Contemplating Christ in the Perfection of His Person – Part 2

February 26, 2015

Part 1

by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira

Man of Sorrows

Just as a fruit exudes its sweetest nectar and displays its most beautiful color when it is ripe, so does Our Lord express His full grandeur in suffering.

Cristo de Medina Coli: This statue is located high above the main altar in Madrid, Spain. He has real hair. This statue was in the possession of the Moors, since they stole Him. The Catholics wanted Him back, so the Moors put the statue on a scale & said the Catholics could buy Him back in the statue's weight in gold. The friars put 30 pieces of gold on the scale & the scale balanced out. The Moors were furious (they wanted alot of gold, since the statue is very heavy), so they started fighting, but the Catholics won the battle & recovered the statue.

Cristo de Medina Coli: This statue is located high above the main altar in Madrid, Spain. This statue was in the possession of the Moors, since they stole Him. The Catholics wanted Him back, so the Moors put the statue on a scale & said the Catholics could buy Him back in the statue’s weight in gold. The friars put 30 pieces of gold on the scale & the scale balanced out. The Moors were furious (they wanted alot of gold, since the statue is very heavy), so they started fighting, but the Catholics won the battle & recovered the statue.

In suffering, we see human misery most clearly. Crushed by suffering, man groans, moans, cries, flees, weeps, protests, revolts, and is humbled. Suffering horrifies man, and he is terrified by its prospect, but a man who accepts and even embraces his suffering with courage, acquires a quality of soul that others will never attain.

When I look at faces that bear no evidence of having suffered, I say to myself, “Poor soul, he thinks he he’s lived so many years, but, in truth, he hasn’t lived a single day!” The days of a man’s life should be counted not by the days he has lived, but by the days he has suffered. Suffering tempers the soul of man like fire tempers steel. Only a man who has truly suffered has truly lived.

There are many kinds of suffering. The suffering of a crusader who battles the infidel is not the same as that of the king who sends him into combat. The suffering of a sick child differs from that of the mother who cares for him. Different crosses temper different souls.

Jesus did not endure only one form of suffering. He was the Man of Sorrows. Reflecting on His life, we see that He suffered every sorrow a man could possibly suffer. His soul shone brilliantly with all the facets of the jewel of life that is suffering.

Crucifix

Harmonizer of contrasts

As with the gifts of all the peoples of the earth, Our Lord possessed attributes that were in themselves irreconcilable. He was at the same time the most triumphant Man and the most defeated, the most glorified and the most reviled, the most beloved and the most hated.

In His Person Christ harmonized professions, peoples, and attributes that could not be reconciled in a mere mortal. These harmonic contrasts met perfectly in Him because of the fullness of His humanity and His human sanctity but, above all, because of the unfathomable, divine influx of graces that were His as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.

Having drawn from our meditation on man’s gifts a faint idea of the Person of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we find that He is the perfect and sublime synthesis of all gifts. And that is precisely why our idea of His Person is so inadequate. Christ’s perfection is beyond our present comprehension. “Now we see as through a glass darkly, but then we shall see face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12).

Holy Face of Our Lord

Answer to envy

As I note in my book Revolution and Counter-Revolution, beginning around the fourteenth century, a negative and pernicious premise has been fostered by which all who are superior necessarily despise those who are below them. In this light, those who are not great should fear those who are. How can we combat this erroneous view?

Perhaps, in the course of our reflection the thought arose: “This is all well and good, but how could I hope to approach such a Person? One look from His eyes and I would feel like sinking into the ground. Much less would I dare to talk to Him. I would be struck dumb. What could I say that could possibly interest Him? After all, how would the philosophical reflections of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, and the sermons of Saint John Chrysostom, “the golden mouth,” sound in the ears of One who knows everything and has heard all?

Surely when our dear Saint Peter said, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinner” (Luke 6:8), he shared our apprehension. He felt so unworthy of Christ’s presence that he wished to vanish from His sight.

Painting by Raphael when Our Lord told St. Peter to cast down the nets. The boats being filled with fish to the point of sinking..."When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord."

Painting by Raphael when Our Lord told St. Peter to cast down the nets. The boats being filled with fish to the point of sinking…”When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

Yet, Our Lord affectionately appreciates everything that is virtuous, no matter how small, as a reflection of His Father’s perfect goodness. Thus Christ is the rebuttal to Satan’s lie that the great must despise the small. Our Lord hates evil, but all that is good, however modest, is a tiny spark and expression of the divine and therefore delights Him.

We love that which is great and that which is small precisely because one is great and the other small. We see a majestic eagle in lofty flight: “How magnificent! How beautiful.” We spy a tiny hummingbird hovering over a flower: “How delicate. What a jewel!” Would an eagle the size of a hummingbird delight us? Or a hummingbird the size of an eagle inspire us?

Confidence of sinners

It is true that Our Lord hates sin unconditionally and uncompromisingly. Since He is Virtue itself, He necessarily abhors every taint of evil. Were this not the case, He would not be worthy of our adoration, but while God hates sin, He loves any residue of virtue in the sinner and longs for his repentance and conversion. If Our Lord loves every form and measure of virtue, He loves even that which is but a shadow of virtue. Should He find a seedling of virtue threatened by the weeds of vice amid which it is sprouting, He will nurture and cultivate this fragile flower.

A Costa's hummingbird.

A Costa’s hummingbird.

When a soul is in a state of mortal sin, it is dead in the sense that it no longer produces good works. And yet it is the sinner’s faith that moves his heart to repentance and to seek God’s forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance. This faith is a true faith that the sinner has only because God sustains it. Otherwise he would have lost it, and his heart would have hardened and died.

Does God not love the faith that resides in the sinner’s soul? Did He not implant it? Does He not sustain it? Though this faith were the only bond joining the sinner to Christ’s Mystical Body, could Our Lord Jesus Christ, as Head of His Church, despise His own member?

Thus we may understand why great sinners have approached their Redeemer with confidence. Saint Mary Magdalene washed Jesus’ feet with perfume and dried them with her hair. From his cross, the good thief Saint Dismas begged his crucified Savior to remember him when he came into His kingdom.

Bald EagleTheir confidence was emboldened because Our Lord is Truth and Goodness, and when the the least vestige of truth and goodness comes in contact with Him it expands and is fulfilled. It is attracted to Him rather than repelled. Fear gives way to faith. It is capital that we understand this aspect of Our Lord.

Fear of the just

But how is it, you may ask, that Our Lord can inspire fear–at times even in the good? On Mount Tabor, where He appeared so covered in light that He frightened His own disciples? Or when He said, “Ego sum,” to the people who arrested Him and sent a wave of paralyzing terror through them?

It is because God is unfathomable, and while His existence can be known by reason, His nature cannot be fully comprehended by our unaided intellect. Were we to he behold Him without divine assistance, we would disintegrate.

Man’s eyes were made for the light of the sun. Without light we cannot see, but if we were to stare at the sun without protection, its rays would blind the very eyes they enable to see. Man himself was created to know, love, and serve God. The light of His Holy Spirit enkindles our primordial light and illumines our way. But were we to look on God’s face without His divine protection, we would surely die. Hence Moses’ encounter with God in the form of a burning bush (cf. Exod. 33:20).

God Appears to Moses in Burning Bush. Painting from Saint Isaac's Cathedral, Saint Petersburg.

God Appears to Moses in Burning Bush. Painting from Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, Saint Petersburg.

Our Lord did not manifest His qualities all at once during His earthly life. He revealed them little by little until after His crucifixion, His redemptive mission accomplished. Through His resurrection He manifested His unmistakable Divinity for all to see.

Alpha and Omega

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps. 110:10) but it is not the end. The fact that we yet live in this vale of tears and have not been consigned to the unquenchable flames of hell is reason enough to approach our Blessed Redeemer with complete confidence. Our continued presence in this world is a sign that He sees in us the seed of a good He loves, even if its fruit is far less sweet than we imagine.

May the light of Christ, born in our souls at Baptism, enlighten our path in the growing darkness of a world that has lost its way and lead us–like Dismas, our brother–safely home to Paradise.

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(Crusade, May-June 1998 . The text of this article was adapted from a talk given by Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira to members of the Brazilian TFP in September of 1971 in Sao Paulo, Brazil).

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