The Image of God’s Love
A legend is told of St. Philip Benizi that, as he was preparing to pass from the earthly life to the eternal one, he asked for the book. Now, as a religious, there are two books of great importance for the life of the Servite friar. The first book is the Sacred Scripture for therein lies the most holy Word of God. Upon the pages of this sacred book are written God’s love story for humanity, culminating in the holiest portion of this book, the four Gospels which transmit to us the words and life of the Lord Jesus. For a friar, the study of and the mediation upon the Gospels is a daily activity of the great importance. The second book of great importance for the life of the Servite friar is the Rule and Constitutions of the Order. The Rule and Constitutions are the concrete manner by which the individual friar and the community of friars live the Gospel of Jesus. Within the contents of these two books, the Sacred Scriptures, and the Rule and Constitutions, the Servite friar orders his life in the holy pursuit of becoming the perfect disciple of Jesus and a faithful servant of Mary, the Mother of God. When St. Philip asked for the book, he might have been asking for one of these. Instead St. Philip Benizi was given a crucifix in fulfillment of his request. I believe that the crucifix was the book St. Philip wanted. This is why statues of St. Philip Benizi has the saint holding and looking at the crucifix.
The crucifix is a cross with the image of the crucified Jesus on it. The crucifix is the visual image of love; the love between God and humanity. This image of God’s love is so important that our churches have crucifixes prominently displayed. The crucifix is there to remind us, not of the shame of our sin, but the remembrance of God’s great love for us. Having the crucifix in church and at home is meant to be an image of hope and consolation that we are never outside of our Heavenly Father’s love through Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross. As St. Philip prepared to die and begin eternal life, it was the crucifix which gave the saint hope to know that God’s love forgave his sins; faith to trust that heaven was his reward; and love to navigate the journey from this life to the next. In the crucifix, St. Philip Benizi read the story of God’s love and saw his life within God’s story. The crucifix is meant to teach us the same lesson. As we prepare to celebrate the feast of this wonderful saint on August 23, let us take time to read the lesson of the crucifix through our prayer and meditation. It will do for us what it did for St. Philip which is lead is us to a deeper faith in the love that God has for each of us.
Fr. Donald Siple, OSM