Posted October 12, 2011:

by Patrick Stewart.

When I first saw Fr. Cyprian walk into the monastery chapel, I quickly averted my eyes. I was sitting in the choir waiting to join the monks for their mid-day Office and Mass. I stared for just an instant. Did he see my mouth drop open? I hoped he didn’t.

Fr. Cyprian’s tortured-looking walk conjured up images of the Hunchback of Notre Dame and Marty Feldman as the doctor’s deformed assistant in the 1970’s movie, Young Frankenstein.

I was taking a short holiday/retreat at this northern English Benedictine monastery, a place that became a second home for me during my assignment at Madonna House in Robin Hood’s Bay, England, in the early 1990s.

I wasn’t at the monastery long before I met the man behind the walk, and I quickly grew quite fond of him. In fact, we had several memorable chats during my stay. Fr. Cyprian was the novice master for the community, and I would count blessed every young man who came under his guidance.

I believe that it was muscular dystrophy that had begun to steal his physical strength and surety some years before, but it had not reduced his inward peace and clarity of heart and mind. Most likely, it had enhanced them.

One evening, while I was praying alone in the abbey church, I had an inner vision. I am not a man given to signs and wonders; God generally has a much simpler go at me.

But on that occasion it was certainly something other than my usual day dreaming. It had the quality of something suddenly given, rather than of a dream slowly entered into.

Standing above it, I saw heaven, and a vast multitude of people spreading in all directions far beyond my sight. Suddenly there was a commotion, and the crowd separated into two, opening up a road through the center. The road was made of polished marble.

Suddenly there was a great eruption of joy and praise from that vast sea of people—a deafening roar of cheering and exalting alleluias and hands lifted high in adoration and thanksgiving.

Then I saw Fr. Cyprian walking down the road. His walk was the most beautiful and perfect walk I had ever seen, and it seemed that heaven had never seen the like of it either. And the amazing thing was that he was hobbling as he did the first time I saw him!

Recently I have become acquainted with the Veil of Manoppello. The face that appears on the cloth is believed by many to be an impression miraculously etched on the napkin that was placed over Christ’s face in the tomb. (See John 20:1-10).

The features of the face, including a broken nose, swollen cheek, and the jaw slightly askew, match perfectly those of the face on the shroud of Turin.

On the Shroud, Christ’s eyes and mouth are closed, and on the Manapello napkin, his eyes are staring slightly up and ahead and the mouth is slightly open with some of the upper teeth showing.

Could this be showing the face of Christ at first moment after his Resurrection?

When I first saw the image in a DVD documentary, I thought, "Impossible! Look how disfigured the face is!" But as I spent time looking at and pondering the face on the cloth, my initial skepticism was changed into wonder and awe.

We know from Scripture that Christ carried the wounds of the nails and the lance in his resurrected body. Why not the other wounds as well? Why not those on his face? Might this be the reason Mary Magdalene failed to recognize him in the garden?

My concept of perfection was first challenged by the sight of Fr. Cyprian’s walk down the heavenly roadway. Now, the face on an ancient cloth is pushing my idea of the boundaries of perfection beyond what I had ever imagined.

I’m a little self conscious about my own walk. When I was a little boy, my feet stuck out at an improbable angle, causing me to trip frequently. Even now I have a duck-like step that gets imitated for me every now and again!

I don’t need to mention other physical imperfections and certainly not the host of interior flaws that I had always imagined would finally get "corrected" when I got my resurrected body. I’m not so sure about any of that anymore.

Every now and then, in my day-to-day life, my jaw drops again as I first catch sight of some person’s physical or even emotional deformity. But when it does, I try not to avert my gaze, but rather to receive with awe and wonder, eye to eye if even for an instant, this particular recipient of God’s infinite delight, just as he or she is. I even occasionally do this with myself by looking in a mirror.


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