Sunday, August 12, 2007

Why I Love Jesus

Father Dwight Longenecker tagged me with this meme around two weeks ago, but it is only now that I have found the free time to answer it (I had to study for midterms). I think it's an interesting subject, and one I've been thinking about lately, even before Father tagged me.

In my senior year of high school, I was a particularly devout student. I confessed almost every week, attended daily Mass, and helped clean up the sanctuary after the Mass. Since my high school, as I've already mentioned several times, was run by the Opus Dei, the oratory was constructed with an especially high standard. Though only as big as a room, the altar was made of solid marble, and the other furnishings always struck me as the best money could buy. On great feasts, our chaplain would wear the most beautiful gold, Gothic chasuble I've ever seen; many a visitor who came to our small chapel would marvel at the integrity and elegance of our Mass paraphernalia.

I was always early for Mass. Back then, the Mass was still celebrated at 12 noon, so I would eat lunch at 12.45 when the Mass had been offered, and I had prayed my usual prayers. One of the most interesting people I've met, and always saw in the chapel, was a second grade student named Gab Navarro. Now, Gab was a very short kid: he had buck teeth, a bad haircut, tiny eyes, and a propensity to act like he was the master of the chapel. At the same time, he was also an altar server, even if his head couldn't even reach the top of the altar. The usual arrangement was that he would ring the bells and help the main server, usually a high school student, in case he forgot anything. Gab's classmates frequently teased him because they claimed he looked like a deranged rabbit. I heard an upperclassman once say, 'He has a face that could launch a thousand ships-- for the wrong reason!'

When the chaplain heard confessions, Gab had a rather annoying habit of going into the sacristy and bugging Father in the middle of some grave sin. His genuflections were awkward, and half the the time it looked as if he were going to fall down any second. He particularly liked the brass candle snuffer, and he would always race me (that was my usual task) to it. But despite all of these things, Gab was a very devout kid-- he prayed the rosary as often as he could, and when he and his classmates would enter the chapel, he would always reprimand them if they failed to genuflect. 'This is how you genuflect!', he once said, demonstrating his rather awkward position. The other kids imitated him, imbibing his awkwardness (it was a funny sight-- five kids kneeling down, palms folded in front of their chest, looking as if they suffered from arthritis).

One time, during a Eucharistic vigil, I entered the oratory and noticed that Gab made only a single genuflection. I called out to him and told him that, when the Blessed Sacrament was exposed, one does not make the normal genuflection, but a double genuflection, and immediately followed by a profound bow on one's knees. 'OK', he aid rather nonchalantly. A few minutes later, a rather emotionally unstable (not really, just extremely spoiled) high school junior entered the chapel and made only a single genuflection. Gab immediately tapped him on the shoulder, and said that he should genuflect on both knees. So the guy makes another genuflection, this time on his left knee. An exasperated Gab tapped him again, and said, rather forcefully, that a double genuflection meant kneeling-- how can you kneel when you drop down on your knees one at a time? The student left the chapel, barely stifling a tear!

It eventually came to be that I had to serve Father during the Mass (all students in our class were rotated, so that all would have a chance to serve). Being nervous, I had to ask a friend of mine to run the rubrics through me, lest I fumble and make a fool of myself during Mass. As usual, Gab was waiting in his favorite seat, the one nearest to the light switches in the back pew on the Gospel side. There was a diptych that covered the tabernacle, and when Gab saw that I opened it by placing my hands on the screen itself, he rushed immediately to my side, and explained that I should use the gold rings at the bottom of the diptych, lest I should smear the images of Sts. Michael and Gabriel with my grubby hands. If Gab doesn't end up a priest, I would surely be shocked.

There is something about children that strikes me; maybe it is their penchant for uttering pearls of wisdom without even realizing it, or perhaps the simplicity and wonder with which they lead their lives. A child knows Jesus as Who He truly is: Jesus for the child is the friend, that face bent with excruciating agony on the Cross, the glorious, transfigured king holding the world in His holy and venerable hands. In universities, where most students are introduced to theology, there is an effort to 'know' the historical Jesus: but the picture that almost invariably shows up is the much-politicized Christ of apocalypse, either the glorious, conquering liberator on one side, and the unchanging, mystical rapture that is the contemplation of mystics. Of course, an emphasis on either side can lead to error: would Jesus honestly support the revolutionary actions of self-proclaimed liberators? Or would he support the ivory-tower-polemics of those who see everything as sinful?

I am the most arrogant person I know; in my early teens, I prided myself on how many anti-homosexual, anti-heretic, and anti-atheist jokes I knew. During that time, the line that divided zealotry from righteous indignation seemed to have blurred beyond all measure for me. I am a wretched sinner, too-- I hate being corrected, I hate being told what to do, I hate talking to people who are stupid, dumb, or who are against my views. I confess that I have had a violent streak in me as well; maybe it is due to my Batangueno blood (Among the Tagalogs, Batanguenos have had a reputation for being violent; their preferred weapon in assassinating people is a fan made of sharp blades called the veinte nueve). It is still puzzling to me how I can still call myself an adopted son of God, in the face of all the evil I have done.

But then I remember Gab Navarro, that little kid who bugged everyone in church, but who is probably the most cheerful person I know. I guess I can consider Gab as a sort of blessing from God-- despite my myriad faults and shortcomings, He has nevertheless led me to this second grade student, whose example is by far one of the most luminous I've experienced in my life. I recall seeing a crucifix once, one of the bloodiest I ever saw. The corpus was bruised black and blue, and dripped blood from almost every orifice. But Our Lord's hands were extended in benediction, blessing even those who called for His unjust execution. I can't help but think that, at that moment, Jesus was blessing me-- I, who don't deserve to be called a Christian, I, who already have one foot firmly entrenched in hell. I am a violent, lascivious, and horribly proud sinner, and yet when I see Jesus, when I see Him looking down from the cross and giving me His blessing, I am at a loss for words. None of us deserve this kind of love, yet He willingly and freely gives us His love, more than what we deserve.

A common phrase which accompanies the image of the Sacred Heart are the words 'Behold this heart which has loved so many men, but is so little loved in return'. And I realize that, however unworthy I am of His good graces, He never gives up on me. The face of Our Lord, serene and yet tinged with the slightest bit of melancholy, is truly the refuge of sinners, the hope of the seemingly damned, and the salvation of even the most monstrous criminals. Despite my mockeries, blasphemies, and other sins, the image of Our Lord remains true and constant.

So I thank Our Lord, not just because He loves me in ways I can't even begin to comprehend, but because He has freely given me His heart, that heart which beats for love of me and is crowned with the thorns of my sins. It is a gift that I am totally unworthy to receive, but still, He holds out His hands and offers it to me. That is why I love Jesus-- for without Him, I am nothing.


Andrew said...

I am touched. You are very like me.

This paragraph: "I am the most arrogant person I know; During that time, the line that divided zealotry from righteous indignation seemed to have blurred beyond all measure for me. I hate being corrected, I hate being told what to do, I hate talking to people who are stupid, dumb, or who are against my views. I confess that I have had a violent streak in me as well; It is still puzzling to me how I can still call myself an adopted son of God, in the face of all the evil I have done." seems to be describing me. I love Jesus for being able to stand me, which is more than I can say for myself if I were put in His position. =)

Archistrategos said...

Thank you for your comments, Andrew. We are all sinners, and I thank the Lord that it is He Who will judge us in the end, and not our fellow men. Indeed, to the 'outsider', such a God as we have seems to suffer from madness. A non-religious friend tells me that he is turned off by the idea of a God that forgives too easily-- too human, not enough mystery, he says. He would much rather see God as some sort of chthonic abstraction than the 'sappy' overly tender face of Christ.

I thank the Lord that He has let me know what it is to suffer. I thank Him for all the trials, tribulations and illnesses that came my way. I thank the Lord for these, not because I am a sadist, but because it was in these things that I discovered how, even though I am the biggest wretch in the world, He has allowed me to partake in His life-- a life that He, too, shared in. This is the greatest joy we have as Christians.