“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)