Movie On 'Passion' Seems To Be Taking On A Life Of Its Own, With Special Charism
By Michael H. Brown
The new movie about the Passion of Christ directed by Hollywood mega-star Mel Gibson seems to be taking on a life of its own. Still more than half a year away from its planned pre-Easter release, it has already generated more publicity than most major films do at their premieres.
Much of the ado involves disputes pitting liberals, secularists, and Jewish defense groups (who fear Jews will be vilified in the film) against the popular actor -- a Traditionalist Catholic who worships at a church featuring the Tridentine or "Latin" rite, a church he himself built.
The movie is using actual Aramaic dialogue and stars Jim Caviezel, who, as we reported earlier, underwent a conversion after visiting with a seer from the famed apparition site of Medjugorje. Expect this alone to generate controversy. According to Gibson, others, including Muslims and agnostics, converted during the filming -- an indication of its power. No wonder: the movie focuses on the last 12 hours of Jesus' life -- and specifically, of course, on the Crucifixion.
But there is something beyond that. There is the sense that it goes beyond a simple movie. There is spiritual gravity -- a feeling that its release will be another little signpost as events in the world intensify. Gibson hopes for an April release (Easter is April 11 next year) and is still searching for a U.S. distributor. The fact that the movie is using the "dead" languages of Latin and Aramaic -- with no subtitles -- and focusing on such a vivid, potent subject -- the heart of Christianity itself -- is what has held up agreement for all-important distribution.
But the movie will be widely seen, and the resistance can be viewed, as we have previously pointed out, as spiritual warfare. There is great force behind it. One can almost feel it. A special charism. "Having seen the film now, I can only marvel that the attacks are pretty much demonic," noted Barbara Nicolosi, founder of Act One, a program which trains Christian writers to write for Hollywood. She saw a rough cut of the movie and her comments have been e-mailed far and wide. "Hopefully, the devil will end up spitefully biting his own tail on this one -- as he does in The Passion by inciting on the executioners of Christ, and thus being complicit in his own ultimate defeat. The Passion is high art. It is the greatest movie about Jesus ever made... And best of all is a final look right into the camera of Mary, holding her dead Son. She is looking at all of us with a kind of, 'Look what you've done.' This is for you,' expression. A cinematic Pieta worthy of Michelangelo."
No wonder there is attack! But Gibson has a growing number of supporters, and they cross denominational lines. Catholics, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and mainstream Protestants. That he could so readily traverse such lines (with endorsements from Pat Robertson's CBN, the Reverend James Dobson's Focus on the Family, and others) shows the special nature of what the actor apparently has accomplished.
When Gibson speaks about this film, it is as if it's something he had to do. He told ministers he was afraid not to make it! There was a force working -- and it also ties into Anne Catherine Emmerich -- the German mystic (1774-1824) whose revelations about the Passion, contained in her book, The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, form the basis for the movie, along with revelations on the same subject to another major mystic, Mary Agreda (whom we will be looking at shortly), and of course the Gospels.
Is it a coincidence that in the heat of all this -- in the midst of a controversy that has played out everywhere from Christian TV to The New York Times -- that on July 7 the Vatican announced the signing of a decree by Pope John Paul II authenticating a miracle through the intercession Venerable Emmerich and thus taking her another step closer to canonization? Is it a coincidence that this all happens as a prelude to the movie?
This is more than a movie and Gibson himself senses that. “I’m not a preacher and I’m not a pastor,” he told a group of 800 ministers recently. “But I really feel my career was leading me to make this. The Holy Ghost was working through me on this film, and I was just directing traffic. I hope the film has the power to evangelize.”
Apparently, it does.
“I was very impressed,” said Don Hodel, president of Focus on the Family. “It’s certainly the most powerful portrayal of the Passion I’ve ever seen or heard about. The movie is historically and theologically accurate.”
There is a crossover here: agreement between non-Catholic Christians and the most conservative kind of Catholic. Only the Holy Spirit could do that -- as the actor himself acknowledges. Gibson attended Mass every morning during shooting, it was reported, because “we had to be squeaky clean just working on this. It was a strange mixture of the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, along with this incredible ease. Everyone who worked on this movie was changed." There are reports of miraculous occurrences.
And the rancor, the smoke and ashes heaved up by the enemy, testifies to the spiritual force behind the endeavor. This goes far beyond Hollywood. Don't be surprised if its release coincides with other world and Church events. It has even drawn in the U.S. Conference of Bishops. There are reports that the bishops thought the script was anti-Semitic and that Gibson has threatened to sue them. But the bishops apologized, and it turns out that four Catholic scholars connected with the American bishops conference did review a pirated version of the script, but did so without formal authorization from the bishops. "That is why the bishops issued an apology to Gibson," notes the Catholic League. "Speaking for the bishops, General Counsel Mark Chopko said, ‘We regret the situation has occurred and offer our apologies.’ Indeed, the bishops have admitted that it would be unfair to judge the movie without seeing it. Moreover, the script was stolen (by whom it is still unclear); it has since been returned to Gibson."
Another charism involves the Virgin Mary. "The film is lovingly Marian," said Nicolosi. "Mary is perfectly portrayed here. She is contrasted repeatedly with the really super creepy Satan character, who is also a woman (something for the feminist theologians here? heh heh...). The film is strongly Eucharistic. There is a beautiful juxtaposition of images that cuts from the stripping on Calvary to the unwrapping of the bread to be used at the last Supper. Fabulous stuff. Every Christian needs to see this film at least once. Just to remember, in our current comfort zones while evil is closing in, the price that was paid for us. On my way home from the screening, I found myself praying in the car, 'Jesus, I'm so sorry, I forgot...'"
Whew! All of this speaks of great power. And then there is Emmerich. And Agreda. And the Blessed Mother. Whenever she and Medjugorje are involved, there is a potent mix -- this time one that could unite Tridentine and mainstream Catholics, Catholics and Protestants, Protestants and evangelicals, the Marian and the charismatic, conservatives and liberals.
That's our hope, anyway.
As for the events to come, we are drawn to the passage from Luke 23:44: "And a darkness came over the whole land, and the earth quaked; and the veil of the Temple was torn in two."
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