Monday, April 20, 2009

'The Passion': A 'deeply moving spiritual experience'

By Cardinal Roger M. Mahony

While in Rome last week, I had the opportunity to view the film, "The Passion of the Christ."

Having read so many conflicting reviews about the film, I --- like so many others --- did not know how this portrayal of the last 12 hours of Jesus' life would affect me. When the film began, the various movie reviews were lurking in the back of my mind: Would the film be too violent? Was there too much emphasis on Jesus' sufferings? Did hints of anti-Semitism creep in?

Amazingly, all of the film reviews and questions quickly receded into the background. In their place, I found myself somehow absorbed into that band of disciples who were with Jesus that dreadful night and the next day. The person of Jesus seemed so real --- so close to all of those images which prayer and meditation created over the years. I felt transported into the scenes, not as a viewer, but as a friend of Jesus, one who was terrified and mystified by each tragic event that blended into the next.

"The Passion of the Christ" became for me a deeply moving spiritual experience, a time of prayer. Immersed into the sacrifice of Jesus for the redemption of us all, one refrain echoed in my soul: "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me" (Mark 8:34). That call to authentic discipleship was never so real to me.

Scene by scene, I was struck by the meekness, the humility and the generous love of Jesus for us all. His emphasis on the love of neighbor, especially of enemies and those who persecute us, became so genuine when you beheld the badly beaten Son of God never waver. Mary, His mother, John the disciple and Mary Magdalene seemed to reach out and draw me into their small circle of disciples. Together, we recoiled in fright at what was happening to Jesus, we tried desperately to get near Him, to let Him know that we were now with Him --- as He is with us when we carry our crosses.

For me, "The Passion" had a deep, spiritual impact that will long endure. The total surrender of Jesus into His Father's hands, His gestures of forgiveness spoken from the heart in the midst of excruciating suffering, and His modeling of the redemptive power of suffering --- absorbed me powerfully. As I reflected back on the crosses I have had to embrace over the years --- practically none carried with the generosity of Jesus --- I discovered a new strength, even a zeal, to accept my own present crosses.

The film connects well the Last Supper with the sacrifice of Jesus upon the Cross. While I had always understood that the celebration of the Eucharist was the celebration of the sufferings, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the film has given me a deeper appreciation of that truth. Each time I celebrate the Eucharist, I will be immersed into the mystery of our redemption and salvation in a fuller way than before.

As "The Passion of the Christ" concluded with a simple scene of the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus, I did not feel sadness nor remorse; the brutal scenes did not linger. Rather, I felt the power of Jesus' words: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends" (John 15:13).

My Friend had laid down His life for me, and I had been there. I walked out into the cold Rome night a renewed disciple of Jesus, and I was not alone --- my Friend was walking alongside me, reassuring me that He would always be there for me and with me. Somehow my own crosses seemed so much lighter now.

1 comment:

Mulier Fortis said...

I find the film so moving that I watch it on DVD each year as part of my private Triduum retreat...