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Posted November 12, 2009

A Mystical Image for Service

by Ron Rolheiser



When the young French mystic, Therese of Lisieux, was trying to explain her vocation, she referred to a soul-searing insight that was once given her:

One Sunday, looking at a picture of Our Lord on the Cross, I was struck by the blood flowing from one of his divine hands. I felt a pang of great sorrow when thinking this blood was falling on the ground without anyone's hastening to gather it up. I was resolved to remain in spirit at the foot of the Cross and to receive its dew. ... I don't want this precious blood to be lost. I shall spend my life gathering it up for the good of souls. ... To live from love is to dry Your Face.

At one level, this can be seen as an image of simple excess piety, an over-pious young nun sitting in a chapel, admiring a crucifix and getting emotionally over-wrought in an imaginative scene of Jesus being abused and crucified. But this is a metaphor, a mystical image, and a very challenging one.

When Therese of Lisieux speaks of Christ here she is referring not just, nor even primarily, to the body of the historical Jesus, but to the body of Christ in this world. Christ is still suffering and blood is still flowing from his face and his hands in many parts of our world. One of our tasks as Christians, and simply as human beings, is to, metaphorically, notice that blood, gather it up, and properly honor it. The Christian task, always, is to stand at the foot of the cross and gather up its dew so that this preciousness is not lost.

How do we do that?

When Amnesty International, or any group or individual dedicated to justice, goes to war-torn and violent parts of our world, documents the violence there, and lists publicly the names of all those who have been made to disappear, they are standing at the foot of the cross, receiving its dew, and hastening to gather it up.

When a nun leaves the safety and security of her own country and community and travels to Sudan to be with women who are being raped and documents their stories, she is standing at the foot of the cross, receiving its dew, and hastening to gather it up.

When a friend on a playground rushes in after an incident to console the vulnerable young person who has just been humiliated by the school bully, she is standing at the foot of the cross, receiving its dew, and hastening to gather it up.

When a man, like Greg Mortenson, steps out of a life of privilege and comfort to risk everything, including life itself, to build schools in the most rural parts of Pakistan so that young Muslims, especially young Muslim women, can receive an education, he is standing at the foot of the cross, receiving its dew, and hastening to gather it up.

When men and women dedicate their lives to working with the mentally disabled so as to help enable the lives and dignity of those whose talents are different, they are standing at the foot of the cross, receiving its dew, and hastening to gather it up.

When an idealistic young person joins the peace-corps, or becomes a missionary, in the sincere desire to help someone who is less privileged, he or she is standing at the foot of the cross, receiving its dew, and hastening to gather it up.

And ...

Whenever any of us takes time at our place of work or in our home to listen to that wounded soul who has worn out everyone's patience with complaints and whining reminiscences, we are standing at the foot of the cross, receiving its dew, and hastening to gather it up.

Whenever any of us makes the effort to listen with empathy to that frustrated friend, colleague, or sibling, who is wrapped-up in jealous frustration because his or her life has not turned out as he or she had dreamed, we are standing at the foot of the cross, receiving its dew, and hastening to gather it up.

Whenever any of us notices another's achievement and sincerely congratulates and blesses him or her on that success, we are standing at the foot of the cross, receiving its dew, and hastening to gather it up.

Whenever any of us, empathically, pray for all those people in this world whose dreams are being crushed and who are suffering the martyrdom of obscurity and anonymity, we are standing at the foot of the cross, receiving its dew, and hastening to gather it up.

Blood still flows from both the hands and the face of the one being crucified. Mostly it goes unnoticed, with no one hastening to gather it up.

Our task, like that of Therese of Lisieux, is to notice, and the make sure that this preciousness does not go unnoticed, unmarked, without its proper honor.