Held in His Gaze – Benedictines and The Holy Face of Christ

"Holy Face of Tours"
“Holy Face of Tours”

The Feast of St. Benedict on July 11th always reminds me of his Benedictine sons and daughters and their special devotion to the Face of Jesus. Certainly, all Benedictines make the Face of Christ in the Church shine through their beautiful liturgy. But, a few in particular come to mind when recalling the Holy Face.  It was the Benedictines of Perpetual Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament, who through the influence of St. Gertrude the Great, gave the Carmelite Monastery in Tours, France reproductions of the Holy Face, in 1851 from the Basillica in Rome.  This is the image most closely associated with Carmelite Sr. Marie St. Pierre, who received the revelation of Devotion to the Holy Face, the Holy Man of Tours, Leo Du Pont, who devoted his life to promoting the devotion and of course, St. Therese of the Child Jesus and The Holy Face.

St. Gertrude, one of the great mystics of the 13th century and the only female Saint to be called “the Great,” was known for her special devotion to the Face of Christ.  It was written that she wept each time she recalled the sorrowful vision of Our Lord in which she saw Him so severely disfigured by the executioners that her heart was filled with bitter grief.  “Tell me, O Lord,” exclaimed St. Gertrude, “the remedy that can soothe the sufferings of Thy Divine Face.” Jesus replied: “If anyone meditates upon My sufferings with tenderness and compassion, his heart will be to Me as a soothing balm for these wounds.”

St. Gertrude often saw the Face of Jesus, in meditation, resplendent as the sun, illuminating priests, inflaming the devout and converting sinners. When she asked why the Face of Our Lord shone like the sun, and Jesus explained: “Like the sun, My Countenance illuminates, warms and fructifies.”

St. Gertrude the Great
St. Gertrude the Great

On another occasion when St. Gertrude was making reparation to the Adorable Face, wounded and disfigured, she asked Jesus for a special grace for those who would practice devotion to His Holy Face. Jesus gave St. Gertrude this promise: “All those who meditate frequently on the vision of My Divine Face, attracted by the desires of love, shall receive within them, through My Humanity, a bright ray of My Divinity, which shall enlighten their inmost souls so that they shall reflect the light of My Countenance in a special manner throughout eternity.”

St. Mechtilde, a contemporary of St. Gertrude, was also devoted to the Holy Face. She once exclaimed to her sisters, “Let us all, full of holy desire, hasten to venerate the sweetest Countenance of Our Lord, which will in Heaven be our all – all that a glorified soul can desire.” St. Mechtilde had once asked Our Lord to grant that those who celebrate the memory of His sweet Face should never be deprived of His amiable company. Jesus replied, “Not one of them shall be separated from Me.” Jesus then pronounced this blessing: “The splendor of My Countenance will be their eternal rejoicing.” 

Bl. Columba Marmion
Bl. Columba Marmion

The other day I “accidentally” picked up a book, by an Irish Benedictine, while looking for a something else on my bookcase: “Union With God”, Letters of Spiritual Direction by Blessed Columba Marmion.” Remembering this book as a treasure of wise counsel and never one to resist opening and re-reading “just a few pages,”which ended up being most of the book, my eyes fell these words of Bl. Marmion, reminding me of God’s gaze upon us, working wonders in our souls as we gaze at Him:  “God’s mercy is infinite like God Himself.  If we lay open our soul to Him with all its infirmities and sins.  His Divine gaze goes into the most hidden recess and brings us strength and light.” 

Bl. Marmion writes that our relationship with God hinge upon two things; our walking in the truth of our nature as creatures, who remain always in humble adoration before our Creator, and our dignity as children of God: “Our adoption as children supposes that we act always as loving children towards our Heavenly Father, constantly seeking his good pleasure: “Seek His Face evermore.”  This Facies Dei, Face of God, is the smile of His loving approbation. If you always keep the truth of this twofold relation, you will be more and more fixed in truth and in peace.”  “Look your Heavenly Father in the face, and show him your soul in bare truth,” Bl. Marmion advises, “…do not  forget that He is God the Infinite!  The love of the creature, in order to be true, must be the love of adoration; the Sacred Humanity of Jesus stands before the face of the Father in the reverence of infinite love: “He shall be FILLED with the spirit of fear of the Lord.”  and he goes on, “If you keep the eye of your soul fixed upon God alone, you will receive many graces.”  Bl. Marmion writes too, of gazing at God in faith;  “It is good sometimes, when alone with God, to stretch out our hands to Him and look at Him in faith showing Him the depths of our soul that His eye may penetrate into those abysses that are hidden in the recesses of the heart.  Then our prayer is pure and very powerful,  for the child gazes into the Father’s face, seeking this face, that is to say His good pleasure:  “Seek ye the Lord, seek His face EVERMORE.”  

I will end with these  beautiful and inspired words of hope for the Feast of St. Benedict by Dom Mark Kirby of Silverstream Priory:

“The Sacred Name and Sacred Face of Jesus are fire and light in this world that is becoming colder and darker by the day.  In the end, the darkness will be forever vanquished by the fire of His Name and by the light of His Face, and then there shall be peace in His Kingdom fully revealed, and in the company of His Saints who will sing praise to His Name and adore His Face, shining more brightly than a thousand suns, and this unto the ages of ages.”  –Dom Mark Kirby, OSB

Happy Feast of St. Benedict!  May His Face shine upon all Benedictines!

"Il Volto Santo" Holy Face of Manoppello, Italy
“Il Volto Santo” Holy Face of Manoppello, Italy