Pope St. John Paul II and the Face of Christ

“Christianity is born, and continually draws new life from this contemplation of the glory of God shining on the Face of Christ.”

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“The Eucharist is the great school in which we learn to see the Face of God.” “In the Eucharist, the Face of Christ is turned toward us.”

Many Catholics are unaware of the fact that this millennium was dedicated to the Face of Christ by Pope St. John Paul II. He lifted high before the Church the banner of the Holy Face of Jesus at the dawn of the millennium. The Face of Christ was to be the standard for the faithful to follow in this spiritual battle that exists in the world between light and darkness.

King Abgar receives the Veil of the Holy Face

In ancient times, there existed a veil bearing the Face of Jesus, which by the order of the emperor Justin II, in the sixth century, was also carried into battle as a standard. The veil, considered a relic, was a divine inspiration to those fighting. It was “…created by God Himself and had not been woven or painted by man.” (Teofilakios Simokattes). 

The lines of the battle have been drawn. On the side of light: the Face of the One, Living, and True God, and on the side of darkness: legions of false faces, which are idols.

In Veritatis Splendor Pope St. John Paul II writes, “As a result of that mysterious original sin, committed at the prompting of Satan, the one who is ‘a liar and the father of lies’ (Jn 8:44), man is constantly tempted to turn his gaze away from the living and true God in order to direct it toward idols (cf. 1 Thes 1:9), exchanging ‘the truth about God for a lie’ (Rom 1:25).  Man’s capacity to know the truth is also darkened, and his will to submit to it is weakened.  Thus, giving himself over to relativism and scepticism (cf. Jn 18:38), he goes off in search of an illusory freedom apart from truth itself.”  This is the very description of our modern world. 

The Holy Face of The Miraculous “Limpias Crucifix”

“But, no darkness of error or of sin can totally take away from man the light of God the Creator.  In the depths of his heart there always remains a yearning for absolute truth and a thirst to attain full knowledge of it… No one can escape from the fundamental questions:  What must I do? How do I distinguish good from evil?  The answer is only possible thanks to the splendor of the truth which shines forth deep within the human spirit, as the Psalmist bears witness:

“There are many who say: ‘O that we might see some good!  Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord’” (Ps 4:6)

The light of God’s face shines in all its beauty on the countenance of Jesus Christ, “the image of the invisible God” (Cor 1:15), the “reflection of God’s glory” (Heb 1:3), “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14).  Christ is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6). Consequently the decisive answer to every one of man’s questions, his religious and moral questions in particular, is given by Jesus Christ, or rather is Jesus Christ himself, as the Second Vatican Council recalls: “In fact, it is only in the mystery of the Word Incarnate that light is shed on the mystery of man.  For Adam, the first man, was a figure of the future man, namely, of Christ the Lord.  It is Christ, the last Adam, who fully discloses man to himself and unfolds his noble calling by revealing the mystery of the Father and the Father’s love.” As Pope St. John Paul II spoke so clearly about in Veritatis Splendor, to win the battle for souls, the Church must bring the light of the Face of Christ to our darkened world.

Although the existence of a miraculous veil of the Face of Jesus existed from the earliest centuries of Christianity, about the time this miraculous veil first appeared in Rome, in the Middle Ages, the name “Veronica”  referred to the veil itself–“Veronica”  meaning “vera” or true, and “icon” meaning image, or even more precisely, “to be present.” Those who gazed upon the veil bearing the true Face of Jesus stood in God’s presence. They were turned toward His Face. The veil of the Face of Christ has a particular importance for us today. Pope St. John Paul II wrote this beautiful meditation on St. Veronica in 2000, the same year in which he dedicated the millennium to the Face of Christ:

Sixth Station, St. Theresa Church, Ashburn, Virginia

Veronica does not appear in the Gospels. Her name is not mentioned, even though the names of other women who accompanied Jesus do appear.
It is possible, therefore, that the name refers more to what the woman did. In fact, according to tradition, on the road to Calvary a woman pushed her way through the soldiers escorting Jesus and with a veil wiped the sweat and blood from the Lord’s face. That face remained imprinted on the veil, a faithful reflection, a “true icon”. This would be the reason for the name VeronicaIf this is so, the name which evokes the memory of what this woman did carries with it the deepest truth about her…The Redeemer of the world presents Veronica with an authentic image of his face. The veil upon which the face of Christ remains imprinted becomes a message for us.

In a certain sense it says: This is how every act of goodness, every gesture of true love toward’s one’s neighbor, strengthens the likeness of the Redeemer of the world in the one who acts that way. Acts of love do not pass away. Every act of goodness, of understanding, of service leaves on people’s hearts an indelible imprint and makes us ever more like the One who ’emptied himself, taking the form of a servant’ (Phil 2:7). This is what shapes our identity and gives us our true name.”

This is the deep meaning and call to every Christian revealed in the presence of the unknown woman we call “St. Veronica”– each act of charity, every act of compassion will leave the imprint of the Face of Jesus in our souls, transforming us into His own Image.  This is how the battle may be fought; by “knowing and contemplating the Face of God,” as Pope St. John Paul II tells us, leading to self-emptying and compassion.

Sr. Lucia’s vision of The Trinity at Tuy

Contemplation of the Face of Jesus, together with the Blessed Virgin Mary in praying the Rosary, is the key to victory in this battle for souls. The Church, Pope St. John Paul II writes, must “Stand like your Virgin Mother, at the glorious Cross, and at the crosses of all people to bring about consolation, hope and comfort.”  Through the Holy Spirit we are transformed by contemplation of the the light shining on the Face of Christ — looking at the Lord in faith and love — in the Rosary, the Scriptures, in our neighbor, in images of the Face of Jesus, and above all, in the Eucharist. By turning to the light of the Face of Christ we may then give that light to other souls. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the Face of Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:6)

The Veil of the Holy Face of Manoppello, photo by Paul Badde/EWTN

“In your glorified Face we learn to overcome every form of egoism, to hope against every hope, to choose works of life against the actions of death. Give us grace to place you at the centre of our life, to remain faithful amidst dangers and the changes of the world, to our Christian vocation; to announce to all people the power of the Cross and the Word which saves; to be watchful and active, to attend the needs of the little ones; to understand the need of true liberation, which had its beginning in you and will have its end in you… May the Holy Spirit which you have granted, bring to maturation your work of salvation, through your Holy Face, which shines forever and ever.”

“I dare to summon the whole Church bravely to cross this new threshold, to put into the deep, …so that now as in the past the great engagement of the Gospel and culture may show to the world ‘the glory of God on the Face of Christ’ (2 Cor 4:6). May the Lord bless all those who work for this aim.”  

“May the Lord grant that in the new millennium, the Church will grow ever more in holiness, that she may become in history a true epiphany of the merciful and glorious Face of Christ the Lord.” ~Pope St. John Paul II

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“Whoever gazes upon me already consoles me.” – Our Lord to Bl. Mother Pierina De Michelli

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