“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.”
“My beloved Jesus, Your face was beautiful before You began this journey; but, now, it no longer appears beautiful and is disfigured with wounds and blood. Alas, my soul also was once beautiful when it received Your grace in Baptism; but I have since disfigured it with my sins. You alone, my Redeemer, can restore it to its former beauty. Do this by the merits of Your passion; and then do with me as You will.”
—St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, The Way of the Cross (The Sixth Station)
Sin corrupts what is good; it is a parasite that eats away at its host, leaving the host hollow and lifeless, and branding the host with its ugly character. The victims of those with narcissistic personality disorder often end up exhibiting the very traits of their abusers, driven mad by their constant emotional battering. They lose their sense of self and may develop Stockholm Syndrome, clinging to the one who is wounding them, struggling to make sense of senseless behavior.
Soldiers back from war are often stuck in fighting mode, unable to escape the horrible memories of callous mutilation and death. For trauma victims, the world appears as a dark, irredeemable place, with the suffocating snares of sin all around. The cruelty of people and tragedy of circumstance seem arbitrary yet inescapable, and the universe a chaotic void. In such a world, what room is there for hope?
Christ became sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). John Zmirak writes: “I read long ago in St. Anselm that Christ could have redeemed us by spilling a single drop of His precious blood. Divine justice could have been appeased, man’s fall and all our subsequent sins—from Cain’s slaughter of Abel to the mass murder of Europe’s Jews—could have been blotted out by the blood Jesus shed… at His circumcision” (“No Morphine on the Cross,” Crisis Magazine, 31 March 2010).
Zmirak reflects: “It may be that Jesus so emptied Himself to show the immensity of His charity, to give us a tantalizing peek at the secret love that fuels the Trinity.”
On the flip side, it may be that, by the instrument of the crucifixion, that terrible way for humans to torture and kill other humans, God wished to display to us the ugly reality of sin, which brings disfigurement and death to that which He created as a wholly good and beautiful gift.
Seek, then, what gives life and beauty, and shun that which brings corruption and death in any way. When you receive a bad impression of someone, try to find goodness in them, or to at least understand their circumstances and what pain they must have been through to turn out the way they are, for it is said, “Hurt people hurt people.” Also, no matter how twisted someone may be, there is always hope, as St. Thérèse knew when she prayed ardently for the eternal salvation of Henri Pranzini, who had murdered two women and a girl in their bedrooms. Every human being is someone God created and Christ died for; no matter how marred by sin, he carries within him the image and likeness of the One Who is Love, and this indelible identity can only be revealed to himself and to others through the eyes of Love. Herein lies our hope, and the antidote for sin—to behold one another and ourselves with the divine eyes of Christ, and treat all accordingly.
“So how can you see what your life is worth
Or where your value lies?
You can never see through the eyes of man
You must look at your life, look at your life through heaven’s eyes.”
—Brian Stokes Mitchell, “Through Heaven’s Eyes,” The Prince of Egypt (1998)
“Remember: God’s grief at the unspeakable things we do to one another is beyond measuring, but so is His mercy. It might seem a terrible thing to say to people who’ve lost and suffered so much at the hands of hatred and violence. But true courage is not to hate our enemy, any more than to fight and kill him. To love him, to love in the teeth of his hate—that is real bravery. That ought to earn people m-m-medals.”
―Tony Hendra, Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Soul
“It may be too much for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud shall be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting you can talk to may one day be a creature, which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of those destinations… There are no ‘ordinary’ people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts―these are mortal, and their life to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit―immortal horrors or everlasting splendours… Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses.”
―C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory