed Jesus. It doesn't." He continued "It made me realize that my sins killed Jesus" I agree. There is not a scintilla of anti-Semitism to be found anywhere in this powerful film. If there were, I would be among the first to decry it. It faithfully tells the Gospel
The greatest right is the right to hear the truth.
We would all be well advised to remember that the Gospel narratives to which "The Passion" is so faithful were written by Jewish men who followed a Jewish Rabbi whose life and teaching have forever changed the history of the world. The problem is not the message but those who have distorted it and used it for hate rather than love. The solution is not to censor the message, but rather to promote the kind of gift of love that is Mel Gibson's filmmaking masterpiece, "The Passion." It should be seen by as many people as possible. I intend to do everything I can to make sure that is the case. I am passionate about "The Passion."
Mel Gibson stated he did not appear in his own movie, by his choice, with one exception: It is Gibson's hands seen nailing Jesus to the cross. Gibson said he wanted to do that because it was indeed his own hands that nailed Jesus to the cross (along with all of ours.)
from Nicolas (last name withheld)
If this can be sent to Mr. Gibson,I would greatly appreciate it. My name is Nicolas and I've just finished viewing the Passion of Christ. I am totally shaken by that masterpiece, how can this movie be so controversial when all mister Gibson did is tell the story the way it really happen. Mister Caviezel is so convincing in the role of Jesus and so is the whole cast. I don't understand the jewish community to be against this movie calling it anti-semite, i don't think the goal of this movie was to find someone responsible for the death of Christ but can we just remind the jewish community that in those days the only religion was jewish, let's stop hidding behind politically correctness and start calling things the way they really are. Beside as i understand, in the movie the responsibles are the jewish leaders and not the majority. Congratulation mister Gibson you have proven that you are a great filmmaker and thank you, you have awakened my faith. An atheist that found back his faith.
from Doris A. Loadwick
I saw the movie a week ago today and will forever feel the affects! Jesus'
suffering was brought completely to life for me and makes my little aches
and pains so much more bearable. I wept for most of the two short hours and
left the theatre feeling numb. I don't believe there was a dry eye in the
full to capacity theatre. I even heard one women sobbing uncontrollably.
I know God will truly bless Mel and his family - he already has by the
movie's tremendous success. I am sure many souls will be brought back to
the Faith - the true Faith, not the NO false Catholicism.
I also am a traditional Catholic - left the NO 16 months ago. I am old
enough to remember the traditional Church and the Latin Mass and when I
attended the first traditional Latin Mass after nearly 40 years I felt I had
come "home". I knew from the time that changes became more obviously wrong
that I could no longer stay with what I thought was the Catholic Church. It
was only after I left that I came to find out how corrupt the NO church is.
What the Pope, Cardinals, Bishops & priests have done to corrupt innocent
Catholics is too hard to believe! NO Catholics have been duped and the sad
thing is that they don't even realize it! Even when you try to tell them
that it's no longer the Catholic Church they think you're crazy and must be
following some sort of cult. Oh, may their eyes be open before it is too
Thank you, Michael, for all you do! And for letting me speak about "The
Passion of the Christ". Mel is my hero! And I thank God for him! I'm
looking forward to owning the movie so that I can watch it as often as I
need to! What Jesus went through for you and me must always be in our mind
from Peter Mescio
I saw the film yesterday, and thought it magnificient. I make the
stations of the cross daily and this movie has cured(permantely I hope)
me of the many distractions. Since I've read all of the books of Mels
sources some fifty years ago I saw some places where it was a little
fussy for some people, namely a Protestant neighbor, but it also gave a
great oppertunity to help clear up these spots. Namely the clothes given
Mary by Pontius pilates wife-- the snake in the garden, the sneakly
figue being the Devil and the snake being a temptation to call off His
suffering --I'd like to mention here that I clearly saw the image of our
Lord on Veronicas'veil and was expecting a closeup which never came.
There were a few other spots like the cross when it was turned over was
suspended in the air, and in the book Mary sent her angels to support
the cross so Mel did it right. Thank God for this Film. I don't know how
to send you a terrific story concerning the film in this email so i'll
foward it to you after sending this one. One of Cindy's angels--I pray
for her daily.
from Donna Lamoth
I thought this was the most powerful depiction of love, that has ever been filmed (especially in these times that we are living in). Mel Gibson, I truly believe that the Lord, Whom you love and Glorify, is smiling upon you for following His prompting to proceed with directing this film, and going forward to make it accessible for the public right at a pinnacle time (Lent). It was graphic and violent and brought home our sinful nature for sure. But in reality the violence was a necessary wake up call for all of us. The movies that are made in Hollywood today are violent and the plot is empty with no meaning, but yet stirs people into violence and wrong behavior. This film was to bring us to the knowledge of our sinful nature in the way of Jesus' life revealed to us on the big screen. Lets face it, all of us did not live in those times. We've only heard by the sense of hearing... the scripture "The Words of God", but unless you see with your own eyes, it can be difficult to grasp and fully understand the depth.. Having this life of Jesus presented to us right in our face called us to look and see the "Words of God" brought to life. I must admit that I am one that needs at times a visual aide. Well this movie was just that! As I viewed this masterpiece I pleaded with the Lord in my own heart to forgive me for my part in His suffering and death. I am a Catholic and I did NOT find this film to be Anti-Semitic. It portrayed the human nature of all of us, no matter what our belief, race, creed, etc..it displayed how we think only of our selves and forget our neighbor. Jesus, thought of us all and knew as He began His passion that we would be ungrateful for generations to come. Looking into my own conscience, I believe that I will not approach things as I did. I will think longer before acting...reflect more before proceeding....and walk in gratitude for all I have....HIS LOVE and MERCY! I viewed the Passion of the Christ on Ash Wednesday and I am still trembling inside. I hope all will see this film, and that many conversions will flourish in the lives of God's holy people. We are all brothers and sisters...members of the Body of Christ. God Bless you all!
from Roger Slemmer
I saw The Passion of the Christ today. Very moving. It took me two and a half hours to pray my rosary afterwards! So many thoughts to meditate on!
An observation from the movie in response to a review by Scott Chitwood which I had read before seeing it:
"Though I liked the depiction of Satan, I thought it was really weird that he/she carried around a demon midget."
He just didn't understand the symbolism. satan was striking a Madonna and Child pose. Something like Our Lady of Perpetual Help, where the Child Jesus has run to the Blessed Mother for comfort as He is shown by angels the instruments of His Passion. In the movie satan has been observing the relationship between the Christ and His Mother and is attempting to taunt Him with, "Look now, She can't comfort You in this suffering. She can't make it all better." It was a very powerful image for me!
You might recognize the eye of Our Lady of Perpetual Help as Mel Gibson's logo for Icon Productions.
Another similarity is in the final Pieta of the Blessed Virgin where she gazes at the audience in the same way Our Lady of Perpetual Help does. No matter what angle you view the icon from She is looking at you!
God willing, I'll have several other observations to pass along to you.
Some more thoughts on The Passion of the Christ after a second viewing.
I wonder, according to Catherine Emmerich, were there also angels present in the crowd and especially at the stations? Angels collecting the Precious Blood at the Crucifixion? The sacrifice carried by the angels to the altar in Heaven? "Most humbly we implore Thee, Almighty God, bid these offerings to be brought by the hands of Thy Holy Angel to Thine altar on high, before the face of Thy Divine Majesty... " (from the Canon of the Mass).
I, too, wanted to see St. Joseph with the Child Jesus in one of the flashbacks. Also the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin and Her fiat, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word." And the prophecy of St. Simeon, "Behold this child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed."
One thing I think Mel Gibson should not have left out was the station where Our Lord comforts the weeping women of Jerusalem. It gives clearly the main reason for meditation on the Passion: to weep for ourselves, for our own sins, and for our children.
"But Jesus turning to them, said: Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not over me; but weep for yourselves, and for your children. For behold, the days shall come, wherein they will say: Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that have not borne, and the paps that have not given suck. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains: Fall upon us; and to the hills: Cover us. For if in the green wood they do these things, what shall be done in the dry? " St. Luke 23:28-31.
But maybe it was cut because it repeats the same theme as the curse the Jews called down on themselves: "His Blood be upon us and on our children." Our Lord was instructing them to pray and to weep in order to counteract the curse for themselves and for their loved ones. It also gives a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem.
I think it would have also been good to have had the burial of the Christ in the Tomb. He could have developed further the acts of the good Jews among the leaders of the people, Sts. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemas.
For some reason I thought of the satanic rock song, "We Will Rock You", at the part where the boy demons begin to attack Judas. They jeer him for having a bloody face and start 'kicking his can all over the place' and throwing stones at him - we will, we will 'rock' you!
Buddy you’re a young man hard man
Shoutin’ in the street gonna take on the world some day
You got blood on yo’ face
You big disgrace
[Kickin’ your can all over the place]
We will we will rock you
We will we will rock you
[ ]=from a different stanza