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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Son of God

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Diogo Morgado stars in a scene from the movie "Son of God."
As the first wide-release film in nearly 50 years to focus on the life of Jesus as a whole, "Son of God" (Fox) represents an epochal event for believing moviegoers.

Though not the most powerful mass media treatment of its subject—that accolade continues to belong to Franco Zeffirelli's 1977 television miniseries "Jesus of Nazareth"—director Christopher Spencer's reverent but uneven screen version of the Gospel story ranks as a worthy revival of the Hollywood biblical epic.

The screenwriters, led by Nic Young, find an efficient entree into their narrative by entrusting it to an aged St. John the Evangelist (Sebastian Knapp) during his exile on the island of Patmos. This is theologically helpful because the opening lines of the Beloved Disciple's Gospel, as recited here, describe the Incarnation, a mystery without which all that follows could easily be misconstrued.

Early scenes leading up to and including the Nativity will remind at least some viewers that "Son of God" is an outgrowth of last year's highly successful miniseries on the History cable channel series, "The Bible." The new footage that follows is at its best in its portrayal of the events that culminated in the crucifixion of Jesus (Diogo Morgado).

Thus Judas (Joe Wredden), Caiaphas the high priest (Adrian Schiller) and Pontius Pilate (Greg Hicks) are all assigned believable motives, while Morgado succeeds in blending messianic vision with very human pain in a thoroughly compelling way—one that accords, moreover, with the scriptural account.

Catholic viewers will also appreciate the unqualified acknowledgement of St. Peter (Darwin Shaw) as the leader of the Apostles as well as scenes highlighting Mary's (Roma Downey) closeness to her son. And, though the portrayal of the Last Supper seems somewhat noncommittal as to the meaning of the Eucharist, a rough-and-ready celebration of the sacrament is shown to be the chosen moment for the Lord's first post-Resurrection appearance to the Twelve.

As for the ministry and preaching that precede the Passion—during which Jesus draws the disapproving attention of Simon the Pharisee (Paul Marc Davis)—there are moments that range from the moving to the awkward.

Morgado brings the requisite gravity to bear in announcing that the passage from the Prophet Isaiah he has just read aloud in Nazareth's synagogue has now been fulfilled. But the story of Lazarus' death and revivification is truncated—and drained of much of its impact—by the absence of any hint of Jesus' previous friendship with him and with his mourning sisters.

Despite such shortcomings, as produced by Downey, Mark Burnett and Richard Bedser, Spencer's picture offers some solid catechesis and an easy introduction to the Lord's earthly biography. That's all the more valuable given the erosion in religious literacy our society has experienced since the appearance of "Son of God's" most recent predecessor, George Stevens' 1965 Gospel drama "The Greatest Story Ever Told."

In that context, and despite its unflinching treatment of the Redeemer's sufferings, "Son of God" is probably acceptable for older teens.

The film contains strong gory violence. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.





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Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi: Mystical ecstasy is the elevation of the spirit to God in such a way that the person is aware of this union with God while both internal and external senses are detached from the sensible world. Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi was so generously given this special gift of God that she is called the "ecstatic saint." 
<p>She was born into a noble family in Florence in 1566. The normal course would have been for Catherine de' Pazzi to have married wealth and enjoyed comfort, but she chose to follow her own path. At nine she learned to meditate from the family confessor. She made her first Communion at the then-early age of 10 and made a vow of virginity one month later. When 16, she entered the Carmelite convent in Florence because she could receive Communion daily there. </p><p>Catherine had taken the name Mary Magdalene and had been a novice for a year when she became critically ill. Death seemed near so her superiors let her make her profession of vows from a cot in the chapel in a private ceremony. Immediately after, she fell into an ecstasy that lasted about two hours. This was repeated after Communion on the following 40 mornings. These ecstasies were rich experiences of union with God and contained marvelous insights into divine truths. </p><p>As a safeguard against deception and to preserve the revelations, her confessor asked Mary Magdalene to dictate her experiences to sister secretaries. Over the next six years, five large volumes were filled. The first three books record ecstasies from May of 1584 through Pentecost week the following year. This week was a preparation for a severe five-year trial. The fourth book records that trial and the fifth is a collection of letters concerning reform and renewal. Another book, <i>Admonitions</i>, is a collection of her sayings arising from her experiences in the formation of women religious. </p><p>The extraordinary was ordinary for this saint. She read the thoughts of others and predicted future events. During her lifetime, she appeared to several persons in distant places and cured a number of sick people. </p><p>It would be easy to dwell on the ecstasies and pretend that Mary Magdalene only had spiritual highs. This is far from true. It seems that God permitted her this special closeness to prepare her for the five years of desolation that followed when she experienced spiritual dryness. She was plunged into a state of darkness in which she saw nothing but what was horrible in herself and all around her. She had violent temptations and endured great physical suffering. She died in 1607 at 41, and was canonized in 1669.</p> American Catholic Blog Lord, keep me in your care. Guard me in my actions. Teach me to love, and help me to turn to you throughout the day. The world is filled with temptations. As I move through my day, keep me close. May those I encounter feel your loving presence. Lord, be the work of my hands and my heart. Amen.

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