Spirit Daily


Time For Critics To Back Off Movie That Has Been Accompanied By Peculiar Signs

By Michael H. Brown

Years ago I went to Israel on a research project and was enormously impressed by the people I met -- the Jews who live on that tiny sliver of hotly disputed land. I came away with a real affinity for them. I'd always had Jewish friends and editors and agents, but after that trip, I felt the pain of the Israelis and the incredible pressure under which they live.

I like Jewish people and appreciate their struggle -- what their forefathers have endured -- but have to say that they're hurting themselves enormously by going after Catholics. First it was Pope Pius XII -- whom some Jewish scholars have unfairly besmirched as not having helped Jews during the Holocaust. That's the complaint. And it carries no merit. My goodness, the Nazis wanted to bomb the Vatican because it was hiding Jews! Himmler wanted to assassinate the Pope. Hitler detested Catholics almost as much as those of the Judaic faith.

Bottom line: Pius XII helped the Jews, was himself in personal danger, and has been taken to task unjustly. By attacking someone unfairly, those Jews who do so hurt their fellow Jews (especially those in Israel) and invite anti-Semitism, which is wrong in all circumstances.

Now, the same is happening with the actor Mel Gibson. As many of you know, the famous actor, a traditionalist Catholic, is editing a movie called The Passion that a good number of academics and Jewish activists claim is anti-Semitic or at least prone in that direction because it strictly adheres to the Gospels.

I'm not using my words loosely. I'm not saying this for literary effect: some of them actually are quoted as saying that the Bible should not be taken literally -- as when Pilate washes his hands of Jesus' Blood. Notes Peter J. Boyer in The New Yorker, there are academics "who worry that Gibson will draw too much upon a literal reading of the Gospels, and not enough upon contemporary scholarship that seeks to distance Jews from culpability in the Crucifixion."

Such critics are playing off a Vatican II rule that admonishes Catholics to avoid caricaturing the Jewish people in a way that makes them all seem culpable for the Crucifixion of Jesus. And indeed, this should not be done. Jews are good people. We love them. We love all people of every faith, including Palestinians. Moreover, we don't agree with Gibson's professedly traditionalist views that deny the legitimacy of all popes since Vatican II and run against the grain of Vatican-style ecumenism (which states that all Christians, not just Catholics, can find salvation). Gibson is a hard-line traditionalist who apparently adheres to this viewpoint. We share many of his conservative views but diverge here. We are in strict obedience to the Pope.

But we must also come to Gibson's defense. This is a courageous man who is willing to do something we have not seen a major Hollywood star or politician or major celebrity of any kind do in quite some time: stand up for what he believes -- even at the risk of his very career. Mel Gibson is a brave heart indeed. He has put $25 million of his own money into the film. He walks the talk, believes what he says, puts his money where his mouth is.

He is also anointed and spiritually perceptive. In fact, the actor/director readily admits to phenomena that most professing mainstream Catholic commentators would avoid like the plague. He isn't afraid of mysticism, of the supernatural. He isn't afraid to discuss the signs and wonders that have accompanied this project -- and lend it a sort of spiritual gravity that may account for some of the resistance.

Let me give you a few examples:

When one newspaper, The Los Angeles Times, attacked his movie, a friend told Mel to read the ninety-first Psalm ("a thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee... For He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways").

Driving with the New Yorker writer, a car suddenly pulled in front of Gibson's silver Lexus and the car's license plate holder bore the inscription, "Psalm 91."

The same type of occurrence was reported with Gibson's discovery of German mystic Anne Catherine Emmerich, whose revelations on the Crucifixion (see The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ) inspired parts of his movie, especially the scourging. When Gibson was building a traditionalist church near his California home, says Boyer, "he had wanted to fill the place with antique candlesticks and such, and he'd had a hard time finding them. He was in Philadelphia shooting a picture, and someone told him about a man who had a storehouse of old church items. They did business, and just before Gibson left the man pulled something out, and offered it to Gibson as a gift. It was a small, faded piece of cloth. The man told him he had a special devotion to a 19th-century Augustinian nun, Anne Catherine Emmerich, and that the cloth was a piece of her habit."

To this day, the actor carries that relic around with him.

When Gibson returned to his faith, notes Boyer, he'd acquired hundreds of old books from a closed nunnery. "He says that when he was researching The Passion one evening, he reached up for a book, and [the Emmerich volume] tumbled out of the shelf into his hands. He sat down to read it, and was flabbergasted by the vivid imagery of Emmerich's visions."

One image that stood out: a grief-stricken Mary getting down on her knees to mop up Jesus' Blood.

This is potent stuff. And the way the book came into his hands, incredibly, is precisely the same way -- a book tumbling into the hands of a scholar -- that another of Emmerich's books, The Life of the Virgin Mary, led to discovery by 19th-century scholars of Mary's house near the Turkish city of Ephesus!

Gibson knows that the potency of this anointing -- these signs, and especially the involvement of someone like Emmerich -- is behind much of the attack. He minces few words. He believes the devil is designing the assault. In the weeks and months ahead, you may hear more criticism. You may hear potshots at how Gibson believes in Masonic conspiracy theories, how he links George Bush Senior to a "new world order," how he once uttered a line in another movie (Conspiracy Theory) to the effect that the post-Council Vatican is a "festering scab."

We certainly wish he never used words like that; we wish he'd come back to mainstream Catholicism. He is faithful. He is a good believer. His film -- perhaps because of the involvement of Emmerich (as well as the Gospel Truth) -- has an anointing.

And we urge critics and Jews who are claiming anti-Semitism to back off. Mel does not appear to be attacking you. He has not demonstrated anti-Semitism. He is animating the Bible. And anyway, he will weather any assaults. In fact, he'll thrive from them. It's true, what's said in Psalm 91 (we are protected in the truth) and unless he does or says something to diminish that anointing, the world is about to discover the power of that biblical truth.

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