Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. (John 1:29)
The beautiful holiness of Christ. He lived the redemptive life. On the cross, He took upon Himself the ugliness of sinful Man, so that Man could shine beautifully again. Christ walked as an innocent lamb into the human darkness, so that He could fill the world with His unconquerable light.
A few of us were together for Mass nine days ago, and some of us spoke together about marriage and chastity later that same day, in Roanoke. We touched together on this theme: We owe the world the redemptive witness of Christian chastity.
The Heart of Christ, and the heart of our Lady, and the hearts of the saints: chaste hearts. Human hearts without desperation. Hearts resting in the peace that the Father’s love gives. The omnipotent Father looks at us, His children. He gazes at us, and He loves. He longs for us to find eternal life in Him. He made us for that very reason, to know the bliss of life with God.
The dark, pagan world labors in self-destructive agony without this interior light. Without the light that makes the Heart of Christ so luminous. The pagan world grasps vainly in the darkness, without divine love, without the serenity of resting in the gaze of the eternal Father.
What, after all, is a ‘pagan?’ Isn’t it precisely someone who does not know how beautiful he is in the eyes of God? Isn’t a pagan precisely the person who counts herself cheap, sells herself short? The pagan looks at Man–looks at the paragon of animals, the beauty of the world—the pagan looks at Man and sees only ugliness, sees a desperate creature that has crawled out of the slime. The pagan is precisely the person who does not know, is not aware, does not rest in the fact that: Almighty God made me. Almighty God loves me. Almighty God wills my eternal happiness so much that He suffered and died on the cross for it.
I claim no special insight into, or expertise in, the pagan practice of ritual scarification. The practice of cutting and slashing the skin so as to scar oneself permanently. This practice, and practices like it, have marked the earth since time immemorial, and still do. Certainly it’s not much of a subject for a Sunday morning. But it struck me as a pretty fitting illustration of what I am trying to explain.
The darkened human mind, the mind that has never beheld the Lamb of God shining with the radiance of divine love–such a mind sees itself as ugly enough to merit self-inflicted violence. I am the tatterdemalion refuse of a dark and merciless cosmos! Let me cut, let me gash, let me bleed myself, and make my flesh ugly–as it ought to be. Because I am an ugly being made by ugly forces that tend only towards an ugly oblivion.
Ritual scarification certainly sounds primitive and crazy to us. But are these customs of self-wounding, practiced even now in some remote places of the world—are these customs really any more self-destructive than the kind of ritual scarification that our culture of unchastity practices on our own hearts? It seems to me that the culture that our own dear land has produced over the course of the past generation–we have produced a culture of ritual scarification of the heart.
What do I mean? The desperate, unchaste pagan heart that does not know the peace of the loving Father’s gaze—the hearts of many of our neighbors; even our own hearts, in dark moments, when we let the light of faith fade. The darkened pagan heart of our culture: cutting, gashing, wounding itself with repeated unchaste acts.
Pornography, fornication, the mutual-masturbation of using artificial contraception, serial monogamy with callous disregard for marital commitment, children left by the wayside. All of it self-centered dissipation. Isn’t the culture of unchastity that our nation has produced—isn’t it more perverse and self-destructive than any form of ritual scarification practiced by even the most outlandish tribe?
The Father sees male and female, the awesome power to give life, the power to love by the light of God in the great mystery of communion that is Christian marriage. The Father looks down at Man, at us, made for these wonders of fruitfulness. He smiles; He loves; He blesses and pours out grace and patience and peace. He pours out chastity, which is true happiness, true self-possession. Chastity, which is hope in the eternal consummation. Chastity, which is self-esteem and spirituality and health and a good night’s sleep with a clear conscience.
He pours all this out on us like a lovely rain. Chaste fruitfulness and a future filled with promise: this is what He wants for us. Not the pagan self-destruction of unchaste acts which cut our hearts like scalpels, bleed them out, and leave them empty and lifeless.
Can we doubt that God beckons us to teach the world the happiness of a chaste heart? Can we doubt that the light which shines though a chaste Christian heart—can we doubt that this light will give the world her only hope?
This pagan culture needs us to stand like shining brass doors that open to the mystery of God. The shininess of the brass is chastity. The light of Christian chastity is our culture’s only hope. And we are the ones who can shine that light into the world, in every personal interaction we have, in every genuinely loving act we do and every selfish and un-loving act we avoid.