|Juan de Mesa y Velasco|
Santísimo Cristo de la Buena Muerte (detail)
University Chapel, Seville
The Evangelists describe the most disturbing event in the history of the world in two or three words” and they crucified him” (St. Mark and St. Matthew). “there they crucified him” (St. Luke), “to crucify him” (St. John). The readers of the Gospel knew well what these words would mean. The torture of the cross, in fact, was considered to be so terrible as to be kept at a distance, according to Cicero, “not only from the eyes, but also from the ears of a Roman citizen.”
But that which characterized the Crucifixion of Our Lord was not only the intensity of the physical sufferings but also the passion – most sorrowful – of the soul. On several occasions the Gospels insist on the progressive abandonment of Jesus in the Passion: the abandonment of the crowd: “You will leave me alone” (John 16:32); then of the disciples: “Then all the disciples forsook him and fled” (Matthew 26:56; Mark 14:50); and finally of the Father Himself: “My God my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34).
In the letter to the Romans, St. Paul marked the occurrence of the Passion by two elements: a fact: “He suffered,” “died”; and the cause of the fact: “for us,” “for our sins.” He was put to death, says the Apostle, “for our sins” (Romans 4:25).
By means of that “for us” the Passion of Christ – which would not otherwise have been connected to us –enters into our life. And in order to understand well the terrible sufferings of the Saviour of the world, it is necessary to recognize that they are also our work. In other words, each of us can say in all truthfulness: “I am Judas who betrays, Peter who denies, the crowd that cries out: Barabbas not him!” The Saints have understood this truth well. Gemma Galgani – the angelic stigmatized Saint of Lucca – for example, turned to the Crucified One and said with sorrow: “I am a thousand times worse than the Jews, because I crucify You and I know who You are.”
But if Christ died “because of me and for my sins” means - turning the phrase simply to the active form - that I have killed Jesus of Nazareth, that my sins have crushed Him. It is precisely that which Peter proclaims to the three thousand listeners, on the day of Pentecost: “You have killed Jesus of Nazareth!” “You have denied the Holy and Righteous One!” (cf Acts 2:23; 3:14).
In truth, those three thousand people were not all present on Calvary to hammer in the nails, nor were they in front of Pilate to ask that He be crucified. Therefore, they would have been well able to reply to the affirmation of St. Peter and instead they accept the accusation and promptly say to the Apostles: “What are we to do, brothers?” (Acts 2:37). The Holy Ghost had enlightened them, making them understand, if the Messiah died for sins and we have sinned, then we have killed the Messiah.
It is written that from the moment of Christ’s Death “the veil of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom; and the earth shook, and the rocks were split; the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised” (Matthew 27:51). These signs – apart from having a symbolical eschatological meaning – indicate that which must happen in the hearts of those who contemplate the Passion. St. Leo the Great writes: “May human nature tremble in the face of the tortures of the Redeemer, may the rocks of the unfaithful hearts break and may those who were enclosed in the tombs of their mortality come out, raising the stone which weighed down upon them.” It is the heart, therefore, which must break in contemplating the tortures of the Redeemer. It is written, in fact, that on that day: “the multitudes who assembled to see the sight, when they saw what had taken place, returned home, beating their breasts.” (Luke 23:48).
But if one understands what the Passion really was from motives of fear and sadness, there arises a reason for exultation and certainty. It is true that Christ suffered propter nos, because of us, it is likewise true that He suffered pro nobis, in our favour. The cross then becomes a motive for boasting and of glory. It is no longer “foolishness and scandal” but, on the contrary, “the power of God and the wisdom of God,” to such a point that St. Paul, once an enemy of the Lord, can exclaim with joy: “Far be it from to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!” (Galatians 6:14).
SPECIOSUS PRAE FILIIS HOMINUM
But the contemplation of the Divine Crucified One cannot remain only on these objective considerations. In Him, in the Man of Golgotha, shines the figure of the “fairest of the sons of men” (Psalm 45:3). In his commentary on the First Letter of St. John, St. Augustine writes: “Two flutes are played in a different way, but it is one and the same Spirit, which blows within them. The first says: “He is the fairest of the sons of men” (Psalm 45:3); and the second, with Isaiah says: “He had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2). The two flutes are played by the same spirit; they, therefore do not cause disharmony [… ]He had neither beauty nor decorum to give you beauty and decorum. What beauty? What decorum? The love of charity, so that you run loving and love running […] Look at Him from Whom you have been made beautiful.”
For St. Augustine, therefore, it is the love with which Christ has loved us that transforms and transfigures Him: “A man of sorrows and as one from whom men hide their faces” (Isaiah 53:3), into the “fairest of the sons of men” (Psalm 45:2).
Such beauty is reflected upon us in the measure that we participate in His crucified Love.
|Luis Ortega Bru|
Santísimo Cristo de la Misericordia
Hermandad del Baratillo, Seville
[From De vita Contemplativa, Franciscans Sister of the Immaculate, Italy. Translation: Contributor Francesca Romana.]