Several thorns are needed to make a crown

This prayer/poem by the French writer, Catholic priest and theologian Michel Quoist, from his 1954 book Prayers of Life, is still a treasured meditation. It is as relevant now as when I came upon it in my early twenties.

“I shall be in agony till the end of time,” God says.
I shall be crucified till the end of time.
My sons the Christians don’t seem to realise it.
I am scourged, buffeted, stretched out, crucified. I die in front of them and they don’t know it, they see nothing, they are blind.
They are not true Christians, or they would not go on living while I am dying.

Lord, I don’t understand; it is not possible; you exaggerate.
I would defend you if you were attacked.
I would be at your side if you were dying.
Lord, I love you!

That is not true, God says. Men are deluding themselves.
They say they love me, they believe they love me, and, as I am willing to admit, they are often sincere, but they are terribly mistaken. They do not understand, they do not see.
Slowly everything has been distorted, dried up, emptied.
They think they love me because once a month they honour my Sacred Heart.
As if I loved them only twelve times a year!
They think they love me because they keep to their devotions regularly, attend a benediction, eat fish on Fridays, burn a candle or say a prayer before a picture of my Sacred Heart.

But I am not made of plaster, God says, nor of stone nor of bronze.
I am living flesh, throbbing, suffering.
I am among men, and they have not recognised me.
I am poorly paid, I am unemployed, I live in a slum, I have tuberculosis, I sleep under bridges, I am in prison, I am oppressed, I am patronised.
And yet I said to them: “Whatever you do to my brothers, however humble, you do to me”…Thats clear.
The worst is that they know it, but that they don’t take it seriously.
They have broken my heart, God says, and I have waited for someone to have pity on me, but no one has.

I am cold, God says, I am hungry, I am naked.
I am imprisoned, laughed at, humiliated.
But this is a minor passion, for men have invented more terrible ordeals.
Armed with their liberty, formidably armed with their liberty,
They have invented…
“Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.”
They have invented war, true war.
And they have invented the Passion.

For I am everywhere that men are, God says,
Since the day when I slipped among them, on a mission, to save them all.
Since the day when I definitely committed myself to trying to gather them together.

Now I am rich and I am poor, a workman and a boss.
I am a Union member and a non-Union member, a striker and a strike-breaker, for men, alas! make me do all kinds of things.
I am on the side of the demonstrators and on the side of the police, for men, alas! transform me into a policeman.
I am a leftist, a rightist and even in the centre.
I am this side of the Iron Curtain and beyond.
I am a German and a Frenchman, a Russian and an American,
A Chinese from Nationalist China and one from Communist China,
I am from Vietnam and from Vietminh.
I am everywhere men are, God says.

They have accepted me, they possess me, the traitors!
Hail, Master!
And now I am with them, one of them, their very selves.
Now, see what they have done to me…
They are scourging me, crucifying me,
They tear me apart when they kill one another.
Men have invented war…
I jump on mines, I gasp my last breath in foxholes,
I moan, riddled with shrapnel; I collapse under the volley of machine-gun fire,
I sweat men’s blood on all battlefields,
I cry out in the night and die in the solitude of battle.
O world of strife, immense cross on which, every day, men stretch me.
Wasn’t the wood of Golgotha enough?
Was this immense altar necessary for my sacrifice of love?
While around me, men keep on shouting, singing, dancing, and, as if insane, crucify me in an enormous burst of laughter.
Lord, enough! Have pity on me!
Not that! it isn’t I!

Yes, son, it is you.
You, and your brothers, for
several blows are needed to drive in a nail,
several lashes are needed to furrow a shoulder,
several thorns are needed to make a crown,
and you belong to the humanity that all together condemns me.
It matters not whether you are among those who hit or among those who watch, among those who perform or among those who let it happen.
You are all guilty, actors and spectators.
But above all, son, don’t be one of those who are asleep, one of those who can still fall asleep…in peace. Sleep!
Sleep is terrible!
“Can you not watch one hour with me?”

On your knees, son! Do you not hear the roar of battle?
The bell is ringing,
Mass is starting,
God is dying for you, crucified by men.

(Taken from Prayers of Life by Michel Quoist (Logos Books 1954, 1963) translated by Anne Marie de Commaile & Agnes Mitchell Forsyth.)

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