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?

Merry Christmas!!!

“Come let us adore Him!”

Infant Jesus wrapped in Byssus (the Veil of Manoppello is also of Byssus)
Infant Jesus wrapped in sheer Byssus, fit for a King, a High Priest, and God *(about byssus, see below)

What does it mean to “see” God?

When Christ comes, God will be seen by men

(From St. Ireneaus) “There is one God, who by his word and wisdom created all things and set them in order.  His Word is our Lord Jesus Christ, who in this last age became man among men to unite end and beginning, that is, man and God.

The prophets, receiving the gift of prophecy from this same Word, foretold his coming in the flesh, which brought about the union and communion between God and man ordained by the Father.  From the beginning the word of God prophesied that God could be seen by men and would live among them on earth; he would speak with his own creation and be present to it, bringing it salvation and being visible to it.  He would free us from the hands of all who hate us, that is from the spirit of sin, and enable us to serve him in holiness and justice all our days.  Man was to receive the Spirit of God and so attain to the glory of the Father. 

The prophets, then, foretold that God would be seen by men.  As the Lord himself says: Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.  In his greatness and in expressible glory no one can see God and live, for the Father is beyond our comprehension.  But in his love and generosity and omnipotence he allows even this to those who love him, that is, even to see God, as the prophets foretold.  For what is impossible to men is possible to God.

By his own powers man cannot see God, yet God will be seen by men because he wills it.  He will be seen by those he chooses, at the time he chooses, and in the way he chooses, for God can do all things.  He was seen of old through the Spirit in prophecy; he was seen through the Son by our adoption as his children, and he will be seen in the kingdom of heaven in his own being as the Father.  The Spirit prepares man to receive the Son of God, the Son leads him to the Father, and the Father, freeing him from change and decay, bestows the eternal life that comes to everyone from seeing God.

As those who see light are in the light sharing its brilliance, so those who see God are in God sharing his glory, and the glory gives them life.  To see God is to share in life.” ~St. Ireneaus

Merry Christmas! May His Face shine upon you and your loved ones, today and always!

“In Thee God will manifest the splendor of His presence, for the whole world to see”~Baruch 4

Detail of byssus veil wrapping the babe's tiny feet
Detail of byssus veil wrapping the babe’s tiny feet

Our Lady of the Bowed Head, Vienna, Austria (notice her byssus veil)
Our Lady of the Bowed Head, Vienna, Austria (with byssus veil)

*What is Byssus? – Byssus is a cloth of exceeding fine texture used by the ancients. Fit for Royalty, a King, a High Priest, and God. Known as “sea-silk,” it is more rare and precious than gold. Made from the long tough silky filaments of Pinna Nobilis mollusks that anchor them to the seabed–strong enough to resist the extreme hydrodynamic forces of the sea. Byssus has a shimmering, iridescent quality which reflects light. Byssus is extremely delicate, yet strong at the same time. It  resists water, weak acids, bases, ethers, and alcohols. It can’t be painted, as it does not retain pigments, it can only be dyed; and then, only purple.  It can also last for more than 2000 years.

Byssus is mentioned in the Bible forty times–For just a few examples: in Genesis, Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it on Joseph’s hand, and arrayed him in clothes of byssus, and put a gold chain on his neck. (Genesis 41) The curtains of the tabernacle (Exodus 26) were twined with byssus. Kingly and priestly garments were made with byssus. (Exodus) Solomon made a veil for the Holy of Holies with cherubim embroidered upon it in byssus.

Gossamer-thin veil of Manoppello Photo by Paul Badde
Sheer and delicate, yet the Face of Christ is miraculously visible. Photo by Paul Badde

The Veil of the Holy Face of Manoppello is also made of rare, precious byssus silk.  The skill needed to weave a byssus veil as fine as the Veil of the Holy Face of Manoppello is exceedingly great.  Chiara Vigo, known as “the last woman who weaves byssus” has said that neither she or anyone alive today could duplicate the gossamer-thin Veil, which is sheer enough to read a newspaper through.  The weave is so delicate, she says, that only the nimble fingers of a very skillful child could weave something so fine.

Miraculous Holy Face Veil of Manoppello Photo: Paul Badde
Miraculous Holy Face Veil of Manoppello Photo: Paul Badde

It has been speculated–perhaps even the young Blessed Virgin Mary learned to weave byssus, as a young child in the temple, for the priestly garments.  Perhaps, she herself wove this particular miraculous Veil with her own pure hands, which was placed as a face-cloth (sudarium) on the Face of Jesus in the tomb, and is thought to have recorded the very moment of the Resurrection of Jesus, true God and true Man, High-Priest and King!

Pinna Nobilis

(Click here for a BBC article on the last woman who weaves byssus, Chiara Vigo.)


Of the Father’s Love Begotten

“So when we hear tell of the birth of Christ, let us be silent and let the Child speak. Let us take his words to heart in rapt contemplation of his face.” –Pope Francis 

The desire to see the Face of God has been the deep longing of all humanity “since the world began to be.” Yet deeper still is God’s desire to show His Face to us…

Adoration of the Christ Child and Annunciation to the Shepherds by Bernardino Luini
Adoration of the Christ Child and Annunciation to the Shepherds by Bernardino Luini

God’s love for mankind is so great that He desired to become visible to men. In the fullness of time, when earth was covered in darkness, the bright dawn of the Word made flesh descended to the womb of a Virgin, so that, for the first time in the history of the world, on the day of His birth, God’s Face could be seen. He could be looked upon without fear and trembling because in the supreme manifestation of His merciful love He allowed us to gaze upon Him as a tiny baby, who is the redemption and light of all mankind.

The darkness of sin and death is overcome by the light emanating from the Face of the Infant Jesus, shining first upon the Blessed Virgin Mary, then St. Joseph, the humble shepherds and kings and on and on. The divine light extends to all peoples, down through the centuries to each of us. As we contemplate and adore Jesus, we in turn, must make the light of His Face shine to others, to all we meet, until finally the darkness is dispelled forever by the Glory of His Face… “evermore and evermore.”

Below is the beautiful Christmas Hymn “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” sung by the Benedictine Sisters of Mary. Enjoy!

Of the Father’s love begotten,
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega,
He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see,
Evermore and evermore!

He comes in splendor, the King who is our peace; the whole world longs to see Him."
“He comes in splendor, the King who is our peace; the whole world longs to see Him.” The Holy Night by Carlo Maratta

O that birth forever blessèd,
When the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
Bore the Savior of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face,
evermore and evermore!

O ye heights of heaven adore Him;
Angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him,
and extol our God and King!
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert sing,
Evermore and evermore!

Christ, to Thee with God the Father,
And, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving,
And unwearied praises be:
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory,
Evermore and evermore!

Merry Christmas! May His Face shine upon you today and always!

“Radiant beams from Thy Holy Face..”

Silent night, Holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth
Jesus, Lord at thy birth.

The Holy Night by Carlo Maratta, c.1676

Today, we contemplate the Holy Face of The Infant Jesus, together with Mary and Joseph. God descended to earth and became human to redeem us … but He is so weak, so poor, so helpless!  Mary and Joseph knew, that their beautiful, perfect child was also born to suffer.  They contemplate Him in silence, like all parents of newborns, because words are useless.  Together, with them, we gaze with love on Jesus’ face as He lies in the manger and our gaze becomes our prayer.  While we look at Him, he looks at us and loves us; He will give His life for us.

The beauty of the face of the Infant Jesus, draws us into the great mystery of redemptive suffering, to show us how God’s love was to be revealed, through self-sacrifice. Let us enter into this mystery today by gazing on the Holy Face of the newborn Jesus, and, in gazing at Him, discover the hope and joy of  His redemptive LOVE!

“Holy Mary, Mother of the Savior, help us to bear witness to the joy and light that the birth of your Son, our Redeemer, brought to the world, and to seek him in all things.” (Contemplating The Face of Christ in the Rosary, Pauline Press.)

Merry Christmas!

Happy the people who know you, Lord, who walk in the radiance of your face.  In your name they sing joyfully all the day; at your victory they raise the festal shout. (Psalm 89:16-17)

Advent: Longing to see His Face – The Expectation of The Blessed Virgin Mary

Mary and Joseph, longing to see the Face of the Infant Jesus.

Although two weeks of Advent have already gone by, now is the perfect time to intensify our efforts not to give in to the constant noise and flashing images that the world sets before our eyes, but direct our gaze, together with Mary, in anticipation, toward Bethlehem.

You may not know that there is a little known Feast Day coming up on December 18th, which begins the octave leading up to Christmas. It is called the Feast of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, (longing to see His Face). The Feast has it’s origin in the year 656 in Spain and spread throughout the Middle Ages. Because of an ancient law of the Church which prohibited the celebration of feasts during Lent, the Church in Spain transferred the Feast of the Annunciation from March 25th to the season of Advent.  The Tenth Council of Toledo in 656 assigned the feast to the 18th of December.  It was kept as a solemn octave, eight days leading to Christmas. When the ancient laws regarding feasts were changed, the Annunciation was celebrated twice, on March 25th and December 18th.  In some places in Spain it is still celebrated on both days.

The following is  a portion of a meditation, which Rev. Lawrence Lovasik, S.V.D., offers for this feast, in a book called Our Lady’s Feast Days:

“Mary, Your life with Jesus was one of the purest, most fervent, most perfect emotions of love to God, whom you sheltered within yourself. How can I ever imagine the emotions of longing and most eager expectation of the Birth of the Divine Child! How great must have been that longing! You were longing to see the Face of God and to be happy in the vision. You were soon really to see the Face of God, the created image of divine perfection, the sight of which rejoices heaven and earth, from which all beings derive life and joy; the Face whose features enraptured God from all eternity, the Face for which all ages had expectantly yearned. You were to see this Face unveiled, in all the beauty and grace of childhood as the face of your own child.”

The Triduum begins Dec. 15 – 17th and may be continued until Christmas.  The prayer for this beautiful Feast Day is as follows:

“Most just indeed it is, O holy Mother of God, that we should unite in that ardent desire which you had to see Him, who had been concealed for nine months in your chaste womb; to know the features of this Son of the heavenly Father, who is also your own; to come to that blissful hour of His birth, which will give glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to men of good-will. Yes, dear Mother, the time is fast approaching, though not fast enough to satisfy your desires and ours. Make us re-double our attention to the great mystery; complete our preparation by your powerful prayers for us, so that when the solemn hour has come, our Jesus may find no obstacle to His entrance into our hearts.   Amen.”

There are two important aspects of Advent mentioned in this prayer that are necessary for us to prepare our hearts for Jesus on Christmas Day: preparation and penance (that Jesus may “find no obstacle in our hearts.”) Sometimes the greatest obstacle to Jesus entering our hearts is our own self-love.  Let us have confidence in Mary’s intercession to help us overcome this self-love, removing all obstacles to her Son, so that our hearts will be prepared to receive Him Christmas morning and experience with joy the redemptive love shining of the Face of the Infant Jesus.