We ponder the priority and urgency between avoiding evil and doing good.
We wonder whether Jesus went about either or both of these tasks primarily by establishing the church or sending out missionaries to preach.
And we link these issues together by asking ourselves whether Jesus came among us to call us all to holiness or to save us from our sins. Of course, in all of these conundrums, we know there’s a connection between these apparent differences. Isn’t it better to make it a matter of “both-and” rather than “either-or”? Certainly so, but at times we can’t do both at the same time; rather, we have to work in sequence: first one, then the other. So we have to make a choice: which is first, which is second. For instance, the call to holiness/the command to avoid sin. The Second Vatican Council made it quite clear that all of us, not just some of us, are called to be holy. But when we read the gospels, it is striking to note how often Jesus said His focus in coming into the world was to save what was lost–the wayward sheep. Do we not have here a version of doing good and avoiding evil? Which plays the greater role in our mindset: to gain heaven or to avoid hell? And when we pray an act of contrition do we focus primarily on God Who is all good and worthy of all love, or do we think of the loss of heaven and the pains of hell? Do we first of all tend to back away from what can hurt us or do we incline to grasp what appeals to us, as our priority?
Salvador Dali, a famous artist of the twentieth century, was generally known as an eccentric, surrealistic painter. His work was filled with strange and unexpected images not understood at first glance, however few would argue they were not thought provoking. The work was meant to convey a message that the observer could find for himself or herself out of a sometimes-bizarre scene laced with symbolism. One painting seems to make a departure from Dali’s typical style. He was originally inspired to paint this subject after seeing a sketch done by St. John of the Cross. The powerful image of Christ crucified is unusual in two ways but the message is overwhelming. The view of the crucifixion, floating over a seascape, is from above, as if from God’s eyes and Dali was a master of perspective. This painting is a very large, dramatic scene with Christ attached to the cross without nails. Intentionally, the whole body is a well-toned muscular man without any wounds, a perfect corpse. It is said the artist had a dream in which he was told to paint the beauty of Jesus. The point of view and the bloodless body are very different and that is exactly what makes us think. Why?
“Jesus cried out and said, “He who believes in me, believes not in Me but in Him who sent Me. And he who sees Me sees Him who sent Me. I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in Me may not remain in darkness.” John 12:44-46
The Crucified Christ has to be looked through to see the scene of earth with its mountains, seas and people. The God of all creation sees all things by first seeing the eternal image of His only Son, a perfect, holy sacrifice for the forgiveness of all sin, slain but beautifully pure and spotless. We, in turn, are allowed to encounter God by accepting His Son. Artists of all disciplines oftentimes deviate from what is usually expected of them to display their versatility. The renowned surrealist painted the ultimate reality by this most precious message obviously depicted in his masterpiece. Reconciliation to our God by the atonement for sin is accomplished in the ultimate act of love made by the spotless Lamb of God. Certainly the suffering and bloody wounds are the actions of redemption that took place but this emphasis on the perfection of the sacrifice is extremely important. Dali himself describes the painting as “The very unity of the universe, the Christ”. The artist who sought to be outrageous has described the simplicity of the plan of salvation
“Christ entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” (Hebrews 9: 12-14)
It is always hard to convince young people how short life really is, but the older we get, any resistance fades into agreement. Our time on Earth may be short but who can honestly say that they have no regrets? David of the Old Testament was a man who loved God above all. A writer of psalms and king of Israel, he had failings and regrets. Peter, trusted friend of Jesus, failed to acknowledge the Lord when he feared for his life. As much as we strive to be perfect and try to control things, we are subject to the unexpected and the weakness of our nature. We are as different as the stars in the sky, however a need for union with God and each other is a common attraction. The way to keep this source of life viable is to partake of God’s gift of flesh and blood, bread and water, light and truth. As the fishermen below in the Dali painting, we must encounter God and the reality of creation by living life in light of the pure, chosen sacrifice the Son of God.
Oh! how easy it is to imagine God somewhere far away, in another dimension, another reality. Some religions teach how we should work our way closer to a divine consciousness by withdrawing from the world through meditation and self- purification. Jesus breaks down the barriers. He enables and empowers you and me to contact God here and now, just as we are. His words to us are inviting, welcoming and forgiving as He seeks our company. The notion of God is an abstract idea to some, so the Word became flesh and has dwelt among us. His strongest message is eternal, universal and personal. I love you.
The Passion and death of Jesus Christ is a plan of salvation that defies our reasoning, yet it is simple enough for a child. The question “Why did Jesus have to die on the cross?” has been asked many times and a child expects a simple answer. A good reply might be “to save us from our sins” with the understanding that the answer is accepted in childlike faith. As adults more complete reasoning is desired. The acceptance of the emotional, mental and physical devastation suffered by the Lamb of God is meant to be an act of magnificence that surpasses all understanding. God loves. The crucified Christ is the proof long ago, here and now and always for all who will accept the gift beyond comprehension.
Abha Dawesar may not look like a Passionist, but she sure does think and preach like one. In this TED talk she tells of her experience with hurricane Sandy. Half of New York City was in a blackout, and that’s where she found herself, living in a high rise with no electricity. Talk about a crisis. No elevators, no water, no light, no Internet. OMG—no Internet? How did she survive? Listen and then if you feel so moved, share your thoughts by clicking on “Comment” below.