Lenten Reflection on the Face of Christ in “Silence”

“In Shusaku Endo’s Silence, Rodrigues’s devotion to the Face of Christ becomes the key to understanding his particular path to Calvary….”

Japanese “fumie” of Jesus Christ

While the release of Martin Scorsese’s film “Silence” stirred up much discussion and controversy about this story of Jesuit missionaries under persecution in Japan, very few have noted the deep significance of the Face of Christ in Shusaku Endo’s original novel.  This article–The Face of Christ: Shusaka Endo’s Silence, by Lauren Enk Mann at Imaginative Conservative explains the pivotal role the Face of Christ plays in the spiritual journey of the central character. The novel “Silence” may also be a good Lenten reflection on suffering, the Passion and humility that we are each meant to share with Christ, as well as a path to self-knowledge, by reflecting upon our own weaknesses in the light of His Face.  

“Behind his closed eyelids he would pass through every scene in the life of Christ. From childhood the face of Christ had been for him the fulfillment of his every dream and ideal.… Even in its moments of terrible torture this face had never lost its beauty. Those soft, clear eyes which pierced to the very core of a man’s being were now fixed upon him. The face that could do no wrong, utter no word of insult….” (full article here)

Pilgrimage – A Journey Toward the Face of God, Pt. 8

Pt. 8: Seeking the Face of the Father in Rome

St. Peter's Basilica in Rome
St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome

“Jesus Christ is the Face of the Father’s mercy.  These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith.” –Pope Francis, Face of Mercy

The final stop of our pilgrimage was Rome and to enter the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica on the Feast of the Assumption.  Most pilgrims to Italy begin their pilgrimage in Rome, but there was a reason that I chose St. Peter’s for the final destination of our pilgrimage and it had to do with the pope.  Sometimes our motivation for doing things isn’t always clear, not even to ourselves.  It was upon reflection, in hindsight, that I understood why the order of the pilgrimage and also why seeing the Holy Father last, was so important to me.

Veil of the Holy Face of Manoppello Photo: Patricia Enk
Veil of the Holy Face of Manoppello
Photo: Patricia Enk

Looking back on our pilgrimage for the Jubilee Year of Mercy, we began with the image of the Face of Jesus in the Veil of Manoppello.  The bible tells us that there is only one mediator between God and man–Jesus Christ. (1 Tim 2:5) The Face of Jesus Christ is like a Door of Mercy–the face of the Church, through which we reach the Father.  We enter this “door” through devotion to the Holy Face through prayers and contemplation of the wounded Face of Jesus; by discipleship, to see Jesus in the Face of our neighbors, in the poor, the sick and the suffering; and through the Eucharistic Face of Jesus, from which we draw the grace and strength needed for our journey.  Then our faces, too, become like a “door” to our hearts and souls, and can radiate the Face of Jesus, the Face of Mercy to others.  Therefore, the “door” of the Face of Jesus was the best place for us to begin, the start of the journey.

Adoration of the Eucharistic Face of Christ in Loreto
Adoration of the Eucharistic Face of Christ in Loreto

After the sanctuary of Manoppello there were other steps along our path to seek the Face of God. The next step was Loreto–entering the door of the Holy Home in Nazareth.  God himself chose Mary as the ark of His dwelling place, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in this home.  Through Mary and the Holy Family we learn the examples of humility, obedience, and love. Here we saw the Face of Jesus in the Eucharist and in the sick and suffering.

Face of Jesus in Assisi photo: Paul Badde
Face of Jesus in Assisi
photo: Paul Badde

Next was Assisi–a powerful reminder of the Communion of Saints.  We are not alone in our quest to see the Face of God but have brothers and sisters in Heaven who have gone before us and are ready to help us if we only ask their help and guidance in trials and tribulations.  Their example encourages us to be a consolation and help, or a “Veronica,” to Jesus in our brothers and sisters here on earth. Reminding us that “…whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did it for me.” (Mt. 25:40)

Assisi Photo: Patricia Enk
Assisi
Photo: Patricia Enk
Catching a glimpse of the Holy Father, Pope Francis
Catching a glimpse of the Holy Father, Pope Francis “While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him…”(Lk.15:20)

And lastly, Rome.  Every year millions upon millions of people go to Rome just to get even a little glimpse of the pope. Most people consider those who actually have met the pope very fortunate. Why? After all, he is just a man like any other man, isn’t he? Well, yes and no.  Yes, Jorge Bergolio is a man, but as Pope Francis he is the Vicar of Jesus Christ on earth, and, whoever sees Jesus, sees the Father. (Jn. 14:9)  In a way, by seeking out the face of the pope, his words, and his blessing, we are seeking the Face of Our Father in Heaven.  All mankind has been created in the image and likeness of God and we have a natural longing, therefore, to see His Face; to enter into relationship with Him.  When the Word of God became man in Jesus Christ, at the Incarnation, what was previously impossible (to see God) became possible. In God’s infinite mercy He has not left us orphans; in and through Jesus He has given us His Church, His ministers, and His sacraments, so that is possible for us here on earth, albeit in an imperfect way, to see His Face.

Our pilgrimage mirrored the journey of the Christian soul on earth: through Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit, with the help of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints toward the Face of the Father. Our pilgrimage did not end in Rome, but begins anew each day.  We continue to seek His Face by taking up our cross and following Him in the hope that finally one day we will have the joy of truly seeing Him as He is in eternal glory.

Pilgrims carrying the Jubilee of Mercy Cross into the Holy Door of St. Peter's
Pilgrims carrying the Jubilee of Mercy Cross into the Holy Door of St. Peter’s

In Gratitude to God

“The grace of our Lord has been abundant, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am foremost. But for that reason I was mercifully treated, so that in me, as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in Him for everlasting life. To the King of the ages, incorruptible, invisible, the only God, honor and glory forever and ever.” (1 Tim. 1:14-17)

Christus Imperat! photo: Patricia Enk
Christus Imperat!
photo: Patricia Enk

 

Pilgrimage – A Journey Toward the Face of God, Pt. 2

 

photo by Patricia Enk
photo by Patricia Enk

Pt. 2: The Feast of the Transfiguration in Manoppello

“Jesus took Peter, James and John…and led them to a high mountain by themselves.  And He transfigured before them; His Face shone like the sun and His clothes became as white as light…Lord, it is good to be here.” (Mt. 17:1-2,4)

There are several important feasts of the Holy Face–Shrove Tuesday (the day preceding Ash Wednesday) and Good Friday are two, each focused on reparation to the Face of Christ. In Manoppello, the day the Holy Veil arrived in the hands of a mysterious stranger is celebrated as a joyful feast in May, as well as a celebration on August 6th, the feast of the Transfiguration.

Being in Manoppello on the feast of the Transfiguration reminded me of an important event in the life of  St. Therese. The day before the feast of the Transfiguration, a few weeks before her death,  St. Therese of the Holy Face and the Child Jesus lay dying.  Her sisters brought her a picture of the Holy Face and placed it where she could see it, pinned to her bed curtains.  St. Therese exclaimed, “Oh, how much good that Holy Face has done me in my life!” The Transfiguration was always celebrated in the Lisieux Carmelite convent by honoring the Holy Face.  St. Therese had, on a previous feast of the Transfiguration, sprinkled the image with perfume and tossed rose petals before it. (I always wondered why Discalced Carmelite nuns had the perfume, but, after all, it was France!) It was on the Transfiguration that Therese, along with a few companions, made a solemn consecration to the Holy Face as an extension of their Oblation to His Merciful Love, desiring to be “Veronicas” by consoling Jesus in His Passion and offering souls to Him. The Transfiguration is always a preparation for the mystery of the Cross.

The Divine Prisoner, Holy Face of Manoppello photo: Patricia Enk
The Divine Prisoner, Holy Face of Manoppello
photo: Patricia Enk

“O Beloved Face of Jesus!  As we await the everlasting day when we contemplate Your infinite Glory our one desire is to charm Your Divine Eyes by hiding our faces too, so that here on earth no one can recognize us. O Jesus!  Your veiled gaze is our heaven!”–St. Therese

When we visited Manoppello, the blessed day of the Transfiguration was to be celebrated at the Sanctuary Basilica of the Holy Face by bringing the Veil in procession from the reliquary high above the altar to another in front of the altar where it could be viewed and venerated on all sides by the faithful.  Music and celebrations were planned in the piazza for the day and in the evening there was to be a solemn procession through the lighted streets culminating with Benediction.

Lighted streets in Manoppello ready for the feast day
Lighted street in Manoppello ready for the feast day procession

I had planned my pilgrimage around the feast of the Transfiguration after seeing Paul Badde‘s beautiful photos of the procession in honor of the Holy Face on Pentecost, May 15th. I had such a great longing to honor His Holy Face in this way by participating in a jubilant procession such as the one on Pentecost!  It was the whole impetus for my making the pilgrimage and I looked forward to the event with great joy and expectation.  However, man’s plans are not God’s plans and “into every life a little rain must fall” and so it did. It rained, and it rained and it rained.  Cats and dogs!  The procession was cancelled, or rather post-poned till Sunday night when the weather was more favorable and when I would not be there.

Naturally, I was disappointed but, still, here He was before me in the church, so that is where I remained for the day. The previous day Sr. Petra-Maria had given me a tour of the beautiful museum and filled my mind and heart with the research, history, treasures, and mysteries of the Sacred Veil of Manoppello.  I haven’t spoken much about the Holy Veil itself so far, for one reason: that it is too great to be expressed in words.  But I will make a pitiful attempt, like the photographs, which–although some are quite beautiful–can never fully capture what is seen by the viewer. The Veil of Manoppello is an image “not made by human hands” it is a miracle of light and a reflection of Creation–ever changing, ever new.  It is dark, it is brilliant, it is somber, joyful, always merciful, always peaceful. If you see nothing, stand at a different angle–and there He is!  Sr. Petra-Maria told me that there is one angle from which you can always see the image–but “you must become like little children.” (Mt. 18:3)

Veil of Manoppello Photo: Paul Badde
Veil of Manoppello
Photo: Paul Badde

I can attest to the truth of what Sr. Petra-Maria said, “you must become like little children.” Back in 2012, when I first climbed the stairs and stood high behind the altar to view the Veil, the Face of Jesus appeared, bruised, bloodied, swollen. I could see the marks from thorns, the torn beard, His eyes peaceful yet filled with tears.  I then knelt down in prayer and sorrow.  From this angle, the perspective of a little child, I saw the Holy Face anew, no longer bloodied and bruised, but as though a living reflection in a mirror, and once held in that Gaze my heart has been captivated by it ever since.  It is the Face of Mercy!

Throughout the day, as I prayed,  I was greatly edified by the reactions of the people who streamed in to pay their reverence and express their love.  I stayed until evening when my husband arrived, umbrella in hand, and we made our way through the pouring rain back to the hotel. The next morning after Mass we would leave the Holy Face Sanctuary for the Sanctuary of the Holy House of Loreto. (to be continued in Pt. 3)

View from the empty window above the altar into the church photo: Patricia Enk
View from the empty window above the altar into the church
photo: Patricia Enk
Feast of the Transfiguration veneration of The Holy Face photo: Patricia Enk
Feast of the Transfiguration veneration of The Holy Face
photo: Patricia Enk
Sr. Petra-Maria, Cynthia Krystyna Simla and other religious before His Face
Sr. Petra-Maria, Cynthia Krystyna Simla Photo: Patricia Enk
Gazing at the Face of her Spouse in faith and love. photo: Patricia Enk
Gazing at the Face of her Spouse in faith and love.
photo: Patricia Enk

 

Pilgrimage – A Journey Toward the Face of God Pt. 1

Part 1:  The Face of Mercy in Manoppello

Manoppello, Sanctuary Basilica of the Holy Face, photo: Paul Badde
Manoppello, Sanctuary Basilica of the Holy Face, photo: Paul Badde

“The practice of pilgrimage has a special place in the Holy Year, because it represents the journey each of us makes in this life.  Life itself is a pilgrimage, and the human being a viator, a pilgrim traveling along the road, making his way to the desired destination…each according to his or her ability will have to make a pilgrimage. This will be a sign that mercy is also a goal to reach and requires dedication and sacrifice. May pilgrimage be an impetus to conversion; by crossing the threshold of the Holy Door, we will find the strength to embrace God’s mercy and dedicate ourselves to being merciful with others as the Father has been with us.”  –Pope Francis from The Face of Mercy, Misericordiae Vultus

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 heart, mind, and strength.  The history of salvation can be described as a gradual discovery of the Face of God by nations and individuals, marked by their battles, falls and triumphs, as they turn toward or away from the Face of God, on a pilgrimage–a journey which will only end when each person comes “face to face” with God.

The Year of Mercy cannot be complete until we have made some sort of pilgrimage toward God.  Although I had made a local pilgrimage to the Door of Mercy at St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans, I had felt a very strong tug in my heart to return to Italy and re-visit places of pilgrimage that were especially meaningful to me. Together with my husband, I made the necessary preparations, but, the most important “packing” for the journey was to remember on our pilgrimage all those God has given us to love, and their intentions, people that we would like to have with us, but could not make the journey. We especially carried within our hearts those who were too sick, or too old, as well as those who have lost their faith, the deceased, and people in our country and in the world in need of someone’s prayers, placing all in our hearts so that we could carry them, in spirit, through the Doors of Mercy.

We began with the place in which I encountered the Face of Mercy in a very profound way in October of 2012: the Sanctuary Basilica of the Holy Face in the small mountain village of Manoppello. This humble, beautiful village has hidden in its heart, for centuries, what St. Pio of Pietrelcina called “The greatest relic of the Church”–a gossamer-thin byssus veil, bearing, in a miraculous way, an image of the human Face of Jesus.

Panel on Holy Door of Shrine commemorating the visit of Pope Benedict XVI in 2006
Panel on Holy Door of Shrine commemorating the visit of Pope Benedict XVI in 2006

We arrived very late at night after 28 hours of travel to a hotel in the village very near the Sanctuary.  The next morning we walked to the Basilica for Mass, entering the beautiful dedicated Holy Door, engraved with depictions of events in the history of the Veil.  My favorite was the panel recalling the visit of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI to the Shrine in September of 2006.  It was a year later, that he wrote his moving prayer to the Holy Face in honor of that occasion and elevated the Shrine to the status of a Basilica.

Rector of the Shrine Padre Carmine Cucinelli places the Holy Veil in the movable reliquary
Rector of the Shrine Padre Carmine Cucinelli places the Holy Veil in the movable reliquary

The day after we arrived was a special occasion as well, as the next day, August 6th, was a Feast of the Holy Face, the Transfiguration.  The Veil, normally kept in a special reliquary high above the back of the altar (but accessible by a stairway from behind) was to be brought down after the Mass and placed in another movable reliquary, used in processions, near the front of the altar. The Veil would remain there throughout the day for prayers and veneration of the faithful, then be returned to its place behind the altar for the night.

Earlier in the day, on the steps leading up to the relic, I bumped into journalist Paul Badde, who has taken more photos perhaps than anyone of the Holy Veil and written so much about its amazing re-discovery.  I couldn’t have been more surprised than if I had bumped into Lazarus emerging from the tomb!  Paul has been making an amazing recovery from heart surgery, stroke, and a coma which lasted for more than

Sr. Petra-Maria gazes at the Veil of Manoppello
Sr. Petra-Maria gazes at the Veil of Manoppello

three weeks during Lent of 2016. Paul later introduced me to Sr. Petra-Maria, who, I soon discovered, shares with pilgrims her extensive knowledge and love for “Il Volto Santo.”  Like two other nuns, who shared similar names–Sr. Marie St. Pierre, a Discalced Carmelite nun associated with the Holy Face in Tours, and Bl. Mother Maria Pierina, an Immaculate Conception nun associated with the Holy Face Medal–Sr. Petra-Maria is a true apostle of the Holy Face of Manoppello.  The Holy Face draws her like a magnet; she never tires of gazing at His Face or drawing others to His peaceful, merciful countenance and telling and re-telling the incredible details of the features, the history, and especially, the spiritual significance of the miraculous image.  (I’ll have to save those details for a special post.)

Basilica of the Holy Face of Manoppello on Vigil of the Transfiguartion
Basilica of the Holy Face of Manoppello on Vigil of the Transfiguartion

Celebrations and entertainment were held in honor the Holy Face in the piazza in front of the Basilica in the evening by local musicians and very talented young people of the community, who gave a very enjoyable musical performance of the life of St. Francis. I’ll never forget the line of young “Franciscan monks” on the stage singing “Andiamo! Andiamo!…” “We go! We go! For the Blessed Mother!”  The next day the Holy Veil was brought out after Mass on the Feast of the Transfiguration for the day and in the evening there was planned a solemn procession with the Veil and benediction.  But, as in all things in life, plans change… (To be continued in Pt.2)

"Andiamo! Andiamo!"
“Andiamo! Andiamo!”

 

 

 

“If you only knew the gift of God…”

The Woman at the Well by Carl Heinrich Bloch
The Woman at the Well by Carl Heinrich Bloch

If you only knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10).  These were Jesus’ words to the woman at the well and also the words that echoed in my own heart as I knelt before the miraculous image of the Face of Jesus, Il Volto Santo, at the Shrine in Manoppello, Italy, several years ago.  Like the woman at the well, I encountered there the Face of Mercy. “If you only knew the gift of God…” 

Pope Francis has incorporated these very words into his official Prayer for the Jubilee Year of Mercy:

“Lord Jesus Christ, you have taught us to be merciful like the heavenly Father, and have told us that whoever sees you, sees Him.  Show us Your Face and we will be saved!  Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and Matthew from being enslaved by money; the adulteress and Magdalene from seeking happiness only in created things; made Peter weep after his betrayal, and assured Paradise to the repentant thief.  Let us hear, as if addressed to each one of us, the words that you spoke to the Samaritan woman:

“If you only knew the gift of God!”

You are the visible face of the invisible Father, of the God who manifests His power above all by forgiveness and mercy:  let the Church be your invisible face in the world, its Lord risen and glorified.  You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error:  let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved, and forgiven by God.

Send your Spirit and consecrate every one of us with its anointing, so that the Jubilee of Mercy may be a year of grace from the Lord, and your Church, with renewed enthusiasm, may bring good news to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives and the oppressed, and restore sight to the blind.

We ask this of you, Lord Jesus, through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Mercy; you who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit forever and ever.  Amen.

To know the gift of God, like Peter, Matthew, Zacchaeus, the adulteress, Madgalene, the repentant thief, and the woman at the well we must first look at the Face of Jesus and linger a moment in a mutual loving gaze.  Whoever sees Him sees the Father (John 14:9.) Under the gaze of the Father we will “feel sought after, loved and forgiven by God.” Jesus wants to give us the Gift of Himself, to draw us into His divine life, fill us with the “Living Water” of the Holy Spirit, so that we may then give Him to others. To “bring good news to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives and the oppressed, and restore sight to the blind”–in other words, by performing the corporal and spiritual Works of Mercy. We need only to take that first step by contemplating His Face.  “If you only knew the gift of God!”

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

“While we too seek other signs, other wonders, 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.”  ~ Pope Benedict XVI

Face of Mercy – This is the time to change our lives

“This is the opportune moment to change our lives!  This is the time to allow our hearts to be touched!” — quotes from Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus 

"Jesus Christ is the Face of the Father's Mercy." -- Pope Francis
“Jesus Christ is the Face of the Father’s Mercy.” — Pope Francis

“Jesus Christ is the Face of the Father’s Mercy.  These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith.  Mercy has become living and visible in Jesus of Nazareth, reaching it’s culmination in Him…We need to constantly contemplate the mystery of mercy.  It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace.  Our salvation depends on it.  Mercy:  the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity.”  “With our eyes fixed on Jesus and His merciful gaze, we experience the love of the Most Holy Trinity.  The mission Jesus received from the Father was that of revealing the mystery of Divine Love in its fullness. ‘God is love.'” (1Jn 4:8,16)

“…wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy.”

“Mercy is not contrary to justice but is the behavior of God toward the sinner…God does not deny justice. He rather envelops it and surpasses it with an even greater event in which we experience love as the foundation of true justice” (MV, 21). Jesus is the face of the mercy of God the Father: “God so loved the world […] [that] the world might be saved through him [the Son]” (Jn 3:16, 17)

FullSizeRender-11We are called to be merciful to each other and seek the Face of Jesus in our neighbor. “It is my burning desire that, during this Jubilee, the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.  It will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty.  And let us enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy.  Jesus introduces us to these works of mercy in His preaching so that know whether or not we are living as His disciples.  Let us rediscover these corporal and spiritual works of mercy: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead.  And  let us not forget the spiritual works of mercy:  to counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offences, bear patiently those who do us ill, and pray for the living and the dead.”

“Life is a pilgrimage, and the human being is a viator, a pilgrim travelling along the road, making his way to the desired destination.” Let us keep our faces turned toward the Merciful Face of Jesus while on our pilgrimage, and “introduce everyone to the great mystery of God’s Mercy by contemplating the Face of Chirst.”  (Misericordiae Vultus) 

Prayer of Pope Francis for the Jubilee of Mercy

Have Mercy on us! Holy Face of Manoppello Photo: Paul Badde
Have Mercy on us!
Holy Face of Manoppello
Photo: Paul Badde

Lord Jesus Christ,
you have taught us to be merciful like the heavenly Father, and have told us that whoever sees you sees Him. Show us Your Face and we will be saved.  Your loving gaze freed Zaccheus and Matthew from being enslaved by money; the adulteress and Magdalene from seeking happiness only in created things; made Peter weep after his betrayal, and assured Paradise to the repentant thief.  Let us hear, as if addressed to each one of us, the words that You spoke to the Samaritan woman: “If you only knew the gift of God!”

You are the visible Face of the invisible Father, of the God Who manifests His power above all by forgiveness and mercy: let the Church be Your visible Face in the world, its Lord risen and glorified.  You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error: and forgiven by God.

Come Holy Spirit!
Come Holy Spirit!

Send Your Spirit and consecrate every one of us with its anointing, so that the Jubilee of Mercy may be a year of grace from the Lord, and Your Church, with renewed enthusiasm, may bring good news to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives and the oppressed, and restore sight to the blind.

We ask this through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Mercy, You Who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Pope Francis also recommends we pray the Salve Regina (Hail Holy Queen)  so that Mary, our Mother of Mercy “may never tire of turning her merciful eyes towards us, and make us worthy to contemplate the Face of Mercy, her Son Jesus.”

The Salve Regina or “Hail, Holy Queen”

Queen Beauty of Carmel
Queen Beauty of Carmel

Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope! To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears! Turn, then, O most gracious Advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

“I have set my Face like flint…”

Mocking of Christ by Bloch
Mocking of Christ by Carl Bloch

“The Lord God opens my ear that I may hear; And I have not rebelled, have not turned back.  I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard: My face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.  The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.” (Isaiah 50:4b-7)

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)

FullSizeRender
The Face of Jesus can be found in Sacred Scripture “God is Love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him. (1 John 4:16)

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.

"Your Face, LORD, do I seek!"
“Your Face, LORD, do I seek!”

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.

Denial of St. Peter by Carl Bloch
Denial of St. Peter by Carl Bloch

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.

Jesus Blindfolded Fra Angelico
Jesus Blindfolded
Fra Angelico

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)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

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.

Virgin in Prayer Artist: Sassoferrato 1640-50
Virgin in Prayer
Artist: Sassoferrato
1640-50

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.