Dominican LifeLiturgy

Contemplating Christ Crucified

Detail from Fra Angelico's painting of Jesus Crucified

This past Thursday, we read at the Office of Readings a quote from Pope St. Leo the Great: “True reverence for the Lord’s passion means fixing the eyes of our heart on Jesus crucified and recognizing in Him our own humanity.”

Our Holy Father Pope Francis spoke of this contemplation of Jesus’ suffering and its relationship to our humanity when he met with Poor Clare nuns in Assisi last fall.  (You can read the full text at Zenit.)  The cloistered nun, he says, does not become “otherworldly” in a sense that would somehow “transcend” her humanity.  Rather,

“When she goes on the path of contemplation of Jesus Christ, of prayer and of penance with Jesus Christ, she becomes greatly human. Cloistered Sisters are called to have great humanity, a humanity like that of Mother Church; human, understanding all things of life, being persons who are able to understand human problems, who are able to forgive, who are able to pray to the Lord for people. Your humanity comes on this way, the Incarnation of the Word, the way of Jesus Christ.  And what is the sign of such a human Sister? Joy, joy, when there is joy! It makes me sad when I see Sisters who are not joyful. Perhaps they smile, but with the smile of a flight attendant. But not with the smile of joy, of that which comes from within, always with Jesus Christ.”

“Speaking of the Crucified, I said in the Mass today that Francis contemplated him with open eyes, with open wounds, with the blood that ran down. And this is your contemplation: reality — the reality of Jesus Christ. Not abstract ideas, not abstract ideas, because they dry the head. Contemplation of the wounds of Jesus Christ! And it carried him to Heaven, it did! It is the way of the humanity of Jesus Christ: always with Jesus, the God-Man.  And because of this, it’s so lovely when people go to the parlous of convents and ask for prayers, and express their problems. Perhaps the Sister doesn’t say anything extraordinary, but a word that comes to her in fact from the contemplation of Jesus Christ, because the Sister, as the Church, is on the way of being an expert in humanity. . . .”

“Always with Jesus Christ, always. The humanity of Jesus Christ! Because the Word came in the flesh, God became flesh for us, and this will give you a human sanctity, great, beautiful, mature — the holiness of a mother. And the Church wants you like this: mothers, mother, mother — to give life. When you pray, for instance, for priests, for seminarians you have a maternal relation with them; with prayer you help them to become good Pastors of the People of God. . . . And this is the first thing: always with Jesus Christ, the wounds of Jesus Christ, the wounds of the Lord, because it’s a reality that he had and bore after the Resurrection.”

St. Dominic adoring the Crucified Christ by Fra Angelico - detail of larger paintingIt is so beautiful that the two signs the Holy Father points to as proof of a cloistered nun’s vibrant humanity are joy and motherhood.  Out of contemplation of Jesus’ suffering and death, contemplation of His saving Incarnation, comes a joy that encompasses our whole being, our whole life.  And this bears fruit in motherhood of souls: both the hidden motherhood of our sufferings “filling up what is lacking in the suffering of Christ for the sake of His body, the Church,” as St. Paul says, and the warm person-to-person motherhood that people experience when they come to us with their need for prayers.

All this is contained in our vocation as Dominican nuns.  We don’t have to look any further than our own Holy Father St. Dominic, whose contemplation of Christ’s humanity led him to both deep concern for sinners and radiant joy in the Lord.  “In the cloister the nuns devote themselves totally to God and perpetuate that singular gift which the blessed Father [Dominic] had of bearing sinners, the down-trodden and the afflicted in the inmost sanctuary of his compassion. . . . Let Christ, who was fastened to the cross for all, be fast-knit to their hearts” (our Constitutions).

So as we enter this Passiontide, ironing the purple drapes to cover the statues, getting out the Holy Week books and practicing the chant, we prepare to enter with our whole being into the liturgical re-living of the Paschal Mystery of our Redeemer.  May this bear fruit, for us and for you, in the great joy of Easter.