“If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking.”

POST BY DPreston

George C Scott as General Patton
George C Scott as General Patton

Obscure half-forgotten films can sometimes be the source of rare gems of wisdom.

One afternoon in the late 80’s, lazily watching afternoon TV instead of writing a theology essay, I became engrossed in a fine little TV movie called “The Last Days of Patton”. It was a sequel to the legendary film, “Patton” and also starred George C. Scott reprising the role of General George S. Patton which earned Scott an Oscar in the original 1970 movie.

Patton was a remarkable leader of men; arrogant and half-crazy with self-belief, astute and articulate (one of his many quotable quotes leads this article),  he drove the US 3rd Army into the heart of Nazi Germany and his bravado and courage hastened the end of the Second World War.

The Last Days is a more reflective film than the brash and noisy original. It sketches-out the very early post War period after Patton had been seriously injured in a car crash in occupied Germany. He lies slowly dying in his bed and thinks back to people in his life who have been important. It is a film of poignant flash-backs.

Since my viewing, almost 30 years ago now, to the present day I have not re-watched the film (it is VERY obscure!) but I carry a powerful image from the film which burned itself into my memory.

The young boy Patton is sitting by a river with his father – my memory was that they were fishing – and the father is reflecting on the family history and life in general. He then comes out with a reflection which caught me: this is my paraphrase, but it is not far off the original:
“Remember, son:  no one can choose where or how they are born. But to some is given the chance to choose the way they die – and by this choice indicate the way they have lived.”

This maxim is so true and the truth is double-edged: in the last few days suicide bombers tried to rip the heart out of Brussels and the Belgian people. They chose how-&-where they wanted to die and, by that choice, indicated the way they have lived. Blood soaked the pavements, the airport departure lounge and the metro station. A rather demonic philosophy of death came to its natural conclusion and the lives of hundreds were changed forever by the hatred and pride of a few.

Perhaps it is important to juxtapose this human outrage with the liturgy of Holy Week. Patton Snr’s maxim works as well for Jesus as it did for the bombers, but the image is reversed. Christ’s choice of death becomes a sponge for the anger, violence, fear and hatred. That action – horrific in its violent execution – becomes the point of light and transformation.

The early Church struggles to express what had happened: in some rather hazy way they know that Jesus’ acceptance of death and his subsequent resurrection has brought a fundamental change to human existence. The early disciples start to use the word ‘salvation’: that brutal act on Golgotha had in some way ‘saved’ human beings – not just the disciples of Jesus but the whole of the world. Other words like ‘redeemed’, ‘healed’ were employed but like salvation itself, it didn’t fully capture the reality of what had happened. This is the mysterious ‘Good News’ they experience and that is why they know they must share it with everybody because it has repercussions for everyone. 

The Easter Triduum is the way that the Catholic Church returns to the origins of this story of salvation: the single liturgy broken into three fragments (the Last Supper Eucharist on the Thursday, the Good Friday Service and the Easter Vigil on the Saturday evening) provide a triptych of worship to contemplate that offering of one that brings us to the heart of the Christian mystery.

May we all be blessed this Eastertide.

Dermot Preston SJ