June 6, 2017
  • re-2017-longius

As I slowly made my way through St. Peter’s Basilica, gazing in wonder upon the magnificent testimony to the Catholic faith that the architecture, tombs, statues, and spirit of this holy place lends to the human heart, I was pierced by one particular statue – that of St. Longinus. Over four meters tall, this marble statue was sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1638 and placed in the niche directly northeast of the baldacchino by the same man. The statue depicts St. Longinus gazing upward, both arms outstretched, with one hand holding a lance.

As tradition has it, St. Longinus is the soldier who pierced the side of Jesus: “But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs, but one soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out. An eyewitness has testified, and his testimony is true; he knows that he is speaking the truth, so that you also may [come to] believe” (Jn. 19:33-35). After St. Longinus pierced the side of the crucified Christ, we do not know what happened to him; but, the inscription below the statue reads “Sanctus Longinus Martyr.” Presumably, St. Longinus was deeply changed by this encounter with the crucified Christ, having been covered by the Precious Blood and Water which flowed from His side.

Bernini’s depiction of St. Longinus struck me particularly due to the class the Rome Experience has been attending: “The Human Virtues for Priestly Fatherhood, Manliness, Steadfastness, and Self-Mastery” taught by Rev. Robert Gahl, Jr. (Associate Professor Of Ethics at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross). Fr. Gahl led our class through lessons and discussions centered around true Christian manliness and how that is to be lived out in the life of a priest. In these discussions, we talked about the world’s understanding of manliness (domination, violence, power) as opposed to the authentic manliness (dominion, self-mastery, and self-gift).

I saw in the life of St. Longinus the stark divide of the different interpretations of manliness. Here was a Roman soldier, a man of domination, violence, and power, who, by the world’s standards, was the very example of manliness. But, he encounters the Son of Man – indeed, he is drenched with the very Precious Blood of the God-Man, Jesus Christ – and he is changed. His former life of domination, violence, and power is transformed into a life of dominion, self-mastery, and self-gift. In a word, St. Longinus became a true disciple of Jesus Christ, the true end of the Christian man.

Each of us is called to be transformed by the Divine Mercy of Jesus Christ, flowing from His Sacred Heart. Profoundly, it is often our very sins that Our Lord uses as an opportunity to show us His radical love and a new way of life, as He did when St. Longinus pierced his side. In order for a priest to be a spiritual father, manly, steadfast, and virtuous, he must be a man changed by the very Blood of Jesus Christ. St. Longinus, with his bloodied lance and transformed heart, stands as a monument of Christian manliness and a holy example to the future priests of the Church to be virtuous men, transformed by grace.

Sanctus Longinus, ora pro nobis!

Alec Sasse
The Rome Experience Class of 2017
Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska
St. Charles Borromeo Seminary

[About the Photo: Statue of St. Longinus by Gian Lorenzo Bernini at St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City. Courtesy of Alec Sasse.]