Passion of the Christ

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter J. Daly

March 15, 2004


Ten days after it was released, our parish took a group of 250 people to see Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” Together with another parish, we had rented the entire theater.

The controversy surrounding this film has obscured its spiritual impact on the average viewer, most of whom are probably believing Christians.

For most Catholics the story line of the movie is familiar territory.

All of our lives we have been praying and meditating on these events. In lent we walk the Stations of the Cross. All year we pray the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary on Tuesdays and Fridays. This film made them come alive with an impact we have not seen before. On balance I think that it is a good thing.

I actually saw the movie twice. I wanted to prescreen it before taking deciding to take a group. After seeing it the first time, I decided that only the older teens should go because of the violence.

The movie did not loose any of its impact seeing it a second time.

Both times there were audible sobs in the theater, especially when Jesus met His grieving mother on the way of the cross.

When the movie was over, nobody moved. People sat in silence. We were emotionally exhausted. It was a moment of real reverence.

Once before I had seen a movie evoke a similar reaction. That movie was  Schindler’s List.”

When the credits finished, I stood at my seat in the front of the theater and faced the audience. We said the Lord’s Prayer together. I could see people were still crying.

After the movie our youth group returned to the parish center for a discussion.

It was serious, not the usual smart-aleck teenage wise cracks. They were genuinely pensive.

I asked them, “How did this movie make you feel?” One girl said, “It made me feel ashamed, because this was the price for my sins.” A boy said, “It made me thankful that somebody would do that for me.”

They wondered about Pilate. He seemed like a moral failure to them.

I asked them about the concern that the movie would evoke anti-semitism. They recalled that Simon of Cyrene, Veronica, and the women of Jerusalem had all been shown as kind to Jesus. If I had not asked them about it, it would not have even occurred to them.

            The fact that 40 teens would stay around for an hour to discuss a serious religious film was itself a miracle.

The next evening, we had a discussion for adults at our regular Monday night Bible study.  More than 30 people showed up. They stayed for two hours.

The adults were particularly intrigued by moral problems.

Did Jesus despair on the cross?  What the legitimacy of despair? Isn’t it human to feel despair sometimes?

They wondered about the depiction of the devil. In the film Satan is shown as a hovering, superficially attractive, androgynous figure. Our Bible study felt it was correct depiction, because evil could be in anyone and it is often initially attractive. Evil also is the mirror image of God.

In viewing any piece of art, people often take away what they bring to it.

This movie is no different. If people who are predisposed to find fault and skeptical about the whole Christian message, they won’t like the movie.

But if people come to it with curiosity and the eyes of faith, it can move.

Any film that causes people to stay after and discuss the great religious questions: good and evil, sin and forgiveness, and use of redemptive suffering is a good thing. You could even say it was a grace.