Thursday, May 10, 2007

Maior Autem Caritas

Miserere mei, Deus, secundum magnam misericordiam tuam, et secundum multitudinem miserationum tuarum dele iniquitatem meam!Averte faciem tuam a peccatis meis et
omnes iniquitates meas dele. Ne proicias me a facie tua et spiritum sanctum tuum
ne auferas a me!

Psalm 50:3,11,13

There I was, making my way into the back pew, as I usually did. My shirt was practically soaking in sweat; my hair was an unruly mess. My stomach was growling, my head throbbing from an intense migraine. I made my way into my usual place, and, uttering a short growl of a curse, plopped myself down into the seat. In front, the mensa was being prepared for Mass. I attend a Jesuit university, so naturally, the minimalism of the chapel was an affront to my liturgical tastes. The candles were small, wide, and looked as if they were salvaged from the clutches of a cheap dominatrix. The Risen One hung from the cross like a floor board. It was hot, almost stifling inside the chapel, despite the pouring rain outside. But it was not merely the liturgical minimalism that had set me into such a foul mood. It was something far more personal.

The Mass eventually started, and this ancient, withered husk of a man with thin, wispy white hair, emerged from the sacristy, escorted by one of the Eucharistic ministers. He bows his head to the altar, and in a clear and modulated voice, begins the service, invoking the blessing of the Blessed Trinity. In my mind, things began to swirl. I recalled my childhood days-- those carefree days of running in the sun-kissed streets and endless walking and running-- as well as the images of the suffering Christ. Then, gradually, we reached the Gospel. 'The Lord be with you', he said; 'And also with you'. I chanted my response almost perfunctorily, as if I didn't mean anything I had just said. It was then I realized the reality of what I had just done; that I had sinned in the house of God.

In the Philippines, as well as other countries where Spanish influence was dominant, there is a particular image of Our Lord called the 'Cristo Moribundo'-- the dying Christ. It is Our Lord, caught in the depths of despair, that moment where hope itself seemed to have died. It is the image of Christ, crying out to the Father in the barren wilderness, begging Him to take this bitter chalice away. It is that moment in history where Our Lord Himself felt abandoned, that moment when His heart, broken and defeated, is about to give in. It was this image that scared my most of all when I was a child. To contemplate the suffering of the Lord is to examine the human psyche itself. If we are to believe all the private revelations sanctioned by the Church, it would seem as if He had suffered all the hatred of humanity in those three hours.

A quick glance at popular tomes such as the infamous (or famous, depending on who you ask) Pieta Prayer Booklet would tell the reader the exact number of wounds He had received, how many times the crowd spat at His face, how many drops of blood were lost, and other such gruesome details. It paints the suffering of Our Lord with a distinct and violent pallet, consumed with the blacks and blues and reds that adorn His broken body. It is not a pretty thought; it is the stuff nightmares are made of.

But there is something about the face of Christ-- that face, furrowed with unimaginable sorrow, plastered with implacable fear and lashed with the worst cruelty and barbarity humanity can offer. Is it the eyes, welling with tears, and pleading for even a moment's respite? Is it the dryness of His mouth, the parched tongue begging for its thirst to be quenched? What is it about the vultus Christi that haunts the sinner and edifies the saint? How can such an image of immense suffering offer hope to the abandoned, and bring redemption to the impenitent? There is no single answer to this question.

The beating, flame-crowned, thorn-wrapped heart of the Christian religion ultimately boils down to one word: it is Love. It is because of love that the Almighty has deigned to abandon the glories of omnipotence to humble Himself as man. It is because of love that He allows Himself to suffer indignation at the hands of His own creatures, that forces Him to love them even in the depths of their depravity, that moves Him to hear the heartfelt pleas of even the gravest of sinners. It is because of His love for us that He comes down to us once more, in the guise of bread and wine, to be with us once again as He promised the apostles. I believe it was Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen who once said that the greatest love story in the aeons-long history of the universe is contained in that single, white Host. It is God, come down to earth to humble Himself under these unworthy accidents, and Who suffers the indignation which was once accosted Him in the tribulations of the cross.

I know in my gut that I have sinned against Him. I felt like I did not belong in the Church in that moment; I wanted to run away from the sanctuary, away from the house of God, of which I was unworthy to belong to. But God did not suffer so much on this earth to drive away the sinner. It is precisely for the lost, the wretched and the hopeless that He was nailed to the cross, that He was flogged with unspeakable malice by the soldiers, that He was trampled upon and chastised by His own people. I heard from a virtuous soul once that the tears of the penitent are the greatest of all God's graces. It is the same water that flowed from His side, which, when pierced with a lance by the soldier Longinus, became a soothing ointment that gave him back his sight. To gaze at the face of Christ, weeping in sorrow for the forgiveness of our sins-- even of those who called for His death-- is to gaze at Love itself. In those eyes, we understand what it means to love, and it is a most reassuring thought to have.

When Our Lord hung from the cross, it was the Virgin Mary and the beloved disciple, John, who gave Him the strength to bear the weight of sin. 'Flesh of my flesh, let me die with you!', were the words of Our Lady. I know that I do not have the courage to say these words, let alone live them. I know that I can never equal the divine sacrifice of the Cross; to attempt to do so is an exercise in futility. But if there is one thing in all the universe that moves Our Lord to bend His knees before his own creation, it is the sinner's plea for help. It is his plea of desperation and despair for which Our Lord would gladly suffer a thousand times over the cruelties of the Cross. It is love that moves Him, and it is His love for us, despite our myriad faults and sins, that gives us life. It is love that will ultimately save us.

To beg at the foot of the Cross, to gaze at Him whom they--we-- have pierced is the only theology worth studying. It is the theology of the gut, that inextricable part of man that hungers constantly for redemption. It is the knowledge that God loves us so much, to such an infinite and unknowable degree, that He gave us His only begotten Son, that we might know Him and be saved. This is the essence of love: it is incomprehensible, heart-breaking and utterly beautiful, which speaks to us in the cacophony of our lives in the still and quiet of the heart. And it is a message that is too often overlooked and ignored. This poor and unworthy sinner humbly entreats you, dear reader, to pray for him that he may have a heart that knows how to love and forgive.

Lord, teach me to love!

1 comment:

Archistrategos said...

This happened today, by the way.