A Meditation on the Pelican
The pelican has inspired countless poets, from Thomas Aquinas in his famous Pie Pelicane, to the French writer Musset in his Sacrifice du Poète. We also find the pelican in Scripture. As it’s Lent, it’s probably fitting to have a look at Psalm 101 (102), one of the penitential psalms. “O Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come unto thee…” It’s the sort of psalm that Christ could well have been praying from the Cross, along there with “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps. 21). A few verses on, there we have it: Similis factus sum pellicano in solitudine, I have become like a pelican in the wilderness (Ps. 101.7). The psalmist also compares himself to an owl, and a lonely bird. Birds are not by nature solitary creatures. They fly and sing in flocks, they mate and nest together. But this pelican is utterly abandoned, and sings a song of lament.
As we get towards the end of this psalm, we are reminded that all things pass away, but only God endures forever, and remains completely without change. In his humanity, Christ embraces us, but also our ability to change, with the corruption and decay that come from it. Even when he “hides” himself in the Eucharistic species, he takes on the appearance of bread and wine which are very truly corruptible—that’s why we have to sometimes empty and replenish the tabernacle! And at the same time, he has shared with us the incorruptibility which his glorified body enjoys in Heaven. And he shares it precisely in this corruptible appearance.
There’s perhaps a lesson for us there, too. Are we willing—like the medieval pelican—to sometimes embrace self-sacrifice, or really the appearance of sacrifice, to give to others what is truly good? Who knows, we might even benefit from the gift ourselves.