Tuesday evening I did something I swore in 2004 I would never do again: I watched Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ. All of it except for the scourging scene (it’s too graphic).
When the movie came out, I, like millions of others, waited in line to see the film. I walked out saying, “Good movie, but I will never watch it again.” Violence bothers me, and this movie is violent.
Then last night as I was driving to town to assist at Mass, Tina Turner was singing What’s Love Got To Do With It? Immediately, my homily for the evening began to form in quick fashion.
Tuesday evening I turned off the DVD player and was left with the thought, “There is a big difference between piety and sanctity.” Mind you, there is a relationship, but Gibson’s movie left me realizing there is a difference. The film had nothing I could pick up of piety. Piety, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit, often is thought of by many as the performance of religious actions, rituals, behaviors, and the wearing of medals, scapulars, beads, etc. Yes, all of these are fine in their proper place, and hopefully we all express our piety with these symbols, rituals and prayers for they are to nurture and express our faith in and affection for God. They also create a Catholic culture we value highly.
As I said, the film had no piety in it that I can recall.
But it depicted sanctity in its purest form. It depicted Jesus’ complete unity with the will of the Father.
The film drove home to me that sanctity often doesn’t look very pious. In fact, sanctity may look ugly. Sanctity requires that I listen to God’s will for me, that I say “yes” to that will, and then I face the consequences.
Jesus sweated drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. He, in his humanity, groaned in his bending to the will of the Father. His sanctity was his union with his Father. His sanctity was perfect for he was one with the Father even in his fears as a man. He knew holiness comes from the union of wills and decisive choices.
So many of the saints witness to this sanctity. All the martyrs. Teresa of Calcutta. Yes, even Blessed John Paul II.
I think our new Pope Francis is pointing us in this direction also. He is centered on the person of Jesus and he is moving away from what distracts him and perhaps us from the reality that it is all about Jesus Christ, one with the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s all about sanctity.
So what’s piety got to do with it? Piety is a normative and cultural expression of sanctity. At its foundation is an experience of the person of Jesus Christ whom we love and with whom we wish to be united and never to be parted. We perform our pious acts out of an ever more purified love and affection for Jesus and those who lead us to him, most especially our Blessed Mother (who, by the way, is beautifully depicted in the movie as one united in heart and mind with her Son and is constantly pointed to Him in her love for him).
Piety should always be evidently directed to Jesus Christ. When people see us doing holy things in other words, their attention should drawn to Jesus, and not to us.
“Be holy, as I am holy!” Jesus said. For us, this means be one with the will of God in your life.
It is the only way to the Resurrection and eternal Life.