Archive for the ‘Easter’ Category

Though I enjoy watching new movies, I love to watch certain movies again and again, depending on the calendar.

In the fall I imagine I am sitting in Notre Dame Stadium, chanting with the crowd “Rudy, Rudy.” At Christmas I am shopping in Bedford Falls and discussing my wonderful life with George Bailey. As spring approaches, I am helping Ray Kinsella plow up his corn and build his field of dreams.

The Passion of the ChristI look forward to these films and the happy mood they put me in. However, every Lent I make a concerted effort to watch Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Unlike the other films, this one puts me in a somber, reflective mood that’s perfect as I prepare for Holy Week.

It helps that Mel Gibson and his production team took great measures to create a realistic portrayal of Roman-occupied Jerusalem and the dramatic events during that first Holy Week.

Artistic inspiration
When you watch Gibson’s film, it looks like you have stepped into a painting by Caravaggio, an Italian painter during the Baroque period. Like the painter, the filmmakers used multiple lighting schemes, such as the shades of blue in Gethsemane or shades of gold in the Temple, to create specific moods or “emotional realities” throughout the film. The use of slow motion techniques adds to these moods.

To stage the dramatic last scene of the crucifixion sequence, Gibson used the painting “The Pieta” by French artist William Bouguereau for inspiration. After Jesus is taken down from the cross, Mary holds the crucified Christ. The painting and the final scene show Mary, not looking at Jesus, but straight at us with a far-away look in her eyes. She is strong; she does not break down like other women, but the pain is there. “Both the painting and this scene have the same essence, the same look in Mary’s eyes, sort of a pleading grief, full of pain,” says Gibson in the DVD extras.

Languages and subtitles
The film’s dialogue was recorded in two of the languages spoken at that time: Aramaic and Latin, along with English subtitles. “Using Aramaic and Latin brings people backward in time” says Rev. William J. Fulco, a Jesuit language scholar who served as the film’s translator. “We are like flies on the wall to the Jesus event.”

The filmmakers also used the languages to artistically convey a depth to Jesus’ personality and his conviction to complete his task. When Jesus appears before Pontius Pilate for the first time, Pilate addresses him in Aramaic. As a good administrator stationed in Jerusalem for eleven years, Pilate would have known the local dialect. Pilate asks him in Aramaic “Are you the King of the Jews?” However, Jesus answers Pilate in Latin. The filmmakers wanted to show that Jesus knew what Pilate was doing and that he was trying to beat Pilate at his own game.

Throughout the story arc that starts in Gethsemane and ends on Calvary, there are short flashbacks to earlier times in Jesus’ life. When Pilate is washing his hands, Jesus recalls the day before when he washed his hands before the Last Supper and broke bread with his disciples. As Jesus nears the large hill of Calvary, he remembers standing on a hill, teaching the people to “love your enemies” and to pray for them.

One of the most poignant moments is when Jesus carries the cross and falls for the second time. His mother Mary runs to him, just as she did many years ago when a young Jesus tripped and fell. “I’m here,” she tells him. Jesus, like all children, confides in his mother. Taking her face in his hand, he utters a line from the Book of Revelation: “See, mother, I make all things new.”

Special effects
The filmmakers used special makeup and visual effects to realistically depict the wounds Jesus received during the scourging and the crucifixion. Makeup sessions for Jim Caviezel (who portrayed Jesus) lasted anywhere between three to eight hours. During this time, the makeup artists applied large sheets of rubber prosthetic wounds all over his body. Then in post production work, computer artists applied “digital skin” patches that covered up the wounds. As a Roman guard swung a cane or a digital whip and appeared to hit Jesus, the skin patch was digitally wiped away, revealing the artificial wounds underneath.

“One of the biggest struggles was trying to make the make the makeup as real as possible and at the same time retain a human element, something the audience could connect to,” says Christien Tinsley, one of the makeup artists.

Whenever I watch The Passion of the Christ, I feel shock, despair, embarrassment and amazement. The film helps me understand, ever so slightly, how terrible the crucifixion must have been for our Lord.

Since he endured this suffering for me, the least I can do every Lenten season is watch the film, try to understand what he went through, and then dedicate my life to be more like him. That is my reel life journey.

It can be yours, too.


Originally published in the March 19, 2010 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2010 Christopher Fenoglio


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Our children came home for Easter weekend, a wonderful time to laugh together, eat together and celebrate Mass together as a family.

To prepare for the weekend, I worked a few hours to organize the basement—tidying up the empty nest, so to speak. I wanted to create more “hang out” space for the college students and their friends.

One project involved boxing up old books and rearranging our bookshelves. With the children out of the house during the school year, many more of my books could replace theirs in the main bookshelf upstairs in the living room.

Off the shelves came The Hungry Caterpillar and other bedtime picture books. Next went their grade school story books like Green Eggs and Ham and Strega Nona. Finally I packed up the middle school readers like the Goosebumps and Animorphs series.

Onto the shelves went some of my favorites: the collections of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, a few baseball anthologies, a number of Nashville and Tennessee histories, and assorted Superman and Batman comic books. There was even room for Linda’s Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

It struck me how some stories are good for the first reading, but there’s no interest in rereading it. Once you know what happens, you move on to the next book.

Other stories, however, really touch our hearts on many different levels. Those are the books I want on my shelves, stories to read again and again.

VelveteenRabbit250As I was boxing up the children’s books, one of them caught my eye—The Velveteen Rabbit. The book was recently adapted into a film directed by Michael Landon, JR. He uses a family-friendly combination of live action and animation to gently expand the story beyond the scope of Margery Williams’ classic tale. Since I had never read the book all the way through, I stopped working and read for a while.

Once upon a time on Christmas morning, a little boy woke to find a velveteen rabbit in his stocking. The rabbit was soft and cuddly, and soon the boy played with him every day. This made the rabbit very happy, for he liked to play with the boy. During one play session outdoors, the velveteen rabbit saw real rabbits and marveled at how they twitched their noses and bounded away on their hind legs.

One day, the boy became very ill with scarlet fever and clung to the rabbit for comfort. After the boy got well, the doctor told Nana to discard all of the boy’s bed linens and cloth toys. The house had to be cleaned to prevent the fever from returning. The velveteen rabbit was put into a sack with the rest of the items for the incinerator.

But the rabbit was special, for the little boy had loved the velveteen rabbit with all his heart. It was this love that turned the velveteen rabbit into a real bunny. He hopped into the forest on his new hind legs and began a new life with his real rabbit friends.

Now when I was boxing up the children’s books, some of them were attached to pleasant memories of our children—a hearty laugh, a sleepy nod, a contented smile.

This book, however, was attached to a personal memory. Decades ago, I had a cuddly soft doggie with floppy cloth ears and black button eyes. After a couple of my childhood years, the fur became worn, an eye was lost, and all the leg stuffing was squeezed down into four large paws.

My mother knew when it was time for her young son to part with the toy. In her own kind and loving way, she suggested that I give the dog to my new baby sister.

I slowly agreed and handed the dog to my Mom so that Maria could look at him in the playpen. “You’re a good big brother,” said Mom.

John Eldredge in his book Epic—The Story God is Telling and the Role that is Yours to Play (which Maria gave to me) says that “story is the language of the heart.” Our life is a story, with a large cast of characters and lots of plot turns and twists.

In the midst of our own story, we sometimes feel like we’ve walked into a movie 40 minutes late. Confused and unsure, many lose heart.

Before that happens, Eldredge says, we need to know more about the larger story that we are in. We need to know the director and the real part that we play in this larger story.

Here in this Easter Season, we have listened to the Gospels tell The Greatest Story Ever Told. It’s an amazing story that took place nearly 2000 years ago, but still finds ways to resonate anew in our lives.

For God so loved the world, he gave us his only begotten son, who died for our sins. That is love. That is a love we should share.

I think there’s just enough room on my bookshelf for one more book—the family Bible. There are lots of great stories in that book.

First published in the April 17, 2009 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2009 Christopher Fenoglio

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The single scarlet candle burns brightly in the corner; an “Open” sign for wayward souls.

No one remains in the darkened sanctuary except this solitary visitor, returning for a few minutes of peace before addressing the tasks at hand.

Yet I am not alone, for Our Lord is present in the holy tabernacles – the one across the room and the other inside.

Calm, peacefulness, serenity – it’s a pleasure to spend a few quiet moments alone with the Lord.

Weeks ago, however, the sanctuary was bright and filled with parishioners. We stood for many long minutes, endearing drowsiness and sore backs as we heard the words of Our Lord’s passion. Could we stay awake, unlike his disciples slumbering in Gethsemane?

As the details of his passion unfolded, I became ashamed, for I know my faults, my sins. How could another man endure the barbs and lashes, the scourges and ridicule, the pain and death from crucifixion, just to wipe clean the sins from my soul?

“I know two things very clearly,” says John Newton (Albert Finney) in the film Amazing Grace. “I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.”

Newton had been the captain of a busy ship that profited from the slave trade. He sailed from Africa to the West Indies, delivering African men, women and children to markets in which they were sold like barrels of tea or six-packs of cold beer.

On filthy, disease-ridden wooden boats, these imprisoned souls endured iron shackles around their necks, wrists and ankles that kept them bent and immobile for 3-4 weeks straight, like so many Pringles in a can.Amazing Grace

Upon completion of the voyage, after two-thirds had died and were discarded, the survivors were sold to sugar cane plantations. There they toiled under extreme conditions to produce enough “white gold” to sweeten a nobleman’s cup of tea.

The plight of these individuals, however, was not ignored by all. A new champion for their cause arose from within Parliament’s halls in William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd), a politician who struggled over his future of doing the work of God or the work of a political activist.

It was humbly suggested to him by other abolitionists that he could do both.

Wilberforce also preferred to talk to God alone in secret places, marveling God’s handiwork in the intricacies of a spider’s web or in the beauty of a meadowlark’s call. Yet when in Parliament, he quickly found his voice to speak against the evils of slavery.

He proclaimed, wrote, sang and yelled over the voices trying to shout him down, stating that “all men are created equal by God” and “the inhuman practices of the slave trade are abominable crimes against our fellow man.”

Wilberforce took counsel from his minister, John Newton, the former ship captain who recanted his sins and turned to a life serving God. Haunted by the lives of 20,000 slaves who once filled his vessels, Newton documented the horrors in public documents that were submitted to Parliament, thereby adding grist to Wilberforce’s mill to grind out public support and political allegiances.

It was Newton’s conversion that led him to write the lyrics to the song “Amazing Grace,” one of the most beloved Christian hymns.

No longer wiling to live the wretched life of a slave merchant, blinded by the gold earned through the merchandising of human souls, he turned to God’s word for answers. In the hour he first believed, the precious grace did appear. He had already been through many dangers, toils and snares. Still, he recognized that God’s grace had kept him safe so far and grace would lead him home.

My sanctuary is quiet, darkened at the end of the day. In the comfort of solitude, I kneel on the floor before the cross.

I confess to almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned through my own fault, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and what I have failed to do…

Further I fall, humbly, plaintively, stretching out across the floor, my arms and legs making a cross like the one upon which he suffered.

Yet my arms do not hang in pain. They stretch out in hope to receive his grace, his amazing, saving grace, to wipe my sins away with the blood from his sacred heart.

For Easter morn has come with new life for all, bright shining as the Son. The Lord has promised good to me, his word my hope secures. And every day, though I may stumble and fall, I shall rise again, to learn from my mistakes, take strength in his suffering and devote my days to writing and singing God’s praises.

First published in the January 26, 2007 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2007 Christopher Fenoglio

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