It's been a long time since I watched Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ. This Labour Day weekend, I had a chance to watch a video on an interview of the movie's actor, Jim Caviezel. I sat through all 49 minutes of the video, and was drawn to Jim's powerful sharing like Winnie the Pooh was to honey.
To Jim Caviezel, playing the role of Jesus was much more than mere acting. The whole filming process had been a prayerful experience that enabled him to obtain a deeper appreciation of our Lord's complete self-giving love for men and the agony He had to endure to remain steadfast in love until the very end. It was filled with contemplative moments when human consciousness and divine will appeared intertwined - sometimes it's hard to tell which was which. There were times when the experience was so real and his body battered so bad from acting that Jim was all but ready to give up his life on the cross if God's will was for him to do so for the glory of Christ.
In the interview, he described in vivid detail the last scene the filming crew did: the climax of the crucifixion.
He was affixed to the cross which was set on top of a hill. The weather was threatening and the clouds were very low that day as crew members raised up slowly the cross and his body. From atop the cross he scanned the rugged hillside over which the filming crew members scattered. His arms, locked up tight to the cross for a prolonged period of time, were so numb they could have been ripped off and he would not have felt any pain. In spite of the discomfort and the scurries of filming activities happening all around, a strange serenity settled on him to give him an eerie feeling that his body was strategically placed in the eye of a horrendous storm.
The atmosphere was charged and almost surreal. A couple of crew members standing not too far away from him were gazing up at him with tearful eyes. He felt very sick. He thought he might just die right there on the cross. But his concern was not for his safety and physical well-being. His utmost desire was to be able to experience the agony of our Lord to the full. Deep in prayer, he asked God to allow him to share Jesus' suffering on the cross; and if it meant death, then so be it. Then he thought he heard a voice that asked him: "Can you drink this cup that I am drinking?" And he said, "Yes, Lord! Every bit of it!" For there's nothing more meaningful than dying for Christ, he thought. Then suddenly everything lighted up around him as though he was in the centre of an illuminated apparition. Lightning had struck.
On completion of the film, Jim was as badly battered as a sacrificial lamb. During the filming process, he had suffered a dislocated shoulder from carrying the cross, pneumonia, and lightning shocks. His body, normally a hulking physique of 210 pounds, was reduced to a feeble frame of only 168. What's more, he had to undergo heart surgery. "If you want to be Christian, you are in for it," he joked, musing on his hardships.
Don't watch the interview if you are not in a prayerful mood. I don't want to spoil your fun by giving away too much of the interview, but I must remind you not to miss the end where Jim delivered a sermon-like concluding speech and repeated some of the Aramaic scripts in the movie - I can only guess that's what he did as I don't know the language. It was an overpowering performance that took everyone watching right back to the movie to behold once again the familiar image of the Jesus of The Passion; to the love that beamed forth from his face; to the conversing eyes that somehow displayed a trace of sadness: sadness from his suffering no doubt, but even more so sadness for the sins of the world, including yours and mine. It's one of those rare encounters when you don't need to know the speaker's language to appreciate his profound wisdom and irresistible charism.
The organizer of the interview and publisher of the video was the Rock church - an evangelical Christian church in San Diego. Jim Caviezel, as many of you know, is from a closely-knit Catholic family. Enjoy the video:
Jim Caviezel Interview