Sunday, March 09, 2008

6th Station: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

The sky is grey and heavy with unshed rain… or are they tears? Perhaps even the sky weeps today? It would be appropriate. Is the dimmed sunlight, in reality, the half-closed eyes of the sun as it tries to come to terms with all that it has seen today? Will there be a full moon tonight? In reality, there should be one because Passover is timed according to the full moon, but will the clouds even obscure the face of the moon? Will the sky at last be able to cry when the sun has given up its attempt to shed light on this awful day? I do not know, and neither do I know if there are any answers.

I sit in my house, the door closed to visitors, even to family, and, in the gloom, there is little that I can see of my familiar and much-loved belongings, however poor they might be.

All that I can see is in the eyes of my mind, and those, I cannot close, no matter how tightly I screw up my eyelids. Yet I do not know if I want my mind to be blind. All that I have witnessed today has been horrendous, but, even so, it was the last that I would see of the man they call Jesus of Nazareth, but whom I know and love as the Master. His face has burned itself into my heart and mind.

I had not planned to be in the vicinity of the Via Crucis today. Certainly, I would never be there when someone is being taken to his execution. I hate the gratuitous violence that is unleashed on such occasions. For some reason, even though the condemned man might be a criminal and, in a sense, heading towards an end that he might have deserved, he is still a human being. He still deserves some dignity and respect, at least from the bystanders, regardless of the actions of the guards who have sometimes drunk themselves almost senseless in an effort to face up to the enormity of their brutal responsibility that lies ahead.

Why does a mob mentality develop amongst the crowd of bystanders? Who starts it and why does it spread so rapidly? Why do normal human beings become more like vicious beasts, avid to tear asunder a weaker and perhaps defenceless prey?

For sure, on the occasions when I have seen the ghastly procession making its way towards Calvary, the condemned man has sometimes shown a last attempt to hit back at the world. As the crowd has taunted and insulted him, he has retaliated, uttering vile threats and curses that would, perhaps condemn him to Hades were the Almighty not such a merciful and understanding God.

Sometimes the one who is facing his execution has protested his innocence and claimed that his death is undeserved and, sad to say, I am sure that these protests are sometimes true. Our justice is not always just. Political expediency can so easily reduce a human being to a gaming-piece in some dreadful form of play that satisfies the power-hungry.

Today, however, was different.

The Master was silent apart from his laboured breathing and the occasional grunt or groan of pain as he moved.

When I came upon Jesus, he had already been relieved of his part of his burden. Some of the sounds were made by a disgruntled passer-by who had been forced to help Jesus to carry the Cross, lest he die on the way.

I saw the wounds inflicted upon the Master and, when I noticed the thin trickles of blood on his face, leading downwards from the crown of thorns, it was my woman’s heart that started bleeding in compassion. There was so little that I could do.

It was then that his mother moved into my line of vision. A young man, who was trying to be strong, escorted her, but his own shock was obvious. Neither of them had truly expected to see the Master in such a terrible state. They were both pale and horror-filled, immobilised and therefore bumped about by the moving crowd as it processed along the road, keeping pace with the Master and his guard. The crowd did not mean to jostle anybody: it was just that people’s attention was fixed elsewhere and two stationary individuals went unnoticed.

The expression on the face of the Master’s mother was one of acute agony and helplessness. I have never before beheld anything like it and hope that I will never again witness such suffering as passed between her and the Master when they caught each other’s eye. It was strange: as if the Master had sensed that his mother had come and that, even in the midst of everything, drew some comfort from her whilst, at the same time, showing a bitter sorrow that she should see him min this way.

It was that look that spurred me into action. I pushed my way through the crowd, through the marching soldiers, pulling out the cloth that, until that moment, had been covering some vegetables I had bought at the market. The unexpectedness of my rush actually stopped everything. I suppose the soldiers might even have thought that there was a rescue attempt in process. In a sense, there was. I did the only thing that I could do: I wiped the face of the Master, cleaning away some of the blood that must have been dripping even into his eyes. His look of gratitude was indescribable, even for such a tiny action.

As the guard pushed me back, his mother looked at me and I wept for the thankfulness in her gaze. I had somehow done something that she would have liked to do herself. I had managed to tell the master that not everybody in the crowd wanted his death. There were some of us there who loved him.

Now, I sit in my house, the bloodstained cloth on my knees. There, plain to see, is the face of the Master. There are no bloodstained smudges, such as I had expected. It is his face, looking up at me.

God bless,
Sr. Janet