“In our life as Contemplatives, we may never see the fruit of all the prayers and penance we do. It isn’t easy at first, but after a while as you dig deeper into your interior and Jesus comes along with light–it dawns on you, as it must, that the only thing that the Eternal Father wants from you and from me is to become transformed in Love. Then, the Divine Image of His Son will be so clear in us that when He looks at us, He will see no one but Jesus.”
–Mother Angelica, born into Eternal Life, Easter Sunday 2016
Thank you, Jesus, for the beautiful life, inspiration and example of Your beloved spouse, Mother Angelica
Face of God
Love seeks to know the Beloved – Seeking the Face of Christ in Scripture
“Come,” says my heart, “seek God’s face”; your face, LORD, do I seek! Do not hide your face from me…” (Ps. 27:8-9)
Human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, and so our souls have a yearning, a natural longing for the infinite; we are called to communion with God, to see Him “face to face.” He is calling us to seek Him, to know Him, and love Him with all our strength. Because we are made in His image, we have a capacity to know God through the truth and beauty of the created world, through moral goodness and our human reason, but there are many things that stand in our way; we are in need of enlightenment. God has said everything in His Word, so we must “seek the Beloved” in the Scriptures. As St. Jerome said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”
Through all the words of Sacred Scripture, God speaks only one single Word: Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate. And there, in the Scriptures, we contemplate His Face. “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God, in which, as in a mirror, the pilgrim Church contemplates God, the source of all her riches.” (CCC 97) The Word of God, which is Truth, acts as a mirror held before our gaze in which we may see our sins more clearly and feel the heartfelt sorrow of repentance, which can be the impetus for conversion or turning back to the Face of God.
Beginning in Genesis, the Sacred Scriptures reveal the pilgrimage: the struggles of nations and individuals in pilgrimage, as they turn toward or away from the Face of God–their battles, falls and triumphs. In “The Face of Mercy” Pope Francis speaks of the importance of the practice of pilgrimage, which has a special place in the Holy Jubilee Year of Mercy. He says “everyone, each according to his or her ability, will be asked to make a pilgrimage. This will be a sign that mercy is also a goal to reach and requires dedication and sacrifice.” Through the Scriptures, “The Lord Jesus shows us the steps of the pilgrimage to attain our goal: ‘Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back’ (Lk 6:37-38)” —Face of Mercy Scripture guides us in our pilgrimage by keeping our eyes fixed on Christ…and NOT on the world.
In seeking the Face of Jesus in the Scripture we also experience His loving and powerful gaze. The power of the gaze of Jesus in this journey is illustrated unforgettably in chapter 22 of Luke’s gospel which tells of Peter’s denial of Christ. When Jesus is arrested, Peter was “following at a distance” then sat near a fire in a courtyard. When he is accused of being a follower of Jesus, Peter denies Him, through fear, choosing to be viewed as part of the crowd, and seeking instead the approval of the world. “Just as he was saying this, the cock crowed, and the Lord turned and looked at Peter; and Peter remembered the word of the Lord…He went out and wept bitterly.”(Lk. 22:60-62) From Jesus’s merciful gaze came Peter’s repentance and second conversion.
Interestingly, the next few lines of Luke’s gospel also demonstrate the attitude of those who refuse to look at the merciful gaze of the Face of Jesus: “The men who held Jesus in custody were ridiculing and beating Him. They blindfolded Him and questioned Him, saying, ‘Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?’ And they reviled Him in saying many other things against Him.” (Lk. 22:63-65) These blasphemous men could not bear the gaze of Jesus, so they blindfolded Him, refusing to look in the mirror of Truth, which is the Face of Jesus. No one can receive mercy who refuses to acknowledge their sins.
When we seek the Face of God by reading and praying with the Scriptures, we discover the true Face of Jesus, our Beloved, the Innocent Lamb, who is meek and humble of heart. St. Paul wrote that “a veil” lies over our hearts, “but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is removed… All of us gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor. 3:18) His gaze transforms our hearts from darkness to light as we strive to mirror His life. “For God who has said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to bring to light knowledge of the glory of God on the Face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:6)
The Malice of Blasphemy – Spitting in the Face of God
On New Years Eve, beneath the shadow of the Cologne Cathedral in Germany, one of the most important places of pilgrimage in Europe, about 1,000 drunk and aggressive men of Arab or North African appearance, surrounded groups of young women in order to molest, rob and rape. The young women, who no doubt felt they were safe in the company of friends, were separated by the “men” (the cowardly vermin who attacked those who are weaker) whose primary objective was to perpetrate violence and sexual assault, and to degrade and dehumanize the young women. A video soon surfaced, which originated from the attackers themselves, bragging about their rape of “a virgin” by several of the “men,” some of whom spit upon her as she lay on the ground beaten and bleeding, covered in filth.
To add to the humiliation of the victims, the mayor pointed a finger of blame at the women of the city. The police were blamed for failing in their duty to defend and protect. The men of Germany were equally blamed for not protecting their woman. While politicians avoided blaming the actual perpetrators, there were actually those who would blame God for not protecting the innocent from the wicked.
But it is God Himself who suffers. He suffers in the young women, made in His image, who were assaulted and spit upon. It is God Himself who is blasphemed, either directly or indirectly by those who have malice toward Him, by acts of hatred carried out in the name of their religion.
“You are no God who loves evil; no sinner is your guest. The boastful shall not stand their ground before your Face. You hate all who do evil: you will destroy all who lie. The deceitful and bloodthirsty man the Lord detests.” (Psalm 5)
It is not a coincidence that the violence took place in the shadow of the Holy Cathedral. It is also no coincidence that the attack was upon women. Satan hates “the woman” who is Mary, the Mother of God and directs his attacks upon on all women. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers. He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” (Gen 3:15) “When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, it pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child.” (Rev. 12:13) Thus, all women are the special object of his hatred, so we see in our culture a flood of pornography, abortion, and degradation of women, not only by degenerate men, but even by other women.
So, what is the answer to this violence and contempt expressed in blasphemy against other human beings made in God’s image, blasphemy which is ultimately against the Face of God? Wringing our hands over the news and at the culture that has permitted the evil is not the answer. We are not entirely helpless and we have the means in our power to fight against evil: the opposite of blasphemy would be praise of God, the sole object of our exalted esteem, honoring and extolling His Holy Name publicly, to make reparation before the Holy Face of Jesus, who became man and whose Face can be seen, in His images, in our neighbor and in the Eucharist. Blasphemy can also be countered by honoring and reverencing the Virgin Mary, as He has given her the greatest honor and dignity by choosing her to be the mother of His Son, Jesus.
On February 9th, 2016, the “Feast of The Holy Face” will be celebrated. My parish, along with many other Catholic parishes, will be having evenings of Prayer and Adoration on this day. This feast day coincides each year with “Mardi Gras Day,” the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. It is an opportunity to make reparation for blasphemy by coming before the Face of Jesus to honor Him. Beginning January 31st, I will post each day the Novena to the Holy Face leading up to the Feast of the Holy Face and Act of Consecration. Please join in the Novena or read the prayers of reparation (here) if you are able. They are powerful weapons against those who would spit in the Face of God!
Eternal Father, turn away Your angry gaze from our guilty people whose face has become unsightly in your eyes. Look instead upon the Face of Your Beloved Son, for this is the Face of Him in Whom You are well pleased. We now offer You this Holy Face, covered with shame and disfigured by bloody bruises in reparation for the crimes of our age in order to appease Your anger, justly provoked against us. Because Your divine Son, Our Redeemer, has taken upon His Head all the sins of His members, that they might be spared, we now beg of You, Eternal Father, to grant us Mercy. Amen.
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…
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!
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!
Longing to see His Face — The Expectation of The Blessed Virgin Mary
Every expectant mother shares something with the Blessed Virgin Mary — the longing to see the face of her child. The mother cannot yet kiss or caress her baby, she cannot hear the sound of a cry, or smell that baby-sweetness, so she waits in loving attentiveness for the stirring of the babe beneath her heart, that fills her with joy and knowledge of the baby’s presence within.
During the 3rd week of Advent, on December 18th, in some places in the world the Church celebrates a beautifully contemplative feast which is called the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The feast has it’s origin in the year 656 in Spain and spread throughout the Middle Ages. Because the ancient law of the Church prohibited the celebration of feasts during Lent, the Church transferred the Feast of the Annunciation from March 25th to the season of Advent. The Tenth Council of Toledo 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 fasts were changed, the Annunciation was celebrated twice, on March 25th and December 18th.
On this day and the days leading up to Christmas we are invited to contemplate, together with Mary, the Divine Child within her womb, who is Our Savior. We too, through sanctifying grace, bear the supernatural image of God within us. Like Mary, we desire to become a peaceful sanctuary for the living God. We are called to be attentive, in prayer, to the faint stirrings of His presence in our hearts, which will fill us with a deep longing to see His Face as we pray:
“Mary, your life with Jesus was one of the purest, most fervent, most perfect 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 being derive life and joy; the Face whose features enraptured God from all eternity, the Face for which all ages expectantly yearned. You were to see this Face unveiled, in all the beauty and grace as the face of your own child. 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.” Prayer by Rev. Lawrence Lovasik, S.V.D.
This prayer may be prayed as a Triduum from December 15th to the Feast Day on December 18th, or continue to be prayed on the days leading up to Christmas.
Longing to see His Face – The Souls in Purgatory
“Every family has an Uncle Louie.” I was told this fact while discussing funerals with a priest. “Uncle Louie” represented those “black sheep,” who, though beloved by their family and friends, we all knew were no saints and unless Heaven had lowered the bar considerably, didn’t stand much chance of walking straight through the Pearly Gates when they died. However, as Christians we hope that through the mercy of God and the prayers of the Church that “Uncle Louie” did make it into Purgatory. Perhaps before he died, “Uncle Louie” mumbled a heartfelt pray from childhood and turned back to God.
“All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” (CCC 1030) The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of souls that they may attain the beatific vision, or gaze on the Face of God. Theologians have said that the purification or suffering of the souls in Purgatory is their intense longing for the Face of God. This is expressed beautifully in Dante’s Divine Comedy, which is recommended reading by Pope Francis for the Year of Mercy. In the poem, a soul in Purgatory proclaims:
“We were all sinners till our latest hour/… when light from Heaven made us wise to see our sins,/ and we repented and forgave,/ leaving our lives at last in peace with God,/ who now torments our hearts with the desire,/ to see His Face.”
Since the faithful departed being purified are also members of the communion of saints, we can help obtain indulgences for them, so that temporal punishments due for their sins may be remitted through the merits of Jesus Christ. (Explanation of indulgences here.) Throughout November the Church, in charity, remembers the Faithful Departed in its prayers. “It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.” (2 Macch. 12, 46) There are many ways to obtain indulgence from God through the Church such as visiting a cemetery and praying for the dead. A plenary indulgence for the souls in Purgatory can be obtained by visiting a cemetery each day between November 1 and November 8 or by a visit to a church or public oratory on November 2nd and reciting the Our Father and The Creed. A partial indulgence can be obtained for the souls in Purgatory, especially in the month of November, when we recite:
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
In your charity, please pray for the souls in Purgatory, so that they may soon see God face to face.
Contemplation and Praise of The Trinity through the Face of Christ
The mystery of the Trinity is the beginning and end of all revealed truth. We are baptized in
the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and our souls enter into relationship with each of the Three Divine Persons. We are daughters and sons of the Father, brothers, sisters and co-heirs with the Son and sanctified by the Holy Spirit continually to make us resemble Jesus Christ.
But, how can we contemplate something so great as the Holy Trinity when we are such lowly creatures? St. Teresa wrote that she was “amazed at seeing so much majesty in a thing as lowly as my soul;” then Our Lord said to her: “It is not lowly, my daughter, because it is made in my own image.” This should give us the courage to come in prayer before The Most Holy Trinity through Jesus Christ, through whose human face God chose to reveal Himself to us.
Words are not needed, we need only rejoice in the splendor of His Face. Pope Benedict XVI tells us, “To rejoice in the splendor of His Face means penetrating the mystery of His Name made known to us in Jesus, understanding something of His interior life and of His Will, so that we can live according to His plan for humanity. Jesus lets us know the hidden Face of the Father through His human Face; by the gift of the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts.”
We rejoice in the splendor of His Face as we gaze at Him, and while we gaze at Him, He gazes at us: “How beautiful is this gaze of Jesus – How much tenderness is there!” says Pope Francis. Pope Francis urges us to reflect on Jesus gaze upon us: “How is Jesus looking at me?
With a call? With a pardon? With a mission? But on the path He created, all of us are being looked at by Jesus. He always looks at us with love. He asks us something, he forgives us for something and he gives us a mission… May each one of us think: ‘Lord, You are here, among us. Fix your gaze on me and tell me what I must do: how I must repent for my mistakes, my sins; what courage do I need to go forward on the path that You first created.” St. John of the Cross says the gaze of God is active, “for God’s gaze is to love and to work favors. His Gaze is love and love does things. God’s gaze works four blessings in the soul: it cleanses her, makes her beautiful, enriches her and enlightens… making her like Himself.”
By this mutual gaze of love between the Face of God and the soul man, God restores His Image in our souls where, incredibly, He chooses to dwell. In The Spiritual Canticle, St. John of the Cross exclaims “O, then, most beautiful soul who dost so much desire to know the place where your Beloved is in order to seek him and to be united with him, He tells you now that you yourself are the abode wherein He dwells, and the closet and hiding place where He is hidden. It is a matter of great contentment and joy for you to see that all your good and all your hope are so near that you cannot be without them. ‘Behold’ says the Spouse, ‘the kingdom of God is within you’ (Luke 17:21), and his servant the Apostle Paul says: ‘We are the temple of the living God’ (2 Cor 6:16).”
St. Elizabeth of the Trinity on receiving news of the baptism of her niece, wrote to her sister, “I feel full respect, for this little temple of the Blessed Trinity…If I were near her I would kneel down to adore him who dwells within her.”
Prayer to The Holy Trinity by St. Elizabeth of the Trinity
“My God, Blessed Trinity! Draw from my poor being what most contributes to your glory, and do with me what you wish both now and in eternity. May I no longer place between us any voluntary hindrance to your transforming action… Second, by second, with a forever ‘actual’ intention, I desire to offer you all that I am and all that I have. Make my poor life, in intimate union with the Word Incarnate, an unceasing sacrifice of glory to the Blessed Trinity…
My God, how I wish to glorify you! O, if only in exchange for my complete immolation, or for any other condition, it were in my power to enkindle the hearts of all your creatures and the whole of creation in the flames of your love, how I would desire to do so! May at least my poor heart belong to you completely, may I keep nothing for myself not for creatures, not even a single heartbeat. May I have a burning love for all mankind, but only with you, through you and for you… I desire above all to love you with the heart of Saint Joseph, with the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and with the adorable Heart of Jesus; and, finally, to submerge myself in that infinite ocean, that abyss of fire that consumes the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever.
O Jesus, who said: ‘No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one whom the Son chooses to reveal him’ (Matt 11:27) ‘Show us the Father, and we will be satisfied!” (John 14:8)
And you, O Spirit of Love! ‘Teach us all things’ (John 14:26) and ‘form Jesus with Mary in us’ (Gal 4:19) until we ‘become perfectly one; (John 17:23) in ‘the bosom of the Father’ (John 1:18). Amen.
St. Joseph Restoration, and Reparation
Last year I had not one, but three statues of St. Joseph in my house, old, broken, with decades of
different layers of flaking paint. I have restored countless numbers of such statues of Jesus, Mary, St. Joseph, Saints, Angels, even lambs and camels… large and small, in various distressed conditions; some nearly smashed to smithereens, seemingly beyond hope. Some of the worst had been through Hurricane Katrina. All the statues had one thing in common, they were dearly loved by someone who couldn’t bear to get rid of them.
The first one showed up on my doorstep twenty years ago. I am a watercolor artist, so when a friend asked me if I could “fix a statue” because I “painted,” I was confused but decided to give it a shot. The statue was in terrible shape –but it was me or the trash can. (Not a great choice.) So, I did some research on restoration and got to work. Statues have been showing up ever since and I repair them for one reason: I can’t bear to see them broken. For me, it’s a labor of love.
I’ve often wondered if this is how God looks at our souls; broken, disfigured, and in various states of decay. He looks on us with love and a desire to restore us to our original beauty. When we come back to His “doorstep,” which is the Church, and “turn back to His Face,” the Divine Artist restores His Image in us.
Our Lord revealed the work of reparation, which is devotion to the Holy Face, “the most beautiful work under the sun,” to Sr. Marie St. Pierre, a Carmelite nun. Jesus told her that the image of His Holy Face is like a Divine Stamp, which, if applied to souls through prayer, has the power of imprinting anew within them the image of God.
This is Sr. Marie St. Pierre’s beautiful prayer to reproduce the image of God in our souls, “I salute you! I adore you and I love you, Oh adorable face of my beloved Jesus, as the noble stamp of the Divinity! Completely surrendering my soul to You, I most humbly beg You to stamp this seal upon us all, so that the image of God may once more be reproduced in our souls. Amen.”
In fact, anytime we turn to His Face, in prayer, He is beautifying and restoring our souls… and that is THE “labor of love!”
Happy Feast of St. Joseph!
Let me see your face! Terrorism and The Holy Face
“A human being instinctively senses that there is something about evil that seeks to hide its face.”
“Let Me See Your Face!” ~ Song of Solomon 2:14
What is the basis of a relationship? For a human person, it is recognizing a face and knowing a person’s name. The heart of every human being has an inexpressible longing to see the Face of God and a desire to enter into relationship with Him, to know His Name.
This is so integral to our Faith as to be indispensable. That is why Pope St. John Paul II dedicated the millennium to The Holy Face of Christ. That is why Pope Benedict has written so extensively on The Face of Christ throughout his pontificate, including in Lumen Fidei where he speaks of the light of the Face of Christ shining upon the faces of Christians and spreading as “the paschal candle lights countless other candles,” passing faith from one person to another. That is why Pope Francis directs us again and again to recognizing the Face of Jesus in one another. “Every sick and fragile person can see in your face the Face of Jesus, and you also can recognize in the suffering person the Face of Christ.”
Watching the many world crises unfold, a particularly terrifying image sends a chill through viewers of the nightly news programs as it recurs again and again. This image, with which most people are now sadly familiar, has several forms: ISIS terrorists, “Russian separatist soldiers” invading the Ukraine, Boko Haram, and rioters in Ferguson. The first instance, the ISIS terrorist, is cloaked in black from head to toe, posed like a hunter with its prey, preparing to behead a man. The second image, “Russian separatists,” if that is what they are, most often appear with black stocking caps or hoods that conceal their identities. Next, Boko Haram in black masks and assault weapons are pictured with the young helpless girls they have kidnapped. Then there are the images of rioters in Ferguson, Missouri, with bare chests and t-shirts wrapped around their heads to hide their faces as they smash and pillage.
A human being instinctively senses that there is something about evil that seeks to hide its face. Evil, that nameless, faceless entity manifesting itself in the world, is not content with cloaking the individual identity of its own slaves, but, above all, evil seeks to mar, disfigure, destroy, and even violently behead, the image and likeness of God found in the pinnacle of His creation: man. It is present in the evil of abortion, refusing to recognize the face of a human baby in the unborn, or in the evil of euthanasia in disposing of inconveniently elderly or sick persons. It is present in the evil of pornography, with the hidden viewer lusting after nameless human beings, thereby deforming the image of God in both.
The wicked facelessness of violence, hatred, and evil is the inversion of the Christian call to holiness, which is seeking the Face of God. Climbing the mountain of the spiritual life toward God, the Christian abandons selfishness and vice, and then sacrifices even little attachments that hold him back, to grow closer to the summit of the mountain: unity with God, to reflect more perfectly His image in one’s heart. St. Paul said it best: “All of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image” (2 Cor 3:18). This journey requires self-denial, courage, determination and zeal.
Evil, however, goes the opposite direction. In pride, in hatred, in violence, men who devote themselves to the destruction of the image of God in other men scale the upside-down mountain of pride toward the faceless evil that absorbs their identity and destroys their souls, like the fallen angels in G.K. Chesterton’s poem Gloria in Profundis:
For fear of such falling and failing,
the fallen angels fell,
Inverted in insolence, scaling,
the hanging mountain of hell.
We are not helpless, however, against the faceless foe. St. Pope John Paul II has stated, “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 Benedict XVI has characterized devotion to the Holy Face as having three separate components: “1) Discipleship—an orientation of one’s life towards an encounter with Jesus, to see Jesus in the face of those in need; 2) the Passion of Jesus, expressed by images of the wounded Face of Jesus. 3) the Eucharist—which is woven between the other two. The eschatological element then builds on awakening to Christ by contemplating His Face in the Eucharist.”
This is not merely a pious devotion, but a powerful weapon against the enemy. Its power does not, however, result in destruction. In his prayer to the Holy Face, St. John Paul II asks that The Holy Face, through The Holy Spirit, “bring to maturation your work of salvation.” The fruit of using this mighty weapon is peace. “From contemplation of the Face of God are born, joy, security, peace,” writes Pope Benedict XVI. As we are gazing at God, in the scriptures, in His images, in our neighbor and in the Eucharist, God is gazing at us. By this mutual gaze of love between the Face of God and the soul of man, God restores His Image in our souls. Moreover, Pope Benedict wrote, “To rejoice in the splendor or His Face means penetrating the mystery of His Name made known to us in Jesus, understanding something of His interior life and of His Will, so that we can live according to His plan for humanity. Jesus lets us know the hidden Face of the Father through His human Face; by the gift of the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts.”
This, as Benedict says, is the foundation of our peace, which nothing—not even nameless, faceless evil—can ever take from us.
“The Most Beautiful Work Under the Sun”
I Seek Your Face
Deep in his heart, man has an inexpressible longing to see the face of God. As Pope Benedict XVI writes beautifully in his homilies and in his book, On the Way to Jesus Christ, “The desire to know God truly, that is, to see the Face of God is inherent in every human being, even atheists.” This yearning for God has been expressed from antiquity in the Old Testament:
Listen to my voice, Lord, when I call
. . . Your Face, Lord, do I seek!
Hide not Your Face from me!
In fact, the Hebrew term, “panim”, which means “face” means to see the Face of God or the presence of God, occurs 400 times in the Old Testament, and 100 of these refer to God. The same word “panim”, Pope Benedict explains, is a term that describes relationships. The word “shem” meaning “name” is also a term of relationship. God has a face and a name!
How do we seek His Face?
Pope Benedict XVI tells us that we learn in the Psalms the attitude for seeing the Face of God: “Let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice! Seek the LORD and his strength, seek his presence continually.” (Ps. 105:3-4) and in Psalm 24, the prerequisites of “clean hands and a pure heart” “Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.” “Seeking the face of God”, says Pope Benedict XVI, “is an attitude that embraces all of life; in order for a man to see God’s face at last, he must himself be illuminated entirely by God.” “Let your face shine, that we may be saved.” (Ps 80:3,7,19)
God turns His Face to Us
This deep longing of man to see the Face of God arises because of man’s desire for a personal relationship with His Creator. “God has a Face,” writes Benedict XVI, that is, He is a “You” who can enter into a relationship.” As the story of the people of Israel in the Old Testament reveals, God sees us, hears us, speaks to us, He makes covenants. He loves us. Throughout the Old Testament, He progressively reveals Himself to man, to allow mankind to see His Face Exodus tell us that “the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” (Ex 33:11) Although Moses begs to see God’s face in his glory (Ex 33:11) he is only able to see God’s back as he passes. (Ex33:18-23) It is only by following Jesus (seeing his back) that we will be able to see in his face the glory of God made visible. (2 Cor 4:6)
God shows us His Face in The Incarnation
The revelation of the face of God took on a new and beautiful manifestation when God became man in the person of Jesus Christ. As fully God and fully man, Jesus Christ gave us a human face that revealed the face of God. “While we too seek other signs, other wonders,” Benedict XVI explains, “we do not realize that He is the real sign, God made flesh; He is the greatest miracle of the universe: all the love of God hidden in a human heart, in a human face!” Something new happens at The Incarnation, because now God’s Face can be seen: The Son of God was made man and He is given a Name, Jesus.
The Face and The Name
In fact, the Incarnation also reveals a direct connection between the Holy Face and the Name of God. Jesus shows us the Face of the Father, for as He told His disciples: “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” But Jesus also makes known to us the Name of God: as He said at the Last Supper when praying to His Father, “I have made Your Name known to them.”
The expression “Name of God” means God as He who is present among men. His Name is a concrete sign of His Existence.
Need for Reparation to The Holy Face and The Holy Name
Because of the profound connection between our relationship with God and His Name and Face, sins committed against this relationship with Him are reflected in the Face of Christ. When a man’s name is slandered or reviled, those insults are reflected on his face. So too, in the Passion, the Face of Our Lord was beaten, bloodied, bruised, spit upon.
How are our sins against our personal relationship with God revealed in His face? The manifestation of our sins on His Countenance come about through blasphemy, atheism, disrespect of God in Sacred Things, the profanation of Sunday, hatred of God’s Church. These indignities suffered by Our Lord in His Face represent the most serious sins, because they are against God Himself.
The damage done by our sins to our relationship with God are reflected in the Face of Jesus Christ. For this reason, devotion and reparation to the Holy Face is fitting in order to make amends for what we have done to Him.
History of the Devotion
Devotion to the Holy Face has existed since the beginning of the Christianity. For instance, the “Veil of Veronica” and other images, such as the Shroud of Turin and icons in the East, have been particular objects of devotion to the Face of Christ.
However, a change occurred in mid-1800’s, when Our Lord appeared to a Cloistered Carmelite nun, Sr. Marie St. Pierre, in Tours, France, at a time when the seeds of atheistic communism and revolution were being planted across Europe. Our Lord asked her for greater devotion to His Holy Face and acts of Reparation. Jesus said to her:
“Rejoice, My Daughter, because the hour approaches when the most beautiful work under the Sun will be here.”
The “Beautiful Work” referred to by Our Lord in this apparition is devotion to the Holy Face. This “Most Beautiful Work under the Sun,” spoken of by Our Lord, has dawned at the New Millennium. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, begun by St.. Pope John Paul II in his last days, devotion to the Holy Face is spreading, and the Face of “The True Sun, Jesus Christ” is beginning to “Shine” in the world.
St. Pope John Paul II and “The Most Beautiful Work under the Sun”
In 1997, St. Pope John Paul II asked for an International Congress for studying the words on the Holy Face Medal and Devotion to The Holy Face as a preparation for the Millenium, which he later placed under “The Radiant sign of The Face of Christ.” The medal of the Holy Face of Jesus was made by Bl.Mother Marie Pierina De Micheli, following the request of Jesus and The Blessed Mother in 1936. One side the medal bears a replica of the Holy Face image and an inscription based on Psalm 66:2: “Illumina, Domine, vultum tuum super nos”, that is: “May, O Lord, the light of Thy countenance shine upon us.” On the other side of the medal, there is an image of a radiant Sacred Host, the monogram of the Holy Name (“IHS”), and the inscription “Mane nobiscum, Domine” or “Stay with us, O Lord.”
In Novo Millenio Ineunte, St. Pope John Paul II emphasized the importance of contemplation of the Face of Christ by stating:
“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…To contemplate Christ involves being able to recognize Him wherever He manifests Himself, in His many forms of presence, but above all, in the living Sacrament of His Body and Blood.”
“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.”
God gazes at us
While we are gazing at God, He is gazing at us. St. John of the Cross says the gaze of God is active, “for God’s Gaze is to love and to work favors. His Gaze is love and love does things. God’s Gaze works four blessing in the soul: it cleanses her, makes her beautiful, enriches her and enlightens her . . . making her like Himself.” By this mutual gaze of love between the Face of God and the soul of man, God restores His Image in our souls.
We enter into this mystery, not by our own efforts, but by faith, grace, and by contemplating Him in silence and prayer, and by anchoring ourselves firmly in the Scriptures, contemplating His Face hidden in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and on through His Life, Death and Resurrection.
St. Pope John Paul II called such acts of reparation to The Holy Face the “unceasing effort to stand beside the endless crosses on which the Son of God continues to be crucified.”
Which Image of the Face of Jesus?
There are many images of the Face of Jesus, but the image of the Face of God is not confined merely to images of Him beaten and bloodied by his passion. St. Pope John Paul II states, “We cannot stop at the image of The Crucified One. He is the Risen One! As St. Paul remarks, the Resurrection is fundamental to the Christian’s relationship with God: if God were not risen, “our preaching would be in vain and our faith empty.” (cf. 1 Cor 15:14) During different seasons of the Church and moments in our faith journey we may feel drawn to contemplate the various aspects of The Holy Face of Jesus from his Incarnation in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, through His Life, Passion, Death and Resurrection.
The Secrets of The Holy Face taught by Pope Benedict XVI
Carrying out St. Pope John Paul II’s “program” at the beginning of his Pontificate, Pope Benedict made a pilgrimage to the little mountain village of Manoppello, Italy, to venerate a veil with a miraculous image of The Face of The Risen Christ. The veil, which has been described as a “living image” due to its changing appearance, also known as “Il Volto Santo,” has been recently “re-discovered”: research reveals it to be the prototype of ancient images of Christ in both the Eastern and Western Church.
The face on veil forensically matches the Face on The Shroud of Turin. It is believed to be the “Veil of Veronica” which most likely disappeared or was stolen from the Vatican in the 1500’s.
Benedict later composed a prayer, in 2007, in commemoration of his visit to the Veil of Manoppello on September 1, 2006. Below is a portion of that prayer:
“Show us O Lord, we pray you, Your Face, ever new; that mirror, mystery-laden, of God’s Infinite Mercy. Grant that we may contemplate it with the eyes of our minds and our hearts: The Son’s Face, radiance of The Father’s Glory and the imprint of His nature. The human Face of God, suffering and risen, when loved and accepted, changes the heart and life, “Your Face, Lord, do I seek, do not hide Your Face from me!” (Psalm 27)
“To express ourselves in accordance with the paradox of the Incarnation we can certainly say that God gave himself a human face, the Face of Jesus, and consequently, from now on, if we truly want to know the Face of God, all we have to do is to contemplate the Face of Jesus! In His Face we truly see who God is and what He looks like!”
Benedict XVI, The Pope of the Face of God
The Face of God is a recurring motif in Benedict’s homilies (most recently on Jan. 1st on World Day of Peace, and on Jan. 16th Wed. audience). On January 1, 2013, Benedict spoke on the blessing of the priests of the people of Israel. 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: “May The Lord bless and keep you, may He make His Face shine upon you and be gracious to you: May the Lord turn His Face toward you and give you His PEACE.” 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.”
These words of Benedict echo the words of St. Pope John Paul II, that “in The Eucharist, the Face of Christ is turned toward us.”
Moreover, Pope Benedict wrote, “To rejoice in the splendor of His Face means penetrating the mystery of His Name made known to us in Jesus, understanding something of His interior life and of His will, so that we can live according to His plan for humanity. Jesus lets us know the hidden Face of The Father through His human Face; by the gift of The Holy Spirit poured into our hearts.” This, the Pope says, is the foundation of our Peace, which nothing can take from us.
Benedict XVI has characterized devotion to The Holy Face as having three separate components:
1. Discipleship – an encounter with Jesus, to see Jesus in the Face of those in need.
2. The Passion of Jesus, and suffering expressed by images of the wounded Face of Jesus.
3. The Eucharist, “the great school in which we learn to see The Face of God”, which is woven between the other two. The eschatological element then builds on awakening to Christ by contemplating His Face hidden in The Eucharist.
“Our whole life should be directed toward encountering Him,” writes Benedict, “toward loving Him; and in it, a central place must be given to love of one’s neighbor, that love that in the light of The Crucified One, enables us to recognize the Face of Jesus in the poor, the weak, the suffering.” The pope goes on to explain the fruits of this contemplation: “From contemplation of the Face of God are born, joy, security, PEACE”
Indicating that he is truly the Pope of the Face of God, Pope Benedict’s last action as Pope was to request the Ostentation of the Shroud of Turin on Holy Saturday.
Pope Francis: Seeing the Face of Christ in Our Neighbor
From the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis has followed in the footsteps of Benedict XVI and St. Pope John Paul II by speaking often of the importance of the Face of God. Before all, Pope Francis seems to be imitating his patron St. Francis, in letting his actions speak, by demonstrating “Discipleship” seeking out the Face of Christ in the poor, the sick, and the weak and by BEING The Face of Christ to the poor, the sick and the weak.
In Pope Francis’ first homily he tells us, “The Face of God is like that of a merciful Father that always has patience and is willing to forgive.” “All of us have felt joy, sadness and sorrow in our lives,” Pope Francis reflected. “Have we wept during the darkest moment? Have we had that gift of tears that prepare the eyes to look, to see the Lord?” Here we see the need for repentance.
Francis’ message at the Ostentation of the Shroud reflected further on the Face of God and the gaze of love we exchange with Him. “We do not merely ‘look,’ but rather we venerate by a prayerful gaze,” he said, adding, “I would go further: we are looked at ourselves. This Face has eyes that are closed, it is the Face of the One Who is dead, and yet mysteriously he is watching us, and in silence He speaks to us…. This disfigured Face resembles all those faces of men and women marred by a life which does not respect their dignity, by war and violence which afflict the weakest… And yet, at the same time, the Face in The Shroud conveys a great Peace…”
The new pope continued this theme when on his Wednesday audience on April 3, 2013, he drew a particular connection between the Face of God and the role of women: “Women have had and still have a special role in opening doors to the Lord,” he said, “ in following Him and communicating His Face, because the eyes of faith always need the simple and profound look of love.” In fact, said Pope Francis, “The first witnesses of Christ’s Resurrection were women. “
The Face of God has, in fact, become a theme, which Francis has returned to again and again in his preaching.
On Divine Mercy Sunday (April 7th, 2013),“this Mercy of God which has a concrete face, the Face of Jesus, the Risen Christ.” “How beautiful is this gaze of Jesus – How much tenderness is there!” Francis added. “I have so often seen God’s merciful Countenance, His patience!”
On Trinity Sunday 2013, Pope Francis explained the Holy Trinity is not the product of human reasoning, but the Face with which God has revealed himself, walking with humanity.
Speaking to pilgrims June 13, World Refugee Day, “May people and institutions around the world never fail to assist them: their face, is the Face of Christ!”
The Holy Face in the work of Two Popes: The Encyclical Lumen Fidei
Popes Benedict XVI and Francis make clear the necessity of devotion to the Face of Christ in their encyclical Lumen Fidei, The Light of Faith, that “Faith consists in the willingness to let ourselves be constantly transformed and renewed by God’s call and rejecting idols. An idol is “The face which is NOT a face.”
“Those who believe come to see themselves in the light of the faith which they profess: Christ is the mirror in which they find their own image fully realized. And just as Christ gathers to himself all those who believe and makes them his body, so the Christian comes to see himself as a member of this body, in an essential relationship with all other believers.” Lumen Fidei sec.22
Reflected, as in a Mirror and Transformed into His Image
Section 37 of Lumen Fidei speaks of the effect of contemplating The Face of God and how by it, we are transformed into His Image.
“Those who have opened their hearts to God’s love, heard his voice and received his light, cannot keep this gift to themselves. Since faith is hearing and seeing, it is also handed on as word and light. Addressing the Corinthians, Saint Paul used these two very images. On the one hand he says: “But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture — ‘I believed, and so I spoke’ — we also believe, and so we speak” (2 Cor 4:13). The word, once accepted, becomes a response, a confession of faith, which spreads to others and invites them to believe.
Paul also uses the image of light: “All of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image” (2 Cor 3:18). It is a light reflected from one face to another, even as Moses himself bore a reflection of God’s glory after having spoken with him: “God… has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the Face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6).
The light of Christ shines, as in a mirror, upon the face of Christians; as it spreads, it comes down to us, so that we too can share in that vision and reflect that light to others, in the same way that, in the Easter liturgy, the light of the paschal candle lights countless other candles. Faith is passed on, we might say, by contact, from one person to another, just as one candle is lighted from another. Christians, in their poverty, plant a seed so rich that it becomes a great tree, capable of filling the world with its fruit.” ~ Lumen Fidei
A Great gift to the Church – The Most Beautiful Work under the Sun!
The Devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus is great gift to the Church; as Jesus said, “The Most Beautiful work under the Sun”; the “program” set before the whole Church to follow for this millennium by Bl. John Paul II, continued by Pope Benedict XVI and now being carried out by Pope Francis: to contemplate the Face of Christ, with Mary, by grace, in Faith, silence and prayer. To seek Him everywhere: in the Scriptures, our neighbor by Discipleship, and most importantly in contemplating His Holy Face in the Eucharist. By carrying out our part of “the program” we hope to obtain the “most sublime gift of God”: His peace. This is “the beautiful work” which will bring about the Transformation of the Church, restoring the Splendor of the Face of Christ to His Mystical Body.
May The Lord bless us and keep us, may He make His Face shine upon us and be gracious to us: May the Lord turn His Face toward us and give us His PEACE!