The film Risen, which is about a Roman soldier who has been tasked by Pontius Pilate to locate the missing body of the crucified Jesus, includes a scene in which Pilate and the soldier, Clavius, encounter each other in a Roman bath immediately following the Crucifixion. A weary Clavius confirms for Pilate that “the Nazarene” is dead and buried, and this conversation occurs:
Pilate: It’s a strange case. I’ve never seen a death so wished for, even by him. It’s as if he wanted to be sacrificed.
Clavius: They are fanatics. Yahweh deranges them.
Pilate: Yes. No other gods and all that. I myself pray only to Minerva, for wisdom. You?
Pilate: Of course. Well, let’s hope one of them hears us. I could use the help. One does what one must.
Clavius: I don’t wish the mantle you wear.
Pilate: Spare me. It’s your path, too. Your ambition is noticed. Where do you hope it will lead?
Clavius: Position. Power.
Pilate: Which brings?
Clavius: Wealth. A good family. Someday, a place in the country.
Pilate: Where you’ll find?
Clavius: [breathes deeply] An end to travail. A day without death. Peace.
Pilate: All that for peace? Is there no other way?
Later, at the end of the film, Clavius has a private conversation with the risen Jesus, who knowingly asks him, “What is it you seek, Clavius? Certainty? Peace? A day without death?” Clavius, overcome with emotion, can only nod, sink to his knees, and gaze up at the night sky.
This pair of scenes is analyzed by Fr. Michael Cummins in his blog posting “We Want a Day Without Death.” Fr. Cummins sees Clavius as representing our society, which is weary of division, fear, violence, and war and seeks a path toward peace for all.
To his excellent interpretation, I would add two more that occurred to me. First, Jesus is reminding us what all Christians know. By following Him, we will literally achieve a day without death, for His sacrifice brought us the possibility of everlasting life with God.
Also, I think that Clavius expresses what we all want for ourselves: a sense of personal peace in the here and now. Day after day, like Clavius, we must compete and strive and go to battle in ways large and small. We struggle with our work, with our relationships, with our desires and cravings, with our sense that something is missing, and with our fear that we may be focusing on the wrong things and failing to notice something important. We hope that one day, we’ll be free of these burdens and worries, and then we’ll finally experience the serenity that we hoped for all along. When Pilate responds to Clavius’ description of a long life of struggle, he asks, “Is there no other way?” I’d say that, yes, there is another way. There’s a shortcut that allows us to skip all of that useless striving in the middle and attain our goal much sooner.
I didn’t find my shortcut until I returned to the Catholic Church and began doing all of the following: finding more contentment in what I have; expressing more gratitude; responding to others with more patience, more understanding, and more forgiveness; worshipping and praying more; and rendering service to others. My approach can be succinctly summarized in lyrics from the song “Day by Day” from the musical Godspell:
Day by day,
Day by day,
Oh, dear Lord, three things I pray:
To see Thee more clearly,
To love Thee more dearly,
To follow Thee more nearly,
Day by day.
Now, I’m not recommending that we should stop striving to improve ourselves. On the contrary. We all possess God-given talents, and we should develop them and use them. What I’m suggesting is that we be sure to make time for the other activities that will cultivate a sense of peace deep within us as we live out our days here on Earth. It’s the peace that comes from knowing, loving, worshipping, and serving Christ — a peace available to anyone at any time.
[Spoiler alert! Stop reading if you haven’t yet seen Risen.]
In Risen, Pilate’s question to Clavius — “Is there no other way?” — lays the foundation for Clavius’ realization that there is indeed a different, better path, one that is a viable option for him. He makes the choice to leave his old life of struggle behind and strike out in a new direction because, as he tells an innkeeper, “I believe. I can never be the same.”
What does the shortcut to peace look like for you?