“The face of evil bares itself more and more…”

“The Lord has always revealed to mortals the treasures of His Wisdom and His Spirit, but now that the face of evil bares itself more and more, so does the Lord bare His treasures more and more.”  — St. John of the Cross

Drawing by Sr. Genevieve of the Holy Face (Celine Martin, the sister of St. Therese)
Drawing by Sr. Genevieve of the Holy Face (Celine Martin, the sister of St. Therese)*

A blindness has descended upon the world–a spiritual blindness.  Society as a whole seems unable to distinguish what is good and true from evil and lies.  Like Pontius Pilate, few can recognize Truth even when He (Jesus) is standing before them.  The importance of being able to distinguish the Face of God from the face of Satan couldn’t be more serious; it is a matter of life and death for us.

Satan, first appearing as an angel of light, and proudly confident of his victory over mankind, now bares his “face of evil more and more,” but, “so does the Lord bare His treasures more and more.”  God’s greatest treasures are hidden in His Holy Face. (To name a few: the virtues of humility, detachment, love of suffering, self sacrifice and love–the treasures of the Holy Face are infinite.) Perhaps that is why, in this crucial point in history, St. Pope John Paul II dedicated the millennium to the Holy Face of Christ; and why Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI called upon us to contemplate and shine the light of the Face of Christ on every human being through evangelization; and why Pope Francis holds out to mankind the Merciful Face of Jesus Christ.  Mankind must turn back to the Face of God or perish!

But, in order to turn back to the Face of God, we must be capable of recognizing Him, in our neighbor, in the Scriptures, in the Holy Eucharist and in the Person of Jesus Christ who was born, suffered, died, and rose again for our sake.  If we do not recognize Jesus, neither will we be able to recognize the face of Satan, who seeks to destroy us.

Scripture seems to contradict itself in describing Jesus Christ:  “You are the fairest of the children of men, and graciousness is poured out upon you lips.” (Ps. 45) “He was transfigured before their eyes, His Face became as dazzling as the sun, His clothes as radiant as light.” (Mt. 17:2) “There was in Him no stately bearing to make us look at Him, no appearance that would attract us to Him. He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity.  One of those from whom men hide their faces, spurned and we held Him in no esteem. (Isaiah 53:2-3)   It is not always easy to recognize Jesus, He may also be hidden in the poor, the suffering, the young the old. To truly recognize Jesus, we need to ask God for eyes of faith and the light of the Holy Spirit.  As Pope Benedict XVI had said,“The Holy Spirit illuminates the reciprocity:  Jesus has divine dignity and God has the human Face of Jesus.  God shows Himself in Jesus and by doing so gives us the truth about ourselves.”  The truth that He is God, Eternal Wisdom, Power, and Merciful Love… and we are not.  We have nothing that does not first come from God. So, to recognize the Face of God we must be able to distinguish it from the face of the enemy.  

So, how then do we recognize “the face of evil,” especially when Satan may appear as an angel of light?  When he announced the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis also recommended the reading of Dante’s Divine Comedy as a spiritual preparation. There is a relevant passage in Canto 34 of Dante’s The Inferno that contains keen insights that can help us to recognize the face of Satan… or rather faces, as Dante gives Satan three faces in mimicry of the Blessed Trinity.

Gustav Dore's illustration of Canto 34 of Dante's Inferno
Gustav Dore’s illustration of Canto 34 of Dante’s Inferno
If once
He was as fair as he is ugly now, 
and raised his brow against his Maker still, 
he well is made the source of every woe. 
But when I saw three faces in his head, 
how great a marvel it appeared to me! 
One face in front, and it was ruddy red; 
the other two were joined to it upon 
the middle of the shoulder on each side, 
and joined above, where the cock sports his crown;
and the right was a kind of yellowish white, 
and where the Nile comes rolling to the plains, 
men’s faces are the color on the left. 
Beneath each face extended two huge wings, 
large enough to suffice for such a bird. 
I never saw a sail at sea so broad.
They had no feathers, but were black and scaled
like a bat’s wings, and those he flapped, and flapped, 
and from his flapping raised three gales that swept 
Cocytus, and reduced it all to ice. 
With his six eyes he wept, and down three chins
dribbled his tears and slaver slick with blood. 
Anthony Esolen writes in his excellent commentary on The Divine Comedy: “At the center of evil there is nothing but a small, hard, cold kernel of self, transcendentally small, a something just this side of emptiness. Despite his apparent power in the world, that is what Lucifer finally is, and despite his threatening size, that is how Dante has portrayed him. That he flaps his wings everlastingly only underscores his impotence. He is the ‘evil worm’ who ‘gnaws a whole into the world.’ For Dante, escape from sin is escape from that tight little hole, to breathe the air of freedom and humanity, and to look upon those vast realms above–realms meant for the fire of love, and therefore also meant for man.”
….”Satan is an anti-Trinity. The power, wisdom, and love of God are inverted here into impotence, ignorance, and hate. The colors of the faces seem to correspond with the colors of the men of the three continents Dante knew: ruddy, (European), yellowish (Asian), and dusky (African).” 
. . . “Satan’s action locks him in place. What should be a symbol of freedom–the flapping of wings–is the engine of his imprisonment. He who would be free of God is bound by his own will and shackled into a dumb, mechanical dullness.” 
Satan’s face will always be always be one of impotence, ignorance, and hate and God’s Face will always be one of Divine Power, Wisdom and Love.  One wonders how the world persists in blindness; how it calls good “evil” and evil “good” in failing to recognize either the Face of God or the face of Satan.  We must pray for the “eyes of faith” and the light of the Holy Spirit for ourselves and the world.  We must pray too, that as “evil bares it’s face more and more” that God will reveal the treasures of the Divine Power, Wisdom, and Merciful Love of His Holy Face more and more so that mankind will return to the Merciful Face of God!
************
Young Celine (left) and St. Therese (right) 1881
Young Celine (left) and St. Therese (right) 1881

*The drawing above is by Sr. Genevieve of the Holy Face (Celine Martin) the sister of St. Therese of The Child Jesus and the Holy Face.  One year after the Saint’s death in 1898, the photographer Secondo Pia took the first photographs of the Shroud of Turin.  He was shocked when on the photographic negatives, the “positive” image of a man who had endured terrible suffering appeared.  While Celine was reading a book on the amazing discovery, she heard the voice of her sister St. Therese speak these words, “Paint Him, paint a new Holy Face, paint Him as He was!”  In 1904, after praying and meditating hours before a print of the Holy Face on the Shroud of Turin she  executed the charcoal drawing.

 

Celine has written this about St. Therese’s devotion to the Holy Face:  “Devotion to the Holy Face was, for Therese, the crown and compliment of her love for the Sacred Humanity of Our Lord.  This Blessed Face was the mirror wherein she beheld the Heart and Soul of her Well-Beloved.  Just as the picture of a loved one serves to bring the whole person before us, so in the Holy Face of Christ, Therese beheld the entire Humanity of Jesus.  We can say unequivocally that this devotion was the burning inspiration of the Saint’s life.

St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face
St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face
St. Therese herself said, “Until my coming to Carmel, I had never fathomed the depths of the treasures hidden in the Holy Face... I understood what real glory was.  He whose kingdom is not of this world (John 13:36) showed me that true wisdom consists in ‘desiring to be unknown and counted on as nothing’ (Imitation of Christ 1,2-3) ‘in placing one’s joys in the contempt of self.’Ah! I thirsted after suffering and I longed to be forgotten.”  —The Last Conversations
 

 

 

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