Lesson One: Christ's self-giving love and freedom in The Passion of the Christ

After seeing Christ's self-giving love in the movie The Passion , we are compelled to ask how do we individually define love, and what is our society's 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 don't 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.

We've 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 torturer's cruel instruments, Christ sags to his knees, blood spattering the pavement. Stupidly, insanely, he struggles to stand, and freely chooses to do so—is 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 man's 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 them—love 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, love's intensity is seen by the amount of suffering it bears—because 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 love's 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 man's love for other men, and God's love for man. This is a love that is best defined as self-giving , as St Paul writes: “He poured himself out for us.” Viewed from the perspective that Christ's 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.

Love Transforms

Revolutionary- that is Christ's love. It ignites, breaks up and shakes up our lives. Look at the individuals who were touched by Christ's love—they all bought a share in suffering, and discovered love. Pilate's wife Claudia could not prevent Jesus' scourging; the only thing she can do is offer Mary linen cloths with which to wipe her son's blood from the pavement. Her sharing in Mary's 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 Cyrene's sharing in carrying the cross opens him to understand the self-giving nature of Jesus' sacrifice. Simon will not be crucified, is not beaten, but his closeness to Jesus Christ while carrying the cross reveals to him Jesus' patience, humility and overpowering love for the very men who kill him. Simon's 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.

Freedom's 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 Christ's path of self-giving love, then we will find true peace and everlasting life.


Freedom – the power, rooted in will and reason, to perform (or not) deliberate actions on one's own responsibility.

Love – the theological virtue by which we love God above all else for his sake, and other people as ourselves for love of God.

Suffering – experience of pain, distress, injury. Suffering with Christ is sharing in his redemptive sacrifice of crucifixion.

Facilitator's Guide: Christ's self-giving love and freedom in The Passion of the Christ

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

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for granting us the gift of our freedom and Christ's 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.

Discussion Questions

1. One person commented after seeing the movie, “I forgot. I forgot how much Christ loves me - individually, so much so that He suffered immensely to save me.”
  • Did seeing the movie change your perspective on Christ's suffering for your salvation, and the degree to which Christ loves you?
  • What can we do on a daily basis to remember Christ's sacrifice for us and his love for us? (Potential discussion tips: contemplate Christ's suffering in daily prayer, especially through the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary; make a point of remembering Christ's suffering for us every time we have an opportunity to give of ourselves for another person)

2. What does the popular culture teach us about love? Let's discuss specific things can we do in our daily lives to counter these images within our families, schools, and places of work.

Personal Reflections/Writing

1. 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?

2. 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?

Resolution Ideas

1. 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 Christ's self-giving love.

2. 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 other's sins.

Copyright February 10, 2004
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