Six years ago (hard to believe!), my dad and I went to see a movie.
This was a controversial film, a film that was, we’d been told, horribly offensive. Many argued it should have had an NC-17 rating, and were offended that the MPAA let it get by with just an “R” rating.
No major studio would distribute this film, so its producers shopped it straight to theatres themselves. When it was successful, in spite of its many critics, this film marked a new area in film marketing, and many thought it was indicating a huge shift in American culture–a shift that just four years later would seem to have reverted back in the other direction.
One of the advantages of the major studios opting out is that this film had no trailers. We sat in the theater. The slideshow of in-theater advertisements played with the semi-dim lights. When the lights dimmed completely, there was no wait. There was no deep-voiced guy saying “in a world where . . . .” It was also almost completely devoid of logos flashing across the screen.
The room went dark. A flash of lightning and the word “Icon,” with the Blessed Mother’s face.
And then darkness. And the theater felt like a theater, not a cinema. We sat in a seat and watched a showo without the blatant commercialism of the cinemaa.
Yet we were truly transported into another world. The film came alive like no other could, not just because of its content and fantastic cinematography, but because its rejection by Hollywood allowed it to stand out as something different.
And it wasn’t long before you knew it was. As I sat in that theater, I began saying my rosary. I never stopped, the whole way through.
People said it was gruesome and disturbing–of course it was. It was the depiction of the greatest evil ever committed in history.
It was also the visualization of the reflections any devout Catholic should make in prayer, especially during Lent, and especially during Holy Week. The Stations of the Cross, the Prayers of St. Bridget, the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, the “way of perfection” of St. Teresa of Avila, the Prayer before a Crucifix, . . . . All there.
And how many devotional images: the miraculous medal, the Pieta, the Divine Mercy, and of course the Shroud of Turin. . .. All brought to life in a stunning sequence.
This film truly is an Icon, an artwork that is a prayer, a window into Scripture.
St. Teresa of Avila says that holy tears are one of the greatest gifts one can achieve in the spiritual life. I forget where I first read that, over 20 years ago. But wherever I first heard, it became an objective of mine to treat my meditation on the Passion of our Dear Lord Jesus Christ with such reverence that I would receive the gift of crying over it.
I developed a very strong devotion to the Stations of the Cross. I wish I could remember *when*, exactly, I first received the gift, but I believe it was sometime in 1990. While I can’t remember the date, I do remember the experience. I remember praying the Stations of the Cross and really considering Our Lord’s sufferings and crying, and then experiencing joy that I could feel the sorrow for it, and expressing to my brother my joy that I had been given this gift, and then not being understood.
Mel Gibson gave the world a great gift. He has taken a huge fall since then, but Holy Mother Teresa of Avila says, the artist doesn’t matter; the Devil himself can make an image of Christ worthy of reverence, so long as one is revering the subject of the art and not the painter.
Those who view The Passion of the Christ and take offense, or get angry, miss the point completely. I pray that they have their hard hearts softened.