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An image from the Montreal archiocese's 2003 annual collection campaign. Image/Archdiocese of Montreal

Beware sleight of hand

  • April 16, 2015

There’s a moment in Al Pacino’s new film Danny Collins when the eponymous character, alone in his dressing room, touches the ornate Cross nested in his ancient rock star chest hair. The gesture is cinematic sleight of hand.
In the next frame, Collins uncaps the crucifix and pours out a few lines of cocaine to put up his nose so his show can go on. The sign of our faith, in the fingers of a pop icon, turns into yet another clever cache for the pursuit of becoming comfortably numb.

Unfortunately, the movie then wanders away from the scene’s point. It becomes a self-satisfied warble of the heart song of our age: with enough money, you can buy redemption at no cost, at least not to yourself.

Yet those few seconds themselves are worth the price of admission, certainly at this Easter season, and if only to provoke questions about how even non-Hollywood culture yokes Christ’s cross to warm, fuzzy feel-goodism. From the single sign of universal salvation, the instrument of Our Lord’s torment, doubt and death, becomes a catch-all for seemingly endless spiritual, social and political signifiers. True, none of them contain cocaine. But all fuel some form of diversion from the authentic message of the cross.

Just to take one small example, in Montreal, the archdiocese has just launched its annual giving campaign. For the past decade or so, the marketing savvy of the campaign has almost put its actual purpose in the shade.

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