"He was crucified." Creed.
The story is told of a French artist who was engaged to paint a picture of the crucifixion for a famous church. As he was given plenty of time, he spent more than a year working on and off at his task. To model one of the figures beneath the cross he chose a young French girl. When she came for the first time to the studio, the still uncompleted picture caught her eye and fancy. So much interest did she show, and so many questions did she ask, that it was impossible for the artist to paint her into the scene. She kept asking:
"Who is He? What has He done? Why must He suffer so? Why did they nail Him to a cross?"The artist tried to parry her questions with as few words as possible. But the girl became still mote curious. Seeing that he could not go on until she knew the entire story, he blurted out: "I'll tell you all about it, but then you must promise to stop talking and look at me when I am trying to paint."
As briefly as possible he told her the story of the crucifixion. She hung on every word he uttered, and when he concluded, she asked in tears:"And did He do that for you? And did He do that for me?"
"Yes," he replied, "He did it for you and me, and for all of us."
"Oh," she exclaimed, "if He has done that for me, I always want to love Him. And you, how you must love Him, for you have known the story so long."
Long after she left, her words kept ringing in the artist's ear, "How you must love Him for you have known the story so long." From then on he put heart and soul into the picture.
Today we want to repeat that story for you, well-known as it may be. We do not love Him nearly enough for the length of time we have known the story. With too little love we mumble the words: "He was crucified."
The nailing to the cross is so gruesome and sickening that we would not be brought to speak of it, were it not that our Lord went through such terrible torture for us. It is love of His love that prompts us to speak of it this week.
Last week we followed our Lord to Calvary. There they stripped Him of His garments, especially of the woolen tunic which was imbedded in His wounds. The weight of the cross, the frequent falls, the rough pushing of the soldiers. the blood and perspiration has caked His clothing in His wounds. Every cut is opened afresh as they tear His tunic off. The most common opinion is that only a loin-cloth was left Him, but even this may have been taken from Him, leaving Him naked before those who went to see Him crucified.
Brutally they throw Him down on the cross. One soldier stretches His right hand, while another kneels on His arm. The sickening thud of hammer on nail as it drives through flesh and wood, makes the sensitive hold their, breath. You have stuck your finger with a pin or needle. Imagine having a spike driven through your hand. Next, they pull and rack Christ's left hand over to the place for the nail. Again the nauseating thump of the hammer, the tortured twisting of His muscles, the spurts of blood, and the groans of the sympathetic group with our Blessed Mother. Doctors tell us that the agony is so great when a nail is driven through the hand, that generally the victim swoons away.
Behold now the hands that had done nothing but good! Behold the hands that had soothed away fever and pain; the hands that had reached out to us from a cradle; the hands that had stroked the heads of the children; the hands that were raised in blessing and bounty; the hands that had broken the bread of the Eucharist! Behold those hands stretched wide to embrace the world in their love!
They turn to His feet, pull and stretch them. Again we hear the dull blows of the hammer as the nails sear their way through flesh and bone. How true the prophet's words in Psalm 21: "Many dogs have encompassed Me; the council of the malignant hath besieged Me. They have dug My hands and feet; they have numbered all My bones. They have looked and stared on Me."
O blessed, beautiful feet of Christ; feet that carried Him out to play; feet that carried Christ into the temple; feet that wore themselves weary for good; feet that sought out the sick and the sinner; feet that made a kneeling-bench for Magdalen; feet that walked in all the ways of mercy - those innocent feet are dug with nails, bleeding, twisting, wracked with pain.
Roughly the soldiers drag the bed of death with its pinned-on Victim to the hole cut in the rock. They raise Him up and with a jolt drop the heavy beam with its heavenly Load into the place prepared. They pound in wedges to keep it from reeling and rocking.
How terrible the torture of one crucified when the cross was raised, can be gathered from the testimony of historians who tell us that, often the nails tore through the flesh of hands and feet, and the arms and legs had to be tied to the beams.
Saints and privileged souls have had visions of the nailing to the cross. You and I need no vision. We have pictured that crucifixion in its stark, cruel reality, as history tells us the ruthless Romans always carried it out.
Yes, He went through it for you and me, for the artist and the girl model of our story, for all of us. With that young girl who was posing for a part in that scene we exclaim: "I shall always love Him." If you and I come to love Him just a tiny bit more, then the telling of this story was really worthwhile.
Adapted from Talks on the Creed
by Fr. Arthur Tonne, OFM (© 1946)