Prayers for Sinners By St. Therese of The Child Jesus and The Holy Face
Eternal Father, since Thou hast given me for my inheritance the adorable Face of Thy Divine Son, I offer that Face to Thee, and I beg Thee, in exchange for this coin of infinite value, to forget the ingratitude of souls dedicated to Thee, and to pardon all poor sinners.
O Jesus, Who in Thy bitter Passion didst become “the most abject of men, a man of sorrows, “ I venerate Thy Sacred Face whereon once there did shine the beauty and sweetness of the Godhead; but now it has become for me as if it were the face of a leper! Nevertheless, under those disfigured features, I recognize Thy infinite Love and I am consumed with the desire to love Thee and make Thee loved by all men. The tears which well up abundantly in Thy sacred eyes appear to me as so many precious pearls that I love to gather up, in order to purchase souls of poor sinners by means of their infinite value.
O Jesus, Whose adorable Face ravishes my heart, I implore Thee to fix deep within me Thy Divine Image and to set me on fire with Thy Love, that I may be found worthy to come to the contemplation of Thy glorious Face in Heaven. Amen.
Father, through Saint Therese, help us to trust with a childlike disposition in your mercy and love. Saint Therese, remember your promise to do good on earth. Shower down roses on us and hear our prayers. Amen.
Saint Therese’s Canticle to the Holy Face
Jesus, Your ineffable image
Is the star which guides my steps.
Ah, You know, Your sweet Face
Is for me Heaven on earth.
My love discovers the charms
Of Your Face adorned with tears.
I smile through my own tears
When I contemplate Your sorrows.
Oh! To console You I want
To live unknown on earth!
Your beauty, which You know how to veil,
Discloses for me all its mystery.
I would like to fly away to You!
Your Face is my only homeland.
It’s my Kingdom of love.
It’s my cheerful meadow.
Each day, my sweet sun.
It’s the Lily of the Valley
Whose mysterious perfume
Consoles my exiled soul,
Making it taste the peace of Heaven.
It’s my Rest, my Sweetness
And my melodious Lyre
Your Face, O my Sweet Savior,
Is the Divine Bouquet of Myrrh
I want to keep on my heart!
Your Face is my only wealth.
I ask for nothing more.
Hiding myself in it unceasingly,
I will resemble You, Jesus
Leave in me, the Divine Impress
Of Your features filled with sweetness,
And soon I’ll become holy.
I shall draw hearts to You.
So that I may gather
A beautiful golden harvest,
Deign to set me aflame with Your Fire.
With Your adorned mouth,
Give me soon the Eternal Kiss!
“We saw in the Face the mercy of God”: A dialogue with Cardinal Koch
Paul Badde interviews the president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity on a special event
By Paul Badde
(Manoppello, September 2016 / 9:15 a.m.)
In 2017, it will be 500 years since in the West the Lutheran brothers and sisters began to separate themselves from the Pope and from the Roman Catholic Church. However, even older than the Reformation and the division of the Western Church is the Great Schism of the East, and the division of Christianity into the Church of the East and the Roman Catholic Church in the West, which occurred in 1054 between Rome and Constantinople. Only on December 7, 1965 Pope Paul VI from Rome and the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras from Istanbul solemnly cancelled the reciprocal anathemas “from the memory and from the center of the Church” “abandoning them to oblivion.” But the Eastern Church and the Western Church remained estranged, above all from the cultural point of view. Now, however, at the invitation of Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, on September 18, 2016, seventy Orthodox bishops celebrated the “Divine Liturgy” of Saint John Chrysostom under the Face of Christ, there exposed above the principal altar, together with two cardinals and numerous other prelates of the Roman Catholic Church in the Basilica of the Holy Face of Manoppello.
CNA: Lord Cardinal, Archbishop Bruno Forte calls the “Holy Face” of Christ “the polar star of Christianity.” For him, there is no reasonable cause to doubt that the image on the veil is the sudario of Christ that John cites in the Holy Sepulchre near the burial clothes. But is it not also a provocation for the Orthodox brothers?
Cardinal Koch: Christians believe in one God who showed his concrete face in Jesus Christ. When we know more closely the Face of Christ and when we more deeply identify ourselves with him, the more deeply we become one, as well. For this is a miraculous event to be in front of the Face of Christ, to pray, to venerate the Face, because it fulfills his [Christ’s] desire that we be one.
Catholics have something to bring to the Orthodox. Also for the Orthodox it is so, as for instance for their culture of the veneration of icons. Could it be that from this day forward also in the Catholic Church the images can come to be understood and evaluated in a new way – in the midst of that mighty “Iconic Turn” that the experts of communication today note, in which the images expect a general role in communications like never before?
Yes, the very profound mystery of ecumenism is an exchange of gifts. Today the Church has her gifts. And a particular gift the Orthodox have are the icons. So I think that also many Christians in the West can find a new access to the icons and thus deepening the faith. It is a great gift. It is very important that we also re-evaluate the images in the Western tradition. With the Reform of the sixteenth century, we have placed a whole new accent on the word. But the Word has become flesh, the Word became visible, so also the images belong to the faith. This is a gift from the Orthodox that we welcome gratefully. At Chieti, in these recent days the delicate question of the theological and ecclesiological relations between primacy and synodality in the life of the Church, then the role of Peter and that of all bishops, was discussed within the commission that has come on pilgrimage to Manoppello. Ten years ago Peter came here in the vesture of Pope Benedict. Since then, there has been an enormous turning point in the evaluation of this image of Manoppello that has become famous throughout the world. What significance do you think will be given to this day of pilgrimage, in which the synod of bishops gathered here?
It is very beautiful that we could come here on this anniversary ten years later. Pope Benedict came in the name of the whole Catholic Church. Today is present here the Church of the East and of the West. So this anniversary maybe can also help in the search for the unity between the Church in the East and the Church in the West. You, as president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, are responsible to Rome for ecumenism. In this regard, Pope Francis affirmed: “Look at Christ and go ahead with courage!” Which next step would indicate to you today to go with courage to encounter Christ, in a day in which notwithstanding the difference between the Eastern Church and the Western Church you have come together before this image?
In reality, we are always on the way towards Christ. Because it is His Will that we find unity, it is not a human project. Christ himself on the eve of His Passion prayed that His disciples might be one, that the world might believe. The credibility of this testimony depends on the fact that we are one. This is also a particular request of Pope Francis, when he says that when we can walk on the same road toward Christ, then we find unity.
“Misericordiae Vultus”: with these first Latin words begins the Bull of Indiction with which Pope Francis announced this year of the Jubilee of Mercy. The “Face of Mercy” has given to this year a very particular meaning. What do you sense today being here before the merciful gaze of Jesus, who looks at us from this wonderful veil?
It is a magnificent message that we can have a merciful God, for which we know that there are no cases without hope. Per as long as a man can fall down, he can never fall lower than the hands of God. Now you can really see this face, encounter it, it is naturally a marvelous deepening of this message of the Holy Year. The men of today need nothing more than the mercy of God. And if they can look on the Face of the merciful God it is a marvelous gift. And what will you tell Pope Francis about this event in case you will have the opportunity?
I will certainly tell him that we saw in the Face his great message of the mercy of God. And that this Face is important for the whole Church. It is in a certain way the manifesto of the Church: the merciful Face of God!
(Re-printed with the Author’s permission) Translation from the Italian by Fr. Daren J. Zehnle
The Holy Face of Jesus on a miraculous veil in Manoppello, Italy bought together over seventy Orthodox and Roman Catholic Bishops to celebrate Divine Liturgy and for theological dialogue on September 18th, 2016, taking one more important step toward fulfilling the prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper “that all may be one.” (Jn. 17:21)
A Sacred Dream – Originally at Catholic News Agency, re-printed here with permission of the author, Paul Badde
A Sacred Dream by Paul Badde
It was a single word that brought about the decisive split between the Eastern and Western churches. It happened in May 581, at the Council of Toledo, when the bishops of the Visigoth kingdom added the Latin word “filioque” to the then-200-year-old Catholic creed of the Council of Nicea-Constantinople.
In English, the word means: “and the Son.” Ever since that day, Christians of the West pray in their creed: “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son,” whereas in the Eastern Churches to this day they pray: “We believe in the Holy spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father.” This addition first attained the rank of dogma under Pope Benedict VIII, and then again in 1215, by which time alienation between East and West had substantially increased.
However, it was but this single word that became both a stumbling block and a milestone in the separation process between the Eastern and Western Church. Thousands upon thousands of highly erudite words only further deepened the rift and never could heal it.
But this week, in a quiet ceremony unnoticed by most media, a single image brought the Eastern and Western Church together in way that arguably has never happened before. On this Sunday, Sept. 18, in the small town of Manoppello in the Abruzzi mountains, 70 Orthodox bishops celebrated, together with two cardinals and many Roman Catholic bishops and clergymen, the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom before the image of the “Holy Face.” The holy veil had been hidden for more than 300 years in a side chapel of St Michael’s Church, until, after the great earthquake of 1915, it was publicly displayed for the first time again, in the year 1923, over the main altar of a newly constructed building, where it can be visited and adored every day.
Ten years after the September 2006 visit of Pope Benedict XVI, this visit of a mixed Orthodox synod, together with their Latin brothers, marked a most significant event in the process of re-discovery of this mysterious, original icon of Christ. It had long been worshiped in Constantinople as “Hagion Mandylion,” and later in Rome as “Sanctissimum Sudarium,” before it was also given the name of “Sancta Veronica Ierosolymitana.”
There were metropolitans and bishops of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (from Finland, Estonia, Crete, Patmos, Malta, Great Britain, America, Australia, the Exarchate of the Philippines, from Europe and from Mount Athos) and patriarchs, metropolitans and archbishops of Alexandria, Antioch, Damascus, Jerusalem, the autonomous Church of Mount Sinai, and the Orthodox churches of Russia, Georgia, Serbia, Cyprus, Romania, Greece Poland, Albania, Czech Republic and Slovakia, which came before the Holy Face and celebrated the Eucharist. Only the Bulgarian Church had sent no representative.
The antiphons of the liturgy were in Italian, Russian, Greek, English, Romanian and French. In his homily, given in English, Metropolitan Job Getcha of Telmessos, who headed the service as representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, praised the “image of Christ, not made by human hand” of Manoppello. He pointed out that – according to some scholars – the Image is identical with that of the Soudarion from the Gospel of the Resurrection according to John, while another tradition holds that a certain Veronica wiped the face of Jesus with this veil on his way to the Cross, though she is not mentioned in the canonical Gospels.
Archbishop Bruno Forte from nearby Chieti knows that neither bloodstains nor any residue of paint can be found in the veil. It had been his idea and initiative to bring the bishops before the face of Christ, which he likes to praise as the “North Star of Christendom.” He invited the group to Manoppello and had given the visitors a scholarly introduction on the bus trip from his diocesan town of Chieti to Manoppello.
In Chieti, the pilgrims had all participated in the 14th General Assembly of a Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox. They had discussed a document entitled “Towards a common understanding of synodality and primacy in the service of the unity of the Church.” It was a debate that began in the previous plenary meeting in the Jordanian capital Amman in 2014 and was continued in 2015 in Rome. The Commission is the official organ of the theological dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox. It was founded in 1979 and unites 14 autocephalous Orthodox churches, which are each represented by two theologians who are mostly bishops, together with Catholic representatives.
And now the same group practically traced, as a synodal pilgrimage, that first spectacular step towards the face of Christ that Benedict XVI undertook ten years ago, against much resistance, the first pope to do so after more than 400 years.
His successor Pope Francis later – on Nov 30, 2014 while flying from Istanbul back to Rome – told journalists travelling with him: “Be careful: the Church does not have a light of its own. She needs to gaze upon Jesus Christ! On that path, we must move forward courageously.”
And following on this path, the Divine Liturgy before the Divine Face this Sunday became a milestone of reconciliation on the way to unity. Heavy rainfall had been announced. But only a few drops ended up falling.
“Pray for the Christians in the Middle East as you pray before the Holy Face. They are suffering unspeakably,” an Oriental bishop said right after the final blessing to the German sister Petra-Maria Steiner, who introduces countless pilgrims to the mystery of the light of this image in Manoppello. Earlier, at the conclusion of the celebration, Anatoliy Grytskiv, Protopresbyter of Chieti, had hailed the “miracle” of the encounter in a passionate summary in Italian.
Whereto from here? “Today we have gazed upon the face of God,” Cardinal Kurt Koch told CNA outside the main entrance of the Basilica after the celebration. “Probably only in view of the face of the Redeemer may unity come about. But surely it will be difficult. After all this is like a divorce, after you have grown apart – it is hard to get back together. In this case…thousand years of separation are standing between us.”
“Yes, but fortunately it is said in the Scriptures: A thousand years are with the Lord as one day,” Sister Petra-Maria responded with a smile to the cardinal’s sober skepticism. “Perhaps now the new day of unity arises. With God, nothing is impossible. Perhaps today we have seen the dawn of this new day. This new beginning is as thin and delicate as the Volto Santo.”
Were it so, the image of Christ would indeed have briefly bridged that abyss on this Sunday, an abyss carved out, like a primeval river, by the countless words between East and West, a Grand Canyon into the very foundation of Christianity.
At those very depths, the holy “sudarium” might yet intervene, in a healing fashion, in the ancient Filioque controversy about that first word of separation. For if the veil, as John writes, was indeed lying in the grave of Christ, on the face of the Lord, it must also have absorbed the first breath of the Risen One – when the Spirit of God woke Jesus Christ from the dead – as that Spirit that is the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
September 17th marks the anniversary of the death of the Holy Capuchin priest of Manoppello–the Servant of God, Padre Domenico da Cese. Like his friend and fellow Capuchin, St. Padre Pio, the humble Padre Domenico was a mystic and stigmatist who had extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit.
(For more about St. Padre Pio’s last case of bilocation and Padre Domenico click here.)
As a nine year old boy in 1915, Padre Domenico predicted the devastating Avenzzano earthquake in Italy. A 6.7 earthquake hit that region the next morning, killing more than 30,000 people, including two of his sisters and burying him and his father in the rubble of their church. A man he didn’t know pulled him from the rubble to safety, whose face he later recognized on his first visit as a friar to the Shrine of the Holy Face in Manoppello. When Padre Domenico knelt before the “Il Volto Santo” or Face of Jesus, the miraculous veil, he exclaimed, “This is the man who saved me from the rubble!” He remained at the Shrine as Rector until the time of his death in 1978. To learn more about his incredible life and passionate love for the Holy Face you can watch this wonderful video of his life, “The Long Road of Fr. Domenico, from Cese to Turin” by clicking here.
It’s time once again for the annual Mass of the Roses in honor of St. Therese “The Little Flower! This year’s celebration will be held on Sunday, October 2nd at the Discalced Carmelite Nuns Monastery on River Road in Covington, Louisiana. St. Therese, whose Feast Day is October 1st, was a French Discalced Carmelite Nun who died of tuberculosis at the age of 24. She became a Saint and Doctor of the Church, inspiring others by her “Little Way” of doing small things with great love to attain holiness. She promised that when she died “a shower of roses” would fall from Heaven in the graces obtained through her intercession.
“Your Face is my only wealth, I ask nothing more. Hiding myself in it unceasingly, I will resemble You, Jesus. Leave in me, the Divine Impress of Your features filled with sweetness, and soon I’ll become holy. I shall draw hearts to You.” — St. Therese of The Child Jesus and The Holy Face
This year’s Mass of Roses will be a triple celebration; not only in honor of St. Therese, but also in honor of the Jubilee Year of Mercy and the Golden Jubilee of Sr. Joan! Shuttle service from off-site parking to the Monastery will be available beginning a 8:15 am. At 9:00 am there will be a flute prelude by Sr. Grace, OCD and Sarah Schettler, LPO. Holy Eucharist will be celebrated at 9:30 am with Fr. Louis Arcement, CM as the main celebrant. Immediately following Mass, the children are invited to join in procession, carrying roses to the altar to be blessed and distributed.
Delicious refreshments will be served after the Mass, thanks to many gracious sponsors and volunteers. Hand-made items by the sisters, as well as cookies, pies and bread from the Sister’s kitchen will be for sale as well as a variety of religious article, books and gifts. A children’s area will be set up for face-painting, artwork and other fun activities. A special table will also be set up for Holy Face books, Chaplets, Images and Medals.
Although, St. Therese is more commonly known for her way of “Spiritual Childhood” and devotion to The Child Jesus, her sister, Mother Agnes gave this testimony for St. Therese’ beatification:
“Devotion to the Holy Face was the Servant of God’s special attraction. As tender as was her devotion to the Child Jesus, it cannot be compared to her devotion to the Holy Face.”
St. Therese’ sister Celine (Sr. Genevieve of the Holy Face), also wrote that “Devotion to the Holy Face was, for Therese, the crown and complement of her love for the Sacred Humanity of Our Lord. The 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… Her devotion to the Holy Face transcended, or more accurately, embraced, all the other attractions of her spiritual life.”
Prayer of St. Therese to The Holy Face
“O adorable Face of Jesus, sole beauty which ravishes my heart, vouchsafe to impress on my soul Your divine likeness so that it may not be possible for You to look at Your spouse without beholding Yourself! O my Beloved, for love of You I am content not to see here on earth the sweetness of Your glance, nor to feel the ineffable kiss of Your sacred lips, but I beg of You to inflame me with Your love so that it may consume me quickly and that soon I may behold Your glorious countenance in Heaven.”
Please join us if you are in the neighborhood for this joyous occasion!!!
“Jesus Christ is the Face of the Father’s mercy. These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith.” –Pope Francis, Face of Mercy
The final stop of our pilgrimage was Rome and to enter the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica on the Feast of the Assumption. Most pilgrims to Italy begin their pilgrimage in Rome, but there was a reason that I chose St. Peter’s for the final destination of our pilgrimage and it had to do with the pope. Sometimes our motivation for doing things isn’t always clear, not even to ourselves. It was upon reflection, in hindsight, that I understood why the order of the pilgrimage and also why seeing the Holy Father last, was so important to me.
Looking back on our pilgrimage for the Jubilee Year of Mercy, we began with the image of the Face of Jesus in the Veil of Manoppello. The bible tells us that there is only one mediator between God and man–Jesus Christ. (1 Tim 2:5) The Face of Jesus Christ is like a Door of Mercy–the face of the Church, through which we reach the Father. We enter this “door” through devotion to the Holy Face through prayers and contemplation of the wounded Face of Jesus; by discipleship, to see Jesus in the Face of our neighbors, in the poor, the sick and the suffering; and through the Eucharistic Face of Jesus, from which we draw the grace and strength needed for our journey. Then our faces, too, become like a “door” to our hearts and souls, and can radiate the Face of Jesus, the Face of Mercy to others. Therefore, the “door” of the Face of Jesus was the best place for us to begin, the start of the journey.
After the sanctuary of Manoppello there were other steps along our path to seek the Face of God. The next step was Loreto–entering the door of the Holy Home in Nazareth. God himself chose Mary as the ark of His dwelling place, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in this home. Through Mary and the Holy Family we learn the examples of humility, obedience, and love. Here we saw the Face of Jesus in the Eucharist and in the sick and suffering.
Next was Assisi–a powerful reminder of the Communion of Saints. We are not alone in our quest to see the Face of God but have brothers and sisters in Heaven who have gone before us and are ready to help us if we only ask their help and guidance in trials and tribulations. Their example encourages us to be a consolation and help, or a “Veronica,” to Jesus in our brothers and sisters here on earth. Reminding us that “…whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did it for me.” (Mt. 25:40)
And lastly, Rome. Every year millions upon millions of people go to Rome just to get even a little glimpse of the pope. Most people consider those who actually have met the pope very fortunate. Why? After all, he is just a man like any other man, isn’t he? Well, yes and no. Yes, Jorge Bergolio is a man, but as Pope Francis he is the Vicar of Jesus Christ on earth, and, whoever sees Jesus, sees the Father. (Jn. 14:9) In a way, by seeking out the face of the pope, his words, and his blessing, we are seeking the Face of Our Father in Heaven. All mankind has been created in the image and likeness of God and we have a natural longing, therefore, to see His Face; to enter into relationship with Him. When the Word of God became man in Jesus Christ, at the Incarnation, what was previously impossible (to see God) became possible. In God’s infinite mercy He has not left us orphans; in and through Jesus He has given us His Church, His ministers, and His sacraments, so that is possible for us here on earth, albeit in an imperfect way, to see His Face.
Our pilgrimage mirrored the journey of the Christian soul on earth: through Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit, with the help of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints toward the Face of the Father. Our pilgrimage did not end in Rome, but begins anew each day. We continue to seek His Face by taking up our cross and following Him in the hope that finally one day we will have the joy of truly seeing Him as He is in eternal glory.
In Gratitude to God
“The grace of our Lord has been abundant, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am foremost. But for that reason I was mercifully treated, so that in me, as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in Him for everlasting life. To the King of the ages, incorruptible, invisible, the only God, honor and glory forever and ever.” (1 Tim. 1:14-17)
The peacefulness and beauty of the city of Assisi is legendary. Around every corner there is an idyllic walkway, filled with flowers, ancient arches, and charming vignettes to beguile the pilgrim. But there is danger beneath this serene facade. Assisi is filled with lions! They are everywhere; in fountains, as sentries by stone walls, crouching at doorways. The medieval city that was known to St. Francis and St. Clare, was built on pagan Roman ruins. Pagan temples and ruins are beneath the feet of pilgrims as they enter churches such as Santa Maria Sopra Minerva and San Rufino. But, the lions are out in the open, a symbol of the strength and power of ancient Rome and a silent reminder today of the persecution of Christians and the many martyrs who chose death rather than deny their faith.
Before entering the Holy Door of San Rufino Church, one can’t help but to contemplate the lions at the center door; one is eating a lamb, the other gnawing on the face of a Christian–a graphic reminder of the ultimate blasphemy and goal of the evil one, which is to attempt to destroy the image of the Face of God in souls.
San Rufino, the first bishop of Assisi, was also a martyr, who died for the faith in 296. Martyrdom is not, however, something from the distant past; it is tragically present in our world today in ever-increasing numbers. We were reminded of this fact as we stood in the long security line to enter St. Francis’s Basilica and other holy sites. Armed soldiers were ever present, automatic weapons in hand, to try to maintain a peace; to protect the lambs from the lions.
I have read many statistics on the number of Christians martyred: Seventy million since the time of Christ, most of them in the past century, an estimated “one every five minutes” according to a 2015 report by Christian Freedom International. I don’t know how these statistics are gathered, but one need only turn on the evening news to see a new report of Christians being killed in the world.
In the face of so much suffering and persecution some may ask the question, “Where is your God?” Take another look at the photo at the top of the baby between the lions. Although the baby and the viewer are perhaps unaware; the father’s loving presence is there–seen only in shadow. We too, are often unaware of the Father’s loving presence and concern. He has sent us, just as He sent His only Son, as a lamb among lions.
“Seeking the Face of God in everything, everyone, all the time, and His hand in every happening; this is what it means to be contemplative in the heart of the world. Seeing and adoring the presence of Jesus, especially in the lowly appearance of bread, and in the distressing disguise of the poor.”
–Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Pray for us!
For more about Saint Mother Teresa and the Merciful Face of Jesus click here.
Pt. 6: In Assisi – St. Francis “also had a Veronica”
Assisi is an incredible and beautifully preserved medieval city, known best as the place where St. Francis was born, lived, and died. I had been in Assisi once before, in 2010, but during that time I saw only one site outside of the hotel–the tomb of St. Francis. There was a reason for that odd behavior, which I will explain. But, for this pilgrimage, I had wanted to include Assisi for the Year of Mercy pilgrimage, in thanksgiving to God for His infinite mercy, and for providing us here on earth with the help and friendship of the communion of saints in our most difficult trials on life’s journey.
Now, to explain why I had only seen St. Francis’s tomb on a previous pilgrimage–In 2010 I had been traveling with my husband and three youngest children, together with a pilgrimage group, primarily to see the Shroud of Turin, which at Pope Benedict XVI’s request, was being exhibited that year. While on the pilgrimage, my third son, back in the States, had fallen very ill. He had gone to the hospital and had been told it was most likely a virus from which he would eventually recover, but as the days went by, unable to eat, suffering from fever and chills; he could no longer even take care of himself. When we learned of the situation (communication was very difficult) we arranged for another older son to travel to help him, thinking any day he would improve. However, it soon became clear there was something more serious going on. Jaundiced and very weak, he had lost nearly thirty pounds. He was dying. Doctors could find no cause for his illness from looking at x-rays and MRIs. One doctor reluctantly began an emergency exploratory surgery as there was nothing else left to do.
By the time we received this terrible news we were nearing the end of our trip and had arrived in Assisi. Beset with grief and anxiety, unable to do anything for my son at that time, but pray, I went weeping to the tomb of St. Francis. I prayed and cried, cried and prayed the entire day. The friar stationed at the desk near the tomb gave me strange looks, for which I can hardly blame him. I must have been a sight. When I tired of kneeling, I got up and walked along the tomb, and begged the intercession of the friends of St. Francis, as well, who are entombed in the surrounding walls. Toward the back, behind the altar, in the same enclosure as the tomb of St. Francis, I found a name: “Here lies Jacoba, a holy Roman Noblewoman.” A woman? Buried in the tomb by St. Francis? I knew nothing about her, but figured she must be someone holy if she’s buried with the saint, so I begged her intercession as well.
Toward evening we received news from the hospital–the surgeon had discovered that our son’s appendix had ruptured, weeks before, in an undetectable manner, leaking toxins into his body and closing off the portal vein to his liver. He was still a very sick young man, but would recover. (His recovery took nearly three months.) I felt certain that I owed St. Francis and the saints at his tomb a debt of gratitude for petitioning, on my behalf, for my son before the throne of God–which is why I wanted to return one day to offer thanks. So, the day had come when we could give thanks at St. Francis’s tomb. We knelt in gratitude before the altar, and this time with the additional joy of thanksgiving that our son and his wife had just had their first child,a son.
We went on to see what I had missed in the Basilica; the incredible frescoes and relics. In the Relic Chapel after seeing St. Francis’s patched and tattered tunic and other precious relics, I stood in front of a display case which contained a beautifully embroidered silken veil and read the name, “Jacoba Settesoli.” I read on, “Like Jesus on his way to Calvary, Francis also had a Veronica.”(Veronica is the woman, tradition tells us, who wiped the Face of Jesus. She is the model of those who make reparation to the Face of Christ.)
Lady Jacoba was a noblewoman and widow, with two children from Rome, who became a follower of St. Francis. After having heard him preach she sought his guidance on how to be charitable. When Francis traveled to Rome, he would stay with Lady Jacoba as her guest and she cared for him when he was sick. She gave some of her property in Trastevere to the brothers, which they used to care for lepers. She gave up her life of comfort in order to help the poor. Woman were not normally permitted to be in company of the brothers, however, St. Francis made an exception in her case, jokingly referring to her as “Brother Jacoba.”
As Francis lay dying he sent an urgent letter by messenger to Lady Jacoba: “Brother Jacoba, the servant of the Most High, health in the Lord and communion in the Holy Ghost. Dearest, I want you to know that the blessed Lord has done the grace of revealing that the end of my life is nigh. So, if you want to find me still alive, hurry to Santa Maria degli Angeli as soon as you receive this letter.” He went on to request that she bring a gray cloth to wrap his body in, candles for burial, and almond cookies that she had made for him in Rome when he was sick. Before the messenger arrived in Rome, Lady Jacoba had already anticipated St. Francis’s needs by the light of the Holy Spirit and was on her way to Francis’s deathbed.
St. Francis’s biographer, Bl. Thomas Celano, wrote that Lady Jacoba brought not only the gray cloth, the candles, and the almond cookies, but also a pillow for his head, and a “sindomen pro facie” (a veil to cover his face in death, which was displayed in the Relic Chapel). So, St. Francis, an alter Christus who bore the stigmata, also had his “Veronica” in Lady Jacoba, who brought him consolation in his passion. (to be continued in Pt. 7)