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Thursday, January 15, 2004

Preparing for The Passion

We’ve all seen the advertisements and the reviews. Mel Gibson’s The Passion is an enormous event – if you’re like the rest of us, you’re actually looking forward to Ash Wednesday instead of Fat Tuesday this year. After all, Ash Wednesday, 2004, is the movie’s U.S. release date.

As we get ready to see Gibson’s masterpiece, we may be making lists of people we would like to take with us. Perhaps my semi-Christian next-door neighbor, or the atheist who helped the family so wonderfully last year. Or maybe my old high-school buddy, who is “spiritual, but not religious” - he doesn’t go to church anymore, but does believe in UFOs. Or, more likely, a brother or sister, father or mother, daughter or son who fell away from the Faith. We’ve been waiting to ask them, trying to figure out the best way, hoping they say yes.

Well, what if they do? Maybe you and I will actually convince such a friend or relative to accompany us, and we will see the movie with them - but what will happen after the movie? How will we answer the questions about God, about Jesus, that Gibson’s work is bound to raise? You know the questions:

“Why did God have to take flesh and die?”

“If the smallest drop of Christ’s blood is sufficient to pay for all the sins of mankind – past, present and future – wasn’t the circumcision enough? The scourging? Why that?”

“What is Faith, exactly? How do I know if I have it? What about Hope? Love?”

“How am I supposed to make sense of what happened?”

How do you answer questions like these?

The word “crucial” comes from the Latin “crux”, or “cross.” Questions like these are crucially important to Catholic Faith. These are questions about the folly of the Gentiles, and the stumbling block of the Jews; they are questions about the Cross. They must be answered.

Mel Gibson and the people associated with this film spent years of their lives and millions of dollars preparing this one magnificent spark of evangelization. If we don’t spend a few hours preparing ourselves to view it, we will have wasted their efforts. So, let’s think about how to prepare.

Before the movie

Pray. A half an hour in adoration, fifteen minutes, even a sign of the Cross as you drive past your Catholic Church on the way home from work. Do it. Ask God to prepare your heart, mind and soul to help someone else find Him.

Read. Start with the four Passion accounts. They aren’t very long. In the Gospel of Matthew, that would be chapters 26 and 27, Mark is chapters 14 and 15, Luke is chapters 22 and 23, John is chapters 18 and 19. For a quick overview, take a look at the free one-page Gospel concordance of the Passion, the Passion Timeline.

Read at least one good commentary on at least one of the Passion accounts: the Navarre Bible study series is excellent, and any of the Gospel studies would work well for this purpose. So would any commentary collection of the early Christian Father’s on the Passion narratives.

Learn one or two basic logical arguments supporting the existence of God. Memorize three Scripture passages that tell us why priesthood is necessary, or memorize three Scripture passages about suffering such as Heb 5:7-8, Gal 6:2, or 1 Cor 12:24.

Or, best of all, learn how to talk about the Passion using John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. One such book, Sex and the Sacred City, uses the enormous conversion power of the pope’s synthesis to describe who God is, why He took on flesh, and why He went through that enormous suffering. It describes the purpose of the Church, the sacraments, the family, even God Himself, through a serious study and deep understanding of the one thing we always have with us – our bodies.

The great virtue of this book lies precisely in its clarity and precision. A busy person can read it in a day or two, or read it twice in a week. Short, clear useful resources are the key to fanning an evangelistic spark into flame. In the days leading up to the movie, look for more gems like this.

After the movie

Be ready to listen. We cannot predict what questions will arise. It is important that we answer their questions, not simply parrot our answers. Give a hammer to a three-year old and suddenly, to him, everything looks like a nail. We are the same way. If we have only one bit of Catholic doctrine in our head before the movie, we may be tempted to trot that one answer out, no matter what the question is. Don’t fall into the trap.

Once you are consciously prepared to listen, ask your movie partner for comments. Listen carefully to questions, think carefully about whether or not you know the answer, and then answer honestly. “I don’t know,” is a superb answer, as long as it is followed up with, “but I would like to know as much as you do. Let’s find out.” Then go and do just that.

Locate deeper resources now. You don’t have to read them all right now. Just find books and people who can help steer you and yours in the right direction, take note of where you can lay your hands on those resources when you need them and be prepared to use them when the time is right.

There are other ways to prepare yourself as well, ways known only to you and to God, but this will give you a start. Buy your tickets, invite your movie partners, and get ready to handle the questions that are sure to come. Mr. Gibson has done an enormous amount of work just to give us the single spark – we must do at least a little work ourselves so as to be ready to feed the flame. Honor both the artist and the Artist who guided him. Prepare.

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