Reflections on the San Damiano Crucifix Ash Wednesday 2006
March 1, 2006 - Ash Wednesday
Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Lent, journey towards Easter, offers us an occasion to continue reflecting together on the hidden richness within the amazing icon of San Damiano. This holy liturgical season forces us to urgently return to the contemplative dimension of life because it is part of our identity as believers - it is a question of life or death. We cannot go forward and let our souls be drowned out by noise, or be driven by so many tasks to finish - otherwise we risk becoming arid like a rock-bed next to a river, dried out from the sun.
Let us learn to keep long spaces of silence and we will discover that they will not remain empty: God will fill them up with His presence. Let us protect ourselves from the tragic overdose of tasks, let us defend ourselves with ferocity from the vile aggressions of tasks. Let us, instead, yield to the pastures of prayer, contemplation, and abandon our restless spirit to God.
Let the Crucifix that spoke to Francis also interrogate our own hearts and accompany us along this pathway, during this time of grace that begins today with the wonderful Liturgy of Ashes.
In returning to the well, or if you wish, in returning to the desert, in order to seek out that authenticity which we have lost, we will entrust the task of letting ourselves share in His Passion in contemplation of the wounds of Jesus, in order to discover with wonder that Calvary is the treasure-box in which is concentrated all of His love.
1. The wounds of Jesus
The wounds on the hands, feet, and side of Jesus are marked very clearly with large black holes, from which flows the blood of Christ in great abundance: they are the fountains of salvation that pour out the blood of the Lamb of God. It is the blood of the New Covenant that obtains for us eternal redemption... He, an unblemished offering to God, was a victim. Only true love allows itself to be wounded, in this the wounds of Jesus are the most authentic sign of the depth of his giving himself completely to us.
Let us pause before the wound on His right side and observe the motion. The blood of Jesus flowing out for our redemption, as a precious fountain of life that heals the universe, pours out on the people that encircle the cross, so that they can, each in turn, enter into this vortex of love and rejoice as recipients of this gift.
Also present are angels, which have always been messengers of God, His Adorers, and faithful servants. They are present in a significant number in this representation of the Passion, a drama that cannot leave anyone indifferent because it involves Heaven and Earth, creating a turning point in history. There are three angels on each side of Christ gathered together under His arms. With their hands they indicate His crucified body and, stupefied, they look at His wounds. Their eyes are wide open and surprised at the mystery: they express wonder at the loss of blood of the Son of the Most High. Their faces are in pain but serene because they have been sustained with certainty of the Resurrection which they are already aware of.
Other angels, more numerous, are placed above the cross and form a crown around the scene of the Ascension. They communicate a sense of celebration, and their faces are illuminated with a smile and their bodies move in a vivacious and joyful manner. Also, in the Disfigurement of Calvary, they already recognize the Transfiguration of the Ascension.
2. The rooster
Near the left leg of Jesus, the artist painted a rooster, with his beak open and neck stretched out ready to crow. In this detail, the artist wished to make a clear allusion to the denial of the Apostle Peter, depicted among the characters placed at the bottom of the cross. However, it may seem to us out of place to remind us of this episode of infidelity here at the conclusion of the representation of the Passion, by now certainly forgiven through the mercy of the Redeemer. The icon shows us the Crucifix glorified with the elect: the time of renouncements has passed.
In ancient times, the rooster was symbolic of the sun that rises: it is the messenger of the morning, the first animal that welcomes the new day in song, inviting everyone to wake up from sleep, the darkness of the night gone. This Sun is Jesus, the light that spreads out in the world. St. Peter in fact says: "Let us hold onto the Word...until the day shines forth and the morning star rises in our hearts". Jesus, "from high" on the cross is the "sun that rises" who represents the first light of Easter, (soon to manifest itself in its entire splendor). It is in fact Him, "The true Light that shines on every man and woman".
The presence of the rooster at the foot of the Crucifix becomes, thus, an announcement and it here repeats to everyone the prophecy of Zachary: "the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace". Thus, this rooster announces that Jesus is the true Light, who, from age to age, rises on the world. The clouds can darken the Sun, but in fact they remain always and only clouds that pass by.
Let us walk then towards His light not to trip over the numerous obstacles along the way and, in memory of the love received, let us respond with joy to the calling to become like Christ "Light of the world, so that the world will see our good works and glorify the Father who is in Heaven".
Even we, men and women of the 21st century, are searching for God, we are longing for light and beauty, even if often we walk down the wrong paths, looking for help in false idols and satisfying ourselves with fleeing appearances and mirages.
In "Franciscan" simplicity and patient attention fix your eyes, your thoughts and your desire on this holy icon and contemplate with gratitude the wounds of Jesus which became for you the fount of true life and beauty that saves.
Ask what your wounds are, what you feel threatens you, what blocks you and does not permit you to walk. Repeat to yourself: "Through His wounds, I was healed" and let the blood that flows from His wounds cleanse your wounds, heal them and help you to embrace them, and transform them into rivers of salvation. And, while doing this, follow the invitation of St. Clare
"Look at your Bridegroom,
the most beautiful of the sons of man,
who became the vilest of men
for your salvation;
who was scorned, beaten
and repeatedly scourged throughout his entire body,
and died in intense pain on the cross.
Meditate and contemplate
and desire to imitate him."