An appointment with The Passion

Going to the dentist. Getting your eyes dilated at the optometrist, then driving home half-blind with those super-flimsy shades sitting squee-jaw on your face. Ladies, that yearly pap smear isn't a barrel of laughs.

These are a few of my not-so-favorite things.

We all have our own set of routine health exams, cleanings and check-ups that involve some degree of bodily discomfort. But ultimately, we know that these things lead to a better life: fewer root canals, a lower risk of untreated cancer, more time with our loved ones.

It's led me to thinking: Do I give my soul the same treatment that I afford my body? I've written before that I'm no fasting guru, nor do I think, with the bearing of children and whatnot, that I'm bound to become one. But prompting me to this question is an event from my Passion (Palm) Sunday weekend: watching The Passion of the Christ.

Mel Gibson released his epic film in 2004, and since, then, it's been more or less the summit of all films made of Christ.

Even though I helped organize the event with a parish committee, I was dreading having to attend. Dreading it. Like, I contemplated staging a dire gastric emergency (not uncommon for me), or playing up the usual pregnancy fatigue. But in the end, I attended--and am so glad I did.

I saw The Passion on the big screen in college during the Triduum, and what I saw of it (through peaks at the big screen as I squeamishly covered my tear-streaked face) left me with a new, staggering appreciation of the brutality of Roman crucifixion. Attending Mass for the next few months afterward meant that I sat in sorrow, replaying the more, well, difficult scenes in my mind. The nailing to the cross. The crowning with thorns. The awful, disturbing scourging.

And so it was a great blessing to watch it for a second time, knowing what parts were coming--and when--and reacting accordingly to what I know I can take.

During the scourging, I left the room (though kept myself within earshot of the film) and prayed steady Hail Marys through my tears, asking the Lord to forgive the men that beat him.

During the carrying of the cross, I quietly closed my eyes when I needed a break from the injustice of it all.

During the nailing of our Lord and Savior to the cross, I clutched my jacket through my somewhat silent sobs.

Doing this allowed me to appreciate three new things, regarding the movie:

1. Throughout all of Jesus' bloodshed, I told myself: I need to get through this. I cannot leave the room again, I cannot leave my seat, because if I do, I won't come back. And if I don't see the end, I let the devil win, because I won't have seen what all of this suffering is for. And, of course, the suffering is for our redemption in the Resurrection.

2. Seeing the movie twice meant that I paid more attention to the flashbacks and what we might call "character development" of Mary, the apostle John, Pilate, and the various Roman soldiers. How carefully had I watched those peaceful, prayerful, beautiful glimpses into Jesus' life the first time I saw the film? Him playfully teasing his mother (pictured above)? Giving the Sermon on the Mount? Offering His Blood at the Last Supper? I was too busy holding every single muscle in my body taught with tension. This time, I watched. And learned.

3. Not every Catholic (or Christian, or anyone else) is called to watch this film. Just like it may be hard for a busy mother to work in the Liturgy of the Hours into her day, but it's more feasible for her to pray a nightly Rosary with her family, so too should viewing The Passion be considered a personal piety that resonates with some, but not with all. On a whole, I think many, many Catholics would deeply benefit from seeing the film. But for some, its intensity prevents the heart of the film from sinking in, as it did for me at the first viewing.

A day after seeing it again, images of Mary's face float through my mind--a face that isn't porcelain, isn't painted in an icon, isn't carved in stone. Though those images of our Blessed Mother are precious and beautiful (and I keep many in our home), pondering Mary as a person that lived and breathed and walked the Way of the Cross with her Son is a different mode of contemplation. Her face, blood-streaked and dirty from gently kissing the feet of her Son on the cross as he hangs dying, is a gift I've received from Gibson's film.

That's the beauty of enduring some discomfort for the sake of a soul check-up.

"...I'll be honest with you, there are things that I went through that I can't even talk about. I felt like a great presence came within me at times when we were filming. This prayer that came from me was, 'I don't want people to see me. I just want them to see Jesus. And through that conversions will happen.' That's what I wanted more than anything."

1 comment:

  1. I haven't watched it since it first came out either--except every year, when my parents watch it, I duck in to see the Resurrection. I know its cheating to see the glory without seeing the pain...but that final scene always fills me with such joy!