Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Raising of the Cross

This early 17th century baroque piece, The Raising of the Cross by the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens, is a dynamic whirlwind of emotion and energy. The central panel draws us in with its dramatic diagonal slant. The artist has Christ's body gleam, rippling with strength and power, even in this moment of supreme weakness (for "power is made perfect in weakness" as St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12). Gathered about the Savior is a host of men, equally virile, lifting the Cross high, like a flag of victory over a field where much blood has been spilled. It is the field of the world, and the fight lies within each one of us... "The 'heart' has become a battlefield between love and concupiscence" (TOB, 32:3).

The side panels show us the weeping women on the left, and on the right, Roman soldiers carrying out their duty. With the lens of the Theology of the Body, however, we see much more. The feminine panel glows with warmth, fragile beauty, and heartfelt concern. They are moved by the pathos of the Christ deeply. They receive it, feel it, internalize it. The masculine panel is bristling with raw energy, banners clap in a storm wind, sun and moon wrestle in the clouds as an apocalyptic eclipse ensues. But mirroring the outstretched hand of Michelangelo's Adam, who clearly influenced Rubens in this work, we see a man yearning, reaching out to touch that redemptive gift of the Christ as he is lifted up. We all must pine for him, for he is our peace! May all men and women appropriate this great gift of the Christ! And like the figures of Our Lady and St. John, situated on the "feminine" side, let us recall that, before the Lord, all our hearts are called to the feminine first. To receive, to take within, then to bring forth again in fruitful, faithful, self-giving love!
"And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all unto me." (John 12:32)

Originally published for the Theology of the Body Institute newsletter, September 2012.

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