Lent’s Call: Contemplating the face of Christ

Pain, as we know, has many dimensions. There is physical pain which is so obvious as we look at Christ on the cross. And there is the psychological and spiritual pain: hidden but so real. At this point, I would like to concentrate on the latter.

As we look at Jesus’ agony, I believe there are a number of areas to reflect upon. Given the fact that he embraced his suffering and death for our salvation, we might begin by concentrating upon the indifference of so many to his self-offering. In our day when so many are challenging even the idea of God, there is a special relevance of his words to St. Margaret Mary:

Behold the heart which has loved men so much that

it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming

itself, to prove its love for them. And as thanks I receive from

the greater number only ingratitude, (especially) because of...

the coldness which they have for me in the sacrament of love.

As we contemplate the face of Christ, we cannot ignore the descriptions we have from the evangelists of the Lord’s last hours on Calvary. And as we read and re-read them and gain insight into the enormity of this tragedy (humanly speaking), we sense Christ’s psychic pain.

“I thirst.” Such words are easily passed over. Indeed, I myself would never have appreciated them unless I had undergone two lung operations. In the days of recovery, I was not allowed water lest it somehow affect the bleeding in my lung. After a day or two, the thirst was almost all-consuming, so intense that it made it almost impossible to pray. Such gave me a glimpse into thirst’s power over us.

As I contemplate Christ on the cross, I know that his was also an all-consuming thirst physically speaking. Even more so, however, his was also an all-consuming psychic and spiritual thirst.

I can only hope to list some of the thoughts and desires I believe were in the mind of Christ at this time. Certainly, his was a desire that we come to understand the personal and individual love he had for each one of us as he hung on the cross. His was not an abstract love. In my former parish, St. Augustine’s in South Boston, there was a gigantic crucifix behind the main altar. It depicted Christ before his heart was pierced. We also had a painting in the cemetery chapel (still in existence) where the Lord is hanging on the cross, again with his heart not yet pierced.

In these presentations, the artists were trying to highlight a profound truth--namely that each one of us was enclosed in the heart of Christ as he endured his suffering and death on the cross. In this context, I am sure that one of Christ’s desires was that each one of us would come to appreciate his love for each one of us and grow in gratitude for the sufferings he underwent for our salvation.

In reflecting upon Christ’s thirst, perhaps we should concentrate on what Christ most desires from us. In our world and especially our society, there is a great emphasis on what we do and accomplish. Christ’s words are almost a corrective to such an approach to life. In the Lord’s mind, what is important is that we give him our love and surrender to the Father’s will.

There are other dimensions to Christ’s thirst. I believe that even in heaven he still has desires, especially as he said to Margaret Mary that we come to appreciate the extraordinary length he went to insure our right relationship with God. We must constantly express our gratitude to him in prayer. I also believe that he desires that we move beyond the visible and come to appreciate his mystical association with the poor and suffering of our world.

There is another thirst which the Lord has. He desires that we come to the realization that sin is not an obsolete, outdated concept. We cannot leave the cross without internalizing this idea.

Msgr. McDonnell is a senior priest of the archdiocese and is in residence at St. Mary Parish, Dedham.