Ash or Celluloid

Will the Message of Lent and Mel's Movie Trickle Down to Our Hearts?

With the much hyped anticipated opening of Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ on the first day of Lent 2004, Christians were offered two ways of observing the beginning of Lent this year—with ashes or celluloid.

Or perhaps both. Both the traditional reception of ashes on Ash Wednesday and Mel’s new movie are touching the psyche of thousands of American believers and not a few non-believers.

Getting your ash in gear
I can neither applaud nor criticize Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ because I haven’t seen it. However, something has been bothering me about the hype surrounding this movie; and I have a continuing curiosity about the thousands who troop to church to receive a dash of ash on Ash Wednesday.

The ashes are an outward sign of an inner desire to be better people. Deep down we realize that we make mistakes—that we screw up—and need to rid ourselves of bad habits and poor behaviors.

The ashes also provide a convenient way to witness to our faith to be Catholic in a secular world. For a day we can witness to our faith and be politically correct at the same time.

The need for trickle-down spirituality
But if we only wear the ashes, and don’t let them trickle down into the recesses of our hearts to transform our actions we have missed the point. The ashes recall the infinite love that God has for each of us and our need to reform our lives—as does Gibson’s new movie.

The powerful images of Mel Gibson’s Passion will move many to tears; some will be appalled even repelled by the widescreen violent and graphic presentation of Christ’s last twelve hours. This movie may cause reaffirmations of faith, perhaps convert some non-believers—all well and good.

But, like with the ashes, if we promptly forget that these images too must trickle down into our hearts where real transformation takes place, they will be of little value. After the movie, after the ashes, the hard work begins—the work of “putting on Christ” in our daily albeit mundane human affairs.

The work of love and forgiveness. Of being a part of building the world up instead of tearing it down.

You see, without our putting on Christ—acting as Christ would have us act—then the ashes will just be ashes, and the movie just another piece of celluloid.