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Imaged in Stone: Mercy Snatched from the Jaws of Despair.

Sculpture above: Basilica of Mary Magdalene at Vézelay – ‘the hanging of Judas and the Good Shepherd’.

At the top of the first capital on the right as you walk in, there us a sculpture few people know about, partly because of where it is: 20 metres from the ground. When seen close up, it is both striking and unsettling. One side depicts Judas hanging, with his tongue sticking out and surrounded by devils. But this is nothing new, there are many depictions of the apostle’s violent and dramatic suicide of the apostle who betrayed Jesus for 30 dinars. The surprise is to be found on the other side of the capital, which shows a man carrying Judas’ boy on his shoulders. This man has a strange expression on his face: half of his mouth communicates concern, while the other half is smiling. The man, a shepherd, is wearing a short tunic. It is the Good Shepherd carrying the lost sheep on his shoulders, the hundredth sheep, for which he left the other 99 behind. The artist has sculpted the scene and monk who inspired it wanted to depict something extreme, suggesting that Judas too was salvation.

I feel powerless to forgive – confides Father Goujon who suffered sexual abuse from a priest in his childhood. I’m not saying “unable” or “unwilling.” I say “helpless.” And speaking of his assailant he adds: I would like him to be allowed to discover his fault. (P. Goujon, Please do not abuse, p. 71-72)

When I look at the capital, called ‘Of Judas’, I see this: a man who discovers his fault. And he doesn’t really know what to do with this discovery that weighs so much. He did the wrong and it is irreversible. For him the only way out is despair. He forgets that forgiveness exists. It might have been enough to lay down the too heavy burden with a humble confession of having been wrong, of regretting, of wanting to make amends… I put before you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life! (Dt 30.19). He chooses death.

But the Christian hope inscribed in the stone of the basilica of Vézelay leads us beyond this choice which seemed definitive. A Brother catches up with the one who has despaired to the point of choosing death. What is happening there has nothing to do with a clean sweep that would indiscriminately erase the faults committed in the past. Christ, coming out of the abyss into which our faults have plunged him, takes on his shoulders all those he meets there. A meeting between the weight of evil and the weight of love. The weight of evil weighs heavy. But Easter reminds us every year that it is love that is the strongest.

Source: Sr Faustyna. Lettre de Jérusalem

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