In praise of... Pasolini's St Matthew

On Thursday we celebrated the feast of St Matthew, the tax collector turned disciple and evangelist. And, according to Vatican News, the day marked a significant anniversary for Pope Francis, who traces his call to priesthood, as a Jesuit, back to an encounter with Jesus on this day in 1953. This, in turn, got me recalling how St Matthew - or rather, his Gospel - was also part of my journey back to God, and into his Heart...

I was twenty-six, and though I didn't yet know it, I was searching for the God who was silently drawing me to himself. All I did know was that I was seeking an elusive, indefinable, as-yet un-named 'more' than everything I already had. And it was Good Friday, a day whose sadness and significance were deeply ingrained in me, though I had no intention of going to church. Instead, I decided to watch a religious film which happened to be on TV - probably BBC2. The film was Pier Paolo Pasolini's Gospel According to St Matthew, which I had never heard of, let alone seen before. 

I was accustomed to Zeffirelli's lavish Jesus of Nazareth, and had also grown up with films like King of Kings and The Robe... But this... this was something completely different. This was a bleached, understated, unadorned film of stark simplicity, using only the text and accounts in the Gospel. Not a single extra word was added; gestures and expressions and tiny, often Italian, details sufficing, instead, to convey so much more. There were no backstories, no special effects or interpretations; no acclaimed film stars in the cast; nothing to detract or distract from the so-familiar story, and the Person at its heart. 

And it was utterly, mesmerisingly, soul-achingly compelling. And although I didn't immediately relate this to the 'more' I was seeking, something within me yearned, nonetheless, for more of what I had just watched.

Years later I learned much more about the film, its location, soundtrack and its cast of amateurs. I learned, too, that Pasolini was a Marxist atheist: though one capable, not only of making this film, but of dedicating it To the dear, joyous and familiar memory of Pope John XXIII, who had died the previous year, and who, indirectly, was responsible for Pasolini having picked up a bible in a hotel room. And it's rather lovely to think that because of this, good Pope John had his own indirect role in my own journey back to God, and into the Society of the Sacred Heart...!

I have watched the film several times, seeing something new each time, even in the most familiar scenes - and thanks to YouTube, I can invite you to do so too! Here it is in its original Italian, with English subtitles. Enjoy! - and wherever you may be in your journey into or out of belief, may you see something which will speak compellingly to where your heart is now, and where it longs to be...