A Meditation for Good Friday

“I have pains in my gut. How can I not have pain in the gut of memory when it is filled with putrid stuff?”  -St. Bernard Of Clairvaux, Ad clericos III.4  

You are what you eat. This is of course true from the vegetative life in terms of physical assimilation: what you eat changes your body and can make you healthy or unhealthy. As famously demonstrated in a popular documentary, if you eat too much fast food it will make you sick and maybe even kill you. This piece of street smarts can be also applied to the life of the intellect. With what ideas and images are we filling our minds and hearts? I propose this Good Friday a visual meditation on the Mocking of Christ by Blessed Fra’ Angelico, the 15th-century Dominican painter and patron saint of artists. 

At first glance one is struck by the disembodied limbs that strike Jesus. What’s the deal with this bizarre representation? One answer is that they give the scene a sense of anonymity so that the viewer can identify themselves with the hand that punches, slaps, and strikes the face of Christ. We are invited to look at our sin. Perhaps there are specific memories of sins that haunt us in all their destructive ugliness in order to gain new affective knowledge which can lead to true compunction and tears of repentance. Once one’s gaze is cleansed one can see and be reconciled with the Beloved. 

We can see this in the Prophets:  “When they look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn” (Zech 12:10).??This prophetic passage cited in John’s Passion narrative highlights how humanity must weep over its sin, which was unleashed on Jesus, as a great personal loss. They must gaze up at the slaughtered Only-Begotten Son and mourn like his Mother. The disembodied limbs show the viewer that sin both divides ourselves and hurts others.? It is like spitting on the face and striking an innocent blindfolded person while mocking him. Fra’ Angelico helps the viewer to see the absurdity of sin that is unleashed on the innocent Lamb. But this manifestation of concentrated, violent darkness brings out even more the divine light and peace on the serene face of Jesus.

The viewer sees on the holy face of Jesus the victory of mercy that shines in the darkness. Christ suffered these atrocities to save the very enemies who wounded him. “For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life” (Rom 5:10).? This is the gratuitous divine love made manifest to soften humanity's haughty stone heart. Like Mary and St Dominic, let us fill our minds and hearts with this image of Jesus Christ’s cruciform love, for it alone can heal and save us. 

If you are interested in continuing this meditation, click here to watch Br John Paul’s visio divina on this fresco. 

Br. John Paul Puschautz, O.P. | Meet the Brothers in Formation HERE