On coming away from a first, full viewing of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," among the questions that came is mind was: What in heaven's name was all the howling about?
For the all-powerful impression this emotionally draining film leaves one with is that this is what the Son of God went through for our sins and our salvation. Those who called "The Passion" anti-Semitic without seeing it, who tried to censor it and keep it out of theaters, and who trashed it as pornographic as soon as it appeared on Ash Wednesday have made perfect fools of themselves.
For Catholics, this first week of Lent was a decidedly mixed one. The magnitude of the scandal of pedophile and pervert-priests, now fully documented, testifies that Pope Paul VI was right when he warned, post Vatican II, that the smoke of hell had entered the vestibule of the church.
But Gibson's "Passion" gives us a Lenten masterpiece, a beautiful moving work of art. To cradle Catholics who can recite the lines of each episode before they are uttered, it is faithful to the Gospels, to the Stations of the Cross, to the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary.
But what you come out of this film with depends on what you took in. If you are looking for evidence of Jewish villainy, you can find it in Caiphas, the sinister high priest of the Sanhedrin who was the driving force in the mob's demand for the crucifixion and death of Jesus. And in the pathetic figure of Judas the betrayer. But almost all the heroines and heroes are also Jews.
For this is, after all, a Jewish and Roman story, though Caiphas appears as a cartoon villain alongside Pilate, the more interesting figure. For Pilate is gripped by a moral dilemma, and takes the weakling's way out, ordering Christ crucified -- though he believes Christ to be innocent.
But the gleeful sadistic brutality of the Roman soldiers who scourge Christ near to death and to their own sweaty exhaustion, and to the disgust of their centurion, is more memorable and indelible. Yet no one has suggested the film is anti-Roman or anti-Italian.
Every Easter, Christians have had the passion of Christ read to them from pulpits. Yet, never has there been a pogrom in America. Why in heaven's name, then, all this hysteria about pogroms by Christians who might see a filmed representation of the passion of Christ?