By Fr Alex Yeung
The practice of bullfighting is often linked to Rome, even as a kind of cathartic substitute for human gladiatorial contests.
In modern bullfights there are three stages.
In the first stage, the matador gets the bull to run around and chase the cape, testing the behavior and strength of the bull. A lanceman riding a horse enters and with a long pike wounds the bull in the neck leading to a first loss of blood and weakening of the neck muscles. In the second stage, three skilled banderilleros plant two sharp barbed sticks each into the bull’s shoulders. This angers and invigorates the bull, but also further weaken it. In the final stage, the matador is in the ring alone with the bull. Using a cape, the matador lures the bull in a series of passes which produces an artful display along with wearing the animal down.
The bullfighter demonstrates his control over the bull, and his self-control, by having the bull pass closer and closer to himself, risking being trampled or gored. When the bull is all tired out, the bull is lured into a position where with one thrust of a sword, the matador gives the bull the coup de grace. On very rare occasions, when the bull has behaved very vigorously, and has provided the audience with a great show, the audience will wave their white handkerchiefs as a petition to the presider of the event to grant the bull a pardon (indulto). The famous bullfighter, El Juli, when he was just starting his career at age 14, did the unforgettable act of pardoning a bull named “Feligrès”; In his whole career, the number of indultos he gave probably didn’t amount to 10.
One who is not familiar with the tradition of bullfights can naturally feel drawn to sympathize with the bull. One gets the impression that the bull is being mocked, wounded, scourged, worn out and finally killed — all for the sake of the entertainment of the cheering masses. Cultural judgments aside, I am drawn strongly to the similarity between these sentiments and the sentiments of those who observed the trial of Jesus Christ on Good Friday.
The guards of Caiaphas beat and mocked Christ. Herod and his courtiers derided him. Pilate had him brutally scourged and crowned with piercing thorns. At the end, he brought him out before the people, bloody and worn, wrapped in a scarlet cape, in an attempt to solicit pity from the people gathered at the Praetorium. But the people (the people represent all of us down through the centuries) gave him no indulto — they pardoned the criminal Barabbas instead. “What shall I do with him then?” asks Pilate. “Crucify him!” was the response.
The Son of the Living God lowered himself and assumed our human nature, one able to suffer and die. God’s self-humbling is more humiliating than if a man were able to become a bull only to be brought into a bullfighting arena. Christ endured his passion so nobly, so lovingly; he did not give up the fight even physically until the moment when hanging from the Cross he could truly say: “It is finished”. He shed every drop of his blood conscientiously for you and me — for remission of our sins.
We gave Christ no indulto. But this is the great mystery of love: by carrying the full punishment of our sins, Christ the Son of God obtained for each one of us the indulto for the eternal punishment of our sins. What Amazing Love!