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
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.
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.)
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.