A Mirror of His Face

“The Dream of the Child Jesus” Oil painting by St. Therese of the Child Jesus contemplating His Holy Face on the Cross

Few people know that St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face wrote plays for “pious recreation” in the Carmel of Lisieux. During Christmas of 1896, a little less than a year before St. Therese died, she wrote a charming little play in the form of verse for her sisters in Carmel entitled “The Little Divine Beggar of Christmas.” In the play an angel comes bearing the little Christ Child in swaddling clothes, and pleading for the Incarnate Word who cannot yet speak.  The holy angel invites the sisters to offer little Jesus not only their love, but also their “cares and sufferings,” which the angels, being pure spirits, cannot give Him. After placing the Infant Jesus in the crib, the angel offers to the Mother Prioress, and then to all the Carmelites, a basket of little notes. “Each takes one, haphazard, and without opening it gives it to the angel, who then sings the petition therein contained, — the gift which the Divine Child asks from each in turn.”

Each simple gift with spiritual significance is offered to the Christ Child  to show their love:  A gold throne…of your pure hearts’ holy fires, A star…the love and light of virtues — shedding welcoming radiance near and far, or Roses of penitence… tears for sinners, and so on.  The particular gift for the Child Jesus that St. Therese took for herself was “The Reapers …to gather the harvest [of souls]…with fires of unquenchable love, and glad to suffer or to die for Him Who reigns above.”

There are twenty-six gifts in all, but my own favorite is the gift that encapsulates the two greatest devotions of St. Therese: the Child Jesus and the Holy Face.

A Mirror

Children like to have you place them,
near a mirror clear and fair;
Then they greet with childish rapture
The bright face that they see there.

Come, then, to the favored stable,
Let your soul like crystal glow.
Let the Word, become an Infant,
In your heart His likeness know!

Sister, be the living image,
of your Spouse, — His mirror clear;
All the beauty of your Jesus
He would Love in you appear.  (The Little Divine Beggar of Christmas Part II – 6, translation by S.L. Emory)

St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, Icon by Patricia Enk, OCDS

St. Therese’ sister Celine (Sr. Genevieve of the Holy Face), also wrote about the “mirror” that is the Face of Christ: “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.”

St. John of the Cross writes that the soul “can only be satisfied with God’s Face.” So gaze on the Face of the Child Jesus this Advent, contemplate Him as a poor little beggar of your love, and allow Him to gaze on you, with all your imperfections. Because, as St. John of the Cross says, “When God looks He grants favors… virtues, perfections, and other spiritual riches.” Jesus said, “Let the little children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Luke18:16). When a soul comes to Jesus in child-like confidence and trust in His mercy — by contemplating “the Word, become an Infant” — His image will be reflected in our souls “as in a mirror,” and we may become His “living image” reflected back to Him. What gift will you give “The Divine Beggar” this Christmas?

Kreuz als Krippe (Cross as a Crib), Oil on canvas, Unknown artist, 18th century

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