Happy New Year 2016 – May The Lord Bless and Keep You!

Mary, Mother of God (Fra Angelico)
Mary, Mother of God
(Fra Angelico)

“May the Lord bless and keep you, may He make His Face shine upon you and be merciful to you: May the Lord turn His Countenance toward you and give you His PEACE.” (Num. 6:22-27)

Peace, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has said, is the summit of the six actions of God in this blessing, which are in our favor; “His most sublime gift, in which He turns toward us the splendor of His Face.”

January 1st is the Feast of Mary, Mother of God, who is the Queen of Peace and this is also the World Day of Peace.  Today Pope Francis said, “She is the Mother of Mercy, because she bore in her womb the very Face of Divine Mercy, Jesus, Emanuel, the Expectation of the nations, the “Prince of Peace.” (Is. 9:5)  Jesus has given us His Mother so that we may never be left alone on our pilgrimage through life, especially in times of trouble and uncertainty.

Pope Francis has also said, “Our eyes need to focus on the particular signs God has given us, to see His merciful love first-hand.”  The Holy Father recalled the suffering, violence and death of many innocent people in the previous year, but he also noted the many acts of kindness, love and solidarity that go unnoticed but should not be obscured “by the arrogance of evil.”  The good always wins,” said Pope Francis, “even if at times it can appear weak and hidden.” 

One of the “particular signs God has given us, to see His merciful love first-hand” is the Face of Christ which He offers to all humanity as “the supreme revelation of the Father’s Mercy.”  By contemplating and rejoicing in the splendor of His Face through devotion to the Holy Face we may obtain the peace that the world so desperately needs.

Pope Francis concluded his blessing by appealing to Mary saying, “Send us your blessing on this day consecrated to your honor.  Show us the Face of Jesus your Son, who bestows upon the entire world mercy and peace.” Finally, the Pope concluded by calling on the faithful to pray each morning for God to “shine his face” on us, and invited those in the square to repeat after him: “Today, the Lord makes His Face to shine upon me.”

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has written, “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,” Pope Benedict XVI says, “is the foundation of our Peace, which nothing can take from us.”

+Peace and have a Blessed New Year!

“Mary, Mother of the Holy Face, help us to have ‘hands innocent and a heart pure,’ hands illumined by the truth of love and hearts enraptured by divine beauty, that transformed by the encounter with Christ, we may gift ourselves to the poor and the suffering, whose faces reflect the hidden presence of your Son Jesus. Amen.” — Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Of the Father’s Love Begotten

“So when we hear tell of the birth of Christ, let us be silent and let the Child speak. Let us take his words to heart in rapt contemplation of his face.” –Pope Francis 

The desire to see the Face of God has been the deep longing of all humanity “since the world began to be.” Yet deeper still is God’s desire to show His Face to us…

Adoration of the Christ Child and Annunciation to the Shepherds by Bernardino Luini
Adoration of the Christ Child and Annunciation to the Shepherds by Bernardino Luini

God’s love for mankind is so great that He desired to become visible to men. In the fullness of time, when earth was covered in darkness, the bright dawn of the Word made flesh descended to the womb of a Virgin, so that, for the first time in the history of the world, on the day of His birth, God’s Face could be seen. He could be looked upon without fear and trembling because in the supreme manifestation of His merciful love He allowed us to gaze upon Him as a tiny baby, who is the redemption and light of all mankind.

The darkness of sin and death is overcome by the light emanating from the Face of the Infant Jesus, shining first upon the Blessed Virgin Mary, then St. Joseph, the humble shepherds and kings and on and on. The divine light extends to all peoples, down through the centuries to each of us. As we contemplate and adore Jesus, we in turn, must make the light of His Face shine to others, to all we meet, until finally the darkness is dispelled forever by the Glory of His Face… “evermore and evermore.”

Below is the beautiful Christmas Hymn “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” sung by the Benedictine Sisters of Mary. Enjoy!

Of the Father’s love begotten,
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega,
He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see,
Evermore and evermore!

He comes in splendor, the King who is our peace; the whole world longs to see Him."
“He comes in splendor, the King who is our peace; the whole world longs to see Him.” The Holy Night by Carlo Maratta

O that birth forever blessèd,
When the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
Bore the Savior of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face,
evermore and evermore!

O ye heights of heaven adore Him;
Angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him,
and extol our God and King!
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert sing,
Evermore and evermore!

Christ, to Thee with God the Father,
And, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving,
And unwearied praises be:
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory,
Evermore and evermore!

Merry Christmas! May His Face shine upon you today and always!

Longing to see His Face — The Expectation of The Blessed Virgin Mary

Every expectant mother shares something with the Blessed Virgin Mary — the longing to see the face of her child.  The mother cannot yet kiss or caress her baby, she cannot hear the sound of a cry, or smell that baby-sweetness, so she waits in loving attentiveness for the stirring of the babe beneath her heart, that fills her with joy and knowledge of the baby’s presence within.

Virgin in Prayer Artist: Sassoferrato 1640-50
Virgin in Prayer
Artist: Sassoferrato
1640-50

During the 3rd week of Advent, on December 18th, in some places in the world the Church celebrates a beautifully contemplative feast which is called the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The feast has it’s origin in the year 656 in Spain and spread throughout the Middle Ages.  Because the ancient law of the Church prohibited the celebration of feasts during Lent, the Church transferred the Feast of the Annunciation from March 25th to the season of Advent.  The Tenth Council of Toledo assigned the feast to the 18th of December.  It was kept as a solemn octave, eight days leading to Christmas.  When the ancient laws regarding fasts were changed, the Annunciation was celebrated twice, on March 25th and December 18th.

On this day and the days leading up to Christmas we are invited to contemplate, together with Mary, the Divine Child within her womb, who is Our Savior.  We too, through sanctifying grace, bear the supernatural image of God within us. Like Mary, we desire to become a peaceful sanctuary for the living God. We are called to be attentive, in prayer, to the faint stirrings of His presence in our hearts, which will fill us with a deep longing to see His Face as we pray:

“Mary, your life with Jesus was one of the purest, most fervent, most perfect emotions of longing and most eager expectation of the Birth of the Divine Child! How great must have been that longing!  You were longing to see the Face of God and to be happy in the vision.  You were soon really to see the Face of God, the created image of divine perfection, the sight of which rejoices heaven and earth, from which all being derive life and joy; the Face whose features enraptured God from all eternity, the Face for which all ages expectantly yearned.  You were to see this Face unveiled, in all the beauty and grace as the face of your own child.  Most just indeed it is, O Holy Mother of God, that we should unite in that ardent desire which you had to see Him, who had been concealed for nine months in your chaste womb; to know the features of this Son of the heavenly Father, who is also your own; to come to that blissful hour of His birth, which will give glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to men of good will.  Yes, dear Mother, the time is fast approaching, though not fast enough to satisfy your desires and ours.  Make us re-double our attention to the great mystery; complete our preparation by your powerful prayers for us, so that when the solemn hour has come, our Jesus may find no obstacle to His entrance into our hearts.  Amen.” Prayer by Rev. Lawrence Lovasik, S.V.D.

This prayer may be prayed as a Triduum from December 15th to the Feast Day on December 18th, or continue to be prayed on the days leading up to Christmas. 

 

Signs and Wonders

Miraculous Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe "I am your merciful Mother."
Miraculous Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe
“I am your merciful Mother.”

Why does God work signs and wonders?  There can only be one answer: His Merciful Love.  Our Creator knows our human weakness.  Our faith may be weak, or we may have no faith at all.  We experience things and come to knowledge through our senses, so God grants us signs that we can see, hear, smell and touch signs of His goodness.  The Old Testament is filled with signs and wonders that God granted to all mankind to reveal His Presence and show His power and might.  But what could be more miraculous than the New Testament miracle that a virgin should be with child and bear a son? That God should become a tiny infant in the womb or that bread and wine should become the Body and Blood of Christ? Through these unimaginable signs God shows Himself to be not only all-powerful, but also all-good, all-humble, all-merciful, all-LOVE!

Signs and wonders do not end with the New Testament, but are on going.  They continue today.  For instance, in 1531, Our Lady appeared as a virgin with child to a humble Juan Diego and left an image of herself on his tilma as a sign for all peoples of her maternal love and of the merciful love of God.  The wondrous image was “painted” not by brush and paint, but by the hands of Our Lady herself as she gently arranged miraculous Castillian roses in Juan Diego’s tilma as a proof for his Bishop that a church should be built at the site of her appearance.  The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe speaks volumes to people of all times. As she told Juan Diego, “I am your merciful Mother, the Mother of all who live in this land and all of mankind.  I hear the weeping and sorrows of those who love me, cry to me, and have confidence in me, and I will give them consolation and relief.”

Sheer Veil of the Holy Face of Manoppello Photo: Paul Badde
Sheer Veil of the Holy Face of Manoppello
Photo: Paul Badde

To enumerate the many scientific studies done on the miraculous images of the tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe, or the Shroud of Turin, or the Holy Veil of Manoppello may demonstrate to those who need proof that they are indeed miracles.  But faith is still required for belief and some, in spite of the facts or reliable testimony, may still have doubts or sadly choose not to believe.

Perhaps we have trouble believing miracles because at heart we have trouble believing that God loves us and that He would stoop down from Heaven to show that love in some tangible way. Proof or not, the gifts of the Love and Mercy of God are still there so that we may “see and believe.”  God has given us these wondrous signs and they should not be taken for granted!  He is communicating something to each individual through these signs.  Let us pray for ourselves and for unbelievers, “Lord, help us in our unbelief.”

What greater sign of His Love than the bread and wine become His Body and Blood?
What greater sign of His Love than that the bread and wine become His Body and Blood?

************

(Below is a re-post from 12/2014 for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe)

Look Closely – Our Lady of Guadalupe “Not made by Human Hands”

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Miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe

The miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Shroud of Turin, and “Il Volto Santo,” the veil of Manoppello all have something in common.  They are all Acheiropoieta, a Greek word meaning: “made without hand.”  They are said to have come into existence miraculously, not created by a human painter.

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The Holy Face on the Shroud of Turin

The extensive research that has been done on these three images, and the results are astounding.  Although I have not been to Mexico to view the miraculous tilma of Our Lady, I have seen both the Holy Shroud of Turin and the Veil of Manoppello in person.  Studying them has been my own personal passion.

Being an artist, (and near-sighted) I tend to look at things more closely.  I study each little detail, shape, line, form, color, and  value. I may spend hundreds of hours studying while I work.  I can’t help but know every little nuance by the time I am done painting.  Sr. Blandina Paschalis Schloemer, a Trappist nun from Germany, is also an artist, a painter of icons.  Icon painting is very exact when it is done in the traditional manner.  Sr. Schloemer began to notice striking similarities between ancient icons and images of the Face of Christ, and the images on the Shroud of Turin and the Veil of Manoppello.  With the permission of her order the research has become her life’s work as well as part of her vocation.

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Pope Benedict meets Sr. Blandina at the Sanctuary Basilica for the Holy Face of Manoppello

Her research indicates that both images on the Shroud of Turin and the Manoppello Image are of the same man.  I agree with her, wholeheartedly, although it is not at first glance apparent.   There are also many similarities between these two images  of Jesus’ Face and the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  First, all are on a cloth.  The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is on cactus fiber, which should have disintegrated hundreds of years ago according to scientists. The Shroud of Turin is on linen and the Manoppello Image is on woven sea-silk, called byssus.

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Our Lady of Guadalupe, pilgrim image beside the Veronica Altar, at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Photo: Paul Badde, author of The Face of God: The Rediscovery of the True Face of Jesus, Ignatius Press.

Byssus  is more rare and more precious than gold.  Mentioned in the Bible, byssus, has a shimmering, iridescent quality which reflects light. Byssus is extremely delicate, yet strong at the same time. It  resists water, weak acids, bases, ethers or alcohols. It can’t be painted, as it does not retain pigments, it can only be dyed; and then, only purple.  Did I mention that it can last for more than 2000 years?

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The veil of Manoppello, woven with byssus, is so sheer that you can read through it. Photo: Paul Badde

Another similarity between the Guadalupe image and the Manoppello image is the changeability of the images.  Pilgrims  have related how the image of Our Lady on the tilma appears to change in color, brightness and depth.  Scientists can’t explain how the Guadalupe image appears on the tilma, it is not painted… it is “just there.”  The Shroud of Turin has been described similarly. The veil of Manoppello, or “Il Volto Santo” as it is also known,  is even more incredible, if that can be possible, because in addition to the image being on a veil so sheer that it can be read through, it also changes in detail, color,  and shape.  It even disappears… entirely. It is called a “living image” and so it is.  No two people will see it in the same way.  No single person will see it in the same way twice.

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“Il Volto Santo of Manoppello”

Julian of Norwich, the English mystic of the 14th century,  mentions changeability as a characteristic of the Veil of Veronica in Rome, “the diverse changing of color and countenance, sometime more comfortably life-like, sometime more rueful and death-like.” The Veil of Veronica, it is now believed, was most likely stolen a hundred years later, during the sack of Rome.  But, Julian of Norwichs’ description of the Veil of Veronica certainly fits “Il Volto Santo” of Manoppello.

But, there is more.  There is something about the faces… if you study the faces in particular, especially  the eyes, as one opthamalogist did. On the eyes of Our Lady of Guadalupe, you will notice that something.  Similar research has been done on the eyes of “Il Volto Santo.”  There are delicate, natural, details in all three images that cannot be accomplished without the aid of paint or brush, on a rough, cactus cloth, or on a linen burial shroud or on gossamer-thin sea-silk.  If you have an opportunity, look closely.  Yes, there is something about the faces, and it is something supernatural.  They are not made by human hands, but by the Hand of God.

“O Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe,

By your presence you made the desert bloom with flowers

may your love transform us into the image of Your Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.”

(Prayer by Dom Mark Kirby, Prior, Silverstream Monastery, Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland)