“If God has created all things, where does evil come from?”
– Saint Augustine
When we feel inadequate, fragile, or guilty, we immediately look for something to hide behind. We are ashamed of our nudity. We don’t want to be seen. It’s a recurring sensation throughout our lives, one that we must all face up to.
We are all like the man who hides behind an apple in the famous painting by Magritte called “The Son of Man” (1964). Magritte’s intention was to paint a self-portrait but it could not be finished due to a guilty conscience, as he himself would explain.
Magritte can’t see himself. He is unable to stand face to face with his own image. A deep sensation of inadequacy absorbs us from time to time. Perhaps it’s no accident that Magritte paints himself in very formal clothing, with a hat and tie, while standing in front of the ocean. This outfit doesn’t belong there and reminds us of a sensation we often experience, that of feeling out of place.
This anonymous man also shows signs of imperfection: one of the buttons of his jacket is undone and his left elbow doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the figure. His face, which reveals the identity of every man, is covered by an apple. It brings to mind the image of the modern man who buries his face in a screen in a desperate attempt to hide himself and his own inadequacy. When we don’t know how to be alone with ourselves, we hide behind our phones, as if it were an excuse.
This son of man, with his face hidden behind an apple, draws us back to the beginning of the book of Genesis. There we also find a man who hid out of shame: Adam, who hid because he was ashamed of his nakedness. We feel naked when we feel we have lost our dignity. When we are naked, we feel defenseless. Our clothing is a kind of defense, a kind of armor. We can never free ourselves from our limitations and our weakness but we continue to put on masks and play roles that give us the sensation of being able to hide our fragility, even for a little while.
But when we discover our weakness, like Adam, we close ourselves up, breaking off our relations, isolating ourselves, and lamenting our misfortune. Adam is man who is folded in on himself, incapable of fulfilling his responsibilities. He blames others instead of himself: he accuses the woman but he is really blaming God because it was God who put her by his side. We are always looking for a scapegoat, for someone to take the blame for our own fragility.
If man could keep his eyes on God, if he could continue to contemplate the gift he has received, if he could remember that he did not create himself but that he is a creature who is loved, then the awareness of his fragility would not have plunged him into the depths like a stone.
Adam hides away and weeps over his shame, yet God is not indifferent. God goes out of Himself to look for him. This is the first sign of God’s tenderness: His heart is moved. God makes clothes for Adam and Eve out of skins and these are the clothes that give them back their dignity despite their sin and that will protect them along the strenuous journey of human life.
While Magritte painted a son of man that covers himself out of shame, Batoni paints, in his famous Sacred Heart, the Son of Man that is completely exposed to the viewer, to the point of giving over His very heart. Jesus is the opposite of Adam because He exposes himself completely, without protecting Himself or holding anything back. Perhaps no we can understand this verse from the Gospel: “they said, ‘He is out of his mind’” (Mk 3:21). Yes, Jesus is completely outside of Himself, fully given to those who stand before Him and He asks them for just a little love.
And this is how Jesus teaches us to love: He diverts our gaze which, far too often, we have fixed on our own fragility. Let us allow Him to gaze at us in our weakness rather than gazing at it ourselves! To love is to surrender without giving too much importance to our own wounds.
Whoever sits before the painting of the Sacred Heart by Batoni will eventually ask: “But who’s heart is that in Jesus’ hands? Is it Jesus’?” And of course, it is, but perhaps there’s a path we can take so that, by the end, the heart in Jesus’ hand becomes our own, given over to Him completely. It is a path this spreads out before us because to love is to be out of one’s self, to have given one’s heart completely.
Jesus’ words in this Gospel help us to see the sign, par excellence, of love in the beginning of Genesis. When Adam worries only about himself, relationships are broken. When the Enemy works in our life, Jesus explains, divisions appear. Love creates communion; evil creates separation. When we realize that the path we are on is the path of conflict, of accusation, of contrast, that should be a sign to us that we are far from love. Division is the sign of a heart closed in on itself.
If you have covered your face out of shame or closed your heart out of spite, let yourself be clothed in the tenderness that God has prepared for you. Let yourself be moved by the heart of Christ, torn from His chest and placed in your own.
Questions for personal reflection:
- Do you seeks things to hide behind?
- Do you feel as though you are folded over yourself or more focused on those around you?
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Mark (3:20-35)
Jesus came home with his disciples. Again the crowd gathered, making it impossible for them even to eat. When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” The scribes who had come from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebub,” and “By the prince of demons he drives out demons.” Summoning them, he began to speak to them in parables, “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand; that is the end of him. But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can plunder the house. Amen, I say to you, all sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be
forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.”
For they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.” His mother and his brothers arrived. Standing outside they sent word to him and called him. A crowd seated around him told him, “Your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside asking for you.”
But he said to them in reply, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking around at those seated in the circle he said,
“Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”