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'The Passion of The Christ' and the Lost Art of Christian Meditation

'The Passion of The Christ'
and the Lost Art of Christian Meditation

By The Rev. Benjamin Bernier

This generation owes a debt of gratitude to Mel Gibson for having dared
use the power of modern media to bring before the eyes of millions the
fruit of, what unfortunately has become a lost or rare art, the art of
Christian meditation.

The movie begins with an ancient quotation (700 BC) from Isaiah 53:5,
"But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our
iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his
stripes we are healed." This is the theme of the movie and runs through
it from beginning to end.

After the quote the movie goes on to recreate the events of our Lord's
passion from the garden of Gethsemane to the resurrection, with brief
flash backs to relevant material concerning the meaning of Christ's
sacrifice in light of his own teaching.

Although it will surprise many, in a sense, there is nothing new in this
story. It is a part of the Gospel story that every devout Christian,
nourished in the historical Church, has seen in his mind eye time and
time again, as he follows the Church calendar reliving in real time the
various aspects of our Lord's earthly life, especially the last moments
rehearsed during Holy Week.

In fact, this is a Holy Friday movie. Because of that, it is bound to be
misunderstood by a culture which has lost sight of the reality and
meaning of Holy Friday in its context on the Gospel story and its
implications for the World. Just like Holy Friday, this movie is the
kind of experience that only should be undertaken after due preparation.

I believe this is the greatest problem that this movie may present. It
will probably take millions of viewers unfortunately unprepared. Since
people seldom read any more, and those who read do not meditate, even
many Christians' acquaintance with the Gospel's story is superficial and
incomplete. Therefore, many viewers will leave the theater in complete

It was interesting that at 5:30 p.m. of the Thursday after Ash Wednesday
the audience in the packed theater, appeared to me some how unusual. It
gave me the impression that the movie had drawn all sorts of people,
even those who had not been to the movies in years. There were also many
families (with children), some of which, seemed to me, were there as if
they were coming to a Friday youth meeting or summer camp. They were
ready with bowls of popcorn and soda in hand eagerly waiting to
participate from holy Christian entertainment.

It will not surprise me to hear that they were shocked or disappointed.
This is not an entertaining movie. I know that every one around me cried
with me, and I have no idea of any other reaction to the movie as the
people abandoned the theater in solemn silence.

The contrast between before and after was clearly visible. As I was
coming out I noted a new full line of people chatting, with their share
of popcorn and soda, while they waited for the theater to be cleaned to
enter for the next showing. I could feel the weight of their scanning as
they unsuccessfully searched for feed back the unusually silent crowd
departing from the theater. "Another round of unprepared people," I

But what can one say? They will only find out how unprepared they were
if after the movie they decide to go to a church that understands the
value of Christian meditation and learn to read the Gospel with
contemplative eyes. Then they will realize that all that brutality has
been actually there in the Gospel Story, all the while, with real people
of flesh and blood. They will join the countless multitude of Christians
through the ages that have been, without watching the movie, already
there. With them they will realize that there is even more there than
they have yet seen or ever imagine.

'Where you there when they crucified my Lord?' the Negro Spiritual Hymn
asks again and again. Michelangelo, Rembrandt, J.S. Bach and countless
other artists have been there. We must go there also and face the
suffering Christ.

As people learn to read the Bible meditatively, they will discover that
not all scenes of the movie follow exactly any reading of the Gospel and
that in spite of the historical accuracy of the whole movie many details
are not literally registered in the Gospels. They will then realize that
they have seen first hand the fruits of the lost art of Christian
meditation, i.e., the fruit of what happens when the mind engages the
story reading with full devotional attention, and allows the imagination
to recreate the story with its many details and shadows, recreating a
multidimensional drama including things that may have been there,
although they were not recorded, allowing the depth of the real human
and divine drama to touch our souls; in a word allowing us to be there.

I do not know how people will react in the long run. But I hope that
this Holy Week we will receive an overflow of visitors to our services;
people aching to see, hear, and participate more of the context and
details of this glorious story. That certainly is my prayer, and that
every Christian would learn to regard the profound mystery that lies at
the heart of our Christian faith and life.

That is why I believe we ought to thank Mr. Gibson, in helping our
post-Christian generation to experience first hand some of the fruit of
the lost art of Christian meditation, that it may have an opportunity to
appreciate what it is that to which it is turning its back, and how
ultimately few and evil are the alternatives.

PD: A Word of Caution

Like the meditations that we ought to do when we close our door to the
outside world to be alone with the Lord, this movie is best seen first
outside the limits of group pressure. It is too much of a personally
moving story, and it would be better, the first time, to go with an
audience you will not have to worry about their reactions.

Only children mature enough to have meditatively read the story of the
gospels and who have seen in the eye of their minds the reality of the
passion should be allowed to see this movie. If your children have not
yet cried while attentively reading the passion story, wait until they
do. It would be an offense against them to do it other wise.

The Rev. Benjamin Bernier

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