Do you recall the famous story The Picture of Dorian Gray? Maybe you had to read it for some lit class in school. At any rate, this is the famous story by Oscar Wilde (himself a Catholic convert, although you won’t hear that in many lit classes) of the man who lived a life of debauchery yet remained eternally young, while a painting of him grows “aged and corrupt.” Of course, as is usually the case in stories like this, it all catches up with him in the end.
For some reason the story crossed my mind the other day, and at the time it occurred to me it might make a nice Lenten reflection next year – how Christ, in His Passion, takes on the punishment for our sins, and how His battered body, hanging from the Cross, might well be our own Dorian Gray portrait. One can only imagine what any of us might look like were we to receive the just punishment that our sins have deserved. And yet every time we step into the confessional, our sins are wiped clean, and we start again with a blank slate (with some leftovers to be cleaned up in Purgatory).
The thought then came to me that this might make a perfectly good meditation for Corpus Christi as well. After all, you need only take one look at the Cross above the altar, with His bloody corpse on it, to be reminded of the price He paid for our sins. It’s one reason why the Church has always insisted on the corpus on the Cross: so that we recall how this Man, who was more than a Man, voluntarily chose to receive the scourges that should have fallen on us; and how His Blood flew freely, the blood that should have been ours, but which He shed so that sins might be forgiven. When we approach the altar for Communion, we should, indeed, do it in remembrance of Him.
Therefore, whereas Dorian Gray had a picture up in the attic absorbing all the self-inflicted blows of his life, we have the Cross of Christ. There are differences, of course: Dorian Gray’s picture hid the truth of his life, while that Body on the Cross is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Dorian Gray may have wanted to deny the reality of his picture, but we are called not to deny but to unite with the Cross. Unlike the picture, the Cross doesn’t protect us from all suffering – it does something even greater, which is to give meaning to suffering. And while the picture couldn’t protect Dorian Gray from final judgment, the Cross is our means of salvation – without it, we have no hope.
So take a moment this Sunday to reflect on the meaning of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ. The Cross is our own picture – not of Dorian Gray, but of us, of what we are and might have been but for the sacrifice of Christ, who gave up His Body and shed His Blood for us. Give thanks that because of this sacrifice, we will (pray God) never see the truth of our own portraits, but will only see Our Savior welcoming us into His paradise.