Movie, “The Passion of the Christ” helps give focus to Christian faith (2004)

I’ve seen the passion scores of times — not the movie (I’ve only seen that twice), but the passion that my faith believes is relived whenever one person makes a completely selfless, significant sacrifice for another — especially for a person he does not “owe” or perhaps even know. For example, the World War II priest Maximilian Kolbe volunteered to take the place of a condemned Jewish father in a Nazi concentration camp; this is what the Catholic Church points to as the type of passion we may be called to render.   

While I cannot claim to understand fully that kind of passion, it was cognizance of it that allowed me to benefit from the movie, “The Passion of the Christ.” If movies could, like college courses, have prerequisites, Mel Gibson’s “The Passion” would be a senior seminar, with a few “101″ and “201″ courses required before seeing it.

I can understand completely the complaints of gratuitous violence coming from those without a religious framework to provide context to the beatings and torture. Mel Gibson’s movie is about the how, the who, the when and the where of the death of the Christ, the God-man whom I and many in the world believe is our savior.

The “why” is what the viewer must bring with himself or herself to the film. I have seen and meditated on images of the brutalized Jesus before. I’ve even, on occasion, prayed at the foot of a near life-size crucifix depicting a scarred, whipped and battered Jesus at the old Salesian church of Corpus Christi in the neighboring town of Port Chester. The Christ on that crucifix was sculpted based on what is believed by many to be the actual images of Jesus’ wounds as found on the Shroud of Turin. Both the Corpus Christi crucifix and the Gibson movie focus the believer’s mind on just how much our savior suffered to redeem us and how much our God loves us. That love is the why.

Christians believe it is why Jesus suffered excruciating pain and torment, yet prayed for his tormentors and persecutors. As a Catholic, I believe that that love is why my God came to Earth as a man to pay the price for my transgressions. And that love is what Catholics are called to offer — occasionally in the ultimate way, like the Saint of Auschwitz, Maximilian Kolbe, and in very small ways, in the pains, aggravations and “little deaths” that life subjects us to constantly.

Without knowing the why, “The Passion of the Christ” is senseless, meaningless violence — just as, to me, life would seem meaningless and senseless outside the context of God’s deep love.