Lesson 1: Christís self-giving love and freedom in The Passion of the Christ
After seeing Christís self-giving love in the movie The Passion, we are compelled to ask how do we individually define love, and what is our societyís view of love? Love is a word whose meaning has been spun so weirdly in our time that it has in many ways lost connection with the divine meaning. In 21st century America, loving someone means making them feel good, emotionally or physically. Feel good, but donít bind. The fundamental idea of love binding a man and woman together for life is difficult work, so in a culture that promotes self-gratification, we have chosen to cast it aside.
Weíve broken it not because love is wrong, but because there is something we value more than love- our personal freedom. Freedom has become our absolute good, the highest value humanity strives after. If love binds one person to another, it limits personal freedom. See the quandary?
Everyone knows Jesus is all about love, but all he does in The Passion is suffer. In the Garden of Gethsemane, his anxiety and fear press him so intensely that he sweats blood. Is that loving? Lashed by the whip, his flesh ripped by the torturerís cruel instruments, Christ sags to his knees, blood spattering the pavement. Stupidly, insanely, he struggles to stand, and freely chooses to do soóis that loving? The two torture specialists are driven demonic by this display of courage and nobility, and they unleash all the fury their brawny muscles and metal-tipped leather can inflict. How does this brutality relate to love?
Freedom Fulfilled through Love
Pope John Paul II teaches that freedom is not greater than love, but rather freedom is fulfilled in self-giving love. Freedom is not manís absolute goal, love is. Freedom without love is useless, like so many wheels free to roll anywhere; the wheels are useless without a vehicle to harness themólove is that vehicle. Love is far greater then freedom, for a person can be happy without freedom as long as he loves.
Freedom intensifies love, proves it genuine. That is where suffering plugs in. Because genuine love must be freely given, loveís intensity is seen by the amount of suffering it bearsóbecause everyone hates suffering and strives to avoid it. So if a person freely chooses to suffer for someone else, for love, then that love is great. Suffering is a thermometer, which shows loveís temperature, the degree of its reality.
That is why watching The Passion moves us to admire and love Jesus Christ. He chose freely to undergo his unfathomable suffering, which forever marks the zenith both of a manís love for other men, and Godís love for man. This is a love that is best defined as self-giving, as St Paul writes: ďHe poured himself out for us.Ē Viewed from the perspective that Christís Passion affords, our understanding of love and freedom changes radically. Instead of love giving me something like enjoyment and fulfillment, I look to give of myself, to bring fulfillment and joy to others by serving them, even if in serving others I endure suffering.
Revolutionary- that is Christís love. It ignites, breaks up and shakes up our lives. Look at the individuals who were touched by Christís loveóthey all bought a share in suffering, and discovered love. Pilateís wife Claudia could not prevent Jesusí scourging; the only thing she can do is offer Mary linen cloths with which to wipe her sonís blood from the pavement. Her sharing in Maryís own agony upon watching her son flayed alive, opens her to an act of love, offering her friendship to Mary through a humble gesture. Simon of Cyreneís sharing in carrying the cross opens him to understand the self-giving nature of Jesusí sacrifice. Simon will not be crucified, is not beaten, but his closeness to Jesus Christ while carrying the cross reveals to him Jesusí patience, humility and overpowering love for the very men who kill him. Simonís world is blown to bits, for instead of avoiding suffering, he wants to take it on in order to protect this man Jesus whom he has not known but has experienced.
Freedomís purpose is revealed in love motivating us to serve others. Suffering intensifies and purifies love, makes it genuine, real, solid. And the ultimate experience of love IS Jesus Christ, but he is a challenge, the rock against whom the waves of every generation crash and are divided: some follow Christ along the path of self-giving love, others reject Him in the hopes of discovering a self-fulfilling love. The reality of the resurrection shows us that if we choose Christís path of self-giving love, then we will find true peace and everlasting life.
Freedom Ė the power, rooted in will and reason, to perform (or not) deliberate actions on oneís own responsibility.
Love Ė the theological virtue by which we love God above all else for his sake, and other people as ourselves for love of God.
Suffering Ė experience of pain, distress, injury. Suffering with Christ is sharing in his redemptive sacrifice of crucifixion.
The purpose of this unit is to:
- Consider the value our culture places on personal freedom relative to self-giving love
- Encourage contemplation of the meaning of self-giving love and how human freedom finds its fulfillment in self-giving love
- Help participants understand the value of freely choosing to suffer as an expression of self-giving love
Heavenly Father, thank you for granting us the gift of our freedom and Christís example of self-giving love. We pray that strengthened with your grace, we will freely choose to offer our lives in loving service to our fellow man.
- One person commented after seeing the movie, ďI forgot. I forgot how much Christ loves me- individually, so much so that He suffered immensely to save me.Ē
Did seeing the movie change your perspective on Christís suffering for your salvation, and the degree to which Christ loves you?
What can we do on a daily basis to remember Christís sacrifice for us and his love for us? (Potential discussion tips: contemplate Christís suffering in daily prayer, especially through the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary; make a point of remembering Christís suffering for us every time we have an opportunity to give of ourselves for another person)
- What does the popular culture teach us about love? Letís discuss specific things can we do in our daily lives to counter these images within our families, schools, and places of work.
- Consider a time in our lives when someone else freely chose to sacrifice to help us. How did this act of self-giving love affect us?
- When suffering is imposed upon us, how do we approach our cross? Do we run away from the cross? Do we remember how Jesus accepted the cross? Do we pick up the cross, and if so, do we do it joyfully? Do we run toward the cross?
- The next time we have an opportunity to serve someone in a way that involves true sacrifice, we will choose to do so with a joyful heart, remembering that it is an opportunity to imitate Christís self-giving love.
- The next time suffering is imposed upon us, we will choose to accept our suffering with a joyful heart, embracing it is an opportunity to freely offer our suffering in self-giving love for the redemption of otherís sins.
Lesson 2: Christ confronts evil in The Passion of The Christ