So, in other news, a sacrilegious art exhibit featuring more than 240 consecrated Hosts of the Holy Eucharist was performed and put on display in Pamplona, Spain last month. The artist used the Hosts in a performance piece by spelling out words like “Amen” and “pederasty” on the ground; photos of the piece were later presented on the walls in Pamplona City Hall’s exhibition hall.
The world barely heard about it, of course — kind of like the world didn’t hear about the attack by Islamic extremists on a Catholic church in Rincon de la Victoria, Spain, either. But the fact that Pamplona’s sacrilegious art exhibit didn’t get much coverage isn’t what bothers me.
Do you know what bothers me the most about this story?
It’s not the fact that the artist stole the Hosts while pretending to receive the Eucharist. (In the photo exhibit, the artist included pictures of himself taking the Host back out of his mouth on his way back to the pew during Communion.)
It’s not the fact that the desecrated Hosts were left behind on the ground once the piece was over, as if they were little more than scraps of stone left over from a sculpture. (A private citizen has since removed them, thankfully.)
It’s not even the fact that the Pamplona City Council endorsed the exhibit. (Unlawfully, actually, considering the exhibit breaks several articles in Spain’s penal code that prohibit the desecration of religious sentiments and artifacts.)
All of that makes my hackles rise, you can be sure. But when I hear stories about churches being profaned or the Eucharist being desecrated, the one thing that troubles me the most is this:
Why does God allow Himself to be abused like this?
Why would the King of the Universe permit someone to profane His Holy Body? Why does He let someone in Spain who has no sense of reverence to mistreat Him in such a mockery of “art”?
The Mystery of God’s Mercy
In reflecting on this, I can’t help but call to mind the story of King Belshazzar and the prophet Daniel. When Belshazzar had the stolen vessels from the temple brought in to use as extra dishes and cups for his own personal soiree, God stretched out His hand and wrote condemning words on the wall: MENE, TEKEL, and PERES, words which the prophet Daniel translated as God’s judgment and punishment against the king (Daniel 5:1-28).
I wish God would come down right now and write His judgment on the wall of Pamplona’s city hall. I want Him to defend Himself — to show His true glory to those who insult Him — to send an almighty thunderbolt of divine justice onto the people who dare call this exhibit “art.”
…But God isn’t going to.
Why wouldn’t He, though? Why won’t God strike down people who are so obviously against Him?
The answer can be found in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus is sitting and eating with tax collectors and sinners. When the Pharisees criticize Him, Jesus comes back with this: “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners” (Matthew 9:13).
The great mystery of God’s mercy is tied irrevocably to His humility. It goes back to man’s fall in Eden: When we broke His trust, we ourselves were broken. In our shame, we could no longer face Him. In our sin, we could no longer trust Him. In the fall, we suffered our separation from God.
The story throughout the Scriptures is God’s relentless pursuit to bring us back to Him. Every covenant sealed, every sign worked, every prophet sent, and every chance extended, all the way up to His Son’s ultimate sacrifice upon the cross: All of it was so that we could once again be with God. And He would never force us back to Him, for He loves us so unconditionally that He would never go against our free will. He desires most of all for us to love Him freely — to come to Him with our entire being — to go running to Him to satisfy the longing written in our hearts.
One of those sinners he’s calling is me. When in mortal sin, the stench of my soul is just as repulsive and offensive as the blasphemous art exhibit in Pamplona.
…And yet, even though He would be justified in striking me down, the Lord instead steps down into my stench to offer me the chance to be made clean. He treats me with incomprehensible mercy.
That’s what Jesus is saying in Matthew 9:13. God wants nothing more than for us to be reconciled to Him. Today, He comes to us in the Eucharist give us His life. He offers Himself to us in the form of bread and wine as an absolute, no-take-backs gift of Himself. He allows us to do to Him what we will, in our absolute freedom of will — even if it means His Holy Body is desecrated.
If this art exhibit is a symptom of a world that has grown out of touch with the sacred, it’s a personal lesson for me that God’s love truly is boundless and His mercy is truly divine.
It’s also a sign to me that, in the face of desecration, we must do what we can to reclaim the sacred:
- Pray before the Lord in Eucharistic adoration at a parish near you.
- Spend time reading through the prophets of Scripture or the Gospels, reflecting on the reality of God’s mercy.
- Give food, clothing or some hours of your day caring for the poor, the ill, the lonely and the neglected as an extension of God’s generosity.
- Pray for the conversion of hearts, particularly of those who participate in desecration.
God won’t write in judgment on the wall this time. But we can share the truth of His mercy in the way we live our lives. In the face of such sacrilege, that is how we can honor Him best.