Holy Week Movies + Chris O’Leary

If Jesus Christ can do what He did, entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to a certain and known fate, then I can do this.

–Chris O’Leary, priest sex-abuse survivor and podcaster

Passion of the Christ Today you will be with me

Many of us Catholics have the annual ritual of watching The Passion of the Christ during Holy Week.

Mel Gibson said that he made his movie as a cinematic Stations of the Cross. Some Jews have taken offense at Gibson’s depiction of the high priests, especially the way the movie connects them with Satan. Also, Gibson included numerous allusions to Anne Catherine Emmerich’s visions of the Passion. I don’t think that aspect of the movie has aged well; it makes some scenes needlessly difficult to understand.

We can recognize the movie’s shortcomings, though, and still appreciate it as an aid to our devotion. After I saw the movie for the first time, in Lent 2004, I spent hours on my knees. During my teens and twenties, I meditated on the Passion over and over and over again–and still I had to reproach myself for how abysmally I had failed to do it justice. The movie left me overwhelmed with gratitude and love.

Some Christians find Gibson’s movie too violent to watch. Who can blame them? I nearly faint every time I watch it.

But The Passion is certainly not more violent than the reality. They really did practically beat and scourge Him to death, before they made Him carry the 165-pound cross and then nailed Him to it. Death by crucifixion involved physical sufferings we can hardly even begin to imagine.

The movie also captures the pivotal moment of the Passion as well as any work of art I have ever seen.

“Are you the Messiah?” (Jim Caviezel deserved an Oscar just for the way he used his one open eye in this one scene.)

Now, allow me humbly to suggest: our Holy Week routine also ought to include watching a second movie. Spotlight. The cinematic account of the Boston-Globe investigation into the sex-abuse cover-up in the Archdiocese of Boston.

Mel Gibson gave us a gift. So did the Boston Globe, and the movie-makers who depicted the journalists’ work. Seems to me like the honest Catholic, trying to keep Holy Week in AD 2021, should meditate carefully on all the reality depicted in both movies.

…Speaking of keeping reality firmly in mind: Mr. Chris O’Leary has also given us a great, great gift. His podcast series, Sacrificed. (He also kindly publishes the text, if you prefer to read, rather than listen.)

Call me grandiose to say this, but I know it to be true: Someday we will look back at this period in Church history in which we now live (hopefully, please God, from heaven), and Chris O’Leary’s Sacrificed will stand out as the most honest and insightful document that any of us have produced.

Listening to Chris tell his story–and I hope he doesn’t mind me calling him Chris–is like watching The Passion, only more painful and more real.

Sacrificed Chris O'Leary

As ‘cover art,’ Chris has a picture of himself outside the cathedral, taken by a photo-journalist. He is being shunned by a line of concelebrating priests. The occasion was the “Mass of Reparation,” after the Pennsylvania grand-jury report came out in 2018.

The priests were there to reckon with the reality of sexual abuse by clergy. And there was a survivor, holding photos of himself with the priest who had abused him. They all ignored him. The Archbishop ignored him.

I had Chris in mind when we went to our cathedral for the Chrism Mass last year. We received the same treatment.

There we were, at the annual Mass dedicated to the communion of priests and people with the bishop. I had been unjustly suspended from ministry for publishing this blog, and our parishes had been deeply wounded. We stood outside the cathedral.

The bishop and concelebrating priests ignored us. (Two priests came to shake my hand, for which I remain grateful. Otherwise: ignored.)

Richmond Cathedral WRIC screenshot2

At this time of year, many Catholics return to the Church. Holy Mother Church endures everything, and remains there for us to come back to.

That has always been the most deeply gratifying thing for me, as a priest: to be a part of that, to represent the Mother who is always there for everyone to come back to, including all us poor prodigals who have wandered far, far away. To represent the place where God opens His merciful door to His children.

Who preaches this Gospel these days, with the most eloquence? Not the higher clergy, to be sure. They seem only to know how to isolate the Church from the world, making our community look like some kind of indefensible cult.

No, the evangelical heroes of our day are the dogged alter Christuses who have suffered in the flesh with Jesus, and have lived to tell their tale.

Mr. Chris O’Leary and Co. The survivors.


Family, Not Feudalism

Come to Me, all you who are burdened, and I will refresh you. (Matthew 11:28) The tender, compassionate Heart of Christ. The loving kindness of God. [Spanish]

Charles Bosseron Chambers Sacred Heart of Jesus

What hope do we have–we little, disoriented moles, zigging and zagging around our little patches of semi-hospitable earth? We have no hope; we have no solace and no refuge—without the loving kindness of God, the compassion and succor of our Creator. The Sacred Heart of God’s only-begotten Son offers us the love we need, the love that can sustain us. From His Heart flows all-conquering gentleness, understanding, true peace.

The Apostles who founded our Church shared that mystery of divine love with the world. And they met with cruelty and death.

The Roman emperors despised the cult of the Nazarene rabbi. They ordered the wholesale slaughter of Christians, including the two great founders of the Church in Rome, Saints Peter and Paul.

The one, holy, apostolic Roman Catholic Church began in the blood of these Apostles, and their fellow martyred Christians. They went to death in union with the divine Lamb, Who had revealed the tender love of the Creator on His cross.

To this day, the blood shed by Sts. Peter and Paul gives us the true meaning of the phrase “Roman Catholic.” A Roman Catholic lives in Christian communion with the successor of the Apostle who hung upside down on a cross on Vatican hill, condemned by Emperor Nero. A Roman Catholic inherits the holy Tradition of faith, for which St. Peter and St. Paul died in Rome.

The Catholic Church. The tender and compassionate Christ abides, in unadulterated holiness, in His Church, in the Host and Chalice, and in His holy words. We will always find Christ in the Mass.

For me, the great gift of priesthood of this mystery—being able to celebrate Mass—it began in the ugliness of Theodore McCarrick’s destructiveness. But that does not adulterate the gift. It’s still Jesus, every time. Even now, in the solitude of my private Masses as an unjustly suspended priest. Even in my confusion, distraction, and uncertainty about the future—He remains, His open Heart, on the altar.

We seek divine love, divine compassion, in the Church. We find Him, in pure holiness, in the Blessed Sacrament and in His Word. And we find Him, in varying degrees of luminosity, and of eclipse, in all the human aspects of the Church.

Saints Peter and Paul

Feudalism. A political system in which only the privileged few get to make decisions. Only they have human rights. The rest of the society labors in miserable obscurity as beasts of burden.

The lords never think of their society as “feudal.” They think it’s normal. But the peasants suffer, and they recognize the violent injustice of it.

For many of us, the Catholic Church appears to operate in this way, at this point in history. Having power in the Church makes you “right.” Not having any power means you’re not supposed to talk. When you do–when you have something to say, no matter how reasonable it may be—that spells trouble for you. Because your “duty” is to show fealty to your feudal lord.

Now, no one ever said our Church is a democracy. No vote taken by human beings could ever have given us Jesus Christ. And He didn’t take a poll of His Apostles to determine how many sacraments He should institute. They didn’t elect St. Peter as the chief by secret ballot. God gave us everything that makes the Church the Church; none of that lies open to parliamentary discussion.

So: not a democracy. But surely the Church can’t operate as a feudal regime, either. We can’t bow down silently to let the lords put their feet on our necks willy nilly. We come to church seeking the compassion of God, not a soul-warping dysfunctional family.

In a loving family, mom and dad want to sit at the kitchen table with the children and listen to what all the kids have to say. In a loving family, everyone counts as a child of God, worthy of a patient and sympathetic hearing.

Not a democracy. But not feudalism, either.

That is why we will go to Richmond next Friday. Something terribly wrong has happened in the Catholic Church in these parts. The “lord of the manor” has grievously wounded two healthy Christian communities, for no good reason, and he continues to pour salt on the wound. He ran over the flower garden with a bulldozer, rather than confront some lamentable facts that we, as a Church, must confront.

We have to hold on to our faith in the compassionate Heart of Jesus, because we lose all hope without that faith. And we know He lives in our Church. We knew He awaits us in church.

We won’t enter the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart next Friday evening. Because the Mass is invitation-only, owing to the virus. And I’m not allowed to concelebrate, owing to the unjust suspension Bishop Knestout has imposed upon me.

But we will make our pilgrimage to the cathedral anyway, seeking the love of Jesus’ Sacred Heart there. And we know we will find that love. He lives. He lives in His Church.



Peaceful Demonstration: Plan to Join Me

Justice Demonstration

Every year, the bishop and priests gather to celebrate Mass together. We priests re-affirm our solemn promises. It’s called the Chrism Mass, after the holy oil consecrated during the liturgy.

sacredheartcathedralrichmondThis year, our Chrism Mass will occur in the evening of Friday, July 10, at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, 823 Cathedral Place, Richmond VA 23220.

On May 5, Bishop Knestout prohibited me from publicly celebrating the sacraments, so I cannot participate. The injustice cries to heaven.

I will stand in silent vigil on the sidewalk immediately outside the Cathedral, beginning at 5:00pm.

Please stand with me. Acompañame, por favor.

Plan to take all necessary precautions to prevent the spread of the virus.

Justice for Father Mark will offer free transportation by van from both Rocky Mount and Martinsville, departing at 11:45am and returning about 11pm. Join the facebook group page to receive further information.

Chrism Mass on the Titanic


Here is My servant, upon Whom I have put my Spirit. (Isaiah 42:1)

Mary of Bethany anointed Him. He pointed out: It’s for My burial.

“Christ” means… same as “Messiah”… Anointed. Almighty God put His Spirit on this man. Mary of Bethany anointed Him at the beginning of Holy Week, for burial. But the triune God anointed the Christ at the moment of His conception in His mother Mary’s womb. Jesus always was, and always will be, The Christ.

All Christians revere Holy Week and keep it sacred. But of course it is especially sacred for us priests. The Lord drew us intimately into His work of salvation by choosing all of us, as He sat at table with His Apostles. And gave the world the Holy Mass.

All Christians receive the anointing of the Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation. But we priests have also received an anointing on our hands. We have to use our minds and our voices to do our work, to be sure. But also: the hands. To hold the Host and Chalice.

Do not let your hearts be trouble Passion of the ChristIn our Liturgy, the symbol of the heavenly anointing is an oil called… Sacred Chrism. Every Holy Week, we priests concelebrate Mass with our bishop to consecrate new Chrism for the year to come.

Baptized babies will receive anointing with the Chrism on the crowns of their heads. Christians ready to spread the reign of Christ will receive anointing with the Chrism on their foreheads. And the priests to be ordained in June will receive anointing with it on their hands.

Now, one hundred seven years ago today, the Titanic sank. Last year, Holy Mother Church struck an iceberg. And by all worldly estimations, She’s going down.

I never thought I would walk into the cathedral for a Chrism Mass, with the reasonable man in the back of my head thinking: Dude, you’re like one of those violinists on the deck of the Titanic.

But here I go, up the road to Richmond, knowing full well what all reasonable observers know, during Holy Week 2019: Holy Mother Church is sinking. And the men on the bridge have no idea how to save the ship.

But we have more than worldly estimations to consider in this Church. We have Jesus, the Christ.

Beautiful Richmond Painting of the Day

…Beautiful prayer of the day (consecration of holy Chrism):

God our maker, source of all growth in holiness, accept the joyful thanks and praise we offer in the name of Your Church. In the beginning, at Your command, the earth produced fruit-bearing trees. From the fruit of the olive tree you have provided us with oil for holy chrism. The prophet David sang of the life and joy that the oil would bring us in the sacraments of Your love.

After the avenging flood, the dove returning to Noah with an olive branch announced Your gift of peace. This was a sign of a greater gift to come. Now the waters of baptism wash away the sins of men, and by the anointing with olive oil You make us radiant with Your joy. At Your command, Aaron was washed with water and Your servant Moses, his brother, anointed him Priest. This, too, foreshadowed greater things to come. After Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, asked John for baptism in the waters of the Jordan, You sent the Spirit upon Him in the form of a dove and by the witness of Your own voice You declared Him to be Your only, well-beloved Son. In this You clearly fulfilled the prophecy of David, that Christ should be anointed with the oil of gladness beyond His fellow men.

And so Father, we ask You to bless + this oil You have created. Fill it with the power of Your Holy Spirit through Christ Your Son. It is from Him that chrism takes its name, and with chrism You have anointed for Yourself priests and kings, prophets and martyrs.
Make this chrism a sign of life and salvation for those who are to be born again in the waters of baptism. Wash away the evil they have inherited from sinful Adam, and when they are anointed with this holy oil make them temples of Your glory, radiant with the
goodness of life that has its source in You. Through the sign of chrism grant them royal, priestly, and prophetic honor, and clothe them with incorruption. Let this be indeed the chrism of salvation for those who will be born again of water and the Holy Spirit. May
they come to share eternal life in the glory of Your Kingdom. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Baptized people are anointed with Chrism to be confirmed. Men’s hands are anointed with Chrism to become priests. Altars are anointed with Chrism to be consecrated.

The Truth is a Confusing Thing

Did Blessed Pope Pius IX weave a crown of thorns and send it to Jefferson Davis’ post-war prison cell as a gesture of sympathy?

–Keeping the anniversary of Virginia’s secession by caressing the Davis’ wartime home with my eyes, I eagerly anticipated the sight of the relic.

To my chagrin, I learned that the crown had only been temporarily displayed in Richmond. The crown resides permanently in New Orleans.

Not only that: A thoroughly well-educated young man told me that Mrs. Varina Davis wove the crown, not the Pope.

Buzzkill. (I did lay eyes on the Holy Father’s 1863 letter to East Clay Street!)

My opinion: The arguments for Varina’s having woven the crown do not convince. Could have been the Pope…

…For our meditation: the Pontifical prayer for the consecration of the Holy Chrism, used to anoint in Holy Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders…

God our maker, source of all growth in holiness, accept the joyful thanks and praise we offer in the name of your Church. In the beginning, at your command, the earth produced fruit-bearing trees.

From the fruit of the olive tree you have provided us with oil for holy chrism. The prophet David sang of the life and joy that the oil would bring us in the sacraments of your love.

After the avenging flood, the dove returning to Noah with an olive branch announced your gift of peace. This was a sign of a greater gift to come. Now the waters of baptism wash away the sins of men, and by the anointing with olive oil you make us radiant with your joy.

At your command, Aaron was washed with water, and your servant Moses, his brother, anointed him priest. This too foreshadowed greater things to come. After your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, asked John for baptism in the waters of Jordan, you sent the Spirit upon him in the form of a dove and by the witness of your own voice you declared him to be your only, well-beloved Son. In this you clearly fulfilled the prophecy of David, that Christ would be anointed with the oil of gladness beyond his fellow men.

And so, Father, we ask you to bless + this oil you have created. Fill it with the power of your Holy Spirit through Christ your Son. It is from him that chrism takes its name and with chrism you have anointed for yourself priests and kings, prophets and martyrs.