The Bride Must Resemble Her Betrothed

Paten viewed through the Veil of the Holy Face of Manoppello. Photo: Paul Badde/EWTN

O Jesus, hidden God, 

My heart perceives You

Though veils hide You;

You know that I love you.

–St. Faustina of the Blessed Sacrament, Apostle of Divine Mercy

 

 

(Detail) painting by Hans Holbein the elder. (Photo: Paul Badde)

On October 11, 1933, Saint Marie Faustina Kowalska was struggling “with great difficulty” to remain at prayer during a Holy Hour; she felt nothing, her mind seemed dimmed, she couldn’t understand the simplest form of prayer, and unlike most of us, this made her determined to stay another hour. During the second hour her sufferings increased, together with great dryness and discouragement. Rather than call it quits, she heroically resolved to remain for a third hour, by sheer will. Kneeling with her arms outstretched, she took off her ring and asked Jesus to look at it as the sign of their eternal union and her perpetual vows. After a while, her heart was inundated with a wave of love. Jesus suddenly stood before her stripped of His clothing as in His Passion. “His body completely covered with wounds, His eyes flooded with tears and blood, His Face disfigured and covered with spittle.” The Lord then said to St. Faustina, “The Bride must resemble her Betrothed.” She says she understood these words to their very depth.  Her likeness to Jesus must be through suffering and humility.  Jesus said to her, “See what love of human souls has done to Me. My daughter, in your heart I find everything that so great a number of souls refuses Me, Your heart is My repose. I often wait with great graces until towards the end of prayer.”  Her faithfulness to prayer was rewarded with a powerful reminder that she must resemble Jesus, her spouse.

This mystery of likeness to God is tied to contemplative prayer, “a communion, in which the Holy Trinity conforms man, the image and likeness of God, to His likeness.” (CCC 2713) In contemplative prayer we seek Him whom our soul loves, with our attention fixed on Jesus, surrendering to the love of the Father. The interior life of prayer can be difficult, dry and empty; it requires pure abandonment to God when nothing is felt, resisting our natural inclination to self-love by desiring to enjoy consolation.  St. Faustina writes, “Amid the greatest torments, I fix the gaze of my soul upon Jesus Crucified.” St. Faustina’s strength was in contemplation of the Face of Jesus reflecting all the pain and suffering of His Sacred Heart: “I have ever before my eyes His sorrowful Face, abused and disfigured, His divine Heart pierced for our sins and especially by the ingratitude of chosen souls.” 

St. Faustina “Apostle of Mercy”

St. Faustina, the Apostle of Divine Mercy, had the mission of spreading His Mercy so that souls will come to know His unfathomable love, “to remove the veil of heaven so that earth will not doubt Your goodness.” She wrote, “Make of me, Jesus, a pure and agreeable offering before the Face of Your Father. Jesus, transform me, miserable and sinful as I am, into Your own self (for You can do all things), and give me to Your Eternal Father.”  St. Faustina’s desire to see the Face of God increased although darkness filled her soul as though she were in exile. In spite of that suffering, she abandoned herself to the Will of God, remaining faithful in prayer. “When will the veil be lifted for me as well? Although I see and feel to a certain extent how very thin is the veil separating me from the Lord, I long to see Him face to face; but let everything be done according to Your will.”  

“The Face of Christ is the supreme revelation of Christ’s Mercy.”–Pope Benedict XVI (photo:Paul Badde/EWTN)

St. Faustina sought solace by remaining patiently in prayer before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. “I cast upon the Tabernacle the gaze of my soul, a gaze of faithfulness. As for You, You are ever the same, while within my soul a change takes place.  I trust the time will come when You unveil Your Countenance, and Your child will again see Your sweet Face…I am listening and waiting for Your coming, O only Treasure of my heart!” 

God who made us in His image and likeness dwells in us.  His divine indwelling enables us to become who we truly are when we turn to Him with humility and perseverance in prayer.  “With God, to gaze at is to love,” says St. John of the Cross, and we are transformed by what we gaze upon.  The trouble for our human nature is that in difficulties we often forget to turn to His Face, as St. Teresa of Jesus has said, “O Lord, how true that all harm comes to us from not keeping our eyes fixed on You.”  The divine goal of the grace of contemplative prayer, which flows from His mercy, is to resemble Jesus.  St. Faustina wrote, “The Heavenly Father will recognize and glorify  our soul to the extent that He sees in us a resemblance to His Son.”

Venice, Illustration for the Divine Comedy of Dante, 13th Century”

“Be blessed, merciful God, Eternal Love, / You are above the heavens, the sapphires, the firmaments, / The hosts of pure spirits sings You praises, / With its eternal hymn: Thrice Holy.

And, gazing upon You, face to face, O God, / I see that You could have called other creatures before them, / Therefore they humble themselves before You in great humility, / For well they see that this grace comes solely from Your mercy.” –St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in My Soul 

“This Mercy of God which has a concrete face, the Face of Jesus, the risen Christ.” –Pope Francis

 

 

 

St. Joseph – Contemplating the Mystery of the Human Face of God

“The most illustrious thing the Church has is that which she hides most.” ~Bossuet

Detail, St. Joseph with the Child, by Alonso Miguel de Tovar

His countless virtues made him worthy to be the foster father of the Son of God. He was the first man to see the human Face of God; the first man to hear the cry of the Word of God. Yet for centuries the most just and humble St. Joseph was fairly hidden in the Church. Not a word is spoken by St. Joseph in the Gospels. But as Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “His is a silence permeated by contemplation of the mystery of God, in an attitude of total availability to His divine wishes.”

Josephs’s Dream by Rembrandt c.1645

It was St. Teresa of Avila who recognized St. Joseph as the model of contemplative prayer. She wrote: “Would that I could persuade all men to have devotion to this glorious Saint; for I know by long experience what blessings he can obtain for us from God.”  Because St. Joseph was silent, he was attuned to hear the voice of God, although it was in darkness and obscurity.  “Those who practice prayer,” says St. Teresa, “should have a tremendous devotion to him always.”

“Joseph, the honest man, seeks God. Joseph, the selfless man, finds God. Joseph, the hidden man, delights in God’s presence.” –Second Panegyric on St. Joseph by Bossuet

Holy Family with bird, c. 1650, by Murillo

St. Joseph, through continuous prayer, sought God’s Will in each present moment. St. Teresa writes that he is the master of the interior life.  “In human life Joseph was Jesus’ master in their daily contact, full of refined affection, glad to deny himself in order to take better care of Jesus.  Isn’t that reason enough for us to consider this just man, this holy patriarch, in whom the faith of the old covenant bears fruit, as master of interior life?  Interior life is nothing but continual and direct conversation with Christ, so as to become one with Him.  And Joseph can tell us many things about Jesus.”  St. Joseph reveals those hidden graces in our daily lives; gifts from God that are available in each ordinary moment, as well as in trials and times of suffering. St. Joseph teaches us to live by faith as he did, before the presence of such a great mystery, by contemplating the human Face of God.

 

 

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.