“A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet,and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child…” (Rev. 12)
This story begins in a very dark place. It was time of sin, suffering, and death, when the Aztecs sacrificed human beings to an idol that required human blood. In other words, a time not so different from our own, when millions of unborn children are sacrificed on the altar of “choice” to the idol of death. It was in this dark period of history, in the sixteenth century, that the Blessed Virgin Mary intervened for humanity. She was sent by God to defeat the culture of death at that time in Mexico. Like the “Woman” in Revelation, “clothed in the sun, with moon at her feet,” on December 9, 1531, she appeared to a poor man of no importance or influence, one of Mary’s “little ones,” Juan Diego. The beautiful young woman, whose clothing indicated that she was pregnant, called him by name as a mother would, “Juanito” – “little Juan.” She spoke to Juan:
“I want you to know for certain, my dear son, that I am the perfect and always Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God from Whom all life comes, the Lord of all things, Creator of heaven and earth.”
The Blessed Mother then requested that Juan Diego go to his bishop and ask that a church be built in her honor, in which she would show —
“all my love, compassion and protection. I am your Mother full of mercy and love for you and all those who love me, trust in me, and have recourse to me. I will hear their complaints, and I will comfort their affliction, and their sufferings.”
However, when Juan repeated her words to Bishop Zumarraga, the bishop, fearing an illusion, was skeptical, and sent Juan away. But in his heart Bishop Zumarraga prayed, asking God for a sign of Castillian Roses, which only grew in the bishop’s native country of Spain.
She appeared again to Juan Diego and finally, early in the morning of December 12th, the Blessed Mother asked him to return to the bishop. She instructing him first to go to the top of Tepeyac Hill “and pick the flowers that you find there and bring them to me.” Although, it was too cold and dry for flowers to grow, Juan obediently climbed the hill and discovered beautiful, sweet-smelling roses growing there, which he gathered up into his tilma – a sort of working cloak made of cactus fiber. Our Lady then, with her own hands, carefully arranged the roses in his tilma. She told Juan to give them to the bishop as a sign that he should build the church.
After running all the way to the bishop’s residence, Juan was made to wait for hours by some servants, who, curious about what he held so closely in his tilma, tried to force Juan to show them. Finally, they informed the bishop that Juan was waiting, and Juan rushed to the bishop, who was meeting with other people in the room, and he unfolded his cloak. The roses, still covered with dew, tumbled to the floor, revealing on the tilma the beautiful image of the Blessed Mother. The bishop and the others fell to their knees.
The Indians, upon seeing the miraculous image, recognized the rich symbolismcontained within it as coming from heaven. Thus, they converted by the millions, and their religion of human sacrifice was ended.
The tilma miraculously exists to this day, though the cactus fiber should have disintegrated after forty years. In the past century, even when a load of dynamite was exploded just below it the blast severely damaged everything around it, but did not touch the image. There is no paint or pigment on the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It is an “Acheiropoieta,” a Greek word meaning: “made without human hands.” Like other acheiropoieta, such as the Shroud of Turin, and the Veil of Manoppello, there is no scientific explanation for the image’s existence, except, that it was made by the hand of God, “the true God, from Whom all life comes, the Lord of all things, Creator of Heaven and earth.” Images such as these are ongoing miracles – tangible signs of God’s mercy and love. Let us ask Him then, through the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, to redeem this generation, mired in the deep darkness of sin, death, and idolatry, to bring Light and roses of life into the cold darkness — to save the lives of the unborn, and convert souls by turning them, once again, away from idols and back to the Face of her God.
By the presence of Mary, you made the desert bloom with flowers, –may the Blessed Virgin Mary’s love transform us into the image of Christ, her Son. Amen.
O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee
Why is it that Catholics travel great distances to shrines of Our Lady collecting holy cards, statues, or medals with her images? Non-Catholics will scratch their heads, or frown on what they believe is misplaced devotion meant only for God. But just as it is only natural for a child to seek and long for the faces of their mother and father whom they love, we too seek and long for the Face of the Father, being made in His image and likeness, and also search for the loving face of Our Mother, given to us by Jesus from the Cross, so that she may help form us into the image of her Son Jesus Christ.
Every image of Our Lady comes with a title that reveals a particular aspect of her love and intercession for her children in need: Our Lady of the Rosary, Mother of Perpetual Help, Mother of Divine Grace, Spouse of the Holy Spirit, etc. A list of her images and titles gathered from all over the world may number in the thousands, but the oldest known image is said to date back to the first century, originating from the Holy Land or Syria. It is an icon that, tradition tells us, was painted by St. Luke himself in encaustic, an ancient painting technique with hot wax and resin. Brought to Rome to save it from destruction during the iconoclasm of the Eastern Church, it is a treasure that has been hidden away for centuries. Although the fragile linden wood icon is now worm-eaten and crumbling, the face of the Blessed Mother remains, and it is exquisite! She is known by a very unusual name — the “Advocata Nostra,” Our Lawyer.
Our Lawyer? It may seem an odd title; however, the name “Advocata” or lawyer is most fitting. Mary, as Spouse of the Holy Spirit the Advocate, undoubtedly received even greater gifts of the Holy Spirit as she prayed in the midst of the Apostles at Pentecost, she herself becoming an advocate for the children of God.
The rich history of the icon includes Pope Sergius III moving the beloved image from a small chapel known as Santa Maria in Tempuli in Italy, only to have the icon miraculously return to its original place. In 1221, when the nuns of the monastery were to be moved to another community at San Sisto, they hesitated to leave, and would only go on the condition that the icon of Our Lady go with them. There was great concern that the image would again return on its own to Santa Maria in Tempuli. However, the famous St. Dominic, who we have to thank for the traditional Rosary to Our Lady, solved the difficulty by carrying the image in his arms in procession to its new home where it remained until 1575. It was later relocated again, always remaining under the care of the Dominicans. The chronicle of Sr. Salomona, recorded, in 1656, that the image had been painted in the Upper Room by St. Luke, following the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. She now intercedes for us as Mother of the Church before the throne of God in an unprecedented way as “Advocata” — the one who defends or pleads the cause of another — their champion.
This beautiful icon of the Blessed Mother “Advocata” was first brought to my attention by the German journalist Paul Badde. Paul is not only a journalist but also an art historian — and a bit of a detective — diligently sifting through ancient clues to discover anew precious treasures that have been hidden for centuries, sometimes under our very noses, such as the Veil of Manoppello. Ever since Paul sent me a photo of the “Advocata Nostra,” I have been captivated by her beauty, strength, and loving maternal gaze. There are many copies of the painting in the churches and museums of Europe, but only one original, which exceeds all others in beauty, and like all precious treasures, it was not easy to find. Paul’s search actually began when he was a correspondent in Jerusalem, when a monk from Mount Zion recommended that he look in Rome for the image of Our Lady painted by St. Luke. Paul’s account of his own search for this hidden jewel of an icon may be found in this German article, Der Schatz von Monte Mario. (I have also added a “Google” translation from the original German article below, but hope readers can get a good sense of the article none the less.)
Paul discovered, however, that finding such a buried treasure in Rome was like looking for a needle in the proverbial haystack. No one had ever heard of the cloistered Dominican convent of St. Mary of the Rosary, where the original icon was said to be found; all inquiries met dead ends. Paul, together with his wife Ellen, with few clues, wandered long up the steep winding Roman streets, and had nearly given up their search just five minutes away from their goal. But, as Paul relates in his article: a hidden inscription on the roadside led to a locked gate of the monastery on Monte Mario. Once inside the door of the ancient, decaying church, from behind the cloister grill the sound of singing greeted them as they entered the sunlit interior of the church. Through another heavy iron grill they could see a painting of Our Lady, with a seemingly sorrowful aspect, surrounded by the precious stones, jewels, gold and rosaries left by pilgrims. Soon, Paul heard a soft voice speak from behind the picture, “One moment!…wait.” Two small windows to the right and left of the painting unfolded, the the whole frame began to move, and was turned from behind, revealing that the jewel encrusted image that they first saw was actually the back of the true icon of the “Advocata” now before their eyes. Paul described the icon of “our lawyer of God” as “breathtakingly beautiful!”
In the fifth century the icon of Our Lady was described in an epistle of Bishop Epiphanios of Cyprus: “It was of medium size…and her complexion was that of a wheat grain. “She has amber eyes, dark brows, pupils like olives, a slender nose and rose-colored mouth.” While later icons of the Blessed Mother portrayed her together with the child Jesus as “Mother of God,” in this icon, although Jesus is not seen, her hands indicate both her intercession for us, and “the way” to her Son. Paul Badde reminded me that the Latin verb ad-vocare means call over or summon in English. “So, the Advocata is the one who is there when you call her.” She is cloistered behind the grate — in the world but not of the world — and together with the Dominican nuns, our “Advocata” will forever plead our cause before the Face of God, if only we call on her and seek our Mother’s face.
“Advocata Nostra” Photo: Paul Badde/EWTN
Salve Regina – Hail, Holy Queen
Hail, holy Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope. To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee to we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn, then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.
V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God. R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Below is a translation of Paul Badde’s original article from the German. Please forgive the imperfection of translation, but I hope the reader will get a sense of this wonderful article by Paul Badde
The treasure of Monte Mario (Original Article In German – here)
Published on 03.01.2007 | Reading time: 8 minutes, By Paul Badde
At an almost forgotten Roman monastery, our correspondent discovered a century-old icon of Mary. It is supposed to be the legendary portrait of the Mother of God, which Luke, the evangelist, painted on the cross after Jesus’ death.
The “Advocata” is not a lawyer in the usual sense, but an ancient picture on fragile, worm-eaten wood. Still, I discovered her when I needed a lawyer again. The phone rang as I stood in front of her, and I turned it off immediately. Otherwise no noise disturbed us. Years before I had decided to visit this picture as soon as I came to Rome, since Bernhard Maria, a monk from Mount Zion, had recommended it to us in Jerusalem. Just then, in a crooked house behind the Armenian quarter, we discovered a dark image of Mary on deerskin, of which the Syrian archpriest assured that it was from Luke, the evangelist, himself. Was not the claim ridiculous? “Oh, a Lukas icon”, Bernhard Maria only smiled.
He knew twelve such pictures, having seen them personally and by hearsay, of which the most venerable was to be in Rome, in a monastery on Monte Mario.
Of course, nobody in Rome knew anything I asked when we arrived, nor did I find a photo of it. No travel guide had the picture in the program, even the worldwide network gave no information. The Advocata simply could not be found.
I had almost forgotten about it when last year an email appeared on my screen in which a friend from Aachen wrote to me: “For Christmas I will send you this beautiful icon (from the Rosary Monastery on Monte Mario). I found it in the ‘Seven Luke Icons of Rome’, by Salesia Bongenberg from Fulda, left to me by a priest friend. She greets you from her other world. Could you use it? “Attached was a photo in which one could distinguish, in spite of the advanced deterioration of the wood, only the face and one hand of the Madonna. Above the image was written: ” Advocata – summoned “.
But not even the small book, which was in my mailbox a week later, was the address of the Rosary Monastery, nor did the telephone book help us, nor our pastor, nor any taxi driver. So we sat down somewhere on the long Via Trionfale on Monte Mario.
It was here that the Emperor Constantine saw a monogram of Christ in the evening sky up here on October 27, 312, before beating the army of his opponent Maxentius the next day down the Milvian Bridge under the same “Sign of the Cross”.
But now not even a Carmelite along the Via Trionfale had ever heard of the Dominican convent of St. Mary of the Rosary in the neighborhood, where the oldest icon of the city is supposed to be found. We gave up. “Let’s go back!” My wife said.
Still, five minutes later we found ourselves in front of the monastery. A hidden inscription on the roadside, next to a locked gate, above a decaying Baroque church, between the trees, behind walls. At the back of the complex another door, also closed, but with a bell. “Ave Maria,” a voice from the intercom announced. No, no, we could not go to church right now. The house was a enclosed cloister for eternal prayer, and its inhabitants lived behind their self-imposed bars.
But, we could come the next morning. As of seven o’clock in a side wall, a steel door was open for visitors for Mass at half past seven.
The next morning, sun was filtering into the church. From the left of the altar, the singing of some voices were heard through a barred window. Next to it, through another heavy iron grille, is the image of the Madonna that we have been searching for so long. She looks sad, in the shadow of the overflowing jewelry with which pilgrims and devotees have surrounded her: with gold, precious stones, rosaries. “One moment!”, I hear a soft voice behind the picture, “wait!” On the left and right next to the Madonna, two small little windows unfold, then the whole frame starts to move and is turned from behind. The generously decorated image was the back, and it was just a copy of the true “Advocata” .
The image itself, on the other hand, is at home on the side of the monastery, which has become a human vault. Now it turns to us, without any decoration of jewelry. A small lamp illuminates it from above. The icon is about 60 cm wide and 90 cm high. Fine cracks run through the warm complexion of the Madonna’s skin, and the coral-red lips, broken by many small areas that have been restored. The remainder was unable to be saved. Only this face has maintained itself in incomparable splendor between all decay and dissolution, infinitely familiar. Like the mother’s round face, meeting the gaze of her infant as she bends over Him for the first time. She does not look sad. Her hands are covered with gold and point to the right, as if to indicate one way.
It is the first representation of Mary that the Russians call “Rimskaya” (The Roman) or “Liddskaja” (The one from Lydda). Rome is the only place, along with Sinai, where images have been found that have survived the iconoclasm of the Eastern Church. However it is in Lydda, today’s Lod, at the Ben-Gurion Airport between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, of which it is said that the first image of Mary appeared during her lifetime, as stated in a letter from three patriarchs to Emperor Theophilus in 833.
“It was of medium size,” says another Epistle of Bishop Epiphanios of Cyprus in the 5th century, “and her complexion was that of a wheat grain.” She has amber eyes, dark brows, pupils like olives, a slender nose and a rose-colored mouth.
He could not have seen her in person; However, he could have seen this image and the soul-soothing gaze of those eyes. But where?
In Rome, several trails lead to some images with exactly the same posture – which, however, make it clear that no other can match this image. They must all be copies, and only this is the original. Of all these family of images only the “Advocata” is painted with wax, that is: “encaustic”, in an ancient painting technique with hot wax and resin, whose secret was lost forever in the 7th century. Most likely, therefore, it resembles some mummy portraits found in some of the oases of Upper Egypt in the 19th century, all from the 1st to the 4th century, all painted in the manner of the Encaustic, and the older, the more expressive. The oldest of them is closest to “Advocata”. With her eyes as deep as wells, no person has come down to us is such an inspiring manner from the depth of time. The linden wood is so decayed that the age can not be determined.
For more than 1000 years, the path of this Table has been well documented. San Domenico di Guzman, to whom Christendom owes the rosary, carried the picture on February 28, 1221, by hand, from S. Maria in Tempulo to his newly founded convent. In 1575 it migrated from there to SS. Domenico e Sisto in the Piazza Magnanapoli, from there it came in 1931 in the Rosary Monastery on Monte Mario.
Before that, we have only legends which have illuminated its path through the darkness of time like a halo, of which a Sister Salomona in 1656 has gathered the most beautiful [legends] in a work entitled “Cronaca.” She had no doubt that Luke had painted the picture in the Upper Room in Sion. That is why Luke conveyed this gaze of she who had seen her Son being martyred to death next to her. Did not she then have to become the first icon of her Son among the apostles?
John, not Luke, then took the picture from Jerusalem to Ephesus, from where it later came to Constantinople and Europe. Here Thomas Aquinas stated in the Middle Ages that for the faith of the Christians was not only the Holy Scriptures, but also that tradition played an essential role. As a special example of authentic traditions, he pointed to the icon painted by Luke. Could he have meant something other than “Advocata”? He knew Rome and was Dominican, just a generation after Dominic, who had incorporated this icon into his order, which has found its last place today on Monte Mario.
Before the Advocata was brought here, Franz Liszt composed his Christ Oratory in the house. The view over Rome is cosmic. The dome in the panorama of the hills almost lost since the “Hilton” hotel was built above the monastery, The image of Mary in this retreat of the Dominicans is still poignant, as on the first day, as a hidden wonder of the world. The story is not over yet, she says with an ageless look. Is not she just starting again?
In any case, the nuns who keep “the sweet image in inseparable communion” are getting older and older. Of 13 sisters, five are over 80, one is 92. Water comes through some walls, the pipes are old and brittle, Sister Maria Angelica, the Mother Superior, cannot pay her debts, the phones do not work. She urgently needs donations and only knows how to beg her [Mary] in prayer. It is a little island in a world that — from a purely sociological point of view — is more in danger of extinction than the glaciers of Switzerland.
When I turned my phone back on after our first visit outside the door, I learned that the case, for which I was looking for a lawyer, had just solved by itself. I turned around again. How breathtakingly beautiful she is! Mary “is our lawyer with God,” said Benedict XVI. on 11 September in Regensburg, therefore she received the title “Advocata”. I see how I have to go back to her (and maybe the Pope too). We will all still need them.
“As a thirsty doe longs for the springs of fresh water, so my soul longs for You, O God! My soul thirsts for the living God! When shall I see Him face to face?” (Psalm 42)
I long to behold the light of His gaze.
Oh! What splendor must shine in His eyes!
In contemplating this Only Begotten of the Father
I will have the Three and I will have all of Heaven!
He will make His light shine in my soul,
He will purify me in divine flames!
O my adored Word
Look upon me! ~St. Elizabeth of the Trinity
“… the soul will live, like the immutable Trinity, in an eternal present, ‘adoring Him always because of Himself, ‘and becoming by an always more simple, more intuitive gaze, ‘the splendor of His glory,’ that is the unceasing praise of glory of His adorable perfections.” ~St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, Feast Day, November 8th
“We have been predestined by the decree of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, so that we may be the praise of His glory.” (Ph 3:12)
Laudem Gloriae – Praise of Glory. It was the name that St. Elizabeth of the Trinity chose for herself. “A praise of glory is a soul that lives in God, that loves Him with a pure and disinterested love, with out seeking itself…” St.Elizabeth did this by surrendering herself to God’s perfect will completely, keeping her soul in silence and peace, docile to the touch of the Holy Spirit in each moment, and keeping her gaze on God.
“A praise of glory is a soul that gazes on God in faith and simplicity; it is a reflector of all that He is; it is like a bottomless abyss into which He can flow and expand; it is also like a crystal through which He can radiate and contemplate all His perfections and His own splendor. A soul which permits the divine Being to satisfy in itself His need to communicate all that He is and all that He has.” But, our souls will only be glorified in the measure in which they will have been conformed to image of Jesus Christ. In order to be conformed to Him, we must know Him, as St. Elizabeth did, by first becoming aware of His Divine indwelling in her soul.
“The Word will imprint in your soul, as in a crystal, the image of His own beauty, so that you may be pure with His purity, luminous with His light.”
Ten years before entering the Carmelite Convent in Dijon, France, eleven year-old Elizabeth Catez met the prioress on the afternoon of her First Holy Communion. What the prioress told her on that occasion left a deep impression in her soul; upon learning Elizabeth’s name, the prioress told her that her name meant “House of God.” She later wrote on the back of a holy card for Elizabeth: “Your blessed name hides a mystery, accomplished on this great day. Child, your heart is the House of God on earth, of the God of love.”
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16)
Upon entering Carmel at the age of twenty-one, Elizabeth sought God’s Face within the temple of her own soul, in prayer and silence, with a growing desire to be united with Jesus, to share in His life and sufferings–to be transformed into His image–so that God the Father would find in her the image of His Son, in whom He was well-pleased. Elizabeth wrote, “God bends lovingly over this soul, His adopted daughter, who is so conformed to the image of His Son, the ‘first born among all creatures,’ and recognizes her as one of those whom He has ‘predestined, called, justified.’ And His Fatherly heart thrills as He thinks of consummating His work, that is of ‘glorifying her by bringing her into His kingdom, there to sing for ages unending’ the praise of His glory.” She prayed that the Holy Spirit “create in my soul a kind of incarnation of the Word: that I may be another humanity for Him in which He can renew His whole Mystery.”
“We must become aware that God dwells within us and do everything with Him; then we are never commonplace, even when performing the most ordinary tasks.”
This was the fruit of contemplation that St. Elizabeth of the Trinity wanted to share with everyone; the secret of transforming love hidden within our own hearts. By gazing steadfastly upon God, in faith and simplicity, the Word of God, Jesus Christ–as in the legend of St. Veronica’s Veil–will leave the imprint of His image on the veil of the soul. By her continual loving gaze at Him, St. Elizabeth of the Trinity was transformed into His image. In corresponding to her vocation in life; she became a perfect praise of glory of the Most Holy Trinity, living no longer her own life, but the life of God – loving with the love of God, and continually giving thanks, praise and adoration to the thrice-holy God. When she died at the young age of twenty-six, she had already fulfilled her mission in the Church as a ceaseless “Praise of Glory,” reflecting the luminous, pure light of the Holy Trinity. “In the heaven of our soul let us be praises of glory of the Holy Trinity, praises of love of our Immaculate Mother. One day the veil will fall, we will be introduced into the eternal courts, and there we will sing in the bosom of infinite Love. And God will give us “the name promised the Victor” – Laudem Gloriae.
“It is Your continual desire to associate Yourself with Your creatures…How can I better satisfy Your desire than by keeping myself simply and lovingly turned towards You, so that You can reflect Your own image in me, as the sun is reflected through pure crystal? …We will be glorified in the measure in which we will have been conformed to the image of His divine Son. So, let us contemplate this adored Image, let us remain unceasingly under it’s radiance so that it may imprint itself on us.” –Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity, O.C.D.
“I saw a great multitude which no man could number…These are they who have come out of the great tribulation and have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple, and He who sits upon the throne will dwell with them.” (Rev. 7:9)
“All the elect who have palms in the hands, and who are wholly bathed in the great light of God, have had first to pass through the ‘great tribulation,’ to know this sorrow ‘immense as the sea,’ of which the psalmist sang. Before contemplating with uncovered face the glory of the Lord,’ they have shared in the annihilation of His Christ: before being ‘transformed from brightness to brightness in the image of the Divine Being,’ they have been conformed in the image of the Word Incarnate, the One crucified by love.” –St. Elizabeth of the Trinity
“Christianity is born, and continually draws new life from this contemplation of the glory of God shining on the Face of Christ.”
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.
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.
“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:
“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 veilwiped thesweat 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 Veronica. If 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.
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)
“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.”
Is there anyone who doubts that a spiritual battle between light and darkness is raging in the Church and in the world? The last words of G.K. Chesterton as he lay dying come to mind: “The issue is now quite clear. It is between light and darkness and everyone must choose his side.” The weapon of choice for the saints of the Church is, of course, the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Contemplating the Face of Christ with Mary
When he placed the New Millennium under “the Radiant sign of the Face of Christ” Pope St. John Paul II wrote:
“To contemplate the Face of Christ, and to contemplate it with Mary, is the ‘program’ which I have set before the Church at the dawn of the third millennium…It is the Church’s task to reflect the light of Christ in every historical period, to make His Face shine also before new generations of the new millennium. Our witness, however, would be hopelessly inadequate if we ourselves had not first contemplated His Face.”
The Rosary is a traditional Christian prayer directed to the contemplation of Christ’s Face. “Without contemplation, the Rosary is a body without a soul,” says Pope St. John Paul II, “and runs the risk of becoming a mechanical repetition of formulas, in violation of the admonition of Christ.”
Contemplation is a gift, a grace, from God. It is a communion in which God transforms a soul into His likeness. To put it more simply, as St. Teresa of Jesus says, contemplation is “a close sharing between friends…taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.” Contemplation is not something beyond our reach however–we have an incomparable model in Mary; the eyes of her heart were always turned toward His Face. To dispose our souls to receive this great gift of God we need only reach for a Rosary and pray it with humility, listening attentively in the Spirit together with Mary, in silent love–that veil of mystery–to the Father’s voice. When we contemplate the scenes or mysteries of the Rosary in union with Mary, the Rosary becomes an unceasing praise of God; a way to learn from her about her son, Jesus, to discover His secrets and understand His message for us.
To recite the Rosary, which can be called a compendium of the Gospel, Pope St. John Paul II says, “is to contemplate the Face of Christ in union with, and at the school of, His Most Holy Mother…Against the background of the words of the Ave Maria the principal events of the life of Jesus Christ pass before the eyes of the soul. They take shape in the complete series of the joyful, [luminous,] sorrowful and glorious mysteries, and they put us in living communion with Jesus through–we might say through the heart of his Mother…The Rosary belongs among the finest and most praiseworthy traditions of Christian contemplation…To look upon the Face of Christ, to recognize its mystery amid the daily events and sufferings of His human life, and then to grasp the divine splendor definitively revealed in the Risen Lord, seated in glory at the right hand of the Father; this is the task of every follower of Christ and therefore the task of each one of us. In contemplating Christ’s Face we become open to receiving the mystery of Trinitarian life, experiencing ever anew the love of the Father and delighting in the joy of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul’s words can then be applied to us ‘Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are being changed into His likeness, from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.’” (Rosarium Virginus Mariae)
The entire month of October is dedicated to the Holy Rosary and October 7th is celebrated as the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. The feast, originally named for Our Lady of Victory, commemorated the stunning victory, against all odds, obtained by Our Lady in the Battle of Lepanto through the prayer of the Rosary–which saved Christendom on October 7th, in 1571. By keeping our eyes fixed on the Face of Jesus as we pray the Rosary, together with Mary, through her maternal intercession, we too may obtain great victories through the heart of her Son Jesus, who obtained for all mankind the greatest victory over sin and death by His Resurrection.
“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.” ~Pope St. John Paul II
Within the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi is a precious relic: a small, crumpled piece of yellowed parchment with the writing of St. Francis, now displayed in a silver reliquary. It was written on Mount La Verna after St. Francis had received the stigmata. The first biographer of St. Francis, Bl. Thomas of Celano wrote that for a long time St. Francis’s friend, Brother Leo, had greatly desired to have some memorial from the words of Our Lord written by St. Francis:
“One day Blessed Francis called him, saying, ‘Bring me paper and ink, for I wish to write the words of God and His praises which I have been meditating in my heart.’ What he asked for being straightway brought, he writes with his own hand the praises of God and the words which he [his companion] wished, and lastly a blessing of the brother, saying: ‘Take this sheet for thyself and until the day of thy death guard it carefully.’ All temptation was at once driven away; the letter is kept and worked wonders for the time to come.” Brother Leo kept it faithfully; folding it in four, he carried it in his pocket and guarded it jealously for a good forty-six years. The text in the middle, written in black, and marked with a large “Tau” cross is in Francis’s own handwriting, he writes the praises of God* and grants to Brother Leo the blessing from the Book of Numbers 6: 22-27 which later became known as “the Blessing of St. Francis.”
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in his homily for the World Day of Peace, 2013, spoke of this blessing from the Book of Numbers:
“The blessing repeats the three times Holy Name of God, a Name not to be spoken, and each time linked to two words indicating an action in favor of man. Peace is the summit of these six actions of God in our favor, His most sublime gift, in which He turns toward us the splendor of His Face.”
This is the same, great blessing that St. Francis desired to impart to his friend, Brother Leo:
“May the Lord bless and keep you; may He make His Face shine upon you and be merciful to you; may He turn His Countenance toward you and give you His Peace!” (Num. 6:22-27)
*(St. Francis’s “Praises of God” are now now quite faded, but, this much can be still read: “Thou art holy, Lord God, who alone workest wonders. Thou art strong. Thou art great. Thou art most high. Thou art the Almighty King, Thou, holy Father, King of heaven and earth. Thou art the Lord God Triune and One; all good. Thou art good, all good, highest good, Lord God living and true. Thou art charity, love. Thou art wisdom. Thou art humility. Thou art patience. Thou art security. Thou art quietude. Thou art joy and gladness. Thou…” That is all that has been preserved.)
In the Relic Chapel of the Basilica of St. Francis, in addition to St. Francis’s patched and tattered tunic and other precious relics, there is a display case which contains a beautifully embroidered silken veil and a small plaque with the name: “Jacoba Settesoli.” The plaque reads: “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.
The Discalced Carmelite Nuns of Covington, Louisiana will again celebrate the solemn Feast Day of St. Therese of the Holy Face and the Child Jesus, also known as “the Little Flower,” with their annual“Mass of the Roses” on Sunday, October 7, 2018. St. Therese, 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. (Her Feast Day is October 1st, however the Mass of Roses is celebrated on the first Sunday of October – this year it falls on October 7th.)
The “Mass of the Roses.” will open at 9:00 a.m. with a flute prelude by Sr. Grace, OCD. The Holy Eucharist will be celebrated at 9:30 am with Rev. Stephen Sanchez, OCD, as the main celebrant and homilist. Immediately following Mass, the children are invited to join in procession, carrying roses to the altar to be blessed and distributed.
Many gifts, food, and handmade items may be purchased; the proceeds will help the Carmelite nuns meet their financial needs for the year. 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 articles, books and gifts. A children’s area will be set up for face-painting, artwork and other fun activities. Holy Face booklets, Chaplets, and medals will also be available.
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: “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.”
For more information on the “Mass of the Roses” (click here)
Also… below are wonderful photos by Paul Badde of St. Therese’s relics visiting the Sanctuary Basilica of the Holy Face in Manoppello, Italy, on November 4th, 2006:
“Christianity has died many times and risen again, for it has a God who knew the way out of a grave.” — G.K. Chesterton
The former Rector of the Shrine of the Holy Face in Manoppello, Servant of God Padre Domenico da Cese, firmly believed with all his heart that, like the Shroud of Turin, the Holy Veil of Manoppello was one of the many burial cloths in Jesus’s tomb — the holy sudarium which covered the Face of Jesus in death–and also miraculously bears witness to His Resurrection. An incredible claim, to be sure, but one for which Padre Domenico offered his own suffering and death.
Since the pilgrimage by Pope Benedictict XVI to the shrine in 2006, the veil of the Face of Christ has become more widely known after having been hidden away in the Abruzzo Mountains for centuries. Other pilgrims who have seen and pondered the “Il Volto Santo” have contemplated the significance of this particular image of the Face of Jesus, and it’s message for the Church and the world. The Face on the Holy Veil is unique above all images of the Face of Christ in many ways, but especially for the fact that it records, in a miraculous way, on byssus silk, not only the Passion of Jesus, but the first breath of His Resurrection. Therein, I believe, lies the message of this holy image for our tumultuous times.
The Catholic Church has been mortally wounded by scandal upon scandal recently, and may be only just at the beginning of its death throes. But, this would not be the first death of the Faith, as author G.K.Chesterton pointed out nearly a century ago. Lauren Enk Mann has written an excellent essay on Catholic World Report, The Sixth Death of the Church, which gives us reason for hope–if. If we are prepared as a Church to take courage and suffer together with Christ in His Passion in order to share in His Resurrection.
“Lord, show me your way; lead me on a level path because of my enemies…Wait for the Lord, take courage; be stouthearted, wait for the Lord!” (Pslam 27:11-14)
The Church’s “summer of shame” has devastated the faithful. The McCarrick revelations, the Pennsylvania grand jury, and the Viganò testimony have sent reverberations of scandal right through the highest clerical ranks. Catholics in the pews feel betrayed and abandoned, in solidarity with the victims who have suffered so much. Each new day has brought to light fresh wounds, and it seems as if the Church is hemorrhaging, bleeding to death from the inside out.
Thinking on this critical state, I recalled a passage from G. K. Chesterton’s 1925 classic bookThe Everlasting Manthat seems to hold the key to hope. I flipped through my copy and found what I was looking for in his penultimate chapter, titled “The Five Deaths of the Faith”.
Cardinal Robert Sarah wrote: “Here in Manoppello we meet the face of God face to face, and when we look at Him, His gaze cleanses and heals us, God be blessed.”
So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible. It is sown dishonorable; it is raised glorious. It is sown weak; it is raised powerful. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one…
…Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly one. (1 Cor. 15)