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A chat with Joseph Fiennes – star of historical thriller ‘Risen’

Rome, Italy, Feb 10, 2016 / 03:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The lead actor of “Risen,” a film told through the eyes of a Roman soldier who is forced to confront the resurrection of Christ, calls it a story for believers and nonbelievers alike – notwithstanding its strong Christian themes.

“The film presents us with the element of a second chance, of forgiveness, of redemption,” Joseph Fiennes told CNA. “Whether you’re a believer or not, I think there’s a huge value in understanding the quality of redemption.”

Fiennes, known for his leading role in the 1998 award-winning film “Shakespeare in Love,” plays the character of Clavius, a Roman tribune charged by Pontius Pilate to investigate the disappearance of Jesus’ body.

“Clavius as a man who’s deeply conditioned in death, in killing, in warfare,” he said. Over the course of the film, “he is challenged through a series of interrogations to look at and examine himself and his own conditioning.”

A Catholic himself who is married in the Church, Fiennes noted the film’s unique approach to the story’s consistency with Scripture – at a time when many films take a more revisionist approach to biblical stories.

“It has a balance between being very creative cinema – it’s a beautiful, epic, big film, it’s a Hollywood blockbuster in that sense – but at the same time it’s respectful of Scripture.”

This balanced approach to the material stems from the filmmakers’ commitment to the integrity of the subject material. Those involved in the film, he said, “have sweated and given their nth degree of energy to serve up and make this entertaining and respectful.”

Fiennes was recently in Rome with his family to screen the film. While in the city he attended the Feb. 3 weekly general audience, and spoke of being moved to tears upon meeting with Pope Francis.

“I wanted to say, ‘Hey, Pope Francis,’ but I cried like a baby,” Fiennes recounted. “I was reduced to a very humble set of feelings, because it was not about what was said: There’s a presence. That was a blessing for myself and my family and everyone there to be a part of that.”

Risen will be released in the United States and Canada on Feb. 19.

See the rest of CNA’s interview with Joseph Fiennes below:

CNA: What attracted you to this project?

Fiennes: I think there are a number of answers to that question. Firstly, Kevin Reynolds, a veteran director, we had a long conversation and after that conversation he very kindly offered me (the role) – which is one of the rare times, if maybe the only time, a director’s been in the room and said: ‘Would you like to do the film?’ And I knew there and then: yes I did.

(It was) not only after having spoken with Kevin, but also because, for me, the two interesting things about the script is that, (first,) we begin at the Crucifixion.

Pretty much all films I’ve seen that depict the life of Christ end with the Crucifixion, almost like the filmmakers don’t know what to do after. And, it’s a very heavy place to end. It’s a very upsetting place to end, believer or nonbeliever. It’s a very powerful image. So, we start with the Crucifixion, and we go to the Resurrection and the Ascension. As the title Risen (implies that it) might explore the theme of resurrection, it also I think imbues the film with a sense of uplift.

Maybe we need more dialogue in terms of our faith, in terms of those who are believers, or even nonbelievers, about that aspect, and what that might mean if you were interpreting. You don’t have to believe it; maybe you could draw a metaphor from it. But, I think there’s a positivity here which for me is fresh in the telling of Christ.

The other thing is it’s true to Scripture, or respectful of Scripture. Some films in the past have not been. I like that it has a balance between being very creative cinema – it’s a beautiful, epic, big film, it’s a Hollywood blockbuster in that sense – but at the same time it’s respectful of Scripture. So that’s a first time balance as well.

CNA: Could you talk about the journey of your character? And, how much of your own personal life and faith journey contributes to the journey of Clavius?

Fiennes: As you know, my character is a nonbeliever. He believes in the law of Roman gods, in particular Mars. He views Yeshua (Jesus), his followers, and all that they stand for, as Zealots and terrorists.

I came to this from a completely different angle. It’s nothing to do with me. I had to go the other way. I had to invent and articulate the research I had found. The historical research that gave me great value to making the character was how a man, military tribune, would think and act in that time and age.

I didn’t bring my self to the part. I invented Clavius. And when he goes on a change, maybe I could come closer to him, but for me, in my mind, I wasn’t myself. I’m this Tribune.

CNA: As an actor in Hollywood, you’ve said this film has an appeal for believers nonbelievers alike. Are we perhaps at time when there’s more receptivity to films about faith? Specifically, to films that don’t have an agenda, or that aren’t seeking to change the story?

Fiennes: The Biblical narrative has played a part in the history of cinema for a long time. There’s always been a hunger, I think.

Now, they’ve always been films for their age. Maybe they’ve been over-the-top old fashioned, Evangelical, and now maybe they’ve gone the other way – they’re too revisionist, and too original, and don’t adhere to Scripture. I think we’ve got a nice balance here, and maybe it is a film for the time and age.

I think less about religion, and I think (about) the word “conditioning”: that we’re all conditioned, whether we know it or not. To have a dialogue and a self-observation of one’s conditioning is important, because we’re only going to come up against another person’s conditioning, and that might bring tension and conflict.

The more that we can understand our conditioning, the more that we can invite ourselves to look at someone else’s culture and belief through their eyes, the less conflict there will be.

I see Clavius as a man who’s deeply conditioned in death, in killing, in warfare. He is challenged through a series of interrogations to look at and examine himself and his own conditioning.

It’s less about religion for me. I like to use the term, it’s a more neutral term, conditioning for me. I think religion might throw up a kind of resistance, but I think if one talks about conditioning we can all kind of understand that.

Conditioning can be not a big heavy thing. (For instance:) I’ve got a brand new pair of shoes, by mistake you step on it and you make them muddy and dirty, I’m conditioned to go “Hey, what are you doing?” That’s my conditioning, I have a response. So, maybe we have to learn to find the pause before we react, because reaction is our conditioning.

That for me is what I love about Clavius. He’s conditioned, and de-conditioned in order to take on the understanding of philosophy elsewhere.

CNA: You’ve been taking part in the various screenings of this film, and meeting with people who are seeing it for the first time. What has been surprising in how people are responding to the film?

Fiennes: Our producers and directors and actors, right across the board… have sweated and given their nth degree of energy to serve up and make this entertaining and respectful.

The surprising thing for me is that we’re dealing with a very sacred narrative. It seems to me that we have not caused division or dislocation or disenfranchisement, which is incredible. The overwhelming response has been positive.

Now, some people will love it, some people will kind of go: “Yeah, it’s okay.” But no one has gone to the other length. And, when you’re dealing with this narrative, I find that we’ve been very lucky. Something has guided us towards a place where I feel that the auditorium watching the film could be a complete diverse mix of atheists, agnostics, hard-core believers, and they will all enjoy and take something away from it. That, to me, is very rare.

And from all the interviews, and everything I’m getting: People are liking it.

CNA: Something I noticed during (the Feb. 3 Rome) screening was how some people were moved to tears during the film. Obviously, the majority of people in that screening were Catholic, but it would be interesting to see the impact it would have on people who don’t have any religion.

Fiennes: That’s what we’re really interested in: Will it reach that wide audience? I hope it does, because there’s great value for everybody.

But, I think just on a cinematic level, it’s a feast. It’s beautiful to look at, it’s wonderfully shot by a great Italian cinematographer and cameraman, Lorenzo (Senatore).

CNA: You had the opportunity to meet Pope Francis at the general audience. Could you tell us a little bit about what that was like?

Fiennes: I didn’t know what to expect. I guess I was a little bit in a dream. Honestly, I’m buying Pampers for my girl with my wife on Wednesdays. Wednesday mornings I’m not in Rome at the Vatican meeting the Pope.

I’m a huge admirer of Pope Francis and everything he stands for. I think he’s an incredibly connected spiritual and authentic being. As well as that, he clearly has the heart of the people because he is a modern voice and, (because of) everything he stands for, (people) feel a connection. He is tangible.

The pomp and the ceremony (at the Vatican) can distance ordinary people, and he breaks through that. This is incredible.

I wanted to say, “Hey, Pope Francis,” but I cried like a baby. I was reduced to a very humble set of feelings, because it was not about what was said: There’s a presence. That was a blessing for myself and my family and everyone there to be a part of that. And what a generous man to do that every day, or on Wednesdays, or across the world and travel. To look you in the eye, and give (that) the time and energy to millions: this takes a very connected being to do that.

Catholic World News

Lent is a time of pruning and reconciliation, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Feb 10, 2016 / 10:24 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his Ash Wednesday homily, Pope Francis said that Lent is the perfect time to let go of selfish and indifferent attitudes, returning to God with the help of prayer, penance and acts of charity.

“Lent is a beneficial time of pruning from falsity, from worldliness, from indifference: to not think that everything is ok if I am ok; to understand that what counts is not approval, the pursuit of success or consensus, but purity of heart and life,” the Pope said Feb. 10.

It’s a time to rediscover one’s Christian identity, “which is love that serves, not selfishness that uses,” he said.

Pope Francis celebrated Ash Wednesday Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica alongside the Missionaries of Mercy, who concelebrated with the Pope and received their official mandate from him during the ceremony.

A novelty of the Pope’s Jubilee of Mercy, the priests will be sent out to dioceses around the world as special ambassadors of mercy during the Holy Year. Although there are more than 1,000 missionaries from all five continents, only 700 made it to Rome for the official mandate.

In addition to their increased availability for hearing confessions, they have also been given faculties to forgive sins otherwise reserved to the Holy See.

Though there are several such sins, the Holy See has clarified that the faculties of the Missionaries of Mercy are “limited exclusively” to just four.

Namely, they are: profaning the Eucharistic species by taking them away or keeping them for a sacrilegious purpose; the use of physical force against the Roman Pontiff; the absolution of an accomplice in a sin against the Sixth Commandment (“thou shall not commit adultery”) and a direct violation against the sacramental seal by a confessor.

In his homily, Pope Francis focused on two “invitations” extended in the day’s scripture passages. The first, he said, comes from Saint Paul in the second reading.

When Paul tells his readers to “be reconciled to God” in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, he’s not just giving a piece of good, fatherly advice or making a suggestion, but is offering “a true and genuine petition in the name of Christ,” the Pope said.

The reason for such a “solemn and heartfelt appeal” is because Christ knows how fragile we are as sinners, Francis observed.

“(Christ) knows the weakness of our heart; he sees the wound of evil we have committed and suffered; he knows how much we need forgiveness, he knows that we need to feel loved in order to do good.”

Francis stressed that we are not capable of doing good on our own, which is why St. Paul doesn’t tell us to do just anything, “but to be reconciled by God, (because) he overcomes sin and raises us from our miseries, if we entrust them to him.”

However, he warned that certain obstacles frequently get in the way, such as the temptation to lock the doors of our heart, to give into feelings of shame, and to distance ourselves from the door by wallowing in our own misery.

Francis then addressed the Missionaries of Mercy directly, telling them that their mandate is to be a sign and instrument of God’s forgiveness.

He prayed that they would help people to open the doors of their hearts, to overcome shame and encourage them not to run from the light offered by God.

“May your hands bless and lift brothers and sisters with paternity; that through you the gaze and the hands of the Father will rest on his children and heal their wounds!” he prayed.

A second “invitation” the Pope highlighted was the Prophet Joel’s instruction to “Return to me with all your heart” in the day’s first reading.

The reason we need to return, he said, is “because we have distanced ourselves. It’s the mystery of sin: we have distanced ourselves from God, from others, from ourselves.”

It’s easy to see this if we stop to think about how we struggle to really trust in God without fear, how hard is for us to love others without thinking badly about them, and how easily we are “seduced” by material things that leave us poor in the end, Pope Francis said.

However, he noted that alongside this story of sin, “Jesus opened a history of salvation.”

Turning to the day’s Gospel reading from Matthew, the Pope said it invites us to become “protagonists” in our own conversion by embracing the “three remedies, three medicines,” of prayer, charity and fasting and penance, “which heal from sin.”

Pope Francis concluded his homily by emphasizing that returning to God with one’s entire heart is not something external, but instead comes “from the depth of ourselves.”

“Jesus calls us to live prayer, charity and penance with coherence and authenticity, overcoming hypocrisy,” he said, and prayed that the entire Church would walk together on the Lenten path, receiving the ashes and keeping their gazed “fixed on the Crucified.”

“He, loving us, invites us to be reconciled with God and to return to him, in order to return to ourselves,” Francis said.

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How to Obey Like an Adult

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