Jim Caviezel urges Christians to embrace Jesus in their heart
The handsome, lanky movie actor strode coolly onto the stage during the PromiseLand West service Sunday morning.
He wore a simple black suit with no tie and longish styled hair with streaks of blond. His tan, chiseled face looked nothing like the bloodied, bearded Jesus he played in “The Passion of the Christ” four years ago.
And as Pastor Randy Phillips began interviewing him, Jim Caviezel spoke so softly, he appeared almost shy.
The hundreds of church members and visitors who packed the auditorium at Westlake High School seemed to take a collective breath.
Here was a mere man — yet someone who had captured their savior so convincingly in a film that grossed more than $370 million in the United States and became one of the most effective tools for evangelism in modern times.
Some said later they were surprised at how quiet he was in person.
But gradually, as Phillips showed clips from “The Passion” on a large screen and Caviezel began to recount the physical suffering he underwent to play Jesus, the shy actor emerged with a stronger voice. He described the grueling hours of makeup to create the impression of tattered flesh and the dislocated shoulder and hypothermia he suffered during the crucifixion scenes.
In one scene, the pain was so intense as he struggled under the weight of the cross, Caviezel said, “it wasn’t my own strength that I could get my arm around that cross.”
The congregation gasped.
“Thank you for carrying that cross,” Phillips said as the audience applauded.
Caviezel urged the audience to welcome suffering in their own lives as a way to connect with Jesus, to turn away from the sin of divorce and abortion, and to pray to God from their hearts.
Church officials said the 9 and 11 a.m. church services brought in 1,500 people, a higher turnout than usual because Sunday marked PromiseLand West’s third birthday and featured special guests. In addition to Caviezel, the Isaacs, a lively family bluegrass/gospel band, provided another draw.
Afterward, hundreds of people stood in line to have Caviezel sign CD sets of the new audio Bible — “The Word of Promise” — he is promoting. In it, Caviezel returns to the role of Jesus.
Teresa Hajovsky drove her 17-year-old daughter, Rachel, and Rachel’s boyfriend, Jeff Larson, from Leander to hear Caviezel speak. The Hajovsky family attends Hill Country Bible Church and watches “The Passion” every Easter.
Teresa Hajovsky had wanted to see Caviezel speak at a recent women’s conference in San Antonio but was unable to attend. When she heard about his appearance at PromiseLand West, she said, she thought, “God just worked this out for us.”
After getting their CDs signed, mother and daughter talked animatedly about the thrill of meeting the man who played Jesus. Rachel liked Caviezel’s message about the insignificance of earthly fame and couldn’t believe such a tall man was so soft-spoken. Her mother appreciated that Caviezel gave God all the credit for the movie’s success.
For others, Caviezel wasn’t a draw to Sunday’s service. Bernard and Theresa Curtis hadn’t given the actor much thought since watching “The Passion.” The movie, they said, had a profound spiritual impact on them, but they assumed Caviezel was simply acting.
“I didn’t realize he was doing more than playing a part,” Bernard Curtis said. “He had the spiritual foundation to play that part.” The Curtises said they could sense the Holy Spirit working through Caviezel as he spoke.
Phillips said he couldn’t have been happier. He rented multiple movie theaters when “The Passion” came out and encouraged members to bring friends as a way to spread the Gospel.
“I love anybody that helps me love Jesus more,” Phillips told the actor. “I love anybody who makes me love the word more. You’ve done both.”