Choosing the better part

Choosing the better part

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Behold the Man

Once again Newman invites us to meditate upon the Passion of our Lord; yet, not from a distance but as one ever so personally involved in it - not a bystander or observer but an active participant. We are to gaze upon the face and allow the image of it to be engraved upon our minds and hearts; for there we will convicted of our sin and consoled by the love and kindness that emanate from his visage.

Beyond this, Newman calls us likewise to see the hand raised against our Lord offering one blow after another and to ask ourselves: "Whose hand is it?" As David heard from Nathan the prophet so we shall hear our consciences cry out: "You are the man!" Do we think we are above such things?  We need only search back in our minds to see the many times we scoffed against sacred things, looked at others with hatred and resentment, filled our imagination with every impurity, rejected the voice of God beckoning us to prayer.  

Such a gaze seems to threaten us with despair. Yet in reality it holds the only promise of redemption.  We must allow our hearts to be moved to healing sorrow, to allow Him even now to call us back to Himself. We must not permit the gravity of our sin to be greater than His grace and mercy. We may seem stuck in the mire of our ingratitude. Let your gaze be locked upon His face and so the fire purifying fire of contrition to be lit within your heart.  


Behold the Man I see the figure of a man, whether young or old I cannot tell. He may be fifty, or he may be thirty. Sometimes he looks one, sometimes the other. There is something inexpressible about his face that I cannot solve. Perhaps, as he bears all burdens, he bears that of old age too. But so it is; his face is at once most venerable, yet most childlike, most calm, most sweet, most modest, beaming with sanctity and with loving kindness. His eyes rivet me and move my heart. His breath is all fragrant and transports me out of myself. Oh, I will look upon that face forever and will not cease. 

And I see suddenly someone come to him and raise his hand and sharply strike him on that heavenly face. It is a hard hand, the hand of a rude man, and perhaps has iron upon it. It could not be so sudden as to take by surprise him who knows all things past and future, and he shows no sign of resentment, remaining calm and grave as before; but the expression of his face is marred; a great welt arises, and in a short time that all-gracious face is hidden from me by the effects of this indignity, as if a cloud came over it. 

A hand was lifted up against the face of Christ. Whose hand was that? My conscience tells me: “You are the man.” I trust it is not so with me now. But, O my soul, contemplate the awful fact. Fancy Christ before you, and fancy yourself lifting up your hand and striking him! You will say, “It is impossible: I could not do so.” Yes, you have done so. When you sinned willfully, then you have done so. He is beyond pain now: still you have struck him, and had it been in the days of his flesh, he would have felt pain. Turn back in memory, and recollect the time, the day, the hour, when by willful mortal sin, by scoffing at sacred things, or by profaneness, or by dark hatred of your brother, or by acts of impurity, or by deliberate rejection of God’s voice, or in any other devilish way known to you, you have struck the All-Holy One. 

O injured Lord, what can I say? I am very guilty concerning you, my brother; and I shall sink in sullen despair if you do not raise me. I cannot look on you; I shrink from you; I throw my arms round my face; I crouch to the earth. Satan will pull me down if you take not pity. It is terrible to turn to you; but oh, turn me, and so shall I be turned. It is a purgatory to endure the sight of you, the sight of myself — I most vile, you most holy. Yet make me look once more on you whom I have so incomprehensibly affronted, for your countenance is my only life, my only hope and health lies in looking on you whom I have pierced. So I put myself before you; I look on you again; I endure the pain in order to receive the purification. 

O my God, how can I look you in the face when I think of my ingratitude, so deeply seated, so habitual, so immovable — or rather so awfully increasing! You load me day by day with your favors and feed me with yourself, as you did Judas, yet not only do I not profit thereby, but I do not even make any acknowledgment at the time. Lord, how long? When shall I be free from this real, this fatal captivity? He who made Judas his prey has got foothold of me in my old age, and I cannot get loose. It is the same day after day. When will you give me a still greater grace than you have given, the grace to profit by the graces that you give? When will you give me your effectual grace, which alone can give life and vigor to this effete, miserable, dying soul of mine? My God, I know not in what sense I can pain you in your glorified state; but I know that every fresh sin, every fresh ingratitude I now commit, was among the blows and stripes that once fell on you in your Passion. Oh, let me have as little share in those your past sufferings as possible. Day by day goes, and I find I have been more and more, by the new sins of each day, the cause of them. I know that at best I have a real share of them all, but still it is shocking to find myself having a greater and greater share. Let others wound you — let not me. Let me not have to think that you would have had this or that pang of soul or body the less, except for me. O my God, I am so fast in prison that I cannot get out. O Mary, pray for me.

Newman, St. John Henry. Everyday Meditations