Behold the Man, the model of humanity!

By  Anna Farrow
  • April 14, 2022

On March 20, 2022, Archbishop Christian Lépine celebrated a Thanksgiving Mass to mark the 10th anniversary of his appointment as Archbishop of Montreal.

In the sanctuary of Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral, between the cathedra, the chair of the bishop, and the altar, was placed a portrait of our Lord. In a The Catholic Register interview, Lépine described how he had come upon this picture, “on the Internet, you discover things,” and subsequently arranged to buy, ship and frame a print of the painting.

A photo of the picture and its placement in the cathedral sanctuary can be viewed on the archdiocesan website. Here in one image are referenced three calls of the Church to look, to behold, to attend. The first, the Ecce Homo, the second, the Ecce Agnus Dei and the third, the Ecce Crucem Domini.   

The image is a startling one that brings together elements from two popular devotional portrayals of Jesus. It is both an Ecce Homo, the bruised and bloodied Jesus that Pontius Pilate brings before the Temple leaders, “Behold, the Man!,” and the Sacred Heart, the resurrected Christ who displays a beating heart of love. The eyes of the Lord are not downcast, as in many renderings of the Ecce Homo, but stare directly into the eyes of the beholder.

Those eyes contain deep love and seem to issue an invitation to the beloved. Archbishop Lépine both articulates that unspoken challenge and extends it. Unlike Pilate, who was desperately attempting to convince the rabble of powerful elites that this weak and humiliated man wasn’t worth bothering with, Lépine points the faithful of Montreal to the sorrowful, thorn-crowned King as the model for our life. Behold, the Man!

“This is the model of all humanity,” the Archbishop says. “This is a model of love. The love that gives everything, the love that gives oneself till the end, the love that bears sorrows of others, that bears the death of others, the sins of others, the wounds of others, the suffering of others. So, the love that bears everything.”

The spiritual terrain of Holy Week is territory with which Archbishop Lépine is familiar. He has been studying the contours for decades, in season and out of season.

“Since I’ve entered seminary, every day, I meditate on the Passion of Christ,” he says. “Every day. It can be just a word. Everything I’ve learned is there.”

It is not surprising, therefore, that the image Lépine chose to display at his anniversary Mass is one that portrays the Christ of the Passion. One marked by whip and thorns but yet still generous in love, symbolized by the open heart.

That heart is encircled by a Host and topped by a small cross. Here is displayed both the eucharistic sacrifice, the institution of which is commemorated on Holy Thursday, and the Cross upon which our Lord hung on Good Friday. The Church cries out: Ecce Agnus Dei, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sins of the world,” and Ecce Crucem Domini, “Behold the wood of the Cross on which hung the Saviour of the world.”

Behold, the Man! Here is our model. Lépine encourages us, “You want to be human, be like Christ. You want to be human, love like Christ. You want to be human, give yourself like Christ.”

Yet we know, all of us, how far we fall short in our efforts to model ourselves after Christ. So does Archbishop Lépine. “Can you do it? No. You need His grace. So, reach out to the grace of the Lord to imitate the Lord.”

As we attend the Tridium and Easter liturgies that commemorate the passion and resurrection of our Lord, we pray that we may, in the words often said at the conclusion of the recitation of the Rosary, “both imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise.”

There is no doubt that the Catholics of Montreal can be assured of the prayers of their bishop as they enter those holy days.

(Farrow is a writer in Montreal.)

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