I Seek Your Face
Deep in his heart, man has an inexpressible longing to see the face of God. As Pope Benedict XVI writes beautifully in his homilies and in his book, On the Way to Jesus Christ, “The desire to know God truly, that is, to see the Face of God is inherent in every human being, even atheists.” This yearning for God has been expressed from antiquity in the Old Testament:
Listen to my voice, Lord, when I call
. . . Your Face, Lord, do I seek!
Hide not Your Face from me!
In fact, the Hebrew term, “panim”, which means “face” means to see the Face of God or the presence of God, occurs 400 times in the Old Testament, and 100 of these refer to God. The same word “panim”, Pope Benedict explains, is a term that describes relationships. The word “shem” meaning “name” is also a term of relationship. God has a face and a name!
How do we seek His Face?
Pope Benedict XVI tells us that we learn in the Psalms the attitude for seeing the Face of God: “Let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice! Seek the LORD and his strength, seek his presence continually.” (Ps. 105:3-4) and in Psalm 24, the prerequisites of “clean hands and a pure heart” “Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.” “Seeking the face of God”, says Pope Benedict XVI, “is an attitude that embraces all of life; in order for a man to see God’s face at last, he must himself be illuminated entirely by God.” “Let your face shine, that we may be saved.” (Ps 80:3,7,19)
God turns His Face to Us
This deep longing of man to see the Face of God arises because of man’s desire for a personal relationship with His Creator. “God has a Face,” writes Benedict XVI, that is, He is a “You” who can enter into a relationship.” As the story of the people of Israel in the Old Testament reveals, God sees us, hears us, speaks to us, He makes covenants. He loves us. Throughout the Old Testament, He progressively reveals Himself to man, to allow mankind to see His Face Exodus tell us that “the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” (Ex 33:11) Although Moses begs to see God’s face in his glory (Ex 33:11) he is only able to see God’s back as he passes. (Ex33:18-23) It is only by following Jesus (seeing his back) that we will be able to see in his face the glory of God made visible. (2 Cor 4:6)
God shows us His Face in The Incarnation
The revelation of the face of God took on a new and beautiful manifestation when God became man in the person of Jesus Christ. As fully God and fully man, Jesus Christ gave us a human face that revealed the face of God. “While we too seek other signs, other wonders,” Benedict XVI explains, “we do not realize that He is the real sign, God made flesh; He is the greatest miracle of the universe: all the love of God hidden in a human heart, in a human face!” Something new happens at The Incarnation, because now God’s Face can be seen: The Son of God was made man and He is given a Name, Jesus.
The Face and The Name
In fact, the Incarnation also reveals a direct connection between the Holy Face and the Name of God. Jesus shows us the Face of the Father, for as He told His disciples: “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” But Jesus also makes known to us the Name of God: as He said at the Last Supper when praying to His Father, “I have made Your Name known to them.”
The expression “Name of God” means God as He who is present among men. His Name is a concrete sign of His Existence.
Need for Reparation to The Holy Face and The Holy Name
Because of the profound connection between our relationship with God and His Name and Face, sins committed against this relationship with Him are reflected in the Face of Christ. When a man’s name is slandered or reviled, those insults are reflected on his face. So too, in the Passion, the Face of Our Lord was beaten, bloodied, bruised, spit upon.
How are our sins against our personal relationship with God revealed in His face? The manifestation of our sins on His Countenance come about through blasphemy, atheism, disrespect of God in Sacred Things, the profanation of Sunday, hatred of God’s Church. These indignities suffered by Our Lord in His Face represent the most serious sins, because they are against God Himself.
The damage done by our sins to our relationship with God are reflected in the Face of Jesus Christ. For this reason, devotion and reparation to the Holy Face is fitting in order to make amends for what we have done to Him.
History of the Devotion
Devotion to the Holy Face has existed since the beginning of the Christianity. For instance, the “Veil of Veronica” and other images, such as the Shroud of Turin and icons in the East, have been particular objects of devotion to the Face of Christ.
However, a change occurred in mid-1800’s, when Our Lord appeared to a Cloistered Carmelite nun, Sr. Marie St. Pierre, in Tours, France, at a time when the seeds of atheistic communism and revolution were being planted across Europe. Our Lord asked her for greater devotion to His Holy Face and acts of Reparation. Jesus said to her:
“Rejoice, My Daughter, because the hour approaches when the most beautiful work under the Sun will be here.”
The “Beautiful Work” referred to by Our Lord in this apparition is devotion to the Holy Face. This “Most Beautiful Work under the Sun,” spoken of by Our Lord, has dawned at the New Millennium. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, begun by St.. Pope John Paul II in his last days, devotion to the Holy Face is spreading, and the Face of “The True Sun, Jesus Christ” is beginning to “Shine” in the world.
St. Pope John Paul II and “The Most Beautiful Work under the Sun”
In 1997, St. Pope John Paul II asked for an International Congress for studying the words on the Holy Face Medal and Devotion to The Holy Face as a preparation for the Millenium, which he later placed under “The Radiant sign of The Face of Christ.” The medal of the Holy Face of Jesus was made by Bl.Mother Marie Pierina De Micheli, following the request of Jesus and The Blessed Mother in 1936. One side the medal bears a replica of the Holy Face image and an inscription based on Psalm 66:2: “Illumina, Domine, vultum tuum super nos”, that is: “May, O Lord, the light of Thy countenance shine upon us.” On the other side of the medal, there is an image of a radiant Sacred Host, the monogram of the Holy Name (“IHS”), and the inscription “Mane nobiscum, Domine” or “Stay with us, O Lord.”
In Novo Millenio Ineunte, St. Pope John Paul II emphasized the importance of contemplation of the Face of Christ by stating:
“To contemplate The Face of Christ, and to contemplate it with Mary, is the “program” which I have set before The Church at the dawn of the third millennium…To contemplate Christ involves being able to recognize Him wherever He manifests Himself, in His many forms of presence, but above all, in the living Sacrament of His Body and Blood.”
“It is the Church’s task to reflect the light of Christ in every historical period, to make His Face shine also before the generations of the new millennium. Our witness, however, would be hopelessly inadequate if we ourselves had not first contemplated His Face.”
God gazes at us
While we are gazing at God, He is gazing at us. St. John of the Cross says the gaze of God is active, “for God’s Gaze is to love and to work favors. His Gaze is love and love does things. God’s Gaze works four blessing in the soul: it cleanses her, makes her beautiful, enriches her and enlightens her . . . making her like Himself.” By this mutual gaze of love between the Face of God and the soul of man, God restores His Image in our souls.
We enter into this mystery, not by our own efforts, but by faith, grace, and by contemplating Him in silence and prayer, and by anchoring ourselves firmly in the Scriptures, contemplating His Face hidden in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and on through His Life, Death and Resurrection.
St. Pope John Paul II called such acts of reparation to The Holy Face the “unceasing effort to stand beside the endless crosses on which the Son of God continues to be crucified.”
Which Image of the Face of Jesus?
There are many images of the Face of Jesus, but the image of the Face of God is not confined merely to images of Him beaten and bloodied by his passion. St. Pope John Paul II states, “We cannot stop at the image of The Crucified One. He is the Risen One! As St. Paul remarks, the Resurrection is fundamental to the Christian’s relationship with God: if God were not risen, “our preaching would be in vain and our faith empty.” (cf. 1 Cor 15:14) During different seasons of the Church and moments in our faith journey we may feel drawn to contemplate the various aspects of The Holy Face of Jesus from his Incarnation in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, through His Life, Passion, Death and Resurrection.
The Secrets of The Holy Face taught by Pope Benedict XVI
Carrying out St. Pope John Paul II’s “program” at the beginning of his Pontificate, Pope Benedict made a pilgrimage to the little mountain village of Manoppello, Italy, to venerate a veil with a miraculous image of The Face of The Risen Christ. The veil, which has been described as a “living image” due to its changing appearance, also known as “Il Volto Santo,” has been recently “re-discovered”: research reveals it to be the prototype of ancient images of Christ in both the Eastern and Western Church.
The face on veil forensically matches the Face on The Shroud of Turin. It is believed to be the “Veil of Veronica” which most likely disappeared or was stolen from the Vatican in the 1500’s.
Benedict later composed a prayer, in 2007, in commemoration of his visit to the Veil of Manoppello on September 1, 2006. Below is a portion of that prayer:
“Show us O Lord, we pray you, Your Face, ever new; that mirror, mystery-laden, of God’s Infinite Mercy. Grant that we may contemplate it with the eyes of our minds and our hearts: The Son’s Face, radiance of The Father’s Glory and the imprint of His nature. The human Face of God, suffering and risen, when loved and accepted, changes the heart and life, “Your Face, Lord, do I seek, do not hide Your Face from me!” (Psalm 27)
“To express ourselves in accordance with the paradox of the Incarnation we can certainly say that God gave himself a human face, the Face of Jesus, and consequently, from now on, if we truly want to know the Face of God, all we have to do is to contemplate the Face of Jesus! In His Face we truly see who God is and what He looks like!”
Benedict XVI, The Pope of the Face of God
The Face of God is a recurring motif in Benedict’s homilies (most recently on Jan. 1st on World Day of Peace, and on Jan. 16th Wed. audience). On January 1, 2013, Benedict spoke on the blessing of the priests of the people of Israel. The blessing repeats the three times Holy Name of God, a Name not to be spoken, and each time linked to two words indicating an action in favor of man: “May The Lord bless and keep you, may He make His Face shine upon you and be gracious to you: May the Lord turn His Face toward you and give you His PEACE.” Peace is the summit of these six actions of God in our favor, His most sublime gift, in which He turns toward us the splendor of His Face.”
These words of Benedict echo the words of St. Pope John Paul II, that “in The Eucharist, the Face of Christ is turned toward us.”
Moreover, Pope Benedict wrote, “To rejoice in the splendor of His Face means penetrating the mystery of His Name made known to us in Jesus, understanding something of His interior life and of His will, so that we can live according to His plan for humanity. Jesus lets us know the hidden Face of The Father through His human Face; by the gift of The Holy Spirit poured into our hearts.” This, the Pope says, is the foundation of our Peace, which nothing can take from us.
Benedict XVI has characterized devotion to The Holy Face as having three separate components:
1. Discipleship – an encounter with Jesus, to see Jesus in the Face of those in need.
2. The Passion of Jesus, and suffering expressed by images of the wounded Face of Jesus.
3. The Eucharist, “the great school in which we learn to see The Face of God”, which is woven between the other two. The eschatological element then builds on awakening to Christ by contemplating His Face hidden in The Eucharist.
“Our whole life should be directed toward encountering Him,” writes Benedict, “toward loving Him; and in it, a central place must be given to love of one’s neighbor, that love that in the light of The Crucified One, enables us to recognize the Face of Jesus in the poor, the weak, the suffering.” The pope goes on to explain the fruits of this contemplation: “From contemplation of the Face of God are born, joy, security, PEACE”
Indicating that he is truly the Pope of the Face of God, Pope Benedict’s last action as Pope was to request the Ostentation of the Shroud of Turin on Holy Saturday.
Pope Francis: Seeing the Face of Christ in Our Neighbor
From the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis has followed in the footsteps of Benedict XVI and St. Pope John Paul II by speaking often of the importance of the Face of God. Before all, Pope Francis seems to be imitating his patron St. Francis, in letting his actions speak, by demonstrating “Discipleship” seeking out the Face of Christ in the poor, the sick, and the weak and by BEING The Face of Christ to the poor, the sick and the weak.
In Pope Francis’ first homily he tells us, “The Face of God is like that of a merciful Father that always has patience and is willing to forgive.” “All of us have felt joy, sadness and sorrow in our lives,” Pope Francis reflected. “Have we wept during the darkest moment? Have we had that gift of tears that prepare the eyes to look, to see the Lord?” Here we see the need for repentance.
Francis’ message at the Ostentation of the Shroud reflected further on the Face of God and the gaze of love we exchange with Him. “We do not merely ‘look,’ but rather we venerate by a prayerful gaze,” he said, adding, “I would go further: we are looked at ourselves. This Face has eyes that are closed, it is the Face of the One Who is dead, and yet mysteriously he is watching us, and in silence He speaks to us…. This disfigured Face resembles all those faces of men and women marred by a life which does not respect their dignity, by war and violence which afflict the weakest… And yet, at the same time, the Face in The Shroud conveys a great Peace…”
The new pope continued this theme when on his Wednesday audience on April 3, 2013, he drew a particular connection between the Face of God and the role of women: “Women have had and still have a special role in opening doors to the Lord,” he said, “ in following Him and communicating His Face, because the eyes of faith always need the simple and profound look of love.” In fact, said Pope Francis, “The first witnesses of Christ’s Resurrection were women. “
The Face of God has, in fact, become a theme, which Francis has returned to again and again in his preaching.
On Divine Mercy Sunday (April 7th, 2013),“this Mercy of God which has a concrete face, the Face of Jesus, the Risen Christ.” “How beautiful is this gaze of Jesus – How much tenderness is there!” Francis added. “I have so often seen God’s merciful Countenance, His patience!”
On Trinity Sunday 2013, Pope Francis explained the Holy Trinity is not the product of human reasoning, but the Face with which God has revealed himself, walking with humanity.
Speaking to pilgrims June 13, World Refugee Day, “May people and institutions around the world never fail to assist them: their face, is the Face of Christ!”
The Holy Face in the work of Two Popes: The Encyclical Lumen Fidei
Popes Benedict XVI and Francis make clear the necessity of devotion to the Face of Christ in their encyclical Lumen Fidei, The Light of Faith, that “Faith consists in the willingness to let ourselves be constantly transformed and renewed by God’s call and rejecting idols. An idol is “The face which is NOT a face.”
“Those who believe come to see themselves in the light of the faith which they profess: Christ is the mirror in which they find their own image fully realized. And just as Christ gathers to himself all those who believe and makes them his body, so the Christian comes to see himself as a member of this body, in an essential relationship with all other believers.” Lumen Fidei sec.22
Reflected, as in a Mirror and Transformed into His Image
Section 37 of Lumen Fidei speaks of the effect of contemplating The Face of God and how by it, we are transformed into His Image.
“Those who have opened their hearts to God’s love, heard his voice and received his light, cannot keep this gift to themselves. Since faith is hearing and seeing, it is also handed on as word and light. Addressing the Corinthians, Saint Paul used these two very images. On the one hand he says: “But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture — ‘I believed, and so I spoke’ — we also believe, and so we speak” (2 Cor 4:13). The word, once accepted, becomes a response, a confession of faith, which spreads to others and invites them to believe.
Paul also uses the image of light: “All of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image” (2 Cor 3:18). It is a light reflected from one face to another, even as Moses himself bore a reflection of God’s glory after having spoken with him: “God… has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the Face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6).
The light of Christ shines, as in a mirror, upon the face of Christians; as it spreads, it comes down to us, so that we too can share in that vision and reflect that light to others, in the same way that, in the Easter liturgy, the light of the paschal candle lights countless other candles. Faith is passed on, we might say, by contact, from one person to another, just as one candle is lighted from another. Christians, in their poverty, plant a seed so rich that it becomes a great tree, capable of filling the world with its fruit.” ~ Lumen Fidei
A Great gift to the Church – The Most Beautiful Work under the Sun!
The Devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus is great gift to the Church; as Jesus said, “The Most Beautiful work under the Sun”; the “program” set before the whole Church to follow for this millennium by Bl. John Paul II, continued by Pope Benedict XVI and now being carried out by Pope Francis: to contemplate the Face of Christ, with Mary, by grace, in Faith, silence and prayer. To seek Him everywhere: in the Scriptures, our neighbor by Discipleship, and most importantly in contemplating His Holy Face in the Eucharist. By carrying out our part of “the program” we hope to obtain the “most sublime gift of God”: His peace. This is “the beautiful work” which will bring about the Transformation of the Church, restoring the Splendor of the Face of Christ to His Mystical Body.
May The Lord bless us and keep us, may He make His Face shine upon us and be gracious to us: May the Lord turn His Face toward us and give us His PEACE!