by Cheryl Ann Smith.
The first time I watched Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ—last year during Lent—I was devastated. I couldn’t talk; I could only weep. But I had asked for it.
Only too aware of how consistently I run from pain, I asked God for the grace to be there, with Jesus. I asked that the movie be a conduit to the Passion itself. I asked for the grace to stand with Our Lady, St. John, and Mary Magdalene by his side, the grace to not escape by closing my eyes or leaving the theatre—the grace to be there with him, out of love.
And in some way, God granted me that grace.
Love Poured Out
Who wouldn’t be devastated to see the one we love brutalized? Yet as I prayed during the week afterwards, I began to be pulled by a deeper current in the movie—that of Jesus’ love poured out.
A different kind of image came back to me: Jesus embracing the Cross because through it, he would redeem the world, Jesus eagerly teaching his disciples that the greatest love one can give is to lay down one’s life for all, Jesus breaking the bread and sharing the cup that would soon become his gift of love and presence until the end of time.
What began to overwhelm me was the unfathomable divine love that stops at nothing, not even suffering and death, to bring us life.
At the end of that week, I had to see the film again. Love was drawing me. This time the tears I shed were not only tears of sorrow for his sufferings, but also tears of gratitude and wonder, that he loves me—that he loves all of us—so passionately.
Nothing could stop his love flowing out to us—nothing! It was for this that he came to us—to be with us and to reconcile us to our Father.
During the months since then, I’ve discovered that the decision to be there with the suffering Christ, has far-reaching implications.
For example, though I have wanted to turn my eyes and heart away from the horror of the war in Iraq, from the devastation, death and terror that has exploded throughout the world, I cannot. Though I’ve longed to close my eyes, “leave the theatre so to speak,” escape from this terrible scene that is too complicated to understand, I can no longer turn away.
For the passion of Christ continues wherever there is suffering. I must stand with Him in the horror.
That choice to be there in the passion of Margaret Hassan was almost more than I could bear. This director of CARE in Iraq, this Irish-born woman, had married an Iraqi and had served her adopted people for 30 years. This innocent woman was abducted, abused, and forced to plead for her life on film.
I don’t have access to television news, so I never saw those tapes. But in some way, I was there with Margaret.
For days, she cried out in my mind and heart. I wanted to vomit for the horror of what was being done to her. I didn’t know how to pray for her. I could only suffer for her.
Then at some point, Jesus opened my eyes to the truth that he was in her passion. And although she was a Muslim, she was absorbed in his Passion.
Although we don’t know definitely what happened to Margaret, it now seems fairly certain that she was murdered. I have no doubt that Our Lady cradled her lifeless body, and that Our Lord drew her into the glory of resurrected life with him. Margaret, may your soul be at peace now.
Christ will continue to suffer in suffering humanity until the end of time. He will never abandon his people. For love strains not only to be with one who is suffering, but also to share in that suffering.
It was during the third time that I watched Mel Gibson’s movie, that Our Lady opened my eyes to the power of her com-passion, her sharing in the Passion of her Son. At every moment of his ordeal, Mary was not only with him, but suffering with him. Every blow, every taunt pierced her own heart. Yet she willed herself to be there, to suffer with him, to console and strengthen him.
What return can I make for the unimaginable love of Jesus poured out for us? I can be there in his Passion: I can wipe his Face with the cool cloth of compassion, in my sister who is sick. I can run to embrace him in my brother when he stumbles and falls.
I can unite my own cross with his. Taking my eyes off myself; I can cry out my faith in his kingdom, even as darkness seems to cover the earth, and life as we know it seems to be slipping away. I can kneel and drink in the salvation that gushes from his pierced side.
This past week, I watched The Passion of the Christ yet again. All my previous experiences of the film were heightened, if anything. But what pulsed through me as I lay in bed afterwards, was a sense of triumph.
After Our Lady ran to embrace her Son when he had fallen on the Via Crucis, he got up and in triumph proclaimed, “See, I make all things new.” Already, in the midst of his passion, he could “see” the fulfillment of his saving love.
Saved Through Love
Already, the hearts of Simeon of Cyrene, Veronica, and Dismas, the good thief, were being transformed and saved through his suffering love. Then already, even as he hung on the Cross, salvation streamed out from His pierced side, drawing the centurion into eternal Life.
The evil one was conquered. Love had triumphed. It was accomplished.
What return can I make for his unfathomable love? As we sing in one of my favorite Lenten hymns:
“Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all!” (From “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” by Isaac Watts).
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