This painting of Christ in the wilderness is the work of Alessandro Bonvicino (1498–1554), know as the Moretto da Brescia. It is found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Christ is depicted here as The New Adam around whom the beasts and the birds of the air assemble in reverent homage. Notice how all the beasts and birds are inclined in an attitude of adoration. They recognise the Lord, their Lord, whose Name is wonderful in all the earth. Above the head of Christ are two angels, one ascending and one descending, to signify His divine mediatorship during His time of prayer and fasting in the wilderness.
Mectilde de Bar on Lent
Mother Mectilde de Bar preached this exhortation to her community assembled in Chapter one Ash Wednesday. A true Benedictine, she puts her finger on pride, identifying it as “the source of all our faults and even of all our misfortunes.” Pride is the satanic sin par excellence because the prideful man claims for himself the sovereign lordship that belongs to God alone. The only remedy for pride is to have one’s heart broken and humbled. Fortunately for us, God so arranges our lives that we are given opportunities to suffer broken hearts and to be humbled, and this over and over again, until at last we concede that God is God and we are not.
From Pride to Contrition
Pride is the source of all our faults and even of all our misfortunes. So as to destroy it, today the Holy Church reminds us that we are but dust and ashes. Without doubt we will receive from this holy ceremony wonderful effects for our souls, if we bring to it the necessary dispositions and believe that it is God who is saying to us that are but dust and ashes, an abominable nullity of sin; that by pride we have raised ourselves up and put ourselves on the very throne of God; that we have made His graces useless and ourselves, with our sins, abominable in His presence. All of this must make us enter into a disposition of true penitence, which really consists in having a contrite and humbled heart.
Again, being a true Benedictine, Mother Mectilde does not go in for major corporal penances and exploits of asceticism. In most souls such things do little more than foment spiritual pride and rash judgment of others. Far better to ask God to break and humble one’s heart.
Useless Penitential Exploits
Even if they may contribute something, fasting, disciplines, and instruments of penance do not really make us penitent. It very often happens that in practicing these things without the requisite dispositions they are worth nothing to us. It is necessary then to present a heart that is truly contrite and humbled to God.
Here Mother Mectilde has one of her astonishing insights into the Eucharistic Christ. In this world, the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar is His desert. He is the Divine Solitary of the tabernacle. Of course, Our Lord does not suffer a material solitude because under the form of the Sacred Species He is locked in the tabernacle. He suffers rather the solitude of the Lamb charged with the weight of the sins of the world, the solitude of the Expiatory Victim who enters more deeply into the abyss of evil than any other man in history, and who, out of the horror of that abyss, shows the Father His Face: the Face of Obedient Love, the Face of the New Adam. Mother Mectilde would have her Benedictines join Christ there, in the frightful solitude of His priestly mediation. She calls them to a double identification: first, identification with sinners, and second, identification with the sinless Lamb.
Christ in the Desert of the Most Holy Sacrament
We must flee from creatures, withdraw into solitude, and keep a profound silence, and, through these things, enter into the dispositions of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is not necessary that we should go looking for Him in the deserts of Palestine, where once He withdrew and fasted for forty days. He is solitary in the desert of the Most Holy Sacrament: there He has taken upon Himself the sins of all men, becoming (for our sakes) the penitent of the Eternal Father.
All sin is serious. The sins of consecrated souls, even if, objectively, the matter may be of a lesser gravity, lacerate the Heart of Jesus, which remains, even in glory, divinely, exquisitely sensitive to the coldness, indifference, and cheap betrayals of those whom He has chosen to live in intimacy with Him.
Call to Reparation
Whatever do you think He suffers in this divine Sacrament? My friends, if God granted me the capacity to explain His sufferings, I would show you that He suffers not only from the crimes of sinners, but also that the very smallest imperfection of souls consecrated to Him wounds His Heart. Consider what our obligation is: we must make reparation for so many outrages and become victims (hosties) immolated for all the sins of men.
Humility, says Mother Mectilde, is the remedy for everything. For everything. Humility goes hand in hand with contrition, and both are found in identification and in communion with the Lamb of God who, in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, remains the pure Victim, the holy Victim, the spotless Victim. Some people, misunderstanding the notion of victimhood, think that it is a rare and unusual grace conceded to a few privileged souls. Such is not the teaching of the Church in the Sacred Liturgy. Any one who participates in Holy Mass fully, consciously, and actually, and receives Holy Communion, becomes by that very fact a victim soul. This is, in fact, the object of the Secret of the Votive Mass of Jesus Christ, Eternal High Priest: “O Lord, may Jesus Christ, our Mediator render these offerings acceptable to Thee, and may He present us with Himself as victims agreeable to Thee.”
The Dispositions of Christ in the Most Holy Sacrament
Humility is the remedy for everything and, to my mind, one who has a true contrition will never fall again into sin. This is among God’s rarest and greatest gifts. It is true that we feel a fleeting sorrow, but to have a true contrition it is needful to give oneself profoundly to Jesus Christ and enter into His dispositions in the Most Holy Sacrament, where are contained wonders capable of occupying our whole life. It is shameful that we live days and hours without being entirely absorbed by it.