Like many of our beloved elderly, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has been quietly sharing in the suffering of Christ. Since visiting his brother, Georg, in Germany before Georg died, Pope Benedict XVI had contracted very painful erysipelas rash on his face. The sad news brought to mind the pope’s words during his pontificate about the Transfiguration, that “mystery of light,” when the reality of Jesus, who is “light from light,” became perceptible to the senses to Peter, James, and John on the mountain, when His Face became radiant with Divine Glory. The Transfiguration not only prepared and strengthened the apostles for the Passion of Jesus, but was also a foretaste of the Resurrection. As Pope Benedict wrote in the first volume of his work Jesus of Nazareth:
[The Transfiguration] “reveals the profound interpenetration of His being with God, which then becomes pure light. In His oneness with the Father, Jesus is Himself ‘light from light.'”
At the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI invited us to contemplate this mystery of light from the Gospel:
“Today, the liturgy invites us to focus our gaze on this mystery of light. On the transfigured face of Jesus a ray of light which he held within shines forth. This same light was to shine on Christ’s face on the day of the Resurrection. In this sense, the Transfiguration appears as a foretaste of the Paschal Mystery.
The Transfiguration invites us to open the eyes of our hearts to the mystery of God’s light, present throughout salvation history. At the beginning of creation, the Almighty had already said: ‘Fiat lux – let there be light!’ (Gn 1: 2), and the light was separated from the darkness. Like the other created things, light is a sign that reveals something of God: it is, as it were, a reflection of his glory which accompanies its manifestations. When God appears, ‘his brightness was like the light, rays flashed from his hand.’ (Heb 3: 3ff.).
Light, it is said in the Psalms, is the mantle with which God covers himself (cf. Ps 104: 2). In the Book of Wisdom, the symbolism of light is used to describe the very essence of God: wisdom, an outpouring of his glory, is ‘a reflection of eternal light’ superior to any created light (cf. Wis 7: 27, 29ff.).
In the New Testament, it is Christ who constitutes the full manifestation of God’s light. His Resurrection defeated the power of the darkness of evil forever. With the Risen Christ, truth and love triumph over deceit and sin. In him, God’s light henceforth illumines definitively human life and the course of history: ‘I am the light of the world,’ he says in the Gospel, ‘he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’ (Jn 8: 12).
In our time too, we urgently need to emerge from the darkness of evil, to experience the joy of the children of light!'”
In September of 2006, Pope Benedict XVI travelled as a pilgrim to the Shrine of the Holy Face in Manoppello, Italy, where he contemplated another “miracle of light” — the Holy Face on the Veil of Manoppello. A year following this visit, he elevated the shrine to a basilica, and wrote the following prayer:
Prayer of Pope Benedict XVI to The Holy Face
Lord Jesus, as the first Apostles, whom you asked: “What do you seek?” accepted your invitation to “Come and See,” recognizing you as the Son of God, the Promised Messiah for the world’s redemption, we too, your disciples in this difficult time, want to follow you and be your friends, drawn by the brilliance of Your Face, much desired, yet hidden.
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 mind and our hearts: the Son’s Face, radiance of the Father’s glory and the imprint of His Nature (cf. Hb 1:3), the human Face of God that has burst into history to reveal the horizons of eternity. The silent Face of Jesus, suffering and risen, when loved and accepted, changes our
hearts and lives. “Your Face, Lord, do I seek, do not hide Your Face from me.” (Ps. 27:8ff) How many times through the centuries and millennia has resounded the ardent invocation of the Psalmist among the faithful! Lord, with faith, we too repeat the same invocation: “Man of suffering, as one from whom other hide their faces.” (Is. 53:3) Do not hide your Face from us! We want to draw from your eyes that look on us with tenderness and compassion the force of love and peace which shows us the way of life, and the courage to follow you without fear or compromise, so as to be witnesses of your Gospel with concrete signs of acceptance, love and forgiveness. O Holy Face of Christ, Light that enlightens the darkness of doubt and sadness, life that has defeated forever the force of evil and death, O inscrutable gaze that never ceases to watch over mankind. Face concealed in the Eucharistic signs and in the faces of those that live with us! Make us God’s pilgrims in this world, longing for the infinite and ready for the final encounter, when we shall see you, Lord, “face to face” (Cor. 13:12) and be able to contemplate you forever in heavenly Glory. Mary, Mother of the Holy Face, help us to have “hands innocent and a heart pure,” hands illumined by the truth of love and hearts enraptured by divine beauty, that transformed by the encounter with Christ, we may gift ourselves to the poor and the suffering, whose face reflect the hidden presence of your Son Jesus. Amen.
In March of 2012, Pope Benedict XVI wrote: “As Jesus was transfigured before them, His Face ‘dazzling with light,’ the voice of the Father could be heard, ‘This is my beloved Son, listen to Him.’ (Mk 9:7) Thus, the light and the voice: the divine radiance on Jesus’ Face, and the voice of the Heavenly Father that witnesses to Him and commands that He be listened to.
The mystery of the Transfiguration must not be separated from the context of the path Jesus is following. He is now decisively oriented to fulfilling his mission, knowing all too well that to arrive at the Resurrection He must pass through the Passion and death on the Cross. He had spoken openly of this to His disciples; but they did not understand, on the contrary they rejected this prospect because they were not reasoning in accordance with God, but in accordance with men.
It is for this reason that Jesus takes three of them with Him up the mountain and reveals His divine glory, the splendor of Truth and of Love. Jesus wants this light to illuminate their hearts when they pass through the thick darkness of His Passion and death, when the folly of the Cross becomes unbearable to them. God is light, and Jesus wishes to give his closest friends the experience of this light which dwells within Him.
After this event, therefore, He will be an inner light within them that can protect them from any assault of darkness. Even on the darkest of nights, Jesus is the lamp that never goes out.” (Pope Benedict XVI, March 2012)
Let us pray for our Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and all who share in Christ’s suffering, that their hearts will be illumined and transfigured by this mystery of light shining on the Face of Christ.
“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
News: Holy Face of Manoppello blogspot has posted a schedule for the days leading to the Feast of the Transfiguration celebrated at the Basilica Shrine of the Holy Face for the fortunate pilgrims who may visit. By special privilege of the Pope Francis in these days the faithful can gain the Plenary Indulgence.
Prayer to the Holy Face for the liberation from the coronavirus