A Humble, Silent Witness to the Face of God – Robert Cardinal Sarah

Robert Cardinal Sarah gazing at the Face of Jesus, transfigured, in the Eucharist at the Basilica Sanctuary of the Holy Face of Manoppello(Photo 2013: Paul Badde/EWTN

His gaze is piercing, his lips closed, as he turns interiorly toward the Face of God; he listens intently for God’s voice in humble silence, and paradoxically evangelizes the world.  Robert Cardinal Sarah, appointed in 2014 as the prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship by Pope Francis, has written a masterpiece on prayer with Nicholas Diat, The Power of Silence; Against the Dictatorship of Noise.  In the afterword for the book Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI writes that Cardinal Sarah is “a master of silence and of interior prayer.”  

In The Power of Silence Cardinal Sarah writes:

Robert Cardinal Sarah (photo: Paul Badde/EWTN)

“Silence is not an absence. On the contrary, it is the manifestation of a presence, the most intense of all presences.”

“Through silence we return to our heavenly origin, where there is nothing but calm, peace, repose, silent contemplation, and adoration of the radiant Face of God.”

Pope St. John Paul II also spoke of the “radiant Face of Christ” as a preparation for the New Evangelization in Novo Millenio Ineunte, “And it is the Church’s task to reflect the light of Christ in every historical period, to make his Face shine before the generations of the new millenium. Our witness, however, would be hopelessly inadequate if we ourselves had not first contemplated His Face.”  One can have the false impression that evangelization consists only in saying many words. So, how is it possible that silence can also evangelize? Another eminent cardinal, Louis Cardinal Tagle of the Philippines, gives an answer to this question in his address in 2012 for the Synod on the New Evangelization:

 “The Church must discover the power of silence.  Confronted with sorrows, doubts, and uncertainties of people she cannot pretend to give easy solutions.  In Jesus, silence becomes the way of attentive listening, compassion and prayer.  It is the way to truth.  The seemingly indifferent and aimless societies of our time are earnestly looking for God.  The Church’s humility, respectfulness, and silence might reveal more clearly the Face of God in Jesus.  The world takes delight in a simple witness to Jesus, meek and humble of heart.”

To become “meek and humble of heart,” like Jesus, we must first turn to His Face in silent contemplation as Cardinal Sarah explains.

“Contemplative silence is silence with God. This silence is clinging to God, appearing before God, and placing oneself in His presence, offering oneself to Him, mortifying oneself in Him, adoring, loving, and hearing Him, listening to Him and resting in Him.  This is the silence of eternity, the union of the soul with God.” 

“The asceticism of silence reaches its most perfect degree in the life of those who have tasted this encounter with God through contemplation of His Face.  This is a form of nakedness and poverty.  But one gains access to true glory only at this price.  The asceticism of silence allows a person to enter into the mystery of God by becoming little, like a child.” 

“In silence, he cannot be a false god but can merely stand in a luminous face-to-face encounter with God” (The Power of Silence)

Robert Cardinal Sarah’s hand seen through the Manoppello Veil (Photo 2013: Paul Badde/EWTN)

Recently, Robert Cardinal Sarah made a visit to the Sanctuary Basilica of the Holy Face in Manoppello, Italy.  It was his second pilgrimage to the shrine since since 2013 to see the miraculous veil bearing the Face of Jesus. After his visit, “visibly moved,” he wrote this dedication in the guest book of the Capuchins at the Shrine:

“Here in Manopello we meet the countenance of God face-to-face, and when we look at Him, His gaze cleanses and heals us, God be blessed, Robert Cardinal Sarah 17/7/2017”

Holy Face of Manoppello, photo: Patricia Enk

“When face to face with a God who has become man, how can we not remain silent?” —The Power of Silence by Robert Card. Sarah with Nicholas Diat

Holy Face of Manoppello photo: Paul Badde/EWTN

St. Teresa of Avila – A gaze of faith fixed on Jesus

St. Teresa of Avila Icon by Patricia Enk
St. Teresa of Avila, Feast Day Oct. 15th Icon by Patricia Enk

“It is the Church’s task to reflect the light of Christ in every historical period, to make His Face shine also before the generations of the new millennium.  Our witness, however, would be hopelessly inadequate if we ourselves had not first contemplated His Face.”

–Pope St. John Paul II

Contemplation is a gaze of faith fixed on Jesus in silent, loving, attentiveness. It is a gift and a grace from God. Theologians have written volumes about what has been called by the Catechism of the Catholic Church “the simplest expression of the mystery of prayer,” yet when the Catholic Church wants to teach anyone about contemplative prayer it invariably directs them to St. Teresa de Jesus, Doctor of the Church and Foundress of the Discalced Carmelite Order.  St. Teresa is a “down-to-earth” sort of saint who can explain prayer to us in the most understandable terms.  “Contemplative prayer” says Teresa, “in my opinion is nothing more than a close sharing between friends, it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.”

Image of the Holy Face of Jesus that captivated St. Teresa
Image of the Holy Face of Jesus that captivated St. Teresa

St. Teresa suffered for years as a religious from an inability to pray, so she gives some solid advice to those who struggle as they seek the Face of God in prayer: “Never set aside the Sacred Humanity of Christ.” We cannot come to the Father except through Him.  Intimacy with Jesus draws us into the life of the Trinity. “If we can, we should occupy ourselves in looking at Him Who is looking at us; keep Him company; talk with Him; pray to Him; humble ourselves before Him; have our delight in Him.”  St. Teresa complained that she didn’t have much of an imagination, so she found it helpful to have an image of Christ to look at as she prayed, especially an image of Jesus in His Passion. “Speak with Him as with a Father, a Brother, a Lord and a Spouse–and, sometimes in one way and sometimes in another.  He will teach you what you must do to please Him… Remember how important it is for you to have understood this truth–that the Lord is within us and that we should be there with Him.”

He is only waiting for us to look at Him!

Statue of Jesus Scourged St. Teresa's moment of conversion occurred while praying before this image.
Statue of Jesus Scourged
St. Teresa’s moment of conversion occurred while praying before this image.