The sufferings of this world are as numerous as its sins. Each day brings more and more it seems; the weight of it crushing our souls. The greatest evil, and the most difficult suffering to bear, is the suffering of the innocent.
On April 5th, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley addressed the UN Security Council about the Assad regime’s chemical attacks against its own people in Syria. She said, “Yesterday we awoke to pictures of children; foaming at the mouth, suffering convulsions, being carried in the arms of desperate parents. We saw rows and rows of lifeless bodies, some still in diapers, some with visible scars of a chemical weapons attack. Look at those pictures! We cannot close our eyes to those pictures.” A cry of helplessness rises in one’s heart, “How long, O Lord!”
“How long, O Lord, must I cry for help and you do not listen? Or cry out to you ‘Violence!” and you do not intervene? Why do you simply gaze at evil? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife and discord.” (Hab. 1: 1-3)
The suffering endured by the innocent is utterly incomprehensible. We could harden our hearts and turn away our face from what is happening–numb our minds, and anesthetize our unpleasant thoughts with distractions. Or we may fall to our knees and ask God the same question that atheists mockingly ask of Christians; the same question the prophet Habbakkuk asked of God in faith:
“Are you not from of old, O LORD, the holy God, immortal? LORD, you have appointed them for judgment, O Rock, you have set them in place to punish! Your eyes are too pure to look upon wickedness, and the sight of evil you cannot endure. Why, then, do you gaze on the faithless in silence while the wicked devour those more just than themselves?” (Hab. 1:12-13)
“How long O Lord!” we will cry. And no answer is heard. The response will be, as it was from the Lamb of God on the Cross–silence. There are no other questions.
“I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before Your Face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?” –C.S. Lewis (Till We Have Faces)
“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 MercyScripture 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)
One of the greatest blessings of the internet, at least for me, is something called “FaceTime.” If you have ever been separated from loved ones who live in another part of the country, or on the other side of the world, you know what I mean. A letter, an email, a phone call are all good but not quite as good as seeing them face to face. We need to look in the face of a person in order to truly have a good relationship; to read their expression and discover what is in their heart; to see their emotions and, when they are mirrored in our own face, show to them our empathy and our love.
When it is death that separates us from a loved one, we long to see that face again, gaze at a photo of them, a face frozen at a moment in time and try to re-kindle memories of our relationship with them; the smile, crinkle of the eyes, expressions of love that we hope to see again in heaven one day.
The longing to see the Face of our Creator has been written in our hearts. All of mankind long for that one, particular face, the Face of God, even if they don’t know what that feeling of longing is for. Unfortunately, man, seeking the object of its longing, sometimes cannot bear the mystery of God’s hiddenness. Rather than wait for God to reveal Himself when He is ready, mankind seeks “the face which is NOT a face,” –that is, an idol, as described in the encyclical “Lumen Fidei,” (“The Light of Faith”). The opposite of faith (longing to see God’s face) is idolatry, trying to fill our longing for Him with something else, an idol, which is a dead end, a one-way street in which there is no relationship.
Lent is a time in which, by faith, we turn toward God in conversion, enter into relationship with Him and let ourselves be transformed and renewed by God’s call and reject idols. “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 other believers.” (Lumen Fidei sec. 22)
Without light or sound, there would be no Face Time. We would all be sitting silently in the dark. “Faith is hearing and seeing” (Lumen Fidei, sec. 37) God has shown us His Face in His Son, Jesus. We can now see His Face, we can hear His voice in the Scriptures, in our neighbor, in His images and in The Eucharistic Face of Jesus, in which He reveals to us all the love of His Most Sacred Heart. During Lent, by “turning away from idols” we turn toward the Face of God. When we open our hearts to God’s love, through this divine “Face Time” we hear his voice and receive his light, a gift which is so great we cannot keep it to ourselves but through word and light, invite others to “Face Time” with God and to believe.
“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) “God…has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the Face of Christ.” (2Cor 4:6)