St. Paul refers to Jesus as the visible image of the invisible God (Col. 1:16). St John calls him the Word made flesh that, clothed in human vesture, reveals visibly the invisible mystery and glory of the all-powerful God. His face, His every gesture, transfers into my visible world the invisible mystery of the Divine Godhead. As St John Paul II wrote, as a central theme of the Theology of the Body, “The body, in fact, and only the body, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It has been created to transfer into the visible reality of the world, the mystery hidden from eternity in God, and thus to be a sign of it” (TOB 19:4).
On the one hand, that Divine Mystery is kept invisible under His human vesture. In the Transfiguration, it was as if—for a moment—that human cloak was pulled back almost entirely, the body which concealed it suddenly giving way before the invisible Mystery shining brightly through. Every pore of his human flesh was pierced through by the overwhelming majesty and glory. The light tore right through the veil. “He was transfigured before them; his face shown like the sun and his clothes became white as light” (Mt. 17:2). The lowly human vesture fell, as Divine Power, Divine Splendor, Divine Holiness, and Divine Justice shone through—unbound, unobstructed, unchecked, and unrestrained. Undeniably the visible face of the now very visible Godhead stood before them; and the awe of the apostles was probably akin to that of the Israelites before the thundering theophany to Moses at Mount Sinai.
On the other hand, while in one way cloaked beneath this vesture of his human body, in another way the Divine Mystery is also made manifest through that body. Christ’s body transposes into the visible realm that same ineffable Divine Mystery. In fact, on Good Friday we hear a lot about veiling and unveiling, tearing open and piercing through.
The veil of the temple is torn from top to bottom, and the inner sanctum lies open. As at the transfiguration, today the pores of that human flesh are again pierced through—even flayed—as the soldiers’ scourging tears open that vesture of flesh. A crown of thorns and spittle clothe His head. His garments are stripped away, divided and parted. The body is ripped and the heart exposed by the soldier’s lance, as blood and water gush forth.
In all of this, the Divine Mystery is itself laid bare and almost visible to the naked eye. True, it is not the glory of majesty and power we see, nor justice and light as we might expect. It is the glory of Divine Love that now pierces through the vesture—through the pores of Christ’s flayed human flesh. The veil of the body is torn; the vesture falls, and the inner sanctum lies open for all to behold. Divine Love is transposed visibly and rendered fully exposed—unbound, unobstructed, unchecked, and unrestrained. Undeniably, the visible face of the now visible God of Love once again stood before them. It is precisely in these moments when in some way, through that body, we grasp not less but more of the Divine Mystery. The lacerated body itself becomes perhaps an even greater, more revealing epiphany.
We see Divine Love’s tender condescension shining through as Christ empties himself, taking the form of man whom he cherishes; becoming the servant of the beloved in whom he delights; denigrating himself even as a slave of His bride whom he loves and for whom He has consecrated Himself as victim of that Love.
We behold Divine love’s compassion bursting forth—that is, God’s desire and will literally to “suffer with” the beloved daughter and bride. He suffers every scar, every wound, every hurt, every rejection, and every offense.
He commutes to Himself what is due to me, to His own body what is due to mine. All the punishment owed to the severe catastrophe of man’s sin—my own sin—is transferred from the human criminal to the Divine scapegoat. The profanation I allowed within my body and my temple has become the laceration of His. The chastisement has been poured from my cup into His Cup; and the God of Love, divested and fully exposed today, drinks it to the dregs in the place of His beloved bride—in my place. At last night’s supper, His washing of the apostles’ feet had been a removal of the sin of men and all its gravity from their body and soul. Today’s passion and death was an impaling of all that weight upon himself, as Divine Justice falls hard upon the stone pavement of Divine Mercy, and my brokenness is made whole. It was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured… He was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins; upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his wounds we are healed…and the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all” (Is 53:4-6)
I witness how the Divine Mystery, unveiled, shows himself freely and intimately bound to me. His love is Divine “communion”, my “other self” and intimate friend sharing everything in common with me—even my sins, their pain and their sorrow. The cry of his heart echoes the cry of my own from beneath the weight of my shame: “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (Mt. 27:46) On Sinai he had once revealed his glory to Moses by the name “I AM”, the God who is Ipsum Esse itself, in whom we live and move and have our being. Today his broken, lacerated body reveals his glory as “I AM WITH YOU”– “Emmanuel”. “I am with you always, in your joy and your success. I am with you always, in your sin and failure, your shame and defeat. I am with you always, in your pain, destruction, and death. I will remain with you always.”
It is precisely this stripping and tearing of that body of Jesus which, far from simply concealing the Divine Mystery, in a profound way unveils it for us and renders it more visible and touchable than ever before. It is the invisible, unfathomable mystery of Divine Love, today transferred and transposed into the visible realm for all to behold.
When I behold this violent unveiling of Jesus Crucified, I might also witness a profound unveiling of myself. When I ponder this naked face of Divine Love there can be a profound awakening—as the mask of my own self-reflection is perhaps “torn in two from top to bottom.” I was never the sum of my weaknesses and shame; I was always “the sum of the Father’s love for me and my real capacity to become the image of his son” (St John Paul II Homily, World Youth Day 2002)—unbound, unobstructed, unchecked, and unrestrained. Undeniably, the visible face of my innermost self now stands proudly for all to see.
Exposed in the light of his reflection, I see myself now clothed in his dignity and wrapped in his glory. “Put the finest robe on him, put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet!” (Luke 15:22). The unveiling of merciful love awakens me to the true meaning of my life as a beloved child of God. Christ is stripped, that I might be clothed. Divine Mercy pierces through my every pore and cries out with a deafening sound—as deafening as it is healing: I am deeply loved! God loved me into existence for no other reason, for no ulterior motive. I am loved in his agony and even in my sins, precisely because I am loved for who I am.
Taking this one step further, it is actually in losing myself more and more that I find myself. It is by imitating Christ in his self-gift and self-surrender to the will of his loving Father that I begin to discover who I truly am beneath so many layers of vesture. Unveiling Christ the victim of love raises me from the level of this horizontal, self-centered, meaningless existence to a passionate life encompassed by unconditional and unending love. I discover the truths that compose my deepest foundations, my purpose and my path, the most profound longings of my soul, what I am—and what I am not. Beholding unveiled the One in Whose Image I myself was forged, I discover myself in a way I had never before imagined. Unveil Your Mystery, O Lord, and show me again all that You are and all that You see in me.
Fr. Stephen Dardis was ordained a priest in 2012 for the Legionaries of Christ, with a Bachelors in Theology and a Licentiate in Philosophy. He currently serves as Associate Pastor for Our Lady of Lourdes Church in New Orleans, Louisiana.