When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son." Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his home. After this, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, "I thirst." (John 19:26-28, NAB)
When Father R. commissioned the new crucifix in our church, he wanted it to represent the moment when Jesus said the words, "I thirst." Mary has her eyes fixed on her Son, and John is gazing into the crowd of onlookers to see who Jesus is speaking to. Every Sunday (and on those rare occasions I manage to make it to daily Mass) I'm drawn to these sculptures, and I wanted to share some of the thoughts I have when I look at these images. (Click here for more about the recent renovations at our church.)
Our Lord's eyes are directed at us, the faithful. When he says, "I thirst," he means me. He wants me to come to Him, to trust Him, to love Him. He is struggling to breathe, and He is in so much pain and his throat is so parched that even opening His mouth to speak the words is difficult. Through His agony He seems to say, "Look at how much I love you." In His eyes are pain and sorrow and agony and love.
Mary is looking at Jesus in anguish. Her arms are raised as if to say, "Why? Why must it come to this?" She looks as though she's about to fall to her knees. At the same time her face reflects acceptance and understanding. She trusts God and knows this is His plan. Sometimes I imagine the blood that must be dripping from His wounds, into his Mother's hands.
I remember hearing a story years ago about an atheist who was walking past a church, and was inexplicably led to go inside. The atheist walked to the front of the church and knelt down and prayed, "God, if you're real, show me." He (or she, I don't remember) got up to leave and when (s)he turned around there was a beautiful lady sitting in one of the pews, with a wounded, broken young man lying across her lap. She looked at the soon-to-be-former atheist with pleading eyes and said, "Look what they've done to my Son." Mary seems to be asking, "What have they done to you?"
The image I tend to be drawn to the most is John. I'm not sure why. He's looking for whoever Jesus was speaking to when he said, "I thirst," and his eyes seem to be searching for me. His face clearly shows the sorrow he must have been feeling as he stood at the foot of the Cross. His eyes seem slightly puffy, as though he's been weeping. I can almost see the tears on his cheeks. His arms are raised slightly toward Christ. He looks as though in the next moment he will put his hand out to touch the wood and look up at Jesus' face like Mary is doing. Or perhaps he's about to clutch his head in anguish. His hands are pointing to Jesus, and he seems to be saying, "Look. See what this man is willing to do for you and for me."
I heard our youth minister, Mr. C, tell the kids who were preparing for confirmation, that John was probably a young teenager, no more than fourteen or fifteen, when He walked beside Jesus here on earth. This surprised me, and gave me a new perspective on the close relationship John had with Jesus. At the Last Supper, John leaned against his Savior, as a child would lean against a parent for comfort. Looking at this statue of John the Beloved, I see a young man who, despite being confused and angry and devastated at what was happening, stayed with Him and prayed that God would help him understand.
Moments before, Jesus had spoken the words, "Woman, behold your son. Behold, your mother." I imagine that Mary and John were looking at each other as He said this. Now the Blessed Mother is looking at Christ, perhaps to say, "I will lead them to You." She understands that by these words he not only bequeathed her to John His beloved disciple, but to the whole world. Through Mary Christ was given to us, and through Mary God shows us Christ still. Among the sorrow and hurt in John's face, I see firm resolve as well. He will take Mary under his roof, to care for her for the rest of her days on earth, and with her help, he will bring the love of Christ to her children.
It's Corpus Christi Sunday. We Catholics celebrate the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Let's fix our eyes on Jesus. His eyes are fixed on us, after all.