In Michael O’Brien’s book, Island of the World, the main character, Josip (now an old man but seeing himself as a boy), has a mystical experience in which he meets Christ, who reveals to him something of the mystery of the love that led Him to the Cross:
“He is not yet able to meet the eyes of the Savior of the world, yet he can glance hesitantly at the large hands opened before him and look right into the holes in the palms. Put your hands into mine, says the voice. He obeys, but shame and grief and loneliness mingle into one sense, a conviction that this is not the way he should have been. For here again after all this time is the blood he has struck from the faces of others.
“Waves of love come to him from the hands of Christ, even as the boy realizes that his own hands are pressing the wounds. Does it hurt you? Josip asks. Yes, it hurts me, Christ gently replies. There is no reproach in the words, only an assurance that he desires to bear this for love’s sake.”
This echoes something Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote in a novel, which I reflected on a couple months ago, but which I’ll reproduce here. A woman in the process of coming to repentance confronts the face of Christ in an icon:
“It was a completely human face, though its complexion was not of this world… The eyes held an enigmatic omniscience… knowing all, from the beginning to the end of time, things of which we never dream. A mind at ease might not have responded to these depths. But Zinaida, with her heightened perception, saw that Christ was suffering acutely, suffering yet not complaining. His compassion was for all those who approached him—and so at that moment for her. His eyes could absorb whatever pain there yet might be—all her pain, as they had absorbed many times as much before, and would absorb whatever pain was still to come. He had learned to live with pain as something inevitable. And he could grant release from all pain. A weight was lifted from her.”
We are accustomed to the thought that Christ bore all our sins on the Cross, and perhaps we are also somewhat desensitized to the enormous price He personally had to pay so that our sins would be forgiven. We can fully grasp neither the pain our sin causes Him nor the love with which He bears that pain without complaint.
As Lent approaches, and as we thus enter more fully into the mystery of repentance and a thorough examination of our consciences, we ought to consider more carefully the nature and effects of sin. Sin is not merely breaking a law, violating a precept, doing something we shouldn’t have, or not doing something we should have. Sin is even more than offending the justice or honor or truth of the Lord. Sin hurts Him. When we commit sin we are pressing the painful wounds in his hands, to use the image of the above quote. True, He desires to bear it for love’s sake, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less, nor does that make our offense any lighter. The next time we are tempted by our favorite vice, we ought to think twice if we really want to hurt Jesus. Let’s not minimize sin. People nowadays commonly assert that they can do whatever they want, as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody. But it hurts Jesus. And it hurts our own souls, even if we are too spiritually dense to notice it.
We need to reflect on this aspect of sin and repentance and relationship to Jesus. It may be that we tend to complain about things and maybe even hold God responsible for not easing the troubles and sufferings in our own lives, or the endless tragedies and horrors all over the world. Like Job, we may think we have an argument against God. Yet if the pure light of truth were to shine on our souls for just a bit, we would realize that the more poignant (and pertinent) state of affairs is that we have been hurting Christ all along, pressing on his wounds, causing Him pain, while He has been silently loving and forgiving us. He has “learned to live with pain,” the pain that our sins constantly cause Him, but He absorbs it without complaint, for love’s sake.
This ought to be simultaneously a source of shame, consolation, and motivation for us. We ought to be ashamed of our smallness of spirit, our hard-heartedness, our self-pity and lack of awareness of God’s infinite love. Yet we ought to be consoled that despite our ingratitude and unrelenting sinfulness, the Lord is still willing to bear it all out of love, without reproach, without rubbing our noses in it. All this should motivate us to stop hurting Him! It should kindle a fire of repentance, love, and gratitude in our hearts, so that we resolve never to hurt Him again. All of our sins are held painfully in his hands, and they disappear into his wounds.
Let us decide, then, to see things differently henceforth, to change our hurtful behaviors, and to allow Christ to lift the burden of sin from us. He does everything for love’s sake, and it’s high time we did so as well. To learn to love as Jesus loves is to make the greatest possible contribution for the good of humanity; it is to perfectly fulfill our vocation.