Several weeks ago, a friend posted a photo on Facebook of the Sacred Heart of Jesus statue in front of Fargo’s St. Mary’s Cathedral during the evening hours. Illuminated by lights from below, the life-sized form of Jesus, his arms outstretched and reaching upward, bore a troubling change: his face had been spray-painted charcoal black.
A few days later, while working on a separate story involving the cathedral, I saw the statue up close during the day. Though the statue has been since cleaned up, I’m glad to have a visual of the marred Jesus for the reflection it’s prompted.
Seeing the desecrated image online was troubling. Though we may never know the full intent of the person(s) who made the decision to sneak into the night, a can of black spray paint in hand, there’s much we can interpret about what that action might have meant.
What I ended up “seeing” through this act of desecration, however, surprised me. The way the spray paint dripped down along the statue of Jesus’ cheeks, beard and neck appeared as if coming from his eyes – like tears. Furthermore, I was held bound by this: the paint allowed a glimpse of Jesus’ face in a way I hadn’t noticed before, defining his gentle eyes in a more compelling manner.
As noted in an April 19 article, a spokesperson for the diocese responded that the faithful were praying for the individual(s) involved, and hope the suspect(s) might “someday experience their own encounter with the face of Christ.”
Though I don’t believe vandalism is ever good, the unfortunate act made me take a harder, longer look at Jesus. In gazing upon the markings, I thought of the crucifixion, and I understood more clearly that despite everything, Jesus loves the people who hate him, as well as those who hate those who love him.
I realized, too, that in undertaking this act, one would have to have confronted Jesus directly, and that, no matter how an individual or society tries to corrupt and dismantle the living God, God cannot be destroyed.
Just a week later, across the river in Moorhead, another friend posted about the Islamic center having been vandalized with hate speech and symbols and a broken window. The spokesperson for the center and his wife, dear friends from our college days, were rightly grieved, but had been heartened by an outpouring from the community from people of all faiths in the cleanup efforts.
Though not local, a friend on Twitter posted another photo of the desecration of a Marian statue at his parish on April 25. In that case, a cross was spray-painted along the front, with her face and feet marked with dripping black paint.
While disheartening, in all of these examples, we see how the spirit of God cannot be contained, and the goodness of people cannot be subdued. As we read in Matthew 10:28: “And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul…” Amen.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on May 3, 2021.]